Six Run Amuk in Natimuk

Editors' Introduction: Back when I inherited the responsibility for producing the club's anniversary magazine, Andy Clarke was straight out of the gates with his submission, giving me plenty of time to cut my editorial teeth. This was only good news, as alongside pictures, the story ran quite considerably over the four page limit I had for print. I promised Andy that after hacksawing off chunks for print, that I would release the unabridged version on the club website sometime thereafter. So for all members, new and old, please enjoy the story of Andy's trip to the Arapiles and the Grampians (Mar-Apr 2019) as it was meant to be told!

Like all the best ideas, it started in the pub.

It's a little known fact that Einstein first scribbled down E=mc2 on the back of a beermat, to make sure he could remember it the morning after.

One evening in Spring 2017, a group of us were drinking in the Bar Fatolitis on Massouri's main street after a day hot rocking in Kalymnos. I was waxing lyrical about how a visit to the

Australian trad climbing paradise of Arapiles was still number one on my climbing bucket list.

Johnny and Sandra were keen. Chris and Sharon were interested. Knowing better than to leave it till everyone was sober, I started talking dates.

Two years and a twenty-three hour flight later, Johnny, Sandra and I emerged blinking

into the fierce sunlight of a Melbourne autumn heatwave. Back home in the Peak it was

snowing. We were staying for a night in the trendy district of St Kilda. I knew it was popular with backpackers so I'd been taken aback by how expensive all the hotels were for a Friday night. But the reason announced itself loudly and clearly from within deafening earshot of our hotel. The howl of powerful engines filled the air. It was Melbourne Grand Prix weekend, the start of the F1 season, and we had a free view of Friday practice from our hotel balcony.

That night we met up with Phil, who'd been visiting in Perth, and Chris and Sharon

who'd been staying in Melbourne with an old friend, Matt. He'd be joining us for the weekends and had generously loaned us a fantastic amount of cooking kit, so Sharon could work her campsite cordon bleu magic. We had done a fair bit of expedition planning back in the UK, wrestling with some complex logistical issues - such as how we would keep our beer, wine and barbie burgers cold. Matt's large Eski camping icebox meant we would be eating and drinking in style.

Next day we all made the four hour drive across southern Victoria to Arapiles. The

Mount, as the locals refer to it, is a spectacular island of quartzite that suddenly rears up in the middle of the flat Wimmera Plain, after mile upon mile of farmland. At its centre are the imposing Bard Buttress and Tiger Wall, which give many magnificent three, four and five pitch outings. From this huge citadel long and complex wings stretch out on each side. If you've seen Uluru (Ayers Rock) you'll have some idea of how it bursts from the landscape. But unlike Uluru, where even trekking up to the summit is now banned, Arapiles has trad climbing routes all over its beautiful orange rock. The selected guide contains around 1200 climbs, out of a total of over 2,000 – and pretty much all of them are easily accessible from the main campsites.

We were prepared to be disappointed, turning up on a Saturday morning. We thought

we'd have to take whatever scrappy pitches were left, then move our tents together once the

weekend crowds had gone. We needn't have worried. The main site in the Centenary

Campground – known by generations of climbers as The Pines - is naturally spacious, with no

set pitches. It's carpeted with sunworn grass but you can always find some shade in the clusters of large pines from which it gets its name. We soon had our base camp set up in a prime spot. The campsite is fairly basic (toilets but no showers) but it's got a fine laid-back climber vibe, with the usual slacklining, juggling and guitar strumming. The full size pool table that one group of enterprising long-stayers had set up was a bit of a novelty though. The site was generally pretty quiet. Over the next few days we did discover that there was one group who played their music loud and partied late into the night, but we couldn't easily move away from them – it was us.

It can often be a little disorientating when you wake on your first morning camping in a new

country – but in Arapiles I wasn't so much disorientated as deafened. There was something

primeval in the racketing dawn chorus of the parrots' and cockatoos' high-pitched squawking, mixed with the kookaburras' raucous wind-up laughter, the standard “jungle” sound-effect for movie directors since time immemorial.

Anyone who's been on a trip with me will know I get extremely hyper on the first day

climbing in a new area. I was soon hopping from foot to foot and itching to get on the rock – but by 10 o'clock the sun was turned up to 11 and the heat was oppressive. It might seem rather ungrateful to complain about the heat at Arapiles. After all, it was heat rising from molten magma underground that baked its soft sandstone and metamorphosed it into the marvellous hard quartzite that climbs – and takes trad gear – so well. But there were mutinous mutterings of “acclimatisation,” “reconnaissance” and “leisurely start.” I couldn't really hear over the fizzing of my adrenaline. Sparks were coming out of my blue touch paper and I had to be off.

Phil joined me and we headed to one of Arapiles' classic crags, The Organ Pipes, a

few minutes' walk from camp through the characteristic surrounding bushland of yellow gum

trees. The Organ Pipes is a 200 foot tall cliff of elegant fluted columns offering a wide range of classy routes, many of them in the easier grades. I'd already chosen my first route: Horn Piece, a three star grade 13 regularly touted as one of the best at its grade in Araps. (Australian 13 translates to around hard HS/easy VS in British terms.) It lived up to its reputation: lovely flowing moves on well-featured rock with a steep and exposed finish, hauling over a bulge on satisfying jugs. This is one of the characteristics of Arapiles climbing: there are good holds galore, but man can it be steep. You do get some gorgeous slabs – but the trade-off is, you don't get the gear. If it's delicate, it's bold.