There’s no way around it… Many of the entries on this list will be Arapilesian in nature. If you’ve climbed there, you know why. If you haven’t, stop what you are doing and go there now.
The events surrounding the “discovery” of Mt Arapiles by Bob and Steve Craddock are now the stuff of legend. They had made a journey to survey Mitre Peak, apparently having been prompted to do so by a photo they’d seen in what are now almost apocryphal circumstances – in a tourist brochure, on an advertisement on a train, or on the front cover of a car magazine, depending on who you ask. No matter where the truth may lie (and after all, never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn), you can imagine their surprise when they saw that their destination was positively dwarfed by a much vaster massif.
Following the first ascent of the venerable Tiptoe Ridge (we’ll get to that one later), two major routes were established on the same day in March 1965. One of those was The Bard, which inherited a grade of 12 and a reputation for radness. Regarded as an enduring Australian classic, it remains one of the country’s most popular routes and quite often sees several ascents a day.
I recently heard an amusing little anecdote – a friend of mine had made the acquaintance of a Victorian climber who, despite having climbed for several years, had never climbed sport and had never climbed above grade 15.
This might seem bewildering to the point of impossible to a batman-starting, bolt-clipping, roof-pulling mutant from the Blue Mountains, where you could probably tick off the sub-15 lines in a couple of months or less. But it’s entirely possible at Arapiles, and what’s more, it’s actually quite enjoyable. There is no shortage of classic routes in the low grades, the ubiquitous sandbag notwithstanding.
The Bard is one of these celebrated “easy” routes, but it ain’t no slouch for a 12. Leaders who might be comfortable in the mid-teens elsewhere will probably find the experience a wee bit hair raising.
The first pitch consists of a gentle slab in typical Arapiles style – bulbous, smooth and polished. Protection is fiddly but achievable, after which the remainder of the route is well protected.
Some folks choose to break the arête into another pitch to eliminate rope drag, but either way the next memorable feature is the infamous traverse. The challenge on this pitch is much more mental than physical, although the recessed hand crack is diabolically smooth and the footholds sporadic. Take a few deep breaths, plug some gear for yourself and your second, and inch your way leftwards over 50m of open air… exhilarating stuff at the grade.
The next pitch is no gimme either, with a balancy, diagonal traverse to a bottomless chimney. After this, the climb turns into a fairly standard, but still very enjoyable jug haul. Take a breather at Bard Ledge and finish up yet more bomber jugs to a stellar exit. One of the joys of Mt Arapiles is that the descents are often just as adventurous and unique as the climbs themselves. The Bard finishes with a spelunking excursion into Ali’s Cave, and then a short abseil (or down climb for the brave) with gorgeous views of the Central Gully and Wimmera Plains.
The Bard is a must-do. If you were only able to climb one Arapiles route, this would be a solid contender. It occasionally has its detractors, who describe it as “over rated” or “nothing special”, but they are like people who didn’t like Forrest Gump – wrong.
Route information for The Bard can be found in Arapiles Selected Climbs by Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest.