Arapiles Addiction

Posted on: September 1, 2006


I spent the best part of the 1990s living in a tent, a member of the Arapiles leisure class with a lot of time and no money. Half our food was gleaned from the rubbish bins (every Sunday hordes of weekenders would leave behind a smorgasbord of goodies) and the other half came from the nearby organic farm, whose owners, Reg and Hazel, would, in exchange for an afternoon's weeding, supply us with as much veggies as we could squeeze into our backpacks. In between scrounging, we enjoyed long breakfasts, a spot of Hacky Sack and then maybe an afternoon swim in the fire dam.

Jones, coming off Punks in the Gym (31). In 1994, as Jones struggled to repeat this Güllich route, Stuart Wyithe was working on his nearby Pretty in Punk (31). The two discussed combining the cruxes of both lines; four years later Jones would do just that, creating Punks Addiction (32), possibly the most difficult route at Arapiles. [Photo] Simon Carter

And climbing... we did a lot of that too. Punks Addiction was the most difficult of the lines I established (it has yet to see a repeat). It's nothing more than a concept route that pieces together all the hard climbing on what were Arapiles' hardest routes at the time: Stuart Wyithe's Pretty in Punk and the famous Wolfgang Gullich classic Punks in the Gym. Already in 1994, as Wyithe was flogging away on the first ascent of Pretty in Punk (which has all its crux sequences in the first half) and I was doing likewise on a repeat of Punks in the Gym (which doesn't really kick in until the second half) we talked about the possibility of linking the two at the midpoint where they crossed.

It seemed so obvious and yet so absolutely ridiculous (given the trouble we were having on our respective halves) that it was good to return in 1998 and have the idea feel like a much more sensible proposition: the route consists of technical face climbing rather than hard pulling. Sidepulls positioned the wrong way and smeary footholds in all the wrong places require concentration more than anything else. Its name is a dig at myself for having spent way too much time on one piece of rock.

But I was addicted to more than just this climb: back in its (and my) heyday Arapiles was just perfect... a safe haven for bludgers such as myself. I'm sure most generations of climbers would say this about the 1960s, '70s and '80s, but the '90s did seem like the end of an era. Local authorities increased the park regulation, introducing camp fees and installing a feebox (burned several times but ultimately left standing). And even the rubbish bins were amalgamated into one big, hard-to-glean-from, cluster of hoppers. Long-term residents became fewer, replaced by a growing weekend influx. Many of these new people want climbing to be as streamlined as ordering their burger at a drive-through. Classics lie fallow, while close-to-the-car, amply bolted routes receive perhaps more attention than they deserve.

While much of the old lifestyle is lost, new-route potential nevertheless remains. For a crag that was supposedly climbed out in the late '80s, even now Arapiles hides the odd, untouched line, mostly tucked away in an obscure gully, but sometimes surprisingly right in the midst of some popular buttress, strangely overlooked all these years.

I've always been much more inspired by the lines that I haven't climbed than by the ones I have. Among the former, Inquisition—a widening crack through a six-meter roof, Arapiles' last remaining aid line—may represent its last great problem. There was a dark chapter in the story of Arapiles when climbers, assuming they were as good at climbing as anyone was ever going to get and therefore anything they couldn't climb was impossible, began installing bolt ladders over the top of numerous Arapiles future classics—an even messier and less creative solution than chipping. Fortunately, Henry Barber visited in 1975 and freed many of these lines, causing the locals to re-evaluate their preconceptions. As standards improved, Arapiles climbers whittled away at the aid he'd left; Kim Carrigan, in particular, made huge inroads with his free ascents of climbs like Procul Harum. Gradually all the aid has been eliminated.

Except on the Inquistion. A line of rusting aid bolts marks the way, forming a perfect blend of history and future. Years ago I spent some time working the line and managed to do all the moves. I even linked them together into three sections. But a decade later it remains unfinished. I would love to see someone free it, and complete the job that Barber started.

To read the full text of this article, DOWNLOAD the digital issue in our app or BUY THE BACK ISSUE in our online store. Or even better, SUBSCRIBE to join our community and get this "coffee-table book masquerading as a magazine" (Lynn Hill) four times per year.