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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Memories From Down Under


Inspired by a blast from the past

Layer MasksThis Article Features Photo Zoom
Photo Adventure: Burnout
Travels to Mount Arapiles, Natimuk, Australia, with Melanie Bell, Kim Cousins and Nick Biggins.
A long, long time ago, back in April 1985, a talented German rock climber by the name of Wolfgang Gllich succeeded in making the first ascent of the climb Punks in the Gym. Gllich rated the difficulty of the route the staggering grade of 32, or 5.14. The ascent occurred in the small and at the time little-known climbing area of Mount Arapiles, located in the most unlikely of locations‚ the flat, wheat-farming region of southeastern Australia. The local climbing guide reads: For awhile, Punks was the hardest route in the known universe.

For that reason, word of the ascent spread rapidly through climbing circles, and for the remainder of the ’80s and into the early ’90s, the world’s best climbers made a pilgrimage to Arapiles to test themselves on Punks in the Gym. Not only is Punks the only world-class climb in Arapiles, but within the environs of the area’s beautiful orange cliffs that rise above the Wimmera Plains exist more than 3,000 rock climbs. The quality and quantity of Arapiles climbing has firmly established it as one of the best climbing areas in the world.

I never made it to Arapiles in its popular heyday. What eventually found me making my way to this climbing mecca a few months ago wasn’t an exotic photo assignment, but a simple 10-day climbing trip with friends. After a busy summer and fall on several international photo assignments, I was psyched about traveling without having to account for piles of gear. The gear for my Arapiles trip consisted of nothing more than a pack with camping and climbing gear and a camera with a couple of lenses. My goals in Arapiles were simple: I wanted to climb some of the area’s best climbs and to take away some equally classic images during my week in the world-renowned climbing area.

When I make a short, fast trip to an area where I’ll need to pack bulky gear like a tent, pad, sleeping bag, etc., I just rely on my Patagonia Stellar Black Hole duffel bag. I like this bag for international travel because it has adjustable shoulder straps so I can carry the duffel like a pack. It makes it convenient to carry the 45-pound duffel from the airport curb to check-in or for longer treks up escalators or from the domestic to international terminal, all without the hassle of dealing with an airport cart. The duffel isn’t intended to carry loads too far, but it has saved me from real misery on many occasions.

My carry-on bag is my climbing pack, the same pack I’ll use to pack my climbing rack and rope around Arapiles. I always pack my carry-on with things I may need if my checked baggage doesn’t arrive at my destination, such as extra clothes, a rain jacket, a toothbrush, etc. I also carry my fragile and expensive camera extras in my carry-on bag. For this trip, I packed my extras in the tough, waterproof, dust proof Pelican 1200 case. It can hold an SB-800 flash, a 10.2mm fisheye, a 12-24mm DX ƒ/4 wide-angle zoom and a few camera batteries. My camera on this trip was a Nikon D-200, with my current favorite do-everything lens, the 24-120mm DX VR. The camera fits snugly in my cool, non-photo-bag-looking Crumpler 4 Million Dollar bag. In the bag, I also carry a CF card wallet with a handful of 4 and 8 GB CF cards with a total memory of 36 gigs. I carry many flash cards because I decided not to bring my laptop on this short, non-assignment trip to save me from packing more fragile, heavy carry-on gear. Also in the Crumpler are a spare camera battery, my passport, a pen and my iPod. I’m ready for just about anything.

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