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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Memories From Down Under

Inspired by a blast from the past

Photo Adventure: Burnout
Travels to Mount Arapiles, Natimuk, Australia, with Melanie Bell, Kim Cousins and Nick Biggins.
Given its reputation, Arapiles has everything a world-class crag should possess, including exceptional and plentiful climbing of every difficulty in a beautiful setting with easy access to the crags. But when we first sighted Arapiles after a four-hour drive from Melbourne, we were under-impressed. Longtime Arapiles climbers and guidebook authors Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest prepared us for this when they wrote the following comment in their introduction to Arapiles: Described by one pundit as less a mountain and more a scab. Arapiles, like many great treasures, reveals little of its true self when viewed from afar. Upon closer inspection, however, the mount takes on an entirely new focus. It's two-dimensional appearance gives way to a complex three-dimensional world of narrow gullies, multifaceted faces and isolated pinnacles.

The cliffs are only 200 yards from the primitive Pines campground, and the highest of them is a little more than 300 feet high. Because much of Arapiles faces east, the morning light begins with warm alpenglow lighting the cliff faces above camp. If Arapiles at first seemed familiar to me, that image was quickly erased on the first morning with the raucous calls of the kookaburra, which sounds more like an old-world monkey than a bird, or the sight of several kangaroos bounding through our camp.

Once away from the camp and in the cool shade of the cliffs, our serious climbing commenced. The Aborigines were the first climbers in Arapiles; they knew the place as Djurite, and found the hard silicified sandstone was perfect for making stone tools. Evidence of their search for good stone still can be found even in the most difficult-to-reach places on the cliffs. My favorite climb while I was in Arapiles wasn’t the most difficult climb I led, but the climb Lamplighter did earn a three-star classic rating in the guide. For three pitches, Lamplighter, located just around the corner from Punks in the Gym, follows an arte through some very overhanging rock. The climb places you on the summit of the Pharos Pinnacle for an excellent view north to Mitre Rock.

My agenda for making images was to shoot a selection that would inspire me to come back later for a more extensive photo shoot. I was looking for the unique qualities that make Arapiles special, which would include the landscape, the rock and the many secret places among the mountain gullies and clefts. I’ve included a few shots here of some of my efforts. The silhouette is of climber Melanie Bell standing under an overhanging wall, as close as we'd get to Punks in the Gym on the Pharos Pinnacle. The next photo is taken on lead, featuring the unique gear placements on the climb Agamemnon on the Atridae Cliff; the third photo is a scenic from the summit of Mount Arapiles looking north toward Mitre Rock, with clouds reflected on the surface of one of the dozens of salt lakes scattered around the mountain.

I carried a camera nearly everywhere I went, and many of my photos were little more than snapshots‚ quick impression of something unique that caught my eye. As the sharp memories of my climbing days in Arapiles fade, these photos certainly will inspire me to return again.

Bill Hatcher travels the world in search of adventure and good stories. A regular contributor to National Geographic and Outside, his images have appeared on the cover of 40 magazines. Visit his website at www.billhatcher.com.


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