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The road to Arapiles

posted Jan 25, 2011, 6:31 PM by Brisbane Rockclimbing Club

This is a feel good article. After reading this article you’ll feel that your climbing is magnificent. You’ll be searching us out at the crags as you will know that even on a mediocre day if you manage to score the climb next to us, you will look like the Barishnikov of the rock in comparison, whilst I seem to be doing some sort of JaJa Binks impersonation. Never mind – everyone has to start somewhere, and to get somewhere you need a lofty goal – Arapiles.

The Challenge

Narelle and I first met 8 years ago at BRC, and sadly enough never made it to one single trip to Arapiles!! The problem – children, partners, children, lack of money, children, no time, children. You get the picture. Not only did we never make it to Arapiles, but we also never had the time to climb consistently.  Other BRC folk use to come back from an Arapiles trip looking very svelte and strong and they never quite got our questions – was it wet? Was it too cold to climb? Too Hot? Too crowded? You look like you’ve put on weight! They would just wax on lyrically about the grandeur, the jugs, the multi-pitches… How insensitive! So there is only one thing to do about it – Get to Arapiles by Xmas or bust!

The Problem

Narelle is a svelte, fit, blonde godess and as you can see from the photo below I’m the JLo of the rock, and we’re not talking about singing.  Mind you she did tell me my bottom didn’t look big in this photo! Hard to tell from her photo whether her nose grew or not.

In truth its not entirely my fault. Injuries and a nasty strain of Ross River Fever took its toll. So here we both are, 29 and some 200 odd months ( yes unbelievably each), give or take, not led any climbs for about four years, a very basic rack between us, and me 10 kg heavier and nowhere near as fit, BUT  ITS GOING TO BE SOOOO FUN!

The Rules

Already we have had a bunch of people clamouring to join us, no doubt trying to get up into the Baryshnikov stakes. However we have been very certain about one thing - No-one is allowed to come unless they know less than us.  Yes you have read that correctly. So if you really want to join us you have two choices, frontal labotomy or teach us everything you know! Only joking. In fact we want to do it all for ourselves. Climbers are generally way too helpful, so both Narelle and I have found as a climber learning to lead again we get way too much advice, and would like a chance to see what we’re capable of.

The beginnings of lead climbing again

So where do you start in South-East Queensland to train for lead climbing in Arapiles? The same as you do for lead climbing anywhere. The basics we know, because we’ve both done courses, and lead ages ago, so now it is a matter of dusting off those skills, and doing some seconding to get in the groove. That done we were ready to have a go ourselves.  Knowledge was building, technical skills were dusted off, but still needed practice and fitness for leading was embryonic.

I started all of a sudden one day when we were up at Tinbeerwah. A climber was uncomfortable at the beginning of a sports 14. Before I knew it I was up, leading it and finished, thanks to the lovely bolting work done by JJ O’Brien.  Love your work JJ! Narelle too was inspired she jumped on a sports 15 lead and  also conquered it. However not all crags are Tinbeerwah. Tinbeerwah is lovely slabs, newly bolted and looked after by JJ. Every 3 metres or so on the lower grades there is a bolt, so for new leaders Tinbeerwah represents safety! There is a great 8 and 13 too, all bolted, which are very nice for new leaders. If you’re going to Tinny there is a great guide on Qurank.com

So where do you go from there. I had a little dabble at Frog, leading yet again Parsons Pleasure  - you know the corner  climb on the left of the scree slope as you head down. I’m afraid the Parson has had my pleasure all too many times and I’ll save the Frog stories for another episode. What I’d like to share with you is our exciting adventure to Mt Ngungun.

Mt. Ngungun in January

We arrived at Ngungun carpark about 6am expecting it to be packed.  It was just the two of us, like the Thelma and Louise of the rock. Thel and I traipsed up the track and decided the track wasn’t steep or long enough so decided to walk up and down the top section several times. In truth it took us a while to find turtle rock, which is very important as it marks the track where you go west.  We did find it in the end, all by ourselves, with one small hint by Brad Pitt who casually pointed out the rock. We could have stayed there at chatted but Thel and I had better things to do than chat to Brad Pitt – climbing Ngungun.

We had know idea if we were going to be able to find the Main Cliffs of Ngungun, let alone climb there. It was suppose to be 33C in Brisbane, so it might have been too hot, and the guides just don’t give you that sort of info in detail. There are lots of crags in the shade at Coolum and Tibro, but mainly sports and higher grades. Some of the crags start at about 20, which is part of the reason we thought we would share our newly formed wisdom.

Ngungun was beautiful. We were not hot at all. There was a glorious sea-breeze from the east, and about half the climbs were in shade. We practiced our climb-finding skills. It took a while but we were able to choose three climbs in the shade, a 12 and two 13s. Should be easy.  We could focus on our gear placement, rope skills and placing draws, but we had not counted on one thing – sandbagging!

For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that a 200 cm giant who normally leads a 26 with one-hand tied behind their back graded it as a 12. It seemed like that anyway. In reality our little climbs were graded in 1970, 1971 and 1972 and the rock of course is typical Glass House Mountains rock, brittle especially after the wet. It is probable that the extra footholds and hand holds that made these climbs those grades was worn away a long time ago.

I led the first climb “Sticky Fingers” , a 12. It was quite a scramble up to the first decent gear placement, and the move above that was horrendous – a move into a smooth as glass chimney. I placed very carefully  2 solid pieces, and very slowly and deliberately moved into the chimney, feet slipping but able to do the road runner up a bit higher and with one bomber handhold.  Head still there and determined not to let this bitch (not Thel the climb) beat me I continued placing as much gear as I dared. The chimney remained slippery but the crack on the left was beautiful for swallowing wires and cams and a hex or two. It was only 18 metres but just as I got near the top and got two enormous hand holds, both feet completely went jolting both shoulders, and making me feel like my arms were 10 cm longer, but I did it. Yeah! It is always pleasing when your belayer has more trouble than you getting up the climb, but the laughs weren’t on Thel for very long as I reciprocated on the very next climb. Gumby leaders grade 16 for this one.

I seemed to have a vague recollection that “Angie” next door was an easier proposition, but that was totally misguided and luckily Thel is a real trooper. Same sorts of issues as “Sticky Fingers”, but a more open chimney. At no stage did the chimney feel like it would hold my stance, and I was on second!! You should know that I was good at chimneys! I could do climbs on lead that others thought were just awful because of the chimneys.  Thel kept her head and finished the climb placing lots of beautiful wires and cams. Thel thought perhaps a gumby leader 16 grade was probably more appropriate.

I led one more, “Deep Purple”. Gumby grade 15 I think, but much more enjoyable, although a little too much foliage on it at the moment. It had been years since I had been to the Main Cliffs at Ngungun but I had never seen it this lush. Unfortuneately some of the beautiful flourishing grasses are in the middle of climbs. Gear placement practice however is much better done on the Nursery Cliffs at the top of Ngungun or the bomber rock of Frog.

Overall however , we came, we found the crag, we found the routes, we were challenged  and we conquered.  Watch out Arapiles!


Cheers, Narelle & Veronica AKA Thelma and Louise