As we Melbournians finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, regional Victoria and all of its outdoor sites are singing to us once again. For some of us, our choice of activity has still been accessible, albeit in a restricted way. Riders and runners could still go out within a certain timeframe and distance from their house, but for those of us who climb, the challenge was tougher.
With Melbourne gyms closed and crags outside the border, we were stuck to finding odd bluestone walls and hanging from boards in our homes. Some people have reveled in the downtime, training hard and feeling as fit as ever. However, for me as an everyday, casual climber, this abstraction has paled to the experience of days out on real rock.
Climbing, like most sports, has many different areas and threads to follow. Sport, trad, top rope, boulder? Indoors at a gym or outside at a crag? Competition climbing or social climbing? This variety allows us to pick our poison and climb how we want to. While being away from the wall for the last 8 months, I have explored what it is that makes climbing feel special to me.
Walking up to the Atridae and Organ Pipes
April 2018 - I take an old friend who I met on the first day of high school to Arapiles, introducing him to trad climbing. After sessions in the gym and a day sport-climbing outdoors, his initial fears had abated. We started on some single and two pitch grade 10s and 11s, cruising at the small bump that is mitre rock next to the grand size of the adjacent Mt Arapiles. The day is a success, but the real magic comes the next morning.
We hike out to the base of the Watchtower face under the cover of shady pines, before we start on the classic Arachnus, a 120-metre grade 9 climb. The sun is shining as us two old friends smile and laugh, slowly rolling our way higher and higher up. I direct us via Minerva’s variant, where at the end of the third pitch I crawl into a cramped little cave and set up belay for Ashley to follow me in. We sit there together for what feels like forever. Up in a tiny bit of shade, hiding from the day’s sun with one of my best friends, what more could you ask for?
Finding a wildflower on the third belay of Arachnus
Climbing builds relationships like no other. There is a level of intimacy and trust that comes with being tied to opposite ends of a rope high up a wall. As you climb you put your life in the hands of your partner, trusting that they will catch you if you take a fall. You spend all day together, hanging out on tiny ledges while picking at snacks during moments of respite. It’s from these moments that I realise I have met some of my best friends while out climbing.
This level of intimacy also allows for the sharing of beautiful moments. Finding an echidna hanging out at the start of your climb, stumbling across wildflowers in cracks 100 metres off the ground, a beautiful spanning view of your surrounds at a summit or even a sketchy walk home in the dark during an outing lasting longer than anticipated. A beautiful place can provide something special, even if it’s just a happy memory to recall for years to come.
Hanging off the Mt Arapiles frame
So then, it's about more than the climb. It’s the people and the special places that are missed so dearly. Not just the feeling of a post workout pump and not the ability to say I’ve climbed a hard route, but having your friends there to celebrate with you. I may not be climbing hard, but as long as I’m there with a friend, it’s alright by me.
Words and pictures by Josh Ring - outdoor instructor, avid climber and top notch friend.