For those who appreciate a good piece of rock, a magical realm hides an hour’s drive east of the South Australian/Victorian border. Djurite, or Mt Arapiles, is a climber’s playground of perfect rock that just goes on, and on, and on…
My love affair with the place started in 2014 when Mereem, Jean-Luc and I camped overnight in The Pines campground beneath the base of one of the larger rock faces, on our way to Melbourne. Arriving in the dark and pitching our tent by torch light, the sight of the 120m Bard Buttress and Bluffs greeted us the next morning.
As we were in a hurry to meet Rosemary in Melbourne, we had only the morning to scamper around on some short, easy climbs. We left vowing to return.
Late in 2014 we were fortunate to have Phil Boase accompany us on our second trip, during which we all had a whale of a time climbing easy multi-pitch routes. Yes, all four of us on a two-pitch route! It was quite some logistic exercise, particularly when both of the younger members of the party decided they needed to pee, halfway up…
On the last weekend in February, Jo Rodwell kindly volunteered to look after Nathan and Emmeline, thereby freeing Simon to come and explore this place for himself. The Saturday was hot and very windy, sucking moisture out of us much faster than we could replace it, but we still got up two fun routes, each two pitches in length, on The Mitre, a crag of easier climbs separated from the main rock faces. The second, The Bishop, follows the left hand edge of the buttress in this photo.
Having boosted our confidence, stuffed ourselves with more rice, mince and beans than you could shake a stick at and got a good night’s rest, we psyched ourselves on Sunday morning and set out for The Watchtower, an enormous 105m-high slab of rock that has detached itself slightly from a large face in one of the main climbing areas.
We had timed our average climbing rate on the Saturday and knew that if I didn’t mess around too much we would finish in time to drive back to Adelaide and arrive before midnight. From a distance the climb looked long but not too difficult.
What I hadn’t quite appreciated was that a lot of the cracks (for placing anchors into) were horizontal, requiring different techniques and, in some cases, different hardware than I was used to. Standing at the bottom of the climb, I could see the answer to all my problems: Just Don’t Fall.
This worked pretty well and we advanced at a comfortable rate. I had fun working out how to finally use my very expensive camming devices, and set wired stoppers in opposition to each other, and all kinds of inventive ways to keep us safe. Simon must have been bored waiting for me to make every belay bomb-proof, but there was no way I wanted to face Jo with some lame excuse for why her husband was in hospital, so I just kept plugging in more anchors.
However, to speed things up a little we did combine the second and third pitches. As the third pitch traversed right, the rope drag increased as my anchors were now no longer in a straight line. Several metres from the belay ledge it got so bad I could hardly climb, and had to haul in some slack then hold the rope in my teeth to maintain the slack while I climbed, taking care to let it out again slowly so the jerk didn’t pull me off. Things got a little tense when there seemed to be no more cracks to anchor into…and a lot of air beneath my heels, as well as a lot of slack rope.
Eventually we both made it to the top of the third pitch, a little cave with a bit of shade to lie down in. Luxury!
At this point the headwall looked pretty steep. Feeling slightly nervous I led up over the top of the cave, only to find that the holds were large and friendly, and placements for anchors abounded. A few moves later and the slope eased back, allowing me to move quickly towards the top. Before losing sight of him I took a photo of Simon hanging off his belay in the cave far below.
Not long after we were both on the summit, enjoying the unique feeling of having climbed a long, classic rock climb without undue stress, in perfect weather and on perfect rock. A scramble along broad ledges took us to the head of a gully that we followed easily back to the base of the climb. And yes, we did get home before midnight.