Arapiles: the Drought ends
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Tuesday April 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm)

With a deluge!

On Thursday night, the rain started. By Friday morning, we had several-inch-deep puddles of water just below the campsite. One of our neighbors, packed up his stuff and left. Friday we had a severe downpour in the morning and clearing in the afternoon. Friday night, it rained. Saturday morning dawned cold. We had planned on hot, dry weather during our Australia climbing trip and weren’t well prepared for days or weeks of rain.

By today (Tuesday, April 28) we’ve had 5 days of rain ( I don’t know how many inches. Or for that matter, how many centimeters. I always ask locals, “What’s the average rainfall?”, to a reply of,

“Well I don’t know. We’ve been in drought for the past 13 years and I don’t know what it was before that.”

However, the amount of rain we’ve had made me wonder about the frame of reference for this drought. To a British settler from the wet UK, which gave the world the flush toilet, several months without rain would seem like a drought. To anyone who’s lived in California, with a dry season from May until October, several months without rain means it’s summer.So I’m beginning to suspect that the drought is a matter of frame of reference.

When I checked on the net, it states: “The annual average precipitation at Horsham is 47.93 Inches.” and another site states that, “The Horsham Rural City Council sits comfortably in-between with an average annual rainfall of 450mm.

I haven’t found the rainfall figures for the past several years, but 45 cm is close to 20 inches, which is considerably more annual rainfall than many parts of California or Colorado, two states where I’ve climbed a lot, so I suspect that it’s a drought from what were relatively wet conditions.

I’ll try to find more numbers on rain, but it sure seems to me like the drought is ending, as we sit with wet shoes, damp clothes, and will head to sleep in  our soggy tent!

Posted by sibylle in Australia (Thursday April 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm)

We’ve camped at the Yellow Gum site in Arapiles for almost six weeks now, after moving there from the Pines. We moved to better digs - to a site with a large log set on two end logs that serves as a table, and beneath a large tree that earlier provided shade from the heat in early March and now holds up our tarp to shelter us from the deluge.


Yes! It’s raining in Australia. Apparently, once again, we’ve ended a drought. It seems that today’s rain is the biggest storm in the last 12 years, and it’s due to keep raining for a few more days. While the downpour brings joy to the local farmers, as well as the residents who use rainwater from the tanks in their yard since the wells all ran dry years ago, we are a bit wet.


Arapiles resembles Yosemite’s Camp 4 during the 70s, with climbers from all countries congregating for the excellent rock. As I walk through camp, I’ve met climbers from New Zealand (lots), the UK, Scotland, Ireland, the US (quite a few), Canada, Germany, Sweden (several, surprisingly), Finnland, and France. Not only have we met a number of new climbers,  but on our second day here I encountered a Kiwi woman with whom I’d climbed in Yosemite years earlier. Next, we ran into Grugg, a climber from Tasmania whom we knew last summer in Squamish. The climbing world has shrunk - everyone used to be on the Joshua Tree - Yosemite - Tuolumne circuit.

Today, they’re on the Yosemite - Squamish - Thailand - Australia circuit. It continues to amaze me at how many of the same climbers I meet at the new and different climbing areas that we visit.


Camping here ranks high on the livability scale. Fees are low - $2 per person per night, and there’s no limit to the number of days one can stay. The campground has rainwater tanks with water, flush toilets (which surprises me, considering the water shortage), and it’s an easy walk from camp to the climbs. Mt. Arapiles is quite long, so we’ve concentrated on climbing routes near the campground - at the Organ Pipes, Atridae, and Central Gully. We’ve not climbed at Mitre rock, since we don’t have a car and are too indolent to walk several miles when good climbs sit right near our tent.

Best of all - one can stay at the Arapiles without a car. Since we came for 7 weeks, that seemed too long  (too expensive) to rent, but too short to buy a car and then sell it when leaving.

While I miss the convenience of a car, and going wherever we want whenever we like, it’s possible to stay here without one. Enough local Aussie climbers in camp drive into town for shopping and offer us rides that we haven’t yet gone without food.

Our campground has lovely views of the sunrise. Kangaroos hop through at dawn and dusk. Where else do parrots sit in the trees abouve the tent? Or wallabies hop through the bush behind camp? Australia without a doubt has the best animals of any place we’ve climbed.

Emu encounter
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Sunday April 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm)

“Don’t you dare feed the emu,” Whympey admonished me.


We had gone to Little Desert National park for the afternoon with Andy, a climber camping nearby who had a car. Two Scottish women who had been staying in camp in a “Hippie Camper” van, and whom I’d talked to about the van they were renting, had told me about the emu in Little Desert.

They had camped at Little Desert over Easter to avoid the crowds that descended upon Arapiles.

“The emu will eat bread from your hand,” one said.

“Hold the bread on a stick,” added the other. “He comes running over and I was scared he’d bite my hand.”

Having been bitten by a penguin, and lost some skin in the process, I wasn’t about to try getting bitten by a bird that’s bigger than I am. Still, I wanted to get close to the emu, so I’d brought some bread with us to Little Desert. Whympey is the park’s ranger and caretaker. The park, at its main facility, the Lodge, has a number of guest apartments for rent. Whympey was at the front desk when we arrived.

“I heard there’s an emu?” I asked him.

“Yes, Nuisance; he’s around here somewhere,” Whympey replied and walked outside with us. “He’s gone back by the shed.”

 With Whympey’s help, we soon located the huge bird. It looks  like a very large feather duster on huge stilts. The brown feathers appear very dense and thick, to keep it warm over the cold winter. The bird has immense feet and can run quite fast. I hadn’t gotten close to any of the other emus I’d seen in the Grampians, and was very excited to look at one closely.


“Where did he come from?” I asked Whympey.

“We bred him,” he replied. “We had the parents and several chicks.” Amazing to think of something that huge as chicks. Whympey explained that the other chicks had run off into the wild, before they’d put up a fence around the refuge.

I mentioned hearing about the emu from the Scottish women and Whympey enjoined me to not feed the bird. There went my idea of getting close enough to pet one!

“Can I touch him? I asked. “Will he bite?”

“No, but he’ll kick you,” Whympey responded. Well, with legs that size, getting kicked did not seem like fun.

Whympey watched us like a hawk while we were near the shed. The emu then headed for the front lawn, we went on one of the signed and numbered nature walks, and Whympey returned inside to conduct his business. When we returned from the guided walk, the emu was still on the front lawn and Whympey nowhere in sight. My big chance! I pulled a piece of bread from my pocket and held it up. Sure enough, Nuisance came running. As this large animal charging me neared, I concluded that perhaps throwing the bread on the ground might be a better idea.

He came nearby and gulped the bread off the ground. I held up another small shred of bread, and he came closer. I never had the courage (or stupidity) to hold any of the bread out to the emu, but instead dropped in to the ground.

I cajoled my son into taking pictures of the great bird, while Tristan told me to stop feeding it because I’d get all us into trouble.

Sure enough, Whympey came charging out of the office.

“You’re naughty!” he yelled. “Very naughty!”.

Well yes, I was, and admitted it. As a biologist, I know it’s not good to feed wild animals, and especially with inappropriate food. But as a very curious visitor, I had a burning desire to view this marvelous bird up close. Let’s hope he suffers no harm from the bread.





Climbing at Mt. Arapiles
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Wednesday April 15, 2009 at 8:46 pm)

Climbers have told me that Mt. Arapiles provides the best cragging in the world, and they may just be right. It’s not the most spectacular place I’ve climbed - Yosemite and Squamish compete for that title. Nor does it have the best long climbs -  the best long climbs I’ve done are in Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, the Bugaboos, the Wind Rivers,  Squamish, and my own back yard - the Rocky Mountains. Nor does it have the best sport climbing (it doesn’t have any, really): Spain’s Siuran, La Mussara, plus France and Italy would vie for that - along with many areas I’ve not yet visited.

But for cragging - multi-pitch climbs between 2 - 7 pitches, Arapiles may offer the most variety of excellent climbs in all ranges of difficulty.

It’s been hard for me to get used to the climbing here. I learned to climb in Yosemite, on its gentle, low-angle granite slabs (where a slab is 70 degrees steep, not 90 degrees!). After getting good at slabs, I started climbing cracks - and often, these too were on lower angle slabs, with my weight on my feet and the cracks used for placing gear and a hand hold primarily for balance.

What I haven’t done a lot in the past is climb on steep, overhanging rock; which is too bad, because that’s what the Arapiles climbs are on. Once, when I whimpered after falling off another steep bulge that Tristan led, he replied,

“It’s just like a gym climb. You should have been training more in the gym this winter.”

Yes. I should have. The rock here is amazing - from afar, Arapiles looks like a dripping candle, with melted wax running down the sides, leaving smooth, rounded, blobs everywhere. And these smooth, slightly overhanging, bulging, blobs are extremely hard ( as, the rock doesn’t break; although also as, difficult.) The rock consists of quartzite - a metamorphic stone that was baked when hot magma intruded from beneath. After being baked to extreme harness, it was bureid beneath the sea and polished to utter smoothness. It helps, here, to have strong hands.


Not all the rock is smooth - up higher, where it wasn’t exposed to wave action, the rock becomes nice and rough and offers a much grippier surface.

In any case, my leading has sunk my numerous grades. However, we’re always told to work on our weaknesses, not on our strengths, and I’m certainly doing that. I’m good at climbing low-angle friction slabs and cracks, of which there are none; and instead find myself learning finally to climb overhangs. If lucky, I’ll arrive in Yosemite this spring stronger from the experience!


I’ll post photos once we return to the US in May. For now, we hitchhike to Horsham to use the library about once  or twice a week.


Kangaroos at the Arapiles and Grampians
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Monday April 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm)

We hoped to see our first kangaroo while at the Arapiles. So far, I’ve seen not only my first kangaroo, but also my second, tenth, one hundredths, and one thousandths kangaroo. Kangaroos hop across the road when anyone drives up to the Arapiles, jump out of the bush early in the morning when I get out of the tent, and graze the fields surrounding Mt. Arapiles every dawn and dusk.  After my jet-lagged arrival, I woke early every day and walked along country roads  taking photos of kangaroos at sunrise.

A friend, Norm,  invited us to visit his house in Wartook Valley and climb  in the Grampians.  I thought we’d seen a lot of kangaroos in the Arapiles. When we turned left off the main road to Zumstein’s, onto what Norm refers to as his “paddock” - 40 acres of pasture - hundreds of kangaroos grazed the fields.

“They’re a bit of a nuisance here,” Norm explained, trying to dampen my enthusiasm for the lovely kangaroos. They are a lovely animal, very graceful and agile. But lacking any native (or introduced ) predator in Australia, enormous herds of kangaroos threaten to destroy the environment, eating all grasses, shots, and small trees. Kangaroo-grazed areas are cropped close to the ground, with not a shoot surviving their appetite.

“Someone needs to cull them,” Norm commented. And he’s right. Like deer have destroyed native trees by overgrazing in parts of the United States, kangaroos are destroying all trees and bushes in parts of Australia.

When I first heard that the local pub in Natimuk serves kangaroo steak, I was appalled. At a barbeque in Natimuk, I declined the opportunity to try kangaroos steak.

“They’re too cute. I like kangaroos,” I explained when people offered me roast kangaroo. I still won’t eat them - they’re much too cute - but I do agree that some population control would benefit the herds.

Finding a hurt baby kangaroo two days ago made that clear.

“There’s a baby kangaroo on the island by the lake,” Norm told me one morning. “It’s too small to survive without its mother. You might have a look at it.”

I walked out to the dam and saw a little kangaroo lying flat on the ground, not moving. I worried that it had died from dehydration. As I walked up, it struggled to sit up, and then, as I aproached closer, it tried to hop away, but fell over.

I got down on hands and knees, holding out the celery I’d found in the fridge (what do I know about kangaroos?). It sat straight up, not moving, until I touched the celery to its mouth. It never ate the celery, so I slowly reached out to scratch its chest. I tried again to feed it celery, but it didn’t nibble once. I moved closer, and it again tried to hop away and fell over.

By now convinced that it must be dehydrated and probably still nursing, not yet eating, I decided to take it back to the house. I reached for it, but it kicked out at me. Kangaroos have very strong legs with very sharp claws on them. I stood, and when it fell over after trying to hop, I pounced on it and grabbed the back of the neck. Despite  being unfamiliar with kangaroos, that seemed the safest place - away from the slashing beck legs. I held the neck tightly, picked it up, and then held both rear legs tightly together, carrying it back to the house.

“I’ve rung our friend who does animal rescue. We’ll take him there,” Norm said.

When we arrived at Emu Holiday Park, the woman promptly stuffed my kangaroo in a bag.

“You keep the little joeys in a bag,” she explained. This reminds them of home - their mama’s pouch. She carried the kangaroo, bag and all, into the house, where it nursed on a bottle of rehydration formula. The little joey looked much happier already - secure in its bag, eyes covered, it nuzzled and chewed onthe bottle’s nipple.

The next day I called to ask how my kangaroo was doing.

“I took him to the vet today,” she explained. “He’s got a head injury. We’ll wait until the weekend to see how he does.”

Aha. That’s why the joey fell over when trying to hop. Not from dehydration, but from a brain injury. Probably his mother was one of hundreds of kangaroos hit my cars, then left to slowly die. The mother made it back to the field, but must have died, leaving poor Joey to crawl out, injured, and try to fend for himself.

I’ll call after the weekend to see if he made it.

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