Review – Arapiles, 444 of the best

The stone may be proudly Victorian but Vertical Life‘s man in South Australia, Steve Kelly, is a self-declared expert on the guidebooks of Mt Arapiles, he has cast his eye and spread his experience over Gordon Poultney’s Arapiles – 444 of the Best.

I have always been a fan of Gordon Poultney’s little paperback Arapiles – 333 of the Best. Maybe it was because it was cheap. Climbers are after all cheapskates (well, the real ones are anyway). Maybe it was because it was a no-fuss, hand-drawn topo’s kinda manuscript. Maybe it was because of the tell-it-like-it-is descriptions Non Stop (25): Fiddly as fuck to protect’. Maybe it was because of the selection itself: 333 routes, all good ones. And maybe it was because of the simple fact that you didn’t mind spilling beer on it.

A few things have changed and lo and behold, we now have a colour update of the pocket guide. Of course, this means that you probably WILL mind spilling beer on it. It also means that you get to see Monique Forestier pulling the roof of Ethiopia (30) in full technicolour, as opposed to Ian Vickers midway through the same roof in black and white.

Then you have the write-ups, thankfully many of which have been retained from the original editions. Cellular Destruction (21): ‘Beats Nowra at its own game, short, slimy and undergraded’; Cobwebs (28): ‘The crux gets some people angrier than Rage Against the Machine’. Such descriptions are totally classic. Less classic are the documented routes (those two aside obviously).

ARAPILES-444-cover-600pxWhat? I hear you say. Isn’t it meant to be ‘444 of the Best’?

Well, err, yes, although have you ever done Happy As Larry? The inclusion of such routes may very well have been the reason why 333 of the Best is now 444 of the Best, but it’s hardly best is it? Best and maybe ‘Not So Great’. This despite the authors own sentiment within the introduction stating ‘we have only concentrated on the best routes of all grades – no fillers’. Happy as Larry over Great Temptation. Really?

This complaint, however, is merely me pointing out the obvious. If you as a buyer wanted to know what that awesome looking line was looming over your head while you wasted skin becoming friends with Larry, then I’d suggest you take the advice of Nike and ‘Just Do It’, then go and request a refund. This is a mini pocket guide covering just 444 routes of a crag that probably has in excess of 2000. It won’t include all your favourites (not even that one), but it does include emergency information, logistics, route classifications and sun/shade information. This is what good guides are made of.

The photos and design by Simon Carter are as you would expect, just grand. Some old, some new, with the shot of Dave Jones on Common Knowledge and Steve Bullen on Lord of the Rings being my pick (not to mention the cover), but like the routes themselves, you may have a difference of opinion. Which brings us to the grades…

333 of the Best always told it like it was. Being a Nati local Gordy has his finger on the pulse, although in this edition I think he took it off it for a couple of them. Slopin’ Sleazin at 29 for instance. Body Recession at 28. I’d take both only I know I’m weak and anyone who has climbed those and then gone onto try Cobwebs will know the real truth.

I’m also a bit miffed that 444 of the Best does not include any routes in the Mysteries Wall area. Anus Horribilus might be the softest 25 at the Mount, but that doesn’t make it less classic. It’s also interesting to note that the author’s two new routes on Upper Curtain Wall get coverage, Drama Queen deservedly so (providing it’s not a retro bolt), but the two new 27’s and a reputedly Taipanesque 28 in the same region don’t get any press whatsoever. Equally the excellent Grimstone (26) straight up the guts of Reaper Wall doesn’t make the 444 list, or the utterly brilliant masterpiece (of mine) called The Perfect Match (25), which is longer than Pilot Error and doesn’t require an online booking system to become acquainted with. There’s also no talk of ‘the best power route in Australia’ Living With a Hernia (30). Surely these take preference over Hyperlink (27)?

Now I can hear groans aplenty and yes, I’d have to agree that this isn’t meant to be ‘a guide to new routing at Araps’ or ‘a guide to the Mount’s Long Forgotten Spider-Web Riddled Sandbags’ (perhaps I’ll write that one). Instead it’s meant to be 444 of the Best. Why then do we have routes that clearly no one has heard of in the last four guidebooks gracing the pages? Did anyone vote on this? Has anyone ever heard of Chill Pill? Has anyone done it? Aah, but then look at the FA details and clearly someone has…

As Gordy says in his write up for Pilot Error:

‘Editor’s privilege’.

Good on him.

Steve Kelly

Arapiles, 444 of the Best retails for $19.95 and is available from and specialist climbing shops.


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