5 CLIMB: The Tas­man Penin­sula

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Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Adventure | Tasmania -

JUT­TING OUT OF THE East Coast of Tas­ma­nia, only an hour so drive south­east of Ho­bart, is the Tas­man Penin­sula, a rugged and re­mark­able promon­tory lined by pre­cip­i­tous do­lerite cliffs plung­ing into the Tas­man Sea. While there are other ar­eas in Tas­ma­nia with a higher den­sity of routes, here you will find some of the most iconic and unique climbs in Aus­tralia, routes that lure climbers from around the globe.

On the eastern edge of the penin­sula is beau­ti­ful Fortes­cue Bay, and a 90-minute walk from the camp­ground is Tassie’s most fa­mous rock climb, the Totem Pole, a grav­i­ty­de­fy­ing 4m-wide pil­lar of do­lerite that rises 60m from a sea-swept notch be­tween the main­land and an­other larger pil­lar called the Can­dle­stick. The first climber to reach its sum­mit, leg­endary 60s hard-man John Ew­bank, de­scribed it thus: “Take a match­stick, change it into do­lerite. Mul­ti­ply it 1600 times. Stand it up­right in a heavy swell, then swim away before it top­ples over.” Dur­ing their 1968 as­cent, Ew­bank and part­ner Alan Keller had to bivouac on the sum­mit dur­ing a storm and Keller re­put­edly dreamt dur­ing the night that he could feel the pil­lar mov­ing in the wind.

Ew­bank and Keller climbed to the sum­mit us­ing ‘aid’ (pulling on wedges, bolts or pitons), but the Totem Pole was fi­nally free climbed in 1995 at the rel­a­tively mod­est grade of 25. To­day, dur­ing the sum­mer climb­ing sea­son, the Totem Pole gets many as­cents, most by its eas­i­est route, the Free Route (via the Deep Play first pitch). The route is un­equiv­o­cally one of the best in the world, not just for its stun­ning lo­ca­tion and su­perb climb­ing, but also be­cause it’s an ad­ven­ture – climbers have to ab­seil down into the notch and swing across the some­times very rough sea to set up a hang­ing be­lay on the pil­lar it­self, where they will of­ten get ham­mered by spray or waves. Then, on reach­ing the top of the route, they have to set up a Ty­rolean tra­verse back to the main­land, swinging back across a 60m chasm be­low.

If you love sum­mit­ing pil­lars, also ac­cessed from Fortes­cue Bay is the Moai, a do­lerite pil­lar that is not as high or as nar­row as the Totem Pole, but which can be climbed at a more mod­er­ate grade and with fewer ac­cess and de­scent is­sues. Fur­ther west on the Tas­man Penin­sula is an­other pop­u­lar although hard-to-reach do­lerite pil­lar, Pole Dancer (21). Pole Dancer is lo­cated out at the very tip of Cape Raoul, a kilo­me­tre-long ridge of do­lerite pil­lars and cliffs that bend out into the ocean like the spine of an an­cient ti­tanic di­nosaur. Pole Dancer is only a short route, but it’s an ad­ven­ture get­ting to it: a two hour walk is fol­lowed by hours of scram­bling, ab­seil­ing and roped climb­ing to get to the end of the pil­lar (pass­ing a stinky seal colony), then climb­ing the route it­self, which is of­ten buf­feted by a stiff Southern Ocean breeze. It’s a mem­o­rable day that of­ten re­quires all the hours of day­light (bring a head torch).

For more reg­u­lar cliff-climb­ing ac­tion, head north from Cape Raoul and visit Mt Brown. If, af­ter all the mind-bend­ing sum­mits you are af­ter some­thing a lit­tle less out­ra­geous, head to the Par­adiso, a stel­lar sport climb­ing des­ti­na­tion on wind- and wa­ter-scooped do­lerite with routes up to grade 30 (but mostly in the mid 20s). For more out­ra­geous, mind­bend­ing climb­ing, head fur­ther out Mt Brown and ab­seil a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres down to­wards the break­ers smash­ing be­low, and climb back out one of the three multi-pitch routes that make their way back up this mighty face which looms over the moody Southern Ocean. – Ross Tay­lor

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