5 CLIMB: The Tasman Peninsula
Best time: All year More info: www.thesarvo.com/confluence/display/thesarvo/Climbing
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