Monday, March 17, 2014

A Non BadAss Guide to South East Queensland Climbing

Today we go back in the archives, not as far back in time as the Misty Icefields adventure (2008) which I posted recently. Only back to the end of 2013 when Doug and I were motoring slowly northwards from NSW to the tropics of Queensland. We were doing what all rock climbers do, searching out nearby climbing areas where we could get a vertical fix on our way north. Here is a compilation of my thoughts on the various climbing areas we visited. 

First, the disclaimer. This is not the usual CYA disclaimer, this is the “I ain't no badass” disclaimer. Simon Carter, who is a badass, has a new guidebook to the southeast Queensland crags out and covers the various climbing areas at the Glasshouse Mountains, Brooyah, Tinbeerwah, Serpent, and Kangaroo Point. If you want details on exact climbs, and photos of lots of big balled climbers on scary run-out routes, go buy his book. I don't own it, but I own some of Carter's other books and, in addition to all the usual route information, the books are illustrated with stunning photos, a good smattering of history, and are pretty funny – in a black humour kind of climbing way – to read. 

Australian climbers I have found tend to be pretty badass because the rock and the routes are pretty unforgiving. There seem to be very few areas with easy climbs and solid protection. The Aussies still have a fairly robust – read no damn bolts here – ethic so long run-outs, dodgy carrot bolts, and sketchy gear placements seem to be common. None of this is helped by the tradition of placing carrots (bang in machine bolts) instead of real glue-ins and the anti-bolting stance of most of the relevant land management agencies – more of the no damn bolts here mentality. Layered on to all this is the great Aussie tradition of sand-bagging which makes every climb a real adventure, whether you wanted one or not. 

Doug leading Witches Cauldron, Frog Buttress

Another long winded digression which began with the “I ain't no badass” disclaimer and which was intended to read “I ain't no badass, and this is a sketchy tour of some climbing areas we hit on the way north.” 

Rumour has it that Frog Buttress was named either for some condoms found by the first climbers at the top of the crag or because the cliffs are situated on Mount French. Both could be true. This steep rhyolite climbing area is only about 50 metres high and 400 metres wide but what it lacks in size it makes up for in burliness. The rock is rhyolite and steep. I want to put that – STEEP – in capitals. Bloody steep. Back in the hurly burly early days of climbing, Frog Buttress was really popular, but, it didn't seem that popular when we were there. We only saw a handful of other climbers even though it was supposedly prime climbing season (winter). The routes are mostly traditional, although there are a few bolted aretes. We managed to stagger up a few of the easier graded routes, which were hellish stiff for the grade. I found the climbing varied between good fun and brutish, with a heavy emphasis on brutish. In keeping with the no bolting ethic there are very few rap anchors, so getting off climbs can be difficult and may involve long exposed traverses on minuscule ledges to reach twigs tied off with dubious tat which you have to rap off. What fun. 

 Glasshouse Mountains from Ngun Ngun

The Glasshouse Mountains are a widely spaced group of about 12 rhyolite plugs from old volcanoes. They were named by Captain Cook as he sailed north because they reminded him of the glasshouses back in the UK. There are hiking tracks up some of the peaks, some are closed off by the National Parks Service because of ridiculous and unspecified “dangers” and others have climbing areas scattered along the bases or summits. Climbing seemed a little more popular here and we saw a few other climbers on our days out. We had a lot of rain when we around the area so we didn't climb as much as we might have had the weather been drier. We did, however, climb some fun, well protected, easy sport routes, as well as some fun, poorly protected sport routes. There are some traditional routes as well, but we did not get to any of those. Of note is the west side summit hike to the top of Mount Tibrogargan which is strangely reminiscent of climbing at El Portero Chico in northern Mexico. The “trail” ascends some class3/4 slabs and attracts a bevy of hikers (the area is quite close to Brisbane). I'd be interested to know how many accidents have occurred on that trail as the “trail” bears more resemblance to climbing than it does hiking. 

Doug on the Tibrogargan hiking track

We were keen to climb at Mount Tinbeerwah near Noosa as it seemed from our climbing guide that there would be good variety of easy/moderate sport climbs. Not so much. The National Park service has banned bolting, so there are only a handful of routes with bolts on them, and, without exception they are carrot bolts. That would be fine if there were gear placements, but there aren't. The rock is extremely compact, and greasy. All the routes we looked at had the cruxes at the bottom where the rock was slimy with black lichen – the base area is overgrown with lush vegetation – and, the only protection was carrot bolts with the first clips five to seven metres up (well above the crux). Carrots, of course, can't be stick-clipped as you have to first fit a bolt plate over the top. We climbed a few routes, but shied away from twice as many (OK, ten times as many) as we climbed. I expect this place will continue it's rapid slide into obscurity as not many people are interested in taking ground falls. 

Kangaroo Point in Brisbane is the place that, as far as I can tell, badass climbers love to hate. We loved it. The climbing area is on the south side of the Brisbane River, accessible by public transit, has tons of amenities (including a “beach” swimming area nearby), is lit up at night for night climbing, has big burly top-rope anchors (if that is your thing), and, has been so well milked for climbing routes that, on some routes, holds overlap. There are traditional routes and sport routes, and rappel anchors on most routes. We did more climbing in one morning at Kangaroo Point than we did in a day at other areas as the routes are so easy to find, and, you don't have to piss around getting off. 

Finally, Brooyah State Forest near Gympie is also a popular area. There is a nice camping area in the State Forest with a river running along the back and it is a short drive to the different climbing areas. Again, there is a mix of traditional and sport routes with nice glue in ring bolts. There are some very good routes here on typical Australian sandstone. We stayed a few days and could easily have climbed for a few more. 

As I have noted before, there is virtually no climbing around Cairns. Townsville, however, has a pretty active climbing scene, and as we are due to head south in the next week to the Townsville area I may be able to publish the “wimps guide to climbing around Townsville.” Look out for it wherever quality publications are sold.

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