Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Birthday In Bowen

Today I turn 51 and I am celebrating by huddling in our caravan in Bowen as wind and rain lashes the north Queensland coast and tropical cyclone Ita creeps ever closer. Right now, the eye is crossing over the southern edge of Townsville and, if the forecast track map is correct, will cross us sometime this evening. Ita has been downgraded to a category one, which means winds will “only” be in the 50 to 60 knot range and rainfall might only total 400 mm. Even early this morning, my “reality distortion field” as Doug calls my ever optimistic outlook, was fully operational and I could not conceive of any really destructive wind or rain affecting us. Suddenly, the situation is looking significantly more hazardous and my “reality distortion field” is beginning to buckle. But, as Doug quipped just moments ago “it's too late to do anything now.”
It's hard to focus on anything much with the maelstrom outside and a lot of uncertainty inside (our caravan and my head), but, with at least six hours until the worst of the cyclone arrives, I need to do something to fill the time, so I may as well chronicle our latest travels since we paddled in Upstart Bay. 

Gloucester Island from Murray Bay
We arrived in Bowen a couple of days ago. I haven't got a good feel for the town yet, but, it is just south of the infamous Abbot Point project and at the northern end of the Whitsunday Islands. From the lookout atop Cape Edgecumbe, Gloucester Island hulks – or maybe it was only the sonorous weather yesterday that made it appear so – to the east. Bowen is a much less touristy town than Airlie Beach, which is just a short distance to the south, and that can only be to its favour. There are a series of nice beaches scattered around the headland of Cape Edgecumbe which are a little less brown, muddy and tidal than is the norm for north Queensland beaches, and the entire cape is dotted with large granite boulders featuring slabs, overhangs, heucos and chicken heads. It is, in other words, a boulderers dream location.
Strangely enough, the bouldering guide for Bowen is nine pages long versus 145 pages for the Harveys Marbles bouldering guide, but, there must be nearly as many problems. The lack of documentation probably has more to do with there being fewer active climbers in the area than there are in Townsville than the quality or quantity of the bouldering. 
We both got out bouldering the day we arrived and, being a concrete sequentialist, I started at the first area featured in the on-line guide that coincidentally was the first area I arrived at walking down the beach to the bouldering from the caravan park. I'm getting much better at “seeing” the problems on boulders since I have been bouldering more and I had a great couple of hours playing around on some big boulders sitting on the sand – nice landings but wet sand sure does stick to rock shoes. Around 3.30 pm, the bugs – sandflies and mosquitoes – came out, which is a couple of hours before you would expect, and, having no repellent with me, I got chased away. I left Doug playing about as he never seems as attractive to biting insects. 

Boulder problems at Murray Bay
The next day the weather was quite tenebrous and I wasn't expecting much from the day. Doug had work to do (the never ending project) and opted to stay behind as he is quite keen to get this project finished. I packed up my rock shoes, some food and water, a brush (for the sand), repellent, and headed off exploring. I decided to walk the loop trail that leads around Cape Edgecumbe and, by the time I walked the 1.5 hours there and back, that took most of the day. There are amazing boulders and small rock walls all around this peninsular. You could easily spend several days or even a couple of weeks, moving from boulder to boulder, jumping into the ocean for a swim when you get hot. There are several look-outs on the peninsular, all of which offer superlative views of the surrounding coastline and the Whitsunday Islands, although with the lowering clouds I had, much of the islands was obscured. I got onto some wonderfully textured boulders at Mother Beddock look-out and discovered that I was actually feeling pretty tired from the day before, which, like everything in life was good and bad – good I got a decent work-out the day before, bad as the boulders I passed looked so much fun. 

Bowen's Five Gallon Buckets route, perhaps a half a gallon?
I gave up on the bouldering for the day and settled in to enjoy the tracks, which were quiet even on a Sunday, but, as I passed the pretty little cove of Murray Bay I could not resist a few laps on the big heucoed boulders on a rock shelf on the south side of the beach. One problem in particular reminded me of the classic and ultra-popular “Five Gallon Buckets” route at Smith Rock that usually has a queue to climb it. The route is shorter at Bowen, but, in the time you stand waiting at Smith Rocks, at Bowen you could do a dozen laps, explore a few other problems, and take a swim.

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