Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Happy Days on the Problemmettes at Harveys Marbles

Harveys Marbles, west of Townsville in the Hervey Range (yes, there was a mix up with the spelling) is, to quote the guidebook, “Queensland's premier bouldering location.” With that kind of billing, a climber just can't drive past. Access is easy, take Sharpe Road south from the top of the range, and drive until you reach the army gates. The Commonwealth of Australia (which you think would be the good citizens of Australia, but somehow does not seem to be) owns a big chunk of land in this area which is used for military manoeuvres and trespassing could result in you being shot, intentionally, or unintentionally, in the end, it probably doesn't matter. Anyway, these are the gates you come to. 

A good trail heads up the embankment to the left (south) as you face the gates and this is one of the access tracks. We, as I have mentioned before, aren't great boulderers and have no bouldering pads, so, even though I had downloaded the 145 page guidebook, we didn't bother too much about working out where we were or what we were climbing. It takes enough time getting oriented at a crag with bolts and anchors to help. Working out where you are in a few dozen hectares of scattered boulders from a guidebook (no matter how thorough the authors have tried to be) is bound to be futile. 

 Some good problemmettes on the tall boulders in the background

We arrived around 2.00 pm, but didn't get out until 3.00 pm as there is no turn around at the army gates, the road is simply gated, and, we had to unhook our caravan from the car to get it turned around. That, and having some lunch, consumed an hour. The temperature was quite reasonable for bouldering and, given the shade, the breeze and the higher elevation than the coast, you could probably boulder here even in summer, although mornings and evenings would likely be best. 

Our first mistake was looking for big boulders. There are some tall highballs in the area, but, at least where we were, in the Inner Circle (the area which is quickest to reach and seems to have the densest concentration of boulders) the boulders are not that big. We started on a fairly obvious boulder (that I think, looking at the guidebook later, may have been Boulder #3 at Middle Marsh) and managed to work about three or four problems off that boulder. Exploring around in the same area we occupied ourselves for about 1.5 hours, often finding multiple different routes on the same small boulders. Because the boulders are fairly short, the longest we climbed were maybe five or six moves, we started calling them problemettes as problems seemed a bit overblown for the length of the routes. After a while, we wandered off on a deteriorating trail, but didn't find a big concentration of routes at our level again that afternoon and retired for traditional Australian “afternoon tea” at about the dinner hour. 

Next day, Doug managed to get his broken down computer working again which meant he had to finish the programming work he had on the go, so I spent the day out bouldering again. In the morning, I walked down to the Embankment to work some routes. I came back for breakfast, and then spent the rest of the day out wandering from boulder to boulder getting progressively braver with the routes I was doing which resulted in some brief moments of not quite terror. The motivation to not fall off as I mantled over the final few moves on what were, for me, high routes, was pretty high. 

This is probably the longest period of time I have spent outdoor bouldering – bouldering on artificial walls doesn't count the same – and I can now say I understand the appeal. There is something refreshing about heading out for a day with just some water, a chalk bag, and a pair of shoes and working on various problems (or problemmettes). There's no faffing around with gear, and ropes and anchors, and “on belay”, “off belay,” “take,” “lower,” and so on. You see a boulder, you see a line, you give it a go. What could be simpler?

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