What’s it feel like to clamber on some of the finest cliffs in Australia? Watch along with a GoPro and get a sense of the vertigo, patience, and challenge in rock climbing…
The main mission was to be Frenchmans Cap, a remote quartzite cliff in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, with some routes approaching 400 metres in length. The weather forecast wasn’t looking great at that point, so instead, climbing the sea cliffs on the Freycinet Peninsula was next on the schedule.
We arrived in Coles Bay by evening, only to find that the camp ground was closed and full. In search of a suitable site, we quickly discovered that the Silver Fox did not perform well on rough gravel roads. Fortunately, some locals let us know where to find a place to camp, and shortly afterwards we settled in for the night.
On day two, the six of us squeezed into the Chunder Bus for the bumpy drive out to the Freycinet crags; the person buried in the boot under all our climbing gear attracting strange looks from unsuspecting members of public. After unpacking and racking up, we explained to a tour group how our “hooks” worked, asserting that they are perfectly safe, and had our photos taken.
Then it was down to business – we abseiled down to the base of the spectacular granite cliffs. The climbing was great, including a bit of gardening to set up anchors, and using some holds that looked remarkably like cams and quickdraws on some of the harder sections. When the guidebook says “a sparsely-protected pitch”, you’d better believe it. Even belaying was scary.
The following day included a trip up to Longford, a bit of evening climbing in Cataract Gorge, and a brief detour through Launceston courtesy of Google Maps.
Ben Lomond National Park was the next attraction. 100 metre sheer cliffs of pure crack climbing – something I quickly discovered that I wasn’t very good at. Both myself and my climbing partner climbed a single pitch that day, bailed off, and managed to get two ropes stuck. Meanwhile, the rest of our group were eagerly climbing pitch after pitch.
After an epic mission to rescue our gear, the rescuers themselves got their two ropes stuck too. Not for long, though, as we had more rescuers already at the top of the cliffs. Once we were all finally back at the base of the cliff, we observed a brilliant sunset. Unfortunately, we still had an hour of boulder-hopping between us and the car park.
Finally, the weather forecast for Frenchmans Cap was showing what we wanted to see – good weather moving in over the next few days. We collected more supplies, and then headed over to Lake St Clair for the next few nights. To prove that rock climbers can appreciate art, we headed to “The Wall”, a spectacular wood carving that is still a work in progress. It describes the history of the Derwent Bridge area in the form of intricately-carved wood panels; the wall is to be 100 metres long when complete. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.
The walking started the following day. It started off OK, but shortly afterwards I was destroyed. “Endless torture is one way to describe the 25 km walk to the Tahune Hut at the base of Frenchmans”, says the guidebook. I disagree; with my level of fitness and pack weight, that is the only way to describe the walk. Every step was a torture. After stopping overnight at Lake Vera, we arrived at Lake Tahune the following afternoon, tired, wet, cold, and rather amused to see another hiker frantically trying to dry his jeans by the fire.
The brilliant weather didn’t arrive on cue, so a hike to the top of Frenchmans Cap was in order. We scrambled through rain, snow and fog to the summit so that we could update Facebook. Er, get the latest weather forecast. The news was not good – the high pressure weather system had skirted around Tasmania and was on its way to New Zealand!
On the descent back to the hut, we checked out the climbs that we wouldn’t be doing. A few sketchy traverses later put us at the base of the huge cliffs, disappearing into the clouds above. I’ll have to head back some time to climb there – and hope for better luck with the weather. The rock was amazing.
The next day was the ultimatum – climb, or get out. The first of our party was up early – bumping around, excited about the starry sky above. “Ah good, you’re all awake” were the words that woke the rest of us. Outside were low clouds and no stars in sight – only ten minutes after seeing the opposite. A hasty retreat was in order. That evening, we enjoyed delicious meals at the Derwent Bridge Hotel, by a roaring fireplace – a stark contrast to freeze-dried meals by a tiny coal stove. All was good.
The time to leave Tasmania was fast approaching. The next stop would be Hobart, to get in a bit of climbing at Mt Wellington and the Tasman Peninsula.
Mt Wellington is an amazing place. Great climbing, great views, and not far from the city. Spending a week there would be worthwhile, although make sure you’re reading the guidebook properly. You know a climb means trouble when your normally talkative climbing partner goes silent.
Ten minutes later, he yelled “there is no way this is a three-star grade 15 climb!” Not quite in those words, mind you. The curses echoed off the cliffs, down the valleys, and across the greater Hobart area, assaulting the ears of anyone who would listen. The silence returned, followed shortly afterwards by the end of the first pitch.
When following up the route, I quickly realised what all the silence and shouting was about. Loose rock, slings stashed into tiny shrubs, and the type of climbing that strangely resembled bush-bashing. I then led the second pitch. The first few metres of it, at least. It quickly turned into a nasty off-width crack, and we didn’t have any gear that would do the job. Luckily for us, there was a nice big tree nearby. Needless to say, we took the opportunity and bailed. A day later, we again looked at the guidebook. We started on the wrong route, and got further off course. The guidebook said something along the lines of “overgrown and nasty – don’t bother”. Grade 13, no stars.
After a day exploring Hobart, including a visit to another art gallery, it was off to the Tasman Peninsula despite a poor weather forecast. It was a sunny walk in to the Mt Brown crags, but half-way up the first route the rain rolled in. Another hasty retreat – and the sun returned shortly afterwards. That was the last climb of the trip. The next few hours involved more typical tourist activities – standing behind safety barriers (or jumping over safety barriers for some of us), and taking photos of the coastline, blowholes, sea caves and fossils.
The time had come to leave Tasmania behind. It was definitely a great place to be climbing and hiking, and definitely one that I’ll return to. Although the main mission of the trip was never attempted, a great time was had by all. Frenchmans Cap is now firmly on my list….