It might be something of an ugly duckling in the Australian climbing scene, but South East Queensland has a fine pedigree in long, adventurous routes. Indeed, the region was something of a crucible during the early development of the sport, a time when underprotected mountaineering-style sufferfests were all the rage. From the 1920’s onward, the Queensland proclivity for long routes has endured.
Over the years, trends have shifted and the sport has evolved. Improvements in traditional protection, the advent of bolting and the general increase in climbing standards have all left their mark on route development. As such, the styles in which multipitch climbs have been established are almost as numerous as the routes themselves. There are underprotected trad horrorshows, sensibly protected mixed affairs, fully-bolted fun factories, manky old bolt ladders, and any other combination you care to dream of.
But which are the best? Well, that’s a subject of great debate. There are many criteria by which one might judge such routes, but at the end of the day, it’s all subjective. As such, this is not a list describing the “10 Best Multipitch routes”, but simply “10 Classic Multipitch routes”. It was compiled using suggestions made by the esteemed brains trust of the Adventure Climbers Australia Facebook group. Your mileage may vary.
In no particular order, these are they:
Airtime over Pumicestone – Carborundum Wall, Mt Tibrogargan (Grade 21, 250m)
Easily one of the finest routes on Tibro, Airtime takes a direct line from base to summit with some stellar climbing in between. The prospect of pulling difficult moves on traditional gear keeps many punters at bay, however the crux pitch is entirely bolted. Here, a tricky move off the belay is followed by a spectacular run up an exposed blunt arete with just enough bolts to keep it sane. The remainder of the climb offers protection that is sufficient albeit thin and thought-provoking at times. Some loose rock exists, but it is manageable. Some choose to abseil from the top of a prominent pillar, although it is worth continuing to the summit for full value. Unlike many modern Tibro multipitches, this route is solid at the grade.
The Governor – East Face, Mt Barney (Grade 22, 320m)
A relatively recent addition, this fully-bolted route forces a direct, sustained line up the intimidating East Face of Mt Barney. Whilst initially having a reputation for loose rock, it has been reported that the route has cleaned up significantly following modest traffic. Some climbers consider the approach via the South East Ridge to be the crux, but most agree that it is the exposed and difficult upper pitches that provide most of the difficulty. There are very few “easy” pitches, with only 4 of the 15 pitches going at less than Grade 18. A memorable outing in an outrageous position.
Ruby of India – East Face, Mt Maroon (Grade 16, 210m)
The author includes this entry under protest, bowing to consensus that this popular route is worthy of inclusion. The climbing is somewhat lacklustre with two pitches that barely rate higher than steep bushwalking and a mere handful of interesting moves. However, it does feature plenty of clean rock, lashings of exposure and a sense of remoteness. Many climbers have fond memories of cutting their teeth on this entry-level adventure route with tales of minor epics and benightments a common theme. The grade is fair by modern standards and the protection is plentiful, resulting in an esteemed reputation as an introductory adventure classic.
Black Orpheus – Desperation Wall, Mt Tibrogargan (Grade 10, 110m)
This is a certified SEQ introductory adventure classic. That means it’s something of an acquired taste with everything that folks either love or hate about Tibro climbing – run outs, spaced protection, tricky route finding and loose rock. As with many routes of the era, Black Orpheus is somewhat undergraded and will provide heady experiences for budding adventurers. The poorly-protected slab leading to the infamous Zombie Tree belay, as well as an exposed stemming chimney crux form lasting memories.
The Martian – South Face, Mt Beerwah (Grade 17, 320m)
Following something of a renaissance of development on the vast South Face of Mt Beerwah, The Martian is a worthy recent addition to the SEQ multipitch portfolio. Equipped with aspiring adventure climbers in mind, it features a sensible mix of natural and bolted protection and bolted anchors to facilitate retreat. At times, the bolt positioning can feel somewhat contrived, but it doesn’t detract from the line a great deal. The rock quality is frankly quite stellar for a line of this length and character, and the featured slabs offer high quality movement. A great route with which to build experience, or a fun romp for more seasoned climbers.
Trojan – Summit Caves, Mt Tibrogargan (Grade 13R, 75m)
The route description reads thusly: “Most people look at the route and think ‘How can this be a 13?’. Keep in mind that the first ascentionists climbed the route wearing sandshoes in 1966!” A testament to old school sandbags, Trojan takes a natural line through exposed and intimidating terrain. Two poorly-protected access pitches lead to a small belay cave, under which a disturbing amount of empty space yawns. Say a prayer and launch into some classic crack climbing, jamming your way up the exciting corner to emerge among the bewildered tourists. A memorable micro-adventure which demands experience and composure.
Cloud Catcher – Woolumbin Shield, Woolumbin/Mt Warning (Grade 19, 250m)
Whilst technically in Northern New South Wales, this formation is closer in proximity and spirit to Queensland climbing, so we’ll claim it. One of the tallest walls in the country, the Woolumbin Shield is a mighty volcanic slab which soars more than 400m from the rainforest to the sky. Any ascent on this epic face is less of a multipitch adventure than a full-scale jungle mountaineering expedition. Just getting to the base of the route is a difficult undertaking with infrequent visits doing little to tame the tangled undergrowth. Wait-A-While and Gympie Gympie conspire to keep climbers from the wall, and should they find it, they face questionable rock, poor protection, vegetated slabs and tricky route-finding. In other words, a true adventure!
Clemency – Clemency Wall, Mt Tibrogargan (Grade 16, 190m)
This is the quintessential Tibro adventure route – a heady, underprotected, undergraded ramble. Once the hardest climb in the state, Clemency is still pretty stout by modern standards, more so for the mental challenges than the technical ones. A few manky old pegs may assist with routefinding, but they wouldn’t be able to resist a slight breeze, much less a fall. Protection improves the higher you climb, but much of the route is still a “leader must not fall” type of deal. Such routes are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but Clemency is a true testpiece that all Tibro acolytes should aspire to.
North Face Route – Leaning Peak, Mt Barney (Grade 14, 410m)
This is the longest route in Queensland and nothing if not a big day out. Although the grade is quite modest, the remoteness of the climb and the difficulty of retreat adds commitment to the experience. It is worth getting a lay of the land before attempting the route, as parties frequently become lost if unfamiliar with the vast web of ridges and gullies that form the Barney massif. But with a little bit of knowhow, one can soon find oneself at the base of Chockstone Gully, staring up at a vast sea of rock. Classy slab climbing with spaced protection leads to a steep, loose headwall, and if you manage to levitate your way up this, the climb is complete. Make sure you know how to get down!
Aphelion – Celestial Wall, Mt Tibrogargan (Grade 22, 90m)
Another fully-bolted route, Aphelion is a fine example of how modern development has unlocked the hitherto untapped potential on some of Tibro’s more intimidating walls. The third pitch in particular is regarded as one of the very best on the mountain, a soaring orange corner in a stunning position. And if that’s not enough for you, there are a couple of other good reasons to get cranking on Celestial Wall. The interwoven nature of neighbouring routes means that repeat ascents can form a bit of a “choose your own adventure” type of outing, with Rubicon and Voyager in close proximity. Additionally, a complete ascent will find you on Halfway House where high quality single pitch routes can be found, and in full shade too! Be wary on abseil, as parties with 60m ropes have occasionally come unstuck on the long descent of Heliosphere.
There are many other excellent multipitch routes in South East Queensland, and this is but a mere taste of what’s on offer. If you have a favourite I haven’t listed here, feel free to let me know!
Ryan Siacci, Esq.