The Lost Crags of South East Queensland

As a climbing destination, Queensland finds it hard to compete with more famous locations south of the border. There are several reasons for this – the rock is better at Arapiles, the lines are more epic in the Blue Mountains, and both have a novel invention called “friction” which is sometimes a rare commodity in our sub-tropical climate.

But Australia loves an underdog. South East Queensland takes that mantle with aplomb, boasting a diverse array of crags in a relatively compact area. Sport, trad and bouldering are all given ample coverage on sandstone, granite, tuff and generous helpings of trachyte. The region is also home to some of the longest adventure routes in the country. There is no shortage of rock here.

As a matter of fact, there is so much rock here that we have even forgotten about a fair amount of it. Recently, I finally finished reading Michael Meadows’ fantastic book The Living Rock, a treatise on the history of climbing in Australia. It related tales of ascent on various crags which have, for one reason or another, fallen out of vogue.

Essentially, if you’ve ever driven past an obvious rocky outcrop in the Scenic Rim and wondered if there are any routes on it, the answer is almost certainly yes. The question remains, can you still climb them? If not, why not?

Please note that information is scant on these areas – I’ve done my best to research them but there could be errors in my reporting. I would appreciate any extra information folks could provide. That said, here’s a small sample of a few local crags which, for now, remain abandoned:

  1. Knapp’s Peak

Source: visitbrisbane.com.au

Location: Scenic Rim, between Boonah and Rathdowney
Rock Type: Rhyolite
Reason for closure: Access issues on private land

The profile of Knapp’s Peak is one that will probably appear rather familiar – a gentle, eucalyptus clad western slope leading to a precipitous eastern aspect. Much the same could be said of nearby peaks such as Mt Maroon, Mt Barney, or any number of knolls on the Rim proper.

I recently noticed Knapp’s Peak for the first time on a recce mission on Mt Maroon and thought it looked climbable. Being essentially a satellite of the latter peak, one would assume the cliffs to be roughly analogous. Evidently, I was not the first to entertain such thoughts. Knapp’s saw a great deal of development in the 1970’s with something like 300 (!) routes having been established. As far as I can tell, these have been lost to the sands of time – no guide that I can find contains documentation of these lines.

Whilst some of the peak is part of a scenic reserve, access is complicated by surrounding private land. It seems like perhaps the climbers and hikers of yesteryear may have overstayed their welcome and created problems for local farmers, forcing the closure of the crag. Perhaps the time may soon be right to re-open some constructive discourse regarding this matter.

  1. Nimbin Rocks

Source: gowildimages.com

Location: Nimbin, Northern Rivers, NSW
Rock Type: Rhyolite
Reason for closure: Private land, cultural significance

Whilst technically not located in SEQ, Nimbin (and many other nearby climbing locations such as Mt Warning and Urbenville) are far closer to Brisbane than they are to Sydney. The geology and climbing ethic in this area is very much an extension of the Queensland scene into which it has been unofficially adopted.

The Nimbin Rocks saw early development which seemed to taper off for no apparent reason which I can discern. There have been vague allusions as to cultural significance to the Bundjalung people, but this hasn’t seemed to dissuade thousands of hikers who ascend and are occasionally rescued from the summit of Mt Warning. My guess is that the answer is more to do with the fact that none of the rocks are gazetted on public land, and landowners have been increasingly cagey and wary of litigation in recent times.

A Queensland climbing guide published in 1958 listed a mere four routes at Nimbin Rocks. You can bet your bottom dollar there are plenty more virgin lines to be plucked. It must be about time to speak to the landowners and have ourselves a good old fashioned QLD raiding party…

  1. The Story Bridge

Source: State Library of Queensland

Location: Brisbane
Rock Type: Steel
Reason for closure: Legal entanglements

Sure, you can still do the Story Bridge Adventure Climb, which is adventurous in the same way that Contiki Tours are… It is, however, unlikely that you’ll ever get to repeat a solo ascent of the “North Buttress”. This is exactly what Greg Sheard and Rick White did in 1968, not only climbing the vertical columns but racing each other to the top! Graham Baines even produced a climbing guide to Brisbane’s Bridges with 5 routes on the Story Bridge alone.

Even back in these halcyon days, climbers were “escorted” from the bridge by police. These days, I’m fairly certain you’d be shot and summarily dumped in the Brown Snake where you would gently float out toward Moreton Bay with the rest of the refuse.

  1. The Steamers

Source: racqliving.com.au

Location: Scenic Rim, Main Range
Rock Type: Not sure… either basalt or trachyte
Reason for closure: Laziness, fear of runouts

The Steamers, so named because they would look like a large ship if you had a head full of LSD, are line of iconic peaks near Mt Superbus at the southern end of Main Range. They have always been remote, so much so that a 100 pound reward was offered to (but never claimed by) the first ascensionist.

Access is just one of the reasons for which they are seldom visited these days – modern QLD climbers tend to prefer easy access, solid rock and plenty of bolts. The Steamers have none of these things.

There is, however, a small but active core of hex-wielding, beard-sporting adventure climbers in SEQ. These folk love nothing more than climbing the trad horrorshows of yesteryear on the flanks of the Glassies, Barney and Maroon. What The Steamers lack in technical difficulty, they make up for in remoteness, commitment and history. A handful of ascents out here would be a bit of a feather in the cap of any self-styled adventurer.

  1. Coonowrin/Crookneck

Source: Queensland State Archive

Location: Glasshouse Mountains
Rock Type: Trachyte
Reason for closure: QPWS Official Closure

Coonowrin, also known as Crookneck or Crooky, is perhaps the most striking peak in the Glasshouse Mountains – a big call in a range which contains such iconic peaks as Tibrogargan and Beerwah.

Climbers are inevitably drawn toward inspiring, aesthetic lines, and Coonowrin has these in spades. The first ascent by Henry Mikalsen in 1910 was a major achievement in Australian climbing, seen as one of the “last great problems” at the time. The spiritual father of Queensland climbing, Bert Salmon, was a regular ascensionist.

In modern times the peak has remained closed to climbers since 1999, ostensibly due to rock fall potential after a survey conducted in April of that year. Despite that report, it would appear that Coonowrin is no more or less dangerous than any other nearby peak, with huge rockfall events on Beerwah and Tibro prompting only temporary closures.

David Reeve wrote a pretty good piece on this which you can read here: http://www.qldclimb.org.au/2014/07/some-thoughts-on-the-re-opening-of-mt-coonowrin/

He remains hopeful that climbing will resume at some time in the future, but stresses that it will take time and effort… time to renew that membership to the ACAQ, folks!

If you have any information which could illuminate any of the conditions affecting access to any of the above crags, please let me know and I will update this page as they come to light.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
January 2017

Note: Thanks to Michael Meadows for putting together such a comprehensive book, one which really helped me understand the historical context of QLD climbing culture. If you want to get your hands on a copy, it is available at Pinnacle Sports at Red Hill and K2 Basecamp in Fortitude Valley, as well as a handful of other bookstores. Information here: http://climbinghistoryoz.blogspot.com.au/

 

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?