Mt Tibrogargan: The Old Man and the Sea

When Jimmy Cook and the crew of the Endeavour sailed along the East Coast of Australia in 1770, they spied a rather iconic collection of peaks not particularly far from the shore. These peaks would come to be known as the Glasshouse Mountains, apparently reminding Cook of the glass factories in his home town of Yorkshire.

Of course, the peaks had existed for some eons and were well known to native Australians for a time that preceded European discovery by some millennia. According to Aboriginal mythology, the various peaks are members of the same family. With Tibrogargan’s strong resemblance to a giant face and Beerwah’s wide, conical skirt, the two largest mountains were the patriarch and matriarch of the group, respectively.

As the legend goes, Old Man Tibrogargan was alarmed by the rising sea waters, calling on Coonowrin to help his mother reach a safer spot. When Coonowrin failed to do so, Tibrogargan grew wrathful and struck his son with a club, breaking his neck. The Old Man then turned his back on “Crookneck”, and so they have remained – Coonowrin with his broken crown, and Tibrogargan with his face eternally toward the sea.

It’s no great surprise that the Glasshouses have captured the imagination of so many folk over the years. They are a singularly impressive group of peaks, rising with startling abruptness from an otherwise featureless plain. This abruptness belies the fact that the mountains are actually quite diminutive – Beerwah, the tallest, is a mere 556m.

The Glasshouses owe their captivating shapes, and indeed their very existence, to one of the great powers of the planet… well, two really – volcanic activity and erosion. Some sort of geological bother occurred in the region around 27 million years ago, an apparent surge of “liquid hot magma” as Dr Evil described it. Each of the Glasshouse Mountains represents a vent which belonged to an ancient volcano, since eroded to nothing by the passage of time. What we’re left with is a series of rhyolite cores of varying height, shape and consistency.

Many of the peaks are interesting in their own right, but I have a particular fondness for Tibrogargan. Known as Tibro in the borderline gibberish that is a climber’s vernacular, it is one of my favourite climbing destinations, both at home and abroad. This glowing appraisal may seem odd… and it probably is. Tibro was viewed for many years as a teetering shitheap of choss and doom with little to recommend it to rock artists. These days, advances in the sport have allowed modern climbers to crimp, smear, scramble, thrutch and otherwise ascend all manner of lines that were previously inaccessible. That said, it’s still an acquired taste.

Back in my confused youth, I was what scientists call “turbo fat”. I have a photo somewhere which is too depressing to post here, but at one point I was probably nearing 100kgs… which is fine if you’re 2 meters tall, but I was (and I assume still am) 172cm. El gordo.

With my goal being to join the Army, I began training in an attempt to lose weight. A friend from high school invited me to climb Tibrogargan, and I thought it would be a good way to get active. We ascended via the tourist track, a steep scramble up polished rock that, according to the SEQ Climbing Guide “can now be seen from space”. It was a modest beginning, but I was immediately hooked. The rest, as they say, is history.

From there, I continued hiking and scrambling all over South East Queensland. My friend Adam and I kept at this pursuit for some years, eventually ticking virtually every peak in the Scenic Rim. Later, I tried my hand at rock climbing which led to an introduction to mountaineering in New Zealand which led to guide training with the Mountain Training School which led to my current lifestyle of addictive climbing behaviour. And all that grew from an offhand invitation to scramble up the back of Tibro, so naturally I have quite a soft spot for the humble little hill down the road.

Since the early days of my continuing love affair with the outdoors, my skills and interests have changed somewhat. However, no matter at which point I’ve been in my climbing career, Tibro has continued to deliver. From steep, gymnastic sport climbs to old-school trad adventures, the Old Man literally has something for everyone.

10 pitches of over-bolted fun? Check. Juggy steepness with easy access? Check. Epic route-finding over a sea of rock? Check.  Run-out slab? Yep. Flared cracks? Heaps. Shitty pro? Mostly. It’s the ultimate mixed bag.

Possibly the scariest climb of my life took place on the North East Buttress. I’d previously tried my hand at a few of the sketchy trad routes of yesteryear, but nothing so far had prepared me for this route. The crux of the climb came at the 7th pitch, wherein I had the choice between an unprotected slab and a scary stem crack. I chose the crack, stitching it up with about half my rack. After a tense battle, I escaped onto the face and came up against an antiquated bolt ladder which had been gathering rust since the late 60’s. I used every last sling and draw on my harness as I gingerly ascended over fragile rock and manky death blocks. I clipped the anchor with the greatest sense of relief I’ve ever felt.

Morag enjoys the relative ease of Pitch 8 after the sphincter-clenching bolt ladder episode…

I look back on the climb as quintessential Type 2 fun. You’d be batshit to repeat it, but you can certainly learn something from an experience like that. Many things, perhaps. You learn things about yourself and things about your partner. You learn what fear is like. You learn how to deal with it.

At the end of the day, you can read all the beta in the world, but you just never know what the day will bring on a Tibro climb. And that is why I love it. It’s certainly not for everyone, and it will continue to maintain its somewhat chequered reputation forever. But if adventure is what you seek, then Tibro has it. Best of all, it’s in our backyard.

Mount Tibrogargan can be called many things, but one thing it can never be called is boring.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
April 2016



Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?

You May Also Like