Notes From a Bruny Island Climbing Adventure
On Saturday morning Dany couldn’t find her socks. It caused a delay in the schedule, but she was determined to climb.
We picked up Lucia and Nacho and headed south to the port of Kettering. Dolores, our 8-seater Kia Carnival, was packed with food, water, tents, firewood and climbing equipment.
Sporting one of the most impressive mullets in the Southern Hemisphere, the young seaman and the person who looked like his father operated the ferry to Bruny Island in a calm and effective manner despite the high winds and rough sea.
It is possible that their matching sport sunnies gave them special powers. The kind of sunnies that make you look very serious.
Departing from Kettering, Dolores endured a short 15 minute sail carrying the four of us as we rolled onto the lush hills of North Bruny.
An hour and a bit later we were on the other side of the island, in south Bruny, looking across the three-kilometre golden beach of Cloudy Bay.
Again, our faithful Dolores (operated by Dany) safely transported us to the other side of the beach where the campsite is located.
There are not many places in Australia where driving on the beach is permitted and it should probably stay like that. But here, where not many go, it is allowed, and there is something special about sliding on the sand in an enclosed box on wheels while listening the prominent sound of the turquoise ocean.
The weather here changes every 20 minutes. The sky is divided. Blue and burning yellow dominate one side, while the other is wearing many shades of grey pulsating with soft blankets of rain in the horizon. They meet in the middle and get along quite well. The wind brings them together.
The weather for a good climbing trip is somewhere in the middle. But without the wind. Not the full scorching sun or the cold southern air carried from the west by the roaring forties.
In short, good climbing weather is one that is an improbability in lutruwita.
We were lucky, and mother nature was mostly accommodating but her winds made our adventure a little more adventurous.
Beyond the Cloudy Bay beach, there are kilometres of intricate and inaccessible cliff faces dropping into the ocean from a hundred of meters. Brown and grey formations of what looks like the dolerite columns of kunanyi and the Tasman Peninsula but feels like granite with very good friction, like rock Velcro. In some parts of the cliffs there are wavy, intricate features looking almost liquid.
Our intention was to climb on the cliffs. Which we did, with some hesitation.
At any given point, it was hard to tell how long we had until the weather would change again.
No one in our group was excited about the idea of hanging soaked to the bone off a rope 60 meters above the roaring ocean trying to climb a wet and slippery cliff in strong winds and darkness. That is not anyone’s idea of fun. A good story, maybe. But not fun.
After setting up camp we headed up the hill and at about four in the afternoon we faced the The Hidden Zawn, the closest climbing crag to the campsite. It was windy and we had about four hours of daylight.
We packed a couple of dynamic ropes (60m and 70m) and another 60m static rope for abseiling to the base of the crags where the ocean explodes on the cliffs and exhilarating climbing begins. In addition to the ropes, all up we had about 30 quick draws, various slings, cordelettes for anchor building and a few nuts and camming devices for extra protection from the terror of the cliffs at the edge of the world.
Nacho wanted to climb “The Noise of Time”, a 65m sport route in 3 pitches. We located the abseiling anchors at the top and prepared the gear. Dany guided us as she had climbed the route before.
But as we discussed the technicalities of the 4 of us abseiling down, the climbing order, required gear and rope management, I looked down into the roaring ocean and something in the wind told me that if all four of us are going down, we won’t get out before dark. And despite the fact we had head torches, the track back was unmarked, and we could easily get lost.
I suggested I’d stay at the top and call for help if they get stuck, but the climbing gang stuck together and after tense group deliberation we decided to compromise on alternative that posed fewer risks and better suited the windy conditions and our level of local knowledge, comfort, and experience.
We settled for “The little dog laughed”, a 35m single pitch sport climbing route on a slab section of one of the cliffs. Abseiling down required building an equalised anchor around some boulders at the top of the cliff.
Nacho mastered a two-point anchor using the boulders at the top of the cliff, attached the static rope to his ATC and descended towards the ocean.
Lucia packed the climbing rope on her back and abseiled to the start of the climb where she belayed Nacho from.
Nacho gracefully caressed his way, gently but confidently, up the slab.
As he reached the top, he attached himself to the anchor.
The sound of the ocean and roaring winds is missed in the photos. It makes communication difficult.
Communication is important. Life Saving.
Before Lucia starts to climb, she NEEDS to know that Nacho is ready and has set up the belay. The communication technology most used to convey this information is shouting. However, the enormity and might of the Southern Ocean can out-loud the most passionate of climbers.
When Nacho finished the climb and settled into belaying position, he no longer had eye contact with Lucia and voice became more important.
Dany and I went to watch Nacho and Lucia climb from the other side of the cliff where we had visuals on both climbers with the backdrop of the setting sun and some snacks.
As Lucia and Nacho struggled to hear each other, we assisted in relaying the messages.
Next time, we will remember to bring our small two-way radios. They were cheap and proved effective for us in the past when climbing long multi-pitch routes at Djurite/Mount Arapiles in Victoria when lots of climbers shout all the time and the echo makes it hard to tell what is going on. It was also helpful at Freycinet where the ocean breaks loudly on granite cliff, making communication difficult.
It’s one thing to physically be able to climb a grade 15 sport climb. But it is a whole different story to do so at the edge of the world, facing the elements, making strategic journey decisions, and executing technical safety procedures your life depends on.
At that point it stops being just about climbing and becomes more about survival and making it out safely.
The main aim, for me at least, is to explore nature and challenge myself, but more importantly to stay friends at the end and share a warm meal around the campsite while discussing the lessons of the day and planning the next adventure.
On Saturday evening, upon returning from the successful expedition we sat around the campfire and discussed the options for tomorrow.
Rice and lentils were on the menu (Jim’s famous oregano lentils – contact for recipe).
The forecast for Sunday was 50% chance of rain starting with easterly winds turning to strong south westerly gusts of up to 80kmph. We hoped that some cliff faces will be protected.
Dany and Lucia wanted to go to the Aviary, the most remote cliff, which requires 1.5h of hiking and involves access via a slab which could be slippery when wet.
The other plan was to go to World’s End, an appropriately named and slightly closer cliff section with easier access. We agreed to decide based on the weather in the morning.
In the morning, we decided to go to World’s End. And almost did.
After an hour of walking with all the gear, up the hill, facing the wind with glorious ocean cliffs to our right and lush bushland cradling gold and blue beaches and lagoons in the horizon as we look back North.
We walked through a hidden climber’s path. There was some exposed scrambling and towards the access point at the edge of the cliff there was a fixed rope to assist with down scramble to the base where the climbing starts.
As we faced the edge of the cliff, Lucia, determined to make the most out of the weather window already had her harness on and started to scramble down while the rest of us looked out and watched a biblical south westerly front sending ripples across the ocean.
We looked at each other as a strong wind gust passed.
It was clear at this point that climbing is out of the question and Nacho scrambled down to let Lucia know.
She was also looking at the ripples coming out of the grey and feeling the gusts and the waves pounding the rocks from meters away.
We decided to get off the cliff and head back. Maybe we can get through another scramble before the rain, find shelter for a lunch break and see if the weather changes.
If we still wanted to climb, we agreed to find a closer and more accessible cliff which would make calling off the mission less complicated.
On the same day, there was Diphucephala colaspidoides (Dip Cola) conference on a nearby tea tree.
It was a Manuka Myrtle Teatree.
The strong sweet smell and great Christmas rates made the Myrtle the perfect venue. The event attracted thousands of the shiny green beetles and lasted the lifetime of most. It included meet and greet, white flower nectar buffet and reproduction workshops.
Another native specimen found off the East Cloudy Head Track in Bruny is Ben Maddison.
As we turned a corner on the faint path off World’s End, we could smell the hard-boiled egg, a popular climber’s delicacy and the secret weapon against cold hands in winter.
We followed the smell, and sure enough, there he was, blocking the path and feeding on the rock with his climbing partner Dan.
Ben is a wild climber from the prehistoric era. Sightings are common throughout the year and Ben does not display aggression or territorial behaviour.
The opposite is true – Over the years human contact (or the lack of it) contributed to what we know today as a pleasant and friendly specimen who cares about climbing and the wild environment he inhabits.
He greeted us and we all had lunch together. He then showed us to a cliff nearby where he was exploring a new route and invited us to join for a session.
The offer was extremely tempting. To climb with the legend who developed climbing in Bruny is a rare opportunity.
But it was too windy for us.
We politely declined but invited them to join us at the campfire later.
We carried on back toward the campsite, inspired by meeting a local hero and discovering a humble man. As we approached the final crag before the campsite (Hidden Zawn), Nacho said he feels a tickle.
It was about three thirty in the afternoon, the wind seemed more accommodating, we had all our gear but so far that day, we had not climbed at all.
I looked at the clouds in the horizon and checked the weather forecast. It looked calm, but another change was to come later.
We hiked to the top of the Hidden Zawn and found ourselves in a similar predicament to that we were in on Saturday.
Good looking sport climb, 65 meters, 3 pitches, well protected but, in a group of four, by the time we all finish it could get dark, wet and windy.
This time Dany and I decided not to climb. We just watched Nacho and Lucia from a prime spot on the adjacent cliff. We made ourselves comfortable on the rocks with some snacks and the cameras, ready for some live adventure theatre.
We watched as they descended all the way to the bottom and discovered that their static abseil rope (the escape route) was stuck in a crack and Nacho climbed a different grade 19 route just to free the rope.
It took them over an hour to start the climb and it was getting windy for us at the top although they seemed protected. The weather was getting grim when they started the second pitch, but they were looking determined and graceful as they made their way up.
Dany and I decided to return to the campsite. We left our very competent friends to their own devices and agreed to come back and check if they failed to return before dark.
It started pouring down an hour after we completed the 30-minute hike back to camp.
We imagined our friends battling slippery rock and wind, having to resort to using the abseil rope to rescue themselves.
None of that.
Nacho and Lucia returned a short hour later, soaked to the bone with big grins on their faces. They made it out just as the rain started.
The rain stopped at the campsite and out came a glorious evening rainbow, almost starting from the water of the bay. A swim in the ocean and a celebratory feast ensued, the fire was cranking*, and we were joined by Ben and Dan.
We spent a few hours by the fire, exchanging impressions about climbing, and listening to some of Ben’s incredible climbing stories, which could fill many books.
He uses both his institutionally acquired knowledge and real-world experience with great care and generosity, sharing tips and showing genuine interest in us and our motivation to reach his remote natural habitat to climb.
Monday morning was a slow day. There was a severe weather warning issued for the area with gusts up to 100kmph.
The campsite was protected so we just wanted to wait for the afternoon low tide to cross the beach with Dolores.
Dany, Nacho and Lucia went for a short walk. I stayed and hung out with two couples from Queensland on a road trip. We gave our protected camping spot to them as we packed up. They were amused to meet us four with our mix of accents and nationalities (German, Bolivian, Spanish, Israeli). They were on the road for over a year with a flash Toyota rig that would not shame the Mars rover mission.
It is possible that in the eyes of the Queenslanders, we were the Martians.
Our group dynamics can be hilarious sometimes, as the four accents collide in a comedy of miscommunication.
Conversations like this are not uncommon:
I met my neighbour and she is an ornithologist, lovely lady, she is writing a book about seagulls, we had a cup of tea at her place and she gave me stuff from her garden.
wow, that’s cool
I told her my bird joke, but she didn’t get it. I asked her if it is a birden (burden) to be an ornithologist…
Lucia (looking confused)
I don’t understand
Hours later at the camp site:
I have a slight headache; I think I didn’t drink enough
I’ll give you my migraine oil
What is it?
I use it for migraines, It’s just strong eucalypt or mint, helps me breath.
is this from your neurologist friend?
You told us about your neurologist neighbour who is writing a book about singles.
Nacho (looking confused)
Is this your friend from Melbourne?
Ornithologist is a bird person…
All four of us have been in Australia for around a decade. We developed an ear for deciphering accents, listening closely, and trying to minimise embarrassing mistakes by keeping it simple. It doesn’t always work…
For an immigrant, sounding different can be a blessing and a course.
It has been so nice to climb with this group because we all share the challenge of interacting in English as second language in our daily lives. Our cultural backgrounds and accents are different, but we have more commonalities than differences.
When we are together, we are in our own little bubble of mispronunciations and hilarious misunderstandings. It is getting even more interesting when Nacho’s partner is joining us. She is Australian and she brings the subtleties of Australian English culture to the dinner table and resolves our occasionally ridiculous attempts to pronounce place names in Australia.
Yet with all our awkwardness and differences operating in an English-speaking society, we are made out of the same stuff and we cooperate seamlessly when out on adventure or when having a dinner party. As friends, we read each other expressions, we try to look after each other and we don’t always feel need to say much. Just walking in the bush and enjoying each-other’s company, occasionally saving each other’s lifes when someone takes a fall while climbing.
The Queenslanders were super friendly and indulged me with the full Aussie experience including brunch complete with sausages, baked beans, eggs, hash browns and tomato sauce. I even sat on the big comfy camping chair.
I felt like I’m eating my reward meal for a successful adventure – I walked 20km and climbed 35 meters in what felt like a moment frozen in time.
Despite the fact I spent much of the 35 meters of climbing in a state of suppressed terror, I had fun, stayed alive and kept my friends. But if I really want to be serious about climbing, I probably needed to get a pair of those black sport sunnies that wrap around the head. And maybe a mullet.
Until the next adventure.
South Bruny, lutruwita / Tasmania