Friday, 28 December 2012

Van Deimans and Devils – Tasmania Bouldering.

Many of you who daydreamed your way through secondary school geography classes thinking about the boy/girl next door, or those who did not have access to Loony Tunes cartoons (and therefore lead a culturally impoverished existence) may not be aware of the island state of Tasmania. Most of those who have heard of Taz of Tasmania, the arch enemy of Bugs Bunny, best described as a whirlwind of spit and anger that is not too dissimilar to most teenage boys, will still have no idea of where Tasmania is. The percentage of the British climbing population who would firstly find Tasmania on a map, and secondly imagine that there is bouldering potential there would be close to zero; and therein lies the appeal of the place. For someone like me who has a great love for esoteric venues, bouldering in landscapes not in crowds and with a healthy sense of adventure- it’s definitely worth a look.

Tasmania is the island state found south and east of the Australian mainland. Its European history is short- around three hundred years (its indigenous history would stretch back millennia). The islands story is one of convicts, whalers, farmers and mining, littered with cruelty, graft and gritty characters. Life in Tasmania was hard. However it was also the birthplace of the global Green Movement. In the early 1970s it gave birth to the world’s first Green Party; a political party that held the balance of power in Australia’s coalition government at the end of the 1990s. Tasmania has reinvented itself in recent years. It now promotes itself as the natural state; ecologically minded, organic, with almost a third of the island given over to national park. At least two of Tassie’s beaches are considered to be in the top ten in the world, and Tasmania lays claim to the cleanest air on the planet. If you needed a reason to visit, it was right there! Is there any bouldering I hear you ask? The answer is most emphatically, YES.

Long Haul Breakdown from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Tasmania has a small climbing community, not really surprising as there are only five to six hundred thousand people on the entire island! However those who do boulder are very active indeed. Tasmania is a boulderer’s playground; it is an island full of rock (sandstone, dolerite, and granite being the main types), add to this a dry temperate climate which allows ten months of outdoor climbing a year, and you then have a very interesting package indeed. These factors when added together have conspired to produce an almost bizarre number of strong boulderers per head of climbing population. Of Tasmania’s five hundred thousand inhabitants, around fifty boulder. Of those fifty at least five climb V13, and one climbs as hard as any in the world- the spread of grades across the island reflects this. However, don’t be fooled- there is plenty for everyone as a great number of the best problems on the island rate between V3 and V7 with plenty of bouldering of all grades still to be developed.

The Venues.

Tasmania’s bouldering community is almost unique in its desire to get news of the island’s development out there. A constantly updated website exists with an online guide: (cut and paste this into your browser to view the site).

“The Tasmanian Bouldering Guide” is a community authored resource which has resulted in the production of a high quality guide. The Guide can be bought as a black and white paperback (cheap), a full colour paperback (expensive) or downloaded as a PDF (free), all from: (again cut and paste into your browser to see).

I feel we could all learn from this Tasmanian model of community- generated bouldering resources. Information is generated by the community for the community without the need for financial gain, individual bias, or elitism. A V4 first ascent which is done at someone’s limit is as significant to them as a V13 sent by a media savvy beast- so why not give both achievements the same column inches? So, boulderers of the UK unite! Don’t wait to be sold a new guide to your area, find a consensus and create your own.

The Tasmanian Bouldering Guide lists around 25 separate bouldering locations, with around 1500 documented boulder problems. Many of the venues have a lot to offer, however the best are Oatlands, Handsome Crag, and the granite venues off the East coast- namely Bicheno, and Coles Bay.


Oatlands is a town just off the Midlands Highway in the centre of Tasmania. It was obviously once a prosperous market town, however it seems to have receded to one horse status with the decline of the local wool trade. Now that the town has been bypassed by the main highway, the one horse seems to have been lead away to the glue factory. On a crisp winter day when conditions are good, you can walk down Oatland’s main street and see no one at all.

What Oatlands does have is sandstone; steep, solid, quality sandstone that will keep you up at night thinking about it. The climbing is on the edge of the old town reservoir. The lake level fluctuates with the seasons and droughts, however the presence of water means that all bouldering sessions are accompanied by a chorus of croaking and the flapping of wings. The grades here go all the way from V0 up to astronomical. This is the hunting ground of local legend Sam Edwards; the guy has sent The Island in Font and did the first ascent of Gold Fish Trombone in Bishop- widely held as one of the hardest problems in the USA. Just looking at a Sam Edwards’ line at Oatlands will simply drain the strength out of you. The bouldering takes place on free standing boulders and edges. There are slabs and other features, however the best problems here are on roofs- big roofs, with big moves. If you like Parasellas’ cave- this is your Nirvana.

Handsome Crag.

This is another sandstone venue, however it contrasts with Oatlands in every possible way. The bouldering is found in the Mountains above the town of New Norfolk, a town with some dubiously narrow genetic codes, surrounded by beautiful, rolling countryside. To get to Handsome Crag you follow a sinuous dirt track populated by some malevolent hairpins. The track deposits you high on a hillside and deep into a world of Tea Tree and Eucalyptus. Climbing here is a multisensory experience; the sounds of Kookaburras laughing and the smells of the undergrowth would reduce most fee paying hippies to tears. However, as boulderers aren’t that sentimental, the free standing boulders here are more than enough to grab your attention.

The bouldering at Handsome Crag sits mostly below the crag itself in three separate sectors. The crag above is crammed with good looking trad lines if you like that sort of thing. I don’t, so you’d have to find out about that for yourself. Each sector is filled to the most part with free standing boulders teeming with slopers and requiring technique. Don’t worry though- roofs, highballs, slabs, walls, and prows can all be found in this extensive boulder field. This venue has something for everyone, and is Tasmania’s version of Font, with lines of all grades and styles and projects to go at. The only question that remains is …. do you have the balls to take on the track to get to it?

Coles Bay and Bisheno.
These east coast venues are something special. Bouldering on granite eggs on a shore line populated by penguins and pounded by some of the best cold water surf in the world. Coles bay is found in the Freycinet National Park, home of Wine Glass Bay, whilst the boulders at Bicheno sit on the shoreline that wraps around this sleepy seaside town. The grades at both venues may not threaten the higher end of the V scale, however the experience of climbing here is very hard to beat.

Coles Bay is the embarking point for three or four different bouldering spots, the best of which is Blue Stone Bay. Before going there check out the Coles bay bakery- I challenge you to find better baked goods accompanied by fantastic coffee and a genuine smile anywhere in the world. If you want to explore the bouldering delights of Freycinet you must pay a national park entry fee, worth every cent to experience the adventure that lies beyond the park gate. Yet another terrifying track takes you to Blue Stone bay. It’s pitted, pot holed surface eventually leads your now adrenaline saturated body to a rudimentary campsite, parking and the odd Kangaroo. Once out of the car, a journey down some hidden steps and a death defying shimmy along a narrow ledge 100 foot above the pounding surf, leads you to a perfect boulder of blue close crystal granite.

To describe these boulders as remote, on their promontory half way down a cliff looking out to sea, is an understatement. You are far from civilisation here. If you hurt yourself, the first humanity will know about it is when Skippy the talking Kangaroo brings your bleached bones back to the nearest town. Having said this don’t miss the opportunity to climb here, the danger, the remoteness, the quality of the lines, the position of the boulders and their outlook make this a unique place to climb; almost magical. Just remember to take friends and pads. I didn’t and my god, I was terrified.

In comparison to Coles and Blue Stone Bay, Bicheno is a rather civilised, almost tame affair. The twenty mile shift north along the coast from Coles sees a real softening in the landscape and lifestyle. You can grab a quick coffee from one of the surfshops/ café’s whilst resting. The sea laps the edge of the granite platforms as you circuit your way around the boulders accompanied by fishing boats and penguins. The granite here is white and rough, good to climb on even when a little damp. There is even an island covered in boulders, which is connected to the shore at low tide by a spit of sand. The views here are breathtaking and the lines are striking. There is even a white sandy beach to lounge on. I’ve glimpsed heaven- it’s called Bicheno.

So what can I say about Tasmania? Should you visit? Is it worth it.....? No it’s not, don’t go, you won’t enjoy it. The pleasant climate, clean air, fantastic food and brilliant bouldering won’t be your cup of tea. The islands friendly population and welcoming climbers will only put you off. The breathtaking scenery will bore you. In conclusion then, stay in Blighty. I’ll go back for you and make sure Tasmania doesn’t feel left out. I’ll easily navigate my way around world class venues with my comprehensive free guide on your behalf. I mean easy access, fantastic lines, and psyched climbers wouldn’t interest boulderers wanting an adventure far from the crowds. You wouldn’t want the perfect bouldering experience at the other end of the world, ....................... or would you?

Cheers Owen

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