Simon Madden finds an absolute ball-tearer of an urban rock route in an unlikely location, way up in FARKNQ, in Townsville
The curtain of pink granite glows weakly under the floodlights that shine up from the dirt slope below so that the big face can be seen by the city’s inhabitants even in the dark of night.
Right in front of me, the weak glow is burnt by my headtorch, which focuses a searing cone of light. The rock’s surface looks incredibly textured, my light reflects and bounces off the big, multi-coloured crystals but the beam is chopped into shadows by the sharp flakes that I am piecing together into some beautiful climbing.
Thoughts drift away from the light, off into the dark sky when, poof, my headtorch shuts off and I am left blinking and blinded with spoiled night-vision surrounded by a fast collapsing gloom. All at once I can hear the sounds of cars and football whistles drift up from the city below, the feel of the coarse rock is more intense, the smell of the sea on the light wind more pronounced. Slowly the soft pink glow blossoms and so I drift upwards to the anchors on a broad ledge halfway up Castle Hill, so immediate to the city of Townsville but, by just tying into a rope and starting up, so far away.
For some reason I had the shits that day. The unjustifiable mid-holiday hump about something or other that I can’t even remember now but which soured me then.
We were a little bit late starting up Vision – a three-pitch 19 that ascends Castle Hill, a granite blob rising straight out of Townsville town. We had wanted to get up most of it before dark, but after climbing at Frederick Peak all day we arrived late. It was slow going driving up the narrow, winding summit road. Waves of getting-fit Townsville-ites were washing up not just the goat path that cuts through the forested slope but they were also clogging up the thin verge at the side of the road, spilling onto the tarmac, slithering in sweat-damp lycra that was being stretched by the heaving in of great lungs full of air. An army of struggling hill-plodders broken by the occasional runner with the legs to tackle the steep incline.
What was supposed to be a very quick arvo romp was slowed down by construction works at the top confusing us and our own stupidity at not being able to follow directions. A phone call to one of the locals and we were firing back down the goat track against the human tide, ‘draws jangling off harnesses and rope backpack getting odd glances from the locals coming up the path.
Take the path along the foot of the cliff, leave the track at the footbridge, the start of the route is right there in front, just where the granite folds back onto itself and a line of bolts leads up towards a tree clinging to cliff. The gloaming is short this far north, up in FARKNQ, and runners stopped to watch, pointing and talking in whispers as if they were fearful of disturbing us. The shits remained and I probably couldn’t even remember why, only remembering that I had the shits.
The granite climbs differently to the rhyolite of Freds that we had been on all day. Don’t know what the guide is talking about, the rock quality seems great. The first moves off the deck are committing but maybe it was stage fright brought on by the rubber-neckers. By the time we reached the top of the first pitch it was dark – or as dark as it was going to get. The second pitch is really good, with glorious climbing linking flakes and edges over ground that steepens before relenting onto the ledge at the base of the third pitch. The texture of the experience changed when the illumination of my head torch was snatched from me mid-pitch. Everything was rougher, louder, more magnetic. Sitting in the pinkish not-quite-dark, looking out over the ordered city streets, ship lights blinking in the ocean, I started to forget that I was supposed to have the shits. A rose-splashed Jess followed and at the belay she decided to take the original line and traverse wickedly rightwards to a big corner rather than go directly up above us via a new line of bolts. Purist.
With eyes straining to draw small footers from out of the shifting shadows, I set out on the circuitous journey taken by the rope, in turns fumbling my way and flowing, making some things more awkward than they should have been and occasionally clunking my glasses against the rock in searching the shadows I was casting. My own worst enemy.
The corner proved to be not so much pocketed, as the description claims, as broken by some big, dirty holes. It was sustained though and has some fine moves. Apparently the direct finish is the better pitch, but still the original line is incredibly fun, and, well, original. We topped out and left the pinkish-dark behind. Scrambling through low scrub towards the summit, a final heave onto half-built tourist walkways and clambered over the temporary fencing of the construction site that threatened to knackerate me, that would be a terrible headline, ‘Melbourne thrillseeker gets more than he bargained for, lacerates testicles on fence’. Where before it had been bustling, the carpark was now empty, filled only with the ghosts of runners past.
We drove back down the hill to the city. Cities give us a lot – opportunity, engagement, entertainment, camaraderie, anonymity, community – but they also take a lot. They can break our bonds, isolate us, distract us, busy us, harangue us with ever-present sound and sight and remove us from the natural world. There are not many places in Oz that you can tie in right in the middle of civilisation and rise above it all. Going up Castle Hill – Cootharinga – was engaging and fun, a salve to the city and a cure for my hump. If you go to Townsville you must get yourself some Vision.
For more info and the good betas on Vision, check out The Crag.