Introduction: (All info in this area courtesy of Peter Booth and TheSarvo.com)
Conditions are rarely right for ice climbing in Tasmania due to the influence of the prevailing maritime westerly winds and the relatively low altitude of the mountains. Ascents have been made in winter conditions on a number of peaks including Federation Peak, Cradle Mountain and Frenchman's Cap but the only area to consistently produce easily accessible and quality ice climbing has been the Ben Lomond escarpment, particularly the south-facing cliffs around Stacks Bluff. Although the effects of global warming are evident in the frequency and duration of climbable ice, given the right climatic sequence (see notes on specific locations) good conditions can be found at any time between early June and early September. July and August give the best possibilities. The two main areas, Stacks Bluff and The Knuckle, are very different in character. Stacks gives a steep, open face with an alpine atmosphere and, to date, one classic gully climb. The Knuckle is ice cragging with a wide range of short (to 50m.) steep routes on water ice. Despite the relative ease of access, the rugged terrain engenders a feeling of remoteness and on a clear winter day the prospect of crags, extensive boulder fields and wild eucalypt forest with the Fingal valley far below and the distant sea to the east, makes climbing ice here a unique experience. Rarely, when at its best, the climbing can match any of its type anywhere. The Stacks Bluff area is very exposed to bad weather, particularly so in winter, and in such conditions there is no easy retreat, with difficult terrain compounding any navigational problems. Winter climbing on the Bluff invariably feels like a big day out; days are short - carry torches. If visiting the area for the first time, take careful note of the route back. Any walking tracks on the plateau are nothing more than ill defined and poorly marked routes. Similar comments apply to The Knuckle although the area is less exposed to bad weather and access is much easier. As is usual with ice climbing, do not expect to find perfect protection. In general, nuts and cams are ineffective in ice-glazed cracks (when you can find any) and pitons are better. Ice screws are often the best or only option; take tie-offs. Specific comments on conditions and equipment will be found in the respective crag descriptions. Nothing is guaranteed; a high degree of judgement and initiative is required in this type of climbing. Take care.
It is a national park.
From Launceston, drive through St Leonards and along Blessington Road (C401), following signs to Ben Lomond. Four kilometres before Upper Blessington, turn right to Ben Lomond and continue past the Carr Villa turn off. Leave the car in the park at the foot of Jacobs Ladder, the final, steep winding road up to the plateau. Opposite, across the valley, is Whymper Crags. Walk to the first bend on the Ladder. Descend to cross the creek and climb up through the scrub to the routes. Directly above the car park is the huge cleft of Car Park Gully.National Park entry fees apply.
It is not known definitively who first climbed ice here although in 1978 Ross Mansfield and Chris Penner climbed a multi-pitch route on Stacks, probably on The Amphitheatre. In 1984 Tony McKenny and Peter Booth climbed a route on The Amphitheatre, wandered along the edge of the plateau and saw the daunting top pitch of The Trident. In subsequent years regular trips were made to the Amphitheatre, mainly by northern climbers, with sporadic forays to the Trident, invariably foiled by bad weather, poor conditions or the sheer effort of battling snow covered boulders and scrub on the approach. The route became a slow burning obsession. Success finally came, to Peter Booth and Bill Baxter, in 2004.The ice was in perfect condition and the final 45m.crux pitch up the iced flank of a dolerite column provided a fitting climax to a 20-year dream. On the Northern Escarpment, Geoff Batten climbed a route in the early 1970s near Jacobs Ladder, while Peter Booth led a large party in 1983 up the Whymper Couloir. In 1994 Peter Booth and Ross Mansfield first visited The Knuckle, finding no traces of previous ascents. Knuckle Butty was the first blow in their campaign, a line up the major icefall and still one of the better routes. For two seasons they had the crag to themselves and climbed most of the main lines. Subsequently, on weekends when conditions were good, there were often several parties climbing. Gary Khuen was an enthusiastic protagonist and left little ice uncramponed. In later years indifferent seasons saw less activity but periodically good climbing still occurs and then a hard core of ice enthusiasts converge on the crag from around the state. Are you an obsessive ice fanatic with plenty of imagination, considerable patience, luck, and in possession of a long neck? If so, there are further opportunities for new adventures on the escarpment.
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