The history of climbing at The Citadel

Pre-climbing history

The history of the area prior to the time climbing began is not known. We are not aware of any previous climbing at The Citadel. It is most likely that we were the first to climb there in any extensive manner. We believe this because on our first trip we discovered no trace of litter, trails, fixed protection, markings, or any sign of human presence. Also, some of the rock was very loose even on the most obvious lines.

On a trip to Cairns in July 1998, Philippa Newton and Lee Skidmore took note of the potential for climbing as they drove past. On the way back, the as yet unnamed cliff provided more pull, and they stopped to find the track off the highway so they could take photos of the cliff from the highway. They swore to come back and check out the cliff's potential.

Before going, Lee rung the Cardwell City Council to check whether it was okay to access the area. The hardest part was explaining the location of the area (which doesn't have a name) to the befuddled Council worker. In the end, access was deemed acceptable because the area lies within the boundary of Lumholtz National Park.

Saturday 1/8/98

It was two weeks after the initial sighting that Lee and Pip found their way back with Danny Peters, Steve Baskerville and Jason Shaw. With ropes and racks and drilling gear they made the first journey up to the crag. Much rejoycing was had at the sight of the 8m high, very overhanging boulder on the way to the main cliff. This was tempered when on closer inspection, it was found to have very few holds.

Upon arrival at the cliff base, bags were left at the base of a huge black corner, and the cliff was explored. Lee decided to bolt one of the obvious lines on the buttress to the right of the huge corner, but found no way of easily getting to the top. To facilitate this access, he opted to try leading the entire black corner in one pitch, and then tree rap down to trees above the buttress.

In true epic style, the first pitch was attacked. Holds crumbled and fell, and no useful protection was found in the middle of the pitch. Risking a bone breaking ledge-fall, Lee continued leading to a good crack and bomber gear. The obvious continuation of the main line which makes the top section of the first pitch was found to be loose and without good gear, Lee escaped onto the ledge to the left where Pip was belayed up. From here it was deemed too risky to attempt linking back up with the main line, and so the second pitch ascended a grunty grade 16 chimney-corner to the left. This 40m multi-pitch route was named Carborundum Central and is NOT a classic!

At this point, Steve and Jase headed up to the boulder on the far left of the crag where in lieu of a decent rack of gear, they opted to top rope the twin cracks up the boulder, creating Twin Paranoia. The boulder sits on the top of a ridge and the route has spectacular views of Hinchinbrook. When the route is led, it will have a grade somewhere between 16 and 19. After this, they headed back down to about 30m right of Carborundum Central and underneath a landmark boulder with a squeeze chimney running through it. Steve attempted a 8m high V-groove/corner crack, but had to retreat from 6m.

Multiple abseils in the wrong section of wall down from Carborundum Central left Lee stranded with no way of getting up to the top of the needed buttress single-handedly. After much cursing, a semi-hanging belay was set and Danny was top roped up a long slab. With Danny belaying, Lee oozed out around a pillar, placed two micro-wires, and with much trepidation on unknown rock, edged fearfully up to a 10cm sloping ledge. A fall from here would have been disasterous, as the pro was almost purely cosmetic, and downclimbing from this ledge was out of the question. The only pro within sight at this point was two metres to the right, in a corner capped by a roof and absolutely chock-filled with vegetation. In a desperate act, Lee lunged into the corner, smearing frantically on the vegetation and slammed in a big cam, and colapsed onto the rope. Aid was employed through the 2.5m roof crack and then the wide layback crack above was fearfully freed with no protection until reaching a sloping ledge and a tree belay. Total pitch length was around 15m. Danny managed to second the pitch cleanly. It was suspected that there might be trees above the buttress around to the right, so Lee led around this 1m wide, sloping ledge, with good protection. It was joked that the pitch was grade 1, with grade 30 exposure - a classic at the grade! The end of the pitch was capped off with a 2.5m grade 10 layback crack to a sloping top out. This 15m pitch led to a suitable tree above the buttress, and double ropes were required to rap down. Thus the two pitch grade 19, A1 Verdent Vendetta was born, and bold plans were made to (at some stage) establish a first pitch so the route could be done from the ground, and clean the second pitch of vegetation so the route could be more easily freed.

Upon abseil inspection, the buttress was found to be even better than expected, with awesome, overhanging, pocketed rock. The 28m line on the right was prusiked from the bottom to top and cleaned and bolted with 4 FHs and chains before the sun set over the crag and the group had to bail before climbing it. Due to the beautiful crystals growing in some of the pockets, the route was named The Dark Crystal and is as good as any middle grade, single pitch route you'd care to name.

That night, after much deliberation, Pip and Lee decided to name the area 'The Citadel' because of its resemblance to a massive fortress.

Saturday 8/8/98

The next Saturday, the group (sans Danny) fought tiredness and lack of sleep to once again hit the crag. Those 5:30am starts are brutal! The walk up was draining, but the sight of The Dark Crystal bathed in early morning sunlight rejuvenated the group.

With 10 draws and a full rack of wires and cams Lee approached the route across dew-damp ground, tried pulling onto the slab and slipped off but was quick to mention "It's clean as long as I don't weight the rope". Second try was more successful and he padded 5m up the slab to the first pro, a #6 offset wire and a #6 wire in a shallow crack. A good mantle to clip the first FH, and then up the slab passing a big pocket which was filled with a #3.8 cam to the base of the short, overhanging pocketed wall. The main pocket of this wall took a #2.5 cam and Lee cranked through a couple of steep moves to a big friendly jug. The great flake to the right was receptive to a #2 cam, #3 cam and a #8 wire and Lee laybacked up this juggy feature. A slightly tricky move followed, leading up to the best big wire slot in the world (#9 wire). A slight traverse L and a big move up led to a good jug at the base of the overhang from which to clip the second FH. The sequence through the overhang on jugs proved little trouble and Lee was soon at the (still overhanging) crux, 2.5m above the last FH. A committing R-hand incut crimp and a static move to a bucket with the L-hand allowed clipping of the third FH on the lip. With a joyous "woohoo", the fishbowl (jug of all jugs) on the slab was latched, and Lee motored the last 8m up the slab to the chains passing the last FH en route. The last FH was threaded with a big wire and clipped with a screwgate because of total lack of draws. Lowering down, it was found fortuitously that the 55m rope just reached the ground with rope stretch. Lee reckoned the route to be about grade 19.

Pip then seconded the route on top rope leaving all the gear in place. Apart from a few rests in the steep sections, she climbed the route well and enjoyed the climbing (especially the final slab section). She declared the route to be around 17/18.

Jason elected to have a crack at leading it with the gear in situ whilst Lee got the cleaning and bolting gear prepared for the corner route to the L. Jason climbed well up to the overhang but was very pumped. Much urging from the gallery below saw him power through the overhang to latch the crux crimper, but couldn't commit to the next move to allow clipping of the third FH. He downclimbed a move or two and whipped off. His 3m fall was most cool. A big rest and shake-out saw him through the overhang and through the final section to the chains. He thought that grade 19 sounded "about right".

While Jase hung off the chains with sore feet getting ready for Steve to second him, Lee started prusiking the line to the left, brushing and cleaning. Lee was only a few metres away from Steve and could offer advice as he climbed. Steve seconded The Dark Crystal cleanly and both guys rapped off. Steve thought the route felt like grade 20. The corner route to the L of The Dark Crystal looked to be classic, but with one hard section in the middle. Also, much of the route (just like elsewhere on The Citadel) was covered in a hard, flaky, black, lichenous material that would only come off with stiff scrubbing. Eventually, Lee reckoned the route would go with only one bolt in it's 28m length, right on the crux, and so this bolt was installed in awesomely hard marble-like rock. It turned out that there was a tiny hidden pocket at this same spot that would take a sideways #2 Rock, but as the move was difficult and likely to see a fair few falls, it was judged that the bolt was the way to go. The start of the route would be runout and a bit scary, but it was deemed that placing a bolt down so low on the wall would be both visually detrimental and unnecessary.

After rapping down and leaving the rope in place it was time for a drink and relax. The group then decided to explore more of the crag, especially around the boulder on the far L of the crag. In addition to this, the 10-15m slab below the boulder discovered by Steve on the last trip was checked out and a very cool and very overhanging narrow (30cm - 100cm) pillar of 8m high rock was discovered that could be climbed by someone with serious hug-power. Lee also scoped out his big potential new route (the orange scar multi-pitch). Hopefully the next trip will see an attempt to clean and bolt this line [this never happened, the route still waits].

After a brief rest, Lee wanted to do a lap up The Dark Crystal for photos taken from above, so Pip prusiked up the in situ rope with the Pentax. The photo lap was completed and Jase seconded the route cleanly. Pip stayed on the rope to take photos of the newly cleaned and bolted line to the L.

After a quick shake out and drink, Lee racked up with 14 draws and a full rack incuding hexes and a double set of big wires and started up the slabby start of the route. This proved to be slightly concerning as the first pro came at 5m and was two very poor wires with most of their metal sticking out of the crack. 3m of climbing above this led to a great crack with a bomber #5 hex and #1 cam. Grade 15 laybacking up this until it blanked out led to a very scary and balancy 1m step R into a slabby thin crack where a #6 offset was set and slung. Easy climbing followed this up to great pockets where the wall steepened to vertical. A #8 hex with a 2m sling facilitated the balancy 2m L traverse to the two pockets below the FH. One of these was filled with a superb #3 cam, and then the steep crux sequence began: L-hand in top pocket, L-foot high step, R-hand into vertical layoff pocket, R-foot up into pocket, L-hand to 2.5cm edge, clip FH, slap up to undercling block at limit of reach then match up on it using body tension to stay in place, grunt as R-foot steps up high, slap around with L-hand to oppose the undercling, step up high with L-foot, shout of relief as the hidden R-hand layoff block is discovered and then an upwards launch to good ledge and pull through. Certainly a serious section of moves, but well protected because of the bolt. Lee only just made it through this section, and ran it out right up to below the corner to a bomber #10 sideways Rock, #1 TCU and a good rest. The corner was only about 7m high but looked imposing - at least it was slabby to start. This was climbed using the crack in the corner which had an annoying tendency to open enough to accept hands and gear for 50cm then close completely. When this happened, it was necessary to use the features on the wall. Face climbing, laybacking and bridging were all prerequisites. Halfway up the corner a #0.5 cam was placed and then at the overhanging top section, a bomber #9 wire was dropped in a slot and the juggy lip of the corner was turned. All that remained was a 7m runout up the slab to the chains and the second of an excellent duo was born on this buttress.

Lee rapped down and Steve elected to second the route on top rope. He needed a rest on the steep rock just before the crux undercling and then again in the top corner, just shy of a good rest, but apart from those rests, he climbed well and praised the route's quality saying it was one of the hardest things he'd climbed. In terms of grade, Steve thought 21/22 and Lee thought it was definitly in the hardest bracket of things he had flashed (about 21), so 21 was agreed on. After hours of thought, the route was named Hidden Facets.

It is now well into 1999, and the group has disbanded with Lee and Pip in Brisbane, well away from the new-route potential of The Citadel. As far as we know, no one has climbed there since the events described above. Hundreds of excellent new routes await those with an adventurous spirit. Get out there and discover this special place (and then email me about it afterwards so I can keep this page current!).

Mail me any news of new routes or other activities

� 1998-1999 [email protected]
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