Tasmania, the island state of Australia, is a mountainous wilderness, remote and lush. In the late 1700s the island was called Van Dieman’s Land, and it was a brutal convict colony where the worst of Britain’s prisoners were dumped. Escape was futile because there was nowhere to go, as the land ends in lofty cliffs of Jurassic dolerite that drop vertically into cold crashing ocean.
Cape Pillar presents the loftiest profile on this rugged, uninhabited seaboard and it is here that Heidi Wirtz and her team of trad-thinking climbers - Cedar Wright and Matt Segal - headed during the southern autumn of 2010. Trad climbing specialists, the foursome have racked up firsts in places as adventurous as the Karakoram Range in Pakistan, to the desert cracks of Indian Creek in Utah.
Few people have dared climb on the endless expanse of unclimbed walls and towers around Cape Pillar. Local climbers describe the atmosphere with phrases like "awesome coastal scenery, once seen, never forgotten;" "the world's most fearful sea cliffs;" and "the scariest cliff in the known universe. With winds driven in from Antarctica, conditions can be extreme. Rocks thrown over the edge have been blown back up, and ropes are mere playthings for the Patagonian-force gales that can pummel climbers.
To reach the cliffs, the team “bushwalked” from the town of Fortescue Bay through thick scrub, passing aptly named spots like Tornado Ridge and Hurricane Heath. They camped in a wild and nearly waterless place, where wind can drive rain horizontally. Yet when the high pressure weather smiles on Tasmania, conditions can be ideal, and the team rappelled over the edges of the massive walls to the ocean’s edge, as they scaled first ascents on flawless, flint hard stone.