The Brief History of Rock Climbing in Townsville

This article briefly covers the history of rock climbing in Townsville, North Queensland. Through a lot of digging into old hand-written guide books, notes, conversations, and exploring, we hope to preserve these pieces of Townsville climbing history from years past and well into the future.

The Brief History of Rock Climbing in Townsville
Glen Hayford on Main Stage, Mount Stuart; Cover photo by James Kaczmarek

This article briefly covers the history of rock climbing in Townsville, North Queensland and showcases the evolution of climbing guides and books that have highlighted this area over the years into the present. However, because a lot of the early climbing in this area was either not recorded or kept secret, so much of the history has unfortunately been lost over the years. Yet, through a lot of digging into old hand-written guide books, notes, conversations, and exploring, we aim to preserve these pieces of Townsville climbing history from years past and hopefully well into the future.

glen hayford rock climbing castle hill
Glen Hayford on Vision (19); photo credit James Kaczmarek

With Castle Hill located right in the middle of the city, it would be unbelievable if no one had thought to climb this iconic monolith first and foremost. Indeed, that probably was the case. The earliest evidence of climbing on Castle Hill includes white squares and numbers, at least numbered up to 15, that are painted at the base of various boulder problems. The history of these boulder problems has been lost. Yet, there has been a revival of, not only bouldering, but also sport and trad climbing on Castle Hill in recent decades. Today, Castle Hill is a favourite after-work crag.

Back in the day, it may have been the poor rock quality of Castle Hill that made climbers turn, instead, to Mount Stuart. According to records, more climbing has been done on Mount Stuart to date than anywhere else in Townsville; however, not all climbs have been documented.

Glen Hayford rock climbing Mt Stuart
Glen Hayford on Salt in the Wound (24); Photo credit James Kaczmarek

Arguably, Mount Stuart has always been Townsville's star climbing attraction, as it offers quality granite with amazing climbing opportunities, stellar views, and relatively short and easy approaches. Certainly, the easily accessed "Playground" cliffline made for an obvious starting point when this area was initially developed, as it provided shade and funneled sufficient breeze to cool the early climbers during the summer months.

Rumor has it that Mount Stuart was first climbed in the 1970s, though seemingly only at the large boulder that is 20 metres back from the top of The Playground. The only evidence of this was the large boulder that contained four rusty carrot bolts. The Playground at that time still had a lot of loose rock and vegetation on the cliff so it was thought that there was no climbing on the cliff face until 1981. In 1982 and 1983, the cliffs began to see a lot of Army and RAFF climbers who cleaned and remove much of the loose rocks.

Chris Beric rock climbing frederick peak
Chris Beric on Transcontinental (29); photo credit James Kaczmarek

Frederick Peak (a.k.a. Fred's) is also nearby and can been seen from Mount Stuart. The earliest known activity occurred when Mark Gommers and Tracey Power onsighted The Soldier King (grade 15) in 1991. Mark Gommers is considered the first developer of Frederick's Peak and established many of the big multi-pitch trad routes during the early 2000's. Mark initially gained permission to access the area through the owner property on Granitevale Road and outlined the access track to the pinnacles.

The area did not receive much more attention for a while after this, largely because Mount Stuart was easier access and had many more unexplored cliffs. Mark Gommers have also done a bit of developing at Mount Stuart - opening up many new lines on large sections of undeveloped cliffs. Scott Johnson also did a lot of work.

The Townsville (TSV) and James Cook University (JCU) Climbing Club was established in 1991. The club was incorporated in 2004/2005 and became the Rockclimbers Association of North Queensland, Incorporated (RANQ, Inc.). However, at one stage the name was unofficially changed to JCU Rock Climbing Club (JCURCC).

Magnetic Island largely features small boulders, but the first documented trad line on the island (Crimson Tide, grade 23) was climbed in 1995 by Andrew Rule and Mark Gommers. In 1999, Doug Hockly climbed Brudl (grade 27), which at the time, was the hardest trad line in Townsville.

Suhas Sharma climbing Harveys Marbles
Suhas Sharma on The Good Wife (V5); photo credit James Kaczmarek

Harvey's Marbles was discovered in 1999 by Madoc Sheehan and quickly became Queensland's premier bouldering area. Madoc and company spent nearly every weekend putting up new lines, and by 2014, there were approximately 1600 boulder problems to enjoy.

chris beric mad agent frederick peak
Chris Beric on Mad Agent (24); photo credit Chris Glastonbury

In 2005, the young teenagers Chris Glastonbury, Chris Beric, and Steve Ioannou known as "The Three Monkeys" developed several new multi-pitch trad and sport routes at Frederick Peak. Development at Frederick Peak has steadily increased since the early 2000s, with routes materialising from a broader range of developers. Madoc Sheehan and company opened the Juicy Buttress in 2009. Then, in 2012 and 2013, Frederick Peak saw a lot more fine lines and even some of the hardest in Townsville. The total route count at the end of each respective year was as follows: 13 in 2003, 17 in 2004, 24 in 2005, 32 in 2006, 48 in 2007, 55 in 2008, 80 in 2009, 90 in 2010, 94 in 2011, 140 in 2012, and 188 in 2013. In other words, the number of routes increased by nearly 15-times in just a decade!

As of 2022, Frederick Peak has 313 routes and Mount Stuart has 382 routes.

mt stuart rock climbing
Jodie Rummer and Kate Pearce starting Warlock (20); photo credit Luen Warneke

Townsville's climbing scene is continuing to expand and seemingly more people are becoming interested in this discipline in the latter years.

Townsville, North Queensland Old Climbing Guides and Books

Here's a list of all the old guides and books. Most of this information has since been transcribed to theCrag.

Old Rock Climbing and Bouldering Guides, Books, and scraps of paper

Cape Pallarenda (Many Peaks Range) - Bald Rock and High Rock Bluff 1971

Climbers Guide to The Playground Buttress - Mt Stuart, Townsville : AAA 1984 By Dave Hall and Owen Richmond

Mount Stuart: A Rock Climbing Guide (January 1992) by Scott Johnson

A Climber's Guide to Townsville and Magnetic Island (1999) by Douglas Hockly

Mt. Stuart. New Climbs. 2002.

Townsville & Surrounding Areas: New Climbs (2003) By Rik Wittkopp (a transcribed version by Christopher Glastonbury)
An update with Hidden Treasure and The Big Bite By Rik Wittkop

Bowen's Beaches: A boulder's Guidelet (v1.1 9/05/2005) by Luke Hyam

The Best of Bowen: A select guide to Bowen bouldering (V2 2012) by Steve Baskerville

Harvey's Marbles (2014 update) by Steve Baskerville and Madoc Sheehan

Frederick Peak Climbing Guide (Revision 9, January 2014) by Christopher Glastonbury, Steve Ioannou, and Chris Beric

Castle Hill Bouldering by Alejandro Usobiaga in ~2021

Townsville Climbing 2020 Edition by Christopher Glastonbury

QRANK guides

Castle Hill By Lee Skidmore, November 1999, Last updated 01 April, 2004

West End Castle Hill Quarry By Lee Cujes, November 1999, Last updated June 2011

Citadel and Citadel By Lee Skidmore, November 1999, Last updated 24 March, 2000
Citadel History (Last Modified 01/03/2018)

Harvey's Marbles By Madoc Sheehan, March 2000, Last updated 28 July, 2000

Harvey's Range By Lee Skidmore, January 2000, Last updated July 2006

JCU By Lee Skidmore, with some assistance from Steve Baskerville, November 1999, Last updated 24 March, 2000

JCU Buildering By Lee Skidmore, November 1999

Kissing Point By Lee Skidmore, October 1999, Last updated 24 March, 2000

Magnetic Island By Lee Skidmore, Steve Baskerville and Doug Hockly, January 2000, Last updated 01 February, 2001

Lee's guide to Mt Stuart By Lee Skidmore, November 1999, Last updated 01 February, 2001

Mt Stuart By Lee Skidmore, November 1999, Last updated 24 March, 2000

Mt Stuart topo

Cover photo: Glen Hayford on Main Stage; photo credit James Kaczmarek. Some photos in this article have been used with permission from the Frederick Peak guide and Douglas Hockly's Book - so some photos were taken pre-2000s.

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