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The Totem Pole

International > Australia > Tasmania > Tasman Peninsula > Fortescue Bay > Cape Hauy


The Totem Pole is hands-down the world's most spectacular sea-stack, and probably the most spectacular natural stone tower of any kind on Earth. Bound to inspire awe in the hardiest of hard-men, this thing just begs to be climbed.

The Totem Pole offers excellent rock for a formation like this, but loose rock is present. Climbing conditions can vary dramatically, and the tide conditions are critical. Even in low tides on a calm day, the belayer should expect to be doused with sea water several times.

First climbed on aid in 1968 by Australian golden-age hard-man John Ewbank, this tower has a colorful history.

British trad-master and award-winning author Paul Pritchard suffered a near-fatal head injury while scouting a potential free route in the late 90's, which is documented in his excellent book "The Totem Pole".

Not to be outdone, ex-pat Brit Steve Monks ultimately completed his "Free Route" in 1999. This ascent was documented extensively by world-reknown Aussie photog Simon Carter, and facilitated by a Zodiac watercraft, to avoid the scrubby approach. Since Carter's pics hit the street, this icon has been the scene of numerous multi-media campaigns, including a BBC documentary on Pritchard's accident, and several catalogue photo shoots.

Monks later returned to finish Pritchard's intended line, and dubbed it "Deep Play", the title of the author's award-winning first book. Later, Lynn Hill arrived (once again with Carter in tow to shoot photos at the service of The North Face) to attempt the first-ever on-sight free ascent of the tower via this line, but her bout ended with a broken hold.

Carter was once again on-hand in 2003 to photograph his girlfriend Monique Forestier successfully completing the first on-sight free ascent via Deep Play.

Getting There

The logistics for the Totem Pole are rather complicated. Two ropes are mandatory, and it really helps if one of them is 70m. A third "haul line" is a big plus too.

From the rappel point at lands end, rap 65m to the obvious belay rock on the SW side of the pillar. Be careful getting established here, as it is wet and slick. There is a bolted anchor at the base of the pillar for the belayer. This rope should remain fixed from the rap anchor, and must be trailed by the leader to the summit of the Tote for the tyrolean traverse back to the mainland. Trailing this rope can be a bit tricky if climbing the Free Route, which literally spirals around the tower.

Routes from Left to Right

5.12d 7c 28 IX 28 E6 6b
The Sorcerer
Trad 3 pitches
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b PG13
The Free Route
Trad 2 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
The Sorcerer
5.12d 7c 28 IX 28 E6 6b Trad 3 pitches
The Free Route
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b PG13 Trad 2 pitches

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

The base of the Totem Pole from Land's End.  The belay rock is clearly visible at the bottom-center of the photo.
[Hide Photo] The base of the Totem Pole from Land's End. The belay rock is clearly visible at the bottom-center of the photo.
Climbing the Totem Pole
[Hide Photo] Climbing the Totem Pole
Seen from the trail
[Hide Photo] Seen from the trail
The Depproacharoo
[Hide Photo] The Depproacharoo
Kate on the summit ledge of the Totem Pole after my 2004 onsight ascent.
[Hide Photo] Kate on the summit ledge of the Totem Pole after my 2004 onsight ascent.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] Mentz discovered, bolted, and got the FA of the second (and crux) pitch of the Free Route and should probably be credited first for the FFA of the Totem Pole as opposed to Monks. Not that Monks isn't a visionary climber himself! May 17, 2007
Morrison, CO
[Hide Comment] Interesting, I hadn't heard that. My guidebooks (and Carter's book) seem to indicate that Monks was the driving force behind the route. I met Monks in the Yesterday Gully at Arapiles, but we didn't discuss it.

I'm surprised you thought the second pitch was harder. I thought the first pitch was the crux, for a number of reasons: 1) Although the hard part is short, its more powerful than anything on P2; 2) The bolts are all carrots, so you have to hang out a lot to clip; 3) the sea is literally heaving all around you, and your belayer is getting drenched. FWIW, my guidebook grades pitch one 25 and pitch two 23, but I thought P2 was more like 25. May 18, 2007
[Hide Comment] Here's an excerpt from a chockstone interview with Simey:

Chockstone: You and Steve Monks managed the first free ascent of Tasmania's Totem Pole (25), an incredibly wild-looking sea stack made famous by Simon Carter's pictures and Paul Pritchard's accident and subsequent novel. Steve led the first pitch and you the second. Prior to your route, there had only been a handful of aid ascents. How was the exposure on this wave-washed 65m free-standing pillar far from help? Were there moments of doubt or did the climb go according to plan?

Mentz: When Steve Monks invited me on the trip (along with Jane Wilkinson and Simon Carter), I jumped at the chance, although I only expected to tag along and second Steve to glory. What’s interesting is that we almost never did the free route. After reaching the summit via the aid route and doing the tyrolean back to the mainland we almost went home. In fact Steve and Jane did leave because Steve wasn’t very confident about the free-climbing possibilities. I thought I had better swing back to the summit and abseil down the other sides of the Totem Pole just to make sure we weren’t leaving behind a potential mega-classic. Simon Carter waited for me on the mainland and I’m sure he remembers my whoops of delight when I saw just how climbable it was.

Bolting the line and then climbing it was pretty much a formality as we had the moves sussed after checking it in on abseil. Steve had the honours on the first pitch, while I nabbed the second pitch. I spent a fair bit of time bolting the second pitch and making sure the clips were okay for shorter folk. I remember Steve complaining that I was taking too long and faffing around, but I really wanted to get it right. I could have easily climbed the thing with half the number of bolts (I ended up placing ten), but I always bolt things for the ground-up climber. One of my pet-hates is people creating ridiculously run-out climbs after rap-inspection. May 20, 2007
[Hide Comment] Hi Guys,
My entire family is from Tasmania. Dad tells me that back in the 1930s there used to be many more towers like the Totem Pole and that the Australian Navy bombed them for target practice. Too bad.....Cammo Jul 10, 2007
JM Leong
Denver, CO
[Hide Comment] Hey guys! Im confused, the route says trad but commenrs and interviews ralk about bolting. Is it sport or trad? Oct 11, 2017