There’s a wonderful sense of liberty that comes with plans going awry, and on the Four Pillars trip we had the opportunity to feel that freedom in full force. From early on our team was dogged by injury, protected species and bad weather, but in the end, it all worked out imperfectly well.

The aim of the Four Pillars trip was to complete a one-day, paddle-powered traverse from Safety Cove to Fortescue Bay, stopping at Cape Raoul, Cape Hauy and Dolemieu Point to climb exposed and beautiful rock routes. Seal breeding season put a dampener on our Cape Raoul aspirations, so we diverted to Mount Brown, climbing the classic 3-pitch route Psychoman instead.

4 Pillars - Kayaking

We set out for our first attempt in near-perfect weather conditions – no rain, small swell and low winds. Despite the sharks and the sea sickness, everything went amazingly well, until we arrived at the Totem Pole to find another party on the route. With daylight running low, we decided to cut and run, heading to the Moai for a quick climb, then paddling into Fortescue Bay for some slightly dispirited champagne on the beach.

Our second attempt was a completely different experience. We set off at 4am, paddling through phosphorescence to Crescent Bay, landing with the sun rising behind us. We climbed Psychoman with the efficiency of repetition and returned to the top of the mountain before being hit by one of the most intense and interesting fronts any of us had experienced. Bands of cloud sat waiting ominously offshore, then rolled in, one after another, the temperature dropped and we set off paddling towards Tasman Island in white out conditions, hugging the coastline to Cape Pillar, through Tasman Passage and towards the Totem Pole.

We landed at Cape Hauy in the early afternoon as the swells started to rise. James and Erin hauled across to the Totem Pole and climbed the route in style, Flint rapping in after them to take some beautiful pictures.

Pillars mission - TNF-1

With all of the trickery of the tyrolean traverse and a very sketchy exit back into the boats, it was about 8pm when we arrived at the Moai. The swell had picked up, sluicing across the base of the pillar. Landing, while possible, was dangerous, and exiting the rock in the dark, with rising tides and rising swell would be genuinely foolish. Once again, we bailed, finished, but not quite.

And thus, Four Pillars in One Day became two pillars in two days. Half the pillars, twice the time, but at least three times the fun. Check out our article in the next issue of Australian Geographic Outdoors for all the details. Big thanks from all of us to The North Face and Australian Geographic for making this possible.