Conquering The Whitsundays' Toughest Island Peak

Pentecost Island is one of the most impressive islands in the Whitsundays chain, so impressive that it was the only one James Cook could be bothered to name on his voyage through the passage in 1770. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise after witnessing the impressive peak rising proudly out of the sea, a bold monument visible from many of the surrounding islands. As local videographer Benjamin Crisp recalls,

“I've wanted to summit that thing since I first sailed past it a few years ago. I asked the old skipper if anyone had ever climbed it and he said that it used to be something heaps of people did. That was all the encouragement I needed.”

Early in 2020, Benjamin finally jumped at an opportunity to conquer the peak, spurred on by a few whispered words from a friend Jon Cross, “Pentecost mission?” The middle of summer in North Queensland is a less than ideal time to embark on outdoor feats of physical achievement, and the peak itself is certainly not for the fainthearted under any weather conditions, let alone the sweltering summer sun. Undeterred, Benjamin and Jon began planning their mission.

Researching on the internet, a number of climbers tales started to emerge and filled their aspirations with confidence that it might actually be possible. Jon and Benjamin picked a day with light winds and minimal chance of rain, taking no chances on a slippery slope they would discover to be much worse than a goat track, if not completely non-existent. Tough hiking shoes, protective pants and plenty of water would be critical for the “downright scramble” to the top, but it would be the heat that posed the toughest obstacle. Attempting to summit in the guts of summer was a decision they quickly came to regret.

An uninhabited island 20km from the Australian mainland, the only realistic way to reach Pentecost without a helicopter is by boat. Shute Harbour is the closest launching point, about a 3-hour return journey from the island. Assembling a crew of the right people is as important as the right gear in Benjamin’s opinion, settling on a squad of four for the epic undertaking. It was made up of Captain Jon Cross and Benjamin Crisp, along with Benjamin’s little brother Matty and local photographer and former ‘Sailing Yogi’, Ashleigh Bridget. Quite possibly the most stacked adventure squad in the Whitsundays, in Benjamin’s words.

Reaching Pentecost’s West-facing beach, Jon secured the vessel as the group scoped out a visual of their route. Only now did they realise the full extent of what they had thrown themselves into.

“This is a downright scramble. If you've never scaled a mountain before, maybe don't start with this one.”

Buzzing on adrenaline, Benjamin recalls running up the beach to Indian Head eager to begin, an excitement that was quickly dampened upon remembering the 14kg of camera gear and 4L of water he was about to haul up the monstrous hill. The climb was hot, hard and vertical, and given the choice of doing it all over again, Benjamin admits he would lose a few lenses and bring an extra water bottle, “too buggered at the top to even care about using them”. The climb took the crew around 4-5 hours round-trip to complete, but they made the summit to find an unbelievable view back down the Whitsundays, probably one of the best 360 degree views the Whitsundays has to offer.

It might have felt for a second like they were the first to ever summit the peak, but all their dreams of discovery were quickly humbled when the group discovered a Geocaching container at the top. It was filled with hand scrawled notes from other daring adventurers who had summited as far back as 1976, the most recent being a group of Hamilton Island staff nine years prior. For almost a decade the summit had remained in complete solitude without any visitors – a mind-blowing fact when you consider the island’s spectacular prominence within one of Australia’s most visited regions.

High on the ecstasy of making the top, the group hadn't yet realised that the toughest part was still to come. Legs jelly, exhausted from the climb, they began their descent back to the beach in the heat of the midday sun. The crew reached the base of the mountain several hours later, ticking off a feat they had all dreamed of for years and knew they may never have the chance to do again.

Quick to look to the next adventure, Benjamin tells me of other bucket-list locations around the islands that he is hoping to one day conquer. A very long list, he summarises it to three main spots: a peak on the other side of Apostle Bay which may possibly have the best view in the Whitsundays, sunset from a little white beach in a cave in Blue Pearl Bay and The Whitsunday Cairn at sunrise – a spot that he has conquered before, but in less-than-deal conditions.

Benjamin’s advice for those travelling to the region is to come for a while, double the length you were planning on staying, and get to know some of the locals. Everyone has a boat and for the right amount of fuel money, they’ll be keen to put it in the water.

“I came to work for six months and I've been here two years now. Travel is about immersion - if you take the pace off, you'll enjoy everywhere you go. Spend a night on the town, do one of the epic hikes on the mainland, watch the sunset at Cape Gloucester, you'll work it out.”

Photography & story by Benjamin Crisp

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