Saturday, 7 February 2015

Mt Barney

I was driving through the scenic rim region one time, I think I drove through twice. But truly, even a cynic would agree, parts of the scenic rim are as scenic as scenic can get, or as aesthetic a nugget a cynic cannot get. From the main highway I spied some shrouded cloud-clad mountains .
I got on some back country roads and tried to get closer to these wild, mist-covered, rugged mountains.

I drove around and about the byways and the back ways until I found a dirt road that ended up in Mt Barney National Park. As luck would have it, there is a camping place near the road’s end that’s a perfect base for exploring the nearby mountains.
The camp was a bit crowded that day but I found a spot just big enough for my tent.

This season, though the days and nights were warm from above-normal temperatures, the hills and valleys were a splash of green from the summer rains. 

I encamped and in the evening lit a fire to cook a bit of a meal, and for some light. Right.

Early the next morning I set out to explore the peaks of Mt Barney. I started at dawn with grey clouds hovering up in the sky but I was hopeful that the morning will turn out sunny and bright. I followed a road to its end, then tracked a river upstream, and then found a trail on a ridge heading towards the mountain. The clouds followed me everywhere. Soon I hit some unmarked rough steep trails which seemed to have not been used for months. Up the ridges, around the spurs, over the boulders and under the trees I climbed steadily.

After an hour of some slow tracking and rough climbing and circling gigantic boulders, hazardous abrupt slopes and deep and narrow precipices, I finally came face-to-face with a cliff. Climbing is in many ways similar to running. In races longer than 25km, most times a runner would hit the wall, at least I do. But after only about 6km here today, I literally ran into a wall. I looked around in the fog but could not find another way up the mountain. I returned to the wall face, ran my eyes around it, examined it, and studied it closer as the mist closed in. I thought I could probably climb it if that was the way back home. But clouds have formed into a white-out which by now enveloped the mountain. For a first-timer to Barney I was uncertain of finding another trail down from the peak even if somehow I got there in the conditions.
While lost in contemplation I saw a rock wallaby watching me. I asked it for some directions but I think the request may have been lost in translation. The agile native marsupial bounded up and away behind the rocky cliff. The clouds lifted temporarily and I could see the precipitous ridge I was on and a bit of the valley where I found camp way down in the distance below.

The clouds were performing a dance spectacle or ballet in the air, and the gentle breeze that was following me earlier had grown into a forceful wind gust. It was threatening to blow me off the ridge and giving me chills. I suddenly had the urge for coffee that I did not have that morning, but more I was getting nervous and thinking I should really start making my way back. I started humming:
There's no stronger wind than the one that blows/ Down a lonesome high ridge line/    No prettier sight than looking back/ On a camp you left behind ...                             There is nothin' that's as real/ As the warm drink in my mind
I closed my eyes. I'll be here another morning.

With that I decided to try summiting Mt Barney another day. The clouds have rolled in. I had lingered about for an hour or so but the moist clouds didn’t look like lifting. They had dampened my day. My climb was white ant-ed by this white out. Defeated I retreated back to camp at THE lodge.
Years back, I had driven past ‘the PM’s lodge’ in Canberra, but this time I stayed at the real lodge - Mt Barney lodge. This is the PM's lodge in Mt Barney. The prime mountaineer of the lodge named Innes is a hero to the numerous people that he has rescued over the years from Mt Barney. The lodge is the ideal place for camping and exploring Mt Barney.

On my second foray up Mt Barney, I was more prepared. I studied some maps, noting the trails leading up to the peaks. Expecting some fine weather, I started just after dawn and the morning indeed turned out sunny and bright this time. I went up Southeast ridge. The trail was quite easy to follow though a bit disused. I comfortably got up to where the rough rock face of the mountain steepens.
Now and then I paused to rest at a sheltered spur or even on top of a giant boulder. I took in the views and had regular sips of water making sure not to exceed my ration for each segment of the hike. A few times I had to backtrack to make sure I was on the right way. Parts of the trail are overgrown or not easy to find or just non-existent.
The views going up the mountain are simply magical.
Ascending the east peak, one gets a great vantage of the adjacent Mt Ernest and Mt Lindesay to the southeast. The changing aspect and outlook when the mountains change their garb with each passing cloud is quite enchanting.

The final part of the climb to the top on this trail is the steepest. The final 250m includes a vertiginous 50% grade (100m rise over 200m) and is the hairiest part of the climb. I tried not to look back or down on the final ascent.

From atop the east peak I surveyed around in a whole circle and back, again and again.
There is a survey marker right on the mountaintop. This was installed back in 1929 by the royal Australian survey corps, more than a hundred years after Captain Patrick Logan first ascended the peak in 1828. In the 1970s and 80s the Queensland survey office visited the mark to determine its geographical co-ordinates, but there is no record of any recent visits since 1987.

Looking north to behind the lower north peak is Lake Maroon and Mt May.

Turning to the northeast is Mt Maroon.

Then east is the Upper Logan Road valley with Lamington National Park away in the background. 

Back to the southeast is the pleasant line to Ernest and Lindesay. 

Swinging around the mountain range to the west is the western peak of Mt Barney.

I was taking a photo of the west peak when this scarecrow of a fellow  walked right into the frame.
I turned around to Mt Lindesay and Mt Ernest and the yowie did it again. I put away my camera until he was gone.

While admiring the west peak I heard some faint voices drifting in the breeze. Then I saw some movement halfway up the exposed rock face of Barney’s bluff.
I made out a group of four people climbing very easily and fluidly up to the mountain top.

I looked around a bit more before a cloud rolled over blanketing the east peak. I was in total whiteness, and in cloud 9 (from my count). When the nine clouds sailed past or lifted, I took some more photos of the incomparable spectacular panorama.
...the mountains and the valleys, nothing can compare
I was hearing a song blowin' in the wind these bluelit dancing skies, shining in the air.
I think I just mangled the song.

They say nothing ventured nothing gained and I concur. Indeed no adventure no ad gained, so off to the western summit of Mt Barney I endeavoured to conquer. I was hopeful for a photographic ad to gain for this blog of the mountain.
Climbing is much like running. Sometimes you hit the wall. I might have mentioned that already.
Lake Maroon and Mt May

the first time i tried climbing barney i got stopped in my tracks in a white-out down there on the east ridge
The climb up the west peak from rum jungle, is similar to the east climb with less ravishing ravines, fewer gorgeous gorges, but with deep sharp cliffs and accompanying fall hazards aplenty. 
Looking up and down the bluff.
And here you hit the wall quite literally. There is a good 50m of Barney’s bluff, a sheer rock wall face that had to be scaled. 
Climbing up and then down the bluff
But I did not have a ruler I mean a rope, and I had hiked a few miles by then. So I was feeling a bit tired after hiking foot by leaden foot like the bigfoot or yowie. But now inch by inch like an enchilada - I mean inch by inch like an echidna or the singing finch from yellowpinch, I ascended the rock. I went for a change of pace and advanced chain by chain then link by link. Still I found that climbing in imperial units is a bit too much for me (hard enough converting into Australian metres). I slowed down some more and resorted to pragmatic metric units. So going surer, slower but more careful, centimetre by centimetre like a centipede, I got to the middle of the vertical rock slab that was Barney’s bluff. I was in the middle of nowhere but scrambled on up millimetre by millimetre like a millipede, until I found some footholds and grips for some comfort. There’s a bit of soreness in my arms, but thankfully it hasn’t got to where my hands can’t feel to grip. If I did not know it before, this was a young man’s game, and I’m getting a little old for this caper. But I’m not yet over the hill, so to prove this, if just to myself, I tried again. Inch by inch I reached and I pulled, then I gripped and I squeezed and I tugged. And somehow after what seemed like hours of climbing and hugging and tugging and pulling, clambering and crawling, I got to the summit of the remote west peak. I was finally over the hill, standing on top of the highest mountain in southeast Queensland. I was spent, well and truly over the hill. And did I know it. QED.

From this highest peak, the same sights greet the eyes as from the eastern top but with a different vantage. And with the advantage came the gain as the west was won, with the sights further to the west a bonus. I saw the ranges come to life – shining from the west down to the east. 

So in the west going clockwise from Mt Clunie and Mt Ballow to Cunningham’s gap in the Main Range National Park, and around to Mt Toowoonan. 
Then in the north Mt May beside lake Maroon, 
and Mt Maroon towards Boonah. 
Then looking down from a massive extra five metres of elevation, I laughed in private mirth, scoffing playfully at the eastern peak, you call that a peak
I met another scarecrow on the way down the bluff.
But I paid homage to the East Peak and turned my sight to the distant landscapes in the direction of Barney View and Rathdowney. 
Then swinging southeasterly to Mt Ernest and Mt Lindesay again. Finally I turned my gaze back to the gloom I mean verdant bloom of the southerly ranges in the direction of Woodenbong in the shire of Tenterfield in NSW. All these wondrous sights to say hello, and behold. But you’ll never never know if you never never go.
After the summit I slowly and carefully made my way back down the mountain. Every step down every vein of the bluff terrain, and every grain of granophyre sand of that rocky mountain side had to be negotiated with the utmost care and unwavering concentration. Every foothold every grip had to be true. Nearing rum jungle I could hear someone whistling at me, or rather something. The rufuos whistler birds were in concert, cheering me on every step of the way down. I recorded a bootleg of the whistling concert as I made it back down the base of the bluff. I reached the bottom just as my toes got too numb to step.
bootleg of whistlers in mt barney

Back down in rum jungle, I snuck out to the creek for a dip in the highest water pool in Southeast Queensland if not in Australia.
Then I swum a few metres upstream for some slaking thirst-quenching drink of the purest mountain rock-fed springwater in Australia, if not this side of the 17th parallel. Thus refreshed I checked back in at Rum Jungle for a shot of rum but the pub was closed.
Mt Maroon
On the way back from the mountain, the natives in this biodiverse world heritage area came to bid bon voyage. Walking through the rainforest I heard someone hail me: ‘heylolo’. I looked around but saw no other human out there. Then again another cooee: ‘lolo-hey’ from the trees somewhere. It may have been a lyrebird, a well-known mimic of sound and noise including human voices. I crawled nearer the source and again a call: ‘lo-hello’ then went quiet. I could not see a lyrebird but as I scanned the canopy above I saw a combination of colours: blue-green yellow and purple cloaked around something like a pale-headed bird. It was a bird, a bird in a coat of many colours. I had found a beautiful wompoo fruitdove. It was high up and my photo does not do its dazzling beauty justice.
The enchanting bird brought to mind Thomas Gray:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear
And with apologies:
Full many a beaut bird perched up high unseenAnd waste its beauty in the forest’s hair.
I don't know about a 'beaut bird' in the poetry of Thomas Gray, but it was a privilege to see that most beautiful of Australian birds. Only in Mt Barney.
The other denizens were there too. A pleasant pheasant playing hide and seek. The rock wallaby waved goodbye. And I said goodbye to a dead snake on the side of the trail. Little lizard was out sunbathing. A sand goanna was lunching out, dining on a koala. And the rosellas were frolicking aloft. Another goanna was showing off its climbing skills. A couple of roos were hitchhiking.
The locals, yes I might post some photos of them later.
I bid adieu to the mountain, saying I’ll be back.

Track notes:
South (Peasants) Ridge:
From yellowpinch reserve carpark to the rum jungle on the saddle between the two peaks of Mt Barney is about 7.0km.
  • 00km Yellowpinch reserve carpark
  • 2.0km Creek (Logan River) crossing
  • 2.5km Camp 9
  • 3.1km Camp 10
  • 3.8km South/Peasants ridge trail branches off from main trail. Take the trail on right. Up ahead is an average 15% gradient to rum jungle.
  • 5.2km steeper climbing commences, about 27%
  • 7.0km rum jungle
  • 7.7km The West peak is about 700m due west of rum jungle with a climb of 255m, average 36% grade.
  • 8.0km The East peak is about 1000m due east with a climb of 250m.

Southeast Ridge:
From yellowpinch reserve carpark to East peak of Mt Barney is about 6.75km.
First sections are the same as above.
  • 3.35km Southeast ridge trail entrance. On the right-hand side of the trail, look for a tree marked ‘S.E.’ Turn right uphill. Average 28% to east peak.
  • 3.85km turn left on ridge
  • 4.2km climb steepens
  • 6.75km East peak of Mt Barney
  • 7.75km rum jungle

Mt Barney is a remote wilderness. The mountain demands respect. Safety is the priority, and personal safety is the responsibility of anyone venturing out here. I have mentioned the ever present danger of falling. There are of course other hazards (slips, trips, getting lost, running out of water or time, hypothermia etcetera), but falling from heights is the most immediate and likely, especially on the return journey when the body is affected by fatigue. In workplaces, a task at heights of two (2) metres or more requires a SWMS or similar. Trekking, hiking, climbing and other activities on foot also necessitate a hazard assessment. And always at any stage of any activity (recreational or otherwise), if you do not feel comfortable, if it does not feel right to you – stop.

After climbing Mt Barney, I feel like I can now attempt to climb those other famous highest trails in Brisbane. I heard of the Kokoda trail in the highest mountain in Mt Coot-tha, or 'chainsaw' in the highest peak of Camp Mountain. It's time to check them out.

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