Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hitting the heights and free running

There's something about those exposed slopes above the saddle between the East and West peaks of Mount Barney that is seriously unnerving.

Maybe it's because there are few other places in queensland that are higher than 1,100m above sea level, hemmed in by cliffs.
Maybe it's because the weather is windy at best and wild at worst.
And maybe it's because, as the traditional owners of the land believe, Mt Barney is cursed.

In any case, I still love the place.

Despite the weather, a host of niggles and a throbbing headache to begin with, the ascent with Vetti up Peasant's Ridge to the saddle was pretty comfortable, and felt quite safe.


But once we started ascending out of that small patch of jungle, the perceived risk went through the roof.
The route to the top was, as usual, quite difficult to follow, but we were only off the footpad for 15 minutes at most. This time, we actually followed the main ridge, instead of scrambling up an impossibly steep fern slope as had been the case on a previous trip.
The fact that Mike and I managed to get nine people (who all had little mountain experience - one not having slept the night before) up and down Barney without a casualty on that day is a miracle. Period.
Back to the less-distant past, and the wind was howling, sending ominous clouds zooming overhead and the temperature down to the teens. Cold and fear.
We arrived gratefully at the top after a hitch-free four hours from the base (I was really impressed with Vetti's endurance). A celebratory hug and quick break, then back the way we came.
Well, for a few hundred metres that was. We got off-route, into thick scrub, and on to steep slabs. Cliffs looming everywhere.
[For my own future reference: we got off-route coming down from the steep slab to the mini-gully where we found the route on the previous trip; we possibly followed the gully a bit too far south]
V was staying positive, laughing it off.

It was all business for me; a fair amount of stress with route-finding and a dose of fear for her safety. Soon enough, the footpad had returned and I was content.
And then it disappeared again, requiring a quick scramble up the creek to the grassy lookout just South of Rum Jungle.
Tuna and salad sandwiches, gazing hundreds of kilometres to the North.
And then down.
It was very slow going for the descent - the problem quad was playing up to a certain extent.
When the trail turned flat again, we had a chat to a strolling family, a search for the Savages ridge turnoff (to no avail), and a look at a fucking massive carpet python.


As we approached the final hillock... Well, pictures speak louder than words.


Back to the car, then to the campsite overlooked by Mount Maroon.
Pasta with a tuna-bean-tomato sauce for dinner, then hours spent looking at the fire. There aint much better.
The previous day we'd arrived at about 2pm and after setting up and lazing around the creek for a little while, went for an explore.
We crossed to the open paddock of a private property, and were presented with a spectacular view of Barney, Maroon, and the other peaks of the area glowing in the afternoon sun. We jogged around for a bit, and for the first time in a month, I felt the joy of running. That was one of the intended effects of the trip, to get the legs back beneath me.
After Vetti had turned back towards camp, I felt compelled to lose all the clothing. Free running in every sense of the term - pretty damn exhilarating.

The day after the climb, we gingerly hiked 90 minutes each way to the lower portals, where a huge natural pool opens up in Mount Barney Creek. What followed was the most enjoyable and refreshing rock scramble and swim I've had in a long time.

Driving back home on a Tuesday afternoon, you realise just how lucky you are to be a uni bum with ample free time. To be able bodied. To have a close and adventurous friend.

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