Isolated Peak Climb

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Isolated Peak. (Mount Barney region).

For several years running I have gone up to the Mt. Barney Lodge, and pursued various walks, climbs, abseils, and general activities designed to imperil life and limb in the grand Mt. Barney National Park. You can have a look at their website for photos and information. Actually, I go with a mate, Ross Cooper. Innes Larkin a highly experienced Senior Guide, and proprietor of the Lodge, is our guide and saviour. So if it be Logan’s Ridge, or Peasant’s Track, or Southeast track; then there is Mt. Barlow and Minnage’s Peak on the far side, not to mention the adjacent West Peak, Mt. Ernest, and over yonder Mt. Maroon, you’re interested in, you have come to the right place. As we have aged, as judged by our calloused hands and feet, we also have developed an interest in the wildflowers. Innes gave me the lovely book, “Mangroves to Mountains” which is quite detailed, but also has some of the flowers we are finding in the Yuraygir National Park. I took along my trusted wildflowers companion, “Wildflowers of the North Coast of New South Wales“, by Barry Kemp my mentor; who has so graciously helped me get started in identifying the wildflowers of the Yuraygir National Park in the Wooli area.

I have just returned from another mountain adventure, and scribe this note in between sorting out gear, and tackle, as well as looking at some repairs to my long-suffering boots (Ross reckons I’d be better with Vibram soles–I need all the help I can get); basically, getting the gear sorted to go again later in September when we will devote two walks to wildflowers. I send a copy of this onto my bushwalking mate Ross, and to our esteemed guide Innes. He, a school teacher by trade will probably give me a grade on this report, but I should warn him I am a straight A student and expect no lesser grade. I must apologize for the lack of images at this time, as we packed ultra light, planning a survival trip, and I did not take a camera. So, golden rule #1: I will always take a camera, even if it is just my iPhone; and, golden rule #2: always take my clear glasses (not just sunglasses) so when we descend in the pitch black dark I can at least see where I am going, even if I don’t know where I am. Images will appear in my photo gallery after our gambol in September.

Eagles’ Ridge starts at the lower peaks of Tom Tum, and proceeds over Isolated Peak, then up to Leaning Peak, and from there onto North Peak. If you are Tensing Norgay you can do East Peak as well in one day. . Look at the general photographs, and follow the line from right to left. I have done the main peaks in day climbs, with five tops of East Peak to my credit, and one to North Peak…great stuff. Leaning Peak is very steep, so unless you are driving tackle in to the rock face, don’t go there. The Mt. Barney massif is just huge. About three years ago we did a day walk in through the Lower Portals, which is nice for a swim amidst the boulders on a hot summer’s day, and on up to Tom Tum (why do they call it that?). We have also done an overnighter with heavy packs and tents coming down the upper reaches of the Logan River from the Upper Portals access. Anyway, for today’s trip, our plan was to do Tom Tum, and then proceed up to the top of Isolated Peak, with some murmurings about an exit strategy once we got there…the guide was not specific on that point.

Flowers, female Black Sheoak,
Flowers, female Black Sheoak,

So off we set in the dark. In the darkened sky, Jupiter and Venus with adjacent Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull, featured in the East. With one head light, we left the track and headed up through the coarse dry bush. The guide made Ross leave his walking sticks in the truck, but I was able to smuggle one by passing it off as my antennae to communicate with the Martians from the top of Tom Tum–as good a reason as any. It was cold, and we were well rugged up with fleeces and Goretex jackets; I had new gloves which were better suited to Ferrari driving. There was some uncertainty, at least in our minds, about the weather, with high winds and some rain predicted. A muted cry of the Glossy Black Cockatoo was heard in the distance, and we startled a couple of bush wallabies. The lower forest areas were populated with She-Oak, mainly the Black and the Forest, although we did not manage to ID the Forest variety. It is interesting to note that the nut on the Black has a more stippled surface, and the Forest (“Allocasuarina torulosa“) tree grows much higher, to 20 m and has a bark described as “corky”. My reading tells me that both produce a seed enjoyed by the Glossy Black Cockatoos. The Black, “Allocasuarina littoralis” is common around Wooli, but I still have not seen the “A. torulosa” for sure in that area. As it got steeper, the vegetation tended to thin out a bit, but we enjoyed re acquainting ourselves with old favourites like the “Hibbertia ? stricta“, and Innes discovered the wider leaves of the “H. dentata” not yet in flower. We enjoyed seeing a the soft flower spikes of the Black Wattle, “Acacia concurrens in vivid yellow colour; Innes pointed out to me an identifying feature of Wattle–elongate leaves with linear lines, but lacking a central spine–if you look carefully, you can see this on page 131. Further up the “Acacia brunioides” was full of flower, and seen in abundance. As an aside, last year we did a spring walk on Mt. Maroon looking for the rare “Acacia saxicola” and found some plants but were a bit late for the blooms. A total of 45 Acacia are listed in this book. As we ascended the “Bossiaea rupicola“, which we call the Coca Cola plant because of its red flowers; you might also compare the orderly array of flowers to the red jacketed sentries outside Buckingham Palace. The “Bossiaea” seemed to prefer a higher altitude, and in this area it is remarkable how specific the plants can be to altitude, exposure, and rainfall. “Woolsia pungens” are out, but this flower is pure white, same shape, but different colour to ours of the Yuraygir Heath, which have lovely blue, lavender, and red colours; these are well shown in Barry’s book.

"Woolsia pungens", the Prickly Swamp Heath.
“Woolsia pungens”, the Prickly Swamp Heath.

By this time we had crested Tom Tum, or at least the highest peak of this group, planted there like some bones of a fossilized giant and it was time for a quick snack, and a drink of bottled water before considering the next push, which at this time happened to be down. Innes set up the tackles and we were soon abseiling straight down into a rocky valley some 20 metres below. On the way, a lonely Trigger Plant was seen clinging to the cliff. This, the “Stylidium laricifolium” has tiny butterfly-shaped flowers light pink with a reddish to the centre, and flowers in the late winter to spring. According to “Mangroves to Mountains”, and I quote, “Flowers have a specially-adapted ‘spring’ mechanism which is a fused style and anthers. This hammer-like mechanism is triggered into action by the touch of an insect in the centre of the flower. It springs up and hits the insect, depositing pollen on the unsuspecting creature. The mechanism resets within half an hour”. A truly fascinating and delightful plant, Best make plans to belay your abseil about halfway down the cliff to take a photo, next time. Barry in his book writes of the Grass Trigger Plant, “Stylidium graminifolium with similar features, with as he comments, “Stylidiums are found almost Australia-wide and this one is the most widespread and well known”; please refer to page 128 of his book for further information. I will certainly put this plant on the must find list in the Yuraygir area.

The scenery as we push higher in the mountains grows in grandeur, with breathtaking panoramic rocky vistas. With a break in the clouds you could see south to the Lamington National Park, where we have done the Lost World walk, as well as the trudge into the wreck of the Stinson via the Christmas Creek approach. Northward the view sweeps towards Mt. Superbus in the distance. There was no dilly dallying at this point as we pushed upward, ably assisted by Innes with both hauling and safety ropes. A word to the wise, unless you are an experienced climber, and have a guide with knowledge of the area, do not attempt to tackle our route which is steep, hazardous, and unforgiving. You may not get up, and if you do get up, you may not get down. Winds were up to 25 kts, and their icy tentacles threatened to hurl us into oblivion off the cold rock face. A floral accompaniment came our way as we hauled forever upward, were the two type of Banksia, “B. spinulosa” and “B. integrifolia, probable ssp. monticola“. Firstly, the “spinulosa” flowers are not as striking as their heath counterparts, and we may have been looking at “B. spinulosa var. cunninghami” and at least to my eyes, the leaf was less toothy than ours from the Wooli area which Barry classifies as “ssp (sub species) collina“, a widespread and variable plant. Secondly, The “B. integrifolia” also looks different…in our area is it known as the more common Coast Banksia and shows a smooth sided waxy green leaf, and that of the mountain “ssp monticola” with a stumpy flower actually has broadened leaf with spiky edges. So as is said, “Vive la difference”, and I wonder what Barry’s comments might be as he knows I have thing about getting the “Banksia” sorted.

By one o’clock we bested the summit of Isolated Peak, and admittedly were pretty knocked. The peak is fairly acute, and we rugged up and nestled down among the rocks for shelter while Innes made a brew. We tucked into freshly made sandwiches on bread rolls, with ham, crumbly cheddar cheese, homemade rhubarb chutney, and sliced fresh garden tomatoes…food of the Gods, as we looked down from the kingdom of Zeus, and marvelled at the awesome mountain scenery, with a rainbow just visible through the swirling white cloud. Innes went off and had a recce; then, after a council of war on his return, we calculated that Leaning Peak and on up to North would have to wait for another day, as our task ahead was to get down safely. On our climbs, as a rule of thumb, it takes about the same time to go down as it takes to go up. Any God-like delusions were quickly dispelled when the only way down, was to drop over the edge and abseil down in stages. Now yours truly is not great with heights at the best of times, and it was daunting even to look down; but, after ascertaining that there was no other alternative (except the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, which was beneath our dignity), it was into the wind, and full speed down. Ross went first, and targeted a Black She-Oak about 30 feet from the top; I followed, and gave that staunch little tree a real hug when I arrived. From there we worked our way down, zig zag, going along rock features obliquely, then spying out the next point to get to on our abseil drop. Fortunately there was adequate rock and trees to set anchor points for the belay. By this time, the boys had found their pace and were really enjoying themselves (abseiling down is much easier than walking!). Along the way, almost growing out of the rock, a solitary traveler, the Native Iris, “Patersonia glabrata in full winter colours.

The summit of Isolated was about 950 m; we had calculated that we needed to get down to about 450 to pick up a fire break marked on the chart. This firebreak proved eventually to be a furphy, and may not be maintained as such by National Parks. Relentlessly we slogged on down, from 750 to 700 and so on. By 4:30 pm, with an hour to sunset, we were at 600 with still quite a bit to go, in difficult country necessitating the traditional “bumslide” technique, which is actually quite safe as you have plenty of stuff to hold onto to slow your fall, although real scratchy, and always in my case, hard on the seat of your pants (at that point I would leave the rest to the readers imagination). Just on dusk we were into country where at least we could walk, and as night fell we soldiered on, and on, with the aid of Guide’s head light. Not expecting to be out this late, I had not brought my clear glasses nor my own head light , so hand-in-hand Innes and I must have looked a sight, with Ross close behind tracking down and down thru the scrub. We had stayed more or less on the ridge line, then changed course to the Northeast with the aid of Innes’ compass (and by my celestial navigation using the constellation Scorpio, with the Southern Cross as reference, as the sky had cleared to reveal the stars). Our aim was to pick up Rocky Creek. We found this dry creek bed, with trapped logs and large boulders, left over from a previous watery tempest. But, it made for slow going, particularly with the scratchy tough Lantana impeding progress. Going by the map, if we headed due north we would pick up the earlier track into the Lower Portals, so after a further council of war, and noting that the batteries in our only light might eventually give up the ghost, we struck due north. Actually, I would have been quite happy to light a fire, and bivouac for the night, as we had ample water and still some food; Ross, however countered that we did not have any wine, I was out voted, so it was “home James and don’t spare the horses”. I counted the paces, and was within 20 metres of my DR when we crossed the track; so an excellent exercise in bush navigation at night. We were back at the truck by 8pm, thus completing a 14 hour adventure, all hands in good form, though weary, and amply hungry, ready to tuck into a Rathdowney grass-fed eye filet steak.

Within an hour we were restored by the hot showers at our house Booloomoola, and warming by the fire, enjoyed the honey toasty flavours of the Clos De Goisse, 1999 as we relived our exploits, and reviewed the flowers we had been priviledged to enjoy on our ascent of Isolated Peak.

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