The warning sign at the base of Mt Barney
What an adventure I had over the weekend. I went for the summit of Mt Barney. Mt Barney is a mountain (in Australian standards anyway) for only experienced walkers and climbers and there have been numerous examples of climbers having to be rescued from it's grasp. The plan was to go up the spectacular SE Ridge to the East Peak, go down into the saddle and descend the South Ridge. I aimed to reach the summit and get back down all in the one day. It didn't turn out that way as the mountain had other ideas...
I have recently been eyeing off Mt Barney as it is the biggest mountain near where I live in south east Queensland, Australia. I had sounded out a few prospective climbing companions but for three separate reasons, they all had to pass as the time approached. I decided I would go for it by myself. I wanted to go for the summit within a couple of weeks and the weekend just gone was the only time I could really fit it in. So I decided to go for it. The weather wasn't looking great but
I decided to get up early and drive down there and take a closer look early in the morning.
Vibram Five Fingers Test
Also, I decided I would test out my new Vibram Five Fingers as well and wear them to the summit. So no, I didn't do it barefoot, but close to it. I purchased the 5fingers a couple of weeks ago. Ive used them in a couple of interval sessions and wore them around a bit to get used to them. I had no real issues with them as I regularly wear thongs (otherwise known as flip flops) when not at work and go barefoot around the house. My previous shoes were Nike Frees as well so the progression to the 5fingers was no big deal for me. I also recently wrote about the five fingers along with barefoot running, drinking milk, Crossfit and squats in a bit of a mashup. I thought this would be a good step up. I packed normal hiking boots as well in case the 5fingers became painful or unsafe or some other issue arose.
Mt Barney on the day. Note the conditions on the summit
I arrived at the carpark at the base of the mountain at about 7am. The weather was mostly cloudy with some rain to the south and west. Mt Barney itself was clear except for the summit which was covered in clouds and mist. I decided I would go for the summit as planned. I have quite a lot of experience with navigation, bushwalking (or hiking or trekking), camping and basic bush survival so was confident I could handle anything. It was summer even though the weather was bad, so figured I would at least not get hypothermia or freeze to death up there.
I had a backpack with a GPS, a compass, four litres of water, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, some confectionery for some glucose, a protein bar and a muesli bar. I wore shorts, a sports running shirt which wicks away sweat, a hat and my 5fingers. I also had packed a fleecy jacket, some zamberlain boots and woollen socks. The one item I didn't have was a topographic map. I was confident going into the climb that I knew the lay of the land and that the descent into the saddle would be easy to navigate by looking at the lay of the land which would lead me to the top of the South Ridge track down off the mountain. This proved to be not so simple...
Up the SE Ridge and Down S Ridge
I had read online that many people had gotten lost on the top of Mt Barney as it is quite a big mountain and the vegetation is quite thick. I was sceptical at the time and put this down to people climbing the mountain with very poor navigational skills. How could you get lost on a saddle between two very obvious knolls? That is what Mt Barney is essentially. A big saddle with an East and a West Peak approximately the same height. They also suggested it was not recommended to do the SE Ridge and descend off the South Ridge if you haven't previously done the South Ridge climb, as the top of the South Ridge climb can be difficult to find even if you have been there before. I overlooked this bit of advice as well. From my readings, the top of the South Ridge climb began right at the bottom of the saddle. Can't be that hard to find I thought.
My reasoning for wanting to climb the SE Ridge is because it was by far, the most spectacular of the two ascents. It was a much steeper and more exposed route which sounded far more enjoyable (and it most certainly was). Plus it went straight to the East Peak rather than to the saddle which would then require a further push to the summit.
I put my 5fingers on and my pack and I was on my way at 730am. I was very excited and I must say, the mountain looked quite large from the base. I wondered how long it would take to climb. My estimates were to allow four hours of solid progress to reach the summit.
I encountered another lone prospective summitter of Mt Barney along the way. He was going for the South Ridge. We shared what we knew. Turned out we knew about the same but it was good confirmation of our individual knowledge. We kept walking and talking along the approach to the base of the mountain. He seemed quite interested in the 5fingers and seemed surprised I was wearing them on this climb but did like them and asked me where I got them. After a bit less then an hour, I came across my turn off for the SE Ridge which is marked by a big SE scratched into a tree on the right hand side of the track. We said our goodbyes and wished each other well and said we would probably run into each other on the top of the mountain somewhere in the saddle. I never saw him again.
Immediately, the relentless climb up Mt Barney began. I was feeling very excited and was very happy to be on the mountain, going for the summit. I hadn't actually gone for a summit like this before and I was very happy to be doing what I was doing on that very day. I was living in the now!
As the climb gained elevation, the view improved. It wasn't long before it seemed I was already at the height of the surrounding mountains. I glanced up at one stage and it appeared as though the mountain was taller now than it appeared from its base. It was slightly unnerving as I had been climbing for almost one hour solid by then. I stopped for a bite to eat on a slab of rock with a fantastic view of the surrounding country side to the East.
Nice rest spot
So far the 5fingers were going very well. I was liking how I had a lot of flexibility in my ankles and the grip was great for the rock scrambling sections as well. So far, so good. After my protein bar I pushed on.
After about the halfway mark the climb began to get more interesting. The ridge was narrowing and the drop offs either side of the route were getting much more significant. It was certainly exhilarating and I was enjoying the climb greatly. The climb was proving to be as enjoyable as I had hoped. Indeed, I had felt the sensation of 'exposure' a couple of times now as the climb gained elevation. I was beginning to feel quite high up.
The Fun Begins
It was at about the three quarter mark where the fun began. The climb narrowed and steepened significantly. As I reached yet another false summit I saw a very steep and narrow section, a razorback, of what seemed to be a cliff face which appeared to be part of the route. It actually was part of the route I soon found out.
3/4 of the way up, the most challenging part...
I was pretty high up at this point. I had pushed up into the misty and cloudy part of the climb. There was mild intermittent gusting of wind. The immediate track ahead was not a track. It was a climbing section of about 10m. At ground level it probably would not have raised any concerns. But I was far from ground level. And I was carrying a pack. The feeling of 'exposure' was very strong at this point. Adrenaline was flowing freely through my veins.
I stood at the bottom of this climbing section and scanned the climb ahead. I was deciding whether or not I should or could attempt it. It was wet as well. I consciously attempted to slow my breathing down. I took long slow breaths. I needed to be smart about this. I did calm down but the adrenaline was still flowing. Just not as fast but it was still there nevertheless. I continued to try to calm myself. I realised that as long as I stayed in that situation the adrenaline would not go away.
There were very sheer cliffs either side of me and if I slipped going up here, I would possibly fall a very long way and become a statistic of the mountain. After some careful assessment, I decided that I could do this climb safely. I would push on.
I made the first move very carefully, slowly and deliberately. I chose to stay calm up the entire section. Each move was done carefully. After each move I would stop and carefully analyse the next move before going for it. Move after move I progressed up the 10m climb seemingly surrounded by nothing but thin air.
Finally I reached the top of that climbing section. I hadn't felt like that for a very long time. I moved away from the edge all of three metres (that was as far away as I could go) and looked back out at the view. 'Exposure' was still very strong. The 5fingers were a real asset during that section. Chunky climbing boots would have had less grip I feel. I felt completely alive. I was very happy with how I had handled that section. I felt like my whole being was being tested as I climbed that section. And I felt like I had handled it well. The feeling was amazing.
As I continued up the rest of the climb a serious concern began to eat away at me. What if there was an even more difficult climb ahead of me? I doubt very much if I could climb anything more challenging than what I had just done. This was a very real possibility as from what I could see ahead, the rest of the climb appeared to remain extremely steep still.
Could I Get Stuck?
This is when I first had a sobering thought. If I couldn't climb up any further, I doubt very much I could downclimb the section I had just climbed!!! I would be stuck on the mountain! I wouldn't be able to climb up, and I wouldn't be able to climb down. Numerous climbers from around the world have had to be rescued from that exact same situation. This fear remained with me for the remainder of the climb. At one stage, I stopped to have a quick bite and rest but I could not relax. The apprehension of not being able to climb a harder section ahead was bothering me. So I pushed on.
The climb remained steep but not as bad as that crux section. 'Exposure' was still present. After another 30 minutes or so, I had reached the summit!!!!!!!!! I found the survey marker which was an indicator of the summit of the East Peak! I was so happy I had made it. I felt like I had really earnt it. It was 1130am. It took 4hrs from the time I left the car at the carpark. I knew the remainder of the downclimb would be easy compared to what I had just done. This proved to be not so accurate...
This survey marker indicated summit of East Peak
I took a couple of pics but the mist was too thick. There was only about 20-100m visibility. I waited for a bit for the weather to clear. It didn't and it got colder and it began to rain. Rather than wait for the unlikely event of the weather clearing, I decided to begin the descent.
The Descent Begins...
I looked towards where I thought the West Peak would be but could see nothing. Just mist. So I began down the obvious ridgeline in the general direction of where I thought the West Peak was. It was the gentlest descent. After descending for about 15mins or so, I saw a peak ahead and slightly to the right. There it is! There was the West Peak. Or so I thought...
What I thought was the West Peak to the right...
I continued descending into the saddle. On the way down, I saw a large peak off to my left appear through the mist and clouds. I thought it was pretty impressive and rather close so took a photo of it. Silly me. This peak off to the left I took the photo of was actually the West Peak I should have been walking towards. I am disappointed at myself for not stopping and giving that large peak some more thought than simply taking a photo of it. I should have realised what it was. But I didn't and pushed on towards the other knoll to the right...
This, the real West Peak I saw to the left on my way down to the wrong saddle...
Eventually, I reached the saddle (wrong one). I was surprised on the way down that there weren't many tracks. I thought there would be plenty of tracks from walkers going for the East Peak summit from the saddle, from those summitting from the South Ridge track. But there wasn't. In hindsight it was because no-one walks down to the saddle I had walked down to.
Wrong Saddle, No Track...
After reaching the saddle I couldn't find the top of the track going down the South Ridge (because it wasn't there...). I had heard it was difficult to find but I found the vegetation was not really thick up high. I could see quite a distance. But it was VERY difficult to push through. Very thick up to chest height, no tracks (doh) and rocky underfoot which was invisible through the vegetation. I was slightly confused at my situation. After some scouting around, I decided that time was getting away from me a little and decided to just begin descending down the creek line. This would lead me to the track I thought.
There was supposed to be an area called the Rum Jungle just down from the saddle and below that the Old Hut sight and camping ground. This was where the track was supposed to be marked by orange triangles on trees. I thought if I just go down the creekline/re-entrant I would run into one of these two and pick up the track...
It was during this descent of the creek line that I began to first become concerned about not being able to get off the mountain before sunset. After about an hour of bashing my way through the thick vegetation I came across something that was truly confusing. Instead of finding the Rum Jungle, Old Hut camping site or the South Ridge and the track, there was a severe and very prominent re-entrant running from high ground from the left, down to the right. It made the current re-entrant I was in look tiny by comparison. This was not right. This was not supposed to be here.
North Instead of South?
I got out my compass and GPS and checked the bearing I was walking on. The creekline I was on was running towards the NW. This wasn't right. It seemed the big re-entrant in front of me was runnning down to the N. How was this so? What was going on? I should have been going generally to the S. It was at this stage that I finally admitted it was a bad idea not to have brought a map.
I bashed my way all the way to the creek there as I could hear running water. Now was a good time to fill up my water bottles. I tried some water then after a half hour or so I thought the water must be fine (it was untouched up here) and filled all of my water up.
After filling up my water, I sat and thought about my situation and location. I thought about how this could be so. I trusted the bearings. I knew I was wrong. I should have used bearings from the top. I should not have trusted my own bearings in unknown terrain in white out conditions. A map would have prevented this.
Working out my Errors
I am confident with my navigational skills. But I made some simple errors today it seemed. After some time, I came to the conclusion that I must have walked down to the wrong knoll from the East Peak. That knoll must have been off to the right. From there I went down the incorrect minor creekline to hit the major re-entrant running north from the main saddle which is what I was in now. It was during this time I realised that the photo I had taken of that big other peak off to the left on the way down had indeed been the West Peak. If I was to go down this re-entrant I would be going in the exact opposite direction of where I needed to be going. I needed to climb up this re-entrant I was in. This would take me to the actual saddle I was looking for and from there I could find the South Ridge track.
A random lizard appeared out of a hand hold I was about to use
So up I went. I thought going up this saddle would be an absolute nightmare due to the severe aspect of the terrain but it actually wasn't too bad compared to the walk down which was terrible. After about an hour and a half, I finally made it to the saddle I was supposed to be at from about 130pm. It was now about 345pm. It took about half an hour to find the Old Hut site where the camping ground was. It was right at the bottom of the saddle where the climb to the West Peak begins. You can't miss it. Great little spot. A cleared area about 20m x 20m and protected from the elements by tall trees.
It was after 4pm now so that is where I decided to camp for the night. Right on the saddle.
Camping for the Night
I had no sleeping gear or tent. I needed to build a shelter to keep the rain off me which had continued throughout the day on and off as well as try to keep some warmth in. I had bivouacked out before on a number of occasions so knew the basics and was comfortable with my position. In fact, after finding my location, I was actually looking forward to spending the night out on Mt Barney with the minimum of gear. I knew I was in no danger of dying. It might be quite uncomfortable, but that was all.
I thought back to all of the documentaries I had seen, books I have read and personal experiences over my life. I remember watching legends like Malcolm Douglas who was 'The Man' in my eyes when it comes to bush survival. I also more recently have been watching Man vs Wild featuring Bear Grylls. I like the show immensely but do feel it is not always 'best practice' what he does. He is more in the entertainment area I think but still does provide excellent tips.
Half way through constructing my shelter. Note my water collector
I found a fallen tree and used that as a base to build my shelter from. I used fern leaves and other leafy branches to build my shelter. I built a roof and some walls out of those leaves as well as a kind of bedding to lay on. I remember clearly that most heat is lost through the ground. Because everything was wet, I had no chance of starting a fire. My bedding was wet too but at least it would begin to dry out once I laid down on it. I also cut out the water proof covering from my pack and staked it down in an attempt to collect water over night. It didn't turn out to be that useful as I think the water soaked through it a bit and much of the wetness was more like mist than rainfall.
Bad Nights Sleep
I was woken about 10 times through the night by Possums and who knows what other animals coming to inspect me and my belongings through the night. They must have smelt my food I think even though it was in my pack. On top of that, I woke up at least every half hour or so shivering. I would use my hands to rub my thighs rapidly for about five minutes to warm back up and would then attempt to go back to sleep.
My bed for the night
I rotated through laying on my back with my legs bent and together, to my left side and my right side then back to the beginning again. All up, I didn't get too much sleep but I didn't feel in any real danger of getting hypothermia. I felt safe. I stayed mostly dry through the night as well thanks to the shelter. But I did receive numerous thick droplets of water onto my face and neck throughout the night which was just an irritation.
The Descent Finally Begins
I woke with the sun in the morning and then scouted around looking for the track down. I found the orange triangle markers but they appeared to be going up towards the East Peak. I scouted around everywhere else and couldn't find signs of any other tracks going down to the South. So I headed off along the track marked with the orange triangles. It turned out this was indeed the South Ridge track as it soon began to go down and onto an obvious ridge line tending south. The trip down was uneventful. I must say, it was nowhere near as spectacular as the SE track but much easier to go down.
I reached the car after 2hr and 45mins. I was happy to be down and was looking forward to driving home and having a nice long shower and scrub. As I loaded up the car and jumped into the drivers seat, an unbelievable thing happened.........
The car would not start!!!!!!!!
Completely dead. I could not believe it. I jiggled the ignition switch, played with the gear stick to make sure it was properly in Park but still nothing. I checked the light switch and they were off. I popped the bonnet and could find nothing which was suspicious. Unbelievable.
I remembered there was a place called the Mt Barney Lodge down the road about a kilometre, so I drudgingly strode off to see if they had any jumper leads. This could turn into another long day...
Turns out they did have some jumper leads and were very understanding of my plight and drove me back to the car and within minutes the car was going :) After much thanking we said our good byes and off I went, on my journey home. What a way to finish off the walk. Certainly an epic 26hrs or so.
Congratulations for Reading!
I know this has been a long post. And for the both of you who finished it I hope you both enjoyed it and got something out of it ;) If there is anyone who is interested in climbing Mt Barney please let me know in the 'Contact' form in the header and I will happily email you some links worth reading before stepping off. Any questions and I will answer them happily.
And the 5fingers went great. Really happy with them. Had no pain or discomfort. The grip was great even up high when it was wet. I feel they were a better 'shoe' to be wearing than a chunky walking boot. The only issues I had was when I wash bush bashing through the thick stuff when I was searching for my way. My ankles copped a bit from the vegetation and suffered some scratching. I didn't really notice until I was home and jumped in the shower.
I know this isn't really a post related to Low Tech Combat but it kind of is to me. I honestly felt tested on that mountain. The mountain tested me and taught me some lessons and provided some tremendous experiences, sensations and emotions. This is why I strive to protect my life. It is so I can go out and do things such as this. It was a very special, perhaps even spiritual experience shared between man and mountain in testing situations.
I in no way recommend people go out and get themselves into situations like the one I found myself in. I have vast experience in the outdoors, made a couple of silly mistakes (not bringing a map, going down to the wrong knoll without checking my bearing), but had those experiences to draw on to get me out of trouble. I do however hope that this post has in some way inspired you to add a little adventure in your life, even if it means training up for 6 or 12 months with a specific goal in mind like completing a week long bush walk, compete in orienteering or climbing a mountain or even doing a guided canyoning adventure.
Have fun and stay safe!