Good Friday – a day of rest for some, but for me, it was a day to hike a mountain.
I’d responded to a media call out to join the epic Moonrise on Mount Maroon on Friday, April 19.
- A writer/journalist who is fit enough to hike the seven-hour return night hike
- Available to depart at 2 pm on Good Friday.
It was a hike in the Scenic Rim a stunning expanse of wilderness in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, about a 90-minute drive from my home in Brisbane. As part of my backyard, I thought why not give it a go.
Being in my mid-50’s, a regular gym goer who swims at least once a week (twice when I can) I considered myself ‘reasonably’ fit and thought why not get off the Friday night couch and do something different.
The hike involves ascending late afternoon (in daylight) and descending early evening (in the dark.) The intention is to reach the summit of Mt Maroon at sunset to observe the sun setting in the west and a few minutes later watching the full moon rise in the east. A pretty cool phenomenon that only happens a few times a year.
The question I had to consider, could I hike for seven hours?
Yes, I thought so.
Had I hiked seven hours lately?
Not since the Isle of Skye Wilderness Scotland tour in May 2018 had I done any serious hiking. The 20-minute walk up the highest point on Fiji’s Castaway Island in November probably doesn’t count!
Should I have taken into consideration my lack of strenuous hiking?
In hindsight, yes, I should have.
Where is Mt Maroon
The Scenic Rim area borders Queensland and New South Wales and harbours six National Parks. In 1994 the Main Range, Lamington, Springbrook and Mt Barney National Parks were given World Heritage status. And for good reason. The region was once a volcanic hotspot. The rugged peaks we see today jutting from the green bushy landscapes were formed after an ancient shield volcano erupted around 26 million years ago.
The Mt Barney National Park covers 17, 659 hectares of rugged terrain and protects seven peaks all around the 1,000-metre mark in height. Apart from the rare and endangered plants and animals, the Mount Barney National Park is one of the largest areas of undisturbed natural vegetation found in south-east Queensland.
Mt Barney (1351 metres) is the fourth highest peak in Queensland and the highest in the McPherson Range of mountains region.
Mount Lindesay (1175 metres) with its distinctive looking tiered summit is another peak popular with photographers, but only for very experienced rock and mountain climbers.
Mt Maroon (967 metres) is Mt Barney’s neighbour and is climbable but steep in parts. With minimal signage and the steep drop off edges, it is recommended Mt Maroon be climbed with a guide (at least for the first time.)
The closest town is Rathdowney and some local tour operators conduct walking tours of the national park and mountain. Innes Larkin knows this mountain like the back of his hand and is upbeat about the journey ahead of us.
Our hiking group
Our hiking group of eight assembles at the Mt Barney lodge office.
A mix of ages – we have couples, friends and a mum and daughter – six women and two men. Apart from the 15-year-old daughter, the ages range from the 30s to late 50s.
Just before we jump in the mini-bus an intermittent light shower of rain falls. Is this an ominous sign?
I recall National Parks warning: Avoid exploring the park during wet weather, tracks and rock surfaces can be slippery, especially after rain!
And I was wondering how much of the moonrise and sunset we’re likely to experience given the cloud cover?
Innes Larkin, 47, our guide for the walk was confident we’d be ok. As co-owner of Mt Barney Lodge with wife Tracey, Innes has been hiking the area since he was 13.
“I’ve been guiding hikes up Mt Barney with friends and family since age 15,” says Innes confidently. Innes is a certified guide and takes no chances. I note the large pack he’s carrying and ask him what’s in there. “Dinner and necessities for any medical emergencies,” he replies.
When he takes the pack off his back, I attempt to lift it. I’m guessing its around 23kg. “Oh, that’s nothing,” he says with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “I feel awkward when I go without a heavy pack.”
It appears we’re in good (sturdy) hands.
We set off in the mini-bus to the car park at Mt Maroon which gives us a starting height of 360 metres – only 607 metres to go I tell myself.
Just before three pm
A short trek from the car park track of around 200 meters is our quick warm up before we start the climbing. There are no signs or defined track to follow, so we’re happy to follow Innes.
We clamber over boulders and misshapen tree roots – rock scrambling they call it on the National Parks signs strategically placed at the beginning of the walk. The terrain is rough and unpredictable, I find it’s best to keep an eye on the ground, not wanting to lose my footing. My heart rate goes up as the ascent climbing kicks in and after about 30 minutes, I remove my bucket hat while I sip some water. My hair is sweat-drenched from the exertion.
We continue in this upward goat scrambling fashion for around 90 minutes to the first lookout – a rocky outcrop where we sit for a few minutes and take in the majestic view of the surrounding valley. Innes explains the geological make-up of the area.
He points out the vertical cliffs opposite (Viewpoint Buttress) and says they’re a good place for serious rock climbers to test their mettle (and yes Innes has climbed them a few times in case you’re wondering!)
Onwards we push and it is becoming obvious two in our party, 59-year-old Lenora and myself are struggling to maintain the pace of the rest of the group. Innes is conscious of not wanting the others in our climbing party to miss the sunset at 5.25pm, so he suggests we break into two groups, with Tracey leading myself and Lorna at the back.
In fairness to Lorna, she has recently had the flu and it was messing with her respiratory side, and me, well my knee with its tibia plateau repair two years earlier is just not allowing me to move as fast as the others. And I’ll admit I’m not feeling as fit as I could be for this type of climbing.
But our goal is to reach the summit by sunset, so even though we may be slower, we push on.
From the lookout, the hike takes us through a gorge section where we leave the scrambling behind and start more climbing. The others have pushed on and I can hear their voices at the summit. A sheer rockface separates me and I am not sure where to go.
Tracey is behind with Lorna, so I follow an orange trail marker which takes me to a large three metre section of vertical rock. Using my arms to pull me up, my feet begin slipping down the rock as my grip loosens. As I’m sliding, I recognise this is the moment I am going to potentially hurt myself.
Knowing this is not the time or the place for such an incident, I channel Alex Honnold, the incredible free climbing rock climber who manages to wedge his sinewy body into crevices by holding on with a few fingers. I dig my fingers of my right hand into a small crevice, find another to my left and slowly lever my exhausted body onto the top of the rock.
I felt it appropriate to let out a long “f#*k” and a few other words under my breath. But with immense relief, I realised I’d beaten that rock and overcome the feeling I was going to fail. A quick scramble over a few easier boulders and I join the others at the top.
Unfortunately, mother nature was not going to allow us to see the spectacular moonrise we’d been hoping for. Instead, our view was of heavy clouds gathering with the last rays of sunshine peeking through the soft grey clouds. There was no moonrise at all, so we gathered our headtorches from our bags and enjoyed a hot drink and a satisfying meal carried up the mountain by Innes.
To give an idea of what you would see on a clear night, I’ve taken the following from the Mt Barney Lodge blog:
“The view from Mt Maroon summit on a clear full-moon night reveals expansive scenery bathed in silver light. See nearby Lake Maroon glinting, the full Mt Barney profile, other mountains glowing and the lights of Brisbane in the far distance.”
What goes up must come down
It wasn’t long before Innes suggested we pack our gear up and start readying ourselves for the descent. The weather gods were not being kind and a light shower of rain resulted in us zipping up our rain jackets, in preparation for a wet journey down the mountain.
Innes lead us safely down to the lookout, in the dark with the narrow tunnels of light from our head torches our only other guide. Where we’d sat a few hours earlier in the afternoon daylight, we sat again in the dark, with one bright orb showing its face in the cloudy sky. Yes, the moon finally made an appearance!
I’m not going into detail about the descent except to say I found it tough particularly on my knee, (descending always places extra pressure on my knee joint.) But our group rallied, and we had many conversations distracting us from our efforts (mine mostly involved sliding down the slippery rocks on my bottom.) We were connected by the comradery of doing the same thing (not everyone chose to slide on their butt!)
At no stage did anyone become annoyed the ‘weaker’ two in the group (yep me again) who were assigned to stick closely to Innes, were slowing everyone down. Innes guided us confidently (and patiently,) pointing out footholds in the dark and never once losing enthusiasm for the role he was born to do.
“I find this relatively, bizarrely easy,” he’d sing out in a cheery voice.
The rain continued to fall but it didn’t dampen our spirits. When we eventually reached the flat area before the car park, I was relieved we’d made it safely and was looking forward to a hot cuppa and a shower.
But I also was thankful for an opportunity, which despite it not having worked out as we’d hoped with the intervention of the weather, was still an incredible experience. One I’m proud to say I’ve done and one I’ll never forget.
Jen’s post-climb advice:
Climbing Mt Maroon is a tough but achievable climb by a fit and determined hiker. If you’re carrying an injury or repair to damaged joints, give some thought as to how much these joints can manage.
Depending on your group, it should take between five-seven hours return from Mt Barney Lodge.
Note for the moonrise walk: this expedition may take longer, slowing down to negotiate the gully and summit areas in the dark with only headlamps and moonlight (if it’s out) for lighting.
If this is your first climb on Mt Maroon, please consider climbing with a guide or take appropriate navigation equipment, including fully charged mobile phone to assist you.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend hiking at night time unless you have prior experience.
ACTIVITY INFORMATION provided by Mt Barney Lodge:
Cost: $150 per person
Includes: guiding and interpretation, first aid equipment, public liability insurance, plant identification reference books, snacks, warm meal plus hot tea/coffee at the summit
Meet: Mt Barney Lodge office. Departure time may be any time after 1pm (to be advised) depending on seasonal moonrise time.
Duration of Activity: approx. 5-7 hours
The requirement for group numbers: 5 – 10 people
Age Recommendation: 15yo +
What to bring: 2-3 litres of water, headtorch (preferable) or torch, hat, sunscreen, any medication, warm clothes/raincoat, small day pack and wear comfortable closed-in shoes. A gear list will be provided upon reservation.
Fitness Requirement: This is a full expedition which requires a solid fitness level and excellent balance (due to night hiking) and the ability to carry a daypack with own personal gear.
How to book: Request booking forms by calling (07) 5544 3233 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: the writer was a guest of Mt Barney Lodge. All opinions expressed are her own.
Thank you to our group: Diana, Michael, Adrian, Charlie, Felicity, Di and Lorna.
Bigger thanks to Tracey and Innes.