Climbing rugged Mt Barney, Southeast Queensland’s second highest mountain, is one of the state’s most spectacular land-based outdoor pursuits. Just don’t underestimate the time, fitness, and skills required to reach the top.
When my mountain guide, Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat co-owner Innes Larkin, tells me to expect at least ten hours of trail time during tomorrow’s expedition, I figure he must be exaggerating, maybe to keep me from making any early dinner arrangements back in Brisbane.
“Surely we’ll be back within eight hours?” I ask my husband as we sip local wine and marvel at the fairy floss tufts of clouds tentatively venturing towards the bold, granophyre face of Mt Barney’s 1351m East Peak. “I mean, it looks so close.”
In the Barney zone
My husband, however, is unwilling to speculate about the duration of tomorrow’s adventure.
Finishing our wine, we make the short walk back to Boolamoola, one of the retreat’s two charming self-contained Queenslander homesteads, to prepare. Three litres of water each? Check. Hat, sunscreen, warm clothes, and hiking boots? Ready.
Finally, we tuck the weighty bags of scroggin’ – high-energy snacks that Innes and his wife, Tracey, have provided – safely into our daypacks. Following a simple, self-prepared meal, we slip into a deep, early sleep, cocooned in the silence of the surrounding countryside.
And at 6am sharp, Innes meets us at our back doorstep. May’s early morning twilight quickly gives way to gentle light and hints of warmth as we traipse along an occasionally undulating, southwest-moving fire trail.
An hour later, one of my outer layers shed, we begin the ascent up the East Peak’s southwest route. As with other routes up Mt Barney’s peaks, this one is unmarked.
Although the initial climb through eucalypt forest seems relatively straightforward, the track deteriorates, confronting us with vegetation-choked pathways, sheer, narrow ledges, and rock negotiations.
It’s obvious why the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing’s website recommends a high level of fitness, experience, and navigational skills for tackling Mt Barney – if Innes weren’t with us, our chances of getting lost would be exceptionally high.
Thanks to our guide, though, this isn’t a worry.
A scramble to the top
Somewhere around the 1050m mark, soon after we trade eucalypts for montane heath, the real scrambling begins, and Innes’ guidance on where to place one’s foot, hand, or ‘third leg’ (bottom) becomes not only welcome but necessary.
“From here, you’re in ‘the zone’,” Innes grins, “focussing on every step.” He clearly thrives on every challenge this mountain presents.
As we struggle to remain in the Barney zone, Innes mentions that this route isn’t the most difficult.
The rugged Logan’s Ridge route, which Captain Patrick Logan, commandant of the Brisbane settlement, used to ascend the East Peak in 1828 requires you to concentrate the whole way, Innes explains, eye’s twinkling.
But although Logan’s Ridge is his favourite, he won’t take clients there unless he’s previously assessed their bushwalking/rock scrambling skills. Gazing out towards the rocky, unforgiving ridgeline, I completely understand why.
Even on the southwest path, the steep ambling and scrambling is relentless, although we do have breathers, thank goodness.
Brimming with enthusiasm, Innes has us pausing to examine mountain flora, including wild orchids in their current non-flowering state, delicate white flowers of woollsia pungens, yellow spikes of the hairpin Banskia, seed cones of mature she-oaks, which sustain one of Queensland’s vulnerable species, the glossy black-cockatoo, and the narrow, smooth trunk of the rare mallee ash.
After we devour our scroggin’ – lollies first, of course – and absorb ever loftier views towards Mt Ernest and the two-tiered cliffs of Mt Lindesay, also part of World Heritage-listed Mt Barney National Park, Innes reaches for my camera, keen that we take home at least a few photos with both my husband and me in them.
Nearing the summit after five full hours, we meet two other parties who have travelled the same route today.
I’m amazed they’ve made it without Innes (who, incidentally, has climbed to this spot well over 150 times), but they explain that one member of each group has reached the top before, led by someone else with experience ‘in the Barney zone’.
View from the summit
As for the views from the summit, they’re worth every bruise and drop of sweat.
The nearby peaks, temptation for future adventures, perhaps, colour the landscape between us and the blue ranges beyond.
The day is clear, and, looking eastwards, we can make out the distant tip of Mt Warning, the Lamington plateau, and even the slightest shimmer of ocean.
After an hour spent sipping local plunger coffee and savouring rolls stuffed with fresh basil and lettuce, sundried tomatoes, eggplant, feta, and homemade cherry tomato chutney, a nap sounds more appealing than a descent down the also befuddling South Ridge.
This route is unmarked beyond the saddle between Barney’s east and west peaks and has a less than glowing reputation for being the most popular location for mountain rescues.
A full eleven hours after our departure this morning, we finally drag ourselves back to the retreat. Sweaty, filthy, and sore from several slips and trips, I realise just how acutely I’d underestimated this mountain (and probably overestimated my fitness).
While I’d love to return one day and share Mt Barney with friends, I won’t be tackling the southwest route independently, nor am I confident in my ability to navigate beyond the saddle along the South Ridge route.
This mighty, magnificent, demanding mountain deserves respect … and a guide.
Peaceful Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat (1093 Upper Logan Rd, Mt Barney), located at the base of Mt Barney, has two self-contained Queenslander homesteads (Boolamoola, which sleeps 6, and Moringararah, which sleeps 15) as well as shady, grassed sites with creek frontage and access to a modern, tiled amenities block.
Deluxe camper trailers and rustic cabins are also available. The retreat offers full-day (8-14 hours) guided expeditions up Mt Barney along a variety of routes for $150 per person, including snacks, lunch, and more. A high level of fitness is required. Phone (07) 5544 3233 .
Mt Barney ascents are best left for southeast Queensland’s cooler months. Reconsider your plans if rain is forecast as the rocks can become even more slippery and dangerous.
Routes up Mt Barney are unmarked or barely marked and require extensive bushwalking experience and navigational skills. If you decide to tackle this peak independently, be well prepared, use sound judgment, seek local advice, and follow all safety guidelines listed on the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing’s website.