Australia, Hiking, Mountains
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Snatching at the Clouds from Mt Warning

Two mountains of my acquaintance, thousands of miles apart, share the name “Cloud Catcher”, “Cloud Chaser” or “Cloud Grabber”, depending on the translations of their names.

(I’ve also hiked with harmless enough-looking fellows with the trail names “Cloudkicker” and “Cloudbuster”, and read an American novel titled ‘Cloudsplitter’. Just what do these bullies have against sweet, fluffy masses of water vapour?).

But the mountains. Kumotoriyama — Mt Kumotori — occupies the borders of three Japanese prefectures, and at 2,017m is the highest peak in one of them, Tokyo:

Kumotoriyama, 2006

If you were Japanese — and chances are you’re not — you’d know it as 雲取山. That first character represents “cloud” and the second, yes, “grab”. The third is “mountain” the first and one of the handful I mastered when I lived in Tokyo. 

Most white Australians in this part of the country know the second Cloud Catcher as Mt Warning, the moniker applied by Captain James  Cook, on the same journey in which he (re-) christened the Glasshouse Mountains further north. Cook, ever the pragmatist, regarding it from a treacherous stretch of sea, named it to warn future voyagers of reefs.

It is its Aboriginal name, Wollumbin, which refers to the 1,156m-high mountain’s long-observed habit of snaring clouds and contributing to the prodigious rainfall of the Tweed Valley region, a couple of hours south of where I live in Brisbane*.

Kumotori was the first big peak I hiked when I first began getting seriously hooked on mountain walking back in 2000. I climbed it again in 2006. THose tales can wait; this one is about my most recent ascent of Mt Warning, a month or so ago, with my friend Jon.

JUNE 2011

Jon meets me at Beenleigh station, south of Brisbane, with a very welcome cup of coffee. Talk about service. We’re soon on the road south, beneath a hazy winter-morning sky, into the heart of the Mt Warning caldera. Our goal, soon after bypassing the Gold Coast, soon comes into view. There’s no mistaking that spectacular profile:

Approaching Murwillumbah

The road snakes through vast swathes of sugarcane into the old sugar town of Murwillumbah, and breakfast at a back-street cafe. We have entered Australia’s hippy heartland, where Aquarians and their descendants have, since the early 1970s, carved a sometimes-tenuous foothold in rugged, subtropical forests once the province of loggers, graziers and farmers. Byron Bay, Lismore, Kyogle, and especially the famous/notorious (depending on your point of view) Amsterdam-in-the-hills village of Nimbin are clustered within sight of Wollumbin.

Just south of Murwillumbah, we turn off the Nimbin road and up into the foothills:

Our hearts sink as we approach an almost-full parking area. My fourth visit, and I’ve never seen it this crowded. Fortunately many visitors stray little further than the gentle track at the base.

We are instantly in a cooler, darker, greener world as we begin the steep 9km-return climb to the summit:

Strangler figs, their seeds deposited by birds in a host tree, can eventually entwine and immure their host as they climb inexorably towards the light:

Picabeen palms are dwarfed by magnificent ancient hardwoods:

There are four or five cleared areas on the climb where rescuers can be winched down or victims winched off — overkill, surely.

An hour or two will take you most of the way up. It’s a good little workout, with glimpses of rugged countryside along the way. Wollumbin, which erupted 23 million years ago, is considered one of the best-preserved shield volcanoes in the world; the region is known, unsurprisingly, as the Scenic Rim.

Much of the great hiking in south-east Queensland and north-eastern NSW takes place within the Wollumbin caldera, in terrain formed by this lava-spewing monster: Lamington, Tamborine, Springbrook. Lava spread over a 6,000-square kilometre area, in some places reaching almost 300m in depth. The plug we’re climbing once matched in height Australia’s highest mountain, at around 2,000m.

The final ascent to the summit is aided by chain and chopped-out footholds:

I once climbed up here with my five-year-old daughter’s arms wrapped excruciatingly tight around my neck:

Jon waits his turn

Heath scrub near the summit:

The summit, with its viewing platforms, is a bit crowded, the views rather indistinct beneath the murky sky. We claim a corner among the hordes and I put the kettle on.

Murwillumbah & the Tweed River

Gold Coast skyline

Negotiating the chain down, there’s a brief clamour when a young girl falls a short way down the rock. She’s okay though, and I’m soon bounding down the trail, trying without much success to outrun a couple of boys intent on playing a noisy game right at my heels.

An epiphytic bird's nest fern

It’s a tight-knit little community in these parts…

..and true to their image, some of the natives are quite bent:

We stock up at a roadside fruit stand, and turn inland near Murwillumbah to return to Brisbane via the quiet and beautiful Numinbah Valley. It’s been a great outing but quite a long day with my early start. The last thing I see, as I slip into one of my notorious passenger-seat slumbers, is Wollumbin’s rumpled hump towering above a placid ocean of sugarcane:

Numinbah Valley

“Can you believe that?” exclaims Jon. “We were just on top of that, mate!”

But I’m already drifting off, too tired for exultation.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds ~ Edward Abbey

* Some sources claim Wollumbin means “chieftain of the mountains” or “scrub turkey”.

Next post: I hated Scouts!

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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