Mt. Bartle Frere Conquerors
Queensland's Highest peak, conquered by 6 friends, fighting slippery slopes, leeches, heavy rain, blisters, cuts and scrapes. Did we mention the leaches?
On December 21, 2013, 6 friends embarked on a mission to conquer Queensland' Highest Peak: Mt Bartle Frere. Standing at 1622m above sea level, the group decided to take the heavily laden challenge of an overnight camp. This is their story:
Early Saturday morning started the haphazardly organised group of 6: Sean, David, Thibeu, Steven, Wesley and I started preparation for our Journey. We decided to start on the Tablelands side and walk over down to the Josephine Falls' car park. This mean a 4 car shuffle where two cars needed to stay at the end and two would remain at the start. The boys left first, or as I had thought, and after an early morning business meeting, I picked up Wesley from her home and we made our way up to the Tablelands. As it was my first time meeting her, we had a lot to chat about, getting to know each other and how we came to be in this part of the world. Two interesting stories, but you're not here to listen to either. At about 1hr 20 mins from Cairns, the road dropped the bitumen and Telstra dropped its signal. It was about this time when we got into a conversation about fires and cooking, when Wesley let out a "oh shit, I forgot the pots". Yes the most critical thing that we relied on to feed 6 potentially starving climbers. A bit of brainstorming resulted in us driving into the nearest farmhouse and asking a friendly lady with two antique Harley Davidsons in her lounge room, named Sue, if we could borrow a pot. Without hesitation, she went to her pantry and returned with a perfect pot for our journey. We thanked her and promised to return, then drove down to to meet the rest of the team.
Gathering near the "Wooroonooran National Park" sign, we divided up our supplies, each carrying between 10-15kg of food, water, and camping supplies on in their packs. At around 1230 we began our downhill descent towards the start of the Mt Bartle Frere walking track which was full of excitement, chatter and frivolous tales of past defeats of nature. This atmosphere carried on for the few minutes of the track until a noticeable silence came upon us, replaced by the heavy breathing and grunts and groans from among the group. For a brief time, the track leveled off for the cheerful banter to re-
ignite. We joked about a number of things, one of them was a contest, a challenge won by the first person to be attacked by 10 leeches. Within minutes, we were joking no more. The recent rain had brought out the legion of leeches in full force, performing their mesmerizing dances upon decaying leaves until you stomped by close enough where they would, in alien fashion, latch on and climb up your leg. Stopping was the worst thing to do as the longer our feet made contact with the ground, the greater the number of leeches would be attached when finally raised. Our designated leech defensive unit, Wesley, was in the middle, constantly passing the bug spray and family sized salt forwards and back like a seasoned All Black player. As we relentlessly climbed in altitude, the less we needed to rip parasites off our defenseless skin. After 4 hours, we finally made it to our first camp, or so we thought.
I must give thanks to my awesome flatmates, Jack and Tegan. Before leaving on their Christmas holiday, they left a neatly wrapped gift with a note advising me to open prior to climbing Mt. Bartle Frere. Inside was a local guidebook, reviewing most of the tracks in the North Queensland Area. I was almost foolishly going to leave it in the ute, parked in front of the "Wooroonooran National Park" sign, when some part of me made me slide it inbetween my sleeping bag and tent. This turned out to be a very good thing, since two essential pieces of information needed for survival are:
A safe haven to sleep, and
Sources of water
Without the gift from my flatmates, we would have found neither.
So, at our first stop, where we thought we were going to make camp, I opened my book and used my boyscout knowledge to inform the group that we were not where we thought we needed to be. So up we went, aching joints and cramping quads, forward and upward we went. It took us another hour or so to find our site, which sat on a peninsula between two flowing creeks. It was such a relief when we finally arrived, as my body had reached its limit and on several occasions I had to stop in agony as I could not bend my legs as the cramping was so severe.
That evening, we huddled around a makeshift shelter trying to start a fire using waterlogged wood in the middle of a downpour. You can take a guess at our success. In the end, after spilling the boiling water, we used the jetboil campstove to heat up our veges in a tomato sauce and dipped our wraps in to scoop out some of the concoction. Shortly after sundown, we all slipped into our tents and endured a sleepless night searching for invading leeches and suffering sound shattering snoring. I wonder who that was....
It took us two hours the next morning to have breakfast, break down our tents, hunt for leeches trying to smuggle its way back with us, and re-pack our bags. After splitting off in opposite directions to fertilize the forest, we once again, joined together and walked the same track. Within an hour up a narrow track in dense vegetation, we made reached the summit. Within the clouds we stood, proud, accomplished, with a 360 degree view of....an air pocket with high saturation of water...cloud.
The decent was no easy chore. The first hour was by far the most exciting and the most dangerous. Hopping along large slippery boulders, some posing risk of serious injury if a wrong step is made or an off balance landing after a ill-calculated leap. Steadily we made it past the first obstacle where a heli-pad and evacuation hut awaited where we rested and ate a large portion of our remaining rations. After that it was go time. Three and a half hours of descending down ridges, avoiding exposed tree roots that lined the path, and quickly skipping past the blood thirsty leaches we made it down to the Josephine Falls car park where I collapsed and gave my aching muscles and joints a rest from the tremendous torment of the torturous trot. I clearly remember at some point during the descent, "Am I testing my fitness level or my tolerance to pain?" In the end, I realised that I had give both thorough examination.
We refreshed ourselves in the cool and crisp waters of the falls, and then went on the mission to collect the cars. We returned to Sue the pot that we had borrowed, along with some nice chocolate (well as nice as you can get from a Tablelands servo) and thanked her for saving our group of six from starvation. Back in Cairns we topped it all off with a beer and some ribs from the Cock and Bull, where we relived the beauty and horror, and basked in the satisfaction of realising our accomplishment. Well done to the Bartle Frere Champions.