“Just do it!” was the command from my long-suffering adult daughter. After discussing my planned blog with her for an eternity, she was understandably a little frustrated by my procrastination. To partly appease her and partly conquer my fear of public writing, I finally put my two pointer fingers to the keyboard to compose my first blog post. Since my memory is on a permanent sabbatical these days, it is best I begin with the most recent hike I did in September. My dear daughter, who people mistakenly perceive as a fragile flower, accompanied me and will be referred to as the Tough Cookie that she really is.
Before I launch into my first long-winded tale, I must mention one of my favourite words, waldeinsamkeit. It’s German and means “solitude in the forest,” but not in a negative, lonely way. To an introvert like me, the feeling of being alone with my own thoughts in nature is pure bliss. I also like the Japanese practice of Shinrinyoku, which means “forest bathing”. It basically means spending time in nature to reduce stress, relax and promote a healthy immune system.
Back to the walk now. I’ve actually completed this track twice but the first time was in cold weather and fairly uneventful. The second walk with my daughter was certainly more memorable mainly due to it being spring. I’ve used a few pics of the flora and fauna from my first walk to add to this post though.
Mt Mitchell is actually a twin-peaked volcanic mountain with an elevation of 1175m and is about 100km west of Brisbane, south of Cunningham’s Gap in Queensland. The class 4 (Australian Standard) 10.2km return walk ends at the eastern peak, known as Cooyinnirra by the Indigenous Yugarabul people. It’s a perilous knife-edge ridge above a sheer cliff, and the almost 360 degree views are spectacular. If you are super fit and like getting from A – B as fast as possible, you could possibly do it in 2 hours. I like to take pics and I’m a day-dreamy nature lover who enjoys her food, so I usually take longer than the estimated time. National Parks recommend 3- 3 ½ hours as a general guide for walkers.
I would argue that one of the most dangerous challenges of the walk is actually crossing the multi-lane, busy Cunningham Highway to get from the carpark to the start of the Mt Mitchell walk. It helps if you have the reflexes of a ninja when traffic (including huge semi-trailers) comes hurtling from both directions around blind corners. The other challenge is finding a car park, especially on weekends. Get there early or be prepared for disappointment and noisy crowds who scare away every trace of wildlife! Luckily, Tough Cookie’s iron will meant I was dragged out of bed early enough for us to be enjoying the serenity by 6.30am and since the previous night was the AFL Grand Final, bleary-eyed fans didn’t make it out to the mountain until much later. We had the whole mountain to ourselves!
The first part of the walk takes you through dark, damp rainforest.
Ferns, moss, fungi, strangler figs and tree orchids are standard scenery. It’s a bird watcher’s delight early in the morning and we lost count of the number of different calls we heard. Rustling sounds from mammals, reptiles and birds had us looking around constantly to spot the source.
Early on we were very lucky to come across a tiny white-browed scrubwren building a nest in a slight bank right next to the path. We spent ten minutes watching the process.
I had wondered if it was a good idea to be stopped for so long as it had rained the previous night and that combined with the warm spring weather meant ticks. I really wanted a picture of this bird though and it was a delight to watch, so I pushed my fears aside, thinking I had to get over my parasite phobia. I should have trusted my fears as soon after I noticed a tick crawling up my leg…then another…then one on Tough Cookie. The horror continued as I kept finding them. Now people from other regions may be thinking that ticks are not so bad really and wonder why I am fussing but here we have paralysis tick. A single tick can cause death in dogs and make humans very ill and the small ones are not always easy to find on the scalp or lower body orifices. The lovely critters wait on vegetation with their legs outstretched and waving slowly until they can make contact. Wearing firm-fitting clothing, keeping away from vegetation and using a repellant can help but you still need to check yourself very thoroughly. UPDATE: Please read here for a comprehensive guide to ticks and tick borne diseases.
Thus began what we have dubbed the “Tick Dance” which was performed every hundred metres or so to check for these critters. I should have taken a video as it was probably quite funny to observe, but at the time we were too busy panicking that some may have already hidden away in our delicate regions…
Moving along, we emerged from the dark rainforest into more open dry eucalypt forest, scattered with grass trees (Xanthorrhoea). I must say that I am very fond of grass trees and my albums are full of them.
Eventually, we came upon sections of the track that were very overgrown with chest-high weeds in some parts. This added to our tick phobia, since we had to brush past them constantly. We imagined thousands of evil-eyed ticks perched on every leaf ready to assault us! We should have been a little concerned about venomous snakes as well…
We came upon this impressive fallen log that had a path cut out of it. Very handy for short-legged people like me and those scared of picking up more ticks from trying to scramble over it.
Eventually the path entered the shaded western side of the mountain and we found ourselves in an enchanted mossy kingdom. After sweating from our tick dances and sunny paths, we felt a little chilled by the cool dark King Arthur magical forest.
By this time, we could start to see our final destination – the East Peak – through the trees, but every time we seemed to be getting closer, the track would change direction again. It really was a tease. The idea was to make the track accessible to more people, so the long winding path is a gradual incline. Once again we emerged out into open sunny country on the eastern side. After all this gentle climbing we were surprised to come across steep steps, some of which were downright scary as one slip meant you would be tumbling down the mountain. It was strange to have such an easy walk and then come to these last tricky bits. I wouldn’t like to be taking small children up them or have problems with vertigo. Here’s a pic of my daughter negotiating the steep steps on a tricky bend on our return walk so you can see what I mean about it possibly being a problem for some.
Eventually we made it to the summit and after wolfing down snacks to get our blood sugar back to normal, we could sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views.
While on the summit I took some pics of this tiny hover fly attracted to the flowering grass tree stalks.
There was also a pretty purple/pink orchid flowering and a dire warning sign.
Tough Cookie and I discussed the idea of camping on the summit one night so we could watch a sunrise. She was naturally skeptical about how my not-so-young spine would cope with the hardness of the ground, which was actually just bare rock. I was still keen though until I noticed another couple of ticks crawling up her jeans. I wonder how many ticks we’d have on us after spending a night there? I still hadn’t given up the idea completely though at this stage…
Off we launched back down the track. Going down is usually faster of course, unless you are walking with me as I always manage to find things to take pics of that I missed on the way up. Sorry, Tough Cookie. However, due to the threat of more tick onslaughts we were speedily zooming through the more weedy sections, that is until Tough Cookie stopped in her tracks ahead of me and uttered some kind of strangled exclamation. Earlier on I had been lamenting the fact that even though I have seen many snakes in my backyard and on farms where I have lived, I have never seen one on my official hikes. Another blogger had previously spotted an enormous carpet python in the area and since they are territorial, I was hoping we’d see it on our walk. And this was the reason for Tough Cookie’s frozen stance! A beautifully patterned three metre python was on the path just ahead of her. Of course, my first priority was to take a photo as proof, but it was then I discovered my memory card was full. Nooooo! Not now! I quickly deleted a couple of blurry pics and moved in to where the snake was disappearing. I wanted Tough Cookie to touch the tail end or at least stand a bit closer to give me some scale, but she was strangely reluctant. So this is all I have to offer you. About a third of the snake along with its head is hidden.
Some of you may be thinking I am a very bad mother at this point and it’s possible I am, but not for the reason you may be thinking. Carpet pythons are not venomous like brown snakes , taipans or death adders. In fact, I have one living in my ceiling that helps keep the possums and rats under control. They are beautiful creatures. Tough Cookie was in no danger from this one as it slowly slid off the path. For more interesting information and pictures, check out the Australian Museum site.
After this incident I finally had to concede that spending the night on the summit in my sleeping bag was probably not the best idea as the carpet python was probably big enough to give me an overly-affectionate squeeze. And then there is the small issue of my sleepwalking tendencies too.
Finally we arrived back at death highway and performed our pants-wetting crossing again without being flattened. The sight that greeted us on the other side was enough to have me running back across the road again though. Crowds of people! Luckily they’d been doing the Mt Cordeau walk. Mt Cordeau has a spectacular view as well and the tracks are more open and clear of weeds so ticks are less of a problem. I will be writing about it in a future post.
I had planned to have a leisurely cup of tea from my trusty ancient arcosteel thermos (my first and probably only gear plug) to calm my tick-frayed nerves, however I had to endure homidicidal glances from people waiting for a car park so it ended up being a very brief guzzling affair. So that was the end of our small adventure.
When asked if she enjoyed it, Tough Cookie replied, “Yes, it was definitely an adventure.” Would she do it again though? “No, I don’t like ticks.” So there you go. While most of the walk is a gradual incline, there is a small steep stone and dirt step section on a bend close to a long drop which could be problematic. The views are spectacular but I’d recommend doing it in mid-winter when ticks aren’t about, unless you happen to like ticks of course, or don’t mind pouring insect repellent over yourself. Those who suffer from severe vertigo may find arriving at the east peak a challenge and children really need to be closely supervised at the cliff edges. There are no protective barriers to stop you plummeting to your death if you slip. For more comments and hints about this walk you might like to check out the very useful site: Aussie Bushwalking. It seems there are leeches as well as ticks on this walk but we missed them. I’m a little disappointed. Better luck next time!
Bonus extra. Don’t you feel lucky? On my first Mt Mitchell walk I caught sight of this small, furry antechinus running up and down a tree trunk. It appeared to have a nesting hole in the tree. Here’s an interesting article about these carnivorous marsupials.
Until next time,
Mildly Extreme Jane