“Today is your day ! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way.” — Dr. Seuss
I think my vitamin pills may have been spiked last weekend! Some of you may have gathered by now that I am a bit of an introvert. For me, a quiet walk in the wilderness is a way to replenish my emotional energy. For this reason I try to avoid popular hiking spots and school holidays. However, last weekend I actually enjoyed the noisy crowd on top of Mt Ngungun. What has happened to Jane’s mind? Was it heatstroke? Have I finally achieved, dare I say it…“normality”? More about this strange phenomenon later…
This was my second walk up Mt Ngungun, one of eleven volcanic plugs that make up what is known as the Glass House Mountains, about 70km north of Brisbane, in Queensland. In the Gubbi Gubbi language of the traditional owners it is pronounced “noo noo” and means faces. These plugs, made out of rhyolite and trachyte, are the remaining cores of extinct volcanoes. Originally they were covered in pyroclastic exteriors but over time these have eroded away.
When I was a child I assumed the name “Glass House” meant they were smooth and glasslike when the sun shone on them. It took a while for me to realise the name referred to the way the mountains jut out from the surrounding flat plains. To overseas readers who have towering, majestic, awe-inspiring mountain peaks, please spare some thought for we Australians whose landscape is often so flat in comparison that we have a tendency to call even a termite mound a mountain. Ok, perhaps I am exaggerating just a little! But the Glass House peaks are definitely more hill-like than mountainous.
While the Grade 4 walk is only 2.8km return, National Parks recommends allowing 2 hours to complete Ngungun. This is one of the walks I would recommend for beginners and experienced hikers. While it is rocky and steep in parts, with exposed cliff edges, it’s only a short walk and the spectacular 360 degree view when you reach the top more than makes up for the effort required. It’s located on Fullertons Rd only 3 km from the Glass House Mountains village. Ngungun is also popular for abseiling and rock face climbing. The car park was almost full when we arrived but there is plenty of parking on the side of the road, although it may be boggy in wet weather. There are no camping areas within the Glasshouse Mountains National Park but there are many private camping areas in the vicinity. For track maps and other details check the National Parks site.
I shared my first walk up Ngungun with my daughter in the middle of winter. It started out a very cool pleasant hike but once we reached the top we were blasted by cyclonic gusts. Being “mildly extreme” of course I had picked the one day of the year when the area had freaky cyclonic like wind conditions! Buffeted by winds, Tough Cookie was blown over on a number of occasions and even though she’s a climbing junky from way back, she did not want to walk the extra 100m to the more exposed end at the summit. After seeing another hiker take a tumble and grab a bush to save himself, she went pale and wanted to descend. Her words, “I don’t want to witness a tragedy that will scar me for life!”
Recently I decided it was time for a second visit. With a maximum of around 28C it was much warmer and wind conditions were far less extreme. Readers may remember Lycra Man from one of my previous walks. After a few weeks he had calmed down somewhat and forgiven me for the torture I had exposed him to. After promising him that this walk would not involve a burnt forest, mountain bike tracks, a mosquito infested swamp or dehydration, he warily agreed to sacrifice time away from his beloved two wheels. He looked rather skeptical about my assurances though. When have I ever been wrong?
Anyway, back to the walk… Most of the track lies on the cool shaded side of the mountain and passes through tall forest, carpeted with ferns. It is quite popular so unless you head out early on a weekday you’re unlikely to have many close encounters with wildlife. I heard a wide variety of bird species on both trips but only sighted a couple of king parrots and a robin.
Recent upgrades allow people to choose between stone steps and a dirt path on certain sections.
On first seeing this I thought it would be ideal for people with limited mobility or heart problems, however further along, the track becomes much steeper in sections with loose rocks.
Railings have been built to help prevent falls. At this vantage point you’ll see views of farmlands and Mt Tibrogargan.
Eventually you come out onto the sunny side of the mountain and the landscape changes to dry eucalypt forest, acacias and grass trees.
There is no indication of how expansive the view will be even when you are very close to the top.
There’s one last rocky patch to climb before you are hit by a cooling breeze and are rewarded with an amazing view. Now if I had a decent camera and some skill I could include one of those fancy panoramic shots. But since I haven’t, you’ll have to trust me when I say it was amazing, or if you are in the Brisbane area, go and see it for yourself.
Now you’d think at this point I’d be sucking in all that fresh air and gazing out meditatively across the landscape but no, that’s not what Mildly Extreme Jane does. She hears a strange buzzing sound and spends the next 10 minutes lying on the ground engrossed in the activities of a solitary bee she’s never seen before, while trying to get a good picture for identification purposes, oblivious to the weird stares of those around her. Lycra Man kept his distance so he wouldn’t be associated with the mad lady taking close-ups of dirt. I took plenty of shots but after all that time did I produce anything worthwhile? Not really. This is the best shot out of the blurry collection!
Having satisfied my critter curiosity I was now free to take in the rest of the surroundings. By the way, when I later googled my “bee” I found out it was actually a solitary sand wasp which can give a painful sting if disturbed… That’s what happens when you forget to take your reading glasses hiking! If you want to see a good picture of one and read about the species check out this link from the Australian Museum.
As you can see there was quite a crowd at the top, including a group of nervous first-time abseilers. Is there an English word for that feeling you get when you’re watching someone about to do something and you’re so relieved you’re not doing it yourself that you actually experience an extreme high? C’mon you wordsmiths. I want a better word than “relief.” Anyway, if there is a word which describes it, that’s how I felt.
Anyway, being the cheap-skate, budget conscious person that I am, I decided to stay about for the free abseiling lesson being delivered to the trembling bunch. Actually, the instructor was so confident, calm and thorough that my mildly extreme tendency started to rear its dangerous head. I began to ponder trying to do it myself…for about 5 seconds. The most important thing I gleaned from that lesson was that there is a lot to learn! I think my brain shut down after 10 minutes.
While waiting for the group to get going I observed and chatted to the other hikers. One young woman who had just started a get fit, reclaim your life program, exclaimed “My first mountain! I”m so proud of myself.” I was delighted for her and we chatted about her goals. Her sense of joy at reaching the top was contagious. Walking up mountains can be very empowering.
Another group consisted of a mother and some very rambunctious young lads. I’m sure she lost 10 years off her life as they played near the edges with absolutely no fear. Oh, to have the mountain goat agility of youth again!
Families with babies arrived. It gave me real hope for the future to see people leaving their TV and computer screens to carry their children up a mountain on a warm, humid morning. By the time they are 5 years old those babies will probably have completed more hikes than me. Imagine being able to say you “climbed” Ngungun at the age of 3 months and have pictures to prove it.
Then I chatted to an old timer about the region and learned that the farms below used to grow tobacco. Who needs to pay for a tour guide when you’re given a free history lesson from an enthusiastic ancient local hiker. It will be a sad day when that generation is gone and this history is lost. I learned a great deal that I hadn’t been able to find from the Internet.
Another man was heading off for an arduous mountain trekking tour overseas in 2 weeks and thought he’d better start training today on Ngungun! Hmm… I hope he has fun!
There was very much a jovial community atmosphere on the mountain top. It was actually the first time I’ve felt such good vibes from a diverse bunch of walkers who were strangers to each other. Of course I would have loved to have had the place to myself to contemplate the view in silence; however I appreciated the infectious joy of the group. I think I was experiencing a rocky mountain high…
After reading the information sign in the carpark on my return (I’ve started doing things in reverse these days – a fading memory means I am turning into an accidental non-conformist) I had to really ponder the cultural origins of our desire to stand at the top of a mountain. The Gubbi Gubbi people did not believe in climbing the mountain. They had a saying, “Show respect by looking up and not standing on top of something.” Contrast this with the words of Sir Leslie Stephen: “I believe that the ascent of mountains forms an essential chapter in the complete duty of man, and that it is wrong to leave any district without setting foot on its highest peak.”
After researching the reasons why some people want to climb mountains I was met with enough information to write a thesis. Don’t panic! I will spare you that pain! The short version is that people climb/walk to a mountain top for many different reasons. Some go to release tension, some to get hyped up. Some to feel more significant, others to feel less significant. Some to meditate quietly while others want an extreme emotional and physical challenge . Some want to escape the cage of modern living, while others want to conquer nature. And like children, many just want to have fun. Mountains seem to hold a fascination for many of us and for some they even hold a spiritual reverence:
“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve. They are cathedrals, grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I approach them as any human goes to worship. On their altars I strive to perfect myself physically and spiritually. In their presence I attempt to understand my life, to exorcise vanity, greed, and fear. From the vantage of their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of the future, and with unusual acuteness I experience the present moment. That struggle renews my strength and clears my vision. In the mountains I celebrate creation, for on each journey I am reborn.” -Anatoli Boukreev
Oh, and in case you are wondering, Lycra Man didn’t say much about this walk. That’s actually a good sign. He seemed pleasantly surprised. He’s now considering taking up abseiling again though. Hiking is a little too tame and the sight of all those ropes and gadgets on the weekend got him all in a lather. So even though I didn’t torture him on this little walk, he may be too busy hanging off a cliff in the future to join me on many mildly extreme adventures…