Whenever my hikes don’t run to plan, I’m reminded of the words, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men,” from a Robert Burns’ poem. This in turn brings to mind a couple of grim scenes from John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men. I doubt that the English teacher who chose this book for my class envisaged that 30 years later one of her students would still be having flashbacks. My recent hike at Mt Maroon involved another visit from the now controversial Steinbeck classic.
Ever since I read that Mt Maroon has one of the best 360 degree views in Queensland, I’ve wanted to attempt the ascent. Although only a 6km walk, it’s rated class 5 and regarded as a blood pumping challenge with the risk of rock falls. National Parks recommends you set aside a day to do it and avoid the warmer months although I have seen estimates of 5-6 hours on dedicated hiking sites. Vertical trachyte columns, the remains of an extinct volcano, make Mt Maroon a popular climbing destination with the Ruby of India route being quite well known.
The mountain was originally known as Wahlmoorum , meaning “sand goanna” in the Yuggera language and is part of Mt Barney National Park, one of the largest remaining areas of natural vegetation in south-east Queensland. It’s a 90 minute drive south-west of Brisbane and located at the end of Cotswold Road, 2.7km east of the Mt Maroon township on the Boonah-Rathdowney Road.
I took this picture of a sign at the Cotswold Track entrance which gives an indication of the general direction. Signage is poor and although parts of the track are well-worn you should seek instructions from sites such as AussieBushwalker to help with navigation.
Given strong warnings about this hike I abandoned my original plans to go solo and took along a past walking partner who may be familiar to some of you. Lycra Man features in the trips How to Torture a Hiking Partner and Ngungun.
It would probably be difficult to find two people less alike than us. In the animal world, Lycra Man would be a frenetic kelpie dog. I’d be more of a languid cat. He’s a get from A to B as fast as possible kind of walker while I’m the stop and stare at flowers kind. He’s an extravert who thrives on company while I’m an introvert who needs solitude.
When describing Mt Maroon to him, I emphasised the difficulty level and the possible dangers. He assured me, “If you can do it, I can!” Given his sporting credentials this was not an idle boast. His list of achievements includes hockey, basketball, squash, cricket, golf, cross country running, cycling and karate.
Let’s now compare that with my credentials – a shiny yellow ribbon when my tunnel ball team came third in primary school. While it was a glorious moment for me at the time, it doesn’t quite match Lycra’s man sporting resume does it? I did successfully hold the title of queen of the academic nerds for many years though. The only marathon events I participated in involved movies and books. So with this in mind, it seemed that if anyone was going to struggle with this hike it would be the short, dumpy, half-blind, middle-aged woman with dodgy knees.
We stopped to admire a few of the many bucolic landscapes along the Boonah-Rathdowney Road. A cold morning and a cloudless blue sky promised perfect mountain walking conditions.
The last 3.5km of dirt road was quite scenic as well.
Cows grazed in nearby fields, oblivious to silly human desires to risk life and limb for a view. Despite their dopey big-eyed expressions, cows are pretty smart. They don’t try to climb steep rocky mountains just for fun.
By the time we arrived at the grassy carpark beside a dam, it was compulsory coffee time. Out came the thermos and we lingered to watch birds, none of which were considerate enough to allow me to photograph them.
Finally we set off on the track to be confronted with this sign and a separate warning not to begin the walk after midday.
Given I’d been up at the crack of dawn getting ready, I knew this was not going to be a problem for us but I dutifully checked my watch anyway. 11.45am! What? The time thief had visited again. Why does this always happen when I hike with others? Somewhat disappointed I modified my plan. We would see how far we could go in two hours and reassess the situation. Lycra Man seemed quite attached to the sign though and was furiously exercising his eyebrows but I am accustomed to seeing these facial expressions when sharing rare walks with him. We continued on towards the next sign.
These pathogen hygiene stations are becoming more common in our area in an attempt to prevent the spread of Phytophthora cinnamon, an introduced soil fungus that causes significant damage to native trees.
The beginning of the Cotswold Track was a pleasant walk through fields. If it was a warmer day I would have been concerned about reptilian surprises.
However, the reason for the class 5 grading became all too clear. It’s steep. It’s rocky. It just keeps going up…
Here I am anticipating being hit by dislodged rocks.
Being oxygen–deprived from anaemia, I used the excuse of needing photos for my blog to take short rests while up ahead Lycra Man bounded along.
Here I am “taking pictures.” Notice the smile. Let’s just forget that cats will still purr when in pain.
The forest was strangely quiet –almost eerie. I’d been hoping to catch sight of a rock wallaby or rare glossy black cockatoos but had to be content with tree bark, rock textures and lichen.
I was surprised to catch up with Lycra Man who was lingering at the next sign.
A few months ago he had a close encounter with death while cycling and now seems less eager to risk his life than usual. He expressed concern at my snail pace and wondered if I would find the descent difficult after the arduous ascent. I assured him I am usually much faster going down. It’s only the ascent I need to take slowly.
Eventually the scenery included young grass trees.
Glimpses of one of the ridges teased us and had me anticipating the summit views.
And still the path continued upward…
Eventually we came to a cliff face. I’d been warned not to be fooled into thinking I had to climb it. Instead, we took a path downhill again which brought us to the gully track and another rocky ascent. By this stage it was approaching 2pm and time to decide if it was sensible to keep going. Being almost winter, sunset would be earlier and we’d had a few 1-2 degree Celsius nights leading up to the walk. We weren’t keen to risk having to walk back down the rocky path in fading light or get stuck there for the night without warm clothes. Based on my slow ascent, Lycra Man was convinced I would struggle on the return. I was disappointed but it turned out to be a wise decision as the descent did prove a little tricky for one of us.
Lycra Man appeared to have swapped his shoes for roller skates. After continuing struggles and in a moment of complete madness he announced his assessment of the situation. Apparently my 10kg posterior helped balance me on the way down whereas his taller svelte physique made him more prone to slipping.
With the added benefit of my 10kg derrière, I descended quite rapidly without any problems while poor Lycra Man kept dislodging rocks and tried to avoid a broken ankle. I kept well away to avoid being hit by flying rocks.
Later we were to discover that the real reason for the difference between us was due to our shoes. I use high impact, grippy netball shoes on such walks. His running shoes had unsuitable grip. Perhaps my generous rear end did help as well? Comfort food has many benefits.
With the walk cut short I focused on finding photographs on the way back to share on my blog. After a lot of searching I came across these camouflage experts.
The bark mimicking grasshopper, Coryphistes ruricola.
Possibly the brown-backed bush katydid, Ducetia japonica?
Aphids were feasting on milkweed sap while at the same time a ladybeetle munched on them.
Another couple of bugs were sucking away, oblivious to the desires of human folk to climb mountains.
And a diurnal magpie moth, Nyctemera secundiana, flaunted its symmetry.
Disappointment comes from unfulfilled expectations. Usually I go hiking with few expectations and come away pleasantly surprised but on this occasion I’d really hoped to make it to the top. The craggy peak of Mt Maroon had put me under its spell. Every time I glimpsed it through the trees, my desire grew. There’s a bit of magic in mountains sometimes. Next time I’ll try to maintain my usual relaxed attitude.
We said goodbye to the cows who cared nothing for summit views and headed home with our limbs and brains intact. The last scene from Of Mice and Men haunted me once again. Thank you Mr Steinbeck! Will I ever be rid of Lennie and George?
Despite the steep gradient I loved what I did do of the walk and I’ll return in a few weeks. On the next occasion I plan to outwit the time thief and start early, making sure hiking partners are not wearing roller skates. Hiking poles would be useful as well.
If you can’t wait for my next attempt and are desperate to see the views from Mt Maroon you can check out the pictures on Cameron and Maree’s High and Wide blog. They eat these kind of walks for breakfast and Cameron is an avid rock climber as well.
For detailed comments and instructions about the walk you can also check the AussieBushwalking site
Queensland National Parks site contains more information about the whole Mt Barney area.
Thanks for reading!