In The Power and the Passion, I wrote about my disappointing first encounter with the Lower Portals section of Mt Barney. Knowing how changeable a region can be depending on season and weather, and also how my mood and health can affect first impressions, I returned on multiple occasions in 2019 and early 2020. I even camped for a few chilly nights in winter.
My return trips were also inspired by two women. Terri was a wild child. She was also creative, caring, passionate, and adventurous. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since I was ten years old, when my family abruptly left the region. In 2019, vivid memories of my time with her sent me searching online for an update. I was shocked to discover she had died unexpectedly of a heart attack just a few months before, at the age of 50. I was also surprised and saddened to learn she’d never been able to leave the tiny rural town and that her later years had been extremely troubled. The Terri I remembered had been a talented creative writer and artist, eager to explore the world.
Young Terri would have loved the views of the wild and challenging peaks of Mt Barney National Park, so I decided to take one of my rare pieces of childhood memorabilia associated with her up to Yellow Pinch Lookout. It was Terri who had been able to somehow persuade my parents to let me join Brownies – a club for children too young to join Girl Guides. If you knew the complexities of my family situation at the time, you’d appreciate this was quite a feat. In fact, Brownies was the only official organisation I was involved in during my entire youth.
It amuses me that the only badge I earned during my very brief “glory” days in Brownies was for swimming – an activity I usually avoided due to an extreme lack of interest and ability. I’m a paddler, not a swimmer. I’d much rather explore rock pools for creatures or search the shoreline for interesting shells, and flotsam and jetsam than submerge my sun-sensitive pallid limbs in the domain of sharks and jellyfish. My swimming badge is a reminder though of my friend Terri’s persuasiveness and enthusiasm for a challenge. I only wish her adult life had matched her childhood dreams.
As the date of my Mt Barney trip drew near, my motivation and confidence flagged and I was at the point of cancelling my plans until I discovered something floating in my backyard bird bath – a Scout’s Explorer badge. It seemed a strange coincidence. Was it a sign perhaps that Terri was with me in spirit? Had she left me this message via one of the local avian kleptomaniacs? She was always a master at enthusiastically persuading me and others to do anything. I decided to take what may have been Terri’s “message from beyond” up to the lookout as well.
The other woman who inspired me to make a further trip to Mt Barney was someone I met at Yellow Pinch Lookout while I was honouring Terri. She was checking for phone messages as there was no signal in the camping grounds and I asked her what the facilities were like. She began describing a night encounter which sent my heart racing, not from terror, but because I’m an obsessed wildlife enthusiast. The young woman had been sleeping inside a swag tent and during the night her bread bag attracted the attention of a range of wildlife. It had been a freezing night and she didn’t want to get out of her warm cocoon to put food back inside her vehicle, so spent many sleepless hours fending off hungry nocturnal beasts from her swag tent. Eager to replicate her experience, I rang Mt Barney lodge that very afternoon and booked a camping trip.
The Mt Barney Lodge campgrounds are huge and border a flowing creek. Instead of choosing a campsite close to the amenities block like a woman with a middle-aged bladder should do in winter, I picked a site as far away as I could. This was to maximise my chances of thrilling wildlife encounters. Yes, this was the main goal of my camping trip – to have my sleep interrupted by wildlife. I had absolutely no desire to scale the terrifying heights of the Mt Barney peaks or even to complete any other walking trails.
A chill descended as I prepared my campsite during the sun’s dying rays. Fire pits are available but you need to bring your own firewood or buy a bag for $10. I had no need for a whole bag of firewood and wanted to reduce my environmental footprint so I figured I could just tuck myself into my sleeping bag early.
Just as I’d finished setting up for the evening, a school bus pulled up nearby. Despite my attempts to find the most secluded spot in the camping ground to increase my chances of nocturnal wildlife encounters, I’d been foiled by the arrival of teenagers on a school camping trip. I abandoned all hopes of creature contacts that night, but was far too amused by the whole situation to be disappointed or annoyed.
During that first freezing night, I was kept company on my frequent toilet visits by small groups of female students also needing the facilities. I wondered if the school trip organisers had considered the needs of young women when they chose that distant site. I assume they wanted to minimise disturbing other campers. At least we had the light of a full moon to guide our shivering steps across the frosty grass.
I did have one quiet visitor to my tent that first night – a red necked wallaby, who also greeted me for breakfast and stole one of my very expensive rock-hard, gluten-free health biscuits.
After a quick nibble, he abandoned it though, obviously of the same opinion as the majority of the human population that they are not really biscuits but glorified chunks of cardboard. I think that was the first time a macropod has ever given me such a look of disgust as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me? You call that food?”
Hungry-eyed currawongs also gathered nearby but must have had prior knowledge of the fake food as they didn’t bother to move closer. Meanwhile, the group of school campers tortured me with their raging fire and aromas of hot egg, sausage, and bacon breakfasts.
Morning rays striking Mt Barney made me forget the cold and my less than desirable breakfast.
I need not have worried about missing wildlife as during the day, massive goannas prowl the campground. Their impressive powerful claws could easily tear open a tent or bag in search of food.
I spent many hours that day (and on subsequent trips) exploring the creek along the road to the Yellow Pinch section of Mt Barney National Park.
From a distant hiding spot I marvelled at the hunting skills of an azure kingfisher.
The next morning I headed out early to explore the 12 kilometre Cronan Creek Falls Trail. It follows part of the Mt Barney summit walks and then branches off into thick forest. As you can see below, the vegetation varies greatly and includes cleared grazing land, grass tree dotted eucalypt forest, sheoak, vine scrub, and patches of thick rainforest.
When ominous dark clouds gathered over the mountain, I was thankful I’d had no motivation (or ability) to attempt the more challenging summit walks. A burst of small hailstones pelted the exposed rocky sections of the mountain, catching the more intrepid hikers by surprise. Within the forest I was more sheltered. Rapidly changing weather conditions add extra risk to the steep rocky terrain of Mt Barney summit walks.
On my last evening in the campground, I managed to scavenge a half-burnt chunk of wood from an empty camp site and stared blissfully into the hypnotic flames before crawling into my icy tent. Terri also enjoyed a good fire in her youth and I remembered the day she boiled up a huge pot of bright pink prickly pear fruit over a bonfire in her friend’s backyard without parental supervision or permission.
This was not to be my last Mt Barney adventure though. In March, 2020, before Covid-19 began affecting travel, I channelled Terri’s persuasiveness and managed to drag the now famous Lycra Man along to the Yellow Pinch section and Cronan Creek Falls track. A buffet lunch kept cool in an Esky helped with the enticement as well as a promise that since I’d already taken hundreds of photographs of Mt Barney, he wouldn’t be dragged down by my usual drunken snail pace. Luckily it was a cool, cloudy day, perfect for hitting the partially exposed trails. As in past walks, Lycra Man bounded along while I plodded painfully behind.
And, as usual, he stood right on the edge of cliff faces, inviting permanent injury or death. In his youth, Lycra Man would jump off his house roof to practise his landing rolls to emulate movie stunt people, sending his mother prematurely grey in the process. I think he would have appreciated Terri. She also loved heights.
Lycra Man is also a fan of flooded creeks.
And log crossings.
While Lycra Man attempted to add himself to the death statistics of Mt Barney, I managed to sneak away and photograph flowers and critters.
Lycra Man then presented me with a problem. The tread on his old walking shoes was falling off so we’d have to return prematurely and eat lunch. Now perhaps I am a suspicious soul but they looked perfectly fine to me when we started the walk. The damage only seemed to occur after he discovered me lying on the ground photographing an ant.
I suggested his new nickname in the blog could now be Mr Floppy due to his loose tread making a flopping sound as he walked. He seemed strangely averse to that idea. With all the cliff hugging, splashing, and log balancing, he’d had a more adventurous time than usual with me though and is even willing to return. I like to imagine an invisible Terri may have been accompanying us that day, egging him on.
For me the attractions of Mt Barney are not the physical challenges, but the wildlife, the diverse vegetation, the magnificent views, and the silence. Walking there reminds me of adventures with Terri when life was far simpler and our minds buzzed with dreams and schemes.