Taking on Mt Barney on a frosty winter weekend
FANS of mountain climbs are rare; a mate's text pitching the idea of taking on Mt Barney meets with replies such as "Good luck with that", or no reply.
Lying 130km southwest of Brisbane, Mt Barney forms part of the McPherson Range, the remains of the Focal Peak Shield Volcano, which erupted 24 million years ago.
It's 7am as we pull into the carpark at Yellow Pinch Reserve in the Scenic Rim region, the start of our climb.
The temperature is -1C, but there is no wind and the sky is a cloudless, deep cobalt blue, while the sun is vibrant and glorious. Perfect.
On our 4km walk into Barney, a wide vista opens up, with brilliant views of wedding-cake-shaped Mt Lindesay ahead of us and the East Peak on our right.
There's more than 20 possible routes, and we take the South Peasants Ridge "easy" route to the (1356m) peak, south-east Queensland's second-highest mountain.
We cross the Logan River via a floodway at Cronan Creek (known by Aboriginals as Dugulunba - Leave It Alone). The river here is only centimetres deep.
Barney holds a special significance in indigenous folklore and appears in many stories. The peak is regarded as a place to avoid. As if to confirm this, on the day before our climb, a chopper rescues two unwary climbers left stranded on the slopes after a fall.
The approach to the climb has us pass some of the largest tracts of undisturbed natural vegetation remaining in this region.
Kangaroos and wallabies hide in the eucalypt forest, brush box and angophora, while platypus and the kingfisher inhabit the waterways.
Our first big test of the day comes halfway up the South Ridge, where walking buddy Bill freezes, motionless like a giant, bespectacled gecko.
He fears tumbling backwards from the large, angled slab we are climbing.
The descent here can prove perilous in winter, when leaves and rain render the surface greasy and unpredictable.
I grab Bill's backpack and we move onwards, wary of the 20-30m drop-offs.
Soon, we scramble up a 10m-high rock chimney to reach a resting point with a decent view where the tree line thins and we can catch our breath.
Four hours after our start, we reach the Saddle at Mt Barney, but ultimately fail in our quest to claim the East Peak after becoming what is technically known as being "lost".
Topographical maps and a compass are essential on the unmarked routes. The tricky upper slopes can leave the hiker disorientated and stumbling on the scrubby, rugged slopes.
We take lunch on an outcrop of rock, cooking tinned beans on a gas stove, and enjoy the sun's warmth, knowing the temperature will start to drop soon enough.
Only an hour into our return, we find ourselves stuck in an eerie no-man's land without a downward track.
Retracing our steps, we notice how we had earlier stepped through a shabbily arranged barricade of branches and twigs intended to block our path.
With charred hands from grasping sooty tree trunks and our feet as unpredictable and ridiculous as shopping trolley wheels on the rough ground, every step is exaggerated - it is no surprise about 70% of accidents occur on the return.
We were lucky we managed to find our way back - I will never tackle a hike where people say "take a map and compass and learn how to navigate first" without doing that very thing.
A wallaby with her joey eyes us warily from a fern thicket and then, soon after, we stand in the car park next to the bomb of a Barina that has new-found appeal; it is now a place of refuge, with a welcome heater and much-needed seats that offer us security against the dropping temperatures and dimming of the light.
This break for nature has cleansed our spirits and cleared the mind, with our mood jaunty and light as we laugh about a return visit when we can walk upright once again.
What you'll need for the climb:
To wear: Hat, sunnies, walking shoes, 25-45 litre daypack (do not plan to carry anything in your hands), waterproof jacket.
Two litres water (minimum. More if you drink a lot), food (for a snack on the summit): muesli bars, cashew nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), chocolate, sandwiches, first aid kit with sunscreen, insect repellent, tweezers (ticks can be thick in this area, especially in summer), Band-Aids, pressure bandage, paracetamol, personal medications. Mobile phone (fully charged); camera and batteries.
Optional equipment: 20-30 metres of rope in case of rain or anxiety, change of shirt/clothes for the return car ride (to leave in the car), wet weather gear, gloves, head light and batteries.