NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Gower
I really didn’t want to do the Mt Gower walk. Having to hire a guide to climb a mere 850 ms had no appeal, and spinning it out over eight long hours was similarly unattractive. I had the vision of a gang of snails waiting for permission to take each step. However, I did want to go to the top, so I found myself being grilled by the lady in charge as to my possible fitness for this venture, and then being taught how to climb and hike. I had trouble keeping calm. I told her a few of the things I’d climbed but she bowled on regardless. I later found out I was not the only one who received this treatment.
I cycled to the start in the relatively cool morning air, enjoying the breeze created by the bike, and, as always, delighting in the whole experience of cycling on the beautiful island. Who should be there waiting by the start gate but Nicole, a lovely person I’d met on day 1 out on a mountain slope. Hoorah. The bus containing the rest of the group arrived soon enough, and helmets in hand, off we set to begin our ‘epic’ before the day got too hot.
The first two kms are just a flat coastal walk, and I met four others of the group in this stretch, and was starting to really enjoy myself. It seemed to be a great bunch. First bit of fun for the day was a tiny climb (80 metres) to what is called Low Road – a photogenic stretch begging you to take photographs – and then a bit of an uphill slope to Erskine Creek where we’d stop and have a drink and snack before continuing. The day was heating up. I liked Dean’s way of operating, which was to set a pleasant pace for I’m not sure how long, and then to stop and wait for the rear enders to catch up. I don’t mind this method at all: it’s being forced to walk slowly that rankles. With Dean’s method, you can look at the forest and chat while you wait, so the time goes by pleasantly enough. It also meant we didn’t overheat or loose moisture with sweat. I do have a tendency to rush up mountains, and this discipline on a hot day was not a bad thing at all. His information was interesting, and presented in a manner that raised other issues to do with conservation and the island.
The ropes were not necessary on a dry day like today, but I can sure imagine they would be more than welcome in wet weather when everything would be slippery. I also noted at least one member of the party who had legs that had turned to jelly or wood or both on the way down, and the rope probably saved him from a nasty accident. Meanwhile, the rope sections were jolly good fun, for steep it was. I was reminded of Mt Bartle Frere and also Mt Sorrow, both in tropical far north QLD, where the gradient is somewhat similar. I love four-limbed ascents; they’re exhilarating. Maybe I have cat in my genes.
One aspect of this climb that I knew I was going to love was Moss Forest – a misty, moisty forest (under normal conditions) – at the top, where there are two species of palm tree that grow there and only there in the whole wide world. How exciting. This forest was magnificent, even in the current drought with some brown and curled leaves, and there was plenty of time for me to photograph while we waited. I was rather miffed, as I did have loads of time, and even though it was a sunny day out there in the real world below us, in the forest I was having to push my ISO up to 1200 and shoot with a fairly wide aperture in order to get enough light into the camera. There was easily enough time to have set up a tripod for better photos, but the lady who “taught me how to bushwalk” told me there would be absolutely no time for tripod photography, and, perhaps stupidly, I had been scared out of bringing it along. At least I hadn’t been talked out of my full frame camera, although midday glare hardly shows what it can do to advantage. I would love to see this forest in winter, with real mist hanging around, and to see the mosses and ferns less stressed out and shining. Even in a thirsty forest, it was a wonderful place to be. It was for the forest rather than the views that I was there, and I didn’t even bother with a photo from the top. Midday record shots aren’t my thing.
I did, however, enjoy imbibing the views there and elsewhere with my new companions at the top, and at our waiting spots on the way down. Even at Erskine Creek, where the noise of cicadas hit rock-concert volume, it seemed eerily still and quiet in a different way. It was refreshing.
On the way home, Nicole and I stopped our bikes at Blinky Beach and completed a perfect day with a swim. There was even a turtle in the water. At dinner that night, two other couples from the climb ate where we did. For the rest of the week, we found ourselves waving to our new friends at this and that location, or as we cycled by, or they did. On the final night, Yelena’s husband, Jonny, had been fishing and caught a King Fish that was almost 6-foot big, as well as a huge Trevally and I think the third fish was Snapper. We had way too much fish (even though he’d given heaps to the island supplies). At a nearby BBQ we spotted Laure and Vincent from the climb: “Hey, come and help us eat fish”. We had such a fun BBQ together. Next morning, Tim and Katrina from the hike were having coffee and muffin at the same time as I was, so we shared a table and had a final chat. Nicole was on the same plane out to Sydney. It was a lovely small island, and climbing Gower together brought us into contact with other like-minded people. I’m so glad I did it.