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Armchair traveller: Mt Gower

14-Jul-2013

Certain death? Unlikely. Vertigo? Maybe. Sore legs and a few scratches? Probably. Best walk of your life? Definitely. Welcome to Mt Gower. At 875 vertical metres above sea level, Mt Gower is one of the highest vertical climbs in Australia and people come from around the world for the challenge. Make no mistake – the correct word is “climbing”, and you need Dean Hiscox to guide you.

Before you decide to go snorkelling instead, the first part of the day is a gentle stroll to Little Island. From the road, you’ll wander along the west coast of the island below the cliffs and high mountain forests on Mt Lidgebird. Little Island is where the outer reef connects to the island, so in one area you’ll see lagoon, reef (and waves), open ocean and a dramatic mountain backdrop. Think Bora Bora in Tahiti or Kauai in Hawaii and you’ll have some idea of the landscape.

The rock hop from Little Island to the start of the climb is good preparation for the day ahead because there aren’t many steps that won’t move or slide for the next 6 hours, but that’s part of the fun. No, really. The first “pitch” (that’s climbing lingo) is 80 vertical metres from sea level to the base of the Mt Lidgebird cliffs. It’s steep and hard, but the nice Lord Howe guides have installed fixed ropes to pull yourself up on. Once at the base of the cliffs, you’ll learn all about volcanoes and different types of lava. And trust me, you’ll be interested. It’s hard not to be when you’re standing on an extinct one.

The next part of the day is arguably the most spectacular 300 metres of walking in Australia. The Lower Road sounds benign, but there’s no road. Instead, there’s a single track along a ledge with 100 vertical metres of cliff directly below and 300 vertical metres (in some places overhanging) directly above. There’s a rope to hold on to, and it provides most people with the security they need to keep going. It’s hard to imagine the palm “seeders” in the early years of settlement walking along this ledge with 50kg hessian sacks on their backs.

After the Lower Road, you enter Erskine Valley and get your first glimpse of the north face of Mt Gower. The summit is still 700 vertical metres away – a long way up. The stroll through the valley forest is cool and refreshing, and soon you’ll come to Erskine Creek. There aren’t many places left in the world where you can safely drink fresh mountain water straight from a creek, and believe me, it tastes wonderfully of nothing – no chlorine, salt, silt, metal or plastic. The creek is a legitimate destination, and we often take photography guests to the creek for lunch.

On this occasion, Day 5 of our June Wilderness Week, we push on to the northeast ridge of Mt Gower – another 300 vertical metres above. I don’t need to describe the climb, other than to say that the ridge is a welcome sight. And the sight from the ridge is even better – Mt Lidgbird and its dramatic cliffs, the lagoon, the reef and the cobalt blue ocean. The sight of a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich and a container full of dates and cashews is also pretty good.

It’s funny who you bump into in the middle of nowhere. During our descent we were overtaken by another group that included Flip Byrnes – the great granddaughter of Frank Hurley and Arctic adventurer in her own right. Flip was visiting Lord Howe on assignment for Women’s Fitness Magazine, and she was certainly doing the work for her readers. The article will be out later in 2013.

The beauty about a physically demanding day is that the simple things seem so much better. A flat track – great. A chair – even better. A cup of tea and scones, followed by a hot shower – can it get any better? To appreciate those simple things with real clarity, though, you first have to earn the state of mind, and a day exploring Mt Gower will do it every time.

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