A tough ascent of Mount Barney East (1,351m) over two days, one of the highest mountains in Queensland’s “scenic rim”, about two hours from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
It’s my first solo overnight walk since hiking the 3-day Thorsborne Trail (also in Queensland) back in 2006… I could have done Mount Barney as a day walk with an early start. But as I’m flying up from Sydney and don’t arrive at Mount Barney National Park until 8pm, it makes more sense to camp at the base of the mountain and get an early start the following morning.
It’s pitch black when I arrive at the Yellowpinch carpark and trackhead, but even by the light of my head-torch the first thing you notice is the warning signs. Be prepared. Make sure you’re equipped. Why don’t you consider another walk… Someone at the Parks office must have have had their annual bonus paid on the basis of how many people they could discourage from undertaking this hike. The mountain is known for rapid weather changes and there’s been a few bushwalker rescues by the local SES. But I can’t help feeling that a bit more effort could have been spent on having the various routes to the top shown on the topographical map, if safety is a concern. I’ve got both a printed and an on-line topographical map, and not one of the three summit routes is shown.
The other striking thing is the stars – being a completely clear night and far away from any towns, the night sky is incredible.
Three Routes to the Mt Barney Summit
There’s many ways to get to the top of Mount Barney – all of them being fairly rough. The warning signs outline the two “official” routes, but makes no mention of one of the most popular routes to the top.
- South East Ridge (SER) – one of the official summit tracks and also one of the longest routes. The signage suggests not to descend using this route due to some steep scrambles.
- South East Ridge – an alternate and popular route; it’s the most direct and steepest. No official signage at the start of the trail. I went up this way.
- South Ridge (SR) aka Peasants Ridge – the second “official” route which is slightly longer. It’s the only route that provides camping sites close to the summit (Rum Jungle and Old Hut sites). I came down this way.
Although I didn’t do all three routes, both the South East “Unofficial” and South Route were of similar difficulty (in terms of both navigation and rock scrambling). I met a group who had gone up and back down using the South East Route (SER) and they didn’t experience any difficulties. If you’re planning to camp near the top, then the South Route would be the best option; otherwise going up the South East “Unofficial” track is the (arguably) quickest way to the top! (It’s feasible but not officially allowed to camp on the summit – there’s plenty of space but the ground is very rocky and covered with vegetation – and it can get very cold and windy!)
South East Ridge – going up
I’ve camped at Cronan Creek 9 (booked and paid for online the previous day – see link at bottom of post): it’s one of two official camping spots along an old forestry road that follows the valley, providing access to all the summit trails. I leave the warmth of my tent around 6:30am, and continue down the firetrail.
About 500m further I pass Cronan Creek 10, an equally nice camping spot – both are situated close to Cronan Creek, which had a decent flow of water (there had been some rain over the previous days).
It’s only about 15min to the start of South East Route; I knew what I was looking for from previous online research – a tree with arrows scratched into it, next to a fallen log – although there is no official signage here. The track is narrow but easy to follow, as it immediately starts climbing through tall forest.
One of the advantages of the South East Ridge route is you get nice views along the trail to the east and west: below is the view looking south towards Mount Ernest (964m), another peak in the Mount Barney National Park.
About half-way up there’s two markers with “SER”: nice to know I’m on the track, but a little baffling as this is the “unofficial” South East Ridge track that isn’t meant to exist… there are two of these markers close together.
As the trail follows the ridge up, it gets rockier and the trees more stunted… to the left (east) the trail often passes closes to the edge of the ridge, with steep drop-offs to the valley.
About two thirds of the way up is the only time that I think I may have lost the track… there’s a rocky outcrop that looks a bit daunting, but is actually fairly easy to traverse. There’s a nice view again from the top of the outcrop…
After clambering over the outcrop, the track drops slightly into a small gully, before climbing up what I hope is the summit (I’m now at about 1,100m asl). It initially seems there’s no obvious trail on the other side of the outcrop, but after a bit of searching I find a trail that continues up the next ridge!
There are frequent views out to the south through gaps in the trees, and as you gain altitude Mt Lindesay (1175m) starts becoming visible behind Mt Ernest.
There’s one tricky section where a rope would come in handy – it doesn’t look too difficult in the photo (below) and there’s no exposure – but it takes some effort to get up one large boulder. After a few attempt, I wedge my feet into a narrow crack and haul myself up the rock. I wouldn’t have liked to do this with a heavy pack!
Although the views are generally to the south, there are a few vantage points where you can look out the north east, with Mt Maroon (967m) to the north – another peak that has a trail to the summit.
I’m now at around 1200m, and there’s a final ridge to climb to what I hope is the summit – it looks impossibly steep. But the track winds up the steep ridge, between rocks and along a few sections where you’re pulling yourself up with the help of exposed tree roots.
Finally I think I’ve reached the summit… but it’s a false summit. The Mount Barney East peak is tantalizingly close, but first I need to drop down slightly into a saddle and back up the peak.
I’ve got the summit to myself: a group of four hikers is behind me, and I meet a family who have just finished lunch and are heading off down the South Ridge track. The views are pretty impressive from the Mount Barney summit.
To the south Mt Lindesay is clearly visible behind Mt Ernest, which has a long ridge line.
To the north west is a glimpse of Lake Maroon and the Main Range National Park.
South Ridge – going down
After a short break at the top, I decide to descend South Ridge, and continue along the scrubby summit ridge. Directly ahead of me across a saddle is Mount Barney West (a few metres higher than Mount Barney East, at 1353m).
I’m heading for Rum Jungle, an area of dense forest in the saddle between Mount Barney East and Mount Barney West.
It’s a fairly steep descent with no obvious path – most of the time I’m trying to walk on top of the large sections of rock, and avoiding the thick scrub. I’m aiming for a small clearing at the bottom – the Old Huts site, where there used to be a few huts (nothing remains there now). From here there are occasional markers, which helps as the track from Old Hut site, which crosses a small creek, is hard to find. This would be a nice camping spot, with a short but steep hike up to the summit.
Here I lose the track – or rather, take the wrong track which leads to nowhere – before backtracking and finding a faint trail to Rum Jungle. This is another nice camp site, very shaded and I’ve read prone to leeches if it’s been raining.
I make a small diversion up Mount Barney West, which provides a nice view back to the Mount Barney East summit. I don’t have the energy to scramble to the top of this peak…!
The start of the track from Rum Jungle down South Ridge is not obvious… but once you’re on it, there are orange “SR” markers at regular intervals. There are a lot less views from this track – although you do get occasional views to the south.
It’s a lot less steep than the South East Ridge track, but a bit longer… it feels like the descent take forever as it descends through light forest and the occasional rocky section. Looking the GPS track afterwards, it’s about 3km up via the South East Ridge track and 5km down via the South Ridge track,
In contrast to the South East Ridge track, with its tricky slab near the top, the South Ridge has a couple of steep bits near the bottom. The first one is a long and steep section, which is not difficult, but would be more challenging if wet. Shortly after there’s a big rock that requires me to precariously cling to the rock and some handy grasses growing out of the rock… the group behind me takes one look at me stuck halfway down, and finds an easy way around the rock!
From here it’s another easy 1.5km or so back to the main firetrail, through tall forest and a few sections of rainforest.
Unlike the South East Ridge trailhead, this one is well-marked.
It’s starting to feel late in the day, even though it’s only about 3pm – sunset is around 5:30pm. I’ve got time to explore a bit more, so rather than heading back to the car at Yellowpinch, I continue up the firetrail to have a look at Conan Creek Falls. It’s easy walking, although slightly uphill (you gain about 100m), and the firetrail crosses the creek a couple of times (all of the crossing can be rock-hopped without getting wet feet!).
I reach the sign-posted track down to Cronan Creek about 2.6km from the South Ridge trail head. It’s then only 100m down to the creek. I think it’s worth the walk – there’s no-one else here, and if it was a few degrees warmer I would have gone for a quick swim.
Now it’s straight back to the Yellowpinch car park, via my camp site where I need to pack up my tent and collect overnight backpack. It’s about 5km down the firetrail to the national park boundary, where a weir crosses Logan River.
The last 2km passes through light forest and farmland – it seems the firetrail is actually on private land. The mountain directly ahead is not Mount Barney – it’s a much lower peak.
There are glimpses of Mount Barney East to the west, rising above the forest.
A bit further (about a kilometre before the car park) is the well-marked start of the “official” South East Ridge track, with Mount Barney in the background.
From here it’s another 20min or so back to the car. I’m back just after 4pm, and with plenty of time to get my evening flight back to Sydney. A great walk that I’d do again… but with time to catch sunrise/sunset from the peak.
|Location||Start at Yellowpinch car park, about 100km from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Do not enter “Mount Barney” into Apple or Google Maps or you’ll end up at the wrong place!|
|Distance||Approx 1-4km to start of summit trail (depending on which one).
3km ascent via South East Ridge (unofficial) or 5km via South Ridge.
Approx 22km as walked (3km Day 1 / 19km Day 2)
|Grade||Hard. Total elevation gain 1,100m. Some difficult sections of rock and some trails are distinct but unmarked|
|Season/s||All year. Winter is definitely the best time. Avoid walking in the middle of the day in summer.|
|GPS Route||PlotaRoute map with option to download GPX / KML file|