I saw my brother slip and fall in front of me. At first I wasn’t concerned. After all, we all had our share of little spills. As he picked himself up and sat on a rock beside the track in pain. I started to get concerned. I certainly didn’t know then, how much this little fall was going to make this already special day. Into one that will be told around the camp fire for years, and me gaining a lot more respect for my brother.
To climb Mt Barney in memory of Peta was an idea that came early after her passing. Lets face it funerals are shit. Fun is part of the word funeral but they are definitely nothing of the sort. All funerals are sad. Peta’s was especially so. She passed away well before her time and under such tragic circumstances.
Peta’s funeral was something that had to be done. Another thing to organize in this time of grief. Don’t get me wrong, it was loverly and everyone got a chance to pay their respects. Nevertheless I wanted to do something more Peta and myself.
To understand the importance of Mt Barney a little history lesson is needed. Way back when we were both young and beautiful. We stumbled across Mt Barney Lodge. A little camp ground on the edge of the Mt Barney National park and in the shadow of the mountain itself. We camped at the lodge many times over the years. Falling in love with the lodge and surrounding areas as we fell in love with each other.
When we got married, it was in a little church over looking Mt Barney. The reception was held at the lodge and all our guest stayed there for the weekend. The catering was done by Innes and Tracy. Owner’s of the lodge. No staff back then.
Over time our travels toke us further afield. The lodge got more popular, we had to start booking in advance. However we always found time to visit Mt Barney and the lodge. A Mt Barney Christmas became a tradition. Even getting flooded in one year.
We always felt comfortable and relaxed. It was our safe camp close to home. Mt Barney was Alec’s first camping trip at the age of 7 months. His first Christmas was spent at Mt Barney. This was also the last camping trip with all three as a family. Peta passed away three weeks later.
For over 10 years Peta and I had been visiting the area and talked about climbing Mt Barney. As usual life gets in the way and we never did. So the date was set. It seem appropriate that we climb on Peta’s birthday. The invites went out and the training begun.
Mt Barney is not big in the world of mountains. Yet at an elevation of 1359 meters, no official marked tracks, a rocky rugged terrain and white outs due to cloud cover. Walkers are often rescued off the mountain. We weren’t going to take any risks and organized to have 2 guides. Innes and Nathan would make sure we got up and down safely. Oh course both from the lodge.
The big day arrived. We all woke up in the dark and had a solid breakfast, keen and eager to start. Well, maybe some of us are a little slow in the mornings. We started with 10 walkers and the 2 guides. We left the lodge in the dark, everyone stopping to pick up a stone from the creek on the way out. The rising sun lit the path ahead, as we walked to the base of the mountain.
Early in the walk one of the group Andrew turned back due to an on going knee problem. Leaving his soon to be wife Alix, a good friend of Peta’s to tackle the mountain without him. I believe dinner was to be ready when she got back. Andrew and Alix were getting married the following weekend.
Once at base we all turned right off the main track and started heading upwards. Through light woodland we walked. A hanging morning fog giving the bush a magical feeling. With a dirt track underneath our feet and occasional rocky step we made good time.
At this early stage in the accent my cousin Ann had to turn back due to having the flu. If she had continued a lung would have been left on the mountain. Ann was escorted back to the safety of the main track by our guide Nathan. I am sure it was a hard decision by both Andrew and Ann to turn back. I certainly appreciate the effort by both to be part of the this special day.
Gradually the terrain got rockier, the forest thinned out and the going got slower. We found ourselves scrabbling up rock ledges and winding in and around large boulders as we followed the ridge up. Legs were starting to get sore and plenty of water was being consumed.
After about 2 hours we came to our morning tea spot. Everyone was keen to have a stop, something to eat and look at the view. It was the last time we would see a good view on the way up.
Once going again the terrain got more extreme. Often with not much of a margin for error. A slip at the wrong time could mean a very fast trip back to the bottom. We found ourselves more rock climbing then bush walking in sections. Assisted by our guides when necessary.
We moved as a group relatively slowly. Everyone getting short breaks while waiting a turn at an obstacle. Sometimes a natural staircase between 2 rock faces, a slippery slab to negotiate or a hop skip and a jump across large boulders. Upwards we kept going.
Everyone was starting to feel it. Especially so my 58 year old Uncle. Colin surprised me in deciding to climb. I found out a couple of days before the climb that he was coming. I had spent many a school holidays with Colin helping him on the family dairy farm. Well, I think I was helping.
On my Fathers side of the family there is a genetic trait of having really dry skin. My father has it and so does Colin. Because of this, the slightest scratch will cause bleeding. Many times along the track we were pushing through low shrub. This causing Colin’s arm to start bleeding. Being a dairy farmer most his life, Colin isn’t bothered by the sight of blood on his arms. To everyone else thats not normal. Especially to our guide Nathan who repeatedly asked if Colin needed some bandagers. Colin, in his usual no fuss way refusing. I believe Nathan did get his way eventually.
Mike a good friend of Peta and myself, came to me concerned at one stage. He had blood all over the front of his shirt but he couldn’t find the wound. I quickly figure out what was going on. Mike had been following Colin.
As we continued up the ridge we crossed gullies between the false peaks with low scrub holding onto the rocky wind sweep ground. The cold wind would blow across the unprotected hollow giving everyone a much needed cool down. You would think about pulling your jacket out, but you knew you would be sweating again once you crossed the valley.
Step by step we continued up. The chatter from early had died down. Everyone concentrating on their next step and trying to squeeze out that last bit of energy to get to the top. Finally after 4 hours of walking we made it. It was a strange feeling. We were pushing our way though the low scrub and the next thing we were at the top. No warning and no big sign just no more up.
Once everyone reached the plateau, an important task was to be completed. With the stones we had carried up we made a rock cairn in memory of Peta. A quiet spot away from the main area with a good view was picked.
One by one we all laid our stones down. This was a solemn time. Peta is much loved and missed. It is to be hoped that over the years it will get added to. One day I will climb Mt Barney with Alec and show him.
Slowly we all drifted over to the pinnacle and the relief of making to the top sunk in. I am sure Peta was in everyone’s thoughts. I had finally climbed Mt Barney. A bitter sweet moment for me. What I would do to have Peta by my side. It was mentioned by one of the group that she was most likely with us every step.I like to think so.
As Innes and Nathan busily started preparing lunch and making tea and coffee. ( Oh that was the other reason to have guides.) We all started taking in our surroundings. The obligator stand on the highest point was a necessity and of course take in the view. Um well there was no view. Nothing but white cloud surrounded us.
Anyone that knew Peta could see she like a good cuppa and a chat. A cuppa really typified everything that Peta was. Classic, elegant and timeless and with the ability to bring people together and share. So before we had lunch everyone got a cuppa. We had all carried up a cup or mug that was memorable in some way. I used a cup and saucer that was on the bridle table at our wedding. A group photo was taken and we all enjoyed a cuppa with Peta. What else would be better than on the top of Mt Barney on her Birthday. She would have turned 32.
Everyone had lunch and a rest. Then it was time to start the journey home. On the way up we had followed a direct route follow a ridge line. For the decent we went the opposite side, snaking our way down and around the side of the mountain to the starting point at the base.
The first section found us walking down large sloping slabs of rock broken up with low lying scrub growing between the cracks in rock. The wind blowing across the moon like escarpment. At times you would have get down on your bum a slide down slippy sections and careful negotiate the large cracks between the slabs of rock. We were heading straight down and the going not hard, especially when we had all been used to walking up.
We had only been walking about 15 mins and thats when it happen. I was walking behind David through some head high scrub on a bit of a dirt patch. I saw him step down off a rock step and somehow ending up on the ground.
Once perched on a rock Innes and Nathan assessed the damage. David’s ankle swelled up immediately and he had trouble putting weight on it. A badly sprained ankle, minor cuts and bruisers was the diagnoses.
The only option to get him off the mountain was walk down. Davids ankle was strapped, a dose of painkillers taken and the slow decent began. Nathan was tasked with assisting David as the pair trailed behind the group.
We continued down slowly. Stopping regularly to allow David and Nathan to catch up. With each step painful, David was often sliding on his bum down the steps and ledges. His hands ripping apart on the rocky surfaces. Requiring Nathan to wrap bandaging around them.
Roughly two hours after leaving the top we came to a rest stop. The site was at the end of the slab section. A gorgeous flat clearing with a small creek running past. Perfect for topping up our water bottles. Years ago a walkers cabin had been on the site. Here David soaked his foot in the cool water of the creek. The ankle then re-strapped and more painkillers administered. Ready for the next leg of our journey down the mountain.
The terrain changed to a more of a traditional bushwalking style track as we started to snake down the side of the mountain. A good tree covered dirt track mixed with rocky sections. With the cloud cover gone and the track not as exposed as the climb up. It was a pleasant walk and we were getting some amazing views.
Some of the sections just like the way up were a mixture of rock climbing and rock hopping. The only difference we were going down. So often it was a matter of getting down low and having a controlled slide down on you bum.
David continued slowly behind us. Often catching up, as the group slowly negotiated the harder sections. It was a much more relaxed pace than the way up. Everyone accepting that we were going to be late back to camp. We were able to stop and look at the view and take in the surroundings. There was continual banter within the group. Everything from politics, heavy metal music and what type of truck did we hear in the distance was discussed. I think we even might of solved a couple of the worlds problems.
Little by little we slowly dropped in altitude. David was doing an amazing job. Even overtaking Col and couple of times. I think the pain killers were working. As we got lower the walking became easier. Now just a bush walking track. The dry rocky Eucalyptus forest giving way to a section of lush rainforest. The vegetation then turning back into the Eucalyptus forest as we returned to our starting point at the base of the mountain.
Once on the main track out of the national park. David was picked up and driven back to camp. The rest off us continued the last couple kilometers out of the national park and back to the lodge on foot. 12 hours since setting off we made it back to camp. It toke us 5 hours to get up and 7 hours to get back down. Everyone was amazed at David’s effort. X-rays done a couple days later found he had a small break at the base of his foot. Truly epic.
This was a day that will never be forgotten for more than one reason. Already I am being asked. When are we doing it again?
Forever in our hearts.
Peta Louise Kethel
Writing this account.
I had done a rough draft and sent it to my brother David. He felt bothered that he was a main part of the story and that Peta should be the main focus. This made me change tact in writing this story. I decided to be more personal and include more about the group. This was never going to be about how to climb a mountain.
Yes, the climb was in memory of Peta. However everyone that got to the top, started but didn’t finish and those that wanted to. But could not due to a variety of reasons, have there own story in the effort to get to the top. Everyone is still dealing with the loss of Peta, but life doesn’t stop because someone you know passes away.
As mentioned, Alix and Andrew were getting married the follow weekend but found time to do the climb. Col had been traveling up in the gulf and change his travel plans at the last moment. He was heading back up after the climb. A distant of 2000 kilometres. Mike had traveled from Port Macquarie the day before the climb his fiancé having to study at camp while he climbed. He was traveling back the next day.
Good friends and fellow Cape York Travelers Mick and Ange had only just found out that they were expecting a second child. However Ange was determined to climb. I only found out a couple weeks later. So I guess we had one extra climber. Possible the youngest to ever climb Mt Barney.
Peta’s sister Megan had been flying to Melbourne every week for work. Not the best scenario when trying to get fit for the climb and dealing with the loss of a sister. Peta’s brother Wayne was all set to climb until his family got hit with a superbug. A couple of days before the climb he was told by his doctor not the fly or climb a mountain. Even our guide Innes had an interesting year. He was climbing a mountain is Nepal when the earthquakes happen. He was not contactable for a number of days.
The effort made by those that made to the top, the ones that tried and the ones that came out for the day or weekend made me realize how loved Peta is. Also how much support Alec and myself have around us. I thank everyone for making this a special day and for the support Alec and I are receiving.