Monday, October 19, 2009

We got up early today, a little before 6am local time. The sun was already up, but we couldn't see it because it was shielded by the mountains. The breeze had died down considerably, although there was still enough of a breeze and it was brisk enough outside that we decided to wear jackets for our hike. This was actually good, as the jackets have big pockets and are good for holding cameras. On the walk down we saw some more cows. They seem to have a pretty good gig. The weather is good, the scenery is good, and there is a lot of grass. We chose to believe that the milk we drank was theirs, but that the meat we ate was imported.

For awhile we thought we might be the only people on the hike, since we saw no one else passing us on the road. But shortly before we arrived, there were a couple of bicyclists, then a big van full of people. All told, there were about 20 of us climbing up the mountain. Our guide, Jack Shick ("You don't know Jack Shick like we know Jack Shick") had done this climb over 1000 times. He was still alive, so that gave us some confidence. He told us also that an 82 year old had done the hike, a 4.5 year old had done the hike, and Jack's nephew had done the hike in 1 hour, 41 minutes. We would be happy if we did it in 9 hours.

We started off right near the beach, walking through the Kentia grove. It was very nice, and we kept stopping for pictures, but kept falling behind the group in the process. After awhile the beach ran out, there were only rocks, and after walking along them for awhile we started up a steep incline. At the base of the incline, we were handed some helmets, ostensibly so we wouldn't hit our head on anything. We assumed this meant branches we might walk into, not rocks we might fall onto.

After going up at a pretty good clip, we got to a flat(ter) part, and the forest changed from Howea forsteriana to Howea belmoreana. The belmoreanas grow at higher altitude, and need a bit more moisture and cooler temperatures. This part of the hike was very nice, and relatively easy. After awhile we hit a creek - probably runoff from either Mt Lidgbird or Mt Gower - and took a short break.

After the creek, we really started going uphill, with the need of ropes in several places to help pull ourselves up the hillside. This took a long time, but eventually we came out on the "saddle" that runs between Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower. Around this time we (Justin) noticed that the palms had changed again, from Howea belmoreana to Hedyscepe canterburyana. Also around this time we started to get our first truly outstanding views. The price we paid for these views were rope climbs where one slip would mean falling down the mountain, hopefully only to broken bones. During the rope climbs, a queue would start up, which meant the opportunity to speak to some of the other guests. Justin spoke to a gentelman who had just come from Cape Tribulation, who recommended that while there we should go on a nature walk around Cooper Creek, with a guide named "Piggy."

We thought we had finished the hardest uphill parts, but it actually got far steeper. We could see Ball's Pyramid - the world's largest rock jutting out of the water - off in the distance. Jack told us "if you look out to the left, you'll see Ball's," which drew laughter from about half the group.

Near the top, it got a lot wetter, as we were walking through the mist forest. Fortunately, it wasn't misty today, because everything would have been much more slippery, and more importantly our view would have been impeded. We had brilliant sunshine and outstanding views. The plants were quite a bit different, with more ferns, mosses, and the last of Lord Howe's four palm trees, the Lepidorachis mooreana. Of the four, this is the only one we don't have at our house, as it is very slow growing, and (obviously) needs a lot of moisture, which San Diego doesn't have. It would probably do well in San Francisco or something similar.

The last little bit of the hike wasn't so bad - it was much more gradual, and in the mist forest. Interestingly, there was no view at the very top - it was dense forest. So we walked down a bit to the northern edge, which had awesome views. We had lunch here, with woodhens and currawongs waiting around for food to drop. We signed the guestbook, then headed down.

We knew from the walk up that the walk down would be worse, and unfortunately we were correct. It was 10x worse, especially the steep parts with the ropes. It was very slow going, and unlike walking up, you had to look down and see what you might fall into. Justin was really tired, and having a hard time of it. Because it was the first full day of our holiday, he could at least blame it on jet lag. We took a very welcome break at the creek, and Justin felt a lot better. Alas, at this point Crystal started to feel winded, and by the end, we were both going on willpower alone.

We made it back around 5pm, and immediately hopped in our room's plunge pool to relax. We went over to the restaurant after that, enjoyed some nice drinks and a nice sunset, then had dinner. We were supposed to have our celebratory "7 for 7" drinks - 7 shots for 7 continents - but we were so tired we thought it wouldn't be such a hot idea. Instead, we just came back to our room and crashed.