So we did it.
My sister, a couple of friends and I climbed to the top of Mount Warning and back down again in a trip that took us about six hours. With an hour and a half spent at the top, that’s a total round trip of around four and a half hours. Not bad for a mountain that’s taller than Snowdonia in Wales and is just 200m short of Ben Nevis in Scotland.
Here are the stats:
Time needed for journey:
4-5.5 hours (up and down)
23 million years
Bottom to middle: Man-made steps with rescue platforms at intervals
Middle to chain: Natural trail with uneven, rocky surface with prominent tree roots
Chain to peak: Steep unharnessed climb aided by chain and footholds
What I Wore:
Hoodie, T-Shirt, Tracksuit bottoms, trainers with grip, head-mounted torch
What I packed:
Hand torch, water (1.5 litres), fruit, spare socks
The Early Climb
We started our ascent at around 03:30-04:00 in the morning, and the early going is very easy, if a bit dark. What I can tell you is that it would be much easier going up in the dark than coming down in it, and this is highlighted by the warning signs urging hikers not to begin the journey past 13:30.
A decent headlamp (mine cost $9) and a hand torch are plenty for lighting the way, and it of course helps if there are more than one of you as you have a lot more light to guide you. The trail itself is very easy to follow, and there are steps for the majority of the early running. Even though we were ‘against the clock’ as we wanted to get to the peak for sunrise, we paced ourselves and took our time as the hike becomes more challenging the higher you go.
We took water breaks whenever we reached a rescue platform as this is also a good place to stop in the dark if there are other people behind you who need to overtake, and while the trail has a good amount of width, there is very little in the way of fencing and some steep drops which can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention to where you’re going. This is another good thing about doing the ascent at night, you are only concentrating on where you’re walking, instead of the beautiful rainforest at the bottom or the astounding views at the top- these are just as enjoyable on the way down so you get the best of both worlds by going early.
You know you’re about to get into serious territory when you near the chain. There is a tight angled incline just before which requires you to use a foothold and hoist yourself back onto the trail. This is just a small taste of what is to come when you reach the chain so if you can’t get past this bit, then you won’t be able to reach the top anyway.
It’s quite funny really. People in Australia talk about the chain like it’s just a slightly steeper part of the mountain which requires a bit more strength and a bit more mental toughness. Then you get there and you see an almost vertical 300m climb to the top. Take a look at just a small part of it:
Now, the chain is there for support, and although most use it, I found it much easier to just use my hands and feet to hoist myself up. I felt a lot more stable and a lot more in control using the jutted rocks and footholds (of which there are plenty) to climb to the peak. The most I used the chain was when I was using the poles that supported it to pull me to the next foothold, but everybody is different and it’s best to just do what you feel most comfortable.
It looks daunting, but it’s much easier seeing other people do it and when you’re with people who have done it before, the encouragement and calmness they instill is invaluable. The best advice I can give is stay calm, take as much time as you need (there are passing points where you can comfortably stand further up), and always have 3 points of contact at all time to ensure safety and smooth progression. If you can’t find a foothold for the next part, then you may have to stretch just a bit more to reach one slightly beyond your comfort zone. Also it’s worth noting that I lost my footing once or twice on here, and it was quite wet, but as long as you keep moving upwards and remember 3 points of contact then you’ll be fine.
The chain is the struggle, and the peak is the reward. The hike is relatively easy when compared to the chain, so once you’ve made it past that, then you really feel like you’ve accomplished something. Once you’ve stopped to take a breather, then you can really appreciate the views. During Winter, Mount Warning is the first place in Australia that the light touches, and you can see for miles- as far as Cape Byron to the south, and the Surfer’s Paradise skyscrapers to the North. On top of that you can see the smaller mountains and the entire Tweed Range that surrounds Mount Warning in a 360 degree panorama across several viewing platforms at the top.
This is the view just as sunrise was turning to day, and I’ve posted more on Facebook and Instagram for those who want a few more, but I can tell you now the pictures cannot do it justice. The accomplishment you feel is fantastic, but watching the world from this height is truly sensational. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I feel like my decision to come to Australia could have been justified by this trip alone.
Another top tip I would give, would be to stay until everybody has gone. There are a lot of people at the top for sunrise, and it can be a bit noisy. The true beauty of the peak can really be appreciated after an hour or so, when everybody starts to descend and the early morning climbers haven’t quite reached the peak yet. The sounds of the birds and the wind are barely audible and at moments you experience nothing but pure silence. After years of living and working in and around London, this is a must-do for city-dwellers everywhere, it puts everything into perspective.
Heading back Down
After you’ve spent some time admiring the view, then it’s time to head back down. Now most people find it easier to almost abseil their way down using the chain, but I’m weird and found it much easier to get down low (almost on my arse) and work my way down using my arms to rest in footholds whilst my legs found the ones lower down. It was…unorthodox to say the least, but it worked for me- even if there were a couple of points I needed help from below to guide me onto a secure foothold. My advice would be to use the chain, and it’s probably something I’ll use next time I descend- especially as you’ll get to the bottom with a muddy backside if you do what I did!
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the chain and work your way down, it’s a breeze. Your legs are only starting to feel it and the adrenaline will start to wear off, but you’ll feel proud of yourself and there is no rush now to get to the bottom. There is a lot of beauty once the light hits it, and you’ll see waterfalls, streams, beautiful rainforest fauna and flora as well as some cool and colourful insects. Barely anything in the rainforest at this time of year can cause you any real harm, so don’t freak out if you walk into a spider’s web. The only thing you need to be wary of is drop bears, so just keep an eye out if you see droplets of blood dripping from tree branches or their cold, red eyes in the dead of night.
What a day it was. Challenging, rewarding, beautiful, immersing, tiring, but an utterly fantastic experience that will fill you with a sense of accomplishment whether you’re a first-timer or experienced hiker/climber. By the time I finished work last night, I’d had 3 hours sleep in the previous 36 hours, so don’t do what I did and attempt the climb on little sleep. Once the adrenaline wears off you’ll be falling asleep in the car. My legs are aching today, but I feel really good for it and can’t wait until I get the opportunity to either go again or attempt another mountain- maybe this time without as much human attention or man-made help.
I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures, and to anybody contemplating doing the climb, then I cannot recommend it enough.