One of my biggest fears in life is spiders. Like ‘jump out the window and burn the house down’ fear if I see one. It’s totally irrational – a bit like my fear of steep, windy mountain roads with dreaded switchbacks. Mt. Barrow itself is a very easy mountain to summit but after two years I still hadn’t ticked it off my Abel bagging list. Why? Because that would involve driving those wretched switchbacks. A recent trip to New Zealand that involved driving the narrow and at times very scary mountainous roads had Ben telling me if I could handle that, then the switchbacks on Mt. Barrow were easy. I believed him right until the moment I decided to trail run down the switchbacks instead of getting back in the car 🙈
Date: 23rd February 2020 – Summit: 1420+m
Distance: Approx. 2km return to the carpark.
Time taken: Less than 30 minutes each direction.
Difficulty: The Abels book grades Mt. Barrow as medium. We would classify it as easy if the path is chosen carefully. There is some exposure and the requirement to cross a scree field and boulders. The scree would be difficult in the wet.
Type of track: Basically untracked but some well trodden pads are present.
Access from: The carpark at the Mt. Barrow plateau.
With the road running right to Mt. Barrow’s plateau, it would have to be one of the easiest Abels to access. Both Ben and I have previously walked/run from the Tasman Highway all the way up to the summit plateau as part of the Mt. Barrow Challenge. However neither of us have progressed past the plateau during the event and being true Abelists we believe in touching the holy grail that is the summit cairn! Ben has visited the trig point in recent times with a mate but not the true summit. Given the road takes all the grunt work out of bagging Mt. Barrow, one could be a little disappointed if you were wanting a challenge. That said, if you can handle the suspect switchbacks then Mt. Barrow is a great half day Abel.
Leaving the Tasman Highway we followed the signposts to Mt. Barrow. The initial forest road is delightful, not too windy and well vegetated to give a sense of security. The vegetation varies from sclerophyll forest, open fields, rain forest and alpine scrub. After driving through the Barrow Reserve the gravel road becomes very narrow for about 4km and is quite rutted in large areas. The last part of the road involves steep, tight mountain switchbacks with sheer drop offs and a totally useless old wire guard rail (I didn’t tell Tracey about the dubious join in one section of the steel cable, held together with duct tape! – Ben). I had my eyes closed and was reminding Ben every few minutes to go slow – no slower – no slower! Ben had no fear of the road however, having spent many days years ago driving up and down it doing repair work on the staircases to the radar installation atop Mt. Barrow. I much prefer the hard slog of making my way to the top by foot rather than car but we arrived safely at the carpark without me having a complete meltdown!
It had been 24 degrees in Launceston but was reading a chilly 15 degrees at the carpark. Mist was swirling and views were not looking promising. Even though it was misty with cloud cover the ground was dry, which is very important for Mt. Barrow. The majority of the ground we would cover today was over a boulder field holding a healthy coverage of black moss. Black moss is not much fun in the wet due to it becoming a slip hazard.
We located the access track which lies a few metres to the north of the carpark and proceeded along it past a bright yellow warning sign and past the private stairway leading up to the communication towers until we reached the edge of the scrub and the obvious pad leading into it.
NB: Looking up the stairs they appear to lead you all the way to the rocks below the trig point which indeed they do. However, they are part of private property and as such you are not supposed to walk on them. A locked gate half way up the stairs further prevents access. It is possible to skirt around the locked gate with care on the left hand side which prevents the exposure encountered when skirting the right hand side of the locked gate, but as it is private property we cannot recommend this.
We were only walking through the low level scrub for a few minutes before reaching the boulder field that would lead us upwards in search of the trig.
The scree was quite easy to cross with just a few larger boulders that took a little more concentration to negotiate. As we climbed higher we avoided the brief patches of scrub sprinkled through the boulder field. Ben, having climbed to the trig previously, had the experience of knowing that a direct route to the top of the boulder field only increased exposure. Rather sticking high on the boulder field – but not on the actual rim – whilst traversing well past the visible communication towers towards the trig, which lies less than a kilometre towards the north west, is more effective.
We were high enough to make out the trig when it became visible and that was our cue to get closer to the summit rim. I was conscious of remaining on the left of the rim to avoid the sheer drops on Mt. Barrows eastern side. I had heard stories of friends “bum shuffling” the exposed sections and I was quite prepared to do the same! That turned out to be entirely unnecessary as a result of staying low on the left hand side of the rim. In around 20 minutes we had the trig point in hand. The wind was blowing quite strongly now but the mist had lifted and we allowed ourselves time to soak in the views before discussing the “true summit”.
The Abels book describes the highest angular rock just past the trig point as the true summit of Mt. Barrow. We had spent a lot of time leading up to today’s hike researching the high point. Some Abel baggers had claimed the closest angular rock visible from the trig was the high point, others the more distant angular and moss covered rock the high point. From the trig it definitely appeared that the slightly more distant and heavily moss coated rock was the highest so we set our sights on it! Just to cover all bases we also laid our hands on the closer angled rock.
It was only a matter of a few extra minutes of boulder scrambling to arrive at our moss covered friend! A quick check of the Garmin InReach Explorer had us at an elevation of 1421m meaning Mt. Barrow was officially in the bag. The wind was well and truly blowing our socks off by this stage so we hastily retreated off the summit rock and dropped down behind it to have the all important “hands on the holy grail” photo.
Mt. Barrow certainly doesn’t command the sweeping bush or mountain views that other Abels do but the beauty of its vistas originate from lush pastoral plains of the midlands and distant coastal scenery. All in all not a bad sight for a 30 minute stroll.
Whilst Ben returned to the car by back tracking our steps I decided to wander the summit rim back to the man made installations as curiosity got the better of me! There is definitely more exposure following the rim back towards the towers but nothing that cannot be avoided by picking a careful path. Indeed there was a well padded route all the way back to the towers.
There are no gates (but there are signs) preventing access to the stairs from the top of the summit and I enjoyed wandering the installations taking photos of the views not afforded from the scree on the climb up. With no gates to prevent me I decided to trail run down the stairs to see as much of the mountain as I could! Half way down the stairs I arrived at the locked gate. Alas the gate is in vain as returning up just a few steps one can step to the right onto another well trodden pad that leads straight past the gate and onto the stairs again! Mind you it appears that a brave few has also circumnavigated the gate on the exposed edge of Mt. Barrow which is entirely unwise! Continuing down the stairs I was back at the car in less than 15 minutes after leaving the summit! Ben arrived not long after me (most unimpressed with my criminal activities mind you).
Now it was time for the biggest challenge in the day – to see if I was brave enough for the journey in the car down those bloody switch backs. Nope I wasn’t. Nothing that a beautiful jog down the mountain couldn’t fix 😉