Catching the Clouds – Winter Solstice At Summit of Mount Warning

Our Destination
                             Our Destination

The exposed areas of skin on the upper half of my body were feeling the effects of the sub-zero temperatures as we vertically ascended the final 400 meters towards the summit.

I found myself looking upwards in the vicinity of our destination towards climbers of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. As we made our final scramble up the slippery, rocky façade I realised just how popular this mountain climb had become. We were obviously one of the last walkers to make tracks towards Australia’s first rays of sunshine. We powered up the mountain in complete darkness, all except for the light from our head torches as we headed into one of the world’s thickest greenrooms.

Towering over Murwillumbah and the Tweed Valley in far north-eastern NSW, is Mount Warning. Named “Wollumbin” (meaning “cloud catcher” by the Bundjalung people who inhabited the region before settlement), it is the first place on the Australian mainland to be touched by the expanding morning sun.

The question remained…. Where was that morning sun????

I’d climbed Mount Warning three times before, so I knew that the climb would take us approximately an hour and a half. Having left the Gold Coast at around 3am I figured we’d reach the summit just in time for a few happy snaps and selfies as we watched the sun rise over the most easterly point of the Australian Mainland. I couldn’t have been more wrong…..

Corinne, Sarah (my adventure seeking work colleagues) and I were all quite fit and had no trouble overtaking groups of eager climbers as we made our way up the mountain in single file.  The youngest of the three, 21 year old Sarah (chief motivator) was the main instigator of this adventure and along with 26 year old Corinne (chief organiser of goodies in the backpack) and I (chief time scheduler and designated driver) managed to put aside our hectic weekend social/work schedules in order to experience the first rays of light atop Mount Warning.

Imaginations run wild…

The View I'd Imagined
                   The View I’d Imagined

I’d envisaged so many beautiful things upon reaching my destination. I’d imaged a welcoming party greeting us with chilled glasses of champagne in readiness for the timely arrival of the first warm rays of sunlight. I’d envisaged the same welcoming party escorting us to a comfortable rocky outcrop where we would sit comfortably eating a healthy array of fruit, protein balls and watching the sun’s rays burst over the horizon. It was evident that I’d imagined something in complete contrast to what eventually unfolded.

The definition of Anti-Climax

No Morning Sun
                       No Morning Sun

There were no welcoming parties, no chilled glasses of champers and definitely no rays of sun bursting over the horizon. It was standing room only as we stood shivering with scores of other emotionless onlookers looking east towards where we’d imagined the bursting sun would be. As the three of us stood huddled amongst the clouds, we made the fleeting decision to abandon ship and head straight back down the mountain towards my vision of warmth. We briskly reached for our phones so that we could share one momentary Facebook/Instagram selfie before bursting our way through the crowds towards the top of the chain again.

Sarah, Corinne and myself at the summit of Mount Warning
Sarah, Corinne and myself at the summit of Mount Warning

A Trio of Dips

Sarah and I had packed quite lightly. We’d planned for head torches and jumpers, but that was about it! Corinne (on the other hand) had pre-prepared a treasure trove of goodies and warm snuggly things in preparedness for our morning antics. We were all in varying layers of clothing, yet Corinne (once again) outsmarted us all by packing the necessary warmth in preparation for the chilly summit. I had a classic case of “hoody, glove and beanie envy”, but spirits remained high as we clambered down the last few finger freezing meters of the chain.

Here’s a tip, if you ever choose to embark on any adventure, make sure you take a friend like Corinne with you. Friends that are clearly ten times more organised and prepared are the ones that you NEED by your side. They are our saviours and a necessary inclusion to any friendship group. As well as being super organised, Corinne is the ultimate go-getter with a quietly confident ability to adapt to anything out of her initial comfort zone… although I think (at times) she surprises herself……. and this climb proved no different.

Sarah too, remains an important member of our little trio. I’d like to officially call us “The Trio of Dips”- Not only do we smash out triceps dips at the gym but we lovingly eat them as well. Sarah prefers guacamole, Corinne loves pesto and I pretty much love whatever’s going.

Sarah soaking up some pristine scenery
          Sarah soaking up some pristine scenery

Sarah, our youthful accounts manager (and PT in her spare time),  is the stoic yet refreshingly determined friend that every adventure seeking group needs. Mountain Climbers (PT Jargon) or mountain climbs, Sarah is no third wheel. She’s the wheel at the front of the wheelbarrow that leads the pack, no questions asked. She’s the one that gets to the top and wonders what the next challenge will be… That’s what I love that about Sarah. She too is quietly confident, yet modestly capable and I somehow think that Mount Warning will be the first of many mountains that she will climb in her lifetime. Metaphorically speaking of course….

So there we were, the modest little trio of dips had just smashed out the coldest part of the climb, and although the summit didn’t provide us with the picturesque vision that we were hoping for, there was absolutely no disappointment in the company I was keeping. The climb to the top meant I got to know these girls just a little bit better and affirmed the reasons why I love hanging out with them everyday.

A walk to warmth

Corinne catching the first rays of sun as we headed back down the mountain.
Corinne enjoying the scenery as she looks out towards Uki

I could feel my body temperature rising as we made our way back down the mountain. My fingers began to defrost and along with that came some smiles of relief and appreciation.  Even though the sunrise at the top wasn’t as expected, the spectacular scenery we experienced on the way down was definitely worth the 2:30am alarm clock.

What You See Is What You Get

 My blog (from this moment on) becomes a reflection of my mood as I head back down the mountain. As my fingers thawed,  so did my temperament and the need to appreciate the moment that was……..Hmmmm….

There was no need for photographic filters with the iPhone that morning. It was a simple case of “What you see is what you get”! I’m somewhat drawn to perspectives and personalities that are natural so it was so good to be part of nature’s wonderments that morning. The climb down the mountain was a means of reenergising my spirit. All forms of negativity and caution were gone. I was a good person to be around and so were the two beauties that I’d adventured with. We were all energised as we scooted down the final few meters of the trail.

All Smiles as I perch myself on a rock in the sun.
All Smiles as I perch myself on a rock in the sun.

Natures Office

As I sat munching on a long-awaited chicken and sweet chilli wrap (prepared lovingly by Corinne) I’d pondered why in my 44 years I hadn’t ticked this bucked list item off my bucket list earlier. It’s probably because I’m really not a morning person and setting an alarm at 2:30am (in the middle of winter) doesn’t really rank highly on my “to-do” list. I realised that it took the right people at the right time and the right place to convince me that my lame excuses were just that….”lame excuses”.

Yes, it’s true……there were parts of this adventure that I really didn’t enjoy (THE BITTERLY COLD FROSTY WIND!!), however I figure that next time I do it (and there will be a next time), I will be prepared. I am determined to reach that summit again in time for sun-up – but this time THERE WILL BE SUN!….. there will be a WELCOMING PARTY,  and there will be A CHILLED GLASS OF CHAMPAGNE!

Next Time
       Next Time

I’m pretty sure that Corinne and Sarah will come along with me. Who else is in?

Its just got to be done!


Jen  🙂


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