Mt Barney dominates the landscape of the Scenic Rim, as well as the imagination of climbers and bushwalkers from the region. It is a broad, craggy massif composed of several precipitous peaks and a complex web of ridgelines. There is always some new adventure to be found in such vast terrain.
Certainly one of the most spectacular of these satellite summits is Leaning Peak, so named because of its distinctive profile. I have had my eye on the North Face route for quite some time, but the real catalyst for action was reading The Living Rock by Michael Meadows and a subsequent meeting with the author himself.
Along with his brother Chris Meadows and John Shera, Mike put up the original North Face route in 1968. Fuelled by raspberry cordial, they climbed the route in vibram-soled bushwalking boots and spent a night on the peak.
“Our foam bivvy bags had worked superbly,” wrote Michael. “It was a crystal clear evening and we could see the lights of Brisbane on the northern horizon.”
Following in the footsteps of giants, I decided to take on the North Face and recruited my co-worker and fellow SEQ climbing history tragic, Alex Mougenot. Despite its modest grade of 14, the North Face is a fairly serious undertaking. As well as being the longest multipitch route in Queensland at 410 metres, an ascent requires a complex approach and descent. The remoteness of the peak and the rugged terrain means that rescue would be problematic at best. Throw into the mix some questionable pro, a handful of runouts, a serving of dodgy rock, and the possibility of unobservable weather conditions creeping in from the west, and you’ve got yourself a real adventure!
Alex had conducted some recon of the approach a couple of weeks beforehand, and I had obtained some GPS data and route information from Mr Meadows. Neither of us had ascended Leaning Peak, much less descended it. Some research was therefore considered prudent, but we also wanted to leave some elements unknown. After all, it’s not an adventure if you are certain of the outcome, but we also wanted to stack the odds in our favour – we both had to run Kids Club at KP the following morning!
On Thursday 13th July 2017, we found ourselves in a rough bivouac in the Lower Portals Carpark, a crisp night under the stars. We awoke from our fitful slumber at 4am to make coffee and set off onto the trail by the light of a single headlamp (in the interest of battery conservation). By dawn, we had made it to Barney Waterfall. The timing was impeccable, as we then began to ascend rough terrain and appreciated the increase in visibility.
A further scrub bash up past the Moonlight Slabs saw us at the base of Chockstone Gully, the original ascent route taken by none other than the illustrious Bert Salmon in October 1932. Here, we had a bit of a close call and the only real blip on an otherwise flawless expedition. As I pushed upwards through the gully, I stepped onto some of the eponymous chockstones, only to have a whole pile of them come loose and cascade down the gully. One rock, about the size and shape of a wild boar, rolled across my leg with surprising gentleness before crashing noisily into the shrubbery below.
With this unpleasantness behind us, we soon reached the base of the climb and began to rope up and ascend. The first four pitches are of similar character – classy friction slab with interesting protection provided by slots, pockets and runnels. We expected to use more small wires and cams, but placed mostly medium sized cams. We often ran out easy sections intentionally in the interest of speed, but occasionally these runouts were forced by the terrain.
We swung leads, each getting some interesting sections. We can’t be certain that we were exactly on route, but it hardly matters on a large adventure line like this… one simply follows their nose, which generally points them to the path of least resistance. The pitches were all rather long with several requiring us to simulclimb the last section in order to reach comfortable belay stances. An interesting feature of the climb was that foreshortening made each pitch look much shorter and somewhat easier than it actually was.
Things start to get a little bit spicier at the fifth pitch, where some technical moves coincide with poor gear. To me, the crux of the climb came at the top of this pitch with a reachy, exposed move above a marginal 0.1 X4 Camalot and a bit of rope drag. With this obstacle dispatched, the summit headwall was all that remained. Here, the rock became a little scary and loose, just as the terrain became steeper and more exposed. There were some heady moments, even for the second.
After some delicate moves, we were standing atop Leaning Peak. It was around 1pm and we’d spent about 3 hours on the approach and 5 hours on the wall. This left us with plenty of time for the descent, so we were pretty chuffed.
After a few snacks and some obligatory summit poses, we rapped the steep southern aspect of Leaning Peak on one of the finest double bolt anchors I’ve seen anywhere. We then began the descent, hoofing through the scrub toward Eagle’s Ridge. Apparently, there is some sort of rappel option around here but we accidentally bypassed it entirely, and instead downclimbed the slabs and runnels to the ridge. It seemed to be fairly hospitable terrain to me, so I probably wouldn’t bother looking for the rap station, but that’s a personal choice.
A vantage point on Eagle’s Ridge offered a rare glimpse at the full, expansive profile of Leaning Peak. It’s a pretty big wall and very much cemented the radness of the trip in our minds. From here, we continued the descent, shooting off the ridge east to Rocky Creek and then charged though the open forest to join back up with the Lower Portals track. We were back at the carpark in a touch under 12 hours from the time we’d embarked… and in daylight too!
Adventure climbing is not for everyone, but it’s certainly the style that gets me the most amped. It was a grand day out – lovely slabbing on a remote wall with killer views. Alex says it was “the only adventure I’ve ever been on where everything went meticulously to plan”. It turned out to be a prophetic statement…
Our compliments go out to the FA’s – we had a lot of technological advancements on our side, but the guys who put this line up in the bad old days deserve most of the credit. If nothing else, the psychological edge needed to embark on a first ascent in such remote terrain ought to be applauded. Bravo, you mighty stallions!
Both Alex and I are grateful for the encouragement we’ve received from the Old Guard. It seems like the Living Legends among us are pretty stoked to see a new wave of climbers enjoying their legacy. Personally, I’d love to see more folks from the current generation picking up the baton and running with it. Short approaches and single pitches might be in vogue at the moment, but adventure climbing’s not dead, folks. Let’s keep the Quest alive!
Ryan Siacci, Esq.