I have wanted to climb Mt Warning ever since I saw Fern Gully as a child, but dubious fitness levels have always made me reluctant to tackle the hike. I recently decided to take the plunge when I was shamed out by some Facebook pictures of my friend and her small children cresting the peak.
If I survived the 8.8 kilometre round trip with only a passable level of fitness, then anyone can do it. Here are a few tips on how to tackle your hike up Mt Warning, which I learned the hard way.
1. Get excited
I’ve made the Mt Warning experience sound like an ordeal, but it’s actually an adventure into the heart of a gorgeous rainforest park, filled with stunning views and soul-refreshing wildlife. The Indigenous Australian word for Mt Warning is Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud-catcher’. Once you see this peculiarly-pointed peak, you’ll realise how well it embodies its romantic moniker.
2. Timing is everything
The peak of Mt Warning is allegedly the first place in Australia to see the sun rise, but getting up there in time means you need to depart at least two hours prior to the crack of dawn, when headlamps and sure footedness are a necessity. I have enough trouble with my feet as it is, so we set off at around 10am, which gave us plenty of time to eat a good brekky and still make the return trip before the sun set. There is a warning sign half way up that cautions you not to continue after 1pm during winter, as getting lost in the dark is a genuine concern.
3. Prepare for the heat
We climbed Mt Warning in the middle of winter, yet I was drenched with sweat after only 15 minutes of climbing. The canopy of the rainforest closes in around the trail in a beautiful yet muggy embrace, so bring lots of chilled water and prepare to peel off those layers. We saw one girl climbing up in a bikini top, which I felt was overkill, but I envied her ventilation. I hope for her sake that she had a layer to put on once she reached the windy summit – it’s a lot cooler on the way down.
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4. Look for the helipads
Every so often, there is a slight clearing and a section of grill for emergency helicopter landings. These are placed at approximately every quarter of the trail, so you can gauge how long you have left on the way up or down.
5. Brace yourself for the final section
I was warned about the crazy 300 metres of jutting rock that caps off the ascent, and I thought I was ready to haul myself over the crags with the help of the chain rope, but nothing prepared me for the real thing. The best way describe it is to liken it to Frodo and Sam climbing Mordor’s Back Door in Lord of the Rings, but with more gum trees. It’s fun until your thighs start burning, and you start wondering just how long 300 metres actually is. Getting down is easier on the thighs, but harder to get a grip on the rock – I recommend sliding on your bum whenever possible.
6. Bring snacks
Despite a hearty breakfast, my stomach was rumbling by the time I reached the top. I had a little packet of nuts, but a muesli bar, sandwich or large piece of chocolate would have been very welcomed. There are no convenience stores or grocery shops anywhere near the trailhead due to Mt Warning’s national park status, so stock up in Murwillumbah or Uki before entering the park.
7. Appreciate the landscape
Reaching the top of the mountain is an exhilarating feeling, further heightened by the cooling breeze, which is a delicious contrast to the heat of the trail. The sweeping coastal views offer countless photo ops, but take a beat to look around and comprehend the topography of your location. Mt Warning is nestled within a cradle of mountains that were once the rim of a gargantuan volcano. What you stand upon to view these peaks is actually the remnants of the volcano’s last lava plug; a perspective that will leave you gobsmacked.
8. Have a plan for afterwards
Once you’ve made your triumphant descent, you are bound to be sweaty, tired and ravenous. The restaurants closest to Mt Warning are all a little fancy, and you might not feel like rocking up in your clammy active wear. My hunger won out over dignity and the need for a shower, and I staggered up to Mavis’s Kitchen, a beautiful farmstead-turned-restaurant that welcomed me with open arms despite my completely red face. Many thanks to Peter for his kind greeting and excellent organic pâté..
Although I won’t be attempting a rematch with Mt Warning any time soon, conquering the climb was an incredible experience, and I am so glad that I took it on. It’s a wonderful piece of home-grown adventure that I’ll never forget.