It stormed pretty heavily through the night, and Matt hoped (in vain) that the Mt. Gower climb would have to be cancelled. I just decided not to go. I was too sore and afraid I would hurt myself. So I rolled over and went back to sleep as the others headed off to Mt. Doom.
I woke up a few hours later and was about to go climb Mt. Eliza when Matt and Ashley returned. Matt had passed out on the trail and had to go back. Ashley accompanied him because she was the only nurse and had to look after him. Matt said he felt fine but was starving, so we headed to the Anchorage (again) for breakfast.
After "Brekky" we decided to go on the hike I'd originally planned to do myself. We ended up at Kim's lookout instead (after many, many stairs) but it was a really nice view.
The guy who drove Matt and Ashley back had suggested a walk in the evening to see the mutton birds, so we went to do that at 3:15. The guy (named Clive) made some bizarre cawing noises, which drove the birds nuts. They reminded me of bats, there were so many of them. Clive even managed to catch one and it eventually calmly settled into his arms for a while.
This was the same trail as the one for Mt. Gower, and we ran into Nick on his way back from the mountain. He was tired and sweaty, so he headed off for a shower and we agreed to meet for dinner later. It was pizza night at the Anchorage, and it was really good. We (sans Nick) shared a few bottles of wine and talked about random crap instead of listening to Nick go on about how tough he is and none of us would've made it and he wasn't out of breath, blah, blah. We staggered back to the cottage and promptly crashed.
After Matt & Ashley began their decent we followed Jack up a few more ropes to what he called 'The Narrow Road'. The Narrow Road is a ridge about 100' above the waves crashing on the rocks below and beneath the sheer cliifs of Mt. Lodgebird. It was here we each took a hard hat (of questionable hygiene) from a bin and followed Jack along the narrow ridge. There was a fixed rope if you needed it, but we had plenty of space to walk. Stopping near the middle we could see that Matt & Ashley had safely reached the Island and were almost out. I took a picture.
After about 20 minutes the ridge ended and we placed our hard hats on the 'hard hat tree' to retrieve on the way back. The trail then led up some minor rock falls and boulder strewn trails until we reached 'The Contour'. This was a section of trail that was more or less level and straight with few big rocks to climb over. It was also underneath the jungle canopy so the air quickly got cooler. Around 30 minutes later we arrived at the single water source on the hike, a small, slowly flowing creek. Jack assured us the water was 100% safe to drink but at this point I still had 1.5 bottles of water and declined to refill.
The trail then steepened and never let up. It took about another hour to reach The Saddle, a small clearing on the summit route of Mt. Gower between it and its sister mountain. It was here that we began losing people. Jack had to executive order three older guys that were struggling to make the climb, causing us to stop often and wait for them. He apologized and said it was nothing personal but with an 8 hour climb and sunset at our heels, we simply couldn't move that slow. The guys took it well and agreed to stay at the Saddle to wait for our return.
Also at this time, the British girl in the troupe revealed that she was scared of heights (at the 50% mark) and also elected to stay, forcing her obviously disappointed boyfriend to stay with her.
If the earlier climb was steep, this I would call sheer. The route up now covered just 0.25 miles horizontally but around 1,500 feet vertically. The 'trail' became a series of scrambles up ladder-like root systems and rock faces with just a fixed rope to help pull yourself up. We were also now exposed to direct sunlight and it quickly became....warm. Nevertheless, after about 2 hours of this we reached a flatter point that Jack dubbed the Summit Ridge approach.
Here we took a break while he made bird calls to the flocks around the mountain. These birds, naturally curious, came crashing through the canopy, falling all around the party and coming over to investigate us. Jack picked up one and held it while telling us about how the curiosity of the bird was often its undoing and it was extinct in most places it used to live due to easy-meal status from explorers.
From here we resumed a steep section (not sheer) through a fern forest offering minute glimpses of Balls Pyramid to the south. And after 5 hours of climbing, at long last we entered into a small fern clearing with one tree in the middle. On that one tree was a locked all-weather box. Jack opened it and took out his registar of 'survivors'. We happy few (6 of the original 13) signed our names into Lord Howe Island history.
As there was no view from the summit due to the ferns, Jack led us a short way to an overlook (where I took the picture shown here). Here we all (finally) sat down and ate our lunches / chugged our water bottles. About now it dawned on everyone that the only way back was DOWN the extreme slopes the way we came up.
I had some fun times on the way down repelling down the ropes with no safety wire, or swing-walking across sheer slopes, but by the time we made it back to the creek I was getting pretty sweaty and dirty. This time I was down to just 0.25 bottles of water so I filled my one empty bottle to the top with water and chugged that sucker down. Also took the time to talk to the people in our party and everyone was curious about 'The American' as I was them. By now it was starting to turn towards twilight. We raced back down the Contour (the ones who had a 4 hour rest break leading the way, of course) and burst into the setting sunlight near the Narrow Road.
Plucking up our hard hats (now dry after 6 hours in the sun) we made our way back down to the beach, then over the few cobblestones to the road. It was here that we ran into Matt, Ashley and Jen coming the opposite direction for the birdwatching tour. Our delusional group had decided that Jack had sent his wife around to gather up the significant others and friends to welcome us down. Turned out to not be the case. After a few pleasantries and a few guys breaking off to stay with their wives, we reached the shuttle bus and were returned to our points of origin.
After a nice shower and a few minutes off my feet to read some, the group returned and we all went to the Anchorage for dinner.
Overall, a challenging hike that lived up to expectations.