It’s a long way to the top of ...
JACK Shick walks ahead of me, leading one of Australia’s most lauded and challenging day hikes. He’s a laconic bloke. Fit and wiry, wearing a T-shirt that says, “I climbed Mt Gower and survived”. And sandals.
To be fair, he replaces them with shoes to demonstrate his palm-climbing technique – a skill he picked up from his father who earned his living in the days of kentia palm exports.
With a strap of canvas looped around his feet, he shinnies up the trunk and back faster than you can say cooee. “Bit of spit in your hands, boys, that’s the trick,” Jack nods to the youngest of our crew.
While there are walking trails everywhere, all with gobsmacking vistas, the thigh burning full-day hike to the summit of Lord Howe Island’s 875m Mount Gower sits atop many bucket lists.
Jack’s been guiding climbs for 26 years and has clocked up more than 2027 trips to the top.
“I don’t think I’ll hit 3000 somehow, that’s another 15 years of work,” he tells me. “I’d like to be retired.”
The mountains here almost have their own weather system and today we’re battered by wind, clutching guide ropes as we look down on palm trees and crashing surf. By the time we reach The Saddle – our 500m mark – Jack’s barefoot.
Soon, we’re swaddled by the cool, damp air of the cloud forest. “It’s a pretty special forest; lots of endemic species you won’t find anywhere else but on Mt Gower,” Jack says.
As we walk, he points out the mountain rose that bursts with red blossoms at Christmas time, blue plums, mountain apples and hot bark trees.
But it’s when Jack cups his hands and performs a warbling call and a trusting providence petrel comes thudding at his feet that we’re given even more privileged proof of Lord Howe’s magic. Soon, up to 40,000 of this dark grey beauty’s mates will fly in from their massive migration from Siberia, to breed here.
Once they leave, “they don’t touch land until they come back again. They just feed off the ocean.”
DON’T LOOK DOWN: Climbing Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island.