It’s a long way to the top of ...

The Northern Star - - ESCAPE - Celeste Mitchell

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 thigh­burn­ing 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.”

Photo: Gra­hame McCon­nell/Des­ti­na­tion NSW

DON’T LOOK DOWN: Climb­ing Mount Gower, Lord Howe Is­land.

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