Monday, September 12, 2005

The West Peak of Mt Barney

Harry Winifred Johns was a teacher at Milford School, a few kilometres north of Mt Barney. He was a very active man, passionate about mountains and used his bicycle to travel the countryside in search of adventure. He cycled to Sydney three times, once with his second wife. In 1904, aged 30, Johns and three companions scrambled to the summit of Mt Barney’s West Peak—the first recorded Europeans to stand there. Johns felt compelled to draw on his knowledge of the classics to describe the moment:
At length the eye, unable at first to accommodate itself to the unwanted range of vision, expands to receive picture after picture, grand in its immensity, glorious in its beauty, and—ah! the sea, the blue sea, plainly showing and looking like a wall far up above what appeared to be the horizon. At length a feeling of insecurity steals o’er one, and compels the gaze below. Oh, ‘how fearful and dizzy ‘tis to cast one’s eyes so low.’ Below us is an almost unfathomable abyss, a sheer 2000 ft, the trees below diminished to shrubs, ‘almost too small for sight.’ The brain swims at the contemplation of the immeasurable depths, Tartaurus itself. ‘Bis patet in pracceps tantum tenditque sub umbrus. Quantus ad aetherium caeli suspectus Olympum.’
The translation of the quote in Latin, provided by emeritus Professor David Saunders of Griffith University, is: ‘The abyss opens twice as steeply and stretches into the shadows as looking to Olympus in high heaven.’ Clearly impressed by the huge cliffs on the south face of West Peak, Johns and his colleagues felt themselves being drawn close to the edge:

An invisible, awful spirit seems to beckon us on over the edge of the precipice, a frenzied impulse seizes us to leap far out over the abysm, out into the vacancy, down, down to glide smoothly and swiftly to Avernus, the reeling brain at rest for ever. ‘Facile descensus’ beats our ear, but with a start we recoil, and shudderingly draw back from the fearful sight, and hurriedly retreat from the dangerous proximity.
Resisting the urge to leap into oblivion, they built a cairn and left a shirt worn by a member of the party as a flag. Perhaps affected by the nature of the climb and their experience on top, they estimated the West Peak summit to be 180 feet (about 60 metres) higher than the East Peak!

Picture: From the summit of Leaning Peak, Michael Meadows collection.

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