This mountain has been becalmed; held still all night afloat an ocean of fog, which laps silently at the hull of trees beneath the summit. There are faint sounds of imagined movement coming from the valley below; like swells on a distant shore. Then the sun cracks the eastern horizon and golden light reveals that there is no better place than a mountaintop for watching and admiring and thinking and learning.
We all like to challenge ourselves to summit mountains: we seek lookouts, takes photos of vistas and admire these extremities of landscape.
Mt Mitchell and Mt Cordeaux are excellent cases in point because I doubt a person drives the Cunningham Highway without looking out one window or the other and thinking to themselves that if they just stopped and climbed either mountain they would find something special.
Mt Mitchell and Mt Cordeaux, are two distinctive peaks that jut out of Main Range National Park on either side of Cunningham's Gap where the Cunningham Highway sneaks through the mountains on its way from Brisbane to Warwick. Mt Cordeaux (1135 m above sea level) is reached by taking a rugged track that branches off the Rainforest Circuit Walk. The track (6.8 km return) zigzags through rainforest to the exposed upper slopes, ending at a lookout on the southern side, below the true summit which is not accessible via the marked track. However, the cliff face of Mt Cordeaux is spectacular enough, especially in spring when giant spear lilies (Doryanthes palmeri) bloom and their red flowers stand out amongst the rocks. To the south, Mt Mitchell actually has two peaks and a convoluted walking track (10.2 km return) winds its way in front and behind the peaks before ending on a knife-edge ridge above a sheer cliff on the east summit of Mt Mitchell (1168 m above sea level).
Both these peaks give stunning views along the rugged outline of the Main Range, and although neither would be considered a mountaineering challenge, climbing them made me think that the physical demands of ascending, and descending, any mountain are part of the appeal. Mountains hold the gaze, they stick out of the landscape, and they suck the breath and sweat out of you. Climbing them is all about adventure; testing yourself in a new environment. It is about challenging your body and, in extreme cases, challenging your mind to beat your body, or vice versa - asking your body to ignore your mind and keep going.
If the climbing of mountains is about the physical and mental challenge then summiting mountains is all about freedom. This is the moment when on top of a peak like Mt Mitchell the cliffs surround your feet, the air whistles your name and the mind and body come back together, united in a sense of achievement and simultaneously thrilled by the perspective.
Mountains can also bring you closer to adventure by bringing you closer to the weather. These are places where storms build and snag, lightning strikes, cloud drifts in to obscure the view and then whips clear. This dynamic, volatile environment is part of a mountain's appeal - there is nothing so exhilarating as being in a place that is both beautiful and frightening.
Certainly mountains are ecologically unique places and Mt Mitchell and Mt Cordeaux are no exception with their strange mix of flowering lilies, giant orchids, tiny purple dendrobiums, and tall grass trees.
And if mountains are places where adventure lessons are learnt, then climbing these two peaks, in two days, is the best crash course around.
For some other walkers comments on these spectacular peaks visit: