Ascent of Cocos Islands High Point on 2009-07-23

Climber: Morgan Batt

Date:Thursday, July 23, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cocos Islands High Point
    Location:Cocos Islands
    Elevation:10 m / 36 ft

Ascent Trip Report

These Islands are Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean. The real name is Cocos Keeling ISlands. The hight is more like 11m


Cocos Keeling Islands is like an opal adoring the Indian Ocean. Ringed by sugar white sands, lapped by crisp aqua marine waters, coconut encrusted, and strewn with thousands of discarded thongs – and not the bikini type. I was here to climb ‘Gunnung’ (10m) not the actual name of the hill but a Malay word for mountain that the locals use.

The locals are mainly of Malay origin with an African/Ceylonese touch. How did all this come about? The word “Keeling” in the Australian territory’s name distinguishes the 27 islands of 2 Atolls from other Cocos Islands scattered throughout the world. The islands were discovered in 1609 by Captain William Keeling but left untouched until settled and industrised by the Clunies-Ross family in the 1800s. Even Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1836 and developed his famous Atoll Development Theory. The islands also had a mutiny, was the site of Australia’s HMAS Sydney WWI sea battle with the German ship Emden (which Australia sank), a secret WWII allied air base, became part of Australia on the 6th April 1984 by an act of self determination, and is close to becoming Australia’s first Muslim State. Not bad for a lofty 5000 m submarine mountain in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Miles from anyone else almost anything could happen and no one would know.

When you walk through the airport doors there is a sign alerting all to the fact that Cocos Islands highest altitude is 10 feet, and that maps place the highest point at 5 m. I believe the Gunnung is more like 9-11m. After a few tips from locals like Ashley and a visit to Parks and Wildlife to inform them of my intentions, I set sail on the island ferry from West Island to Home Island. Home Island because this is where the coca plantation Clunies-Ross family home and walled English garden built in 1888 still stands along with the modern Kampongs of the locals. It took about 10 minutes to walk from the Clunies-Ross home to the southern tip of Home Island. The tide was beginning to turn so I had not long to walk the reefs across the 10 islands to South Island where the Gunnung is.

With a sense of adventure and heaps of stupidity I stepped off the island and onto the reefs and knee high water – time 1243hrs. Splashing through the clear sea waters there was an abundance of parrot fish, turtles, sea slugs, and an odd mantaray. I felt watched as I stepped off Pulu Pandan (Pandan Island) heading to Pulu Siput. In the middle of the channel I suddenly became all too aware of a pack of reef sharks surrounding me. With much Attenborough style I starting beating the water with my bamboo stick – oh, by the way don’t walk these islands without a big stick. The reef sharks were only curious and soon headed off from the thrashing idiot fish with the stick. Heart rate check. I had about one hour of low enough tide to reach South Island. Made South Island 10 minutes later. Now it was a long 9klm walk down the rising tide beaches. As there is nothing between Cocos and Africa or the currents of India and Indonesia it is little wonder that all manner of stuff is washed up on South Island beaches including thousands of thongs discarded by the world’s flip flopping masses. Seriously nothing but thongs and crabs everywhere. Five hours after leaving Home Island I reached the three water buoys hanging in the tree that denoted the path up to the Gunnung. Set up camp for the night. With thousands of thongs everywhere I decided they would make the perfect bed for the night. I climbed the Gunnung to do some exploring.

Following the buoys and the hanging thongs I wandered inland (about 20m). Here there are still the remains of the WWII camp set up by the British Coast Watchers. The camp was constructed by Ceylonese Engineers – you can tell this because in one corner of the concert slab a CPL M.R. Ferdinandes Ceylonese Engineers, 21 February 1942 scratched his mark. And in the other corner Aden scratched his. While the engineers constructed the camp it was staffed by a Regiment of Kenyans from the 5th African Rifles whose job was to hoist a flag on the hill every time a ship was in the area. So exploring inland and climbing the sandy Gunnung hill one comes across a concrete slab on top which denotes the highest point of the Cocos Keeling Islands. Back down to camp and the thong bed to watch the sunset. Dinner was an apple and two sips of water. I had brought 2 litres of water for the trip and was now down to 5 sips. And after dinner there would be three sips for the big journey home – this was going to be tough. So I sucked all the juice I could from the apple and settled down to my own thoughts and crystal clear Milky Way above.

All night the hermit crabs nudged me from my sleeping spot. I awoke with a start releasing the tide was nearly upon me and I had better move to higher ground. Sleep again not waking until the sunrise. Breakfast was a cruskit and vegemite. Two sips of water. I climbed back up the Gunnung to celebrate Mass and take some photos. Although the low tide was not due for about another 5 hours I was getting thirsty and impatient. The low tide is very important at this stage of the pilgrimage as the biggest water crossing is between South Island and West Island. A distance of about 1200m. I walked around the beach to the southern tip of South Island. There I found an iron spike and discarded coconuts. Ah – brain wave – “coconut water”. I collected a few nuts that I could hear the milk washing inside. I set to work stripping the husks on the iron spike. Lucky I learnt to do this in PNG years ago. Soon the sweet coconut milk was dribbling down my face.

Refreshed and with renewed gusto I decided that the tide had receded enough to walk home – It hadn’t of course. I crossed to Pulu Klapa Satu waited half an hour and then crossed to Pulu Belan Madar. There I found water in a shack rain water tank – only took about a litre. The tide was still top of knee high but I was anxious to do the 1.2k reef crossing and get home. Wading out onto the sands and the coral stones was again a pleasant experience but the thought of sharks was consuming me. Half way across I looked back and then forward – well can’t stop now. A bird came and sat on my head - must have thought I was the only good piece of land around – just proves how far out in the middle of fucking nowhere I was. I reached Pulu Maria with no dramas. Crossed the small channel and was back in Scout Park West Island. Had a swim and then started the 6 k walk back to the hotel down a coconut carnaged road, past the 1970 Twist memorial, along the airport runway and into town. Met Ash on the way – he seemed pleased with my little journey. I was ecstatic. Back at the hotel I stuffed a hamburger and a ginger beer down and sat back very pleased with having ascended my 9m hill, survived a shark attacked of sought, walked about 22ks, sat on by a bird, and been to thong heaven. Even the small mountains can have their own adventures waiting. Salamat.
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