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Ascent of Cocos Islands High Point on 2015-10-21

Climber: George McManus

Date:Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cocos Islands High Point
    Location:Cocos Islands
    Elevation:46 ft / 14 m

Ascent Trip Report

Part 2 of my Indian Ocean trip led me to the Cocos Islands, which gave me a chance to grab another high point. The Cocos Islands are a low lying coral atoll, leaving me in the unusual situation of trying to reach a 'peak' 13.6m above sea level (that height is according to the locals). Research made it apparent that the high point was the top of a sand hill at the southern end of the uninhabited South Island (http://www.ga.gov.au/cocos/map.html#info). To reach this peak would require me to get from West Island (where the airport and accommodation are) to South Island. The options to do this included the 'atoll walk', where you can walk between the islands at low tide due to the shallow water level. However, I opted to hire a kayak to bridge the gap between the islands.

After arriving in the islands, a tourist map at my accommodation showing trails on South Island indicated that there was a 'lookout' at the top of this 'hill', along with some nearby ruins. The next day, I hired a kayak from Cocos Islands Adventure tours, run by Ash and Kylie. They advised me that getting to South Island would be a tough haul due to the winds and currents both coming from the east/south east, however the way back would be easy. Ash himself had cut the track to the 'peak', and explained to me the directions to get there.

After a quick drive with Ash from the West Island town to a kayak launching point to the north of Scout Park, I pushed my kayak out off the beach into the clear blue waters of the atoll lagoon. The first 100-200m of paddling was by far the hardest, with a strong current and headwind pushing me back towards the shore. Luckily my kayak had been equipped with an anchor, allowing me to take a quick break without drifting all the way back to the shore! I quickly realised that this trip was going to be a tougher slog than I had imagined.

After about half an hour on the water, I was to the north of Pulu Maraya, having made little progress so far. At this stage, the wind suddenly calmed down significantly. I grabbed the opportunity to blast much of the 1.7km to Pulu Blan, an island between West and South Islands. Whilst my arms were burning, I realised that the calmer conditions may not last long and it was important to take advantage of them. The kayak glided straight over the top of coral reefs, and it was even possible to see fish swimming amongst these reefs.

After 90 minutes of kayaking, I arrived at Pulu Blan and had a short rest before walking my kayak around the north shore of the island (much easier than paddling it!). It was here that I first saw reef sharks, which are really quite harmless. I then crossed the shorter section between Pulu Blan and South Island, arriving at the beach on South Island at around high tide, relieved that the hardest part of the day was done.

The high point was 2km south east of where I landed on South Island. There is a 'campground' on South Island which I walked past, just to the south of where I landed. Being in no hurry, I took my time to walk along the beach on the ocean side, enjoying the amazing scenery of the clear, shallow waters and the distant breakers, along with observing the hundreds of hermit crabs living on the beach. The sun was almost directly above me by this stage. Soon enough, I could see the high point in the distance, being an obvious rise in the palm tree covered sand hills.

I walked around the southern tip of the island, and saw an obvious path into the forest. An initial climb up a sand dune into the forest is followed by a relatively short walk through palm trees and ferns before a short, sharp rise (by Cocos standards) leads you to the peak. At the top is a square shaped concrete slab, built during World War II as an observation point. One corner is marked with 'CPL MR FERDINANDS / CEYLON ENGINEERS / 21st FEBRUARY 1942', and another corner is marked with 'AHDEN' (Aden?). I was unsure as to whether this was the true peak, or a smaller peak to the south west (which is displayed on the Cocos Islands GIS map). The tourist map made me think this was the 'ruins' as opposed to being the 'lookout', especially as the view from the concrete slab was obstructed by forest. I tried taking all the 3 cut paths from the concrete slab, which all led back to the beach in different directions. On one of the paths, I walked past the remains of some old toilets, probably from the WWII era as well.

Going back to the main concrete slab, I assumed I was on the smaller peak and set a compass bearing towards the 'true peak'. After bush bashing about 100m into the jungle, wearing only thongs (not recommended!), it soon became obvious that there was no peak in this direction, and the concrete slab was on the true peak. Back at the concrete slab, I claimed the summit 'officially' and celebrated with a quick lunch. It was at this point where I realised my sunglasses went missing in the jungle, meaning I would be kayaking west into the setting sun with no eye protection!

I walked back along the beach, watching fish jump out of the water whilst being pursued by small reef sharks. I made it back to my kayak (it was approaching low tide by this stage), and made the trip to Pulu Blan and then South Island. With the current and wind at my back, the trip was short and easy, only taking around half an hour. I made it back to the white marquee at the kayak launching site, where Kylie and Ash had arranged to pick me up at 5pm. Arriving early, I had a quick swim. After chatting with Kylie and Ash, I confirmed that the concrete slab (which I have now dubbed 'Ferdinands Lookout') was indeed the 'lookout' marked on the tourist map, and the highest point of the Islands. Apparently the concrete remains of the old toilet block are the 'ruins', which I found quite hilarious, having expected something slightly grander (especially as the tourist map uses a symbol that looks a bit like a castle for the ruins). All in all though, I was glad to have made the summit, allowing me to focus the rest of my time at Cocos on snorkelling at Direction Island as well as kayaking amongst sea turtles in North Lagoon. Cocos Islands is unbelievably scenic, looking remarkably like a computer screensaver, and yet is still largely off the tourist trail.

The kayak between South and West Islands can be tough for the west-east crossing, however anyone who has done a bit of river/lake kayaking should be able to handle the waves, which are quite small. To get to the high point, there are three options leading from the beach, with the most obvious being the first you approach from the north-west side, having a sign that says 'Ferdinands Walking Trail' directing you to head inland. Walking along this short cut path through the forest leads you firstly to the toilet ruins, followed by a short, steeper hike up a sandy hill to the concrete slab at the 'summit'. Not exactly Everest, however it is quite a unique ‘mountain’ to get to.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:46 ft / 14 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.6 mi / 9 km
    Trailhead:West Island Kayak Launching Point  0 ft / 0 m
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Hot, Windy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 



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