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Ascent of Murray Hill on 2015-10-18

Climber: George McManus

Date:Sunday, October 18, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Murray Hill
    Location:Christmas Island
    Elevation:1184 ft / 360 m

Ascent Trip Report

It seemed simple enough-go to Christmas Island, bag the highest peak there. Murray Hill doesn't seem too intimidating, at just 361m, with slopes that are quite mild. However, research before the trip revealed that there is no path to the top, and that the peak is surrounded by dense, prickly rainforest. Looking at online maps of Christmas Island (http://www.ga.gov.au/christmas/index.html#info), it was apparent that the closest access to the Hill was a 4WD track located around 300m to the NW. 600m return of bush-bashing didn't seem like it would be too bad, surely?

I parked my car at the start of the 4WD track, which is also the start of the West White Beach walk and just out the front of the gate to the Detention Centre (10:30am). Whilst I decided to hike along the 4WD track, not knowing its condition, I think the Rav4 I hired would have had no problems with it. The track is overgrown until reaching some tanks, before going through a cleared area, formerly a phosphate mine. I reached the closest point of the 4WD track to Murray Hill (10:50am). Assessing my options, I could walk 150m through the relatively clear clearing before having to scale 10m high cliffs (created by mining), and then bashing to the summit. The other option was to follow the ridgeline, but would require 300m of bashing. Deciding I couldn't scale the cliffs, I decided to go along the ridge.

Wearing hiking shoes, gaiters, gardening gloves, shorts, shirt, sunnies and broad brimmed hat, I walked through 10m-20m of 1m+ high long 'grass' (more like tall, thin ferns or reeds), following a disturbance/path in the grass that made it look like one person had been here before, before hitting the rainforest proper. The challenge became very apparent, though it seemed like this previous person had kindly left pink tags. The rainforest is very dense, and the plants aren't fun to walk through. The most common ground level plant is a prickly fern, which I had to clear using a big stick I picked up from the ground. Spiderwebs were also a constant threat, with spiderwebs present between trees or ferns, often containing humongous, palm sized spiders. After around 50m of brutal bush-bashing, I was not able to find the next pink tag, though it was not as if the pink tags followed a distinct, cleared path. Instead, it was time to rely on the compass (it should be noted that it was hard to get lost, though the forest was thick, if you head in the right general direction and keep going up you should get to the top).

I quickly got into a rhythm of deciding which ferns/trees to walk between, checking carefully between those trees for spiderwebs (clearing if necessary), and beating back the bush with my stick, before walking through. Sometimes there would be a bit of a 'gap' in the vegetation, though never enough not to get either the shirt or gaiters briefly caught on something. Other times, there would be absolutely no gap, and I would have to bash for 5m horizontally through thick prickly plants. A good general trick was to try and head towards tall trees, as there were fewer prickly plants around these.
Whilst walking up, I was questioning why I was doing this. It was hot and humid, I was sweating profusely and getting worried about being bitten by a spider, where no one would ever find me!
Eventually, small coral outcrops appeared as I ascended up the hill, and the vegetation changed slightly into more trees and less prickly plants. After a while, the coral outcrops became more common, and I welcomed the chance to scramble up coral outcrops as opposed to bashing through the forest.

Within time, I saw a tall coral outcrop (see photo), with a small wooden post that had a tag tied to it. The top! (1:05pm) I climbed the outcrop and claimed the summit, exhausted but relieved. A nearby outcrop with no marker on it appeared to be of similar height and I climbed that to be sure I had made the top (I've come all this way and there is no way I want to do this again!). However I think the outcrop with the marker on it is the higher point. At the summit, there is a slightly better view than for most of the hike (especially to the south), due to the elevation making it slightly above the surrounding forest, however it's hardly a view to die for.

A 10 minute break at the top mentally prepared me for the fact that I was only actually halfway through the hike. For the first 50m of horizontal distance, I was able to follow the path I had bashed on the way up, which was a bit easier than having to make a new path. I was able to spot my path by seeing which gaps in trees and ferns had broken leaves, making me feel like some sort of bushcraft expert! However, inevitably enough, I lost my old path and decided to head towards the 'cliffs', and seeing if I could somehow climb down them and save myself a lot of bush bashing.

After discovering a new type of prickly vine, I reached the cliff (2:10pm). It was a moment of 'so near, yet so far'. I could see I was so close to the 4WD track, but the 10m drop was practically straight down and there was no real way to descend it safely. Back into the rainforest, I tried to stay near the cliff line (quite obvious on a map of the area, as the edge of the forest and the old mine). This way, I could escape the forest at the first opportunity that the slope became easy enough to hike down.

Eventually, I reached a point where the boundary between forest and mine didn't seem like such a big slope. This boundary area was marked by the same long 'grass' as I had encountered when I first entered the forest. It was longer at this place, and I soon discovered that what seemed like the 'ground' was almost knee deep high dead grass. This made walking tricky to say the least, but I didn't care-after hours of prickly plant bashing, reeds didn't really worry me. Eventually, the ground became flat and I approached the 4WD track-freedom! (2:40pm) Almost 4 hours after initially entering the rainforest, I had walked 600m, at a speed of around 2.6m per minute (horizontal metres, sadly).
As I started walking back along the 4WD track, eager to get back to my car, a car came past. This was surprising as the track doesn't really go anywhere interseting, but never the less I had a chat-the people in the car thought I was crazy! I reached my car at around 3:15pm. Later that day, a nice shower in the waterfall at the Dales was able to soothe the many cuts on my arms and knees. I used almost all of the 3 litres of water I brought with, and in hindsight should have brought and drunk more. At the end of the day, I was satisfied that I was able to claim another state/territory high point, having seen a side of Christmas Island almost no one else has and also surviving a very challenging hike.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:265 ft / 80 m
    Round-Trip Distance:1.6 mi / 2.6 km
    Trailhead:Start of West White Beach walk  919 ft / 280 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Bushwhack
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 35 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 10 Minutes



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