Location: Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia
Region: Wet Tropics, North Queensland
Grade: Hard, difficult
Duration: ~6-10 hours, usually accomplished as an overnighter
Distance: ~16 km one way from road
Best time: May - August
Start/finish: Mount Sorrow Lookout, accessed via the Bloomfield Road
Last maintained/cut/marked: mid 2019
Mount Pieter Botte, also known as Ngalba-bulal, Alpaboolal (meaning big top), is a mountain that rises 1,047 metres amongst the Daintree National Park. It is part of the Tableland Region behind Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, Australia, and is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland UNESCO World-Heritage Site.
The Australian Aborigines refer to the smaller peak of Mount Pieter Botte as 'Ginpure' (meaning younger sister) and the taller peak as 'Barbar' (meaning elder sister). The Aborigines in the area were said to believe that the mountain was home to their ancestral spirits and that the area was a sacred place for local indigenous women. However, there are some written accounts suggesting that Aborigines were frightened of this area, as they would be amongst their ancestral spirits.
Its European name, however, comes from either Captain Matthew Flinders or Captain Owen Stanley of the survey ship HMS Rattlesnake in 1848 because it resembles Peter Botte Mountain (also known as Pieter Both), a famous peak on the island of Mauritius, East Africa.
Six Kuku Yalanji people, led by an elder, guided three Europeans, including a visiting botanist and explorer, Dudley Le Souef, as well as Frank Hislop and Mr Anderson, up the climb in October 1896. The group first climbed the North Peak of Mount Pieter Botte and became the first recorded European party to do so. Then, the group climbed to the platform just below the summit of the South Peak. However, they did not make it to the true summit, as they were faced with the sheer-sided, granite outcrop that could not be climbed at the time.
The highest point and the true summit of Mount Pieter Botte, which is at the South Peak, is inaccessible to bushwalkers, as it requires a rope and aid climbing gear. However, the most beautiful and iconic photos of Mount Pieter Botte's South Peak are actually taken from the North Peak, which is easily scrambled. For some, however, it may also be possible to scramble to the rock platform just below the monolith on the South Peak; this is where the roped climb up the sheer granite face begins. From here, a climber will face an enormous, granite, monolithic block that is overhanging on one side and perpendicular on the other side.
Two members of the All 4 Adventure team were dropped off on the top of the summit of the South Peak via a helicopter in ~2016/2017. The sped-up, two seconds worth of footage was aired in Season 2 of the Unleashed TV series.
Though some have attempted to climb the South Peak over the years, it wasn't until 2019 when the first ascent was made by Luen Warneke and Jodie Rummer. And until then, Mount Pieter Botte was one of the last unclimbed summits in Australia... and perhaps the world.
The Hike In
To get to the track that will lead you to the base of Mount Pieter Botte, you will start at the National Parks Mount Sorrow Lookout platform. Proceed beyond the platform, and from there, the track is marked with flagging tape and not too difficult to navigate. After the knife-edge ridgeline, you have the option to bushwalk through the rainforest to Mount Sorrow (left) or continue following the marked track toward Mount Pieter Botte.
The trail passes through majestic rock and boulder gardens. The sheer size and seemingly perfect shapes of these rocks and boulders are truly remarkable and a must see! However, it should be noted that these sections require technical skills; definitely take extra care during the wet season or after a rain. There are many spots where you have to either scramble under or over the boulders. Wet conditions can turn a slip or minor error into a fall taking you several meters down the cracks and crevices. There are a few areas where you have the option to crawl under small rocks, but it may be that some of these areas can be circumnavigated. The track is hard to make out in places, particularly over and under the boulders, but it is generally well-tagged with flagging tape. There is still a high chance for navigational error, however.
Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
Distance: 4.5 km
Start at the Mount Sorrow trail head on the Bloomfield Road. Hike up the Mount Sorrow track through the rainforest to the National Park lookout, which is at 680 metres in elevation. The trail steepens toward the lookout, and the last section has fixed ropes that you can use to aid your ascent. The lookout is really nice if it is a clear day, but if the clouds roll in, it can be a complete white out.
Mount Sorrow Lookout to Roaring Meg Creek
Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
Distance: 4 km
Jump over the fenced lookout platform to start this segment. Then, follow along the knife-edged ridge to another exposed rocky lookout point with an old danger sign behind it. This is a great place to enjoy the views of all the beaches and reefs. On a clear day, you may even be able to see Undine Cay. From this rocky outcrop lookout, push past the danger sign, and follow the pink flagging tape. The pink flagging tape will become more prevalent as you progress. You will also pass a second danger sign, but keep going.
The track slowly ascends a ridge before descending down into a swamp-like area. Continue down to cross a small creek and up the other side of the creek. Before long, you will continue to descend down into a large, technical boulder field.
Once you navigate through the boulder field, you will notice a small creek near the track, the track follows this small creek down until you reach the larger Roaring Meg Creek. Roaring Meg Creek is the perfect place to rest, set up camp, and replenish water supplies. There are plenty of places to camp here in either a tent or hammock.
Alison Gotts was a well-respected artist, exotic rare fruit grower, and a passionate bushwalker. She has been returned to her favourite wilderness area behind Cape Tribulation, Roaring Meg Creek.
If you cross the creek and continue further along the trail toward Mount Pieter Botte, there are a couple more places to camp; however, beyond Roaring Meg Creek, there will no longer be easy access to water.
Roaring Meg Creek to the Lava Spit
Time: 15 to 30 minutes
Distance: 1 km
After you Cross Roaring Meg Creek, you will see the next flagging tape directly across on an overhanging branch. Continue into the rainforest, following the flagging tape for approximately 30 minutes to the base of the lava spit. Once you get to the lava spit, climb the slab of the lava rock, and traverse along the top toward the left. It is important to note that there are no pink tags on the lava spit, however.
From the lava spit, if conditions are at least relatively clear, you will see Mount Pieter Botte for the first time. Grand views of the surrounding lava flows, the valley surrounding Roaring Meg Creek, and the peak can also be seen. From here, Mount Pieter Botte looks close; however, its huge size fools you into thinking so. In reality, you are still a long way from the summit.
Lava Spit to the Saddle
Time: 1.25 to 3 hours
Distance: 2 km
Once you reach the top of the lava spit, head into the rainforest again. From here, you will face a hard, technical climb through thick rainforest and over and under large boulders. Again, it can be a bit of a maze through the boulder fields to the summit. So, pay close attention to the trail and flagging tape. Continue on through the rock garden and boulder fields to the saddle between the North and South Peaks.
The Saddle to the North Peak
Time: 2 min
Distaince: 60 m
An easy scramble will take you to the summit of the North Peak, which offers better views and photos opportunities than from anywhere else. Stunning views of the Cairns Regional Electricity Board (CREB) Track, Bloomfield, Weary Bay, Agincourt Reef, Undine Cay, Lava Flows, Mount Sorrow, and the towering South Peak of Mount Pieter Botte can be seen. Most people summit the North Peak and return to complete their journey.
The Saddle to the South Peak platform
Time: 15 min
Distance: 200 m
From the North Peak, it is possible to scramble southward, up the vegetation and around the right side of the rocks. Continue to head down and around some more rocks, contouring left. Then, begin to scramble up the southeast side of the South Peak to reach the platform just below the South Peak's summit. This was the highest point that those on the first European expedition reached.
The South Peak platform to the summit
Route name: Walking in the clouds
Grade: 17 A1
Distance: approximately 55 m
Time: 30 min to 1.5 hours
Summiting the South Peak from this point consists of climbing for about 55 metres up a relatively featureless, sheer granite face, which requires ropes, aid climbing gear, vast experience, and is not a feat that should be taken lightly. Climb the off-width chimney to the top of the balancing rock. There will be no protection for at least five metres. Proceed over the bulge to the slab. Then, pass the scooped ledge to the vegetated crack and granite shield. From there, continue over the lip of the shield, then up more slab after which you will top out via a mantle. The route requires aid climbing gear. For more technical aspects regarding this climb, check out Mt Pieter Botte on theCrag.
It is a humbling experience to stand atop Ngalba-bulal (Mount Pieter Botte) after a tough, 10-hour mission through untouched rainforest. Looking out from this point, it feels like you have taken a step back in time, especially with 260 million year old granite and lava flows under your feet. The rainforest that covers this area is at least 160 million years old, and many species of flora and fauna are endemic, existing only on this mountain top.
The 1896 expedition, lead by Le Souef, recorded riflebirds, catbirds, pittas, Spalding's orthonyx, shrike thrushes, Australian brush turkeys, Quoy's butcher birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos, superb fruit doves, and tree kangaroos.
The wingless water bug, Austrovelia queenslandica, is endemic to this area as well, meaning it is found nowhere else on the planet. Armoured mist frogs (Litoria lorica), which are critically endangered, have been observed in the upper reaches of Roaring Meg Creek, just below Mount Pieter Botte. A species of a mountain rainforest understory tree (Medicosma sp.) is known only from one sample in the Mount Pieter Botte area. Romnalda ophiopogonoides is an endangered plant with only approximately 500 individuals known, including some around Roaring Meg Creek near the mountain. Eidothea zoexylocarya is a large tree that only grows in the mountain rainforests of northeastern Queensland, including Mount Pieter Botte. Indeed, this area is species rich and biodiverse, which makes the journey even more special.
The Return Journey
Most people commonly return via the same route that they took in; however, there are several groups over the years that have done this as a 'through walk' from Mount Pieter Botte to Roaring Meg Falls. Roaring Meg Falls (Kija) is a major point of interest on the CREB Track. If you plan on doing this, a four-wheel drive and car shuttle is required. Some have even made a circuit heading north along the coastal range to descend Mount Pieter Botte via the old trig station of Mount Halcyon.
What you bring will depend on how long you plan to stay along your journey and your preferred method for camping and sleeping. Given that there are water sources (see above), it is only necessary to bring enough water for the hike in to the first water source. However, water purification tablets or systems are strongly advised. It is also recommended, as with any difficult trip, to bring a first aid kit and PLB. Most of the area has no mobile phone reception.
Below are some additional tips to consider:
- Bring secateurs to help keep the trail open.
- Do not light fires on river rocks. Not only do they explode, spraying embers and coals, but they also permanently change the rock, and others will see the scars.
- Pick up all your rubbish and take it back with you. Do not burn it.
- Avoid the wet season, as the rocks, moss, and roots become slippery once wet, and there are some very technical sections along this trail.
- There are plenty of leeches after rain. There is really nothing you can do to avoid them, unfortunately.
- Pee and poo downstream and at least 100 metres away from the creek. Bury your waste at least 10-15 centimetres deep.
- Hang your food bag in the tree, as rats are quite prevalent and will get into anything and everything, even toothpaste. Do not leave your rubbish bag on the ground either, as the rats will get into that as well.
- After your trip, you can enjoy a shower at PKs Jungle Village for $3 per person. Pay at reception and stay for a beer afterwards.