Tracey and I paid a visit to the Cathedral Range State Park last Wednesday. Tracey was there in her official capacity as the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC) Access Officer and was checking out the climbing access trail up to North Jawbones – one of the most popular and important climbing crags in Victoria. I was there to help her out and to shoot crag images for our forthcoming Selected Climbs Around Melbourne guidebook. At 9am we met Rhyl Shaw, the friendly Parks Victoria ranger, at Sugarloaf Saddle and she kindly showed us around and answered our questions. Rhyl not only has an intimate knowledge of the park but she is also an experienced bushwalker, rockclimber and cross-country skier. We could immediately see what an enormous job Rhyl and Parks Victoria was facing. During the Black Saturday fires the bulk of the park was burned and almost all of the walking trails were reduced to a tangle of fallen timber and unstable soil. The hardest hit area appeared to be around the Sugarloaf Saddle and up on the peak itself. Amazingly the lower part of the valley (along the Little River) missed out on the fires altogether.
In 35 degree heat (a big thankyou to our early November heatwave!) Tracey and I walked up to North Jawbones. The official walking trail has been (mostly) cleared and is now in surprisingly good condition. A much bigger problem however is the climbers trail which ascends directly up to below the cliff. I don’t want to pre-empt Tracey’s official report but I can’t see that this trail will be able to take much future foot traffic without creating major erosion problems. The same goes for the climbers descent down the north ridge of the North Jawbones which appears to be even more unstable. Tracey is already working on possible alternatives. The base of the North Jawbones has been well and truly cooked. In some places large rocks and boulders have shattered in the heat. Fortunately the bulk of the cliff and all of the routes look fine. Many of the bushes (some traditionally used for belays) have been burned so climbers will need to be careful when the area reopens. Tracey is right now preparing a more detailed report which will appear in Argus, the VCC newsletter.
From the top of North Jawbone we sat and soaked up the views. When the park reopens both walkers and climbers can expect to see a very different vista. There are now far more open views, a lot less trees and newly exposed rock faces are dotted across the range. The trees are now fringed with bright green epicormic growth and the ground is covered in a bewildering array of colourful wildflowers, some of which I’ve never seen in the park before.
The Cathedral Range State Park will hopefully reopen to the public around Christmas. On one level I was stunned by the amount of damage the fire has caused but on another level I felt privileged to be a witness to what is a natural process of the forest’s life cycle. The Cathedral Range State Park is every bit as magnificent as it always was; it’s just very different.
Last Sunday Karen and I teamed up with friend Stuart Imer to check out yet another circuit walk in the Lerderderg State Park. Joining us were NZ couple Nic Learmonth and her partner Chris, who have just recently moved to Melbourne. Right now the river is flowing so it was a good opportunity to see just how difficult walking along the river was going to be in these conditions. Usually, when the river is dry, walking down the middle of the riverbed is fairly straightforward. We followed Razorback Track down into the gorge and was surprised to discover that it is possibly the easiest and most enjoyable access spur into what is regarded as the most remote central section of the gorge. Walking down the river was also easier than I expected as good foot pads existed along the rivers occasionally vegetated banks. Rocky bluffs forced us to cross and recross the river at least a dozen times but it was all very manageable (and a lot of fun). The only drawback was the gorse, a prickly introduced bush which has unfortunately invaded the length of the gorge. A gourmet lunch at McKenzies Campsite was followed by another hour walking downstream. At Ah Kow Ruin we left the river and climbed up the very steep Ah Kow Track. It was a big climb – a direct contrast to the gentle Razorback Track. Eventually we reached Blackwood Ranges Track on top of the range, crossed under Mt Blackwood and made our way up to its grassy summit area. We soaked up the last views of the day and walked on down Mt Blackwood Road back to our car at the start of Square Bottle Track. My GPS indicated a total distance of 13.5km.
The terrible Victorian bushfires that started over the weekend of Sat 7th and Sun 8th February mean that some walks described in Daywalks Around Melbourne (Tempest), Weekend Walks Around Melbourne (Tempest) and Day Walks Melbourne (Chapman) have been completely destroyed. The main areas affected include Marysville, Kinglake, Murrindindi, Bunyip State Park, Healesville, Warburton and the Cathedral Range State Park. Fire affected areas also include Lake Mountain and Camberville. We recommend that all bushwalkers (and other bush users) stay well clear of any destroyed and threatened areas until the Parks Victoria and DSE can assess and eventually reopen the affected locations. Locations such as Murrindindi, Kinglake and Marysville are probably not going to open to the public any time soon (at least for 2009 and early 2010). It is hoped that the Cathedral State Park and its popular walks will be gradually reopened from November onwards. Walkers are advised to visit Parks Victoria for further information relating to walking trail closures.
Bushwalkers should also be aware that many State and National Parks are closed or have restricted access on high fire danger days. Check with Parks Victoria for daily updates.
It’s hard to believe that so close to Melbourne exists such a gem of a park. The Lerderderg State Park offers a plethora of walk choices. We chose the Bears Head Circuit, a 15+k walk that keeps you interested from start to end. As all great walk stories must include, the weather was perfect. Starting off on what looked a little like the small village roads you see in the UK, we were surprised and pleased, to see an old Red Rattler on one of the side properties. Although in a state of disrepair, it didn’t fail to ignite the wanderings down memory lane. After about 10 minutes of childhood memories, we were eager to continue on and headed into the bushland proper. From the steep descent down the gorge, we were then greeted by a river which was far from a trickle. Our initial plans of walking up the river bed dry were abandoned. Rather than bush bash along some of the heavily vegetated banks we opted for walking up the river bed wet. What a great choice! The water was refreshing and allowed us to (carefully) traverse from one side to the other visiting the disused mining areas that were built along the banks. Dry stoneworked water races allowed us an even walking surface before once again heading off track for a bit of an explore or another dip of the toes, and legs, into the river. An exciting rock scramble up the Bears Head Ridge gave us amazing views of the park and beyond. Made all the more interesting by the fact that the the sense of remoteness we were experiencing was offset by the sight of Melbourne city not too far in the distance.
I had a brilliant day, it kept my interest up the whole time. Great little lunch and snack spots, history trips back in time and some very definite ideas about overnight camps.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: All of the original EMERGENCY SIGNPOSTS in the gorge have been replaced with new EMERGENCY MARKERS by ESTA (Emergency Services and Telecommunications Authority). Of major concern, however, is that the original numbering has been changed. The old (original) numbering is still in use in a number of available publications, including two of our own books and in the very popular Lerderderg and Werribee Gorges Meridian map. Walkers using our guides and the Meridian map must not confuse the original numbering with the new numbering.
Please download the following PDF which spells out all of the changes and even includes the Emergency Markers GPS co-ordinates:
Karen and I recently spent 18 days and 250km walking across the Chewings Range in the Northern Territory. Two old friends, Stuart Imer and Michael Hampton, joined us for what turned out to be one of the best long distance walks we have ever done. We started out of Alice Springs and followed the first seven days of the Larapinta Trail to Hugh Gorge. The next nine days were spent off-trail, weaving our way among the incredible gorges and mountains that stretched across the Chewings. We rejoined the Larapinta Trail at Ormiston Gorge and walked the final couple of days along to our finish at Redbank Gorge. It was an amazing experience. There are no worthwhile maps to the more remote sections of the Chewings and so we relied heavily on our Garmin GPS. Only a few of the gorges are named and there is no information as to the whereabouts of reliable drinking water. Karen and I have managed to notch up a fair few kilometres over the years walking in the Western MacDonnell’s (which is where the Chewings Range resides) and have become quite good at searching out water in the most unlikely of places. Here is a valuable tip for anyone considering an off-trail walk in Central Australia. Watch out for finches. These delicate little birds don’t venture far from water and as soon as you spot one, you can be sure that water is very close by.
I visited Werribee Gorge State Park on Wednesday. It turned out to be one of those perfect spring days that Melbourne is justifiably famous for. My friend, Ian, had never been to ‘the gorge’ before and I took the opportunity to show him around what I consider to be one of the most underrated parks near to Melbourne. It was also a good excuse to check out the new W. James Whyte Island Reserve (known simply as The Island). A new trail links the top carpark to The Island via some wonderful yellow box woodland. There are excellent views across Junction Pool and the trail allows walkers to experience a refreshingly new aspect of the park . It’s a steep climb to the top of The Island. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. It’s a BLOODY steep climb to the top. This massive basalt hill is part of the lava flow which originated from Mt Bullangarook near Gisborne. The views overlooking the gorge are arguably the best in the district.
The 204 hectare W. James Whyte Island Reserve was gifted to Conservation Volunteers in August 2006. There has been an enormous amount of work planting native trees and shrubs, as well as a concerted effort at controlling weeds. It really is an big task. If you are interested in donating a bit of your time to Conservation Volunteers in their revegetation of The Island, check out www.conservationvolunteers.com.au or contact 1800 032 501.
Roughly 92% of the Cathedral Range State Park (including the visitor facilities at Sugarloaf Saddle) were burnt by the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. All the roads and walking trails in the park are now closed. Parks Victoria have indicated that the park will be progressively reopened from December 2009.
Some sections (between Starling Gap and Ada No2 Mill Site, and along the Latrobe River) have had their signs removed or vandalised. The trail is also quite overgrown in places. In wet weather leeches are a real problem. I reckon the trail needs some serious maintenance and new signage before it disappears into the bush for good.
This walk has changed very little over the last few years. Unfortunately, the continuing dry conditions has reduced even the largest pools of water to little more than puddles. There is still plenty of water available (much of the river now trickles under the pebbles) but do remember to take a filter kit. In the warmer months there are large numbers of red belly black snakes which seem to feed upon smaller prey, which are forced into using the small number of waterholes. The gorge has taken a real hammering over the course of the last ten dry years and many of the shade trees (the wattles) have either died or have lost most of their leaves. Large areas of blanket-leaves and hazel pomaderris have vanished. This spring (2009) the river has been occasionally flowing, which has been really wonderful.
IMPORTANT UPDATE (Spring 2009): All of the original EMERGENCY SIGNPOSTS in the gorge have been replaced with new EMERGENCY MARKERS by ESTA (Emergency Services and Telecommunications Authority). Of major concern, however, is that the original numbering has been changed. The old (original) numbering is in use in a number of available publications, including two of our own books and in the very popular Lerderderg and Werribee Gorges Meridian map. Walkers using our guides and the Meridian map must not confuse the original numbering with the new numbering. Please download the following PDF which spells out all the changes and even includes the Emergency Markers GPS coordinates:LERDERDERG STATE PARK EMERGENCY MARKERS