Dayna's Blog

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Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt – Grampians National Park, Victoria

Writing a guest post is not like writing for your own blog.

I felt quite spiffed, chuffed, honoured even, when Neil Fahey invited me to contribute to his well-known Bushwalking Blog.

He asked if I had a favourite local walk.

Umm…well…

Despite having lived in Melbourne for almost 5 years now, I found myself answering his question with a question my own: “How local is local?”

Strictly speaking, I honestly suspect the answer is ‘no’. Despite there being plenty of walks we have enjoyed doing around Melbourne, my favourites (i.e. that ones I’d most love to return to) all involve overnight stays. We don’t re-do walks too often as there are plenty in both Chapman’s and Tempest’s books that we haven’t done yet (and there is, of course, the 1000 Steps that I always find myself talking Stephen out of – shhh, don’t tell him).

Still eager to contribute a post, I suggested my very first – and possibly favourite – hikes in Victoria: Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt, located at the most southerly end of the Grampians National Park, about 3 hrs drive west of Melbourne. To my surprise and delight, a quick search had revealed that neither of these hikes had been covered yet on Neil’s blog!

Awesome!

Although we hadn’t been for over a year, the trickiest part for me wasn’t remembering the details – it was trying to keep focused on describing the hikes rather than writing a tourist brochure for Dunkeld or the Royal Mail Hotel. (Look out – that could be coming in a future post. It’s drafted… but then, that and more of the Grampians region has been in draft post stage for at least 18 months now, so don’t hold your breath.)

What I finally sent to Neil must have passed muster because he posted it on his blog. Thank you Neil for the opportunity to contribute!

Here it is – please read, enjoy (hopefully), and please feel welcome to leave a comment:

Bushwalking Blog Guest Post: The glorious southern Grampians – Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt

: )

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Southern Circuit of Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges VIC – 3 November 2014

A challenging hike for walkers unused to much rock scrambling, and not one I’d recommend in wet or hot weather, but good views and a real sense of accomplishment at the finish make this a worthwhile day hike.

Other people at the top of Sugarloaf Peak who climbed up from the saddle car park

Start/Finish: Jawbone Car Park, Cathedral Range State Park
Distance: Approx 9km
Time: Approx 4h 50m (included a 20min lunch break). Moving time was 2h 30m.
Difficulty: Hard

Map & elevation profile of the Southern Circuit of Cathedral Range State Park
See also: Parks Victoria Map of Cathedral Range State Park which is very detailed.

Melbourne Cup weekend provides a fantastic opportunity (for those of us living in Victoria) to enjoy a 4 day weekend late in the year. Since no one else in my team at work was taking the day off, it fell to me to uphold this time-honoured tradition. Ignoring anything and everything to do with the spring racing carnival, Stephen and I followed our own tradition and decided to go for a walk somewhere away from the maddening crowd…

So, why this walk?

We first attempted this circuit in September 2010, having picked it out of John Chapman’s “Day Walks Melbourne“, probably because it looked interesting and slightly adventurous. Or possibly because it was located near Marysville, where I’d never been, and Stephen hadn’t been since the devastating Black Saturday Fires in February 2009. Or maybe we were simply enticed by the photo of two hikers looking over the range from Sugarloaf Peak featured on the books’ cover, which belies the challenges and amount of effort required to get to that point.

Atop Mt Sugarloaf, background is similar to that on the cover of Day Walks Melbourne

Me atop Mt Sugarloaf. The view in this shot is similar to that on the cover of Day Walks Melbourne; there’s little indication of the challenges faced to get to this point – from either direction.

In our first attempt, we drove up Cerberus Road to Sugarloaf Saddle (apologising to the MINI as usual for asking it to be a 4wd) and walked up Canyon Track. John Chapman’s brief description of Wells Cave Track was enough to make us think the ‘easy’ option was more our level. We followed his advice and ‘scrambled carefully’ up the steep hillside, the gullies and terraces proving not overly challenging until we came to what I believe he refers to as “a short climb to the right lead[ing] to the summit of Mt Sugarloaf”. Which is where we got stuck. And this is how it looked.

Sep 2010 - The sticking point on our first attempt at this walk

Sep 2010 – The sticking point on our first attempt at this walk

Now, we’re not the only ones to have fun here. I’ve just read Greg of Hiking Fiasco’s account of his ascent (with a full backpack containing camping gear, mind you!) and he ratchets the difficulty rating of this walk to a level above merely ‘hard’. No wonder!

So, finding ourselves somewhat confounded – we’d never had to abort a walk before! – we retraced our steps, drove back to Jawbone Car Park back down the road and walked up to South Jawbone Peak instead. At that time it was only a year and a half after the Black Saturday fires when 92% of the park was burnt; it was very clear the greening bush still had a long road ’til anything near ‘full’ recovery.

For the last four years the memory of this failed walk has been at the back of our minds, nagging away. Almost every time one of us (ok, usually Stephen) suggests we go for a bushwalk, more often than not Cathedral Range has been offered up. Like that thing you borrowed and have been meaning to return to whatshername for yonks, you almost get used to living with the guilt of still having it hang over you.

This weekend was finally it. The conditions were pretty prefect – not raining, not too hot, not too cold, fire risk seemed reasonably low. When it came to it, there was just one fly in the ointment… my legs.

More specifically, the huge amounts of lactic acid in them from a PT gym session two days prior, rather impeding my ability to walk. Now, I usually go to the gym on a Wednesday night, but due to a couple of re-scheduling issues it was changed to Saturday. Never again, people! Certainly not if I’m planning to do a walk that weekend! Despite stretching after the session, it was coming back home and blogging for the next ~8hrs that probably didn’t help matters much. Had I but known how sore I was going to be, I would have continued to stretch through the day. (Ok, point made, enough complaining.)

Despite the legs, I felt that this was our chance to get this walk knocked over, struck off the list – and I didn’t want to be the one providing the excuse not to go yet again. Especially after I’d told everyone that this is what we were doing this weekend! So Monday morning we made lunch, packed the car and off we headed.

It’s a lovely 2hr drive from our place through the Yarra Valley to Cathedral Range State Park. I used the time to try to warm up my stiff and aching legs (and gluteals) – the benefits of being the passenger. Unsurprisingly, we found Cathedral Range right where we left it; tall, long and distinctive, though a bit tricky to photograph well from the road due both to the length of the range and the trees growing along the roadside.

From the road, the top of Cathedral Range looks pretty flat and easy to walk...

From the road, the top of Cathedral Range looks pretty flat and easy to walk…

The turn into Cathedral Lane from Maroondah Highway is at the northern end of the range and is marked with the usual brown sign for places of interest. The graded dirt Little River Road (that runs alongside Little River) is reasonably well graded – but mind the potholes.

(Of course, the middle of a State Park is the best place for the state government/Vic Forests to put a pine plantation…)

We were somewhat surprised to see the large number of cars parked at Neds Gully car park (we didn’t realise at the time that there is a camping ground across the creek) and there were also plenty of people parked and camping around Cooks Mill. Apparently it’s a popular weekend for coming to the park! Navigating solely by memory (naturally the book was in a backpack in the back of the car) we turned right at the campsite and headed uphill to Jawbone Car Park.

We were astounded by how many people were at Neds Gully car park

We were astounded by how many people were at Neds Gully car park

By now it was almost noon – despite my crossed fingers, we weren’t the only there. Given the numbers of people we’d passed, it wasn’t really a shock. The Mini blended in perfectly with the other cars.

Nov 2014 - The Mini really blends in amongst the other 4wd's - Jawbone Car Park, Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

The Mini really blends in amongst the 4wd’s

 

Slowly changing shoes for hiking boots (while at the same time, going as fast as I could manage) I heard three or four groups come and go – mostly young families. Concerns about how busy the walk was going to be started to fill my mind – was the car park just an indication of the traffic on the track? Yikes!

Backpacks on, we set off – slowly – down the steps to cross the creek at the bottom of MacLennans Gully. In 2010 we crossed the creek on stepping-stones. Today there’s a nice, shiny new bridge…which you’ll just have to take my word for since I neglected to take a photograph of it…

The bridge marks the last downhill section for a good while. Although the climb up to the Farmyard is step, the path is very well made and if you take your time it is a very pleasant walk. I’m afraid I didn’t take too many photo’s along this section. On countless occasions Stephen has probably wished that I’d stop taking photos and hurry up. Well I’ve found what will limit my compulsion to stop and click: pain. Unfortunately that also meant my average speed wasn’t any faster than usual!

There was so much I didn’t stop for, too. November is a good time to see lots of flowers in bloom. The walk up to the Farmyard probably has the best number and variety across the whole walk, since it’s quite a damp and sheltered gully,with Jawbone Creek even supporting tree ferns to grow near the top.

A sign at the top of the gully directs you to turn left here to continue on to The Farmyard. Another walker had caught up to us at this point. He looked like he’d taken a wrong turn to a running race and somehow ended up on the mountain with only his drink bottle, but when we got to the next clearing and he ducked into his tent that blended in so nicely with the surrounding vegetation I completely failed to see it on approach, I began to think maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

You are allowed to camp here, and if you want a bit of quiet and/or privacy and don’t mind lugging your gear all the way up here it’s certainly the way to go. He was the only person camping in this first clearing where there is another track leading to The Cathedral. In the next clearing there was also a single tent.

If you’re interested in climbing South Jawbone Peak, the track starts at this second clearing. When you enter the clearing from the north there are three tracks to chose from. On the left is South Jawbone Peak (sign posted), the middle one is The Razorback (also sign posted) – not, as I initially thought, an alternate route to South Jawbone – and the track on the right (which is roughly straight ahead as you approach) is actually the track to the latrines. No, not long drops, the unofficial latrine area used by campers. It wasn’t the smell that gave it away (at least, I didn’t smell anything); the tell-tale signs were toiletpaper and other non-biodegradable rubbish lying around. Goodness people! Dig deeper holes! Ladies – take liners and packaging home with you to dispose of, please!

Nov 2014 - The choice of paths at the main Farmyard clearing was more than expected - Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

Chosing the Razorback Track from the Farmyard - Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

Beating a hasty retreat we tried again, taking the middle path this time.

The Razorback Track undulates relatively gently at first (lulling you into a false sense of security) as it follows the ridge line south through fairly dense young trees and shrubs regrowing on the ridge after the fire. By now my legs had warmed up a little, but still seemed reluctant to handle anything but an incline with anything nearing a modicum of comfort.

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Occasional glimpses down into the valley are obscured by burnt, dead trees; in the five years since the fire their charcoaled limbs haven’t yet fallen to the ground and they remain reaching, stark and barren toward the bright blue sky.

A glimpse into the valley to the west of Cathedral Range

A glimpse into the valley to the west of Cathedral Range

It’s quite clear that the path is well used and it’s simple to follow for the most part, but there are numerous orange triangle track markers along the way to ensure walkers don’t get lost. Indeed, it’s easy to think that Parks Victoria have put a whole year’s allocation of these markers just in this one park. (Maybe that’s why they’ve had to resort to carving blobby arrows into the signs at Wilsons Prom?) However, the further we walked, the more reliant on these arrows we became.

I lost count of the number of walkers that passed us going the other direction – young and old, all evidently following the generally recommended route. How had they climbed up the section that defeated us four years ago? Had we missed something – was there a way around that bit that meant retirees were seemingly able to do this circuit yet we couldn’t? What was going on? As with almost all our walks where we pass lots of people, the general state of attire seems to be ‘casual’; limited water, basic footwear, and no extra clothing discernible. How do people go for a bush walk so unprepared?

This couple are typical of people we see out walking, to whom we much appear completely over equipped

This couple are typical of people we see out walking, to whom we must appear completely over equipped

Walking along the ridge you really appreciate why the range is described as ‘sharply upturned sedimentary rock’. In fact, it reminded me of crunchy sand at the beach – the type that fragments into pieces as you break the crust. Only these rocks were formed from sand/silt in the Devonian period, a few hundred million years ago. No wonder they’re a bit harder than the crusty sand bits on the beach.

Don’t get too excited at the sneak peaks you get back over the ridge – soon enough you’ll have plenty of opportunity for looking around as you really start climbing. And there’s still plenty to see around you.

Sugarloaf Peak, being the highest point along the ridge, is tall and narrow and sticks out like a sore thumb. But we were too busy looking at the view behind us to pay much attention at first of what was ahead. I had in my mind that the ridge was pretty flat – that’s certainly how it looks from the main road – and the real challenge would be getting down that tricky bit from last time. But as we kept climbing and clambering over increasingly large rocks along the ridge line, the peak in front loomed ever higher. It even got to the point where I put my camera away so I could focus on climbing properly instead of worrying what it might be banging against as I held the strap between my teeth. That may be fine for short diversions, but when you’re combing what is essentially a rock wall – it’s better to keep the camera somewhere safe.

We didn’t re-read the track notes or anyone else’s blog posts about the walk before setting out (at least, I didn’t) and on reflection I’m really glad we didn’t. Although John Chapman certainly doesn’t make it sound scary, had I read Greg’s Hiking Fiasco post or Neil’s Bushwalking Blog (plus the mention in his Northern Circuit post) post on this walk, there’s a very high probability that we’d never have tackled this walk. Putting something in the ‘Too Hard’ basket is a very convenient excuse not to accept a challenge. As it was, I’m left to reflect the marvellous ways we try to kid and talk ourselves out of something we don’t really want to contemplate even when it’s right in our face.

“I wonder what mountain that is?” became, “Is that part of this ridge?” which lead to, “Surely we don’t have to climb that?!”. Inevitably, the reality of the situation is accepted and you admit to yourself that yes, indeed, that shark’s fin of some “Sharply upturned sedimentary rock” IS part of the track, and what’s more, “Yep, the track goes straight up”. Don’t forget to follow the orange triangles! There’s one place where it looks like the path leads down, but as far as I could see from the ‘junction’ it doesn’t go anywhere. Keep following the markers straight up.

I knew we were almost there when I saw someone else at the top. We knew had made it when we got our cameras back out. Wooo!

Now, about this down bit….

Once you’ve had the freedom of two hands (or maybe it’s just that the path down quickly requires both hands again) the camera was soon back in the top pouch of my backpack, only withdrawn for a quick photo here and there. The people we saw at the top were a group of three young hikers, who started back down shortly after us. I have to say I welcomed their company on this section because they clearly managed to get up – maybe they knew a better way down, or at the least, if we got stuck it was more people around to help out.

Follow the arrows. Uh-huh. In the end the ‘tricky bit’ wasn’t as scary as I had worried it might be, but thank goodness the day and been a warm and dry day. There was no chance of slipping on these lovely rocks that are pretty good to hang on to without getting torn to bits. I went first, and just like climbing up the peak, the one thing running through my mind was to keep at least three points of contact on the rock at any one time. The hand and footholds are there, you just need to find them – and trust your hiking boots. Now, having made it down, I found the step we both missed the first time. So obvious now…

Unexpectedly, getting down the next rock was almost the trickiest of the day! It’s a bit of a drop to the next level, and I have only vague memories of climbing up there last time. I tried to feel for a place to put my foot as I held onto a rock on the side and a tree root, but instead I ended up sliding down on my belly. It was only a drop of about 20cm – if that. I ended up with a tear in my shirt where it got caught between buckle and rock, but the others chose to slide down on the bums. Could be the better option.

From there it’s more or less plain sailing. My legs were still not properly programmed for descent, but otherwise hiking as usual. It took us about 4 hours to get to the rest area at Sugarloaf Saddle where there is a pretty fancy new covered picnic area where we ate lunch. There are toilets nearby (best to take your own toilet paper) and a car park.

Backpacks on again, Stephen took off and I hobbled after him, my legs quickly seizing up in our relatively short (but late) lunch break. (Why people chose to walk up Cerberus Road instead of down it is beyond me.) Downhill was not much fun, but by the time we made it back to Jawbone Car Park (a couple of kilometres later) I felt I might be loosening up a bit. Just in time for a 2hr drive home.

In all it was a really good, if challenging walk, and we’ve both come away with a sense of accomplishment. I’m glad it wasn’t any more challenging as there were a couple of sections there that we only just found a way to climb up or around.

We’re not in a hurry to do the Southern Circuit again. Other bloggers seem to rate the Norther Circuit as about the same but without a slightly lesser degree of rock climbing/scrambling. One day we might even pluck up the courage (or have forgotten enough details about this one) to go and check it out.

: )


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Stephen’s Favourite Couscous Salad

Don’t be alarmed: one recipe post does not a cooking blog make. No, this entry is covered by the “Who Knows What” clause I slipped into in my subtitle. My ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, so to speak.

Why then? Because various family members have asked for the recipe, and despite having previously emailing it to the nominal head of the family to disseminate, a couple of years on I’m still getting requests. And let’s face it: emails are easy to lose – unless you use Evernote or similar, or are particularly organised when it comes to recipes.

Stephen's Favourite Couscous Salad with a rather large lamb kebab (skewer)

Stephen’s Favourite Couscous Salad with a rather large lamb kebab (skewer)

Preparation time: 2hrs (less if you’re better at chopping – or less pedantic – than me)
Cooking time: 10min
Servings: Approx. 12

Ingredients
1 x 250 packet Pearl (aka Israeli) Couscous
Olive Oil
Sea Salt a couple of small pinches
~2tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
2-3 tbsp paprika (any type)
1 tbsp Garam Marsala
1 lemon, zest & juice
1-2 limes, zest & juice
1 medium carrot, extra finely diced
1 medium Lebanese cucumber, finely diced
1 medium red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 long red chilli, finely diced
1 x 310g/420g corn kernels, drained
100g pine nuts
3/4 cup currants
125g Turkish apricots, diced
1 pomegranate (see notes below)
1/2 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
1 bunch of fresh coriander, finely sliced
1 bunch of fresh mint, finely sliced
200g Greek style feta, diced

Method
Cook the Pearl Couscous following the packet instructions. It takes about 10min on the stove. Stephen always does this bit, which allows me to start chopping.

Once the couscous is al denté, drain, return to the saucepan, drizzle over some olive oil, and stir to coat the pearls. Be generous but don’t drown them. Add the salt, pepper, paprika, Garam Marsala, half of the lemon & lime juice, and stir until consistent. Leave to cool.

Prepare the rest of the ingredients as described above and mix them all into your largest mixing bowl.

By now the couscous has had plenty of time to cool – use a wooden spoon and some more lemon/lime juice to separate the pearls again, then mix the couscous, remaining juice and zest into the rest of the salad.

Taste and adjust as required.

Will keep well refrigerated for a few days in an airtight container.

Notes
As a chopping guide, I like the carrot pieces to be about the size of a match head, and the cucumber and capsicum no bigger than a pearl of couscous.

Turkish apricots are plump and easy to dice. Cut each apricot into 6 or 8 pieces. You could buy a packet of diced apricot pieces to save a bit of time, but I always buy a larger packet because a few always seem to disappear before they make it into the bowl. Whatever apricots you buy, they’ll be plump by the next day anyway as they absorb juices in the salad.

Never bought or used a pomegranate? I like a large one that’s a deep pink/red colour all over with no dark or soft spots. Wear an old top, or at least an apron to avoid stains. Have a bowl ready for the molasses (i.e. the little gems you want to eat) and somewhere to put the skin and pith. Carefully top & tail – I also like to peel most of the thin leathery skin off mine. Cut out the pith at the end so you can carefully pull the pomegranate apart and pick out the molasses. Give them a quick rinse, drain and add them to the mix. I’ve often seen pomegranate molasses in a little container ready to use and have bought them once, but I’m not sure you get as many as when you buy a whole fruit. Yes, I know my method isn’t how Jamie (Oliver) does it, but I want all the molasses from my pomegranate, thank you, not just the ones I can bash out.

Spring onions: I just use the dark green end of a whole bunch because I’m not particularly fond of onion, but this salad would really be lacking if it were to be left out. If you’re not turned off by raw onion like me, maybe try substituting in a finely dicing a large red onion.

Feta: I cut the block of feta into pieces of about 5mm x 5mm. They’ll probably break in half as you mix the salad so don’t worry about cutting the block in half through the middle. I prefer Greek style feta as it keeps it’s shape better in the salad.

If you like your food hot, add some chilli powder into the cooked couscous, or maybe add two chillies or try hotter varieties. The recipe as described has just a hint of spice.

: )