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.
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!
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:
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Sep 2010 – The afternoon sunlight makes the ferns and new green growth glow
Sep 2010 – At the top of Jawbone Creek, it’s very green and even the trees are starting to green up
Sep 2010 – Spring blooms after the devastating Marysville-Kinglake fires the previous summer
Sep 2010 – Climbing up South Jawbone
Sep 2010 – The view north from South Jawbone Peak
Sep 2010 – Atop South Jawbone Peak, North Jawbone and Cathedral North in the background (left)
Sep 2010 – Heading back down from The Farmyard to Jawbone Car Park
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…
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.
The road sign for Cathedral Lane is dwarfed by the Park sign, it’s pretty easy to spot
Dirt road start here. Watch for potholes.
The Cathedral, North Cathedral & Little Cathedral – all peaks yet to be conquered on the Northern Cathedral Range Circuit
(Of course, the middle of a State Park is the best place for the state government/Vic Forests to put a pine plantation…)
Nov 2014 – Tomorrow’s copy paper? A young pine plantation in the middle of the State Park
Nov 2014 – Yesterday’s copy paper. The environment takes a while to recover
Sep 2010 – Logging coupe in the middle of Cathedral Range State Park
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
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.
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…
Nov 2014 – First challenge – walking down MacLennan’s Gully to cross Jawbone Creek
Sep 2010 – Crossing the creek in MacLennans Gully – today there’s a nice shiny bridge
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!
Stephen’s already leaving me behind as we head up to the Farmyard
Greener than 4 years ago, but the scars are still visible with the presence of numerous dead trees along the range
The path climbs steadily upwards
Nearly at the top
Near the head of Jawbone Creek the path noticeably starts leveling out somewhat
Yellow-faced Honeyeater (Lichenostomus chrysops)
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.
Button Everlasting (?), Helichrysum scorpioides
A daisy species
Common Billy Button, Craspedia variabilis
This is a common bush along the Cathedral Range State Park, but I’m not sure of the name
A native pea species
Possibly a Common Apple-berry, Billardiera scandens
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.
Our companion leaves us for his tent at the first Farmyard clearing
Starting down the Razorback Track
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!
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.
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
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.
Track marker on a tree
Track marker on the rock
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 must appear completely over equipped
Walking along the ridge you really appreciate why the range is described as ‘sharply upturnedsedimentary 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.
Razorback Track runs right next to the sharply upturned sedimentary rocks that form Cathedral Range State Park
The slabs of sloping sedimentary rock lining the ridge are impressive
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.
Flowers peek out of sheltered spots, spring is a lovely time of year
Looking back (north) along the Razorback Track – we haven’t climbed very far yet
Plants take advantage of the sheltered ledges on the ridge line to take root and grow
Yellow daisy common along the Razorback Track
A small white flower, also quite common along the Razorback Track
A brief hiatus in the rocky path – the calm before the climbing begings in earnest
Above the treeline now, looking down to the Maroondah Highway from Razorback Track
Following the track markers through the boulders along Razorback Track
Razorback Track, Cathedral Range State Park
The views were getting pretty good now, but still much higher to climb yet
Looking across to Lake Mountain, also severly burnt in the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires
Looking back the Razorback Track seems lost in the trees
More rocks to negotiate along the Razorback Tack
This track marker has seen better days
Nodding Blue-lily I think. I see these plants in median strips along St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Their flowers are very distinctive.
I thought this plant was more commonly found in alpine areas, although it would get pretty cold up here in winter
Small white clustering flowers on a bush or small tree near the higher parts of the Razorback Track
These mint-bushes with their distinctive purple flowers were also very common on the higher slopes of the range
The rocks remind me of how I used to image dinosaur skin to look like
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.
Our first proper look at Sugarloaf Peak. No, where Stephen’s looking, there, ahead in the photo
The rocks are encroaching from both sides here
For most of its’ length the Razorback Track is a jumble of rocks to clamber over
Razorback Track was starting to get a little tricky in places now
Bigger than it looks, this was possibly the most challenging part pf the climb up to Sugarloaf Peak
I’m not sure I’d like to climb back down there; up was tricky enough
One ascent achieved, one more to go
You’ve got to be kidding me! Sugarloaf Peak from most of the way up
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!
Made it! Sugarloaf Peak – Cathedral Range State Park
Other people at the top of Sugarloaf Peak who climbed up from the saddle car park
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.
On the whole, Canyon Track is much easier to negotiate than Razorback Track
The descent was not so bad, considering
Spring time beauty in the Cathedral Range State Park
About to follow the track markers over to the steep side of the ridge
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…
Heading down the tricky bit that stumped us the last time
With four track markers pointing the way, you are left in no doubt where to go, but I’m glad this time we were coming down this section
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.
It’s a little steep and rocky, but if our legs weren’t so tired it wouldn’t have been hard at all
Nov 2014 – Shelter and toilet block at Sugarloaf Saddle Car Park
Sep 2010 – Sugarloaf Saddle Car Park. The toilets were just being built.
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.
Stephen powering on ahead as I struggle to get my legs to work again
Sugarloaf Peak from Cerberus Road
North and South Jawbone Peaks are in sight and I’m slowly catching up to Stephen
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.
Have you ever wanted to go to the snow but haven’t, because skiing (for whatever reason; cost, long lift queues, ability, or potential injury) isn’t your thing?
If you think paying a small fortune for accommodation on a snowfield just to watch other people ski and snowboard is a wasted opportunity, I agree – and here’s the solution…
Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)
Forget the tennis racket image. That’s ancient history!
Let me tell you about our day trip to go snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw the other Sunday.
Leaving home at 8:40am was a little later than planned, but we’re pretty bad early starts at the best of times, although the aim had been to avoid arriving at the same time as everyone else.
Last time (2 year ago) we took the route via Seville. If you’ve got the time, and it’s not out of your way, it is a nice drive although it’s a little bit longer. This time we took the highway to Druin before turning north. It’s pretty easy to follow the signs to Mt Baw Baw from there. The roads get pretty windy from Noojee and there are plenty of potholes to avoid too (so you won’t miss out, even if you haven’t chosen the Seville option), keeping the driver alert behind the wheel.
Road to Mt Baw Baw – Passing farmers fixing fences
The clouds through the mountains added atmosphere to the drive
An old chimney along the way
Now part of a convoy, passing an area logged a while ago
The unlogged forest is amazingly tall and beautiful
We got to the turn off to Baw Baw Alpine Village from South Face Road at around 11:00, and saw the first snow on ground – that hadn’t just fallen off cars driving down the road. Unexpectedly everyone was being asked to put chains on. We weren’t sure why because the road was clear… So much for keeping our chains in pristine condition, then!
There were staff helping people who had ‘forgotten’ how to put chains on their cars. The main thing you need to know is whether your car is front or rear wheel drive – and if you don’t, someone else there is bound to be able to tell you.
People in the upper carpark putting chains on their wheels
There are officials there to help fit your chains if you need assistance
Stephen fitting chains to our MINI
Chains fitted to the MINI
Chains on, we crept up the last 2.5km to carpark 4. It felt like we were driving a tank. You’re not s’posed to drive with chains on a cleared road…
With the road this clear, and 3km to the village, we didn’t know why we had to have chains on
Snow covered trees – not something you get in Queensland where I grew up
Arriving at the carpark we saw why we needed chains. There was snow and slush. Some of it was white, but it was getting browner by the minute as the convoy of cars drove in.
Stephen lifted the windscreen wipers (in case it snowed while we were gone) and we donned our hiking boots, gaiters, beanies, gortex jackets and gloves, shouldered our backpacks (valuables, spare clothes, water and lunch) and joined the line of people making their way up to the village where the fun starts.
Finally snow to justify the chains, Carpark 4
The MINI confirms it’s officially freezing outside
Walking up to the village
Cars in one of the upper carparks
Now this is how to get around the village!
Cars in the top carpark with a decent cap of snow
Welcome to Mt Baw Baw
There was a shuttle bus (mini van) option if you didn’t want to walk up to the village, but it wasn’t a long walk to where we needed to buy a day pass (Carpark 1). We didn’t do it online before arriving because it wasn’t cheaper, I but think we might next time – not because of a queue, but because you’ve now got to create an account. This will supposedly make it faster next time as I log in using just my mobile number and a 4 digit pin I chose (which can be SMS’d to be if I forget it by next time), but we’ll see how that goes… Note though, that if you want to make payment (cash or eftpos) to a person at the resort office, it costs $5 extra. Oh, and you’ll need to know your car’s registration number, so if you’re coming in a hired car your options of paying in advance may be limited.
Just past the village entrance, we found a jolly, and very realistic looking Santa on the way to the ski hire shop (Christmas in July is big here in the southern states) so took the opportunity for a photo.
Village Restaurant on the right, Ski Hire shop straight ahead
Getting a photo with Santa
The Village Restaurant from the Ski Hire Shop veranda
Looking down on the village from the Ski Hire shop veranda
Happily we didn’t have to wait long to pay for equipment hire. On the form you complete that details what you’re hiring out, it’s pretty telling that snowshoes aren’t listed as an option to tick. Come to that, they’re not prominently advertised on the website, either. The girl at the counter just wrote ‘snowshoes’ across the columns on both rows. Second clue was the blank look I got when I went to the counter to collect them. Fortunately the cashier girl was able to point the counter girl in the right direction and hey presto – two pairs of snowshoes!
Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles
Lastly; stocks. As these are collected from a different counter – where skis and boards are dispensed – we had to wait a while as staff adjusted boot fittings and things for snowboarders.
Snowshoes and stocks finally in hand we ventured forth! Now, please be considerate and don’t put them on as soon as you exit the building – there’s not that much room just outside the door! Stephen insisted on being so considerate we walked half way down the main street toward the end of the runs to find somewhere convenient and out of the way to put our snowshoes on.
One of the ski lodges
Community artwork. The clouds work best in winter
Another ski lodge
At Baw Baw they rent out Yowies. Not our preferred type of snowshoe, but since we haven’t bought our own yet, beggars can’t be choosers.
Stephen strapping on the Yowies
Yowie tread and teeth – the sole is very flexible
My suggestion is to undo all the straps (not hard since they’re velcro), place your foot in so all the straps will strap back up (if you have larger feet, you may appreciate what I mean), then strap your foot in as tightly as possible. When you’ve got both on, have a few test strides and see if they feel like they need adjusting. You don’t want your boots to slip out as you’re hiking.
I think my boot is a size 43 US (or 12 AUS), and I was glad that it wasn’t much bigger, as I wouldn’t have liked the middle strap that passed over my boot and gaiter to be any shorter. I don’t know if they have larger Yowies at Mt Baw Baw – they are only made in two sizes as it is.
Given a choice, I’d be wearing MSR snowshoes. They’re more streamlined and have more teeth for breaking through and holding you on ice.
That wasn’t likely to be an issue for us today, but check out the teeth that Yowies have. Stephen’s were good; mine were somewhat worn down, probably from people walking on rocks or on the road in them. (Yes, we need to buy our own…)
Heading off, we drew a couple of amused (or bemused) looks from people who evidentially haven’t tried this form of freedom for themselves.
A couple of cross-country trails start at the end of the main runs and where the kids learning slope is. That’s also where we found the huskies! I’d seen a sign on the main street advertising husky sled rides – and here they were!
First sign that Huskies were about
At the start of the trails, and the bottom of the slopes
Husky Sled Tour box office
Part husky sled dog?
Another floppy-earred sled dog – he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t good at pulling though
There wasn’t much action happening with the dogs at present, so we headed off. We’d decided to follow the Summit Trail today as we didn’t have time for the longer Village Trail circuit.
It was pretty quiet on the track. Most people were downhill skiing or snowboarding. In fact, I think we only saw about half a dozen people on the trail all day – and 4 or 5 of them were in one family!
Snowshoeing through snow and ice covered snow gums is magical
Trail sign (left) and Sled Tour caution sign (right)
Australian bush covered in snow
Snowshoeing through snow gums
Snow gums framing the scene
Fungi on a snow gum knot
Snowshoeing in the light cloud
Snowshoeing in the light cloud
I LOVE these fantastic colours!
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from Queensland or not, but I find the snow absolutely fascinating! So beautiful, so white, so enticing… And snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are just amazing with their beautifully coloured bark. That’s why we chose Mt Baw Baw over Lake Mountain – yes it’s a bit further to drive, but it’s higher (= more snow) and the trees are alive! (A lot of Lake Mountain was burnt in the King Lake-Marysville fires in 2009).
This is possibly my favourite photo from the walk:
Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia
The only downside to snowshoeing is the noise. You mightn’t think it, but walking over snow makes a fair bit of sound. The shoes on the snow, the stocks through the snow, your shoes against the straps (more so on MSR than Yowies, I admit). You really notice the difference when you pause to take a photo (or catch your breath)!
In one of these pauses we noticed some tiny birds picking over the frozen leaves and around the bark of the trees. It’s tricky to photograph birds that move so quickly. I am pretty certain they are Striated Thornbills (Acanthiza lineata).
Striated Thornbill – almost missed ‘im
We planned to stop for lunch at some picnic tables close to the summit, known as Downey’s picnic area. Two years ago, we did this walk in August when Australia was having a decent, if somewhat delayed snow season. This year’s snow season is on time and even better!
Picnic tables August 2012
Picnic tables July 2014
So there wasn’t much choice but to eat standing up. We didn’t want to disturb the perfect mounds of snow on the tables.
It was also a good chance to get some Bigfoot – or more accurately in this case, Yowie – footprint photos.
Lunch over, we continued up to the summit where Baron Ferdinand von Mueller’s “The Cairn”, built as a survey reference point, is there to admire. Von Mueller was Government Botanist of Victoria in 1853 and later appointed director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, but his work was also recognised and honoured nationally and internationally. It is believed he was the first European to climb Mt Baw Baw.
Baron von Meuller’s %22The Cairn%22 at the summit of Mt Baw Baw
Side view of Baron von Mueller’s summit cairn
Vegetation growing on the cairn
The picnic table at the summit is even more well burried!
Other side of Baron von Mueller’s summit cairn
A little further on is Mueller’s lookout. On a winter’s day, you mightn’t get to see very far.
From the summit, the ice on the trees started to get a bit… wild.
Not content with just settling as snow on horizontal surfaces then icing up, the snow gums on this side of the summit have their hackles up, and fins on. Yep, they’ve gone feral.
It’s so wild around the summit that the trees grow hackles of ice
Snow gums with icy winter coats
A close-up of the ‘ice-hackles’ on snow gum trunks
Ice on the leaward side of a strip of back
Ice fins on snow gum leaves
As the trail drops down from the summit, the forest relaxes once more and it’s an easy downhill walk along the cross-country ski trail.
Someone of the striking colours of snowgum bark
A dog (husky) print in the snow
Beautifully stripped snowgum trunks
Marker on the Summit Trail
The colours on snow gum bark are incredible
Something’s caught Stephen’s eye…
Summit Trail sign
Under the snow gums
If you walk the Summit Trail in an anti-clockwise direction as we did, you’ll come to an area called ‘The Five Ways’ where the Summit Trail ends and you have two choices – Muellers Track (walkers only) or Village Trail – that will take you back to the village.
Last time we chose Muellers Track, skirting all of the ski runs to the north, and certainly appreciated why it was a walkers only trail.
This time, for something different, we thought we’d try the Village Trail that- as far as we could make out on the map – slips down between ski runs and finished back at our starting point.
The Village Trail meets the ski slopes
I didn’t take any more photos after this until we were safely at the bottom because I was mostly scared about being caught in the path of a skier, and then, as the slope got steeper, also a bit worried that I might go for a slide myself! Although conditions weren’t particularly icy, I was concerned that the teeth and grip of my Yowies weren’t doing as good a job as they should be…
We were passed by a snow patrol skier who only made a comment on the weather, so we were reassured that we weren’t somewhere that we shouldn’t have been, but the path down wasn’t clear to us. I was really glad when we made it to the bottom and out of the way of skiers and snowboarders. We chose snowshoeing to avoid injury, after all!
Since we were back at the start we decided to have another look at the huskies. It just so happened that a team was being harnessed up for a run! And yes, they were all very excited about that!
Huskies are ready to run!
Harnessing the team
With that we were done, and a hot chocolate as the Village Restaurant seemed in order – as soon as we’d returned our snowshoes and poles.
The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July
By now it was well after the lunch rush so getting a table wasn’t a problem.
As it was getting late, we didn’t linger. We knew the queue of day trippers leaving the resort would be long, and it would be dark by the time we arrived home.
Driving out through the mist
The queue reversed, now removing snowchains
It was a great day though!
Here’s a some stats and a couple of maps from this walk if you’re interested:
Have you been snowshoeing? Where abouts and with whom? I’d love to hear from you : )