My most recent hike was through the Cathedral Ranges. I was part of a hiking group – people I hadn’t met before who were doing the walk as training for the Oxfam Marathon, which requires people to walk a ridiculous distance in less time than 24 hours. The plan was to start at Cooks Mill and hike to Mt Cathedral via Mt Sugarloaf and then back via Neds Saddle – an 18km round trip with climbs and rock-hopping and all sorts of knee and ankle straining stuff. And the idea was to do it fast. Well, reasonably quickly at least.
We set off along Messmate Track to Sugarloaf Saddle, a breath-taking start to the day (at least, I was having trouble breathing by the time we made Sugarloaf Saddle). A quick pause, long enough for a snack and to discover my water bottle had leaked half its contents into my pack, and we were off again – Wells Cave to the Sugarloaf summit. Wells Cave posed all the usual problems (Does the track really go up that rock face?).
For the first time in my many ascents of Sugarloaf I tried a new way to overcome the final obstacle, the final climb. For anyone who hasn’t taken this route there is a final ‘test’ after you scramble out of the cave. A slab of rock lies against the main cliff and there is a slot between them that needs to be ascended. There are three options. The first is staying in THE SLOT between the cliff and the slab, which feels safe but is a pain and near impossible (off-width is the technical climbing description, which means too narrow to climb without it ending in tears). The second, and my usual, is THE CLIFF, which requires some finger hauling but is quite fun and feels safe-ish as you are only ever a metre or three above the ground. The third is to climb THE SLAB. The Slab is the easiest route up but has the greatest exposure, meaning you are very aware that gravity wants to hurl your body down the twenty metre drop below you and that you’d probably be seriously dead if that happened. After struggling on the cliff, I went for the slab and soon made the summit.
Did I have time to take a photo? Barley, as we were soon on the move again across the Razorback. This has to be one of Victoria’s best walks. Stunning views and a bit of challenging walking and rock hopping. The distant goals of The Farmyard and Mount Cathedral could be seen in the distance (which is why they are called distant goals – they can be seen in the distance).
|The Cathedral Range and the distant Mount Cathedral in the distance|
We made the Farmyard around lunchtime – some two and half hours after setting off from Cooks Mill. I filled up my water bottle and quickly ate a little soggy something. Apparently we weren’t stopping for lunch just yet but continuing on our way.
At about this point I started to lag behind. It wasn’t that I was getting tired but that I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with … oh look, a Jacky Lizard, hang on, I’ll just … Sorry, as I was saying, I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with no photo opportunity passed over, except, maybe, the view over the Acheron Valley, no time, gotta keep moving. The rest of the hiking party were waiting patiently at the next track junction so that I wouldn’t get lost. The sun was shining, the day was getting warm, and the bushes were getting prickly. The next stop was for first aid (prickle removal) and then lunch at the now not so distant Mount Cathedral. Another bit of first aid (I treated some pre-blisters with some tape) and the decision was made to cut the walk a bit short by not including Little Cathedral (except for one extra fast-hiking party member who had already been there and was on his way back!).
After lunch we all headed on down the track to … hang on a bit, another lizard, Cunninghams Skink, Egernia cunninghami, I’ll just change lenses and then … . Okay, where were we? Ah, that’s right. After lunch we headed down the track to Neds Saddle, downwards, ever downwards, to the Little River valley. The last section was along the river, an easy walk that included the highlight of passing through a logging coupe – the last remnant of the pine plantation that once stood in the middle of the park. (If anyone cares to purchase the land and donate it to the park now is a good time.)
The end! Eighteen kilometres in five hours, or something like that. It was a great walk (as always), but next time, even though it means carrying more stuff, maybe two days, some time to take photos.