Northern Cathedral Range - 17 January 2009

After successfully negotiating the moderately rated Werribee Gorge Walk without raising a sweat the week before, Tony, Jezza and I thought we'd give the moderate/hard rated Northern Cathedral Range Walk up past Marysville a crack. We were joined by Surath, Imroze, Luke and Michelle for this walk.

We all met up Jezza's house before heading off up over the Black Spur and then to Marysville. We had a quick bite to eat at the local bakery and while we were there, picked up a couple sweets for the walk.

After lunch, we drove towards Buxton but turned off on to the Mt Margaret Road and then down the rocky Cerberus Road which took us alongside the Southern Cathedral Range. We got to Ned's Gully carpark at 1:15pm where we commenced our walk.

The first section of the walk was very easy and flat as we walked parallel with the Little River until we got to Cooks Mill campground. There was even an access point to the delightful Little River along the way.

Little River between Ned's Gully and Cooks Mill (left); Jezza as usual, walking at twice the pace of the pack (right)

From Cooks Mill, we found the start of the track that would take us from the campsite to the Jawbones carpark. This first section of the walk was a steady climb to the Jawbones carpark that had slightly obscured views of the rocky North Jawbone Summit. However, we were soon treated to a clear view of both the North Jawbone and South Jawbone summits which we were about to climb to.

From the Jawbone carpark, there was a very steep decent down a series of steps into the rainforest vegetation of the valley. From there, it was a strenuous climb along a steep, rocky and rugged walking path. This path took us towards the Farmyard. There were a couple forks in the path where we thought we had lost the energetic Imroze and Jezza who assumed his customary position at the front, walking at twice the pace of the group. However, we did manage to find them both at the Farmyard.

Climbing up towards The Farmyard (left); Walking along the dry Jawbone Creek (right)

From there, we took the path through the trees towards the South Jawbone Summit. It was a steep but manageble short walk to the summit where spectacular views of the valleys below awaited us. We had a break atop the summit taking in the awe-inspiring view and taking a few photos before heading back down the hill.

The view from the South Jawbone Summit towards the North (left); Group shot atop the South Jawbone Summit (right) - courtesy of Luke

It was on the decent from the South Jawbone Summit where the cracks in our walk started to appear. First, contrary to my instructions to bring plenty of water, only half way through the walk, a couple of people needed to "borrow" some water from others to fill up their nearly empty bottles and even one in the group ran out of water. In addition to this, we were advised of a couple casualties as Luke and Michelle succumbed to the rigours of the steep section just prior to the Farmyard and opted out of the back end of the walk.

We backtracked a little until we got to the track that would take us to the top of the North Jawbone Summit. It was here that we said goodbye to Luke and Michelle as they took the easy track back to Ned's Saddle and then back to Ned's Gully. Meanwhile, we walked up the track towards the North Jawbone Saddle where there was only a faint track that I walked up while the others bush-bashed their way up the rocky terrain to the top. The view on top wasn't as complete as the view from the South Jawbone Summit but still was a great view of the surrounding peaks.

The North Jawbone Summit from The Jawbone Carpark (left); A view of the South Jawbone Summit and Sugaloaf Peak from the North Jawbone Summit (right)

As we started to head back down the hill, we weren't able to find the track at all so we just bush-bashed our way down the hill which was laden with sticks and rocks, in what we thought was the general direction back to the main track. On the way down, Surath nearly stepped on a snake who was in amongst the sticks and leaves. Soon after, we started to get confused as none of the terrain looked familiar. One person in the group thought that the route back to the main path was towards the left while a a couple others were adamant that the route back to the main path was towards the right (North) so ,we started to head in that direction. But after another 10 minutes, we were no closer to finding the track. Surely we would have hit the path by now if we were heading in the right direction. We were completely lost! I tried to find our exact location using the GPS on my PDA phone with the maps I had loaded the night before. However, that wasn't much use just like it wasn't much use to us months before when Tony, Surath and I walked in the Dandenongs. I pulled out the old compass and according to the map, we needed to head in a westerly direction. I just hoped that up on the overview map meant north! Surely enough, the old map and compass did the trick and we managed to find the track.

We were relieved to find our way back to the walking path but as we had wasted a fair bit of time trying to find our way, we thought we'd take the easy route back to Ned's Saddle (the same way that Luke and Michelle would've taken). However, as we were walking along, none of us saw any track intersection and we soon found ourselves climbing again. At times on the climb, we even found ourselves crawling and climbing over rocks as we traversed the top of the ridge. As we looked over the edge towards the west, there was a sharp drop as we were walking along the top of the cliff. We quickly realised that we had taken the hard route towards Cathederal Peak. We were completely dumfounded as not one of us saw any other track along the way. In addition to this, there was no defined path, just a series of rocks to climb over and the odd blazer indicating the general direciton to head in which were few and far between. One consolation was that there were great views of the valley below from the top of the ridge.

Imroze scaling the Cathedral Ridge (left); Climbing towards Cathedral Peak (right)

About half way up the rocky climb (in the literal sense), the walk was starting to take its toll. My thighs started to tire and I was on the verge of cramping. I started to lag behind the group as I needed to take constant breaks. That wasn't helped as in trying to break a fall, I plonked my hand right onto a prickle bush. That delayed me more as I was plucking little prickles out of my hand as little dots of blood started to appear. Jezza too was starting to have problems with his legs but that didn't seem to stop him as he continued on his usual pace, powering up the hill. Soon after that, Surath was painfully bitten on the end of his finger by a mystery insect.

The thing that was demoralising about this section of the walk was not so much the physical toll it was taking on us, but the mental toll it was taking. As we climbed to the top of what we thought was Cathederal Peak and the end of the climb, there was yet another climb to the next peak. There were several of these further peaks to negotiate. It was after the third or fourth peak where I had a check of the map and had the dreaded thought that we may have even passed the second and final turnoff towards Ned's Saddle and may be climbing towards Little Cathedral. Not only were we tiring, but the sun was starting to go down and we only had an hour or so of of daylight left. There was a chance that we may be sleeping out there that night. At this point, I gave Dad a call to tell him where I thought I was just in case I didn't come home that night and also give Luke and Michelle an update on where we were at. The biggest concern with having to sleep out there that night was our dwindling water supply. Having paused for a moment, we decided we had to continue as there was no guarantee that we had even passed the track to Ned's Saddle.

The view of the valley from the ridge (left); Farmland far below the ridge (right)

Fortunately for us, we hadn't passed the track intersection as soon after, it appeared along the ridge. We all let out a huge sigh of relief. From the intersection, it was only a short steep walk to Cathedral Peak. But I thought I'd save whatever milage that was left in my legs for the return journey and left the climbing to Cathedral Peak to the others. In the meantime, I engaged in one of nature's activities...a much needed emptying of my bowel.

Once the others had returned from Cathedral Peak, we commenced the extremely steep decent to Ned's Saddle. This section was painfully difficult as my thighs continued to flirt with cramp under my weight on the decent while Surath's knee problems started to flare up. We did eventually make it slowly to Ned's Saddle where we had a quick break before completing our arduous hike of the Northern Cathedral Range with the easy walk back to Ned's Gully. I even felt the urge and found the extra energy to run back to the car!

As we arrived back at the car, the prize at the end of the walk was a much needed drink as I had a 5 litre bottle of water in the car. After a break, we drove back into Marysville via Buxton and headed to the Motel/Restaurant at the end of the town for a much needed feed. I took care of my roast lamb in no time while Surath and then Imroze managed knocked their glasses of wine all over the table! Then it was the long drive back to Melbourne.

The group that survived the big adventure (left); The range that we walked right over the top of (right)

It was the most difficult walk I have ever done. Although slightly worried on a couple occasions, I was pretty confident that we'd be able to first get ourselves out of the mess we got into on the way down from the North Jawbone Summit and second, survive the night under the stars if we ran out of daylight. The only things I would do differently for future hikes would be to ensure that everyone else brought enough water, bring better maps with contours and also to bring a torch and a lighter just in case we needed to spend the night out there. Other than that, I can't wait to do another walk just like that!

Luke's Photos