WHAT TO PREPARE FOR:
Steve and I love getting outdoors for a quick weekend getaway, and we haven’t been taking the time out of lives lately to do it enough! So here we are, starting out on a new adventure – Chase the Alpine – to explore the outdoor life that surrounds us. This was our first official trip under the Chase the Alpine banner, and wow was it an experience!
The Thursday night before was spent packing and I was insistent on checking everything twice to ensure we had everything we could possibly need because we were leaving straight from work on the Friday to the Cathedral Ranges.
Cathedral Range State Park boasts challenging tracks and rugged landscapes and neither of us had explored this area before, so we were both pumped to get out and explore new territory.
Around 4.30pm on Friday afternoon we drove our Ford Fiesta into the park. It’s a bumpy dirt road heading into the campgrounds, but nothing our little rally car couldn’t handle!
We based ourselves at Cooks Mill Campground which was already around half full by the time we arrived and unfortunately some of the better spots were taken. When I say “better spots” I guess I’m referring to the ones where you can set up a tent and in the morning gaze up at the peaks from the comfort of your sleeping bag. Oh well, next time!
As it is Autumn, the sun was already on it’s way out, so we quickly got to work setting the tent up and chopping the firewood – I discovered I’m pretty good at swinging an axe! Steve then got the fire started while I began to prepare dinner.
Ok, let’s talk food.
I love food and had spent days researching recipes that I could recreate out on an open fire on our camping trip. I probably spend more time planning for one meal than I do preparing for the hike itself! The inspiration for this trip was taken from avid Instagrammers @freshoffthegrid who is a camping and outdoor travelling blog that I follow.
On our first night we cooked Fresh off the Grid’s, One Pot Beef Stroganoff – which was delicious! It’s high on the calorie count which is good for all the energy we would be exerting on our hike! This recipe will definitely become a campsite classic in the future – and, as the name suggests, this meal is all made out of one pot, which makes doing the dishes a breeze!
Now with full tummies, we went for a quick night walk to check out other areas of the campsite. Beware, if you’re like us and choose to go to bed early to get an early rise, we found other campers were still arriving into the campground well into the night so it was quite noisy for a few hours. Obviously coming down after work wasn’t an original idea.
We arose to the sound of kookaburras laughing and the trickling of Little River flowing which was a refreshing change from marimba on the iPhone. It was a chilly morning and you could see the steam on your breath as we moved about the campsite. Steve got up and built a fire and I was keen to start cooking breakfast – another Fresh off the Grid special: Sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, except I may have put a ‘McDonald’s-sausage-and-egg-McMuffin-twist’ to it. I used local breakfast chipolatas for the sausages rather than making my own patties as suggested by FOTG and we used bbq sauce as the condiment instead of a Sriracha Honey Sauce.
After breakfast, we jumped in the car and drove to the Jawbone carpark where we took a moment to quickly check the backpack situation and confirm we had plenty of water and a decent supply of snacks before beginning our hike. The Jawbone Creek track was our entry point up the range and takes around an hour to complete. It is rated a medium walk – which means climbing rocky staircases up quite a steep ascent. We found we got hot very quickly, so don’t overdress – even on a cold day.
At the top of this track, you find the Farmyard campground. We stopped to catch our breath and have a snack. My go-to snack is a Cliff bar which is a great alternative to muesli bars and is a great combination of fibre, carbohydrates and protein to help extend and sustain energy on the trail – if you can’t tell I’m quite into my trail snacks!
Feeling re-energised we decided to do a quick trip up to South Jawbone Peak. This ten-minute track is well marked and is well worth it for the amazing view at the top.
After taking in the view and resisting being blown off the mountain from the wind, we retraced our steps back down to the Farmyard to start the hike to Sugarloaf peak via the Razorback track.
Up to this stage of the trek, I was feeling pretty confident, full of energy and felt on top of the world. I was starting to wonder what all the blogs were going on about – with their warnings of rock climbing and how challenging the tracks could be – I was finding it relatively easy!
I wouldn’t call myself a bushwalking expert by any stretch – novice at best – but I found Razorback fun, challenging and different from any conditions I have hiked in the past. The track was rugged with multiple jagged rocks making it turn into an exercise of concentration to make sure my footing was where it needed to be, a wrong footing could definitely result in an injury.
The orange markers were our guide for where to go next. We often found ourselves spinning around on the spot playing “Marker-Polo” looking for the next direction to head.
Razorback took us around 2.5 hours to hike although they say you can usually complete it in two hours we were taking our time – stopping to climb random rocky outcrops off the track, taking photos and waiting for Steve to fly his drone around – boys and their toys.
The weather began to turn in the afternoon and showers followed us up the Sugarloaf peak, which made the rocks quite slippery underfoot and at one point we hid under a couple of rocks (yes, a cave) while the rain came down. We took these moments to stop, eat lunch and mentally reboot. Lunch on the trail includes tinned salmon and cheese that we make into wraps.
Just don’t wear your brand new pants.
Like Steve did.
And pour salmon oil on your chinos!
Reaching Sugarloaf Peak was an achievement in itself and the views that met us there were incredible. However, at this point I was feeling sufficiently drained and quite mentally exhausted, overthinking ever footing.
As I mentioned before, I am a beginner at bushwalking and as much as I had been proud of myself to walk and climb all of this way, this track was mentally challenging, and the rain just didn’t help. For someone who regularly attends a gym, I suddenly felt very unfit.
After taking a few last snaps and fighting the wind with the drone, it was time to head down, and not before time as we were now racing the sun to get back down the mountain.
To get off Sugarloaf, the only way down is the Canyon Track. This is a track that I will remember for a quite long time. It is considered a hard track and I think there should be a stronger emphasis on the word “hard”.
Most people climb up the Canyon Track and I can see why in hindsight. The track was pretty much 180 degrees straight down – or that’s how it felt – and this was only made worse by the wet conditions and quickly setting sun. We had to crab crawl on our butts for some sections of it and by now the pain in my knees and calves had started to kick in. Being mentally exhausted, Steve had to become my coach, encouraging me all the way down.
Once we made it down to Sugarloaf Saddle, we were greeted by some of our fellow friends on the trail, who we had met previously up at Sugarloaf peak, and they offered to drive us back to our car – which was still at the Jawbone carpark. By this time my hiking clothes were wet and muddy from sliding down boulders and cliffs and I agreed to get in their car, perhaps a bit too fast, but keen to get warm.
This father and son duo were definitely my trail angels that day, and along the drive, we exchanged stories of our time on the trail and travels abroad.
The next day we went to the north end of the park and headed up Neds Gully track, a pleasant, yet steep one hour track that is quite enclosed and narrow at the start.
Still a bit stiff from the previous day’s hike, we actually changed our hiking gear to lighter backpacks after we realised our Hershel backpacks, whilst aesthetically pleasing, were very chunky, would get caught onto things really easily and were just simply too heavy.
Our lighter day packs were a much better option and felt more comfortable.
The walk from Neds Saddle to Little Cathedral Peak was such a beautiful track. We took the trail that goes around Cathedral Peak and spotted lyrebirds and galahs along the way. It was a rugged path and a little difficult to see where to go next from time to time, but once we reached the lookout at Little Cathedral Peak, we were in love. The view is incredible from
this spot and truly exceeded my expectations of the ranges.
To think all this is only an hour away from my doorstep. Can’t wait for the next adventure.
Cooks Mill Campground
Cooks Mill is a great first timers campsite to the Cathedral Ranges. This 30 site campground is surrounded by tall trees and is located by the banks of Little River.
Equipment used: Nikon D700; Sony a6500, DJI Mavic Pro; Zhiyun Crane
Hashtags #chasethealpine #chaseone #chasecathedral
Location: Take the Eastern freeway out of Melbourne to Ringwood, take a left at Maroondah Hwy and head out past Healesville, through the Black spur towards Taggerty.
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