This one had been planned for a while. Like usual, we didn’t know exactly where we’d go, but that (as usual) was kind of irrelevant. It was going to be a rare 4 day walk (it’s not often days off uni and work coincide) and the weather, initially, looked ok (particularly for Easter time). So we settled on Cuvier, and despite the weather deteriorating throughout the week, we stuck with it (it wasn’t much better elsewhere, except the east coast, and we wanted to avoid the Easter holiday-goers).
By Sunday morning after work, Meteye had rain forecasted for every 3 hour block between then and Wednesday afternoon, when we were due to come back. Hmmmm… time to throw in a few extra warm clothes! Neither of us were fooled by the sun and views on the drive up, though we did take care to enjoy it, figuring it might be the last we saw for a few days.
We had a surprisingly full ferry for the weather, though everyone else was just walking back to the visitor’s centre from either Echo Point or Narcissus. The new ferry guy is all about business, so the trip was short and sharp, with no dallying about. That suited us fine, as we wanted to get as far as we could before the rain started (I was surprised it hadn’t already), and preferably get a visual on the terrain we’d have to cover between Byron and Cuvier.
But the weather was a bit too good (we even had sun!) and so we took time for photos, remarking more than once that it just might be the last view we got. A very tame pink robin also held us up, but that’s the whole point of the experience, after all.
We turned off the Overland Track and headed up to Byron Gap, the walking steeper and more tiring than I remembered, though I did have a full pack on this time, and am not quite as fit as I was then. We passed not one, but two, couples, both of whom looked like they’d been out on a day trip up to the gap. The second pair told us the views were good, which was awesome news, the cloud had yet to drop!
Sure enough, Frenchmans was out, though the skies seemed darker than they had when we’d first started out. We left the track at the advised point (see Abels vol. 1) and headed up through open forest. It was steep enough to make us take extra care in foot placement, as a careless step would send you sliding down as far, or further, than you’d just tried to step up. With full packs, that wasn’t much fun!!
And so it was nice to be out of the pandani forest, onto the pad that leads you through the thicker scrub, with slightly more solid ground underfoot. Then we were on rock, and working our way up the final climb to the summit of Byron. A group of currawongs squawked noisily, and we felt about 3 drops of rain. Despite expectations, it held off.
On the summit celebrations were minimal as we turned our attention towards Cuvier and the way forward. We watched as the cloud closed in, hiding Cuvier, Manfred and the ridge (which looked ok enough, but we weren’t holding our breath). The cloud headed towards Gould, at the same time a shaft of sunlight broke through and lit up the Gould plateau.
It was as quick to go as it was to come, which gave us confidence that we’d have at least bits of visibility for the walk ahead. But first, to get down. Because Graham hadn’t climbed Byron, we’d ignored directions to contour around the northern side, so we had to get down off the summit first. We picked a route we thought would be ok (i.e. didn’t seem to end in a sudden drop!), and clambered down. It was steep, and unstable under foot in spots, but quite do-able.
We then chose to stay as ‘in the middle’ of the ridge line as much as possible, navigating by gps. It wasn’t too bad, though I remember thinking I wasn’t going to like the climb back up through the scrub! Not being able to see it from above, we also headed down a cliffy bit, with Graham taking a swing out on a tree branch further than anticipated. For me, it was less of a walk and more of an uncontrolled descent of sorts on legs that felt rather jelly like!
Scrub gave way to open forest, and the going was easier, though still steep (mental note, the way back was going to be a bit of a slog!). We popped out at the bottom of the descent, onto a lovely and fairly open saddle, and laughed at the luck of still having views to enjoy: Byron behind, Cuvier ahead, and the Cheyne range and Gell to the left. It was a perfect spot for a late lunch, so we sat down and savoured it.
The Cuvier shelf looked both near and far, the going fairly ok, with perhaps one or two dodgy spots, though we remained cautious, as it’s always impossible to tell just how the scrub will be until you’re in the thick of it! Sometimes the bits that look nicest turn out to be the worst…
But we were lucky.. the cloud kept clearing, and we had definite patches of blue sky come through (and SUNSHINE!!), and though there was knee high scrub to wade through, it was almost all on animal pads so not too taxing. When we approached the final ascent, we um-ed and ah-ed a little about whether to head right and get onto a prominent ridge, or take a shortcut and maybe cop some scrub to avoid the steeper climb.
Graham set off for the latter but after butting heads with slightly thicker scrub than we’d had till then we ended up working our way around it to the right, and found ourselves on a pad (definitely part human, at least) going up the ridge we’d been looking at. In no time at all, we were on the shelf! The realisation that we were ‘home’, in the place where we’d spend the next three nights, hit and I felt like letting out a shout of joy (but I wasn’t quite sure what to shout out so it came out as a laugh instead).
After photos of a helicopter flying over, Manfred, Cuvier and a balancing rock, we started looking around for a spot to camp. I’d first heard about Cuvier from a fellow bushwalker’s blog, and the campsite he’d described sounded pretty nice (minus the ants – which somehow we managed to mostly avoid!). Shelter was our main priority, and we picked out a few tentative sites as we wandered south along the edge of the shelf to see if we could find the spot he’d talked about.
Sure enough, we came across it, and the decision was unanimous. It was 10-20 metres from the edge of the shelf, which made for a stunning viewing platform, though I was warned each time I went to use the loo not to walk too far – i.e. off the edge! It was tucked in a bit of a dip, which not only meant it was well protected from wind, but also featured two small waterfalls that ran down the shelf at the back of the dip. They gave us a lovely fresh water supply, a spa (if it had been hot enough) and the most relaxing of sounds to fall asleep to. Complete with a communal cooking rock, there wasn’t much more you could ask for!
We set up happily, still thrilled that we hadn’t seen any rain, and decided to pass up climbing Cuvier in favour of exploring the area (sometimes, it’s not ALL about climbing the mountains). The shelf really was spectacular, and we found the fagus below was starting to turn yellow, with a hint of orange. The sandstone rock was, as always, full of character, and we tried to capture a few of its many expressions on camera. And I haven’t even mentioned the view yet ;)!!
Being the first day of daylight savings (or the end of daylight savings, whichever!), things got dark pretty quick, so we had an early dinner while we could still see. A late lunch meant neither of us was particularly hungry, so we shared desert first (of ginger cake – thanks mum!) followed by a pretty special meal of chicken rogan josh that Shaz had cooked and dehydrated. It was the last of hers I had left, and it fitted perfectly. I only wished she could have known how it was enjoyed. Chocolates followed ;)!
An early night was in order, I was wrecked, and despite a very long sleep, interrupted only to briefly enjoy the full moon wearing a circular rainbow, it still took one noisy currawong to wake us. The sun had already risen, and though it had rained a little over night, there was no sign of it left. Mist filled the valleys but the sky overhead was blue and the morning crisp. The forecast was still for rain (less than previously expected) but the following day was meant to be wetter, so we opted for Manfred over Goulds Sugarloaf. We expected Manfred to be harder and scrubbier despite being shorter, with possible cliffs to negotiate, and wanted the best visibility we could have.
With breakfast sorted we set out, heading up the ridge leading to Cuvier. We ignored instructions to keep near the cliffs on the northeastern side of Cuvier, choosing instead to drop down onto a flatish kind of shelf on the northern side of the ridge we’d been climbing. We followed that west, walking on rock covered in low scrub, then took a more northwesterly direction as we hit the ridge heading from Cuvier to Manfred.
It was more open than I’d expected, only requiring weaving rather than any real bashing. When we hit the saddle we popped out onto low alpine vegetation, and had a proper chance to marvel at the view towards Manfred (it is a speccy mountain to look at – and climb!), back to Cuvier, and out to the Eldon range (it gets more and more respect every time I set eyes on it).
We surveyed the way ahead. It definitely looked scrubbier, and we’d yet to have much of the dreaded scoparia that had been promised, so the odds were against us. There was also two sandstone shelves to negotiate, and a smattering of fagus which we’d avoid if we could (it doesn’t make for easy walking). It turned out to be easier than expected. There was a pad, which was mostly easy enough to follow, and though it took us under and through the scrub, and over the rocky shelves, there was minimal resistance (unless you were Graham, and chose to but heads with the rock).
On top of the second sandstone shelf the scrub was much lower, and we had no trouble heading up and to the left, contouring around the base of Manfred. The going was steep and lose underfoot in spots, and at times we chose to walk in the low scrub instead of tempt fate on the shale-y stuff.
Fortunately, we both have the same tendency to go straight up something if possible, so instead of walk the whole way over to the saddle before doubling back, we headed up as soon as we thought feasible. It was steep, but fun, and we hit the ridge line fairly fast. Wooohooooo! The views were pretty speccy. North, to the Labyrinth and beyond, West to the Eldon Range, South to Cuvier and beyond, and east, towards the Traveller range and WOJ. It was awesome!
After a sufficient play with cameras, we climbed the short distance up the ridge to the summit, and celebrated some more. Manfred is as lovely and fun to climb as it is stunning to look at. Straw coloured grass was growing in thick tufts from the summit, and begged to be photographed (and it was, very much so!). The sun chased shadows across the land, as we took it all in.
The change in daylight hours and the chill in the wind meant we didn’t dally too long, and we still weren’t sure whether we should trust the weather forecast or not! We made good time down, and stopped on top of one of the sandstone shelves – a perfect spot for lunch, which I’m sure tasted all the better for it ;)!! Certainly the avocado had developed in flavour from all the bouncing around it had endured!
Graham picked a flawless route back up the scrubby ridge, and then we chose to cut across and up to the summit of Cuvier, given the weather was still holding and we didn’t know what to expect for the following day. I was tired, and pushing up through low scrub with every third step resulting in a slipping back started to get to me. Graham disappeared over the horizon, so I took a moment to refocus, look at the view, and breathe (it’s an important thing!), before continuing on.
Graham was waiting just over the horizon, checked I was ok, and we walked the short distance to the summit together. More big smiles, as the joy of being out there and the sense of achievement washed over. We enjoyed the evening light, wispy clouds, and majestic mountains.
We eventually headed back, without haste, satisfied with the day’s effort and rewards. Dinner was followed by fudge, chocolate and easter eggs, and another very full night’s sleep.
This time it was the rosellas that provided the morning alarm, though we woke in the middle of cloud. The forecast had done an about turn, and we weren’t to expect any rain all day, and yet we could see less than we’d seen the whole trip! We did expect it to burn off in time, but hoped it would be sooner rather than later, as it would make a huge difference to our confidence in navigating.
Knowing we had a full day ahead, we were reluctant to wait for it to clear, so we began walking up the ridge to Cuvier. We’d checked out a possible route the day before, and had decided things looked good enough to ignore the suggested route up Cuvier and down the southern ridge. We cut across the southeastern edge instead, and the going was ok, except for lack of visibility. But the scrub got progressively worse, and we had a choice between bashing over and up to the ridge line we were supposed to be on, or heading down through scrub to meet up with the bottom of the ridge.
Clearer patches showed a gnarly ridge (from our view point), but better going if we took the second option, so we did. But in all instances the scrub was worse than it looked, and it took us a fair bit of time to get to where we wanted to go. It was a relief to finally be out of it, though we knew there was more ahead as we climbed up Coal Hill. It was a bit of work, but Graham found a good lead, and we were on top with less effort than I’d expected, delighting in rock formations and the abundance of lichen on them. A flock of rosellas raced overhead – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one hit!
The cloud was still about, but was showing definite signs of clearing. We were aware we’d taken a fair bit of time to get to Coal Hill, so pressed on. But now the going was easy. A short bit of scrub to get off Coal Hill, then lovely open alpine walking all the way ahead! Olympus poked through cloud, and all the mountains north of us came out. It was great!!
And then we saw the tree. If you’ve been out that way, you’ll know which tree it is. It stands tall and proud, and raises questions about life and death, or life in death. Needless to say we spent a good deal of time taking photos of it, before continuing up the ridge to Little Sugarloaf. It had a little cairn on it, and though it’s not worth any peak bagging points we still checked out the summit.
We’d walked into cloud by now, so after a quick refill, we made a beeline for Goulds Sugarloaf, and 22 minutes later we were there, standing on a small rocky summit in the middle of cloud! Without anything much to look at bar one another, we didn’t stay long, but I couldn’t help but be grateful that given the initial forecast we had, one mountain out of 4 with whiteout views wasn’t bad at all! We did have a temporary moment of disorientation, wondering what on earth the pointy thing we peeked through a gap in the mist was, before Graham realised it was Little Sugarloaf and where we’d come from! Ehm… experienced bushwalkers and all that we are!!
So back we went, a little more relaxed now that we were on the way back. More photos of our tree, and lunch back on the lichen covered rocks on Coal Hill, cursing that only now, when we were on our way back, had the cloud lifted from over Goulds Sugarloaf! But we weren’t really that upset, how could you be in a place like that?
We took the short way down through the scrub, with one or two drops I was glad we hadn’t come up, then headed for the ridge. It didn’t look half as bad from the western side, and we figured it couldn’t be worse than the scrub we’d come through. That was funny!! It was a pure delight. There was a pad the whole way, and no scrub to negotiate, and we had lovely views of the long afternoon light as it highlighted the dips and curves of mountain ridges.
We took our time, played on rock, and rejoiced in being alive, really (or at least that’s what it was about for me). After a final pause at a particularly favourite bit of weathered sandstone rock we headed back to camp. Again, you couldn’t ask for much more from a day.
Our final day and we woke again to the cold embrace of the inside of cloud. It wasn’t raining per se, but it was wet! Keen not to be rushing for the ferry, and aware we had just a small climb back up Byron, we had no choice but to breakfast, pack and go. A minor contact lens issue sorted and we were off.
As always, walking back was harder. There’s a completely different feel about leaving a place. I got frustrated with the low scrub, which was no different to the way over, but I was different. Graham took over when we got to the bottom of the climb, and did a much better job, finding a steep but pretty easy going (scrub wise) route up, popping out perfectly between the rocky buttress and cliffs that we’d identified from below. It was a very short contour around the side from there, and we were back on the Byron track. It didn’t take long to drop to the saddle, where we figured we had time for lunch.
An ‘Oi!’ interrupted us part way through, and I yelled back, pretty sure I knew who it had come from. But there was no response, so we continued eating, wondering what surprises might be being hatched for us to walk into! With full tummies, and over pants now off (yay! first time since we started), we set out, for the final leg back. We hadn’t gone far before we came across two purple easter eggs sitting in the middle of the track. I laughed, told Graham I knew it was Jess, and walked round the corner to find her there!
It was very cool to see her, especially as she was going to have been on the whole trip. She turned what would have been a typical and slightly sad walk out into something completely different. The three of us chatted as she led us out through the forest. We laughed and teased one another, and Graham’s pole started going missing again. The forest was lovely too, and it was nice to be able to look around a bit more and take the time to enjoy it (and learn what a tree is.. yes treeeee :p). And then of course, it was only a matter of time really, the wombat scat wars began. I was piggy in the middle, which tactically ruled out any involvement!!
Back at the jetty we had more entertainment as we waited for the ferry to arrive. Two walkers had been told they hadn’t finished the Overland Track until they’d jumped off the jetty. I didn’t envy them – the sun might have been out, but it was pretty cold!! And well done to them, they did it!
All up: 44.4km, 3050m ascent.