For the first time in a long time I found myself looking forward to something with a hint of my old excitement and enthusiasm. Jess, a bushwalking friend and teacher, was starting school holidays at about the same time as my days off were due to fall. Did I want to go for a walk? Hell yeah! Where? Wherever the weather was good… and if it wasn’t? Well the northwest then. Car camping always allows you to get warm and dry, and there are plenty of peaks to choose from that have no views.
We didn’t settle on exact destinations until we were driving up. But it turned out we had much the same idea. We’d head to Detention Peak and wind our way south from there. We chatted away, intermittently returning to the matter of which mountains we’d have a crack at and how we’d approach them. Detention, it seemed, might well be a scrub fight. Others were more of the road walk kind. Parsons Hood got the flick because of all the info about trespassing and our last minute decision meaning we didn’t have time to get permission to access the site.
After a long drive we finally found ourselves having to pay attention to navigation. Shortly after Sisters Creek we found ourselves turning left of the highway, and then a bit later left again, until we were heading south on Newhaven Road. One more left and we had a much more familiar sight. An old, single-lane, eroded and bumpy road with plenty of puddles and creeks lay before us. We went a short way, forded a river that had the exhaust pipe smoking, got the undercarriage of the car close enough to the road for it to protest, and checked out a number of puddles before we got to a large one that seemed to be bottomless. We left the car as it was, deciding to deal with a 30 point turn after the walk, and took off on foot. The road walk went quickly and we soon found ourselves heading up hill through low bracken and button grass. It seemed too good to be true, and indeed it was. When we got to the top of the rise we had a decent drop ahead of us down to a river. It was unavoidable but we were a tad dismayed to see it was rather green going ahead for as far as we could see. Sadly we had expected as much – we’d been forewarned!
There was nothing to do but drop down the steep embankment to a cute little river. The other side started off open enough, and we duck and wove our way upwards as best as we could, sticking to the path of least resistance. Sometimes we were under the trees, other times we were battling the green and brown tangly mess of head high bauera. Ah how it felt to be in the thick of the scrub again, doing battle the old fashioned way! And all the nicer to be doing it alongside Jess. Are you having fun yet? The question not entirely sarcastic in tone. Hell yeah, with a great big smile on my face!
Just as things started to tighten up, we found we’d walked straight onto a taped pad, fairly fresh judging from the tape itself. It was wonderful, and it certainly made for a much easier, scrub free weave all the way to the summit. The summit itself was a bit of a let down, and the tapes just petered out without so much as a small symbolic cairn to mark the achievement. Never mind, we had a quick bite to eat then headed back down, keen to make good time back to the car and to avoid cooling down too much.
It was misty and the scrub was wet, but otherwise the weather wasn’t as bad as we expected. It made for a slippery descent though, and at one point the bauera grabbed both my ankles and I found myself in a downhill face plant. Whoops!! Even that didn’t wipe the grin off my face though. We took an even better route back down than we had on the way up, and were happy to be back to the car before dark and in quicker time than expected. It was just as well – I don’t think I was the only one with a rumbling tummy!
We had a rather slow drive south to Waratah, down through the Hellyer Gorge, where we thought we’d make use of the pretty little camp ground there. Unfortunately it had been closed in March until further notice, which necessitated a creative solution. Fortunately you could still use all the facilities, which included hot running water, toilets and a light in the cooking shelter!!! We were so excited, it was like all our Christmases had come at once, and I’m sure I spotted a little dance of happiness from Jess. Dinner was delicious: soup and bread for me, washed down with homemade hot chocolate, and stir-fry for Jess.
We both hit the sack early, and managed a fairly solid sleep before being roused by a whole heap of noisy plovers. They then set off the currawongs and ducks, while a solitary kookaburra sat on an electricity pole and laughed as the scene unfolded before him. The sun was soon up, and we figured we’d best drag ourselves out of warm sleeping bags too – we had a big day ahead (for winter standards).
Breakfast for me was chia seeds soaked in kefir, with yoghurt, stewed apricots, toasted muesli and hemp seeds while Jess had weetbix, real milk and banana. The luxuries of car camping! We checked out the Waratah waterfall before leaving – it was most impressive and a tad noisy, even though we were up on the road and not down at the base of it. If you’re in Waratah it’s worth a look and can be seen from the pub.
We doubled back and continued west from Waratah towards Mount Cleveland, turning north onto the road named after the mountain. The road goes all the way to the summit, but we knew full well we’d not be driving that far. We’d heard it was steep, even for 4WDs, which we didn’t have. We’d ignored the more direct road to the south of the mountain hearing that it was rather overgrown (and that was apparent on the satellite imagery too). In any case, we were able to drive far enough along Mt Cleveland Road to end up with a road walk that was at least no longer than the overgrown one from the south. We could have driven a bit further, but after our experience of the day before and knowing we were going to have to get out at some point, we decided to do it on our own terms, rather than when we were sliding backwards down a particularly muddy and rutted section without anywhere to turn around.
We found the perfect spot a few kilometres from the summit and pulled off the road. It was such good weather (again, surprising!) that we ditched our overpants and I even went up without gaiters. It was cold, but we were both puffing away in no time and a little while later we had to stop to strip off coats. We chatted in between deep breaths about all manner of things. Jess was pretty sure we were going to have a view from the top. Pale colours she described, with some green, and maybe even a touch of blue. And she was spot on. Add a hint of rainbow or fog bow (it couldn’t quite decide), some swirling mist, a hint of sun, and a stiff breeze and there you have it. The summit itself was home to a rather large telecom installation, and not much else. We didn’t spend long up there, just enough time to take a photo and send a birthday message. And then we had the pleasure of a much easier walk back down. Part way down Jess wondered if we could get back within 2 hours of setting out, but neither of us was keen on running. It was pretty slippery and steep, and running could have made staying upright an interesting exercise! We got back 5 minutes late, but that was ok ;).
A bite to eat kept the sides of the stomach apart as we drove towards Mount Everett, which is bang in the middle of a huge logging coup. The road we tried first had a locked gate across it at Talbots Lagoon, and we were forced to retrace our route back to the main road, head further north, then take the logging roads that weave under St Valentines Peak. At times it felt like we were driving through a wasteland, and Jess likened it to a scene from The Lion King. It was quite depressing indeed, and both of us were keen to drive out of the destruction and back into the green, even if it was plantation green.
The road was a decent one and in time it took us as close to Everett as we were going to get. The backtracking had been costly in regards to time, however, and it was well into the afternoon before we were ready to start walking. I don’t think either of us looked at the time though, or realised how late we were until we were standing on the summit! Probably a good thing…
We took some very old logging roads to get us a tad closer to the foot of the mountain before we took to the scrub itself. It started off fairly open, and again we weaved our way up the contours. We edged too far right, it turned out, and found ourselves at the foot of some impressive rocks. We choose to sidle left around the base of them, a sound decision that rewarded us with a run of fairly open walking amongst button grass and melaleuca.
It wasn’t to last though, and the ridge proved to be quite broken at times, with plenty of scrub to slow things down. We didn’t always choose the best option, but made slow progress nonetheless. At times it seemed like we were on a pad, but then we lost it. The closer we got the thicker the scrub seemed to get and the slower our progress. But we did get there, and even had some views of the heavily logged wasteland – piles of logs waiting to be trucked out, to be sold at a loss, subsidised by tax payers.
Jess realised the time before I did. We only had 1.5 hrs before it was going to be dark, so we’d best get moving! Down we went, following Jess, who took us a much less scrubby route than I’d led up. And it paid off. We got down in record time, and it wasn’t just due to all the slipping and sliding!! As we walked the last few hundred meters or so through the forest it was pretty dark, but we made it back to the car without needing head torches.
Again the drive out was slow to avoid the wildlife as much as the potholes. We enjoyed the full moon and were excited by being able to see some stars instead of just misty rain. When we saw two spotted quolls you can imagine the squeals we gave! The story at the Riana Pioneer campground was much the same as at Waratah, minus the hot water… Jess’s dinner was a more impressive affair, however, as she cooked up a tasty looking pasta from the random things she’d found in her fridge when packing.
This time we woke to a morning chorus from a flock of happy kookaburras and what a beautiful noise it was! Full bladders and a long day of driving ahead of us denied us a sleep in, and we were soon up and preparing breakfast. Fuelled and ready to go, we drove the very short distance to the start of the southern ridge of Mount Riana. We had initially thought about following closer roads to a starting point to the west of the high point, but it was clearly on private property. The owner of said property stood at the window looking at us as we drove by, while his dog tried to round up the car as if it were a great big disobedient sheep.
This proved to be fortuitous, and instead of a broken and scrubby tussle with the mountain, we had a lovely, rewarding and easy walk up the ridge. Again, tapes and a pad appeared, although the walking was open enough so as not to really need them. At times you broke out from the forest, and found yourself on rock, with the beautiful northwest landscape to behold, and ducks flying by. Rain was apparent to the south west, but it was far enough away and again we had cause to be grateful for being bone dry!
The summit itself was another flat one, but there was an awesome log out to the east, that provided the perfect viewing platform for walkers who wanted to pause to enjoy the moment just a little longer. So of course we did (although we sat on the ground in front of it because it was drier!). Sadly we did have to leave, and begin the long drive home. The mountain continued to give, however, and three wedgies flew past on our way down! Riana was unanimously voted the best mountain of the trip, and the only one of the four not to go on the ‘oncer’ list! A perfect way to end a refreshing weekend away :).