Day 1 – Cambraville to O’Shannassy River, 15kms
Dad and I, Quiz/Phoebe got up at 6 and were on the road at 7 to beat the traffic. We drove 2 hours out of town to Marysville , the houses dropping away replaced with towering tree ferns and Mountain Ash forest. We are definitely not in the city anymore, everything smells like earth.
We hiked out of Cambraville together, looking for traces of the long ruined woodchip town, all we saw were clearings and the stumps of huge trees with the tell tale foot holes cut out of them. Very shortly we can upon the Elephant Tree! A huge old old tree with a 13m trunk diameter and Sugar Gliders/Leadbeater Possums reportedly living in its trunk. It was a very grand sight. At the next huge tree, an 87m tall giant Dad turned around to go back to the car and I continued to hike on alone, for the first time in my whole life. I was a bit nervous!
My path crossed the road I had driven in on and I followed it for another 1/2 km detour to Cora Lynn Falls. The falls were beautiful and surrounded by lush rainforest and what I’m pretty sure was a lyrebird tail sighting, but I can’t be certain. I did find 3 leeches on me in this area and it was wet underfoot. Considering it hasn’t rained much in Melbourne for the past 3 months I was very surprised to find the falls flowing very well! In fact every stream i have crossed so far has been flowing.
I returned to the road and followed it towards Marysville for about a kilometre taking a quick side trip to see an old bluestone culvert which echoed the stream flowing through it in a very eerie way. I took my first left onto Observation Road, an dirt Jeep track to lead to a locked gate. The gate had an entry prohibited sign on it but also a gate for walkers to get through that wasn’t locked, so I assumed that message was for cars. About a kilometre further down the track I discovered I was wrong. A big blue sign informed me that entry was prohibited and an officer was patrolling the area and I would be fined. I sat and considered my options; I had no phone reception, Dad was well on his way back to Melbourne and there are no alternative routes that don’t involve hitching, so I decided that it was better to risk the ‘patrolling officers’ and a fine than a hitch and trying to find an alternative route. I’m pretty sure the area is restricted as it’s a water catchment area so I have taken extra care to follow Leave No Trace principals. I planned this route using the most current McMahons Creek VicMap which has highlighted restricted access areas which I am not walking through, but obviously since printing the map there have been changes.
I am not great at breaking rules and consequently spent the next 5kms thinking every gust of wind was an officer about to end my hike on my first day! But I saw no one, the only signs of civilisation was tyre tracks and and empty bulldozer parked in a clearing. I followed Observation Road over many small streams, a few good views and intermittent rain till the intersection of Road 12. After a short climb I stopped and had lunch and read my book. Hiking alone is so different, and I was unsure what to think about as I had been more on edge than planned.
In the afternoon I finish the climb to the top of a spur which road undulated along. I saw a pair of lyrebirds sitting on a branch together, tails fanned out. When they saw me the started skwarking and flew off. They are one of the most beautiful birds in the world but due to fright they didn’t give me a good chorus! Soon after I saw some kind of shaggy deer/lama creature. It was 1.5m tall, had a brown shaggy coat and a fawn belly and tail. It kinda barked at me as it ran off (I took a video and will put it on Instagram, do you know what it is?).
The Jeep track quality slowly deteriorated and by the time I started to descend towards the river there were many trees fallen over the track, some which huge trunks that were actually quite hard to navigate my way over or around. I only had to take my pack off once though so that pretty good going really. O’Shannassy River is full of tannin-y watery goodness and also very beautiful with lots of exposed rock and tree ferns everywhere! Also there is a bridge so I don’t even have to get my feel wet. I pitch my borrowed 2 person tent and make some soup as it’s already starting to get cold down here in the valley. As I’m cooking dinner and pulling 50 million grass seeds from my socks the sun starts to set turning the clouds pink. I’m beginning to relax back into the Bush more and more. It’s been over a year since I hiked in Australia and I’ve missed it, the Bush is like no other and for some reason it always feels wild.
Day 2 – O’Shannassy River to Smith’s Hill, 16kms
So who knew you could be such a bad boi and hike at the same time! Technically I am still breaking the law, when will this restricted water catchment zone end? I would leave if I could, but I don’t know where to go so I might as well stick to my original itinerary. I did get phone reception today and Dad advised me to get outta there, but so far I haven’t seen a sole so it appears I’m in no rush. I’m now just casually camped at an intersection, in full view of any official patrolling the area.
Today started with a long long climb, 600m gain over 6kms. With fresh legs I made it to the top way quicker than I thought I would. The bush seemed quiet this morning but then looking back at a video I took of trees loudly clapping in the wind to a full bird chorus I’m not sure where my head was at. As I approached the top of the ridge the Black Wednesday fire area finished and I was propelled into old forest full of huge mountain ash and an under story of Myrtle Beech (my fav tree of all time), fern trees and wattle. It was lush.
I stopped for a break hidden from the wind behind a water tank by Poley Road. This is where I got phone reception and spent a little bit it time and a lot of phone battery. My walk along Poley Road was lovely, the road was green and the surrounding forest occasionally broken by small swampy meadow clearings. In one of these clearings I disturbed a flock of red breasted robins, about 8 of them sat on the track looking at me, heads cocked, and as soon as I got too close fly off a short distance tweeting loudly to repeat the whole process again. I would very gladly be in your gang any day robins!
Poley Road ended at Mt Richie whose crown had just a touch of alpine to it. I was greeted by an open snow grassy meadow with a few scattered snow gums. It was very idilic and I immediately wanted to stop and have a nap in the sun under one of the huge gnarled old snow gums. But I had just had lunch about a kilometre back so I kept on tramping down the road. The track got even prettier if possible on the way down as maybe for fire reasons they had cleared and mown each side so I felt like I was walking in a park, there were great picnic spots everywhere!
At an intersection in a saddle I stopped dropped my pack and was prepared to walk 2km downhill to stock up on water. But luck was on my side, also this is some wet wet rainforest, and I found a small soak coming out of the hill 200m down the track. It was surrounded by 2m on deep bog but found some ‘U’ shaped bark and funnelled some into my bottles. I took 5L as I wouldn’t make it to water till lunchtime tomorrow. My final climb up to Smith Hill was slow and I felt like a donkey but I did get to see a solo lyrebird!
It was windy up the top and I made camp behind a huge water tank for protection. I pitched my tent very well as it is meant to rain overnight. My pasta side tuna and dehydrated veges was very underwhelming, I think I have lost my PCT knack or hunger for this food, I was really looking forward to it climbing the hill. Because it’s nearly winter I took a soup to have with dinner every night and it has been the best decision as the temperature drops very quickly after 4pm. Goodnight, I hope everyone is an snug as I am in my sleeping bag and woollen thermals and socks xx
Day 3 – Smith Hill to Warburton, 21kms
Last night it didn’t rain nearly as much as my imagination predicted, I probably didn’t need to peg out every guy line but I was paranoid about my fly blowing away in a storm and I would be left all alone wet and cold in the dark in the ominous forest. I listened to a podcast to get my racing brain to sleep and then actually slept very well only waking an hour before dawn from the sudden drop in temperature.
I felt an urgency to get hiking when I woke at 6 and quickly had breakfast in bed (muesli) and packed up and got hiking. The clouds were not down too low yet but it was cold and the wind was angry, it was making me feel slightly and i descended through more beautiful unburnt rainforest to Acheron Gap with purpose. On my way down I caught glimpses of The Knob, my next climb, under thick cloud. The mist was pouring in and I decided to stop early for coffee as I had been too impatient to make some at camp. Approaching the road I saw three lyrebirds in quick succession and they lifted my spirits, they were the first of nine lyrebirds I saw today, my light in the endless tunnel of rain, hail mist and wind that was to come.
Finally at Acheron Gap I left the restricted area, I was so relieved, I am a terrible rule breaker and it stresses me out. Again for those reading do not do this hike as 75% of it is illegal and in Melbourne’s water catchment areas. To quell all fears of water drinking Melbournians I practiced strict Leave No Trace principals and disposed of my waste responsibly. To celebrate I drank some coffee and got mauled by leaches in the process of trying to have a little sit on my raincoat in the grass. This was my last relaxing break of the day, while i was still drinking it started to rain and did not stop until I had finished the hike.
I continued along the trail climbing again to the top of the Knob, but a sign soon informed me that my desired path to Dom Dom Saddle was closed. The driving rain which was forecast to end tomorrow and my desire to be a hiking angel and not break any more rules led me to change my plans and get off this mountain today. Upon reaching the Knob the wind was howling, blowing rain and cloud sideways across my path and I had no choice but to walk on. It was beautiful and eerie and how rainforest is supposed to be experienced, but I had no desire to camp in it. None. So I marched a soggy march along the top of the great divide, too cold to stop and no views to admire. I listened to podcasts to keep me company and to take my mind of my tired legs and numb-ish fingers.
The climb up to Mt Boobyalla was incredibly steep. I left my trusty leech free, well graded, park like jeep tracks, swapping it for a typical Australian hiking track; rough and direct. It literally went straight up the spur, steeply, covered in regrowth and logs, long grass and a leech convention that I haven’t seen since hiking in South West Tasmania in winter. Leechy. I managed to flick most of them off before they caught hold, but when I next stopped for lunch I found 3 sneaky ones that had somehow gotten under my socks. The summit of Mt Boobyalla was very similar to the Knob, cold, and I pushed on to Mt Donna Buang where I knew there were toilets I could hide in.
Surprisingly there were cars at the Mt Donna Buang Summit and I must have looked a funny sight bursting sodden from the undergrowth. I made my way into the womens bathroom and made a little nest, put on all my warm clothes and ate some lunch, I was so hungry as I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. I played music on my phone and had a short vigorous dance to warm up, it was really miserably cold. I had service and checked the bus times, I was in luck! There was a 3.45 bus from Warburton to Lillydale Station and I was gonna be on it. I crammed a bunch of chocolate into my mouth, packed up and set out to speed my way into town.
The mountain was kinda against me, not only do you descent 1100m over 5kms which is hell on your knees, it hailed. It hailed for 30 minutes without stopping till a tick layer of ice covered the ground and made it very very slippery. The trees were running like waterfalls with a white froth that seemed to be created by the hail. I was very grateful for my trekking poles, without them I reckon I would have fallen on my butt a few times. It was on this trail that I ran into the first hikers I had seen all trip, three women battling their way too the top of the mountain, we all looked at each other with knowing admiration, we were all a little bit crazy. Towards the bottom I popped of the clouds the mountain was wearing like a bowl cut and found that Warburton valley was actually under patchy blue sky! I walked across a few paddocks before the trail ended at a road which I followed into town. It was 3.35 and walked straight to the bus stop, stripped out of my raincoat and into my puffy jacket and tried to act normal. I was sodden, muddy, probably stinky, in mens marino leggings complete with the opening at the front and had said in total 2 sentences to another human in the last 3 days. It was a funny ride back to town and I got a few strange looks but the bath I had when I got home was glorious!