Wednesday’s trip was a bit more of a hike than run – 4 hours to clear 10km! Regardless I was glad to get out on the trails, and here’s how it went…
I decided a while back to take advantage of the public holiday on the Monday just past, by popping in an additional four days of leave to make it a week off. Given we go into public holiday drought for the next four months, I thought some quality family time would be well warranted.
While I did spend most of the week with family, and sneaked in a date day with J whilst E was at childcare, I did set aside one day to do something I really love – exploring a brand new trail. I’ve had my eye on the trails in the Cathedral Range State Park for months. The park notes promised technical trails, stunning views and a bit of rock scrambling to boot – all I needed was a solid day to make the drive out there, potter around for a couple of hours, and then drive back, and finally on Wednesday, the chance presented itself.
I bade my family goodbye as they left for the day, and got my gear together. Despite having packed my bag the night before, I still managed to take a massive hour to get ready, finding bits here and there that I had missed, and managing to drive off without my lunch! I finally got out the door (for the second time) at 0830h, a good 90 minutes later than I had planned to.
The weather in metro Melbourne was great, fluffy white clouds drifted across a brilliant blue sky, the sun playing an annoying game of peekaboo with me for the initial part of my northeast journey. As I left the suburban sprawl and made my way through regional Victoria the weather took a bit of a turn, with a thick fog hanging about and reducing visibility to a couple of hundred metres or so, and the temperature dropping from a pleasant 12 degrees to a chilly 6.
The drive took 2 hours and 5 minutes – exactly as google maps had predicted. I arrived at Cooks Mill, which was empty except for a group of monks (yes, monks. Don’t ask, ‘coz I don’t know!) in their tan/brown robes, and a couple of campers. It was pack on, and a quick wander around the campsite to get my bearings before setting off along Tweed Spur Road.
The track ascended gradually and continuously. The gradient along tweed spur road was joggable for the most part. Messmate Track on the other hand was a different story. A narrow, barely maintained single-track, overgrown with ferns and low lying shrub, and littered with fallen branches and the occasional tree trunk. The trail twisted and turned, and rose sharply in parts. About half-way along messmate track I gave up trying to run – I opted to break out the walking poles and power hike the rest of the way to Sugarloaf Saddle. The poles were little help – the trail was too narrow to use them for support, so most of the time I ended up using them to push aside the ferns and plants that had grown across the track.
I have to say that this was probably the most frustrating bit of trail I have ever run. It wasn’t difficult or technical – it was just plain annoying. The surrounding forest was dense and didn’t give a sense of space, and the damp ferns overgrowing the track tickled my legs as I ran past, smearing them with leftover rain. Shrub branches also reached out across the track like claws, stabbing at my lower legs. There wasn’t much of a view, of course, and add in the fact that it was just a constant climb, and I was fast running out of things to like about it. It’s only saving grace was the peacefulness that you can only find out in the trails, broken only by the songs of a myriad of bird life.
All that said, I was still glad when I finally rolled in to Sugarloaf Saddle. I popped a gel and packed the poles away to begin my ascent to Sugarloaf peak, opting to go by the (slightly) easier Canyon Track. I briefly considered trying Wells Cave Track, but as I was on my own, and as far as I knew, I was the only person on the track that day, so best not to tempt fate too much.
Canyon track began innocuously enough, a steep flight of steps made out of large slabs of stone. However, just a couple hundred or so metres in, it started to change, first, to this:
And before long, the “trail” was no more than a ledge the width of my shoe:
This trail brought “technical” to a whole new level for me. I hadn’t done any scrambling like this since back in my university days over five years ago, and there were more than a few “Are you serious?” moments. All that added to the fun though, and as the climb went on, I slowly remembered how fun it was to analyse the way ahead, pick the most efficient foot/handholds and flow up the trail.
By this time, I had climbed above the tree line as well, and the views were vastly improving – a real treat for the eyes and a big distraction from my upward progression. The scenery was stunning, and although it was nowhere near the breathtaking views I enjoyed in New Zealand just two months ago, it was reward enough for the effort.
After what seemed like an eternity of scrambling, the steep, upward trail flattened out sharply. I looked around, and the lack of other higher ground told me that I had arrived at the half-way mark for the day – Sugarloaf Peak. As I stood there enjoying the view, some of the monks I had seen earlier arrived at the peak from a different side of the hill. They had taken Wells Cave track, wearing crocs and monk robes. All respect to them!
The next stage of the trip took me down the jagged rocky ridgeline that was the aptly named Razorback Track. It was more of a marked route along the rocky ridge, which offered plenty more scrambling and rock hopping. My foot was still a tad achy, and not wanting to set myself back with more injury time, I ended up gingerly treading and hopping along, avoiding big jumps and slowly lowering myself down the larger drops. Progress was slow, and the 3-4km journey across the ridge took nearly 2 hours, but it was a tonne of fun, and I knew I just had to come back to do it again when I was back to full health.
Eventually, the trail began to descend and even out, and gradually, the rock hopping and scrambling was replaced by larger and larger sections of runnable single track, and eventually I made it down to the Farmyard.
It was already pretty late in the day – the late start and a few photo stops too many meant that the right decision was to head straight to the 3km descent to the carpark, and leave the remaining peaks for the next visit. Still, I couldn’t resist a 15 minute detour up to South Jawbone Peak.
The descent to Jawbone carpark was one long winding flight of stairs, and whilst the quads and knees held up fine, it was my achy foot which came back to haunt me. To descend quickly, I really needed every muscle in my lower body to work in harmony and absorb the large forces involved, and that one chink in the chain – my big toe flexor – just wasn’t up to task. What should have been a fun and quick descent became a rather stressful event. I was worried at every step that I would set off the injury and have to start over with my rehabilitation from scratch.
The pain in my foot rose to a constant ache with every step, but thankfully it didn’t go much further than that, and eventually I got to Jawbone Carpark where I saw a few of the monks again, boiling water in a full-size kettle on top of a portable stove. Trying my best not to react to this strange sight, I chirped a friendly hello. They were equally nice and asked where I was headed, and on hearing I was going back to Cooks Mill, also checked that I was okay with water and supplies.
The last 1km to the carpark down St Bernards Track passed quickly enough, and after arriving at the campsite, I decided to throw in 4x50m strides as prescribed by the coach, before a long and relaxing stretchdown by the riverside. As I sat there stretching out my quads and munching on a snickers bar, I played through the day’s events in my head with a great satisfaction, and at the same time a hunger for more.
The Cathedral Ranges are beautiful, fun and definitely warrant a second visit. They might even make it on to my regular training plan as a once a month or a bi-monthly event. The next time I return, I will be injury free, and fingers crossed, I will also get out of bed on time!