Monday, November 23, 2015

The Seven Dials, Grampians National Park - November 2015

In my last post I promised to toughen up the blog a little, I've been posting a lot of easy walks lately. I could almost hear people saying "that feral guy, I reckon he's a bit soft", not something that my middle aged ego is quite ready to accept just yet. So what to do, with limited (almost none) spare time at this time of the year that ruled out a multi day epic unless I went retro. That left me with a day walk, the forecast for Saturday in Melbourne was a little patchy and I figured that the mountains to our east would be even patchier and hey, I might want to harden up but I didn't mention anything about wanting to get wet! Gazing over to the wild west I decided that I would re visit a walk I did there around 13 years ago, The Seven Dials walk, from what I could recall this walk provided a fairly long off track section down a creek along with some fine views. Anyway that's how I eventually found myself laying flat on my back on the rocks in a creek bed, having just fallen around 2 metres as I'd tried to climb down a vertical log jam. Coincidentally it was about the same time that I muttered to myself "I'm to old for this shit", maybe I should listen to my aching body instead of taking any notice of my ego, which after all still thinks I'm an 18 year old boy!
Hey, some good news to start the walk, a new track that eliminated a bit of a road bash.
So anyway after visiting my parents, who happen to live an hour to the east of Melbourne, for our Christmas in November, I dropped Sam off at home and headed over to the Borough Huts Camp in the Grampians. Arriving at 1am I quickly had the tent up and drifted off to sleep with the pita patter of the occasional passing shower on the tent fly. The sun woke me next morning but I was slow to get up after yesterdays 20 hour day, preferring to listen to the odd shower passing through. Finally I decided to extract myself from my comfortable prone position and face the day. Within thirty minutes I was packed up and in Halls Gap for breakfast, I might be going hardcore but I still need coffee, now I'm crapping on about all this because I didn't actually get back to the start of the walk at Borough Huts until 10:30 in the morning, yeah the idea of driving up the night before was to get an early start so that worked well...
The new Grampians Peak Track.

The first section of the walk had me heading north along the bitumen Grampians Tourist Road and straight away I notice that things on the ground had changed, after about 50 metres I met the new Grampians Peaks Trail and it seemed to be heading in the direction that I wanted to go, sweet no road bash. The new trail transported me to the shores of Lake Bellfield, meandering through the dry eucalyptus forest, it was a nice start to the day. Following the substantial Boronia Trail above the eastern shore of Lake Bellfield I'd noticed plenty of Emu poo but hadn't actually sighted any yet, so I when I noticed a couple on the track a couple of hundred metres ahead of me I was keen to get a photo and for once they obliged, as I moved slowly towards them they stayed long enough that I was able to get a half reasonable shot.
Emus on Boronia Trail.
The sandy Boronia Trail.
The sandy Boronia Trail made for nice easy walking but eventually it was time to turn off and start what I figured would be some rougher stuff. First though I detoured down to the shore of Lake Bellfield to have a bit of a poke around, worryingly the lake looking quite low for spring. The view across the lake to the Serra and Wonderland Ranges is what draws the eye though with a succession of stunning peaks all demanding future exploration. So much to do so little time....
The Gums on the shore of Lake Bellfield were stunning.
Looking south over Lake Bellfield to the Serra Range
And looking north towards the Wonderland Range.
Climbing back to the Boronia Trail I crossed straight over and continued to climb up to an old tunnel that used to supply water to Stawell from the Grampians, taking the opportunity to have a drink while I tried to get a half decent photo of the tunnel. Now the fun would begin though, first up I had to find an old overgrown track heading along Long Gully, with no sign of any track though I decided to head across country in the general direction that I was meant to be heading and see if I could pick up a bit of a pad. After clambering over a fallen tree I did indeed come across a bit of an old track, the give away was a bit of benching into the hill. Walking a few more minutes I came across the remains of an old water pipe spanning the gully on a stone bridge, I was definitely in the right place.
The old tunnel that supplied water to Stawell in ye olde days.
Industrial chic bushwalking.
If your thinking of doing this route this fallen tree marks the spot to start heading up Long Gully.
Once you come across this old pipeline you're in the right gully.
My notes said to follow the partly overgrown Long Gully Track up over Long Gully Saddle before descending to meet Redman Road in around 4 kilometres. Now I knew I'd be doing a bit of off piste work on this walk, I'd worn my old work clothes in the hope that they would protect me a bit from the scratchy scrub. I didn't expect to be off track here though, my hazy memories of this walk involved a lot of scrub bashing along Bovine Creek towards the end of the walk but I recalled the start of the walk to be pretty clear. One of the reasons that I wanted to re visit this walk though was that the Grampians have endured floods and fires of biblical proportions over the last ten years and I was anxious to see how the bush had changed so I couldn't really complain if I found myself pushing through a bit of vegetation. Initially the walk up Long Gully was pretty easy even if the track had long since been swallowed up by nature, there was plenty of open leads through the scrub to follow and occasionally I'd find a bit of benching which indicated that I was still near my intended route.
Making my way up the old route of the Long Gully Track.

The scrub started to thicken as I climbed up Long Gully and by the time I got close to the high point at Long Gully Saddle I had to contour a little to the left (east) onto the lower slopes of Mt Cassell to avoid the worst of the scrub. Now for anyone who hasn't walked 'off track' in the Grampians its not always pleasant pushing through the scrub, and it was on my descent to Redman Road that I met my first large belt of the prickly scrub that the Grampians are famous (infamous?) for. Just how sharp is this scrub? I hear you ask (well I would if anyone actually reads this waffle), well along with my fetching hi-vis work wear I'd also bought some leather riggers gloves, and you know what, those little prickles could penetrate the leather.....fuck me. At least my navigation was going smoothly and after battling my way through the prickly scrub I popped out of the bush onto Redman Road opposite the Seven Dials Track, the exact spot that I'd hoped to.
The scrub as I descended from Long Gully Saddle got a little thicker and a little scratchier.
Barney Castle through the trees.
This is what I was pushing through, those pricks are sharp enough to go through leather riggers gloves.
The good news is that Seven Dials Track was as I remember it, well at least initially. The climb up Seven Dials Track was reasonably long but the grade is fairly gentle, the higher up I climbed the better the views became and I used the numerous open slabs to stop and get my breath back as well as get some photos of the rugged topography. Looking back the way I'd come the cliffs of Barney Castle drew the eye in the middle distance with the Mount Difficult Range visible in the distance. Visible through the trees above me to the west were the rocky turrets of the Seven Dials although they are hard to get a good photo of from the track. To my left was the headwaters of Barney Creek and on the other side of the small gorge there were was more of the rocky territory of the Mount William Range of which I was now surrounded.
Rocky slabs beside the Seven Dials Track.
Looking back down towards Barney Castle in the middle distance, the Long Gully route goes up the valley to the right of the cliffs.
The 4th Dial.

Reaching the saddle on Seven Dials Track I stopped for a bit of a break and rang Sam, I was now well over half way and pretty confident that even accounting for the rough walking along the creek I wouldn't be too late home. I was using John Chapman's notes and in bushwalking circles there is a measurement called 'Chapman hours', like 'dog years' the normal constraints of time as we know it don't apply. I was doing a walk that would take 7.5 Chapman hours to complete but I foolishly didn't multiply by the 'fat bastard' factor, it would turn out that I wouldn't be home as early as anticipated.
The rocky slabs of the Mount William Range.

Almost immediately after talking to Sam the Seven Dials Track turned to the west and disappeared, yes, for all intents and purposes it was gone, occasionally I could notice some benching but I was pushing through saplings with trunks as thick as coke cans. I was looking for another minor track heading off to my left but seeing that the one that I was following was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding bush I wasn't overly confident of noticing a lesser track branching off. Oh well, time to break out the map and compass, which along with the GPS had me confident that I was heading in the right direction. I was now descending steeply into Bovine Creek, the trick being to hit the creek down stream of the falls where hopefully I could find a way through the cliffs to the creek bed. The scrub on the descent was horrendous, occasionally I'd find the remains of an old track but just as quickly I'd lose it, so I was quite happy when I noticed the bare rocky slabs of Bovine Falls through the trees, I was even happier to find that I was down stream of the falls. Ten minutes more scrub bashing and I found an opening in the cliffs that I was able to scramble down into the relative sanctuary of the rocky creek bed.
A bit of scrub bashing on my descent to Bovine Falls.
Bovine Falls were a lot prettier than I remember from years ago, I've got a feeling the massive floods from a few years ago must have scoured the creek bed clean of all its dirt and debris. The falls themselves reminded me of country further north, the red rock in the afternoon sun had me thinking of the Gammon Ranges, although the surrounding bush was a bit too thick for the Gammons. Dropping my pack I wandered over to the falls and took along drink, even though the day was fairly cool for this time of the year I was working up a bit of a sweat pushing through the head high scrub in my heavy work gear. After quenching my thirst and refilling a water bottle I sat back and surveyed the scene, I was now in a remote valley and the way out was quite clear but what was also clear was that the old track that runs along the valley was completely gone, years ago it was just a pad fading in and out but now it had totally been reclaimed by nature, oh well not to worry I'd walk down the creek instead.
Bovine Falls.
One thirsty walker.
The creek bed made for good walking.

So, after a bit of a rest I set off down the bed of Bovine Creek, the floods had cleaned all the rubbish out and I found myself either rock hoping or walking over large slabs of rock. With the creek barely flowing the going was fairly easy though, I think that it was actually easier walking the creek bed than it was last time I was here trying to follow the old track. In a couple of spots the creek had scoured out huge over hangs with the late afternoon sun causing the cliffs towering above me to glow red. There was one problem with my creek bed adventure though and that was the log jams, they were a bitch, to get through them in the steep almost gorge like valley normally meant climbing over them and that is always fraught with danger. Sure enough I got to a big log jam that looked like giants had been playing pick up sticks, after having a bit of a look around I decided that the best option would be to climb over the top. So I picked my way across the dead wood at least 2 metres above the creek bed, being extremely careful where I stepped. I safely got across and was now faced with a 2 metre plus drop back down to the rocky bed of Bovine Creek, this was going to be dodgy. I spotted a couple of likely looking logs that looked like they might hold my weight but I really wasn't going to know until I was committed, oh well lets give it a go. Yeah, that's how I found myself lying on the rocks of Bovine Creek after it turned out that those logs were a little more rotted then I'd hoped, a 2 metre fall onto rocks, I'm getting to old for this, luckily my back and ribs broke the fall!
I presume that the floods had scoured out the creek bed, as the creek was relatively clear of debris.
More good walking.
These log jams almost did me in though, I ended up flat on my back climbing down from this one.
Slowly regaining my feet I was slightly surprised to notice that I seemed to still be in working order, my ribs were a bit sore but nothing too drastic. I pushed on down stream, the stunning scenery in this wild valley taking my mind off the pain in my ribs, my next problem didn't take long to rear its head though, first one leg then the other started to cramp, great. Now I used to swim competitively so I'm used to leg cramps but these bastards seemed to cramp all my leg muscles simultaneously, as I'd stretch one anther would go, oh what joy, all I could do is rest for a while and stretch and massage my legs, as I type this three days later my thighs still hurt! Eventually I got the cramps under control and resumed my journey, lower down the valley I got to a few sections where the creek was covering the whole of the small gorge, I probably could of climbed around the cliffs but by now I figured that the best course of action would be to just plough through, so I finished the last kilometres of my walk with wet feet.
With the valley opening up a bit I came across this old bridge that added a little interest and took my mind off my cramping legs.
The giant game of pick up sticks continued, although lower down the valley I could generally get around or over them a little easier.
I can see the road but it still required a little effort to make the last few metres.
I've just emerged like a Yowie from the thick scrub behind the sign.
The gymnastic walking continued all the way down Bovine Creek until I met the Grampians Tourist Road, the log jams lower down were generally a little easier to pass under or over but it was still slow walking. Meeting the Grampians Tourist Road I could see my walking nirvana of a clear road to walk on but the last few metre still required a serious scrub bash, climbing over the armco barrier I walked into the middle of the road, I never thought that walking along a bitumen road would be so enjoyable. I followed the road north for a couple of kilometres back to Borough Huts, the late afternoon sun lighting up the bush with golden glow, quite a pleasant end to my walk really. Chucking all my hot sweaty gear in the back of the ute I settled back for the four hour drive home, stopping only to get a photo of the sun setting behind the Major Mitchell Plateau. I finally arrived home at around 11 pm after what had been an adventurous day, I reckon that I hardened up the blog a bit but I think next weekend I'll be back to drinking coffee and reading the Saturday Paper.
The Grampians Tourist Road was a welcome sight.
The blue sign post indicates that I've arrived back at Borough Huts, totally stuffed but very happy.
The sun setting behind the Major Mitchell Plateau.
The Dirt.
I walked 25.9 kilometres on this walk and climbed 719 metres. As I mentioned earlier this walk was written up by John Chapman years ago, he has left it out of later editions of his book 'Day Walks in Victoria' probably because of the degree of difficulty on the overgrown route. Having said that I really enjoyed this walk, it was obvious that not many people get in here and the remote valley was stunning, also with the right gear the off track stuff wasn't too bad, although I'm still picking out prickles three days later:) If anyone wants to do this walk make sure that your navigational skills are up to scratch, I probably spent at least 50% of the walk distance off track, sometimes in prickly scrub over head height.
A couple of souvenirs from my adventure.

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