Last year, on the way back from a club ride to Eildon, I rode past Cathedral Range State Park and from the road it looked like a wonderful mountain range for bushwalking. Ever since I wanted to go there for a day trip, and last week the weather forecast for the weekend was perfect. I decided to ride there on the bike, so I could make the most of the day: enjoy the great riding roads around Healesville, and spend a few hours bushwalking.
As it turns out the Hyperstrada is the perfect bike for these kind of trips. The pannier bags are large enough to store all my bike gear in them while I'm out bushwalking, and it's also no problem to ride on gravel or forestry roads to get to the starting point of my walk. I saved some space in the panniers by wearing my full leather hiking boots on the bike.
As always I was running late, but at around 9.30am I arrived at the Healesville bakery for breakfast. From there it was only another 30km or so to Cathedral Range.
One of the first things I noticed after the park entrance sign, was tree plantations and logging activities. It's a disappointing sight and immediately ruins any feeling of being immersed in nature or wilderness.
I parked at Cooks Mill campground where several people were camping. I put my hiking gear on and stored all my bike gear inside the panniers. Around 11am I was finally ready to leave, and by then it was already very very hot, with no wind at all. I was aiming to be back no later than 4pm. I love bushwalking in the heat, but I'm also aware of the dangers of dehydration and I only carried two litres of water with me.
I walked the short St Bernards Track to Jawbone carpark, where several cars were parked – mostly from bushwalkers I assumed. There was a sign indicating it would be 5hrs return to Cathedral Peak, which worried me a bit, but then, often those estimates are very conservative and I tend to walk a lot faster than most people. So I continued, but I was prepared to cut my trip short if necessary.
From Jawbone carpark I continued on Jawbone Creek Track, which was relatively steep at times, but not overly difficult. Nevertheless I needed a few breaks to hydrate before I reached the top, from where the track would soon join Ridge Track.
I skipped South Jawbone Peak and went the short side track up North Jawbone Peak instead, which was less of a detour from my plan to reach Cathedral Peak. The views were great from the peak, and there was nobody around. However the presence of logging areas on one side, and settlements and roads on the other indicates that Cathedral Range is only a small state park and not a national park. Still it was a great view on a perfect day.
One of the greatest experiences I had during the day was when I spotted several pairs of Superb Lyrebirds within a short time. I had always wanted to see a Lyrebird, such a beautiful and unique creature. Occasionally I did find some feathers on previous bush walks, but I never saw an actual bird. They didn't seem shy at all, and I was able to get close up to a few metres once. Unfortunately the longest lens I had with me was 40mm, so I didn't manage to get good wildlife shots. Very fascinating bird to watch.
After a quick lunch break – I couldn't carry my sandwiches any longer, the cheese was melting from the heat – I continued on Ridge Track, which, very surprisingly, was following the ridge of the mountain range. It was very exposed and didn't provide much cover from the sun. It was a rocky and difficult path, very hard to walk at times. Progress was slow, and it was often necessary to climb over large rocks or slide down rocky surfaces. The kind of track where it's very easy to twist an ankle, and I was glad I was wearing my full leather boots and not my walking shoes.
The heat was relentless and there was barely any wind. I seriously considered turning around because I realised even my two litres of water were far from enough on such a hot day. I was not only facing dehydration but hiking in near 40ºC heat on an exposed mountain around mid day also comes with the risk of heat stroke.
Fortunately I had been in situations like this one before, when I hiked the Jatbula Trail in the Northern Territory at the peak of the dry season, or at Mount Anne in Tasmania when I ran out of water. I know where my limits are, how far my body can go in the heat, and I was also well prepared with med kit, PLB (not really necessary since mobile coverage is good), long sleeve light merino shirt (quickly dries any sweat) and wide brim hat. Less than an hour away from Cathedral Peak I felt I was able to handle the rest of the walk, so I pushed on.
The track didn't get any easier, but soon I reached Cathedral Peak – or at least I think I did, because I couldn't find any marker for where exactly the official peak was, and a faint track continued along the ridge. I spent some time sitting down in a shaded spot behind a rock to recover and enjoy the views, before walking back to the junction just before the peak.
There were a few other walkers who had climbed up via Neds Gully, the alternative route. I hadn't thought of that, assumed I would have to walk back via the exposed Ridge Track. Neds Gully Track seemed like an easier alternative, so I walked that way. The first section was very steep and difficult, but after a couple of minutes it turned into a very easy and relaxed walk, always protected from the sun by the forest canopy. I met several other walkers coming my way, some of whom were clearly struggling in the heat.
I skipped the other small peaks at Neds Saddle and just continued downhill towards the carpark. I was slowly running out of water and energy. Fortunately the estimated times for Neds Gully Track were exaggerated, or at least calculated for people walking uphill. Since I walked downhill, it took much less time.
Soon I arrived at the end of the track and continued on Little River Track heading back to Cooks Mill campground. This time the estimated time of 45min, as listed on track markers, was crazy optimistic, that track just didn't want to end at all.
The absolute worst part of an otherwise beautiful walking track was, that the last kilometre or so went through an area that had recently been clear felled, so it was not only horrible scenery, but also totally exposed to the sun with no trees that could have provided any shelter in the hot conditions.
Clear felling is an abomination. It's a disgrace the way forestry is conducted in Victoria, Tasmania and other places. I'm not saying there shouldn't be any timber harvesting anymore. After all, I will need a lot of timber for the house I'm planning to build hopefully later this year. But the fact that plantations are almost always created by cutting out huge pieces of old growth forest, clearing, burning and spraying the ground until there is no vegetation left, and then filling it with mono cultures of gum trees or pines – it's heartbreaking when I'm out bushwalking and have to see something like that. It will make me think twice before visiting Cathedral Range State Park again. There must be a more intelligent way of conducting forestry, without causing so much damage to wildlife and the eco system, and without creating such an eyesore landscape for visitors. Plantations can be created anywhere, it's not necessary to wreck old forests and mountain landscapes for them.
Once I was back at Cooks Mill campground I changed back into my riding gear and tried to leave as quickly as possible, just to get some cool air from the wind while riding. I also looked forward to a cold drink and a snack in Healesville.
In the end I was so thirsty I didn't even make it to Healesville. I pulled over at the Buxton Roadhouse a couple of km's down the road and bought various cold drinks and ice cream, then sat down for a good break until I felt I had recovered enough energy for the long ride home. It had been a great walk, but I couldn't have walked much further.
I arrived back home just around 8.30pm. Overall I rode 470km return and did about 5hrs of bushwalking between. A very exhausting but very satisfying day.