SENTRY BOX MOUNTAIN
Last Wednesday dawned a stunning mountain day: crystal-clear, cloudless sky and a slight nip in the air. At last! We have had such a long spell of awful weather and I didn’t want to have to lead another walk in bad weather.
Sentry Box lies on the A.C.T.’s western border with NSW. , in the south of the Territory. It has a long, curving summit ridge, with the highest point in the south and a very prominent rock, Sentry Box, right on the northern edge. Sentry Box is at 1673m while the actual summit, over 1 km away along the ridge, is 1727m. My plan was to go to Sentry Box Rock from the Yaouk Road in NSW, have lunch there, then go south along the ridge to a saddle just beyond SH 1696 from where we would go down a long and steep west-facing gully , then head north-west to another , low, saddle to join our outward track. 7 of us met at the Kambah Village Shops, piled into 2 cars and took the long (about 90km) and relatively slow (1 hour 40 minutes) drive out there.
By the time we were ready to start walking it was 10.am.
In the photo below, our route crossed the grasslands and then followed the gully slanting up to the left to the saddle just out of sight on the left and then more or less following the ascending skyline ridge to the summit. From Sentry Box, we walked along the ridge, to the saddle just behind the prominent rocky knoll on the skyline, from where we descended
It is a little tricky getting into the right gully from the grasslands, so I was being very careful with my navigation. Once before I had made an error going up here which was not serious (the north west ridge of the gully) but I didn’t want to do that again and although I had been up here on several occasions in the past, the route is never quite the same and in any case, when I am following others in a party, I don’t take too much notice of the detail of the route. However, I am pleased to say that on this occasion I was very pleased with my navigation which was “spot on”.
I hate going through scrub unless I have to do so . Therefore, and out of concern for my party, I always try to go around any thick scrub. Whilst I still avoided obstacles and scrub as much as I could, the way up here is actually through fairly open forest. Initially, it is cool moist forest; lovely tall eucalypts : montane forest, and our way went through a maze of lichen-encrusted granite boulders and outcrops.
We were ascending the true right bank of the creek and it was lovely to hear it burbling away in the background, accompanied by the other song of the high, moist gullies: the calls of Lyrebirds. We saw a number of their dancing mounds but didn’t spot any nests. Apart from the lichens there were many mosses and ferns to be seen as well as many flowers coming out, including wattles and grevillea. Once we were above the source of the creek we were on a drier slope where the trees were very different and the scrub was often more prickly, such as the occasional bursaria or needle bush.
Eventually we turned east and came out on a low saddle in sub-alpine country of Snow Grass and Snow Gums, only 200-300 m from Sentry Box Rock, From here, it was merely a question of following the crest of the ascending ridge through a maze of huge granite boulders and Snow Gums to the summit slabs with Sentry Box Rock only metres away. I love these areas up high in the sub alpine country. The Snow Gums and Snow Grass are so lovely and so different. There is, too, a sense of mystery and ghostliness in amongst the grey-white trunks and the grey, moss-and-lichen-encrusted granite. One feels in a different world, A beautiful world, full of spirit and atmosphere, far removed from man: a mountain world of unpredictability, aloofness, isolation and remoteness. It belongs to itself and we are interlopers.
It was wonderful to break out of the trees onto the slabs of the summit ridge and hear the excited exclamations of my friends on seeing the incredible views. Wonderful, because that is the very reason I brought them up here. I wanted them to enjoy what I have seen and felt and to be delighted by the incredible 360* views. It was not for myself, but for them, for them to find joy in all that this fragile earth of ours has hidden away yet gives joy to those who seek. That gives me happiness.
Gazing out over the vastness and the tangled blue mountains and valleys one is conscious of vastness, distance, infinity, eternity – a land of great age, in shades of blue, dappled by slow-moving darker blue cloud shadows.
Before we had lunch at Sentry Box Rock (which we reached at 12.40 pm) we spent a little while examining the weird and crazy shapes of the boulders scattered over the slabs, letting our imaginations run riot.
One of our number then led off to the lunch spot, and as someone else has observed, she sometimes needs to be constrained. Now, that past remark was in the context of holding her pace back to something reasonable, but I see that she has been badly trained and needs constraining in other ways. When she sees scrub, she doesn’t go around it, but plunges right through it! We were to learn more about this later.
The temperature at nearby Mt Ginini had been forecast for a max. of 9* c. but I think it was colder. A front was pushing through and although the day remained fine, the temperature had dropped and a cutting breeze had got up.
The views, as I have said, were fantastic. To the north west , the Scabby Range, to the north, solitary and proud, Mount Gudgenby, on the eastern skyline the Tinderry Range behind Michelago, to the south the summit ridge of Sentry Box Mountain, while to the south west was Yaouk Peak and behind it the Snowy Mountains, snow-covered Jagungal and the Main Range. Wild, remote, rugged wilderness.
Keeping more to the east of the ridge crest, and then skirting around sh1696 we were in typical heath country and many of the heaths were coming into flower.
Whilst I wanted to keep clear of the tangle of scrub and boulders on the side of SH 1696, I didn’t want to drop lower than the saddle, as well as finding the easiest passage through this heathy scrub and trees. We seem to have achieved all this and suddenly were on the saddle, fairly level and broad , where we were back to Snow Grass, Snow Gums and even a Grevillea in flower.
We now descended the steep, loose and rocky west-facing gully. I have been down here in the past and it has always been damp, with wet bark on the ground, wet grass, and many many wet ferns, all making the descent even more tricky. On this trip, despite all the rain we have been getting, the gully was very dry, the grass and ferns barely noticeable. Even so, great care has to be taken coming down here. The gully seems to go on forever! I kept over to the true right side as much as I could . Eventually, the gully we were following turned into a stream, with a second one coming in from the left. By now I was working my way over to close with the ridge on the right, and not long after that, the ridge started to ease back, and a bit below the junction of the 2 streams, we climbed out of the gully, onto the ridge, descended a little more , angling to the right. We were now entering lovely tall forest which was pretty open. I now took a bearing for our last saddle and off we went, moving north west, and downwards, but more or less following the contours.
From the saddle we headed off, cutting across a gently sloping ridge, and seeing a wombat on the way.
Talking of those who need constraining, TL , noticing the lateness of the hour and that it was only 1.5 km in a straight line to the cars, suggested that we should just go straight there. I said “OK, off you go” little dreaming of the consequences. TL led us straight off into some of the thickest tea tree scrub I have ever encountered. Luckily for her, the party took it in their stride and complimented her on giving us a much needed zestful finish to the day.
We arrived back at the cars at 4.40 pm.
In the late afternoon light it was a lovely drive home but the drivers had to be extremely vigilant for right back to Fitzes Hill there were countless kangaroos and wallabies alongside the road, grazing, and jumping, unpredictably, across the road in front of the cars.
Thank you Terrylea R, Liz F, Judy G, Judy K, Dave K and Barry K for making it such a great day.
By the way, this was one of the usual clubs’ Wednesday walks, this time under the auspices of the NPA of the ACT