TIDBINBILLA RANGE – SOUTHWARDS TRAVERSE
TIDBINBILLA NATURE RESERVE, A.C.T. (NEAR Canberra)
WEDNESDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2016
I had been planning to do this walk for several months but always something cropped up, usually bad weather! I had last covered this section of the Tidbinbilla Range over 20 years ago, well before the 2003 fires and subsequent awful regrowth. In those days it was very open, little or no scrub, and a foot track all the way. It was one of the first walks I ever led and we walked the whole length of the Range, going up the Lyrebird Trail almost to Camel’s Hump, then all the way south along the crest of the range, to Mt Domain and then Fishing Gap and thence down to the cars. We did this quite easily in a day! However, there is now a great deal of scrub along this route, which has to be pushed through.
Last Wednesday, however, we were only going to do the southern half of the range and I was very conscious of the amount of scrubby regrowth since the fires and also the roughness of the ground. I knew it was going to be a hard walk and a long one, and was worried about the time. Ideally, I would have set off for Tidbinbilla at 7.30 am but was pretty sure that at that early hour I might not get any “takers”, so I compromised and, with crossed fingers, set a departure time of 8.00 am . Seven others, all eager and keen to have a great day out on the mountains, met me and off we went. One of the things that I love about being up on the crest of the Tidbinbilla Range is that one is actually on the mountains and there is not only the feel of wilderness but also of remoteness. By contrast, the higher Brindabella Range never gives me the same feeling of a true mountain range, as it seems much more like just another, but higher, area of bush. Perhaps part of that is also because a road and broad fire trail run along it’s length, taking away the feelings of remoteness and ruggedness.
The local weather had not been good over a number of days, but the last couple had been very bad, with rain and gale-force winds and with snow falling on the higher peaks. Many of the rural roads were closed, but the road to Tidbinbilla is tarred, so I was not concerned. Imagine our consternation when we arrived at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve to find a large notice saying that the Reserve was closed. We had a look around the offices but couldn’t find anyone but while we were debating the alternatives a car drove up and a ranger stepped out. I explained our predicament to her. She went off in search of her colleagues and a few minutes later returned to say that the reserve would open, but the walking tracks had not been checked and it was uncertain if they would be opened. However, she went on to say that as we were experienced bushwalkers it was “our call”, after reminding us of the gale-force winds, cold and danger from falling trees. She asked me when we expected to finish and also asked me to check in at the office on the way out. What lovely rangers we have.
Whilst we were talking in the car park the gale had begun in earnest, buffeting us, and very cold. However, once in the lee of the range and in amongst the scrub and trees, we only noticed it occasionally, although we could certainly hear it.
So off we went, first to the Lyrebird Car Park. It is a slow drive there, at 35 kph. Once there, everyone got out and the three cars left for the Fishing Gap car park further to the south where we left 2 of them. Then it was back to the Lyrebird car park in my car to rejoin the others. By now I was getting anxious as it was 9.15 am when we started the walk.
We started along the Lyrebird Trail, and true to its name they were calling. Perhaps the loveliest of Australian bird calls, and how they love these lush, rain forest gullies on the southern slopes. This part of the trail is extremely lovely, winding down and then up from a beautiful crystal-clear mountain creek, overhung with ferns and tree ferns and beset with brilliant green, moss-covered boulders and logs. Often on a hot summer’s day I have stopped here and quenched my thirst from this stream; surely the best mountain water ever. Today, though, after all the rain, the creek was fairly roaring along. It was a glorious morning, nippy, too, with shafts of sunlight filtering through the lush forest.
After about 15 minutes we left the trail, climbed up and over the ridge and picked up the foot track going steeply up the ridge to the cairn about ½ km south of Snowy Corner. This foot track ascends some 500m in a little over 1 km. In places the track is hard to pick up. We climbed steadily, the beauty of the morning urging us on. The forest here is lovely, wattles were in flower, their clear yellow lighting up and scenting the bush, the birds were calling, and every now and again we had superb views, across the Tidbinbilla Valley, or across to Mt Domain. We stopped briefly at the blue bench about half way up the ridge and then continued to a sunny, grassy, open area for morning tea. Not long afterwards we were at the large cairn at the point where our east/west ridge joined the main north /south ridge of the Tidbinbilla Range. Patches of left-over snow remained in the shadows just before the cairn.
Gaining Height. Looking back, over the Tidbinbilla Valley
A zoomed-in view of the rocky knolls over which we would pass later in the day
I am not sure who reads this blog, so I would warn that even though there is a foot track up here, it can be hard to find, especially going down. It is really a route for experienced bushwalkers.
Having caught our breath at the cairn we headed south along the crest of the ridge, trending down in that undulating fashion common to ridges. We dropped about 140 m to the saddle at the beginning of the climb up Mt Domain. Recently members of the Canberra Bushwalking Club signposted a route through here with tape ribbons. It seemed to me that this ribbonned route closely follows the old foot track, the remains of which could be seen at times. Generally, the route is well marked with ribbons. However, some ribbons were missing, due to trees coming down, or were just hard to pick up. One then either loses ones way, wastes time searching or uses ones navigating skills to guess where the next ribbon will be. Not that I am criticising those who have prettied up the bush with ribbons, merely warning that this is a route for experienced bushwalkers, especially since this is a remote and isolated mountain region. The vegetation and terrain also mean that it is quite a hard walk. We didn’t need to waste time looking for ribbons.
The terrain and vegetation are quite varied through here, making for an interesting walk. At times the vegetation opened up to lovely grassy areas and at times the route wended its way along the rocky ridge crest, sometimes dropping down over mini cliffs, or going along the side of the ridge. It also climbed over two rocky knolls with only very low heath vegetation, mainly micromyrta in flower. Briefly, as we ascended the knolls, the gale hit us. However, the views were superb. One thing I noticed was that some of the scrub was lying horizontally, making it hard to push through. I assume that this was due to the weight of recent snow.
The view across the Cotter Valley to the Brindabella Range , along the crest of which is the ACT/NSW border. On the left is the long summit ridge of Mt Gingera, 2nd highest peak in the ACT, whilst right of centre is Mt Ginini, with Ginini Falls below it. Note the snow!
Mt Ginini and Ginini Falls
Whilst the snow looks very patchy and sparse, the trees are hiding what is on the ground.
From the saddle, (Ashbrook Creek flowing into the Tidbinbilla and Cow Flat Creek flowing into the Cotter) it was a long, warm climb through the thickest scrub on the walk, to the very narrow ridge forming the northern shoulder just below the summit of Mt Domain. It was great to see that the beautiful Snow Gums along this ridge had not been destroyed by the 2003 fire. As soon as we reached this ridge we had lunch, quite a late lunch, but when I had suggested lunch down at the saddle the others suggested it would be nicer up higher. My own thoughts too. What a great party I had!
Of course, what this photo doesn’t show is the long, steep ridge to the cairn a bit south of Snowy Corner from the Lyrebird Trail which falls to the right
Looking back over our route from Mt Domain, with the very narrow northern shoulder ridge in the foreground and patches of snow.
After lunch we had a most enjoyable stroll along this ridge before the final rise to the summit of Mt Domain with more great views. Since I had told our lovely ranger that we expected to be back at 4.00 pm and were now about an hour behind, I phoned her to let her know where we were and our new E.T.A. By now, the weather was changing, the temperature had fallen and it was starting to get bleak, with growing overcast.
From the summit the faint foot track is well ribbonned to the clear little plateau on the southern shoulder. From this clearing the foot-track wanders off along the level ridge before meeting the ranger-cut track down to Fishing Gap. This foot track is also well-ribboned, but squeezes between closely packed saplings and one has to be careful not to lose it. A lack of concentration and it would be easy to stray. Given this and that this ridge is broad and often has a lot of low-growing vegetation , I would suggest that this is not a track for the inexperienced. One could quite easily walk across the foot track and not see it.
The recently cut track down to Fishing Gap had a lot of gale-blown debris covering it, including fallen branches in places.
From Fishing Gap it was just another 4 km and an hour back to the 2 cars.
The walk covered 12 km, getting on for 900m climb if you include all the ups and downs and took 7.5 hours. After a quick stop at the cars, not long enough for David to truly appreciate his brewed coffee, we all drove off to my car parked at the Lyrebird car park and then headed for home. I stopped at the office to let them know that we were back. The rangers were keen to known all about the walk.
This is a demanding and strenuous walk, a hard walk. We did not seem to hurry, we just seemed to keep going without too much effort. However, this only means that I had a wonderful party. It is undoubtedly a hard walk and one needing good navigation and bushcraft skills as well as experience in remote mountain areas . It is definitely not a walk for beginners, the unfit or inexperienced. I always felt on this walk that the party was not stretched and had the capability to meet emergencies, which is most important in mountain wilderness. I think that it is best done as we did it, from north to south.
In the last 18 months I have twice led parties from the Lyrebird Trail up to Snowy Corner to the summit of Tidbinbilla Mountain, then north along the ridge to the Camels Hump FT and then back to the carpark. I think that this latter walk is much the nicer one of the two , is possibly a bit easier, and certainly does not need ribbons or the cutting of a track. There is little scrub along this route
Thank you very much, Mike S., Prue D., David W., Miriam J., Max S., Judy G., and Kerry G for making it such an enjoyable day.