Stockyard Spur (AGAIN?) Wednesday 23 November and 26 November 2016
Well, what else can a poor leader do? I was down to lead the medium to hard Wednesday Walk last week on behalf of the National Parks Association of the ACT and the weather forecast was awful. I don’t like pushing my way through wet scrub in the rain, but I also knew that despite the weather I would get some hardy, strong walkers wanting a good walk. What better then but to go up Mt Gingera, the second highest peak in the A.C.T., (1,857 metres, 6,093 ft) via the Stockyard Spur Track. A good walk,, a good workout, lovely country, wildflowers, and a track. A return distance of about 18km and a height gain of about 1164 m.
11 of us set off from the Kambah Shops at 8.00 am bound for Corin Dam , in the Cotter Valley, just below the Brindabella Range along the ACT’s western border with NSW. The previous day the maximum temperature in Canberra had been 31°c. Today the maximum was forecast to be 9°c at Mt Ginini, the next major peak to Mt Gingera, with lots of rain and and high winds.
Soon we were breathing heavily and working hard as we walked up the steep Stockyard Spur. However, we made it to the helicopter landing clearing at the top of the Spur without stops and taking only an hour (the climb is over 500 m in a bit over 2 km) . Despite the effort, I do enjoy climbing up through the forest here. At the bottom the trees (all Eucalyptus sp) are tall and straight but as one gains height they gradually change until at the heli “pad” (we call it a pad, but it is really just a clearing in the forest, now grown over with ground covers) one is in sub alpine country. The understorey also changes, and now there were plenty of flowers out. At the heli “pad” we stopped briefly to regroup and catch our breath, but not for long as our clothing was wet with perspiration and we quickly began to feel cold. It was still early, 10 am, and we pushed on along the ridge for half an hour before stopping for the customary tea break. Dark clouds were approaching and the feel of rain was in the air. It seemed best to have morning tea before the rain caught us.
Coming up the Spur we were on a foot track, which in the steepest parts had steps (how I hate the steps – tedious on the ascent and hell on the knees when descending) but from the heli “pad” we were on an infrequently used 4×4 track with a grassy centre strip of Snow Grass and various wild flowers, including Mountain Cap orchids. Alongside the track, Snow gum forest, more Snow Grass, various wildflowers and a low understory ablaze in yellow or orange flowers and white heaths. It was lovely walking through this beautiful “high country”
The party was fit and without going extremely fast, we kept up a reasonable pace. Although a little spread out, as we walked at our own pace, we kept more or less together and there was no need to stop for “catch-ups”.
We stopped as a matter of course at the viewpoint called “The Grandstand” with its view over the Cotter Valley, the peaks to the south and the Tinderry Range in the east on the skyline . However, none of that was visible today. The near hills were showing softly and without detail in silver-grey while a curtain of light grey rain was sweeping down the Cotter Valley . Looking ahead to Mt Gingera it looked a little brighter but perhaps that was only wishful thinking. .
The party was not only fit and experienced but a very happy one, and whenever we stopped, as here, there was light-hearted banter.
As we moved on we started to get a bit of light drizzle but it was only when we reached Pryors Hut that we needed to don rain gear. It was then 11.30 am. Given the weather, my plan was to continue along the Franklin Fire Trail to the little creek and then take the foot track to the summit of Mt. Gingera. If the weather gave us a good break we would have lunch there, if not we would return to Pryors Hut for lunch. We left Mike at the Hut and continued on our way.
However, at the hut I was given a problem. Some bushwalkers are now using club bushwalks as a means of achieving their geocache interests. Derek asked if it would be OK if he left the party at the summit and went along the summit ridge for about 100 metres to search for a geo cache. I was uneasy about this as the weather was bad, the summit ridge is a jumble of granite tors, scrub and trees, now all wet and slippery, and the walk sign on sheet contains a statement that participants agree to do their best to remain with the party. Derek is , however, an experienced bushwalker and knows Mt Gingera. so I reluctantly agreed but stated that if he left the party he would be on his own.
As we left the hut the rain became worse, the temperature was falling and the wind rising. However, it was quite beautiful ascending the slopes of Mt Gingera which were carpeted in flowers, and dotted with Snow Gums, now quite ghostly in our monochrome and indistinct world.
I was the last one to reach the summit, to find a wet, cold and tired party on the exposed and cold , windy and wet summit . Derek was nowhere to be seen. I decided that the party needed to keep moving and have lunch as soon as possible in shelter, and so we headed back. Philip walked along the summit ridge for about 100 m hoping to see Derek or hear him, but to no avail.
We were back at the hut at 1.05 pm and Derek, fortunately, arrived back about 15 minutes later. I was most relieved as had he not returned we would have had to have gone back up there to look for him.
With lunch “down the hatch” energy and warmth was regained. After half an hour, without any need to remind people that departure time was nearing, we were putting on our packs and heading off. By the time that we reached the Grandstand the rain had all but stopped, and back at the heli pad the sun nearly came out while rain jackets came off.
We were back at the cars at 3.15 and on our way by 3.30. A strenuous walk but I feel that everyone enjoyed it. I appreciated very much the party I had, for no matter how good or bad the actual walk is, it is the people who make it a really good one, and today it was one of those really good ones. It was a fun day, full of energy and high spirits, with nothing to pull us down. Many thanks to all of you, PhilipG, JanG, JudyG, ShirleyG, PeterD, EricD, MikeS, BarryK, KimO, and DerekS.
Corin Dam from the beginning of Stockyard Spur
those darned steps – Stockyard Spur.
Ascending Stockyard Spur. the Cotter Valley below
More steps – Stockyard Spur
Nearing the heli pad and the slope eases off
A pause at the heli landing spot
Striding out along the ridge
Looking over Snowy Flat Creek to the Cotter Valley from “the Grandstand”
Myself at “the Grandstand”
Three days later, Saturday, 26 Nov., I was back again. On my own this time. The day was just too lovely not to be in the mountains. It was one of those perfect Canberra mornings : a slight nip in the air (down to 3*c overnight) , the sky cloudless and rain-washed deep blue, while the air was fresh, sweet and crystal clear. In the mountains it would be even better. Besides, I wanted a chance to see more of the wild flowers and have the time to photograph them. I was not disappointed. Driving out along Corin Dam Road I had to be careful : I had never seen so many kangaroos out along the verges as there were this morning. Going up Stockyard Spur was absolutely magical, through the shining , singing forest, birds calling. Only 50 minutes to the heli pad. Then a lovely fast walk along the ridge with brief stops along the way to photograph flowers and the views. Morning tea was had at Pryors Hut and I was on Mt Gingera summit in time for an early lunch
Last Wednesday I had been very slow on the last couple of hundred metres up Mt Gingera in the rain, but today I almost floated up. Perhaps it was the high humidity last Wednesday, or perhaps, too, the altitude was affecting me then as it was getting on for just over 6000 feet.
Near the top of Gingera I took a short cut and found myself scrambling up a steeply sloping granite slab. Wonderful. I love scrambling . Until I heard a crash and clatter. I knew immediately what it was. I had not fastened my camera bag, and as I leant forward it had swung and tipped my good camera, an Olympus OMD, from the bag. I looked down between my legs and there was my camera sliding and bouncing its way down. It could only land on a pile of rocks, but as I watched it did a last bound outwards and landed on a small, low patch of heath. I scrambled down expecting at the very least to find a broken screen and lens. The UV filter was dented on the side of the mounting threads. Miraculously, though, the camera is still working perfectly.
Lunch on the summit. The familiar granite slabs, the little flat bit where we once camped but now suffering from pig damage, the rocky granite outcrops along the ridge, the copse of stunted Snow Gums, and the one struggling to live right on the summit, the vast distant views, shades of blue varying with distance, deeper blue in the valleys. Like coming home. Leaves glinting in the sunlight, flowers gleaming.
As long as one is walking there is the usually unnoticed sound of ones footfalls. Stop for a moment and there is incredible silence. And now, here, up on the summit of Gingera, I sat in the sun and listened to the silence. Against the backdrop of the gentle breeze rustling the leaves and the calls of the birds, there was profound, deep, palpable silence. The listening land. And there was solitude and remoteness, a world removed from the world. Incredible vastness. Blue hills and valleys ridging away to eternity. Feelings of eternity. A place removed from the hum and torture and crassness of human cities . A place to dream, to feel. The vision splendid? The sleeping, waiting land? One looks, listens, and the wilderness seeps into ones soul.
This is the rocky solitude I love;
The rock below me and the sky above;
A cool air moving; save its sigh no sound:
Glory of golden light and peace profound.
Too soon this hushed uplifted hour must end
And I to meet the world once more descend;
Yet something surely will remain my own
Of this benediction I have known.
On the way down, where the foot track joins the fire trail, I topped up my water bottle from the little creek where it gushes out from the pipe under the road, easy to reach, and lovely: icy, mountain water needing no sterilisation or filtration.
On the way back I stopped many times to photograph flowers.
Back at the car, reluctant to end a perfect mountain day, I sat in the shade enjoying a mug of tea.
We may not have soaring alpine peaks, or the beauty of thousands of lakes, nor the chatter of many alpine streams , or alpine meadows, but what a wonderful world we do have. Glorious wilderness, generally good weather, peace and quiet and great beauty. All this, only 35 minutes drive from home. I wonder how many other national capitals in the developed world can offer this? We must treasure it and ensure that it is never developed, that it is there for all time.
The first viewpoint on the way up, on the west of the track