SPLIT ROCK, NAMADGI NATIONAL PARK, NEAR CANBERRA
19 JULY 2017
A beautiful, but very cold day in Canberra and the surrounding mountains. And a bitter wind, too. The forecast for Mt Ginini, just across the Cotter Valley from Split Rock, was for a max. of 2℃ and snow showers easing, and a stiff breeze. Even so, 8 cheerful people met in Canberra at 7.50 am for the walk to Split Rock.
The walk commenced at the site of the old Orroral Tracking Station which was once vital to the moon landing. This walk is 19.7 km return and with nearly 800m of climb through the day. We started walking at 9.30 am and arrived back at the cars at 4.30 pm
Rather than taking the usual walk along the Cotter Road fire trail from the tracking station site, which I find an awful “drag”, I led off straight up the grasslands of the attractive Orroral Valley. The early morning light fell softly, gleamingly, on the ochre-coloured grasses stretching far up the valley to the north, contrasting beautifully with the blue of the hills; dark blue nearby and softening to lighter shades with distance up the valley.
On our right , on the top of the ridge, the huge granite boulder known as the Belfry, stood out on the end of the ridge, towering above the trees. Further north along the ridge were the cliffs and granite outcrops of the area known as Legoland, while north still, was the Elephant.
We hiked up the valley until we came to the AAWT (Australian Alps Walking Track) which goes all the way from Canberra to Valhalla, near Melbourne, which we then followed further up the valley . Eventually it took us back to the fire trail, although I cut the corner and went off-track for a few hundred metres. Taking this route saved a much greater distance along a hard-packed and boring fire trail.
Once back on the fire trail, the Cotter Road, it was not long before we were at the bottom of the notorious , steep, first ascent of the day. However, there is a well-defined foot pad which cuts out this part of the F.T. although it is steep. However, by taking this route both ways saves a further 1.6 km.
Ascending this hill brought out a problem though. One of the party, an experienced and once extremely hard walker, showed that he had very real problems. At the meeting place he told me that he was having some heart problems, but was taking drugs which had overcome the problem, He said that he might be a little slow on the hills but would be fine. However, once we started climbing the short-cut, it became apparent that he had real problems and we had to stop for him on several occasions.
Once at the top end of the short cut, back on Cotter Road, it was not far to go before the we crested a high point and went mostly downhill to the foot track where the AAWT leaves Cotter Road. At this junction we stopped for morning tea. From here on it was lovely walk along an undulating track to Cotter Gap. Then the hills started closing in as we climbed up through tall shining forest to the saddle and pass known as Cotter Gap and down to the creek where we left our friend. He asked to be left there as he realised that he would not be able to do the climb up to Split Rock. I was most concerned about this as it was bitterly cold and we would be gone some 2.5 hours. People who get hypothermic often do strange things, like wandering off into the bush.
As we were about to cross the creek we met an elderly (watch out, Barrie, you are in your mid-70’s!) lone walker who had already been up to Split Rock and was on his way out. Amazingly, he was in shorts and, without rain gear, he was soaked from the wet scrub. Only by keeping moving would he be able to keep warm. We now donned rain jackets and pants and started the short but steep climb. It was hard work through thick scrub and huge rocks and we were soon wet from sweat under our rain gear. It was hard work leading through scrub like that. I think that I managed to find the easiest route through it all. I was heading for the eastern side of Split Rock, hoping to find, in amongst the jumble of huge boulders, the narrow entrance into the crack which runs through Split Rock, taking two right angled turns on the way. But when we eventually reached the eastern side we not only met the full force of the icy wind but also snow. The scrub and rocks were covered in new snow and were wet and slippery. I felt it was too dangerous to go clambering around on the rocks and through the scrub in such conditions and called off further exploration. Also, time was running out on us as we had been delayed by our friend.
I now decided to drop down just a little, to the base of the cliffs, and traverse along the north faces, having lunch on the way, and hopefully finding the western entry crack. Whilst time was running out on us, this proved worthwhile. We found we were under wonderful huge cliffs and overhangs which were worth exploring. Along the way we found a huge overhang , sheltered from the wind, and with some sunshine coming in. A great spot for lunch.
After a quick lunch (our clothes were wet from sweat and it was jolly cold) we continued on and after a very short distance thought we had found the western crack, the one that is so prominent from Cotter Gap. It is hard to be sure from up close and we had to scramble up a bit to make sure. After one or two tricky little moves on granite some of the party were able to get up to the crack and go inside. It was freezing in there and the floor of the corridor was covered in snow.
Time had run out and we had to be gone. I was tired from forcing a way through the scrub on the way up and asked Peter D if he would like to lead the way back to Cotter Gap. This he did extremely well, missing the worst of the scrub, and coming out onto the creek exactly where we had gone left it. A brief pause when we collected our friend, and off we went on the way back to the cars. Only a short distance beyond where our shortcut tumbled out onto the Cotter Road a wide ribbon of grassland led from the road down into the Orroral Valley. Peter suggested we take this and I agreed as I have no liking for hard packed fire trails. Soon we were on the once upon a time vehicle track along the valley, now a “green” lane north of the AAWT, which we followed when we reached it, until it branched off to Honeysuckle Creek in one direction and the Cotter Road in the other. We then continued straight down the valley to the car park.
In the low light of a beautiful , but still very cold, afternoon we arrived back at the cars at 4.30 pm (sunset was at 5.15 PM.) . After a snack and something to drink we took the road home, very mindful of the numerous kangaroos and wallabies along this stretch of road ever likely to run into the path of an on-coming car, probably killing themselves but also likely to do a lot of damage to the car.
Split Rock from Cotter Gap The crack we accessed clearly visible
These are the conditions which greeted us at the top, at the eastern end. Too cold and
dangerous to go scrambling around in this terrain
looking for the entrance crack.
Beyond Ricky & Tl the crack takes a right angle turn
Lovely to see in the soft golden light of late afternoon
but not so good along the verges when driving home
Some of my photos from earlier trips follow to give you more views of this area. The split in the rocks is quite a long passage, with 2 right angle bends in it. It is great fun to walk right through it.
Looking north up the lovely Orroral Valley
Green, of course , in late winter to early summer
Orroral Valley, view northwards
Split Rock from Cotter Gap
From the creek flats just below Cotter Gap, the spot we left our friend
to wait for us.
Split Rock. The split which we accessed clearly visible at the western end.
I had hoped to find the entrance on the eastern side but given the conditions
decided to traverse around to the western one.
The crack at the eastern end
the crack in the middle, Just beyond Jo the crack takes
a right angle turn