SUMMER IN CANBERRA AND A SUMMER HIKE IN THE BRINDABELLAS

MT GININI , MT FRANKLIN ROAD, STOCKYARD CREEK, CHEYENNE FLAT, MT GININI
BUT FIRST, GREETING A SUMMER MORNING

My early morning drive from home takes me about 5 minutes.   I step out of the car into the wonderful freshness of a Canberra morning.  I am here at 7.00 am to beat the heat.   It is very still, and the heat will burst upon us  once the sun has risen a little more, pushing the temperature up to 35°c or higher.   I am here for my usual morning exercise : walk up Mt Taylor form the north-west, run down the southern track, and then reverse it .  For now the morning is lovely.  The sun is glinting on the now tawny – coloured grasses, slanting through the trees, and kangaroos pause in their grazing as I pass, ready to bound away if need be.  The air, for now,  is cool and crystal clear, the sky is that peerless, deep blue, cloudless sky of the Australian inland,  although the Brindabella Mountains to the west are already hiding behind a heat haze, showing no detail, just a light blue outline against the sky.  Areas of grassland are now a beautiful golden colour, contrasting with the dark grey-green of the  trees and the the blues of mountains and sky.  Quite magical.  Scent of eucalyptus rises from the leaf and bark litter on the ground,  the magpies are joyously carolling in the new day, while cicadas shriek in almost deafening voice telling us that summer is well and truly here, with all its heat.

One of the problems in Canberra in January and February is where to go bushwalking .   A few days ago it was my turn to lead a club mid-week walk.  The forecast for Canberra was 35°c.  However, up in the Brindabella Mountains the maximum would be only 24°.   A very long drive (nearly 2 hours, mostly along a bad single lane dirt road) but a much better place to be. Thirteen of us met in the suburb of Weston and left in 3 cars at 7.30 am. We commenced walking from the Mt Ginini car park along the Mt Franklin Road.

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At Stockyard Gap we left the Mt Franklin Road Firetrail for a while to search for the remains of an old ski hut. In the late 1930’s and 1940’s,  when heavy snowfalls were common on the Brindabella Range, unlike now with global warming, skiing up there was becoming popular and a number of ski huts were built.  The story goes that 8 Canberra lawyers sought permission from the ACT administration to build a hut at Stockyard Gap, alongside the Mt Franklin Road.  Permission was refused , but lawyers, being canny people,  realised that the ACT/NSW border ran along the crest of the Brindabellas so promptly built their hut further back, just across the border in NSW,  tucked away in the bush.  Quite quickly we found the remains of the old hut, about 200 metres through the bush from the firetrail.   There is now little left, and what is there is mainly hidden by vegetation.  I knew we were within a metre or two of the site, but it was Isobel who found it.   She stepped on some old iron sheeting, mostly buried by vegetation, and noticed a different sound when she walked on it and soon spied the old iron.  A Black Snake bid your leader farewell as we made our way back to the road.  However, the leader fared well.

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Isobel’s find!

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Finding more bits and pieces

At the intersection of the Stockyard Spur track and the Mt Franklin Road we had morning tea in a lovely meadow of Snow Gums, green Snow Grass and a mix of wildflowers. Wildflowers on this walk were most prolific, including orchids.

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From the morning tea spot we headed off-track, down to  Stockyard Creek and the remains of the  old Forestry Hut.   This could be quite a scrubby descent but I managed to avoid most of the scrub, slanting down, but skirting around the top of a number of gullies  until I was able to follow a broad ridge which brought us out on Stockyard Creek (what clearer, better drinking water could you find?)  almost at the old Forestry Hut site.  In the last 100 metres or so before actually hitting the valley floor we encountered very deep sphagnum moss which surprised me as it was so far from the creek up on the valley side.   We crossed the creek and were soon at the site of the old hut where we had a drink and chat stop.   We even found on a tree an old insulator from the telephone line which used to run down here,  the line, so I have been told, having been made from fencing wire.   This was an interesting find as I had planned to locate another insulator much higher up.   Another interesting find, by David W. were two beer bottles dated 1955 and 1956 respectively.   Eagle-eyed Isobel spotted some wonderful, and hard to see, orchids.

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orchid

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From here, we crossed a beautiful, clear, tributary creek almost at its confluence with Stockyard Creek and then slanted diagonally up the ridge through tall forest with little understory, but many large fallen trees and a great number of Potato Orchids, to a point just above the old arboretum where we had lunch.

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Potato Orchid

  The arboretum was largely destroyed in the 2003 fires, but 2 large spruce trees remain.  We stopped here for lunch.   There used to be a foot pad running down here from Cheyenne Flats but I and David W , looking separately, were unable to find it.   However, that was not a problem and after lunch we set off  in the direction which I hoped would take us to the insulator  I hoped to find.  Which we did, after only switching on the GPS when almost there.   The insulator is there, about 3 metres up a tree, still with some  fencing wire attached.  The old telephone line to the forestry hut.

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  From here, I managed to pick up the old footpad but once it broke out of the trees  I lost it and was unable to find it again.  At the point where we broke out of the trees we came across a low curved shelter wall built from stones which I must have missed in the past.

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Although I knew more or less where the old foot pad went I was unable to find it. I have always prided myself in being able to pick up and follow the vaguest of foot pads, but this one had me beat. The vegetation is quite luxuriant this summer and has grown rapidly in the last year, obliterating the old footpads   It then became a matter of walking through dense scrub or hard-to-walk-on deep sphagnum moss.  I tried both and liked neither.   There was also the question of  what damage would we inflict on a fragile sphagnum moss environment.  I had intended to cross Cheyenne Flats at its very top where the old vehicle track used to go, but getting there was proving difficult and so I chose to cross the swamp at a narrow point and walk up the western side where the scrub was far less.  Eventually I picked up the old , now barely discernible, vehicle track not far from where it crosses the swamp and where the National Park signs are.  .   We followed this now vague track to the bottom of the old Mt Ginini ski run which is still relatively clear and was now delightful with its many wildflowers.  10 minutes later we were back at the cars.

It was a very good day, and the temperature was far cooler than in Canberra.   At our lowest point it was about 26°c, cooler higher up and often there was a pleasant breeze.   However, down in the valleys and beside the swamp of Cheyenne Flats the humidity was extremely high.

Anyone wanting to know about the Brindabellas, including the social history, should read Matthew Higgins’s excellent book “ Rugged Beyond Imagination”.