Mt Little Joe (VK3/VC-007), Mt Bride (VK3/VC-009) and Britannia Range (VK3/VC-011) form a popular same-day activator’s 10-point trifecta, all south-east of Warburton. Getting to all three peaks is relatively straightforward. On the day of my visit (31st May 2015) I decided to tackle Mt Little Joe first as the access descriptions and a few of the bloggers described several ways up and a particularly steep part of the climb. Best to try this first up, not after having done two other ascents. I drove toward Warburton, picking up Old Warburton Rd on the Melbourne side, and looked for the sign to Back Stairs Track on the left (north) side of the road, about 1 km past Mount Bride Rd.
Immediately to the right of the gate, the Back Steps Track leads north into Warburton, demarcated by a quaint hand-painted 1950s styled pointing finger painted on the steel gate post.
There are a number of walker-bloggers to be found writing about this track:
The Backstairs Track is a 3 km return trail following the Scotchman’s Creek Valley, in the Yarra State Forest, 80 km east of Melbourne. It passes through the delightful Dolly Grey Historical Park. The main (northern) access is at the Melbourne end of Warburton township, at Scotchman’s Creek Rd and it terminates high up at the Old Warburton Rd, flanking Mt. Little Joe. The Track is steep, rocky and muddy in parts, and is maintained by the Warburton Advancement League Inc.
Might do it some day, but for now, there are SOTA points to be had. Following the access road soon leads you to the steep part of the ascent. The track leaves on the left and mostly runs straight to the top, literally on the shortest path from not far beyond where you start to the summit. It is a 4wd track but as others have written, it would be a gutsy effort to drive it, even in a big rig, due to the incline and the deep ruts left from erosion and wear. I climbed it as fast as I could comfortably do, for about half its length, then found myself alternating between climbing for about a minute and resting for two minutes to let the heart rate settle. It is the steepest thing I have climbed so far. The photo doesn’t do it justice…
Not to say that you need any special equipment, it’s just a steep dirt track. I did it with SOTA pack and regular runners. But it was dry enough and ideal walking conditions, cool air at about 14 or so degrees on a late May morning. Eventually the track levels off to a rounded summit lightly wooded with plenty of timber to strap a squid pole to.
I was able to self-spot which set the activation on 7.090 racing. 28 contacts in 20 minutes, including many regulars and a 4 by 4 from Mike VK6MB.
The walk down the steep part was far less taxing but used a different set of muscles, as I slipped a few times on loose leaf litter and gravel.
Next, I decided to tackle Britannia Range on the basis that it looked like the more difficult of the remaining two summits, due to the thick undergrowth near the summit reported by other activators. Britannia Range Track comes off Mount Bride Rd on the right after 4.5 km.
Just as others had reported, this track is steep and gouged from frequent 4wd use and erosion. On this day it was muddy but walkable with care in spots. The track undulates, varying from ‘very steep’ to ‘manageably steep’, so not quite the same assault on the cardio system as Mt Little Joe. From Mt Bride Rd to where the dirt 4wd track levels out is reportedly about 1.6 km.
Other activators describe bush bashing to the summit from here, with no particular tracks or leads to follow. So in I went, initially in low bracken but quickly in thicker greenery. Bashing my way to the Britannia Range summit was not my most enjoyable SOTA moment. There was no hint of a track or an easier way forward, and each step was into ferns and undergrowth. I don’t particularly like walking when you cannot see where to place your foot. But you take it slowly and eventually make progress. Close to the summit I found a small natural clearing to operate from. Getting the dipole up involved more bush bashing from the small clearance for about 30 feet out in each direction, threading the dipole ends through the scrub. The ends were very low to the ground, about 2 meters, so I was not expecting great signal reports. 18 QSOs in 18 minutes, including Julie VK3FOWL/mobile, Ray VK3YAR/mobile, S2S with Alan VK7BO on VK7/NC-015 (Christmas Hills) and S2S with Ian VK1DI/P on VK2/SC033 (Durras Mountain).
The descent back through the thick scrub was slow but a bit easier, although I did slip a few times. Proper walking boots recommended here.
Thirdly and finally, time to head to Warburton for refreshments via one more peak, Mt Bride. VC-009 is 898 meters and 4 points. I retraced my path from Britannia Range Track back along Mt Bride Rd for 4.5 km or so to Burns Rd. If driving directly to Mt Bride on the B380 toward Warburton, pick up Old Warburton Rd just before Warburton on the right and follow it for about 2.5 km. Mount Bride Rd is on the right. Drive for 4.7 km. Turn left into Burns Rd, through a gate if it is open, and on for 1 km (if it is driveable).
Mt Bride is on the east (right hand side) of this road. The walking track to the summit appears on the right, it is not marked, and was freshly cut up by trail bikes the day I arrived. There are also some good photos of this track at Andrew VK1NAM’s blog.
Follow the track up on foot for about 15 minutes. It is fairly straight and easy walking. The summit is unmarked and heavily wooded, so a clearing on the path was the best available operating position.
One of my more lively activations this time, with 22 QSOs in 17 minutes. Highlights included S2S with Phil VK2JDL/P on VK2/NR-038 (Browns Knob) and Mike VK3XL/P on VK3/VT-066 (Mt Worth). Signals were up from Britannia Range, perhaps due to my having hoisted the ends of the dipole up considerably higher this time. Or maybe it was just psychological, as I felt much more comfortable!
Three summits in a day and I was sufficiently beat to drive home and do some other things. But before leaving Warburton I dropped into the main street for a little refreshment, and happened upon a nice looking cafe, curiously called ‘little joe‘. The coffee and muffins were delicious but I resisted the temptation to tell the owner I had just activated his cafe’s namesake mountain.