My two-summit plan for the day was to drive to Buxton, activate Mt Mitchell (VK3/VN-012) first, then take a leisurely climb up Sugarloaf Peak (VK3/VN-011) in the Cathedral Ranges, and if conditions up there were good, loaf around on the summit. As it worked out, Mt Mitchell was a drive-up summit, and without rushing anything at Sugarloaf Peak I had time left in the afternoon to drive on and tackle a bullfight. Well more of a bush-fight than a bull-fight… more on that later.
The day started at Mt Mitchell (VK3/VN-012). Close to the center of Buxton, I turned off the B360 into Dyes Lane heading west. This becomes Mill Creek Rd, then left into Ure Rd, which climbs up through a patch of pine forest and then into mountain forest. At the intersection of Black Range Rd, I turned right, drove for another few kilometers and parked at the intersection of Jackson Break, a 4wd forestry track. This intersection appears to be about 300 meters from the actual summit which is in the middle of a patch of extremely thick regrowth. Being an HF activation, and with Androzic showing 931 meters and Accurate Altimeter 934 of a 935 meter summit, I set up at this intersection. Conditions on 40 meters were good and a string of QSOs followed.
|22:42z||VK2GJC||7MHz||SSB||S59, r53, Greg at Ulladulla|
|22:44z||VK2NP/MOBILE||7MHz||SSB||S55, r55, Cliff at Crescent Head|
|22:46z||VK2IO/MOBILE||7MHz||SSB||S55, r53, Gerard on this way to an activation|
|22:47z||VK5WG||7MHz||SSB||S59, r55, Nev|
|22:49z||VK1DW||7MHz||SSB||S57, r58, Dean|
|22:52z||VK5EE||7MHz||SSB||S58, s55, Tom|
|22:54z||VK5KPR/P||7MHz||SSB||S55, r52, Peter at VKFF817 Dutchmans|
This is a 6-point drive-up summit that would not distract you for long when driving to other summits in the Cathedral Range.
Sugarloaf Peak (VK3/VN-011) is at the southern end of the Cathedral Range in the Cathedral Range State Park. The turn off to the State Park is well sign-posted on the Maroondah Highway (B360) about 4 km north of Buxton. To get to Sugarloaf Peak, leave the B360 at the Cathedral Range turnoff and drive to the main camping area (Cook’s Mill), then further south on the same road to the Sugarloaf Saddle car park, passing the Jawbone car park at about the half way point.
There are two well signed tracks, Canyon Track and Wells Cave Track. The latter is for rock climbers in training, although a number of casual visitors seem to take it, either through lack of preparation or an escalated sense of their abilities, and get to the top and survive nonetheless. Canyon Track is a steep climb which becomes a moderately difficult rock clamber, but if you are prepared to go slowly and use both hands to pull yourself over sections of up-ended granite you’ll have no problems. It’s a good idea to keep your center of gravity low and not look over the edge to the valley below (even Wayne VK3WAM advises you to not look over the edge!). As you approach the top the views are stunning.
|02:35z||VK1MA||7MHz||SSB||S59,- r55, Matt|
|02:38z||VK2IO/P||7MHz||SSB||S55, r45, Gerard at VKFF092|
|02:43z||VK5AV||7MHz||SSB||S57, r55, Tim Mt Gambier|
|02:47z||VK3AKK||7MHz||SSB||S59, r55, Ken Geelong|
|02:48z||VK3YAR||7MHz||SSB||S57, r32, Ray|
|02:50z||VK5EE/P||7MHz||SSB||S57, r58, Tom VKFF0796|
Whilst on summit I enjoyed watching a couple of birds. At one point a Pied Currawong swept down and nearly made off with a banana I carelessly left on a rock. Off in the distance I watched a male Flame Robin, unmissable with his blazing orange breast. Both are relatively common in the Victorian Alps.
Based on the climb, the sharpness and prominence of the summit, the spectacular almost 360 degree views and the drama of it all, I reckon this has to be one of the best SOTA activations in VK3. It has it all. Call me vain if you like, but once at the top I deliberately looked for a spot to park the radio and squid pole to maximise the effect of altitude and remoteness for the photos.
Finally, given that I had time and the light and weather was excellent, I decided to tackle Mt Bullfight (VK3/VN-002). To get to the departure point, I drove north on the B360 to Taggerty, turned right toward Thornton on the C515, then continuing on the B340 (Goulburn Valley Highway), then right into Snobs Creek Rd, driving south into the Rubicon Ranges for 20.6 km to the intersection of Conns Gap Rd, Bullfight Track. The access advice for Bill Head (VK3/VN-004) is to use this end of Conns Gap Rd to get to the walk-in point.
Being late November the Bullfight Track gate was open so I cautiously drove up the mountain on this 4wd dirt road. The road itself wasn’t too bad but covered in forest litter. I managed to drive a few kilometers up, stopping frequently to get out and remove larger sticks and obstacles, before I came to a deeper rut that I was not prepared to try. I parked and walked the remaining few kilometers up to where the road levels out. Following Marshall VK3MRG’s notes, I walked past the first Parks Victoria sign (on the left) and Stillmans Lookout sign (on the right), then to the second Parks sign, from where I headed in.
I was cautious about this summit after reading Marshall’s account. He described some feelings of disorientation during the bush-bash. I resolved to pay plenty of attention to the sun in the west, and the landscape and vegetation features as I walked due south. I left the Bullfight Track at the second ‘Parks Victoria’ sign and headed in, travelling south. Following Marshall’s narrative, I headed toward the first hill, on the right, which I walked to the top of. It is a moderate climb with some very large granite boulders neat the top. From here I could see the real ascent, some way off, to the south.
On the south side of the first hill the bush got thicker. There was no easy path for most of the next 3 or 400 meters, other than to bash through the scrubby mix of boronia, small eucalyptus saplings and over and under fallen trees. The way south takes you down through a shallow boggy saddle of ti-tree. I tried to find a dry path across it, succeeding on the third attempt at the southerly end of the ti-tree stand.
From here the bush continued to be very thick, before gradually inclining, up toward the summit. The ascent was increasingly steep, again no tracks, climbing over and around large boulders and fallen trees. For the final few hundred meters it was as steep as Mt Torbreck further up the Rubicon valley. Eventually I made it to the top, and, bearing in mind the time of day and the difficulty I had had in getting there, resolved to activate quickly and get back down again to Bullfight Track.
Conditions were pleasant enough for late afternoon on a 1500 meter high summit, and static-ridden on 40 meters. I self-spotted and quickly worked 5 stations, but did not linger. After getting the activation I was so intent on getting back down again I forgot to take the obligatory photo of the station operating position, so I took a summit shot looking west instead.
Date:29/Nov/2015 Summit:VK3/VN-002 (Mt Bullfight) Call Used:VK3HN/P Points: 8 Bonus: 0
|07:03z||VK7NWT||7MHz||SSB||s59, r53, Scott|
|07:09z||VK5WG||7MHz||SSB||s57, r55, Nev|
The walk back down was much quicker, although the bush-bashing left me tired and scratched by the time I got back to the Track. My compass and visual navigation served me well, as I walked out of the bush 20 meters away from the Parks Victoria Mt Bullfight sign from whence I departed.
On the way back as I crossed the swampy tea-tree section I looked up and noticed a possum nesting box, put there for Leadbeater’s Possum. This highly endangered species was confirmed present in the reserve as recently as 2008.
This is the most difficult SOTA ascent I have done, due the absence of any path or clear way. As Marshall notes, it is also a long way from where you leave the 4wd track, and as you progress south you are surrounded by bush with no clear views of where you have been or where you are going. A working compass is essential. It felt a lot longer than one kilometer, but checking on the printed Parks Victoria map, the path I took was about 1.5 kilometers, which just goes to show, when you are bush-bashing, you feel every step.
Back safe and warm at home I re-checked the summit access notes and activator blogs. VK3FMDV’s access notes state:
‘[Look for] a sign for “Stillmans Lookout” on the right. Shortly after, the road (track?) swings right. Just before it does look for some pink marker tape on the left. This can be hard to follow, but if you do it provides the least vegetated route’.
I did not have this instruction with me and I certainly wasn’t looking for taper markers. I kept walking to the second Parks Victoria sign. Wayne VK3WAM posts on his activation in which he comments:
‘…there is actually a flagged route from near here [Bullfight Track] to the summit, but I did not know of it on the way up, but used it on the way back. Still, it is of little use, following your nose could be a better option. The forest floor is quite open and progress is quite good’.
From Glenn VKYY’s September 2014 activation:
‘We walked up the [Bullfight] track (and just past Stillman lookout turnoff at 37.4224 145.9183, we headed into the bush in a roughly Southerly direction. Allen had been to this one before, so he navigated close to the previous track on the GPS. There were the odd fallen trees to climb over and occasional boulder, but the going was pretty good’.
Leaving Bullfight Track from just beyond Stillmans lookout sign might well be key, as my experience was quite different from having to clamber over ‘the odd fallen tree’. If I do this summit again I will leave more time, and depart the track from near the Stillmans Lookout sign. Using Allen VK3HRA’s GPS trace from his blog post, I drew the path I took in red, compared to his (and others’) more easterly paths.
Mt Bullfight Natural Conservation Area feels remote and unspoiled, and it is a privilege to be able to visit this rugged unexploited area where so few people ever go and so close to a major population center such as Melbourne.
Three SOTA summits in a day for a total of 20 points. More than I had planned, a great day of activations, two good climbs and a few scratches to show for it.