Times are tough when one has to head back to the Cathedral Range outside Melbourne for the third time in a month, but there was one final walk I’d missed out on the previous occasions. At 920 mt, Sugarloaf Peak is the highest point within the Cathedral Range and I’d climbed it a few weeks back via the recommended route if one is carrying a backpack. That’s the Canyon Track, but an alternative climb is the Cave Wells Track, which is described on the sign at the start as…
“Steep rocky terrain, challenging rock climbing in rugged, exposed situations…Recommended as an ascent route only. Experienced climbers only…”
Well, I thought it would be best to bring my son Ben along for a tilt at tackling the exposed ‘situations’ (What does that mean?). The walk is short, as we intended to climb Cave Wells Track to Sugarloaf Peak and descend via the Canyon Track for a distance of less than 5 km in total. Sounds easy!
We drove to our starting spot at Sugarloaf Saddle, which sits beneath Sugarloaf Peak (by the way, that’s way too many ‘sugars’ in the one sentence, but I can’t make it any better) by early afternoon. I’ve been low on walking power lately due to an insanely sore neck, which I believe is caused by a pinched nerve. It’s quite an annoying ailment, as I have referred pain in my arm, which feels like the tennis elbow from hell. I can get relief from this by keeping my sore arm raised at full stretch above my head, but that’s awkward whilst driving as I have a manual car (wish I had a sunroof) and also a little bizarre for anyone sitting behind me at the cinema.
That’s not all, as whilst being diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 I had another shrink decide I’m Bipolar as well. If you think about it, fair enough. Surely one has to be mentally ill to participate in blogging? The diagnosis is okay I I guess, as it’s Type 2 Bipolar, which I believe is the good one and nothing like the completely bonkers Type 1. Is there an expansion pack? You know, type 3?
The higher rating would be handy, as it would give me a disclaimer for all sorts of things. “Hey, you haven’t got any pants on!” “Oh sorry, that’s not me, it’s the bipolar.” See? I’ve got this all worked out already and in the end it’s only another ailment to live with, which I’ll get used to. I’ve already had to endure a lifetime of living with ‘is-that-a-penis-or-a-cashew syndrome’ (ITAPOACS), so you can see I’ve had to put up with a fair bit over the years.*
Oh yeah, the walk. Ben advised me he would have a ‘reward’ for me going climbing, whilst I have a bung neck and a mental illness at the same time. By the way, guess what feature the walk has? How can you not know? There’s a cave of course, which one is able to walk through and then continue on the climb. It sounded quite cool and although it can be skipped if one is claustrophobic, it was definitely mandatory for bipolar people. So, the walk started quite sedately with a climb through forest, before reaching the rocky sections, which hopefully wouldn’t cause us too many ‘situations’.
The sign at the start also mentioned the climb would only take 45 minutes. Is that all? The grading is also rated as ‘very hard’, which was interesting as the Canyon Track is only classified as ‘hard’. I previously rated the latter as ‘bonkers’, so I’m not sure where I can go in my rating terminology.
There was no time to ponder such things, as we slowly inched up the rocks. They weren’t too bad though, as they provided plenty of grip and unlike my overnight walk a few weeks back, not carrying a backpack made a big difference.
The initial part of the rock climbing was going well and there were only a couple of hairy moments where we were in a position of falling off. I felt like a bit of an adventurer and I managed to come up with a name for myself.
It took a little while, as the name ‘Greg’ doesn’t really sound very inspiring, so I had to improvise a bit and I came up with the following. ‘Bear Greggz’. Any good? It’s very outdoorsy, whilst being original at the same time. Did you notice the subtle additions such as the two ‘g’s’ to my surname, which instantly makes it funky and also the ‘z’ gives me plenty of street-cred? There’s a slight problem though. If one thinks about it too much, the name ‘Bear Greggz’ could be confused with either an outdoor adventurer or a gay porn star.
It was fun clambering up and it wasn’t long before we reached the ‘cave’. Now, when I think of a cave, I imagine an opening where one walks in, admires a few bats hanging from the ceiling and then strolls out. This ‘cave’ is actually a massive rock tilted against another with a narrow opening between both. I could just see daylight at the end of it, but it required a couple of points of climbing along the way. There was also the other concern about its narrowness, as it would require an aggressive ‘gut-sucking in’ performance to fit through.
Ben led the way, as he’s substantially thinner and if he started getting wedged, I could always back out and then head home. No, just joking, I wouldn’t leave him with the camera, so I would grab that before heading home. The walls were quite wet and even at the widest part I had to walk sideways, which meant I couldn’t even think about performing any lat-flares, as I’d get stuck for sure.
Now, I’m not sure how to describe it, but the moments where we had to climb rocks in the dark were a little tricky. I didn’t have a torch, so I used the camera flash to get an idea of what I was stepping on. As a result, I have plenty of photos of the ground, which are not the most exciting. I might let the pictures tell the story of the ‘cave’…
The most narrow part of the cave had to be at the end, didn’t it? Even Ben was getting a little squished, but he made it out the other side in one piece. I found negotiating the exit a lot more difficult. No matter how much I sucked my guts in, I became wedged.
Ben thought it was fantastic and took a number of photos of me jammed between the two rocks. I considered setting off my emergency beacon, just so some rescuers could come with an enormous shoe-horn to lever me out. Well, either that or a few tubs of butter would do the trick.
After about ten minutes of inching along, I fell out the other side feeling a little thinner, not to mention my sunglasses, which had been in my pocket. They were now officially destroyed, as all the crushing had popped one lens out and the arms were now so wide, they’d never fit back on my head, unless it was pumpkin size. Very disappointing.
We were a little dirty, but back in the fresh air with just a few hundred metres to go. The trouble is, the trickiest rocks to climb were next. As the next photo shows, the arrow indicating the direction to head was attached to a tree and to the left was a ledge with quite a drop.
Ben went for the method of inching up the rock to the right of the tree. Being Bear Greggz though, I didn’t want something too simple, so I went for the rocks to the left and found myself sweating slightly, as it appeared to be a bit of a tenuous climb. Balance was the key and I certainly was concentrating, but also making sure I didn’t want to miss anything, so I continued taking photos.
I successfully made it, which makes sense really, as you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. The top of Sugarloaf Peak was now close and Ben wanted to finish off in style. I’m not sure if climbing blindfolded is ‘style’, but it was worthy nonetheless.
It was a matter of a few feet more and we were there at the top. Well, remember the bit at the start about it being a ’45 minute’ climb? Guess how long it took us? How about 2 hours and 15 minutes?! I’m not sure what happened there, but I may have been wedged in the cave longer than I thought.
It was now a little late in the day, but we still had time to relax on top of Sugarloaf Peak. Not to mention there was plenty of reading material to get through, which was painstakingly selected to match the arduous climb.
Firstly, I wanted to revisit the June 1974 edition of ‘Cricketer’. What’s famous about this edition is the cover photo of Jeff Thomson and its accompanying caption. ‘The Batsman Hater’.
It gets better inside. Thommo is quoted as, “…truthfully I enjoy hitting a batsmen more than getting him out. It doesn’t worry me in the least to see a batsman hurt, rolling around screaming and blood on the pitch…” Then the kicker by the interviewer. “…I believed every word of it…”
Now, when I was 10, I thought it was fair dinkum, but looking back now, I have a pretty good hunch Thommo was taking the piss. It’s truly one of the most daft interviews I’ve ever read, so let’s re-live that great cover from the vista of Sugarloaf Peak.
There are more publications to come, but there’s always a risk of completely overdoing it. Which we did. This was a manly walk, which demanded some freestyle masculinity, so next on the agenda is the May 1983 edition of ‘Survival Weapons and Tactics’.
After looking at this magazine, I soon discovered ‘survival’ is measured by having a bigger gun than anyone else. It has a great cover of some bloke who appears to be lost in the snow, but maintaining an obligatory ‘tough’ look on his face. Then again, the same look could be interpreted as shit-scared. It’s one or the other.
Surely you didn’t think I’d put this down without checking out the article titled ‘Urban Street Survival!’? Did you notice the exclamation mark? Yeah! Best of all, it features some bloke who has a pair of nut-gripping tight pants, topped off with a Hades edition comb-over. It’s modelled on the 1980’s, ‘part cabaret star, part bank teller’ look.
There are some classic poses by tight pants, which if one tried to replicate, whilst undertaking ‘Urban Street Survival!’ the only way they could possibly work is if the assailant laughed himself to death. Ben was getting right into it though and thought he would give it a go. Standing on the edge of the rocky peak for some added spice.
Okay, enough of the serious stuff. Where’s the reward for climbing the hill, which Ben was talking about at the start? Lemon tart? Bucket of KFC? I guess it was never going to be that good, was it? Oh no, somehow the 1983 edition of ‘Flatten your Stomach’ appeared, which comes complete with an exercise called ‘The Rewarder’. Okay, let’s have a go.
I was pretty upset I didn’t have the outfit as depicted in the magazine, but maybe next time I could dress appropriately for the occasion. Ben had a go and although he had the arms correct, I only noticed later he was blatantly cheating by leaning on a rock. Shifty bastard.
It had to come to an end sooner or later. It was late in the afternoon, so it was time to head down. We elected to descend via the Canyon Track, which I’d walked up a few weeks earlier. In theory, it would certainly be easier than what we’d just climbed. The sun was lower now and a golden glow was in the surrounding trees.
There are a couple of parts on the descent, which are a little tricky. One of them is a rocky section, which is quite steep with minimal places to grab hold of. Lucky we had gravity to assist us.
How should one descend in these situations? Facing the rock or face out? I thought I’d go for the, ‘sliding on the bum’ approach. It was going well, but I did come across a bit of a flaw when I accidently slipped. If one’s in this position, there’s a high chance the slide would continue until something solid was reached. What would that have been? Well, check out the next photo to see the result of ‘how not to descend’.
Yes, I slid with legs apart until my method of stopping was by landing astride a rock, which managed to propel my testicles to the back of my throat. It wasn’t a real lot of fun, but at least Ben did the right thing by capturing the moment of impact.
It wasn’t the greatest of feelings, so I began some full throttle cursing, but it really doesn’t have the right effect, as I sounded like chipmunk on helium. I managed to recover though and although I was now walking like a cowboy who’d been riding a few too many elephants, there wasn’t far to go.
Clearing the rocks without any more ‘situations’, we re-entered the forest and before we knew it, we’d arrived at the carpark. There was still some daylight left, so the picnic tables were utilised in order to brew up before leaving.
Dare I say this, but I think the Cave Wells Walk is still the most fun I’ve ever had on a day walk. It’s hard to believe the entire trip was only 5 km, but what more do you want in an afternoon stroll?
I do think the information sign at the start could be updated though. I’m thinking of something like, ‘Do not enter if you’ve got a massive gut’. I guess it would be hard to write this in a decent way? Maybe, ‘Avoid cave section immediately after lunch and if feeling beefy’? Not too bad?
Anyway, it was over. Time to head off with most of my targets within the Cathedral Range now completed…
*NB -2015: Just to let you know. I was only Bipolar for a few months. My employer at the time sent me to a bank of doctors and after some pondering, they decided I wasn’t. Maybe Bipolar diagnoses were popular in 2011?