Pain Personified, Strath Creek Falls, Mt Disappointment

How many times can I go back to a walk in order to complete what I’d planned on the first visit? Well, with my Strath Creek Falls day hike within the Mt Disappointment State Forest, this was the third time I’d been to this spot and the previous walks are described here and here. Neither trip I’d undertaken on my own had worked out to plan. If you want pain personified, Strath Creek Falls is the place for your wish to come true.

I decided it would be ‘third time lucky’, so I wheeled out some support for another crack at this walk on a toasty hot Saturday. My son Ben was ready for some adventure, but I was also dragging along a long time friend, the Smuffin. Why’s he called the Smuffin? The story why is remarkably dull. It’s a mix of his name and his signature breakfast dish.

Oh, I forgot. There was one other participant. Winston Churchill. He was also keen to come in order to provide some much needed stoicism.

Why is it difficult? The main reason is the area was extensively burned in the bushfires of 2009 and regrowth has made the walking into a slog. Old bush tracks have been swallowed up in the new vegetation.

I was pretty confident of finishing the hike as planned, but there was a lingering thought about the weather, which could be problematic. The forecast was for 30 °C and although I’m not a fan of the heat, I did plan to take plenty of water. How about four and a half litres? Is that enough?

I was also carrying more weight in a small pack than I’d done for quite some time. I recently bought a cuben-fiber number, so I was interested in seeing how it feels. Time to get walking and I apologise if some of the upcoming photos look a little similar to the previous trips!

We arrived at the Strath Creek Falls car park at about 10 am without a cloud in the sky. Potential polarizer abuse coming up? Yes, of course, as I had bought a new one since the You Yangs walk, where somehow I’d unscrewed my last one into three pieces.

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Path to Strath Creek Falls lookout

We made our way down past the waterfall lookouts and hopped the fence at the end to access the top of the falls. There were of course a few pictures to take whilst getting there.

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After descending a rock wall, we made it to the falls in one piece and spent a few minutes looking around. The area is certainly rugged, with steep hillsides leading up from the Strath Creek.

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Looking down Strath Creek from the top of the waterfall

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Strath Creek Falls

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The way ahead

Now it was time for the first ‘fun’ of the day and that’s the slog through the bush on the opposite side of the creek. A rather steep hill, covered in regrowth, made it a bash-fest before the legs had warmed up. I sent the other two ahead to clear a path for me, which was very kind of them.

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Into the bush

This is the third time I’d climbed this particular hill and it never seems to get any easier. There was a path at one stage, but it’s been swallowed by the regrowth. My only method is to aim for the top. I like to keep things simple.

There were still some views to be had if one pulled branches out of the way, such as the next photo.

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Amongst the new vegetation, there are a number of burned trees, which guaranteed the clothes were going to get a little dirty.

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We continued slogging our way to the top of the hill where it was a relief to reach McMahons Road and have some flat terrain to walk on. I noted my GPS was informing me we’d only covered 920 metres, yet I was already out of breath and sweating heavily. My thoughts were, “Mm… This could be an interesting day after all”. There’s a small cairn at the top and Smuffin helped its growth.

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We now had a session of roadside walking, which was a relief after the bush climb. We followed these roads for a few kilometres before heading off track again. It was time to make our way to Diggers Gully Falls, which is where on my last outing everything started going wrong.

Last time I lost my map, managed to smash my leg on a rock and as a finale, indulged in a bit of pant ripping action. All in one hectic hour. My previous mistake was trying to head down to Diggers Gully too early, which meant I reached it above the waterfall. A matter of turning right too soon, so the plan this time was to keep left whilst descending, which should bring us to Diggers Gully away from the waterfall. Simple?

We found the remains of an overgrown vehicle track on top of a ridge, but this promptly vanished as we began to descend. It was pretty steep going, but what made it more entertaining was looking at the narrowing contour lines on the GPS.

An exciting descent was guaranteed and even Winston appeared to be nervous at what was to come.

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You better hang on Winston…

My surmising was correct, as officially, this is where the fun started. We’d elected to follow a route, which was more a water run-off than a track. The only bonus was it had a few open areas where we didn’t have to be in trees all the time.

Steepness was a problem though. Not to mention the occasional sizeable drop over rock ledges and a loose, scree surface in parts, which meant falls were definitely on the cards. I was concentrating on staying upright, when I heard the inevitable thump, groan and shaking of trees as Ben bit the dust. I made sure I got a photo through the greenery, as there’s no point falling, unless someone can record the impact.

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One down

All I can say is this downhill section sucked and I’m still not sure of the best route to descend to Diggers Gully. I’m thinking there isn’t one and it’s just a matter of getting down as best as one can.

Smuffin found another dry gully with less vegetation than before, so it was as good as anything. Mind you, the trade off was a zillion rocks underfoot, which made a habit of moving as soon as we’d step on one.

Oh, there were a million cobwebs as well, so Smuffin decided he’d be a good bloke by going first and clearing them for us. Actually, did he elect to do this? I don’t think he did. It just happened.

The steepness/looseness meant the ‘proceed on ones arse’ system was occasionally deployed.

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Two down

I’m not sure how, but Ben bit the dust again and this time a bit of recovery was required before he got going again.

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At one with the gravel

This was now completely stupid and I was amazed I was keeping my feet. I’m usually the first to be chewing the dust, but this time, other than slipping and sliding, I was somehow staying vertical.

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A particularly annoying drop was negotiated without any broken limbs.

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Getting down from this was harder than it looks

The constant bracing of the legs whilst looking for a steady surface for each footstep was taking its toll on my knees. I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately, but mostly on flat surfaces. Where I live, it’s flat as a tack and no matter the mileage, a few decent hills soon makes the legs feel heavy.

We did come across fallen trees as well and one in particular looked ideal for going under. Ben went first and within 0.4 seconds had to drop his pack as he began entangled whilst exclaiming, “this is the worst decision of my life”. I recovered his pack and elected not to follow him.

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This wasn’t the best route

It truly was the ‘eternal descent’ until we finally hit the flat ground of Diggers Gully and I was glad to splash some cool water from the creek on my face. I was absolutely soaked in sweat and feeling decidedly stuffed, so I thought it best to have something to eat in order to try and recharge the batteries.

Lunch was a roll with a spread of avocado and topped off with Portuguese chicken, Jarlsberg cheese and cranberry sauce. I think it was a good choice. We all guzzled water and then the decision was made to whether we should make our way up to Diggers Gully waterfall. I was feeling absolutely drained, for which I think the heat was mainly to blame, and no rousing speeches from Winston could fire me up at all.

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Believe it or not, but even though we felt we should go see the waterfall, as we’d put in some effort to get to this point, the decision was made to “stuff them”.

I really couldn’t be bothered moving and the only thing keeping me going was the dunking of my hat in the cold water and applying it to my head. Such a simple thing became a lifesaver.

Even Winston couldn’t motivate me and it got to the stage where rocks were thrown in an attempt to quieten him down.

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It’s tough being only a few feet tall I guess. By the way, I did select the ultralight Winston, as I weighed him before I left and he’s exactly 812 grams. I think that’s okay considering the real one would be a lot heavier to carry in a pack. This proves to the weight conscious hikers out there, that a walking motivator who can deliver speeches on cue, is available at less than one kilogram.

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Okay Winston, let’s go…

It was time to go and we made our way to the next decision point of the day. Did we want to follow Strath Creek back to the car or follow McMahons Road, which is the method I used on my last trip here.

The decision was made when it took us an eternity to walk 800 metres on the Diggers Gully creek bed. The thought of walking the three kilometres which we needed to do on a rocky Strath Creek was a bit much to contemplate, plus it would have been time consuming. It was already well into the afternoon and we were meant to leave at a reasonable hour in order to put the roast on for dinner. These are big issues.

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Cool water walking in Diggers Gully creek

So, upon reaching McMahons Road we headed up it, instead of the creek. It was comfortable underfoot, but the dirt road climbs continually for over three kilometres and in my tired, hot state I wasn’t looking forward to this section.

The sky had been absolutely clear all day and I found myself walking to the few spots of shade along the road and having a rest for a minute or so. My legs felt like lead and I was aware of moving at a very slow speed.

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A month or so ago I walked up this road and it was more annoying than anything. On this occasion though, I was literally shuffling up at a snails pace. An endless series of corners revealed nothing more than a never ending climb, so it was a bit hard to take mentally.

At one point I came across Ben waiting for me in the shade. He was so knackered sitting on the road that he didn’t notice a snake about a metre from him. I took a quick photo before the snake slithered off at high speed down the roadside embankment.

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That was a little bit of excitement to break up the drudgery of the climb. A late afternoon rising moon was also a nice sight to take my mind off things a little.

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The other two had taken off ahead and I was slowly shuffling along. I was even more surprised to be on my last half litre of water considering I’d started with four and a half. How much do I need on a hot day? I’ve ordered a three litre bladder which might make it easier to stay rehydrated, as I sometimes neglect to keep topping up with fluids. What’s next? Well, the road kept climbing of course.

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My brain was well and truly in neutral, whilst I plodded along constantly staring at the road. I saw a stick ahead and continued towards it until I noticed the stick had a tongue. In my heat frazzled state I thought to myself, “Mm… Stick with a tongue. That’s a little weird”, as I kept shuffling.

At some point my brain rotated a sticky cog and I stopped to realise the tongued stick was actually a snake. This one was a bit bigger than the last and I took a few photos before he also took off for the scrub.

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Normally I might jump a little when I come across a snake, but on this occasion it was complete nonchalance. “Stick’s a snake. Yeah, keep walking”, was the best my brain could come up with.

After what seemed like a decade of walking, the road eventually began to level off and I finally caught up with the others at the rocky cairn, which we’d climbed up to at the start of the day. Yep, the car was now less than a kilometre away, but we had an infernal scrub bash back down to Strath Creek Falls, before having to ascend a short distance in order to finish the walk.

Here we go again. We started to descend and with the sun getting low in the sky there was an opportunity to see some vibrant colours on the trees around us.

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I led the way as chief cobweb clearer and it was definitely aggravating. Pushing through bushes without being able to see my feet made for some dodgy walking. Scrub and a rocky, loose surface was a recipe for disaster.

Smuffin was behind me when I heard a loud crash of branches breaking. I looked around to see him face down, with his legs facing down the hill. He then began sliding and overtook me in this position. As he did so, his t-shirt rode up his chest, so now his skin was bouncing off rocks, trees and gravel. It looked quite painful.

Eventually he stopped and quickly stood up, but the exposed chest revealed a number of red welts. Missing skin and bruises were an unusual souvenir to have for a walk.

When I fall, I always land on my back at some weird angle and I’ve never seen a face first slide before. Ben following also had a bit of tumble, but he also got to his feet okay.

Finally we reached the top of the falls and again it was a chance to dunk the hat in some cold water. A sit down was also required in order to rest a little before the final climb.

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We finished the last of our water and then it was time to climb the rock wall and follow the path back to the car.

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Looking up for the way out of Strath Creek Falls

I can’t say I was moving any quicker, but at least the car was only a few hundred metres away. The moon had now risen and there was always the excuse to stop, not for a rest, but to take some photos.

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A bit more climbing and the car was reached. I was absolutely knackered and mildly blubbering.

All in all, the statistics don’t really tell the story. We’d done 14.62 km with 505 metres of total elevation climbed for the day. It doesn’t sound too bad, but somehow it took us eight hours! The heat, rough off-track walking, absolutely sucked the life out of me and I think I’ve been too mentally scarred by this experience to ever want to return to Strath Creek again. Maybe.

I was wondering which photo to close this entry with and I considered this one of the setting sun.

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You know what though? I think the next one sums up the day. Even the stoicism of Winston Churchill wasn’t enough. As the days proceedings got nasty even he had to pack it in. Faced with a few more hours in my pack, he decided to drown himself. I managed to save him and other than some gravel marks he’s recovered enough for another adventure nightmare.

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