Mt Juliet, Yarra Ranges National Park

Well, it’s a new year. Actually, should that have been in capitals? I’m not sure, so I’ll do it again and cover all the bases.

Well, it’s a New Year. What’s to come? I’ve got no idea, probably more half-baked write ups about the same stuff I’ve been talking about for the last eight years. I could use the philosophy of, ‘it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but I align more with my dads method. ‘I’m saying it ain’t broke, but really that’s a smokescreen as I know it’s broke, which means try and fix it yourself, but as you haven’t got a clue, you thoroughly stuff it up more and then you say to yourself, it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which just makes you feel better.’

Don’t try and decode the last paragraph. The cricket is on, so I’m sidetracked. Inevitably this means random thoughts might crop up that have nothing to do with walking. Like, how much money has Shane Warne spent on his teeth?

Near Healesville, Mt Juliet, Yarra Ranges National Park is a short walk, but its signature is a rip-roaring climb amongst towering mountain ash. Okay, that’s the basics for SEO purposes over with and I could go straight into it. The trouble is, on a lot of these walks the lead-up is more interesting than the walk itself. Oh, if I reach the point where the opening paragraph reads something like, ‘you park the car in the car park. Head off in a southerly direction and follow the signposted trail’, then post me a Β·38 to put myself out of my misery. My greatest fear in writing is beige.

Now, Mt Juliet. To be honest, I’d never heard of the place until reading a post on Anna’s training adventures blog in 2014. It certainly was an entertaining account and it’s a pity that like most blogs, they eventually get abandoned. I can understand though, as essentially blogging is an extended conversation with yourself and really, what’s the point? I’ve no idea, but I’m getting off topic a little.

Although I had no knowledge of Mt Juliet until a few years ago, don’t be too hard on me. I’d spent 20 years living in the west, where all hills and trees had been successfully eliminated. A walk with a hill in the western suburbs contained roughly 20 metres elevation. So, to find out there was a hill out east that rose like a complete bastard made for some enlightening statistics.

Sure, the total walk from start to summit is only 4.5 km, but there’s a catch. Somehow, in this piddly distance there’s an elevation rise of roughly 900 metres. Oh, not to mention the beginning has a gently rising kilometre or so of access road. Only then does it get serious with a walking track carved out of the hillside that ascends 800 metres in just over three kilometres. Topping out at 1100 metres the successful climber is rewarded with a tree-locked summit that has no views. Huh? Why am I doing this? I’ll tell you why. For potential comedy. It sounded so horrible, surely it would make for a good post. I reckon over half of my walks are done these days with the hope they’ll turn to crap. Mm… I may have to alter this line of thinking. One day.

Come to think of it. Are there any steeper tracks in Victoria? Sure, there are steeper hills, but I can’t think of a track that ascends so quickly. Maybe there’s another one somewhere, but I’m confident about one thing. They’re not in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Anyway, continuing my final pre-walk thoughts. Who built the track? Forget your la-di-da, zig-zag style to make it easy on the legs. No, this is a real meat and potatoes straight up system. Also, why is there an enormous cairn on top? Don’t worry, I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. Unlike others, I’ll even link to where I found the information. It’s listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Finally, considering what lay ahead, I was well and truly equipped. At the best of times, the Yarra Ranges always seem to be damp, so I was expecting a bit of mud. More so, as my tilt was a few days after the Great Deluge. Remember that? Okay, maybe the warnings were more memorable than the actual rain that occurred, but there was more than enough to make me think I’d spend some time, sliding on my hands and knees. This led to a bomb proof choice of clothing. Long pants, gaiters, long sleeves and gloves. Why gloves? That’s easy. Why get your hands dirty if you don’t have to? Oh, if you really want to know, I envisioned clambering over and under fallen trees, so figured some extra protection wouldn’t hurt.

You know what else I decided was de rigueur? Trekking poles. It’s weird, but eight years ago I used them all the time, but these days, they’re rarely out of the cupboard. When taking pictures, I kept finding they’d just get in the way, so they’ve fallen out of favour. There’s one reason I dusted them off for this trip. The descent. A steep gradient tortures my creaky knees, so I was relying on the sticks to help me ease my way down.

Oh, a random thought regarding gear. Now and again I get emails asking to review equipment, but there’s a reason I steer clear of those posts. Nearly all the stuff I’m using is years old. As an example, take my trekking poles. Yes, I’m still using the same Black Diamond Ergo’s that I reviewed back in 2011. I mean, some of my stuff is so old, on this walk I was wearing the same shirt I wore when I climbed Mt Feathertop in 2009. That reminds me. I must wash it one day.

Is that it? I think so. Considering I live 2.5 hours drive from the walk start, I had to be up early and I even surprised myself to be out the door by 6.00 am. Actually, the early morning drive was going like a dream, as I’d mapped out a route to avoid the roads of Warrandyte during peak hour. Zipping through Kangaroo Ground and then through Yarra Glen made sense for a trouble-free run to Healesville. There I was, congratulating myself on some navigation wizardry, when I crested a hill on the Eltham-Yarra Glen Road. Guess what was on the other side? If you guessed, ‘a police roadblock’, you’d be correct.

I’ve no idea what was going on, but I was informed the road had been closed at Watsons Creek. This meant only one thing. I’d have to turn around and DRIVE THROUGH WARRANDYTE INSTEAD. AT 8.00 AM. So, a convoluted hour and a half was spent immersed in traffic I normally wouldn’t have been in. Eventually though, a few kilometres outside Healesville, I arrived at the starting point of Road 3 on the Maroondah Highway. Now, it was mid-week, so I felt confident I’d be the only fool to be climbing Mt Juliet on the day. Ah, no. That wasn’t the case.

I parked behind another car where I very fit looking person was getting kitted up. She was lean, whereas when I got out of the car, it was about a minute before my guts joined me. A brief conversation followed and I noted a few things. About 20 years ago, she’d climbed Mt Juliet. That’s not all. She intended to do it again, as an information gathering exercise. She explained that her friend wanted to do it, but felt best to check it out before she dragged her friend along.

This is all very good, but I reflected on my ambitions and they weren’t quite so lofty. Two things applied to Mt Juliet. Firstly, there’s no way in a million years I wouldn’t make it to the top. I’d driven way too far to have a go and bail out. Secondly, there’s no way I’d be coming back. If a friend was considering the climb, I’d help out by providing them with the location and then I’d sit down again to watch the TV.

Anyway, after our conversation I dithered around for a while, as I wanted her to go first. Looking way fitter, I assumed I’d be a roadblock in no time. Also, I had another cunning plan up my sleeve. Feeling confident no one else was heading up for the day, I’d follow, as that way I wouldn’t have to deal with the inevitable early morning cobwebs that all these tracks seem to have. Allowing a pathfinder to barrel onward would leave me web-free for the day.

In moments, lean and mean was out of sight, whereas fat and friendly was bringing up the rear. Slowly chugging along Road 3, I took in my surroundings. So far, it was all very gentlemanly with the wide track allowing plenty of elbow room.

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Road 3, Yarra Ranges National Park

Glancing down, I spotted this beetle crossing the road. Actually, I couldn’t really avoid it, as the photo doesn’t show its scale. It was roughly the size of a Volkswagen.

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Sure, it all looks quite relaxing, but don’t forget this is just the intro. After a kilometre, the road is left and only then does things get serious. A sign announced the beginning of the walking track.

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Actually, it’s hard to see in the previous photo, but the sign is buckled. I’m not sure what happened to it? While hurtling downhill, maybe some fat bastard got a speed wobble up and used the sign as a brake? In saying that, I memorised its location, as I may have needed it on the way back. Oh, there’s an information board as well. I didn’t read it though, as I was concerned its contents might frighten me.

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Mt Juliet information sign

Leaving the more or less open canopy of the road, I ventured into a green tunnel as it began to rise. First impressions? Um… It’s refined? I was expecting some elbow-pinning vegetation…

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…but it was all quite roomy.

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That’s not all. There were even markers to lead the way.

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Mind you, if you get lost on this track, then you may as well give up on walking. There’s really nowhere else to go other than lean forward and keep following the path. Soon, I was passing a huge fallen tree…

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…and after this point the gradient began to steepen. Not that you’d know from the photos. As the next picture shows, it’s hard to depict an incline. It was quite steep here…

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…but it looks no more intimidating than a wander around Albert Park Lake. Although I stopped frequently to suck in some air, I didn’t stay still for long. Hemmed in by bush, there was no real spot to rest and take in the surroundings. Then again, other than the view above, there were no expansive sights to see anyway. It was a neck snapping affair to see the tops of the trees. For the next photo I had to lean backwards until the rear of my head was touching the heels of my boots.

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Continuing on, I reached a section where it was a bit rough underfoot. Dozens of loose rocks, threatening to shift with each footstep, meant I had to inch my way across them. Due to the gradient, this was not the spot to take a tumble. The consequences of a fall would result in that sign at the start coming into play. Oh, I was also negotiating the occasional fallen tree.

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Then again, I think I was talking up this timber obstacle. It looked like most people go under it, but I elected for an over the top system and was on my way again in roughly 0.7 seconds. Around this point it began to dawn on me. Where were the hazards? There I was, expecting a wet and slippery mud-fest, but it was bone dry. Huh? My gloved hands were ready for uncomfortable scrambling over colossal, fallen mountain ash. Instead, all they were protecting me from was the dripping sweat off my forehead.

It had all been going remarkably well and now I was under 400 metres from the summit. The thing is though, that short distance was deceptive. On the excessively scratched screen of my GPS, the contour lines on the map were ridiculously close together. So much so I was going to take a photo of them during one of my frequent climbing pauses. Alas, it was at this point I found out something regarding the camera I’d been lugging along.

During my pre-walk thoughts, I decided to go with an older, but lighter DSLR, rather than my standard heavy duty one. So, I took one I hadn’t used for about five years. It seemed to be fine when I was sitting on the couch at home. Unfortunately though, on the cursed incline, it revealed an annoying gremlin. It wouldn’t spot focus. Sure, I could take photos in auto mode, but if I wanted to focus on something distinct, the whole thing would lock up. I stopped for about 10 minutes, convinced it was a setting I’d accidentally triggered, preventing me from using anything other than auto. Um… No. I could write another paragraph detailing what it kept doing, but all you need to know is it was playing up.

Okay, it wasn’t the end of the world, as I could still take photos. The trouble is, I couldn’t pick out individual things within the bush that were more interesting than wide-open, expansive shots of trees. Like the next picture. During the climb, I was spending a lot of my time staring at the ground, which with the steep gradient was only a foot or so from my face. A blue claw from a yabby stood out from the standard brown and green colours around me. Do you think I could focus on it though?

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I took around five photos and that’s the best one. The rest, focus on the sticks around the subject, rather than the subject itself. Grr… Oh well, I had to make do, as auto still worked for landscape shots. Such as the next one. Trying to show an incline head on is tricky. I find it easier to reveal a gradient from a side shot.

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Other than camera glitches, the rest of the climb was going well. I passed occasional markers where it appears the person who attached them had lost their mojo for the job…

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…and there was a feeling of the top approaching, as the gradient lessened slightly.

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I also met lean and mean again. This time though, she was on the way down and appeared to have not exerted any energy. We had another conversation and I also attempted to show as if I wasn’t suffering. Unfortunately though, I could only splutter a single word between each breath. It would have been like having a conversation with someone who was about to die.

What’s worse is she told me I was only 10 minutes from reaching the top. Mm… What? Her time or mine? If it was mine, I’d only have 12 feet to go. For someone like Usain Bolt, there’d be another six kilometres instead. We bid our farewells and after a short slog, I found out she’d judged my slothness perfectly. Within a few minutes it was all over, as an opening amongst the trees appeared and the enormous bell-shaped cairn revealed itself.

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Mt Juliet summit cairn

It was a relief to stand on flat ground and also to dispense with the pack for a while. I spent a few minutes absorbing the details of the cairn…

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…although I’m not too sure about the makeshift flagpole. Is this the Himalayan touch?

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I wonder how long it took to build the cairn? I assume they camped at the top while it was done? I’d hope so. I’d be disappointed to clock on at the bottom each morning, climb up, add a couple of rocks and walk down again to clock off, before doing it all again the next day.

Anyway, you want to know what the most insane part of this day was? At the top, I didn’t sit down at all. I ate an apple, took some photos and after exactly 23 minutes of standing around I began to head back down. I’ve no idea why I didn’t lounge around for an hour or so? Maybe if there was a view, but before I knew it, the pack was on and I was facing down the hill.

Now, I took very few photos of the descent. The main reason is I was in concentration overdrive. At the best of times I’m a little clumsy and can easily fall over on the most nondescript terrain. A tumble on this gradient would be ugly though, so I extended the trekking poles and took measured steps downwards.

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You know what? Before I knew it, I was clearing the steepest sections and reentering flatter ground where I could extend the stride a little. Soon the buckled information sign was reached and I was back on Road 3, with a short jaunt back to the car. The final kilometre on the casually descending road gave me some time to reflect about Mt Juliet.

Can I say this now? It’s not too bad. Hell, if a carb-addicted 120 kg of beefiness can get up it, then I’m sure a lot of others will easily as well. By the way, I’m not talking about a lean 20 year old. If you’re in your 20’s and fit, there’s no excuse to not be running up it instead. Anyway, I was expecting mud, fallen trees and most likely leeches. Instead, it was an open track all the way to the top. Who knows? Maybe I’m getting fitter? Ha! Oh, considering the merits of my extensive clothing for the day, the absolute winner were the trekking poles. It made the descending a million times easier, both for balance and taking the stress off my knees. They’re certainly not returning to the cupboard for the time being.

Overall, I’ve certainly had worse days climbing than Mt Juliet. Most though, have had an element that made the whole experience worse. Helicopter Spur and its intimidating rock bands was a killer, but it was also summer and I was carrying a pack with five days worth of stuff. Mm… Diamantina Spur was another. That one really sucked, but again, it was summer and to top it off, I ran out of water on the way up.

Actually, do you want to know about my worse? It also was out east. Donna Buang. On paper it shouldn’t be as hard as Juliet, but I was smashed by the end of that climb. Then again, I think I’m haunted by the fact I was tasting the remnants of IKEA meatballs for the entire day. No wonder I’m still traumatised.

In the end, sometimes it isn’t the gradient, as my worst days of walking have occurred sans hills. Cape Liptrap, Five Mile Beach to Tin Mine Cove, Wilsons Promontory and how could I ever forget it. Wingan Inlet to Benedore River, Croajingolong National Park. All of those days stretched the elastic of my mental limit.

Hang on. Last night, I wrote the previous few paragraphs before going to bed. A sleepless night then ensured, as a walking nightmare reared up from the past. The Viking. I’d detailed some horrid days when walking, but clearly my mind has attempted to expunge one of the worst. Catherine Saddle to the Wonnangatta River, via the Viking is easily a 100% outdoor shocker. Out of water and stumbling down the South Viking in the dark at 10 pm was biblically horrible. Anyway, I should finish this post and stop reminiscing. It’s all very good contemplating these ‘fond’ memories, but I would like to sleep again one night.

Returning to Mt Juliet. If you’re interested in the gradient statistics, then here’s an outline from my GPS.

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It’s a bit of a wild ride and according to Strava, for a moment the gradient was 48%. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, as it sounds more wall than track. Anyway, I was done and unless I’m bribed, never to return. It took about 10 minutes to remove all of my protective clothing, but I think I dawdled as I faced a three hour drive home. Talk about cramping the legs, but I luckily they survived for another day.

What’s next? I’ve no idea. I’ll see what I feel like when I sit down to write the next post.