Bears Head Circuit, Lerderderg State Park

How did you like the last two You Yangs posts? I don’t know about you, but they were easy for me. Short walks are simple to write up in a hit/run fashion. I’m sorry to say though, the good times are over, as it’s time for something a bit more long-winded and over the top. Not to mention the longest intro, that even someone of my bombastic nature might find hard to pull off.

Prior to the You Yangs posts, I wrote a double about my adventures in Lerderderg State Park. If you missed them, I can give you a summary. There were a lot of steep hills, I complained and also got wet. Mm… That’s about it. The thing is though, I’ve gone completely mental in the gorge lately and as a result, have plenty of material to send you into a coma with. Do I push the friendship and write about another? Do you like how I offer you a choice, when actually you have none? I do the writing, so I’m sorry to say, but you’ve got to put up with the Lerderderg again. Mind you, this might be a little bit spicier than the other ‘derg trips, as I picked out the hardest day-walk in the area I could find. Am I man enough to survive?

I turned to Glenn ‘Esquire of Excruciating’ Tempest’s book, ‘Melbourne’s Western Gorges’ and scanned through the walks looking for the key words ‘agony’, ‘horrific’ and ‘testicles-crushed-to-paté’. The best I could find was a blurb which states,

‘Walk 11 – Bears Head Circuit. This challenging walk descends into one of the remotest and least visited sections of the magnificent Lerderderg Gorge. The surroundings are spectacular and experienced walkers will enjoy a genuine sense of isolation and adventure.’

It might have been missing the key words I was looking for, but it was the pick of the crop. Just as a spoiler. There are no bears or heads to be sighted. So, should I start the trip report? No, of course not. I’ve got more paragraphs of crap to come.

Okay, I’d lined up this walk, but there was something missing. In his older book titled, ‘Daywalks Around Melbourne’, ‘Gee Tee’ has a mention of a wander up the Old River tributary to a waterfall. The overall blurb for that walk sounds even sexier than the latest one. How’s this?

‘The most difficult and remote walk in this book leads into the very heart of Lerderderg State Park. The walk features outstanding views of the gorge, some tricky off-track terrain and a visit to the rarely seen Old River Waterfall’.

Now, that’s up my alley. Hardest walk in the book? Seeing how it contains 100 daywalks, surely it’s reasonably painful? I’d pass the Old River tributary whilst in the gorge, so it would be daft to just wander by without taking a side-trip and checking it out. I’m not sure why the waterfall is not mentioned in the latest book? He may have reverted to the Tony Montana method again, “I’ve got my waterfalls and my balls and I don’t share them with anybody.”

Right. I’ve almost started, but not quite. I’ve combined two separate walks and named it Old River Waterfall and Bears Head Circuit, Lerderderg State Park. That’s good, but how long will it take? The walk notes suggest seven hours to get it done. Seven? That sounds like a lot, considering I’m not fast. So, I aimed for an early start and picked out the perfect day. Saturday. Not any old Saturday, but election day Saturday. I was contemplating the election result and figured if I smashed myself physically, I wouldn’t be too distraught in the evening, due to bodily destruction. Quite a plan.

I aimed to hit the polling booths early, vote, race home, inhale some porridge and be on the track by 10 am at the latest. Guess what happened? I did get to the polling station early, but found the rest of the southern hemisphere had the same idea. It took over an hour of bumming around before voting, then I broke the land speed record getting home. There was no time to waste, so I had my porridge in my cup of tea and before long I was powering to the walk start off Lohs Lane, below Mount Blackwood.

There was one problem though. By the time I started walking it was 11 am. Mm… Seven hours is cutting it fine if I wanted to finish in the daylight, plus that time doesn’t take into account the Old River side-trip. So, I took on board my headlamp and fully expected a night time finish.

Okay, the introduction is done. Upon finally walking, my first point of interest was about four metres from my parked car. A series of old train carriages line Lohs Lane. If you talk to anyone in Melbourne (over 35 years old. Not you young whipper-snappers) about ‘red-rattlers’, they’d know exactly what you’re talking about.

The old red train carriages, which were built around the time of the Roman Empire, were still well and truly in use when I was going to work in the 1980’s. They were characterised by one annoying problem. The doors would sometimes jam when wanting to get out. It was always fun watching someone strong-arming the door handle, knowing they only had seconds to bail out before the train took off again. Oh the days of crap infrastructure. Hang on, have things changed? Here they are in all their ‘red-rattling’ glory…


I admired their crap historic look with signage that took me back to another time…


Come to think of it. Do you remember when planes allowed smoking? I’d request a ‘non-smoking’ seat, which always seemed to be directly behind the ‘smoking’ one. I’d be sitting there munching on my bag of peanuts, whilst some bastard was puffing smoke-signals in front, with the cloud slowly enveloping my seat choking me. That was always disappointing.

Completely side-tracked, I also remember in the army during training. A sergeant asked a private if he smoked and the reply was a little surprising, “Sergeant, I only smoke when I’m on fire.” It doesn’t pay to be a smart-arse in the army and I think the only thing that stopped the sergeant stabbing the private to death was we were there as witnesses. That reminds me. I’m well and truly overdue for an army post. Maybe soon.

Anyway, back to the stroll. Remember my Ah Kow walk from a few posts back? On that occasion I had the thrill of climbing the very steep spur. This time though, I was going down it. I’m not really sure what’s worse. Going up was a killer on the lungs, but descending was a certified knee demolisher. What gets me is it’s all beer and skittles, as I passed the odd track marker which had bitten the dust…


…before the spur suddenly disappears under the feet. Do you know what it’s like to be on a rollercoaster as it dips and you’re left with your arms in the air screaming for your mother? Well, Ah Kow Spur is the same. It’s hard to capture in photographs, but beyond the track marker in the next photo, it plummets…


…before the mayhem finishes and you’re back on level ground at the Lerderderg River. I only had one slight tumble, which was a good effort. I didn’t muck around when I reached the water. Quickly wading across, I was back amongst the Ah Kow Mine ruins again.


Ah Kow Mine

I spent some time admiring the Ah Kow mine infrastructure before doing some limbering up. The next few kilometres would be without a track along the Lerderderg River, so I wanted to be primed for it. A few high kicks and some burpees were required before being ready to go.

I’m not sure about my warming up routine though, as it failed miserably. Walking away from the Ah Kow mine, I strolled down a small embankment and promptly went arse-up. Here’s the result…


I know what you’re thinking. You reckon I’ve torn my leg off at the knee, don’t you? Actually, it’s okay. In the photo above, my head is resting on the boot, as the foot is just behind my left ear.

So, the off-track expedition hadn’t got off to a great start, but I hopped up, extracting splinters from my fingers and boulders from my spine before heading for the water. Just like the previous ‘Derg outings I’d be doing a bit of wading. Regarding this, I stick to the wise words of Socrates, “thou shall not dick around”, and not bother looking for dry rocks to hop across on. I prefer the ‘full steam ahead’ method by ploughing over, as the getting wet aspect doesn’t bother me too much. I never take my boots off either, as I find most of the water squelches out pretty quickly anyway. Oh yeah, it’s also impossible to stay on one side, as cliffs keep popping up, blocking the way.

In some places the vegetation was quite high, so to avoid it I just strolled down the river. Like here…


It was only a short distance downstream where I’d been on the Ah Kow walk, but for some reason it seemed a lot different. Maybe I didn’t notice, but this time there seemed to be more rocks to clamber over…


…and more bush to push through. Cliffs kept popping up ahead and when I could see one, I’d look to cross straight away…


…by wading across.


Amongst all the splashing and ankle-twisting, there’s some nice views.


I even tried to get a little arty with the photography. I couldn’t decide how to show this pool of water. The reflection blurred..?


Or in focus…?


I know one thing though. I shouldn’t have zoomed in too much. A bit more of the surroundings would have been nicer. Anyway, the river wandering continued. The rocks on the left were a little tricky with wet boots on…


…but, I survived and climbed to the top of them to capture this huge eucalypt.


It was pretty slow going though, as I passed sections of high-water debris. In a flood, this joint would be nuts.


It starts to look the same though, doesn’t it? Now and again, I tried to fire up my photo-mojo with something that looks a little different…


…but, it’s hard. As soon as I took this picture of the branch stretching out…


…I strolled forward and promptly performed the dumbest fall I’ve had for a while. I stepped onto a huge rock (it was bloody big) and as I pushed off it moved. That was a little unexpected and what’s worse, as it shifted my foot slid down it and I’m not sure how, but it then rolled onto my foot. Now with this boulder on one boot, I suddenly couldn’t move, even though I attempted to walk forward. Unfortunately it was like I’d dropped the anchor, as my momentum vanished and I slowly fell down. This continued until I landed on rocks and with my back in the water. Lucky I use dry bags in the pack, as they saved the day. There wasn’t much else to do than lie back and take a photo…


Enjoying some rock comfort

I know what you’re thinking. You reckon I’ve torn both legs off at the knees, don’t you? No, I haven’t. One foot is under the boulder and the other is up my back resting against my right ear. It actually took a bit of effort to shift the recalcitrant boulder. Eventually I hopped up and other than a bit of blood from a graze on my leg and a compound fracture of my spine, I was okay. Moving on the river debris was looking larger…


…and the river crossings kept coming.


Suddenly I reached an open area…


…which was hemmed in with the largest cliffs I’d seen all day.


It took me a minute or so to realise this was where I was meant to leave the river behind and ascend Bears Head Spur. The only trouble was, I was meant to go up Old River first, which is before I’d reached this point. Mm… That’s a bummer, but I remember reading the tributary was marked by a large eucalypt. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find? So, I backtracked and there it was…


Large. leaning eucalypt at mouth of Old River.

Actually, what was a little annoying is I’d just crossed the Lerderderg River. I must have been ‘water watching’ and totally missed the Old River entrance. I hesitated, as it was 2.00 pm and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get up and back from the waterfall. What do you do though? I was there, so I figured I’d wander up and if it took too long I could always abandon it for another day.

Wading back, I began strolling up Old River. It had a strange feel and felt quite isolated. The scenery also looked a little different. A lot of huge rocks to hop along and plenty of river debris around. If I suddenly got swooped by a pterodactyl I wouldn’t have been surprised. There were huge fallen trees…


…and numerous others, just waiting to twist an ankle.


There were enough pools of water to keep me on my toes…


…as I moved up past some decent sized boulders.


Time was ticking away, but I couldn’t move too fast due to the jurassic surface. A few more corners though and finally I’d reached the waterfall. Okay, it may not look too spectacular, but I knew it wasn’t Niagara-like or likely to be running.


Old River Waterfall

There was a sizeable pool of water around it though and I guess on a hot summers day it would be handy for a paddle. Well, that’s if there’s any water in summer. I suppose it could be dry.

What next? Well, it was time to turn around and barrel back to the Lerderderg River. I must say I was glad to get away from Old River, as my ankles were feeling the heat a little. There was some standard Lerderderg fare to come as well. I hadn’t seen any animals all day and just when I was stumbling along, a goat crossed in front and ran up a hillside, scaring the crap out of me. I can confirm one thing. The whole place is full of goats, as every walk I’ve seen them.


Finally I reached that large, leaning eucalypt again…


…and I was back at the river.

Quickly wading across, it was now time to do some climbing. Prior to the walk, everything I’d read about Bears Head Spur indicated it’s a bit of a ball breaker, so I was ready for some pain. Before even starting I had a bit of a surprise though. The sign at the start had a suggested time of four and a half hours to get back to my car. Huh? Considering it was 3.00 pm on the dot and it’s dark around 6.30, I would have to pull my finger out if I wanted to avoid some decent night time walking. The only trouble is. Did I have a finger to pull?

So, I started to trudge up the spur, which narrows rapidly and just to annoy me, light rain began to fall. It wasn’t too bad at first, which was handy, as there was a bit of scrambling involved.


On the Van Halen level of difficulty, I’d rate it as a ‘Panama’. There was some rough stuff…


…as the spur continued to climb.


It’s quite a sharp rise and in no time the river seems miles below…


Lerderderg River. Way down below.

Actually, the reputation of the spur is quite warranted. Again, I employed my traditional method of trudging up and then grabbing a tree for a bit of hang-time, before moving again…


…as it went on and on.


At this stage though, I had a problem. Light rain was pretty steady and I was at the point of packing the camera away. Nearing the top I had some bush around to keep the water at bay, but when I saw this cairn ahead..


…I thought it best to save my electronics for another day. In the pack it went as the rain continued and for you the reader, there’s no more photos for the trip. There’s not much you haven’t seen before, so it’s not like you’re missing anything, as eventually the track became less hostile to my lungs and I was able to get some speed up.

All I can say about the Bears Head Spur is I’m glad I was going up, as a descent would be a fairly thrilling affair. Not really my sort of fun though, with my creaky knees protesting on the steep drops.

Actually, if you want to see what I mean by steep, have a look at the GPS profile for the walk. As you can probably guess, the spur begins around the 10 km mark…


What more can I say? Eventually it levelled out and a bit of an undulating affair began once I’d reached wide, dirt tracks. I powered on and as daylight disappeared I was almost going to reach for the headlamp when I exited the forest near Lohs Lane.

I reached the car feeling slightly rooted. Talk about a wild day. I didn’t really stop for any length of time and it still took me over seven hours. Oh yeah, remember the 4 hour and 30 minute suggested time from the river back to my car? It took me 3 hours 45 minutes and I couldn’t go much quicker once the Bears Head Spur had fried my legs and left them feeling like cooked hams.

It was definitely an adventure and yet again I didn’t see another person all day. How did the GPS look…?

Mm… 19.61 km and 868 metres climbed? No wonder my legs have been hurting for the week since. So that’s it. What’s next? I think I might look at something different than Lerderderg Gorge for the next post. Maybe something camera related for a change.

Anyway, how did I feel when I got back in the car and turned on the radio to get an update of the election? It was strange. I set out walking in 2013 and when I returned it was 1950. How weird is that?