Lerderderg Gorge Day Hike - 16th February 2014
Rocks. Sharp rocks. Water-worn smooth rocks. Multi-colored rocks.
Trees. Trees and grass and bushes... everywhere!
What a nice cool weekend, after a few weeks of temperatures hovering around the 40 degree (C) mark. I had been checking the long range forecast regularly, hoping for a break in the heat, and here it was!
I headed out at around 8.30am on Sunday morning (yes, I slept in!) and dropped in to McDonalds for a bacon and egg McMuffin about half way through the trip (just for energy, you know... these hikes need energy!). My day pack was loaded with a few essentials (first aid kit, food - nut bars, tuna lunch kits, 3 litres of water, rain jacket, GPS, etc) and I was hanging out to check out the Gorge. Of course, I had read up all I could about the location (isn't Google a wealth of info...) and it sounded great!
Upon arriving at the Mackenzie Flat picnic area, I hoisted my pack, fired up the GPS, and headed up the river via the (very) clear and well-used track. There were a number of people already out walking, judging by the cars in the car park, but I only met up with a couple of small groups, but more on that later.
The track progresses from a bleak and dry looking mix of fairly bland undergrowth into the most fantastic array of grasses, trees and bushes placed in natural disorder along a (at the moment) dry river bed made up of a glorious mix of rounded rocks in the main river bed, to sharp slabs of slate and sedimentary rocks jutting out at a multitude of different angles up on the banks where the water hasn't reached and had a chance to work it's magic.
As I walk along I come across pools of water where the deeper parts of the river bed hasn't yet fully succumbed to the forces of sun and wind and dried out completely. These are little havens of slightly browned water, still clear enough to see the abundant life swimming amongst the pebbles and reeds of their shrinking world. I came across a small stick tepee on the bank of one of the ponds, with a stone fireplace next to it. Someone had obviously had a rest there, perhaps slept overnight when the weather was nice? Perhaps it was just some kids having fun in the bush?
The further I walk through this paradise, the further I get from everyday life. My troubles ebb away to be forgotten as the wonder of the sights, sounds and smells of nature invade my senses.
Other hikers I meet all seem like a wonderful bunch, ready to stop and have a chat, or offer advice about the trail ahead. Is it that only nice people go bushwalking, or is it that when we bushwalk, the walk itself turns us all into nice people? Whatever it is, I like it, and it's great meeting folk of the same ilk who all enjoy getting out away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to experience and enjoy what the real world is all about. Perhaps if everyone hiked, there would be no more conflict? I'd like to think so...
Now, all is not always rosy when bushwalking, we must be alert. My first mistake was thinking that my new hiking boots (a pair of Hi-Tec Haka Trail WP's marked down to $49) would stick like an astronauts magnetic boots to the hull of the international space station in all situations.... Wrong!
Don't get me wrong, I love my new boots. They are the most comfortable I have had, and are properly waterproof (they and my gaiters were soaked from walking through the wet underbrush, but my feet were bone dry!) and grip really well in almost all situations, were comfortable from the first time I put them on, and I highly recommend them. I don't really expect any boots to be able to grip these wet rocks with any more traction than a pair of banana skins on an ice skating rink. The nasty bugger of a rock that caught me out looked dry and grippy, but was (due to the humidity and light rain) in fact coated with a layer of something that would put Teflon to shame. I was working my way down a steep and very rocky gully where there was no real track, apart from some slightly trampled grass patches here and there where other unwary souls had managed to come into contact with the soil some time in the recent past. I stepped confidently onto said rock, which had a superb flat face, slightly tilted to my left, and suddenly found myself looking up at trees, with a nasty pain in my right arm, near the elbow. What the hell just happened??
It turns out that as soon as my boot had touched the rock, I had suffered a major traction rejection, and my feet had shot out from under me to the left, dumping me unceremoniously on my bum. My right side had taken the brunt (mainly my arm), but apart from almost giving myself whiplash checking the rest of the trail to see if any other hikers had spotted my ice dancing routine, the most I was suffering from was a slight swollen graze on my right elbow, and a pocket full of dirt (now how in the world did that get in there?).
Lesson learnt. I was a little more (no, a LOT more) cautious for the rest of the hike.
The other thing that I became aware of (in the same section of steep trail just after the rock incident) was that anything that does not have green leaves on it is generally not anchored to the earth securely. Whilst traversing down a rather steep section of damp hill in the vee of the gorge, I gathered up a little too much pace (due mainly to me not wanting to ask too much of my new and now not-so-shiny boots to pull me up on the wet grass and mud), and secured a hand grip on a rather decent looking gum tree which I thought was growing out of the hill to assist in the braking duties. To my amazement, the tree had obviously completed it's growing, and had departed to greener (and perhaps less steep?) pastures, and attempted to accompany me down the hill to the rocks at the bottom of the gully after snapping off at it's rotten base. Bloody hell! After letting go of the remains of the tree and allowing it to find it's own way down, I managed to slow my decent to a more manageable pace by again using a combination of backside, feet and hands as traction.
Number two lesson learnt.
Now this may sound funny, but it is important to keep your wits about you at all times. I was close to a popular trail where I could have got help if I did come unstuck and got hurt, but it would have been a nasty end to a great day's hike. Never trust the obvious things around you when hiking. If you get a bit how-ya-going about what you are doing and how you are doing it, you may just come unstuck. Logs or trees that look strong can be rotten, and offer the strength of a soggy bit of spaghetti. Rocks that look super grippy can often be covered in an invisible combination of vaseline and bulldog slobber. I got a bit caught up in the moment, enjoying the hike, nature, solitude, cool, rain, exercise, etc and just didn't concentrate properly on what I was doing. Don't make the same mistake. Enough said.
This was my first visit to Lerderderg Gorge, out near Bacchus Marsh, and it's a great spot. Being new to the area, I stuck pretty much to the main tracks, making sure I knew where I was and where I was going. It would be a little embarrassing to get lost on my first visit to a new place. It's a great place to check out, as if you stick to the tracks along the river, all you have to do to get back is turn around and follow the river bed out if you lose sight of the track. There are emergency markers placed along the track by Parks Victoria, all numbered (eg LER200, LER500, LER501, etc) with directions on each pointing you to other tracks or the shortest route out if required. I printed out a basic map from the Parks Victoria website (parkweb.vic.gov.au) with these markers on it, programmed the coordinates into my Garmin GPS in case I got lost, and planned out my route. I gave a copy to my wife with my planned route marked on it too, just in case I didn't return within a reasonable time. It's always good to let others know where you are planning on heading, especially if walking alone.
I am looking forward to heading back here and exploring some more, and am also planning to do an overnight hike here at some stage (once I get my mits on a good lightweight hiking tent that doesn't weigh as much as a small car). I ran into a young couple who were heading out as I was heading in, and they had arrived the day before and walked in, setting up camp for the night on the river bank.
They looked as damp, dirty and happy as I was! What a fantastic way to spend a weekend...
I also spoke to another couple, about my age (mid 40's) with three young boys, who were out getting fit in readiness for a hiking trip to Nepal next year. Lucky buggers! It's great to see the younger kids getting out and enjoying the outdoors too. Growing up in the bush, away from the city, I spent all my time outdoors, only generally returning home for meals and to sleep. My parents must have loved the peace and quiet! Nowadays, all kids want to do is sit in front of screens. This is unfortunate, as I can see these kids turning into a whole new breed of folk enjoying short sedentary lives before succumbing to heart disease through lack of exercise. Pity, as there is so much out there to enjoy once you turn off that screen....
Well, all in all, after only a short taste of what Lerderderg Gorge has to offer, I can highly recommend a trip, and I can't wait to go there again and explore some more trails. It really is a beautiful, scenic spot, and standing down in that river bed looking up at the rocky hills towering above you is a pretty humbling experience. Just take care on those rocks, and make a grab for the trees that the koalas prefer :-)
|This frog was the size of my little fingernail. Beautiful!|
|More magic scenery...|
|Grahams Dam, a popular swimming spot.|
|The Tepee (not such a solid build, but marks for trying!)|
|Lovely growth by a pond, such an assortment of flora out here...|
|Zero Traction Valley! (and this is an easy part, it's much steeper than it appears...)|
|Yet another nice little pond.|
|Even the fauna is very artistic out this way. Impressive arrangement!|