Have you ever been on a ride where you just want to get off, but can’t? It’s spinning around and you just want it to be over, but you have to just hold tight and wait? This is exactly how I’m feeling, bush bashing down the western side of Mt Clear early on a Saturday afternoon. It’s littered with fallen timber, spikey bushes poke through my clothes, and it’s all on a steep slope. Unlike a ride I can’t get off, the only way I can get off this mountain is to keep going.
When I respond to questions regarding what I’m up to this weekend, most people have no idea where or what Mt Clear is. Mt Clear is what Mt Clear camping ground is named after. It’s right on the southern border of the ACT, and it’s accessed by driving down Boboyan Road, past the Yerrabi Track and Shanahans Mountain turn offs.
My walking companion Wilbur (not his real name) and I are out of the car and on our way at 7.50am. There’s practically a guard of honour of kangaroos as we head down the fire trail. We take our directions to the top from John Evans’ recent walk, joining the Long Flat Fire Trail. It’s long and flat for a while, but soon enough turns steep and has my heart pumping as we zig zag up the fire trail. John’s pointed out that we should be easily able to spot Sam Aboud’s Dunny, just 20 metres off the fire trail, but we almost miss it – it’s lucky my companion is looking to the right at that very moment!
What is Sam Aboud’s Dunny? Or, why is there a toilet in the middle of the bush? The explanation is here.
The slog along the fire trail continues, with some flat sections. Some of the soil is a bit average, and has washed away in parts. However, the trail as a whole is fairly stable and has few slippery parts.
We could keep on going along the fire trail, which travels along a way, and then turns and heads up the ridge of Mt Clear. Instead, we stop for morning tea at Long Flat (what the fire trail is named after – not because it is long and flat, like I had hoped).
And decide to cut across and the snow grass / creek bed and head up the side. It’s not exactly easy going, but we make decent time. There’s no track, but Wilbur is incredibly good at finding the occasional path as we head up and up and a bit north. There’s a fair bit of timber and a few rocks on the ground, but I find it quite fun (and a good workout) to twist and contort our way up. I also soon learn that pretty flowery plants usually have spikes on them. I’ve got no photos of this part because I’m too busy concentrating (a theme for most of the walk, unusually).
It’s a steep walk, but it saves us steepness on the fire trail. We eventually hit the ridge and then the fire trail, and then a gate along the fire trail. We’re near or on the border of NSW. It’s just before midday.
It’s an uneventful walk to the top, and echoes Mt Majura, Coree and Tennent for the bastard act of the last kilometre seeming never ending. We spot the tower just before the last steep climb, and it is bloody steep. With a
bit lot of huff and puff, we make it to the top by 12.35pm. It’s been a 700m+ climb over 10 kilometres, so we take a well-earned rest underneath the trig.
After checking the cricket scores and gloating on Twitter and Facebook, we consult the map to determine our way down.
It can only get easier from here.
My favourite part of the walk has been the bush bashing, so I’m feeling confident that I can handle a short but steep stroll down the western side, which in my head will take us straight to the northside fire trail.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
We’ve got a little trouble even getting into the western side, which should be our first warning. But, we’re both convinced it will get a little clearer and easier, like our bush bashing on the way up. It doesn’t. By the time we both realise it’s not getting any better, and that I’m really not suited to this, we’re too far down and it’s way too difficult to head back up.
The only way is down.
I am somewhat terrified for my life. John’s maps show the countours from the trig down the western side – it’s bad. This is probably the steepest side of a mountain I can remember being on, and the forest floor is rubbish. Literally timber rubbish – there’s bark from the scribbly and other gums all over the floor, as well as more branches and logs and rocks than I’ve ever seen. I’m never steady on my feet, but I never really fall. This time, I’m pretty scared and the floor is slippery. There are some mounds of bark and leaves which cover gaps in the soil, and other parts which send me sliding. The only good thing is that it’s so steep, the two times I fall (backwards, thankfully) throw me just a little way, and the landing is soft.
There are plenty of spikey and ouchy plants and branches which grab at us. I spend a lot of energy trying to avoid them, as well as navigate down the slope, but after some time just give in and walk into the bushes as they jump out at me. It’s clear that this mountain wants a blood sacrifice, if not a human one. It’s a case of crash or crash through, and Mt Clear leaves its mark on me.
Creepily, we stumble across a number of dead animals – mice, roos, and rabbits – and a few skeletons. I can’t identify the skeletons – two huge front teeth, smaller back teeth, big body – but the fact that they’re there is disconcerting enough.
After two draining hours, we’re at the bottom, and it’s a case of walking through more shagpile-carpet-like snow grass before hitting the fire trail.
You guessed it. Wrong again.
We’ve still got a way to go to keep heading down, but it’s a little more gentle and the timber is largely clear. We hit the creek and follow it along – ankles bending along the mountain side – until we hit the fire trail. I can sum this up in two sentences, but it takes close to two hours. I’ve got a trusty stick (‘Sticky’) by this stage and don’t fall over again.
I could almost kiss the fire trail once we get to it, but there’s still another 2.5km to go. After the last few hours, you’d think we’d finally be at a flat bit, but there’re a few running creeks to cross, and a few more steep bits. I’m usually one to gingerly tiptoe around the creek beds and find the driest route, but I crash through them like an elephant and plod along with squelchy boots.
It’s coming on dusk, so the kangaroos which bade us adieu eight hours ago return to welcome us back (or, you know, eat grass).
The humour of it all isn’t lost on me when it starts to steadily rain just as we reach the car.
But if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen this rainbow.
Mt Clear (at least, its western side) has taught me my limits. I’ve dominated Mt Tennent, but Mt Clear broke me.
Time required: It’s a bit less than 90 minutes from Belconnen to Mt Clear campground, and then it took us close to 10 hours of walking (including significant number of breaks)
Height: We start at about 880m and get to 1620m – a fair whack
Distance: A bit over 20 kilometres of pain
Views: You don’t do this walk for the views. There are no views. You do it to punish yourself.
Flora and fauna excitement level: We see a fox on the way, rabbits, heaps and heaps of kangaroos and wallabies… and that’s about it. It’s prime Yowie country though. The flora is spikey and ouchy and wants blood. Nothing to get excited about there.
Effort expended: High. This is a full day walk. Probably medium-high if we’d done the fire trail the whole way. I know we would have close to halved our time coming down if we’d done the fire trail. The energy put into concentrating and trying not to do something stupid (ie fall) is very high and draining.
Quality of track: For a mountain which is really quite remote, the tracks are great.
Value for effort: This is hard to accurately comment on. There’s a real sense of achievement with this walk. But for what? There are no great views and it’s a bloody hard slog. I’ll certainly never forget it, but I don’t think I can give it any higher than low.
Date: Saturday, 23 November
Cost: Free + some blood
Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile, but I’m sure I’d revise this higher if we went along the fire trails alone
Want more? John Evans’ blog is the best place to start.
- Canberra Centenary Trail – Section 1 (Mt Majura to Mt Ainslie) (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Kayaking Lake Ginninderra (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)
- Wine blending class at Mt Majura (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)