Battling through the thistles on Big Monks

10 Dec

If you’ve ever sat in somebody’s backyard in Banks or Conder, or have looked up when you’ve been travelling to or beyond Tharwa, there’s a chance you’ve probably seen a trig at the top of what looks like a nicely formed mountain. I’d spent a fair bit of time gazing at it from various positions a few hundred metres below, and after finally confirming it was ‘Big Monks’, knew it was a challenge I had to undertake.

It was a hot, hot early Saturday December morning and the flies were a rather unwelcome visitor. I’ve usually had good experiences with flies when I’ve done bushwalks throughout the ACT (ie, they’ve been non-existent) but this was a much different and much more annoying experience. We had parked at Orange Thorn Drive in Banks where there was a clear opening to access the road (and we’d been aided by the always useful TAMS map). It was a steep walk up a shot management trail behind some lovely looking houses in Banks (what views they must have!) and then to the entrance marked ‘private property’. I’d given the number on the aforementioned map a call the day before, and they’d said as long as we weren’t wanting vehicle access, we were fine to head on through and no further permissions were needed. Okay then!

Entrance into Rob Roy Nature Reserve

Entrance into Rob Roy Nature Reserve

It’s a very, very steep track for the first leg, with about 150 metres of climb over one kilometre. I believe this part of the walk is aptly named the ‘Banks Steep Track’, and there are plenty of warnings for people coming down it from the top.

No kidding.

No kidding.

It’s frankly a pretty boring walk and at 9am there was very little shade. The tar is hot, the flies were frequent visitors, and it was hard! (Especially for rather unfit me.) It was pretty frustrating, but also good to cover so much height so quickly; it was, admittedly, lovely to turn around and see all of Tuggeranong Valley below us as we stepped higher and higher.

The bitumen gives way to a well defined track which has a slight dip before continuing steadily upward. At about this point in time, on one of my many stops for breath, a man came past us jogging. How can you not marvel at these people? It was also about this time that we woke some of the native fauna.

I still get excited to see kangaroos in the wild, even though it's at least a weekly occurrence.

I still get excited to see kangaroos in the wild, even though it’s at least a weekly occurrence.

Rounding the track, we reached a bit of a plateau. In the short distance to the east was a sign for the track that takes you up to Mt Rob Roy (which we didn’t go after – the few accounts I’ve read describe it as a let down, with little if any views due to it being surrounded by trees and not a ‘baldy’ like Big Monks), and to the west was our target.

But getting to Big Monks was going to prove challenging – and I’m not use that word lightly. Both of us were wearing shorts (first mistake), and before us lay a sea of brambles and thistles (mostly thistles).

That greenery might look good but it's not nice grass - it's thistles! And they hurt! This was one of the 'better' patches along the way.

That greenery might look good but it’s not nice grass – it’s thistles! And they hurt! This was one of the ‘better’ patches along the way.

The thistles are literally out of control, pretty much covering the entire track to the top. I think even the most nimble walker would find themselves with at least a few burrs and spikes stuck into their socks at the end of the walk, and we were no different. The thistles mean that the paths are overgrown, not least because I imagine most people who bother with Big Monks get up to this part and then stop, so there’s not continued trekking to keep a path clear (vicious cycle). Worse yet, it appears that the thistles might be seeding at this time of year, so hayfever sufferers be warned!

It really did seem like the best thing to do was to turn around, but I was adamant that we were getting to Big Monks. With many a curse and an ‘ow’, we made it to the rocky trig with some uninterrupted views over the Tuggeranong Valley and towards the Mt Tennent (that surly bastard), and just one large tree to keep us in shade. We enjoyed some much needed refreshments and took our time enjoying the views, taking photos and watching a helicopter fly low over the region. Big Monks is 916m. Mt Majura is the tallest mountain in Canberra (with Bimberi the highest in the ACT), so I guess that must mean that Big Monks falls just outside what’s deemed as ‘Canberra’.

Big Monks trig

Big Monks trig

View over Tuggeranong Valley with our tree for shade

View over Tuggeranong Valley with our tree for shade

Mt Tennent in the distance.

Mt Tennent in the distance, with Booroomba Rocks (I think?) just making it into the RHS of the photo.

I am not known for my bushwalking fashion choices.

I am not known for my bushwalking fashion choices.

It was getting hot, so we made the relatively easy trip back down again, treading through the thistles and clapping our hands in case a sleepy snake decided to emerge from beneath any of the rocks we navigated past.

Pure evil.

Pure evil.

It was a much quicker walk on the way down, though I still felt my heart racing as we walked down the steep bitumen back down to the car. It really was that steep!

Goodbye Big Monks. Probably won't be seeing you for a long while.

Goodbye Big Monks. Probably won’t be seeing you for a long while.

I was pleased to see it was a very nice 726 calories smashed out, and the views were very nice. But, the thistles dominating the landscape makes getting to Big Monks pretty much prohibitive. If you don’t enjoy pain, I don’t recommend it. If you suffer from hayfever, I don’t recommend it. It’s such a shame, because there’s a lot to like about this walk – and could be even more to like about it. But, the out of control thistles need to first be managed to make it worth your while.

We’re just very grateful – and fortunate – that there are plenty of other great (and well maintained) walks in the ACT!

Date: 9am-11amish, Saturday 8 December. The walk was one hour 20 minutes total walking time, but we were gone for over two hours.

Attendees: T1 and Boyfriend

Cost: Free

Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile. If you do plan to go, I recommend wearing long, thick pants and going in very early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the sun (there is very little shade whatsoever), and perhaps in winter!

Want more? Check out the TAMS map

You can also check out the stats and the GPS map of my walk, thanks to my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor. (Don’t look too closely at my many stops on the way up!)


9 Responses to “Battling through the thistles on Big Monks”

  1. Gary Lum December 11, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    Cool T1. Looks good. Friends at work refer to the Southside as Mordor. I may have to go and have a look 🙂

    • Jaymzhi Boy (@JaymzhiBoy) November 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      You could say that. Except we’re not Orcs. but we have some PRETTY good walks but yes, the mountains are pretty thistle-strewn and its tough for a kid like me, but I am pushing towards dominating Big Monks, Taylor, Tennent, Bimberi and my major goal is MOUNT KOSCIUSZKO!

  2. mikalstill January 6, 2015 at 7:45 am #

    The map link in this post is now broken. I think you want this one —

    • inthetaratory January 6, 2015 at 7:47 am #

      Thanks very much – I think most of my map walk links are now broken. Hope to rectify it with launch of the new blog early this year.


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