01 August 2017
The plan was to check out the trail from Dom Dom Saddle to Boobyalla Saddle for Thursday. A small group of us was supposed to go from Warburton to Dom Dom that day. I already knew what the first bit was, but wanted to see the second half. Plotted the route on Strava—33.3 km, 777 m elevation, estimated moving time 5.15 hrs. I thought I should be able to do it in 6 – 6.30 with photos and map checks.
There were 3°C and beautiful sunshine when I pulled up at the Dom Dom Picnic Ground at about 9:40. A Telstra car was leaving—I was the only one now. Toilets are a bit dodgy there, I would surely stay away from them in the dark. I’ve geared up, tossing about what to take with me; I decided to leave the thermal top in the car, but take both the waterproof jacket and pants—just in case. I also took the second soft flask, even though I normally don’t drink much water. Checked if the pdf map I just bought from Avenza was working, took a few pics then started the watch.
[I have checked the map and took lots of photos on this trip—won’t mention it every time]
The trail head was easy to find, the sign said 21 km to Mt Donna Buang, I only needed to do about 15 of these one way. It took me about a kilometer to warm up, thinking how lucky I am to be able to do this on such a gorgeous weekday. Saw a wallaby hopping away, then a 750 ml beer bottle on a tree trunk. A foul smell hit me—dead roo on the right, falling apart, I speeded up a little to get out of that area. I was really happy to see the simple walking track signs and remembered Chris Ord mentioning that this track is gazeted all the way to Mt Donna Buang.
Road 8, the fire track I was following was beautiful for most of the time with gravel in some places. At about 3.5 kms there were big rocks across the track, then the walking track veers to the right, running paralell with the (now gravel) fire road. Couple of hundred meters later there is a clearly signed track (Morleys Walking Track) to the right towards Fernshaw. I’ve been thinking—if the whole route is this well signed, I’m winning!
At km 4, the walking track arrives back to the gravel road, where I had two choices: continue on the gravel or take the track that heads up and looks similar to the one I’ve just came on. I thought it’s just logical to take the walking track, Parks Victoria probably wants to keep walkers off the roads. I headed up on the walking track…it was a bit suspicious, bit overgrown, but I thought maybe not too many people go through here (and those who did must have used machetes, based on the cut vegetation that was sticking out of the ground). Climbed 37 m over 300 m to arrive to a dead end. There was a slight chance to get through those sticky grasses, but I thought it’s safer to just go back and follow the road.
This was my first detour (0.6 km extra), but I didn’t mind—it’s all in the package when I go the first time. Besides the weather was absolutely beautiful, LiveTrack was working (meaning Otto wasn’t freaking out about where I am) and I was happy. After climbing about 400 m on that gravel road I arrived to the Road 8 – Carters Gap intersection. The latter was closed with a gate. When I looked to my right, I saw a track head, but then after 2-3 m it was nearly impassable, just like the other bit I’ve looked at earlier. I thought these two would be connected, running along the gravel road. A closer look at the strava map shows a different picture…
I kept going up the gravel road that turned into gravelly-bark at the clearing that hosts a helipad. You could tell there were people at some point, they left rubbish behind. The map I was using (copied and highlighted the relevant section) was McMahons Creek 8022-N Vicmap, 1:50 000 and it showed that there was the road I was on, veering to the right; a walking track to the left, that headed N-NW towards Carters Gap Road (I found that strange, because if Carters Gap Road is closed, what’s the point for a walking track to go there) which I couldn’t see anywhere and another track that was marked RPC (Road Permanently Closed). I was dubious about the track I saw to my right, but I thought I need to check it out.
The pdf map wasn’t working since the Morleys turnoff—I kept checking it.
As I was descending on this steep, not much fun surface (again, people have “cleaned” it with machete), I was thinking, if I have to come back on this in vein, I’ll be very pissed. Sure enough, I got to a dead end. Again, same picture as the other one: dense vegetation with lots of sticky grasses, so I turned around and started hiking back on the steep slope, passing again the North Face black and red beanie I’ve seen on my way down. This was an approx 800 m detour with about 105 m descent and the same amount of ascent. Looking at the Strava map now, if someone cut through that mean bushes for another 250 m, they would’ve created a shortcut. A quite steep one, but shortcut.
Once back at the helipad I thought I’d just follow the road, it has to take me somewhere. After about 200 m there was the turnoff! The track was grassy, quite nice to run on, with beautiful views of Mt Richie and Mt Strickland to the left; then it turned into a rocky-barky-dirt road. There was a part of the forest that must have burnt down after it was cut—looked like a burnt tree cemetery. I climbed on a trunk and took a few pics of the strange site.
I had mixed feeling about getting to Mt Vinegar (whoever knows me well, knows why). I was surprised to see such a small cairn for a mountain 1080 m high. After the Mt Vinegar summit, there was a pleasant 2.5 km downhill to the intersection of Road 27 and Mt Vinegar Road. First sign in quite some kilometers! I was a bit concerned, I’ve already spent 2 hours and 40 minutes and still have about 3.5 km to go to the turning point. Even though from Mt Vinegar it will be mostly downhill, I’ll still need to hike back there.
Otto called me a few times to check if I was OK—so nice of him. I just wish he wouldn’t worry that much.
I headed on Road 27 where the sign pointed me. After about 700 m, there was another signed intersection with Road 27 closed to the right, pointing walkers to go straight. Problem was, this walking track was one where you’d need a machete or serious protective clothing. The Lululemon long sleeve top and the knee length crops I was wearing didn’t protect me from those mean grasses that scratched my legs and face and got stuck on my clothes. I was hoping it won’t be for too long. Luckily, some generous soul has marked the track with pink tape, which helped a lot. Suffering score here was just too high.
I thought I should’ve put on my waterproof overpants—at least that would protect my legs. I kept putting it off, but when I got to a point where the pink tapes disappeared, I stopped and put them on. By this time I had quite a generous amount of mud on my shoes. The sweat made the scratches sting underneath the overpants and it was quite warm in places. Otto called again to ask me why I went off track. Told him there is not much track here, but I shouldn’t be far from The Knobs. There was mud underneath broken branches and since there was no visible track, I just went and followed my instinct. The Knobs are a few rocks with one bigger (about 70 cm tall) holding a few smaller ones. Nothing special, but meaningful in that situation. I must have startled a deer or something here.
I was so hoping that the scratchy track ends soon and was dreading coming back the same way. At this point I have already done 15.8 km and it was already 1.33 in the afternoon, 3 hours and 40 minutes since I’ve started. When I reached the end of this track and was in an intersection, where Acheron Gap was going left and the road to Mt Donna Buang to the right, Otto called again and told me how way off the track I went and shouldn’t I be already heading back? Told him that now I am on the right track and I should be going if I want to make it back in time. I was also getting cold when stopped.
I really wanted to reach Boobyalla Saddle, but the trip back??!!…Dunno. I had nearly done 20 kms to the intersection at Boobyalla Saddle. By the way, Boobyalla Saddle is a bit further up and is this gorgeous clearing. When I first approached it, it seemed as someone was smoking behind the ferns—there was steam raising from them as the sun shone through. At some point I could hear motor bikes, which I found very strange.
By the time I got to this point, I had the backup plan—I’ll keep goint to Warburton (only 14 km) and catch a taxi to Dom Dom Saddle where I left my car. I have already imagined how I’ll need to store my shoes and overpants to be accepted into one. I thought I’d go to the police station and ask where I can get one (taxi). Wanted to call Otto to tell him about this, but there was no network. Wrote an sms and kept trying to send it. My phone was running low on battery (24%) and I didn’t bring my charger, either. Wouldn’t have had enough food and water to make it back to Dom Dom after this.
Hiked up to Mt Boobyalla (gosh that’s a steep one, too) and was surprised to see fresh motorbike tracks on that single trail. It would really freak me out to bump into one there. I didn’t go to the cairn this time, even though it looked so beautiful in the sunshine. The walking track was quite soft and muddy, with water flowing down, just like on Telegraph Track at the Prom after a rain. There was ice in places. Otto messaged me, but by the time I started to reply, he called, told him what my plan was. He wasn’t happy about it.
Crossed the puddle at Cement Creek and kept going up. I pretty much stepped on it from The Knobs. When I got to Mt Donna Buang, I saw a car and could hear voices of a girl and a guy, but couldn’t see them anywhere. Didn’t feel like going up to the lookout this time. I was pretty much exhausted and there were another 8 kms of rough going (even though it’s mostly downhill) before I get to civilisation. This is when I realised—I haven’t seen one soul along these 24.5 kms. I went into the toilet block to fill my soft flask, as I only had a few sips of water left, but the sign said “Untreated water. Do not drink”—couldn’t be bothered at that point.
I’ve already had the two quarter sandwiches, the mandarine and the two gels I brought along. Still had some dark chocolate, but I was really hungry. Well… I’ve been in worse situations, toughened up and kept going downhill. There was still so much mud in some places along the track, just wasn’t funny. Didn’t care much where I was stepping until I saw a little mouse-like animal on the track—dead. Nearly squashed it, but stopped the last moment. Later down someone must have stepped on one, it wasn’t a pretty sight. I couldn’t wait to get to Mt Victoria, then to the road. I ran as fast as I could here, wondering how long I could keep this pace up.
Once I reached the road (Mt Donna Buang Rd) I was looking forward to get to the O’Shannassy Aqueduct. I landed on my bum once and hit my shin in a fallen branch, still slippery and lots of mud. This part felt harder than previous times, couldn’t wait to get to the road. When I see the little green shed on the left I know it’s soon over, and so it was. On my way down Martyr Road, I’ve noticed an elderly lady bringing out the rubbish bin, hoped she’d wait a little, but she walked back towards the house. Another lady appeared, waved her then asked her where could I find a taxi. She told me that there are no taxis in Warburton, but to go to the Hotel (gave me clear instructions), they’d be able to call me one if there is any nearby.
I went into the toilet block opposite the BBQ area on the left to clean up. Took off the muddy overpants and the wet long sleeve and put on the Salomon jacket. Washed the mud off my hands, picked up my stuff and started walking towards the pub (Alpine Retreat Hotel), carrying the pack in one hand and the overpants in the other. There were two guys and the bar tender in the pub. Asked the latter if he would call me a taxi. He looked at me strangely, told me there are no taxis in Warburton, but picked up a business card and called them. A few minutes later, he hung up with a sad face and told me there are no taxis in the area, but I could catch a bus.
I had no money with me and I doubted there would be a bus that goes towards Dom Dom—maybe to Healesville?? I thanked him and went out. Called my daughter, Suzie—message bank…then tried my brother-in-law, Nelu. He answered and said that he was going to finish in about half an hour, then go the gym, but when I told him the situation, he said that he’s coming to pick me up “go and have a beer and eat something, I’ll pay for it when I get there”. Gave him the directions, then went back and asked Eric (the bartender) if I could wait there. At least it was warmer. Otto called, told him what was happening, I guess he calmed down a bit knowing that I’ll be in good hands.
There were a few guys in the pub, having their beers, chatting away. An elderly man asked me what happened. Told him the story, when he heard where my car was, he said “holy shit!” then he called me crazy a few more times later, checking quite often if someone is coming to get me. Nice people, there!
My body temperature started to fall in spite of being inside, as the top underneath the jacket and the ¾ crops I was wearing were wet (from the sweat), started shivering. I’ve put on my gloves and kept looking out and watching people come in, play pool, talk, swear, the bartenders serving them…
When Nelu has arrived, he saw me from the car and honked me. I was so happy to see him!!! He ordered a beer and roast lamb (I’ve been eyeing the blackboard for more than an hour and swallowing big time when I saw the guys with their beer). We finished all the food, had another beer, a great conversation then took off to Dom Dom Saddle. It was nice and warm in the car, especially the seat warmers! There was only one car at Dom Dom Saddle—mine. I was happy to see that no one tried to break into it. As I leaned into the car I realised I’ve lost my poles!!! Told Nelu, he was inclined to go back, but I thought I must have left them in the toilet block. Head slap!!!
On the way home I drove in front, as I knew the road well. Before Berwick we stopped, said good bye and I turned right while Nelu kept going straight through Berwick. Got home a bit after 10.00 P.M., called the Warby Pub about the poles (in case I’ve left them there). Colin promised me he will check it out in the morning. When I called next day, he told me he went to the toilet block and found them.
What a day!!! Glad it ended like this—it could’ve been very bad.
Food: Two quarter sandwiches (toast, butter, cheese, salami, lettuce) with 4 mini roma tomatoes each, two gels (1 Hammer Citrus and 1 VFuel Chocolate Fudge—VFuel wins hands down!!), a bit of chocolate, 1 mandarine, 1 l water.
Gear: Lululemon top/jacket, waterproof Salomon jacket (carried in pack), waterproof overpants (put them on about half way), Speedcross 4 (larger size)
Location: Warburton VIC 3799
Distance: 32.7 km
Elevation: 1,729 m
Duration: 5.5 hrs
This is the route I took through Healesville. Click the More options link on the map to enlarge it.
Feel free to study this activity.
The toilets at Dom Dom Saddle are quite old, even eerie. There are picnic tables and quite nice ground.
For the original course (Dom Dom to Boobyalla Saddle) the 8022-4-N Juliet North, 1:25000 topographic map series from VicMap is the best. I bought the pdf map from Avenza maps for $2.65 (US1.99). Unfortunately my phone is cactus when it comes to GPS, so I couldn’t really make the most of this map being GPS, only while close to Dom Dom Saddle—few kms further stopped working, so I ended up using the portion of paper map McMahons Creek 8022-N VicMap which I’ve copied and highlighted the course on. This map is 1:50 000 and is not accurate. I have pointed out in my blog where there were the discrepancies.
Here are some thoughts that might be useful before heading out on an adventure like this:
- Always check the weather, ask around a local or someone who’s been there a day before
- Carry enough food and water and take your charger and torch (just in case)
- Get the 8022-4-N Juliet North, 1:25 000 topographic map series from VicMap
- Carry a PLB, alternatively keep someone updated about your progress. Garmin has LiveTrack, Strava has Beacon. If you have a smart watch, these can work together very well wherever there is network coverage
- Take some good wound dressings with you (extras, too), very easy to fall and scratch yourself
- Wear something that covers your legs—those pesky grasses can really hurt
- Take your poles, they will help you both up and down.
Hope all this info has helped.