The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

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The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby Empty » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 5:59 pm

the Fortress view 1.jpg
the Fortress Camp.jpg
With the ANZAC Day long weekend approaching I thought I'd have a go at a 3 day solo trip in the Grampians. There are only 4 gazetted overnight walks on the Vic Parks website so without any prior knowledge of the area it was a case of pick one and hope for the best. I chose the Fortress/Mt Thackeray loop for no particular reason other than the walk to the first campsite was reckoned to be just two hours so it meant that I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn to begin the drive over to Halls Gap.

I did as much searching as I could on-line and even rang the parks office for specific information about the walk but there wasn't much forthcoming. I couldn't buy a map locally so decided I would just have to drive over, buy the map from Brambuk and make the decision on the fly.

Halls Gap is about a two and a quarter hour drive from home and I ended up arriving at Bambruk around 11.30am on ANZAC Day. I bought the map, went through the registration procedure and was told I was only one booked in so far. I received some vague directions on how to get to Harrops Track and was a bit alarmed to hear that it was about an hour and a half drive to get there. That being the case I decided I'd better get on my bike and leave the map reading till later.

Harrops track is right on the western edge of the park and it is quite a trek to get there. I arrived in the car park just on 1pm to find half a dozen cars already there. So much for being Robinson Crusoe. The walk starts just across the road through a gated management track that has a sign declaring the Fortress to be 4.3kms and a 2 hour walk.

The first 300 to 400 metres of the track is through energy sapping soft sand at the end of which the track begins to climb steeply through hard, stony country. I had asked at the office if there was a chance of water along the way and was told that they had very little rain and that I should carry enough for the three days. I usually count on 3 litres per day so the thought of carrying 9 litres was not very appealing. I had read on this forum that there were some creeks which may or may not be reliable so in the end I compromised and took 4.5 litres. The extra water along with 3 days worth of food meant that the climb up the hill was much more strenuous that I would have liked.

I normally love going uphill but this was a serious climb with a full pack and I was blowing plenty of steam. It really was slow going and even when you reach the top the track along the plateau was quite tortuous making it difficult to get any pace up. The only time I wear a wrist watch is when I am walking but on this occasion I had forgotten to bring it and my phone was turned off and buried deep in a pocket so I could only estimate my progress. It seemed to be taking a long time to cover 4.3kms.

Eventually I reached a very steep and loose descent which was quite eroded from previous walkers but fortunately I had walking poles which made it a lot easier and safer. At the bottom of this descent you round a bend and there in front of you is a lovely flowing stream with a reasonable supply of good water. Just above this is a series of rock overhangs and a sign declaring it to be Oasis hiker camp.

There was a party of 6 including a couple of kids who had reached the cave just moments before me. They were intending to camp here as it had taken them 3 hours to reach this point which is understandable with kids. Oasis is not marked on the map but Deep Creek camp site is. Apparently they are the same. The creek beside Oasis is not Deep creek but a tributary that flows into it - Deep Creek is marked on the map flowing through the valley below and crosses Harrops Track near the car park.

I was told that it was now 2.45pm which means I had only been walking for an hour and 45 mins but it certainly seemed longer. The Fortress camp was marked on the map as being a fair way further still so it was unlikely that I would reach it in the suggested 2 hours. I was also told by these folk that there was a couple of blokes just ahead on me who were heading that way so we said our goodbyes and off I headed again.

Leaving Oasis (Deep Creek) camp the track climbs steeply between huge sandstone escarpments and continues up for 500 metres or so. Within about 15 minutes I came across the two other blokes taking a breather half way up the slope. They had their pack off and looked exhausted. We had a bit of a chat and they suggested they would make their way to the Fortress although they had seen quite a few climbers in the area and were concerned that the Fortress may be crowded. Given the time of day I didn't think we had any option but to push on to the next camp and take our chances and with that I left them to finish their rest and continued on.

Eventually I reached the top and then followed the track as it levelled out and turned and twisted its way along the plateau. After about a kilometre I finally came to another series of rock overhangs and a sign proclaiming Fortress Hike Bush Camp. Yippee!

To my surprise there was no one there so I picked the best spot and made camp. I fully expected the other two blokes to turn up but as time went on it seemed that I was to have the place to myself.

The country that the track passes through is absolutely spectacular and as you follow the trail you get glimpses of a magnificent gorge with these incredible sculptured sandstone cliffs and pagodas all around. To really take in the view however it requires that you climb up onto one of the many sandstone platforms and, as I walked along the track I realised that this was what I should do. However, with a full pack on this was an unappealing thought. I had clung to the notion that, as it was only a 2 hour walk to the Fortress, I would have plenty of time to make camp and then go back and have a look around. The reality of course was that it had been an exhausting three hour walk and by the time I got to camp and set up I just couldn't face walking back a kilometre or so to take in the best views. The Fortress camp is hemmed in at the back by cliffs and at the front by tall trees and in the late afternoon it takes on a gloomy appearance which further dampened my spirits. Anyway, there was always tomorrow to go back and have a look.

Now that I was in camp I could really have a good look at the map and see what was in store. Apart from the anomaly of Oasis being referred to on the map as Deep Creek, the short notes about the walk also suggest that on leaving the Fortress camp you follow the plateau for a kilometre before dropping down off the range. This is not the case. The Fortress camp is at the end of the plateau and the track leads directly from that point - downwards.

Reading the map I learned that the track from the Fortress descended down 600 to 800 metres or so to Deep Creek where it joins and old 4WD track which in turn leads onto Victoria Range Road. Victoria Range Road as it turns out is a formed 4WD road which allows travelers to drive a circuit taking in Mt Thackeray and eventually link up with the Goat Track. As soon as this realisation struck I lost all enthusiasm for continuing. I really loved the walk up to this point. It was relatively hard and challenging and reasonably remote. Certainly you will only get to see the Fortress close up if you walk as there are no roads up there. This is what I call bushwalking. Trudging along a formed road that you could just as easily drive along is not my cup of tea especially when you have to carry everything you need to make that cup of tea! Anyway I thought I'd sleep on it and decide what to do in the morning.

At the sound of kookaburras I had a sneak peak out the window of the tent and saw that it was another clear day. By the time I got out of the tent however a pea-souper had rolled in along with some light rain. So much for taking in the views today!

The thought of slogging along a road for the next two days coupled with the uncertainty of water points just wasn't doing it for me so I decided to retrace my steps to the car, drive along Victoria Range Road to see what I was missing and then find somewhere more interesting to walk.

So I headed back through the mist to the Oasis camp only to find that the group I had spoken to had already packed up and left. There was however 3 other couples all camped under the same overhang so it must have been a cosy night for all concerned. And there's me on the other hand up at the Fortress on my Pat Malone. Like winning the lottery really.

Two of the couples I spoke with at Oasis were intent on doing the full loop. I explained my decision that I thought it might be a bit boring and after a bit more banter we said our farewells.

The climb out of Oasis is a challenge but after that it is plain sailing. I caught up with and passed the family group and shortly after my two old mates that didn't make it to the fortress. They said they had run out of puff the day before and did the best they could with a makeshift camp off the track a bit. We walked back to the cars together and it was a shame they hadn't made it to the Fortress as they would have been good company.

Back at the car I headed up the Goat Track then around to the Vic Range Road. The only section of the circuit walk that you can't drive (apart from the Fortress track) is the Hut Track. This was an old 4wd track which is now closed to vehicles. Vic Range Road is a series of ups and downs that eventually leads up to the high point of My Thackeray Hiker Camp. This camp is right on the road and despite being signed as a "hiker" camp it was dominated by 4wdrives, camper trailers and a tent that would make Ringling Bros proud. The road itself has little in the way of views and I did not notice any water points either. In walking this section are not going see anything different to what you would if you were behind the wheel of a 4WD.

Not long after Mount Thackeray I came across the first couple I'd met earlier trudging up the hill and a little further on the second couple I had spoken to. As I wound down the window to say g'day one of them said, "you're right mate, it is boring but what can you do?" I had last seen them at 10am and it was now 2.30pm and they still had a way to go.

Having driven the road I was not sorry about my decision to curtail the walk. It is disappointing to me that in such a vast and rugged landscape Parks would design an overnight walk that gives you 4 hours of wilderness followed by 10 to12 hours walking on roads. I appreciate not everyone would agree with me on this but it is certainly not my idea of bushwalking.

I would highly recommend the walk to the Fortress as either a long day walk or even better as a short overnighter staying at Oasis and taking your time to really explore the area.

I will be back to the Grampians first chance I get and I hope that I can find a long walk that provides a true bushwalking experience.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby neilmny » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 6:30 pm

Nice one Empty thanks for posting.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby bmak » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 6:55 pm

I had a similar outcome recently. Was struggling to get to the fortress with my young bloke so headed back out the next day. In the grampians you will find that you need to link tracks to make your own walk. The overnight walks they promote are really suited to the usual tourists the area attracts.
Major Mitchell plateau is probably the exception. And over the weekend that had the usual idiots struggling and ending up walking dangerous areas at night
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby Empty » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 7:41 pm

Thanks for the tip on major Mitchell - next on the list. I certainly wouldn't want to navigate any of those areas at night. As it is, with the effect of the fires, many of the tracks have lost their definition and even in daylight you need to pay attention.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby icefest » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 8:23 pm

I can only really recall one bit of the Maj. Mitchell trail that would be awkward at night - the descent off the Plateau on the north.

Which bit am I missing?
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby bmak » Sun 27 Apr, 2014 11:00 pm

I think anywhere on the plateau at night is risky especially both ends. This particular group on Friday night was a scout group climbing the north end in the dark. At least they made it to camp. Another couple Friday didn't find camp but were sensible enough to just pitch camp on the track and continue in the morning.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby portlester » Tue 29 Apr, 2014 2:07 pm

Thanks Empty for your report.

I was tossing up between the Fortress and the Major Mitchell Plateau for our recent walk in the Grampians. Although I still want to do the Fortress, I think I'm glad we did the Plateau, as its remoteness offered just what we were after.

Unfortunately for an area that has so many opportunities, there does appear to be a dearth of info/infrastructure for multiday walks apart from the three highlighted by Parks Vic. I had been looking at doing one around the Pinnacles/Wonderland area, but then realised that Rosea campground does not look to be a campground anymore (I need to do a bit more investigating).
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby Empty » Tue 29 Apr, 2014 2:15 pm

Thanks Portlester

I didn't see your report until after I returned otherwise I would have done the plateau. You made it sound very interesting and it is now shortlisted. Sounds like it is popular and possibly crowded so I was thinking when I do go to maybe take a Friday off and get a head start.

Finally getting a bit of rain up here so fingers crossed it fills the creeks but doesn't close the tracks.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby jimjim » Wed 30 Apr, 2014 12:51 pm

Great trip report. Thanks.

After many years of Grampians walking - mostly off track - I usually only carry 2 litres of water unless if it is mid summer or if it hasn't rained for a week or so. There are almost always little puddles to be found on the open rocky areas or drips in the back of caves. This is especially true in the Southern and higher areas. I never treat the water I find beyond removing floating blobs with my fingers.

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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby ErichFromm » Wed 10 Sep, 2014 1:32 pm

I was planning on doing the Fortress-Mt Thackeray circuit in a few weeks, largely to try out my new hammock (have only used it once thus far while car camping). But am reconsidering given the above comments about how boring day 2 would be.

I hike alone so need to do a circuit. Are there any better options at Grampians?

The mitchell-plateau looks interesting - but I'd need someone to pick me up. I could Fortress and then back out again as the OP did - but I really enjoy multi day hikes rather than a series of day walks....
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby Drummo62 » Wed 10 Sep, 2014 2:15 pm

Eric - Don't be put off by the supposed boring day 2. Certainly the second day is not as spectacular as day 1 (assuming you are doing the anticlockwise loop) but it is still a circuit hike well worth doing. I have done it twice although not recently and it is a solid 2 day hike including the side trip out to Mt Thackery.

I have also completed the Major Mitchell plateau a couple of times and it is also well worth the effort. A very comfy three day hike starting at Sheep Hills carpark and if you do a clockwise loop as suggested in the Parks walk notes the first 2 days are the best. The final leg from Jimmys Creek to Sheep Hills carpark is almost all on undualting 4WD tracks. If you are a fast/fit walker you might want to cut it back to 2 days but the camp locations would mean a big day followed by a short day. (I've done the lot in 1 day but I was running!)

Either circuit walk is worth doing.
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby ErichFromm » Wed 10 Sep, 2014 3:52 pm

Thanks drummo62. I won't kill my original plan then - guess I should at least do the full fortress circuit once....
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Re: The Fortress - ANZAC Day 2014

Postby bmak » Wed 10 Sep, 2014 7:54 pm

I wouldn't call it boring. It can be a relief after the walk into the fortress.
Also an interesting alternate route for the plateau is start at Kalymna falls the go over the plateau and down to mafeking then returning to start
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