Disaster: Cathedral Ranges – Failed Sugarloaf attempt & successful Jawbone South

I’ve wanted to do the Cathedral Ranges for a while now, and finally yesterday I decided to head out there. My plan was to do Sugarloaf and Cathedral Peak, and if I had the time and inclination, I’d do some of the other peaks along the way.

Sugarloaf and Cathedral Peak are not that far away from each other, so it seemed reasonable to me to do them together. I hadn’t decided whether to enter from Sugarloaf, and do an out at back, or enter from Jawbone Creek Track then do one peak, and the other if I felt like it. When I got there, I thoughtΒ Why not start at Sugarloaf and do an out and back. I can turn back with a loop near the Jawbones if I don’t feel like continuing.

I read up on the Parks Vic notes, as well as my little walking book. There are 2 short ways to get up to Sugarloaf. The Wells Cave track sounded pretty cool, and I’d seen a cool picture of a cavey canyony type thing you have to slide sideways through. It is classified as “hard” with “rock scrambling” and it’s advised not to descend that way, so I figured I’d return via Canyon Track, which is considered easier.

So I got 15 mins up Wells Cave Track before I came to this rock wall:

Wells Cave Track

Click to enlarge

If you look closely, you can see an orange arrow on a tree up ahead. Yep, that’s the trail. Or the way up. Or something.

I am really no rock climber. And I’m kinda scared of heights. Not being up in a tall building, or a plane, but I’m absolutely terrified of being on an unstable height, or in a situation where I don’t trust myself to hang on. Like a cliff face, for example. I don’t even like to stand on chairs at home. Or a ladder. In fact, I’ve been known to freak out when having to stand on a ladder. It’s not the height. It’s the possibility of falling.

I managed to get onto that ledge about a third of the way up. Then I didn’t know where to go. There was either not much rock to hang onto with my hands, and/or just millimetres for footing. I realised that even if I did make it another step or so higher, if I decided I couldn’t continue, I wouldn’t be able to get down. So I decided to bail then and go up Canyon track. Of course, by this point, standing on a ledge, trying to figure out if I should jump down, slide down on my back, or attempt to climb down the way I got up, my legs were shaking. Not from effort. But from sheer terror.

Somehow I managed to fumble my way down, and ran down the runnable bit of the track to where I started. Then I decided to climb up Canyon Track.

Canyon Track seemed much easier. There were rocks, but so far they were doable.

About 15 minutes into this track, I came across this:

Canyon Track

Click to enlarge

This looked much more achievable than Wells Cave Track. I mean, I could have at least climbed up. There were lots of places to put your hands, but not great places for your feet. Again, I decided that if it got any worse from this point, I probably wouldn’t be able to get down. At least, not without a meltdown.

So I decided to head back down, and drive a few kilometres to Jawbone Creek and head up that way.

By this time it was much later in the day than when I’d normally set off on an adventure. I figured I could do South and North Jawbone, and possibly head along the Razorback to Sugarloaf and attack it from that angle.

Jawbone Creek Track was very pleasant with no “rock scrambling”. It is so easy, that I took my mind off things, and rolled my right ankle. By the way, my right ankle is the one that’s given me grief for the past 2-3 years. This is the first time I’ve ever rolled an ankle and thought hmmm so this is what it feels like for those people that say they roll their ankles badly. I stood still for a few minutes on the other leg, while waiting to regain feeling on my sprained ankle. During those minutes, I thought I should probably just drive home. But after trying to stand on my right leg, and succeeding after a little while, I decided to continue.

When I reached The Farmyard, I saw a lyrebird. That was pretty cool. From there you can follow a short path up to Jawbone South. This route, had what I’d call “rock scrambling” as opposed to “rock climbing”.*

Jawbone South

Click to enlarge

From the top I could see my car, although you can’t make it out in the photo, some fog in the distance (it was really foggy on the drive up with poor visibility) and some bare patches that had been logged. It was quite a nice drive up here, with the exception of large logged areas, and signs warning you of logging trucks.

I sat here for a moment to relax in the sun and decide what to do next. I thought I’d do North Jawbone, so tried to remember how I got to where I was so I could figure out how to get down.

South Jawbone

Click to enlarge

Back at the Farmyard, I suddenly forgot my plans, and headed along the Razorback towards Sugarloaf. I may as well do one of the main peaks I planned, right? It started off pleasant enough, and I was able to run for quite a bit before it turned into “rock scrambling”. Here’s an easy section of the Razorback Trail:

Razorback Trail

Click to enlarge

Forward movement became progressively slower. I didn’t mind it so much, but mentally it was quite tiring having to watch your step, and having to pay so much attention where to hold onto things and make sure you are still looking up to follow the orange markers.

I could see Sugarloaf Peak in the distance.

Razorback Trail

Click to enlarge

It seemed so close, yet so far. I figured it was another hour away. Then I wouldn’t be able to climb down from there, so I’d have to retrace my steps. I sat down in the afternoon sun and thought to myselfΒ Why do I want to climb Sugarloaf? What is the point of this? …… There IS NO POINT! and that was it. I decided to turn back. I wanted to be home before dark. Not only that, I wanted to be back at the car before dark! I didn’t have my head torch with me, as that wasn’t part of the plan. I usually carry my backup light, as part of my usual gear, but there was no way I was going to use it (it’s a backup light for a reason – it’s rubbish).

So I turned around, a failure.

I was quite hungry by now. Although I’d had a muesli bar already, I didn’t want to eat anything while on such uneven ground. My right ankle was still a bit shaky and I knew if I stopped paying attention I’d fall over.

Finally I made it back to pleasant ground and picked up speed and ran for a bit.

Then I came across 4 or 5 lyrebirds! Here’s one that didn’t mind me getting up close:

Once back at the Farmyard, I got out another muesli bar to eat as I ran/walked/shuffled down Jawbone Creek Track and back to the car.

What an epic failure of a day! I couldn’t even climb up a peak that many people of lesser ability that me can do with relative ease. I rolled an ankle, and it’s still sore and a bit swollen. And I ended up with 3 little out and back routes, when I would’ve liked just one or at least a nice loop. It was sooooo slow going with my terrible “rock hopping” skills that it took me nearly 4 hours to cover just over 8km.

Here’s the route. You can see my 2 short starts, then the drive for my 3rd start (switched GPS off, hence straight line), the detour up South Jawbone and the pathetic scramble along the Razorback.

8 route

I thought I had some sort of ability in tough terrain, but this place really beat me. I don’t know how, when others have easily done it, even carrying big packs. I guess what I like is some pretty single trail that’s completely runnable, but not so pristine that it looks like it’s well maintained. Is that too much to ask?

So now I have unfinished business with this place I will return at some point. I think next time I’ll do Cathedral Peak, Little Cathedral and Ned’s Peak. Then another time I’ll do Jawbone North (and maybe South again), and Sugarloaf via the Razorback.

* From now on I won’t attempt any walks with “rock scrambling”. I have since learnt that it means rock climbing.


28 thoughts on “Disaster: Cathedral Ranges – Failed Sugarloaf attempt & successful Jawbone South

  1. ChocolateChilliMango (@ChocChilliMango)

    how the hell did you run on a sprained ankle? are you seriously mad??? Hope it’s better today and you iced it etc when you got home.
    BTW, it’s hardly a failure to avoid a situation that could go badly.
    Knowing when to bail is smart.
    Not knowing when to bail leads to failure πŸ™‚

    1. Anna Post author

      Haven’t iced it yet because it’s too cold! Although today is not too chilly, so I think it’s time to lie down with a book and an ice pack… and maybe some anti inflams… πŸ™‚

  2. Greg

    I’m impressed you considered the Cathedrals for some trail running! I was one of those chumps who did that hike over Sugarloaf to the Farmyard with a pack on and it was deadly. I think I had my scariest fall up there, where I was certain I was about to plummet off a rock ledge. It’s interesting that Parks Vic don’t really mention the application which is required to walk around up there. It took me by surprise!

    1. Anna Post author

      That would have been the most terrifying fall. I always check the Parks Vic notes for any potential runs. If i knew what it was like up there i probably wouldn’t have gone. But now I’ve been beaten, of course i have to go again.

  3. Martie

    I too found the way up Canyon tk quite a challenge and when I finished I made myself a promise to never return!

    Well 4 times later, & I’m a lot more confident (guess some promises are made to break)

    You did the right thing in turning back, If your mind is telling you “Danger”, best reassess and turn around, I think adrenaline and pride was driving me instead of common sense!!

    I’m yet to do Wells cave !

  4. Anna Post author

    I think the Cathedrals have some magnetic powers that make people return!

    I’m a complete wuss in height situations, so there is no adrenaline or pride to help get me through πŸ™‚

  5. Martie

    You are so right !!!!!!
    I saw the Cathedrals from keppel’s lookout in Marysville, and I felt drawn to them!

    Cathedrals are my favorite mountain ranges

    I’m still keen to try Wells cave but apprehensive at the same time

    Have you gone back since your last time?

    1. Anna Post author

      Haha I also saw them from Kepple lookout and decided I had to go up there! Yes, I’ve been back and done the north side peaks. Annoyed though because I forgot Ned’s Peak so at some point I need to get that one done πŸ™‚

      1. martie

        North Jawbone is really cool
        I find it slightly nicer than south jawbone and plus there is more space to sit around in.

        Have you done little cathedral peak?

        My pride is telling me to do Wells Cave but my common sense is saying “dont do it”

        Ahhh…..decisions decisions! !!

      2. martie

        Thank for vote of encouragement
        I know what you mean about weekdays

        Weekends can get very busy

        For sure I’ll give you an update.

  6. Anna Post author

    Yeah I did Little Cathedral with Cathedral and North Jawbone. I didn’t get to sit anywhere to relax (although little Cathedral would have been great) because there were too many flies.

    I think you have to do Wells Cave Track – it’s calling you!!!

    I still have to do Sugarloaf – I know Canyon Tk should be doable, so it’s on my list – but not in summer. Waaaaaay too many flies out. I’ve been bitten by too many flies already this summer.

    1. martie

      Yeah, those flies are terrible!!!!

      Last time I did the northen circuit they were out for meat!!!!!

      If you want to team up, let me know.
      Safety in numbers I’m thinking?

      I don’t think pre- Wells cave will provide a good nights rest
      I’m aiming for this Sunday!!!

      1. Anna Post author

        I usually prefer to head out when I have weekdays free. I’m sure you’ll ace it, no probs πŸ™‚ Good luck with it. And don’t forget the aeroguard!! Would love to hear how you find it πŸ™‚

      2. martie

        Hi Anna

        At 09:56am I reached the summit of Sugarloaf peak via Wells cave!

        Took me just under 40 minutes
        Amazing views and safe (plenty of good foot and hand spots to grab onto)

        The slot (Wells cave) was amazing
        Cold but so peaceful
        I took heaps of photos and will Google-drive them later on.

        Height factor is present but with a little mind over matter you can get part it!!!

        Thank you for your vote of support and encouragement!

      3. Martin

        Thanks Anna,

        (I’m still buzzing)..I needed that climb to get my mind of a terrible week I’ve had at work.

        In regards to the flies…yes there were quite a few at the top but none during the rock scramble (Seems they have prime real estate)…

        I descended via Canyon Track & to my surprise it was really easier than I thought
        ( I found going up Canyon Track challenging but going down is actually ok).

        I saw heaps of lizards and even took a few snap shots of them.

        It was quite busy by the time I came down and thanks to me leaving a incoming car was able to park as all the spots were taken at “sugarloaf” car park (I’ve never seen it that busy).

        Being inside the slot all on my own was very ‘127 Hours’ and I pictured one of those boulders coming down on me, but at same time it was very peaceful and cool.

        By the way…a typo on my post, I meant to write

        “Height factor is present but with a little mind over matter you can get past it”.

        My next adventure is “Mount Bogong”…

      4. Anna Post author

        haha yeah I often find myself visualising a 127 hours type experience. Great cure for low blood pressure.

        How will you tackle Bogong?

        I was there a couple of weeks ago. Lots of killer flies out that way too!

        btw feel free to msg me on FB if you want rather than just replying to this post all the time πŸ™‚

  7. Martie

    Believe it or not , I don’t have FB (used to but got rid of it and don’t miss it)…thanks for offer though….

    As promised the link below has many snaps I took on the day…
    (High res~ so they may take a few seconds to load *depending on connection speed*)


    I plan to go back this weekend and re-do Wells Cave Tk again,then descend down Canyon Tk, go backup Canyon Tk and descend again Canyon Tk.

    My next ventures will see me doing the Mt Donna Buang Summit (which I’ve done before).
    This will be my pre-Mt Bogong Training session.

    Can’t wait to do Mt Bogong….so thirsty for the challenge…

    1. Anna Post author

      Fantastic! The ‘cave’ looks awesome! It sounds a little nutso to do your Wells Cave to Canyon return, but will be a great day and I reckon you could tackle any crazy adventure with confidence after that πŸ™‚

      I did Mt Donna Buang in winter last year – there was snow at the top. So good, but so cold! I will def have to try again in warmer weather… maybe in a few weeks when I get over this stupid cold πŸ™‚

      Which way will you go up Bogong? Will you attempt it as a day trip or weekend trip?

      Mt Buffalo has kind of sucked me in since I drove past a few weeks ago. I love the look of it. I don’t know what the walks are like around there or anything, but it has magnetic appeal πŸ™‚

      1. Martie

        G’day Anna,

        Hope you’ve being well.

        On Saturday 15th February/2014 at 16.25 hours I summited “Mt Bogong”.

        Starting at 12:00pm from the base of the car park at “Mountain Creek Trail, I proceeded to walk up the steep “Staircase Track”.
        Full of adrenalin I made the Β½ way point which is the Bivouac Hut.
        I chatted with a group that decided to make the hut their summit (which I can understand given the weather conditions), the terrain at β€œAlpine National Park” is very different to what I’ve experienced.
        So after a quick chit-chat, I pushed onto the summit (full of adrenalin and a vision of standing on top of the state).
        When I reached an elevation of 1800+ meters, all of a sudden my fast pace slowed right down and I was taking a few steps and then catching my breath….and began feeling a pressure in my chest like if something was pushing on me as I’m trying to push up (if that makes sense),
        So I decided to take it easy, got some food inside me and then I kept pressing on.

        The weather was cold/wet/windy and it just heightened the experience.
        I recall feeling a sense of remoteness and isolation, and my only comfort were the marked-poles which guide you to the summit.

        Was a great feeling to have made it to the top!!
        (Unfortunately the weather did not allow for many good photos but only means I need to revisit on a nicer day).

        The descend route was via the Eskdale Track which at the base gets you to the other end of mountain-creek trail and then it was a boring 5km walk back to the other end on flat-fire trail ride, which did me just fine.

        After 24 kilometres I made it back to the car just before 21:00 hours.
        So all up, moving time was about 6.5 hours with about 2.5 hours resting.
        My choice of overnight accommodation was the “Mountain Creek Motel”.

        My Next time though, I will simply travel up and down the same “Staircase Track”, I plan to revisit on the labour-day long weekend.

      2. Anna Post author

        Hey Martie, that sounds AWESOME! I’ve heard some people feel the altitude a bit up there, so maybe that’s what you got when you ran out of steam near the top. Sounds like a great day out. Nothing beats that feeling of remoteness, isolation, and ruggedness when you are all by yourself surrounded by mountain air! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

        I recently did Mt St Leonards near Healesville on a hot day, thinking it would be a nice quick jaunt – it was a bit longer than I expected! Hoping now the weather seems a little more reasonable to head out for some more adventures to new places I haven’t been – pending fire danger of course πŸ™‚

  8. Martie

    Hi Anna,

    On 02/02/2014 from 09.00am to 10.30am I re-did the Wells Cave to Canyon Track base and then back up Canyon Tk and down to Canyon base yesterday.

    (just in time to escape the heat).

    Awesome circuit, one of my favorite.

    The one thing I dont like about “MT Donna Buang” are the leeches !!!..
    I can put up with snakes crossing my path..etc..but leeches…oh….I hate those things ….

    I’ve being researching “Bogong” and looks like with the 4.5 hours drive from my location ….I will need to look at leaving work early on friday and staying in local accomodation in Mount Beauty and then start my walk around 7am with an aim to be back in my car by 8pm and face a long drive home …might have to look at car-sleeping on way back (if I’m tired).

    My date is set for 22-Feb

    I will let you know how I go.

    My backup plan is for some reason if things don’t go according to plan, I will take part in the
    Mount Bogong Conquestathon on March 03


    How are your adventures going by the way ?

    1. Anna Post author

      That sounds good. Will you be running or walking it?

      I didn’t have any probs with leaches at Donna Buang – I guess it depends on the recent rainfall. Haven’t had much lately so I reckon you’ll be right.

      Unfortunately I haven’t been on any adventures in a few weeks – been sick and/or too busy. Must rectify that asap! Fingers crossed it won’t be too stupidly hot this week. There are a couple of places I want to go that I haven’t been before. No mountains, but new locations often mean some kind of bush bashing or other antics πŸ˜‰

  9. Jesse

    I’ve being hiking the cathedrals for many years as I grew up nearby. Lately i’ve being doing one big loop, pushing myself each time. I park at neds gully and hike up to the ridge, generally skipping the jawbones. Then I cross the ridge to the farmyard and continue on to sugarloaf. Then I descend wells cave, but I’m comfortable with heights. At the bottom I joy the 7.5km back to my car on the road.

    I experimented with wearing runners the whole time, works well but they got too chewed up. So today I did it by wearing my hiking boots and duct taping my runners to my camelbak. When I got to sugar loaf saddle I hid my hiking boots, ran back to the car then picked them up on the way through. In runners I can do the whole circuit in about 2hrs 10min, including running back to the car. Today in boots and then a run it took about 2hrs 35mins.

    I plan on doing this once a weekend for awhile, shoot me an email if you’re interested in joining me one day! If not for the whole thing just part of it. Or throw me an add on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/faceb00k.com.au

    Anyone who’s up for the challenge welcome.

    1. Anna Post author

      Hey Jesse, My main bushwalking shoes are runners, but with big lugs like bushwalking boots. They can handle a lot of abuse and don’t slow you down too much, even when running.

      Weekends don’t work well for me atm and currently I’m not in great epic walking shape. You’ve reminded me I do need to tackle Sugarloaf again sometime though now the flies would be gone πŸ™‚

  10. Ben

    I managed to get up via the wells cave track with help of a group of friends on Sunday. It said it was for fit and experienced hikers. But I wasn’t an experienced hiker. I can agree with you once you got up some large rocks, I had that feeling, how am I going to get down lol. Anyway I’m glad I continued and pushed myself to get the top or else I would be sleeping there the night! We left the Jawbone Carpark on foot around 1:50pm and didn’t arrive at the Sugarloaf Peak until around 4:30pm. Since it’s winter, the sun was like going down in like 30 minutes! So we basically slide down the Canyon Track with cation. To make the situation worse, ice was forming on the rocks along this track. At least we all made it down safely before sunset. It was great fun. I would suggest trying this track again but probably don’t leave it too late to go up as it takes a lot of concentration. To me it seemed a bit easier going down than up.

    1. Anna Post author

      Awesome! Nothing like the threat of sunset to get you moving!

      I’m dying to do this again, but now with a young baby it’s going to be quite a while before I can escape for adventurous adventures πŸ™‚


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