Laura Waters puts in the hard yards in part two of our walk in along the entire Grampians Peaks Trail (see part one here).
The next three days are long, my slowest clocking in at eight hours for a measly 13km, though they provide some of the most captivating views. I climb and descend the mountain’s serrations, across mossy rock slabs and past purple wildflowers quivering in the breeze while huge fins of rock rise in parallel bands in the distance. Sheer cliffs slide into forested valleys where flocks of white corellas swirl and disperse. A patch of grassland is sprinkled with orchids and crimson rosellas.
Off to my right, rocky protrusions make the long Serra Range ripple like the Loch Ness monster. I scramble over peaks with sheer drops to one side and through boulder mazes that cause me to pause and work out a strategy for climbing them. There’s a lot of grunting, bush-bashing and dragging of my pack to negotiate one rock squeeze.
Half a dozen false summits crush my spirit en route to Redman Bluff but the views from the top still me in ecstatic wonder for a good 45 minutes. If I thought I could see far on other peaks this one is 360 degrees of mind blowing. I can see where I’ve come from and where I’m going (more freaking mountains!)
It’s blowing 46kph at Duwul camp and I struggle to keep my tent pegs in. In the morning an animal steals my precious soap.
Swirls of fog enclose me atop Gariwerd’s highest point of Mt William at 1167m. I descend steep stone steps into a gully and back out again but on the Major Mitchell Plateau the trail is blessedly flat. Friendly little stepping stones and boardwalk meander through thick bushes of wildflowers in rainbow colours and there are expansive views of distant mountains in blue haze. A meadow filled with daisies and grazing wallabies makes a heavenly change of pace before arriving at Durd Durd camp.
There’s more ups and downs, on loose trails and jumbles of rock, and at Yarram the tent pads cluster at the top of a steep gully like resort balconies facing out towards Mt Nelson, offering a unique and stunning place to spend the night.
There’s been much talk about the cost of doing the GPT. At $262.35pp for two people sharing ($524.70 if you’re solo), it’s not a cheap proposition but it’s clearly been a job and half to build the thing. I spoke to head ranger Tammy Schoo who explained that over the years unauthorised free bush camps have been gradually eroding and degrading (with toilet waste) areas of the Grampians, and resolving this issue by limiting such camping and creating new official camps is part of a broader goal of sustainability.
Trail notes for the following day say the route will rise and fall like a rollercoaster but luckily it’s a fairly gentle one. Knife-edge ridges offer captivating views of ‘Nessie’ alongside me, and Wannon camp comes into view long before I reach it – a rare flat grassy clearing in a valley below.
The south is where much of the new 100km of track has been built, opening up views of Gariwerd not previously accessible. There is a significant change in terrain too with easier sandy paths through grass trees, wildflowers and then swampland, but before long I’m climbing again on rocky steps sidling around the mountains into the Serra Range. I summit Signal Peak then Mt Abrupt but the mountains are running out, melting into farmland plains.
On my last night I cop a serious electrical storm on an exposed rock outcrop in the shadow of Mt Abrupt. I hang onto my shaking tent while the lightning and thunder cracks all around but when the storm passes I’m treated to one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve ever seen as slivers of orange light slice through the darkness and swirling clouds.
Finally I stand upon Mt Sturgeon, the last climb done. I sit there looking back from where I came, at the string of mountains disappearing into blue mist and think, “You did it, kid”. I’m no stranger to long or tough hikes but this one was right up there.
It was 12 days of non-stop effort and I don’t want to see another hill again for weeks. It was epic in every sense of the word – in length, difficulty and wild beauty. It was a journey and journeys have highs and lows but they’re also massively rewarding.