Cathedral Ranges Ridgeline Circuit

Distance: 18.5km
Duration: approximately 6 hours
Grade: 4
Start: Cooks Mill Carpark
Route: Cooks Mill-Tweed Spur-Messmate Track-Sugarloaf saddle-Well Cave Track-Sugarloaf Peak-Razorback-Farmyard-South Jawbone Peak-Ned’s Saddle-Neds Gully

This is my first time visiting the Cathedral Ranges and I intent to make the most of it. This hike traverses a large part of the Cathedral Ranges, including the very popular Sugarloaf Peak and Razorback Ridge. At 10 am I start at the Cooksmill carpark. From there I head up along the Tweed spur road for about one kilometer and then turned right into the Messmate Track. The trail winds gradually up, crossing several wooded gullies. It is an easy three kilometer gradual ascent until the Sugarloaf Saddle. Along the way I stumble upon a couple of male Lyrebirds trying to impress each other with their extensive repertoire (if you want to know more about Lyrebird, I dedicated a separate post to these crazy birds).

From sugarloaf Saddle there are two options in order to gain Sugarloaf Peak. Both will involve some proper scrambling.There is the Canyon Track which is the most often used route and the lesser traveled, more technical, Wells Cave Track. I decide to give the Wells Cave Track a shot as the description sound like it should be fun:

“ Wells Cave Track – 30 mins -This track is rated very hard and recommended for experienced hikers only as it is steep in places, requires a lot of rock scrambling and unassisted climbing and traverses some exposed ledges en-route. Avoid this track if you are uncomfortable in high open and exposed places. Ascent only.”

The sign makes it sound quite tough, but then again Australia’s Parks sometimes makes a fuss over nothing. I would soon discover they weren’t exaggerating, that much…

The track starts out easy enough, climbing steadily through forest to the base of the rocky upper slopes. The first bits of rocks I encounter aren’t too bad, but then things turn a bit more vertical requiring some less flattering hands and feet style bushwalking to get to the base of the main cliff. This is the spot where rock climbers will unpack their ropes and harnesses and continue straight up, but I head north along the base of the cliff. Then I reach what I assume must be Wells Cave. In fact it’s more like a crevice, formed by a large slab of sandstone leaning against the main cliff. There is only darkness on the other side, but an orange arrow on the wall assures me that this is the way to go. So I crawl inside. A flashlight is not needed since there is daylight shining in through the opening. The deeper I get into the cave the narrower it gets and soon I have to turn sideways and take my daypack of, shoving it in front of me the rest of the way.

 Going through the Wells cave, I can see some light on the other side..

Going through the Wells cave, I can see some light on the other side..

Made it to the other side

Made it to the other side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After emerging from the cave there is an excellent view of the valley and from here it is one short climb up to the top. This last part turns out to be the hardest as I have to climb up a slab which is a bit slippery at some places and the hand/footholds are a little dodgy. The moves are somewhat tricky and the rock is very exposed, but mostly this it is mostly a mental exercise. Also turning back doesn’t seem like such a good plan since downclimbing the rock I just came up will be a lot harder. So I gather my nerves and after a few shaky steps I make it up onto the ledge. From there I wiggle my way up one final chimney, using some shameless off width bum and knee work to jam myself between the walls of the crack, while pushing my backpack in front of me.

 Last stretch is a bit exposed...

Last stretch is a bit exposed…

Chimney up the crack

Chimney up the crack

 

After this last exciting stretch, it is an easy scramble to the Sugarloaf Peak, where I treat myself to an amazing view and some well deserved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Nibbling on my well deserved peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I enjoy the sublime view of the valley and the ranges below.

Nibbling on my well deserved peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I enjoy the sublime view of the valley and the ranges below.

From Sugarloaf Peak, the trail gradually ascends along the narrow Razorback ridgeline. This part was a fairly comfortable walk with some rock hopping and scrambling around narrow ledges. The route is pretty straightforward; just following the ridgeline, also there are many markers. I take my time traversing the ridge and enjoy the spectacular views. After approximately 2.5km the trail becomes easier and the rocky ridge is replaced by open woodland. From here the track descents to an open grassy flat called ‘The Farmyard’. This campsite is named after the Lyrebirds in the area, which supposedly make farm-animal noises, mimicking the animals from the surrounding farmland (I didn’t hear any though). From here I take a short detour to the South Jawbone Peak which rewards me with breathtaking views to the east.

The Razorback

The Razorback

 

After The Farmyard I continue on the ‘Ridge Track’ which, as the name suggests, follows the ridgeline towards Cathedral and Little Cathedral Peak. The track crosses a lot of rocky outcrops covered in mountain goat dropping, no sign of their producers though. When I look over my shoulder I see the Sugarloaf Peak and the Razorback I have just traversed. The suddenly an eagle soars over my head. It’s a real picture perfect scene! But by the time I have my camera ready the bird is long gone, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

At the sign for Ned’s Gully I turned right and followed the trail down. Just before reaching the camping area there is a sign for the Little River track which leads back through the forest to Cooks Mill and the start of the hike.

View of Sugarloaf peak and the Razorback, the route I just followed

View of Sugarloaf peak and the Razorback, the route I just followed

 

 

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