After spending almost six months behind a desk my legs are aching for a good stretch on some reasonably steep slopes. The Grampians National Park is a great place to do so. A quick Google search provides me with a great suggestion; the Major Mitchell Plateau Circuit. It is even recommended by Victoria’s Hiking Guru, Glenn Tempest. “The Major Mitchell Plateau circuit overnight hike leaves and finishes from Sheep Hills car park south of Halls Gap, and takes you on a stunning 40.7 kilometer trip over three days and two nights”, according to Parks Victoria. We don’t have three days, but reckon with some extra effort it should be doable in two.
So we set off on Friday night and after a quick stop at Domino’s for some greasy pre-hiking dinner, we arrive at the Sheep Hill car park around midnight. About 5 minutes down from the carpark we find a pretty little creek with a nice clear spot to pitch the tent. The soothing sound of the running water quickly lulls me to sleep.
The next morning we get up reasonably early. It rained a little over night and we discover that the tent is not as waterproof as it once was. Luckily the sleeping mats have soaked up most of it. After a quick muesli and powdered milk breakfast we fill up our bottles in the creek and head out at about 8:30 a.m.
The walk starts as a gentle stroll along a well defined path, winding through a thick forest of Stringybark and Banksia trees. The track then steadily climbs to a ridge with some great views of the neighboring ranges.
We follow the ridge until we reach Mt William Road and car park. Just as we are discussing how quiet it is on the trail, especially since it is a weekend, our peace is ruthlessly disturbed when a coach pulls up and unloads about 20 senior citizens. They obviously came for a short day hike up to the summit of Mt William (Duwul). We pick up the pace, determined to stay ahead so we can enjoy a peaceful lunch with a great view at the top . The road up is quite steep, but all sealed; a rare luxury when ‘climbing’ a mountain. The road winds it’s way up through forest of eucalypt and Banksia. In places where the trees give way we have a splendid view across the valley. By now the sounds of the chattering old birds has been replaced by the songs of the many beautiful colorful birds that flutter around in the bushes, feeding on the Banksia.
The weather can be very changeable around here, as we are about to discover. When we reach the summit the view is completely shrouded in clouds. We find a less windy spot, close to the transmission towers that also sit at the top (they do spoil the ambiance a bit) and enjoy our peaceful lunch consisting of a peanut butter-nutella-M&M-wrap, minus the view. One out of two is not so bad…
The road up to mount William. Its looks nice and sunny. But as we draw nearer to the top the clouds are closing in…The first picture is taken only half an hour before the second.
Just before the summit there is an old management vehicle track. At first we are a bit confused where to go but soon we find the trail again. The muddy narrow track is covered with loose, tennis ball sized rocks that roll away under our feet. At some points the track is quite steep and slippery. How steep? Well vertical enough that I had to concentrate on holding on to some tree roots and forgot about taking pictures, so nothing to show here unfortunately…
We make it down to Boundary Gap without any slips and surprisingly my socks are still dry. From here it is a steep rock scramble up to get out of the gap and reach the actual Major Mitchell Plateau. Or as Parks Victoria so eloquently describes it: “An exhilarating climb to the Major Mitchell Plateau, where you will be rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of the park and the grazing lands to the east and south.” Great, bring it on! I prefer scrambling up over scrambling down any day.
There was definitely some good scrambling getting out of Boundary Gap
Once up on the Plateau it is a short walk to the First Wannon Hiker Campsite, which we reach around 2 pm. But since we are aiming to complete the hike in two days instead of three we keep going.
From the campsite the track mostly leads along the eastern edge of the Plateau and is relatively easy to follow. Rock cairns were pointing the way along the less conspicuous sections of the track. The overcast sky obscured the promised ‘fantastic panoramic views’ for most of the time. However, incidentally the clouds would part, teasing us with a glimpse of what is undoubtedly a stunning view of the surrounding mountain range.
In good weather conditions I would have probably loved to spend a night on the plateau, but the weather has turned and a chilling wind combined with a steady drizzle urges us to move on. By the way, my socks are no longer dry at this point 🙁
Along the way we spot a huge rock cairn which apparently marks the spot of Durb-Durb summit. We are now at the equal highest point of the Grampians. But we still have to negotiate Banksia Hill which sits a short distance past Durd-Durd. The peak of Banksia Hill is also the exit point for the Plateau, with a very steep and rocky descent taking us down to Stockyard Saddle. It is starting to get dark and we decide to camp the first night at the saddle. Damp and chilled we crawl into the tent and eat our meal of couscous and raisins. It is only 7 pm but I’m ready to call it a day. So I turn in for the night, hoping that I will not be wide awake at 4 am having to get out in the cold to pee.
The next morning I wake up to the loud echoing laughter of the kookaburras. As it turns out my worries were for nothing; I slept for 14 hours straight! The weather has improved and the sun is now shining through the eucalyptus trees. Revitalized by the sun and the very long nap we start down the trail in good spirits. A bit further down we meet the first day hikers toiling up to the plateau. They will enjoy some excellent views today. I am half tempted to turn around and climb up again, but recalling the steep long track I came down yesterday I reconsider. Within half an hour we reach Track Junction. From here a rocky track leads gently downhill and shortly after we arrive at an open plain with an amazing view!
From this plain, which we discover is a helipad, the track gradually winds downhill to the Jimmy Creek Campground. Here we have our lunch while being stalked by some hungry wallabies and very cheeky magpies. From the campground we cross the Wannon River at the footbridge and follow the track to the Ingleton Fireline. This section is relatively monotonous and we basically follow the undulating fireline for about 15 km until we hit the directional signage indicates the turn-off to the Sheep Hills Carpark.