Monday, 19 September 2016

Tinderry Peak, Tinderry Nature Reserve, NSW

It looks a bleak day for a walk. The dawn is grey.  Icy rain is falling in heavy squalls. We are in a spartan, upstairs room at a pub in Braidwood. There is a ghost, apparently, and all night the floorboards have been creaking. There is no heating and cold draughts sneak under the double doors that open onto a wide verandah. The empty street below is wet and shining under the light of a waxing moon.

But just 50km west, as the crow flies, this rain is falling as lovely snow and gathering in drifts on the granite tors atop Tinderry Peak.

By the time we finish a leisurely breakfast, the sun is out. By the time we reach Round Flat Fire Trail, and park the car at the start of our planned walk, there is clear blue sky and a cracking forecast for the days ahead.

Our walk for this blog post is an overnight pilgrimage to Tinderry Peak, elevation 1619m, and the highest point in Tinderry Nature Reserve, which lies 25km south of Queanbeyan and east of the Monaro Highway. The Tinderry Range forms a watershed between the Murrumbidgee and Queanbeyan rivers and for years we have passed these mountains by - staring enviously out of car windows on our way to and from other adventures. Finally, it is time for us to get to the top of this granite peak.

As there is no track to the summit all walkers find their own path up and down the mountain, weaving through forest, circling Roberts Creek and finding a way through the maze of boulders that cover the ridges and summits.  For more information about possible routes we would recommend two bloggers who cover this region extensively. The amount of information on their pages can be confounding but worth trawling through.  They are: mntviews. Then the plethora of information on Johnny Boys Walkabout Blog.

From the starting gate, we walk for 35-minutes along Round Flat Fire Trail before veering into the bush to find our own path to the summit. It is a lunchtime start, which is okay because we plan to camp the night and return the next day. Above us, the mountain is sugar coated. The walk, however, shouldn't be.

Off track, the forest we enter is a junkyard. There is so much downed timber it is like walking through a game of giant pick-up sticks. It is a hard course for the show jumping horses, Caz says, as we step over another fallen tree.

Tinderry Nature Reserve was once a major site for eucalyptus oil distilleries with the remnants of five or more former distilleries apparently located in the reserve. The operators came here for the broad-leaved peppermint (E. dives) that we are now jumping over, weaving around, and climbing on.  Evidence of the eucalypt distilleries also includes pollarded trees and cleared areas now invaded by tea tree, banksia and kunzea.

As we gain height, we cross to the northern side of Roberts Creek, and the forest changes to wattles and mountain white gums. It is equally ramshackle. We duck under fallen trees and clamber through the wreckage. Now the sticks and branches underfoot are also slippery with ice and snow. It is tiring walking. I stumble often, get flicked and poked by sticks and branches. My gaiter straps catch on impossible obstacles. This walk continues a theme taken up in our last blogpost – the art of off-tracking. 

It can be demoralising in difficult country; getting scratched to bits, or something on your backpack snags. Each stumble sucks more and more energy. The idea, then, is to slow down. We concentrate on making every step count. The beauty is, it is never all hard. Eventually, the going gets easier. Before getting difficult again. And, then, easier again.

As we climb towards Tinderry Peak the incongruous sight of snow nestled atop brilliant green moss covered boulders is delightful and the frustrations easily fade in the face of our excitement as we near the summit and reach the high, cold forest of black sallee (E. stellulata) and snow gum (E pauciflora).

Reaching the summit ridge, we begin working our way along the top. As beautiful as the snow and ice cover is, the rounded granite boulders are treacherous and slippery. It makes it difficult to scamper up and down to check our progress. I recall the words on mntviews blog: "…you think that a boulder in front is the highest point, but when you climb to its top, it turns out to be a false summit as there is another boulder further away that is higher. And when you climb this higher boulder, it also turns out to be a false summit as there is another boulder further away that is higher ... etc. It is fun!!!..."

With the afternoon dragging on, and the winter light fading fast, we do not make it past the second and third false summits. The walk up has tired this old show-jumper. I am ready for an afternoon brew and a rest. We find a campsite bathed in warm afternoon light (although not nearly enough snow for Caz who was keen to camp in the deepest drift possible, just for the hell of it!). After setting camp, we work our way up a ti-tree gully to a good lookout point. Above us, in the late afternoon sun a wedgetail eagle circles back to check us out. The view in all directions is sublime and Caz prepares himself for the evening photoshoot while I jam-pack snow into our small pot to melt it for my afternoon cuppa. All is good in the shared eloquence of a mountain camp. 

The morning is frosty and the air clear as ice. We return to our lookout point for sunrise and the stunning vista is fresher with fresh eyes. To the west, dawn lights the snow-capped Namadgi mountains. I can see Mt Ginni and Mt Gingera and the snow there looks thick and untouched. Further south we are sure we can see the outlines of the Main Range. It has been a cold, clear night and the air is brilliantine (small pools of water atop our granite rocks have frozen solid). It must be Mount Kosciuszko and Townsend. 

Eastwards, the farmland and forests – Captains Flat, Tallanganda National Park, the Jerangle road – are all drowned and vanished beneath a flood of fog pressed into every gully and lapping the sides of the forested peaks. And north, that must be Corang Peak in the Budawangs. Enjoying the views, we are infused with morning light that changes from orange to gold to yellow to silver and white. It is quite simply a beautiful morning to be up high. Not a breath of wind. Not another soul. 

Closer to hand, we admire the bare granite slabs and boulders along the range either side of Tinderry Peak. There is scope here for some fascinating, challenging and exciting walking. 

We finally make it up and over those final false summits and find the log book and old trig point markers on Tinderry Peak. The morning stretches out before us.

As there is no path to set our course to, we decide to wander back a slightly different way to the way we wandered up. Heading east, we stick to the ridge top and enter a snow-covered maze of granite boulders and ti-tree filled grottos. There are blind alleys and wild, icy drop-offs. We push and shove and duck and weave, take a few more pokes and snags, shimmy through small gaps and search this way and that for a path from the north to the south side of the ridge. It is tough, but enormous fun. It is also time consuming so once through we decide to drop back to Roberts Creek for quicker going. 

As we emerge from the maze, suddenly others footprints are visible in the snow. We can see where they have tried to penetrate the labyrinth of boulders and then turned back. Perhaps they were searching for Tinderry Peak, lured up early by one of those false summits. I can only guess at their journey. Neither yesterday, nor today, have we heard or seen another soul. When we finally make it back to the car park the two cars from yesterday have gone and a different car is in their place. This is the undeniable appeal of off-track walking, of destinations like Tinderry Nature Reserve and other undeveloped wild places. There has obviously been a few of us out here, but we each walk our own path. Hidden amongst the black sallee and brown barrel, we have been to each other as mythical and elusive as the ghost in the Braidwood pub. 

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  1. Looks cold but so beautiful. You've taken gorgeous pictures. I like the way the sunlight has made the rock in the first picture glow. The blue-tinged snow covering the granite is appealing too, as is that weird shaped formation in the picture just after it. What a reward that cloudy vista would have been from the top. You give me plenty of amazing places to dream about visiting one day. Thanks!

    1. We really appreciate your nice comments Jane. Thanks for reading. And yes, there are so many amazing places to dream about visiting...for us too.

  2. Makes me miss that country so much. But we're coming for a visit next year, maybe we'll arrange a walk or two.

    1. Hey Sue, great to hear from you. We had all your old topographic maps in the boot of the car when we were exploring down that way! Exciting to hear you are coming back for a visit. It would be lovely to arrange some walks (or some rides).