The day had finally arrived for our attempt on Coal River Sugarloaf, which, at 530 metres, had been looming above the house since we had arrived. We woke each morning to see the austere (all right treed) east face looming above us, and, went to bed at night as the mountain cast long shadows across the land.
The first crux was undoubtedly crossing open farmers fields to reach the security of the eucalpytus forest that covers the lower slopes. I had scoped out a route the day before which took us across a narrow section of cleared land, empty of farm animals and covered with knee high grass. The one thing I had neglected to reconnoitre, however, was the fence, which turned out to be high and sturdy. Our only means of access onto the open field was slithering under a section of fence where a washout had eroded a channel. Once past this obstacle, we sprinted across the field to the shelter of some large eucalpytus trees.
The first 50 metres of elevation gain went quickly and easily through paddock with a generous supply of large gum trees and many animal tracks to follow. At 200 metres (ASL) the slope steepened, the trees thickened and we began climbing in earnest. 250 metres, 300 metres, 400 metres and we reached slippery small boulders covered with moss and hidden beneath a blanket of detritus shed by the gum trees. Despite increasingly precarious footing, we continued upward.
450 metres, 500 metres, finally we could see the sun glinting over the ridge top, the angle eased, flat ground was visible ahead, and then, we could go up no more. We were on the summit of Coal River Sugarloaf.
Doug on Coal River Sugarloaf summit plateau
To the east, 400 metres below us, the farms looked tiny. Toy farms with toy people going about their daily chores. On the west side, it was almost 500 metres down to the Coal River running placidly through farmland. We took a moment to savour our success and then turned our attention to the next task at hand – the descent. As Ed Viesturs famously said: “It's a round trip. Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.”
We hoped to descend the south ridge of the mountain heading towards the town of Campania. Before reaching town, however, we would have to veer off to the east and descend more steeply towards Native Hut Rivulet. The first 50 metres was relatively gentle, the second steeper, a 10 metre sub-summit had to be surmounted, then another fence, and then the steep descent down partially cleared paddock towards farmland below. Footing was treacherous on slippery green moss. I slipped and fell, but managed to arrest my fall before gravity inexorably pulled me down.
Out into open farmland, the grass mown low by sheep, we were able to progress more rapidly. We scrambled through another fence and then took animal tracks back to the north on the edge of the field where farmland met forest. We passed a small dam, and then, across the road, we could see the drainage that marked where the fence could be scrambled under.
Quickly, across the open field, under the fence and we were back on Native Corners Road. Success was ours. We had climbed and, most importantly, returned from Coal River Sugarloaf.