Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Strange Day On Mount Gulaga

Captain Cook called this old volcano situated near present day Tilba Tilba Mount Dromedary as it has two humps easily visible from the sea, but, to the indigenous people, the mountain is Gulaga. Back in the late 1800's, gold was mined on the slopes and, common with mining practices up to the present day, the rainforest was cleared and streams polluted. Tilba Tilba is now a sleepy little town surrounded by lush green farms and the National Park is managed jointly with the indigenous Yuin people. The track from Tilba Tilba to the summit actually goes to the slightly lower (797 metres versus 806 metres) southeast summit and uses old gold mining tracks. 

When I drove into the small parking area at Tilba Tilba, a young woman seated by the track sign waved enthusiastically at me. I had no idea who she was but returned her wave, albeit with somewhat less gusto. Immediately I parked the car, a young man in shorts, a tee-shirt,but with nothing else at all, also pulled in, parked and strode off with the young woman. Meanwhile I dragged my overstuffed pack from the car, wedged in a few more items, and also began to walk up the track. I had thought about bringing just a litre of water and a light jacket, but then the old mountaineer in me had re-emerged and I threw in a pair of gloves, some long underwear, a puffy jacket, a sun hat and beanie, a pair of shorts, some dried salami, a bag of nuts, a first-aid kit, raincoat, and, finally the litre of water. The problem with being an old mountaineer is there is just no end to the nasty things you can imagine happening while out in the wilds.

The first kilometre follows a gravel road past a series of small farms and properties. Ahead of me the young couple was rapidly disappearing from sight and I fought that instinctive desire to speed up to match their pace, or preferably overtake them. This social instinct is hard-wired in all of us, and is frequently the cause for much annoying jostling on narrow tracks. By the time I had got to the National Park gate they had disappeared from view. 


I'd read a few trip reports that described the track as hideously steep requiring multiple rest stops. It's not and it doesn't. Instead it is a steady gradual climb up through second growth eucalpytus forest. There is little in the way of views, although there is one spot where you can see Wallaga Lake and Bermagui. After about 1.5 hours, I reached the saddle where an access road comes in from the north. There is a toilet, a picnic bench and some interpretive signage. The young couple were having a short rest, but, social instincts kicked in quickly and as soon as I had finished perusing the interpretive signs they were off walking briskly along the track. The main track wraps around the south side of the peak before heading uphill to the summit through some old growth rainforest, but, a steeper short cut track heads off about 300 metres from the saddle and allows a circuit of the summit. 

The short-cut track is very faint, unsigned, and is reached about 5 minutes after leaving the saddle. I encountered the young couple again deliberating at the track junction. When I said I was going up the steep track and down the main marked track they decided to do the same. Initially, they were right on my heels, but, the higher I got the further behind they lagged, even when I had to backtrack because I had lost the track momentarily (it is very faint). I, of course, was feeling good now, as, not only had I overtaken them but I had left them far behind. No doubt they, particularly the young man, were now suffering from social angst that I was faster than them. Such is the power of social instinct. I actually was a wee bit concerned that they would lose the track so I called down to them a couple of times to make sure they were still coming up the right way. The summit is only about 100 metres higher from where you leave the main track so it does not take long to reach the trig station. 

The best view from the track

There really is very little view from the top, but I sat down, had a drink and chewed on a bit of salami as I had not had breakfast. The young man wanted to know exactly how long it had taken me to reach the top and they were off down before me. Of course, this put me in that awkward situation where I had to either linger long enough for them to get well ahead of me, or catch them again on the way down thus rendering another blow to their egos. I didn't want to linger so I started off and very soon passed both of them again. This, of course, spurred the young man to speed up again behind me and I had a passing vision of that annoying track jostle playing out for the next several kilometres. 

I, however, wanted to check out an old track marked on the map which led out to the higher northwest summit so I spent about 15 minutes bashing along what might have been a very overgrown road or might have been nothing, searching for this track. A note to other people looking for this track, the rainforest track is not shown correctly on the current topographic map. Although this was ultimately unsuccessful, it did allow the couple enough time to escape beyond my orbit. 

 Granite tors

Once back on the rainforest track, I spent a little time wandering around the granite tors just off the main track before starting a rapid downhill trot to my car. Between the start of the track and the saddle I must have passed at least 50 people hiking up the track. All except the Batemans Bay bushwalking group who were notable in being as well equipped as I was, were in various states of distress. The lower I got the more distressed people looked. 

Coming down one section of track I was quite confronted to see ahead of me a middle aged guy taking a piss with his wife standing by - right in the middle of the track - which, given the hordes of people passing by was analogous to standing on the corner of Pitt and King Street in Sydney taking a slash. My downhill progress was rapid and could not be halted that quickly, so I was upon the couple before they had even woken up to my presence. His wife tried to block my view and the guy shuffled around while I averted my eyes. With any luck he pissed on his own shoes which would serve him right for standing in the middle of the track with his tackle hanging out. 

Luckily, I had no more obscene encounters, and got back to my car three hours after starting out. The young couple had disappeared, probably into the local pie shop.

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