Chiltern National Park to Corowa
Sunday February 7, 2016, 38 miles (61 km) – Total so far: 408 miles (657 km)
I wake at 3.00 am to the sound of grass being clipped next to my head. As I emerge from sleep, I realise it is just a kangaroo out there grazing. She/he actually nudges the tent fly a couple times. Ha! Being next to a waterhole has meant it has been an active night of things bashing and bouncing through the bush to come down for a drink.
I wake for real with my watch alarm at 6.00am. I have not slept well even though all aspects of my sleeping arrangements were conducive to rest. Blechhh! Oh well, up we get. It is supposed to get to 34C (94F) today and the wind is supposed to swap to an unfavourable direction after noon – so the plan is to get home for lunchtime.
The gravel is steep for a few hundred metres, then backs off to very manageable, spinning gradients up to the Old Coach Road. That fine, white, sandy granite surface in this part of the park makes for good riding. The forest through here is quite open – all regrowth and scrubby but still pleasant. Other parts of the park have such thick regrowth, it’s like looking through prison bars into thick vegetation, but the high ridges are all pretty open.
There is a short, steep climb just as we start into Old Coach Road, then a nice long downhill followed by more rolling ups and downs. Both eastern grey kangaroos and black wallabies dart across the road at least every 3-5 minutes. I’m down in the shade mostly, but the sun peeks through low gaps in the range every now and again.
We pass by McGuinness Track (which we’ve ridden a couple times) and start climbing through scrubby forest that is thick with regrowth and black cypress pine. The black pine is quite prevalent in the park, and must have been for a very long time, because the local indigenous language has a name for it: yeddonba. The pine prefers the drier, rockier slopes on this side of the range.
There is one short steep grunt before more manageable grades pull us up to the parking lot for Mt Pilot. There are a couple of picnic tables here and a 300 metre path of rocky steps through thick bush to open outcrops on the way to the summit. The summit itself is a large, rounded and sloping expanse of treeless granite with a fire tower. It is only manned on days of extreme or catastrophic fire danger.
The views to the east are, of course, not so good, since the angle of the sun is piercing and blinding. But there are good views to Mt Buffalo to the south and out over the low hills to the north and west. You can see all of the burn scars from the Indigo Valley fire in December. It’s interesting that that fire appears to have burnt the only areas of the national park that were not burnt in 2003. It’s like it knew where to send tendrils or swathes of flame when it went blowing up the valley and into the park.
The guys and I enjoy having a look around the summit and having all sorts of fun making crazy shapes and silhouettes with our shadows in the low angle of the sun. It’s only 7.30am, but I think I hear a car door down below slamming. Wow! Somebody else got up early, too. But no, it is just a scare gun popping down below somewhere. All the grapes are just about ready for harvest, or are in the process of being harvested right now, so the whole region is awash with the popping sounds of scare guns since this is a wine region and the native birds don’t mind a grape or two.
We head down from the summit and take off down the Old Coach Road toward the main highway. This is the tourist route to the summit, and unfortunately, this means the road sees a lot more wear than any of the other fantastic roads we’ve ridden in this park. The road is chewed up in a lot of places – the washboard so thick, deep and sandy to not be rideable. Fortunately, the hump in the middle of the road is still solid and I just go cruising downhill on that. I’m lucky the auto traffic at this hour is nil.
I reach the turn-off for the Green Break track which I had considered riding. But I only get a few hundred feet down the road and change plans since the track has quite a bit of erosion happening both vertically and horizontally to the path of travel. It will be just as quick to head out to the main road, catch the great speed on the paved downhill, then turn back into the park on the road that leads to the Yeddonba cultural site. So that is what we do. And that is probably a good decision based on what the Green Break track looks like from the other side as well.
The road into the cultural site from the main road also has a lot of corrugations, but I can mainly stay up in the centre and pedal up the hills. The cultural site sits right down below the summit of Mt Pilot itself. The area is a medium-sized semi-circle of large granite boulders and outcrops at the base of the peak. Within this semi-circle lies a few caves and overhangs mixed with all of the scrubby forest and stands of the black cypress pine (yeddonba).
There is a picnic table, interpretive board and nice shade at the parking area. Do this hike early in the day in summer for coolness or in the afternoon for warmth in winter 🙂 The walk takes 30-45 minutes and leads you across the basin of vegetation in that semi-circle of rocks. It then climbs through the scrubby forest to a fenced area with a boardwalk that takes you up to the ochre paintings. Then the track winds around the semi-circle of rocks and takes you past caves, overhangs and open areas with views out over the surrounding bush and pasture. There are also several huge granite boulders to climb in and around… just avoid the ant nests.
After having gone up to the paintings to get some photos for you, dear reader, we head back out. We’ve been here a few times before. We want to get home before it gets hot, and it’s already quite warm.
I continue on the road past the cultural site. It’s a new road for me, with gentle climbs and descents through the edge of the park. Some of the forest is so thick with regrowth you would not be able to walk through it. Some of it is open and looks like there are mining scars of some sort – well, something not natural anyway. There is one steep climb out of a creek before we get back to gentle hills that meet with the Pine Gap Road. This is a rocket of a road and is so fun – even in the lower parts of it here. I had so much fun bombing down this one last year. And I have tons of fun bombing back down it again today.
Then it’s out of the park, down the quiet, gravel road through pastoral blocks and tree-lined laneways. The road leads us to the main highway which we take into Chiltern. I stop at the bakery, but it is peak time on a Sunday, so I get impatient when the line does not seem to move in about 5 minutes of waiting. I love this bakery – great products, very reasonable prices – but the amount of help and speediness of service is not so great today. I had my eye on an apple walnut scroll, but it will just have to wait for another time. I head back to the park and eat the rest of my peanut butter and crackers instead.
We head home via the Cornishtown Road once again, and I have a good laugh when the only vehicle I encounter is in the exact same spot as the only vehicle I encountered last Monday! There is no reason for it – no nearby feeder road or neighbourhood or anything else – but the coincidence is hilarious.
The NNE wind is giving me a push, but it also means I’m a bit late on the swap. It will have started out ENE earlier in the day. So I push it hard and make it home before it goes SW at about 12.30 pm. I make it home at 11.30 am and conclude a great ride. The forecast all this week is for highs of 96-100F, so it was great to squeeze in a ride before it gets really hot again.