Giewont and Kasprowsky Wierch

There are a multitude of hiking trails in the Polish Tatra mountains near Zakopane. A loop taking in the popular Giewont massif before traversing to  Kasprowsky Wierch (Peak) makes a perfect day walk.

It’s my last walk on this Europe trip, and I’m heading out to Zakopane and the nearby Polish Tatra Mountains. A town in the extreme south of Poland, Zakopane is located in the southern part of Podhale (the name of this region being derived from the phrase “pod hole”, which refers to the terrain that stretches out at the foot of the mountains).

While there is a train line from Krakow to Zakopane, I couldn’t actually find a train… the only way to get there seemed to be a bus that leaves every half an hour or so (from the train station, ironically!). As we get closer, it gets increasingly foggy and I question my decision of heading to the mountains! From Zakopane there’s another short bus ride to Kuźnice, where the trails are clearly marked.

I’m sticking to the plan of hiking up to Giemont, considered one of the most famous peaks in the area, despite visibility being very limited. The fog does intensify the autumn colours, although I’m doubting I’ll have much of a vew from the top.

The first part of the walk is along a cobbled road (closed to traffic) which is not very steep. It’s more a stroll up the road then a hike! Along the path there’s a small shrine in the rocks by the road and a memorial in a small glade, both of which I fail to find any explanation of on-line (at least in English) after my walk.

After about a kilometre there’s a small hut where an entry fee is payable, and another 800m further is the PTTK Kalatówki Mountain Hotel (1,198m above sea level) in the Bystra Valley. Built in 1938 for the FIS World Ski Championships, it was erected in a record time of 150 days. Apparently there are “stunning views of the surrounding mountains”. I can barely see the end of the glade. But I take the opportunity to buy a few snacks and have a mid-morning coffee!

From here the sign-post shows 2:45min to the Giemont peak, and the trail is now much narrower as it traverses the Kondratowa Valley. Despite the poor visibility, it’s pleasant walking and in some ways nicer with the fog in the tall forest (although I have no idea what views I’m missing out on).

After another half an hour I reach the PTTK Mountain Hut (PTTK Hala Kondratowa), which has some accommodation and offers meals – although I didn’t stop here.

From here the track starts to get gradually steeper as it climbs up through the Valley of Malego Szerokiego, with the path become a bit rockier. There’s a few streams that look like you cold drink from, although I’ve got plenty of water and don’t want to take the risk.

IMG_7179-LR

I also start seeing a few more people along the track as it gets steeper and winds up the valley.

IMG_7182-LR

What’s more encouraging is that the fog is starting to lift, and there are views in the distance of multiple ridges and mountain peaks. It would be spectacular without the clouds, and is still pretty impressive with fog filling the valleys.

IMG_7197-LR

The track finally reaches a Kondracka Przełęcz (1,725m), in the middle of the ridge that joins Kopa Kondracka and Giemont, my first destination. Looking west from the ridge, there’s just a sea of clouds… and to the north is the spiny peak of Giemont.

I continue from the pass up the cobbled trail towards the Giemont summit, with its distinctive cross. The pasth is pretty flat initially as it goes passes through low heath.

IMG_7210-LR

Looking back down the track towards Kondracka Przełęcz, you can clearly see the track continuing up the other side of the ridge towards Kopa Kondracka (that’s where I’m going next).

IMG_7222-LR

The path gradually gets steeper, and the final ascent is very steep with a few sections aided by chains. There’s a big school group ahead of me, which is hard to overtake on the last section – I can see why my guide book warns that on summer weekends there can be a long queue to reach the summit!

Fortunately while the ability to overtake is limited, it’s only the last 500m or so where you need to go single-file, and I soon reach the summit. The view from the Giemont summit (1,894m asl) is almost anti-climactic after the rocky climb and the views from along the path. To the west there’s still just clouds; looking east you can see the long ridge that forms the border between Poland and Slovakia. What’s impressive is the 15m high steel cross on the Giemont peak, erected in 1901. Weighing about 1900kg, all the material was carted by hand to the summit and the cross was erected over a week. It’s now a site of religious pilgrimages and a listed monument of architecture – and a massive lightning conductor! I wouldn’t want to be standing here durign a thunderstorm.

I don’t stay long at the top – it’s a litle crowded and the views are just as good from the path. I head down the same way I came up – I read afterwards there is a different path for the descent, to avoid passing people on the steeper sections.

As I near the Kondracka Przełęcz pass again, some of the clouds clear and there’s blue sky – I can now see some of the valley floor to the west, where before there were just clouds.

It’s an impressive view from the the pass, looking up the ridge towards Giemont.

IMG_2933-LR

I figure I’ve got enough time to extend the walk, rather than returning directly to Kuźnice (there are some alternate routes back suggested by my guide book). Instead I continue up the ridge to Kopa Kondracka, which will take me from 1,725m above sea level at the pass below Giemont to 2,004m. There’s nice views down the valley towards Kuźnice to the left (north-east), and Giemont with its prominent cross is visible (and still above me) to the north.

The trail climbs steeply up to Kopa Kondracka, which at 2,004m is the highest point on the walk. I then follow the main ridge across to Kasprowy Wierch (Peak) – on one side is Poland, and on the other, Slovakia. Not so long ago there were border checks between Poland and Slovakia and some challenges for hikers with trails straddling or crossing the border, but with both countries now being part of the Schengen Agreement you can wander anywhere through the Tatra mountains without fear of arrest!

IMG_7284-LR

The views are not extensive due to the clouds, but it does make it a very dramatic and constantly-changing landscape.

IMG_7291-LR

At times the views are almost completely obscured by cloud; occasionally they lift a little and you can see the trail stretching out along the ridge.

The first half of the path along the ridge is fairly easy walking. About half-way between Kopa Kondracka and Kasprowy Wierch, it descends steeply (though not for long) and becomes much more undulating as the ridge narrows.

This section is the most strenous and the most dramatic: the path follows the top of the narrow ridge, with steep drops on both sides.

IMG_7311-LR

This entire section is spectacular with the clouds shrouding both sides of the ridge, offering the occasional glimpse of the valley below and the peaks in the distance.

Eventually I see my destination – the metereological observatory on top of Kasprowy Wierch, in the distance. (At 1,987m above sea level, it’s the highest inhabited building in Poland.)

IMG_7327-LR

Before I get there, I’ve got a few more ups and downs as the path follows the contours of the ridge, and a bit more time to enjoy the view from the track. As the clouds shift I get a glimpse of Tichá dolina (The Silent Valley) below, as well as some of the surrounding peaks.

An increase in the numbers of walkers indicates my proximity to Kasprowy Wierch – where a cable-car transports walkers up and down the mountain

IMG_7339-LR

I’m taking the cable-car down; I would have been happy to walk but it’s almost 3pm, and I still need to get back down the mountain and Zakopane to catch a bus to Krakow. As well as the cable-car, there’s a couple of chairlifts that are used for skiing in the winter months.

The cable-car runs every 20min, so it’s a fairly short wait before I’m whisked down the mountain. It’s a 12min trip down, from 1,987m at Kasprowy Wierch to 999m at Kuźnice where the cable car terminates, with a stop in the middle where we swap cars. There would probably be magnificent views on a clear day – but alas, not today. Although I’m not complaining. It’s a lot easier than walking down! And I suspect on a clear day the tails and Giemont summit would be fairly crowded, even outside peak season.

It’s been a magnificent walk – far better than I expected, having not done much research (I saw a guidebook on Zakopane two days prior and throught, “that looks good”!). The trails are extensive and well-marked, and the scenery spectacular even with the fog and cloud. I’d love to spend a few days here – with a bit of planning you could some amazing walks between mountain huts.

Location Starting point is the village of Kuźnice (10min by bus or taxi from Zakapone). About two hours from Krakow by public transport
Distance Approx 15km one-way
Grade Moderate (total ascent 1200m). Track steep/rough in parts
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Cable car operates year-round
Resources Zakapone and the Tatra Mountains guidebook (available in multiple languages) from local bookshops
TatraMts-Small
Map showing route taken. Download larger image.

 

Schneeberg, Lower Austria

The perfect day trip from Vienna when you want to escape the city. There are a number of ways to get to Klosterwappen (Schneeberg summit) at 2,076m, the highest peak in Lower Austria.

Time for another hike on our European adventure… while Vienna is not really surrounded by mountains or near any high alpine peaks, a Google search identifies Schneeberg as good option for a day trip. The Klosterwappen summit on Schneeberg is 2,076m high, making it the highest mountain of Lower Austria. A bit more research confirms I can get there in under two hours by train, and I manage to convince my son Luke he should come with me.

There are multiple walking trails to the Schneeberg plateau, as well as a rack-and-pinion railway (the Schneeberg Railway) which is over 100 years old and takes you to a height of 1,800m, and a chairlift which takes you to 1,210m [see bottom for summary of routes]. The original plan was to take the chairlift up and tackle one of the more challenging routes to the summit – but on arrival at Puchberg am Schneeberg railway station I discover the chairlift is operating only on weekends. Conscious of time, as we have to be back in Vienna by 6pm, we decide to walk up to the peak via the Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg), and then descend on the train. (It’s worth booking ahead for the train – we would have had to wait almost two hours for the first train with seats going up the mountain – see links at the bottom.)

It’s a relatively easy walk as the gravel road follows the train track, although the total ascent from the village of Puchberg am Schneeberg at 585m to the 2,076m Schneeberg summit (Klosterwappen) is about 1,500m. A pretty decent climb for a day walk!

IMG_6680-LR

We have a mini-break at Hengsthütte (1,012m), one of the stations on the train line, that has a small restaurant where I bribe Luke with a can of Coke.

Although the views so far are not particularly inspiring and the walking is a little monotonous, there is some nice display of autumn foliage. (If it seems like I’m not particularly upbeat about the walk at this point, you’re right – I am struggling a little to explain to Luke as each train passes us why we didn’t just catch the train up…! I vaguely recall a quote about “strength and growth coming only through continuous effort and struggle”. I don’t sound very convincing, though.)

IMG_6706-LR

We reach the next hut (Baumgartner, 1,568m asl), which is also a train station, after another hour of walking. There’s another restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area, although we don’t stop. We see a few other hikers for the first time, who appear to have started the walk from this station – a much better idea as the walking starts getting more interesting from here. For the first time we can see the top of the Schneeberg plateau in the distance.

Just after the Baumgartner hut, the road becomes a walking path, and the forest starts to change from tall pine trees to more stunted versions. It’s much nicer walking – and there isn’t a train going past us every 40min reminding us that we didn’t need to walk!

There’s also some great views down onto the valley below, and the towns of Schneebergdörfl and Puchberg am Schneeberg in the distance, where we commenced out hike.

IMG_6736-LR

We make good time on this last section up to the Schneeberg plateau, reaching the edge of the low pine forest – and the first patch of remnant snow – after about 45min. We can see the cross indicating one of the Schneeberg lookouts (but not the summit) in the distance, and I’m subjected to the first of many snowballs thrown at me by Luke…

We make the decision to continue directly to the summit, bypassing the top railway station (Hochschneeberg mountain station). It’s taken us just over three hours from the Puchberg am Schneeberg station at the bottom to the top of the main plateau, but we still have another 300m or so of elevation to get to the summit – or 1.25hrs according to the sign.

It’s very easy walking again, and there’s lot’s of people around – obviously all people who have taken the train up, and haven’t benefited from the strength and growth that came from our continuous effort and struggle hiking up from the bottom! Ahead of us, on the left-hand side of the long ridge, is Klosterwappen, the highest point on Schneeberg. Another hut (Damböckhaus) is packed full of people enjoying lunch on the mountain.

IMG_6767-LR-2

After 15min along the gravel road, there’s a turn-off to the Klosterwappen summit. Marked by snow poles, there’s a very rough track that heads up to the peak across an alpine meadow.

The views get increasingly more impressive as we head up the steepest part of the slope towards the summit.

IMG_6782-LR

It takes us just over four hours to the summit – a bit slower than the signs suggest on the first part up along the train line – but much quicker on the last section when the sight of the peak (and a few patches of snow to distract Luke) inspire us to pick up the pace (at one point we thought we wouldn’t have time to make it to the very top).

IMG_6795-LR

While the summit is more of a long plateau than an alpine peak, the views from the top are magnificent, stretching in all directions. Looking south-west toward Styria there are mountains as far as the eye can see, including the Rax mountains.

IMG_2904-LR

In the other direction, to the east, is the Bucklige Welt (the “land of a thousand hills”) and the Rohrbachgraben valley.

IMG_6807-LR

We have a brief stop at the summit, before heading back down the hill. (With a bit more time, we could have followed the summit ridge to the Fischerhütte at the other end, which also has a cafe/restaurant open from May-November. From there there’s an alternate route back to the bottom.)

Looking back from the bottom, there’s a nice view back of the summit plateau, with Klosterwappen (2,076m asl) on the far left, and Fischerhütte (2,048m) at the right-hand side.

IMG_6828-LR

There’s just enough time for Luke to build a snowman, expertly crafted from one of the snow drifts. It was a very hot summer and none of the winter snow lasted, but the many snow patches on the mountain are from a cold front a few weeks earlier.

IMG_6841-LR

Before we catch the 3:45pm train back down to Puchberg am Schneeberg, I’ve got time for a few last photos from the Hochschneeberg summit station of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

It’s a much quicker trip down on the train than our 3-hour hike up – and we’re glad we booked in the morning as the train was completely full (there were still some seats available on the next few trains.)

IMG_6867-LR

Schneeberg Summit Routes

I found it a bit confusing working out what the different options were when I planned the trip… the table below is a summary of some of the summit routes on Schneeberg!

Route Details
Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg) – Puchberg am Schneeberg to Hochschneeberg top station 9.3km (1200m elevation gain). Gravel road up to Baumgartner then walking trail. Or take the train 🙂
Hochschneeberg top station to summit (Klosterwappen) 6.5km return (300m elevation gain). Gravel road for 1km then rough track
Hochschneeberg top station to Fischerhütte  (summit plateau) 7km return (280m elevation gain). Gravel road (easier walk than Klosterwappen)
Hochschneeberg to Klosterwappen summit and back via Fischerhütte (circuit) 7.3km circuit (300m elevation gain). Mostly gravel road
Losenheim to Edelweiss Hut 3.4km one-way (470m elevation gain). . Alternative is to take chairlift.
Edelweiss Hut to Klosterwappen summit 3.9km one-way  (820m elevation gain). One of the hardest routes to summit.
Edelweiss Hut to Hochschneeberg via summit (take chairlift up and train down) 6.8km one-way (850m elevation gain).

As well as these walking tracks to the summit, you can also take the Panorama Paradise track from the Hochschneeberg station. This is a circular walk (approx 3km distance and 150m total ascent) that includes the Panorama View lookout. This is well sign-posted and can be done within an hour.

IMG_2893-LR

Location Multiple options to reach the peak on foot, train (up to 1,800m asl) or cablecar (up to 1210m). All start from the town of Puchberg am Schneeberg which is serviced by a regional train line as well as road.
Distance 12.4km from Puchberg am Schneeberg to Klosterwappen summit
Grade Moderate (due to 1,510m total ascent)
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Chairlift open weekends only outside of winter and summer months.
Resources

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

A spectacular cable car ride and scenic walk on Mount Faito, only 10min by train from Pompei – and a great way to avoid the crowds!

Only a few stops on the local train from Pompeii, this short but incredibly scenic diversion is well worth taking a few hours to explore (thanks Dad for the suggestion!). Aside from the views, it’s a welcome diversion from the crowds of Rome and Pompeii. The best part of this walk is getting there via a cable car, which starts from the Castellammare Di Stabia train station on the Circumvesuviana line. Departing every 20 minutes, a ticket can be purchased from the rather nondescript train station.

There were only about 10 people making the trip up, and while I’ve read it’s a popular weekend escape from the heat for locals, on a week-day in late September it wasn’t at all busy.

IMG_5355-LR

There’s great views on the ten-minute journey up, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius on the other side. Even without doing a walk at the top it would be worth the round-trip (there’s a small restaurant/cafe at the top).

IMG_5427-LR

From the top of the cable car, there’s a path that leads down the mountain (so you could also walk up – or down – and catch the cable car one-way). Mount Faito is one of the peaks along the Lattari mountain chain, at the base of the Sorrento Peninsula. We find the path that continues up the mountain, which starts at the far end of a shaded picnic ground just above the cafe/restaurant.

It’s easy walking – the first part of the trail to the from the cable car to the Monastery of San Michele is called the “trail of the angel”, as it traces the route taken by the saints Catello and Antonino over 1000 years ago. The trail follows the edge of the mountain, and there are views over Salerno and the distant peaks Piano di Trebucchi.

IMG_5378-LR

As the trail gradually ascends, it crosses some sections of rocky limestone and then a section of tall trees.

After about 40min walking, we reach Porta del Faito, a small clearing on the ridge with views over the Bay of Naples toward Vesuvius.

We admire the impressive views for a while, before turning back – it’s already 1pm and we need to meet the other half of the family at Pompeii. From here. it would be another 15-20min to the Monastery of San Michele and about an hour more to Monte San Michelle, the highest peak in the area. (Also called Il Molare, as it’s shaped like a molar!)

IMG_2838-LR

We re-trace our steps back the cable car, enjoying the views a second time on our descent back to Castellammare Di Stabia train station. (On the way down, we see – and hear – explosions and smoke emanating from a building on a distant ridge, which seem to be fireworks exploding. We never managed to figure out what it was!)

Location A cable car (funicular) departs from the Castellammare Di Stabia station on the Circumvesuviana train line (there’s also a bus to the top or you can drive), in the Sorrento area. Can be combined with a day-trip to Pompeii from Rome.
Distance 1.8km to Porta del Faito (one-way), as walked.
Approx 4km (one way) to Monte San Michelle. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Easy. Total ascent 100m (as walked, to Porta del Faito). Approx 350m ascent to Monte San Michelle
Season/s All year. (Cable car closed December-March)
Resources Cable car (funicular) timetable
Map-Faito2015
Map of Monte Faito with route taken highlighted

Gorges, waterfalls and peaks of Tivoli

Tivoli (or Tibur in ancient Roman times) is home to a number of historic sites, including Villa Gregoriana (a complex of paths, waterfalls and grottoes) and is also the starting point for a walk up into the surrounding hills.

I’ve got a “free day” in Rome before the rest of the family arrives (they’ve already been in Europe for over a week)… a Google search for the best walks around Rome leads me to Tivoli. It’s less than an hour away, and seems to offer the opportunity for some short walks, as well as Villa Gregoriana with its waterfalls and grottoes. (There’s also Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, which I don’t have time to visit.)

Villa Gregoriana

I make my way from the station to the famous Villa Gregoriana, about a 10-minute walk away. After disastrous floods in 1826 which destroyed almost all the homes in the oldest part of Tivoli, there was a public competition find way to deviate the course of the Aniene river and prevent future floods. The project was authorised and financed by Pope Gregory XVI. Following the diversion of the river the Villa Gregoriana park was created using the old river bed of the Aniene.

IMG_4937-LR

The best project for diverting the river was judged to be that of Clemente Folchi, who proposed a digging a tunnel through Monte Catillo. A short diversion from the main path through Villa Gregoriana leads to the exit of the twin 300-metre tunnels, known as the Cunicoli Gregoriani (Gregorian Tunnels). They vary from 10 metres in width at the entrance to 7.20m at the exit.

The massive project to divert the river moved the course of the Aniene, and shifted the falling point of the water away from the residential area. Even during a relatively dry period, the flow of water is pretty impressive.

IMG_4953-LR

Slightly further down the main route are the remains the Villa of the Roman patrician Manlius Vopiscus. The villa was built in limestone, and the ruins that can be seen formed the foundations of the residence. A flood in 105BC destroyed part of the town, and swept away the villa.

As the main path descends into the valley, there’s a view of the lower falls. Perched above the river is the acropolis of ancient Tibur, located on an isolated rock opposite the waterfalls. Built in the 1st century AD, the site had two temples perched on the edge of the precipice.

IMG_4967-LR

Another side path leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Great Waterfall; along the path are small caves and grottoes that are common in the porous travertine limestone.

There are a views of the river from along the narrow path. It looks very placid (the green colour being from the limestone) and it’s hard to imagine how the Aniene vally was referred to as the “valley of hell”, before the river was diverted.

It’s an impressive view of the artificial waterfall as the river emerges from the two tunnels from the viewpoint, with the water falling 105m into the valley below.

IMG_4987-LR

After this diversion to the waterfall lookout, the main path descends to the Ponte Lupo clearing, at the base of the falls. Prior to the river’s diversion, the Ariene river formed a small lake here.

IMG_5002-LR

Below the Ponte Lupo clearing, a natural bridge is formed when the river goes underground and into a tunnel. Called the “Mermaid’s Grotto” by the Swiss landscape artist Louis Ducron (at the end of the 18th century), the underground passage is thought to have been formed in the huge flood of 105AD.

IMG_5026-LR

The path then climbs up the opposite of the valley, splitting into two routes. The more scenic option starts with a tunnel carved into the cliff, with side openings offering views of the underlying chasm  (Miollis tunnel). A very short diversion to the Nymphaeum viewpoint, an artificial cave looking out over valley below.

Another diversion leads to Neptune’s Grotto, carved out by the river centuries ago.

Due to the unusual geological composition of non-compact travertine (also known as calcareous tufa), which is highly porous, the grotto has many stalagmite-like formations.

Re-tracing my steps, I backtrack to see what the alternate route to the top is like – it’s much less impressive, but boasts views over the Aniene Valley. Directly opposed is the convent of Sant’ Antonio (thought to be built on the ruins of the Villa of Horace), and you can just make out a train that’s coming into Tivoli from Rome.

IMG_5063-LR

The route finishes at the Temple of Vesta and Tiburnus. There are ten surviving Corinthian columns of the Temple of Vesta, which includes a frieze at the top with festoons and bucrania. In the distance, above the town, I can see a large cross on a hill which is my next destination…

IMG_5067-LR

Monte Catillo

From the temples at the exit of Villa Gregoriana, I walk back through the town, in the vague direction of the large cross on top of the hill…   After following the main road (Via Quintilio Vaso) uphill for a few hundred metres, there’s a steep and narrow road (Don Strada Nello Del Raso) that heads past of a block of units. It seems promising, so I can continue upwards, with some nice views of the town.

A little further there’s a foot-track off the road, and even some signage that would help if I actually knew where I was heading… I continue with a bit more confidence, as I do have a map that shows a “330” trail, which corresponds with the sign at the start of the trail.

Even from the start of trail, there’s some nice views of Tivoli and the Temple of Vesta below.

While the views are great and I’m clearly on a path that’s going somewhere, what’s a bit perplexing is that I seem to be heading past Monte Catillo and its prominent cross, and there’s no been no obvious turn-off to the rocky peak (I’ve also seen references to the cross being on Monte Della Croce, which is just below Monte Catillo).

IMG_5117-LR

I continue along the track… what I don’t expect to find in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is a soccer field!

I’m now well above the cross, so I veer off the marked route and head directly towards it, down the ridge. It’s a bit rocky but it’s not difficult walking and takes about 15min to reach the base of the cross. There’s panoramic views over Tivoli, with the railway station on the left and historic town directly ahead.

IMG_2823-LR

I can see the track I’ve been on snaking up the hill – but there’s no plaque or information about why such a large cross has been put here.

There’s no obvious track down from here (I thought maybe I’d missed the track to the peak), but it’s pretty easy to find a route back down to the main track. There does seem to be a side-track up to the cross, but it’s not obvious and not sign-posted.

I’ve still got a bit of time, so I re-trace my steps up the hill, past the soccer field and onwards… As the trail rises, there’s increasingly expansive views over Tivoli and beyond.

IMG_5098-LR

The track swings to the north, and after being fairly exposed it enters a forest consisting of cork oaks. There’s a few side-trails here, but the main one continues up and over Monte Giorgio. As you climb further up there’s a view to the east of the village of Bivio San Polo below and Castel Madama in the distance.

IMG_5100-LR

The track passes a gate as it keeps heading up the ridge, and about 500m after the gate I seem to be at about the the highest point, with the track now continuing north along the ridge.

I turn back as the track starts to descend slightly, as I have a train back to Rome I need to catch. I enjoy one final vista of Tivoli and the surrounding countryside before re-tracing my steps.

IMG_5108-LR

It looked like a longer circuit would be very feasible, and I discover later a useful blog post which describes a longer circuit, including the route I’ve taken.

Location Tivoli is easily reached by train from Roma Termini (central station). Villa Gregoriana is  450min walk from the railway station and the start of Route 330 is 800m from the station.
Distance Approx 11km (Villa Gregoriana and the Monte Catillo walk)
Grade Moderate (approx 500m total ascent)
Season/s All year (may be snow on Monte Catillo in winter)
Maps Free map “Riserva naturale Monte Catillo” (1:100K) – I got this from Villa Gregoriana
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources RomeTheSecondTime blog has a useful post describing a circular route from Tivoli

Mount Tennent, Namadgi NP

A 30min drive from Canberra, Mount Tennent is a great half-day walk that incorporates part of the Australian Alps Walking Track and offers expansive views from the summit.  

On the recommendation from a colleague and with a morning free of meetings during a recent Canberra trip, I make the short drive to Namadgi National Park for the walk up to the Mount Tennent summit. (It’s been 13 years since my last ACT walk, a more challenging 3-day, off-track walk also in Namadgi National Park.) Leaving the car at the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I quickly find the start of the well sign-posted walk.

The track I’m on is the start – or end – of the classic Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), which continues for 650km through four national parks to Victoria… The first section of the track also forms part of the short “Woodland Discovery Trail” and is relatively flat as it heads towards the hills in the distance. There hasn’t been much rain anywhere in the region for a while: the waterhole has a tiny puddle of muddy water and the ground is very dry.

After about 600m the track crosses Boboyan Road, with the Walk Register located on the opposite side of the road. I could have started the walk here; there’s enough parking for a few cars. The track is still fairly flat as it follows the base of some small-ish hills, with the “scar” caused by a landslide visible on the front of the mountain that happened in March 2012.

After about a kilometre the track starts climbing, although not too steeply – it’s just enough of a gradient that I shed my jacket on a chilly winter morning. The Cypress Pine Lookout is reached after 1.6km from the road and offers nice views east towards the Gudgenby River and NSW/ACT border.

IMG_4730-LR

The track now climbs fairly consistently through the dry landscape. I don’t see any wildlife – just a couple of people jogging past me up the mountain at a rapid pace.

After about 4.5km the landscape changes to Snow gum woodland and it finally feels like I’m in an alpine area! At the 4.8km mark there’s an intersection: the Australian Alpine Walking Track continues to the right. I turn left towards Mt Tennent.

The next 1.4km is fairly flat, and is very pleasant walking through tall snow gums. After 6km the track reaches a large, grassy area. After seeing only two joggers in the last two hours, I’m surprised to see a large group of people sprawled on the grass with big packs. As I get closer, I see it’s a school group. They’re debating whether it’s cheating to leave their packs here for the final section up the Mount Tennent summit. From this grassy plain, a fire trail covers the final 1.2km to the top.

Finally I’m at the top of Mount Tennent (elevation 1375m asl), sharing the 360-degree views with a huge radio mast and another Outward Bound school group who are near the end of a 5-day camping trip in Namadgi National Park.

You can see a long way in every direction from the summit… to the west is the Bimberi Wilderness and Namadgi National Park. There’s a light dusting of snow on Mt Bimberi, the highest mountain in ACT.

IMG_4763-LR

To the south-east is the Gudgenby River and Valley, and in the distance the Tinderry Nature Reserve which is characterised by huge granite monoliths and dominated by Tinderry and Tinderry Twin peaks.

IMG_4767-LR

And to the north-east is the outskirts of Canberra.

IMG_4771-LR-2

It’s back the same way, after my fairly brief stop at the top. On the way back, just before reaching the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I have a quick look at Gudgenby-in-a-box. It’s an 1845 slab hut originally sited in nearby Gudgenby, that was dismantled and stored in a container – hence the name.  Rebuilt within an interpretive shelter, there’s audio and visuals that describe the the living conditions and stories of early settlers. It’s well done and worth a visit.

It’s slightly quicker down than up, and I’m back at the car in just over 3.5 hours. I’ve enjoyed the walk – the only downside after some very pleasant walking along a bush track through alpine forest is the last 2km that’s on a firetrail. But the views make up for it!

Location Start at Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre (access via Tharwa)
Distance 14.7km return (13.5km if you start from Boboyan Road)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 820m
Season/s All year. A great winter walk! Can get hot in summer.
Maps
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
Mt-Tennent-map
Topographical map showing approx route – track has changed slightly from this. Source: http://mntviews.blogspot.com

Passage Peak and Escape Beach, Hamilton Island

A combination of trails on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays that combines sunrise from Passage Peak, a stop at the remote Escape Beach and views from the Resort Lookout.

It’s an early morning start to catch the sunrise from Passage Peak. I set off from the Hamilton Island Resort Lookout Trail entrance, torch in hand, at 6am. The narrow but well-constructed trail ascends steadily from the resort towards Saddle Junction. There are views from the track toward Whitsunday Island and Whitsunday Peak to the east.

DSC02230-LR

After a kilometre the walking trail meets a maintenance / 4WD road that follows the ridge, and shortly afterwards there’s a small detour along the road to the Flat Top Hill Lookout. Although it’s still a bit dark, there are views over Hamilton Island resort and Catseye Bay.

DSC02231-LR

With the sky starting to lighten I fear I’ve started the walk a bit late (shouldn’t have hit the snooze button three times on my ‘phone before finally getting out of bed!). I push on towards Saddle Junction: from here there’s just under a kilometre to go, but it’s the steepest part of the walk. I can see my destination ahead – what looks like a small hill in the distance.

There’s more views from the trail to the north-west as it climbs up towards Passage Peak.

DSC02237-LR

The last 200m is quite steep, but I make it just in time to see the sun rising above the ocean, behind Haslewood Island.

DSC02255-LR

There’s 360-degree views from the top of Passage Peak – the highest point on Hamilton (although it’s only 234m above sea level).

IMG_2678-LR

To the south-east is Perseverance Island, the closest one to Hamilton Island, and in the distance Pentecost Island and Lindeman Island.

DSC02248-LR

To the west is Catseye Bay and Hamilton Island Resort, and just behind the resort is Dent Island (home of the Hamilton Island Golf Club), with Long Island and the mainland in the distance. You can also see the maintenance road that goes along the ridge to the end of Hamilton Island.

DSC02256-LR-2

I spend ten minutes or so on at the lookout, before heading back – it’s much quicker going down 🙂

I’m only re-tracing my steps for 200m, back to South East Head Junction. From here I’m taking the long way back, via South East Head and Escape Beach. The first few hundred metres is a wide maintenance track, and then I turn onto a narrow walking trail that roughly follows the coast south.

Halfway along the trail, there’s an abrupt change from light forest to a sea of grass trees (these are quite common on the sandy and infertile soil of ridges on Whitsunday islands).

DSC02277-LR

A sulphur-crested cockatoo is enjoying the large flowering spike of the grass trees.

DSC02305-LRDSC02292-LR

The trail is getting closer to the coast as it nears South East head, with Perseverance Island just across the narrow channel.

The trail rounds the headland, with South East Head jutting out into the ocean. The track is still fairly exposed here, although it’s only 7:30am so it’s pleasant walking even without shade.

The track drops into a small valley, crossing a small stream before ascending very gradually through a section of forest. Soon Escape Beach is visible below the trail.

There’s a very obvious (but not sign-posted) track down to the secluded Escape Beach. At this time of the day there’s no-one here – and I suggest there’s a good chance of having the beach to yourself for most of the day. It’s not particularly picturesque at low tide – high tide would be the best time to visit.

DSC02327-LR

From Escape Beach the walking track ascends gently up to Saddle Junction, which will complete the circuit of South East Head.

From Saddle Junction I’m re-tracing my steps along the walking track to Resort Lookout Junction. Except now it’s daylight, while two hours ago I was walking up the same track by torch-light.

Once I reach the Resort Lookout Junction, I take the left fork towards the Resort
Lookout – this part of my route is on a graded maintenance road (also used by ATV tours) and it not particularly nice walking. It adds about 4km to the walk, but I want to go back via one more lookout…

…Resort Lookout is a huge cleared area, that’s above the Hamilton Island airport and is also used for weather monitoring equipment. There’s a picnic table here, but it’s not a particularly nice place. The views are pretty good though, if you walk around the edge of the large lookout area. The lookout is almost directly above the resort and Reef View towers.

DSC02340-LR

In the opposite direction is the mainland.

DSC02348-LR

The quickest way back to the resort would be to return to Resort Lookout Junction and take the trail down to the Resort Trail Entrance. In hindsight, I should have done that… but instead I follow the maintenance road to Palm Valley. I’m heading away from Passage Peak, at the other end of the island, and towards the airport.

The trail leaves the park near the southern end of the runway, on Palm Valley Way. From here it’s about 2km along the road, past the Hamilton Island Airport and past the marina back to the resort. It means I’ve done a second big circuit rather than returning the same way from the Resort Lookout – but the walk from the last lookout to the resort isn’t particularly nice walking.

Location Starts at Resort Trail Entrance near the Hamilton Island resort. Return to same location or Palm Valley Way near Hamilton Island airport.
Distance 13.9km as walked (combining three separate walks)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 550m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps Resort Walking Trail Map is useful. Walks are well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Islands National Park

Chance Bay, a secluded bay in the Whitsunday Islands National Park is a short walk from the popular Whitehaven Beach.

Located on Whitsunday Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches and was named ‘number one beach in Australia’ by TripAdvisor in their Travellers’ Choice Beaches Awards. Getting there is a 30min boat ride from Hamilton Island – slightly longer today due to several stops to watch whales breaching on both sides of the boat.

The 7km-long Whitehaven Beach is stunning – white sand and crystal-clear sand. We moor at the southern end, near a few other commercial boats.

DSC02136-LR

The walk to Chance Bay (and Solway Circuit) starts near the very southern end of Whitehaven Beach, and is well sign-posted.

DSC02185-LR

Guarded by a monitor lizard, the recently wood-chipped path heads gradually up and away from the beach. Although it’s still mid-afternoon, the forest provides shade along most of the trail.

It’s easy walking and only 500m before the turn-off to Chance Bay (on the other side of the headland) is reached. I take this trail and head up to the lookout on the way back – if there’s time. I’ve got about 90min before our boat leaves, and according to the information I found on-line it’s a 7.2km return walk.

The sandy trail is pretty flat and and remains shaded as it traverses a mix of eucalypt, hoop pine and grass tree forest.

As I’ve discovered a few times with Queensland trails, the signage is grossly incorrect – not sure if it’s incompetence or an attempt to discourage people from doing the walk. I reach Chance Bay in just under half an hour, with my GPS measuring the distance as 2.3km (a rather large discrepancy from the signage and on-line information that has the distance as 3.6km each way). The small beach has the same white silica sand as Whitehaven Beach – without the crowds. I’ve seen a handful of people heading the other way, and when I reach Chance Bay I have the entire beach to myself.

IMG_2663-LR

In the distance is Pentecost Island, the Lindeman Group and Cape Conway directly ahead.

DSC02160-LR

I’ve got time for a quick swim here, before heading back up the trail.

When I reach the main trail again, I turn right, to continue to the end of the trail and the Solway Lookout. The lookout is part of the Solway Circuit, a circular walk, but from April 2018 – June 2019 part of the circuit is closed due to construction activity. Although the lookout elevation is only about 50m, there’s views over Solway Passage, Pentecost and Haslewood islands and Cape Conway.

DSC02178-LR

From the lookout, it’s a short 700m back to Whitehaven Beach, and then back onto our boat for the return trip to Hamilton Island.

Location Whitehaven Beach can be reached by boat or seaplane from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands. (Closest major airports are Proserpine on the mainland, and on Hamilton Island. Both have direct flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.)
Distance Return distance to Chance Bay and Solway Lookout is 5.1km
(Ignore the signs – distances shown are incorrect.)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 100m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps None required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources About Whitsunday Islands Web page with details of walks

Mele Cascades, Port Vila

One of the highest rated attractions in Port Vila, Mele Cascades is an easy walk along a series of swimming holes to an impressive 35m waterfall.

About ten kilometres from Port Vila (Vanuatu) is the Mele Cascades. It’s more of a stroll than a hike, but there’s lots of clear swimming holes to stop at and the waterfall at the end is impressive. Avoid at all costs visiting when there’s a cruise ship in town, otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself if you go early or late in the day.

You’ll need to pay an entry fee near the start (2,000 VT or about USD$18 per person). You can also pay a bit more to get a guide, or join a slightly more expensive guided tour from Port Vila. There’s a cafe, picnic area and an artificial beach near the start of the walk.

There’s immediately a small pool and some small cascades next to the path. There was a a decent flow of water: I’d heard that for many months earlier in the year the river had been virtually dry.

You can swim in any of the pools, which are all very inviting – some of the lower ones are a bit rocky and harder to access.

IMG_4307-LR

Once you leave the building at the bottom, it does feel a little more like a bush track – although ones with stairs for the steeper sections!

After the initial up to a low ridge, there’s a wide but unmarked track that leads to a lookout – it’s only a hundred metres or so from the main track.

There’s a nice view to the south over Mele Bay, and a large grassy area that would be suitable for a picnic.

IMG_2613-LR

From here the walk gets a bit more interesting, as the trail crosses the river a couple of times. Unless you’re wearing sandals, now’s the time to take shoes off…

While generally following the river quite closely, at times the track goes through rainforest-like sections. Evergreen, the new owners of Mele Cascades since late 2017, have added many native plants along the path.

Along this last section is another nice pool, just below a small set of cascades.

IMG_4342-LR

For the last section, as you near the foot of the falls, the river flows over the stone stairs and you can hear the falls not far ahead.

There’s another photogenic and inviting pool just blow the main falls.

IMG_4387-LR

A last set of steps up the river…

IMG_4365-LR

…and you’re at the base of the falls, which tumble about 35m into another swimming hole.

IMG_4378-LR

It’s the same way back down the river. Except when I reach the concrete stairs down the last steep section, I take an alternate path to the right. This is a more natural bush track, that winds down the steep slope back to the Mele Cascades entrance.

You could do the walk in under an hour – I’ve taken two hours with many photo stops, and if you’re going for a swim in one of the many pools you could easily spend half a day here. It’s a bit expensive when you consider you’re just paying for access to a short walk, but the cascades and waterfall are well worth a visit.

Location Mele Cascades is about 12km north-west of Port Vila (250 VT by mini-bus or around 2,000 VT by taxi)
Distance About 4km return including side-trip to lookout
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 150m.
Season/s All year. Mele Cascade is open 8:30am-5pm daily.
Maps None required.

 

Mount Barney

A tough ascent of Mount Barney East (1,351m), one of the highest mountains in Queensland’s “scenic rim”, about two hours from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

It’s my first solo overnight walk since hiking the 3-day Thorsborne Trail (also in Queensland) back in 2006… I could have done Mount Barney as a day walk with an early start. But as I’m flying up from Sydney and don’t arrive at Mount Barney National Park until 8pm, it makes more sense to camp at the base of the mountain and get an early start the following morning.

It’s pitch black when I arrive at the Yellowpinch carpark and trackhead, but even by the light of my head-torch the first thing you notice is the warning signs. Be prepared. Make sure you’re equipped. Why don’t you consider another walk… Someone at the Parks office must have have had their annual bonus paid on the basis of how many people they could discourage from undertaking this hike. The mountain is known for rapid weather changes and there’s been a few bushwalker rescues by the local SES. But I can’t help feeling that a bit more effort could have been spent on having the various routes to the top shown on the topographical map, if safety is a concern. I’ve got both a printed and an on-line topographical map, and not one of the three summit routes is shown.

The other striking thing is the stars – being a completely clear night and far away from any towns, the night sky is incredible.

IMG_3458-LR

Three Routes to the Mt Barney Summit

There’s many ways to get to the top of Mount Barney – all of them being fairly rough. The warning signs outline the two “official” routes, but makes no mention of one of the most popular routes to the top.

  • South East Ridge (SER) – one of the official summit tracks and also one of the longest routes. The signage suggests not to descend using this route due to some steep scrambles.
  • South East Ridge – an alternate and popular route; it’s the most direct and steepest.  No official signage at the start of the trail. I went up this way.
  • South Ridge (SR) aka Peasants Ridge – the second “official” route which is slightly longer. It’s the only route that provides camping sites close to the summit (Rum Jungle and Old Hut sites). I came down this way.

Although I didn’t do all three routes, both the South East “Unofficial” and South Route were of similar difficulty (in terms of both navigation and rock scrambling). I met a group who had gone up and back down using the South East Route (SER) and they didn’t experience any difficulties. If you’re planning to camp near the top, then the South Route would be the best option; otherwise going up the South East “Unofficial” track is the (arguably) quickest way to the top! (It’s feasible but not officially allowed to camp on the summit – there’s plenty of space but the ground is very rocky and covered with vegetation – and it can get very cold and windy!)

MountBarney-firetrail
Distances of camping sites and Mt Barney summit trailheads from Yellowpinch Reserve

South East Ridge – going up

I’ve camped at Cronan Creek 9 (booked and paid for online the previous day – see link at bottom of post): it’s one of two official camping spots along an old forestry road that follows the valley,  providing access to all the summit trails. I leave the warmth of my tent around 6:30am, and continue down the firetrail.

About 500m further I pass Cronan Creek 10, an equally nice camping spot – both are situated close to Cronan Creek, which had a decent flow of water (there had been some rain over the previous days).

It’s only about 15min to the start of South East Route; I knew what I was looking for from previous online research – a tree with arrows scratched into it, next to a fallen log – although there is no official signage here. The track is narrow but easy to follow, as it immediately starts climbing through tall forest.

One of the advantages of the South East Ridge route is you get nice views along the trail to the east and west: below is the view looking south towards Mount Ernest (964m), another peak in the Mount Barney National Park.

IMG_3483-LR

About half-way up there’s two markers with “SER”: nice to know I’m on the track, but a little baffling as this is the “unofficial” South East Ridge track that isn’t meant to exist… there are two of these markers close together.

As the trail follows the ridge up, it gets rockier and the trees more stunted… to the left (east?) the trail often passes closes to the edge of the ridge, with steep drop-offs to the valley.

About two thirds of the way up is the only time that I think I may have lost the track… there’s a rocky outcrop that looks a bit daunting, but is actually fairly easy to traverse. A nice view again from the top of the outcrop…

IMG_3498-LR

After clambering over the outcrop, the track then drops slightly into a small gully, before climbing up what I hope is the summit (I’m now at about 1,100m asl). It initially seems there’s no obvious trail on the other side of the outcrop, but after a bit of searching I find a trail that continues up the next ridge!

IMG_3496-LR

There are frequent views out to the south, and as you gain altitude Mt Lindesay (1175m) starts becoming visible behind Mt Ernest.

IMG_3502-LR

There’s one tricky section where a rope would come in handy – it doesn’t look too difficult in the photo (below) and there’s no exposure – but it takes some effort to get up one large boulder. After a few attempt, I wedge my feet into a narrow crack and haul myself up the rock. I wouldn’t have liked to do this with a heavy pack!

IMG_3503-LR

Although the views are generally to the south, there are a few vantage points where you can look out the north east, with Mt Maroon (967m) to the north – this is another peak that has a trail to the summit.

IMG_3508-LR

I’m now at around 1200m, and there’s a final ridge to climb to what I hope is the summit – it looks impossibly steep. But the track winds up the steep ridge, between rocks and along a few sections where you’re pulling yourself up with the help of exposed tree roots.

IMG_3510-LR

Finally I think I’ve reached the summit… but it’s a false summit. The Mount Barney East peak is tantalizingly close, but first I need to drop down slightly into a saddle and back up the peak.

I’ve got the summit to myself: s group of four hikers is behind me, and I meet a family who have just finished lunch and head off down the South Ridge track.  The views are pretty impressive.

IMG_3523-Pano-LR

To the south Mt Lindesay is clearly visible behind Mt Ernest, which has a long ridge line.

To the north west is a glimpse of Lake Maroon and the Main Range National Park.

IMG_3534-LR

South Ridge – going down

After a short break at the top, I decide to descend South Ridge, and continue along the scrubby summit ridge. Directly ahead of me across a saddle is Mount Barney West (a few metres higher than Mount Barney East, at 1353m).

IMG_3537-LR

I’m heading for Rum Jungle, an area of dense forest in the saddle between Mount Barney East and Mount Barney West.

It’s a fairly steep descent with no obvious path – most of the time I’m trying to walk on top of the large sections of rock, and avoiding the thick scrub. I’m aiming for a small clearing at the bottom – the Old Huts site, where there used to be a few huts (nothing remains there now). From here there are occasional markers, which helps as the track from Old Hut site, which crosses a small creek, is hard to find. This would be a nice camping spot, with a short but steep hike up to the summit.

IMG_3543-LR

Here I lose the track – or rather, take the wrong track which leads to nowhere – before backtracking and finding a faint trail to Rum Jungle. This is another nice camp site, very shaded and I’ve read prone to leeches if it’s been raining.

I make a small diversion up Mount Barney West, which provides a nice view back to the Mount Barney East summit. I don’t have the energy to scramble to the top of this peak…!

IMG_3549-LR

The start of the track from Rum Jungle down South Ridge is not obvious… but once you’re on it, there are orange “SR” markers at regular intervals. There are a lot less views from this track – although you do get occasional views to the south.

It’s a lot less steep than the South East Ridge track, but a bit longer… it feels like the descent take forever as it descends through light forest and the occasional rocky section. Looking the GPS track afterwards, it’s about 3km up via the South East Ridge track and 5km down via the South Ridge track,

In contrast to the South East Ridge track, with its tricky slab near the top, the South Ridge has a couple of steep bits near the bottom. The first one is a long and steep section, which is not difficult, but would be more challenging if wet. Shortly after there’s a big rock that requires me to precariously cling to the rock and some handy grasses growing out of the rock… the group behind me takes one look at me stuck halfway down, and finds an easy way around the rock!

From here it’s another easy 1.5km or so back to the main firetrail, through tall forest and a few sections of rainforest.

Unlike the South East Ridge trailhead, this one is well-marked.

It’s starting to feel late in the day, even though it’s only about 3pm – sunset is around 5:30pm. I’ve got time to explore a bit more, so rather than heading back to the car at Yellowpinch, I continue up the firetrail to have a look at Conan Creek Falls. It’s easy walking, although slightly uphill (you gain about 100m), and the firetrail crosses the creek a couple of times (all of the crossing can be rock-hopped without getting wet feet!).

I reach the sign-posted track down to Cronan Creek about 2.6km from the South Ridge trail head. It’s then only 100m down to the creek. I think it’s worth the walk – there’s no-one else here, and if it was a few degrees warmer I would have gone for a quick swim.

IMG_3595-LR

Now it’s straight back to the Yellowpinch car park, via my camp site where I need to pack up my tent and collect overnight backpack. It’s about 5km down the firetrail to the national park boundary, where a weir crosses Logan River.

The last 2km passes through light forest and farmland – it seems the firetrail is actually on private land. The mountain directly ahead is not Mount Barney – it’s a much lower peak.

IMG_3616-LR

There are glimpses of Mount Barney East to the west, rising above the forest.

IMG_3624-LR

A bit further (about a kilometre before the car park)  is the well-marked start of the “official” South East Ridge track, with Mount Barney in the background.

IMG_3634-LR

From here it’s another 20min or so back to the car. I’m back just after 4pm, and with plenty of time to get my evening flight back to Sydney. A great walk that I’d do again… but with time to catch sunrise/sunset from the peak.

Location Start at Yellowpinch car park, about 100km from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Do not enter “Mount Barney” into Apple or Google Maps or you’ll end up at the wrong place!
Distance Approx 1-4km to start of summit trail (depending on which one).
3km ascent via South East Ridge (unofficial) or 5km via South Ridge.
Approx 22km as walked (3km Day 1 / 19km Day 2)
Grade Hard. Total elevation gain 1,100m. Some difficult sections of rock and some trails are distinct but unmarked
Season/s All year. Winter is definitely the best time. Avoid walking in the middle of the day in summer.
Maps
  • 1:25K Mt Lindesay topographical map
  • Create a bespoke topographical map which can be downloaded as an image or PDF at QTopo
  • Mount Barney National Park map PDF download – not much use for navigation
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • “Secrets of the Scenic Rim” by Robert Rankin has detailed notes of many walks in the area, including Mount Barney
  • “Take a Walk in South East Queensland” by John & Lyn Daley
  • Camp sites must be booked and a small fee applies – you can do this on-line via the Queensland National Parks Booking Service. You’ll be able to print a Camping Tag to attach to your tent.

 

West Rim trail (Zion National Park)

The West Rim trail is one one of the longer day walks in Zion National Park, descending from Lava Point along the Horse Pasture Plateau to the floor of Zion Canyon.

The West Rim trail is the main objective of my visit to Zion National Park, after driving through the park from Bryce Canyon and taking the short but scenic Canyon Overlook trail yesterday.  I’d booked an early-morning shuttle up to the trailhead at Lava Point a few weeks ago, which would get me to the start of the track by about 8am. Although my guidebook suggested it was one of the most popular backpacking trails in Zion, there was just one couple who were taking the shuttle to Lava Point, and doing the walk over two days.

The track is well-sign posted as it heads across the Horse Pasture Plateau, past a turn-off to Wildcat Canyon (Lava Point to West Rim is part of a much longer multi-day walk, starting at Lee Pass on the western side of Zion National Park). It’s easy and pleasant walking along the plateau.

DSC01942-LR

In stark contrast to my hike at Bryce Canyon the previous days, there’s a plethora of flowering plants along the trail. The sego lily, native to a number of western states, is also the state flower of Utah. Very common and almost out of place along the verdant path is the Engelmann prickly pear. The most impressive are the white flowers of the yucca baccata, one of the most common yucca of the southwest.

After a few kilometres, there’s the first glimpses in the distance of some of the more dramatic cliffs and formations of Zion National Park to the east.

DSC01968-LR

Quite unexpectedly, a lookout provides a view to the west down the Left Fork, with the South Guardian Angel peak directly ahead. After a somewhat dull start (in terms of scenery!) the Zion landscape starts to reveal itself…

IMG_3048-LR

After this tantalizing glimpse of the Zion peaks, the track continues down the middle of Horse Pasture Plateau, still descending gradually. It’s a very easy hike so far!

After four miles (6.4km) Potato Hollow is reached, one of the camping sites along the track. The track climbs briefly from here over a small ridge, from which there are views over the grassy meadow of Potato Hollow and the surrounding hills.

From the ridge above Potato Hollow, the track turns south, drops into a small valley before climbing up to another ridge. There are great views along the trail – apparently the result of a fire caused by lightning in 1980 that burnt most of the trees.

At the top of this last ridge is the junction with Telephone Canyon Trail, which is a slightly shorter route (it rejoins the main West Rim Trail 1.8 miles further on). There’s really no option though – the main West Rim Trail follows the edge of the escarpment and offers spectacular views. It’s worth the extra 1.4 miles!

DSC02006-LR

The views are fantastic along the entire section of this track, changing subtly as different mountains come into view. The earlier views (above) take in the white cliffs along the Right Fork of the North Creek and South Guardian Angel. As the track continues, Heaps Canyon can be seen, the Mountain of the Sun and Twin Brothers peaks in the distance, and the flat-topped Mount Majestic and Cathedral Mountain.

There’s an abundance of flowers along the trail, keeping the local bees and insects happy!

Shortly before re-joining the Telephone Canyon Trail, the West Rim Trail bears north-west as it rounds the southern tip of the plateau.

DSC02024-LR

As the trail continues to descend, it passes another couple of camping sites and a spring, which is right at the edge of the cliffs above Telephone Canyon (bottom right). The water is just a trickle and really needs filtration, so I just take a quick photo of the valley below and continue down West Rim Trail…

Not long after the spring and junction with the Telephone Canyon Trail, the trail starts to descend with vigour… We’re heading more or less straight down into the Behunin Canyon below.

DSC02038-LR

The track descends steeply through multiple switch-backs down the sheer sandstone cliff, before reaching the head of the valley below.

At the bottom there’s some patches of welcome shades from the tall trees – spruce and Douglas firs grow here, rarely found at such low elevations (I read this later!) but able to thrive due to the shade provided by the surrounding cliffs.

Unfortunately the shade doesn’t last long, and the track soon leaves the forest as it descends around the base of Mount Majestic before reaching a very solid bridge at the base of a side-canyon.

The track then starts to climb, as it passes the base of Cathedral Mountain (bottom left) and traverses a rocky outcrop. This section of track is quite undulating and hot in the midday sun.

I’m relieved to see Scout Lookout below, as the track descends down the steep ridge, with Angels Landing rising high above it.

DSC02057-LR

There’s impressive views for the last half a mile, down to the base of Angels Landing.

From Scouts Landing, there’s two options: continue down to the base of the valley, or follow the chains up to Angels Landing, along a narrow ridge that looks impossible to traverse.

IMG_3060-LR

I head towards Angels Landing – it seems a fitting end to the day. Although there are hundreds of people with the same idea, and many look like they probably shouldn’t be here…

IMG_3068-LR

The views down into the Zion valley are spectacular, even from the base of Angels Landing.

IMG_3069-LR

I turn back well before the top – I’ve been once before, when I left very late in the day and had the trail almost to myself. Unlike today, where there’s a queue to the top. Trying to pass people who were already struggling well before the peak isn’t my idea of a fun afternoon! So, it’s down Walter’s Wiggles, the incredible set of switch-backs that goes to the bottom of the valley.

IMG_3075-LR

It’s an impressive feat of engineering, named after Zion National Park’s first superintendent Walter Ruesch, who in 1926 constructed the trail to Angels Landing.

I’m glad I’m going down and not up; it’s still pretty warm and there’s not much space on the track down.

IMG_3088-LR

Emerald Pools

After reaching the Virgin River (and having a quick swim to cool off), it’s still only mid-afternoon so I extend my hike by visiting The Grotto and Emerald Pools. (Interestingly, more people have died on the Emerald Pools trail than on the Angel Falls trail.) The Kayenta Trail follows the river downstream from The Grotto, where the West Rim Trail ends.

IMG_3097-LR

It’s a relatively easy “extension” : although the trail undulates a little, there’s no steep sections.

The trail is pretty busy, being one of the more popular short hikes in Zion, as I make my way to the Middle Emerald Pools. There’s a bit of a flow, but nothing spectacular, and a few kid are swimming or wading in the small pool.

A little further on, the Lower Emerald Pools are a bit more impressive, with the trail passing under a long overhang.

IMG_3109-LR

Water drips over the top – something in between a “drip” and “cascade” – and falls into the pools below the cliffs.

IMG_3115-LR

From here it’s a paved path back to Zion Lodge, where there’s another bridge over the Virgin River.

Zion Lodge is a hive of activity, and I’m not too unhappy to catch a shuttle bus back my car which is parked at Springdale. I’ve enjoyed the walk, especially the middle bit, where the scenery is spectacular and I’ve encountered just a handful of people. Unfortunately, finishing at Angels Landing in peak season is a bit of a let-down after the serenity of the rest of the walk… it would be perfect to have done the walk in the opposite direction, getting to Angels Landing before the crowds. But getting a shuttle back from Lava Point would be pretty much impossible. Still, I’m not complaining – Zion National Park for the second time has not disappointed with its incredible scenery.

Location Starts at Lava Point and finishes at The Grotto (trailhead) or Zion Lodge. Shuttles can be booked from Springdale to Lava Point.
Distance Approx 14.5 miles (24km). 18 miles (29.7km) as walked with Emerald Pools, finishing at Zion Lodge
Grade Moderate (615m elevation gain / 1500m elevation loss)
Season/s Spring to Autumn (snowbound in winter)
Maps National Geographic “Zion Canyon” topographic map
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon (Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin)