I decided that I would follow the directions from the guide book, and headed down the second gully. As I followed it down, it turned to the left, and I was starting to head south-west. As the path as I was meant to be following should head north, I decided that this was definitely the wrong route, and climbed back out of the second gully.
Cursing the author of the guide book, I then decided to head down the first gully (and collecting another drink at the tiny water trickle from last night)- it looked climbable, and it at least headed in the right direction. This was a steep descent down the cliffs of The Viking - about the same 60-70% as my climb up yesterday. Climbing down a cliff is less hard work, but far more treacherous, and I made my way down very slowly and carefully.
As the cliff ended and gave way to a merely extremely steep 40-50% slope, I realized that this was not the official path, and I was too far off to the left. So I now had to cut across to the right, as well as making my way down the steep slope. This was moving against the natural grain of the rocks in the area, and I found myself climbing down and across a series of mini-cliffs (probably only 6 feet or so in height, but difficult to navigate all the same).
Eventually, the open rocks gave way to forest that you had to 'bush-bash'- except this was burned forest that was now in the vigorous regrowth stage, with the saplings being 7 feet tall. The regrowth was so thick that you couldn't see the ground beneath your feet as you pushed through it, and I fell a number of times as I tripped over hidden logs or rocks, or even worse, stepped off the edge of a rock into an unseen void. Fortunately the upside of the density of regrowth was that the springy and resilient nature of the saplings provided excellent cushioning, and I didn't hurt myself in any of these falls. Perhaps this species of tree should be renamed Eucalyptus Airbagus.
But the slow and treacherous nature of my progress meant that my thoughts towards the guide book author were now entirely composed of four letter words and mental images of rather medieval tortures I would like to impose on him - particularly when I thought of his cheery phrase disclosing that as a volunteer remarking the trail after the 2006 fires "we did not mark the track from Viking Saddle to the cliffs of The Viking. Just head straight up (or down) the ridge - it's easy navigation with no cliffs or rocky slabs."
As I closed in on my target of the Viking Saddle, I suddenly came across the trail, and the last couple of hundred yards was suddenly very easy going. It had taken me three hours to cover just 3/4 of a mile, and I sat down in the grassy saddle to enjoy a well-earned lunch.
Photo of The Viking, showing the dramatic cliffs. The official trail, running down the spur is marked in green. My route is marked in green - you can see how I had to cut across the grain the of rock, and then a lot of forest.
After lunch, I then started climbing up the other side of the saddle, along another heavily overgrown foot trail. But this time I stuck to the trail like glue, determined not to lose this easier way through the undergrowth. The last part of the climb was a steep climb over a huge chunk of solid rock, and in the afternoon sun, this was extremely hot. I realized I was going to have to very carefully ration my water in order to reach my destination, as I had less than a quart left, and was already a bit dehydrated.
I was pleased to reach the top of the ridgeline, as this marked the start of the section of the trail with some truly awesome place names. To the east lay a mountain called The Razor. But my trail lay to the west, and some more fantastic names.
The trail ran along the spine of another sharply tilted escarpment, and this one was even tougher to navigate than yesterday's, being steeper, and going over or around even larger boulders, and being a scramble in a number of places. More slow going.
However, at the end of this spine, you are rewarded with an amazing view to the north.
You can see how rugged the country is. The mountain in the far distance is Mt Buffalo, about 40 miles away. And between here and there is nothing ... not a town, not a village, not a farm, not a road.
From the lookout, the trail then climbed steeply, and it was quite appropriate that I drank the last of my water on top of Mt Despair (1464 m 4800 feet). Although I was only about a mile from my intended campsite, it was a slow 800 foot descent, and the nearest reliable water source was another half mile beyond that, and I was only just going to make that before nightfall.
However, I was delighted to find a tiny trickle of water across the track as I walked the last 50 yards into the campsite of Catherine Saddle. Even if it took me 20 minutes to fill my water bottles from this tiny trickle, it still beat a mile's return journey at the end of a long hard day.
Total distance covered 6.85 km 4.25 miles
Total ascent 338 m 1109 feet
Total descent 480 m 1575 feet
Sketch map of today's hike