After leaving Catherine Saddle this morning, I was soon faced with a choice of routes. The official route involved a steep climb over a trail that the guide book drily noted was 'heavily overgrown'. Having experienced the slow going over sections of the trail that were not explicitly noted as such, I needed little persuading to take the longer, flatter alternative route.
there was a considerable number of small streams running down the mountain, and across and along the alternative trail. It was now 3 days since it had stopped raining, and any direct run-off would have long stopped, so obviously these streams meant that a wet spring and summer had replenished springs and other ground water sources, which is good to see after several years of prolonged drought.
I took the opportunity to fill all my water bottles, and then continued on the trail up to the top of Mt Speculation (1668m 5472 feet), where there were amazing views in all directions.
Looking west from Mt Speculation (this series of photos is intended to be viewed as a 360 degree panorama)
Looking east back over The Razor (middle left) and The Viking (middle right), and beyond them in the far distance, the Barry Mountains.
Looking southeast, over The Terrible Hollow
Looking south, along The Crosscut Saw
Looking southwest along The Crosscut Saw and towards Mt Howitt and Mt Magdala
Mt Speculation also marked the start of The Crosscut Saw, a spectacularly sharp ridge, with distinct 'teeth' poking up. The trail of course ran along the spine of this ridge. The descent down off Mt Speculation involved going down a couple of cliffs. Although these were probably only 20 feet high, they were 100% sheer. Climbing down these with a 40 lb pack and no climbing gear was not easy, and I was very careful to use the "3 point" technique from rock-climbing (where you only move one hand or foot at time, maintaining the other 3 limbs in secure holds on the cliff-face - that way if one hold fails, you still have another two firm holds).
Having got down the cliffs, the trail then descended further across Horrible Gap (with The Terrible Hollow lying to the east), before climbing up Mt Buggery (I told you the place names were fantastic). 'Buggered' in Australian English tends to mean 'broken' or 'tired', and the steep climb certainly suggests the latter, although a 'Brokeback Mountain' interpretation is not impossible.
The 700 foot climb up Mt Buggery was extremely steep (over 40%), but the surface was firm, and I climbed that sucker in just 35 minutes - this hiking thing is certainly improving my fitness.
However, the rest of The Crosscut Saw was very slow going, involving climbing over rough boulders, and scrambles in numerous places. And out of respect for my knees, I was very cautious about the descents. The guidebook suggested a time of 4 hours to complete this section of the hike, and I had conservatively allowed 6 hours for it. But it was taking me a long longer than this (it eventually took me about 9 hours), and I started mentally composing a very nasty letter to the guide book author on this topic.
But I had a more immediate problem - with slower going than I expected, it was touch and go as to whether I was going to get off the ridgeline before nightfall, and while there was a nearly full moon, with a difficult trail and precipitous drops on either side, The Crosscut Saw was not a trail to be done by moonlight. I eventually decided to camp out on the ridgeline, in a small grassy saddle, about an hour before nightfall. I was glad I did, as about half an hour later while I was cooking dinner, a sudden mist rolled in, dramatically cutting visibility.
However, this unexpected camp did cause me a problem - there was obviously no water on the ridgeline, and I had to be extremely parsimonious with what I used for cooking to keep enough water for tomorrow to hike the 3 miles to the nearest water source.
Total distance covered 9.5 km 5.9 miles
Total ascent 614 m 2014 feet
Total descent 211 m 692 feet
Sketch map of todays hike