More than any other place on Earth, South East Queensland’s Scenic Rim helped shape me as an outdoorsman. It was there that my passion for the hills took root and blossomed. From the dark, primordial gullies of Lamington and to the craggy flanks of Mt Barney, the Scenic Rim was where I cut my teeth.
During our inexorable peak-bagging episodes in the mid 2000’s, my esteemed colleague Adam Wakeling and I would converse about all manner of topics. One that seemed to bear repetition was the concept of the Scenic Rim Traverse. The idea clearly stayed with me. It became a minor obsession which would take the passage of a decade to come to fruition.
On 25th June 2016, I teamed up with Andrew Stephan for a 7 day slog around the caldera. What follows is a trip report for that mission. I’ll include some photos, some stats, and a factual recount of the events of each day. However, I’ll refrain from giving a detailed description of the history, geology, geography, and the philosophy of the trip. A more detailed article is due to appear in the upcoming issue of Wild Magazine (#155), so keep ye greedy peepers peeled for that one if this report proves a little dry for your taste.
My aim is that this article may give some useful beta to others who would appreciate a better grasp on the tactics we employed, current track conditions etc etc etc, whereas the Wild article will explain the concept of the Traverse to a wider audience through a more entertaining narrative.
And therefore, without further ado:
Scenic Rim Traverse 2016
Dates: 25th June to 1st July
Length: 7 days
Start Location: Goomburra Section, Main Range National Park
Finish Location: Green Mountains, Lamington National Park
Distance: 180 kms (approx.)
Elevation Gain: 10,500m (approx.)
A few notes on style:
My two parameters for the traverse were to carry all necessary food and equipment (e.g. no caches or food drops) and to conduct as much as possible within National Parks/Public Lands/Wilderness areas. I therefore deviated from the “classic” Scenic Rim Traverse as was in vogue in the 1970’s. This meant disregarding the Little Liverpool Range and the Gold Coast sections, which today are a collection of private lands, roads and airports.
Andrew, however, did proceed to Point Danger at Coolangatta, the traditional end point for the traverse. A brief pitstop for food in Springbrook allowed him to negotiate the Cougals before reaching the coast. If you’re interested in this extra 1.5 day section, you’ll have to give him a buzz.
- Secrets of the Scenic Rim – Robert Rankin
- Take a Walk in South East Queensland – John and Lyn Daly
- The Bushpeoples Guide to Bushwalking in South East Queensland – Out of print, and now seems to have disappeared from the internet. Perhaps ask one of the veteran bushwalkers from BBW for a copy.
- QTopo – Customisable and printable topographic maps of QLD.
Day 1 – Goomburra to Spicers Peak
Winter is the only reasonable time to tackle the Scenic Rim in my humble opinion. Despite this, many of the traverses of yore took place in the peak of summer, with several departure dates taking place on Boxing Day. Pure madness.
We were not so brave, or perhaps daft. Our expedition began around dawn (6:30ish) on 25th June 2016, not long after the winter solstice. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Stephans, who fed me extremely well before delivering me to Goomburra, north-west of Cunningham’s Gap. Andrew and I both began the trip with a pack weight of roughly 15kg including food and water.
The road from Goomburra was closed due to wet weather, which involved an extra hike up the ridgeline of around 5km. This was not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the recent storm that had necessitated this closure would play a large part in the conditions later on. The results were a mixed blessing. On one hand, it provided ample water along the track. On the other hand, the trail had been littered with leaves, deadfall and fallen trees, making navigation and footing difficult and tedious at times.
Soon, we arrived at Sylvester’s Lookout, the spiritual beginning of the trek. Amazing views. A footpad leads off into the scrub and lasts a grand total of 5 meters. After that, it’s fairly open scrub with easy navigation to Bare Rock. Essentially, stick to the escarpment on the East and if you fall down the cliff, you’ve gone too far.
The sun was shining on Bare Rock and we stopped for a snack before hoofing it down the Mt Cordeaux trail to Cunningham’s Gap. This section, and indeed the entire day, is rather civilised. Good time can be made here.
After crossing the Gap and filling up with water, a quick ascent of Mt Mitchell is made before things get interesting. The descent on the southern face of Mt Mitchell via the razorback is quite tricky and potentially dangerous. Prior knowledge/scouting is recommended. A fairly straightforward ridge walk follows the initial difficulties.
We reached Spicer’s Gap in the late afternoon with sunset approaching and quickly made the decision to ascend the peak using the last rays of the sun and camp in the saddle. Given the moist conditions, Andrew assumed we’d be able to collect water from run-offs on the various cliff breaks, and he was proved correct. We camped between Spicer’s Peak and Doubletop on a grassy knoll from which I assume no presidents have been assassinated.
Elevation Gain: 2200m
Day 2 – Spicers Peak to Teviot Gap
Sometimes lauded as the premier bushwalk of South East Queensland, Spicers to Teviot (or vice versa) enjoys a well-deserved reputation. Often undertaken over three days, the walk is a fairly stout endeavour in a single day with its unrelenting elevation changes.
This southern section of Main Range encompasses the peaks of Spicers Peak, Doubletop, Huntley, Asplenium, Panorama Point, Steamer, Roberts and Superbus if you are so inclined (we bypassed Superbus via the South East Ridge of Mt Roberts). Many of these peaks are remarkably similar in character, with relatively gradual flanks topped with steep, rocky capstones.
Navigation is fairly simple, though local knowledge certainly helps. Having been through this area several times (including once in record time), Andrew was all over it like a cheap suit. Even so, the kilometres weren’t without challenge. The steep ascents and descents take a toll on the body, as did the difficult conditions underfoot caused by significant amounts of deadfall.
We descended through the bush from the viewless summit of Mt Roberts as night fell, arriving at Teviot Gap and deciding against further marching that evening.
As a side note, Main Range is often quite dry. Reliable water sources can be located in Steamer Saddle and on the eastern side of the Roberts/Superbus massif. I only carried 2L water, which even given the high amounts of water available, was touch and go at times. In drier seasons, I would suggest at least 3L and perhaps a dromedary bag to collect cooking water at night.
Elevation Gain: 1700m
Day 3 – Teviot Gap to Mt Ballow
We were out of camp early the following morning, heading straight up the north ridge of Wilson’s Peak and on toward the summit. This is a rather steep walk with a little bit of bushwacking which is a harbinger of things to come. After traversing around the summit cliff, the rabbit fence plunges steeply down toward the Boonah Border Gate and the end of Main Range.
An abandoned house at White Swamp next to the Border Gate has a few full water tanks, so we made use of these before setting out on the rabbit fence again. No problems… until you reach Mt Clunie.
Mt Clunie is a steep and evil peak which doesn’t deserve to exist, much less be climbed. Nevertheless, it was in our way and we had little choice. The border fence runs straight up the bastard, a testament to the strength and perhaps lack of better options for employment by the men who built it in the late 19th Century. The unrelenting gradient seems to never end, but of course it eventually does.
After this, it’s an easy walk along the border fence which eventually turns north and ascends the ridgeline toward Mt Ballow. There is a confusing section near an old hut with 2 gates and three fences, though compass and map should illuminate the right trail to take – tip for young players, it’s the left gate and incidentally the one you’d least desire.
The border fence gets quite disused and overgrown here, and our good old friend Lantana camara makes its first appearance. Sooner or later, the fence runs out, however navigation along the correct ridgeline is fairly simple. Before long, we were in the rainforest once more with night approaching quickly.
Water is available, but will require a detour of sorts. We established a clearing in the forest for use as camp and then stumbled down a gully in the dark until it provided running water. Regaining our campsite (where we’d left our bags) was a fraught mission, with heavy reliance upon GPS waypoints. For the sake of your sanity, I heartily recommend against walking through the rainforest after work hours.
It was here that I made a grim discovery which almost ended my trip… I had lost my shelter, a one-man army tarp or “hoochie”. It had been strapped to the outside of my pack, underneath my foam mat. At some point, a thorn or vine or yowie must have snagged the tarp and pulled it out from underneath the mat like a magician pulling a tablecloth. I was in total disbelief… Luckily, I had checked the weather recently and it was to remain fine for the remainder of the week. With a down sleeping bag, any rain would have spelled the end of my trip.
Elevation Gain: 1550m
Day 4 – Mt Ballow to Mt Lindesday – AKA Hell Mk 1.
The Mt Ballow approach had been described to Andrew as “a pleasant rainforest walk with a lovely open understory.” This is patently untrue, however there is a beautiful and rare stand of Antarctic Beech crowning the summit.
Vines, thorns, logging regrowth, loose rock, slippery conditions and a general sense of helplessness are my memories from this day. Navigation is difficult with ridgelines and features proving extremely vague. Old logging roads can be found, however they are hopelessly tangled from years of disuse and are more of a hindrance than a help.
Our progress ground to something between 1 an 2km an hour through this section, and the only thing keeping me going was the very earnest desire not to spend another night in this hellhole. The forest goes on and on and on, an endless procession of undulating knolls strung out along the ridge. On the plus side, water is easily available.
It was with surprise and elation that we finally came across the border fence once more on the eastern side, offering a cleared, maintained path and spectacular views of Mt Lindesday awash with alpine glow.
Darkness fell as we ate dinner at the Collin’s Gap Border Gate, before setting out under torch light for another hour or two of quick kilometres. This would place us beyond Mt Lindesay and provide a more peaceful campsite than would be experienced directly beside the highway.
We had difficulty finding water during this last section which required us to be frugal whilst cooking. Having said that, we had by this point realised that our food supplies would not last the entirety of the journey, having only taken 6 days food for a journey we now recognised would take at least 7. From here on, we both proceeded on decreased rations, and therefore needed less water to cook with also.
Elevation Gain: 1300m
Day 5 – Mt Lindesay to Mt Gipps
Thankful to have a day free from the oppressive confines of the rainforest, we made excellent mileage along the border fence which crosses the entirety of Lever’s Plateau.
During the day, we met a few locals such as Wayne the Fence Man and the owners of a Lime Farm perched high on the McPherson Range with unbeatable mountain views.
Apart from that, not much to report. An easy day for navigation and mental health.
We reached the Birdcage, an old fence maintenance hut just beyond Mt Gipps, just before dark. It was the first and only time we would make camp during daylight hours. It was like staying in a hotel.
Elevation Gain: 1700m
Day 6 – Mt Gipps to Tweed Trig – AKA Hell Mk 2
The hardest day on the entire trip… in fact, Andrew went so far as to say “probably the hardest day of my life.”
It was fucked.
The borderline impenetrable rainforest of Southern Lamington is a terrible, godforsaken place which I would not recommend visiting without a machete or a few payloads of Agent Orange. Our progress slowed to less than 1km an hour for most of the trip, and we battled the entire way against dense vegetation, chaotic tangles of vines and groves of Wait-A-While, also known as Lawyer Vine, also known as justification against the concept of a loving deity.
A fence can be followed for quite some way, but ultimately it disappears. When it does, the feeling is quite distressing. That fence, for some time, represents a spiritual tether to the world you come from, the one in which you belong. In its absence, you begin to feel rather isolated and vulnerable. They were truly desperate times and I felt that I’d never get out of there alive. It’s hard to believe feeling that way whilst tapping away on a computer in the city, but those are the demons that accompanied me that day.
It took us a whole day to battle our way to Tweed Trig, a mere 15kms from our start point. To make matters worse, our “landmark” was nothing more than a timber stump in the middle of the forest.
Fuck that place. Never again.
Elevation Gain: 600m
Day 7 – Tweed Trig to Green Mountains
More of the same for the first half of the day – a tedious battle through the untamed rainforest. Again, times were desperately slow. It took us about 6 hours to cover roughly 5km of ground.
Once we made Point Lookout, the war was won. We enjoyed our first views in over a day as we ate lunch before dashing along the track to Echo Point. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and some would call this trail overgrown. To us, it was an oasis.
After a few short but steep hill climbs, we arrived at Echo Point and the beginning of the graded trails in Lamington National Park. Here, we parted ways and for me it was a simple 9km trot along the Border Track to Green Mountains and salvation. Andrew continued on for another 1.5 days, eventually making it to the coast.
I definitely underestimated the Scenic Rim Traverse, which turned out to be one of the most challenging expeditions of my life. Like many expeditions, it was pure Type 2 fun… not so fun at the time, but rewarding in retrospect.
I’m glad to have knocked it off after all these years, and I’m also glad to have done it on my terms. I was able to complete the 7 day trip in an entirely self-sufficient manner without caches or food drops. Thumbs up.
As for advice for those who would endeavour to do the Traverse themselves, I’d recommend a similar philosophy, which is to say play it by your own rules. Make the trip your own. If you’d like to take her easy, meandering across the rim for over two weeks with caches in support… why not? If you’d like to start somewhere different, or substitute different sections, go for gold. Don’t let the “official” start and end points for the Traverse limit your expedition.
My personal recommendations are:
- Start points can be almost anywhere at the top of Main Range. Some old trips of yore started at Mt Beau Brummel, some at Cunningham’s Gap, and some as far back as Laidley (who could be arsed?). More northern points in the Mistake Mountains might be interesting, as could the addition of the Winder Track. For logistical ease, Goomburra made sense for us, as would Cunningham’s Gap.
- Substitute the long, vague ridge traverse from Mt Ballow to Mt Lindesay for a more scenic detour through Mt Barney National Park. Descending Mt Ballow toward Montserrat Lookout can prove nagivagtionally tricky, but afterward a steep and rugged traverse of the Mt Barney massif via Upper Portals, Barney Gorge and Peasant’s Ridge would be infinitely more rewarding.
- Substitute the Southern Lamington (Mt Gipps to Point Lookout section) with a descent from the Lion’s Road to Running Creek, than up to the Stretcher Track. Better trafficked and more to see. I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar it would prove more enjoyable.
Well, that proved a little long winded…. But if you’ve got any questions on what to expect from the Scenic Rim Traverse, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.