Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Climbing Mt Gulaga (Mt Dromedary)

I spent a few days recently at Narooma on the NSW south coast. One day I decided to climb the highest mountain in the area, Mt Gulaga (aka Mt Dromedary). It is about 800m high, covered in forest, mostly wet eucalypt but also patches of rainforest.
Mt Gulaga from Narooma
I got up at an extremely uncivilised hour in early morning, so it was still before 8:00 when I set out on the climb. The track starts in the tiny town of Tilba Tilba, starting on a private farm access road passing through grazing land.
The start of the track

Cows grazing quietly in the cold morning light
The track goes up
After a short distance the track heads up. A sign of things to come. The condition of the private road deteriorates further up and it is surrounded by dense trees, with view of the countryside offered by a break the tree cover.

Looking south-east very early in the climb.
After about 15 minutes I reached the National Park boundary, with a sign saying it is only a 5 hour return walk to the summit. After this point the track is much more overgrown. Although it was clearly once a vehicular track, it is now only maintained as a walking track. The track continues its steep climb through dense vegetation, and after a bend, continues more steeply still. I stopped briefly to take off my jumper.

The mountainside is densely timbered and the track is on a south facing slope so it is in heavy shade. I am grateful for the cold of the late autumn morning as I sweat my way up. After the very steep section, the track levels out somewhat, and by "levels out" I mean, goes up, just not quite so steeply. Even now and again there is a promise that over the next crest or around the next bend there is some relief from the climb, but no. Its just more up.

The thick understory is full of busy White-browed Scrubwrens. 

After what seems like forever, but was only a little more that ten minutes, there was a gap in the canopy revealing the view to the south towards Wallaga Lake.
Towards Wallaga Lake
Grey Goshawk - grey morph

A few minutes later I flushed a pale raptor from the trees above me. It came to rest a
on a dead branch a little distance away. A quick view was enough to confirm it was a Grey Goshawk, the birding highlight of the day. I have only ever seen them a couple of times before. They come in two morphs, a grey one and a pure white one. This was a grey one. I cursed myself for still having the wide angle lens on my camera. I hid behind a conveniently place boulder to put the 50-200 lens in the camera, regretting having left the teleconverter behind to save weight. I crept along the track towards the goshawk and managed to get one distant, poorly focused shot before it flew off across the valley. A Wonga Pigeon called from the opposite slope, possibly alarmed by the goshawk, or maybe just because it was a Wonga Pigeon. (Wonga Pigeons call with a loud penetrating continuous "whoik-whoik-..." call).

I continued on up the track as it marched steadily up through the forest. There was plenty of evidence of Lyrebirds, with a lot of fresh scratchings on and beside the track. I didn't hear any calling, it being a bit early for the breeding season. White-browed Scrubwrens were still plentiful.

The last few years have not been good for my waistline or fitness and it was really starting to show. I wished I hadn't bothered with a jumper which was just adding weight to my pack. The rain jacket I put in because wet weather had been forecast was more dead weight. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.

In a wet and soggy corner I found a Brown Cuckoo-Dove in the understory. I tried to photograph it, but it was far too dark to focus. I wished I had brought the flash unit and bright headlamp to use as a focusing light. A bit further on I caught a glimpse of a Lyrebird scratching away at the leaf litter up the slope from the track.

After about an hour and 20 minutes of climbing, the view through gaps in the trees looked like this:
Towards Lake Wallaga, after 1hr 20min climbing

About an hour and a half from the start I came to the intersection with the fire trail from the north. There is a small clearing with a picnic table and a toilet tucked away amongst the trees. I was pretty worn out by then so I stopped for a while to have a drink and some morning tea. I wished I'd left the heavy camera gear at home as well as the jumper and rain jacket.

There were White-naped Honeyeaters and Striated Thornbills in the canopy above, and Brown Thornbills below.
I rested for about 25 minutes then packed up to head up on. I had had enough of having my camera around my neck so I packed it away in the backpack. About 30 seconds into the next stage of the climb I came across a Lyrebird quietly scratching for grubs in the track before me. It was in the sun, the best opportunity I had to get a photo of one. I walked back out of sight, got my camera out, but by the time I got back the Lyrebird it was well down the hill and in dense foliage.
Brown Gerygone

A bit later I came upon a small flock of busy little birds that I couldn't at first identify. I wished I hadn't left my binoculars behind to save weight. A camera is no substitute for binoculars, but I eventually worked out that they were Brown Gerygones, one of the Little Brown Birds I am not yet very familiar with. I managed to get one poor photo that was at least recognizably Brown Gerygone. 
There are two tracks to the summit. The Rainforest Track, which is longer and the short and steep Summit Track. At the intersection I started up the very steep Summit Track, but after a while I began to worry that the track was not very well marked. Because the canopy is very closed, there forest floor is fairly clear, but the ground, including the track, is covered in fallen leaves, making it hard to seen the track. Rather than risk getting lost, I went back down to the intersection, losing all those hard won vertical metres.

The Rainforest Track continues round towards the west along the southern face of the mountain. I was alarmed to find that the track goes down  for a while. Losing more of the vertical metres. Eventually it turns up and climbs very steeply through dense temperate rainforest. There are plenty of ferns, including tree ferns - Dicksonia antartica I think, moss covered rocks and tree trunks. But at least the track is well marked.
I wished I'd brought along a tripod so that I could attempt to get a decent long exposure shot of the rainforest interior. Instead I made do with this crappy high ISO shaky shot. It does show the track markers.

Further up, the rainforest gives way to eucalypts, the track levels off and there is the summit.
The Summit.
I reached the summit a little over 2½ hours after starting. There is a welcome sign and a trig on the summit. I can't imagine how the trig could be visible from anywhere since it is surrounded by trees. Perhaps in the days when this was state forest the summit was cleared? The trees do look mostly like regrowth.

There are actually two summits - afterall,  it was named Mt Dromedary by Captain Cook. This summit is the eastern one. The other one at the other of the saddle is actually a little higher. There is no track along the saddle.
View towards north towards Narooma from the summit.
View west along the saddle
After some lunch and a rest, I headed back down the mountain.

There were more Lyrebirds out and about on the descent. I saw about 4, but they were in deep shade, so no photos - besides, I'd stashed my camera in the pack.

During the descent my knees, feet and ankles kept reminding me that they were not as young as the used to be.

It wasn't until I was about a third of the way down that I encountered another person. Until then I had the mountain to myself. In all I passed 3 couples on their way up. The last couple I passed looked very worse for wear from their climb. I thought I still had quite some distance to go, but the park boundary with the sign marking the start of the track was just around the next corner. I wonder if they made it to the summit.

I had reached that sign marking the start of the track ("5 hours return" according to the sign) a bit over 4 hours since I passed it on the way up. I really am losing fitness these days. The younger version of me would have done a "5 hour" walk in 3 hours tops.

The cows were still there as I came down the road back to Tilba Tilba.


  1. Did you compose this after getting back, having left the computer behind to save weight?

    1. It was a real nuisance dragging a computer up there. Shouldn't have taken the desktop & generator. But I really can't type on a smartphone.

  2. great pictures and here's a little addition for your story

  3. Thanks that was very informative. I would love to do this walk.

  4. The walk was quite pleasant todau and is now 75% clearted firetrail (recently cleared). The rainforest near the summit is lovely. FYI The best part (which I assume you missed) is the cathedral. Take the small track up behind the toilet to get there :) It has the best views and amazing rock formations.

  5. Nice walk, although not much of a view from the summit (due to trees). Aboriginal site worth the shot detour.
    Track notes: https://hikingtheworld.blog/2017/01/05/mt-dromedary-gulaga/