I was huffing, lots of huffing, not to mention puffing. The climb was seriously steep and, after scaling the first three steep sections with my mountain bike, I’d stopped to catch my breath at the top of each gradient. Now I was stopping halfway up for a breather. At least there were some colourful mushrooms to concentrate my photography on.
I’d been ascending Mount Taylor days before and someone at the top had mentioned Square Rock was also worthwhile. They had no idea whether it was mountain bike suitable and, nowhere on the internet could I glean any relevant information. I assumed it would probably be but, after driving out beyond Gibraltar Falls, started out from the carpark on my bike anyway.
I’ve developed a habit of photographing the maps on the notice boards before I leave; it was to prove fortuitous. Leaving the carpark a dirt fire trail was obvious so I went for that. Climbing off to the left I was lured into believing this wouldn’t be that difficult. Certainly, in terms of following the route, it wasn’t.
As one ascends, panoramas develop and, on a mount some distance away on the other side of the main road, the scars of the bushfires could be clearly discerned. A wide row of bare trees blighted the hillside and also exposed some of the base rock around here which is a form of granite called Shannons Flat Adamellite. For thousands of years previous the Ngunnawal people had populated Namadgi National Park before foresters came in. These days, it’s under the National Parks banner and everything is protected.
Finally I guessed I was near the top of the loop and paused to check the map I’d photographed. I later learned the route I’m on is the Smokers Trail Short Loop and is shaped like a voice balloon in a cartoon. Why anyone would want to smoke while climbing this mount remains a mystery.
Eventually, on the ridge line, the road goes down as well as up which gives relief and then I reach the sign. I’m to head right apparently, off the road and onto a narrow walking trail. There’s no doubt I’m on the correct route, it’s just that I’ve come to a swamp that I wasn’t expecting. Not to worry, there’s a well-made walkway over it and I’m pushing towards the next intersection with the three and a half hour return main walking trail that normal people take.
Some small areas have been burnt. Most trees use epicormic growth from seeds beneath the bark to recover but, in the snow line areas, lignotubers arise from the root area. However, if there are too many fires they die off. Potential climate change victims.
The final intersection is attained. The small sign indicates the route to Square Rock is on my left and I ride off until it becomes problematic with rock stairs in multiple numbers so it’s time to park the bike and head further on foot, just like the makers of the track intended.
There’s an offshoot to Orroral Lookout, recommended by someone on a bushwalking site. It adds just over a kilometre to the journey and, after viewing the panorama over the valley, personally I feel it’s probably not worth the extra. There are a couple of mildly interesting rock formations there though.
Back on the main trail it’s probably just over a kilometre to the goal and, just before you reach the lookout, there it is – a square rock. Dressed in some finery of moss and lichen, it’s hard to miss but you feel the pull of the nearby outlook which is finally reached via a ladder of about a dozen steps. It has its interesting crevices and shapes but the vast view isn’t overly photogenic though it’s certainly scary in places with the vertiginous drop beneath. Massive cracks in granite always fascinate me. The time the weather takes to create them is beyond my imagining but the results are spectacular.
A cool zephyr rising from below caresses my skin as I decide my time here is up. Before reaching my bike the first people I’ve seen for hours approach and I quiz them about the last of the loop, realising that it will be all narrow track. They look quizzically at the earth, deep in thought, and then warn me of a water crossing with rocks and branches but suggest that the overall track is probably “doable”, but neither of them ride mountain bikes. I retort that the worst that can happen at the crossing is that I get my feet wet and decide to chance the route.
The swamp crossing is partly bridged but then the rocks and sticks appears on the far side and it’s really no trouble at all. I’m chuffed but the remainder isn’t easy. Single steps are regular and not well shaped. I stay mounted for a lot but also stop several times to walk them and then have another two swamp crossing near the bottom. At least it’s downhill all the way.
The relief after 3 hours is palpable. The uphills had been exhausting, the amount of walking more than I’d wanted to do but the feeling of accomplishment at the end overrode all that and I felt sated.
Two more cars arrived while I was packing up and I hoped the wombat I’d seen on the way up had retired to its burrow though the eastern grey hadn’t been so lucky. All it was now was food for the crows. Sad, but inevitable, where humans are involved.