This past weekend a friend and I headed out of town to try a hike I’d read about in the Yarra Ranges National Park near Melbourne. It’s the Donnelly’s Weir – Condon’s Track – Mt St Leonard circuit walk, described here.
The Parks Victoria information states that it’s a 21km walk in total (that’s 12.6 miles to some), and is for experienced hikers only as the first 6-7km is straight up the side of Mt Monda – a steep and challenging path. So we decided it sounded like just the right amount of challenge.
Well! The day turned out to be a whole lot more adventurous than we’d expected. The beginning of the track is easy to find. We parked the car on Donnelly’s Weir Rd, outside the gated entrance to the Weir picnic ground because there was a dip in the road that had turned into a big puddle, and we didn’t want to get bogged. Also the signs said the gates would close at 4pm, and as it was almost 10am we knew we wouldn’t be back in time. Good decision, as it turns out.
The first couple of kilometres of the track is wide and smooth, and meanders uphill at a steady but very manageable incline, and we were smugly commenting to each other that we didn’t know what all the fuss was about in the other descriptions we’d read of the hike. We were lulled into a false sense of security as it turns out, because all of a sudden the path becomes a goat track, dramatically steeper, narrow, overgrown, muddy (being winter), and in some cases hard to follow as the trees with the handy orange arrows nailed to them had fallen down at various points, so those arrows were useless. Thankfully there were enough of those orange reflectors on trees still standing, that even through thick fog we didn’t lose the path and made it up the top of the steep section after a couple of hours.
The track then widens out again, but seems to wander across the top of Mt Monda in such a way as we felt like we didn’t make much progress for another hour or so, like, to use an Aussie colloquialism, like we were going around our arses to get to our elbows. Finally we reached a clear junction point with a thick log to sit on and a bit of sunshine, which was the perfect place to stop for lunch.
It was still cold though, and clouded over again pretty quickly, so we kept moving, down the track which doubled as a 4-wheel drive track and through the fog. It was eerily quiet, still, and cold. The track started to head slightly downhill, and we came to a point where there was another gate off to the left and a sign pointing towards the Mt St Leonard Summit, which was apparently 1.2km away. The gate was closed however and the only way around was to squeeze through a gap in the fence which really didn’t look very inviting. We debated whether we were supposed to follow that sign to the summit, or continue on the track we were on. The summit track had that ‘one way’ feel about it, and we came to the conclusion we would head down to the official summit of Mt St Leonard then most likely have to turn around to come back to the track we were on anyway, which seemed unnecessary. So we continued on our merry way, incorrectly as it turned out!
Finally we reached the bottom of the mountain, assuming we would be close to the Weir, and the car, and expecting to see a sign pointing out the way. Instead, we realised we were in the Toolangi State Forest, on the other side of the mountain from where we should have been! My GPS was working again by this point and confirmed we were approximately 10km away from Donnelly’s Weir. The road we were standing next to appeared to lead right to Donnelly’s Weir rd, but it was going to be a long walk… a heart-sinking extra 10km on top of what we’d already just done.
My friend ducked off into the bushes for a wee (classy- haha), and I flagged down some 4 wheel drivers who kindly got their map out and confirmed that we needed to head left towards Healesville. They thought I was alone, at first, and couldn’t wrap their heads around the distance we’d already walked (bush tracks really only being for crashing large, loud vehicles through), and how much further there still was to go.
So we set off, undaunted and feeling pretty cheerful that the weather had been kind, we at least knew where to go, we weren’t going to starve, had no blisters, and had had the foresight to both bring torches! We guessed we’d be back at the car by 6, when it would only be just dark. That was optimistic. By the time we staggered up the pot-holed dirt road, exhausted and with aching legs it was nearly 7 o’clock and we would have been totally screwed without those torches. I have never been so glad to see anything, as I was to see the torch light reflect off the lights on the back of my car!!
There are so many things I love about hiking: the physical challenge, the way the bush forest smells, the bird noises, the cool breeze on sweaty skin, how good your crappy sandwich and handful of almonds taste when you stop for lunch. And Saturday was no exception. Although we were almost too stiff to get back out of the car, the pub meal on the way home was amaaaaaazing, and I went to bed that night with that warm drowsy exhaustion that only a whole day of exercise in the ‘great outdoors’ can give you.
If you’re looking for a challenging hike only an hour from Melbourne, I highly recommend the Donnelly’s Weir – Condon’s Track – Mt St Leonard circuit, but unless you’re a weirdo like me and a 30km hike is your idea of fun I recommend you follow that sign off to the left to the Mt St Leonard summit! I can only assume from there the path back to the Weir is marked out and you’ll enjoy a lovely day hike WITHOUT getting lost 🙂