No Camino? – Hike at home!

COVID-19 shattered our plans to walk a section of the Camino from Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Leon. Both of us missed this section in our Camino Frances, Deb in 2018 and I in 2016. The urge to still walk this year pushed us to look closer to home – somewhere we could drive and walk.

The Great Ocean Road trail in Victoria runs along beaches and through forests and National Parks. To test our hike-readiness we challenged ourselves with a day in the Warrumbungle Mountains, hiking to Grand High Tops.

The Warrumbungle Mountains rise abruptly from the western plains of NSW. Their soft blue humps defined the horizon to the north of our childhood home on those plains. As children and later parents we visited them to picnic and later scramble up the scrubby slopes to strange-shaped rocks, the weathered cores of ancient volcanoes.

Several decades had passed since we had last stood on the Tops and looked west to our property on the plains. The trails then had been all dirt and stepping stones. This time most of the approach was well-cleared and sturdy wooden bridges crossed the many creeks. Brick paths in areas regularly eroded, and clear sign posting eased our way until the last steep and rocky approach to the tops .

As I clambered over the last few rocks, my knees knocking and my heart racing as I tried not to look at the sheer fall below, I wondered if it was worth it. Not many must make it this far, I thought. After the comparative highway this was a goat track. I froze as the rock I had just gripped broke away and threatened to fall back on Deb.

“I’m stuck,” I said, shaking. “There’s nothing else to grab.”

“Put your right foot up on the ledge and move that way,” Deb said after a few moments.

I let my heart slow down and lifted my right foot, then my right hand and finally I was on my way again. Within minutes I was standing on Grand High Tops gasping at the vista around us. Of course it was worth it. Beautiful is too small a word for the forest-coated mountains and valleys, the narrow arch of rock called the Breadknife, and Bluff Mountain and Belougerie Spire, whose distant shapes we could name as tiny toddlers.

And we made it with energy and strength to spare. Bring on The Great Ocean Walk!

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