Cathedral Ranges (Southern Circuit)

Cathedral ranges is a 7KM ridge of mountains in Taggery/Buxton, Victoria approximately 2 hours / 120km north-east drive from Melbourne and hosts one of Melbourne’s most spectacular treks: Sugarloaf peak and the Jawbone ridge via Wells cave. The elevation gain is approximately 900m and Parks Victoria considers it to be very hard with rock climbing. The trek is approximately 11km long and takes 5 to 6 hours to complete.

Despite the official Parks Victoria designation, I would personally class this as hard, with difficult scrambling (not really rock climbing). DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AFTER RAIN, AS IT CAN BE SLIPPERY. Also, whilst most people do perform this trip without additional safety equipment, it is recommended (at the very least, you will likely need rope if you have a large bag to complete the final push up to summit). I almost certainly agree that with Parks VIC that it is a one way trek (if you go the opposite direction, it will be difficult to find your footing whilst you descend sugarloaf peak. DO NOT attempt this trek backwards without appropriate safety gear and training on its use.

Whilst it’s certainly more difficult than any non-alpine alpine trek I’ve attempted, I have played guide for at least 3 people who were scared of heights who completed it, and overcame their fears. I’ve also seen many kids (including 11 year olds), successfully complete the climb (because you can help them by giving them a boost, some of the more difficult sections are possibly easier for them.

Preparation

Firstly, ensure you bring proper shoes. Runners will probably work (trekking shoes will work better), but do NOT wear sandals or thongs, as you’ll likely injure yourself, and it will make the initial climb fairly difficult (by the time you realise your shoes are inappropriate, it may be difficult to turn back).

It is also strongly recommended against bringing a big backpack as wells cave is narrow in places. With a fully loaded backpack, you may have to empty it out piece by piece to get through, or go overhead (which is a terrible idea). I successfully got through using my 35l backpack, however, it did require that I hold it in front and carry it ahead of me.

Otherwise bring the usual water supplies (enough for a few hours), food, first aid sunglasses and other standard items. .

I would STRONGLY recommend trying to do the track on a dry day. You don’t require rope and a harness (but they are recommended).

Basic Directions

I’d recommend taking a photo of the map at the beginning of the trip, as it will make things a bit easier or / and downloading the Visitor Guide from the Parks Vic website.

The easiest place to start is from Sugarloaf Saddle Day Visitor Centre (which is easily located on Google Maps) From there, pack your gear, and head down the Canyon track/Wells Cave track. Shortly after starting, the trek splits. For the best trek of your life, follow the Wells cave route. If however you want something easier, go down canyon trek instead which merges back with the Wells Cave trail later

Wells Cave Track

Wells Cave Track begins as ferny track formed with leaves dusting the trails and large sandstone boulders forming the foundation of the track. The Trail is well formed, easily identifiable and starts fairly easy. Before long however, you reach the beginning of the actual walk, a steep climb where you must steady yourself with your hands but with strong foot placement

Shortly a few minutes you pass the first real obstacle, a short steep sandstone climb with only minimal handholds, and a requirement to help pull yourself up using small grippy rocks. Its not particularly hard (I’d consider it level 1 or 2 Rock Climbing), and nobody uses rope for support. It may be daunting to those who have never rock climbed before, but its nothing extreme.

The trail continues winding its way around narrow paths, with exposed rock on the sides until you reach the opening for Wells Cave

Wells Cave

Wells Cave is a triangular shaped cave with a wide open which gradually narrows near the ending and has boulders you must step up on the way. The narrow ending is the primary reason to pack light, to ensure that you can fit through the ending. Most people need to remove their backpack and carry it in front of them to fit.

For those who can’t fit, it is possible to climb over a large boulder near the end which is wider, however, it increases the risk of injury and rock climbing will be required to get back down to the ground. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve done outdoor lead climbing and have proven your abilities.

A short distance after leaving the cave, there is a some more basic climbing (with good footholds, and handholds on both sides, but scary looking), before reaching one last major challenge, a few slabs forming a small cave. You can either climb up the slab to the side, or the easier route is to pull yourself onto the exposed site using a tree where the grip is far better, but worse for those who hate heights. A bit more climbing (which you are now used to), and you’ve reached the top.

Razorback Track

After taking in the 360 degree view from the top, you follow a loose trail along a jutted ridge with occasional arrows pointing the path. There is no longer any rock climbing and the path follows along narrow paths where you hug the walls, large rocky boulders you step down. The only real obstacle at this point is a large step where you steady yourself by grabbing the side of an exposed ridge.

After crossing over the ridge and reaching the ground, you follow along the sandstone wall and long worn paths, a fairly relaxed and easy path surrounded in bushes before reaching the farmyard (a camping site). Follow the signs to Jawbone creek track, where the trail changes into dirt steps supported by wooden planks before reaching the Jawbone Carpark.

Some people may often choose to take 2 cars and park one at this car park before the journey. Those who consider it cheating however, can follow the road back to the Sugarloaf Visitor Centre completing the journey (it can get fairly dusty on the way back) .