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When is a trail run considered a hike?

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

A month out of Melbourne's first long lockdown in 2020, I jumped at the opportunity to go on a group trail run at the Cathedral Ranges about 100km north-east of Melbourne. Never mind that physically I was probably not quite up to the task, the brain was more than willing to overlook that for some time in nature outside our 5km radius!

Whilst we had camped at the Cathedral Ranges State Park many times over the years, that was before I got into trail running and our kids were smaller so big hikes weren't generally on the agenda. I've been 'part' of a local trail running group called Wild Soles for a couple of years, and I emphasise the part because I had not yet managed to attend one of their runs. When I saw that they were heading to the Cathedral Ranges in December, I was determined to go.

The Cathedrals, as the state park is commonly known, are the remains of volcano that erupted some 373 million years ago leaving a crater 25km wide. The 7km ridge of tilted sedimentary rock reaches its highest point at Sugarloaf Peak (912m above sea level), rising impressively over the rural landscape. This land is the Country of the Taungurung People and the range is called Nanadhong in their traditional language.

Adventure Time!

A warm day was forecast and the 11km Southern Circuit route takes around 4-5hours to complete, so an early start it was. I consider anything starting with a '5' in the a.m. to be a bit rude, but in this case I was pretty excited to be getting up with the birds! By 8.30am here we all are, pumped and ready to go. Thanks to the random camping guy who took this photo for us :-)

Now, Wild Soles came here for their maiden run two years ago and from the stories I've heard, it's fair to say they were maybe a tad unprepared! So this time there was lots of information shared on our Facebook group of what to bring, the route map, estimated completion time, etc. I was only momentarily concerned when we were already checking the map a few minutes in...

But all good! From the Cooks Mill campsite, we ran up Tweed Spur Rd which is a 4WD track. It was uphill from the word go, which was a bit of a shock to the legs that had been restricted to a rather flat 5km radius during lockdowns. However this was strictly a 'no ego' run and there were thankfully lots of walking breaks. No use smashing ourselves early when there was A LOT more elevation ahead. After 1.5km we turned off onto Messmate Track. It was an indication of what's to come when the sign says it will take 1hr to do 2km...

This is the kind of track that I would love to run down! The gradient ranged mostly between 9-23% and the track was quite overgrown, so our pace was more on the walking side. It took us about 40 minutes to reach Sugarloaf Saddle (you can drive up to this point for a shorter route, just sayin') and from here it was on to the Canyon Track. You soon come to a fork in the track and if you head to the right, you can do a circuit that incorporates Wells Cave. This is apparently a very difficult hike. Trail Hiking Australia warns that "it is recommended for experienced hikers only as it is steep in places, requires a lot of rock scrambling and unassisted climbing and traverses some exposed ledges en-route."

Not this time. We went left and continued on the Canyon Track, which soon becomes steep and rocky. You start to get little glimpses of the view here and there, but you are largely concentrating on the path ahead.

Then things started to get really interesting. Here I am (left, thanks Di!) contemplating exactly what sort of trail run involves climbing?

I mean, look at this from my perspective!

It's hard to describe how I felt as I climbed this rock face. I was concentrating pretty hard on not going over the edge, but also drinking in the fabulousness of where I was.

Me mid-climb checking out the view (Photo by Ngân)

The most difficult section of climbing done, we stopped to chat to a couple waiting to go down. FYI - I think it was probably much easier to go up and that is certainly what is largely recommended.

As we waited for the others to join us, I snapped some shots with my Olympus E-M5III (below). I love that I can fit it into my hydration pack so easily and take it with me on these runs. Smartphones have certainly come a long way for photographic capabilities, but they still have their limitations.

All back together, it was a moment to celebrate what was an epic achievement of overcoming a fear of heights for two of our group. Kudos guys! We then pushed on for the last few hundred metres to Sugarloaf Peak.

Big views... all directions.

After 2hrs of going up, it was time to refuel and this was a great spot for a snack.

'In-my-happy-place' selfie :-)