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Access Officers Report May 2013 – Vic Range Fire update

On Friday 19th April, a small group of climbers – Steve Monks, Malcolm Matheson and myself and PV staff attend some onsite inspections of climbing sites in the Victoria Range that were recently affected by the Victoria complex fire in February. Our initial meeting in March was to discuss the known and suspected impacts of the fires to climbing sites or access to them. At that stage we had very little firsthand knowledge of damage – only some aerial photographs of certain areas where we could see whether it was severely burnt or, patchy and moderately burnt.

Malcom surveying damage Camp of the Emu Foot Track area

All areas are still currently closed, with some of this being due to the roads requiring repair due to the heavy firefighting load it was subjected to.

A drive along Camp of the Emu Foot Track gave us a good look at some of the more severely burnt areas. Tree risk work has now been done on the road sections along here. While there were a few sections where it appeared the fire had jumped or lightly skimmed across it, the damage is very obvious. No ground cover whatsoever and all trees that are still standing are mere skeletons of what they once were. A few are showing some epicormic growth so fingers are crossed that many of these will continue to fight.

A little rain would definitely be a plus to help them in their recovery. As always, words are difficult to find to describe the impact – photos do a much better job of this. The areas along this road – Lost World, Gondwanaland, Eureka Wall, Eureka Towers, Red Sail will still be out of bounds for a while yet. From our early discussions, in order to give it a chance, it really needs a good season or so to get some ground cover established.

damage to cliffs along Camp of the Emu Foot Track

There are some new shoots pushing through and the grass trees that have managed to survive are already sprouting new growth but the ground is devoid of any cover and extremely loose and soft. This also makes it susceptible to weed species and pathogens brought in from other areas on the tyres of cars and shoes of people. Giving it this time to establish a colony of indigenous flora gives it a much better chance  before any introduced seeds and disease make their way in.

We didn’t walk up to the cliffs to inspect further track access but the general consensus was that once this road was open, climbing sites would be accessible and certainly at the start of the walk in, little work would be required. Some well worded and educational information could be circulated and also as the PV staff noted, could be helpful to be posted at the road access, on care to be taken when people did start walking into cliffs.

Steve and Malcolm clearing and marking track to Muline

Early days to be giving time frames but for this area it could be 6-9 months. Weir Creek which due to its lower grade of climbs on offer will often see a busy weekend, was out of our time frame to walk in any further. There were also a few access points here that we needed to address before the fire so a bit further down the line we will look at how we can resolve these for Weir Creek. Whilst in the area, we did walk up to the Jananginj Njani area which has unfortunately copped a lot of the heat. It was also very easy to see the rock exfoliation in this area.

In previous fires, such as the Mt Lubra one, there was a certain amount of exfoliation, especially at places like Bundaleer, but it was contained to lower rock which impacts very little on the climbs themselves. No fixed protection appeared to have been compromised and still to this day, there has been no reported cases of fire compromised bolting.

This again, in the Vic Range fire area, will need to be assessed by the climbers themselves and when climbing in any area, bolted or otherwise, the responsibility is upon yourselves to assess any protection and rock quality and to climb, or not climb accordingly. I will chase up and promote more discussion on this closer to the area opening and some of those that know these areas best have been approached to help and provide guidance on the access.

We then drove to the Red Rocks/Muline area.

Track to Muline

There are a number of climbing sites along here. It appeared from the aerial photographs that fire damage was patchy and upon our hike in to Muline, this appears to be the case. There are sections untouched, then there are sections which have burnt really hot. Steve, Malcolm and myself walked up to Muline itself to assess damage and what work we might need to undertake to the track in order to minimize any further damage for the future.

First up, the cliff itself is totally untouched in any way. Still as gloriously beautiful as it ever was. The walk up the first section is quite patchy in regards to burn and as it is not steep poses no problems with erosion. As the track access starts to head into the gully, this is where care will need to be taken. The fire has raced up here and has burnt quite hotly.

After looking at the old track access(up and along the rock platforms) and new access (directly up the gully) thanks to Malcolms knowledge, we have assessed that to create and direct the track back up along the rock platform is the best option not only for now because of the fire and loose soil, but also for future longevity.

Keeping to rocky surfaces when accessing cliffs is always the best especially on steep ground. Climbers track will sometimes be developed because of the quickest and most direct access – this doesn’t always mean it’s the best in terms of damage and sustainability. I will be co-ordinating a work day over the next 3 weeks or so, to fix up a couple of problem areas and delineating the track we want people to use. We have already cairned a bit of the new section and think the work we will need to engage in is quite minimal.

PV are hoping to get a loop section of Red Rocks road open in this time frame as well so that the climbing areas will be accessible. A 2wd car can still drive, albeit carefully, but this could all change if we get a heavy rainfall. Dave Roberts would like a trailhead to be constructed at the track access that services all these areas, again, with the idea of educational info being available to climbers on the care they need to take on these access tracks. All things going smoothly, May could be an expected opening.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to check the other sites in the vicinity. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks, we can assess Red Rock Pinnacles area itself as this is popular. Accessing anything via Buandik will be a problem for a little while as the bridge is no longer there. Funding for this involves a process and could take some time. Discussions were had on the possibility of some temporary measures for here and I will keep you up to date on progress.

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