I first climbed the Fortress back in 1996 with a scouting buddy Dieryk. After our walk a combination of youthful inexperience/ stupidity, speed and a very rough waterlogged track saw me roll my car. Fortunately I was able to drive it to Hamilton where I fixed two tyres and proceeded to drive back to Melbourne all rugged up with a badly cracked windscreen literally sitting on the front of the car (it fell out in the roll). A few hundred dollars later I had it straightened and drove my dinted suby for many more years. I must add that this experience affected a permanent and more cautious approach to my driving.
On that trip I had spied an impressive looking gorge below the Fortress called Billiwing Gorge and I promised myself that one day I would return to explore it.
That day finally came last September (2009) when after some heavy rains I attempted an assent. Unfortunately I left too late and stopped to take too many photos so had to abandon my attempt mid way through resulting in a very lengthy, steep and prickly bush-bash up the side of the gorge to the fortress walking track. In January this year I finally completed the Billiwing Gorge/ Fortress circuit thoroughly enjoying it’s remote and rugged beauty. The only downside being that its many waterfalls and rapids had very little flow at this time of year… Take four coming soon (I hope).
There is no track to the summit of the fortress because as the name suggests it is defended on all sides by imposing cliffs. I was pretty keen to camp near the summit, as the north-east facing cliffs the walking track ran along the base of, completely blocked the setting sun. After wandering around for a bit I ambitiously thought I could climb a fairly broken 25m high vertical cliff face with my pack on (not that it looked that high from the bottom).
In my eagerness to reach a sought after destination, no doubt fed by a propensity to watch too many episodes of Man versus Wild haha. I found myself half way up before my brain re-engaged, by this point however it was safer to keep going than down-climb so on I went. It wasn’t overly difficult but having a heavy pack on didn’t help. It did take a very cool head however. In my youth I was an obsessive rock climber so technique wise I was fine, the main issue in this sort of situation is to keep your head together and stay relaxed and calm despite the fact that a fall will likely be fatal, being alone this was probably a pretty stupid stunt but it worked out alright. Haven’t I matured, instead of being young and stupid now I’m middle aged and…
Anyway after reaching the top I continued up the vegetated gully to the summit blocks. Just as I reached the ridge line the dying sun put forth all her glory and running around madly looking for vantage points I shot the last rays in this amazing and rarely visited place.
I didn’t finish shooting till after dark and only then did I think about setting up camp. The obvious spot was a big flat area under a huge overhang but unfortunately it was also the most exposed area and it was like a wind tunnel. After an extended search I ended up setting up my bivvy bag and stove on a small sloping but sheltered block on the far side of the same block.
Staying up half the night I took a few super long star trail shots then shot this sunrise the next morning. I was keen to repeat my 1996 assent to the summit of the Fortress but I decided I must have been far more crazy back then as merely looking at the exposure and difficulty of the route I took back then gave me the heeby geebies. Besides that I was still a little freaked out from my previous days assent and was even more alone this far from the walking track so common sense prevailed.
I returned with a bit of trial and error the way I had come the evening before and upon seeing my previous days assent route from an adjacent cliff (where the above pic is from) I felt that knot return to my stomach. Fortunately I had 20 meters of cord with me and due to the slope of the fissures floor had just enough to lower my pack to the ground so I could down-climb sans pack. Fortunately I kept my head together and found the reality much easier than my repressed panic feared.
The next day I shot the balconies at sunset and got chatting to a few others with the same idea. Having my camera I showed them a few shots direct from the back of it. And the comment was wow so what did you do to it to make it look like that??? Man even direct from a camera people think you’ve photoshopped it to death… nghh.
Really happy with this shot on a technical level as I had 5 stops of grad on the upper corner and tripped the shutter for this 30 second exposure before the sun had come into view.
Victoria Range, Grampians/ Gariwerd National Park, Victoria, Australia.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D mkII
Lens: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 29mm
Filter: Circular Polarizer and stacked 2 and 3 stop ND grads
Shutter Speed: 30 sec
Time: 5:46am on 25/1/2010
For more Grampians shots check out my Grampians gallery.
$30 a month from photography sales donated to the Wilderness Society