First published with Sunny Side Adventures – https://sunnyside-adventures.com/2017/03/21/mt-difficult-overnight-hike-grampians/
Total distance: 24.3km
Time: 2 days, 1 night
Start/Finish: Beehive Falls Carpark
Grade: 4 (very steep, formed track, many obstacles, limited signs)
Topographical map required: Northern Grampians Outdoor Recreation Guide
Mt Gar/ Difficult is a challenge worth tackling. Not for the faint of heart, a high level of fitness is required to make it through this strenuous 24.3km return hike. The trek is well worth the stunning 360 degree panoramic views at the Mt Difficult summit and the vastly changing landscape along the route. Expect to search for the next track marker or rock stack to continue the path at times, as it can be difficult to navigate.
Day One: 13km
Beehive Falls Carpark to Longpoint West Hiker Camp
Roughly 5 – 6 hours
An easy, flat 1.5km section along a gravel track is a kind introduction to this walk. This will take you to Beehive Falls, although it is hard to call it a “fall” during the warmer months, with trickles of water dropping into a shallow pool below. A stubborn 7-year-old in high-heeled boots made it to this point. It is from here the hike really begins.
You meet a steep rocky staircase – a luxury really, to have rocks form a staircase for you. It is strenuous. Only two kilometres in you can expect to feel your heart rate rising. Take note of the yellow arrows along the route and pay particular attention to the distance between them and their placement on rock as you will soon learn to start searching when the route becomes less clear. The stubborn 7-year-old in high-heels was definitely not making it up here.
This part of the route is partly shaded. After this, don’t expect shade for the majority of the route. The landscape changes, from the white, carved rock of the climb after Beehive Falls, to red rock, almost no trees with only small shrubbery. It becomes flat, allowing an opportunity to recover from the heart-pumping climb. It is easy to pick up the pace here.
Take advantage of this flat stretch, to get some distance under your belt. Soon you will meet another steep section – a real climb, no more carved staircases like your first climb after the falls. This one is steep but short. You will need to use your hands for balance as the heavy hiking pack can get unsteady. You are almost at the Briggs Bluff junction, 2.5km in from Beehive Falls.
There will be a map on a post at the Briggs Bluff intersection. It is curious Parks Victoria didn’t care to mark where you are at that point on the map. Kindly someone seems to have scratched in a cross to act as a “you are here” mark. Drop your packs here, take a water bottle and your camera, and head to Briggs Bluff. It is a 1km walk across rocky slabs and a short climb up to a rocky cliff face.
Enjoy the view here, you can see farmland and the road you have come from. The view is different at almost each point on this hike, so don’t expect to see the same view again. Take the trek back to your packs to continue 500 metres along rocks to the next intersection.
The next intersection is the beginning of the Mt Difficult loop. Take the loop clockwise. It is 4.5km from here to the Longpoint East Hiker Campsite. For stretches to come you’ll have time to get your breath back. Tom and I babbled away about cryogenics at this point.
Again, the landscape changes. It becomes flat and a little sandy. You’ll have a chance to pick up the pace again and smash out a couple of kilometres. You will start slowly dropping down before you meet the first hikers campsite on the loop. It is just a small clearing at an intersection. You can stop here to set up camp if you are struggling for time but it is worth pushing on another 2km down an access route 4WD track to the second hikers’ campsite.
Don’t expect beautiful views here. This is the most uninteresting section of the hike. You’re not on a walking track, it’s sandy and you will be exhausted by this point. You have walked nearly 13km, and it has been hard going at points. Your feet will be sore and your shoulders will hurt from your pack. But it is worth making it to this point. You will be glad to see the Longpoint Hikers West Campsite. It is a couple of flat sites off to the side of the track with a few convenient logs placed as seats. Watch out for the bull ants, they will be crawling all over your tent. Rest up for another big day tomorrow. Take off your shoes and relax.
Day Two: 11.3km
Longpoint West Hiker Camp to Beehive Falls Carpark
Roughly 4 – 5 hours
There is no time for a warm up this morning, straight into the hard stuff – a short but strenuous climb right off the bat. You will feel sore points from your pack and whinge about your feet. You will feel like you are scrambling at times with the loose rock beneath your feet on the sandy track.
The flat kilometre to follow will take you to a junction. This is not the intersection you are looking for. Do not make the mistake we did and think this to be the track to the Mt Difficult summit. Again, I am questioning Parks Victoria’s installation of the laminated paper maps.
This is where the ‘you are here’ dots would be friggen handy. We spent 45 minutes traversing this difficult and hard to navigate path, wondering continuously why we were going down and around the hill instead of heading to the summit. Confused and frustrated, slightly wet from rain and wind, we turned around and made our way back to our packs at the intersection when the steepness of the decline increased. It was only meant to be a 900 metre walk to the summit, and we had definitely walked a lot further than that.
Once back at our packs, reading the map, we realised we had taken the wrong path. It was the closed track to the Troopers Creek Carpark, a route open before the bush fires in 2014. Parks had decided to completely eliminate the track from their laminated paper map, a move which is misleading and confusing, as walkers expect there to be only one junction in the area. Keep walking roughly 100 metres from this intersection, where you will clearly see the summit walk.
This one looks like a summit walk, straight up the rocks. Drop your packs here – there is no need for water, only your camera. It is a short, steep climb across big rock slabs straight up to the summit.
After being annoyed and almost angry at our time and energy wasted on our ‘detour’, we raced up the 900 metres, to meet a stunning 360 degree view of the Northern Grampians. It is well worth the pain and the suffering to make it to this point.
This is definitely the highlight of the hike. There is a view of farmland to the north, and mountain ranges around. A cool looking peak and a large blue lake make great panorama shots. But look for the markers on the way down from the summit, they can be hard to see on the vast slabs of rock.
Once back at the packs, battle on. It is an interesting walk along rock slabs, fairly flat, with stunning views. The views are much more green here than yesterday. You can get a good hour of walking in before stopping for lunch. We chose to stop at a large flat rock slab on the track, almost at the cliff edge – stunning views here. This is again one of the best parts of the walk. It is 3km from the summit intersection to the end of the loop, then 500m to the next intersection at Briggs Bluff. Ensure you turn the right way, I am sure you don’t want to take the loop again at this point. Take the track to the left back past Briggs Bluff and back to Beehive Falls.
We made good time across the flat red rocky section after the intersection before struggling with steep downhill sections in the glaring sun. You won’t want to stop anywhere along here if it is hot as it is open with no points of shade. It was at the downhill sections where our feet began to struggle. You may find it difficult here; fatigue hits, it is hot under the sun’s rays, and the steep steps down are strenuous.
You will be as happy as larry to see the falls. From here you know it is 1.5km of easy, flat, gravel track, then the comfort of a seat at the car and the opportunity to take off those bulky hiking shoes and saturated socks to give your feet the fresh air and break they deserve.
Hopefully you will agree the changing landscape, stunning views and walks across rocky slabs were worth the distance and challenge on this strenuous overnight hike.