Sunday, 13 June 2021

The Grand High Tops - Warrumbungle National Park

Grand High Tops 12-06-2021

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Route: Pincham Car park, Grand High Tops Track, West Spirey Creek Track, Ogma Gap, Nuada Saddle Track, Point Wilderness, Middle Spirey View, Dow's Lookout, Dows Camp, Dagda Bluff Corner Track, Grand High Tops, Lughs Wall, Lughs Throne, The Breadknife, Grand High Tops Track, Spirey View Lookout, Pincham Car Park

Date: 12/06/2021
From: Camp Pincham

Parking: Pincham Car Park
Start Point: Pincham Car Park
Finish Point: Pincham Car Park
Region: Warrumbungle National Park

Route length: 13.5km
Time taken: 04:58
Average speed: 3.0km/h
Ascent: 692m
Descent: 683m

Points of Interest: Bluff Mountain, Lughs Throne, Crater Bluff, The Breadknife, Belougery Spire

The Grand High Tops is regarded as one of the very best hikes in all of Australia. It weaves a route through the dramatic volcanic scenery of Warrumbungle National Park, a geological wonderland of rock domes, towers and spires. Warrumbungle mountains have a rich Aboriginal history that stretches back at least 5,000 years. The name ‘Warrumbungle’ comes from the Gamilaraay language of the Kamilaroi people and is believed to mean ‘Crooked mountains

The entire area was once an enormous shield volcano, some 50km wide and 1km high. Millions of years of erosion have worn away the softer rocks, leaving behind the weird and wonderful dykes, plugs, and domes of trachyte. The features are clustered around the Grand High Tops and are all named - Belougery Spire, Belougery Split Rock, Crater Bluff, Bluff Mountain, Mount Exmouth and The Breadknife. The Breadknife, a straight wall of jagged rock nearly 100 metres high, is particularly rare and the poster child of the national park.

Located some 6-7 hours northwest of Sydney, getting to Warrumbungle National Park is no mean feat but it is well worth the effort. Not only is the scenery spectacular but it is Australia's only Dark Sky Park (for now), promising amazing views during both the day and the night (if you are lucky to get clear skies). We used a long weekend to make the trip up from Sydney, staying for three nights at the excellent Camp Blackman.
Belougery Split Rock dominates the Camp Blackman site
Camp Blackman
The Grand High Tops hike begins from a car park close to Camp Pincham, a basic campsite named after Alfred Pincham who gave up his lease on the Warrumbungle land in 1952. The National Park took over the management in 1967. The first part of the circuit follows the track that leaves from the car park's southeastern end.
New trackwork at the beginning of the Grand High Tops
We followed the track (evidently a new construction) through the bush as it heads up the valley of Spirey Creek. After around 1km, the track branches forming the beginning of the Grand High Tops circuit. You can take either direction, however, I have read in several places that anti-clockwise is the best - partly to save the spectacular Lughs Throne towards the end of the hike and partly to take the steep steps at The Breadknife in descent.
An unnamed outcrop along the Grand High Tops Track
Mata Hill and Mata Rocks seen from the High Tops Track
Approaching the branch in the path
West Spirey Creek
We took a right to follow the West Spirey Creek Track, which follows the creek beneath the watchful eye of a misty Fans Horizon. The only downside of the day would be that the weather was much worse than the forecast, which was a real shame. Despite our best guesses, the 'partly cloudy' day was turning into a misty, drizzly one.
West Spirey Creek Track
West Spirey Creek Track
The cliffs of Fans Horizon
Climbing to Ogma Gap
Clouds swirl through the bush
The West Spirey Creek Track heads uphill along the creek, crossing it several times. After 2km the track starts a more serious climb, winding its way uphill to Ogma Gap, a mountain saddle separating the Grand High Tops from the neighbouring Mount Exmouth. The gap makes a decent spot to camp though water would need to be sought from West Spirey Creek at the bottom of the hill.
Bluff Mountain hides among the clouds
The path continues to climb after leaving Ogma Gap, where the trees beginning to thin. Views from Point Wilderness were obscured by cloud but the enormous bulk of Bluff Mountain made a few appearances as the clouds swirled around. If anything, the drizzly ran that had joined us for much of the climb was starting to break up.
A misty Point Wilderness
Bluff Mountain
As we approached Middle Spirey View, the clouds did begin to lift somewhat, revealing the side-on profile of the immense Bluff Mountain. It is the largest trachyte lava dome in the Warrumbungle Mountains - the sheer north face is 250m high. Dows Lookout, located along Dows High Tops ridge has the best of the views over the valley.
Dows High Tops
Bluff Mountain
Bluff Mountain
Crater Bluff emerges from the gloom
Crater Bluff catches the only glimpse of sun we saw all day
The Grand High Tops
With our spirits lifted by the improving weather, we pressed on, following the path as it makes a steady descent to Dows Camp, another mountain saddle with a campsite. You can follow a detour here to make the steep, 200m climb up Bluff Mountain. The path falls further as it rounds the head of Spirey Creek until it reaches Dagda saddle and the Dagda Shortcut.
The Dagda Bluff Corner Track links Dows High Tops to the Grand High Tops
At Dagda Saddle
The shortcut is a means of bypassing the Grand High Tops (though I can't see why you would want to as it's the best part of the hike). We opted for the Grand High Tops Track which climbs up to the sensational area around The Breadknife and Lughs Throne.
The Breadknife
The Breadknife
Crater Bluff
A pair of climbers on the spire gives a sense of scale - see if you can spot them in the image below
Crater Bluff
Lughs Wall, a trachyte dyke
Many of the features in the park were named by pioneer conservationist Myles Dunphy, who drew heavily on Gaelic mythology; Lugh was the Gaelic sun god. Lughs Throne is the highest part of the range was close to the centre of what was once the huge Warrumbungle volcano, and it is at the heart of the Grand High Tops. To the east and north are Belougery Spire and the Breadknife, while to the south the scenery is dominated by the 1,094m pillar of Crater Bluff and its distant companion, Tonduran Spire. It's a stunning panorama.
Crossing Lughs Throne
Crater Bluff and the smaller Finola Pinnacle
Panorama from Lughs Throne - from left to right is Belougery Spire, Finola Pinnacle and Crater Bluff
The Breadknife sits front and centre of the view north. The outcrop is the remains of a volcanic feature known as a dyke, where molten rock is squeezed through a vertical crack in the surrounding rock and then solidified. The Breadknife is 600m long, 100m high and only a couple of metres thick.
The Breadknife
The Breadknife
The Breadknife and a more distant Balor Peak
Sara keeping an eye on Belougery SPire
Belougery Spire
Crossing the top of Lughs Throne does not take long and soon we were descending again, directly towards The Breadknife and the aptly named Lughs Wall, a 17 million-year-old rock wall that forms part of The Breadknife dyke. The track alongside The Breadknife is quite eroded and loose before it meets the top of a set of steps.
Lughs Wall
The vertical wall of The Breadknife

Below The Breadknife
Belougery Spire
The beginning of many, many steps
In January 2013 about 80% of the national park was destroyed in a bushfire (thought to have been started by lightning) that burned much of the area surrounding the park. The fire razed the extensive network of tracks, steps and railings that give access to the park along with the visitor centre and the museum. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
The steps lead down the side of the great dyke of The Breadknife
The current steps are relatively new, having been repaired after the fire. There are a few hundred in total, making a 300m descent (or ascent) down from The Breadknife. At the bottom of the steps, the path continues steeply downhill along Spirey Ramp.
Grand High Tops Track
The blocky dyke wall near Balor Hut
Belougery Spire
More steps lead to Spirey Ramp
Eventually, the steepness subsides and a paved path emerges, following the creek. It's easy strolling from here back to Camp Pincham and the car park. The short detour to Spirey View is worth the short climb as it gives a unique view up towards The Breadknife.
Belogery Spire and The Breadknife from Spirey View
The Breadknife
The Breadknife and Ruarden Tor
After Spirey View it's a straight shot back to the car park, following Spirey Creek the entire way. This long section is almost entirely flat and an easy end to the day. A day hike around the Grand High Tops is sensational, but the spectacle doesn't stop at night. As I mentioned at the beginning, Warrumbungle is a Dark Sky Park and we were treated to a stunning light show, the likes of which I have never seen.
The Milky Way over Camp Blackman
The Milky Way over Belougery Split Rock
The full Milky Way experience
I would highly recommend a trip to Warrumbungle National Park, it's a beautiful place to explore by day and night. I need to return to re-do the Grand High Tops on a sunny day, but we were lucky to have crisp, clear nights to enjoy the stars. Winter is the best time for stargazing but it gets cold in Warrumbungle, so wrap up!

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