Langi Ghiran’s Hidden Heart
Walked January and December 2020, Posted Sunday 3rd January 2021
My original plans for the Australia Day long weekend last year had involved heading up to the Alps, but that was ruled out by the fires raging across southeastern Australia 1. With the east and northeast of the state closed my attention shifted to western Victoria, an area that (outside of the Grampians) I’ve neglected.
On the way to and from the Grampians I’ve driven past Mt Buangor and Langi Ghiran many, many times, but only ever visited Mt Buangor once and Langi Ghiran not at all. So the decision was made: it was time to explore Langi Ghiran. Dad and I were content to make it up as we went, starting with the general idea of a circuit over Langi Ghiran, and stopping to camp somewhere near the summit.
Granite and Water
An early-morning start from Melbourne had us ready to leave the car park at the Langi Ghiran Picnic Area shortly before 10:00. My pack weighed in at 24½ kg, an unusually heavy load for an overnight trip, but largely explained by nine litres of water. There’s no reliable water supply near the summit of Langi Ghiran so we were carrying enough for the two days. I was taking the bulk of that, returning the favour that Dad did for me when I was younger and he took the lion’s share of the load. In any case, after a busy season of walking in the Grampians and the Alps I was in fine shape.
The area around the car park did nothing to dispel the feeling of western Victoria being hot and dry: the tree cover was fairly sparse, and dried grass covered the ground. But this soon changed once we set off, with the track entering some pleasant forest and passing some big granite boulders. There was the air of a forgotten, out of the way place (which was fine with me) suggested by the faint track and the various relics scattered through the forest: old stonework, rusty plumbing infrastructure, and broken wire fences.
The track passed some large granite boulders right after leaving the car park.
The track climbed gently up a valley and reached a small dam filled with some muddy water: the old pipe-head dam built for the pipeline to Ararat. Further on we climbed over an extravagantly-constructed granite stile that straddled a fence… that was open just to the side.
In one of the open sections of grass I spotted a kangaroo, but otherwise there wasn’t much wildlife apart from birds. A copse of pine trees could be seen above the native trees, and as we approached them a wall of huge granite blocks appeared: the dam wall of the Langi Ghiran Reservoir. It was a beautiful piece of engineering, blending in with the natural environment. The water level in the reservoir was quite low (it was late summer), with a wide strip of bare ground above the water.
The dam wall of the Langi Ghiran Reservoir.
We rested in the shade, having covered 1·3 km and climbed 80 metres. A 4WD road from the lower car park leads up to this spot and a car was parked here, suggesting at least one group ahead of us.
Langi Ghiran Reservoir This reservoir was the first in Australia of any serious size to use a dam wall of solid stone. The granite for the wall was quarried from a hillside a little to the northwest of the reservoir before being transported to the site of the wall by a tramway 2. Construction of the wall took place from 1875 to 1876, with water being delivered to Ararat by 1877 3, having been considerably delayed by on-going problems with bursting pipes 4. This reservoir still forms part of Ararat’s water supply.
Resuming our walk, we immediately came across a crazy warning sign, its inscrutable pictograms depicting terrible events that mostly seemed to involve falling over. There was a similar sign back at the start of the walk, but that one was easier to decypher.
The track wandered into a small grassy valley, and in the grass I found a collection of very colourful little insects in metallic green, red and orange, most likely the nymph form of the cotton harlequin bug. Soon after the track started following an old water race which, like the dam, was constructed from the local granite. The race is dry these days, with the water now piped underground to the reservoir.
Nymph form of the colourful cotton harlequin bug.
The track followed the disused water race up to the Pipeline Lookout.
Following the water race gave us a gentle uphill gradient, and there was enough tree cover to provide some shade. The undergrowth of bracken and shrubs pressed in tightly against the race leaving a narrow path. Our easy walking ended at a point where the race dropped straight down the hillside. At the top of this rise was a large box with the sound of rushing water inside — the gravity-fed flow piped from the Ararat Reservoir in Mt Buangor State Park. There was a lookout here, but it has become so overgrown with trees that there was very little in the way of views besides glimpses of farmland and Mt Buangor beyond.
Some big granite boulders nearby provided some interest, but in other respects the walk became a little dull for a while. Our route now followed a 4WD road (not open to the public), and the forest had closed in. We crossed Easter Creek before coming to a track junction which signalled the start of a climb.
We met three guys coming the other way who were the owners of the car we’d seen at the reservoir. They were enthusiastic about how good the summit was, and offered a bit of advice about where to leave the track. Though as it happened I had a GPS with a route I’d prepared, so we were in no danger of going wrong.
We came across a mysterious metal box abandoned in the bracken next to the track — an obsolete part of the plumbing by the look of it — and some segments of ceramic pipe. As we climbed the forest began to open up again, with granite boulders scattered through the trees. We found a nice shady spot for lunch, which was welcome as it had become a warm day.
Late in summer there were very few wildflowers on display.
Frequent outcroppings of granite boulders were scattered through the forest.
When we got moving again the track began to climb in earnest. A group of five daywalkers slowly caught and passed us. I only felt a slight envy at their light loads. They must have been making a circuit as we didn’t see them again.
The scenery was increasingly nice as we gained altitude, with many granite slabs and collections of boulders, plentiful bracken, and just a few flowers. After a particularly steep climb we were relieved to spot the little cairn that marked the take-off point for the walk up the ridge to the summit. The walk from the reservoir had gained us another 290 metres of altitude in about 5 km.
Before we tackled the climb to the summit, however, we dropped our packs and continued along the 4WD track a little way to look for the granite wall of an old water race. It was surprisingly hard to see, so weathered that it was well on the way to being reabsorbed into the landscape. The brief respite from our heavy packs was a delight: being unloaded almost felt like floating.
Returning to our packs, we started off up the ridge to the summit. This was a truly lovely section and easily the best walking of the day. A faint foot pad wound its way between the granite boulders, trees provided shade, and lomandra covered the ground. If only it was spring so we could have seen the bush in flower!
On the ridge leading to the summit.
Taking a break from the climb.
With no need to rush we took our time climbing. We passed a small campsite, waterless of course. The walking was generally easy with a few scrambles, one in particular being quite a challenge with the load I was carrying. As we gained altitude the forest began to give way to outcrops of bare granite. We were glad it was dry as these would be treacherous in the wet, especially with many of them angled so that a slide would dump you off the ridge into the forest below.
The views opened up: before us were some of the peaks of the horseshoe summit ridge, Mt Gorrin off to the left, and the Grampians on the horizon. Behind us were Mt Buangor and Mt Cole. Eagles soared above, and while I was waiting for Dad to catch up a falcon shot by just over my head.
Near the summit exposed granite slabs provided a clear route.
The view across the minor peaks to the Grampians on the horizon.
Near the summit there were a few small rockpools in the granite containing some dark and mirky water. I’d need to be desperate before I’d consider using it (we’d brought enough water with us of course).
Our destination was now close, and after a little more scrambling we arrived at the summit of Langi Ghiran at 950 metres. We’d walked 7·2 km and climbed a total of 570 metres in the 4½ hours since we’d set out.
Major Mitchell’s Mistake Major Thomas Mitchell’s 5 survey expedition in 1836 covered a wide area of western Victoria, and this included Langi Ghiran. Presumably the mountain failed to impress him as he gave it the name Mt Mistake 6 (he was far more taken with the nearby Mt Buangor and Mt Cole 7). Thankfully the name didn’t stick and instead we’ve got “Langi Ghiran”, an anglicized form of the name “Lar-ne-jeering” — meaning home of the black cockatoo — used by the local Djab Wurrung people.
Between Clouds and Stars
The summit of Langi Ghiran is delightful, with the feeling of being on a mountain peak emphasized by the steep drop-offs on most sides. A large boulder marks the highest point, and from up on top there are views in every direction. To the east there’s Mt Buangor and Mt Cole, immediately to the south Mt Gorrin, to the west the town of Ararat is about 15 km distant, and spanning the horizon from southwest to northwest are the Grampians.
To the north, west, and south are windfarms, their white turbines dotted across the low hills out on the plains. They were something of a novelty for me, with the elegant form of the turbines and graceful movement adding some life to the landscape.
Mt Gorrin in the afternoon light.
The Challicum Hills Wind Farm south of Mt Gorrin. In the far distance at the top-left is Mt Elephant.
But the stand-out feature of Langi Ghiran is the horseshoe-shaped summit ridge. Initially continuing on west, the ridge drops steeply to a saddle then curves left in a series of large granite domes until it points southeast. Nestled within the enclosing peaks is a patch of lush forest which was to be the highlight of tomorrow’s walk. Only one of the domes was relatively clear of tree cover, and it looked surprisingly smooth and rounded. There were a few other bare patches in the forest where granite outcrops keep the vegetation at bay, including one east of the bare dome that appeared to have a large rockpool.
Granite domes form the opposite side of the horseshoe-shaped summit ridge, enclosing lush forest.
Dad and I were in no rush to decide our next move, so we whiled away the afternoon. There were a lot of midges around, thankfully not biting. More pleasantly there were also many butterflies: white and black (caper white); orange, black, and white (Australian painted lady); orange and brown (Klug’s xenica). Circling above were a couple of wedge-tailed eagles, soaring on the thermals, and occasionally paying us a visit. We also had one visit by a glider from Ararat — it always surprises me how noisy they are. Large skinks made many appearances, popping their heads out from among the rocks and logs.
Klug’s xenica: one of many butterflies we saw at the summit.
Right at the summit there were enough boulders and trees to give some protection from the elements, though with so little space the options for camping were very limited. It may have been possible to put one tent here but it would have been a tight squeeze. There was a grassy area down north of the summit that looked to have just enough space for both tents, and another spot to the northwest that had slightly more room amongst some trees.
But Dad wanted to try sleeping in the open, and since the weather forecast was entirely favourable, I agreed. That simplified the situation, as while there was scarcely enough space for even one tent at the summit, there was enough room for a couple of sleeping bags. For a ground sheet we used the inner from a tent, then placed our sleeping mats and bags on top of that, and we were done! Much quicker than mucking about pitching tents.
Late in the afternoon I cooked our dinner. The usual meal of pasta turned out much better than my last couple of efforts: I’d bought a new stove not long before which has a blazingly hot flame, making it all too easy to burn my cooking. Several of my recent pastas have had an unwelcome smoky flavour…
With dinner done we watched the sun go down. The western plains lit up with a blaze of light. A fringe of bright trees on the crest of the horseshoe ridge crowned the dark forest hidden within. The sun slowly dropped down through a thin band of cloud, lighting the horizon with golds and reds, until it touched Signal Peak near the southern end of the Grampians. The colour drained from the sky, the silhouettes of lichen-covered trees framing the view.
The western plains lit with gold, while the southern Grampians provide a jagged horizon.
The setting sun touching Signal Peak in the Grampians.
With the darkness it was time for bed. This was the first time I’d slept in the open, and it felt a little strange — an odd reaction given that sleeping under the stars is far more natural than sleeping in a tent.
I wasn’t cold at all, and had the sleeping bag open. I wasn’t particularly sleepy either, so I watched the stars slowly coming out, and saw a satellite heading west to east, illuminated by the sun from below the horizon. A light breeze was blowing from the west. We weren’t getting much of it down on the ground, even though I was on the windward side.
I slept for a while. When I woke it was a treat to see the stars and Milky Way above me. And we rarely camp so close to a town, so the lights of Ararat twinkling away in their grid to the west was a novelty. While the residents were at home in their beds we were out here on a mountaintop under the stars.
When I woke again later I could see a thick bank of cloud rolling in behind Ararat, blotting out the stars on the western horizon. I wondered if wet weather might be coming in despite the forecast, but I was too sleepy to be overly concerned. If we got some rain we could deal with it when it arrived. I had no inkling at the time that this signified the start of something wonderful. Then I made the unwelcome discovery that the outside of my sleeping bag was already wet. After a while I realized (with some relief) that it was only on the windward side, and so was most likely the result of condensation from the damp wind.
I slept and woke again. The cloud I’d seen earlier didn’t seem to have come to much besides a slight dimming of the stars. It was delightful being able to see the stars whenever I woke, and there was more than just stars to see. During the night I saw half a dozen meteors: some just a brief flash, a couple long streaks. There were also bats flying around, darker than the night sky and silhouetted against the stars.
When I woke again I was surprised by how light it was and wondered whether I’d slept in and missed the sunrise. But luck was with me: the sunrise was still twenty minutes away.
Looking around I saw a marvellous sight: our mountain was floating in a sea of cloud! All the lowlands were covered in solid fog. Only the mountains and wind turbines were poking through. I woke Dad and, without waiting for him, ran up to the lookout rock to enjoy the spectacle. I hadn’t been wearing much in my sleeping bag, but there was no time to get dressed.
The cloud extended as far as I could see. To the east Mt Buangor and Mt Cole trailed off like a headland into a cloudy sea. A couple of hills near Ararat stood up like islands, and far off behind them the Grampians loomed darkly, a distant shore.
With the sun still below the horizon the sky was filled with colour: yellow and orange on the eastern horizon, fading to pink and mauve and grey-blue. A scattering of cloud was lit up with a dark pink glow. When the sun rose above the horizon it lit the cloud with a blaze of gold, and our mountain cast a long blue shadow in the direction of Ararat.
Mt Buangor and Mt Cole rose out of the cloud like a headland from a sea.
The Grampians on the horizon above the summit ridge.
The wedge-tails were up early too, rising above the cloud and soaring in great circles. With the ground mostly hidden by cloud I wondered whether they were flying from habit, or for the pleasure of it.
As the sun continued to climb the spectacle of the sunrise faded, the colour drained, and the cloud began to break up. Now I noticed how cold it was, so I went and put some more clothes on, then made a hot drink to take away the chill.
The rising sun lit up the cloud in gold.
Only the hills and wind turbines escaped the clouds.
Sunsets usually seem to beat sunrises for interest and colour, but the sunrise today was something extraordinary. This was without doubt the best sunrise I’ve ever seen, and an experience that will live in my memory forever.
It had been a great night: I was very glad Dad had suggested it, and would love to camp like this again. This was also one of the most comfortable camps I’ve had, even with a bit of a night breeze. The only thing that hadn’t worked so well was how to store my gear conveniently: torch, phone, cameras, watch, and so on. In a tent it’s easy to put them somewhere close to hand and safe from the elements, but not so easy in the open.
With no tent to bother with, packing up was quicker and easier than usual. While we were packing Dad mentioned that one time when he got up during the night he took a step too far and fell off the edge into the bushes, but luckily without damage.
I distributed our remaining water, completely filling our drinking water bladders. We hadn’t bothered too much about rationing it, and still had a litre spare from the eight extra litres we’d carried in.
The Hidden Forest
We were off and walking by 8:00. We wore our gaiters for the first time given there was a substantial amount of off-track walking today, though in hindsight they were probably unnecessary except for protection against any unseen serpents.
Leaving the summit looked nothing like western Victoria.
Yesterday we hadn’t explored westward off the summit, and had thought the route ahead looked easy. But as soon as we started to head down we found steep granite slabs and boulders barred the way. We needed to zigzag our way to the right to find a way down through them. We skirted the top of a big slab that dropped down into the forest unseen below. Perched upon it, seemingly precariously, was a scattering of boulders, and above it we could see the Langi Ghiran Reservoir.
Boulders arranged on a granite slab. The slab is very steep, though the boulders seem secure enough.
Starting the descent to the saddle west of the summit. It only got rougher and steeper from here.
The descent along the ridge required some tricky scrambling, and with a touch of dew the granite was slippery. We had a couple of small slides, but with no damage done.
At the bottom of the steep descent was a saddle that had been another camping option for last night. It was situated in light forest, with moss covering the boulders dotted amongst the trees, and bunches of lomandra and bracken covering much of the ground. It would be a good, sheltered place to camp, with space for a few tents. But there were no views, and making a trip to the summit for a sunset or sunrise would have been hard: looking back up at the course of our descent showed what a steep climb it would be. In retrospect camping at the summit was the best choice we could have made.
Directly ahead of us was one of the high domes of the horseshoe. Our intention was to stay within the valley, so we sidled to the left to avoid climbing it. When we’d arrived at the saddle if felt as though we’d crossed the threshold into a different world, lush and green. Now as we continued on we walked into the heart of this hidden forest, a remnant from another time protected by the surrounding ridge. The rich forest was decorated with moss and ferns, the ground covered in deep leaf litter.
Protected by the encircling summit ridge was a forest of moss and ferns.
We picked our way through ferns and over fallen logs near the base of the huge granite dome on our right. Trees of impressive size towered above, the tallest we’d seen on this walk, their leaves glowing in the sun. To our left the forest descended into a valley that led down to the water race we’d visited yesterday after dropping our packs.
There was no path to follow, so we chose a route that took us through the top of the valley towards the southern side of the peaks. There was no need to rush and we took the time to enjoy this beautiful place. How nice it would be to spend a day exploring this lost world!
We made our way past boulders and fallen trees, keeping close to the granite dome. Ahead a gap appeared between the dome and the next one to the left, almost like a gate. Once we reached it, however, it felt more like a chute, plunging downwards very steeply on a forested slope dotted with lomandra and granite boulders. The descent wasn’t particularly difficult despite the steepness apart from a few areas of smooth rock that required extra care. We picked up occasional hints of tracks, but whether they were made by humans or animals I couldn’t say.
The descent after leaving the summit ridge was rather steep.
As we made our way down the steep slope we crossed paths with a flock of extremely noisy sulphur-crested cockatoos who shrieked at each other and at us from up in the treetops. It appeared they were following us too, which put an end to the serenity we’d been enjoying. It was an odd coincidence that the only cockatoos we saw were white given “Langi Ghiran” means “home of the black cockatoo”.
On the steep mountainside the ferns were supplanted by bracken, initially no more than a couple of feet high. As we descended the bracken got taller and taller until it was over head height. Dad even thought he’d lost me at one point.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos screeching at each other (and us).
Lost in the bracken.
Looking back now the mountainside towered above. It had been a very steep descent and it already felt like we’d reversed all of yesterday’s climb, though as it happened there was still much more descent to come.
Gullies started running off to the left from the tail end of the ridge we’d descended. We held our course, and where the ground flattened out we came to what looked like a large campsite, though with no water supply it was an odd location for one. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, whether it actually was a campsite or whether it may have been the site of a long-gone sawmill 8. So far we’d walked 2 km and descended 270 metres from the summit.
An old 4WD track (management vehicles only) was close by and it made for pleasant walking, being fairly overgrown. We soon came to a side track leading to Hidden Lagoon, and we dropped our packs and walked in for a look. It seems this lagoon is usually empty these days, and today was no exception — after all it was late summer. Empty or not, it was a nice secluded spot to visit.
Hidden Lagoon is usually dry these days.
Collecting our packs, we continued on and I spotted a kangaroo just off the road, only the second one I’d seen on this walk. Birds and lizards had been far more plentiful. As the track swung around to the south Mt Gorrin loomed above us. It was a tempting side-trip, but we didn’t have time today.
The tyre marks of a dirt bike could be seen on this track and most of the remainder of the walk out. Given the poor state of the track I wondered whether Parks Victoria were using bikes to check the park as the tracks were certainly impassable to four-wheeled vehicles in their current state.
The day was warming up, and at the junction with the Link Track we had a brief rest. I found a curious ant nest on the road, where the ants had built a vertical tube from their nest a couple of inches high.
The Link Track started off as pleasantly as the previous track, then plummeted downwards in a series of very steep drops. It’s hard to convey just how steep they were: it was difficult to keep our footing while descending, something that wasn’t helped by the loose surface. Going uphill would be very hard work indeed.
Descending Link Track before the final road bash back to the car.
We were glad to reach the bottom of the descent and meet the Langi Ghiran Track. We sought some shade for a rest: the sun had come out and we’d been out from under tree cover for a while. The amount of descending we’d done today (now 540 metres below the summit) seemed far more than what we’d climbed yesterday, but perhaps the steepness of the descent made more of an impression than the rather more mild uphill gradient yesterday.
The last leg of our walk was a road bash back to the car park which made for a fairly dull finish. At least it wasn’t hard since the road was near enough to flat. The forest we’d enjoyed earlier was now just a memory — we were back in the stereotypical hot and dry landscape of the Wimmera.
We met no one on the road (which is open to the public) and reached the car park at lunch time, having walked 9·4 km in 4½ hours, ascending a total of 95 metres and descending 640 metres. The last section along the road hadn’t been much fun, but that hardly detracted from the wonderful experiences up on the mountain itself: the views, sleeping under the stars, and the majesty of the glorious sunrise. After a quick change of clothes we drove off to Ararat in search of lunch.
Return to Horseshoe Valley
Just before New Year — eleven months after our camping trip — we returned to Langi Ghiran for a daywalk. Our plan this time was to climb to the summit as before, then loop back via the valley enclosed within the horseshoe-shaped summit ridge. Exchanging our heavy camping packs for day packs was very welcome, and an even more delightful change was the profusion of wildflowers, the forest sparkling with colour. The plentiful fringe lilies and rather less common blue pincushions were particular highlights.
Fringe lilies were out in their thousands, and more common at higher elevations.
Blue pincushions were spectacular, though far less common.
After lunch at the summit, we headed down to the saddle on the western side. Our route selection wasn’t quite as fortunate as last time, and our descent ended up being a little more dicey. I wondered how we’d managed this with such heavy packs last time! We took a short break at the saddle to catch our breath and to admire the yellow wildflowers that speckled the whole area.
Yellow flowers decorated the saddle west of the summit.
Following the same course as our last walk, we set off for the head of the valley. We hadn’t gone far when I very nearly stepped on a snake, seeing it just in time. It was a juvenile brown snake, its tan body covered with dark grey stripes, and somewhere around fifty centimetres in length. Despite being small, I certainly wouldn’t want to upset a snake like this — they’re the world’s second most venomous land snake. It seemed sleepy, and after a minute or so slithered off.
We dropped down through the mossy forest until we appeared to be at the head of the valley, then plunged off into the bracken to our left. The bracken made the going awkward initially, however we soon settled into a route a little way above the floor of the valley that was relatively clear apart from a few fallen trees and occasional granite boulders.
Approaching the head of the valley.
The valley was filled with large mature trees, so despite being quite open forest it was well shaded. The openness gave us a clear view of the valley floor, which was a wonderful carpet of ferns. They flowed down the valley like a bright green river ten to twenty metres wide, bordered by bracken and lomandra, with the rocky slopes of Langi Ghiran on the north side, and the grassy forest floor leading up to the granite domes to the south. It was hard to believe that such a mass of ferns could be hidden here in the Wimmera. The intense green and rich vegetation was the opposite of the landscape surrounding this special place. It was a delight to be in such a beautiful wilderness — seldom seen no doubt, and a reward for the adventurous.
Ferns smothered the valley floor.
As we followed the valley downwards we often struck faint paths, almost certainly animal tracks as they passed under obstacles too low for people. About halfway down we detoured to the right to a granite outcrop. Here we found the large rockpool we’d seen from the summit, though there wasn’t much water today and it was rather mirky. But it was a good spot for a rest with a clear view back to the summit one hundred metres above us.
The summit of Langi Ghiran above the rockpool we found on a granite outcrop. We had climbed the summit ridge from right to left, and were now descending the valley left to right.
Returning to the forest, we continued our descent along the edge of the green river of ferns. In places the ground became soggy and slippery, though we didn’t see any flowing water. I could have happily followed this valley all day, but all too soon I spotted two grassy wheel ruts ahead: the old 4WD track we were aiming for. One last treat before we left the valley was a patch of Australian bluebells, giving us a burst of colour in an otherwise very green world.
The concentration of ferns along the valley floor looked like a green river.
At the bottom of the valley was a patch of Australian bluebells.
The walk from the saddle had been only 1·1 km, but the amount of beautiful scenery we’d seen made it feel as though we’d covered much more distance. An easy stroll along the old road took us back to the cairn that marked the place where we’d struck out for the summit earlier, and our loop was complete. Now we just needed to retrace our route back to the car park, a journey that still had some surprises with four separate encounters with echidnas along the way.
- The fires in Victoria started in November 2019 and weren’t contained until February 2020, burning through a massive area of East Gippsland and the Victorian Alps. ↩
- The Argus, Thursday 10th June 1875, p 10. The Ararat Water Supply. ↩
- The Argus, Friday 18th May 1877, p 6. The Langi Ghiran Water Works. ↩
- Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday 15th March 1876, p 4. Ararat. ↩
- Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2. Melbourne University Press, 1967. ↩
- Wikipedia entry for Langi Ghiran State Park. ↩
- Mitchell, Major T. L. (1839). Three Expeditions Into The Interior Of Eastern Australia, Volume 2 (2nd ed). T. & W. Boone. ↩
- Research after the walk provided no answers. I’ve seen references to a sawmill on the northern slopes, but none around this area. ↩