Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 3

Day 6. Cavern Camp to Osmiridium Beach

This day I headed to join the South Coast Track. But to get there, I had to spend half the day wading in the New River Lagoon heading down to the coast as there’s no track along the shore.

It was actually probably the easiest day of walking because while I was wading up to thigh deep in places, it was flat! No up and down!

The water was cold but it didn’t bother me much.

The biggest surprise for the day was meeting a bloke who was heading up the lagoon carrying a paddle. He was the first person I’d seen since starting the walk and was on his way to climb Precipitous Bluff. The paddle was for a blow up raft he was carrying. He said he’d tried to paddle up the lagoon but the wind kept blowing him back so he had to walk. He’d be able to use it coming out.

The one tricky spot was crossing a creek that entered the lagoon and was too deep to wade so you had to walk inland a bit until you reached a tree that had fallen across. It was slippery and I straddled it and edged across. It wasn’t glamorous but I got across safely.

Joining the South Coast Track at Prion Beach it kind of felt like the walk was over as all the really hard stuff had been done. But I still had another three days of walking to go.

I passed a group of school kids who were on their way to camp at Prion Beach and I had Osmiridian Beach all to myself. The weather cleared up to a sunny afternoon and the views of Precipitous Bluff and Pindars Peak and Mt Whylly against blue sky were brilliant.

 

Day 7. Osmiridium Beach to Granite Beach

A short walk to Granite Beach so I had a bit of a lie in and didn’t set out until after 9am.The weather had turned again and it as blowy with gray cloud overhead.

It started spitting rain as I walked along the end of Granite Beach, where it’s more boulders than sand.

At the campsite I quickly put the tarp up, got the tent up under it and then the rain started and got quite heavy. So I ended up spending another afternoon in the tent cocooned in my sleeping bag warm and dry, reading.

I worried a bit for the guy I passed yesterday as if he tried to climb Precipitous Bluff in the kind of weather I was getting on the coast, he’d be having a not very pleasant time of it.

Late in the afternoon a woman walking the South Coast Track in the same direction as me showed up. Introduced ourselves and had a nice chat.

 

Day 8. Granite Beach to South Cape Rivulet

A long tough day slogging along the muddiest part of the South Coast Track and up and over the South Cape Range.

As soon as you leave the Granite Beach campsite you’re stepping into mud. The track is pretty much one long bog. There are plenty of side tracks as people have tried to step around and avoid the worst of the mud. You’re not meant to do that as it just widens the track and has a greater impact on the landscape. I’m ashamed to admit that I did try skirting the bog a fair bit as I’d discovered the sole of my left boot was splitting from the upper. I was trying to nurse it through the last few days of the walk. I didn’t fancy trying to finish it wearing my sandals. Still got muddy though.

There was a lot of up and down, which was exhausting. But it was worth it as South Cape Rivulet is a very nice flat, sheltered campsite just up from the beach and the roar of the Southern Ocean and its crashing waves.

 

Day 9. South Coast Rivulet to Cockle Creek

The last day. And happy/sad about that. Happy that I was successfully finishing such a hard walk and sad that I was leaving behind such spectacular wilderness.

Easy walking up and over Coal Bluff and then along a beach to some stairs to climb onto some cliffs and then head inland towards Cockle Creek. The walking is easy, flat, and much of it on duckboards. In fact, it becomes a bit tedious.

But the end is a great feeling. Seeing the information shelter marking the end at Cockle Creek and signing out in the trip intentions book was very satisfying.

I was surprised to see how busy Cockle Creek was. There were a few cars parked in the parking area outside the ranger’s building and quite a few car campers.

There’s little/patchy mobile phone coverage at Cockle Creek, and I had to walk around a fair bit to find enough bars to send my wife a text message letting her know I was okay (I’m with Optus). There is a public phone but I only had enough coins to call Evans Bus service to arrange for them to pick me up the next day. The phone takes Telstra cards but do they exist anymore? The bus (a mini van) generally only operates during the summer months. They take you as far as Geeveston and then you get the public bus back to Hobart.

It was nice to spend the night at Cockle Creek. It’s an interesting area with a history of Aboriginal tribes, French scientific explorers, whaling and timber milling. It’s now the “End of the Road”, the furthest south you can drive in Australia.

 

Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 2

Day 3. Ooze Lake to Wylly Plateau

Woke in the morning to cloudy skies but some sunshine so I quickly got ready, packed up and set off to make the most of the weather while it was good.

Unfortunately, it only took about an hour for the cloud to come back down and showers to start. But at least I was walking and the cloud wasn’t so thick that I couldn’t find the cairns the track notes said I needed to follow.

The route climbed up to a small saddle  just under the summit of Pindars Peak where the track branches to go to the top and then traversed under the peak’s sheer cliffs and descended an open ridge to scrub. I’ve been on top of Pindars Peak before and it was cloudy this day so I didn’t bother bagging it this time.

It was a long, tough, exhausting day of walking. This was the day when the bush bashing started and the track disappeared in places. The weather was showery too, which was frustrating because looking down to the coast it looked sunny.

Heading down off Pandani Knob I entered dense bush that closed overhead. At one spot the track just seemed to stop. Leaf litter on the ground obscured obvious signs of a track. I looked around and couldn’t see any sign of it. I doubled back, retracing my steps to see if I’d missed a turn somewhere. Back on higher ground, I stopped and had some lunch and pondered my next move – turn back? I went back down, slowly and carefully and watching for any path I may have missed, and returned to the spot where I lost the trail. This time I looked more closely and methodically at the ground and found patches of mud where boots had gone. I was back on the trail, much to my relief.

Leaning Teatree Saddle was a dog’s breakfast for the track though. It was muddy and there were paths in all directions. I stuck with ones that appeared the boggiest and, therefore, most trafficked and I was okay. On the way up to Wylly Plateau people had placed sticks across false trails too, which were a great help.

There was no shelter on the plateau and I didn’t get much sleep as showers and strong winds buffeted my tent through the night.

 

Day 4. Wylly Plateau to Low Camp

Woke up around 4am and just lay in my warm, dry sleeping bag listening to the wild weather outside the tent. It was such a nice feeling – warm and snug inside; wet, windy and cold outside.

But I knew I had to get moving at some stage. Around 6am I had a look outside and could see a line of light on the horizon as the sun came up. Dense dark cloud lay overhead though.

I packed as much as I could inside the tent and then around 8am the clouds started to break and the rain stopped. I jumped out of the tent and got it packed as quickly as possible in the weather break and then set off walking again.

More hard walking bashing through sharp, cutting scrub, losing and finding the track again and then rock scrambling up Kameruka Moraine. I surprised myself however and got into Low Camp after only three-and-a-half hours of walking.

 

Day 5. Low Camp to Cavern Camp (up and over Precipitous Bluff)

Someone did a lot of work creating the tent sites at Low Camp in the saddle at the base of Precipitous Bluff’s cliffs. They’re sawn tree logs laid flat. Luxury! Slippery though while wearing boots. There’s no water nearby though and I had to carefully gather water from small shallow pools around the campsite and purify it.

It rained for much of the night and morning again and wind whipped the tent. The roar of a waterfall coming off the bluff added to the wilderness soundtrack.

When it came time to pack though, again I was incredibly lucky and the rain stopped for long enough for me to get everything into my pack and to set off. I also had a chance to eat breakfast outside the tent and in the open for the first time since I started walking.

This was the big day. Up Precipitous Bluff and over the other side. By this stage I was very keen to get off the range and down to sea level where it looked like the weather was better and more stable.

I sloshed off through the mud towards a steep valley on the bluff and the waterfall I could see from the campsite. The route went up the side of the waterfall, which involved a fair bit of scrambling up rock faces. It was a bit nerve wracking with a heavy pack on and the rock wet from rain. The path continued up a valley and levelled out a bit at the top of the waterfall. The views were fantastic but were not to last as the cloud came back down again and strong winds blew.

By now I was sick of the weather so put my head down and focused on getting down the other side. Incredibly, the track on top is a constructed path  of large flat rocks laid out in a long line. I am in awe of whoever did that.

The path down was well marked with cairns and went steeply down through rocky gullies. Again, very nerve wracking. The scale of the dark cliffs all around were awesome. Very Lord of the Rings/Mordor-like. Passed a couple of nice waterfalls streaming down the rock faces which I happily drank from. Once out of the cliff section it was into dense forest on on the descent spur. It was still steep and in places the track disappeared again. But thankfully there was plenty of coloured tape tied to trees and branches to mark the route. Orange and pink became my favourite colours.

There was some beautiful forest of huge old eucalypts surrounded by carpets of ferns. Back on level ground I walked under tall tree ferns and moss covered trees. At one point I heard and saw a lyrebird.

Reaching the campsite on the shores of New River Lagoon was a huge relief. I was back at sea level, the weather was calmer, it wasn’t too windy and the campsite was sheltered amongst tall trees. I could also put up my tarp and sit outside my tent when showers came through. Bliss after nearly seven hours of intense walking.

To be continued …

Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 1

The Precipitous Bluff walk in Tasmania is hard. One of the hardest I’ve ever done. Nine days of walking with a heavy pack. Several days struggling through dense, hardy scrub with sharp leaves that slashed up my hands as if I’d been juggling a razor. Scrub that pushes you back when you push against it and catches on your pack as you pass, refusing to let go. Changeable weather that saw me spending a lot of time sheltering in my tent from rain and strong winds. Much climbing up and down ridges and then a very steep scramble  to get on top of the bluff and down the other side. Following a track that disappeared in places and had me doubling back several times to regain it or scouring the ground for signs of where other boots have gone before.

Precipitous Bluff and New River Lagoon. Behind them are is the Ironbound Range

Precipitous Bluff and New River Lagoon. Behind them is the Ironbound Range

It’s definitely not a walk for the faint hearted and I would counsel anyone considering doing it to seriously assess not just their fitness, but also their bush fitness ie preparedness to get wet and dirty; walk long days on rough muddy tracks in poor weather in wet boots and socks; have a head for heights; and have the patience to go slowly and carefully when necessary.  John Chapman’s track notes, which I used, are good but don’t reflect just how hard it is.

Day 1. Ida Bay quarry to Moonlight Creek

Just one of the challenges of walking in Tasmania is just getting to the start of a walk if you don’t have your own transport.

I started on a Sunday and took a public bus from Hobart to Geeveston, south of Hobart, and then a taxi I’d booked to get me to the track head. I used the Dover taxi service, Australia’s southern-most taxi!

The track is obvious and well walked and starts out flat, passing the old quarry and its remnants, before beginning a steady, and steep in places, climb through dense forest up Moonlight Ridge. It was warm and I sweated buckets.

Emerging from the forest on the crest of the ridge I was surprised to find the area was a wasteland. I didn’t know that a bushfire went through the area last year. The ground was ash black and burned sticks were all that was left of the tea tree and pandani that used to grow here. There was some regrowth happening but it’s going to be a long time before it returns to the bushy state it was the first time I came up this way about six years ago. It didn’t make the walking any easier through as the ground was still boggy and the scrub remains were still tough and unyielding.

I overshot my intended campsite for the night at Moonlight Creek as nothing looked familiar and the tent sites weren’t as obvious without cleared vegetation to point them out. Doubled back after checking my GPS and seeing I’d gone past the site. Showers overnight.

 

Day 2. Moonlight Creek to Ooze Lake

Woke to a cloudy day with patches of sunshine and great views down to the coast.

I carried on following the track up Moonlight Ridge, sidling Hills One, Two and Three, with fantastic views of mountains, valleys, lakes and ridges around and ahead of me.

It only took me five hours to get to Ooze Lake, which surprised me as I thought it would be longer. The climb up Maxwell Ridge after Pigsty Ponds wasn’t too bad. Coming down the other side was steep and involved scraping through sharp scoparia bushes.

After arriving at Ooze Lake I wandered around for a while trying to find the driest spot to pitch my tent as the ground was pretty damp. Could be why they call it Ooze Lake I suppose.

I got into my tent to lay down for a bit of a rest in the afternoon and after a while started hearing the pitter patter of rain on the fly. I quickly got everything I’d left outside into the tent and then settled down to read. A couple of hours later I opened the tent to look outside and saw that dense cloud had come down and I couldn’t see more than 50m in front of me. This was a bit concerning as the track notes said that the next day I would need to be careful to follow cairns marking the route if walking in mist.

I made dinner in the tent vestibule and then burrowed down into my sleeping bag as it continued raining outside and the wind whipped at my tent.

I woke up at some point in the night to silence – no rain or wind. That was comforting.

To be continued …

Prepping for a big walk

My big walk for the year is getting closer and here’s my steadily growing pile of gear for packing.

Whenever I think of something I’ll need I throw it on the spare bed.

Gear!

Gear!

Tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, wet weather gear, thermals, tarp, ground sheet, EPIRB, GPS, maps, track notes … the list goes on and on. Water bottles, stove, fuel bottle, gloves, beanie, socks, medical kit … and I’m still to package up my meals!

Lots to remember and prep for for a solo 10 day walk in Tasmania’s south west – the Precipitous Bluff circuit. Aside from what goes into the backpack there’s also accommodation in Hobart, what to leave behind in Hobart, transport to the start of the walk and transport from the finish point.

But it should all be good. Stay tuned …

Cairns at Mt Baw Baw

They like cairns at Mt Baw Baw.

Nope, not Cairns the hot sunny humid holiday centre in North Queensland, cairns, the pile of rocks to mark something. (Although if a decent cyclone went through Cairns, it could also end up a pile of rubble. Sometimes I wish one would – oooo controversial!)

Anyway, since my last walk in the Alpine National Park near Mt Buller, I’ve acquired a taste for Victoria’s high country.

And a few weeks ago I finally got around the driving up to Mt Baw Baw, one of the closest alpine areas you can drive to from Melbourne.

It takes about three hours along the M1 freeway, then through some nice farm countryside, and then a very twisty, turny and steep road to the ski resort.

It was so twisty turny that by the time I reached the top I was feeling pretty car sick and glad to get out and take a few VERY deep breaths.

My walk started out from the village along the Summit Trail, through snow gums, until I reached the first cairn of the day, the summit cairn on top of Mt Baw Baw.

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I then hit the Village Trail and followed it until I reached the turnoff to head into the Baw Baw National Park.

It was nice, single track walking through forest and open plateaus. It was very quiet too. I don’t remember hearing many birds or wind through the trees.

The next cairn was at Mt St Phillack.IMG_0574

I carried on walking until I reached the junction for the track to Mt St Gwinear, which was my destination on this day.IMG_0575 IMG_0576

The junction is at a place called Camp Saddle, and there’s a brilliant little cave shelter there formed by a couple of huge rocks. It would be a great spot to stop and rest in bad weather.

At the top of Mt St Gwinear was another cairn and a great view out over the alpine region and down to Lake Thomson.IMG_0581

I retraced my steps to get back to Mt Baw Baw. The walk to Mt St Gwinear and back was about five hours I think. But I was taking it pretty slow and stopping and starting a fair bit so it could probably be shorter.IMG_0583

I’m looking forward to getting up there again some time and aiming for Mushroom Rocks or Mt Whitelaw. Hopefully before the snow starts.

 

Ignoring the signs to find a new path

Sometimes, ignoring track signs can be for the best.

Normally I’m a stickler for following a set path and signage suggestions, but you shouldn’t always believe everything they say.

For example, we spent Christmas with my family in Far North Queensland. They live in Atherton, on the Tablelands, west of Cairns. (Now, according to the tourism marketers, known as the Cairns Hinterland – blergh!)

Atherton sits at the base of Mt Baldy, the hardened core of an ancient volcano.

Mt Baldy

Mt Baldy

In all my years growing up in Atherton I only ever climbed the mountain once.

So on our recent trip home I decided to climb it again for old time’s sake. And to walk off some Christmas over indulgence.

The views from the summit are fantastic – the town below, farms, Tinaroo Dam, volcanic features like the Seven Sisters and Mt Quincan, and ranges in the distance that include Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere.

The top of Mt Baldy. Widow Maker is to the right

The top of Mt Baldy. Widow Maker is to the right

Also at the top is an official, wooden sign that says the track finishes there. But the track appears to continue. And tacked to a tree is a laminated piece of paper with a mud map showing that the track continues down the other side of the mountain and links up with some other tracks to create a loop walk.IMG_1109

This was a real treat for me as I’ve often wondered what was on the other side of Baldy.

And what I discovered was a well-walked track through dense rainforest, which was a significant change from the dry, sparse scrubby bush the track going up the mountain passed through.

From the summit the track went down and around the southern side of the mountain and returned to the scrubby bush around the base. It also linked to a track that went steeply up a nearby hill called Widow Maker, which I’d never known was called that.

The views from the top of Widow Maker were fantastic too.

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So instead of a shortish walk up the mountain and returning the way I’d come, I found a longer, more interesting path.

So ignoring the track signs can sometimes lead to some pleasant discoveries. Is there a lesson for life in there?

Alpine National Park – trip report

As I mentioned in my previous post about my Alpine National Park walk, here’s a bit more of a comprehensive post about my trip.

Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking.

After a four hour drive from Melbourne, stopping at Mansfield for a very unsatisfying takeaway coffee, I set out from the Eight Mile Plain campsite in the Howqua Hills, on the upper walking track that follows the Howqua River. It’s an easy track, gently rising above the river, allowing pleasant views up and down its length.

The weather started out mild but at one point I thought I heard a plane overhead. I looked up and saw behind me some dark clouds starting to build. It wasn’t a plane I’d heard but thunder, and the rumbling was becoming more frequent. The air started to feel thicker and it was about then that I thought of my raincoat, which I’d packed deep down into my pack because I hadn’t thought I’d need it so soon into the walk. But the temperature was comfortable so I didn’t worry about getting wet. And it’s nice to walk in the rain sometimes. It was a surprise however when it started to hail.

By the time I reached Ritchies Hut the rain and hail had moved further up the valley and sunshine was popping out between the clouds. I stopped at the hut for a short rest, had lunch and then carried on up the track.

About an hour later I reached the track’s end at the 4WD dirt road which I was to spend the rest of the day following to get to the Upper Howqua campsite.

It wasn’t much fun walking along a hard dirt road and avoiding passing 4WDs, but there are no walking tracks to reach where I was heading. It’s hard on the feet but the walking was fairly quick. The scenery and bush is still nice to look at.

I passed a few camping areas where there were quite a few car campers on the way to the Upper Howqua campsite I was aiming for. I reached it in the late afternoon and was surprised to see it was chock-a-block with car and 4WD campers. A map I’d seen suggested it was closed due to flood damage. (I know, I know, if I thought it was closed, why was I aiming to camp there? Well, I figured it would have to be pretty messed up if one person in a single tent couldn’t find a small patch of ground to set up on. And how likely was that?) After wandering around looking for a place to squeeze in I started talking to a lady who said there were bush campsites further up the river, along the track I was going to follow the next day. That sounded good to me so I continued walking for about half an hour beside the river, which had become more of a stream, and found a lovely flat grassy patch that was perfect to pitch my tent for the night.

 

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Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.

Woke up to grey, cloudy skies and set off up the river about 9am. My plan was to head up Howitt Spur via the Mount Howitt Feeder Track to reach the alpine area and Vallejo Gantner Hut. It was not to be but thankfully there was an alternative route.

I reached the junction of the Feeder Track and Queen Spur Road (not really a road) where there’s a big campsite and headed up the Feeder Track. The bush was dense and thick blackberry bushes closed in on the track and eventually, after clambering over a large fallen tree, it disappeared. The bush had reclaimed the track. I scouted around a bit to try and find it but to no avail. It doesn’t appear to get much use as I couldn’t see any signs of other walkers. I pulled out my GPS but saw that the batteries were low so I didn’t want to have to rely on it while bushbashing up the spur. Looking at my map I saw that the Queen Spur Road links up with Stanleys Track which then goes up to the Crosscut Saw and from there you can get to Vallejo Gantner Hut.

So I backtracked and got onto the Queen Spur Road, which felt like an old, disused road. It climbed steadily and linked up with Stanleys Track, which became a proper walking track. From there the track got steeper and I started getting good views down the valley and up to the ridge I was heading for. I also started coming across flat grassy patches of ground dotted with tiny flowers and ringed by short, tough snow gums. They make wonderful places to stop and look around and rest.

Near the top of the spur there was a bit of rocky clambering that demanded careful attention but eventually I reached the top and entered a wonderful, grassy, treeless saddle on the Crosscut Saw that gave spectacular views of the rest of the park and its valleys and ranges on the other side.

The track to the hut was rough but easy to follow. Lots of up and down. It was a relief to reach the hut and settle in. There are plenty of campsites around the hut and some brilliant ones in the trees with views over the park. Water is from a steadily flowing spring. Clean, cold and refreshing!

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Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.

This was a tough day. Warm, still and blue skies but tough walking. The track across the Crosscut Saw is rough and steep. Heading out to the mountain there are two sections where you do a lot of steep descending (into a spot called Horrible Gap appropriately enough) before climbing back up to reach the summit of Mt Speculation. And because I was doing this as a return walk, I knew that all that descending I was doing, I’d have to go back up.

But it was worth it. The 360 degree views from the summit are spectacular. Which you can see here.

By the time I headed back to the hut the day had turned very warm and I’d only brought two litres of water with me. I had to ration my drinking to ensure I had enough to get me back, which was hard. I just wanted to gulp it all down. When I got back I sat down at the spring and sculled a couple of litres to rehydrate before wandering back to my tent for the rest of the afternoon.

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Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.

Another tough day of up and down walking along ridge lines but the views were all worth it.

I crossed over Mt Howitt and couldn’t see any sign of a track that I might have come up using the Howitt Feeder Track. (I did see a wild dog – so if anyone from Parks Victoria is reading, maybe there should be some traps or whatever control measures for feral animals you use in there.) Alpine flowers blanketed the grassy plains. Snow gums twisted and leaned in all directions below the snow line.

I had a mini hissy fit with all the climbing I’d been doing so didn’t bother climbing up Mt Magdala but instead took the track that crosses its face. It was a bit nerve wracking as the mountain dropped away very steeply to the right and it felt like there was nothing but air on that side. It was a long way down. My steps were very careful and deliberate on that section.

Eventually I reached the 4WD track I was heading for, which I would follow for the rest of the day to Bluff Hut, via Lovicks Hut. The track was pretty rough, even for walking, and there was more up and down to slog through.

Getting to Bluff Hut was a relief. By then my pack straps were digging into my shoulders and I was adjusting my pack every 10 minutes or so to try and make it more comfortable. Water was from a water tank beside the hut.

As an aside, while at Bluff Hut and as I was finishing my dinner around 7pm, I met a couple of uni students who were walking back to their car. They had driven up from Melbourne that morning, walked as far as they could before returning to their car, and then driving back to Melbourne. They said they just needed to get out of the city for a walk after a busy few days working at a bike shop during the post Christmas sales. They’d left Melbourne at 6am, started walking around 11am, would get back to their car around 8pm and then drive back. And one of them had to work the next day. I was in awe!

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Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.

Set out early, 8am, as I’d heard from a walker the previous day (not the uni students) that today was forecast to be a hot one.

I headed out on the track across The Bluff. The start of the track from the hut isn’t signed or obvious but it’s in front of the car park. Once you’re on the path it’s easy to follow.

It was steady walking along the bluff with great views across to Mt Buller and down to the Howqua River.

The track down off the Bluff is very steep. In places you’re grabbing onto trees to steady yourself going down or scrambling down rocks.

At the bottom of the Bluff track I carried on to head down Eight Mile Spur back to the car, which I’ve written about in my previous post.

All up, it was a good walk. It’s a bit of a shame to have to use 4WD tracks but there’s just no other way that I could see I could do it as a circuit. But it was all worthwhile.

 

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