“I didn’t think the ascent would be like this,” he says holding up his hand perpendicular to the ground. We’d been naive about the Keppel Lookout Trail. After all, we’d conquered mountains and the sea before. We’d stood atop giants and seen to far horizons. Why should this trail be any different?
There were many reasons, but most of all, it was hot. Like, really, really hot and we hadn’t tackled a mountain in over a month.
The Keppel Lookout Trail starts at a nondescript parking bay on a nondescript road that’s easy to miss. Keep heading up Falls Road in Marysville toward Steavenson Falls Reserve. The parking bay is on the left right after the 60km sign. The track is an 11km loop and I highly recommend you learn from our experience and do the walk in reverse. Take the track from the parking bay down to the Treefern Gully Trail, toward Steavenson Falls, up the lookout trail and down the steep escarpment.
However, if you prefer to be brutally flogged by a mountain, then by all means, take the track as we did. Begin your walk across the road and prepare for a merciless ascent that defies physics and keeps going up and up forever.
At least, that’s how it feels.
We made the mistake of hiking on a 30+ degree day. Technically it’s Autumn in Victoria, but the weather in Australia famously does as it damn well pleases.
It’s hot and airless. Around us, the bush is baking. All we can hear are crickets and the pthhh pthhh pthhh of blood racing through our ears. About halfway up, we’re forced to stop and breath to lower our heart rates and body temperatures. It’s pretty miserable and there are no rewards for our hard work. Occasionally we get a glimpse of view between the trees, but mostly it’s relentless trail and we almost turn back.
Near the top, we pause again to exchange melodramatic, persecuted looks. What have we done? I pull out google maps and the terrain tells me we’ve only got 50m of ascent left. It’s even less. Around the very next corner is the beautiful Keppel Trail Lookout.
I’m always thwarted by infrastructure at the top of mountains. The prize for our toil should be a brilliant, remote, pristine wilderness with sweeping views being the prize shared only by other intrepid brave. Instead, the reward for our climb is a young family walking past in thongs and looking at us like we’d just come from the moon.
“We went the brutal way up.” I say, panting, by way of explanation.
You can, of course, drive to all the good bits of Keppel Lookout and Steavenson Falls.
As we look out over the landscape, we wonder what it would be like to to have been to it all, all the mountain peaks, all the spurs, all the valleys and waterfalls. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a sense of intimacy overlaid on such an expansive vista?
After we catch our breath, we decide not to take the shortcut back to the car. The trail ahead will be longer, but we expect it to be kinder, so we press on.
We’re rewarded for our willpower. The walk between Keppel Lookout and Steavenson dips and weaves and takes us through forest flowers and the stark, tall remnants of burnt out woodland. The ground is alive and green but the sky is full of white pillar skeletons, a reminder of the bushfires that ripped through Marysville a few years ago.
As we descend into the rainforest at the base of the mountain, the air becomes humid and cool. We hear the distant rush of the waterfall long before it comes into view. The rocky path gives way to steps and signs and rails other hints of high traffic. It begins to rain.
The drop in temperature is a wonderful relief and the rain kicks up a beautiful damp earth smell. Steavenson Falls would be amazing in the wet season, but it’s still lovely in the dry.
We trudge back to the car along the Ferntree Gully trail, munching on lolly snakes and longing to sit down.
The Keppel Lookout Trail almost defeated us, but we triumphed in the end.
Note: Keep going past this pin. It’s just the furthest that the pin would drop on Falls Rd.