As the autumn of 2023 approached I had the opportunity to slip away for three days to the Grampians National Park down here in Victoria. Being only a few hours drive from home the Grampians has been our go to adventure destination for hiking and landscape photography. During the past 30 or 40 years you might think I had seen all of it, captured every angle, and explored every summit. The thing about the Grampians, however, is that they always lure you back. The promise of rugged, craggy mountains, sweeping vistas, crashing waterfalls and long but not impossible hiking lingers and inspires.
So it was that I found myself once again planning a landscape photography trip to this choice location. I had in mind three peaks, each of which I had walked many times before, meaning the scouting had been done, so I could concentrate on composition and light.
Arriving in the dark, I grabbed a few hours kip, then headed up to Mt William. I figured starting on the easiest of the three made sense. A sealed road takes you to the car park, from which it is a fairly simple 3.5km return hike, most of it on the road. At 1167 metres it is the tallest hill in the park, which means you can achieve some great views from almost anywhere on the clifftop.
The specific spot I had picked out is something of a secret. I managed to remember it correctly and got set up just as the murky gloom was transformed by the vibrant golden light of dawn. I flipped back and forth a little, then settled on a vertical composition which cleaned up the foreground material and lead the eye nicely towards Redman Bluff in the distance.
With that shot in the bag I was feeling pretty good despite the lack of sleep. After a quick lunch in Halls Gap I was on the road again, heading to the trail head of my second intended walk. Mt Difficult is a challenging 18km route. It can be approached from several directions, but the current official path is to begin at either Beehive Falls car park, or from the trail head near Troopers Creek campground. Either way the walk is similar in distance, though the former is slightly less steep, so I chose it.
The trek starts in the shade, taking you past Beehive Falls and then steeply up to an exposed ridge where you continue to climb. Seven or eight hours of total walking time through the summer heat, plus an hour or so photographing the sunset, had me safely back at the carpark by head torch around 1 or 2am, gulping water with feet on fire and an ache in every muscle. With all that said, I can still very much recommend the walk for the views alone.
I saw a water tank at the fairly new Gar campground just down a bit from the summit, but I would not count on this as your only water source. It is untreated and may or may not have water in it. I took four litres and had one litre spare upon my return which is about right for safety, though obviously very heavy. The smarter move might be to break the hike down into two days with a night on top. This would also open the possibility for exploring the summit leaving your gear at camp.
The track up does contain a fair amount of exposed rock surfaces, meaning you should expect sore feet. The navigation is also not that great in places. Parks have put up yellow arrows, but it can be easy enough to miss them. I managed to divert onto a disused old trail coming down in the dark but was able to correct using the GPS on my phone. Lastly, I'll mention our Australian sun, only because I saw a couple of people red raw from sunburn. One guy was in footy singlet top, no hat, and looked like a boiled lobster.
The views are amazing, however, so yes, this is still one of the best walks I've done in the Grampians. Plenty of people on the trail. It has become popular for a reason. I will certainly be back up there again, given the potential for great landscape photography opportunities.
In terms of the shot I captured from Mt Difficult summit, this was dictated by the light. There were a lot of shadows so I kept refining my composition until I had something that held the golden sunset light and directed your eye towards the distance. At least that was the idea. It was crazy windy, so I was glad I had dragged my heavy tripod up there, giving me sharp results, and making focus stacking and exposure bracketing easy.
After such an effort I needed serious rest and headed down to Dunkeld to sleep in the car. It was mid afternoon before I set out again, this time focused on reshooting Mt Abrupt for sunset. The 6.5km return trek zigzags its way up an otherwise steep incline to deposit the walker onto a rising escarpment made of sandstone rocks. Spectacular views can be found in all directions, including the Serra Range to the north and towards Dunkeld in the south.
Having photographed this scene several times before, I was quite relaxed. I wandered around a bit watching to see if the conditions would be favourable this time. The forecast had been for clear skies, which is generally the bane of a landscape photographer. I had, however, hiked up armed with all my gear, because a bank of dark clouds had been lurking over Dunkeld for much of the day.
As luck would have it, the cloud stuck around just long enough to create a dramatic backdrop to the wild sunset light that bathed the tops of the range in gold. I could not have asked for more. Standing there, surrounded by such majesty, alone in the still evening air, those moments felt significant.
I normally gravitate towards the big panorama at a moderate focal length. That delivers an image very close to the way we see the world and feels very natural. With that done, I used the last of the light for a wide-angle view, bringing in a lot more foreground interest. Amazingly the light really kicked off, drenching the scene with colour and resulting in probably my favourite image of this end of the Grampians.
During this trip I did my best to capture video content as well. Although I put the still images first, there was enough time to grab some b-roll here and there, and then talk to the camera when things quieten down. Back home I set about coming to grips with Davinci Resolve to edit the video work. Our boy, who is a whizz at new technology, soon had imparted enough wisdom to get me started.
Unfortunately, when it came time to render the video the software crashed constantly. After lots of research, it appeared the only solution was a graphics card update. As I am sure is the case for many, money is quite tight, so I was hesitant. However, with the rise of AI stealing a lifetime of hard work from millions of photographers and harnessing it to undermine them, I came to the conclusion that video is key. It represents a way to present a human connection to an audience. The one thing AI will never be able to fake is a real human being using time and effort to create actual photography with a camera, light and their own creativity. Dare I say it, their own soul.
So, on that note. Please check out the Youtube video. Hopefully I will be able to make more of them in the future. As always, thanks for reading. May life grant you peace. I will catch you on the next adventure!