The Dutchmans Stern Hike! Southern Flinders Ranges, SA
‘Visit the Crazy Horse – but not on Monday’ the log book entry read.
Why on earth, with the magnificent 360° panorama from the Dutchman’s Stern summit all around them, would two German hikers be reminded of an Adelaide nightclub 300-odd kilometres away? (Note to self – what IS the Monday deal at the Crazy Horse, anyway??)
What did they have in common?
The Dutchman’s Stern has dominated its small Conservation Park only marginally longer than the Crazy Horse has dominated the west end of Adelaide’s Hindley Street.
And that’s the only connection I can find between the two!!
Back in 2010 when I first climbed the Dutchman’s Stern, reading the summit log book was almost worth the 10.5 km round trip (download brochure here) circuit. A pot-pourri of demographic information (eg names, dates, weather reports, wildlife sightings, a surprisingly high number of countries of origin) was supplemented by a range of comments – both comical and asinine – and I’ll leave you to decide into which category the one above falls!
But disappointingly, 7 years later on my 2nd ascent, the log book comments had lost that edgy zing that made you wonder what a hiker was thinking to record the exact time it’d taken to reach the summit. I mean, I could just write in a random time too, right?
In fact, the log book made for such dull reading, I was forced to admire the view instead. The endless panorama of rolling mountains, rocks and totally deadly-looking roads was a LOT more gripping than the log book. And it’s not every day you see a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles somersaulting through the air at eye level. Photos? Sorry, no. You’ll just have to make the climb and see them for yourself!
But even back in 2010 a log book full of intriguing oddities wasn’t enough to detract from the jaw-dropping view – almost a complete 360º taking in Port Augusta and the top of Spencer Gulf to the west; Devil’s Peak, Mt Brown and the Richman Valley further south; Quorn (the nearest town) and Wilpena Pound, the Elder and Yappala Ranges to the north.
Although apparently on both climbs we got lucky – according to the log book the view has been blocked by fog more than once! I would have been seriously peeved to climb steadily for 4.2 km to see NOTHING!
Especially when if you CAN see something, it’s such a spectacular, stupendous something!!
The medium-grade hike to the 820m high Dutchman’s Stern summit, one of several walks in this former pastoral lease and also intersected by the Heysen trail, isn’t so much difficult as lengthy.
And if I say it’s not a hard walk, you can depend upon it, as unlike those who recorded in the log book their exact (short) length of time it took to reach the summit, I’m not a martyr to fitness – or one-upmanship!
Anyway, it’d take some doing to knock me off my ‘world’s slowest hiker’ pedestal!
On our first ascent, Pilchard and I meandered the ever upwardly zig-zagging trail through low grassland, purple with introduced weed Salvation Jane (Echium plantagineum) and dotted with the endemic Quorn Wattle (Acacia quornensis); then through Sugar Gum woodland, before reaching the spring wildflower extravaganza (still flowering in October 2010) of the heathland followed by the more sparsely vegetated rocky outcrops towards the summit.
And although there weren’t quite as many wildflowers on our June 2017 climb, there WERE lots of grass trees, along with bright red Heath and a few small pink orchids. Apart from a few landslips, the track was almost exactly as we remembered. And it was nice to know that the passage of 7 years hadn’t slowed us down.
Even the scary bit (if walking a dodgy narrow track along a steep hillside with the ever-present danger of plunging down a gorge gives you the cold shivers like it does me) was still doable – just as well, because it’d be a long way back round the other way if I’d lost my nerve.
After sighting the summit’s resident Peregrine Falcon, we descended via the 10.5 km loop rather than the shorter 8.4km direct return walk, through Drooping Sheoak and Sugar Gum woodlands into the steep, scree-lined slopes of Stony Creek gorge before returning to the trail head.
Just between us though, choosing between a summit view free of fog and a rare bird sighting is a no brainer. I’d go for the view any day!
Just don’t tell birdo Pilchard!!
Hiking the Dutchman’s Stern is an awesome way to experience the Flinders Ranges – and it was just as good the second time around 7 years later. Check it out!