Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lerderderg Gorge - Bears Head Circuit - Dec 2014

I joined a great crew today from the Happy When I'm Hiking MeetUp group to walk the Bears Head Circuit Walk at the Lerderderg Gorge, in the Lerderderg State Forest, about 70 kms west of Melbourne.

The walk for the most part followed the route described in Walk 33 of "Day Walks Around Melbourne" by Glenn Tempest (available from Opens Spaces Publishing), with the difference that we started out following the Ah Kow Track, rather than the Lower Chadwick & McKensie Tracks, as per the guide book.

We started at 9:15 and finished the 18km route by 3:30, including 20 mins for lunch, at the point where the Bears Head Range Track meets the river.

There was plenty of water in the river and I enjoyed a swim during the lunch break. (No - it wasn't particularly cold!)

Despite the gorge's reputation for snakes, we encountered none.   We did spy a wild boar, some noisy goats, a wedge-tailed eagle.

This walk has it all - woodlands, scrambly descents and ascents, rock-hopping, river walking (for those not so accomplished at rock-hopping!).  With the river flowing, it is a great time to visit the Lerderderg.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walking solo vs social

Five Mile Beach, Wilson's Prom
My walking over the past few years has mostly been solo and I have to say that it is a mode that I relish.

There are some sublime, top-of-the-Maslow-hierarchy benefits that can only come from extended solitude in remote places: meditative walking ... the sense of connectedness to the natural world ... being lost in your own thoughts without interruption ("cortex interruptus") ... the simple feeling of being alone - even lonely - are all things to be savoured on the solo trail.

There are also other more practical advantages.  Like being able to stop, move, eat and sleep whenever you choose.  Or being exempt from behaviours not particularly acceptable around your fellow humans (insert your favourite anti-social body function here).

When you walk alone the tempo of the march is yours to make - the rhythm of "the dance' is set by you.

For all the joys and benefits of solitude I have nevertheless found myself with others a lot of late.  It started innocently enough - A casual search brought me to a hiking group online.  I saw that they were doing an interesting day walk that weekend and - in a (probably wine-fuelled) moment of social enthusiasm - I clicked the "RSVP Yes" button.

I joined the small group for a walk in the Mt Cole State Forest and had a thoroughly good time - enjoying both the walk and the company.    It was great to be able to share the experiences of the track with the others.  Like me, they were on the walk to connect with nature, to take time out from the work-a-day world and to give their bodies a good workout.  That our demographics and dispositions were different only added to the enjoyment of a shared passion.

Hard Core Hikers at Bivouac Hut, Mt Bogong
I wanted to try some more of this social style walking, so I decided to start my own hiking group, where I can continue to do the sort of off-trail, multi-day walks I love, but to add the social element to the experience.   I named the group the Melbourne Hardcore Hikers and sent a shout-out to like-minded souls to join me in my back country adventures (and mis-adventures).

The group has now been operating since June this year.   There's currently 215 members, with around 30 people who've come on at least one of the hikes.  It has been fantastic finding so many people who like me, just love getting out into the wilderness areas.

The only downside to all of this is that organising the group hikes is very time consuming!  One consequence is that I haven't had much time for blogging.  Hopefully I can catch up with this over the xmas break (Oh, hang on - I'll be hiking for much of it!)

If you're interested in coming along on one of my hikes, feel free to join the Hardcore Hikers Group.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mt Buggery, Mt Spec, Crosscut Saw & Mt Howitt (Nov 2014)

I led a group of 5 keen walkers from my Hard Core Hikers group over what has been one of my most loved and frustrating weekend walks.  
 - loved because of the stunning wilderness that is this area: the tranquil beauty of the river ... the jagged Crosscut Saw, with its terrific views, especially east to the Terrible Hollow ... Mt Speculation, with it's fun scrambles on the approach and equally outstanding views ... and the windy wildness of Mt Howitt.
- frustrating because in my two previous trips here - a solo walk in 2011 and a walk in 2013 with some family members - I failed to find the road that approaches Queen Spur and instead had to bash past thick scrub and fallen tress for a couple of hours.

This time I was determined to find the elusive road...

Unlike the previous trips I decided to get to the trail head on Friday night so that we could get an early start and all things being equal, reach Mt Speculation for the first night.

I drove up with frequent-hiker, Ali.  3 1/2 hours total, including 2.5 hours from Melbourne to Mansfield and 1.5 hours for the final 72km to the Upper Howqua campsite, via the Mt Stirling Road.  We passed a large group of hunters and dogs at Howqua Gap.  After a quick chat we were pleased to learn that the lads had no plans to shoot anything near our intended route.  (Just as well  - as we were heading into a National Park!)

The large camping area at Upper Howqua was mostly vacant, save for a couple of guys (Paul & Pat) having a weekend (and, I suspect, a break from their partners) for some 4WD R&R.  Three more of the group  (Trina, Peter & Sal) arrived around midnight.

It was a mild, still night and we woke to clear skies.  We got away at 9am, rock-hopping across the Howqua River 5 times before heading up Queens Spur Road.  There was plenty of scrub on the track in this section but it was easy to move through and the footpad was obvious.

Throughout the morning I'd been talking up to the group the difficulty of finding the road near Queens Spur and there was much anticipation in the group when we finally arrived at the spot where I'd lost the trail twice before.

So, it was with a fair amount of bemusement that when I looked up the hill to where the track should be (according to my GPS) I saw - not impassable bush - but a clear line of rocks marking what seemed to be a road, about 30 metres up the hill.  "Surely not", I thought!  I quickly scrambled up to the rocks and - surely yes - there was the road - overgrown, but no more than the track we'd been following.  I have to say that I had pretty mixed emotions!  I was happy to find the road - at last - but I could not (and still cannot) for the life of me figure out how the hell I could have missed this road before!!!   To anyone reading this who held off doing this walk due to my earlier reports, my humble apologies!

We followed the road for about 30 minutes, arriving at Queen Spur at 12:50pm, where we stopped for lunch.  It was a beautiful spot, marred only by the ants, which were everywhere.

After a 40 min break we walked and scrambled up the spur, getting to Mt Buggery an hour later, at 2:30pm, enjoying great view of the Crosscut Saw and surrounding areas along the way.  We also passed a couple of fellas who were apparently retrieving some gear that they'd left there a few week's earlier.

After a short break to get our breath back (the approach to Mt Buggery is quite steep) we headed off, getting to Mt Speculation at 4pm, then continuing to the camp site another 10 minutes to the east.


Getting a selfie in front of this tree on Mt Spec is becoming a bit of a ritual.

We paid a visit to Camp Creek, 10 minutes away, where there was plenty of water flowing, filling up our containers.  (Kudos to Trina for her very handy 6 litre nalgene!)

I got a fire going (note: A lightweight pruning saw is a handle tool to pack) and we spent a pleasant evening easting, toasting marshmellows and swapping stories.   Trina impressed us with her dedication to food care, which included a lightweight foot bath.

The author relaxing after a day on the trail.

A forecast cool changes finally arrived late in the evening.  It rained hard for most of the night, stopping suddenly at 7am, as we emerged from our tents.

We were on the trail by 8:45am, heading off into low cloud and cool temperatures.  We walked back over Mt Speculation, arriving at Mt Buggery by 10:15am.

The Crosscut Saw was shrouded by low cloud, making for a eerie views and a more closed-in feel.  Occasionally, the cloud would move off and the we'd get a look at the wild countryside around us.


When we arrived at the crossroads to Mt Howitt and the Vallejo Gantner hut a cold wind had come up and we dropped lower on the track to get some shelter for short lunch break.

With the clouds removing any possibility of views we scooted over Mt Howitt to West Peak, where we chatted to a group of retirees, on their way to VG hut for the night, before heading down Howitt Spur for the long walk back to the Howqua River, arriving at 3:30pm.

At the river we met a couple of 20-strong groups of year 10 students, on the first leg of a week-long hike in the area.  It was great to see kids being given such a terrific opportunity to experience bush walking and remote camping.  One hopes that - for most of them anyway - this will be the beginning of a deep connection with the wilderness and an appreciation for the need for it to be protected.

We retraced our path alongside and through the river, arriving back at the cars at 4pm.

The key facts

Travel distances/times:

Drive to trail head - 4 hours + breaks

Total walking time/distance - 31km / 15.5hrs

  • Day 1 - Upper Howqua campsite to Mt Speculation via Queens Spur - 15km / 7.5hrs
  • Day 2 - Mt Speculation to Upper Howqua via Mt Howitt - 16km  / 7hrs


  • There was plenty of water at Camp Creek.


  • Printed map: Vicmap Howitt-Selwyn 1:50,000
  • GPS - iPhone 4S with Mud-maps app, incl 1:25k maps: 8223-4-S (main one) and 8223-4-N (Mt Spec and north)


  • I can confirm that the road onto Queens Spur is definitely there!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fainters / Spion Kopje circuit - June 2013

This is another hike - a great hike, actually - that has been sitting in my drafts folder for too long. This turned out to be my last hike for 7 months, as a long-standing issue with osteo arthritis in my right hip finally got the better of me around this time, leading to surgery in September and an extended hike-less recovery period.

Some of the small details may have been forgotten, but the gist of it is worth recounting. A key aspect of this walk is that it is a circuit and for a dedicated solo walker, who also dislikes back tracking, a circuit route such as this is gold.  This is more of a photo essay than a blog post, but there's a few factoids scattered throughout that you might find helpful if you're planning to do this route.

The route passes through stunning high country and arguably some of the best walking around. There aren't any gut busting climbs on the walk  - like you get ascending Mt Feathertop and Mt Bogong - although the days are fairly long.    The walk begins and ends at Bogong village (Note: Not Mt Bogong!), then follows a wide, anti-clockwise circle around the Falls Creek alpine resort.

Route map

Day 1 - Bogong to Springs Saddle

It was a 4 hour drive from Melbourne.    I drove down the hill through the village and parked beside a small reserve, at the start of the the Mt Arthur trail.  

The initial route required crossing back over the river, via a bridge, then walking back up the steep streets of Bogong village, back to the main road, where I walked a few hundred metres south, to the start of Spring Saddle Track.

Bridge near Bogong Power Station

Path through  Bogong village

Near Bogong village

The lower section of  Spring Saddle Track goes via a bloody great water facility.  I wasn't sure of the access rules, but figured a discrete passing through wouldn't put any corporate noses out of joint.

The water facility on Spring Saddle Track.  There is a way through here somewhere..

Reservoir on Spring Saddle Track.

The track winds its way up the hills for quite a way and is a decent workout.

I'd planned to reach Bogong Jack's Hut for the night, but my right hip started giving me hell (osteo arthritis) and despite using pain killers, by the time I arrived at Springs Saddle at 5:30pm, 3 hours after I'd started, I had little interest in going any further that evening.

Day 2 - Springs Saddle to Pretty Valley Horse Yards

It got down to around -2C overnight and I woke to a clear, frosty morning.  I headed off on the Fainter Fire Trail by 8:20am, arriving at Bogong Jack Saddle 1 1/2 hours later.

The Minaret at Springs Saddle. Morning of Day 2.

A crispy road

View of the Fainters

Arriving at Bogong Jack Saddle

Bogong Jack Saddle

Gnarly tree at Bogong Jack Saddle

At Bogong Jack Saddle

View from Bogong Jack Saddle

I was back on the trail by 10:15, arriving at Mt Fainter South by 12pm and Mt Jaithmathang by 3pm, stopping for 30 minutes at each. I was fortunate to have clear, blue skies and the walking was excellent.

Route out of Bogong Jack Saddle

Approaching the Fainters

On the flat ridge joining the Fainters

Fainters...Mt Mackay in background (tbc)

On the Fainters

Hmmm That's Mt Mackay in the background I think.

Interesting rock formation, don't you think?

Mt Fainter South

Mountain brook

Mt Jaithmathang
(Formerly known as Mt Niggerhead, it was sensibly renamed to better reflect the spirit of the original inhabitants)

Tawonga Huts

Tawonga Huts

Tawonga Huts

I was starting to feel a bit sore and tired by the time I left the Tawonga Huts and it was a bit of a grind walking the last few kms in fading light to Pretty Valley horse yards, where I arrived at 6pm, by which time it was dark.   This was the location of a planned winter base camp for a friend of mine and it was good to see that all the gear that had been dropped earlier in the season was still in place and untouched.

On the approach to Pretty Valley

On the approach to Pretty Valley

Day 3 - Pretty Valley Horse Yards  - Spion Kopje

'Twas a chilly night, verily!  Apart from the synthetic quilt I wore two base thermal layers, a fleece jacket, a puffy vest, wind shirt, thermal bottoms, fleece beanie, woollen socks and base layer gloves.   But I was still a little cold!   I concluded that I really needed to finish the down quilt I'd been working on for a month or so. [Note: As at August 2014 it's finally finished!  See the post elsewhere on the making of the down quilt.]  I was on the trail by 8:20am.

Pretty Valley horse yards, where I camped for the second night

Pretty Valley Horse Yards

View south from the Horse Yards

Heading away from the Horse Yards

Heading south from the horse yards (looking south west)

Cope Saddle Hut

Route east of Cope Saddle Hut

Cope Hut

Cope Hut - inside

A quick break near Marum Point.

Looking west from near Marum Point, with Rocky Valley Storage in the distance

Snow poles just north of Marum Point

Turn off to Johnston Hut, Mt Nelse in the background

Pretty sure that's Healthy Spur on the left and Baker Spur on the right

Is this not beautiful?

One of many tarns on the approach to Spion Kopje

Hiker dude, hoping for gig in the next Montane catalog

Vapour trails above me.

Spion Kopje Fire Track.  

Spion Kopje Fire Track with my only companion.

Spion Kopje Fire Track.  Stunning high country all around me.

I arrived at the Spion Kopje summit at 5:15pm.  I pitched the tent and tucked into dinner in the increasing cold.  I was then treated to an amazing sky show.

Falls Creek, from Spion Kopje

Sunset from Spion Kopje

Sunset from Spion Kopje

Day 4 - Spion Kopje  - Bogong

It was another cold night, wearing all my items of clothes.  It was also very windy and the Minaret got to have a decent wind test.  I am pleased to say it passed!  (No repeat of my Mt Bogong disaster).  

It was still very cold at dawn, but I got treated with a beautiful sunrise, to match the stunning sunset of the night before.   My photos don't do either justice, but you'll get the idea.  I am sure you will agree that to get the full splendor of it, you will just have to go and camp there yourself!

I headed off at 7:30am, arriving back at my car at Bogong village at 10:30am.

My camp at sunrise, Spion Kopje

Glorious sunrise from Spion Kopje

Morning clouds roll over the hills north of Spion Kopje

Descending the Spion Kopje Fire Track (west)

Spion Kopje Fire Track (west).
This track descends down a steep, scrambly path.  My route however, continued down  the fire track

Rocky Valley Creek

Rocky Valley Creek.  There's a shallow ford here.

Les Stroud impersonation

The key facts:

Walking time/distance - 23.5 hours / 63km
  • Day 1 - Bogong to Springs Saddle - 3 hours / 7km
  • Day 2 - Springs Saddle to Pretty Valley - 9.5 hours / 21kms
  • Day 3 - Pretty Valley to Spion Kopje - 8 hours / 28.5kms
  • Day 4 - Spion Kopje - Bogong - 3 hours / 9.5km
Water - I found a couple of small brooks along the Fainters-Jaithmathang section; elsewise, there were plenty of locations, for this time of year (early winter)

Maps - SV Maps Bogong Alpine Area Outdoor Recreation Guide 1:50,000
GPS - iPhone 4S with Mud-maps app, incl 1:25k maps.

For those not into 30km days, the walk could be spread over an extra day, with possible camps at Bogong Jack Saddle, Tawonga Huts, Johnston Hut (or perhaps Marum Point) and Spion Kopje.  The walk could also be done in the reverse direction, with a stiff ascent of Spion Kopje on day 1.