|Mt Bogong, Victoria, Australia|
The last time I'd hiked for a number of days in winter was 25 years ago. At that time, I walked the famous Routeburn track in New Zealand with my brother, James. Those were pre-lightweight philosophy days for me - I wore a seriously heavy leather & wool flying jacket and calf-length army boots and had a canvas pack with a steel frame; we also carried potatoes! James, clearly ahead of his time, wore runners throughout the hike, as we trudged through bush, knee-deep snow and icy sludge covering a frozen lake (beat that, Roger Caffin!).
Day 1 - Mountain Creek to Mt Bogong via Staircase Spur (5 hours)
|The start of Staircase Spur|
|Sign on Staircase Spur|
|Lower section of the Staircase Sp|
|West Peak from Staircase Spur|
Bivouac Hut, at around 1,400m, provides a chance for a short rest while you take a few snapshots and from what I could gather, carve your initials into the hut. A sign on the door makes it clear that the hut is 'for refuge only', not for casual accommodation.
|View of Eskdale Spur, from Staircase Spur|
It was getting dark as I moved above the treeline. It was beautiful, but I was starting to wonder about the camping conditions up top.
|Sunset from Staircase Spur|
I rounded a couple of small hills then made my way up a narrow spur. As it grew dark, the wind through the snow poles was making a eerie sound. I passed a memorial cairn to three skiiers, who died at the spot in a blizzard in 1943.
|Above the treeline and approaching the final climb to Mt Bogong|
It was something of a relief to finally spy the summit cairn of Mt Bogong (1,986m). I would have been ecstatic, but for the facts that I was tired, it was now dark, it was quite gusty on the summit and I had to find somewhere to pitch my tent.
I settled for a spot about 20m to the south (lee) side of the summit. The wind gusts were marginally less than on the summit itself.
I pitched the pyramid tent, adding the extra side tie outs (in addition to the four corners) and being careful to bang the snow pegs in deeply. I then climbed into my bag & bivy, made myself some dinner (kransky sausages) and a cup of tea, then settled down to try to sleep.
|The tent was bulging heavily from the wind gusts|
With this position established I found that the situation was somewhat stabilised. The only problem was that I could not move at all. Any time I let go one of my hands to do something, the wind would immediately whip through the tent like crazy. In a series of short, sharp moves, I was able to put on my snow jacket and boots and later some rubber gloves. I reached for my over pants, but the wind caught them and I watched in dismay as they were whipped to the far side of the tent, where they rested briefly before being blown away.
I considered whether I should use my new Spot 2 beacon to alert S&R. However, with the strong winds a helicopter was out of the question so it would have taken hours for rescue to make the journey up the mountain. I concluded that I was going to have to deal with the situation myself.
So there I sat in the dark, riding my tent in the wind like a yachtsman rides a catamaran. With most of my clothes on and by sitting on my bedding I managed to keep warm enough, but I wasn't game to move until I could see clearly.
I would like to tell you about the profound insights that came to me during this time - about some defining moment of existential awareness perhaps or some life-altering epiphany - but to be honest, I found myself just focussing on the moment - wondering about my grip, about items I could recover next , about when the next big gust would come and what I would do if I lost the fight with the wind and the tent was blown away. What I can say though is that I certainly felt 'alive' and I reckon the adrenalin was pumping.
Day 2 - Mt Bogong to Mt Arthur via West Peak and Quartz Ridge (10 hours)
|The Mt Bogong summit cairn and my temporary refuge from the wind|
|Man, that wind was cold!|
It was freakin' cold! It only took me 3 minutes to pack up the tent and dig out the pegs, but by that time I was shivering heavily and I was not a happy camper. On a more positive note, once I had warmed up a bit I checked around the tent site and found a few items, including my missing snow shoe. Excellent! (Without both snow shoes I would have aborted the trip, given the amount of snow up top).
I did a quick inventory and discovered that I was missing my titanium pot and pot cosy, my spork, my mug (a takeaway coffee cup) and the overpants. I concluded that all things being equal I had got off lightly given the circumstances.
The other notable discovery for the morning was that the hose on my Platypus bladder had frozen solid as had the bladder cap. As I didn't feel much like a sit down session melting snow to drink, I elected to stay thirsty for the morning.
The summit of Bogong early on an winter morning may be an unfriendly place, but it can also provide some spectacular views. I shook some blood into my hands and took a few photos of the scene.
|View SE from Mt Bogong summit, towards where I camped|
|Starting to warm up again|
It stayed cold and windy all morning. When taking the photo below I removed my overmitts, only to accidentally drop one of them and have the bloody wind snatch it away, leading me into a comic scene where I am chasing a mitt at full tilt in my snow shoes, with pack on, across a slope where the drop off was becoming increasingly steep. Each time I got close enough be bend down to pick it up, the wind would whip it away again. I even tried the classic hero dive, only to miss by inches as I slid face first across the slippery snow. I was finally able to catch it before the slope got too steep. Phew! For the record, wind is not my favourite of the four elements.
|On the move to West Peak (looking back at Mt Bogong)|
I continued on to West Peak, where there were great views of Bright and the surrounding area.
|West from West Peak|
|Town of Mt Beauty from West Peak|
|Mt Bogong, from West Peak|
|Southern end of West Peak, from Quartz Knob|
|I was knackered and needed a quick snooze in the now warm sun|
Quartz Ridge ends is a narrow gully. I refilled the bottles in (not-so) Big River.
|Creek at the start of the Quartz Ridge track|
I made my way over to the Bogong Creek Saddle camping area, then headed up the steep track that leads up Mt Arthur. My energy levels started to fade quickly as I climbed, so while I had originally planned to continue walking later into the evening, I decided to spend the night on Mt Arthur. Decision made, I found a nice sheltered spot to pitch the tent - after the excitement of the previous night I was keen to avoid exposed, wind-swept locations!
|A nice camping spot on Mt Arthur|
I rigged a temporary tie out by wrapping the corner around a small piece of wood.
|A temporary fix to the tie-out that got ripped out on Mt Bogong|
Anyway, I was pretty tired after all the excitement the previous night, so I turned in early and was asleep quickly.
[I looked into this issue after I returned home and found out that this is a known problem for butane/propane mix gas stoves when used in the snow. The butane component of the mix has a boiling point (when it turns to vapor) of -0.5C, whereas, the propane has a much lower (-42C) vapor point. The Pocket Rocket stove, which sits on top of the gas cannister, depends on the fuel being in gas form so the it will rise up to the burner; however, in conditions below -0.5C (such as I was in), the butane stays in liquid form and sits at the bottom of the cannister, while the propane component, which is still a gas (unless you happen to be in the Alaska or perhaps Camp 3 on Mt Everest) burns off. ie. once the propone has burned off you are left with a can of butane.
To address the issues you can use techniques to keep the cannister warm (eg base plate on which to cook, cosy for the can) or just get a stove that is designed for use the snow, including features such as the ability to rest the cannister upside down. (Hmm, I like the idea of a new bit of gear..) If you want to know more about this area, have a look at the section on stoves in the Bushwalking FAQ maintained by Roger Caffin. ]
|Sunset on Mt Arthur|
It got down to -4C overnight and it was still around -3C when I woke up to the frosty new day.
|Frosty morning on Mt Arthur|
As with the previous morning I found my Platypus bladder had frozen up. After the gas bottle issue the night before I didn't want to use up gas melting snow for my cereal mix, so after a quick breakfast of muesli bars, I packed up and headed south along the Grey Hills.
|The Grey Hills|
|After a 15C rise in temperature since dawn I needed to shed most of my gear|
I continued on along the Grey Hills, enjoying terrific views in all directions.
I had an odd experience while passing through the snow gums on the Grey Hills. At one point I heard some voices off in the distance. It sounded like a group of people chatting. I stopped and looked back up the ridge, expecting to see some other backpackers appear. When no-one showed after a minute or so, I continued on, only to hear the voices again. Once again I stopped and waited and once again no-one appeared. I decided I must be hearing the sound of wind through the snow gums or perhaps the sound of their branches rubbing against one another.
Shortly after I heard the voices again, then tripped badly on sticks on the path. The same thing happened again 5 minutes later. Now, while my rational side told me that I was just tired and clumsy another voice told me otherwise - that there was something strange going on with these snow gums and was now feeling just a little spooked.
I decided to leave nothing to chance and spoke aloud, saying "Guys, I'm not sure if you're annoyed with my being here or if you're just having some fun; but either way I am quite tired and I would appreciate it if you would stop tripping me up." Silly of me, I suppose, but it is worth noting that though I did continue to hear the 'voices' from time to time, I didn't trip on any more sticks on that ridge.
|Looking northward at the Grey Hills|
|View from Crows Nest of the steep trail leading to the Spion Kopje Fire Track|
|Crows Nest, with Timms Spur behind and Mt Bogong in the background|
|The Grey Hills and Mt Bogong (rear)|
|The route to Spion Kopje|
|East view while heading to Spion Kopje|
|Falls Creek and Rocky Valley Storage, from Spion Kopje|
|Falls Creek Village|
|Timms Spur and Mt Bogong|
|Spion Kopje Spur|
The walk along the Spion Kopje Fire Track was fairly easy-going and the clear skies made for great views.
|Spring melt in progress|
|Now that's clean, clear water|
|XC ski tracks on the Spion Kopje Fire Track|
|(Above and below) The nameless hump that stands 1893m near the eastern end of the Spion Kopje fire track|
|Snow poles at Warby Corner near Mt Nelse North|
|Facing northwest near Mt Nelse|
|Big country near Mt Nelse|
|Johnson Hut access road. Mt Nelse in the background|
It was a nice looking hut, but it turned out that it is managed by a ski club, who have divided the hut into two sections - a large front section used exclusively by the club and a small rear section that is available for use by the public (like me). I reckon that rear section would be great for a single person, or perhaps a couple. As it turned out there were a couple of older fellas already in residence - Graeme & Bill. It made for a cosy night as I shared the floor with Bill, with my main concern being avoiding being trod on by club members slipping past for late night nature calls. A note on Grame & Bill. They're both 70-odd, have been mates for 30 years and after a long hiatus, were rekindling a passion for XC skiing. In fact, they were at the end of a 10 day ski tour throughout the area. I hope to be just as keen to have a go when I get to that age. Onya, guys!
|Graeme & Bill in Johnson Hut|
I had a long day with some hard walking ahead of me, so, after my now preferred breakfast of hot muesli cereal.and good wishes to my Bill & Graeme, I set off early the next morning. I walked back up the hill, skirted around Mt Nelse then headed north back to Warby Cnr, then beyond. The cloud cover was low and there was a sleetly wind blowing. In the reduced visibility I found I was using the snow poles to navigate.
|The weather closed in a bit in the morning|
It's an interesting thing walking in low visibility conditions, with your gear wrapped around you and your goggles on. Your sensory inputs get somewhat muted and your personal space compresses in. As I navigated along from one snow pole to the next I found my attention was drawn to my breathing and to the steady, rhythmic crunching of the snow with each step of the snow shoes. Crunch..crunch..crunch..crunch.
It's times like these you often get a song coming into your head - usually some annoying song, like The Proclaimer's "500 Miles" (come on, admit it, you're singing it now) or perhaps Rebecca Black's "It's Friday" (if you haven't had the pleasure, look her up on YouTube). This day it was the Carpenters' "Top of the World" which came to haunt me. Sure, it was a hit single in it's time and the lyrics were somewhat appropriate for my situation - but it just wouldn't go away!
Like getting rid of hiccups, to get rid of a unwanted song in your head you have to distract yourself. For this purpose I brought out my never-fail solution. Now it may be that a children's song about plucking skylark feathers is considered annoying if you happen to be French, but to me "Alouette" saved the day! Here are the lyrics so you can sing along with me:
|Cold, sleety day with a crap song in my head|
I arrived at Roper Hut around 11am. The hut was only recently rebuilt. It is a great hut, surprisingly well provisioned and would be a top place to park for the night.
I still had the bulk of the day's walking in front of me, so after a short break for salami and cheese, and to fill my water bottle from the snow melt off the hut roof, I was back on the trail again, heading to Duane's Spur
|Misty view as I left Roper Hut|
|Mist over Duane Spur|
|One of a number of fallen trees across the track. Time for a chainsaw visit from the Parks lads!|
|Old man of the forest|
After Duane's Spur the trail dropped steeply to Big River.
|First sight of Big River|
|The crossing chain at Big River|
The river crossing done, I ground my way up the steep incline of T Spur, with plenty of stops to get my breath back and my heart rate down. It was quite a work-out!
T Spur ends at T Knob, from which there is a moderate climb towards the eastern flank of Mt Bogong.
|View south from T Spur Knob|
|Walking up from T Knob|
|There's something reassuring about a beer can being used as a trail marker.|
|The more standard Alpine Walking Track trail marker|
|Creek where the trail separates and the AAWT veers off to the east.|
|Valley on the approach to Mt Bogong|
|Geoff relaxing at Cleve Cole Hut|
It was a crisp, clear morning as I headed off from Cleve Cole hut aound 7:30am.
|Cleve Cole Hut|
|Heading out from Cleve Cole Hut|
|The southern slope of Mt Bogong (summit cairn just in view), where some of my gear went flying|
For the descent from Mt Bogong I used Eskdale Spur. This involves a shorter stage on the spur than for Staircase Spur, but a longer river-side walk once down.
|Top of Eskdale Spur|
There was some decent snow cover at the top of the spur so I made my way carefully until below the snow line.
- For planning the walk I used the book “Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps”, by Glenn van der Knijff. I took photocopies of the relevant pages on the trip also. You can get the book from www.osp.com.au.
- I used my iPhone as GPS. My mapping app was Motion-X, which has reasonable, though not great topo maps, which are accessed on the fly ie. like Google maps. I couldn’t use my preferred mapping app, Mud-Maps, as due to a wireless error on my iPhone, I was unable to download the relevant 1:25,000 topo maps before the hike.
- For this particular walk I found route finding to be fairly straightforward as the trail was generally along ridge tops and/or between fairly obvious waypoints. That said, I referred to the physical map regularly and I used my GPS from time to time. I also got to enjoy fine weather for a lot of the trip, so didn’t have to deal with low visibility very often.
- Assuming you have a good map and a compass, taking a GPS is optional, but very convenient. If you have an iPhone or other smart phone with a GPS, that will also be sufficient for the region.
- I also took a Spot 2 beacon on the trip. Not a critical item, I feel, but it gave my family some comfort as I headed off into the alpine snow on my own.