Monday, January 7, 2013

3 Craggy Peaks (Mts Cobbler, Speculation & Koonika) Xmas 2012

With hot weather forecast for post New Year I decided to take advantage of the more benign forecasts in the week before NY to get in a 3 day walk.  This is walk 25 from "Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps" and includes the summits of Mt Cobbler, Mt Speculation and Mt Koonika, all of which are around 1,600m (5,200ft) high.  To get a shorter final day (at least, that was the plan..), I elected to do the walk in the reverse direction, starting with Mt Cobbler, rather than Mt Koonika.

Click map for larger view

I left Melbourne around 9am, arriving 2 hours later at Mansfield, which was chockablock with the Xmas holiday crowd  - four wheel drives and camper trailers the most popular transportation. (I had the mighty Magna due to wife getting first dibs on the Patrol.)   From Mansfield I drove towards Mt Buller, turning left at the Mirimbah junction.

Mirimbah - gateway to Mt Buller & Mt Stirling area.  No tolls in summer thank goodness

Leaving Mirimbah and heading up the Stirling road.

From Mirimba it was a longish drive on dirt roads to get to the start of the trail at King Hut. (via Circuit Road, then Speculation Road)

The dirt road starts soon after you leave Mirimbah

Telephone Box Junction.  Psst - there's good toilets here

View south from Circuit Road.  I think that's The Bluff in the centre.

Near the start of the hike, at King Hut.
Not far from King Hut I met a British couple (Diane & Robert) looking a bit lost and flustered. I gave them a lift to their camp site at King Hut while they told me how they'd just attempted to walk up Mt Koonika, but had encountered very thick vegetation, eventually bailing.  When they also mentioned that they were following the same trail guidebook as me I joked that a bit of vegetation is par for the course when it comes to the tracks in "Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps".  I must admit that I didn't believe it could be that bad - little did I know...

I got started on the track just after 2pm. The first part of the walk involved an extended climb up a four wheel drive track in an area referred to as "The Staircase".  I was passed by a few 4WDs, driven by cheery folks, grinding their way up the hills.  After a couple of hours I reached the turn off to Cobbler Lake.  The walking trail to Mt Cobbler starts a short way down this track.

Cobbler Lake track
I found a great camping/rest area about 100 meters along the Mt Cobbler trail.  It was top spot to take a break, as the temperature headed into the high 20s C.

A great campsite and rest area near the start of the walking trail up to Mt Cobbler

The trail to Mt Cobbler
I followed the walking trail for 30 minutes to a junction where the trail splits with paths to Mt Cobbler and Lake Cobbler.  I dropped my pack on the side of the trail then headed up to Mt Cobbler. I wasn't totally confident that leaving my pack like this was a safe idea so I took my electronic items with me.

View of Mt Cobbler

Mountain flowers on the walk up to Mt Cobbler

Rock cairn on Mt Cobbler
Mt Cobbler is a rocky, stark place.  With clear skies I got to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding alpine area.

Mt Cobbler

Looking NE from Mt Cobbler
I was feeling quite pleased with myself until I realised that I wasn't on the actual summit, which had to be reached via a fairly hairy-looking up and down rock scramble.  I was feeling a bit sore and tired (and chicken maybe), so decided to give it a miss.

A view of the scramble route (centre) onto Mt Cobbler 

View NW from Mt Cobbler

Mountain flowers on Mt Cobbler
The walk from Mt Cobbler to Lake Cobbler took a couple of hours.  By the looks of it the trail has been recently improved, with many signs of the chainsaw and slasher activity through the otherwise dense vegetation.  (I later spoke to another walker who told me he had attempted this section a couple of years earlier and found it to be impassable.)

On the walking track from Mt Cobbler to Lake Cobbler

Creek near Lake Cobbler

I arrived at Lake Cobbler at dusk.  The car camping area was quite busy but I found a nice spot along the eastern end of the lake, which had been roped off - to block cars from entering, I presume.  The camp site was beside the lake, with a nearby fire ring and a fallen tree supplying plenty of wood for a fire while I had my dinner.  To complete the perfect picture, a full moon rose over the far side of the lake.

Lake Cobbler

The next morning was a stunner.   After a breakfast of muesli I walked to the nearby Dandongadale Falls for a look and to cool off ahead of the day's walking.   

Morning at Lake Cobbler

Lake Cobbler

Lake Cobbler

A much needed soak at the Dandongadale Falls
The trail from Lake Cobbler takes you to the upper section of the falls.  I had read that it was possible to get to the lower sections of the falls so I investigated possible routes down the true left side.  However, I found the scrub to be quite thick, so with much walking still be be done, I gave the down scramble a miss.

Upper section of the Dandongadale Falls
It really is a lovely place to visit.   A notable feature of the camping area is that there is a really good (chemical) toilet (not shown in these photos)

Car camping area at Lake Cobbler

Cobbler Hut
90% of the walking on this section of the walk is a steady climb along a 4WD track, first up to the Cobbler Lake junction, then along Speculation Road.   This section of the road was much rougher and rockier than the road from the day before and the few 4WDs I encountered had to go much more slowly.  Definitely not a place for non-4WDs.   I rested at the top spot I had found the day before, then headed up to Camp Creek.

A short rest on the way to Mt Spec

Be gone, flies!

The temperature was in the mid-high 20s and joining me on the walk were a gazillion bush flies and march flies.   No amount of Aerogard would deter the 'bushies' from any exposed skin, so I had to wave my walking staff around my head like a marching band leader.   To make matters worse, I was feeling quite sore in my right leg (dodgy hip), but if I stopped to rest I was then attacked around the ankles by biting march flies and the only way I found of stopping them was to let them settle in to do their business, then squash them with the end of the pole - a hit and miss affair.

It was therefore with much relief that I came finally to Camp Creek, which offered a shady - and surprisingly fly-free - place to rest, which I did for a blissful hour.

Camp Creek corner

Camp Creek - a good source of water and a little hollow that gives nice
respite from the heat of the day - and even the flies!

 Energies restored, I headed up the side track to Mt Cobbler.   I passed a family along the way, who were among a number of people staying at the car camping area near Camp Creek.

Track up Mt Speculation from Camp Creek

Is it just me, or does that tree have a nice butt?
Approaching Mt Speculation
 I think you will agree that the views from Mt Spec are awesome!

Crosscut Saw, (centre left), Mt Buggary (centre) and Mt Howitt (rear) from Mt Speculation

Wonnangatta Valley from Mt Speculation 

Wonnangatta Valley from Mt Speculation 

View NE from Mt Speculation.  Mt Buffalo at rear.

I pitched the tent in the lower part of the summit, underneath a classic old gum that I am sure features in every visitor's photo album.

View of  my Mt Speculation camping spot from western end

View S from Mt Speculation.  Devils Staircase and Wonnangatta Spur.

A great, but somewhat exposed camping spot on Mt Spec

View of  my Mt Speculation camping spot from eastern end (highest point)

The gnarly old gum on Mt Speculation

View north from Mt Speculation - Mt Koonika and Mt Cobbler 

As sunset approached I joined another walker 'Mic' on the summit to soak it all up and swap a few stories.

Pink skies to the east as the sun sets on Mt Speculation

The sun sets on Mt Speculation

Just after sunset on Mt Speculation

Moon rise from my tent on Mt Speculation

It wasn't an easy night.  A strong wind blew in around midnight. shaking the tent and waking me up.   The 11mm centre pole on my pyramid tent didn't cope well, bending like a bow then, around 1am, piercing the top of the tent.   I grabbed my tin cup and put it on top of the pole, which restored the tent to normal height, but didn't fix the bowing of the pole under the wind pressure.  It was a bit disconcerting!  At around 2am I donned my windshirt, got out of the tent, grabbed a couple of rocks from a nearby fire ring and brought them back to the tent.  I found that by stacking the 2 rocks and then putting my bamboo walking staff on the rocks, it was able to support the tent pole, minimising the bowing.   That did the trick, though the wind continued to work the tent hard and with the memory of my Mt Bogong wind adventure of a year earlier still fresh, I didn't sleep that well.  I had planned to be up at 5am to get an early start for my walk out, so at 4:45am, with the wind still blowing hard, I decided that I'd had enough, had a hurried breakfast and packed up.

I headed up to the main summit to watch the sunrise.

Pre dawn view of the Wonnangatta valley from Mt Speculation

Pre dawn view of the Wonnangatta valley from Mt Speculation

Pre dawn on Mt Speculation

Sun rise from Mt Speculation

Sun rise from Mt Speculation

First rays of the day strike the gums on Mt Speculation
 The walk to Mt Koonika took about 1.5 hours, through mostly open ridge tops.

En route to Mt Koonika

S short break on Mt Koonika.  Mt Cobbler in the background
The guidebook mentioned steep rock scrambles to get up to Mt Koonika from King Spur, so I was a little concerned about the potential difficulty in getting down.  On arrival at the rocky summit I peered over the edge and after a bit of investigation found a workable path down the left (southern) side of the main crag.  It was a little hairy, but doable enough by half walking / half sliding.

A steep drop off Mt Koonika where I scrambled/slid down.

My delight at getting down the crag in one piece was dulled a bit by the realisation that there were more crags to be tackled.  However, once I got on with it I found that the crags were each straightforward to descend - it just required taking the time to scout the options and choose a doable path.   I found that, whereas the pathway down the summit crag was to the left (south), the best pathways for the lower crags were generally on the right (north).

The path down from one of the crags below the Mt Koonika summit

View down the King Spur

The second drop off.  Easiest path down is to the north (left)

Mt Koonika from King Spur

Another steep drop off near the top of Mt Koonika
Mt Koonika from King Spur

The spur levels out about 1.5 km from Mt Koonika.  I stopped for a quick rest, then as I was moving off I sprung a couple still in their tent and clearly enjoying each other's company.  I stopped for a chat (as you do) and they asked me about the state of vegetation up the spur.  When I said it was not a problem they were hugely relieved, telling me that further down the spur the vegetation is very thick and in fact they had taken 6 hours to get to this camp site from King Hut the day before - a route that should only take a couple of hours!  This did not bode well!

A 'flat' section on King Spur

Happy photo taken before I hit the insane vegetation
I left behind the happy couple and almost immediately hit vegetation as the spur dropped away.   It was mostly 2-3m saplings - easy enough to walk through, but large fallen trees had me taking a criss-cross path and when I stopped to check my GPS after 20 minutes I found that I'd headed down the wrong part of the spur and was now about 300m off the trail.  Getting back to the trail proved problematic - the vegetation became increasingly dense and by the time I had gotten onto the line of the track (as per the GPS) I was having to push and pull my way through the very dense bush as well as constantly negotiate fallen trees. Of the trail there was no sign at all.  This stuff was seriously thick. My progress was painfully slow and I cringed at the prospect of 6 hours of this activity.

The GPS route had me walking to the side of the main spur.  Following a hunch I walked off the GPS route and headed instead to the centre of the spur and was rewarded with a much reduced level of regrowth.  From this point on I found that by sticking more or less to the centre of the spur the vegetation was much more manageable and I was able to make decent progress.

(Above and below) The thick vegetation in the mid section of King Spur

A brief respite from the thick vegetation

A glance back up on the vegetation I'd just pushed through
Things improved hugely once I got to above 3 km (1.9 mi) out from the end point.   The bush opened up and though there were still patches of thick vegetation, it was for the most part pleasant and easy walking.
The open bush near the bottom of King Spur

The final section at the start of King Spur
I was pretty hot and buggered by the time I reached the car at midday.  It had taken me 6 hours from Mt Speculation - about 2 hours over the guidebook time!  I drove the 1 km (0.6 mi)  to the King Hut camping area and jumped into the river, clothes and all - beautiful!

Gear notes:

Thermarest NeoAir mat - I bought the earlier model of the NeoAir just before this trip.  Until now I have been using an old 3/4 nylon Thermarest that is on the thin side and it has been uncomfortable and cold to sleep on.  The NeoAir is a godsend. For starters I can now sleep on my side without having to move every 15 minutes.  Being full length I don't have to stuff around with padding for my feet or running out of space to put a pillow.  It is also very light, packs small and is quick to inflate.  It seems a little flimsy, so I am sure I will need to be careful with it, such as when sleeping on rocky or rough ground.  Otherwise, I am sold on this one!

Montane Litespeed windshirt - This was the second outing for my new windshirt and again it proved its worth - keeping the worst of the wind out when I was tromping around the tent in the small hours and then again as I waited on the summit in the pre dawn.  Among many features, it includes a hood, which I very much appreciated in the cold morning wind on the summit of Mt Spec.

Spot 2 Satellite Messenger- The Spot is a vital companion on my solo walks and it has found a permanent place on the right shoulder strap of my backpack.  For a small extra weight (160gms 5.6oz) I get (1) A PLB, feature that gives me a 'get out of jail' card should I get sick or injured and am unable to self-rescue and (b) I have a simple means of letting my family know that I am ok when outside phone range - particularly useful if I'm running late. Just how important is this last feature was brought home to me by my wife, who got very worried when I forgot to send the 'I'm Ok' message on the last morning.
MYOG pyramid tent - My large (9'x9' base) 'mid does not shed wind very well.  The first time I used it in strong winds - on Mt Bogong last year - I lost a corner tie out and spent most of the night holding it onto it for dear life.  I also had strong winds to contend with on Mt Speculation and again the tent gave me a hard night.   The large sides seem to catch the wind like sails, rather than shedding it,  This time it was the 11mm centre pole that was problematic, bending like a bow and eventually piercing the tent cap.I ended up supporting it with my bamboo staff.  Until I get a better 'wind' tent I am going to have to be more selective about camping sites.

Dunlop KT26 shoes - I have been trying these out based upon some recommendations from other bush walkers.  They are certainly light (740gm 26oz total) and cheap ($40 from BigW).  I also have found them comfortable to wear and quick to dry.  However, I have some major issues with them.  For starters they are quite thin around the toe area and have no toe wrap to protect the toes from rocks, sticks, etc.  Secondly, when walking in them they tend to collapse inwards.  I don't think this was simply poor foot placement on my part.  Finally, they have not lasted well.  With only 8 days of hiking and a month or so of casual use, they are already showing significant wear.  The soles have lost most of their tread, the inner sole in one shoe has come loose and the upper of one shoe is coming away from the sole.    I am definitely in the market for new hiking shoes.


Duration/Distance3 days 42km (26mi)

 - e-Maps: 1:25000 - Vicmaps 8223-4-N (Avail. via Mud-maps iPhone app)


  1. You might want to look at Montrail Mountain Masochist shoes 700g, or Columbia Talus Ridge Mid OutDry Boots 980g for more ankle support and toe guards at Mountain Designs Clearance. Around $100 mark.  Also MLD TrailStar for those windy pitches since you like tarps and exposed sites.

  2. A beautiful area, yes and I have photos of camping on top of Speculation, it has to be one of the best spots to camp. It seems that Telegraph Box Junction has changed a little since I was last there. Great to see all that blue sky, have you thought of installing side panel tie outs on the Pyramid? 

  3. Gday, Nielsen. Nice to hear from you. I have installed side panel tie outs, though didn't take pegs for them on this trip.  They do reduce the billowing effect, but it's not fantastic.  I suppose to be definitive I will just need to try camping on a windy mountain top once more!

  4. Hi Peter I had a look in your Lt Bourke st store today but they don't have the Montrail shoes. Do they stock them in any other Melbourne store?

  5. Great read, spectacular pics and yes, that tree does indeed have a nice butt. Thanks for the story! I'm jealous.

  6.  Try Mountain Designs Clearance in Smith St.  Great service and huge range of brands. They may be able to get them in for you. Try a call but worth a visit too.

    1. Update: I bought a pair if New Balance MT810 trail shoes to replace the Dunlops. Will be using them in Arthur's Pass NZ in early Feb.

  7. Nice work Andrew, its one hell of an area up there. I'm very overdue for a visit to Spec, last time I was there was well over ten years ago. 

    Those Neo Airs are good though, aren't they? I had been using a foam mat until recently, and getting an All Season Neo Air has been the best thing I have bought in some time. They are extremely comfortable. 

  8. G'day, Ryan

    Yes, 10 years is too long - it's time you went back there! Well, to Mt Spec, for sure, though you may not enjoy the scrubby lower slopes of King Spur, as you descend from Koonika!

    I believe that, like me, you're getting back into hiking after a long hiatus - great stuff!

    Cheers, Andrew 

  9. Hi Andrew,

    Robert and Diane, the British couple here (although only one of us is British and the other obviously needs to regain her Aussie accent ;-) ).  Very pleased to have stumbled across your blog.  Great trip report.  I'm glad to hear that it all turned out fine and that the scrub was as bad for others as it was for us!  I think we need to get a GPS sorted out to guide us in such situations.  Thanks again for the lift!  See you on the tracks somwhere. 

  10. Hi Diane

    Great to hear from you. It was a fun walk for the most part, but yes, King Spur was gnarly!

  11. Hi nice work ! A question, how was the road to King Hut ? Mt Spec road OK for a 2wd ?

  12. Hi David. Speculation Road is ok for a 2wd to King Hut. It's 4wd territory after that.

  13. Even such simple touches as a bowl of nuts on the table serves the holiday decor scheme.

  14. Dunlop Volleys are popular walking shoes.

  15. I have use Vollies, Phillbies, and found them light and comfortable. Like the other Dunlops I wore on this hike they lack toe protection and don't last v well.


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