Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trip report: Mt Buggery, Crosscut Saw and Mt Howitt - Australian Alpine Region

For hikers, every trip to the back country has something special about it.  Just getting away from the developed, civilised world of people and into the unstructured, un-civilised areas of the planet offers hikers a chance to experience something completely at contrast to the every day. 

That said, some trips are more special than others and this trip, on a hot weekend in February, was one of the special ones.    It was the first time I experienced real self-doubt in the bush.  It was also the first time that I realised that walking solo was something I absolutely loved.

For my first solo overnight hike I decided to tackle the Crosscut Saw and Mt Howitt. heading off on Saturday morning.  To get there I drove 3 hours out of Melbourne to the Mt Buller area.   I took the turn off for Mt Stirling, drove past Telegraph Junction, on to the Upper Howqua camping area.   The bridge into the camping area was storm damaged, so after parking the Patrol I did a balancing act over the remaining beam and headed to the start of the track.

It was a beautiful day for hiking and the track was easy.  The main hassle was the 6 (or was it 7?) river crossings.  I'd taken the view that dry feet are happy feet, so was taking off my boots and socks for each crossing, which made for slow going.

The other piece of interest were the 4 or 5 snakes I encountered on the track.  I found out later on the Bushwalk Aus forum that they were copperheads - 10th of the most-poisonous snakes in the world list, but generally pretty shy.  They tend to be near water.   I didn't know these facts at the time but decided in any event to give them a wide berth.

Having seen a few snakes in the long grass, the next section of the track, which was getting quite overgrown, was a fair strain on my nerves and it was about this time that I figured it would be a good idea to acquire some gaiters for my next trip.

Took a short detour to check out some interesting rapids up a side gully.

The next section, Stanley Name Spur, involved following an old forest road.  The road was obviously no longer used as trees had fallen across it in many places.   I learned a good lesson about 'eyes on the trail' along here when at one point while reading the GPS while walking I lost my step, then stumbled for about 5 metres before losing battle with gravity and going completely arse over kite, backwards into the bush on the side of the track.

After returning to the trail, things got interesting. The problem was that in the area called Queens Spur, the footpad disappeared - nothing. I walked this way and that trying to pick it up, but no luck. I was using my iPhone as nav tool, via an app called Motion-X, which includes a basic topological map. This was indicating that I had to walk directly through thick scrub. It took me a while to realise that that was exactly where I had to go and I then headed off to have my first experience of bush-bashing in Aussie regrowth.

While pushing aside branches and bushes, thistles and twigs scratched my shins, and vines and creepers constantly tried to trip me up, all while wondering if a copperhead lay hidden in the next blind step.  It was exhausting and it went on and on as I walked along the steep side of a gully.  I considered that I might be lost and I started to wonder how long I had to do this. 

I wasn't expecting this walk to be so physically hard.  Add to that the uncertainty over my navigating and it became emotionally challenging too. To be honest there came a point where I started to despair and just sat down where I was.

I realise now, looking back, that this wasn't the hardest challenge I have faced (or likely will face) in bushwalking; but it was hard at the time and it led to a defining moment.  It was the realisation that I had got myself into the situation and, as solo hiker a long way from home, it was up to me to get me out of the situation.

So I got up and continued on.  I changed the previous tack and headed directly up to the ridgetop. To my relief I found the trail at that point as well a welcome sign of humanity - an emergency fuel bottle left at the side of the trail for park staff. 

[EDIT: In a later visit to this same area I finally found the road that leads up to Queens Spur...and it is much easier!!  You can read about it here.]

The trail headed up Mt Buggery.  It was now evening and it was growing dark as I scrambled up the rocky slope that lead to the summit.  It was hard work and by the time I walked onto the summit area I was knackered and puffing hard.  There was already a tent up there.  I walked a bit further along, flopped down and lay there for a minute or two, puffing getting my breath back.

After a rest I set up the tarp, then took a few photos


I didn't feel hungry so I crawled into my sleeping bag. I found I had signal on my iPhone, so was able to trade a couple of texts with my wife, before going off to sleep.

It was a  clear night, with a slight but cold breeze. I found out a couple of things.  Firstly, I needed to be more careful about how I set up my tarp to better block the wind;  and secondly, my sleeping bag was not wind proof.  Between both discoveries it made for an uncomfortable night.   At one point I tried jerry-rigging a door using gaffer tape and a garbage bag.  It definitely helped reduce the breeze, though not enough to make it comfortable.

Morning finally came and I woke to a glorious sunrise over the mountains.

I wolfed down a breakfast of bacon & eggs, while sharing the experience with a gazillion flies who suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

I took a few snaps of the tarp before heading off. The tarp is made using a $8 vinyl groundsheet I bought from Anaconda. The design of the tarp came from a backpacking site in the UK. It's pretty rough, prone to tearing and hard to tension - but it's super light and easy to set up. I use my bamboo staff as the tarp support.


The next hour or so involved crossing the Crosscut Saw.  This is a fantastic and popular area for hikers at any time.  This morning there was a low cloud filling the valley and it was simply beautiful.

One problem with an otherwise very pleasant day was that I had no water to drink - I had used the last of my supply the previous night and used the last of my milk supply at breakfast.

So as I made my way onto Mt Howitt later that morning I was quite thirsty.  When I came across this shallow pool of rain water I didn't hesitate to fill my bottles, adding a couple of purification tabs.

Needless to say, Mt Howitt provided some more excellent views.

I then walked for a couple of hours back down to the Upper Howqua camping area.   Met a few of the now-familiar copperheads on the way.


Great to finally get back to the river.  Drank something like 2 litres of water in about 2 minutes flat.
Came across this cluster of poo-loving butterflies..

... and this huge catepiller
Finally got back to the Patrol - tired and sunburnt, but very satisfied with what had been a challenging couple of days.   This had been a significant walk and one I would often think about.

Lessons learned:
  • Don't despair - there's always a solution
  • Get a better GPS solution
  • Get gaiters
  • Carry more water
  • Use suncream sooner
  • Don't waste time taking off my boots and socks for river crossings
  • Get better wind-proofing
  • Aussie bush can be challenging

Key gear used:
  • Osprey Aether 55ltr framed pack
  • Synthetic bag
  • Vinyl tarp
  • Old nylon hiking boots
  • Bamboo staff
 (Feb, 2011)


  1. Was this walk 26 in the 'Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps' by Glenn van der Kniijff? It certainly sounds like it, as I went with a few people to do this walk about 3 years ago and there's no way we could find the 'open spur' that leads up to Mt Buggary! All that regrowth meant we bush bashed up the side of the mountain not knowing really where we were going other than up! I didn't have a GPS in those days and this walk was kind of painful. It certainly sounds like nothing has changed in the 3 years since :)

  2. Hi Greg. Yup, Walk #26 The Crosscut Saw. I struggled with a GPS - must have been diabolical without one!

    I think we should start referring to the author as "He who must not be named".

  3. Thought so :) When I read your report the horrible memories came flooding back! Yeah, we weren't 'lost' as we knew we just had to go 'up' to the Crosscut Saw. The trouble was it was looming about a million feet above us which meant a painful ascent. Definitely a walk I'd like to try again, but next time from McAllister Springs I think :) Don't worry, after our bush bash we didn't make it to Mt Speculation either...


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