Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trip report: Snow-shoeing from Mt Stirling to Craig's Hut - Winter 2011 (Victoria, Australia)

Following on from a snow-shoeing trip to Mt St Gwinear a few weeks back, I was keen to get in one last overnighter in the snow to test my gear and fitness ahead of a planned trip to Mt Bogong in a couple of weeks time.  My destination this time was Mt Stirling, a popular Winter location for outdoor adventure activities, and a trip to the legendary mountain home of "The Man from Snowy River".

It's a pleasant country drive of around 2 1/2 hours from Melbourne to Mt Stirling.  I highly recommend that you stop on the way at Mansfield, the last major town before you get to the mountains and a top spot for a coffee.

On arriving at the base of the mountain I was a bit taken aback at the stiff overnight parking fee $52.  And as if that wasn't enough, I was told that I needed chains to stay overnight, even with mild conditions and driving a 4WD.  Anyway, there's a hire place positioned conveniently nearby  and before you can say 'in cahoots' I had hired a set of chains for $20 and was on my way for the short drive up to Telephone Box Junction.

Telephone Box Junction, Mt Stirling

For most of the year you are able to drive further in to the alpine country from here.  In the Winter however the road is closed beyond 'TBJ' and the area beyond belongs to the skiiers, snow-shoers and tobogganers.  So I parked the Patrol in the TBJ carpark, donned the pack and the warmer clothes, before wandering over to the ranger's hut to complete an intentions form.

The basic plan was to walk up to Mt Stirling via Bluff Spur Trail, out to Craig's Hut for the night, then back to TBJ via the Stirling Trail.  You can find a Mt Stirling trail guide here.

The trip out to Craig's Hut
I turned on Motion-X tracking app on my iPhone and headed off up the track.

 Signs near TBJ had indicated that the first usable snow was a few kilometres up the trail and they weren't kidding - it was around 3 1/2 kms before I saw anything resembling snow.  I was just the teeniest bit worried that I might be in for a snow-free night. 

Storm damage on Mt Stirling, Victoria
However, the snow cover gradually increased as I walked further up the mountain.

By the time I approached the Bluff Spur Hut I found there was great snow cover.  I also found a large group of XC skiiers.  They looked and sounded like a school group.  I moved on without further ado.   

I popped on the Yowies, then paddled up to the summit.  There were a number of groups stopped there to admire the view.   Now I am all for sharing the environment, etc, but I like my own company mostly, particularly when on a hike; so I took a quick snap with the Sony Cybershot (borrowed from daughter - my camera got drowned on an earlier trip to Mt Clear), then quickly headed off down the other side of the mountain, in the direction of Craig's Hut.

Mt Stirling

Camp site on Mt Stirling

To get to Craig's Hut from Mt Stirling you walk along a trail that takes you via the Clear Hills.  It's a great walk, with (not surprisingly, given the name of the area) plenty of ups and downs along the way to keep you warm.  Snow-wise, there was decent cover for about two thirds of the trail in this section and I found myself having to take off then put back on the snow shoes a few times.

The weather was pretty mild.  The temperature was around 7-8 degrees C when I left TBJ at 1pm, although it starting dropping later in the afternoon, getting down to about 2 degrees C in the early evening.

My you-beaut altimeter/barometer/thermometer/clock/compass that I picked up for $30 online.  I lost it  - then had it returned by a samaritan - on my last trip, so for this hike I created a snap on clip using a converted lanyard from work and put an eyelet in my sternum strap.  It didn't fall off this time, but it tended to bounce around like buggery. I ended up tucking it under a loop on a shoulder strap.

I had been walking a total of 4 hours when I finally arrived at Craig's Hut.

Craig's Hut is more famously known as the house used in the classic Australian movie, "The Man from Snowy River". Fame aside, this is a great little hut and so positioned that there are 270 degree views around the surrounding mountains. It is stunning!

Earlier in the day I had been considering walking back to the snow so I could snow camp.  However, this spot was just too good to leave, particularly so when I got to have it to myself.  So I pitched the tent and got settled in.

Not stealth camping - the new blaze orange pyramid  at Craig's Hut

It was an interesting evening.  Enjoyed a dinner of kransky sausages and a cup of tea.  Then, with time to kill I decided to make a fire in one of the available fire pits.  

And then the fun began.

Man (0) - Wild (1)

 I gathered up some bark from the ground, as well as some kindling and a few logs from the Hut.  Being committed to the whole back-woods ethos I went to start the fire with a flint and some wood shavings I had cut out with my knife.  That exercise generated a lot of sparks, but no flame.  After a while of this I decided that ethos was one thing, but pragmatism is an equally good thing, so I fetched my Bic lighter.  This yielded only slightly better results than the flint.  I was now getting a bit jack of this, so, being both pragmatic and a little reckless I fetched my gas stove, lit it (using my flint of course - remember the ethos) and proceeded to use it to 'make that sh*t burn!'  'Cop that, Nature!' I shouted as the bark burst into a roaring flame that licked eagerly around the waiting logs that would provide me with a cosy evening.  Nature, of course, is not so easily foiled and I watched in increasing levels of dismay as the roaring flame gradually burned out,  leaving the logs blackened, but stubbornly not alight. Beaten, I went to bed, muttering something about fires being for wimps anyway.
The fire that would not burn
The new quilt

It got down to about 1 degree C overnight.  I was hoping for something a little cooler to give my new MYOG synthetic quilt a proper workout; Nevertheless I found that, at that temperature and wearing thermals, a fleece top, socks and a fleece beanie, I was quite toasty for the night.  I suspect that with the addition of another layer, like a puffy vest. it will be sufficient down to minus 5  (See this post about the making of the quilt.)

The great thing about mornings is that you get to start off fresh and the next morning for me was no different. With the fire episode far behind me I got up an enjoyed the early morning views from Craig's Hut

Powdered eggs - an acquired taste

I love a hot breakfast so I made my usual bacon and eggs.  To save weight I had decided to try powdered eggs for this trip rather that bring whole eggs.  I have to say that the egg-like experience of powdered eggs was an ordinary experience.  To be fair I only added hot water to the powder.  They might have been passable if I has also fried the powder/water mix.  I brewed up some coffee to wash it down.

Return trip

Breakfast done, I quickly packed then headed back down the trail to Mt Stirling.

Had the summit to myself.  Stopped to enjoy the view and take a view more pics.

I headed back via the Stirling Trail.

I was feeling pretty good and did the walk out about 30minutes faster than the previous day, even with a longer route.  It was very mild, with temps rising to around 9 degrees C.  I stopped for a chat with the rangers at TBJ, then headed home.  Enjoyable couple of days.   Will definitely get back there another time.


  1. Andrew, nice report mate. I'm loving your blazing orange shelter! It looks like another walk I'll put on the 'to do' list!

    I had no idea that they charged $52 to park the car near TBJ overnight. That's a brutal price...

  2. Chains for a 4WD? That's a bit rough. 've been meaning to make that winter hike for some time but haven't made it yet.

  3. Your blog has inspired us to head up to Craigs Hut for a couple of days. Looks like snow will be limited but season has finished sooner than expected. I see you also use the Yowie's snow shoes.


    Rob HF

  4. Great to hear, Rob. Yeah, will prob have limited snow, but should be a nice walk all the same - and you will still have the use of Craig's Hut without the 4WD gang.

    I love the Yowies, except perhaps the way their wide shape makes me do a slight penguin waddle.

  5. enjoyed reading your account and pics. Hope to do it in 2012

  6. Hi Publicrejoicer

    Glad you enjoyed it. Will you do the walk in Winter?


  7. Thanks for sharing, this is now 'on the list' :)


I would love to hear from you - post a comment here.