Friday, October 12, 2012

Mt Feathertop - Diamantina Spur - Mt Hotham Circuit - Aug/Sep 2012

To mark 12 months since my last major, multi-day hike - a circuit around Mt Bogong - I headed back into the same region, this time to tackle Victoria's second highest peak, Mt Feathertop, and its surrounds.  The plan was to complete a circuit over 4 days that included Bungalow Spur, Diamantina Spur, Machinery Spur and Bon Accord Spur.
It's a 4 hour drive from Melbourne to Harrietville - plenty of time to work through the iPod playlist after I was outside city radio range.  I enjoyed great views of  Mt Buffalo National Park as I headed towards Bright; later, there were equally terrific views of Mt Feathertop as I approached Harrietville.

Approaching Harrietville. Feathertop in the background.
Click on map for larger view

Day 1 - Harrietville to Federation Hut - 9km

Ready to go.
I arrived at Harrietville around 2pm. My original plan had been start up the Bon Accord Spur, returning at the end of the trip via Bungalow Spur. However, I decided to reverse this after I figured that since I was starting relatively late in the day I would be arriving at Federation Hut at nightfall and, being a mid week night (Wednesday) I would get to have the hut to myself.

Lower section of Bungalow Spur Tk

Tobias Gap, Bungalow Spur Tk

The trail up Bungalow Spur reminded me a lot of Staircase Spur at Mt Bogong - a real slog, through some stunning bush.

First traces of snow at 1,100 mtrs

View from Bungalow Spur Tk
I covered the last km to Federation Hut in darkness

Night fell as I ascended the upper part of the trail and by the time I got to the sign indicating the last water source, it was quite dark   I put on my head torch and enjoyed a night time walk over the final kilometre to Federation Hut.

This was my first visit to Fed Hut and I was quite impressed by it.   Lots of room. Good wood stove. Even better - I found packets of Marshmallows and Gingernut biscuits that have been left behind by previous parties.   Now I appreciate the hut rules that say that you should  not leave any food stuffs behind, but I have to tell you that I really enjoyed hoeing into those particular items - just the sugar kick I needed!  As it turned out I wasn't the only lodger at the hut that night who appreciated the treats - but more on that later.

Federation Hut

It was good to be eating

Using the wood that had been left by the previous occupants (big thanks again - fetching wood in the dark and the snow would have been a major chore!), I got the wood stove pumping and had dinner.

After desert of toasted Marshmallows and a cuppa I settled down to read a few chapters of 'Into Thin Air" before drifting off to sleep..

.. but not for long.  Within minutes of my light going out a couple of  mice (or more - I couldn't tell) started scuttling around on the table.   And like old-style garbos, they seemed hell bent on making as much noise as possible.  It stated with rattling about in the Marshmallow and Gingernut packets.  If I shone my torch the noise would stop .. then immediately start again when I turned it off.   I tried being cooperative and taking a few Marshmallows and Gingernuts out of their packets, but this made little difference as the activity escalated to include scuttling around on various beams and random screeching.   And the little buggers kept at it for a few hours, so sleep came slowly that night.

Federation Hut - the mice live in the wall between the table and the stove

Day 2 - Federation Hut to Blair's Hut - 8km

Federation Hut surrounded by deep snow

Thanks to my noisy room mates I didn't awake until after 9:30am the next morning. Outside it was snowing and windy and I took my time getting ready to move, hoping for conditions to improve a bit before I hit the trail.   While restocking the wood I noticed a deep snow cave behind the hut - probably the efforts of the local Search & Rescue group who, according to the hut visitor log, had been at the hut a few days earlier.
The palatial dunnies at Federation Hut

I was 11:30am by the time I got on my way.   It was a bit later that I'd intended, but per the map I only had 8 km to cover to get to the next hut, plus the side trip to Mt Feathertop, so I wasn't too concerned.  (Yeah, right.)

The weather had cleared up a little so I got some nice pics on the way up to Little Feathertop.

The route towards Little Mt Feathertop from Federation Hut

A last look at Federation Hut
The weather closed in again as I reached Little Mt Feathertop, then cleared again after 20 mins.  This became the pattern for the rest of the afternoon.  Unfortunately Mt Feathertop stayed cloud-bound so I decided to bypass it  - that bit of peak bagging will have to wait for another trip.

Visibility was poor at times

Razorback Track

I headed east down the Razorback Track.  The deep snow and occasional clear, but grey sky made for some beautiful, stark sights.

It also made the going tough a lot of the time, even with the Yowie snow shoes.   While the trail seemed to follow the sides of the ridges I found it easiest to go directly over the tops, where the snow was generally much firmer.

Sticking to the direct route also made it easier for the Yowies, which didn't cope very well with steeply angled traverses, where the lateral tension would cause the velcro straps to undo and I would end up with a snow shoe left behind me.

First look at Diamantina Spur
Eventually I reached the start of Diamantina Spur. As I looked down the spur it seemed a little like sand dunes, except with snow, rather than sand.   Once I got started down the spur, I found the top section was OK.  There were lots of small, but steep rises and falls, with deep, soft snow, making the going slow, but steady.  When the clouds cleared there were some terrific views into the valleys.

View SE from Diamantina Spur
The slow pace was a bit frustrating and it took a lot more rises than expected before the spur began to head downwards.

Descending Diamantina Spur

The lower section of Diamantina Spur was hard work.  The slope became quite steep and the terrain became more littered with trees and undergrowth.  At one point it became so steep I had to slide down on my ar$e.     My Yowies did not perform well in this section at all, coming off frequently. I would have gone without the Yowies altogether except that I sank up to my knees in the snow without them.  I also managed to head down the wrong part of the spur, forcing a long traverse across rough terrain.

Bottom section of Diamantina Spur
It was a huge relief to get to the bottom of Diamantina Spur.   In all, it had taken me 6 hours to descend its 4.5 km length!  My only consolation was that at least I hadn't been trying to ascend it.

There is a water course near the sign post at the bottom of the spur and I filled up my small drink bottle.   I also tried to refill my near empty 3 litre Camelbak, but the lid was jammed tight.  (And stayed jammed tight for the remainder of the trip)

It was a relief to be off Diamantina Spur

It was now dusk and after a short break I headed south down the West Kiewa Logging Track, with the goal of getting to Blair Hut.
Heading south on the West Kiewa Logging Road
It was only a couple of kilometers to the hut but it was an eventful 2km.   At one point I was startled by a loud booming noise. I couldn't see anything kept walking, until I heard the same noise again, but closer.  This time I spotted the culprits - two large deer across the river from me, about 50 meters away.  They ran away quickly, but continued to make the barking sound at 5-10 minute intervals,  which was pretty disconcerting in the increasing darkness (Though I couldn't recall any stories of deer mauling lone hikers.) Here's a YouTube video I found that has the same sounds the deer were making.

Where's the map?!
I eventually reached the hut only to find that it was on the other side of the river.  I wasn't game to wade the river in the dark, especially with the barking deer over there somewhere, so I continued up the road.   Another 500m on I came to a cross roads, with a sign indicating a trail back to the hut.  It was about this time that I found that I had dropped my map.  My head torch was quite dim so after changing the batteries  I dropped my pack and headed back to find my map, which I found about 200m back down the road.

With the map now recovered, I followed the trail to Blair's Hut, arriving around 7pm.  Blair's Hut, I found, provides the basic requirements for a hut - walls, roof, fireplace, table, bunks, though lacks a lot of finish and niceties of Fed Hut.  Nevertheless, with a fire going it was a cosy enough place to spend the evening.   To help start the fire I used some fire starters I'd made from cotton wool rubbed with petroleum jelly - worked a treat!
Blair's Hut fireplace

Blair's Hut bunk

Blair's Hut table
I found my sleep system (synthetic quilt, socks, base thermals, fleece, puffy vest, beany, gloves, Tyvek overbag) really wasn't warm enough for the overnight temperatures (-4 to -6C).  I will look at buying or making a down bag for next winter.    I also had a lot of leg pain, so all in all I had a crap night.

Day 3 - Blair's Hut to Bon Accord Spur - 16 km

There was a light snowfall in the morning and once again I got to enjoy amazing winter views.
Blair's Hut

West Kiewa West Branch, at Blair's Hut

Rest area at Blair's Hut

The 'little room' at Blair's Hut
I was on the trail by 8:30.  Destination: Bon Accord Spur.

Bridge out of Blair's Hut
Snow-laden trees across the trail

Turn off to back Blair's Hut
I followed the West Kiewa Logging Road south for 1.5km where I passed the Red Robin Battery.

Red Robin Battery 
A little further I came to the turnoff, where the road starts to head towards Machinery Spur.  I had been pondering which route to use to get to Mt Hotham  - Machinery Spur or Swindlers Spur.   In the end I decided that Machinery Spur would most likely provided the clearest trail as well as the best views,once I got to the ridge tops.

The turnoff to Machinery Spur

Heading up the logging road

The road has deep snow and after a gentle rise at the beginning, got steadily steeper.  It became quite a slog and I found I needed to stop more frequently.   To keep focused I started doing bursts of 200-300 steps, followed by short rests.    As with Diamantina Spur I was not particularly happy with the performance of the Yowies in the deep snow.  They stayed on for the most part, but they weren't doing a particularly great job of keeping me above the snow.

First views of Machinery Spur

Melting snow for a cuppa

Upper section of the West Kiewa Logging Road
It was definitely a relief to reach the Red Robin Mine,which meant I was close to the ridge top and therefore the end of the logging road.

View back down the road from the Red Robin Mine

Water race at the Red Robin Mine

Red Robin Mine

Red Robin Mine
The weather had been gradually improving throughout the morning and by the time I arrived at Machinery Spur it was a beautiful sunny day.
Machinery Spur, near Red Robin Mine

Machinery Spur

Machinery Spur
The walking was great up top - nice, firm snow.  The views of The Razorback and Mt Feathertop were simply awesome.

The Razorback from Machinery Spur

Mt Feathertop and the Razorback

There was a short-lived squall

View towards Mt Hotham, from Machinery Spur 

The Razorback and Mt Feathertop, from Machinery Spur

I made my way past Mt Loch, eventually arriving at the northwest corner of the Mt Hotham Resort.

The Razorback, from Mt Hotham Ski Resort 

Mt Hotham ski resort
I followed the line of snow poles that skirted the northern perimeter of the resort.  Near a ski lift I was approached by one of the staff, who asked me if I'd like a lift on a snow mobile to the road, about 300 m away .  Hell yeah!
A welcome lift to the road
After she dropped me off I thanked her then headed off to walk the 2km along the road to the start of The Razorback.

The Razorback, from the Great Alpine Road
Start of the Razorback

It was late afternoon when I donned the Yowies and walked the 1km along The Razorback to the start of Bon Accord Spur. The Yowies continued to misbehave as I descended the spur, falling off so many times that I eventually gave up and strapped them to my pack.  The track was overgrown in places, with a number of fallen trees and I found myself frequently clambering through the tighter sections.   It was dark when I arrived at the site of the Bon Accord Hut ruins. I stomped out a 3m x 3m flat area in the snow (the pyramid tent takes up a lot of space), pitched the tent and settled in for the night.  It had taken 10 hours to cover the 13km from Blairs Hut and I was buggered.

Day 4 - Bon Accord Spur to Harrietville - 11.5km

I got an early start the next day.  The remainder of the track down Bon Accord Spur was pleasant and - apart from having to backtrack to retrieve a Yowie that had come off my pack (those damn Yowies!!!) - was pretty uneventful.
Lower section of Bon Accord Spur
After a steep final section I came off Bon Accord Spur and arrived at the campsite and bridge on the East Ovens River.

Bridge over the East Ovens River

The campsite and bridge at the East Ovens River

From here it was gentle, 5km walk along a well-maintained trail to Harrietville, arriving around midday.

Trail near the East Ovens River

Last view (faint) of the Razorback

Approaching Harrietville

The bridge back to the car park

This was a challenging, but very satisfying 4 day hike. I highly recommend it do anyone looking for a good snow-shoeing adventure, with the caveat that you need to take a decent pair of snow shoes - not Yowies.


Distance/Duration: 4 days 44.5km
 - Printed: 1:50,000 SV Map, “Bogong Alpine Area”.  See
 - Mud-maps iPhone app: 1:25000 - Vicmaps 8324-3N, 8324-3S
I also referred to "Bushwalks in the Australian Alps" by Glenn van der Knijff - see walks #9 and #10.


  1. This is a very enjoyable report of an area I have spent many happy days and nights in even camping at Federation Hut in winter time. You have captured the beauty of the snow capped peaks and the valleys below very well, as you have the huts.  Overall it appears that you had good weather. Re sleeping system, if I was up there when you were I would use a down bag and probably a down mat (e.g. Exped UL), for 3 or 4 nights moisture absorption by the down should not be a big issue.  I have always wondered about Yowies, now I know. Thanks for the report.

    1. Hi Niesen
      Good suggestions re the bag and mat. I also think I should get a tent more suitable for snow camping eg tunnel-style, double wall and with a floor.
      Cheers, Andrew

  2. Useful report. I've used MSR EVOs -they have tail extensions (extra option) for soft snow. 1.66kg
    3rd day looked big on the map. Lucky you had good weather up on top.  Could've returned via Razorback as well. There's a few campsites along the way in trees.

  3. Hi Peter.   Will check out the EVO - thanks.   Considered a return via the Razorback, but was tiring a bit and was keen to get below the snowline.   Will get back there next year to do the Razorback and (weather gods permitting) a clear Feathertop summit.  

  4. Hi Andrew, great report, and a good to see you shared you booty with the locals. Not having hiked through that area in winter it was very interesting to see the amount of snow about. Just one compliant though, what’s wrong with the radios stations outside the city? :)

  5. Fair cop :) - there's nothing wrong with country radio stations, except perhaps lack of familiarity. Besides, I really felt like listening to some Tool.. Andrew

  6. Fed hut is in a fuel stove only area. Fed hut is for refuge use only. Wood left in the hut is for emergency use only. A sign to this effect exists at the start of the walking tracks in the area.

  7. Great report andrew never seen so much snow as in your pics,i was at fed hut late june,-They say diamantina up in snow is a killer-not worth it,-i will redo this hike next year,as i did your high plains crossing-3 weeks ago-mr ed,
    Great photos and info all the best.
    mr ed.-P/S if a hut is emty for the night go for it,-i see people spending 3 nights at a time,which is a bit much,but 1 night is fine by me.

  8. Hi Biilg, I am not sure if your comments were directed at me, but the last time (mid 90's) I camped at Federation Hut I camped outside as I have done all previous occasions, and I was using a fuel stove at that time, as it was mid winter.

  9. Another good read from the'bish'. Certainly on my list of hiked next winter. Recently did the Craig's hut walk from TBJ. Had the place to myself plus 40 cm snow depth...absolutely magic.
    See if you can find some 3mm floor underlay ...weighs nothing and means you can sit on the snow / tent floor in long johns without feeling the cold.Adds at least 1.5 R value so don't need a huge bag!. Cheers Nick.
    FWIW ... any hut is fair game in winter with sub zero temps. Leave no trace big deal.

  10. HI Andrew,

    Just wanted to let you know that your enthusiasm and your whole approach to this are infectious. This post in particular has me hiked to get back into hiking/camping, and I'm already making plans to do some winter trips this year. Thank you.



  11. Cheers, Ben.  Watch out for my report on a trip to Arthurs Pass, NZ last week.  You'll laugh. You'll cry.  You'll desperately want to go there. :)

  12. Hi Andrew, Great trip report and fantastic photographs. It really is a wonderful part of the country. I was hoping to pick your brain with regards to a trip early next month (September). I've done the Razorback, Bungalow and North West at varying times of the year but I'm planning on doing Diamantina Hut > Mt Loch Carpark > Machinery Spur > Blair's Hut > Diamantina Spur > Fed Hut > Razorback over 3 days. Do you think that this is doable? Would the Diamantina Spur be manageable? Any advice? Thanks a lot!

  13. Hi Chris Doable. I covered the distance from Fed Hut to Mt Loch car park in 2 days, in deep snow. The Razorback will add 1/2-1 day. Good luck.

  14. Fantastic. Thanks, Andrew! I thought it should be but I do get a little apprehensive on new hikes. I'll miss the first week of the finals (Go Cats!) but also the election (with the likely and horrible result), so it balances out. I'll let you know how it goes!

  15. You're crazy! Great job on the hike and thanks for sharing your story :) I liked the part where you got a lift on the ski mobile, I work at hotham as a liftie and getting a ride on those is a lot of fun!
    Thinking about heading out to Feathertop over the weekend. Really enjoyed reading this.

  16. Thanks, Felicia. Have fun at Feathertop!

  17. Nice trip report. I have a pair of Yowies, they're great for flat, well packed snow, places like the Bogong High Plains and Antarctica. But for steep hills you need a heavily cramponed, snowshoe with a free heel. I also own a pair of MSR Lightnings and I use them on Feathertop (although crampons and an ice axe are slightly safer if you're going to the summit).

  18. Hi David Couldn't agree more. I've persevered with the Yowies, but am planning to acquire some MSR Ascents before next Winter.


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