Weekend circuit on Diamantina Spur
Last weekend (22-24 September) we decided to do a circuit from Mt Hotham (Mt Loch carpark) to Mt Feathertop via the Diamantina Spur, then back out on the Razorback Ridge.
Around lunch time on Saturday we parked the car at the Diamontina Hut on the main road so when we walked out on Razorback Ridge we could just jump in the car and leave. It meant we had to walk a bit along the road to the Mt Loch carpark but we'd rather walk the extra distance on the first day!
Driving up the Great Alpine Road we could see that snow looked surprisingly sparse on the mountains and we thought our plans of getting in one last snow shoe hike for the season were too late. We left the snow shoes in the car and walked to the starting point.
When we arrived some cross country skiers had other ideas.
"I hope you've got snow shoes."
"It's very soft out there - you'll be sinking without snow shoes."
"You'll ruin the track for us."
We did a test walk and decided yes, we did need snow shoes. But the car was a couple of kilometres away.
Luckily a couple of the skiers kindly drove Sam back to the car, waited for him to get the snow shoes out of the car, and then drove him back. It must have been about 1pm before we were finally ready to set off.
I had never worn snow shoes before and getting them on the first time was a bit of a challenge. But once we got started I could immediately see how much easier they made walking on the soft snow!
We were headed to Derrick Hut first, and went via Mt Loch. For me it was interesting to figure out that when there is snow and you have snow shoes, it doesn't matter so much where the path usually goes, just pick a path over the snow and head in the direction you want to go.
We reached Derrick Hut around 3pm and decided to cook some food. Walking through the snow had been hard. The first kilometre or so of any hike is always difficult as you try to remember how you walk 45km over snow in three days with a heavy pack. The temperature was quite warm so we stripped off to t-shirts and fortunately had remembered the suncream because the sun was blazing down and reflecting off the snow around us.
Sam used the toilet when we arrived (the dreaded parasites had returned...) at the hut but the door had blown off the little building, so I decided to find what I thought was a more private spot. We'd seen cross country skiers all morning so I was wary of being spotted, but had to go... Just as I was pulling up my pants I realised a couple we no more than 20 metres away from me... they weren't looking at me but had they already seen me? I leapt to my feet and ran back to Sam in the hut. Luckily the two people moved past the hut and didn't come in.
After our meal we were back out in the snow headed for Dibbins Hut. We saw lots of beautiful little birds and after Derrick Hut we didn't see any other skiers.
We started falling through the snow and finding the summer steps and soon enough the snow ran out and we found the rocks and steps to descend down to Dibbins Hut. We went down from about 1800m to 1300m and then we entered a beautiful clearing next to a river, and there was the hut.
It was a mild afternoon and it felt good to wash in the river, set up the tent on some soft grass and cook food comfortably at a table. It was a pleasant evening of solitude and the stars were beautiful as we lay in the tent.
We lay in the sun for an hour in the morning before getting up. We cooked breakfast and put our things to dry in the sun. It was another spectacular morning and our things were able to dry before packing up.
The track went down further and soon enough we came to the Red Robbin Battery, an old mine where apparently a hermit lives in now. We didn't see him, but it was a little creepy to think of someone living in the middle of nowhere, fencing off an area right next to the path.
The walk that morning was pleasant and fairly easy. But then we got to the Diamantina Spur, and it went straight up very, very quickly!
The spur begins at just over 1000 meters elevation and takes you to the Razorback Track near Federation Hut. According to the signs and maps it's only about 4km long. We knew it would be hard, but didn't think it would take us too long...
We climbed up the rocks, often scrambling, as we gained elevation slower than I would have liked. At one point I felt convinced we must have made it up to about 1600m but the reading was only 1350m! I was devastated!
We kept climbing, and soon reached the ridge we had to walk along. Snow shoes went back on, the clouds came over and the temperature dropped dramatically. The warm sun was gone and we were back to alpine hiking.
The walk along the ridge was still difficult, but we enjoyed spectacular views of Feathertop the whole time around. We stopped a couple of times to eat a museli bar and drink, but we decided not to cook until we reached Federation Hut.
Slowly the elevation climbed, and finally we found ourselves on the razorback track. Surely the walk to the hut would be easy from here?
At first it was straightforward. I was a little nervous walking on the ridge but the snow shoes dug in well to the snow.
Then we came to a rise in the track. There were two sets of snow shoe tracks - one set went straight over the summit of the rise while the other set went to the side around the peak. We chose to go around.
Boy I wish we'd gone straight over!
Walking on an angle in snow shoes is very difficult and quite painful on the ankles. Not far into it we decided to take off our right snow shoe so we could handle the angle better, but then that foot was sinking in. The walk around to the hut looked so far. We were tired. So Sam decided it would be easier to follow yet another set of tracks - and go down a steep descent to a valley and back up the other side where we could see the hut, rather than go all the way around.
He gave me the ice-axe, told me to slide down and use the axe to stop myself (self arrest) when I wanted. He slid off and moved quite fast. I was so scared, but thought it was better to stick with him. So I started sliding. I quickly gained speed and wanted to stop. I dug the axe in but didn't stop. My gloves were wet and slipping and the axe slipped out of my hands. I saw a bush to my left and dropped my walking pole and grabbed the bush for dear life.
I was on the verge of cracking into hysteria, and when my feet couldn't get any traction and my hands almost lost their grip on the bush I almost cracked. Sam told me to pull it together and stay calm. He said I had to learn how to stop myself in case I did slip on some ice so we were practicing. And with that he was gone, sliding down the steep slope.
I could see bushes strategically placed so I decided to slide from bush to bush. On one bush I got tangled and lost a snow shoe. I grabbed it and used it to help slow me down for the rest of the slide. When I got to the bottom Sam was laughing joyously as he described my face coming down as a 'look of death'. But I had made it. And now we just had to slog back up to the hut.
As we neared the hut we could see other people were there. On the porch we met up with Tim, who Sam had hiked with at Bogong a couple of weeks earlier and his girlfriend Liv. There was also a third man who was leaving to summit feathertop when we arrived.
We spend the afternoon talking to Tim and Liv about hiking adventures. We all watched the sunset over the beautiful mountains and enjoyed more talking by the fire in the hut after the sun had gone down.
We packed up and said our goodbyes in the morning. Tim and Liv were heading down Bungalow Spur while we had to go back on the razorback. Sam and I had planned to go up Feathertop in the morning but there was no visibility and we were both tired, so we decided to just walk out.
This time we walked over the snow peaks rather than trying to go around them. It was tiring going up and down so much, but it was more comfortable than going around. The snow shoes came on and off a few times when we hit sections of rock, and the track seemed to go on and on... but eventually the road, and our car were in sight.
I trudged through the final kilometre afraid I would never make it. Funny how the final few steps are often the hardest...
Mt Bogong via Staircase Spur
I couldn't be bothered writing a post for this trip, and John (who will thru hike the AAWT in November) has written a better one than I would've anyway, so I've copy and pasted the post that John wrote on his blog - link at bottom of article.
I was devastated a month back when a mate invited me to do some winter hiking/camping up Mt Bogong, Victoria's highest peak. I already had family engagements interstate so I couldn't go.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out he went elsewhere that weekend and was in fact going up to Mt Bogong last weekend. I was stoked.
At 1986m, Mt Bogong is placed amongst Victoria's premier ski fields in the Alpine National Parks. There are a couple routes up to Bogong peak but the most direct and difficult route is the Staircase Spur track. Sam is an experienced adventurer and I have been tracking some good work recently so we were really keen to give the Staircase Spur a strong effort. No slacking!
Having left home at 4am and arriving at the car park around 10am we were ready to get stuck into the mountain. The car park is located at about 360m so the overall climb ahead of us was around 1625m over an 8km trail. At the low altitude the thermal underwear was a little over kill but we knew as we ascended they would come in handy. It was still a pain to be climbing and sweating like mad. I had to remove my glasses as they were useless with all the sweat.
About an hour and a half walking along your standard dirt and rock trails we started to get into the snow. We came across a Scout group descending that had gone a distance ahead but had now given up and were returning as the sunny day was melting the snowy tree tops and they had been struck with large chunks of falling snow. We laughed and continued. Wasn't so funny a half hour later when we copped a couple ourselves. If was fairly entertaining though as you would hear some of the big ones crash right beside you and you'd think to yourself....that would have stung. By this time we had already stripped off the jackets and light jumpers we had departed with and were down to t-shirts. Cold wet snow falling 30m onto flesh wasn't devastating but there was a certain sting to it!
Below you will see the swollen result of a large chunk of snow crashing onto my left bicep.... or is that always how my arm looks! Anyways...
As we continued to ascend the snow cover continued to thicken so we finally decided to strap on the snow shoes. Honestly this was the perfect day for a winter hike. The sun came out, there was barely a breeze and the snow was fresh powder.
The Climbing didn't get any easier. As we edged closer to the summit the rate of ascent increased dramatically and the weather dropped degrees and visibility virtually in minutes. The below photo is Sam blazing the trail. We could see on the opposite peak (when the sky cleared) a number of other people backcountry skiing.
By this stage I was cooked. Sam seemed to still have plenty in the engine, no surprises there. I was following in his tracks pretty closely and as we could see the summit and started our final climb I noticed his tracks, and also mine that followed became shorter under foot. In other words, each step was really only 6-8 inches at a time (I was getting pretty tired and so my steps were getting shorter & shorter - Sam). The weight of our bodies and packs and the aggressive incline just wouldn't allow regular steps. Inches at a time we ground our way to the summit. The summit was blowing a gail and the temperature was really cold now. Keep in mind we had stripped down to t-shirts and were sweating so much that we didn't want to put on thick layers as we climbed so we only had our outer shells over t-shirts. We spent the first 5 minutes on the summit getting dressed appropriately...which involved taking off the jackets to get the layers on underneath... Cold, oh yeah!
But we made it! The photos at the top makes it worth the journey. Sam still had energy to climb the ice block, I was happy to just be standing. Good on yah Sam, like I said.... your a champ.
At first I had a thought of camping right there. The wind was just cutting right through us so we decided to head down a peak or 2 and hope for clearer conditions. So glad we did. We had great view back toward Mt Bogong peak, a Sunset that stayed with us till about 7:30pm which is easily an hour later than normal and overall just really great conditions for camping out.
As we made some food and set up camp the thermometer read -11 degrees .... which we thought was probably off by a couple. Didn't feel a degree colder than -10 !
While preparing dinner we took some photos, had a good chat and enjoyed our surroundings. As night fell there was really no reason to stay up and later than we needed too. So with the sense of accomplishment and delight in the day that had been we closed up the tents and tried to get some sleep.
It got colder through the night but we both are alive to tell our tale.
I had looked at the thermometer on the back of my emergency whistle and it had read about -11 degrees celsius just after dinner. We didn't think it was quit that cold at that stage of the evening but by 4-5am the following day we felt every degree and there is every chance we got down that low. My -5 sleeping bag plus silk liner had never left me cold before but that night I got out my $1 emergency blanket out of the first aid kit which kept me warm. So the sun came up and we unzipped the tents ready to finish our weekend expedition.
When talking with other backpackers a topic of conversation always turns to food and cooking. What stove & fuel do I use is a common question. Typically met with "yeah but in the cold and at altitudes that won't work". So this trip was also about testing some things out for myself. I had bought a Trangia burner for the AAWT adventure based on the recommendation from blogs of hikers who have done the trail. So this weekend was the test. Did it light the same, did it cook fairly conveniently and was it generally similar to all lower altitudes and higher temperatures? I found it a little harder to light but used about the same fuel ..... so don't see what the big deal is with these other blokes! The AAWT won't be this cold and although we get up to this elevation at times I hardly think its an issue.
So morning breakfast was 2 sachets of warm Uncle Toby's Oats, Brown Sugar & Cinnamon with a swig of water and I was ready for the day. Packing up is always a great feeling. You know you ate and burned a little fuel so you are going to be a little lighter, and you know your pack won't be busting at the seems as you have a little less stuff to pack in there.
We started heading down about 9am. It wasn't long before we came across the dozen skiers we had seen the day before. They were trekking back up for another day on the untouched slopes. I would have thought they'd be a little disappointed this day as the night had really crusted up the fresh snow of the day before so wouldn't be a perfect...... I mean the day before was just unheard of beautiful conditions so pretty hard to back that up 2 days in a row.
So we flew down the mountain pretty quick. Going down hill in snow shoes is a little less simple than trekking up the mountain but still I was grateful to have them. We passed a hiker coming up the Eskdale trail without them and he even commented that "it looks like I'm gonna regret leaving them in the car". We agreed! Just to make him feel better.
About an hour down the mountain we took off the snow shoes as we were gone to the raw soil again and started to peel off the layers of clothes again. Who are these 2 posers!
The drive home allowed some reflections whilst driving. Yes, don't eat yellow snow! But also I need to get lighter for the AAWT. I need to keep looking for ways of carrying smarter stuff not more stuff. My cooking set up is fine, no need to make any adjustments. The clothing I had planned to wear for the AAWT is over kill. I will definitely not need so many layers, I was warm at -5 or -11 whatever it may have been which is easily 10 degrees colder than I will come across in November. So a heavy layer can stay at home, I will have enough with me even if it does get to 0 degrees. My fitness is good so just keep maintaining the physical exercise & I will be primed for the big event.
And SPOT works. I had borrowed a friends SPOT tracker to see how it functioned. This is a GPS tracker that allows friends and family to follow my progress online through a web interface. To view the trail Sam & I did for this Mt Bogong trek click the below link which will take you to the SPOT page showing our progress.
A similar page will be set up for the Australian Alps Walking track in November so stay tuned for the link so you can follow Tim & I for the 40 days.
Excitedly I'd researched what I'd hoped would be our next hiking trip. I'd planned to hike Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw. We got up early and headed out towards Mt Buller where we'd planned to take a left turn and drive out past Mt Stirling on the dirt track that leads to the base of the climb.
When we reached Telephone Box Junction we were surprised to see a gate up blocking the road. It turned out we'd missed the cut off time by about 5 days and that they close the road every year during most of WInter and all of Spring! Damn it, what to do now...
Instead of heading home with our tails between our legs we decided to climb Mt Stirling. On the way up the relatively easy track we got a fair dusting of snow, wind and rain.
Coming back down the other side we found a nice spot to put up the tent and despite the temperature dipping below -5 and the wind, snow and slushy rain coming down all night we got a pretty good sleep... or as it turned out, I got a pretty good sleep. During the night it turned out that Shanny wasn't enjoying the tent so she did a runner with her sleeping bag down to the hut down the track a bit.
Apparently some kind of marsupial had kept her up for an hour or two until finally, too exhausted to stay awake any longer she drifted off to sleep.
Wilsons Prom, Victoria, Australia
In August 2009 we spent four days hiking Wilsons Promontory, the southern-most tip of the Australian mainland.
It was the first time I'd done a multi-day hike and had to carry so much gear with me, so the first time I put the pack on I wondered how I could carry it for four days!
The first day we walked to Roaring Meg, the second to Little Waterloo Bay and the third to Sealers Cove. During the four days we only saw one other person and each night had the whole campsite to ourselves.
We had heard that the birds have learnt how to open zippers to get your food - and we indeed witnessed it twice! I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.
We also awoke once to find a critter in the vestibule of the tent trying to get into the saucepan.
It's a sad reality that these animals have come to rely on the food of tourists and adapted to getting their food this way.
It rained on-and-off the four days we were there, but we had enough sunshine during the day to dry things out while we made some food.
There is a tidal crossing near Sealers Cove and we hadn't planned what time to cross so when we got there it was, of course, high tide. Sam made three trips across - once for each of the packs and once for me! He was very wet and cold after that, but we made it across ok.
Walking out on the last day we went through areas that had been burnt in the terrible bushfires of 2009. The park had been closed for a few months and parts of it were still closed, but this part had just reopened.
It's a truly beautiful part of Australia and for my first multi-day hike I had a great time.
Mt Feathertop, Victoria, Australia
Last weekend we experienced the beauty of the Victorian Alps.
Sam has wanted to climb Mt Feathertop for a while and we finally got around to doing it.
Our hiking gear hadn't been pulled out for a while but we found it all and spent a week throwing things into the spare room in anticipation. Our main setback was when our dog Boston sniffed out our freeze-dried meals and ate them.
On a Friday we dropped Boston off at his holiday retreat, drove four hours to the mountains and Sam dropped me and the gear at the start of the Tom Kneen (NW) track. This is the hardest track to Mt Feathertop - of course Sam wanted to do the most difficult one!
Sam drove to Mt Hotham and parked the car, before riding my bike back to the start of the walk. It took almost two hours for him to do this! By the time we'd chained the bike to the start sign it was after 4pm and we didn't have much daylight left.
Within the first couple of KMs we were next to a river and it was nice and flat, so we decided to camp for the night and hike in the morning.
We had a pretty restful night, the only disturbance being a startled deer.
The walk to Feathertop was tough!! On a scale of difficulty, if Mt Agung is a 10, this was about an 8! For hours Sam strode uphill, while I shuffled, stumbled, rested, tripped and eventually caught up with him. The track was very steep, and there were few sections where it flattened out.
There was no water along the way up, so we couldn't cook our lunch. I knew I had to make it to the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club hut, where there would be water to drink and we could cook some food. If I could just make it there I'd be ok.
After almost four hours of gruelling climbing we made it to the hut. In the nick of time - my energy was almost gone!
As we ate, we could see Feathertop. The top was shrouded in clouds - and they were thickening. After an hour rest we started walking again - we were going to the top.
It was still a lot of uphill, but I had more energy and it seemed easier. We quickly reached the track to the summit. This part was hard again, but our destination was close. Each rise I thought "This is it!" but then I'd see Sam up ahead on a higher rise.
Then I was there. I'd made it! The mist was thick around us, and we couldn't see anything, but we'd made it.
Sam wanted to camp on the summit but I was worried about snow. Sam had checked the forcast before we left and said it would be fine, but I wanted to be sure. I pulled out the phone and was surprised to have four bars of reception! I checked the weather - they were now predicting snow.
As the wind picked up, I managed to convince Sam to head halfway down the track and camp in a little shallow dip.
Late that afternoon it was freezing cold, and the mist kept swirling around, but it didn't snow.
We cooked dinner early and by the time the sky darkened at 5pm we were already in our sleeping bags.
It was a long night. Sleep was hard to come by. Noises disturbed me. When I touched the outside of my sleeping bag or brushed the wall of the tent I felt icy water. It was such a cold night that our warm bodies and breath were causing a lot of condensation.
During the night the mist cleared and the stars shone. After midnight we were warm in our bags and sleep finally found us.
The sunrise was spectacular. It was a cold morning, and everything was covered in ice, but the view was exhilarating! Sam snapped pics while I stayed in my sleeping bag and packed things away.
We moved to a sunny spot to put things out to dry a bit while we ate our porridge. Then we started the walk out.
The Razorback Track was much easier than the NW track, and we maintained a good pace for the morning. In less than three hours we were back in the car - shoes off, faces washed and on our way to Bright for some chicken and chips!
Some thoughts and pictures from some of the hikes we've done.