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...