From the most southerly point (Wilson’s Promontory) to the highest point of the Australian mainland (Mount Kosciusko)..
Along the Alpine Track……………
December 15th. Wilson’s Promontory.
I awoke at 6.40am on the southern promontory of mainland Australia to the sound of rain. I lifted my head, listened then promptly fell asleep again. Later, when I managed to tear myself from the warm sleeping bag, it seemed that everyone in the campsite wanted to talk to us, which delayed our departure time to 10.30am. Ahead of us Tim and I had a long 40 km return walk to the most southern promontory of the Australia mainland and back.
It wasn’t long before we gained stunning views of the coastline as we crept through the coastal scrub towards the magnificent and wild Little Oberon and Oberon beaches. Despite its close proximity to the camp grounds of Tidal River, which were littered with humans, this part of the coast seemed so isolated, hostile and breathtakingly spectacular. We forded a stream at the north end of Oberon Beach, which carved beautiful patterns in the sand. Huge boulders, rich in colours; reds, yellows and brown were ladened with moss, and lined the rocky coastline adjacent the stream. We walked the beach for 1.5 km before leaving it and heading east near Fraser Creek. Moving inland we met swarms of children near the Half Way Hut. At the top of the ascent the views were quite magnificent. The track led across a heathland and then descended to the Roaring Meg campsite.
The coast at Wilson’s Promontory.
Further, we reached a high point where I stood on the rock ledge and looked down on the most southerly point of the mainland. Nearby, the Wilson’s Promontory lighthouse stood shining like a white beacon on the cliff edge of the narrow promontory. The wind was gusting violently, which made it difficult to stand upright. We descended steeply to the narrow neck of land and walked on a short concrete road to the lighthouse. Mrs Sutton, the lighthouse keeper’s wife was out and about, and when Tim had told her what I was doing, she promptly fetched her husband to open the lighthouse so we could record our names in the visitors book. They then invited us inside their warm house for a cup of tea and crackers. We talked for sometime.
The lighthouse and the most southerly point of mainland Australia.
Leaving the most southerly point of mainland Australia to walk to the highest point.
It was two months since we had left Cape York, now another journey to the highest point of Australia was about to begin. Retuning to the campsite, via the lighthouse track, we arrived back late that evening a little tired from our ordeal. After writing my diary, I curled up in my sleeping bag just after midnight.
The coastline near Wilson’s Promontory.
December 16th Sunday. Wilson’s Promontory.
Wombats were the big attraction around the campsite and could be seen foraging early morning and late evening. They nibbled at the green grassed campsites with little concern for all the people looking on. My long walk to the top of Australia started at 8.10am. Before heading towards the mountains I diverted to Squeaky Beach, which was north of the campsite, to get one last glimpse, one last experience of the coast. The weather was much calmer than the previous day, and when I walked along the beach, it really did squeak. I left the stunning coastline and walked along the road towards the small town of Foster 60 kms away. There was an incredible bird chorus in the air, and dozens of wombat holes lining the side of the road. On the Fire Refuge Flat hundreds of kangaroos grazed; so numerous it was hard to believe that they were all real.
A beach at Wilson’s Promontory.
That evening, after we camped at Foster, I rang Jenny, and she told me that Dennis Sproul, a friend who had walked with me in the Kimberley in 1988, had arrived in Australia, and wanted to catch up with me.
December 17th. Foster.
It was a misty damp morning when I awoke to find my ankle was a little stiff from the walk the previous day. Leaving town I turned off the main road and headed north into the hills. The scenery was very picturesque, consisting of lush green paddocks, small dams and pine trees. However, the native trees lining the gullies gave me an insight into what the land may have looked like before it was cleared. I couldn’t help thinking it was a pity that so much native vegetation had been sacrificed.
Not long after these observations I was confronted by the most amazing scenery. Turning down the Turton Creek gravel road, the environment changed dramatically. A creek bounded by dense undergrowth descended into the unknown; the trees, tall and magnificent, towered over me and littered the undergrowth with fallen limbs and peeling bark. Descending into the gully the air grew damp encouraging moss to grow on trees. Ferns galore dominated the lower under-growth, many were several metres tall and probably took hundreds of years to grow to that size. Squeezed between the rainforest species, white flowering bushes infiltrated whatever space was left. Overhead birds chatted, like finches trapped in an aviary, and black cockatoos squawked high in the tree tops. Incredibly a pocket of rainforest had managed to evade destruction. I felt elated and at peace as I walked through my secret valley.
All too soon the rainforest petered out to be replaced by pine plantations. Such a contrast – no birds, no lush undergrowth, no life, little dampness, just a creek to my left. A deep sense of loss flooded through me, followed by a little anger at the destruction of such a unique environment. I walked on, feeling guilty that I didn’t care enough to be a true conservationist leaving it to others to do the fighting.
Once again the scenery changed, fields began to appear then two houses, the dogs running out onto the road to challenge me. Passing a small waterfall and leaving the forest totally, the grazing land was dotted with sheep and cattle. In a cattle yard on the boundary of two different beautiful settings, one natural, one semi-rural, cows were being sorted. It reminded me of my time working with cattle in England. Further on and soon after I hit the bitumen, I caught up with Tim and had lunch on some grass in the middle of a Y junction. I then moved on to Mirboo North where I made several telephone calls. Soon after I started walking through an area that had nothing but potato fields, which reminded me of my home in Lincolnshire, England. My first job after leaving school had been potato picking by hand. It was hard backbreaking work, especially trying to keep up with the women, who picked them very quickly. Winter time was the worst time. It was cold, frosty and bitter winds often swept across the fens. Lots of memories started flooding back as I walked through the area. It was great.
Many of the fields here were very steep and undulating, however they looked very healthy and were in nice neat rows. It’s a tractor drivers pride and challenge to plant the rows as straight as possible. Some of the fields were being irrigated, something we never did in Lincolnshire.
As I passed a farm to my delight I noticed a Grimme potato harvester standing in the yard. I knew it must have been imported from England and from the same place that I’d actually worked at, near Boston. I came across two people in the farm yard and I couldn’t help myself but stop and enquire. It turned out that the owner of the farm had been one of the first people to import the machine. I wanted to stay longer to talk, to bring back more memories of my time in England but I didn’t want to intrude, so I walked on passing trucks that were being loaded up with potatoes.
As the day darkened, I passed a sign pointing to my right and saying, ‘This is the site of the worlds tallest tree’. A few years later when Jenny and I were a holiday in the region we checked the tree out. When we arrived at the spot there was a tall piece of steel and a sign saying, ‘the world’s tallest tree once stood near here’. We couldn’t help but laugh, I had thought that the tree was still standing. The sky behind the sign was fiery red from a magnificent sun set. Brimming with joy I walked along the narrow road and arrived at our small campsite near Thorpdale at 9pm, after walking 56 kilometres.
December 18th. Thorpdale.
I walked through Thorpdale just after 7.00am. It was cloudy and cool. Several healthy looking potato fields lined the slopes in straight rows. I bought some raspberries from a farmer’s stall, just before descending a fairly steep hill that dropped down to the small town of Trafalgar. There I had my hair cut. The young female hairdresser was very pleasant, who chatted with me for 15 minutes about my trip. As usual I succumbed to junk food and bought an apple pie and iced bun, before tackling the Princess Highway heading to Moe some 10 kilometres away, where I bought some new tyres for the vehicle, costing $320. From there I headed towards the hills and Walhalla. The sun was setting behind some cloud as I moved through the Moondarra State Park. I could see Mt Baw Baw in the distance and some smaller mountains to my west. By 8.35pm it was dark and I still had 6 kilometres to go so I quickened my pace and arrived at the camp at Erica about 9.35pm.
December 19th. Erica.
As I crept from my tent at 6am it was raining lightly. There was a swallow trapped in the toilet block; it kept hitting the mirror as it flew around the building and then sat on the shelf calling, singing and fretting. Its throat vibrated out of control but I could do nothing to help it out.
I left camp rugged up with gloves and a jacket. Someone had put two letters, AM on the Erica sign making it Am-Erica. The road changed from bitumen to gravel several times as I walked through a forest with deep valleys and several screaming cockatoos. Red and blue parrots were much quieter but I had already developed a head ache, possibly from lack of sleep. Other birds were whistling away, and the perfume of yellow flowering weeds, white bushes and ferns permeated the valley. Tim caught up as I was crossing the Thomson River and said he had seen a lyre bird. I arrived at Walhalla by 10.15am, an old mining town with a number of historic buildings, including an old mechanics and library buildings. Unfortunately only one very small shop was open. We quickly took shelter in a bandstand rotunda or pergola (built in 1896) from a rain storm that suddenly developed. While I waited for the rain to ease Tim gave me a leg massage.
I left town at 11.45am following the track further up into the range and further from civilisation. From here on my route was either on gravel track or mountain trails. As I entered the Baw Baw National Park, it continued to rain on and off. In the distance I could see the Baw Baw Range. To my annoyance and dismay it was obvious that hectares of timber had been felled from the mountain side, scarring it for years. By the time I reached my rendezvous point at a lookout, Tim had the washing hung out, and taking advantage of the sun. As I rested the mobile phone rang; it was Brenda Todd, a friend that I had first met on my overland trip to India in 1972, she wanted to know how I was going.
I ate rice pudding as I descended down to the Aberfeldy River where people were fishing in the swift, shallow water. Fishing has never been a priority in my life, I felt it was too slow and boring, however, fly fishing in such a tranquil setting looked very appealing. On the next hill I saw views of Thomson Reservoir. The rain started again and soon after I was above the clouds and passing Cast Iron Point 866m, and Kitty Canes grave. The weather deteriorated rapidly from then on. I arrived in the very small community of Aberfeldy at 9.00pm in the dark, cold, wet, and to the welcoming sight of Tim cooking hot soup under the shelter of the tarp. The rain continued, and was so heavy that it was impossible to get into the tent beyond the shelter of the tarp without becoming completely soaked. Thunder, lightning and heavy rain continued to bombard our camp all night. By the time I went to bed it was 11.30pm. I had walked 57 kilometres.
December 20th. Aberfeldy.
Although the rain had stopped, the cloud drifted below us. All the vegetation around us was dripping with moisture, my clothes were damp and extra clothing was needed to keep the cold out. The birds were singing cheerfully as I left camp heading further into the deep forest and mountains. Within 12 kilometres, on the Mt Selma track I sighted my first Alpine Track marker, a yellow diamond. Two characters on motor bikes stopped to talk to me. One of them was a gold miner, Tom Algra, who apparently cycled around Australia in 1980 and he’d even cycled the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley. He was doing a spot of gold mining in the area and helping out, at his friends mine. The blasting I’d heard the day previously had been Tom. While we talked a bird could be heard singing in the forest close by. Tom pointed out, that the bird was a lyre bird mimicking another bird’s song. I wouldn’t have known the difference. They left in a cloud of smoke, Tom wearing his stockman’s coat and cowboy hat, while his mate, who said little, had a beard, glasses and a helmet.
Further up the track I met Tim at a clearing near Mt Singleton. I loaded my pack with essential gear for four or five days and started my walk overland, at a height of about 1500 metres, following the Alpine Track towards Mt Sunday. Within minutes I almost stepped on a four foot snake that was sunning itself on the track; it didn’t move an inch as I nervously stepped away. The track was very steep in places which caused my feet to inch forward in my boots and bruise my big toes. A steep descent led me to the Black River to where the track disappeared to be replaced by vegetation so thick I could hardly make headway. I struggled to the river bank and took off my boots following the directions in the guide book, – walk along the river bed for 1.5 kilometres to a log crossing, where the track appears again. I took off my boots and socks and waded in the river. Immediately several wriggling leeches made a beeline for my legs but I didn’t have time to be screamish. I waded on trying not to slip on the rocks or logs. I read the track notes again to reassure myself. My tender feet were not impressed with the sharp rocks underfoot, so I decided to put my boots back on. I travelled at a faster pace but managed to get quite wet in the deep pools. Somewhere in the scramble to keep on my feet in a deeper section I hit my shin on a rock and blood dripped into the crystal clear water, causing a red streak to flow downstream. The cold however numbed the pain and prevented bruising. I checked my legs for leeches, one had crept between my toes and another was sucking happily on my left ankle.
At a tree crossing I finally sighted a solitary marker. I saw no other markers leading into the forest to indicate the track so I tried scrambling up the hill, fighting the thick vegetation. Impatience to find the track as soon as possible, I recklessly pushed through stinging nettles and briar type bushes that stung and slashed my legs, leaving razer thin gashes. As I scrambled higher, my route became quite vertical at times. My sweat flowed into the gashes on my legs, making them sting. Annoyed with myself for blindly and aimlessly pushing forward through the thick scrub like a bull in a china shop I stopped, counted the scars on my legs and evaluated my position. At last I wondered into a clearer area and found an old fire track. Unfortunately it soon faded into a very thin walk trail with no other markers visible. I continued to guess the direction as many false trails led in all directions. Relying on a compass bearing I then followed a trail which looked as if it was heading in the right direction. The bushes across the track brushed against my cuts and bruises, and I hit my shin again after tripping on another log. What a day! Further up the hill the track faded even more, forcing me to pause and then search calmly for the trail. Another marker was found, then nothing.
In one area several trees had fallen leaving little sign of any sort of track, let alone a marker. I retraced my steps to the last marker that I had seen, and to no avail. After circling the area once more without success, I decided to walk on a compass bearing and to my relief I eventually descended into a saddle and then ascended the wooded slopes to Mt Shillinglaw, where the track was visible again. On top of the wooded peak, 1305m, the trail down to the Jamieson – Licola track was easier to follow. A little further I could hear Tim shouting. He had walked to meet me with his mobile telephone under his arm.
After a bite to eat at the vehicle, on a narrow mountain track, I headed off towards Rumpff Saddle. It was late in the day, 6.00pm, and the cloud was so low, little could be seen other than the nearby trees, that dripped from the heavy moisture in the air. I arrived at the grassy saddle where Tim had erected both tents and the awning, in the fading light. It was cool, damp and drizzling as I sorted my gear for the following day. By the time I got to bed it was 1.45am and I wasn’t looking forward to getting up early.
December 21st. Rumpff Saddle.
The sky was virtually cloud free, apart from the odd one hovering past. I left Tim, who I wouldn’t see for a few days, walking the first five kilometres on the track which was relatively easy but once I turned off it and on to the trail which cut across country, things got rougher. My route was taking me along the Great Dividing Range. To my west all streams fed into the start of the Jamieson River, south branch, to my east in the valley was the Barkly River. The weather was good and the terrain steep in places. At one the point I could see directly down into Peters Gorge and further still the more impressive Gorge Creek. On arriving at the 1380m Mt McKinty I took a break and ate an orange. As I tried to dry out my wet T shirt, millions of small ants invaded my space forcing me to move on.
An Alpine Track marker being swallowed up.
By 12.20pm I came to rest at the Mt Sunday helipad, 1405m high, surrounded by wild flowers. From Mt Sunday the descent was rather steep, going from 1405m down to 900m in 2.5 kms. My right lower leg which I had knocked the previous day was playing up, especially on the down-hill sections. The cold water and cold weather the day previously had kept the swelling and pain down. This morning however, with all the ups and downs it started giving me sharp pains. When I reached the point of Low Saddle I had to make a choice; follow the ridge taking in several mountains, Mt McDonald (1620m) and Mt Clear (1715m), being the two highest, or follow a safer meandering track and easier mountain peaks to my destination. I decided on the safer route along Low Saddle Road. Unfortunately my expectations of an easy walk did not materialise, the track twisted and turned and went up and down like a yo-yo. By the time I reached the Jamieson River north branch, four and half hours later, my leg was really painful making it difficult to walk. Where the Low Saddle road met Brocks road I sat on a rock in the middle of the river bed soaking my legs. My left leg was swollen from a leech bite and my right one was bruised from the knock. What a start to the walk. It was heaven sitting there on the rock, the sun beaming down making me feel warm and relaxed and the river sparkling, as the sun shone directly along it. Peaceful paradise!
A great time for flowers.
After resting for an hour I hobbled another two kilometres to where a bridge crossed the river. I was in so much pain that I had to stop and make camp. I dropped my pack and soaked my legs in the cold water as the sun dropped lower in the sky. I soon felt chilled and returned to camp to erect my tent. I cooked my rice, left it to soak and went down to the river to wash surrounded by dozens of mosquitoes. By 10.00pm I was in bed having walked 40 kilometres with a heavy pack and sore leg.
December 22nd. Jamieson River.
When I awoke my leg was throbbing. It really needed to be rested but I knew I had to reach Tim otherwise he would be concerned if I was delayed. The walk along the river was a little easier than the previous day but I cursed my leg as with every step came a painful jab. Walking downhill was especially agonising. Dotted with small creeks, the road meandered more the higher I climbed. I wondered whether I would ever reach the top, as one turn came after another. Eventually I twisted up to the King Billy Saddle. Snowgums, green grass and healthy looking cattle greeted me. I was thankful that I had reached the top, but the downhill section was very twisty and steep. I evaluated my choice of routes; follow the high peaks again or descend the meandering track into the valley. I chose the track, it would be much safer.
The track descended and the pain from the downward motion on my leg became intolerable. I attempted to walk backwards, which eased the pain, but was difficult to maintain. I then tried walking sideways but that was even more difficult to achieve. I rested, feeling a little sorry for myself and reluctantly decided to take a Panadol.
Resting my bruised leg.
Cattle fled as I followed the twisting track downwards. Mt Magdala appeared to my north east. The lower mountains were thickly timbered. The pain hadn’t eased even with the pain-killer which made me wonder whether I had done some permanent damage. I knew I had a good chance of reaching the vehicle that night so I walked on, hoping that the pain wouldn’t get any worse. By the time I reached the Macalister River I had descended 600 metres in a very short time but then had to climb 400 metres to reach the car park on Howitt Plain. I followed the river north for a while and had a bite to eat and drink next to the river pestered by hundreds of flies. I made a move again following the twisty track upwards through a strange lose rocky area void of any trees. Higher up I paused at a creek with running water and glimpsed the King Billy Mountain. Excitement and a sense of relief grew as I stumbled closer to the Howitt Plains car park. Sure enough just around a corner parked among the Snowgums, was my vehicle.
It was such a relief to be there at my vehicle. I rested. Tim was nowhere to be seen, probably waiting at the Mt Howitt hut on the mountain. After a short break I shifted the vehicle to a better camping spot, erected my tent in front of some Snowgums and had soup, noodles and rice pudding. As darkness set in, sheet lightening surrounded me, lighting the sky like a firework display. It would have been a magic sight on Mt Howitt. When the rain started, it was very heavy. That day carrying a heavy pack I completed 31 kms.
Camp at Mt Howitt Car Park.
December 23rd Sunday. Mt Howitt Car Park.
I didn’t really have to get up but I decided to find Tim. He would be expecting me to arrive via the mountain range. Not wanting to walk to the hut to see Tim, I decided to give the mountain bike a go. After cycling for 10 minutes I met him walking back from the hut. He was surprised to see me. Tim had decided to stay at the hut for a few days, so he was on his way back to collect a few things and the phone. I stayed down at the car park to polish my car, to write and rest my leg.
December 24th. Mt Howitt Car Park.
It was another beautiful day but my leg was no better. I passed the day writing, eating and feeling frustrated at my confinement to camp. The Snowgums behind my tent though, gave my camp a good feel. I especially liked the huge old one that leaned at a forty five degree angle and I sat at its base writing or reading. A metre or so away, an old timber fence, the remains of an old stock yard, gave the place character.
I continued to relax and listened to a ‘Bread” Christmas special on the radio.
December 25th Christmas Day. Mt Howitt Car Park.
It was another beautiful day. I had a Christmas strip wash, ate breakfast and put my feet in cold water. Later I listened to ABC interviewing journalists celebrating Christmas all over the world. My Christmas was very different, although a robin came to join me and gave it a traditional feel.
Tim arrived at 12.45pm so we went to fetch some water from down the track. I tried ringing Jenny but the signals weren’t strong enough, so I tried again near a clearing overlooking a valley and Mt Howitt. At first it didn’t work but after walking up the hill for 20 metres the signal was good enough. Eventually I found her enjoying Christmas dinner with friends and managed to have a long chat before the batteries faded. Apparently Dennis was now in Mansfield, 40 kilometres away, on the other side of the range. On our return to camp we celebrated Christmas with cake and nuts and soon after Tim returned to the mountain. That evening I cooked vegies and had more Christmas cake and custard. Wow what a Christmas!
Trying to phone home.
December 26th Boxing Day. Mt Howitt Car Park.
After breakfast I continued writing but soon got bored and tired of the inactivity. It was such a beautiful day so I decided to visit Tim’s campsite up on the mountain. I’d been told it wasn’t a difficult route, pretty flat most of the way. Packing enough gear for one night, I straddled my mountain bike and cycled along the rough rocky track. My leg didn’t feel too good cycling the rocky slopes so I walked to ease the pain. The five kilometres to the hut took me about 40 minutes. When I arrived Tim was off walking somewhere. I checked the hut out. It was certainly different from most other huts I’d seen on my trip, more like a Swiss Chalet with a high steep sided ‘A’ framed roof. It had a balcony inside that acted as the main sleeping quarters. A window looking west gave a great view of the Mt Howitt summit and the trees around the saddle. Underneath the balcony was a table, and in the centre of the hut was a fireplace.
Mt Howitt Hut.
Tim returned with the mobile phone under his arm. I rang Jenny and then tried Peter Hamer a physiotherapist friend. I wanted advice on my leg. It seemed to be slow in healing and I knew it was going to be difficult to get treatment, due to our isolation and Christmas holidays. Unfortunately Peter wasn’t in. Determined to check out the summit I set off across the saddle and up the neck of Mt Howitt. The scenery was just magnificent. I could clearly see Devils Staircase, Terrible Hollow, Crosscut Saw, Mt Buggery, Mt Speculation and Mt Buffalo in the very far distance. I walked further, climbing the exposed ridge passing beautiful wildflowers. My leg was throbbing but I continued to the summit; I was too close to give up. Across the range to the west the peaks of Mt Buller were littered with buildings, ski lifts and logging activity. It was such an eye sore, that I turned my back and focused on the other magnificent mountains.
Views from the Mt Howitt Range.
My descent was easier but more painful. Back at the shack I hobbled down to the creek to soak my leg for a while. The water was icy cold, which soothed it. Finally after trying the phone again I got through to Peter but the phone kept cutting out at the crucial moment, the batteries were flat, so our conversation was very disjointed. Back in the hut we cooked some noodles and then watched the light fade, from the window of the up-stairs balcony.
Views from the Mt Howitt Range.
December 27th. Mt Howitt Hut.
I packed and started pushing my bike back to the vehicle with Chris Murthy, a gardener from Melbourne.
About 1.00pm Tim and I went for a drive down the hill to check the phone, it didn’t work so we continued further down the mountain track to collect more water. On our return a family at the car park gave us some home-made Christmas cake. The man turned out to be a doctor, he examined my leg and said the injury could have developed into a overuse injury. Unfortunately the only help he could give me was two days supply of aspirin.
A bushfire had the sky ablaze across the range, the smoke haze creating a fiery red sky when the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. We heard later that a fire fighter had been killed in the fire.
December 28th. Mt Howitt Car Park.
It was another wasted day, but with my leg still not healed I just had to wait it out.
December 29th. Mt Howitt Car Park.
I awoke with the desperate need to go to the toilet. So began the daily ritual, a quick dash across the road to find a spot in the bush to dig a toilet hole. As always, because of my dehydrated and stew diet I needed to go to the toilet as soon as I awoke. As always, I had to fight off the flies, the ants, the heat and adopt a stance that was comfortable.
The weather was magical again, I just couldn’t believe it, so we decided to drive about 20 kilometres south to Bryce Gorge. The view across the Wonnangatta Valley and beyond, with range after range, was awesome. The blueness was beautiful and the scene verified that we were really in the middle of a huge wilderness.
The winding road ascended and descended the ridge line through some picturesque scenery. We started our 8 kilometre walk to the Bryce Gorge Falls along a stream and grass plain. At the first small falls a couple were packing up their tent as we walked passed. The main stream then cascaded down a sheer rock face into the valley below. At the top of the falls I sat for a while and plunged my leg into the cold water then we followed the track further around, to where the plateau dropped vertically hundreds of metres into the deep valley. High vertical cliffs lined the plateau and in the far distance we could see another high cascading waterfall.
Views from around the Bryce Gorge area.
Wildflowers bloomed on the cliff edge. The cliffs themselves were lined with different shades of blacks and browns. A rainbow had formed below the 40 metre falls as the water mist drifted away from the cliffs. For a short time we had the falls to ourselves, then a Venture Scout unit from Frankston arrived to do some abseiling. While they fixed their ropes I soaked my leg in the cool water, watching and waiting for the action to start. At last several people jumped off the edge, the water spraying them as they descended.
We left the excitement and walked the circuit route back, following a creek bed, before passing over a clover plain and through trees to an old stock yard and old hut built in 1937. Like most huts it had few windows and was dark inside.
Views from around the Bryce Gorge area.
December 30th Sunday. Mt Howitt Car Park.
Another slack day at the car park.
December 31st. Mt Howitt Car Park.
It was time to leave. Christmas was over, I had rested my leg as long as I could, now it was time to move on. There was no hurry though, I only wanted to get to the Howitt Hut that night. Mick Caddy and Anne, whom we’d become friends with whilst at the car park gave us their phone number and told us we were welcome to stay at their place if we got to Melbourne.
At 3.00pm after packing, we moved away from my car park home and headed to the mountain. By the time I arrived at the hut my leg was beginning to ache. A couple of Vietnam Vets, now turned CSRIO workers were there. They were totally buggered and couldn’t even manage to walk the 5 kilometres back to their car that night. Two more guys and three girls, who had been walking for several days also arrived.
Spending the night in the hut didn’t appeal to me so we moved onto a small ridge overlooking the Devil’s Stairway and erected our tents. Soon after, four lads from Melbourne’s Trinity College arrived and pitched their super expensive tents near ours. It was hard to believe but one of them even carried a chair. Moments later the heavens opened up. A huge thunderstorm erupted across the ridge. Water started flowing under my fly. I had decided to reduce weight so I didn’t bring the inner part of my tent. After the thunderstorm subsided I moved the tent to a spot with less gradient and then phoned Peter Hamer for advice on my leg.
It was amazing, to watch the lads unpack; tent, stove, food and of course the chair. Each had their own equipment, nothing was shared so their bags were quite heavy, but that didn’t seem to bother them. They had too much food so they generously shared some goodies with us. Chris gave me two hot dogs just as I rang Jenny to wish her a Happy New Year. Anthony then cooked popcorn and Marcel busily made cheesecake. The mountain was a hype of activity. Their gear was top quality and they appreciated it. They also appreciated the bush, the environment and the scenery around them. Tim even offered to take their rubbish out when he went back to the car but they refused his offer and said they would take it out themselves. It was a pleasure to share our camping spot with young people who cared.
Students from Melbourne’s Trinity College.
We sat on a rock above the vertical cliff face and talked and watched the streaks of lightening that continually streamed across the night sky. It was a spectacular show. The lightening streaks, some as bright as arc welding, and the moon, that was attempting to break through the clouds, shone a dim light on the mountains, and valley below us.
Just as they were about to share some cake another spectacular thunderstorm hit, followed by heavy rain causing everyone to scurry inside their tents. The lads went in one tent to play cards and by 10.50pm they all went back to their own tents to sleep, so in the end I got no cheese cake. By 11.20pm, after the rain had stopped, I went back out and sat on the rock and looked at the view, which now could be seen vividly as the moon broke through the clouds. Tiny clouds moved cautiously in the valley like ghosts, appearing and disappearing in the shadows. A chill had now taken over the mountain but I ignored the coolness and at midnight rang Jenny. We chatted for about 20 minutes and then I just sat overlooking the huge drop, listening to the quietness and taking in the spectacular scenery that was lit up by the moon. I just knew that I would never be in such a fantastic place on a New Years Eve, so I just had to cherish it.
January 1st 1991. Mt Howitt.
On my way to the toilet in the warm sunlight my leg was still troubling me. I really shouldn’t have been moving but my rest couldn’t go on forever. By 9.20am, after saying farewell to Tim and the lads I continued my walk along the ridge. Part of the trail was also for horses, so there was plenty of horse dung that attracted flies. The walking along the trail was graded 0 to 5 – 5 being extreme to the weather, the isolation and the difficulty, although even a grade 2 or 3 can be very steep and rugged. The days walk consisted of two grade 5s, a grade 3 and a grade 4, so walking was going to be tough. I reached a ragged, narrow razor-back ridge called the Crosscut Saw and lay down to drink water from a rock hole that had collected in the night.
The track follows the range the track.
Drinking from a rock pool.
I paused for a moment to take in the breathtaking views of Terrible Hollow to the east and the headwaters of the Howqua and King Rivers to my west. There were few trees on the ridge to block my view and clear blue skies. Ants, freshened and lively from the overnight thunderstorm, smothered the ground around my feet. I tackled the Crosscut and descended steeply, before climbing steeply again up to Mt Buggery. On the summit perched on rock, I sat taking in the beautiful sun that I was blessed with again. Snowgums surrounding the summit afforded great shade but I preferred sitting in the sun. Leaving Mt Buggery behind, the 200 metre descent into Horrible Gap, most of it steep, never allowed my legs to relax from the continual jarring. It was a welcome relief to reach the gap, but the 300m ascent to Mt Speculation, that contained a few tricky sections, was even more demanding. On the slopes of the mountain beautiful yellow pea flowers and other white flowers set Mt Speculation ablaze. On top of the mountain, the view was special and the walking much easier. Greeted by wildflowers and small lizards I sat and rested to devour the rest of my lunch.
Along the Alpine track to the east, were the Barry Mountains. According to the guide book they were supposed to be dry and fairly uninteresting set of wooded mountains that inspired few people, especially those that became lost. I decided to side track these mountains, although I would have to walk much further, as Mt Buffalo, beaming on the northern distant skyline, had attracted my imagination.
The area around Mt Speculation was a popular outdoor training area for the students at the prestigious Timbertop School. Famous people such as Prince Charles once studied there. I left the Alpine walking track and headed along a gravel track that led to Lake Cobbler. Several trees had fallen across the track making it impassable for a vehicle. I rested after 1.5 hours, cooled my leg and killed hundreds of March flies that landed on me. Ants began carrying several of them away while I sat and watched.
I finally joined up with Cobbler Lake Road, which seemed to go on forever. My leg was now starting to feel the strain but I was too close to my destination to stop. Finally at 6.55pm I arrived at the Cobbler Lake camp. Tim wasn’t there so I erected my tent, soaked my leg and waited. It was about 8.15pm when he arrived. It had taken him 9 hours to drive around. It was only about 20 kilometres from Mt Howitt to here as the crow flies. Tim was as exhausted as I was.
January 2nd. Cobber Lake.
As I washed my clothes and hung them out to dry, a man and his son arrived to set up some abseiling ropes on the nearby waterfall for a World Rover camp. Before leaving, I checked out the waterfall but it wasn’t until later, when I started walking down the road that I could see the full extent of the sheer cliffs of Dandongadale Falls. A small stream of water cascaded over the edge.
The track descended steeply causing jabbing pains in my leg. I came across Tim waiting at a ford. We lunched and I soaked my leg whilst sitting in a chair in the middle of the river. There were no flies, no March flies, just clear cool water and absolute peace. I was virtually asleep when Tim prodded me, saying there were two vehicles wanting to cross the ford and I was in their way. I looked on as the vehicles churned the water, leaving it a brown mess. The drivers were Scout leaders heading to Cobbler Lake.
The road followed the river for some time which helped me to soak my leg when it got too painful. The pain shifted below the bruising whilst I was walking but went back up into the bruising once the leg cooled. The road continued meandering and descending towards the locality of Bennies and Rose River. At Bennies I decided to call it a day and set up camp near the tranquil river, my leg was hurting too much to go on.
Tim made stew again. It was our staple diet and one that took little to cook on our two burner stove. As usual we had home-made rice pudding for dessert.
January 3rd. Bennies.
I got going by 7.50am, passing a few houses and a cow with twins. Mt Typo guarded the back of the community. I left the forest for the first time since December 19th and entered a valley that had been cleared for farming. The valley was quite warm despite the height. Tim rushed to me and said the phone was back in operation, so I rang Craig Riddlington a physio in Albury and reserved a noon appointment. Peter Hamer, my physio in WA had given me his name.
I finished my walk after 16 kilometres, at the Typo turn off and then had a quick wash before setting for Albury 140 kilometres away.
Craig estimated my injury to be severe bruising of the muscle near the bone. First I was given a heat pack treatment, cream and massage, then ice. Pleased that he didn’t feel it was too serious, I made another appointment and left to do our grocery shopping. It had been sometime since we had done any and the bill came to $129. I also bought some guide books on the Murray River and then went to the pub to have a couple of beers, it was hot and 38 degrees.
Afterwards we drove out to the Mitta Mitta Canoe Club on a bend of the Murray River but their meeting night was on a Monday. There was a very popular swimming spot near the clubhouse and one of the very few places the locals could cool down. Swimmers would jump in up-stream of the clubhouse, and aided by the swift current float around the bend and get out at the beach.
January 4th. Albury.
Dennis and Cheryl found us that morning. They had been tracking me for some time and wanted to walk with me for a few days. They were both English. Dennis had been part of my backup team on my 1988 Kimberley Expedition and he had also walked we me for about 40 days. He was a strong walker and very keen to explore. I had not met Cheryl so I didn’t know her capabilities.
I drove to the physio for 8.20am leaving Tim to get a puncture fixed while I sought treatment. For the rest of the day until 4.00pm we shopped for supplies including a fly swatter, for the March flies that were driving me crazy in the mountains and then drove to the Hume Dam. The Hume Dam, apart from storing irrigation water it was also a popular boating and tourist location. Here I decided to do some paddling practise and paddled from the dam to Albury. The current was flowing nicely, but there were several snags in the river to avoid which made paddling a little more interesting. It was hot however, nearly 38 degrees but it didn’t matter I was enjoying the paddle. The 18 mile stretch took me 2 hours 3 minutes.
Paddling the Murray near Albury.
January 5th. Albury.
I had my last appointment with Craig before leaving to continue my journey. I had lost so much time in the last 2 weeks and I was eager to continue, but I suppose that’s all part of an expedition, things don’t go smoothly all the time. After a last minute shopping run we left the big smoke and travelled to the Buffalo Dam for lunch and a paddle. There the sky darkened and a heavy rain storm came over. As we drove to Typo, where I left off my walk, a strong wind had uprooted several trees and demolished a farmers corrugated shed.
I started walking in heavy rain at 3.45pm. The temperature dropped dramatically as I walked but I managed 14 kilometres before the guys found a camping spot next to a creek. My leg was pretty good except for a slight twinge. Tim already had the annex up and had cooked a nice curry. It continued to rain throughout the night.
January 6th Sunday. Near Typo.
The rain had blown over in the night leaving us with a beautiful Sunday morning. We switched on the radio to capture part of ‘Australia All Over’ and Dick Smith from Australian Geographic was comparing it. I walked on to the very small community of Dandongadale leaving Tim to listen to the show. Here I jumped in the vehicle and drove to the south end of Lake Buffalo to do a 45 minute paddle. I take every opportunity to get fit for my marathon paddle down the Murray in a few weeks time. After Dandongadale I started my walk again, following a steep track under a huge set of power lines. Near the top of the hill under the shade of the power lines I phoned Mike Zemeck to tell him how I was going. I also rang Jenny who was half a sleep at the time. I had lunch after crossing the first range and Dennis drove while Tim walked with me. The road kept climbing and eventually I sighted Mt Buffalo and the Horn. At the top, the views were superb, and I could see Mt Cobbler and the Barry Mountains, the range that I have detoured.
At 4.10pm Dennis, Cheryl and myself readied ourselves for a climb up the south side of Mt Buffalo plateau heading towards the Horn. We left the track and climbed fairly vertically up a slope containing hundreds of dead trees, the result of a huge fire. It must have been an inferno, not many trees had escaped destruction. Now the trees were scattered like a thousand match sticks. The bark was peeling off the dead trees like banana skins and in-between them were steep rock platforms that were difficult to climb and slippery from the water seepage.
The Mount Buffalo Range.
Eventually we reached a spot that we thought may lead directly up to be the summit but to our dismay we had to fight our way down and up several very scrubby small slopes and gullies burnt by the fire. As we climbed out of the gully we had superb views but the wind had chilled the air and clouds were moving in. Our last part of the climb was directly up towards the Horn which was fairly steep with several large boulders forcing us to detour. Clouds now moved across the sky which lowered the temperature to an icy chill. As we neared the summit around 6.00pm we heard Tim coo-ee from the top. The plateau was quite different compared to the mountains that I had been walking over; here there were several scattered granite hills and outcrops on the plateau.
Mount Buffalo Range. Fire has shredded the trees.
Feeling quite cold we checked out the Hovell and Hume plaque nearby (early explorers of the region) and then climbed to the top of the Horn along a rock stairway. Clouds had now blocked our view, bringing visibility down to 700-800 metres. No matter, we’d had beautiful views all day. Dennis and Cheryl took a ride with Tim while I continued walking the 3kms to where the bitumen started. It was 8.20pm and several ‘No Camping’ signs were along the road side, so I had no choice but to hitch a ride to the camping site, 8 kms away.
The park was full but the ranger begrudgingly let us have a spot in ‘The Hollow’. My leg felt really good despite the strenuous walking I had done.
January 7th. Mt Buffalo.
I awoke at 6am but no one was up, so I slept in until 7.00am. Soon after, Tim drove me back to the start of the bitumen where I’d finished the day before. It was cool and the mountain air was very fresh. There were several stunning rocky outcrops and formations along the way, and two small ski runs, completely closed for summer. Arriving back at the campsite I went for a paddle on the small lake. I rounded it four times.
Mount Buffalo Range.
While we were climbing up to the Horn yesterday, Tim had met Gayle, a lady who we had seen on the Canning Stock Route several months earlier. That night she informed Lindsay, the principal of the small Porepunkah School that I was on the mountain. Lindsay being a keen bushwalker and skier wanted to meet me, so just before I finished my paddle, Lindsay arrived for a chat. After a cup of tea I walked further, via a bush track to the spectacular Buffalo Chalet, a large historic house that has been a holiday venue for years. Across from the chalet, the mountain dropped vertically for several hundreds metres. It’s one of the most impressive scenes that you’ll ever find in Australia. Below there were green fields, forests and the town of Bright.
The cliff face was a heaven for rock climbers and nearby a hand gliders ramp overhangs the vertical rock face. The hang gliders land in the green fields below. In awe of the sight we had lunch with Lindsay and dozens of parrots, so friendly they were eating out of people’s hands.
Looking down from the Mount Buffalo Range.
To descend the mountain Dennis, Cheryl and I followed a steep walk trail that was downhill all the way. There were some great viewing points, especially at the beginning. At the bottom we had a 5 km walk on the road to Porepunkah, where we met up with Lindsay again, this time at his home, where we stayed the night. We had tacos for tea, which was a great change from stew. We finished off with a beer and sherry. I wrote until 1.30am.
January 8th. Porepunkah.
We took the opportunity to do some washing and Lindsay offered to service my bikes. He was a very keen cyclist, and guitar player and was right into Bluegrass music. Lindsay and Barbara have three girls.
I started my walk at 11.00am and followed the Ovens River to Bright only 6 kms away. Bright is a beautiful clean and attractive town, on the cross roads to three ski fields and is a popular summer retreat. The area is lavishly planted with English and European trees. In autumn they say it’s the place to be, if you like falling leaves and flowers. I had a good look around town, did the usual shopping and sent faxes, letters, postcards and phoned home. It was going to be the last town I’d see for quite a while.
I didn’t start walking until 3.00pm, but I was in no hurry, it felt as if I was on holiday. Moving out of town I was shaded by some beautiful trees but as soon as I got beyond the town limits the ditches were lined with blackberries and the hillsides with pine trees. The blackberries have taken over most of the gullies in the mountains.
Lindsay, Barbara and family caught up and handed over my newly serviced bike. We said our goodbyes and they vanished, leaving me to carry on my scenic walk. Mt Feathertop was in view for a short time. It is classed as one of the Australian Alps finest mountains. I arrived at Harrietville, a very small village with lots of land for sale, at 8.00pm.
January 9th. Harrietville.
Lindsay arrived by cycle about 8.00am with my bicycle pump that had been left behind. The track from the village was well defined and steadily climbed through mountain ash. Many had fallen down over the years. Snowgums became part of the landscape before Federation Hut, where we had a short rest and attempted to fill our water containers from a local creek but with had no success because it was dry. We moved on to Razorback Junction, had a little lunch and made our push to Mt Feathertop (1986m), the second highest mountain in Victoria. The views once again were stunning, assisted by perfect weather conditions. As we sat on the summit, Chris Done, an old friend of mine from the Kimberley, and his brothers and brother in law walked up to me and said hello. Chris worked for the Conservation and Land Management in the Kimberley. I first met him in 1982, and in 1983 he retrieved a kayak for me that I had buried at the remote Mitchell Plateau region. At the time I had just completed a 100 day kayak trip around the coast of the Kimberley. I’d had to bury my kayak to be picked up later, due to lack of space on the vehicle that transported me out of the remote region. It’s surprising where you meet people you know.
We back-tracked a little off Mt Feathertop then met up with the Razorback Trail and followed it, through beautiful areas of colourful pea flowers in bloom, to the Diamantina Hut site. Our camp overlooked the Feathertop mountain range, and Mt Buffalo lying in the far distance. As the haze developed with the dying light, the Mt Buffalo Mountain changed to a violet colour. It was one of those nights, with one of those views that give you an everlasting impression and appreciation for the bush. I was in bed by 12.45am.
January 10th. Near Mt Hotham.
The wind was whistling outside, an indication that it could be cold once I was out of bed. It wasn’t long before Dennis, Cheryl and I were away across the hill and checking out the Mt Hotham ski resort. It was nothing special to look at, in fact I think that most ski resorts are pretty ugly and a scar on the environment. I’m not a lover of visual pollution and one of my pet hates, is the sight of huge power lines cutting through beautiful wilderness. We left the resort and soon lost sight of buildings. Leaving Mt Hotham (1868m) we soon met up with a snowpole line at Loch Spur. These poles are numbered from 1 at Loch Spur car park and ending at pole 1285 on the summit of Mt Bogong, so if you kept them in sight it seemed impossible to get lost. They are a tremendous help for cross country skiers in the winter. This pole line was originally established for more practical purposes in the 1860’s as part of a network of tracks linking the goldfields of Glen Wills to those of Harrietville and Omeo. In 1939 it was re-aligned for ski tourers. Although they have a useful function they are still an eyesore in summer time.
We soon arrived at Derrick’s Hut, erected in the memory of Charles Derrick who died of exposure in the area in 1965 while attempting to ski solo from Mt Bogong to Mt Hotham in one day. It has now been done in six hours. Along Swindlers Spur which was very steep at times, we moved through stands of Snowgums until Dibbins Hut (1360m) was reached near the Cobungra River. The forest now opened up to a beautiful grassy flat, which would no doubt make a fine campsite. Three men and two women arrived at the hut. We had seen them earlier, the women were lagging behind the men at the time, but they were now keeping up.
Leaving the valley we made a fairly steep climb to Basalt Temple, a rocky outcrop that gave us great views of Mt Feathertop, and a place to have lunch. Notable for their absence were the March flies now we were out of the trees. The gradient was less severe as we tramped across the high plain following the tall snow-poles, and skirting around Mt Jim (1818m). Just below Mt Bundara a small calf looking sick, was lying down. Cheryl and Dennis were desperate to get it to its feet as they thought it may be dying. They managed to get it up but it only walked 10 metres and sat down again. I thought it looked healthy enough, maybe it just wanted to rest. We had seen other cattle on the plain. It has been a long tradition for cattleman to use the area for summer grazing. This has been going on since the 1850’s but rumour has it, it may soon be stopped. Some experts believe that the cattle grazing in the high country has a negative impact on the environment.
After descending slightly to Cope Saddle (1670m), where a SEC hut and an aqueduct were located, we crossed the plains to a beautiful camp spot near Cope Hut. Again it was one of those beautiful places where the view was so superb, the weather so perfect that I didn’t want to stop looking at the scene around me. Range after range like giant waves faded into the distance as far as the eye could see. With so many ideal camping spots to choose from, it was difficult to make the decision, but finally settled on a spongy grassy slope with a stream trickling down the mountain side 100 metres away.
What a view.
January 11th. Near Cope Hut.
Dennis, Cheryl and I paused for a while at Wallace’s Hut, the oldest hut still standing in the Bogong National Park. Hidden by a grove of snowgum trees, it was built in 1889 by the Wallace brothers, Arthur, William and Stewart. In its original form it was built of locally cut snowgum slabs with roof shingles split from woollybutt growing on the lower slopes. After the Wallace’s high plains leased expired the State Electricity Commission assumed ownership. In the 1930’s the hut was re-roofed with corrugated iron, but when the SEC had no use for the hut they retrieved the corrugated iron and left the hut to the elements. The Rover Scouts, led by Bill Waters, later came to the hut’s rescue when they raised money to replace the iron roof. Now the hut is protected by the National Trust.
With Cheryl and Dennis at Wallace’s Hut.
Leaving the hut behind we pressed on and found a slope covered with a large patch of the season’s remaining snow. It was an ideal opportunity to fool around, throw a few hard snowballs and have fun skiing, sliding down the slope on our bums.
Further down the Alpine Track a diversion was made to the small resort village of Falls Creek to meet up with Gezza, a kayak guide that I have hired lead me down the Murray River.
It was at this point that Dennis and Cheryl decided to leave. Cheryl had a job to go to in South Australia as a sailing instructor. Before they left Dennis and I reminisced about a walk we did in the Kimberley. We were retracing Bertram and Klausmann’s survival epic of 1932 and we couldn’t carry enough food for 24 days so we decided to go on half rations. Dennis a big guy was starting to feel the effects of hunger after a week on half rations and one morning he took his breakfast and lunch from his pack and placed them both in his mug and said, “Look at that”, “my old man would never believe me if I told him I could fit two meals into a small mug. Back home I used to eat at least three bowls of cornflakes every morning. I must be crazy.
Alone once more I felt a little sad that I had lost my companions but it also meant I could now go as fast or as slow as I liked. The walking up to Mt Nelse (1882m) and Mt Nelse North (1884m) Victoria’s third highest peak, wasn’t that difficult at all. At the junction of the Timms Spur track, and the T Spur, I left the Alpine Track once more to take a slightly different route to Mt Bogong where I would be able to meet up with Tim. It was near Timms Lookout (1820m) that I found a camp overlooking Mt Bogong and a deep valley to my west. Here on the exposed ridge I experienced one of the most spectacular lightning displays of my life. Watching it from a high ridge, with a vertical drop of hundreds of metres near me, was even more exciting.
January 12th. Near Timms Lookout.
The track down to Bogong Creek Saddle meandered as it dropped steeply. At the saddle before Mt Bogong Tim was waiting. He had been given special permission to drive along the SEC track and a key to open the gate at the bottom. He had parked in a clearing and the warmth of the sun on my body tempted me to just sit and soak up the warmth. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long, just long enough to eat and have a strip wash to cleanse my body.
Below our position lay the small community of Bogong. It is the place where Gezza, my Murray River guide, worked as an Outdoor teacher. The village is perched next to a small lake with the mountains very close by, and definitely it’s in the most perfect place for an outdoor school.
Tim was going to join me on the next section to the top of Bogong. He brought his sleeping gear and telephone. The phone had been a life saver recently, because it had meant that I could organise my trip and ring home from the top of the highest mountains and not have to divert miles to a telephone box. Before we had the telephone, I often had to cycle hundreds of kilometres to a telephone box only to find out that it didn’t work or the office that I was calling was closed. Now all I had to do was to climb the highest peak around and dial the number.
We started our walk and within minutes we were climbing steeply up hill. This continued until close to the summit where it tapered off. Once more as we got above the tree line the views were magnificent. The summit was covered in flowers, reminding me of the Sound of Music, movie. Moving on to the main summit of Mt Bogong (1986m) about three kilometres away, the broad sweeping ridge was easy walking. A large cairn indicated the top. We threw our packs to the ground and admired the 360 degree view. In the far distance I could see my objective, Mt Kosciusko, beyond the valley to our south Mt Nelse and the other mountains that I had just walked across. We circled the summit and then erected our tents on a slight slope near the top. My door opened out towards the Big River Valley so that I could have a brilliant view whilst I cooked. Clouds gathered in the valley later that afternoon. They were so perfect and flat that it seemed like they could be walked on.
Camped on top of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s highest peak.
As night fell we were inundated with moths. I had heard about the Bogong moths, but nothing prepared me for the sheer volume. They swarmed around the cairn darting in all directions. It was an incredible sight. Apparently the moths were once a source of food for Aborigines.
January 13th Sunday. Mt Bogong.
The morning was as clear and perfect as most of the previous days had been. Tim turned his small radio on and we started listening to ‘Australia All Over’ on the ABC. I decided to give them a call. I had been trying for several months but had got no further than the producer. That morning I was in luck. Ian MacMahanon, the usual compare was still on summer holiday and Ted Bull had taken his place. The phone worked beautifully on top of Victoria’s highest mountain. We talked for several minutes and then I rang off, promising to try to get in contact the following week, when I was on top on Mt Kosciusko.
Break time on the Bogong Range.
At this point Tim and I separated, Tim went down the spur back to the vehicle in Bogong Saddle and I carried on my way towards Mt Wills. I steadily descended to Cleve Cole Hut leaving the clear uninterrupted views to walk through the tree line. The hut was made from local stone. It was one of the most substantial huts along the mountain ridge and was built in 1937 in memory of Cleve Cole, a skier who perished in the winter of 1936.
I continued a little further and made a short detour to the Howman’s Falls without my pack. I felt a great sense of freedom and bounce in my stride. There was water cascading over the falls, and when I had exhausted all viewpoints I returned to my pack for yet another hard and hot walk down the snowgum lined Long Spur. Eventually I met up with the Big River Road track. Here the forest was riddled with brambles, every gully had been taken over by them. Reaching the Big River Saddle my easier hour of walking was over. The next four kilometres became a steep climb and rose from 1190 metres to 1757 metres. My arrival at the Mt Willis Hut was made a little easier due to the last section being on a gravel road. The hut was of the new style, with more windows, so I felt less claustrophobic, and decided to camp in it.
January 14th. Mt Willis Hut.
The clouds hovered in the valley with little movement. In the distance were Mt Kosciusko and the Cobbra Range where I was heading. It was a beautiful morning. The large granite boulders brought back memories of Mt Buffalo. I sat on one boulder eating my muesli, a little cool and waiting for the sun to rise over Mt Kosciusko or in its general direction. I reflected on the past as the clouds in the valley kept the lid on the day, but as the sun beamed through, the light brought new life and yet another incredibly beautiful view. When the sun lifted my spirit rose, yet I felt a little sad that my Victorian mountain walk was soon coming to an end. Leaving my mark on the mountain I dug a hole and went to the toilet. Birds sang a chorus, but this idyllic place was marred by the hoards of blow flies that swarmed around me as if there was no tomorrow.
I descended Mt Wills fighting through cobwebs, and there were signs of wombats inhabiting the area, with several wombat holes and wombat dirt left on rocks and branches. I reached the main Omeo Highway and the source of the Mitta Mitta, which is a great white water canoeing river further downstream. Within minutes I turned off onto the Knocker Track where I would meet up with Tim. The main Alpine Walking track meandered across less impressive country at this point, so it was my intention to divert to the Cobberas Range of mountains, which seemed more impressive.
I reached Tim at 9.45am, had a short rest and moved off at 10.30am. Soon after to my surprised I met Tim driving back up the hill. He passed me by and disappeared. He returned later and told me that he had driven to the top of Mt Knocker Lookout to find out whether the mobile phone would work. It did but he hadn’t actually called anyone. I felt a little annoyed that he’d wasted the fuel, then shrugged and thought, what does it matter!
It was really hot. The landscape was now very dry, as the area was now in a rain shadow. The landscape was like a hilly desert. The sudden change was hard to believe. Horses along the way chased around the paddocks kicking up dust.
Soon after crossing the Mitta Mitta River again, I turned onto another steep gravel track to Benambra. The landscape looked even drier. Escaped cattle were running in front of me along the track. I tried going around them but it was an impossible task. They just kept running further and further. At the dry Lake Omeo I found a track that cut straight through its centre, so I followed it into Benambra. In town at about 4.20pm, I satisfied my craving for junk food and bought an ice cream, yoplait and a drink from a service station.
Out of town I met up with two sheep farmers who were having a hard time making a living with prices being so low, $5.00 a whether (castrated ram – a male sheep) and had actually given sheep away. I ran for twenty six kilometres until I reached a Devonshire tea place where Tim had arranged for us to camp, however as soon as I arrived the family invited us to sleep in a bed, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
January 15th. Near Mt Leinster.
It felt unusual sleeping in a bed, but I didn’t complain, the comfort was astounding. We were treated to a great breakfast; sausage, bacon, eggs and toast, finished off with two bowls of cornflakes and a cup of tea. I browsed through a book on cattlemen as I finished breakfast and found out more about the local history and cattleman culture. It was so relaxing having breakfast inside a house.
Leaving Chris and family I walked along a track with cattle grazing in the paddocks. Ahead two men riding horses, were moving two bulls along the road. As the stockwhip cracked I moved closer towards an oldish guy, Norman Prendergast. I talked to him while his partner continued droving the bulls and cracking the whip. The cattlemen here were worried about their grazing rights on the high country and said, there had been many conflicts with the greenies about the erosion that it was claimed the cattle caused. I walked on noticing a mountain on the map was called Mt Prendergast, I wonder if there is any relationship.
I arrived at Limestone Creek about 12.00pm where Tim had some washing out and lunch ready. Later we went for a drive along a narrow bumpy track to the old Limestone hut situated in a thickly grassed meadow. Last century small quantities of alluvial gold were mined from Limestone Creek. Silver, lead and copper deposits were also found in the vicinity but now the area is quiet, apart from the tourists and brumbies (wild horses) that visit. By 2.00pm we returned and I began walking up-hill, past Cowonbat Flat Road and further on to Cobberas Road and the Playground. The Playground was a grassy flat that stretched for several hundred metres, with the western end being used as a camp ground. We stopped here, in the grassy valley which was situated between the Rams Head Range and the Cobberas.
January 16th. The Playground, Mt Cobberas.
It was a cold morning, 2 degrees and no cloud, but it turned out to be a beaut day when we started walking, following a foot track towards the summit of Mt Cobberas (1822m) where Mt Pilot and Mt Kosciusko could be seen. Several brumby tracks criss-crossed the mountain trail. It was cold and low cloud had gathered around the valleys of the eastern hills. Here I made several phone calls to organise my trip ahead.
Brumbies in the Cobberas Range.
The Cobberas Range.
On the summit of Mount Cobberas (1822).
Tim returned to the vehicle, whilst I started to move across the range to Mt Cobberas No 2. Five brumbies with their tails flying high darted away at great speeds heading for the lower ridges. It was the first time that I had seen wild horses in the mountains. The mountains looked far different from the Alpine areas of the Bogong High Plain; they were dry and sparsely wooded with rocky mountain tops. I descended the rocky peak on my 10 kilometre walk across the Cobberas range and pushed towards a saddle between Cobberas 1 and slightly east of Moscow Peak. There were no tracks to follow only Brumby tracks that never went in the right direction. I encountered a spindly tea tree thick forest before finding a relatively bare area that led towards the Cobberas 2 summit. On the latter part of the climb I moved over rocks and boulders to arrive at its summit for lunch. Again the view was impressive and I could now see the area where the Murray River started. For me, locating the source of the Murray was an important part of my trip as I was going to kayak virtually its entire length from near the source to the sea.
I descended the 1725m mountain finding the best and safest route over the rocks and across the scrub towards Cowombat Flat where the walking was easy. The Murray River headwaters, were less than a metre wide and certainly not canoeable. Tim arrived soon after, he had driven in on the rough Cowombat track. We checked the wreckage of a RAAF Dakota DC-3 on the flat. It had crashed in 1953 killing one crew member. The survivors, one being seriously injured, walked to Benambra for help. The RAAF and souvenir hunters have reduced the plane to a skeleton.
Moving along the track in a south-easterly direction for about 2 kilometres, we then climbed Forest Hill (1355m) to find a cairn that marked the end of the straight section of NSW and Victorian border. From that point the border joins the very source of the Murray and follows the river several hundred kilometres to where it joins South Australia. At the summit, after a few minutes searching, a large cairn was found. The cairn was built by Black and Allen in 1870, two surveyors who were commissioned after the NSW Deputy Surveyor General, T.S. Townsend, stipulated that the New South Wales – Victorian border should commence from the head of the Murray River closest to Cape Howe, on the coast.
At this point Tim and I went separate ways again. Tim returned to the vehicle to leap-frog around the mountain to where the road crossed my path again, while I cut across country to find the true source of the Murray, a stream that was hardly noticeable and surrounded by thick fairly low scrub and bushes. Crossing the stream I moved into NSW and a fire trail took me towards Mt Pilot (1830m). At 8.45pm as dusk set in, and just before I set up camp near Tin Mine Creek on a sight riddled with spider holes, three brumbies scattered before me.
The source of the Murray River.
January 17th. Tin Mine Creek.
The heavy dew had saturated the tent but it looked like the beginning of another beautiful day. Within 20 minutes of starting my walk I came upon a valley containing some huts, near an old tin mine. Two of the huts were built in the 1930’s. The smaller one of the two, which was still standing, was named after Charlie Carter, a recluse who made his home in the hut while prospecting and writing articles for the Cooma-Monaro Express. He also trapped for skins and broke in Brumbies which he took down to Jindabyne two or three times a year. Another ugly looking shed built by the Snowy Mountain Authority in the mid-fifties was standing nearby.
As I wrote my name in the visitor’s book I chuckled at some of the other comments especially the ones warning other campers about the brumbies that inhabit the nice grassy area at night and play, stamp and snort around the tents. I left the beautiful cleared valley and made my way to the Tin Mine Falls track. At the turn off I left my pack and cut across country on a compass course, crossing a creek and thick undergrowth and moving up a hill to the edge of the plateau. This overlooked the falls, which cascaded 120 metres into a rocky ravine to find its way to the Murray River.
Back at the turn-off I met some disappointed women who had been looking for the waterfall but failed to locate it. One of the ladies had also failed to locate the cairn, near the head of the Murray River a few years previously. At lunch time, as I sat eating and killing march fly after march fly, the ladies caught up and stopped for a chat. Further down the trail I found Cascade Hut surrounded by tall trees, which was built by cattlemen in 1938. The Cascade Creek was surrounded by a grassed area, rugged and densely vegetated hills, and it was given its name because of a series of creeks that fall steeply into it.
As I crossed a footbridge over Cascade Creek I noticed a black snake with yellow bands underneath, a reminder that snakes were still around, although I had seen very few. Up on Bobs Ridge I was blessed with perfect views of Ramshead Mountain and the surrounding highs and lows of the mountains and valleys. The sight of three more brumbies only added to the enjoyment of the day, especially after I’d passed within twelve metres of a magnificent chestnut horse. From the ridge I started my descent to the Crackenback (Thredbo) River where the valley following the river course was bare of vegetation, but was home for several brumbies that roamed along the river. Before crossing the stream, a stallion looking superbly healthy, stood like a statue ahead of me. Knowing that it had no master and was a free spirit in this beautiful but rugged environment really made our meeting extremely magical. At first I watched, but then walked closer, taking photos as I moved. As I got closer, it reared and took off along the waterlogged grassed valley like the wind. I was left alone to walk a short distance to the Dead Horse Gap, a saddle 5km west of the village of Thredbo on the Alpine Way road.
Tim was not there when I arrived so I spread my tent on the grass to dry and sat in the sun absorbing the last warm rays of the day. Unbeknown to me Tim was parked about 400 metres up the hill near a sign that said ‘Dead Horse Gap’ but wasn’t actually where the walking track intersected.
The walk into Thredbo was easy and virtually all down-hill. Thredbo proved to be a pleasant compact ski resort. Unfortunately their public phones all but one were out of order. A runner’s convention in the village meant that the YHA was full, so we had to drive two kilometres down the road to a camping area.
January 18th. Thredbo.
The air was fresh at 6.00am and by 7.10am we were back in Thredbo Village having breakfast next to an oval which was a hive of activity with fitness freaks. The radio was alive with the gulf war news. By 9.45am we headed towards the ski lift where I would leave Tim to ride to the top while I walked. The slopes, usually covered in snow in the winter, had melted many weeks before, leaving me to walk up the ski run, a large steep grassed area with several rocks exposed. The steepness of the climb made the walk quite testing. I saw Tim fly by on the ski lift, other tourists waved as they passed overhead. The steeper it came the more envious I was of the people riding, but my reward was far greater when I arrived at the top where the cafe greeted me.
Tim takes the chair lift up the mountain.
As we sipped hot drinks, the TV was broadcasting news of the gulf war; rockets hit Tel Avi and the Americans were bombing places in Iraq. It was the first time that I had seen footage of the war on TV and the reality of the seriousness of it hit me.
There were many tourists making the pilgrimage, to the top of Mt Kosciusko, many of whom had become unprepared for the cold climate and change of weather. Although Mt Kosciusko is the highest mountain in Australia, it is one of the easiest mountains to climb, and the chairlift that takes out all the steep climbing, makes it even easier.
By the time we had reached the top there were about 50 people gathered around. As usual Tim had the phone with him so I made a few phone calls. By 2.30pm we left Mt Kosciusko and walked on to Mueller Pass and diverted to Mt Townsend, the second highest peak in Australia. Yet again it was perfect weather for walking. Joining up with the main track, we moved on to Carruthers Peak (2150m) and made camp near the summit overlooking Club Lake, Mt Kosciusko, and Mt Twynam. It was such a beautiful camp spot and as the clouds mingled around the eastern peaks, the sun set over Mt Townsend leaving red streaks to filter across the sky.
Camped on Carruthers Peak.
January 19th. Carruthers Peak.
As I opened the tent door the sun was rising over the eastern hills, and I dozed for another hour watching the sun rise and the red stripes reflecting off the clouds. At 7.00am I moved outside. I had deliberately camped on a high slope to get the most fantastic view of Australia’s highest peaks. However camping on a slope wasn’t without its difficulties; my pack had to placed down hill of me to prevent me from slipping out of the tent. I was eating my muesli when Tim rose. He grabbed his breakfast and walked down hill to get out of the wind, his hands full with water bottle, plate and spoon. Suddenly he slipped on the grass near the mountain edge, landed on his backside with a severe jolt and slipped down the slope towards Club Lake. His spoon and bottle cascaded down the slope and clanked as they hit the rocks further down. Sliding at a fair speed for about six metres Tim stopped near some rocks which guarded the vertical drop into Club Lake. “That’s better”, he said. “At least I’m out of the wind”. Although I thought it quite funny seeing him disappear over the edge, the reality was that Tim could have plunged further and been seriously hurt if it hadn’t been for the rocks.
Tim accidentally slipped on the grass and ends up down the hill.
For a minute or two, after getting back on his feet, Tim squatted like a garden gnome and sat peering towards a snow patch on the mountain and the view towards Mt Kosciusko. He then moved to collect his breakfast things, sat on a snow patch quite motionless eating the remains of his breakfast. As I took a photo of Tim’s pose, the cool weather caused my camera to jam and it just wouldn’t take any photos.
By 8.50am we started our walk towards Mt Twyham. Tim had hurt his backside on the fall, but didn’t complain. Once we had climbed Mt Twyham, our return to Mt Kosciusko was via the track near Charlottes Pass. A family was having a little crisis near the Blue Lake turn off a young boy had fallen while running to the snow and was bleeding. I patched him up before descending to the Snowy River, where we had lunch.
The walk along the old summit track back to Mt Kosciusko was quite easy until we started a climb to the Seaman’s Hut. It was here that the first runners, who were racing around a mountain circuit, passed us. Another big mob went by and then finally the stragglers. Tim stayed at the hut while I carried on up to Mt Kosciusko summit to camp where I met a couple with small day packs, two blankets and one sleeping bag. They were hoping to sleep in a hut somewhere, near Dead Horse Gap but couldn’t find it.
The last two people to leave the summit took a short cut to the track via a large snow patch. They started sliding down the steep slope and the women couldn’t stop. The man tried to stop her but failed and they both slid onto the rocks. Although they were a fair distance away they didn’t seem to be injured. With the mountain to myself, I had a muesli tea before writing a postcard. I wrote about the war and suddenly felt very sad so I went for a stroll around the mountain slopes to cheer myself up. The mountain was ablaze with flowers. The wind had died completely and it again turned out to be a beautiful night. I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been. I had been walking since 15th December, over 900 kilometres along the Great Dividing Range and on only two days had I experienced rain. On all the high mountains I have had clear skies. I retired at 9.00pm.
January 20th Sunday. Mt Kosciusko.
The flapping of the tent awoke me at 5.00am. The wind had been non-existent when I went to bed but it was now raging. The tent did well to stay up on the highest point in Australia. I opened the door at 5.45am to watch the sun rise over the mountains. I had a sore side due to the slope and hard ground. As soon as I’d taken the tent down I could see Tim walking along the track in the far distance. He had decided to stay in the hut overnight but was cold and he thought he could have been suffering from shock after the fall the previous morning. His backside was very sore.
Camped on Mount Kosciusko.
Turning on the radio, the war dominated the news. On a lighter note though, Neville Oliver, a sports commentator, was comparing ‘Australia All Over’. Exactly one week ago I was on the show on the highest mountain in Victoria, so I thought I would give it another go. I managed to get through and was scheduled for 9.45am. After the interview six people pledged donations towards the Autistic Early Intervention programme. We stayed on top of the mountain for the next two hours in order to hear the Western Australia delayed telecast interview on Tim’s small radio. In those two hours numerous people arrived; it was Sunday and a beautiful day. After the broadcast in W.A. Noel Bell, a canoeing friend rang me for a chat. However, the battery went flat so we lost contact.
Listening to my interview on ABC radio on Mount Kosciusko.
Back at the cable car cafe, we had chips, a Mars bar and a coke before walking down to Thredbo. From Thredbo I ran 23 kilometres along a mountain pass road, up to Dead Horse Gap and then down the other side along a winding gravel track through thick forest to Tom Groggin, a picnic area on the upper Murray River. There was little water in the river so it looked as if it was going to be a rocky kayak trip down the rapids. A little further upstream, hundreds of kangaroos were grazing on a cleared grassed area; most pricked up their ears and stood up right as we approached. Others carried on eating. It was a fitting end to my 900 kilometre walk. We camped at the picnic area.
January 21st. Tom Groggin.
It started raining very hard about 6.00am but stopped soon after 7.00am as we started breakfast. I couldn’t start my trip down the river until the two guys I had hired to lead me down arrived later on in the week. Instead of waiting at the picnic area we drove to Jindabyne and booked into a caravan park to wait. Severe thunderstorms stuck soon after, leaving the park awash. I decided to write as the rain came down but I found it difficult to concentrate. I felt a bit down in the dumps; was it the war, maybe the weather or maybe the wait for the start of my paddle?
When the rain stopped I carried my kayak to the lake and went for a 50 minute paddle. On my return I found the camp flooded so we decided to rent a caravan for $22.00 for a few days until my guides arrived….
January 25th. Tom Groggin.
Sheltering under our tarpaulin, which was pulled out from the vehicle, we watched the rain, so heavy that it flooded the ground beneath our feet within minutes. Gusts of wind violently ripped the tarpaulin from its stays, making our shelter quite useless in this horizontal rain storm. Lightning strikes illuminated the darkened sky, and powerful claps of thunder vibrated the ground echoing through the forest. My guides Gezza, Carl, and Tim and I stood in amazement watching this summer rain storm unleash its powerful forces; the trees bending like javelin poles and the Murray river beside us rising with every hour that passed. The following day I was to attempt a record descent of the 2,500 kilometre Murray River. As I stared into the rainstorm I reflected, only days earlier I had walked across the source of the Murray River between Mt Pilot and Forest Hill. At that point it was just a small narrow stream.
Originally, I had planned to paddle from Tom Groggin, our present position on the Murray river, to the ocean, at a leisurely pace. But that had now changed. I wanted to establish a new distance record and beat Mick MacManus’s record of 16 days and 16 hours from Hume Weir to Goolwa, on the way.
Realistically, the odds were stacked against me before I started; I had spent very little time in a kayak over the last 3 months, I did not know the river or its exit and entry points, and Tim was my one and only support crew. But that didn’t matter, success or failure, I knew I would give it my best shot.
Go to the next Chapter for the continuation of the Around Australia Story:
· Kayak 2500kms down the Murray River
· Cycle 1000kms from Goolwa to Melbourne
· Walk and cycle 1300kms around Tasmania
· Cycle 4300kms from Melbourne to Perth
Paddling the rapids on the Murray Gates.