Hiking Mt Howitt to McAlister Springs?
Thinking of bushwalking the Crosscut Saw and Mt Buggery?
Going to attack Mt Speculation?
Snow in November in the Victorian Alps?
Image: Ben Kreunen via Flickr
That is only part of the story our guest blogger John has to tell in his great story about a walk on Melbourne Cup weekend. John has been on several walks with us since discovering bushwalking in the last few years. We have done the South Coast Track, Overland Track and the Great Ocean Walk together. If you look around the blog further you will see him starring in many photo’s and stories. Many thanks John for your first foray into “Blogging”.
It was my first walk with the Geelong Bushwalking Club, leaving Geelong in the evening of Friday 2 November 2007. The intention was to climb Mt Howitt, camp at McAlister Springs on the first night, then walk along the Crosscut Saw, past Mt Buggery and camping the second night at Mt Speculation, which I understood to have one of the best camp sites in the high country. We planned to return to the Howqua camping ground, via Stanley’s No Name Spur. I was eagerly looking forward to this trip, with people that I hardly knew or hadn’t previously met and had been advised that this one of the best walks, that the Victorian Alps had to offer.
We collected two people in Melbourne and after passing through Mansfield, arrived at the rotunda at Telephone Box Junction at about 10.30 pm, which is near Mt Stirling. The choice was to set up tent in the rotunda, sleep in the car or sleep on a mat on the ground, which is what I did.
The first stirring began at 6 am next morning and we were soon up and about and ready for the hour’s drive along Circuit Road to Bindaree Road, arriving at our destination (Upper Howqua Camping area) at about 8.45. We passed some deer hunters, who had several carcasses and a large pack of what appeared to be English type hunting hounds. They looked at us a bit suspiciously. After a quick change, we had our backpacks on and after a few false starts, decided that we had to cross the creek which I managed to do without getting wet feet, although I slipped on the bank and was grateful that I didn’t break my wrist in stopping the fall.
After walking about 2 klms along a fire track, we located the track up Mt Howitt. The walk leader seemed to have reliable track notes which impressed me. After Mt Buller (1805m), Mt Howitt is the tallest peak in the region. I found the upward climb relentless and the going pretty hard, not improved by light rain. The visibility was very limited, so we did not get reward for effort at the lookout points. It was obvious that the women in the party were more physically capable than I was and my pack felt heavy and I was struggling. After about 5 hours we reached what appeared to be the plateau and after passing Mt Magdala and walking along the plateau via West Peak, another hour passed before we reached our first destination (McAlister Springs) and the Vallejo Gantner Hut, at about 4 pm. By this time rain had set in and we were surprised to see the A frame hut still standing, after being informed that it had burned down in the fire. All of the tress around it had been burnt. Most of us elected to sleep in the hut despite a few leaks in the roof, some set up tents, with one moving inside as the rain got heavier.
The rain intensified over night and all through Sunday. It was pointless to proceed along the Crosscut Saw as the visibility was very limited and the conditions unwelcoming. We spent the day trying to keep a small a small fire going and discussing subjects such as what food to freeze dry and other subjects, whilst occasionally peering out at the hail and occasional snow falling. The door to the hut was very low and I knocked my head more times than I can remember. We met one other gent who said he was walking to Canberra, but appeared to have a very flexible plan with deviations as the mood took him. We met two other people who were father and son in law and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. We were also envious of their access to whisky and other creature comforts.
Most of the group had to return to work on the Wednesday, so it was not possible to wait out the weather and proceed to Mt Speculation. We discussed whether we would return to the cars on the Monday via the Stanley No Name Spur route, with the possibility of at least seeing the start of the Crosscut Saw or going back down Mt Howitt. We decided on the latter as being the quickest option. On the plateau, we walked through 4 inches of snow, with a strong wind blowing up the valleys and foggy conditions ensuring that we kept moving to keep warm. My hands were freezing and I decided I needed to invest in superior gloves. I noted that most wore their thermals, which I had rejected in case I got hot.
The walk down Mt Howitt was not easy, was a bit slippery and hard on the knees. The track disappeared in some places, particularly with the number of burnt and fallen trees, although the weather improved as we moved further down the mountain. At the end we had to cross the creek in several places, which was running faster and deeper than on our ascent. We arrived at the car with wet feet.
I was pleased to see that our cars weren’t surrounded by water.
After changing into dry clothes, we had some lunch and headed off to Mansfield for a pie, or whatever we fancied.
The leader of our group informed us that this was his second failed attempt at the Crosscut Saw and although there would be a next time, it should only be done with a favourable weather forecast. On the way home, we learned that the bridge at Licola had been washed away, which did not surprise us given the weather that we had experienced.
The group got on well together and I was impressed with the planning, the consultation during the walk, the navigation skills and attention to safety of the group.