Cleve Cole, snow blocks the trail

Bogong, indigenous for Big Fella, stands proudly as Victoria highest peak in the Alpine National Park. We’ve previously summited Mt Bogong but the opportunity to explore the high plains eluded us as the weather closed in and visibility reduced to mere 10’s of meters. The mountain seemed to simmer with the dissatisfaction of us being there. We safely descended the follow morning, you can read about it here Mt Bogong, expect the unexpected. The desire to explore the summit never went away.

Fast forward a few years and after helping Claire navigate year 12, the hiking black out was lifted and that meant Bogong was back in our sights. We wanted the perfect, cool but not cold, a bit of snow but no storms type conditions and November seemed the likely month to provide this rare confluence of season and climate.

Winding our way through Toowong Gap to Mt Beauty anticipation was rising with every corner that drew us closer to this spectacular mountain and the elation or disappointment that we had left our run too late. Cresting toward the lookout, Mt Bogong grew before us, its snow spotted dome, glistening in the sun, this was turning out to be perfect!

Arriving at Mountain Creek car park, after an early start from Melbourne, Claire and I were feeling mentally fit and having seen the snow we so longed would still be there were keen to get walking.

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Pack and ready to start walking

Having staggered our way up the staircase on our last attempt we were keen to try Eskdale spur, slightly further east and arriving just shy of the summit.

As the walk progresses along side Mountain Creek, passing the trail head of the Staircase, it makes a number of crossings too wide and too deep to walk through with boots. I take mine off and go barefoot, the mountain fed stream stinging, producing a sweet pain. Looking back, Claire is still on the other side boots on and cheekily asks for a lift. This has echo’s of Sealers Creek at Wilson’s Prom I think to myself. Like a good Dad I return and with her and the pack on my back make the slippery unstable crossing.

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Cool refreshing waters of Mountain Creek on the way to Eskdale Spur

The cool lowland and the babbling of Mountain Creek soon give way to a steady but moderate incline to Camp Gap, a 7km walk that we later discovered can be driven to on good roads. It wouldn’t have mattered though as our route was a loop taking in Cleve Cole Hut and the summit, returning via the Staircase.

Camp Gap is nothing to speak of, one feels relief in reaching it as the incline teases some altitude but is really covering the yawing divide between Staircase and Eskdale spurs. Camping is possible here, but there are no amenities and not much of a view.

The Eskdale spur greets us with imposing signs of snakes, poor cell reception and warnings about rapid and erratic weather changes and the need to be properly prepared. All good notes to take heed of. Only two years ago two young snowboarders were tragically taken in an avalanche on this ridge.

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Junction with a short cut to Camp Gap, completely overgrown and rarely used

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Just in case you don’t take walking the Victorian Alps seriously

The Eskdale spur is more of a trail than a staircase and while it’s gradient is unmistakably up it’s easier walking than the alternative. It not long before the narrow track winds it’s way to the source of Mountain Creek, just a hint of water invisibly breaking out of the ground. With a single step we’ve crossed what earlier was a significant boots off crossing .

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Head waters of mountain creek, seep out of the mountain side just out of view

The  bible itself is full of water imagery, it refers to God’s spirit as living water. John in his vision on the island of Patmos, records “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Jesus is known as the Lamb)”. He’s not talking about a physical sustaining but a spiritual sustaining.  A life intertwined with God. I think about how small this spring is, with its much bigger consequences just down stream. It reminds me of how important God’s living spirit is in us that sustains us in an eternal sense. Many a mighty river that sustains millions starts as a spring.

Chainsaw’s crackle in the mountain air as Parks Victoria workers clean up Staircase ready for the spring / summer walking season which has come late this year. The path before us widens and we reach the area parks workers just days before had cleared on Eskdale. Here the trail is flanked by what looks like tea tree and young saplings, it forms a 2-3 meter hedge giving the feeling of a maze.

Breaking out to flat ground Mitchel Hut comes into view and the last refuge before walking out onto the exposed slopes. The hut is well-appointed with wood, saws and extra blades as well as the mandatory ski stretcher and other emergency recovery gear. Fixing my gaze on the stretcher it’s all too real what happen here not so long ago.

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Michell Hut, a welcome site in summer and winter alike

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Inside Michell Hut, a good supply of firewood and tools

The surrounding area makes a good lunch spot with much of the area shaded with snow gums and plentiful water in the tank. The sky remains a beautiful hue of blue, similar to our last attempt that was thwarted rapidly and at the last moment. It reminds us to stay vigilant and watch the weather from all sides once we leave the tree line.

With water supplies and energy replenished, we make the final few hundred meters breaking out of the trees at an elevation of 1800m and into the alpine heathland. The spur flattens out and the small trail signs remind us of the news footage of the avalanche tragedy of which we pay our respects before negotiating the first of the rocky terrain.

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Parks Vic cleared overgrown parts of the track after a prolonged winter

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Site of the tragic winter avalanche recovery in 2014

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Onwards and upwards, Hell Gap holding the snow bank

At this time of year, it’s a doddle but I can see how in icy conditions this section that leads to the final climb to the peak could be quite treacherous. A hare is startled and bounds away at speed, no stew for dinner tonight!

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A hare startled by our presence

Our route traverses Hell Gap, not much more than a goat track on the side of a steep slope with no end. It’s not my favourite style of walking but I better get used to it since we are only months away from tackling the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Approaching the gap we see the first of the snow banks, defiantly resisting the suns melting power, clinging at an impossible angle. The Hell Gap section of the track disappears into the snow, there are no human footprints and as I ease onto the bank, I find out why. Snow granules like marbles crunch, packing down under my weight, resisting the urgent to succumb. My leg feels wobbly on this new terrain and one look down the slope and I decide this is not the route for us. Maybe with crampons, maybe with more experience but not today.

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Spectacular rocky outcrop on the way to Hell Gap

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Snow bank on Hell Gap bigger than first thought

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Enjoying the crisp alpine air

With no other evident track we follow a narrow trail roughed out just enough for one foot to move in front of the other. The trail stretches to the peak and the start of the plateau, it’s relentless. In acclimatising to these exposed conditions I stop along the way and force myself to look down and tell myself I am OK.

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Hell Gap not an option, its straight up the hill from here

From the top, the trail is self evident and we’re pumped having completed the climb. Often the way in life is not clear until we have taken a step of faith and made a move. I’m reminded of a song that speaks of this truth, It’s first versus is this:

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me

I have experienced this many times over, whether it be professional, personal or spiritually related, He will make a way.

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Claire following up behind, the trail not much more than a goat track

We’ve expended many more hours walking to this point than planned. Thankfully the weather has remained clear and we are in daylight saving. We calculate with a quicker pace over the Bogong High Plains we can still make Cleve Cole before dark.

The summit of Bogong is in sight on our right, turning our back to it we walk with purpose across a small saddle and onto the plateau track, simple, flat and non technical, we make good time other than our stops to take in the beauty of the summit flanked on the south side by enormous snow banks taking refuge in the shadows.

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Mt Bogong summit in the afternoon sun

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Snow banks take shelter on the southern side

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A quick GPS reading and we are off across the high plains

Loosing altitude we enter the snow gums and shortly after spy a beautiful flat grassed area, Camp Valley and the unmistakable Cleve Cole Hut.

Cleve Cole a keen skier and scoutmaster built the first hut at the present location. He tragically lost his life while on a ski trip in the high plains. The hut was rebuilt in 1937 for the Ski Club of Victoria, and in his honor dedicated to him. in 1980 the Victorian Government built the present dwelling, which serves as a great stop over point for hikers and excellent base for cross country skiers as well as emergency shelter.

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Solid Stone Cleve Cole Hut

With only two other hikers in sight there is plenty of space to pitch up and we find a beautiful sheltered spot looking toward Falls Creek. We take in a spectacular sunset and while it is our belief sleeping in huts, outside of an emergency is cheating the adventure, we choose to have dinner at Cleve Cole’s table.

On entering up its solid stone steps and heavy wooden door there is a cacophony of noise. An elderly gentlemen, who it turns out is on his first night of 190km bucket list journey to Mt Kosciusko and what look like ski search and rescue folk busying themselves checking gear.

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Civilised dinner after a long day walking

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Well appointed inside, fireplace, basin, shower and cook top

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Bunks and mattresses are we really in a remote location

We make ourselves at home, in this well appointed dwelling, LED lights, pumped water, gas stove and even a shower, if not a cold one. Conversation sparks up and although I checked for any events this weekend, it turns out the Alpine Challenge a 100 mile, 100km  or 60km trail run is coming right through here in the morning and these guys have all volunteered to be check point markers and Marshall’s for the race. Coincidentally this is a qualifier for you guessed it, the Ultratrail du Mont Blanc. I’m relieved that at least we will get tonight to ourselves.

Temps are perfect overnight and after spending some time in prayer under a spectacular starry sky, drift off into a deep and restful sleep, satisfied with a great days walking and finally having made it to Cleve Cole.

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Our humble dwelling for the night, staying in huts is cheating

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Rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the Snow Gums

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