Mt Bogong, Alpine Challenge

Well rested we wake to a crisp clear morning. The ground is dry and so is the tent, a bonus for pack up. I’m listening for the stampede of feet and surprised not to have been woken earlier. Peering outside the tent their is little activity, just a few murmurs from other campers. The runners are no where to be seen.

Today’s plan is an exploration of Howman Falls and Maddison’s hut ruins. Leaving Cleve Cole the tracks meanders down to camp creek, a beautiful clear source of water. Before crossing the creek is a little track to the right which heads down to the falls. But thinking we needed to cross to get to them, we rock hopped and started up the other side. Nothing looked like falls territory and before long we found ourselves in a beautiful little valley and three choices of trail. I’d stupidly left the GPS back at the hut, this was after all just an easy side track! Staying put another walker passed by and set us straight. Turns out we were at Maddison’s Hut ruins, but with so little of it left, we’d missed it.

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Camp Valley and the Howman Falls area, so simple on the map

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Three ways with not a sign in site

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Remains of Maddison’s Hut

It’s comforting to know that God calls his word the bible a light for our path and a lamp for each step we take. Often the way in life doesn’t seem clear and I take confidence that God has a plan and destiny for us. It takes the burden off of us having to work it all out for ourselves. I recently heard it said, “what you do when you are afraid determines your destiny”. Thankfully God has not made us to be fearful and I hold to that each day.

Retracing out steps, the first of the runners pass us. The most hardcore of the Alpine Challenge is 160km, takes in 6 major climbs with 7600m of ascent and descent including Mt Feathertop, Mt Hotham, Spion Kopje, Mt Nelse and Mt Bogong. Starting at 4:30am they run with little rest to complete the race within three days. Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, I’ll stick to the leisurely pace of hiking.

Back across camp creek we take a poorly marked and mainly faded trail down another small valley using the creek more than the track as our guide. Soon the creek turns to torrents as it falls over the first of three smaller drops. They’re picturesque and refreshing, but they don’t live up to the big falls that had been described to us. We hang out at the largest of these. Climbing down the stair case like rock I make it to the bottom of the falls, it’s slippery, just in that spot where the mist touches the rock and I go for a slide but recover before plunging into the frigid waters.

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There is the sign to Howman Falls. Now is that across or along the creek we go?

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First of the picturesque falls

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Bit of rock climbing to get to the bottom

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Another frigid waterhole, Claire wisely stays in the sun

With time against us we crest a small hill hopeful the falls are on the other side but a lass they’re not. Claire is keen to get back to camp and have breakfast, but my instinct tells me the real falls aren’t far. We go our separate ways with a promise I will be back within an hour.

50 metres more and I hear the thunderous applause of the once placid water cascading deep into the gorge below, on a small rock platform I glimpse the creek a good 100+ m in the abyss. Stepping further out induces vertigo and unfortunately from this approach the falls are hidden.

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Howman itself, the rock ledge hides the view from the vantage point

Precariously walking around the now steep and exposed hill side, the view is still guarded by the rock face. There is a person well below me and when I see what they are contending with to slide down the steep wooded slope for a look, I pass. There is no way I can get down, up and back within the hour.

Runners are now a frequent site and back at camp the marshals have the check point set up. Claire is sitting with them enjoying an apple and a chat. We start a conversation about the falls and they tell me in the dead of winter they repel and abseil there as part of their mountain rescue training, sounds adrenaline inducing and crazy all in one.

The view is clear to the horizon as we make our way back to the high plains, the summit of Bogong in our sites. Single prop tourist plains buzz the area as we look at them at our altitude. The landscape is other worldly. Above the tree line only the Alpine heaths and mosses survive the bitter conditions and even then interspersed within the exposed rocky outcroppings.

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Planes flying at our eye level, there is something wrong with that

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High country or lunar landscape?

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Just how steep and snowed in Hells Gap is, not for the faint hearted

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Clear to the summit

Bogong’s summit is busy, marshals, runners, day trippers and hikers alike paying homage at this significant milestone. There are no signs of the cloud and storms of our last visit just crystal clear skies girded by cloud on the horizon. We savour the experience previously robbed us before.

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Alpine Challenge runner moving across the summit

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Better weather this time round

Exhilarated we start the journey down the knee busting Staircase, a walk we are all too familiar with Mt Bogong, expect the unexpected.

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Descending to Castor and Pollux on the Staircase

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A bit of high cliff exposure

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Bivouac Hut and a well earned rest

Shooting pains drives up and around my knees, just 400 metres from the end of the Staircase, I’ve pushed them to hard, bounding down the unforgiving and deep rock steps high in the tree line. Hobbling to the junction with mountain creek, the pace slows significantly, but with patience we make it back to the car in one piece.

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The unforgiving staircase trail

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Almost done

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Finally there, 35kms later

A few days later I check in with the physio. Good news, there is no damage or weakness to the knee, but my lateral hamstring tendons have been over stretched. I’m relieved that with regular (controlled) stretching and strengthening this shouldn’t be a problem in the future.

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