Mt Cobbler, the sleeping Indian

A tradition has formed over the last few years as two families of hikers, well at least Dad’s, daughter and son, come together to explore the mountains of the Victorian Alps. Together we have enjoyed the camaraderie and companionship on journeys over the Cross Cut Saw, around Lake Tali Karn and along the Moroka River. This Easter however was a little different. With both son and daughter now young adults directed by their own schedule, Johnathon and I were left to rethink how our twice yearly get together would work out. With no end of places to explore we settled on the Mt Cobbler, Mt Stirling area and I decide this would be a good trip to introduce my young son to hiking and take along a work colleague, who has a passion for movie making and dramatic scenery. Especially since we planned to visit Craig’s Hut, the set of one of Australia’s iconic movies; The Man from Snowy River.

Our adventures are strictly walking, but with no great certainty we could get the car to the trail head and with new adventurers on board we opted for a mainly driving experience with day walks. This threw me in the packing stage since we didn’t have to worry about pack weight and luxuries like chairs and coolers could be considered. Hiking is rugged but has a beautiful simplicity about it. One that causes you to have great clarity about just what you need to get on in life.

The balance struck and gear stuffing the back of the wagon for four, we were off with enough food to last into next season!

Mt Cobbler is part of the Alpine National Park, about 4.5hrs from Melbourne, via Cheshunt. The road turns to dirt shortly after the town and snakes its way up through the valleys and ridges on a road that is suitable for a two wheel drive.

Mt Cobbler comes into view well before you approach. Known as the Indian’s Head if you let you imagination run wild, you can make out an Indian chief lying on their back as if mummified. While Mt Cobbler is not accessible by road, Lake Cobbler is and it makes a great spot to camp overnight or lunch and move on as we saw many do throughout the day.

Mt Cobbler – the Indians head, laying with the chin to the right

Heading into the last 5 – 10km of the track, the gradient steepens and looking over the side as a passenger easily induces a sense of vertigo. With sharp angles and steep drop offs, I’m thankful we don’t encounter any cars on the way up or coming down more importantly. Close to the top, the trees draw back like curtains exposing Mt Cobbler and a small but deep escarpment that is home to the Dandongadale Falls (there say that one quickly, while tired). These falls, relatively unknown to us are Victoria’s largest drop falls at 255m. Today they are barely visible as we enter the driest time of year, end of summer, beginning of autumn.

The lake has a beautiful blue hue to it as it reveals itself among the wooded hills, the last few hundred meters of track is a bit eaten up but with caution and care our all-wheel-drive negotiates it. The campsite at first glance is devoid of any vegetation and looks more like a parking lot, but on further inspection there are some good high spots, with semi grassed sections.

It’s clearly not a hiking camp site, although as I discover later there is a small-tent area tucked away at the top of the lake. The ground is compacted and hard underfoot from the vehicle traffic that frequents it daily over summer, an adjustment from the lush hike-in sites we are used to.

Meeting the neighbours is always an important part of camp etiquette and we do the rounds, sharing adventure stories, weather and where we have come from. Everyone is friendly and a bit of local  knowledge (I use the term loosely) is always useful in planning adventures in a new location.

Before we pitch the tents 15 4WD’s park right the way along the lakes edge, a party of 20 something’s emerge and it is hard not to think the worst for tonight.

Just a few visitors for for lunch!

With tents up and the water temp tested (freezing) we make the trek to Mt Cobbler the point of our trip here. Mt Cobbler sits on the north eastern end of a range that takes in Mt Speculation and the Crosscut Saw an area we explored the previous Easter. You can read about it here Day 1 Crosscut Saw, is that a toilet?. At 1628m it is the highest point on this end of the plateau and possess an intimidating summit.

2 hours from Lake Cobbler the trails passes through Dandongadale river and in a series of step ups, climbs to the saddle and the intersection that takes you to the Speculation road (4WD track). The trail is among the gums and low alpine brush and in places is washed out as the track doubles as a water race. The week prior has seen particularly bitter winter weather arrive early in April and dump snow in the high places and volumes of rain everywhere else.

Crossing the Dandongadale rivers, more of a stream in the Autumn
Washed out trails

Near the saddle are two viable campsites, no water but nice flat grassed areas, a nice departure from the denuded Lake Cobbler. This feels like a “do again trip” and the saddle would make a great place to explore Mt Cobbler and its plateau.

Alternate saddle camp site just before the base of Mt Cobbler summit walk 

Turning right the trail climbs steadily, rocky but with the bush thinning it is an easy walk and soon we’re rewarded with spectacular views to the north and the unending rise and fall of the landscape dominated by Mt Buffalo.

Crystal clear to the Horizon and the peaks of Mt Buffalo
Ramesh, Josh and I overlooking the Victorian Alps

With the sun in its setting arc, we cast long shadows over the flat but angled granite slabs that lead to the summit. Mountain horizon and after mountain horizon presents itself in the softening rays and it’s soon coming time for the beautiful warm tones of sunset.

A light breeze brushes us standing on the edge and peering over the precipice, there is rock shelf after rock shelf, caught in the shadows of the domineering summit, just a small saddle and vertigo inducing rock hop away.

Mt Cobbler summit just a chasm and climb away

Greedily stealing big gulps of mountain air, the trail draws you up to the top of the plateau and views of the mountains in all directions, the ever present Cobbler summit goading to you to cross the chasm.

The air is so clean, it’s like a detox. Looking behind me I can make out Speculation, the Crosscut Saw and Howitt. We’re just a stone’s throw away from last Easters adventure. But in reality probably 20 kms.

Cools wind whip the edge of the plateau, forced up the sheer vertical wall rushing into one valley only to be pushed out of another. It’s decidedly chilly and the sweaty climb is long forgotten as the sun sinks below Cobblers summit and teases us with a taste of the night ahead.

I’m drawn to cross the chasm. From the east it’s steep and foreboding, but on finding the side trail hidden in the limited grass taking refuge amongst the boulders, doesn’t look that bad. The climb up the other side is another story. I can vaguely make out the track, disappearing into the boulders and from there it’s lost. It’s like life we often don’t want to take the first step without knowing the path, how often do we lose out on opportunities because of this longing for certainty.

One day I’ll make it up that summit
Chasm to cross, not too bad, its the climb the other side that needs your attention

I’ve come to learn that the only certainty is a God who loves us, accepts us just the way we are and will never leave or forsakes us. Despite our circumstances we can be confident in the knowledge he holds our life in his hand and we can step into the promises he has for us, knowing He is good.

With light fading, a solid walk back and self-preservation not to do anything stupid so close to leaving for our epic Mont Blanc adventure, I leave the summit for another day. I guess there is part of me that doesn’t want to do this without Claire, it’s strange not having her here to encourage, guide and have my back.

Mountainous landscapes like the Alps are overwhelming, especially on a first time. I remember being flooded with emotions on the Kosciusko main range walk  (Yet to write this one) that I couldn’t put the camera down believing I could capture the enormity, immensity, power, majesty and awe that these places evoke and shouldering disappointment when I looked at the results on my computer screen. It was a lesson in restraint, a few well composed shots are better than hundreds that fruitlessly attempt to embody the emotions experienced.

For my friend this was true, first time in the Alps and between a camera, drone and GoPro, I couldn’t get him off the mountain. Thankfully we got some great and unusual perspectives on this afternoon.

Ramesh piloting his Maverick drone

Racing the setting sun the scramble was on to make camp before nightfall. Going down is always faster and with a clear sky the light lingered just that bit longer, enough for us to be greeted by camp fires flickering amongst the trees lighting our way.

I have a side passion for Astro-photography, I don’t indulge it very often as the gear is heavy and not conducive to hiking, but given this trip is more road than walk, I can. Tonight I expect we will get some spectacular shots of the moon rise over the lake, before the main event tomorrow night Craig’s Hut.

Stars over Lake Cobbler before the moon rises
Lake cobbler puts on a display for moon rise

Park Information

Distance from Melbourne – ~260 km or 3 hrs, closet town is Cheshunt.

Park Type – National Park, fireplaces, pets and firearms are prohibited.

Camping – There is 4WD and hiking site camping at Lake Cobbler, with further dispersed bush camping across the plateau, primarily on the saddle at the start of the Mt Cobbler summit walk. Try and camp in already made sites to protect the fragile alpine environment from further damage. Lake Cobbler has pit toilets, beyond that there are no facilities on the plateau.

Water source – There is no potable water however water can be sourced from the lake and the falls. There were no visible signs of sustainable water elsewhere on the plateau near Mt Cobbler. It is recommended you bring enough water for your stay and if you do need to drink the lake water, boil it or in some other way treat it first.

Attractions – Landscape views, summits, exploring. The lake is accessible by 2WD, anywhere else on the plateau requires a 4WD

Reference – Parks Victoria – Lake Cobbler

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