Craig’s Hut, touching the stars

After a chilly night made better by my MacPac down sleeping bag and ear plugs to block out the snoring camp site, the sun rays penetrate the tent, tempting us to stay cocooned and soak in its warmth.

Alas there are vistas to capture and we are not disappointed flying the drone low over the lake, as mist scurries across its surface. The sun colours the white trunked eucalypts, turning the saturation up on the reeds that line the lakes edge.

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Greeted by a perfect morning over Lake Cobbler

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Mist caught in mornings first rays

It a new day, filled with new adventures, possibilities and experiences. Pack up is a slow affair, camping runs more at a meandering pace, it takes a bit to relax. Sometimes it feels like the achievements in these remote places need to take place at the speed of those at work. But the truth is rushing these experiences robs you of the very reason to come in the first place. To slow down, relax and immerse yourself in the present.

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Leisurely morning in camp

Dangdongadale Falls is but a kilometre from here and we are excited to see Victoria’s biggest single drop falls. The trail head is not immediately apparent, but if you take the well worn path at the back of the first clearing after crossing the creek, the rest is easy.

Breaking out of the thick scrub and downed trees, the valley opens up into a series of short falls dressed by rock pools. It’s mid-Autumn and the falls are only a trickle. Making our way down the sloping rock they open onto a platform and lurch off the edge, but only for about 30 feet. The real falls lie below several hundred meters out on the plateau.

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Dangdongadale Falls area, just a trickle

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Just one of the drops before the main event

There appears to be a bush bash down a steep slope, but with time getting away from us and little water we choose to leave this for another day, instead enjoying the rock pools.

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Longest drop falls just the other side

The sun is punching down on us and the walk back gets our core temperature up. I’ve been tempted by the lake. By now you would know it is my custom to dive into a rock pool, lake, river, creek or snow bank wherever we stay. Today is no different and soon I’m swallowed by the lake losing all feeling in my legs and arms. There is this moment of beautiful numbness, the body so in shock it no longer feels cold. It lasts about 30 seconds before a surge of adrenaline kicks in and then on exiting the water the biting pain pays a visit. Afterwards there is a clean healthy feeling like no other and the whole experience is more refreshing than a hundred warm showers.

 

Part way off the mountain, we stop at a lookout, searching for Dongdangadale falls in the vast ochre coloured escarpment. The stains stand out more than the falls today, imagine how majestic this must be during the spring melt.

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Where the water would be falling if there was any

Bidding adieu to the Indian Head, we make our way back to Mansfield and Mt Stirling. The ride is picturesque if not a little hair raising in places and Saturday’s traffic is a lot busier going down then Friday coming up.

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Mt Cobbler or the Indian’s Head from Cheshunt

Mt Buller and Mt Stirling are our closest premiere ski resorts to Melbourne and also a mecca for walking and biking. Mt Stirling offers superb cross country skiing and is the gateway to much of the Alps on the eastern side, including The Bluff, Mt Speculation and the Crosscut Saw. Our destination is Craig’s Hut, made famous in the movie “The Man from Snowy River”.

Our route to Mt Stirling takes up the steep, winding, but well maintained Mt Buller road. On reaching the top, a sign to the left points the way to Mt Stirling, the road is rocky, narrow and very steep in places. We challenge each other on whether a two wheel drive could pass through here. The vistas are amazing, the Bluff in full view, but there is little time to take it in as navigating the rough, unkempt road takes all our attention. After what feels like a lifetime this brutal track joins a much more civilised road shortly after passing Telephone Box Junction.

A quick navigation stop and we are on our way to Craig Hut’s, relieved we will be there to take photos of this iconic place at sunset.

Dust billows as cars in front of us wind their way down into a valley, Mt Buller now in full view to the left, this feels odd, we should be moving away and up from Mt Buller? No sooner had this thought sunk in and we found ourselves back at the intersection with the Mt Buller road. Realising we had missed the turn off altogether and unnecessarily driven to Mt Buller and around Corn Hill, we quickly make a U-turn and retrace our steps to Telephone Box Junction. With a nervous laugh we admit our mistake and hope we can still make sunset.

The ridge track is 4WD only, but we think we can get through in the AWD given the dry conditions. Thanks to Johnathan’s skilled driving and getting the clearances over the gutters we park the car just as the warm hues of sunset fall over the expansive saddle of Clear Hills and Craig’s hut.

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The Clear Hills turn off, 4WD drive from here

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The alternate is to walk in

Bursting out the door we join the throngs of others to snap away at the mountains, the hut and the sunset, so many angles so many choices.

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Jonathan at Craig’s Hut, sunset

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Beautiful last tones of sunset with Mt Cobbler in the background

In 1981 Clear Hills was identified as the location for a temporary replica of a cattleman’s huts to feature in the ionic Australian movie “The Man from Snowy River”. Following production there was no upkeep on the site and it fell into disrepair until a reconstruction project was launched by local community groups and the area reopened in 1993. The hut met its cindering fete during summer fires and was rebuilt in its current form in 2008.

Clear Hills overlooks the spectacular Victorian Alps, dominated by Mt Cobbler, also known at the Indians Head, which can be much better seen from here than the approach through Cheshunt. For four months of the year the area is covered in snow, making it accessible only by helicopter, or an 11km ski or snowshoe from Telephone Box Junction.

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This is how to spend an afternoon

The hut is a reminder of our pastoralist past and the heritage of the cattlemen that braved these at times bitter and unforgiving locations. This hut like many others dotted through the vast back country serve as reminder of the hardship of those who have attempted to tame this wild land and more importantly now act as emergency refuges for those with the spirit of adventure to explore and experience these beautiful and magnificent places.

Soon our attention turns to finding a camping spot, having noted that the flat spots on the way in were full. The saddle is a no camping zone to keep the place pristine and open for all, a great thing given the spectacular views and hut heritage.

Tucked in, a short walk from the toilet block is a cleared but sloped area covered by gums. While not good for a 4WD, it’s perfect for small hiking tents. Ready made with a fire pit we waste no time setting up camp and getting a fire going providing plenty of warmth for what promises to be a cold night.

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Great spot close by for tents, not 4WD accessible

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Pitched up for the night, dry and out of the wind

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Nothing like a fire to make it feel like camp

With the moon rising around 10:30 I’m keen to take advantage of the dark sky and get in some night photography with the hut as a worthy foreground.

The windy saddle is much colder than our campsite and heavy dew is already coating everything. With some great photos of the hut and stars, we set up for the main event, moon rise over the mountains. With tripod positioned I reach into my pocket for the camera remote, but it is nowhere to be found. My hand searches every nook and cranny and with pockets turned inside out several times over, it is gone. A mad search by torch light ensues and with forensic precision I stand still so as not disturb anything in the search zone, but a lass it is fruitless.

The moon waits for no one and without the remote I do my best to not to blur the shots on touching the shutter button. The shots are a write off and my heart sinks I’d been setting up for months for a night just like this and to be thwarted by a remote half the size of a twenty cent piece was disheartening.

The rest of the night blown I walk back to the saddle, my friends want to keep looking but in the inky blackness, clouds now hiding the moon, all we have is a small torch beam. I’ve prayed many time before for lost items and I’m prompted to do the same. No sooner had I asked God to reveal the location to us and my friend yells out I found it!

But with the moment lost, I’m thankful and disappointed. I chose to stay and experiment with different setting, the hut as my focus. I’m only weeks away from Europe and an even bigger adventure to photograph Mont Blanc. My dream is a night shot of this famous mountain adorned by the Milky Way.

Half an hours passes and the cloud that looked to have thwarted the night clears, the stars twinkle like crystal and the moon is rising a second time, from behind the hut. I quickly getting snapping and then I notice the constellation Scorpius rising. Could the night get any better?

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Moonrise over the far mountains

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Scorpius rising over Craig’s Hut

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Starry night after a cloudy start

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Moonshine

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Moon rise with Scorpius

I head back to camp with that satisfying feeling of a job well done and look forward to getting home and enjoying our handiwork.

It’s an early morning to catch the sunrise displayed on the hut, simply one of the most iconic compositions of the hut and we’re not disappointed.

A thick band of cloud gaps just above the mountain peaks, creating a beautiful show of pre-sunrise. Then it happens, the suns warm orange tones touch the hut, bringing life to the cold and battered wooden panels. It warms our hearts as we emerge out of a cool morning. The drone is up and I can’t wait to see what we make of the footage.

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Sun breaking over the far mountains

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Cloudy morning made for a moody sunrise

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Colours of the sun

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A different perspective

Several weeks later a group of us got together and with original imagery, narration and music score produced this great clip that shows our passion for the mountains.

 

Park Information

Distance from Melbourne – ~260 km or 3.5 hrs, closet town is Mansfield.

Park Type – Ski Resort.

Camping – There is 4WD and hiking site camping near Craig’s Hut, for other options consult their website

Water source – There is no potable water at Craig’s Hut. There is a small tank at the toilet block, however you should not rely on this for supply. It is advisable to bring sufficient water for your stay.

Attractions – Landscape views, summits, exploring, 4WD. During Winter this is a beautiful place to cross country ski, toboggan and snowshoe. From Telephone Box Junction to Craig’s Hut along the Bluff Spur and Clear Hills trail is about 11km one way.

Reference – Mt Stirling Resort

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