Bogong in Winter, breaking through

This winter has been like no other with snow levels one for the record books. We’ve been pining for another snow camp since Baw Baw and attempted last year at Bogong but was too late in the season.

We didn’t think this year would come off with much of our snow season spent traveling in Europe. But with an unexpected reuniting with friends and a season extending into early October we found a date that worked and prayed the weather would be good and the snow would still be about. Something we didn’t need to worry about.

Usually it’s just Claire and I on these trips, it can be tricky to find hiking buddies that compliment your pace, ideals and hiking values. In catching up with an old friend we found that and for this trip Sharon joined us. Having lived in some cold parts of Canada, which bit’s aren’t,  we were thankful to have her knowledge and experience of mountain hiking in snow conditions.

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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

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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.

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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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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!

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Mt Baw Baw snow, look don’t touch

Egged on by the guys at church talking of their snow camps, I was enthused to try a very different hiking experience. Growing up in the Northern Territory snow was something that you only saw on TV and even then it was rare. I had become more acquainted with the white powdery or white wet stuff depending on your experience living in Connecticut, USA, near the ski fields of Vermont. However I’d never pitched a tent in it.

With safety our first concern and given our familiarity with the area we chose the Baw Baw Plateau as our destination and began the wait for some snow to fall. The ski season officially starts in June but it’s never guaranteed, most years August / September turn out to be best.

The logistical nightmare was getting time off work, where there was good snow prior to the weekend with reasonable conditions after. Following three failures to launch the perfect weather pattern that had been eluding us for weeks presented itself.

The plan was set in motion, we would drive to Erica, hire snow shoes at Erica Ski Hire, make our way to the Mt St Gwinear car park (it’s free to park there), walk over Mt St Gwinear, joining the Australian Alps Walking Track and then look to pitch up somewhere near Mt St Phillack.

Snow had been falling two days prior, one of the biggest dumps on record. Claire and I were musing over how much snow there would be. Hopefully a forest of white and enough to pitch the tent on. Careful what you wish for! Barely onto the dirt road and the snow made an appearance. Shy at first, just a dusting here and there, but as we climb the curtains pull back to reveal a thick coating, tree ferns weighed down by the unfamiliar site. I never thought we would need chains but sure enough we did and it was about to get worse and glorious all at the same time.

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Eastern Tyers Creek,where to sleep?

Rising early, rubbing my eyes as I peer out the window the morning looks like rubbish and I think our plans to walk from the Thomson River bridge to Eastern Tyers creek might be thwarted by the weather. Given our previous experiences with the cold up on the Baw Baw Plateau (Baw Baw, Too Cold for Comfort) I’m not keen to hike anywhere it’s going to be wet. I’m also really desperate to get out of civilisation and breathe in the forest air and get amongst the great outdoors and wide open spaces.

I convince myself the weather will be better at the trail head and if not we’ll still make a day of it, a reconnaissance trip or something. The route takes us out to Moe on the Princes Highway and then up through the hills to Rawson and onto the river. We discover a shortcut through Erica and over a bit of dirt road that the Astra handles well cutting 15 minutes off our  180 km journey from Melbourne.

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