Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Across The Bogong High Plains

The first time I saw the Bogong High Plains, we were on top of Mount Bogong. All that rolling, open alpine country - rare in Australia - is obviously ideal bush-walking country. It seemed, from a distance, as if you could walk for days across those open meadows. In reality, unless you are an exceptionally slow walker, traversing the high plains won't take that long, but, the country is still very scenic and provides delightful walking.

The Bogong High Plains are part of the larger Alpine National Park which is criss-crossed with tracks so an almost endless number of trips are possible - through walks and loop walks, easy rambles and multi-day adventures. It's a real shame, but also characteristic of Australia, that a paved road has been built right across the high plains. There really needs to be some areas in the world where the infernal combustion engine, with all its attendant problems, just doesn't go. Unfortunately, the Bogong High Plains is not one of them, at least in summer (the road is closed in winter). 

 Doug on the Bogong High Plains

We planned a three day walk starting and finishing at Bogong which would take us in a big loop along a series of ridges and across the Bogong High Plains. This was one of those walks where I thought most people might consider us rather daft. After all, when you can drive to 1700 metres on a paved road, why would you start walking at 640 metres? I'm not sure if "because you can" is a good enough answer for most people, but, "because you can" is important. If you don't keep doing things, "because you can," pretty soon, you cannot. 

 Feathertop from Mount Jaimathang

Day One: Bogong Village to Salt Camp Creek

Our first day was all about going up - about 1400 metres in all. We parked right at the bottom of the village near Lake Guy and walked up through the town and south along the highway to the start of Spring Saddle Fire Track. Bogong's water treatment facilities are right at the start of this fire track so it is gated, but, when we arrived, a worker had left both the entrance and exit gates open and we simply walked through. Just outside the exit gate, we did notice a flagged track going down to the highway which you could use if the gates were locked - probably most of the time.

Once on the fire track, we just started plodding uphill. Luckily, the views start pretty quickly and we began to see the ridges we would walk along later in the trip. At The Springs Saddle, we had a quick break, but decided to walk on to Bogong Jack Saddle for lunch. Just before Bald Hill the track splits, we took the uphill (right) track, contoured past another couple of bumps along the ridge, and soon arrived at Bogong Jack Saddle. 

Bogong Jack Saddle

This is a lovely spot. An open meadow with a somewhat dilapidated hut on the west side of the saddle and fine views across to the high country of Spion Kopje Spur. You could camp here, but, be warned it is popular with the horse people (which means flies), and, we did not find any water close by. Better campsites abound if you continue on towards, or even past, the Fainters.

The walking got better and better as we ambled along a single track just below Mount Fainter North. This is all lovely open alpine country, perfect for rambling on a sunny day. We wandered up to the top of Mount Fainter South where we could see The Jaimathangs (Niggerheads) and the whole Bogong High Plains spreading across the vista. Mount Feathertop looks, and is, quite close by to the southwest. Descending easily off Mount Fainter South, we found a lovely campsite by a creek and stopped for the day. We were looking over Terrible Hollow and Mount McKay, past Falls Creek Village and across to the ridges that run north to Mount Bogong. 

Camp by Salt Pan Creek

Day Two: Salt Pan Creek to Langfords Gap via Mount Jaimathang

Next morning we strolled along the track as it contoured just below the Jaimathangs to Tawonga Huts where there are plenty of great campsites. This is another spot that is popular with the horse crowd, but, escaping the horsey people and their attendant flies would be fairly easily achieved by simply walking up the creek a short distance. We dropped our packs and followed the track up to Mount Jaimathang where we could see both Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong, in almost opposite directions. Apparently, it is also quite easy from Little Plain to walk off-track along the Jaimathangs to reach Tawonga Huts.

The flies were pretty intense around Tawonga Huts, so we walked up to the Bogong High Plains and found a shady spot under a lonely snow gum where we could have a break without being tortured by flies. Tracks branch off in all directions from the Bogong High Plains. You can walk out to Hotham, over to Mount Feathertop, down to Falls Creek, or, continue on around the high country as we did.

Doug approaching the top of Mount Jaimathang

We joined the Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT) which took us past Mount Bundara and down to the Cope Saddle Hut by Cope aqueduct. I had a dip in the creek before lunch which helped wash away the grimy sweat from the last two days. About an hour from the hut, the track meets the paved road. Again, there are a few options here, we took the track past Cope Hut and Rover Lodge and then followed the track along the aqueduct. This is the least scenic part of the walk but you still have views down Middle Creek towards the Mitta Mitta River.

Just past Langfords Gap, we got tired of walking and there was a big pool for swimming so we made camp, enjoyed a second peaceful night of camping and had a cool swim in the pool. 

The Jaimathangs from Mount Fainter South

Day Three: Langfords Gap to Bogong via Spion Kopje Spur and the Grey Hills

We only had one more kilometre along the aqueduct to walk before the AAWT heads north to The Park and Heathy Spur. Heathy Spur is a popular track to access these alpine plateaus as the track start is at 1600 metres. Ambling along on a good track we passed Mount Nelse and Mount Nelse North - really just rounded hills that rise 20 metres above the plateau.

At Warby Corner, where the AAWT heads north along Timms Spur, we turned west and followed Spion Kopje Spur to the headwaters of Big River where we had a break. There is more good camping here and it does not seem as if many people come this way. 

Pretty Valley from Warby Corner

Just before Spion Kopje, the Grey Hills "track" branches north. Actually, at the junction of the two tracks, there is only one track, the one that continues west along Spion Kopje. If there ever was a track along to The Crowsnest, it has long since disappeared. At this junction, Doug and I headed off in different directions. I took the longer route with more elevation gain and loss, out via the Grey Hills, while Doug returned to Bogong via the more direct route down Spion Kopje Fire Track.

I was actually a little nervous walking out over The Grey Hills as I would be traversing seven kilometres of ridge with potentially no track. It is not uncommon in Australia for tracks marked on topographic maps to simply not exist. After our Budawangs mini-epic a couple of years previously we had vowed not to plan walks on tracks for which we had no independent collaboration (i.e. some report other than the topographic map). Looking ahead along the Grey Hills, there was, however, a hint of track here and there, so I headed off down to The Crowsnest while Doug continued down Spion Kopje Fire Track. 

The Grey Hills and Spion Kopje

By the time I had wandered down to The Crownest I had picked up a scanty footpad which became much more obvious as I descended down to the first col on the ridge. Most of the snow gums along The Grey Hills have been burnt in a fire, and, in some places, the vegetation is growing back quite thickly. Without the unmarked track along this ridge, progress would be very slow. There is quite a bit of up and down (around 300 metres) along the ridge before you finally get to Mount Arthur but it is really good walking on a decent track. I had to look around for the track in a couple of places, but mostly it is easy to follow. There are a series of creeks that cascade off Timms Spur down into Big River that reminded me a lot of walking the moors in Scotland. Mount Bogong looks quite close from Mount Arthur and the track continues along to Bogong Creek Saddle and up Quartz Knob to Mount Bogong. 

Small creeks running off Timms Spur

At Mount Arthur, I turned and followed a track down the southwest ridge towards Black Possum Spur. On the map, this track drops off the ridge to the south to join Arthur Fire Track but the map is wrong. The track continues down the ridge and makes a T intersection with Black Possum Spur Fire Track. This section of track is steep and had been recently brushed out. There is no real footpad, just a slash cut through the undergrowth. If you are coming up Black Possum Spur, the track to Mount Arthur has a small hand made sign nailed to a tree.

Once on Black Possum Spur, it was a simple matter of plodding downhill until I reached the East Branch of the Kiewa River where I was happy to dive into the cool water as it was a hot day. 

 Doug pondering where we will go next

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