It began about a year ago when I read Andrew Bishops account of a wild winter circuit around the Bogong region one winter.
Ever since a walk across the high plains from Falls Creek to Bogong when Gavin and I were teenagers, I had always wanted to return in winter. Andrew’s comments made it all the more ‘do-able’, so that was the plan…
Scott Vawser (Team Leader – Perth)
Day 1 (Saturday 6th July 2013)
After logistics and planning were complete we headed to our rendezvous point in Bright in our borrowed ute. We found Ross and Dave wandering the wet streets of town looking for a good spot to eat before heading off to Mountain Creek campground just past Mount Beauty.
Our Mountain Creek camp was established on the same evening that a group of Scouts were being evacuated from a car park just a few km from Falls Creek in a wild snow storm. The weather had unleashed all its fury in a giant snow dump with some massive winds.
Back down in Mountain Creek we wore just the tail end of this bad weather in the form of constant all night rain…rain that was later to turn to ice as we pitched our tents outside of Ropers hut on our second night on the trail.
Day 2 – Sunday
Our car was left at Mountain Creek to be picked up by friends in Bright and parked somewhere safe for our return there in a week. We headed off into a cloudy day with light occasional showers. It was not long before we saw our first snow. We needed to fit our snow shoes at Bivouac Hut where we encountered 2 day-walkers deciding to stay or go, the weather was turning, the temperature dropping.
The decision not to ‘peak bag’ was a good one, people were wet tired, very cold and Cleve Cole hut was a welcome site after walking from 9 to 5…a good days work! My great lesson from the day is that Seal Skin socks keep your base layer warm and dry! I loved them.
Day 3 – Monday
The day was cold yet clear. We didn’t take off until 9.30am and lost all yesterdays altitude by descending deep into the Big River Valley. It was here that Gavin gave us the best laughs of the trip by inflating a pink “Barbie Raft” to transport his pack then himself…almost successfully across the 1 foot deep, biting cold river.
The other side of the bank introduced us to the other side of the valley and a steep painful climb back up into the snow line. Ropers hut was small and occupied by a lovely German couple in ‘old school’ ski gear.
We pitched our tents and I personally experienced the coldest night of my life. The temp was -5. My shoes froze, my water froze…everything froze, especially our wet tent! Stuart managed to eat something that ‘disturbed’ him. He spend the night with vomiting and diarrhea.
Day 4 – Tuesday
We left Ropers at 8.30am into an even more stunning day, long views of snow for as far as the eye could see. Stuart dragged himself around with nothing in his tank after such a violent night. He still had diarrhea and nausea, we pumped as much hydro lite into him as he could take. He loaded up his pack and just walked and walked and walked, at lunch break he laid in the snow and slept for 20 minutes in the warm sun. We were aiming for Wallace or Cope Hut, but were all feeling the pinch of a very hard days walking in steep and deep conditions.
When Stuart saw the sign indicating ‘just’ 5km to go until we reached the hut his F******* exclamation summed up what we all felt…that although we knew we had it in us to make the hut, a walk in after dark would just be a killer that we didn’t need. The decision was made to set up camp at the Langford East Aqueduct SES emergency hut.
Tents were pitched, toilets dug and some wood collected for a small fire to keep us warm before heading to the tents. Stuart…missed the fire part, and the dinner part, he was sound asleep after a full day of running on empty in what he referred to as “the hurt locker’! He slept 12 hours through a -7 degree night! Gavin and I chickened out and decided freezing on the floor of the small hut was better than freezing in the tent.
Day 5 – Wednesday
Gavin woke and packed but was tentative, a sore groin and knee and no doubt a weary mind, battling the decision to stay or go for some time. We were on the track by 8.30 and by 8.50 Gavin made the decision to turn back to the exit point at Langford Gap West, The Bogong High Plains Rd into Falls Creek. Some deep emotions felt as farewell ‘man hugs’ given and we went one way and Gavin went the other.
Not long down the road we came to the impressive Scout Chalet where the group left from last Saturday and were evacuated from Langford Gap Rd just a few hours later. We chatted with one of the residents for a while and turned down a look inside in favour of keeping up our new found momentum and pace. This pace continued into the stunning day.
Through the deep clean powder we saw many footprints, we think we saw roo prints, deer prints, many rabbit prints and even a horse print, but rabbits were the only animals we encountered ‘live’.
After some discussion around the interpretation of the map we turned left (not right!) and into what is known as Ryders Yards by 2pm, a beautiful picturesque campsite with about 3 tin shacks, one good for food prep and staying warm around the fire, one normally locked and another good for sleeping in. Here we met Pete alecturer in computing at TAFE who was a great talker and even out talked me! He loved his light weight outdoor hiking gear and prided himself on staying warm in dangerously cold conditions.
Day 6 – Thursday
We headed off at 8.30am. After filling up from the aqueduct and blasting the water with our Steri-pen we moved on into yet another blue sky day, Ross singing a song for every comment made, me trying to work out which band it was, the album and the song title.
After a few minor malfunctions Dave’s snow shoe broke and so did his patience. Whilst taking a 2km short cut across a beautiful snow covered plain Dave dropped back and sorted out his shoe…and his bad attitude :-)
We came across 2 Park Rangers on snow patrol who pulled over and told us how impressed they were with our journey, took our photos and asked if they could write our story in the next Vic Parks Magazine.
Day 7 – Friday
After some strange antics and video making, we headed up Swindlers Spur at 8.30, a final killer climb into Hotham, not before some spectacular view of Feathertop and a relaxing ‘last supper lunch’ sitting in the smart looking Derrick Hut. We placed every last bit of food on the table and had a feast.
Day 8 – Saturday
We fare-welled Dave, a great new friend and a valuable guy to have in the mountains. We drove back to the airport to meet Neale Meredith for dinner, he had arranged our vehicle.