As I mentioned in my previous post about my Alpine National Park walk, here’s a bit more of a comprehensive post about my trip.
Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking.
After a four hour drive from Melbourne, stopping at Mansfield for a very unsatisfying takeaway coffee, I set out from the Eight Mile Plain campsite in the Howqua Hills, on the upper walking track that follows the Howqua River. It’s an easy track, gently rising above the river, allowing pleasant views up and down its length.
The weather started out mild but at one point I thought I heard a plane overhead. I looked up and saw behind me some dark clouds starting to build. It wasn’t a plane I’d heard but thunder, and the rumbling was becoming more frequent. The air started to feel thicker and it was about then that I thought of my raincoat, which I’d packed deep down into my pack because I hadn’t thought I’d need it so soon into the walk. But the temperature was comfortable so I didn’t worry about getting wet. And it’s nice to walk in the rain sometimes. It was a surprise however when it started to hail.
By the time I reached Ritchies Hut the rain and hail had moved further up the valley and sunshine was popping out between the clouds. I stopped at the hut for a short rest, had lunch and then carried on up the track.
About an hour later I reached the track’s end at the 4WD dirt road which I was to spend the rest of the day following to get to the Upper Howqua campsite.
It wasn’t much fun walking along a hard dirt road and avoiding passing 4WDs, but there are no walking tracks to reach where I was heading. It’s hard on the feet but the walking was fairly quick. The scenery and bush is still nice to look at.
I passed a few camping areas where there were quite a few car campers on the way to the Upper Howqua campsite I was aiming for. I reached it in the late afternoon and was surprised to see it was chock-a-block with car and 4WD campers. A map I’d seen suggested it was closed due to flood damage. (I know, I know, if I thought it was closed, why was I aiming to camp there? Well, I figured it would have to be pretty messed up if one person in a single tent couldn’t find a small patch of ground to set up on. And how likely was that?) After wandering around looking for a place to squeeze in I started talking to a lady who said there were bush campsites further up the river, along the track I was going to follow the next day. That sounded good to me so I continued walking for about half an hour beside the river, which had become more of a stream, and found a lovely flat grassy patch that was perfect to pitch my tent for the night.
Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.
Woke up to grey, cloudy skies and set off up the river about 9am. My plan was to head up Howitt Spur via the Mount Howitt Feeder Track to reach the alpine area and Vallejo Gantner Hut. It was not to be but thankfully there was an alternative route.
I reached the junction of the Feeder Track and Queen Spur Road (not really a road) where there’s a big campsite and headed up the Feeder Track. The bush was dense and thick blackberry bushes closed in on the track and eventually, after clambering over a large fallen tree, it disappeared. The bush had reclaimed the track. I scouted around a bit to try and find it but to no avail. It doesn’t appear to get much use as I couldn’t see any signs of other walkers. I pulled out my GPS but saw that the batteries were low so I didn’t want to have to rely on it while bushbashing up the spur. Looking at my map I saw that the Queen Spur Road links up with Stanleys Track which then goes up to the Crosscut Saw and from there you can get to Vallejo Gantner Hut.
So I backtracked and got onto the Queen Spur Road, which felt like an old, disused road. It climbed steadily and linked up with Stanleys Track, which became a proper walking track. From there the track got steeper and I started getting good views down the valley and up to the ridge I was heading for. I also started coming across flat grassy patches of ground dotted with tiny flowers and ringed by short, tough snow gums. They make wonderful places to stop and look around and rest.
Near the top of the spur there was a bit of rocky clambering that demanded careful attention but eventually I reached the top and entered a wonderful, grassy, treeless saddle on the Crosscut Saw that gave spectacular views of the rest of the park and its valleys and ranges on the other side.
The track to the hut was rough but easy to follow. Lots of up and down. It was a relief to reach the hut and settle in. There are plenty of campsites around the hut and some brilliant ones in the trees with views over the park. Water is from a steadily flowing spring. Clean, cold and refreshing!
Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.
This was a tough day. Warm, still and blue skies but tough walking. The track across the Crosscut Saw is rough and steep. Heading out to the mountain there are two sections where you do a lot of steep descending (into a spot called Horrible Gap appropriately enough) before climbing back up to reach the summit of Mt Speculation. And because I was doing this as a return walk, I knew that all that descending I was doing, I’d have to go back up.
But it was worth it. The 360 degree views from the summit are spectacular. Which you can see here.
By the time I headed back to the hut the day had turned very warm and I’d only brought two litres of water with me. I had to ration my drinking to ensure I had enough to get me back, which was hard. I just wanted to gulp it all down. When I got back I sat down at the spring and sculled a couple of litres to rehydrate before wandering back to my tent for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.
Another tough day of up and down walking along ridge lines but the views were all worth it.
I crossed over Mt Howitt and couldn’t see any sign of a track that I might have come up using the Howitt Feeder Track. (I did see a wild dog – so if anyone from Parks Victoria is reading, maybe there should be some traps or whatever control measures for feral animals you use in there.) Alpine flowers blanketed the grassy plains. Snow gums twisted and leaned in all directions below the snow line.
I had a mini hissy fit with all the climbing I’d been doing so didn’t bother climbing up Mt Magdala but instead took the track that crosses its face. It was a bit nerve wracking as the mountain dropped away very steeply to the right and it felt like there was nothing but air on that side. It was a long way down. My steps were very careful and deliberate on that section.
Eventually I reached the 4WD track I was heading for, which I would follow for the rest of the day to Bluff Hut, via Lovicks Hut. The track was pretty rough, even for walking, and there was more up and down to slog through.
Getting to Bluff Hut was a relief. By then my pack straps were digging into my shoulders and I was adjusting my pack every 10 minutes or so to try and make it more comfortable. Water was from a water tank beside the hut.
As an aside, while at Bluff Hut and as I was finishing my dinner around 7pm, I met a couple of uni students who were walking back to their car. They had driven up from Melbourne that morning, walked as far as they could before returning to their car, and then driving back to Melbourne. They said they just needed to get out of the city for a walk after a busy few days working at a bike shop during the post Christmas sales. They’d left Melbourne at 6am, started walking around 11am, would get back to their car around 8pm and then drive back. And one of them had to work the next day. I was in awe!
Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.
Set out early, 8am, as I’d heard from a walker the previous day (not the uni students) that today was forecast to be a hot one.
I headed out on the track across The Bluff. The start of the track from the hut isn’t signed or obvious but it’s in front of the car park. Once you’re on the path it’s easy to follow.
It was steady walking along the bluff with great views across to Mt Buller and down to the Howqua River.
The track down off the Bluff is very steep. In places you’re grabbing onto trees to steady yourself going down or scrambling down rocks.
At the bottom of the Bluff track I carried on to head down Eight Mile Spur back to the car, which I’ve written about in my previous post.
All up, it was a good walk. It’s a bit of a shame to have to use 4WD tracks but there’s just no other way that I could see I could do it as a circuit. But it was all worthwhile.