How following my nose and a bit of controlled falling got me home
It was my last day of five days’ hiking in the Mt Howitt region of the Alpine National Park in Victoria, about four hours drive north-east of Melbourne, near Mansfield, when I reached what ended up being the hardest part of the walk.
I’d started by walking up the Howqua River, then up North Range to the Crosscut Saw, camped at Vallejo Gantner Hut, done a day walk out to Mt Speculation and back and then over Mt Howitt to Bluff Hut and then across and down The Bluff.
It was now day five, I’d reached Refrigerator Gap, and the car was just six kilometres away, according to the map, down Eight Mile Spur.
Here is where it got tricky. I’d noticed on a later edition of the map I was using (Buller-Howitt Alpine Area Outdoor Recreation Guide 1st Edition) that the section of track I was about to follow, across Rocky Ridge, was marked “can be difficult to follow”.
This had given me pause to think about alternative routes back to the car following four-wheel drive tracks. That would add another eight kilometres of walking, which wasn’t appealing. Plus I’d walked this track once before a few years ago when it was partly covered in snow and had managed to find my way so figured I still could.
But since then there’s been plenty of bush regrowth and old, burnt trees have fallen across the track, obscuring the way.
I then noticed some old horse manure on the ground and remembered reading online about horseback tours along Eight Mile Spur. I assumed the dung was from the horses and whenever the path became very faint along rocky patches or through overgrown grass, I smelt for and looked out for the dung.
It’s not the most ideal method of navigation, and I did have my GPS with me, although the batteries were very low, but it worked for me this time.
I followed the dung and the faint track left by, I assume, the horses, until the track became more obvious at the point where the spur turned downhill, towards the Howqua River.
From here I thought it would be an easy amble down all the way back to the car at Eight Mile Flat.
However, again, bush regrowth made the track hard to follow and the dung disappeared. There was also a lot of leaf and bark litter on the ground that masked signs of a path.
I lost the track. Thankfully I was far enough down that I could hear the river and knew it was pretty much straight in front of me. All I had to do was keep going straight down, bash through a bit of bush, and I’d reach the river and the track I’d started out on.
It was harder than I thought. The ground got really steep and it was a struggle to stay on two feet. I grabbed at grass and trees to try and control my descent but I still fell over a few times. Thankfully on my backside and not forwards. The temperature was also in the mid 30s Celsius.
Anyway, after what felt like forever I finally reached the track above the river, stopped to gulp the rest of my water as sweat pored from me, and plod my way back to the car, where I rewarded myself with a wash in the river to clean off. Looking at the map I was about a kilometre off course. It looks like I’d veered to the right and followed a different spur down to the river instead of veering left and continuing down a less steep section of Eight Mile Spur.
I’ll write a fuller trip report soon.
Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking
Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.
Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.
Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.
Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.