AAWT Day 20 – Cleve Cole Hut to Mountain Creek Car Park

I am writing this 2 days after returning to the city and I still feel weird and removed from this life, but this feeling is lessening every day.

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Gang at Cleve Cole, Photo friendly hiker

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Gang chilling on the summit, Photo Meg Wettenhall

With the promise of a pub lunch we were all pretty eager to get going, yet the whole 1500m descent was still bittersweet as we watched the foliage change from alpine to planes one last time. My hopes of the cloud clearing overnight did not come true and we walked up the final 200m climb to the summit of Mt Bogong in wild winds and swirling mist that wasn’t quite rain but managed to sneak under our collars and into our raincoats. Reminding us of our time on the Main Range but not as extreme, we were all pretty relaxed and took selfies in the terrible weather. I was secretly disappointed as the last two times I was on Bogong I was in similar weather. We passed Hells Gap and were reasonably well protected but as we approached the Staircase Spur turnoff the wind practically pushed us off the mountain.

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Cloud threatens, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cloud arrives, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cloud wins, Photo Phoebe Robertson

The Staircase track was beautifully made with many stone steps and a gentle gradient for such a long descent. I said goodbye to my favourite stunted snow gums and green grey snow grass and arrived at Bivowack Hut for a quick knee break/time-out. This is my first hike with poles as I previously thought they were only for oldies, but I am now a total convert and love them. I have had very little knee pain this whole trip and I have had a knee reconstruction.

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Knee break, Photo Meg Wettenhall

The Hut heralded lower elevation forest and the trees suddenly became huge and the mist broke up and we saw the sun! We passed many people climbing up and shocked many of them with our weather reports from the summit as apparently it has been excellent weather in the low lands. Some day-hikers weren’t even carrying jumpers! I don’t think they will make it far past Bivowack Hut. The ground was littered with many skeleton leaves and Mia and Meg saw a satin Bower Bird.

Down in the valley we crossed Mountain Creek numerous times on our final jeep track walk to the car park. We saw 3 snakes in 3kms (one a 15cm long bb tiger snake) and decided we had entered snake pit #2! Da da dahhhhhhhh! Bye.

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Harriet 3 weeks out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Me (Phoebe) 3 weeks out, Photo Mia Schoen

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Mia 10 days out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Meg 3 weeks out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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AAWT Day 19 – Mt Wills to Cleve Cole Hut

Oh no! Its our last full day on the track. I reckon this walk has been a success, and I have had a real adventure with my best friends and family. At the same time I am also looking forward to some of the instant and easy comforts of home; hot shower, eating things that you don’t boil, not being able to smell myself and chairs!

It’s Harry’s Bday today! We all woke at 5am to watch the sun rise from the magic Mt Wills rocks. We raucously sang Happy Birthday as the sun peeped over the horizon, and we watched the mountains to infinity change colour and light the Main Range pink and gray. Tendrils of cloud moved in from the west/Mt Bogong like fingers grasping for us. Getting cold we lit a fire at camp and made our last bit of cowboy coffee. I didn’t notice the clouds roll in while packing up the tent but when I looked up Mt Wills was shrouded in fog. It became colder and we all set out gaitered and coated up.

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Beauties, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Sun’s coming up, Photo Mia Schoen

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Happy Birthday Harry! Photo Meg Wettenhall

 

We meandered down the jeep track leading to Omeo Highway through the same brilliant snow gum forest as yesterday, only this time eerie in the mist. Taking a left turn we descended on a foot track down another steep and direct path out of the snow gums to Big River Saddle, loosing 600m quick! From the little clearing and intersection of jeep tracks we started our 900m climb up Long Spur to Cleve Cole Hut.

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Eerie snow gums, Photo Mia Schoen

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Double-checking the bible, Photo Mia Schoen

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Scrubby trail, Photo Mia Schoen

 

The first few kms went by quickly on well graded open dirt road, visibility had improved in the lower elevations, but cloud was still thick in the air. The jeep track quality quickly disintegrated and by the time we reached the crest of Long Spur we were breast stroking through thick vegetation over our heads. The mist was wet, the intermittent rain was wet, the foliage was wet, we got very wet, water managed to get inside raincoats and rain pants. We then entered a white out time warp with 5m visibility. On our undulating track which neither climbed or descended quickly we had absolutely no reference points to figure out how far we had gone. It felt like we were walking in a loop, on and on, never starting that final climb that would lead us to Mt Bogong proper. Meg was getting tunnel vision and asked for a pep talk as we too a break before our final climb (unbeknown to us in the mist). This is quite a feat, after 19 days of walking Meg struggles for the first time, Mia Harry and I have voiced, cried and got angry at the trail numerous times, Meg just once. Powerful lady!

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Oh the views :(, Photo Mia Schoen

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Bye bye AAWT, ❤ forever, Photo Mia Schoen

We were all so cold and relieved by the time we reached Maddison Hut Site, till we realised that this was the point when we had to leave the AAWT, our trusted guide, who got us over Mt Kosciuszko in a storm, who led us over only 3 paved roads in 3 weeks, who showed us brumbies and native wildlife in abundance, and who was always there for us. AAWT we love you!

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The gang at Cleve Cole Hut, Photo Phoebe Robertson

 

 

Despite our AAWT love we were all very excited to get to Cleve Cole Hut where we promptly made Harry her B’day blueberry pancakes and freeze-dried strawberry ice-cream, which was more of a mousse. Cleve Cole Hut is busy with 3 large families camped here. We had planned to hang out in the hut more but after 3 weeks of hardly seeing anyone we were a bit challenged by 15 people in a small space. The cloud had mostly lifted by late afternoon and so we pitched the tent and hung around outside, watching the surrounding mountains dip in and out of cloud. The sun even made a very brief appearance after dinner. Hopefully this signals a better day for tomorrow so as we are not swindled of views when we climb to Bogong’s summit.

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Stinking up the hut, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Birthday cutie! Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Hint of sun, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 18 – Gill Creek to Mt Wills

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Going up! Photo Meg Wettenhall

Something must have changed, 2 days from the end of the walk and we have hit our sweet spot where our legs are strong, we are fit and our packs are light, or at least they do not feel like weights dragging us downhill. We climbed 1150m today over 12kms and arrived at camp by 1.30, a new PB for us!

Gill Creek was just as mosquito-ee this morning as when we went to bed, we hastily packed up and started plodding. The climb up to Omeo Highway seemed to go quickly and before we knew it we had popped out of our egg and bacon (native pea) hiker highway onto the regular car kinda highway. We sat around on the verge and (maybe) confused one solitary car that came by.

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Obstacle course, Photo Mia Schoen

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Break, Photo Mia Schoen

The cloud was still low and it was too cold to stop for long. We continued our uphill plod up the highway, I have never noticed that they put glitter in the white line paint. Our turn-off led us along old grassy jeep tracks full of fallen trees, around the back of Mt Wills. We then started our 2nd climb for the day through blackberry brambles and more egg and bacon, requiring us to pull stealth moves to make it through the prickles unscathed. The scenery slowly morphed from bushfire regrowth to beautiful alpine snow gums and a carpet of snow grass. We explored the rocky outcrop of South Will which gave us excellent views of Bogong and the High Plains from our precarious perch.

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South Wills, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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So many photos, Photo Meg Wettenhall

The track between South Wills and Mt Wills was the nicest track we have walked all trip! I didn’t mind in the slightest that it wound its way steeply up at times, it felt like I was on a mysterious treasure hunt through boulder tumbles, weirdly stunted and twisted snow gums (from the altitude). The track kept to the ridge offering us regular views of mountains upon mountains. We reached the hut and made a hot lunch of salami and left over mac-n-cheese. So delicious.

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Treasure hunt trail, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Luxurious camp kitchen, Photo Mia Schen

We spent the afternoon on the summit looking at the Main Range on the horizon and trying to pick out all the mountains we had crossed in-between. It felt amazing, and was a hard view to leave. We are at the same level as a front of towering cumulus, but the cloud seem to be moving parallel to our position, fingers crossed for nice weather tomorrow. Mia painted a portrait of me and the view.

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Kosciuszko views! Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Soaking it up, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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The artist, Photo Meg Wettenhall

I had gotten quite high and so was quite alarmed when a low generator buzz started out of the blue while we were cooking dinner. I immediately thought of aliens. It stopped about 2 hours later, or ears are so sensitive to man made noise. We stayed up chatting around the camp fire eating green curry, but are now in bed watching the changing colours of sunset in the clouds. Mt Wills is an excellent campsite and our afternoon of doing nothing has gone so quickly, I would love to return.

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Setting sun colours, Photo Mia Schoen

AAWT Day 17 – Mitta Mitta River to Gill Creek

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Lil wallaby, Photo Mia Schoen

We woke by the mighty Mitta Mitta to a spattering of rain, I woke at 5.30 but couldn’t rouse the troops. Sometime after this Bill snuck out of camp needing an early start to make it to Mt Wills today, our destination tomorrow. Every morning we state we need an early start and shouldn’t have coffee, yet every morning we do. We left camp late at 8am and walked inland on windy dirt roads up into the mountains. We saw a huge cicada about 7cm long with red devil eyes, buzzing around very confused in the grass. Everyone managed to get tunnel vision on one of the climbs and walk right past a lazy yellow bellied black snake on the edge of the road. It rained and then was sunny all morning, yesterdays humidity sticking around in the air and on the sweat pouring off us.

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We like to climb, Photo Mia Schoen

By lunch we had reached the top of the range and thats when the wind really started to pick up, and the rain did too and we decided to push on to camp for lunch. Powered by dark chocolate liquorice bullets we marched our way down another steep spur on an overgrown path. Meg spied a tiger snake and scared it off for us. Meg our guide and spy, always out in front on powerful legs. We reached an old overgrown jeep track and followed it along the deep valley to camp. The jeep track was a huge green tunnel with small skinny saplings rising like columns, leaves all around, grass and small white flowers from the prominent blanket leaf trees underfoot.

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Lil Meg and the old dead tree, Photo Mia Schoen

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Crossing Gill Creek, Photo Phoebe Robertson

The tunnel ended at Gill Creek, which is a magical creek full of towering ferns and secret passageways…and leeches as Harry discovered, screaming. We waded across to the campsite just big enough for our two tents. We had reached camp by 2.30! A record for this trip, we were all so excited by the thought of downtime. Mia and I walked up the hill a little way and sat on the roots of a 100m tall gum, looking down into the valley below and smoked a jazz cigarette, drank some of Mias Internet powdered beer and felt like we had everything and were so lucky to be sitting in this tiny out of the way valley, in the middle of a mountain range in a huge old forest.

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Close quarters, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Meg loves stinky socks, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Gang feeling good #1, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Gang feeling good #2, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 16 – Johnnies Top to Mitta Mitta River

This morning was warm, the night and rest were serene, we were all so sleepy and tired. I woke the gang at 5.30 but everyone requested 5, so it was a hesitant start to the day. We had all felt so strong yesterday, we viewed the climb as a challenge and were so proud and pleased with ourselves when we got to the top. Today was the day after and everyone, even Meg, was feeling sore.

After coffee we started off down the jeep track in a relatively gentle descent. We had covered 10km by 9.30am and nearly half our days hike, but that was before we hit the steep bit! Which was the final 300m of knee and ankle crunching descent before we hit the Benambra/Corryong Rd. The pain was there, and so where the wild flowers, purple fringed lilies, white and yellow orchids. The bush was open, grass long, trees big and it was and enchanting place to stop…but we still had kms to walk.

We descended further out of the enchanted bush and into the colonised Morass Creek Gully. We ate lunch in prickles by the creek, which was brown with hopefully tannins but probably run off pollution from farmland nearby. We poo-pooed it. It was humid and we sat in the hot windless gully in dwindling shade dreaming off the mighty and clean Mitta Mitta (fed by Big River which runs below Mt Bogong our final destination).

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Morass? Photo Mia Schoen

We crossed Morass Creek after lunch and proceeded to climb 200m steeply out of the gully on the most unloved track of all time. The track in many parts was crumbling away and was overhung with dense regrowth that we had to push against with every step. It the heat it was like being in a warm stuffy tunnel and we were all a bit delirious and covered in sweat and leaves when we finally reached the top. We call the track bad names, said goodbye and moved on to walk through the Fraser Tablelands, on cleared roads through some of the most picturesque farm scenery; rolling hills, lush green grass, wonky hay sheds, goats to pat.

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Country road, take me home, pls. Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cute and wonky, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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New gang members, Photo Mia Schoen

Well after we were all sick of walking on such hard surfaces we reached the Mitta Mitta, and who should we see but Bill! After having walked from Buemba Hut Site to the Mitta Mitta in one day (insane) he had a day off to recoup and swim off the heat (smart). We scared off a local family with our hiker tang on arrival, which was lucky as we all promptly fulfilled our days wish (long sweaty trail fantasy) and went swimming. Mia of course went off adventuring and floated 100m down river, getting back upstream looked challenging.

We were all feeling tired but sated with todays hard work, we got some excellent views of Bogong covered in snow this morning, and we are really looking forward to getting there and the high alpine country again in a few days time.

AAWT Day 15 Buckwong Creek to Johnnies Top

Today was a biiiiiiig day! We knew it was going to be and we were out of our tents by 5.20am, no coffee, to hit the road. And a road we walked, 3 different ones around the side of Mt Murphy alternating between the wet and the dry side of the ridges, walking through rocky scree and back into wet gullies and dark rich smelling soil. The forest today was continuous and beautiful, full of life half-seen (not just mental snakes, aka snakes you think you see but aren’t actually there); wedge tail eagle pair, thorny devils, brumbies and a large black snake. The trees were tall and clacked together in the wind.

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Forest Secrets, Photo Mia Schoen

The jeep track led us to another intersection with the AAWT foot pad hidden behind a large fallen tree, the track has been out to trick us these last few days. It was when we left the jeep track that the forest really came alive. It was a serene too good to be true walk down a gradual slope on good track that led us to Buemba Hut site. The forest was open and unburnt, something often hard to find on the AAWT. We arrived in a daze to what felt like paradise, green meadows with a wooded creek on the far side, steep densely wooded slopes on all sides and 2 poplar trees, their tone of green made them stick out like intruders (which they are). We had walked 12kms and a 400m climb by 10.30, what a great morning!

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Captain Meggo, Photo Mia Schoen

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Entering the SNAKE PIT!!! Photo Mia Schoen

After a lounge and drying out all our tents we continued on along the secret paradise valley following Buemba Creek. We spent the next 5kms bushbashing through tall grass into the snake pit (dubbed so by a friendly fisherman we met). We only saw one snake the whole time, but the mental snakes where everywhere. We followed the banks of the creek through sparse forest of wollybutts till we found the most perfect swimming hole of all time! The day had become very hot and sticky so we had a siesta and 2 leisurely swims. A tree had called across the creek making a wide bridge, with new shoots about 3m high growing from the half submerged trunk. The water flowed swiftly under the log which was perfect for lounging and dangling our feet in the water.

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My favourite swimming spot all trip, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Sexy orchids, Photo Mia Schoen

After some quiz time and some snoozing we dragged our rejuvenated bodies away from paradise and up the ridiculously long and steep climb to Johnnies Top. The 800m climb features track so steep you can’t stop or you will slip back down the mountain, numerous false summits and the longest 7kms of my life (longer that the 7kms to Gray Mare Hut). We arrived at camp to a very low sun teasing us of good views through the trees, we were too tired to stay up long after dinner.

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Kamp Citchen, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 14 – Limestone Creek to Buckwong Creek

2 weeks on the trail. It feels like forever and only a second, its gone so quickly but if I think about how much we have done already every day feels huge! We were us and going early today as although we only have 15kms, its mostly on routes which can be hard to find. A 200m steep climb first thing got us going and we were up and away, hearts racing, out of our little oasis. As we climbed we left the rich bird and insect song behind and ascended over a few creeks named cutely Smoke Oh and less nicely Dead Horse into dry forest.

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Route finding, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Tummy drum to relax, Photo Mia Schoen

The higher we climbed the drier and rockier it became. The morning cloud cover quickly lifted and soon the sun shone down hard on us as we climbed a near vertical slope. Straight up the mountain this path went, no faffing about. After travelling 3kms in 2hrs we finally made it to the top and lunch at Misery Rd and lovely forest and heaps of snow grass to cushion our cushions. The birds found us and we ate in full chorus.

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PCT girl gang! Photo Mia Schoen

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Flakes, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Misery Rd, Photo Meg Wettenhall

Misery Rd was really beautiful, we could see mountains through sparse snow gums, the horizon blue on blue. We also caught glimpses of the Main Range so far away! We were enjoying ourselves so much that we walked right past our turn off and had to do some back tracking. Once we hit the route again the path got straight back into business by directly descending the other side, becoming scrubbier and scrubbier the lower we went. Our legs were really feeling it, our calves tired from the climb and our thighs really burning on the way down. We finally made it to the lush but eerie boggy grass flats by Buckwong Creek. 4 years ago Annie and I walked through a brumby graveyard here, and although all we saw were a few bones, the feeling was there.

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Simpsons clouds, Photo Mia Schoen

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Creepy bog, Photo Mia Schoen

The boggy track led us over huge quarts rocks to a super excellent camp, spongy grass, birds galore, deep creek for washing in, heaps of firewood. We were all pretty exhausted and quickly set about cooking so we could go to bed early. Harry found the chocolate and was pretty content eating and reading fireside. We plan to be up early tomorrow for our huge day of climbing, so sweet dreams to me!

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Camp by Buckwong, Photo Mia Schoen

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This is how you do it, Photo Meg Wettenhall

Some beautiful flowers (photos Meg Wettenhall):

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