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Tuesday, 16 April 2019
A Favourite Place
Globe-trotting poet, David Farnsworth, author of Middle Kingdom, expands on a trip to Mt Bogong, in Victoria, Australia.
If I could be magically transplanted to a place, now, just at this moment, it would be Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria. The weather there today should be fine but cool.
I would be wearing my warm clothes. Nowadays, the climb is well beyond me. Come to think of it, it's been beyond me for years.
The walk begins at Mountain Creek, near Tawonga. You park the car, collect your pack, fill containers from the pristine waters and walk through the creek six times. You keep your eyes peeled for snakes.
You begin the climb up the Staircase Spur. The mountain gums are enormous, Many stumps from the past survive. The summer wildflowers would have gone by now as the mountain prepares for winter. You rest on the occasional fallen tree, keeping a look-out for leeches.
You are surrounded by bush. Finally after about three hours, you emerge into a clearing on a flat step. There is a cattleman's hut, Bivouac Hut, in poor repair and a water tank on the side of the building. You lie on the cropped grass and have lunch, followed by a short sleep. Camp fires were banned 20 years ago.
The next part of the walk is rockier and requires care. You do not see animals. Few birds. At the lower levels, sixty years ago, there were lyre birds, but they fell victim to feral cats and dogs.
Finally you emerge from the dense forests which by now have morphed into scrub and alpine gums. How beautiful the bark of alpine gums is! Vistas open before your eyes. You can see all the way to New South Wales. Indeed to the east you could draw a line for 50 kilometres and not find a human being.
The gullies are very steep. On one walk a student's sleeping bag fell off his pack and plunged 1000 meters. We left it there. I seem to remember I gave him my sleeping bag for the night. In the old days you would find herds of Hereford cattle grazing on the summer grasses. They are now banned. The cattlemen from the valleys below would collect them before the first heavy snows ... or if you like about now. I remember seeing a beast that had been missed in the collection and in the spring it had grown a thick coat of hair. Or the time I took my dog up the mountain and he rounded up a hundred beasts and stampeded them across the top of the mountain. (Dogs are banned too, now.)
Now small streams cross the path, including just off the track, a small spring. What delicious water. The spaghnum moss is everywhere. Once on the upper slopes I came across a group of Field Naturalists. Of course now, you can take a horse ride across the mountain and camp overnight. But it wouldn't be the same would it?
Just ahead is the remains of Summit Hut, close by the top. You pass a plaque to three walkers who didn't make the shelter of the hut. This was in 1945. They were 200 meters short. Maybe some 20 years ago some mad Greenies burnt down several huts, including this hut. Some have since been re-built. Lower down their acts included rocks suspended by fishing line to smash windscreens and palings with nails hidden in creek crossings. Lovely people.
You walk to the cairn which indicates the top of the mountain and enjoy 360 o views over surrounding valleys and mountains, Mts Buffalo and Feathertop and the Cobberas. On a good day you can Mt Kosciusko.
You follow the snow poles and head left, past Hell Gap, so called because of the high winds and follow an old cattle track. Alpine vegetation, when driven over, takes 20 years to rejuvenate. Once in a heavy fog at the top, you had to look for the snow poles. You had little perception of your direction or whether you were going up hill or down.
From here to Cleve Cole Hut it's all down hill, a drop of 500 meters. The hut was named after a couple of walkers from the 40's who died. There was no hut then. It's a comfortable three-roomed hut. There is a long drop toilet. If you leave the door open, you have uninterrupted views for miles.
Me? I camp in my usual spot 300 meters to the east of the hut near a creek, Camp Creek. Crows occupy a neighbouring snow gum. You put up your small tent, unpack, cook a fillet steak and open a bottle of wine, unwrap a glass and relax. You need a small, spirit stove these days. It's a lucky day. We have the mountain to ourselves. I always walk on a full moon. It makes going to the toilet at night easier. The moon shining through the cloth of the tent is magical. The creek ripples all night on its way down hill to Big River.
In the morning. I wash in the creek. So different. So cold. So refreshing. Is this self-sufficiency?
Reluctantly I pack and re-trace my steps. I feel to good. I am so tired, but manage to drive back to civilization.