Lake Tali Karng is nestled in Victoria’s Alpine National Park. It is here that I ventured on my very first hike when I was about 17 years old, wearing a pack with an external metal frame and leather Rossi hiking boots. The beauty of the place captivated me, and despite many blisters, sore toes and aching knees it etched itself firmly and positively into my memory bank. I vowed one day to return, and finally I did just that.
I coaxed a good friend (Peter) to do the hike with me. Thanks to his contacts we were able to stay the first night at Higgins Hut which is a privately owned hut on Mt. Tamoritha Road, south of Arbuckle Junction on the Bennison Plains (Victoria’s Alpine National Park). We arrived there as darkness descended so it was difficult for me to appreciate our surrounds among the snow gums and crisp mountain air, until morning unveiled it all.
So as you can see, the start of our hiking trip was relatively luxurious. With a massive fireplace inside the main hut, and a big pot-belly fire in the bunkhouse, we were kept us as warm as toast all night (I was almost hot) despite the icy mountain air outside. Morning saw a heavy white frost had covered the ground during the night, and the grass in the stockyards crunched underfoot.
Day One of the Hike:
After a bit of stuffing around and packing and re-packing our packs, we finally left the hut and headed up the road to Arbuckle Junction. We took a right turn into Moroka Road and travelled another 14km to reach the car-park at McFarlane Saddle. This is where we were to leave our car, and Peter’s good friend was going to drive it to the other end of the walk at the Wellington River Bridge.
We signed the Intentions Book at the start of the track at McFarlane Saddle and set off at about 9.30am, September 12. Probably should have got there a bit earlier, but never mind, we were on the way! We had planned to walk along the Wellington Plains Track until we reached the Moroka Gap Track (on the left) and follow that over to the summit of Mt. Wellington. From there follow the Wellington Plains Track to Millers Hut, and beyond to Riggalls Spur Track or possibly, Gillios Track. Descend to Lake Tali Karng and camp 2 nights (a rest day included). Final days walk out of the Lake via the Valley of Destruction on the Clive Lanigan Memorial Track, through 16 crossings of the Wellington River and back to the car at the Wellington River Bridge. A total of 37.5 km
Happily striding our way across the Wellington Plains, the walking is easy, if not deceptively damp underneath the alpine tussocks. It’s now that I remember my trusty Keen hiking boots are only water-resistant, not water-proof, as I intended to do this hike 2 years ago in warmer/drier weather. I tread carefully, annoying myself that its slowing me down. Peter strides on nonchalantly, oblivious to the fact that water is getting into my boots. Already!
Head down and concentrating so hard on the placement of each foot among the grass tussocks, I probably would have missed seeing Dunsmuir Hut if Peter hadn’t noticed it first! A little dilapidated, but in an emergency it would provide shelter of sorts and with a crude fireplace, some welcome warmth if there was enough dry wood around.
We continue along the Wellington Plains Track which for now is a lot drier, and the track is well defined (at the moment) which makes our progress quite easy. Big excitement (from me, anyway) when we see our first patch of remnant winter snow on the track verge.
We pass a landmark (of sorts), but we are none the wiser of the meaning behind it. Gateway to the beyond?
My fixation with the snow has me pretending to ski on probably the largest patch of snow we encounter. I am surprised that there isn’t more of it, as winter has only passed us by 2 weeks ago (officially anyway).
We continue on our merry way, until we encounter the track junction that will lead us to Mt. Wellington. We take the left hand turn into Moroka Gap Walking Track. To have stayed on the track and gone straight ahead would have taken us along McFarlane Saddle Walking Track, and that would have been the easy option! But no, we want something more challenging! Well, that’s what I thought anyway. Peter?
The walking track starts off a bit blurred, and continues to get blurrier as we progress. At least Mt. Wellington stands out like the proverbial so we know which way to go.
Ok, so now it’s time to do a short uphill walk to the summit of Mt. Wellington. Well, I do it but Peter has ‘been there, done that’ so decides to have an extended lunch break while I take in the stunning panorama at the summit (1634m above sea level).
When I return from the summit and devour some lunch, I peruse the Trek Notes and am disappointed to read that if we had have left a bit earlier we would be at Millers Hut for lunch! For us that is still another 3 -3.5 km away. We plod on and I find the first 20 minutes after our break to be a bit of a strain. Not that the walking is hard, it’s just trying to find my rhythm again after a 20 minute break of not having my 15 kilo pack on. I’ve lost my mojo. I do the motions and repeat my mantra over and over again and before long I am in the groove and pack weariness leaves me alone (for now).
The scenery is uplifting, and the walking easy enough along the well-formed track, but I’m itching to get to Millers Hut as a significant way-point on our map.
So we get to Millers Hut after lunch, buts that ok. it’s a cute little hut and we have a good look around. There’s some great camping sites on flat green grassy sites that I store in my memory bank for another time. We have a bit of trouble locating the track ahead from here as the only sign post says “The Sentinels” and we don’t need that as a diversion at this time of the day. A bit more scouting around and I noticed a faint track near a fallen tree which turned out to be what we were looking for.
We cross Nigothoruk Creek with crystal clear water and head up an unexpectedly steep hill which seems to go on forever, but my notes describe it as ‘short‘. Perhaps it is because we are starting to flag a bit (not because we are not fit enough) as the afternoon wears on and we are eager to get to the Lake and set up camp (and have a glass of wine). We crest the jolly hill and arrive at Nyimba Camp which is at the junction of McFarlane Saddle Walking Track, and has a toilet!
We don’t bother to inspect it as we are too busy deliberating the upcoming option of Gillios Track or Riggall Spur Track via Echo Point. I originally said I’d be nice to Peter and avoid Gillios Track, as I had done more training than he had, but now we’re thinking we might save time by doing it (it’s only 1 km shorter, but very much steeper). Perhaps we could just roll down?
We pass the site of the former Riggalls Hut and shortly arrive at the track junction that marks the point of our descision.
This is it, heads or tails? Ok it’s Gillios. Lets go………………………..!
The Trek Notes describe Gillios Track as follows…“it starts off as a gentle walk through alpine ash forest before plummeting steeply along a series of switchbacks to reach the northwest shore of Tali Karng”. Ok, yes it was “gentle” for a very short way. However, the number of mountain ash still standing in the forest when we traversed through it must have been considerably less than when the Trek Note author wrote his notes. Last summer’s fires and from seasons past had left considerable damage through the forest. Within no time the track was at times completely obscured by sapling regrowth and huge fallen trees.
Our initial speed with which we faced the challenge of Gillios was replaced by a bush-bashing scramble that sapped our energy and our hopes of ‘making up time’ by going the shorter route to the Lake. Huge mountain ash trees lay fallen across the overgrown track at regular intervals, leaving us searching for way around or the possibility of throwing ourselves bodily over the top. Care and caution thrown to the wind, it was go, go go boot-camp style in the race to reach the Lake and be free of jolly Gillio. Our hopes of a leisurely afternoon sipping Sauvignon Blanc and nibbling on biscuits and cheese were fading fast, all the more reason we were tiring of log-straddling and using our arms as machetes through the forest regrowth.
Surprisingly (or not) the above photo is the only one I took of the descent down Gillios Track that showed what the conditions were like. I can only recall being too weary to care about taking another photo of a tangle of leaves, branches and the back of Peter’s pack as he sailed over the top of another mountain ash monstrosity, commando style. Pleasantries went by the wayside, as I did my best to avoid the backlash of regrowth saplings as Peter carved his way forward.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. On the occasions that I stopped to admire the view (rest my aching knees) I did look around me and marvel at the scenery. The majestic Sentinels radiated their energy to the 2 weary hikers and kept watch over us as we descended 600 metres over 3 km, somehow unharmed. We thanked my younger sister profusely for her recommendation of walking poles, which I bought the day before we left. Thank goodness for them!
In the late afternoon sun, we reached the Lake! But with very high water levels (you can see the sign for Gillios Track submerged in the bottom left of the photo) we found it hard to orient ourselves and locate the campsites. There was no shore, no way to walk around the perimeter of the lake to find a good camp site. There was no track to follow, and we didn’t relish the idea of any more bush-bashing or walking in the water to locate the camping area. Tired and aching, we found the closest flat area of grass and set up camp before daylight was lost. Oh, and got out the wine, biscuits and cheese! What a day.
Day Two of the Hike:
Didn’t sleep well on the new sleeping mat, and woke up with very cold legs in the early hours of the morning. I did discover when I set up my bed that I mistakenly bought a 3/4 length self-inflating sleeping mat from Kathmandu instead of a full-length one! Duh. Too much sales talk obviously distracted me from making the correct purchase! Thermal leggings and thermal top worked well in the sleeping bag that only copes with a rating of zero degrees, but you cant sleep with cold feet.
Morning shone new light onto our position on the Lake’s edge, and we realised where we were: camped in a damp shady hollow (which explains why we couldn’t get the fire to crack on last night as the wood was too damp). Have breakfast, pack up camp and move…….into the sunny area and open grassy campsite (yes, I did have to bush-bash to get there, and Peter walked through water, not on it though).
What a difference a good campsite makes to morale. We gather firewood all morning to make huge stack ready to burn all evening. Chores done, camp tidy its time to go exploring (or fishing if your name’s Peter). I head off to find Snowden Falls located at the eastern end of the lake, which the Trek Notes advise is “easy when the lake is below full capacity”. I find a deer track which I figure should be a good start in the absence of a proper overland track, and head off with the (unrealistic) expectation that the going will get easier the further I go.
After an hour (I guess as I’m not wearing a watch) of bush-bashing I arrive at the mouth of Nigothoruk Creek, and the ‘easy’ part of my explorations up to Snowden Falls.
Another hour of scrambling back along a non-existent track provides beautiful views of the Lake.
A proper camp evening follows the beautiful sunny day we’ve had, and we relax with an awesome fire enjoyed with wine, biscuits and cheese (sounds like we’re fixated on these three things). Main course is Nasi Gorang for me followed by Apple Crumble, courtesy of Back Country dehydrated foods. It’s amazing how good it tastes when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Not as cold a night as last night, as we’re out of our cold hollow and elevated ever so slightly above the water level of the lake.
Day Three of the Hike:
We rise and shine earlier today, for no good reason other than we are awake and keen to tackle the days walk out via 16 crossings of the Wellington River. A bit excited, a bit wary, and a bit unsure of how deep and cold the water will be. We breakfast, clean dishes and ourselves and are off by 8.30am. Clive Lanigan and The Valley of Destruction call us away from the Lake and entice us towards the Wellington River and Shaws Gap.
We scramble over rocks as we leave the tranquillity of the Lake and head along the Clive Lanigan Memorial Track and descend through the Valley of Destruction (Peter is happy that the scary name doesn’t represent the conditions of the track). Careful foot placement is the aim here, as the track continues over rough strewn boulders quite steeply for a while (nothing compared to Gillios though).
We make good time as we amble along, me happy to be traversing these remote parts of the world! We meet a fellow human on the track, who has camped on the Wellington River and is doing a day walk to the Lake. We exchange track talk and continue on more confidently now that we have updates on the river conditions. Nothing to worry about, so it seems.
We start to catch glimpses of the Wellington River, and at times the sound of water can be heard rushing over rocks as it carves its way through the valley below us. We are keen to get close to it and see what we are in for. It remains elusive however, and we continue along the track ever sure that we will see it around the next bend. The scenery is pretty and we walk easily now along a well-formed track.
We pass the Brandy Pinch Track (leads to the Chromite mine) on our left, and soon after the Riggall Spur Track merges from the right.
A couple of kms after that the track finally descends down to the Wellington River, providing a place to stop for a snack before doing our first river crossing. Peter gallantly fords the river first, then its my turn. I am surprised to find that its not nearly as cold as I had dreaded, and we ditch our plan to change footwear at every crossing. So it’s walk right in, boots and all. Although shallow, in places there are deep spots that are flowing quite fast, and sure footing with 2 walking poles for support are the go.
The river crossing is refreshing as we have accumulated a bit of a sweat with the Spring sunshine bearing down on us while we walk. I’m enjoying the success of my new ‘quick-dry’ light weight pants and cant believe how fast they dry.
Finding the track again after the first crossing is challenging as beyond the bank is overgrown with blackberries and other scratchies. We follow a deer track and hope for the best (deer are noticeably shorter than humans I realise at this point). Our fellow hiker had warned us that the track was a little vague around these parts. Successive river crossings are a breeze however, and after about the 8th crossing (although we weren’t actually counting them) we call a lunch break.
A stunning spot, with an awesome campsite tucked in behind the trees, we happily relax and eat a tasty lunch of whatever we have in our packs.
After steadily climbing up and away from the river, we check our Trek Notes and realise we are not as far along as we though we were. Not counting the river crossings, we thought our lunch stop was beyond Shaws Gap, but in fact it was about 2.5 km before it. That explains why we are continually climbing, as the track rises up and bypasses a difficult section of the river near Crolls Gorge.
The scenery is stunning in the mid afternoon and the angle of the sun in the sky intensifies the green colour palette of the bush that covers the slopes of the river bank. Surprisingly we don’t see any snakes for the whole trip, but a local goanna scuttles up a tree as we pass along the track.
We descend back down to the river beyond Shaws Gap this time and cross the river again, quite unsure where we are crossing to, as the track is nowhere to be seen. Massive piles of tree debris have accumulated in mid-river, obscuring our vision of the bank on the other side. We decide to stick close to the left-hand bank, which pays off as a thin trail emerges through the scrub. A further 5 crossings, all of which have easier banks to locate, lead us to end the track: the Wellington River Bridge, and the end of the hike.
Trek Notes: “Bushwalks in the Victoria Alps” by Glen Van Der Knjiff
Maps: Vicmap “Tali Karng Special” 1:25,000, SV Maps “Tali Karng-Moroka” 1st Edition 1:50,000