Mt. Speculation is in Victoria’s Alpine National Park. At 1668 metres above sea-level, it offers one of the best campsites in the high country with superb, and dramatic views across the Alps. Commencing at Mt. Howitt carpark, the track leads to Vallejo Gantner Hut, through the Razor Viking Wilderness Zone and meets the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) at Mt. Buggery before the ascent to Mt. Speculation. I do a three day hike across this beautiful and rugged part of Victoria with my hiking partner, Peter, and this is how it unfolded.
Saturday Nov 15.
Morning brings the start of our 3 day hiking expedition. I am feeling a bit stronger today than I was yesterday, after succumbing to a head cold that left me feeling a bit floppy over the last few days. We postponed the trek for a day, so that I could find enough time to gather some reserves to help me last the distance. Thankfully most of today is just sitting in the car while my hiking partner drives us from Dromana, up past Licola and into the Australian Alps National Park. We will commence the hike at the Howitt Plains Carpark.
We arrive at the carpark in the mid afternoon. We sign the Intentions Book, and observe the Warning Sign that we are going to enter into the Razor Viking Wilderness Zone.
The sign advises the following: that Search and Rescue in this country can be slow, terrain rough and challenging, walkers must be fit and self-reliant, and sections of the track have no markers or signs, so you must carry a map and compass, and be proficient in using them. I did research our proposed trek, so none of these warnings should have come as a surprise, but it was somewhat sobering to be reading the serious nature of our intended foray into the Wilderness. We take a few minutes to digest it all, and ponder what our limitations are……..
We’ve got the map and the Trek Notes, I’ve read up on the Australian Alps Walking Track in published books, I’ve read fellow bloggers posts, and we got the EPIRB. I’ve filled out our intentions on the EPIRB website, and listed our emergency contacts. So we can tick those boxes.
We’ve even got a solar charger for our mobile phones, and camera. So we’ve got that aspect covered. And we’ve got a GPS.
The only thing we could have, is better compass skills. Suffice to say that ours are a bit rusty. We’ve talked about doing a short training course on orienteering, but haven’t got around to it yet. Of course. None the less, we are confident that the track is well used, and we’ve noted in the Intentions Book that others have passed this way in the last few days. So on we go……..
We only have a short 5km walk to our overnight destination at Vallejo Gantner Hut. But perhaps because we have been sitting in the car for about 5 hours, we find our walk a bit tiring. It’s one of those gradual uphill climbs that you cant really say are challenging, but having 18kg stuck on your back makes it feel a lot harder than it should be. I’m already wondering if my cold is taking its toll. My pack feels like a stranger and I haven’t found my groove. My mind wanders and ponders: How will I manage 2 full days of harder walking? How come I can’t seem to get my pack weight down? Who’s idea was this? (mine, of course). Are we there yet?
Well thankfully within the hour, we are there. We gladly drop our packs, before opening the door of one of the most unusual of Victoria’s Alpine Huts.
We are happy to see that no-one is there, so we decide to set up our sleeping gear in the upstairs loft. We gather wood for the indoor fireplace, and before long there is a beautiful roaring fire. It is very mild outside, so we leave the hut door open for such much needed light. Time to have a look around before we unpack the nibbles and wine. First up, it’s off to check out the infamous toilet……..and views!
Nowhere in Victoria have I seen a bush toilet as amazing as this! You could sit there for ages and admire the view…….if it weren’t for the aroma wafting around.
The scenery around the hut is absolutely stunning. Wildflowers pop out through the rocks adding splashes of bright colour to the natural hues of the bush. As the air starts to cool, we return to the hut to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and relax in front of the fire.
Feeling a little tired we call an early night. Plus, we cant wait to go and lie down in the loft and enjoy looking out the window at the view beyond. The evening brings with it some cloud cover, so there is no lying in bed gazing at the stars. The fire crackles below us and I’m toasting in my sleeping bag whilst lying on my new down-filled sleeping mat. I toss and turn most of the night, regularly gazing at the fire and willing the embers to die down faster so I can get cooler.
Then the rain comes. It rains and rains and rains. Steady and at times very heavy, and easily heard even though the Hut is well insulated. It is non-stop from the early hours of the morning, and we wake up to an entirely different view. We find out later that 50mm of rain has fallen.
A quick dash outside to the toilet reveals a thick fog, and a dramatic drop in air temperature. Visibility is low, and the clouds heavy with moisture as they swirl around us. I can now imagine how quickly and easily it could snow up here in the high country, even in summer. The hatch at the top of the door to the hut has a sign with a meaning that is now a lot more apparent.
We have a leisurely breaky as the rain continues to fall outside. We ponder our options. Is it safe to continue in these conditions? What if it snowed? Are we prepared for that? My hiking partner manages to get limited phone reception, but no internet, and shoots off a few texts to friends that might be able to forward on an update weather forecast for the area. Three replies bring three different outlooks. None of them great, but perhaps indicating a slight improvement. We wait. At least until the rain eases.
After much deliberation, we pack up and make the decision to go on. We figure we can always turn back to the hut if it looks worse along the way. So it’s a foggy start to the walk, and it’s 10.45am before we are off.
The views along the track appear tantalisingly before us, before being swept away within seconds by thick heavy fog. It reminds us of scenes from the movie Avatar, when they ascend into the legendary floating mountains.
As we break out of the cover of snow gums the mist swirls up from The Terrible Hollow and races over the rocky escarpment. The air is thick with moisture and we walk on without really seeing where we are headed. I hope the mist clears so I can get the chance to photograph the stunning scenery that I have seen in print, and on other peoples’ blogs.
After about half an hour of leaving the Hut we join the Australian Alps Walking Track, and head north into the Razor Viking Wilderness. It is not after that we meet our first group of fellow hikers, and amazingly, I recognize the leader as the guy (Andrew) whose blog I had checked out with details of a hike he did in this area. I am blown away by the coincidence!
This is the start of our traverse along the Crosscut Saw. We are very exposed to the elements up here as we walk along the ridgeline which is about 1600-1700 meters above sea level. The landscape is rocky, but bound together with tough green grass, and wildflowers wave their colourful heads while clinging tenaciously to the earth below them. The mist at times obligingly blows away, and we are rewarded with views that reach in to The Terrible Hollow and beyond to The Viking.
It is cold when we stop to catch our breath in the swirling mists, and we keep our breaks short, ever keen to get to Mt. Speculation and set up camp.
We stop for lunch after two hours of walking. Looking at the map, we find it hard to estimate where we are exactly. The Crosscut Saw extends for a distance of about 4 km, and its difficult to pinpoint which contour line we are following. In this mountainous terrain walking is at times quite slow and I am finding it hard to estimate the distance we have travelled in the time we have taken so far. As a result we over-estimate how far we have come and make an assumption that Mt. Buggery is not that far away. The swirling mists make it difficult to see landmarks ahead of us, so we have no visual marker to aim for. The next highest looking mound that looms in front of us we assume to be Mt. Buggery (it will turn out we are wrong, for the second time!).
As we continue on, I feel as though I am walking through the pages of an adventure travel brochure. The views are spectacular in every direction and I have to be mindful of my foot placement in this rocky terrain as my head constantly swivels around to take it all in. It is easy to loose your balance with a pack on, and the thought of free-falling into the Terrible Hollow is not something I really wish to contemplate.
We ascend another rocky outcrop and arrive on a summit which is fairly flat and grassy. There are several fire places scattered among the trees and it is easy to see that it lends itself to being a nice sheltered campsite. Without a clear view beyond, we deduce we must be on Mt. Speculation. As it’s mid-afternoon already, we are both getting a bit weary from all our traversing up and down rugged mountains, and we are relieved to be able to dump our packs.
The trek notes indicate that there is camping below the summit. A good option if the weather is a bit dodgy. Which it is. I decide to go down the track a bit to check out other camp sites, but on the way I meet 2 hikers coming up. We stop for a chat. It is then I discover we are not where we think we are. We are on the summit of Mt. Buggery! For the third time. We still have another hour and a half of walking down the Horrible Gap and then up to the summit of Mt. Speculation!
I race back up to the summit of Mt. Buggery to inform Peter of our error of judgement. He is utterly deflated. I am laughing. For some reason I think it’s quite comical. Perhaps it’s the altitude. Peter doesn’t share my view. It is now that I should mention that he actually didn’t get around to doing any training for this hike, so he is somewhat exhausted by now. Hmm………. So it’s packs on again and off we go, down the Horrible Gap.
Then up again….
There is a bit of rock-climbing involved as we continually gain elevation and ascend towards the ever elusive Mt. Speculation. We stop regularly to rest our weary selves, and breathe in lungfulls of bitingly cold mountain air. It seems harder to take a deep breath up here.
My eyes are on my watch and my mind on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Non-the-less I am still taking in this spectacular scenery all around me. Finally, there are no more peaks higher than the one we just climbed, and we declare we are on the summit of Mt. Speculation. It’s 4.30 pm, and we quickly set up camp just below the summit, as it looks like it could rain any moment. We also know we still have another 2km return walk to get our water for the night and following day.
Our campsite has spectacular views, despite being bitingly cold. There is no chance of a fire either, after the 50mm of rain last night that drenched any available timber. We sip Sauvignon Blanc and eat biscuits and cheese while cooking our tea in the chilly Alpine air. We call an early evening, and retire to our cosy tent out of the wind.
I awake at 5.30am to the sound of a Raven crowing outside the tent. I am glad to get up, as I didn’t sleep well and am keen to check out sunrise from the summit of Mt. Speculation. Our tent is visible in the centre of the photo below: one of the most scenic campsites I have ever experienced. It is picture perfect.
Sunrise from the summit of Mt. Speculation provides breathtaking views through the swirling morning mist.
And I am glad I made the effort, despite the finger-numbing cold. I feel as though I am on top of the world up here, with 360 degree views of stunning blue-grey mountains bathed in the golden glow of the early morning sun.
After a quick breakfast we pack up camp. We are keen to get going early today as we know we have about a 6 hour walk back to the car, then about a 5 hour drive back home. It’s going to be a pretty big day. We are gone a little after 7.30 am.
The air is super chilly as we make our way down from the summit of Mt. Speculation and into the Terrible Hollow. The thought of ascending Mt. Buggery ahead weighs heavily on Peter’s shoulders as we warm up into a steady walking pace. It seems never-ending, but just under an hour and a half later, the hardest part is done! We decide the mountain is aptly named.
We are blessed with clearer skies today and the views from the Crosscut Saw are breathtaking! Every direction brings its own stunning vista, and my camera is running in overdrive.
We are not the only ones on the trail today. We pass a group commencing a 400km, 8 day trek along the Australian Alps Walking Track. I remind Peter at this stage he has nothing to complain about. We are only walking for 2 and a bit days.
Before long we pass another group of Year 10 students doing a compulsory trek through the Alps. I think to myself what a life-changing experiencing this could be, at least some of them.
When we stop for lunch, we are nearing the end of the Crosscut Saw, and the view from my rocky seat looks over to the left along the ridgeline that we have followed, almost as far as the eye can see. It surely is impressive.
We take in the incredible views, but our break is short-lived as the air temperature up here is freezing. We are keen to keep going (or I am, anyway) to get warm, and to get closer to the car and a nice comfy seat.
We enjoy the views along the Mt. Howitt section of the track, that yesterday were obscured by the rising mist. The sun comes out at times, and it is nice to feel the warmth radiating down on our tired bodies. The colours of the alpine landscape are enhanced with the sun’s rays, and take on a postcard perfect appearance.
We know we are nearly back at Vellejo Gantner Hut, and Macalister Springs, and I feel a little more charged up with that knowledge. It has been a physically challenging hike at times, but the views at all times have more than compensated for a few tired muscles.
I know it’s a hike that will stay in my mind for a long time to come, and I think I may have just got a taste for the Australian Alps Walking Track that could definitely see me coming back for more.