Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mt Stirling Circuit, Alpine National Park - October 2016

With the weather looking good for this Saturday I found myself trawling through my collection of guide books looking for a high country ramble. Normally the choices would be almost endless but I had a couple of caveats today. I wanted a walk that wasn't going to be overly taxing, I haven't completed a hard walk for months due to a leg operation, made even worse by three weeks on a ship floating around the South Pacific, so you might say that I'm not really match fit at the moment. The other consideration on this Saturday was that it was still two weeks before Parks Vic open up most of the tracks that have been closed for winter, so I had to find a walk that I could actually get to. To cut a long boring story short, I decided to head up to Telephone Box Junction and do a circuit walk around and over Mt Stirling.
Telephone Box Junction was a little on the quiet side today.
I was on the road early this morning which meant that I was booted up and walking out of the deserted Telephone Box Junction before 10am. For this walk I'd grabbed Glenn van der Knijff's book Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, now this book dates back to 2004, so I wasn't exactly sure how accurate the notes would be. Heading up the closed Circuit Road though I soon arrived at my first track junction to find that it was marked not only with a signpost but with a map, I was happy to see that it appeared that most of my described route seemed to be still walkable. Leaving the Circuit Road here I headed up Bluff Spur Trail all the way to Bluff Spur Hut, being a cross country ski trail in winter meant that the climb up Bluff Spur Trail was never overly steep. 
Most of the junctions today were marked with these maps.
There were plenty of these Alpine Ash today.
Interestingly the climb up Bluff Spur also passed through forests of mostly un-burnt Alpine Ash and Snowgum trees, as I've mentioned before a lot of the Victorian High Country has been severely burnt in the last ten or so years so its nice to walk through a forest of mature trees. It wasn't long today that I started to encounter lingering drifts of snow, the good news was that it was very icy and compacted so it didn't make the walking any harder, but a bit of snow around always adds a bit to a walk I reckon. By the time I passed from the Mountain Ash zone to the Snow Gum zone I was more or less walking on a continuous covering of snow. After an hour and a bit of climbing I arrived at Bluff Spur Hut, this comfortable hut was built as a memorial hut to two skiers that died near this spot in 1985. Today though I was happy enough to just utilise the verandah to get out of the snow for a minute  while I had a drink and a look at the map.
Bluff Spur Trail.

It didn't take long today to start passing through some residual snow drifts.
The summit trig is just visible.

Leaving Bluff Spur Hut I headed up towards the summit of Mt Stirling, after only a few minutes of climbing I'd already passed out the Snow Gums and was climbing through alpine grassland. Most of the snow cover disappeared once I was out from under the tree canopy and at the same time the views became fairly extensive, which was another excuse for me to stop and take it all in. I'd never actually been up to the summit of Mt Stirling before so this was all new territory for me, I was enjoying the grandstand views that allowed me to pick out the surrounding mountains, the sites of many adventures over the years.
Bluff Spur Hut.
It was only a couple of minutes after leaving Bluff Spur Hut that I came out above the tree line.
That's The Bluff in the distance.
Once near the top I wandered over to check out a very photogenic lone Snow Gum, this beautiful tree was at least 100 metres from any other tree of any significance on the mountain, it kind of makes you wonder how it got itself established in such a inhospitable spot. After crawling around in the snow grass for awhile getting some photos of my Snow Gum I meandered my way over to a rocky outcrop to the south east of the main summit. This rocky peak gave me a grandstand view to the east with Mt Howitt, Mt Speculation and The Cross-Cut Saw clearly visible today, in the distance I could even make out the Bogong High Plains still with a fair covering of snow on them. What drew my eyes the most though was the rocky ramparts of The Bluff to the south across the deep valley that the Howqua River flows through. The movie of The Man From Snowy River was filmed in these hills years ago, in-fact the hut from the movie, Craigs Hut, is now somewhat of a tourist attraction off the Circuit Road on Mt Stirling.

There were a couple of reasonably sized snow drifts near the summit.
Is this the smallest bivy in Australia?
Crossing over a large residual snow drift I meandered over to the trig point on the summit, well meandered as well as I could while being buffeted by very strong winds. Finding myself a bit of shelter behind a rock I dropped my pack for a few minutes and had a break, the scars on Mt Buller looking very ugly now they were un covered by their winter coat. To the north I could see plenty of snow in the rocky chutes dropping down from the Mt Buffalo Plateau, it certainly has been a good snow year. Shouldering my pack I dropped off the summit and headed down Stirling Trail for a couple of minutes until I came to the Geelong Grammar School Hut.
Mt Buller doesn't look so flash without its mantle of snow.
The Mt Stirling trig.

The Geelong Grammar School Hut is a very comfortable hut that is open for the public when the kids aren't using it, with its big fire place and a loft for sleeping it would make a nice spot to sit out bad weather. There was no bad weather today though, only wind, so I closed up the hut and headed off on my long descent down the undulating spur towards King Saddle. Like my climb up, as soon as I reached the cover of the snow gums I was once again walking on snow covered tracks, the snow definitely adding a little bit more interest to what was already a good walk. One thing I noticed on my descent was the amount of infrastructure, first I got to a newish looking hut (I think it may have been called Kings Spur Hut), a little further on I arrived at an open area that housed numerous permanent tents as well as a big teepee, a shelter and a couple of toilets. I suspect these set ups are for commercial horse riding trips judging by the slip rails, but I may be wrong.
The very comfortable Geelong Grammar School Hut.
Heading down Stirling Trail.
I think this newish hut is called Kings Spur Hut.
The snow cover lasted for a fair while as I descended Stirling Trail.

Just before arriving at Kings Saddle the track got a little rougher and steeper, I was actually on a black diamond track according to a helpfully placed signpost, now if I was on skis I would of officially been shitting myself on a black diamond run, but it was amazing how much easier the black diamond run was without snow! Soon the open grassy spaces of Kings Saddle came into view through the arrow straight trunks of the Alpine Ash. Kings Saddle is actually on the Circuit Road and it would make a nice spot for a picnic or a bbq once they open up the road after winter, with the road still closed though it was quiet today. Passing by the large King Saddle Shelter I set off on the last stage of today's ramble.

Not sure what the go is here, I suspect it maybe for horse riding tours in the warmer months.
Fork Creek.

I was now heading towards yet another hut, Razorback Hut. To get there I followed the beautiful contouring Hut Track, while only short this was a very enjoyable part of the walk, the easy walking being appreciated by my tired muscles (remember I haven't done a lot of walking for the last three months). Razorback Hut is actually a couple of huts and they would supply good shelter in winter when the roads are closed, in the warmer weather I suspect that they'd be over run with 4 wheel drivers though as you can easily drive to them. Leaving Razorback Hut I was faced with a choice of 3 tracks, to cut a long story short I reckon you should take the middle one, I took the faint southern most one and it disappeared after passing through a very damp patch of tee-tree, which left me with a short off track excursion to meet up with my intended route. Once back on track I had an easy descent back down to Telegraph Saddle, crossing one of the rushing tributaries of the Delatite River on the way, before arriving back at the ute which somewhat surprisingly was still the only vehicle in the car park on this beautiful day.

King Saddle.
Hut Track was a nice walk.
Razorback Hut.
The Dirt.
I walked 14.9 kilometres today and climbed 651 metres on this walk. I'd rate this walk as a medium grade walk I suppose, the tracks are generally well defined and sign-posted but there is a couple of spots to watch out for. Having said that though I was using notes that were over 10 years old, my map, the Vicmap Buller-Stirling 1:25,000 sheet dated back even further to 1993. Like I mentioned earlier I was using Glenn van der Knijff notes out of Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, in the book the walk is titled High Mountain Ramble and its walk number 17 in the book. I enjoyed my day up on Mt Stirling, I found the walking fairly strait forward even accounting for my very dated information and I think timing my visit for just before they open the Circuit Road was probably a good idea as the place was more or less deserted.
Relevant Posts.
The walk still passed through some sections of burnt forest.

Wandering into Telephone Box Junction along the closed Circuit Road.

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