Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mount MacDonald, Alpine National Park - May 2017.

I had such a good time on my walk up Mount Magdala last week that when this Saturday rolled around I decided to go back up to the Alpine National Park and climb another mountain. This week I decided to head up Mount MacDonald, like Mount Magdala this mountain is crossed by the AAWT, but this section of the Australian Alps Walking Track gets a lot fewer visitors and has an even more remote feel - well to  me anyway. Last week I'd parked at a camping area next to the Howqua River today I headed to another remote river valley, this time the Jamieson River. Once again I emerged from the doona before 4am to get here early enough to complete the walk in daylight, arriving to a very frigid campsite beside the Jamieson River at 8am I pulled on my boots and quickly set off up Low Saddle Road.
The sun was still to reach the Jamieson River Valley when I set off this morning.
Low Saddle Road crossed the Jamieson River before starting to climb.
The first section of today's stroll had me gently climbing up the quiet dirt road that is Low Saddle Road, the constant uphill trudge soon had me warmed up enough to take my mind of the cold. Walking up Low Saddle Road allowed me to easily take in the view as the rising sun bathed the valley in a golden glow around me. Reaching an old closed firetrack I turned off the easy Low Saddle Road and started to make my way to the base of North Ridge - my climbing route to the tops. Now I was using a set of Glen Tempest's notes on this stroll and he says that the walk to the base of the ridge is good walking and there is almost no problematic scrub. Yeah, I think everyone knows where this is going, the next two kilometres to the base of the North Ridge took me the best part of 90 minutes as I pushed my way through an almost impenetrable wall of re-growth. Now I've done worse but I wasn't really expecting a full on scrub bash today so I wasn't really mentally ready to go all Bear Grylls on this walk. Navigating through my green hell was made even more difficult as I wasn't even on the North Ridge yet, I was trying to get to a small saddle at the bottom of the ridge which meant that I had to keep a very close eye on my map as I meandered my way through the scrub looking for the path of least resistance.
The old fire track was easy enough to locate as it left Low Saddle Road.
But things soon turned all man versus wild.
It was tough work navigating through this stuff.
After much sweating (at least I wasn't cold anymore) and swearing I eventually set foot on North Ridge, the good news now was that my navigation issues were largely over, all I had to do was to stay on the highest ground and keep climbing and eventually I'd come out on top of Mount MacDonald.The not so good news was that the scrub bash continued for a little longer up the ridge, with another two or three fairly thick belts to push through, although at least now there was a intermittent pad to make things a little easier. When the scrub faded away it was replaced by rock bluffs, these bluffs were smaller than last week on Helicopter Spur but there was a lot more of them and they continued all the way until the summit. Still climbing the rock was a lot more enjoyable than pushing through prickly scrub so I was now pretty happy with life again, a situation made even better as I gained altitude and the view started to open up, with the bulk of The Bluff behind me as I climbed and Mount Clear off to left in the distance. I'd manage to jag another good day for this walk with blue skies and sun, although there was a fair bit of smoke haze around which limited the views a little bit, still the fine still conditions made the high country a pretty pleasant place to today.
The first rock bluff on the North Ridge, this signalled the end of scrub and the start of the scrambling.
At least navigation wasn't an issue on North Ridge.
That's the summit of Mount MacDonald, the rock bands continued all the way to the top.
There was plenty of good reasons to stop and take in the view on the climb though.
After the best part of four hours after leaving my ute on the icy banks of the Jamieson River I climbed the last band of rock and wandered over to the Mount MacDonald summit cairn. Dropping my pack I laid on the soft snow grass and took in the view while I got my breath back, bugger me that had been hard. I'd originally planned on doing a side trip to The Nobs on this walk but that plan was already out the window, as it was I was going to have to keep moving if I wanted to get back to the ute before dark, the short days at this time of the year don't do any favours to an un-fit old bloke like me! The view from Mount MacDonald stretches for kilometres in each direction and with the AAWT passing over it's summit I was able to trace out the route of the track for days in each direction. 
I've made it to the top of Mount MacDonald.
Looking back down the North Ridge.
The AAWT comes up this ridge from Low Saddle.
The Bluff loomed in the middle distance.
The ridge in the middle ground is my descent ridge, its also the AAWT.
Suitably recovered I shouldered my pack again and set off down the long ridge towards Nobs Track. This ridge gently descends over a series of high knolls and saddles as it drops towards Nobs Track and even though I was on the AAWT there wasn't really a defined track along the next two or three kilometres. The ridge line made for slightly awkward walking along here, I was particularly careful on the mossy sloping rock that more often than not lined the south side of the ridge line. While there isn't always an obvious track there is generally a choice of rough pads and so long as I stayed as high a practicable then everything was OK. There is no shortage of cairns on the ridge line as well as the occasional AAWT marker nailed to a Snow Gum so getting lost wasn't going to be an issue today, eventually I got to two bigger cairns on a knoll, this signaled the spot that I dropped off the right side of the ridge and made my way down to Nobs Track.
The trick is to stay high on the ridge.
There isn't really a formed track on the descent ridge, there is no shortage of cairns and also a few track markers.
I had to be very careful when I walked on these tilted slabs.
After a couple of kilometres the AAWT dropped off the ridge and descended to Nobs Track.
Nobs Track is a quiet firetrail and I followed it for another few kilometres as it roller coasted it's way along the ridge that separates the Barkly River and the Jamieson River, the firetrack allowing for the fastest walking since I'd left Low Saddle Road early that morning. Reaching a nice grassy opening where the AAWT heads away from Nobs Track and makes it's way towards The Nobs and High Cone I stopped for awhile to enjoy the late afternoon sun as I sat in the snow grass. It was after 3pm now and I was just over half way around my circuit, it was time to crank things up a bit if I didn't want to get back to the ute in the pitch black I think.
My walk along Nobs Track featured plenty of big views, this is over to Mount Clear.
Nobs Track.
That's the AAWT heading away from Nobs Track towards The Nobs.
With the rest of the walk on firetrails and quiet roads I was pretty confident that I'd be able to finish the stroll with a burst of speed (well relatively speaking) and setting off down Nobs Track all was going good, well until I passed a helipad and the firetrail led off a cliff! Well I may be embellishing that a bit but but the descent down to Clear Creek Track of was one of the steeper firetracks that I've walked, definitely hard core four wheel drive territory. Now while the very steep gradient and loose gravel surface meant that I had to take my time and be a bit careful, it also meant that I lost height surprisingly quickly and less than half an hour after leaving the tops I found myself on the almost level Clear Creek Track, sweet. While I still had around 7 kilometres to go there wasn't a lot to slow me down now, well apart from numerous photo stops as I tried to get a photo or two that typified my late afternoon road bash. I arrived back at the ute just before night overtook day for good, pulling off my boots it was a very tired but satisfied Feral walker who sank into the bucket seats and set off home after what had been another very good day out.
My ridge top stroll is about to finish, Mount MacDonald looks a fair way away now.
This is the spot where Nobs Track heads over a cliff!
Nobs Track is steep, but it's the loose surface that's more of an issue for walkers.
The late afternoon view along the Jamieson River Valley.
The Dirt.
I walked 23.2 kilometres and climbed 1215 metres on today's hard stroll. To be brutally honest unless you've got a fetish for scrub bashing then give this walk a miss. The scrub bash from Low Saddle Road to the bottom of North Ridge is very tough, there is no chance of staying on the exact route and you'll need to improvise as you make your way to the saddle at the bottom of the ridge, expect the scrub bash to take 1 to 2 hours if you do give it a go ( for less than 2 kilometres progress). Once you meet the rock bands on the North Ridge they continue all the way to the summit and some of them need a bit of exposed scrambling. Once you do get to the top of Mount McDonald though you find yourself surrounded by wild country in every direction and it is a great spot. As I mentioned earlier I used Glenn Tempest's notes out of his Daywalks Around Victoria book. To be fair to Glenn when I was uploading the link to his website for this post I had a quick squiz at his update page and he has mentioned that the overgrown track is no longer easy to follow.
Relevant Posts.

Clear Creek Track was fairly easy walking.

Brocks Road made for even easier walking as I made my way back to the ute in the twilight.

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