Thursday, January 11, 2018

Catherine Saddle to Barry Saddle, AAWT, Alpine National Park - October 2017

Looking back to Mt Howitt from The Viking.
The Razor Viking section of the AAWT is arguably the toughest walking along the length of the track, with a very rough and sometimes indistinct pad, very limited track marking, many steep climbs and descents, scarcity of water and exposed walking. So taking all that into account it was important that I got an early start today. So I packed up my wet tent, finished breakfast and hoisted my pack onto my shoulder by …… 9am today, I’m sure that it was early somewhere in the world! Back in my world though 9am wasn’t quite the start of the day I’d visualised when thinking of today’s walk, it seems that it is not only my walking that moves at sloth like pace.
The AAWT was a little scrubby climbing Mt Despair this morning, pushing uphill through the wet scrub wasn't helping my Feral mojo.
Of all the AAWT this was the section that I’d been thinking about the most, I’ve been through here twice before but both times were long ago, back before the fires in the 2000’s. Even without the regrowth the Razor Viking section was very tough, rough strolling so with the added issue of thick regrowth I was thinking that things wouldn’t be any easier today. Leaving Catherine Saddle I was straight into it today, with quite a few showers having come through last night the scrub was pretty wet and unfortunately I was pushing through a fair bit of it on my meandering climb up to Mt Despair. Not only was it a little scrubby on the climb but I also had quite few trees down as well I slowly made my way higher. As I eluded to the AAWT meanders a bit as it traverses Mt Despair, allegedly to avoid some thicker belts of scrub, although from my limited Feral observations they had limited success on that front.
The gradient eases up a bit on the upper section of the climb up Mt Despair.
I don't think this is the actual summit of Mt Despair but it's a traditional Feral stop.
The good news is that after an initial fairly solid climb the rest of the walk across the top isn’t super steep. After crossing the top of Mt Despair the AAWT makes its way north to a bit of a natural lookout on the edge of the escarpment of the ridge that runs across to The Razor. This rocky wild spot gave me my first good look at the country that I’d be walking for the next couple of hours, as well as north towards what I think is the back wall of Mt Buffalo, unfortunately the overcast conditions this morning didn’t do a lot for the photos so you’ll have to take my word for it that this is a special place. This rough lookout also is more or less where the walking gets pretty tough, from here until I dropped off The Viking I probably averaged less than 1 kilometre an hour. I was now dropping down keeping just on the south side of huge rocky slabs, occasionally the AAWT would climb to the top of the ridge and I could peer down over the sheer cliffs that buttress the north side of the ridge, but for the most part I was just south of the crest. After half a kilometre or so the AAWT very briefly climbs onto the crest again before dropping into a little grassy saddle, this saddle is the spot that I normally camp at on my previous visits and while the flattish green grass still looked inviting, the water from the gully to the south is meant to be very hard to find since the fires.
Looking across the ridge that the AAWT traverses towards The Razor from Mt Despair, this is more or less the start of the tough walking for the day.
I'm thinking that this is the back wall of Mt Buffalo in the distance.
I didn’t need water today though, so locating the continuation of the AAWT I pushed on towards my next objective. If anything the next bit gets even rougher but the good news (my glass half full assessment) is that since the fires Parks Vic have placed a few track markers along here. The bad news is that it is probably because of the regrowth from the catastrophic fires. The go along here is, if in doubt, stay left and stay high, sometimes it doesn’t feel ‘right’ and it looks like it would be easier heading straight on staying low but it’s virtually never the case. As I mentioned there are now a few track markers along here, but I’m not talking the Larapinta Trail standard, the markings are infrequent and a little cryptic sometimes, cut trees, tapes, cairns along with the old and new yellow AAWT markers are all the clues that I was still on the AAWT. There has also been a bit of track clearing going on so all in all this section, even accounting for the regrowth, is now as good as I’ve ever experienced (it’s still bloody tough walking though).
This ridge makes for very hard walking, I'm following as close as possible to the base of these mossy rock slabs here, sometimes I'd be traversing them higher up towards the crest.
There are enough clues to more or less keep on the AAWT.
It's important to identify the spots that the AAWT climbs very steeply up gullies to stay near the crest.

After one last short steep climb I arrived onto a large red conglomerate rock spur, this unusual feature marked the spot that I would leave the ridge that I’d been following since Mt Despair and head across to The Viking. Now while the section across the ridge had probably been marginally easier than it use to be, this next section across to Viking Saddle is harder. It all started off fairly good as I dropped a few hundred metres down my conglomerate slope, the occasional cairn marking the route and indicating where I should head into the wall of regrowth. Once into the scrub things weren’t too bad for a while, the track clearing fairies obviously had got this far, unfortunately it looks like the track clearers chainsaw had run out of petrol along here as I soon found myself clambering over, under, through numerous fallen trees. To add to my Feral discomfort there are a few steep little pinches along here and the overnight rain had given everything the grip coefficient of wet soap, so really it was only a matter of time until I went arse over, unfortunately for one of my walking poles it got between my size 12 and the ground, bugger, there goes one walking pole! With some relief I did eventually emerge from the scrub onto the beautiful wide grassy Viking Saddle, this spot makes another great camp site although once again water can be tough to find. While I wasn’t staying today the grass made for a nice spot for lunch and after dropping 100 metres or so off the saddle to the east I managed to find a small soak, good enough for a nice drink.
Looking back towards Mt Despair from the conglomerate spur.
I was now heading across to The Viking across these hills covered in dead Mountain Ash stubble.
There was a lot of fallen timber on the short section over to Viking Saddle.
Late lunch in Viking Saddle.
Leaving Viking Saddle I started up what must be the steepest climb of the AAWT, the climb up to the summit of The Viking starts off steep and only gets steeper until the AAWT reaches the summit ridge line. The good news today was that once again the climb is probably easier to follow than it use to be, the go, back in the day was to head straight up the spur and pick up the route of the AAWT close to the cliff line that buttresses the summit, today though the track was quite easy to follow to the cliffs, it’s bloody steep though. Since leaving Catherine Saddle that morning I’d been pretty lucky with the weather really with only the occasional sleety shower scudding through but climbing The Viking my luck ran out again, once again I had the dubious pleasure of climbing in the sleet. As I mentioned earlier the climb of The Viking gets pretty steep, reaching the cliff line I climbed up a steep gully to the crux of the climb, a three metre chimney. Now normally to get up here means scrambling up and pulling your pack up behind you on a rope, the good news today was that the rope was still there, the bad news was that a dead tree had fallen across the exit. Looking up it appeared that there was no way that I’d get my fat guts through the remaining gap, not to mention pulling my pack up behind me which would of been the equivalent of pulling a dead cow through a drain hole, hmmm. Sitting in the bottom of the chimney I was at least out of the elements as I contemplated my next move, apparently there is another climbing gully slightly along the cliff line to the south west but to be honest I was rooted tired and I wasn’t overly keen to descend and climb another gully, especially as it was in the opposite direction to the summit. So….dropping out of the chimney I scoped out the rock buttress immediately north east of me, it looked doable, although the sleet wasn’t helping. Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed I made it up, after two or three metres of exposed scrambling I was able to step into a steep gully that also features it’s own fallen tree, someone had cut a rough step into this one though, obviously to help Fat Feral Walkers gain some traction (since I’ve been home I’ve heard that some walkers are actually getting up through the chimney, there aren’t many 125 kg bushwalkers around I suppose;).
The climb up The Viking starts steep.
And only gets steeper......
The crux of the climb is this chimney.
I've scrambled up some rock next to the chimney, I don't think I'd have much chance of squeezing  my bulky frame through that, let alone pulling up my pack behind me...
Meeting the AAWT again above the chimney I climbed the comparatively easy last few metres to the summit of The Viking. The top of The Viking offers one of the best views of the AAWT, perched above the huge north facing cliffs not even the occasional sleet shower passing through could dampen my spirits this afternoon. Once again the rocky summit gave me enough shelter that I braved digging my phone out of the pack, very happy to once again get a signal so I could get a text through to Sam. I was a little apprehensive as I again picked up the faint pad that is the AAWT and started my descent off The Viking, sure the views and satisfaction being up here were awesome, but I was now going to be dropping off the mountain by a route that I’d never used before. My two previous crossing of the mountain had me dropping down an untracked spur off South Viking to the Wonnangatta River in the Wonnangatta Valley, today I was heading almost the opposite way down the AAWT to Barry Saddle. In theory, with something resembling a track in spots, today should be easier but I’ve heard a lot of stories of navigational hardships on this next section. To start with everything was pretty good though as I followed a fairly distinct pad through the snow grass just to the right of the crest, eventually though I dropped off the crest a little to the south and things once again got cryptic.
I had a bit of sleet on my time on The Viking today.
Still, life was pretty good really.
Looking back across to The Razor from The Viking, it doesn't look that hard does it?
There's a shelf about 5 metres below this one that the AAWT heads down off the summit of The Viking along.
There is an intermittent pad to follow down the grassy terraces behind The Viking cliff line.

I was now in open forest and keeping a very close eye on the map, compass and GPS. The Feral tip along here is to walk slow keeping an eye out for clues that others have been through, at one stage the route seem to start descending steeply away from the ridge line that I’d been more or less tracking 50 metres or so below, don’t go down here. Thankfully I avoided the false lead that headed off steeply down hill and after a few minutes I again picked up something resembling a pad. Slowly shuffling down through the fairly open bush I kept pretty close to the rocky buttresses that were again crowning the ridge, the AAWT occasionally breaking out on them which always made for a grandstand view. It’s important to stay within site of the ridge line until the point where the AAWT suddenly takes a 90˚ turn and very steeply drops down a breach in the cliff line. Once through the cliff line I found the AAWT fairly easy to follow all the way to Barry Saddle, after initially dropping very steeply the pad levels out in a big forested saddle and meets a very old 4wd track, from here to Barry Saddle it was just a Toblerone style walk in the forest with no huge navigational issues. It was around 6 pm as I was trudging along feeling pretty happy for myself when I met my first end to end AAWT walker, a young bloke walking north to south, after a pleasant little catch up we resumed our respective journeys, the young bloke (I missed his name) was certainly doing it easier than me though! Not long after our meeting I emerged out of the dense wet scrub at the welcome, grassy Barry Saddle and it’s even more welcoming water tank. It was 7 pm now and today had been a long, tough day. The terrain had been rough and the weather less than perfect but I was a very satisfied walker when I crawled into my sleeping bag tonight, happy that all things being equal the AAWT shouldn’t really throw many harder obstacles at me.
There are a couple of cairns marking the AAWT up here.
The AAWT drops a little off the crest, but don't drop too far away.
There are some nice views across the Barry Mountain on the descent.
It's around here that the AAWT turns hard 90˚ to drop through a breach in the cliff line, needless to say you wouldn't want to miss that spot!
Once through the breach in the cliff line the loose, steep pad drops steeply into a high timbered saddle.

The Dirt.
I walked only 12 kilometres today and climbed 940 metres, the stats don’t really tell the whole story though, this section is tough walking, 12 kilometres in 10 hours of fairly solid walking will give you an idea of how tough (yeah, yeah I know I’m old and fat). The stats for my 13 days on the AAWT so far are 201 kilometres with 10,255 metres of climbing. It’s probably best to carry all your water today, water use to be found in a gully to the south of the saddle on the ridge leading to The Razor but apparently it’s scarce now. I got water to the north of the Viking Saddle and there is also water south of the saddle sometimes, you may have to drop a long way down at the end of summer though. There is a water tank at Barry Saddle that supplies water for camp, although there are a few swimmers in it. Camping wise there is the aforementioned small saddle on the ridge before The Razor, Viking Saddle and Barry Saddle, things are a little limited after that, although I’ve always thought camping high on The Viking is an option as there are a few suitable spots, especially heading over towards South Viking. Navigation is fairly tough today, it requires constant attention but the pad can be followed with a lot of caution, the section along the ridge towards The Razor and dropping off The Viking are probably the vaguest bits. Today I got a Telstra mobile signal on top of The Viking. I used Mr Chapman’s notes and maps as well as carrying the SV Maps Buller-Howitt Alpine Area 1:50,000 sheet and Rooftop’s Jamieson-Licola Adventure Map in case I need an overview.

Relevant Posts.
AAWT, Day 1, October 2017.
AAWT, Previous day, October 2017.
The Razor Viking Circuit, Alpine National Park, 2006.

My last few kilometres today were along this very old fire track, it was pretty clear and easy to follow though, if not a bit wet.
Just before reaching Barry Saddle the AAWT left the Razor Viking Wilderness Area.

My camp at Barry Saddle was once again accompanied by showers scudding through.

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