Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mt Hotham to Cope Hut, AAWT, Alpine National Park - November 2017

Time is standing pretty still up here on the high plains.
After three days off, chilling out at Mt Hotham I was a pretty keen and fresh Feral Walker when I set off from the wind swept Mt Loch Car Park this morning. After waving goodbye to Sam as she headed off down the Great Alpine Road I quickly moved to the shelter of a nearby ski lift building and pulled on another layer. The wind was cutting up here this morning and there isn’t a lot to impede it’s progress across these high ridges. Suitably rugged up I set off in earnest on my days walk, the plan for today was to get to somewhere in the vicinity of Cope Hut. I was thinking that all going well that should be reasonably attainable, although yesterday’s crappy weather had me wondering a bit, although with plenty of camping options across the high plains I could always camp early if the weather deteriorated too much.
There goes Sam, I'll see her again when I get to Thredbo in a couple of weeks.
It was bloody cold up here this morning.
Leaving the Mt Loch Car Park the AAWT drops a little as it follows Mt Loch Spur which connects Mt Hotham to Mt Loch along an old fire track. With my pack now full of food again I definitely noticed when the pad left the old fire track and started climbing a bit to bypass the summit of Mt Lock, a little to the south. Puffing my way along here I was now passing through the eastern most extremities of the Mt Hotham Ski Resort, the open grassy slopes allowing for some nice views on what was already turning into a pretty nice day. The weather was now looking that good that I dropped the pack near a big snow drift before Derrick Hut and started to shed a few layers of clothing. With my body temperature now back at the safe level I once again resumed my journey, soon leaving the resort boundary and passing Derrick Hut in the Snow Gums. Being the last day of a Victorian long weekend the hut had a few punters in it so I didn’t get a photo of the interior of what is a pretty spartan hut, but I did manage to snap one from the outside without anyone getting into the photo.
Wandering through the back country of the Mount Hotham Ski Resort.

The sign posting is pretty good up here.
The AAWT crosses the headwaters of the Cobungra River just before it arrives at Derrick Hut. 
Derrick Hut is the first legal camping option since leaving Twins Track about 13 kilometres ago.
The AAWT now starts a fairly big descent down to Dibbins Hut on the Cobungra River. I haven’t been down here since the fires and what use to be a beautiful walk along down Swindlers Spur is now a walk down amongst the bleached white Snow Gum skeletons, while the dead trees have a certain macabre beauty they aren’t a patch on the living versions, I suppose the good news is that the dead trees allowed for some nice views across to the snow streaked Mt Feathertop. It was a little odd but my other recollections of heading down here was how steep a long it was, but today it seemed like I was walking onto the grassy flats beside the Cobungra River in no time, maybe the previous 16 days on the AAWT had toughened me up a bit…? After getting a couple of photos of the old Dibbins Hut I wandered over the bridge and down to the camping platforms and toilet for Parks Vic new(ish) Falls to Hotham Alpine Walk, for a bit of a break. I think this walk is a bit of a marketing ploy by Parks Vic and the alpine ski resorts of Falls Creek and Mt Hotham to entice more punters up here in the warmer weather, Parks Vic have built flash camping platforms and toilets, added a few signs and track markers and improved the track in a couple of spots. The wisdom of sending what can be some pretty inexperienced walkers across some very exposed terrain is still up for debate though, in my eyes anyway.
Dropping down Swindlers Spur, the flat open grassy valley just visible through the trees is my next objective.
Dropping down Swindlers Spur I was getting some nice views over towards Mount Feathertop.
Dibbins Hut
The AAWT shares this section of track with the flash Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing walk.
Cobungra River
There are nice new facilities to cater for the Falls - Hotham walk.
Even some camping platforms.
After refilling my water bottle I set off on the longest single climb of the day up onto the Bogong High Plains. Like my descent down to the Cobungra River the climb passes through Snow Gum country, after passing the rock outcrop that is Basalt Temple the climb eases a little and the trees start to thin out. Cresting a low knoll along here I met up with a group of around 10 boys and there minders from Melbourne Grammar, they were starting a trip from Mt Hotham to Mt Kosciuszko. It seems that there were around 10 groups spread along the track but thankfully they were generally dropping off the track to camp and were doing long alternative sections on MTB’s and kayaks, anyway if all the groups were as polite as this group it wouldn’t be an issue camping with them. Climbing a little higher the Snow Gums disappeared altogether and I was on the Bogong High Plains.
The higher I climbed towards the Bogong High Plains the better the scenery got.
Mt Hotham was receding into the distance.
The Bogong High Plains.
The Bogong High Plains are an open area of wind swept plains that stretch for kilometres in every direction, in fact I’d be walking them now until late tomorrow. Without a lot of distinguishing features you would think navigation could be a bit of an issue along here but the high plains are largely tamed by snow pole lines reaching out in numerous different directions, since leaving the Mt Lock Car Park I’d been following a numbered pole line that would take me all the way to Mt Bogong if I was so inclined. This is big sky county up here, with long ranging vistas opening up everywhere and the ever present pole line striding off into the distance. I was now heading a little north in a big arc around the diminutive Mt Jim, every time I come up here I think that I’ll make the small detour and climb Mt Jim but I’ve never actually got around to it, today was no different. It was now mid afternoon and the sky was a beautiful blue with only fluffy white clouds floating through, the golden grass of the high plains still with a few remnant snow drifts scattered about made it hard to take a bad photo this afternoon.
The pole line makes navigation reasonably easy across here, the real danger is the exposure to the elements.
Mt Jim
Mt Feathertop
This is big sky country up here.

After skirting around Mt Jim the AAWT strikes out easterly across the plains, following a high ridge above Cope West Aqueduct. The Bogong High Plains form part of the catchment Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme, and there are a few aqueducts scattered around as well as the large Rocky Valley Dam. After contouring around the shoulder of Mt Bundara the pole line started descending a little, leading me gently down to Cope Saddle and it’s tiny little, bright red roofed refuge hut. The longer I walked today the better the walking got really, climbing very gently away from Cope Saddle the AAWT now passes to the north below Mt Cope, the late afternoon sun lighting up the occasional small copse of Snow Gums.
The AAWT skirts around to the north of Mt Jim.
The pad was a bit damp in spots on this trip.
Looking across the high plains towards Mt McKay and Falls Creek.
You can't go wrong photographing Snow Gums I don't think.
Heading down to Cope Saddle, the little red spot is the roof of the tiny Cope Saddle Hut.
I was starting to flag a little by now but soon after crossing the crystal clear Cope Creek I sighted the Bogong High Plains Road twisting its way into the distance, the road signalling my imminent arrival at Cope Hut. With the High Plains Road still closed after winter I didn’t have to worry about traffic as I crossed over and descended a few hundred metres down an old fire track towards some old Snow Gums which have Cope Hut nestled within them. Arriving at the historic hut I was very happy to find it empty, camping is a little limited in the immediate area around the hut, only really being feasible on some camping platforms built for the Falls - Hotham walkers, so I was hoping to sleep in the hut tonight, all was looking pretty good.
Cope Creek, this is probably the closest camping option if you're not planning on staying in Cope Hut but want to stay close by.

Cope Hut is a little unusual for a high country hut in that it isn’t a cattleman's or SEC hut, Cope Hut was actually built for tourism I believe. Probably for that reason it’s a pretty flash old hut, with plenty of bunks, an open fire and a bit of bush furniture it makes for a very comfortable place to spend the night. After setting up my bed I wandered back up to the Bogong High Plains Road where I picked up a signal and gave Sam a call to make sure she’d got home OK, relieved that all was good I meandered back down to the hut in the now very late afternoon sun, stopping every so often to take in the scenery in the golden glow. With dinner eaten I was once again up watching the surrounding country change colour as night overtook day, although with the darkness came the cold tonight so I didn’t linger too long, quickly climbing into my sleeping bag.
The Bogong High Plains Road was still closed for winter.
Cope Hut
The Dirt.
I walked 22 kilometres and climbed 700 metres on what was, you guessed it, a hard days walking on the AAWT. My stats after 17 days on the AAWT are 277 kilometres along with 14,395 metres of climbing. Water was available pretty much when ever I wanted it today, the only time you might have to walk far for water up on the high plains might be at the end of a long dry summer. Like the water situation camping spots are really only limited by your imagination and the need for protection from the elements across here, probably the best spots are near the Cobungra River and down at Ryders Yards south of Cope Saddle. Cope Hut has very limited options for camping unless you’ve paid to do the Falls - Hotham Alpine Walk, the hut is an emergency refuge so if anyone turns up you just have to make some room, I wouldn’t use it if it was in the busy times. Navigation wise everything is pretty easy today, the track is well defined, sign posted and lined with snow poles. The issue today isn’t really navigation it’s more exposure to the elements, the pad crosses ground way above the tree line for large portions of the day and in bad weather this can be terrifying country (I’m speaking from personal experience here). I used John Chapman’s notes and maps as well as Rooftop’s Bright - Dartmouth Adventure Map for an overview.

Relevant Posts.
AAWT, Day 1, October 2017.
AAWT, Previous day, November 2017.
Dibbins Hut, Alpine National Park, 1998.

I was living the life tonight!

The sunset views from Cope Hut were pretty sweet tonight.

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