Objective: 3 day hike
Destinations: Loop track starting at Loch carpark - Derrick’s Hut - Dibbin’s Hut - Blair’s Hut - Federation Hut, Mount Feathertop - Razorback - return to Loch carpark
Equipment: hiking pack stuffed with 14kg of essentials...and make-up.
This was the second time I had ever hiked more than one day, i.e. hiking, camping and hiking again without the comforts of home. The first overnight hike in the Blue Mountains NSW had been an enjoyable and rewarding experience, so I was really looking forward to this slightly longer, more challenging trek at Mount Hotham.
The walk was certainly more difficult with uneven, rocky ground demanding one’s attention even on the flat parts. This is a struggle as the view is endless and majestic. I often found myself stumbling and flailing because I wouldn’t tear my eyes from the surrounding scenery.
I’d been warned about the flies that keep you company and was grateful to the makeshift fly-net I had fashioned out of an old lace cami.
Day 1. The Champ and I camped our first night by Derrick’s Hut only 4.1km into the track as we arrived late having driven seven hours from Sydney. He found a small pond filled with chilly groundwater for us to make dinner and wash up before bed.
All I can say is I love our Soto gas stove! It heats water very hot, very fast. The instant, freeze dried meal of the day was Beef & Pasta Hotpot by Back Country Cuisine. It was ok but I think it could have done with more time and a little more water. We were hungry and impatient but the partially rehydrated beef pasta meal did the trick and we were warm in your sleeping bags by sunset.
Day 2. The Champ was up and recording memories of the breathtaking sunrise before I could say ‘Merry Christmas’.
It wasn’t long before the sleeping bags were packed and the regrettably heavy pack was placed on my already weary shoulders. Did I really need to bring the coconut hair oil? A handful of Weetbix breakie biscuits fueled us for the steep descent to Dibbin’s Hut. It’s placement next to a clear, flowing stream in an open green field framed by towering mountains was the very definition of picturesque. Small rainbow trout splashed and darted out of the way as we filled up our camelback bladders and I could see why people made the effort to come here.
Unfortunately I didn’t check my bladder as I shoved it back in my hiking pack and the entire 2L had leaked through half my clothes and drenched my sleeping bag before was had even crossed the stream. With a rookie sigh I walked back to the stream, refilled my camelback, repacked my wet stuff and joined the Champ on the track to Blair’s Hut.
My wet sleeping bag lay strewn across a seat made from a halved tree to dry in the scorching sun as we heated up 1.5 cups of water from the creek for Mexican Chicken, another freeze dried meal from Back Country Cuisine. It tasted as bad as it looked. The hut looked like it had seen more winters than a wooly mammoth and just as old.
Burping uncomfortably, 14kgs of burden were again heaved onto the shoulders, damp sleeping bag on top, as we walked parallel to the creek to the base of the incline. The Kiewa Logging track has about 4 meters of concrete bridge over the creek where the water runs deepest. A quick dip in the creek was the highlight of this hot and tiring day. More rainbow trout.
The entrance to the climb up Staircase Spur was indicated by one tiny sign about waist height with a warning that included adjectives like “extreme” “difficult” and “very experienced walkers only”. About two minutes later I realised I wasn’t going to be able to do this with my sleeping bag out so it was hurriedly shoved into the bottom section of my pack. The climb was relentlessly steep and seemed to go on forever. At one point we were literally climbing, hands burning as we clung onto the sun soaked rocks, ants biting any exposed parts they could get to. At the most technical point I required sherpa-style assistance and this is when the Champ noticed my sleeping bag had escaped and was nowhere in sight. We looked at each other, then down the plummeting track but only saw the tops of trees. “Leave it.” I breathed. There was little chance of finding it in this bush and there was no way I was going back down there. The Champ raised his eyebrows, knew what had to be done and set off back the way we’d come yelling “I’ll get it, stay here.”
Eight minutes later (and 400m at 41% gradient) he was back with the sleeping bag. What can I say? The Champ deserves his name.
I’d drained my camelback before reaching the top of the ridge where I finished the Champ’s supply as well. We still had 5km of incline to Federation Hut and the nearest water tank. Desperate for shade I dropped my giant weighted pack and lay under a skeletal snowgum on the ridge, breathing heavily from the effort and struggling with dehydration.
Why didn’t I refill my bladder when we were swimming?! The Champ started suggesting I stay and rest while he ran ahead to get water for me. I knew I could make it and with a packet of super sweet, dried mangoes, a mouthful of sour lollies and lots of encouragement I made it to Federation Hut and the blessed water tank.
If I ever see that little sign again i’m going to add a few adjectives of my own…..after i’ve filled up my camelbak at the creek. I unloaded the anvil for the last time that day after 17km of beautiful scenery and the most challenging uphill trekking i’ve ever attempted. Freeze dried beef bourguignon from the slightly fancier Outdoor Gourmet Company for dinner, not my favourite but I was hardly going to complain. The wind picked up Christmas night and rushed noisily over the mountain but the Champ had placed the tent strategically and blissful deep, rejuvenating sleep came quickly.
Day 3. There’s a lot to be said for healthy hydration. Lots.
Above the treeline we were exposed to the powerful wind that kept temperatures cool and the annoying flies to a minimum. Armoured with jackets, gloves, ski socks and hats we took in the view from the peak of Mount Feathertop, where, i’m disappointed to say, there are no feathers at all.
In the distance we could see where we’d started two days earlier and I felt proud of what I had achieved.
The Razorback track boasts incredible views on both sides all the way back to the road. This is possible because it tracks along the top of the ridge, thus much of the track allows for little wandering left or right, lest you fall into a ravine that is so deep the bottom can’t been seen from the top.
Returning from Mount Feathertop to the tent, we were the last of only six or so tents to pack up and leave. As if to say goodbye, two little robins appeared from nowhere and did a dance then disappeared again.
The next time we hike I think i’ll leave a few kilos on the car, as it turns out, I didn’t really need the shampoo & conditioner.
The Razorback was a breeze and in the wind compared to the Staircase Spur in the Sun. Still the hike had taken it’s toll and barely 4km from the road I was not in the mood for any of it. Eventually we found sanctuary from the wind in a hut next to the road adjacent to the start of the Razorback track. Freeze dried lamb & mushroom risotto for lunch was the most palatable of the lightweight, hiking meals and gave me the time to rest and nourishment to walk the final 2km up the road back to the car. I’d made it. So i had wet my sleeping bag and lost it in the haystack that is Staircase Spur, neglected to sufficiently refill my water and nearly collapsed, but I had made it, makeup and all and the Champ took photos so I have evidence. I know that many of you who read this could run the entire 35km loop before breakfast without a second thought, but it was a quest for this desk jockey, conquered!