We left our home in the Melbourne burbs around 10am to avoid peak hour traffic (in retrospect 1hr earlier may have been wiser!), reached Traralgon a little after noon and had a lovely gourmet lunch at Momos (highly recommend it!).
We then headed to Heyfield and up the Macalister River valley past Lake Glanmaggie and up and over the range to Licola, where we made a mistake from lack of concentration and kept driving through the little one shop town and up into the mountains on gravel roads until luckily we realised we were on the wrong road – the road to Jamieson is very long and winding one but doesn’t take you to Mt Howitt!! We back tracked to Licola and took the correct turn, but by then had wasted valuable daylight hours.
We arrived at the Mt Howitt carpark shrouded in thick cloud with misty rain at dusk around 6.30pm – the last half of our 5km 1.5hr walk to the Mac Springs camp area would be in complete darkness with fog and light rain, guided by our LED head lamps and aided by our walking poles to save us from the many uneven rocks and surfaces that characterize these tracks. Thankfully, navigation was not problematic.
There had been only one other car at the car park and so we were looking forward to a quiet time, and selection of a nice tent site, albeit in the dark.
Alas, as we arrived, we discovered a tent city – Geelong Grammar Timbertop students – all 60 of them and their 15 teachers had already set up camp after hiking up the Howitt Spur – thankfully we found a couple of vacant tent sites and the school group were quiet overnight and left after sunrise to head back across the Crosscut Saw to their return descent down Stanleys Name Spur.
Once our tents were up, we cooked up our pasta dinner on a Whisperlite stove, supplemented by some red wine and blue vein cheese before heading off to bed around 10pm.
That night there was the constant dripping of water onto our tents from the overhanging tree branches, but little wind to bother us, and the temperatures dropped to around 7degC – my compact, light, Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with silk liner kept me toasty all night.
We awoke to a foggy morning which persisted throughout the day, dampening any prospects of heading over the Crosscut Saw for nice views. The school kids had left and we made use of the hut to prepare breakfast and work out what we should do for the day.
Foggy morning amongst the snow gums at Mac Springs – Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 – a great combo to keep in your jacket pocket, and the lens filter thread is the same size as the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens and the Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 weathersealed very light macro lens – not a bad threesome to take on alpine hikes when weight and size are critical.
Having your head in the clouds has its pros and cons:
- great for photography as you can take in the ambiance of the fog, while the low contrast lighting makes the forests, boulders and mosses easier to photograph in an aesthetic manner without the complexity of harsh shadows
- you don’t get so hot and thus don’t need to carry as much drinking water
- there are almost no active insects – no flies to annoy you
- the probability of stepping on a potentially deadly snake is much reduced
- BUT you do miss out on the amazing alpine views, the flowers (which only open in the sun), and the summits are likely to be very cold and windy with no sun to warm you up
We decided on a walk to the summit of nearby Mt Howitt with option to proceed past Big Hill and onto Mt Magdala then return.
It was a lovely ascent to the Mt Howitt – Crosscut Saw junction along a rugged snowgum lined track with views to the north over The Terrible Hollow, The Devil’s Staircase and the CrossCut Saw – if you could see them through the ever changing fog. The sheltered microclimate of this region at 10-13degC with minimal wind meant that you just needed boots, gaiters, thin pants with waterproof overpants, teeshirt, long sleeved shirt and thin waterproof jacket for comfort. For someone lacking hiking fitness, this was the perfect amount of interval training that I needed – and carrying my water and lenses in my jacket pockets without need for a backpack made a big difference to my enjoyment levels. My colleague kindly brought his backpack to carry snacks and extra layers as well as the mandatory EPIRB radio beacon.
Both the above were taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.
From that junction, you are essentially above the treeline and the ascent to Mt Howitt is over meadows with fascinating lichen covered rocks and fields of flower buds.
The final ascent to Mt Howitt though was a very different climate – 25-40kph southerly winds on the exposed summit made the wind chill factor considerable and required additional layering up – feather down vest on, gloves on, beanie on (perhaps balaclava would have been better!)
The Mt Howitt summit and a short break for snacks and drink behind the shelter of a large rock – unfortunately we failed to layer up before snacking resulting in us feeling cold and not too keen to continue on in the fog and wind to Mt Magdala – so we layered up and headed back to the comfortable microclimate of Mac Springs.
Back down in Mac Springs, we decided to explore the area and get some more imagery:
The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens
The narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw – not so much fun to hike in the cloud! Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens as a short telephoto lens
That night we were joined by 7 university students and their leader who camped near the hut, while we remained in our tents near the spring.
We cooked up a nice chicken noodle stir fry for dinner and finished off with a hot chocolate, marshmallows and a couple of shots of Bailey’s as a night cap.
The night was much colder than the first night, and despite pre-emptively replacing my silk sleeping bag liner with a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Plus liner and closing the foot end of the sleeping bag, the night felt less comfortable with the cooler conditions which were probably around 2-6 degC. Perhaps the alcohol was not a good idea!