Trip Report: Mid-summer mission to the Crosscut Saw

I knew this hike was going to be challenging – but we only had 2 days and I was keen to walk Helicopter Spur and Victoria’s iconic Crosscut Saw. Luckily my mates Ray and Adrian were silly enough to sign up for this mid-summer mission.

I left Melbourne after work on Friday night and met the other guys at the Bonnie Doon Hotel for a big feed to power us on our journey. Then we dropped off Ray’s car at the end of our walk (near King Hut) and then the 3 of us took my car to the start of our walk at the Upper Howqua Camping Area. We saw a few deer along the way and got to the camp about 11pm.

You can see our route marked in red. Click to enlarge. There are a number of maps that cover this area – but my favourite is Spatial Vision’s Buller-Howitt Alpine Area.

We camped beside the car at the Upper Howqua Camping area.  It was a warm night and there was thousands of bugs so rather than setup our 3 individual tents we shared this giant bug shelter. It is a pretty sweet campsite and we had the place to ourselves.

Good nutrition is an important element of a challenging hike so it was great to see Ray start the day with some cold wedges left over from his pub meal the night before.

We set off before 7am to beat the heat on the climb which was a wise move. None of us has been up Helicopter Spur before and it has a reputation as a tough, steep track. There were a few steep sections but nothing too scary – although coming down the spur with a heavy pack in the rain or snow would require balls of steel.

Climbing Helicopter Spur

There was one section of Helicopter Spur where I nearly had to change my pants. I really don’t like heights and I felt so uncomfortable I tried to mate with the rock face. The annoying thing was that we didn’t even have to go around this ledge but our point man Adrian took a wrong turn and I blindly followed. So I had to return along this same dodgy ledge to get back on the trail. Needless to say Adrian was relieved of navigation duties for a while.

We saw many snakes and a couple of them were not moving out of the way for us. Normally you can just walk around at a safe distance, but Ray and I encountered a particularly stubborn one at the bottom of a rocky section we were climbing down. We literally had to jump over it. Luckily Ray had on his safety shorts.

Near Mt Magdala
Hells Window
While taking a break at the Hellfire Creek campsite, Adrian decided to put an effervescent electrolyte tablet in his mouth. Great look!

The walk from the top of Helicopter Spur to Gantner’s Hut was great and we had fantastic views. I started the walk with 4 litres of water and that was only just enough to get me from the car to Macalister Springs. If the weather was cooler I could have got away with less. We checked the water points at Hellfire Creek and to the east of Mt Howitt (marked with a sign) and not surprisingly they were both dry as it was the middle of summer and there had been no rain for a while.

Macalister Springs might not look impressive but I can assure you the cool water was in high demand when we got there. I am not saying the water there is safe to drink – but we all drank it untreated and had no problems.The walk from the car to Macalister springs was nearly 19km (including a couple of short side trips) and took us just over 8.5 hours. By the time we got there at 3:30 pm it was hot and we were pretty stuffed. So we chilled in the shade for a couple of hours and drank a lot of water. This was a solid start to Day 1 but we had an ambitious route planned out and we had to keep moving.

There was a few campers at Macalister Springs / Gantner’s Hut. Adrian set up on the right.

Unfortunately Adrian wasn’t feeling great (perhaps because he didn’t have any cold wedges for breakfast) so he wasn’t keen to keep walking. So Ray and I did what anyone would do when their friend is unwell in a remote location…..we convinced ourselves he would probably feel better in the morning and we left him behind so we could continue with the walk as planned.

Ray and I set off again at 6pm when it had started to cool down a bit with the intention of making it to Mt Buggery for the night. As there is no water there I left Macalister Springs with 6 litres.

Sunset from the Crosscut Saw

It was a great evening on the Crosscut Saw and the walking was mostly enjoyable. As it started to get dark we were getting pretty tired and a bit clumsy. After about 5km and 3 hours we made it to Mt Buggery just as it got completely dark. There was no one else around so we set up our gear and had a quick snack before getting some much needed rest. In order to keep weight down on this trip none of us took a stove so I had a Chief Bar for dinner (more on this later).

Ray’s mini tent/bivy/thing can provide ventilation or protection from bugs – just not both at the same time.

It was a warm and windy night but the Macpac Bush Cocoon provided heaps of ventilation and handled the strong gusts like a boss.

Sunrise at Mt Buggery

I was pleased to do the Crosscut Saw again as I hadn’t walked the whole thing since I was 16 on a school trip. As an adult I had tried to do it on 2 other occasions but for a number of reasons it didn’t work out.

The approach to Mt Speculation

We set off on Day 2 at 7am and I really enjoyed the climb up Mt Speculation. It was another clear day showing off the best of the Victorian High Country.

We originally planned to make the short (1km each way) detour to get some water at Camp Creek to the north of Mt Speculation. But after checking our water supply and the map we reasoned that it wasn’t very far to get back to Ray’s car and it was all downhill so no more water required – or so we thought.

We spoke to Adrian on the UHF radio and he advised that he was still alive, feeling better and now at Mt Howitt making his way back to my car (yes he had a key) at the start point via the Howqua Feeder Track (the route marked by the blue line on the map at the start of this post). It is also worth noting that you can get mobile service on many of the higher peaks in this area as it is quite close to Mt Buller.

You will see on the photo above that I went for long pants on Day 2 despite the heat. My legs were getting pretty scratched up from some of the overgrown sections of track.

It was an easy and pleasant walk to Mt Koonika where we stopped for a break before the final section of our trip. I only discovered Chief Bars a couple of weeks before the trip and although they are expensive they are a very convenient for hiking. The lamb is my favourite. You can check them out at eatlikeachief.com (no affiliation).

Our break at Mt Koonika took longer than expected as we pondered “surely that isn’t the way we have to go?” and “how the hell are we going to get down there?” The photo above doesn’t do it justice but even though the map marked this section as “steep” I wasn’t expecting this.

So we cautiously made our way down King Spur. The first 500 metres took us 1 hour!

Ray descending King Spur

Some of the rocky sections on King Spur were so steep we had to contour around the side of the spur and find another way down. I expect it would be much easier going up than down.

While we were struggling with King Spur, Adrian had made his way past all the snakes and down to the Howqua River where he was cooling off and drinking like a sailor (water, not rum that is).

King Spur flattened out for Ray and myself but we were finding the route hard to follow. We reached the knoll (1427m marked on the map above) and knew we had to find the track and the correct spur to reach the car or we would be in trouble. The car was only 3km away but it was really hot, we had very little water left and we were bashing our way through thick bush with only occasional hints of a trail. Going back was not an option I wanted to consider. We stopped a few times for some old school map and compass work combined with GPS coordinates from my watch and a bit of dodgy mapping on Rays phone (my excuses for being under-prepared: my phone had died the week before the trip so I was on a temporary unit with no good maps and I didn’t take my Garmin GPS to save weight and I didn’t get around to loading the route for Day 2 into my watch from Suunto Movescount). Fortunately I had put a waypoint in my watch at the finish point on Friday night when we dropped off Rays car. It wasn’t an ideal situation but we finally made our way onto the correct spur and found the trail. We plodded our way down the track that was steepish at times but pretty easy.

I expect that finding the track / correct spur would be much easier going up than coming down in this area. Or just be prepared with your GPS routes unlike us.

It was around now that Adrian called us on the UHF as he had driven my car from the start point to the end point. He advised that the water in the King River was super refreshing and the beers in the car fridge were icy cold. That was all the motivation we needed to smash out the last couple of kilometres (we had run out of water by this point and worked up quite a thirst).

The temperature in my pants dropped from 85 degrees celsius to 15 degrees in 3 seconds when I hit the King River.

After 8 hours walking (and only about 10.5km) we reached the cars where Adrian was waiting. We made the short drive to King Hut where we peeled off our filthy gear and cooled off in the beautiful clear water of the King River. Before long we were back in the cars and headed back to Melbourne.

While this was a great hike it would be more enjoyable over 3 or 4 days in Spring or Autumn.

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Trip Report: Big Caravan Trip Part 4 – Coral Bay to Melbourne

It’s been several months since my last post and I expect some of my regular readers were worried that we had suffered a Wolf Creek-like fate in the depths of the Australian outback. But the truth is we rushed back home to Melbourne and got caught up in the usual busy-ness of living in a big city. Work and life returned to normal so quickly it was like we had never been away.

Although we didn’t waste much time on our return to Melbourne, we caught up with friends along the way and saw some great places. So here is some of the photos from the last leg, and if you scroll to the end of the post you will find some further information that might be useful if you are planning a similar trip.

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Monkey Mia is worth a visit if you are in the area and like dolphins. We spent 2 nights here but 1 would have been enough. We hadn’t been to Monkey Mia since Amyo was a baby.
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Denham
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Sandboarding at the Lancelin dunes. We hired the board from the local servo where we left the caravan so we could have some fun in the car.

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Lancelin dunes

 

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You are allowed to drive through the sand dunes at Lancelin and it is a lot of fun. We dropped the tyres to about 15psi and had no problems.

If you live in Victoria and want to drive some dunes check out the Portland Dune Buggy Club.

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We made it to Perth and this was one of the strangest things I have seen. This was the Cat Haven Street Appeal where cat lovers queued up for a long time to make a donation so they could go into the orange gazebo and pat a kitten.
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Kings Park
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West Australians are not very subtle
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Having been underwhelmed by Wave Rock previously, I didn’t even bother getting out of the car while the rest of the family went to marvel at it’s rockyness.
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Cape Le Grand National Park near Esperance
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Sunset on the Nullarbor
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Crappy photo – but a very impressive stretch of road
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There are heaps of nice spots to stay along the Nullarbor
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One of the roadhouses along the Nullarbor
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The Great Australian Bight
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Ceduna
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I thought farmers were always busy milking cows and racing tractors. But in Port Lincoln it seems they have time to make a bull riding simulator. This is what happens if you don’t have the NBN.
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Near Port Lincoln
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Coffin Bay
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Another bloody canola field
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Before we knew it we were back in Melbourne and it was all over.

Distance – We did about 16,000km with more than 1,500km of that on dirt roads.

Fuel – We spent $5,500 on unleaded. We averaged about 23.5L/100km which is about what we expected. Obviously most diesel 4WD’s should use less fuel than that. The most we paid for fuel was $2.20/litre (Gibb River Road) but mostly we paid $1.40-$1.50/litre in decent size towns.

Duration – We were away for 11 weeks and felt a bit rushed at times. Another week or two would have been good.

Accommodation – We free camped about one third of the time, about one third of the time in cheap campsites like National Parks and budget caravan parks (under $30/night) and the other third in caravan parks at more than $30/night. (The most expensive being $79 at Coral Bay). $50-$60/night was pretty common for a powered site.

Caravan – We purchased a new Jayco Starcraft 17.58-3 Outback. It was a great van and performed well. We sold it shortly after we returned and it were happy with the resale value. We had a few minor issues which were fixed under warranty. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another Jayco. I didn’t like the 3-way fridge but our favourite features included: toilet, hot water system, external table. If I was going to buy another caravan to keep I would be looking for: Compressor fridge and more solar panels, 200+ litres of fresh water, built in inverter, additional USB charging points, wider bed, slide out BBQ, more external storage and maybe a grey water holding tank. But all this stuff would cost a lot more and you won’t get this in a 2,500kg caravan (which was our towing limit with the Prado). So given our weight limit and budget it was the perfect family van.

Thanks for following our journey!