Ascent of The Bluff on 2017-04-08
|Others in Party:||Alex K.|
|Date:||Saturday, April 8, 2017|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||5659 ft / 1724 m|
Ascent Trip ReportWe set out later than I wanted on the first day of our 4-day circuit walk, but I felt pretty confident that the day's objective, Mount McDonald, would achievable. The plan was to traverse an amphitheatre of peaks in a seldom-visited part of the Victorian Alps, beginning at McDonald and eventually finishing at The Bluff, also the highest mountain. An unexpected 2km was added to the first day though, as we found that the last section of the road before the original starting point was impassable in a 2WD. This turned out to be easy walking and we covered the distance quickly. At this point, our ascent began in earnest, up The Nobs Track. The ranger had warned me it was tough, but nobody was prepared for its brutal steepness. Though designed for 4WDs, it seemed impossibly steep and rocky, and we struggled to walk even 50 metres in one burst with our heavily-loaded packs. Almost all the way up, the track rose in "steps," with small flat platforms in between. We'd aim to climb at least two or three steps before resting, and this was the way we pulled ourselves up. After just 1.5km horizontal and 450m up, we arrived on flat ground underneath The Nobs, a minor summit in the area. Here we found a grassy helipad and decided to use it as our campsite for the night, and eat lunch there. Mount McDonald, being in the opposite direction to our general travel, was to be climbed with most gear left behind at the helipad and water containers for filling up at a creek on the return journey.
It was a late lunch, and I agitated for us to finish lunch quickly as the distance was long and the day short. I did not want McDonald to defeat me again. Not far from the helipad, the track reached the ridge that we would take to McDonald below The Nobs (The Australian Alps Walking Track), and we started heading south. Counterproductively, most of the way was downhill, meaning more uphill to the summit eventually. There was just three hours to sundown when we reached the turnoff to Mount McDonald, and with 7km to go, a big ascent and the track looking faint, I was dubious about our chances of success. After some hesitation, we started the climb up. Though not well-used, the track was not hard to follow, and I began to feel more optimistic as we crested out on the first section of more rugged ridge-line. Mistaking a false summit as the real one, we moved on up the ridge, and the track deteriorated rapidly. The incline increased and the terrain became marked by unusual angular ridges of sandstone and loose pinkish gravel. Much like the landscape itself, the snow gums became steadily more gnarled and skeletal, bent into all sorts of strange contortions and clinging onto what little viable soil there was at all sorts of angles. We lost the path entirely several times, costing us a lot of time. The mountain truly felt wild and beautiful, and the way the steep north face was ringed by numerous bluffs and dotted with twisted gums was most unusual. Unfortunately though, the false summit soon revealed itself, and I realised just how far it was to the real one. With dwindling hopes of the real summit, we clambered up to the false one, at 1587m, and inspected the final section to the summit. It wasn't far, but it was our turnaround time, and there was a real possibility of getting caught out in the dark. I was very disappointed, but the sensational evening views, especially of the bulk of The Bluff were some consolation. We really felt deep in the heart of the wilderness.
Knowing wiser than to run the last section, we descended. This time the route-finding was somewhat easier as the way was all below us, but we still made some missteps and had to make some unnecessary scrambles. We got off the faint track and onto the vehicle track with the sun already at least half set. We still needed water, so this was our number one priority. The creeks we were looking for were down the hill from where we were, and I thought we would probably get down with some light still in the sky. This proved correct but to our dismay there was not a single drop running after what turned out to be a considerable walk with our bottles. This spelled bad news for the rest of the hike, and our reserves were low. With strong suspicions that it would be dry everywhere else, I called up the ranger with what little reception there was, and he corroborated my concerns, although he had no definite conclusions. A drastic re-plan had to be made, and it was either being picked up the next day or redesigning our route. Our decision was to reroute, keeping the length and ending point the same as before, but descending into the valley for water whenever we needed it. This cut out most of the planned route and most of the peaks, and was probably physically harder, but it meant we would have water. By the time we had sorted it out, it was dark, and there still a few kilometres of walking in the dark to get back to the helipad. The temperature was surprisingly warmer though, in keeping with our generally fine weather. We settled in for a night with very little water left.
The next day, with water distributed evenly, the plan was to go to the same campsite we had planned for the following night, but instead via a descent to the river far below and then a big ascent up to it. First though, we made an expedition to The Nobs, the nearest peak and an opportunity I couldn't miss despite our situation. Carrying just a bottle of water each and some trail mix, we hopped up towards the triangular summit, negotiating similar terrain to what we had found on Mount McDonald. The going, though somewhat steep, was easier though, and we were on top in just half an hour. The summit was encroached on by snow gums, limiting the view primarily to the south and east and towards the lower south peak (which was much more open), but it was a nice spot nonetheless. Back at the helipad, we packed away the tents that we'd left standing, and began the task of descending The Nobs Track, which nobody was looking forward to. Although not too physically demanding, getting down safely required great care on every step and tediously planning routes down every steep section. Thankfully, we got down much faster than we'd got up. The "river' below was more of a creek, and even it was hardly flowing after all the dry weather. The water was just deep enough to fill up, which we were very glad. We filled up enough to last us the remainder of the day plus the next.
From the creek, we started heading up towards the next night's campsite, located underneath Mount Clear on a long, flat spur. This was the same campsite we would have stayed at in the original plan, but simply via a low route. Before we could get there though, there was a significant climb up onto the spur via a vehicle track. This wasn't nearly as steep as The Nobs Track, but consequently longer. We ate lunch not far in. There was nothing particularly scenic about the track, with dense, dry forest on all sides. This began to change though as we gained height and started to top out. The second half of the way to the campsite was along the top of the grassy spur, which was also home to stands of tall snow gums. The views were nice all around, particularly towards the broad mass of Mount Clear with its unusual bands of gums and bare ground. It was the mid to late afternoon when we reached our campsite, a pleasant grassy spot not dissimilar to the helipad for the night before. Given the day was old, we decided to head up to Mount Clear the next day, and settled in for a more relaxed evening. We made a water mission in the hope that we could perhaps get lucky and actually resume the rest of the hike as normal, but returned empty-handed. The mountains, it seemed, were as dry as a bone.
As it had been every other day before, the weather was sunny in the morning, and surprisingly warm given the altitude. We packed up most of our stuff but left the tents standing to take down after our Mount Clear jaunt. We set off towards the mountain, moving around its extended north shoulder to meet up with the AAWT again. Once there, we began the ascent to Mount Clear, heading roughly south. The way was steep, with several small bluffs to clamber over. It was interesting to see how the vegetation altered between snow gums and bands of grass and exposed rock and gravel. Approaching the top of the shoulder, we stumbled across an enormous tiger snake basking in the sun, forcing us to reroute briefly. Once on the relatively narrow shoulder, the views were excellent in all directions, giving a good sense of the natural amphitheatre from Mount McDonald to The Bluff. Not far away, the shoulder dropped slightly before rising to the much broader profile of the summit. The walking was very enjoyable for the last section, remaining close to the steep drop-off to the left and passing from the more exposed ridge to a lovely glade of evenly-spaced snow gums carpeted by fires. They were clearly older than most, having escaped the ravaging bush fires. Out of the glade, we emerged onto a small, windswept plain that was very reminiscent of the Bogong High Plains. The summit was just up the hill. Extremely flat and open, it was, as the name suggested, completely clear of trees, except on the western flank. Though the sun was shining, it was quite windy. There were more sublime views too, and I felt sad that we would soon have to descend and remain off the mountaintops for most of the remainder of the trip.
The descent was fairly speedy, and we once again avoided the snake, although it had probably moved on. It had been three hours by the time we were back at the tents. We packed them away and prepared to make another descent back to the river. The plan was to spend that night in the valley next to a constant water source, then to cut across to the pick up spot under The Bluff on the fourth day. Nothing of particular note happened on the way down, and after what felt like a bit of a march, we were back at the creek. Our campsite wasn't to be there though, so we continued along the 4WD track and past our starting point, heading downstream. Where the creek merged into the Jamieson River there were two constructed campsites, the larger of which was occupied by a group of hunters. We settled for the small one. It was right next the water and perfectly fine for us. That night was surprisingly cold, and we were disturbed by the loud music and general noise of the nearby hunters, which included numerous vehicles pulling up in the dead of the night.
It was an early start on the morning of the fourth day. Though I held little hope, I had in mind for us to walk to our meeting spot at the Bluff car park, then climb the Bluff and return, all before the 2:00pm deadline. It seemed a long shot, given the 1000m ascent and 15km distance, but I was eager to try it. To get to the car park meant a long march along vehicle tracks, both 2WD and 4WD. We followed the river briefly and then started our long climb to the car park. It was painful, but we pushed hard and rarely paused, covering distances far quicker than I expected. Perhaps motivated by the impressive cliff-line of The Bluff that loomed on the right-hand side, we covered 11km in roughly two and a half hours, arriving at the car park at just the right time. We now knew we could get up and down before 2:00, so we eagerly set off.
The track to the Bluff ramped up in steepness as we went. From the distance, the mountain looked impregnable, but in actuality it was quite achievable. Though demanding, it was rewarding hiking, with the snow gum forest open and grassy and offering many views that helped us gauge our progress. Soon enough, we reached the eponymous bluffs which were the mountain's last defence against us. The path was quite eroded and mildly exposed in places as it clung to the mountainside like a goat track, but it always found a way to break through the sheer rock. Such a route would not have been possible anywhere else on the face of the mountain. The exciting walking - and more often scrambling - was punctuated by dark brooding clouds and a chilly wind, a departure from the previous days' weather. We overcame the bluffs quite quickly, and after a final clamber we suddenly emerged upon the blustery alpine plateau, to our great excitement. The plateau was undulating and covered in hardy grass, with the exception of a few very stunted gums. There was a real sense of loftiness and exposure as we walked eagerly up to the summit, a hill set slightly back from the cliff edge. The wind was shrill and the sky was dark with clouds scudding overhead. The surrounding mountains were magnificent, but The Bluff itself was the object of our curiosity. After a quick lunch on the mountain's sheltered eastern side - a tilted, treeless plateau quite unlike the western cliffs - we spent some time walking along southwards, following the cliff line. Here, as the mountain began to drop off quickly to the Jamieson River 1,000m below, the top of the ridge was right upon the edge of the cliffs, which towered over 100m vertically. Walking in this direction also gave an exhilarating perspective on the mountain as a whole, as it jutted out to reveal the stark contrast between eastern and western sides. It was a classic example of a "cuesta." We met our only fellow hiker thus far at this point.
After saying "let's just go a bit further," several times, we decided it was time to return to the car park and make sure we didn't keep anyone waiting. We returned at 2:30 without incident, feeling very glad about our early start and the rapid pace we'd set that morning, allowing us to make our final summit. Happily, we all hopped into the car, eager to get back home and shower. Though I was very much disappointed to have missed out on our original circuit - one that included twelve mountains no less - I was proud of what we had achieved with our backup plan, and noted that, as our first multi-day hike without adults, there had been no major disasters and that we had handled everything the best we could.
|Summary Total Data|
| Grade/Class:||YDS Class 2|
| Route Conditions:||Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Scramble|
| Gear Used:||Tent Camp|
| Weather:||Cool, Windy, Overcast|
|Ascent Part of Trip: Jamieson River Peaks Hike (3 nights total away from roads)|
Complete Trip Sequence:
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