Saturday, 24 January 2015

Two Rivers Circuit & Day Trip - Alpine National Park VIC

Two Rivers Circuit & Day Trip

The Alpine National Park

Victorian Alps VIC

Thank you to Glenn van der Knijff and his book Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps.

Saturday, 17th January.

It had only been four days since we left Kosciuszko National Park and already we had itchy feet.

I like Melbourne and I actually enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city. For about ten minutes. 

After three days of excellent food, coffee, bars and shopping we headed out on the Great Ocean Road to see what the fuss was about and spend a night in Portland. The views of the turquoise water and sheer cliff faces were quite beautiful. The Apostles were impressive. Nature defying gravity and geography as it often does.

As beautiful as the Great Ocean Road was oddly enough at the end of the day I was researching the Great Otway National Park. The Great Ocean Road meanders through this park offering glimpses of a special place. 

A point of interest; access to the Victorian Alps is via the Great Alpine Road. It seems Victoria has some obsession with greatness.  An inferiority complex perhaps?

Up early in Portland we drove to Mt Hotham eager for some hiking in the Victorian Alps.

We accessed The Great Alpine Road from Wangaratta; the tun off is well marked. Simply follow this road through a series of pretty towns. Myrtleford, Bright and Harrietville.

The trail head is found at Mt Loch carpark before the Mt Hotham resort. Easily identified by the reservoir next to it.

We arrived at 5.00pm and had around 8.5km ahead of us to Dibbins Hut and the campsite. The wether was cool and sunny. Perfect for walking.

Determined to arrive before dark, or participating in some race I was unaware of, Shell set out at her usual cracking pace.

Trail head.

Ready to roll.

Walking tends to soothe my soul. A calming, pleasurable activity that puts me in a positive frame of mind.

That afternoon I was agitated. To be honest I was agitated all day. I have no idea why. There are times when a mood strikes and one lacks the introspection to understand why.

No sooner had we started our journey when for no good reason I snapped at Shell.

She responded with a somewhat heated lecture on manners which I was in no frame of mind to hear. A fiery argument ensued. I can be petulant in these circumstances. My tantrum took the form of simply stopping on the track.

Shell simply marched on. 

Aware of my ridiculousness I followed before she was out of eyesight.

She waited for me to catch and I refused her olive branch. At forty, I can make a three year old look mature.

We hiked in silence.

The trail starts as a service track, Machinery Spur Track, and runs along the ridge line offering expansive views in both directions.

We arrive at the intersection which takes us to Dibbins Hut. Machinery Spur Track continuing to Mt Loch and further still to Red Robbin Battery. This will be our exit in a few days time.

The trail veers off to the right and takes the form of a traditional walking track. We set out along Swindlers Spur.

First stop, Derrick Hut.

As we walk in silence I am acutely aware that my poor behaviour is effecting what should be a memorable hike with the woman I adore. My pride prevents me from apologising as I should. Instead I chew on my anger. Nurture it. Looking back I am somewhat embarrassed by my behaviour. 

My saviour arrives in the most unexpected form.

The trail to Derrick Hut.

The view from Swindlers Spur.

Shell is a woman of strength, courage and independence. Just a few of the reasons I admire her.

She does have her weaknesses though.

When she suddenly jumped from the track with the smallest of alarmed noises and a look of sheer horror on her face I had feeling what was on the trail.

I leapt into action. Removing the offender from the trail in an act of utter bravery.

To be honest I simply watched at a reasonable distance as the black snake removed itself.

In the aftermath I gave Shell a hug and apologised for my behaviour.

She was quick to forgive my indiscretions. All was well again.

Black snake after I heroically dispatched it from the trail.

My juvenile mood gone and things as they should be I now started to appreciate this beautiful place.

As the clearing on the ridge line began to descend gently the open spaces gave way to stunted snow gums. The climate here in winter hardens the flora. Stunted and hardy it remains beautiful.

 The trail continues its gentle descent and we soon arrive at Derrick Hut.

The huts in the Victoria Alps is one of the real draw cards for me. I find their history fascinating. Most are shelters built by cattle graziers while other are tributes to fallen comrades and family.

Built as a day shelter for day skiers in 1967, this timber hut is a memorial to Charles Derrick who died in 1965 when he was caught in a blizzard while attempting to ski from Mt Bogong to Mt Hotham.

Derrick Hut is a refuge in every sense of the word. A stocked cupboard, fire place and fire wood, block splitter and a modest first aid kit. As I stand inside I can easily imagine this hut saving the lives of those caught in dangerous weather conditions.

Continuing along Swindlers Spur toward Dibbins Hut the trail begins to descend steeply. The path is easy to navigate and the footing sure so the trail is not challenging.

It continues down for sometime occasionally opening up to offer a glimpse of the mountains in the distances. It is these views that are the only real indicator of how far down you have travelled.

The last leg of Swindlers Spur before the descent. 

The trail leads down.

The trail opens up occasionally on the way down.

Finally the trail delivers you to the bottom. With mountains on every side the grassy valley is split by the Cobungra River. A fast moving stream of pristine water that runs fast over rocks. A sound that soothes and heals.

A special place, Cobungra Gap is nestled low in the mountains. Something you might read about in a book and hope to visit. I imagined myself living here with Shell and never having to see another person.

To the left is Dibbins Hut. Surrounded by tents. Other people.

Shell seems to be of a like mind. Rather than head for Dibbins Hut she starts toward the bridge in the opposite direction.

It is close to dark. The tent needs to be pitched and my stomach was rumbling.

As we cross the clearing we bump into a couple heading toward the hut. I can't recall their names. I mustered a friendly smile that I hope looks genuine. After quick introductions they explain there are several possible campsites on the river or the camp platforms are unoccupied.

We wish them good evening and head off to the fabricated sites as I explain to Shell that I recall you are not permitted to camp within 100m of the creek or the hut itself. She merely nods, aware I am a stickler for the rules and arguing will do her little good.

It is dark by the time we have pitched the tent, showered and had dinner. In the warm sleeping bag I begin to doze. My thoughts are of our day hike tomorrow. The huts I have read about and may see. And wild brumbies. I would love to see the wild brumbies Shell is so excited about.

As I drift to sleep I recall the steep trail down. What goes down must go up? A challenge for tomorrow.

Sunday, 18th January

I awake before dawn to a cold morning and take the photos I missed the evening before.

Our campsite at dawn with Shell still bundled up out of the cold. I can easily imagine her wrapped like a caterpillar warm and safe. The thought makes me smile.

The sunrises over our campsite.

After breakfast we headed to the bridge for a better look at Cobungra River and Dibbins Hut.

Most often I walk for the solitude. I walk with Shell because she is my best friend and soul mate. More an extension of myself than another person.

As I approach Dibbins Hut I feel a flash of selfish annoyance at all the tents. Other people.

My attitude needs adjustment. These places are for everyone. The people I met that morning were good people. All of them interesting.

Taariq was leading a group of volunteers from the Victorian National Parks Conservation Group to Blairs Hut and on to Tawonga Huts via Westons Hut.

Nick and his daughter Lucy were on their first real adventure. I was impressed to hear Lucy, at eleven years old, was carrying her own pack.

My attitude has certainly softened. Perhaps it was that these were like minded hikers? 

Cobungra River.

'There has been a succession of huts on this site since the early 1900's, when the Dibbins brothers, cattlemen from Freeburgh (near Bright), established a run in the area. The second hut to be built on the site in 1917 was affectionately known as the "Creep Inn", its low stature necessitating the need to crouch as you entered! This hut was slowly falling into disrepair until it was replaced by the current hut in 1987.' - Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, Glenn van der Knijff.

Dibbins Hut.

After a lazy morning we threw on our day packs and hit the trail. Our plan was loose. Head up the steep Cobungra Gap past Mt Jim to the Junction. From there we could either back track to the campsite detouring to Youngs Hut or choose one of the many other trails.

Light without our heavy packs we can easily cover distance so the options were endless. First, the climb out of the valley and onto the table lands.

Like Swindlers Spur, the footing is stable and the trail moderately challenging. Steep enough to raise the heart rate.

The day was cool and it was a picturesque walk up. Occasionally the trail would open up and allow you a glimpse of the countryside.

In the last clearing we found a rather fresh pile of territorial horse scat. I am aware of the environmental damage caused by wild horses. I can't help but admire them. Strong and noble. Perhaps the blame could lie with Banjo Patterson and The Man From Snowy River?

The steep trail up Cobungra Gap.

One of the clearing on the incline.

Finally on the tableland looking back at the trail completed.

Once on the tableland it is easy going. Occasional streams being the only obstacle.

It is a vast landscape. You are nestled at only 1300m between higher peaks to every side. There was a cool breeze and just the two of us. This is why I hike.

Mt Jim in the distance.

Shell is also a horse lover. She had been confessing her hopes of seeing wild brumbies since the trips conception. I could see her scanning the horizon searching and realised I was doing the same.

I reminded myself that this bad habit is becoming all to frequent. It often leads to missing what is right in front of you. I took a moment to take in my surrounds and for the first time really became aware of the stunning wild flowers in the area.

Tough yet beautiful these rugged flowers are everywhere. As is often the case, as soon as I stopped looking for wild horses they suddenly appear right in front of us.

We saw three herds that day. One from afar and two up close. Magnificent animals. Strength and beauty. We were both elated.

It is odd that I am so strident in the defence of the environment. Always critical of Government and peers when it comes to the protection and care for our National Parks and beyond. Suddenly when it comes to horses all is forgiven. Very much the hypocrite.

The trail continues past Mt Jim and then to The Junction.

We decide to make a circuit of the trip and head to Westons Hut and then on to Blairs Hut. Heading home past the Red Robbin Battery onto the Dungey Track back to campsite.

Mt Jim.

These streams traverse the entire plains.

The Junction.

After heading to the Junction from the South West we now make our way due West.

The trail winds its way down again. Though not as steep as Swindlers Spur and Cobungra Gap.

Westons Hut.

Westons was built in 1932, presumably by Roy "Buffalo Bill" Weston, but it was burnt down in 1939. Restoration occurred in the 1980's however burnt down in January 2007 during Victorias wild fires. The hut has since been rebuilt and offers refuge to hikers and skiers alike.

As we arrived Taariq and his group who had set out from Dibbins Hut earlier that morning were just finishing lunch. Camaraderie is quickly developed amongst those who share a similar passion. In an odd way it was similar to meeting with old acquaintances.

Again, I reflected on my attitude to other hikers and sharing these places.

Shell and I sat down to prepare lunch we struck up an easy conversation with the group. Taariq seems a wealth of knowledge and when we indicated our intentions to visit Wilsons Prom he became quite enthusiastic.

We departed company in opposite directions.

The trail winds downward still however the flora quickly changes. Gone are the snow gums and we are now shaded by soaring impossibly straight eucalypts. It is easy to see why these tall giants are felled for timber. The thought of them being chainsawed flares my temper.

I mention it Shell. She refuses to engage in the conversation. It effects her in an entirely different way.

As the terrain flattens the trail bends to the right. Across the bridge and a short walk brings you to Blairs Hut. My favourite hut of the entire trip.

Taking a break.

'Blairs Hut dates from 1923, when the original hut was built on the site by cattleman Frank Blair, who grazed cattle in the Pretty Valley sector of the Bogong High plains. It burnt down in 1930 but was rebuilt in the following year, and in he years since has been modified to its current condition.' - Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, Glenn van der Knijff.

Nestled on the picturesque West Kiewa River, another of those fast moving waterways I never get tired of, a short stroll takes you to a cleared campground. Should I get the chance to make this trip again this is where I will pitch my tent.

West Kiewa River at Blairs Hut.

We head back out via Machinery Spur Track and very soon come across Red Robbin Battery. Apparently this was the battery used to crush rock from the Red Robin Mine.

The ominous sign at the entrance warns the passer by of all sorts of painful death.

The tired old machinery appealed to me. I enjoyed snooping around. I was intrigued by the house above it. It appeared recently lived in. Who owns it?

Red Robbin Battery.

The mysterious house.

Heading back toward camp we came to the intersection which would lead us back to the trail head. I pushed the thought from my mind. I was not quite ready for civilisation.

Machinery Spur Track would take us to the trail head.

The short trip back on the Dungey Track rose gently upwards and was a pleasant stroll to finish the day. More tall straight eucalypts off into the dappled valley as the sun moved into mid afternoon.

A time for contemplation and pleasant thoughts. it was over before it began.

We were discussing showers and food when a young man by the name of James materialised from nowhere.

James was hiking the Australian Alps Walking Track. He seemed very casual about the concept of through hiking 650km.

After a quick chat with James we showered had dinner and went to bed early. Shell had declared an early start was required for the next day.

Chatting in the evening Shell spotted a grey currawong in a nearby tree. The standard black currawong is quite common in our area but neither of us had seen this sub species. An impressive bird.

As I fell asleep that night quite satisfied with the days adventure I dozed off thinking of Tariqs description of the Machinery Spur Track we were tackling tomorrow. 

'It goes up. And keeps on going up'.

Monday, 19th January

Up at dawn the next morning. Cold but fine.

We made breakfast and had our gear packed. A task made all the more difficult with numb fingers. Gloves required in summer is a foreign concept.

We departed Dibbins Hut and made light work of the trip to the intersection. Half way along we spotted another grey currawong, perhaps the same from the day before.

We started up Machinery Spur Track.

There are those inclines which the body can handle. It reaches a certain heart rate and breathlessness then plateaus and you simply push on. Machinery Spur Track is not one of these.

The day became warm and despite many stops for recovery we made quick work of the climb. While not unpleasant it was certainly not the highlight of the trip. Regardless, when you pause and look back the views are still special.

Shell hated that climb. Truth be told she once again set a hard pace. In all we covered 11.5km that morning. 6km of that on a steep incline. The total trip took us just over three hours.

We soon came to Red Robbin Mine near the summit and it immediately occurred to me the distance between here and the battery was almost 8km. Why would they be so far apart?

Apparently the mine is still under lease and operational despite the appearance of disrepair.

After the mine it is a series of steep switchbacks and you have reached the summit.

End of the ascent.

With the trail head in sight it is worth the climb to the top of Mt Loch as you leave. Stunning views in all direction it is a fitting climax to a great circuit.

Sitting there taking a moment with Shell I know we will return. The huts, the mountains and the rivers. A magical place.

Tradition on Mt Loch.

Fake smile. The body language says it all.

Standing in the car park dreading the trip to Canberra ahead of me I wonder where our next adventure will be.

We both become sick. Later realising we are both severely dehydrated. I am dedicating another post to that hard earn lesson.


  1. Hey man, I told you that machinery spur was steep. In the Vic Alps you must carry warm gloves, a woolly hat and plenty of water to drink, all year round. It can snow up there in Summer !. Anyway It was nice to meet you two and I am glad you enjoyed the high country. It is an amazing place. Maybe You want to come up machinery Spur in snow shoes this July ? All the Best from Taariq( from the Vic. Nat. Parks Assoc. Bushwalking and activities group)

  2. Hi Taariq, You are right about the hat and gloves. I had plenty of water for Machinery Spur. I just don't drink enough when I hydrate from the bladder. If you do plan a trip in July keep us in mind. I would love to explore the area in winter. Take care.

  3. The house mentioned is ownded by the guy who runs the red robbin mine .
    His name is ken he is a Mt beauty local .
    The mine is still operational and you were unlucky to not see him there .He is always happy to have a chat and show you around the mine .
    Ken was very helpful when we got stuck at blairs hut during the harrietville bushfire a few years ago .
    For future reference there is a fire shelter dug into the hill under the house .
    Which is handy to know , in such a fire prone area .

  4. Thanks noodle.
    I wish I had the opportunity to meet Ken.
    Appreciate the tip on the fire shelter.

  5. Hi, I have Met Ken Harris twice while hiking up there. He seems to smell hikers from miles away and then appears like magic to talk to them . For a hermit and a miner he seems to find a way to find people whenever they are around. He also digs for opals in outback NSW, at White cliffs or Lightning ridge during the southern Winter. It looks like I will doing a trip up the Bungalow spur to Mt. Feathertop in July or August 2015 . Taariq

    1. Hi Taariq, we are heading back mid April for a few days. I think we have Green Gully booked in for July. Make sure you post plenty of pictures when you go!