After 25 days of continuously working at an event in Adelaide, a day off on Christmas Day, a 720 km day drive back to Victoria and a 370 km day drive to Falls Creek on 27/12, it was time to relax and enjoy a few days of bushwalking. For me, this was both a new location and a new experience in the form of a bushwalking club base camp. However, little did I know that I would have a bit more relaxation than planned for!
The drive north took us through some rain which persisted when we arrived at our accommodation – Howmans Gap Discovery Camp. Located about 5 km before Falls Creek, this was an ideal location for the twelve Gisborne Bushwalking Club members to be based for three days of trekking in the high country. Our accommodation comprised six multi-occupancy dormitories each with one or two en-suite toilet facilities, meaning that couples had a bit of privacy and singles only had to share with one other.
The venue provided breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since there was a group of about 100 other bushwalkers from half a dozen clubs, meal times were very interesting the first day, with long queues of hungry walkers, rectified by the second day. We had to make up our own packed lunches, which again caused some congestion however that also lessened a bit on subsequent days.
As our planned walks all started from the other side of Falls Creek, car sharing was organised each prior evening.
Walks were planned for each of the three days – a circuit, a ‘there and back’ and a start and finish at different points, meaning that a car shuffle was required.
The walks were:
Day 1 – Mount Jim circuit
Day 2 – Mount Nelse
Day 3 – Big River Fire Track to Cope Hut
All walks were on well defined tracks of varying widths and mostly dry despite the recent rain.
The weather could not have been better during the three days – clear blue skies with some puffy white clouds, with a bit of wind on the second day. So, sunscreen, hats and plenty of water were essential each day.
Mount Jim Circuit
Despite concerns about breakfast and lunch queues holding us back due to the large numbers, we managed to commence this walk well before 09:30 after a drive to the Horse Yards Camp Ground, located in Pretty Valley. The first part of the track took us to the Cope Saddle Hut on a wide vehicle track that accessed a junction of the aqueduct that we were to see more of on the third day. At this point we branched off on a narrow track marked by high poles across an open scrub landscape, heading for Mount Jim. After stopping for a quick morning tea break, Mount Jim was on the horizon.
The plan was to divert off the main track and climb Mount Jim for lunch, giving everyone the option to do this or not. About half an hour before this point and after a long slow climb up the track, my left hip started to give me problems. By the time we reached the diversion it was very painful, so I elected not to climb the hill, rest up and have my lunch at the junction.
This point was a junction of about three different tracks, including the Trans Alpine Track that we had been on. It became quite a busy spot with multi-day trekkers stopping for a rest and lunch.
After an hour or so, the rest of the group arrived back and we set off towards the Pretty Valley Pondage which marked the end of the walk and the return to the cars. This last section included a couple of long inclines which I managed to climb with the help of a couple of pain killers.
Including the diversion to the top of Mount Jim, the total distance was 17 km.
I elected to miss the next day in order to rest up my hip so that I could make the final day. It included the Wallace Hut which I was keen to visit. I spent the day lying on a couch in the common room of our accommodation reading a book.
However, a description of the walk was gathered from the group discussion on their return.
The walk commenced at the roadside car park of the Heathy Spur Track. This track winds up an incline through Snow Gums and wildflowers to join the Big River Fire Track after about 4.5 km in open scrub. Turning left towards Mount Nelse, the first part was a slow incline that changed to a steep climb to the final ascent of the mount.
On returning down the track, the group diverted to visit the Edmondson Hut before descending to the cars and arriving back at the accommodation at about 16:30.
The total distance of this walk was 18 km
Big River Fire Track to Cope Hut
Although my hip had recovered enough to tackle another walk, I was a bit nervous about tackling the whole of the third day walk. Since the planned route was via an intermediate car park, I, along with K (who was also suffering a bit from hip and knee pain), decided to wait for the group and join the final leg of the walk.
The main group set off at 09:30 for the 2.5 km trek up the Big River Fire Track to its junction with the aqueduct where they turned right along the aqueduct for a further 4 km. The arrangement was to meet at the Langfords Gap Hut car park for morning tea after about 2 hours.
In the intervening period, I decided to drive back up the car park at the Wallace Hut with K to try to get some photos of it without the inevitable sightseers. This turned out to be a good idea – there was no one there. We spent a bit of time there before returning to Langfords Gap to wait for the group.
After a late morning tea, we set off with the group for the Wallace Hut, a further 3.5 km along the track. By the time we arrived at the hut, another walking group was having lunch and a few other visitors came and went while we had lunch. We managed to get a group photo at the hut before the final 3 km stage of the walk to Cope Hut and the parked cars.
Time to leave
All too quickly it was time to leave, but not before vacuuming and tidying our accommodation and the common refectory after breakfast was finished.
Before leaving K and I walked to the tree line at the bottom of the hill, where she managed to get a great photograph of a Gang Gang Cockatoo. I also include here one of her wildflower photos that is a great example of the delicate structures that nature can create.
Our evenings were spent relaxing and planning the next day’s activity. Some of the group played Scrabble and Bananagrams, while others started and completed a 500 piece jigsaw and kept entertained by the cricket on the TV. The group gelled very well and contributed to cleaning and tidying up the accommodation before we left on Sunday 31/12.
I found the Snow Gums fascinating in the way that most are recovering from recent bushfires (although there are groups that will never recover due to two major fires in rapid succession). Their silver trunks are a significant feature of the landscape.
My first experience of a base camp was, in one respect, disappointing due to the problem with my hip, but otherwise very enjoyable, educational and entertaining.