I had a half completed pack and checklist, intending to go 2 nights out, and now I needed to get another set of gear ready. Using my checklist as a basis I scrounged through my gear boxes and came up with spare kit.
By this time I had decided on a destination and trip plan. Keep it simple. There was a fine, dry and warm 17C forecast.
Available water on trip. Maybe tanks or small runoffs.
Wide trails with signposts and maps on them.
A few huts with nearby campsites to choose from.
First rate views for the payoff.
Bit of a climb as a challenge.
Conclusion: Mt Stirling. Part of the Alpine Resort and a rare survivor from a developer challenge.
I have skied and winter camped Stirling on many occasions over 25+ years but apart from an aborted recce halfway up Bluff Spur in the '80s I had actually never walked its trails. I might find water sources, a possible new camp site to try on the south summit area and also a pattern of usage of 4WD, trail bike, mountain bike and horse riding users.
I woke about 5:45am. G arrived on time. I discarded most of his mountain of food and tried 2 packs on him, opting for the ancient but full size harness 3kg 1989 model Mountain Designs Baltoro III pack. The foam shoulder padding had transformed into blocks of wood over the years in storage. I insisted he take 3L of water because a long climb in warm sun under a cloudless sky was expected and water sources were doubtful. With all his extra food, I managed to keep his pack weight down to about 14kg. I carried the super efficient Trangia 27 stove kit with gas burner.
An ancient Robin Trower tape moved us down the highway in a blaze of 70s nostalgia. We arrived at 11:30am at Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) car park. About 8 other vehicles were there.
It's basically all uphill for several hours. After I changed shoes we headed off up perhaps the easiest direct trail I could find to the summit - Upper Baldy trail via the machinery shed to Stirling trail. (Fork Creek via No 3 Road to King Saddle may be easier when skiing with pack. ) This trail is pleasantly graded and like most trails lower down offers dappled shade. A young athletic pair - he carrying a small daypack and a small water bottle between them - overtook us soon on the trail headed for the summit.
We plodded on in the warming conditions. A few minutes later the athletic pair caught us up again. They had taken the first turnoff which looped back to the top of the practice slope at the start of the trail. A mistake I had fallen victim to in a ski trip the previous year.
About 40 minutes in there was water at a couple of places beside the Upper Baldy trail. (Where a stream crosses it on the trail map.) Also nearby were a couple of small camp sites among the mountain ash trees for snow trips not too far from TBJ, fairly easy to access and off the main routes.
|From this point the views improve.|
About an hour and a half in, there was a small clear stream flowing beside the track below Cricket Pitch on Stirling Trail above signpost/junction 27 / 32 of Stirling Trail and Fork Creek Trail.
|Grass scarring caused from winter tents|
I have snow camped the Cricket Pitch years ago, before any infrastructure existed, in a 3 night basecamp, but now a private operator runs a few tents there in winter.
I urged G on to the pleasantly situated and fairly recent King Spur Hut not much further along the track. There is a fairly gentle climb between the Cricket Pitch and King Spur Hut. We took lunch inside away from the swarms of flies, then had a nap on the warm grass outside for an hour. There are 2 water tanks and a toilet. There are views to the Crosscut Saw.
Horse droppings were seen on the trail up to here.
The tap on the north tank was dripping. I decided it was best to continue using this tank so as to keep the water in the non-dripping tank.
It is about an hour's ski from here to the summit, or 35 minutes to GGS Hut depending on your load and how much ice is on the groomed trail.
Refreshed and enthused by the prospect of the imminent summit we continued on up hill. The trail gets steeper from here but it is a really nice section with great views.
We had a look in GGS Hut then moved around to the South Summit area to explore possible dry camp sites. GGS hut now has a water tank, an annex (with resident hut rat) for gear storage and a wood shed at the back. There is a dual toilet at GGS as well.
|The iconic South Summit snowgum. Ants are underfoot so no go for camping for anywhere near here.|
Heavy erosion and significant 4WD damage affects the Howqua track near the summit. Some sloping small dry camp sites at the Howqua track overlook the Crosscut Saw but are subject to nearby dusty convoys. There is no shade for a pitched tent.
There were a few good spots near the South Summit area on snow grass but at each one we found that ants swarmed in soon after we sat down. I hadn't reckoned on how extensive the ants were at South Summit. I also had this problem on a high site near Mt Townsend, the common features being altitude, winter snow cover, prominence, location has full sun and a thick grassy surface seemingly ideal for camping. So be warned. Maybe too high for echidnas there. Abandoning this area we summited briefly then moved down to Bluff Spur Hut which was a scene of shrieking adolescent girls. Now finding all our proposed campsites unsuitable for a quiet evening conducive of meditation and rest we moved on quickly.
|View from West Summit trail towards the East.|
Another small stream was seen beside the track on West Summit Trail above signpost/junction 37 of Stirling Trail with GGS side track.
The upshot was pretty much 2 failed prospective camp sites and an unexpected third site not reaching desired standards.
|View of Cross-cut Saw in twilight|
Feeling pretty whacked and thwarted we stumbled back down hill to King Spur Hut and pitched tents without ceremony. It had been a hot day with not much breeze. It didn't help realising we could have left our packs at the hut to circumnavigate the summit and return. Anyway water was boiled in the gas Trangia and a brew made. The Trangia 27 with gas burner proved super-efficient again and very little gas fuel was used for the meal. This is one awesome stove and cook set up that seems to be much under-rated by bushwalkers.
The sun was setting by the time we had eaten and cleaned up. We'd used up all our chitchat so we had an early night and slept well. I woke up with the sunrise about 6am.
I went for a site with a view, shorter grass and morning light. The One Planet Goondie 1 15D fly was dry inside. The fly sits higher off ground. It also has a top vent over the vestibule. Might have been a better site than the Moondance or just better venting design.
The Mont Moondance is a well made 3 seasons tent. I seam sealed it even though the seams are taped. G decided to camp in shade on long damp grass.
The latest version of the Moondance has a much needed roof vent.
Note: Always take a tent on your overnight trips and do not "occupy" huts. Do not rely on huts being available as free accommodation. Huts are communal areas, used for cooking away from freezing conditions or insects or for sorting out gear or sick party members, treating injuries or drying off to avoid hypothermia. They are not private mountain retreats, even if you can only afford bailing twine as your belt.
Ready to go early for cool walking without annoying insects.
As we moved down the trail to King Saddle Shelter we heard numerous gun shots getting fired in pairs. Parked at the bottom were 3 4WDs, a brindle pit-bull type thing who gave me the hairy eyeball and a few camper persons, two walking back from a short track with a rifle. Note: Dogs and guns are specifically not allowed in the resort. Plenty of signs indicate this. There is no excuse. Authorities are aware of the problem.
We walked on to Razorback Hut where a trail riding group was set to depart for No. 3 road. We took the undulating Hut Trail back to TBJ.
|Telephone Box Junction|
The completed walk and camp took just under 24 hours. A few days after our visit the area was subjected to heavy snowfalls and a few inches of rain.
In the short period of time we were there we had close firsthand experience of 4WD convoys, random shooters with attack dogs, horse riding groups and large school age groups. This is a busy mountain and seems a lot less like wilderness than when I was visiting in winter in the early nineties. A busy user profile. A much nicer experience skiing and camping in the short winter season, although the winter car parking fees over weekends are high.
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