Step up and meet the 'Big Fella'

Anthony Noack braves a tricky ascent, unpredictable weather and an old knee injury to climb Victoria's highest peak.

Mount Bogong is Victoria's highest peak and, at 1986 metres, it presents a challenging yet achievable day walk for those spending time in Bright or Mount Beauty.

The walk to the summit of Mount Bogong from the Mountain Creek Picnic Area begins in the bushland of the Alpine National Park and gradually emerges through peppermint gums to the tree line. The windblown branches give way to the alpine meadows where, in summer, a thick blanket of wildflowers are the tallest growth and an almost equally thick blanket of caterpillars crawl over them.

Mount Bogong takes its name from a local Aboriginal word that roughly translates as "Big Fella". The description is apt and on a clear day, the view from the ridge line along the summit stretches out over surrounding hills and reveals glimpses of the Kiewa Valley below.

The Mountain Creek Picnic Area, about 15 kilometres along a sealed road from the town of Mount Beauty, is the walk's starting point. If you feel like getting away from it all, camp here next to the picturesque creek. Or, if you prefer the creature comforts found in the nearby towns, park in the picnic area and walk for the day.

The recommended route to the summit is via the Staircase Spur. The trailhead is reached by walking two kilometres along the vehicle track from the Mountain Creek Picnic Area car park until you see the sign. The trail up Staircase Spur was formerly used by the Maddison family to drive their cattle up to the high plains. Staircase Spur, true to its name, rises in a series of steep climbs followed by relatively flat sections.

Just when I think I've passed the worst of it, I'm presented with another quad-crunching climb. As I approach the tree line, the windblown skeletons of dead snow-gums create haunting scenes along the spur, with their bone-white branches reaching out of the surrounding green landscape.

I see a number of family groups walking up, although it might be best taking your family members up a smaller hill first to gauge their interest in steep ascents.

While the walk itself is not extreme, the weather can be. Sufficient water should be carried for the six- to 10-hour hike; even in hot weather, warm and weatherproof clothing should be brought. Halfway up the spur, Bivouac Hut offers protection if the weather turns wild.

On the way to the summit I spy the Gadsden Memorial cairn, which commemorates four walkers who perished in a blizzard in 1943. It's a sombre reminder of the region's unpredictable weather. My walking companions and I start climbing in hot, clear weather and I arrive on the summit wearing a T-shirt. However it isn't long before I reach for my jacket as cloud cover rolls in, obscuring the view of the valley below, and the temperature drops.

Experienced walkers might choose to return via the adjacent Eskdale Spur. This adds four kilometres to the trip and much of it is on fire trails at the base. But for most walkers, a return descent of the Staircase Spur is enough of a challenge.

For me, the climb has aggravated an old knee injury and slows our descent. We arrive at Mountain Creek mid-afternoon and prepare to drive back to Bright. Earlier in the morning my friend had envisaged returning to Mount Bogong to snowboard the backcountry. But as he drags his feet to the car, I suspected he won't go much further than the lifts of Falls Creek this season.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Alpine National Park is on Mountain Creek Road, 12 kilometres from Tawonga, about a five-hour drive from Melbourne. Take the Hume Highway to the Great Alpine Road (exit B500) and follow it until the Bright-Tawonga Road turnoff. Drive to the Kiewa Valley Highway, which leads to Mountain Creek Road.

While there

The Mount Bogong summit walk takes six to 10 hours — 16 kilometres via Staircase Spur, or 20-kilometre round trip via Eskdale Spur. Sturdy footwear, water, weatherproof, warm clothing and a high level of fitness are required.

More information

See Parks Victoria, parkweb.vic.gov.au.

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