Hiking With Ben

Tales from the Wilderness

Wildflowers and Wild Peaks

Walked December 2021, Posted Sunday 16th January 2022

Contents

My first attempt to climb Mt Clear eleven years ago ended at the saddle below the peak when a thunderstorm rolled in and continued almost non-stop for 36 hours. Even the retreat was difficult with both Clear Creek and the Jamieson River in flood. Two years later I was successful (after another attempt was aborted due to heavy rain) with a circuit that covered Mt McDonald round to Mt Clear. The landscape was memorable, with the rock and earth both red, and oddities like a forest of dead trees on Square Top.

This time LS and I would attempt a circuit heading the opposite way, starting with Mt Clear, making a side trip to the King Billies, then heading around to The Nobs.

Return to Mt Clear

We left the gloom of Melbourne behind us when we crossed the Divide, and emerged into sunshine. Past Merrijig we turned off to the south, working our way into first the Howqua Valley then over to the Jamieson. As we got deeper into the wilderness the road got smaller and rougher. We found a tree fallen across the road that the car could just fit under, and others on the ground that we squeezed past.

We parked at the first bridge over the Jamieson River, and by noon we were ready to start walking. This bridge was the site of a fairly hairy escape eleven years ago when the river was flooded and the headwalls of the bridge (which was under construction at the time) had washed out. As I walked over it today the crossing didn’t seem anywhere near as wide: intact headwalls and a placid river made quite a difference.

The Jamieson River valley.

After following Brocks Road for nearly a kilometre we turned right on to Nobs Track and into the Clear Creek valley. Although we hadn’t met any traffic while walking along Brocks Road, as soon as we started on Nobs Track it felt more peaceful. The track is less used and it shows.

The creek on our left was lined with ferns, treeferns, wattles, and thick scrub. Huge mountain ash towered above us, and a profusion of bluebells and bright yellow clustered everlastings lined the road. Birdsong filled the air, with crimson rosellas particularly plentiful.

About two kilometres from Brocks Road we came to the Mt Clear Track junction where Nobs Track turned sharply uphill. This would be our return route in three day’s time, but for now we stayed in the valley and took the Mt Clear Track.

A little further along we reached a ford on Clear Creek. The crystal-clear water was shin deep and flowing well, which was good to see. Water can be scarce in this part of the Alps and I was relying on the headwaters of this creek for our water supply this evening and tomorrow.

Clear Creek living up to its name at the ford.

While we were contemplating the crossing a 4WD arrived. The occupants, who bizarrely treated us as though we were invisible, conferred amongst themselves in whispers and decided to turn back. Anyway, the track is management vehicles only from a short way further along, though all the gates were open today.

We waded the creek and dried our feet. It was well and truly lunchtime, so we stopped a short distance along the track at a shady spot overlooking the creek. Huge tree trunks spanned the creek and debris was piled up against them, proving that despite the creek’s mild nature today sometimes the water level can be far higher — as I can personally attest.

The height of the piled-up debris suggests there have been some serious floods.

Lunchtime was my first chance to try out my new chair. Small enough to be stowed in an outside pocket of my pack, and weighing a meagre 500 grams, it only took a minute to put together. A comfortable seat in the wilderness is a very pleasant luxury!

We didn’t stop for too long, however, as all the hard work of the day was still in front of us. We needed to climb from the valley at around 890 metres up to our campsite at 1,430 metres. The well-graded track climbed steadily, zigzagging up the side of the ridge. We made good progress despite the hot sun taking a toll on us, its heat more than a match for the cool air. For our rest stops we sought out the shade.

Zigzagging our way upwards.

As we climbed higher the track surface changed to the red rock and dirt so characteristic of this area. We started getting glimpses of the peaks we’d be visiting later in this walk: High Cone, The Nobs, Square Top, and Mt Clear itself with its distinctive banded flanks.

When at last we gained the ridgetop the climbing eased and it became a pleasant stroll. Fire had been through here a couple of years ago by the look of the regrowth. This was the first burnt area we’d seen and, happily, it wasn’t particularly large. The track around here used to be heavily overgrown, and the fire had stripped out the scrub to open it right up. Now flowers were blooming everywhere, dusty daisy-bush being particularly prolific, with a sprinkling of bluebells, eyebright, and pink trigger plants. The surviving big trees were clothed with thick regrowth giving them an odd, woolly appearance.

Trees clothed in thick regrowth along the burnt section of the track.

The distinctive peak of Mt McDonald.

Our stroll came to an abrupt end with a particularly steep climb. But that was the end of the hard work (and the burnt section), with just a couple of kilometres left to reach the campsite.

The track passed through light forest and across little grassy plains dotted with a mix of wildflowers. The twin-peaked summit of Mt Clear was right in front of us as we walked the final stretch up to the campsite at the foot of a ridge running down from its minor northern summit.

Everlastings and bluebells were dotted throughout the grass.

Nearing the campsite.

It was getting on for 17:00 by the time we reached the campsite, and since noon we’d covered 11·7 km and climbed 745 metres making for a long day. We weren’t done yet though. Our first task was to pitch the tent, and we chose a nice grassy site near a good cooking spot. Next was water.

I set off down the old track that leads out of the bottom of the grassy camping area. It’s so overgrown now that without knowing it was there you’d easily miss it. What was once a 4WD track has mostly returned to nature, and it’s now just a foot pad winding its way through regrowth and fallen trees.

In a small valley just over half a kilometre from camp I found a slender stream splashing down from the slopes of Mt Clear above — a very welcome sight. The easiest place to collect water was at a small waterfall about four feet high and bordered by grasses and ferns. I filled up ten litres for camp, and drank some fresh from the source to fill me up.

Back at camp I had a rest after reclaiming my chair from LS. It was peaceful at this lonely place, with the lowering sun glittering through the trees, and no sounds besides birdsong and the breeze. But time was still slipping away, so I didn’t wait too long before I started dinner.

A peaceful afternoon at our Mt Clear campsite.

The sky had turned overcast. There was no threat of rain, but equally no chance of an interesting sunset. It had been a long and tiring day. We both retired to the tent well before sunset, looking forward to a good rest. It was pleasant just to be lying down.

Two Kings

I had a good night, dozing and sleeping comfortably. After dusk the wind rose and gusted up the valleys either side of our camp until a couple hours after midnight.

Dawn was early, but the morning was chilly and we were in no rush to get up with the sun’s appearance delayed by the bulk of Mt Clear and the trees behind the tent. While we ate our breakfast the surrounding trees were filled with birdsong. During dinner yesterday a yellow robin visited the tree above our cooking area, and he was back again this morning.

Today our plan was for a daywalk up to the King Billies. I filled my pack with the bulky items, while LS took a small daypack with a few extras. We set off along the continuation of yesterday’s track, which contoured across the slopes of Mt Clear for a kilometre to a junction with the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). Tomorrow this would be our route over Mt Clear, but today we were headed the opposite way, north along the old 4WD track.

The track meandered along near the ridgetop, which gave us a much more gentle gradient than yesterday. Under a bright blue sky the abundant flowers sparkled, with great drifts of bright pink trigger plants and yellow everlastings, and a sprinkling of cornflower-blue native flax. Fresh growth on the snow gums was lit by the low sunlight and glowed green, yellow, and red.

Trigger plants grew in profusion.

We passed through a series of small plains. Some just had tufts of grass growing out of the red earth, while others were filled with luxuriant long grass. There was no sign of the grass being cropped, however, which was a slight surprise since I’d seen plenty of deer hoof prints on the track (and, incidentally, plenty of dog paw prints and the footprints of a solitary walker).

Some of the plains had a thin cover of grass and flowers…

…while others were filled with lush long grass.

Chesters Yard looked nothing like I’d expected from the map. I’d thought we’d find a spring somewhere up the shallow gully to the west, whereas it was filled with heavy scrub. A small stream emerged from it and flowed across the 4WD track at a muddy ford. I was at a loss to imagine where the ‘yard’ could have been located. However there was a fireplace and some logs for seats on a small rise above the ford. We stopped for a snack and hot tea.

We heard a motor and saw a couple of people walking down the track ahead, dragging long hoses attached to a ute. We had a chat and discovered they were spraying ox-eye daisies, a feral plant that had been spread by cattle. A noble cause, but completely pointless 1.

We continued along the snow gum-lined track, climbing gently, as it contoured around the high points on the ridge. Rounding a turn in the track we got our first close-up view of the King Billies. Then, quite unexpectedly, we came across a small automated weather station off in the trees, not much more than a fat pipe sticking out of the ground, along with a solar panel and antenna on a post.

King Billy 1 and 2 from the old 4WD track approaching the junction.

The saddle south of the Billies is a big junction where a few 4WD tracks meet, and it’s also where the AAWT leaves the old Mt Clear 4WD track and strikes out as a foot pad leading straight over the Billies. This would be the first time this walk that we’d be off 4WD tracks, open or closed, so it was a welcome milestone.

The foot pad snaked across the face of King Billy 2 and climbed above the treeline. We could see back along the morning’s route all the way to Mt Clear (which looked quite distant), and on to The Nobs and Mt McDonald.

Climbing King Billy 2.

One last steep pinch got us to the elongated summit plateau, where a couple of small cairns marked the way across the grassy top. The treeless summit gave us a great view, but we were drawn on by the sight of King Billy 1 ahead of us which was higher and promised even better views.

There was a steep drop off the northern side of the summit, and we stopped in the shade of some snow gums for a snack to keep us going until lunch.

The walk to King Billy 1 was very pleasant, and followed a faint track that wound its way along the rocky spine of the small ridge between the two peaks. Punctuating these sections were snow gum-fringed glades filled with silver daisies. Some of the trees were huge and still healthy, an uncommon sight these days given the number of fires in recent years.

Wandering amongst the snow gums on the ridge between the King Billies.

Contemplating the climb up to King Billy 1.

There was a sharp climb up to the summit of King Billy 1, much like there had been to its sibling. We wandered across the long, flat summit to the cairn. This was the highest point we’d reach on this walk at 1,716 metres, a little higher than both King Billy 2 (1,696 metres) and Mt Clear (1,695 metres).

The views were excellent. To the northeast rose Mt Magdala with Mt Howitt behind. The Crosscut Saw looked particularly knobbly from this angle, and beyond it was Mt Speculation with its cliff-guarded summit. In the blue distance was the horn of Mt Buffalo. To the west was the great bulk of The Bluff with Mt Eadley Stoney and Mt Lovick.

With this peak marking our turn-around point for the day, we stopped for lunch. It was an idyllic place. The sun shone, a cool breeze blew, and masses of butterflies, dark and light, fluttered amongst the flowers.

When lunch was complete we packed up turned back towards Mt Clear, which looked every bit of the almost 9 km that we’d walked this morning. Once again we enjoyed walking the ridge to King Billy 2 with its rocky scrambles and ancient snow gums.

Leaving King Billy 1.

We crossed the summit of the second Billy and dropped off the steep side down to the snow gums and scrub below. We reached the junction at an unfortunate time with ten 4WDs arriving in short order, stirring up great clouds of dust, shouting at each other, letting a dog out, and blaring insipid music. It seemed they were missing the point of being out in the wilderness, instead bringing their suburban lives with them.

There was no incentive to linger, so we set off along the old track towards our camp. The walk dragged on somewhat, with the excitement and discoveries of the day behind us. The flowers were still a pleasure to see, though the fresh foliage that had glowed in the morning light looked dull in the full light of day.

The old 4WD track on the approach to Chesters Yard.

We stopped at Chesters again, and I took advantage of the stream to fill up our camp water bladders. It made for a heavier load back to camp, but paid for itself by removing the need for an extra water run later.

In the small stream was a bare rock and on it basked a skink, preying on the tiny flies that massed about the water. Besides birds, lizards were the only animal life we saw on this walk with the exception of some fat tadpoles in a puddle yesterday.

A skink in the small creek at Chesters Yard.

As we progressed Mt Clear rose up above the grass. Despite standing 250 metres above where we were, it didn’t seem that high. Tomorrow would correct any misapprehension.

Walking in the hot sun was tiring, and while the air was cool it wasn’t enough to counteract the sun. At length we reached the AAWT junction at the foot of Mt Clear, then one more kilometre had us back in camp. Our daywalk totalled 17·5 km with 600 metres of ascent.

I snoozed in my new chair, already a favourite piece of camping equipment, until it was time for dinner. I started cooking earlier tonight which made it a more relaxed affair.

When dinner was done and cleaned up I made a final trip down to the creek to top up all our water bladders. There were spiderwebs across the track all the way along to the water. Yesterday there had been none, or if there had then I’d been too tired to notice them. As I’d been feeling slightly dehydrated, I drank a couple of cups of water in addition to my water collecting.

An Australian painted lady visiting the flowers at our Mt Clear campsite.

In contrast to yesterday, tonight the sky was clear. But without any cloud around a colourful sunset seemed unlikely, so I was content to remain near the tent as the sun sunk down behind the trees until it was dark enough to retire for the night.

While I waited for dusk I considered our next camp over near The Nobs. This was going to be a dry camp, and while water can sometimes be found in the gullies, there’s nothing to be relied on. This left us with two options: either carry all the water we’d need, or after reaching camp make a run down to the Clear Creek valley to fill up. There were costs either way. The first option meant significantly increasing our burden on a hard day’s walk, while the second meant a long side trip of nearly 8 km.

The most prudent course was to carry water, and that’s what I decided on. As much as I didn’t want to increase my burden, walking down to Clear Creek would not only be a significant addition at the end of a long day, but would also involve a hefty descent and re-ascent. Unsurprisingly this turned out to be the right decision, but even more so than I realized at the time.

Three Wild Peaks

Last night as darkness closed in about the tent several kookaburras began singing in chorus, one from a nearby tree and others a little further away. Their raucous song didn’t make for much of a lullaby, but I wasn’t sleepy, just tired.

It was warmer than the previous night and I wasn’t as comfortable, so I ended up having a restless night. In the middle of the night an owl called with a monotonous “oom oom oom”. In the hour before dawn a dog started howling southwest down in the Clear Creek valley.

At dawn the kookaburras returned, and there was no sleeping through that. I got up early — this was going to be a hard day, and we needed to make as much use of the cool morning as we could.

By my reckoning we’d need to take six litres of water in addition to our full drinking bladders, but we had one more litre left and so LS took that as spare for washing. I took four litres, making my load around 25 to 26 kg, while LS took the other three.

Before we left I drank half a litre of water to counteract the dehydration I’d been feeling and to fortify myself for the upcoming day. It worked well: I ended the day in good shape.

We were walking by 8:30. I couldn’t help groaning as I lifted my pack… the extra weight was all too evident. But we had an easy start with the track almost flat as far as the AAWT junction. That changed very quickly as soon as we turned right to start climbing Mt Clear. The track didn’t mess around, heading up relentlessly through the forest. Over and over we struggled on as far as we could before a break to catch our breath and regain some energy.

Every now and then we reached one of the clear bands that ring the the mountain and give it its distinctive striped appearance. These are caused by outcrops of rock which the trees aren’t able to colonize, and so remain grassy. Most of these rings also had a back wall which required some scrambling to climb, no easy task with the loads we were carrying.

Climbing the rocks at the one of the clear bands.

Rock lily.

The view northward quickly improved as we climbed, with all of yesterday’s route up to the King Billies soon in sight. Another compensation was the wildflowers, with a mix of everlastings, miniature white sunrays, and lilies.

Our persistence eventually paid off when we reached the top of the Mt Clear’s minor northern peak. We dropped our packs in the shade of a snow gum and enjoyed the fabulous views.

The morning had brought us another bright blue sky, and in the clear air the ranges marched uninterrupted to the horizon. Mt McDonald dominated the foreground. To its left were The Nobs, close to our intended campsite. Though still a fair distance away, they seemed eminently reachable. In front of this view a tan-coloured hawk was gliding above the valley, repeatedly dropping down out of sight and soaring back up again, all the while calling with a shrill peeping.

The summit of Mt Clear from the northern peak.

We set off for the main summit, about a kilometre to the south, following the track first along the edge of the summit plateau, then through some light forest in the slight saddle between the peaks. When we reached the open summit plateau the cairn was easy to see on the broad, grassy expanse. It was a natural spot for morning tea, so we stopped for a while. The day was warming up but pleasant enough with a bit of breeze blowing. The flowers were less impressive here than elsewhere, mainly dandelions and clover, though hidden in the grass were various little violets, white, mauve, and purple.

Distinct bands on the eastern side of Mt Clear.

The track was a little obscure as it left the cairn but became more obvious as it dropped down the steep southern side of Mt Clear. Now free of the fringe of trees surrounding the summit, we had a good view of our route for the rest of the day over Square Top, High Cone, and on towards The Nobs.

We dropped down over patches of red rock, yellow sunrays, and silver daisies to the ridge linking Mt Clear to Square Top. Behind us stood Mt Clear with its tiers of rock, grassy slopes, and crown of trees. We climbed a little again to a pleasant grassy saddle on the narrow ridge just before the climb up to Square Top.

Looking back to Mt Clear.

On to the ridge leading to Square Top.

It was 11:30, and we liked the look of the shade and the grass, so stopped for lunch. My new chair got another outing, and it speaks to how highly I rate it that I didn’t begrudge its weight even today when I was so heavily loaded.

Despite having completed the single biggest climb on today’s route, there was still much in front of us: another two peaks and many kilometres. So we started walking again before long despite the temptation to rest at this attractive spot.

The climb up Square Top began immediately. Staying on the AAWT took some care, though with some low scrub there was something of a defined foot pad to follow.

We hadn’t got far up the hillside when I noticed two people below us to the west heading the other way. They didn’t see us and we didn’t call out. I figured they were off the track since we were definitely on it, but in this type of country it didn’t really matter, and they’d be at the saddle in a couple of minutes. These were the only other walkers we saw on the whole trip.

The AAWT became more difficult to follow as the forest opened up and the scrub was replaced by grass. As it tended to follow a straight line across the upper western face of Square Top I had an idea of where to focus my attention. By a mix of luck and good navigation I managed to stay on it all the way, verified by sighting the occasional markers. Some of my success I put down to concentrating fully on reading the land rather than looking at my GPS, which is a fault I’m guilty of sometimes.

When we’d got most of the way across the northern half of the summit plateau we stopped for a break. The forest here was made up of a large number of old, dead trees. This reminded me of my previous visit nine years ago when the whole forest seemed dead, though now there was a substantial amount of regrowth. By good fortune we’d stopped right in the middle of the range of a flame robin: the whole time we were there he flitted between the treetops and sang. His intensely red plumage stood out vividly against the blue sky.

A flame robin entertained us while we rested.

Soon the track emerged from the trees on a strip of bare red rock and swung to the south, heading into the slight dip between the two halves of the summit plateau. I suspect this is where the other walkers lost the track as I didn’t see any marker for where to leave the rock for the trees.

The track now entered some scrubby forest and we immediately encountered a series of fallen trees which considerably slowed our progress. I hoped this wouldn’t continue too long, and after the initial burst it eased up. The path had become easy to follow again now that we’d re-entered some forest with low scrub. Combined with a gentle grade this allowed us to make good speed.

Towards the southern edge of Square Top the path went missing. The gentle ridge we were on was no more than twenty metres wide so it couldn’t be far away. We stopped to put gaiters on to help with scrub bashing, though LS found the track again before we’d even set off.

In no time we were at the southern extremity of Square Top, with views from Mt Clear to the north, round past Eadley Stoney and the Bluff, to Mt McDonald and The Nobs out to the west. The red ground was ablaze with yellow and white flowers. The steep slope was covered with crumbled rock and so required some caution to descend, but we made it down without mishap.

Approaching the southern end of Square Top.

We now entered a section of snow gum forest interspersed with open grassy patches bright with silver daisies and yellow everlastings. The track meandered westward along the ridgetop. In front of us High Cone rose up ominously, seemingly always blackened by the shadow of a cloud.

The track made a sharp left turn to head southwards down a secondary ridge towards High Cone. We stopped for a rest in a pretty glade close to the base of peak. While my initial plans were to climb over High Cone, the day had proven to be exhausting. The map showed a bypass track which I would have taken if I’d been able to find it, but there was no sign of it 2. I resigned myself to climbing the peak… as much as I didn’t want to, neither did I want to bush-bash my own bypass.

A drift of daisies amongst the snow gums.

Starting the steep climb up High Cone.

The ascent was considerable at about 140 metres in only about 600 to 700 metres horizontally (this side is considerably steeper than the other side). After a long day with a heavy load it was all we could do to haul ourselves up to the top in shorter and shorter bursts. The summit was a small flat area of red rock, mostly clear of trees, and had fine views. Hot sun and weariness reduced our ability to appreciate the view however, and we didn’t linger.

We descended the very steep 4WD track that pointlessly leads right to the edge of the summit. Although it’s been closed for many years, the scars of its wheel tracks haven’t healed. A short, steep descent brought us to the top of a small cliff. There was no way I was going to scale that while tired and with the load I was carrying. Some poking around revealed we’d missed the track which bypassed the cliffs on their northern side.

Descending the steep 4WD track from High Cone.

Now back on track we walked on, enjoying the gentle descent through snow gum forest. We arrived at a large open field of flowers where the track makes a sharp left turn to the south. A couple of kilometres directly in front of us were The Nobs in profile.

It was 15:30 and we were tired. Our proposed campsite was still two kilometres away. The decision to carry water now paid for itself handsomely: we had everything we needed to camp and were free to stop anywhere. This spot seemed ideal: it was relatively level, had some shade, was favoured with views, and was awash with flowers. It was an even better choice than we realized, something that didn’t become apparent until tomorrow.

The day’s walk had felt much harder than the figures look due to the steepness of the ascents and descents, with a total of 9·5 km with 610 metres ascent and 655 metres descent.

Deciding to stop lifted a weight from us. This was a delightful spot and suddenly there was plenty of time. I got the groundsheet out and we laid down in the shade. A gentle breeze blew. Bees buzzed among the pink flowers. We chatted a bit.

Puffy cumulus clouds were blowing in from the southeast, and by chance they left The Nobs in almost constant shadow while we had sun. At one point LS, indicating the northern peak of The Nobs, complained that it didn’t look much like a pine cone. While I agreed with her assessment, it was an odd comment, and some digging revealed that she thought that peak was High Cone (which was actually behind us), and that High Cone was called Pine Cone…

The Nobs in shadow from our camp.

After a while we pitched the tent inner, leaving the fly until the day cooled down. Then came another relaxed dinner, and my chair came in handy again while I cooked. We cleared up then finished pitching the tent. I explored the area, following what looked like the start of the High Cone bypass track. Although it started well it petered out after a couple of hundred metres.

With some cloud in the sky and a great view of the western horizon I decided to stay up for the sunset. It was worth the wait. The sun passed behind a bar of cloud and lit it up with rayed sunbeams. Below it yellows and oranges brought out the silhouettes of the mountains and trees. When the sun reappeared it backlit the flowers and tinted the clouds. Even after the sun had set it continued to illuminate the clouds in pinks and oranges.

The horizon was gold under a bar of cloud.

The sunset lit up the flowers.

The last light of the setting sun tinted the clouds over Square Top.

In the dusk a pair of currawongs arrived and took turns singing to each other from the treetops near camp.

A currawong singing at dusk.

Highs and Lows

The night was the warmest yet, and I was wide awake until after midnight. There were strange noises in the darkness: a weird screaming that must have been a bird given how quickly it moved (I was glad that whatever it was wasn’t roaming around at ground level). And there was the high-pitched peeping of bats, their regular squeaks rapidly increasing in tempo whenever they closed in on their prey.

With the arrival of dawn the currawongs were back again singing, which gave us a much more melodious start to the day than yesterday’s kookaburras. I rose at 7:00 and made a start on packing. In the shade it was quite cool, however as soon as the sun arrived the heat was palpable, foreshadowing a hot day.

Our campsite was a field of flowers.

We were ready to set off by 9:00 on a day that would include both the best and worst of this walk. As I lifted my pack it felt good, though it would have been around 18 to 19 kg… I must have become accustomed to my heavy pack yesterday.

We’d hardly left the campsite before it because obvious that we’d made the right decision stopping yesterday. There were a series of trees down across the track, some of which were quite awkward to get past. It wasn’t too hard this morning as we felt fresh and had lighter loads, but yesterday it would have been an ordeal.

Just beyond our campsite we encountered a series of fallen trees.

Apart from the fallen trees it was a scenic section of track, traversing forest and open grassy leads, and sometimes following a sharp little ridge. The spiders had been busy and the track was draped with fresh webs.

We passed a couple more places where camping would be possible — provided you brought your own water. After fifty minutes we reached yesterday’s intended campsite, a flower-filled glade directly below the northern peak of The Nobs. It was a nice spot but lacked the views we’d had. We stopped for morning tea, and gave ourselves time to cool down before the big climb ahead of us.

The north peak of The Nobs from what had been our intended campsite.

Nearing the top of the climb up The Nobs.

The track took a direct route up towards the summit of the northern Nob. It was no surprise that it was steep given what we’d seen from our rest spot. Yet it didn’t feel as bad as yesterday’s climb up High Cone despite being similar in both distance and ascent. No doubt feeling fresher and carrying lighter loads made the difference.

It was a very pretty section of track as it threaded its way up a knife-edge ridge between rocks and huge old snow gums, clambering over outthrust walls of red-purple rock.

The grade eased as the track passed just below the summit on its northern side. We dropped our packs in the shade and walked the short distance up to the top. The summit itself was an odd one, with a tiny clear circle about five metres across almost completely encircled by small snow gums. The only break was to the southwest, which give a direct view to the southern peak of The Nobs.

The southern peak of The Nobs from the northern summit.

The occasional sun orchids were glorious.

LS decided she’d rest while I made a side trip to the southern peak. We returned to our packs, me to get a small daypack, and LS to get my chair.

I set off on what was for me the highlight of the entire walk. The ridge was very narrow, and I scrambled along it passing between big snow gums and down a rocky outcrop. A break in the trees featured a big patch of red-purple rock and earth, thickly bordered by yellow and white everlastings.

Looking back towards the north peak of The Nobs.

A little further along I came to the saddle right below the southern peak. Here the ground was ablaze with golden flowers with tufts of miniature white sunrays dotted throughout. Ahead the layered rock rose in flower-covered terraces, climbing to a summit capped by a distinctive table-shaped slab with a solitary accompanying snow gum. Looking back to the northern peak the ridge was a patchwork of vivid green grass and brilliant yellow and white flowers, and at the summit itself I could make out the tiny figure of LS.

The flowers were particularly abundant at the southern peak of The Nobs.

Tiers of rock surrounded the summit.

With such wonderful scenery I couldn’t help but take my time to appreciate and photograph it. The views extended in all directions, the blue ranges everywhere fading into the distance. Northward I could see the King Billies we visited two days ago, Mt Clear and the site of our camp of the first two nights, and yesterday’s peaks Square Top and High Cone. Westward was the impressive profile of Mt McDonald.

The distinctive southern peak of The Nobs with its lone snow gum — just like I remembered it from nine years ago.

Reluctantly I left. What a place to visit! I was fortunate to have chosen a time when the flowers were in such abundance. Truly this was a worthy reward for all the effort put in to this walk.

Heading back to the northern peak across a carpet of golden flowers.

All too soon I was back at the northern peak. I was feeling thirsty despite the side trip being fairly short, not having taken water. It was close to noon so we decided to have lunch where we’d left the packs. While we were eating we could pick out the descent we’d soon be making to the 4WD track, and traced its course as far as the old helipad.

With lunch done we followed the track, faint at times, across flower-filled grass and through sparse snow gums to the Nobs Track. The increased heat off the bare earth of the road hit us immediately. We turned right and began the last leg of our walk.

Descending from The Nobs to the 4WD track.

The road was initially fairly level, and even had a little uphill. When we reached the helipad we had a brief rest in some shade. While I had an idea of what was in store for us from here on, LS was blissfully unaware. Behind us we had one last glimpse of the northern peak of The Nobs.

Now came the descent into the Clear Creek valley. When I climbed this road many years ago I remember thinking that I was glad I wasn’t heading downhill. Today we got to experience exactly that.

The road seemed to drop off the edge of the world. It plummeted downwards interminably without easing for more than a moment. The real problem was the extremely slippery road surface — a hard base with a thin cover of gravel — which made keeping our feet very hard. Descending was slow, physically draining, and required constant concentration. At least the regularly-spaced erosion mounds provided us with some temporary respite. Both of us slipped at times: I went over harmlessly once, and LS twice with the second one almost being serious, her boot saving her from a twisted ankle.

As we descended I reflected on my choice to carry water yesterday. The alternative had been to walk from the camp on the other side of The Nobs down this track to Clear Creek, then return. Thank goodness I hadn’t chosen that course! The difficulty of doing that after an already-long day of walking doesn’t bear thinking about.

For a while we’d been able to hear Clear Creek rushing along the valley floor, though it seemed we’d never reach it as the descent continued unabated. We rounded one last turn and, at long last, there was the junction with the Mt Clear track that we’d last seen three days ago! We rested to recover from the physical and mental stress of the descent of around 450 metres over 1·5 km. Those numbers don’t really do it justice though. I really don’t want to make that descent ever again.

Bluebells and native raspberry in the Clear Creek valley.

All that now remained was a few kilometres of delightfully flat walking. We started along the Clear Creek valley, where bluebells and native raspberry bordered the road, treeferns and ferns lined the creek, and huge mountain ash soared overhead. A left turn on to Brocks Rd and another kilometre of plodding along in the warmth of the valley brought us to the bridge over the Jamieson and our car. Today we’d walked a fairly substantial 10·9 km 3, ascended 345 metres and descended a knee-melting 920 metres.

Overall this had been a harder walk than I’d anticipated. Sometimes the experience on the ground is quite different from how things look on a map at home, and recollections of previous trips smooth over the hardships. Over the four days we’d walked 50 km with a hefty 2,300 metres of ascent — and it was worth every step to see the stunning displays of wildflowers blooming amongst the red rock of this wild and remote area.

References

  1. The spraying stopped at Chesters, but just a little further back we’d seen plenty more of these daisies, and we continued to find them through the rest of our walk. They’re clearly well established in the area, so road-based spraying won’t make a scrap of difference. I’m mystified as to why Parks Victoria, perpetually short of money, are wasting it like this.
  2. The map also showed a bypass track at Square Top, and I didn’t see that either.
  3. This includes the side trip to the southern peak of The Nobs which was 1·3 km return, with 60 m of ascent and descent.