A failed attempt at the Viking Circuit in the mid nineties has haunted me for some time. I was younger, forgot the map, a terrific storm blew in and I exhibited the early signs hyperthermia. It's taken about twenty years to stomach another crack at Victoria’s premier wilderness circuit and so with a party of four chaps and nineteen years more experience I have faced my demons. I have cleared a debt.
We mustered at my HQ at 1630 hours on friday 15th 2017. The weather outlook was too be fine. Hot weather in Melbourne and slightly lower temps up high. With Platt’s car loaded we snaked through peak hour traffic on the south eastern until it fanned out at Pakenham. Dinner stop was la porchetta’s in Traralgon. Unfortunately we can not report good value for money at this establishment. A fuel stop at the Timberline garage in Heyfield at 9 pm (Just before the shop closed) and then onto Licola, and the mighty 72 km Tamboritha road. Three or Four big red deer were spotted on the road and they made no haste in escape as we drew close. We made Howitt Hut by 2330, set camp and retired spent.
Rising at 0700 to a bright sunny morning we assembled for a cooked breaky at the table near the hut and then prepared for launch. After the short drive to the Howitt car park we donned gaiters and lengthened poles. A quick pack weight check revealed some awful truths.
No time to dwell on mistakes, we signed the intentions book and took to Clover plain. Time check 0937.
At spot height 1640 and 2.7km on the plain we came to the sign indicating Old Zeka spur track. There is no discernible track or foot pad. With the Avenza map app on hand we located ourselves and set a course, looking for the spur like features. It wasn’t long before we found the remnants of the track being cut in, we followed it as best we could but we thwarted a lot of the time by fallen trees. Fallen trees became significantly worse and capped our pace. Every 10 - 15 minutes we verified our position with Avenza. After 5.2km and a spot height of 1380 we reached the Zeka track at 1315. We had a bite to eat and then slogged it out on the red dirt track for 4.9 km. Whilst it may be a decent track for vehicles, walkers find it pretty dangerous, particularly those carrying first day loads. Steep and very slippery underfoot, much mental energy is expended as one tries to claim a firm surface to launch . The Helinox DL145’s were capable. We did pass a flowing soak that was a welcome relief and we all drank and dabbed our foreheads. At spot height 748m (no marker or cairn), you can spot the old spec road that goes up to Catherine saddle. With its RPC status, it is now pretty overgrown and we elected to go bush again following a rough bearing down the spur to the river about 1.5km. We made the river flat by 1710. There are suitable campsites by the river and we spread out to give the snorers their own space to practise. After hydration and bathing of sorts, we turned our attention to meal prep and whilst hunger was not foremost on our minds, post a very athletic day we knew an appetite would soon be stalking us. Pulled pork was heated in the bag, a coleslaw mixed and wraps laid out. A special tangy bbq sauce got those taste buds jumping. Mozzies were starting to bother us in the dusk hours, we cleaned up and retired to single man’s quarters by 2030 hours.
We were all up by 0530 striking camp. One of those items that could have been left behind was the aeropress, but alas it was not, so Johno and I enjoyed a triple shot coffee in the dawn. Weather was fine, not cold at all, in fact all the chaps reported that the sleeping bag was draped over their bodies, far too warm to be in it. By 0730 we were all across the river, booted up again, and drunk our litre before departure. Some of the men were fortunate enough to be able to tend to ablutions which always make for a terrific start to the day. We picked our way through the river flat following deer pads which were quite obvious. A little bit of machete work made getting through blackberries a bit easier. The deer pads led us to a couple of wallows and then conveniently started up the spur. We stumbled upon more of a human foot pad which we suspected goes down and meets the spec road. Someone had been along this pad in the last year or so with either a machete or shears cutting the some of the woody regrowth at the base. This made following the track a hellava lot easier. There is some fallen timber but not nearly as bad as old zeka. By 1030 hours we arrived at spot height 1204m, doing a whopping 2.34 km in distance. The spine of the spur is quite rocky, and there is some cairn work reassuring the walker. The cloud had now cleared and was sunny. The humidity of river elevation (approx 610m) was now past us.
At about 1130 we stopped for lunch amongst a rocky outcrop. Ants were keen to traverse our sweaty bodies. We moved around. We continued the push, once again through fire regrowth, rocky outcrops, fallen trees. You get the lot when coming up this spur. It was getting hot. The men of stamina mantra was wearing thin. Up ahead we could see snowgum and snowgrass features in front of a protruding ridge behind which was blue sky. This was promising, a small sign that we were making good work of the spur. Upon checking our maps it was indeed the spur that directly connects with the Sth Viking peak. We consolidated in a flurry of breathing and wiping of brows and at 1425 hours we made the peak, spot height 1502m. A cairn was acknowledged and photos taken. The party was keen to make Viking saddle and have the water question answered. We were sick of carting the water surplus if fresh water were to be available in the saddle. Views were spectacular.
We inched our way down off the peak and across the mini saddles and spot heights to reach the rocky on ramp of the viking. We tracked up on an angle with poles ever so helpful. At spot height 1519m, we removed packs, lapped up the intermittent breeze and took in the 360 degree views that the Viking offered the party. Whilst resting we searched for the track down as there are no AWT markers or even a visible foot pad. The saddle and toils end was only about a km in distance away but we had to drop to spot height 1100m. The track down would be tricky, as we were all pretty spent. After some of our own track making, we came across the more substantial foot pad and followed its descent through both chimneys. The second chimney is more substantial with a rope permanently knotted. One of the chaps had a spill but was ok. As we dropped elevation we once again found ourselves dealing with fallen timber over the track that further sapped our weary bodies. At 1805 hours were welcomed into the grassy embrace of Viking saddle. Packs were dumped at tent spots and those *&%$#! boots were removed. Patrick set off in search of water with a radio. He would call us down with what we hoped would be good news. There is a feint but recognizable foot pad to the east that heads down into the gully for about 200m. At the creek crossing, which was dry, you cross and then about 20m further down there is a small but usable spring with good flow. The water was icy cold, it was like drinking cold beer. We drank until we were silly with rehydration, loaded the bladders then headed back to camp for evening duties. Our appetite was slow to peak, given the very physical day but by the time Patrick’s mango cashew curry came around we were ready. We ate through dusk with the usual mozzies and flies and retired content by 2030.
It's another 0500-0530 start to the day, Glorious high country morning. Porridge, nose bags and aeropress coffee. With morning ablutions taken care off we departed the saddle at 0700 with a warm northerly blowing. It would be a warm day on the track. It's about a 1.2km slog to the razor and I would estimate the first 700m (uphill) is beset with fallen timber which makes for really slow going. And then a miracle. A miracle delivered to us humble tax payers from the very department to which sometimes we curse. Chain saw action. It would appear that sturdy folk fromm parks vic are cutting their way through to Viking saddle with a bit of strategic brush cutting and heavy chainsaw action. The cuts were fresh. We praise the department for their wisdom. Our pace and well being, picked up proportionally.
At 0830 hours we reach the razor (1322m) and take a break. We take time to look back at from whence we came and wallow in pride. We harness up and navigate around the razor towards Despair. Lots of great views are afforded along the rocky spine and the track is easy to follow. As we wind our way up Despair we comment that the track clearing lads have not been through this section as it could do with a bit of pruning. We run into a couple of blokes day tripping to the viking, have a brief chat, offer some intel and continue our push to Despair and Catherine saddle. Luncheon was looming. It's another steep slippery descent into the lovely grassy saddle at a spot height of 1200m. The old Speculation logging road is still clearly visible but I wonder what it is like further down as it reaches the river. It’s 1150 hours at Catherine saddle and we feast and water under shade. Some of the chaps enjoy a 20 minute nap.
1310, we are harnessed. There are two options for the next leg. Take the walking track up Catherines pinch or walk the spec logging road. We took Catherines pinch. It was hard, no real track, very loose, fallen trees and given the time of day hot and sweaty. The Logging road may be 30 minutes longer but contours around hill and meets up at the locked gate. If I was going again I would probably opt for the road, even if it was just for the change of scenery. We dumped packs at the junction and with bladders in hand walked down to camp creek ( about 700m). The creek was flowing well. We filled water bottles, bathed, drank a fair bit before heading back up the hill to pick up our packs and lug all that water about 500m up to Mt Speculation summit where we would set camp for the evening. Mt Spec spot height 1668m. We had the top to ourselves and practised the societies dispersed tent policy with a designated camp kitchen established with a view. 1710 was the official end of day time. Johnson was on meal duty this evening and duly served a thai curry was a pearl couscous. A brew was boiled as dusk greeted sunset and we spent some time marvelling the peaks about us. Bed by 2030 hours.
Routine dictated the 5 am start and so it was. Our luck with good weather afforded us a superb sunrise. It was now Day 5 of the walk and we were well oiled. Striking camp by 7 am had become easy. We drank our excess water and begin our descent of the steps of Mt Spec. Our first stop was the Horrible Gap at 0805, a packs on 5 minute breather before taking on Buggery at spot height 1608m. 0850 - photos at buggery and pushing on towards the ever visible Crosscut Saw. Divine walking with conditioned legs and our head pointed to Mac springs, views either side in excellent weather conditions. We met a chap on his way to Canberra. Brief chat, but I suppose he would be in a hurry to beat the serious summer issues of lack of water. We crossed paths with a small snake sunning himself on a ledge that I was pulling myself onto. Alert to my presence he was keen to exit. As I pulled myself up onto the ledge the other chaps were standing behind, not moving, just chatting and I was using my pole to make some vibrations. Unbeknownst to them until it had passed, the snake had gone right through the legs of Patrick and down the hill. He was only a baby.
Up and over and around the teeth of the crosscut we made the junction and turned for mac springs. This last 1.2km was tough. Conversation had dropped and the men strung out, going at their own pace. Goal orientated. Gantner Hut 1300 hours, spot height 1604m. Dropped packs, lulled about bootless. It was the earliest time we had made camp and we were loving it. Some lunch, coffee in the hut. Life was good.
The balance of the afternoon was spent lounging around reading the hut book, the odd banter and waiting for someone to call dinner. The evening meal was a rehydrated Dahl and couscous which was prefaced with a light voluntary contribution happy hour that was designed to assist with “ration zero”. Ration zero ,not exclusive to the society, is the policy of making it back to the car with no food in your Dilly bag. We are always trying.
By 2000 hours we were done. The weather was changing. Dark skies over yonder from the west. We retired to tents by 2030. Come 2045 all hell broke loose in the form of lightning, thunder, gusting wind and good solid rain. When one has confidence in one’s single man quarters and your buggered it is a joy just to lie back watch and listen. Wel,l we did that for most of the night whilst this big storm rampaged through the lowlands and then up high’ Listening to the wind come up the valley and through the trees was quite an experience.
A bit after 0500 and in calm conditions I came down to the hut. A new body was bunkered down. The sound of the door and the light streaming in awoke her. My apology was met with a calm admission of , “I should be getting up anyway” With pleasantries out of the way I prepared the morning porridge and coffee. Marie came in from the car park last night and was set up on one of the top camps on the way to Howitt. Seeing the weather rolling in she elected to retreat and seek shelter in the hut. She was heading out to Spec and back.
All the chaps joined me at the table for breakfast noting good sleep in the midst of the light show. No tent damage and a dry night for all. By 0700 we were bidding farewell to Gantner hut in sloppy drizzle, the stuff that just requires a raincoat. Pace was good and we made the car by 0800 ish. Mission Complete.
Some photos are on Flickrhttps://flic.kr/s/aHsmbjf6dy