The plan for Easter was to do a circuit from the Upper Howqua Camping Area, climbing Helicopter Spur, camping at Hellfire Creek, onto Mt Howitt, the Crosscut Saw, camping at Mt Speculation on night 2, then returning along the Crosscut Saw and descending Stanley Name Spur to finish. It didn't quite turn out this way, but I thought I'd do a trip report anyway to help others avoid our mistake!The moral of the story first for those who don't want to read the whole thing:
Accessing Helicopter Spur - Cross the remains of the bridge into the Upper Howqua Camp Area. Stop now! Don't turn left and walk into the camp area proper. Straight after the bridge veer to your right onto a steep, overgrown 4WD track. This is the track that will lead you to the base of Helicopter Spur. There should be a sign, but there ain't.
The drive to Upper Howqua Camping Area in our low-slung 2WDs (a Golf and a Commodore) was something that we were a bit nervous about, but we'd been advised on this forum that we'd be okay. We took the south route on Circuit Road (the north route was closed) and had no problems. There were a few nervous moments on Bindaree Rd, but we arrived at our destination without any major issues. I would advise people in 2WDs to TAKE IT SLOWLY on Bindaree Road - there are some tricky sections, some big potholes, and some large 4WDs that are quite capable of flying along these roads!
We crossed the remains of the vehicle bridge over the Howqua and walked along the well-worn track leading into the camp ground proper. After using the dunny we began looking around for the "closed 4WD track climbing south away from the campsite", as described in the track notes for the Howitt High Summits walk in Glenn van der Knijff's book. We thought we'd found it, and started climbing south. After about 20 metres however, the track disappeared. We tried again, and found a definite foot-track. Thinking back, it was probably heading more south-east than south, but it seemed good enough at the time. We crossed a stream and began climbing. The track came and went, but we seemed to be heading in the right direction. After 45 minutes or so, I began to have some doubts. There wasn't much track at all, and I felt that we should have been heading more to the south. We checked the map and decided that we were probably on the wrong hill, not leading us to the bottom of Helicopter Spur. We descended into a valley, bush-bashing through very thick scrub, crossed a stream, then climbed the other side of the valley. It was very tough and slow going, but we eventually popped out on an overgrown 4WD track. We thought this could be the right track, so we continued along it until it became impassable. By this stage it was after 2pm and we thought that we probably didn't have time to get back to the start, find the right track, and get to Hellfire Creek before dark (sunset at 6, no water before Hellfire). So, we headed back the other way, before too long popping out on an established 4WD track. This was obviously the right track, but we had no choice but to descend back to the start. After 2.5 hours of walking, never getting more than 1.5km from the start, we set up camp. We felt slightly less silly when we saw that the track really wasn't very apparent at all.
Helicopter Spur Take 2.
Having come down on the right track, we knew exactly where to find it in the morning! We headed off happily, enjoying the fact that we weren't getting scratched to bits this time. The 4WD track climbs gently to the south. There are 2 junctions on the way up (the first is so overgrown that it's hardly noticeable). We kept to the right at both and before long were at the start of the spur. The 4WD track ends completely and a track leads up the spur to the left. From here it's quite clear where to go: up. The climb was a good bit of fun - a bit tricky in parts but not too bad in dry weather. The highlight was a wedge tailed eagle circling majestically just below us as we had a breather. We stopped for lunch at Picture Point, where we met a couple of walkers heading the other way. They told us that they had also once tried to climb Helicopter Spur but, like us, had failed to find the start of the walk! The bloke who'd been navigating said he'd lost 5 friends over the incident! We felt even less silly now!
We then headed on towards Mt Magdala. The views from the summit were fantastic and we celebrated with shots of Icelandic schnapps. We continued on to Hell's Window, then down onto the saddle where we found the Hellfire Creek camp spot. A very lovely place. On my way to collect water (a rather tricky 300m walk) I chatted with a bloke camping ultra-light style at the other end of the saddle. He'd come up Helicopter Spur that day as well. Like us, he'd failed to find the start of the walk! After some bush-bashing he had found the same very overgrown 4WD track that we'd found. Unlike us, he'd persisted on that track until it led him to Helicopter Spur.
We were glad for our fire in the evening, as the clouds cleared and it started getting pretty damn cold. It then rained most of the night and we awoke to a soggy saddle covered in cloud. I pitied the ultra-light chap sleeping under a tarp.
In our wet weather gear we headed on over Big Hill and up Mt Howitt. As we approached the summit it started snowing. Only lightly, but blown by a cold south-westerly wind. There was a tent pitched on the summit, snow collecting on its fly. We said hello to check that its inhabitants were okay and they replied happily enough. We had hoped to continue along the Crosscut Saw and descend on Stanley Name Spur, but with bugger-all visibility, snow, and a nasty wind, we decided to get straight down from West Peak, onto Howitt Spur. A couple of hours later we were back at the cars.
A few photos below...
- On the spur. Finally...
- Helicopter_Spur-12.jpg (234.25 KiB) Viewed 7173 times
- The nasty bits looming large
- Helicopter_Spur-16.jpg (200.5 KiB) Viewed 7173 times
- Approaching the summit of Magdala
- Helicopter_Spur-54.jpg (125.12 KiB) Viewed 7173 times
- View south from Magdala
- Helicopter_Spur-67.jpg (143.82 KiB) Viewed 7173 times
- rain from Big Hill
- Helicopter_Spur-89.jpg (72 KiB) Viewed 7173 times