Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

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Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Sat 01 Jan, 2022 11:09 pm

[check out my blog for same post as below but with photos: https://hishyp.wordpress.com/2022/01/08 ... -dec-2021/]

Completed the circuit on my second attempt. Did it in 3 days in power mode as I'm training for Oscars Hut to Hut in Feb. I'm certainly not the fittest and quickest out there, but it was a decent effort and I was really happy I made it in 3 days solo. Truth be told, I was overambitious and thought I could complete it faster, but the Viking is certainly a tough walk and tracks variable with most being not in a state for quick pace due to growth over tracks, rocks and sticks underfoot, meandering paths, ascent/descent, or on occasion no pad at all, combination of those, etc.

My focus on achieving distance each day meant that I didn't do any side trips (like go out on the Razor) or stay in the best campsites.

I had a light weight pack but didn't get around to weighing it with my gear. I estimate not much more than 10kgs with food and 3+ litres of water. My list of equipment is below*.

Day 1 (Monday 27 Dec) - 19.44kms. 1050 - 1815
Upper Howqua track - Queen Spur (QS) - Stanley Name Spur (SNS) - Crosscut Saw - Camp Creek.


Left Melbourne's Northern Suburbs about 6am. Was around a 4 hour drive plus pitstops and walk prep. As I was getting ready, another recent poster on here rocked up with 3 cars full of friends to do same circuit. They were planning to go up Howitt Spur but I might have convinced them to go up my route. I didn't see them again, so hopefully they had a good time.

I had done QS/SNS/Cross Cut to Camp Creek before on Xmas day 2016. This time QS and SNS was a little more overgrown than I remember. Some blackberry bushes creeping over the trail, and then on SNS a few more saplings and bushes in the way, but not bad. I kept to the footpad 100% of the time, but Craig I met at the SNS water source noted some difficulty keeping to the pad on the SNS leg.

This time I knew about the water source on SNS and filled up and had lunch with Craig who was lugging up his camera and tripod. I managed to present him with his lost lens cap which I came across a couple hundred metres down the track. The water source is a bountiful stream, soooo much bigger than I thought it would have been. That's not to say it'll always be that big, but I've heard it's reliable and it looked convincing.

Slogged up the remaining steep section onto the Crosscut. I knew from 2016 the remaining section to Mt Spec wasn't going to be easy just because I was on the ridge. And it wasn't. I had hoped to make it past Camp Creek, but started slowing down from Mt Buggery and accepted a camp spot there (at Camp Creek) with enough light left to start a fire and tuck myself into bed by 8:45pm. Cold night but quite bearable under my quilt.

(Side note: I had tried this very same route in 2016 and achieved it, but I was less fit and it was scorching then. I was absolutely smashed and turned back the next day when I counted 21 degrees Celsius at 8 or 9am next morning (plus sore body and mind). That time, I returned via QS from the western ridge off Mt Buggery - that's another story and I wouldn't recommend it.)

Day 2 - 630-1800 - 19-22kms (not sure as I had to conserve my watch and phone battery so turned off tracking at the Viking)
Camp Creek - The Viking - South Viking ridge - Wonnangatta River - Wonnangatta Track - Zeka Spur 4wd tk (camped about 1.5 kms up off the side of the road).


I'll be honest with you, with little idea what to expect I thought I had a slight chance of making Vallejo Gantner Hut with an early start. I had walked from Camp Creek past Mt Despair as a day walk in 2017 when I had driven up with my wife and baby. It was nice and simple then, and about the same now (though the old management track from Camp Creek seemed to be worse for wear and a bit more overgrown this time around). I thought that would be characteristic of the rest of the way to the Viking. Nope.

I did not expect that the rest of the way from below Mt Despair to the Viking would be so grueling and slow. The track meandered up and down near the crest of the ridge and I never seemed to get to the Razor. I took the wrong turn on one or two occasions, having to back track a minute or so when I met dead ends or second guessed myself. And it's not clear which way it goes over some stretches of rock. I couldn't make out that typical wear you see on the rocks from previous hikers' boots. Later, reading the map description of the AAWT on the SV Mt Buller region map I noted it did advise to stick close to the crest and ignore the meandering tracks of confused hikers leaving it (now me included).

I pushed on from the Razor and finally made the Viking saddle. What a climb from there to the top of the Viking. About 300 metres altitude achieved in well under a km. Exciting finish at the viking cliffs, climbing through the rocks to the top. 5.5 hours (11 kms!) from Camp Creek to The Viking then lunch.

A sometimes unclear track to South Viking. This is ok because it's easy to find South Viking but losing the pad does slow you down a tad either bashing through scrub or trying to relocate the track. Same for the top of the descent down to the Wonnangatta, but that is helped by some cairns. Track is fine for most of the way after that. Descent was quick enough here - perhaps 2 hours.

You might read of accounts of people taking the wrong spur down to the river and having to bash through blackberry bushes and wade down/up the river. What became apparent was the many little footpads going off in every direction in the last 100 metres of altitude. I paid close attention to my GPS and ended up at a nice little camp site with a fire place on the flat before reaching the river a further 50 metres behind some bush.

I was feeling much better after that descent. It was relatively quick and less exhausting. Struggling to get to the Viking in good time had me worried I'd need to camp at the river. But it was around mid-afternoon and I wanted to push on and climb as high as I could. I really needed to if I was going to get back to the car the next day at a reasonable hour. I still thought VG hut was a possibility if I was prepared to walk in the dark, but really that was a hopeful faded dream at this point. And in hindsight, not a good idea either.

Looking at my map I was expecting to follow the remnants of an old 4wd track across the river. Couldn't see one. Followed a footpad west... it didn't go anywhere so I turned and followed the footpad east, it took me to the river but not where I was meant to be. I walked back to the campsite and tracked towards the river again. Got to the river but couldn't see a track on any side of the river. Decided to start wading and heading to where my GPS said the Wonnangatta track started which would take me to the Zeka Spur 4Wd track in a km or so.

I eventually found it. It wasn't an old 4wd track at all, just a small track up on the banks of the river. Started the climb after filling up with water and cooling down properly but didn't stop for a rest and a half decent feed until a clearing closer to the 4wd track. The Track got better the higher I got. Then on to the Zeka Spur 4wd track and started climbing. Was so nice to have a wide walkway with no underbrush pulling at your legs, despite the uphill. I saw a couple of 4wds and a dirt bike going down the track which brought up a bit of dust. Waved at them but hadn't met or spoken to another person that whole day.

I was trudging along at a really slow pace. One step after the other without wanting to overheat or escalate heart rate too much. Body was telling me to stop but I wanted to get as high as possible. I only managed 1.5 kms along that track before that mental battle concluded with a rational argument I might not find a better camp spot and I'd be quicker in the morning after a rest. I was ~2.5 kms from the river and around 300 metres in altitude, so much better than staying on the river at least.

I had found a nice little clearing on the grass behind some bushes on the side of the road. Turns out it was just before a saddle. But a good spot as partly hidden from the road and away from any tall gum trees. There were a few more camping options further up the road I discovered, but nothing amazing worth planning for.

A long day! I had a good feed and was back in bed by 9pm after sunset with a much milder night weather wise ahead of me.

Day 3 - 600-1600 - about 22kms
Part way up Zeka Spur 4wd track - zeka Spur walking track - Mt Howitt track - VG Hut - Mt Howitt - Howitt Spur track - Upper Howqua track - Upper Howqua camp (finish at car)


Woke up really early and cooked up my packet chocolate brownie dessert in the pre dawn. Wasn't bad and something different. Walked up the Zeka Spur as the sun started shining through the trees. Wasn't sure what to expect this morning, but I knew the Howitt track would be in decent condition and then all down hill from Mt Howitt. Was hoping the Zeka spur walking track would be nice and straightforward too. But nope again, not a chance. The Topo Maps+ app has "revegetating" in brackets beside this track. Of all the tracks along the Viking, this little 5 km stretch was the worst.

While there wasn't a major elevation issue, trying to avoid (or ultimately break through) swathes of fallen trees, and thick bush and scrub while roughly keeping to the track was... not pleasant. Scrub pulling at your feet, diving through bush to get to the other side, often suspended on fallen tree branches and bush, was exhausting and slow. I probably found a footpad <20% of the way. When this happened, it would give me some confidence as I strode off, only to come back up against some impassable section. Looking up I tried to get a bearing and head towards a landmark, but I could only aim for trees and I'd be interrupted by bush and fallen trees which would then get me off course again.

My advice for this section is to not worry about the track, but get a bearing, keeping high and find the path of least resistance. Don't check where you are all the time as that will just slow you down. You only need to recalibrate position from time to time to ensure you aren't drifting off too far down a wrong way. You're also probably better off going further along the 4wd track before it drops away from the ridge (and ignore the stupid cairn I took to be the start of the track at around 1320m altitude).

Saw my first snake as I inched closer to the Mt Howitt track intersection. I was getting my bearing again, and deciding whether to go left or right around a tree in front of me. Made a quick call to go left, turned and saw a light brown snake 2 metres in front of me. Must have been waiting for me to move while I was checking bearings. Quickly changed my mind and went right instead.

Finally made it to the Mt Howitt track intersection and sat down for a break. Saw my first humans for a while and tried to have a conversation. I was ill prepared and mumbled small talk for a couple of minutes while they waited for a polite opportunity to get away from me.

On to the VG hut. A pleasant flat walk. VG hut and surrounds are beautiful. I'll definitely be back there with the family at some stage (will drive in from Licola). Filled up water after a famous loo stop, and on to Mount Howitt.

Mt Howitt is now my favourite mountain in Victoria; 360 views to the wilderness all the way back to Mt Buller. Deep ravines and drop offs and broad alpine meadows surround it. Approaching the summit on the AAWT there was a sign to a water source (200m).

After lunch with an old mate I met 2 days ago at Camp Creek, I took off down the Mt Howitt spur track back to the car. The track is very well trodden and wide in places, though a long descent to the Howqua. Another 3kms to the car along the Howqua seemed easy, and I started on a cracking pace with the finish line in mind. Body had other plans and I slowed right down as I felt cramps and injuries calling.

Back to the car and a wash in the river on a warm day was a perfect end. Bad luck to the many campers down stream that will have to filter out my BO for days.

Of course much more to it, and happy to discuss any aspects of it. I'd post pics, but forgot how to do it on this ancient forum haha.

*Equipment wise I took a quilt, lightweight warm sleeping mat, thin foam mat to protect sleeping mat, single person/single skin pole up tent, trail shoes, knee high gaiters (non w/p), 2 CF walking poles, jetboil and 1 small gas cannister, med kit, plastic bowl, spork, food (including my own dehydrated meals and one choc brownie retail one), 2 pairs socks/undies/shirts, light wind jacket, down jacket, beanie, 3/4 length pants, rain pants and jacket, sunnies, inreach mini, SV map/compass, iphone (with Topo Maps+).
Last edited by Hisham on Sat 08 Jan, 2022 2:59 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Baeng72 » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 5:23 am

Great effort Hisham!
How did you find the chute on the way up the Viking?
What days did you go? It was lovely weather forecast the past week?
Did you consider heading up the Spur that Chapman suggests from the Wonnangatta up to the Zeka Spur track?
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 6:34 am

An impressive effort. With two cars , (one at Mac. Springs car park and one at Bryce's Gorge car park ), the Dry river track up to Guy's hut would be a bit easier to follow and be a more pleasant way out of the Wonnangatta Valley . I was involved in the re cutting and remarking of that bushwalking track in Jan. 2021.
Last edited by paidal_chalne_vala on Sun 02 Jan, 2022 12:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 9:26 am

[/quote]
Baeng72 wrote:Great effort Hisham!
How did you find the chute on the way up the Viking?
What days did you go? It was lovely weather forecast the past week?
Did you consider heading up the Spur that Chapman suggests from the Wonnangatta up to the Zeka Spur track?


The Chute was fine. The rope has a few knots in it so it's really easy with a firm grip. I kept my pack on for that one, but had to downclimb a metre or so as I couldn't squeeze through where it was meant to finish. But no hassle. Wet conditions would be interesting.

There was another smaller chute above the main one. I was pretty sure you could scramble around it but gave it a shot for the heck of it. that was a tight squeeze and I took my pack off for that and just threw it through the hole.

Monday to Wednesday - weather was great. Cold night on Monday at Camp Creek (though I was fairly warm - I think it was supposed to be around 3 degrees at Mt Buller), but Tuesday night was very mild at about 900m altitude. Started to warm on the Wednesday but I was up the tops soon enough given the early start.

I knew a climb up a spur was an option, but haven't heard of Chapman's spur. I didn't contemplate bashing up an unknown spur given how much time that could take. I was happy with the zeka 4wd track and didn't see anyone on it on my morning leg up it (started 6am).

Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)
Post by paidal_chalne_vala » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 6:34 am

An impressive effort. With two cars , (one at Mac. Springs car park and one at Bryce's Gorge car park ), the Dry river track up to Guy's hut would be an easier to follow and be a more pleasant way out of the Wonnangatta Valley . I was involved in the re cutting and remarking of that bushwalking track in Jan. 2021.
Looks like an interesting route!
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby peregrinator » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 9:36 am

Hisham wrote:
. . . I had hoped to make it past Camp Creek, but started slowing down from Mt Buggery and accepted a camp spot there with enough light left to start a fire and tuck myself into bed by 8:45pm. Cold night but quite bearable under my quilt . .


I was enjoying your report until I got to that bit. May I politely state that you need to find out about the regulations on fires in such locations.

"On the AAWT a total ban exists on the lighting of campfires above the treeline, making it obligatory to use a fuel stove." Australian Alps Walking Track", John Chapman et al.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 10:32 am

peregrinator wrote:
Hisham wrote:
. . . I had hoped to make it past Camp Creek, but started slowing down from Mt Buggery and accepted a camp spot there with enough light left to start a fire and tuck myself into bed by 8:45pm. Cold night but quite bearable under my quilt . .


I was enjoying your report until I got to that bit. May I politely state that you need to find out about the regulations on fires in such locations.

"On the AAWT a total ban exists on the lighting of campfires above the treeline, making it obligatory to use a fuel stove." Australian Alps Walking Track", John Chapman et al.


There are well established fire places at Camp Creek with infrastructure such as those bars that you can hang a billy from. CC is a camp site for 4wds as much as anyone else (in fact I suspect most walkers camp on the Mt Spec ridge). If you look at the AAWT maps, the AAWT route doesn't go by Camp Creek (it goes directly along the Mt Spec ridge half a kilometre away). So appreciating your comment, I believe I'm ok but good to know that (not that I tend to have fires when hiking - this was a rarity for me). I can share a pic if I can work out how to do that.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby peregrinator » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 10:57 am

My apologies. I interpreted "started slowing down from Mt Buggery and accepted a camp spot there" as meaning you camped near Buggery. The word "accepted" suggested to me that you compromised, and decided to not continue further that day.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 11:02 am

peregrinator wrote:My apologies. I interpreted "started slowing down from Mt Buggery and accepted a camp spot there" as meaning you camped near Buggery. The word "accepted" suggested to me that you compromised, and decided to not continue further that day.


No probs. I've edited to clarify. It was a compromise of sorts, as I had hoped to make it to Catherine Saddle or even Mt Despair.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Baeng72 » Sun 02 Jan, 2022 5:32 pm

How'd you go for water? Carry enough for each day, or refill along the way?
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Tue 04 Jan, 2022 9:57 pm

Baeng72 wrote:How'd you go for water? Carry enough for each day, or refill along the way?


I only filled up as much as I needed plus a small contingency between water sources.

Day 1 - I filled up at the stream on Stanley Named Spur, just as you get to the steep section below the crosscut.
Day 2 - I filled up at Camp Creek, then at Wonnangatta River.
Day 3 - I tapped a litre or so at a small spring on the Zeka 4wd track, came in handy given the section to VG hut was horrendous and slow. Then filled up at Macalister Spring and had some waiting in the car for me.

I was peeing a lot and clear on the last day. Not enough hydralytes - I only bought four little sachets for some reason. I was drinking well, but it just seemed to come right out the other end on day 3. Take plenty of hydrolytes to retain all that water was certainly a lesson.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Wed 05 Jan, 2022 11:20 am

Yes , Plain water does n't do the trick. Adding Oral rehydration salt sachets to drinking water when you are exerting yourself all day makes a huge difference, summer or winter.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hiking Exped » Wed 05 Jan, 2022 4:17 pm

Great trip report - well done
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Gunner55 » Mon 17 Jan, 2022 8:01 am

Hisham my lens cap saviour! Thanks again for your eagle eye. First time taking a larger bodied camera on a multi-day so learnt a lot (like what NOT to do...). Great trip report. As I was there the same time, and did a slightly different route, I thought in case others find it helpful I thought I'd drop a few extra points in here. My pack was not so lightweight plus I was taking photos for a story plus I reckon Hisham is fitter so I had no intention of keeping to his pace!

I camped on Buggery. Storm in that night but the tent held up. I should have moved it to a more protected area away from prevailing wind but was too lazy. Mistake but got away with it. Re the fire topic raised, an inexperienced group turned up late in the day and one guy asked me to help him start a fire. I made it clear not only was it not appropriate to light a fire in this part of the world but in this wind sparks would go everywhere and we all know (well, he clearly didn't) what would happen next. No fire was lit, thank God.

As Hisham says, lots of AAWT is overgrown from Catherine Saddle to Viking, but you can mostly see the track okay under the growth. And the last km before Viking Saddle is a veritable nightmare of treefall ATM. Harder than much of the off-track I did later on. However I found the nav in this section okay, noting the AAWT section south of the Razor, roughly speaking, has had some AAWT markers put in. Mainly I found it a matter of staying highish on the ridgeline, on the southern side, in this vicinity. ParksVic told me a few AAWT markers were put in, despite it being against wilderness zone principles, due to a lot of walkers dropping off the highline and getting into trouble in the gullies. Agree w Hisham, that climb from saddle to Viking is murder.

Going down the South Viking spur to the river was pretty good, mostly decent pad and cairns, but I paid careful attention. I should have stayed higher I think on rocky ridge from Viking itself, when starting out, as opposed to dropping down a bit. I camped on the Viking. But would advise against if it's windy. Super exposed. I was rewarded with great sunset/sunrise. Space for maybe 3 tents max as limited flattish ground.

Like Hisham said, final 100m to the river the pad disappeared (for me anyway). Initially I was going to go upriver and climb an offtrack spur up to Mac Springs. But I changed my mind and wasn't properly prepared. So I didn't have details of where the pad is that goes from the river to Zeka Spur track. I looked a bit but no joy (any advice much appreciated...). So I picked an offtrack line up a spur (hell to get through the scrub on the initial incline), and ended up mainly taking what according to the 8223-N.50K topo calls the Wonnangatta Spur up to Zeka. I was on the Zeka for no more than a km (after the offtrack Zeka got no complaints from me). Then I took what is marked on the map as a walking track up to Mt Howitt walking track (like Hisham, I think). This initial walking track, I found, to be nothing of the sort. It was pure offtrack. I have asked the local ranger why it is marked as a walking track - ideas anyone? Like Hisham, I camped a bit off the Zeka. Partway up my offtrack I had topped up on water, which was a good thing. On this supposed 'route' I came across a pad that I cherished and hung onto for about 800 metres. Not the hardest offtrack in the world but it had its moments...

On getting back to the AAWT post-Mac Springs, this is where I diverged from Hisham's route. I continued on to camp at Magdala Saddle (beautiful campsite, lots of room, well protected). Then onwards to Helicopter Spur and back down to Upper Howqua start/end spot. Re Helicopter, even tho I was very careful, I found myself at the top sliding a bit to the left, corrected myself and then found what is a very healthy/helpful pad. So that is one my key bit of advice in going down, veer to the right, staying on the highest point possible and you should pick up the pad. As predicted, the middle rock band was the hairiest, but taking it easy and kissing the rockface to keep centre of gravity (with a backpack, obviously) forward did the job. The pad is smashed by treefall a few times, but a bit of bush bashing got me back on-pad. One tip I don't recall having seen anywhere, is that if going up Helicopter, there is an old fire trail right next to the Upper Howqua campsite sign at edge of camping area. That is the route you take to go up and it turns into the pad.

Re water, adding to Hisham, one tip I have (based on my own failings) is that at Viking Saddle, there is a faint pad going northish off the saddle, from towards the saddle's SW flattish bit, that takes you down to the creek. TBH I don't have much confidence that, in drier times, that creek would be much good. But perhaps if you bash further down the gully it might be okay. There was good water at the creek off Magdala Saddle, but similarly in dry times not so sure about that, either.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 1:58 pm

Well done. Quite a mission accomplished. Generally January is too hot and dry to trek in this area for my liking. That said I just did some walking in the DRY Barry Mountains near Mt. Murray :-0.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Hisham » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 7:18 pm

Craig. Great to hear from you! I can't work out that Zeka bit and the track I think we are both talking about - my topo app says it's revegetated, so perhaps it used to be a good track and then they planted seeds and bushes where they knew I'd try to walk... Glad you had more fun with it than I did. Enjoy the rest of your travels.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby Gunner55 » Sat 22 Jan, 2022 7:40 am

Hisham wrote:Craig. Great to hear from you! I can't work out that Zeka bit and the track I think we are both talking about - my topo app says it's revegetated, so perhaps it used to be a good track and then they planted seeds and bushes where they knew I'd try to walk... Glad you had more fun with it than I did. Enjoy the rest of your travels.
Ha ha yes definitely revegetated to block your path. My ranger contact said the local ParksVic crew advise avoiding it due to its lack of existence. They got that right. Also, PV is aware of blackberries on the Queens Spur Road track and it is on the radar but expensive and difficult to address it, no timeframe ATM. That dreadful amount of treefall near Viking Saddle is hopefully being addressed later this year. It's a result of 2006/07 fires and residual treefall over time. The guys have already fixed it a couple of times. On a sombre note I learned someone died from falling on Helicopter Spur a few years back. I can see how that could happen.
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Re: Viking circuit - Upper Howqua start (clockwise)

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Sat 22 Jan, 2022 12:29 pm

If I trek the Viking circuit in Nov. 2022 then I will use the recently recut and retagged Dry river track to exit the Wonnangatta Valley . It is then a long hike along the Howitt road back to the Mac. Springs car park from Guy's hut and Bryce's Gorge car park . Leaving a car at Bryce's Gorge car park and another vehicle at Mac. Springs car park would be the best way to deal with that matter.
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