8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-SNS

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8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-SNS

Postby stevage » Sat 15 Jan, 2022 1:46 pm

Just returned from the planned 7 day hike discussed here: https://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=37&t=39111

Due to forecast heavy rain (35-55mm at one point!) we shifted our starting date back a couple of days, holing up in an AirBNB in Mt Buller for two nights. In the end, the rain was pretty mild. We ended up not getting rained on during the day during our walk at all, which was nice.

Day 1:easy stroll along Bindaree Road to Bindaree Hut, then along the 4WD track to Pykes Flat.

Just 7km for the day, but a nice way to ease in since we haven't been hiking in over 2 years. Passed what looks like an incredible waterhole with waterfall along the stretch the Pykes Flat. The flat itself is a huge expanse of grass, but it looks like most 4wd-ers kind of carve out little secluded spots down by the river, maybe for fishing. A bit unimpressed to see one of them actually driving up the river from the ford to get to his spot.

We met a group of 4 young hikers (missionaries? church-related, anyway) who'd come down from Buller, but didn't quite understand where they were headed. Saw a tiny black snake curled up on a rock.

Day 2: climb up Sixteen Mile Jeep Track up to Bluff Hut.

Not the most exciting climb, but a simple and straightforward way to get up to the range. We took the marked shortcut walking track from the intersection with Bluff Link Track, up to a part of Bluff Track, but wouldn't recommend it. Heavily overgrown with blackberries, very painful to get through.

Lots of water in the Bluff Hut tank (probably more than half full). We were worried there would be a lot of 4wders, but it being Sunday, they'd all gone, and it was just us and two extremely fit women doing essentially the whole 7 day Buller Huts circuit in 4 days, despite seriously heavy packs. (I don't think they were sharing any gear?)

We did a side trip up to Mt Eadley Stoney. It's a bit odd that there isn't a path to the summit. Still, the views were absolutely amazing, the weather was stunning, and it was lovely rock hopping along the cliff on our way back down.

Lots of flies, maybe due to the horse poo?

Day 3: past Lovicks Hut, over Mt Magdala to the Hells Window saddle.

I thought we could get water near Lovicks Hut, but couldn't find any. Near the hut, there's a pond, and a plastic pipe running downhill, but I couldn't find anywhere I could fill up from. Fortunately was able to bum a couple of litres off a 4wder. Further down the track, there's a point where you're supposed to be able to find water, but again, I could see a pond, but nothing I'd really want to fill up from. Instead, clambered down the gully from near Picture Point, to a point suggested by someone else in these forums, and found a a stream running ok - around 10-20 seconds per litre.

Mt Magdala was great. We filled up at the water point below the saddle, well marked by red plastic markers on trees. The flow was very slow - around 2-3 minutes per litre. Someone had left a small piece of pipe to somehow improve things, but the flow wasn't strong enough to enter it.

The saddle campsite was nice, but during the night, a fox got into my vestibule. It chewed its way through our two Sea to Summit collapsible bowl/plates, destroying them. It also dragged my pack about 2 metres from the tent before I woke up and scared it off.

To improve the night further, a big thunderstorm kept us up for a bit.

Day 4: over Mt Howitt to Stanley Name Spur junction

We were a day ahead of schedule, with the goal of camping on the far side of Mt Speculation. (Our original plan only had a short detour into the Crosscut Saw, but my partner was feeling more confident about fitness by this point).

We stopped in for water at the well marked point near the turn off to Macalister Springs. It was running incredibly slowly, something like 10 minutes per litre, so we were there a while.

We then camped at the junction to Stanleys Name Spur. This was a bad idea. The area looked pretty flat and inviting, but with a steady wind from the east, up out of the value, we tried to find a sheltered spot. It turned out to be impossible to find somewhere flat and sheltered. The best compromise was right next to the SNS path, on the south side, which was steep enough to be awkward for sleeping, and still a bit battered by the wind. The low flying clouds also caused constant droplets on the tent roof. Another not great night of sleeping.

Day 5: side trip to Mt Speculation, then down to SNS saddle camp

For various reasons, we opted to make this a day side trip rather than carting everything to Camp Creek and back.

We ditched most of our gear and set off across the Crosscut Saw. Wow, what a spectacular piece of hiking! We got started late due to the poor sleep, and persistent fog and wind, however things improved by midday.

Climbing Mt Buggery wasn't really deserving of its name, just a bit of a boring slog through vegetation without much reward. The summit does look like a good place to camp though. There was a big, unpleasant pile of used toilet paper at Horrible Gap though, sigh.

The climb up to Mt Spec was great, though. Great views, some fun rock scrambling. There's one slightly longer section of rock to climb, but I can't really imagine using a rope to pack haul here. Pretty straightforward to get up and down.

We met a group of 4 young guys who were doing the full AAWT. They seemed to be going well, 2 weeks in. They were getting in-person food drops from family and friends, with their next one at Mt Hotham.

I also randomly found someone else's food drop, in a white plastic tub once labelled "DYNAMIC LIFTER". Couldn't resist having a look inside, and approving their choice of 85% Lindt chocolate. One of their dinners was labelled "Spag bol 1/2021" so there was some chance it was a year old, but also possible they just got the year wrong. (I do know a guy who bailed on the AAWT around this time last year, somewhere around that area). I didn't really get the feeling it had been sitting there for a year, though could be wrong.

This whole section took us a long time though. Each of the 2.5 km sections (junction to Mt Buggery, to Mt Spec, back to Buggery, back to junction) took about 2 hours, so it was 7:30pm by the time we got back to our packs.

Someone had warned us that the descent down SNS isn't trivial, but, wow. Some seriously challenging rock scrambling down there, especially after a big day out. Had to really consider our foot and hand placements. Also had trouble following the trail in a couple of places, and there are one or two spots where it seems there are two alternative paths.

The saddle campsite was fine, though a little more exposed than we would have liked. Fortunately the wind dropped late at night and was very peaceful.

The creek was flowing very well, maybe 2-3 seconds for a litre. The trail to it was marked in the wrong spot on OSM though, so I'll fix that. (It's to your right at the very start of the campsite, coming down).

Day 6: SNS saddle to Upper Howqua Campsite

We met a couple of guys who'd done a loop around the Viking Circuit and were walking out. They'd gotten to the top of Helicopter Spur on the first day, before realising they'd forgotten sunscreen, and had to go back down for it! Eep.

Following the trail to Queens Spur Road was a bit hard in places. Overgrown, indistinct, fallen logs, etc. I did a fair bit of impromptu track maintenance to try to improve it. At one point, the path does a sudden right bend, and we completely lost it for ages.

Queens Spur Road was pretty unpleasant. A lot of knee-to-waist-high vegetation, and one nightmare patch of maybe 200m heavily overgrown by native raspberry. So prickly! Right in the middle of that patch, my partner fell on a sharp rock, and gave herself a really painful bruise on the bum. :/

Quite a few fallen logs, too. We actually saw a pretty big tree fall over, on the spur above us, and slide down onto the path, from just 30m away. Fortunately its final position was easy to walk under.

Once down onto Upper Howqua Road, the track improved a lot. Quite a few river crossings, but managed to keep the boots dry.

After reaching the car, we drove down to a fantastic waterhole we had noticed, maybe 1km further along Bindaree Road. It's not signposted or obvious from the road, but we'd heard people swimming there on the first day. Very deep, great swimming, just gorgeous, and such a wonderful way to wash off all the hiking grime. :)

Thanks everyone for the info and suggestions on my original post.
Last edited by stevage on Sun 16 Jan, 2022 2:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Baeng72 » Sat 15 Jan, 2022 3:42 pm

Nice report!
Sounds like a good walk was had.
Stanley Name Spur sounds hard, I might try it, make it my new Helicopter Spur where repeated attempts are required!
I met those 2 guys doing the 7 day Viking loop from Upper Howqua campsite when I was heading down Mt. Magdala last Sunday (9th).
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stry » Sat 15 Jan, 2022 7:38 pm

I have only ascended SNS, not descended and it was some years ago, so perhaps my memory is being kind to me, but I have no recollection of any difficulty at all going UP.

Give it a crack Baeng :D I got to the campsite from the Circuit Road in very good time, and then up to the Crosscut and out to Spec without drama and again in good time, the next day, and I am a late starter.

My following comment does NOT pertain to anything in this excellent trip report. I notice quite a few dramatised references on this board to what are portrayed as roads and bushwalking climbs from hell, when in most cases that simply does not gell with my memories of the particular experience.

My point being don't let such embellished accounts deter anyone from checking these things out for themselves. Retreat/abort is always an acceptable Plan B if one judges it to be necessary.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Baeng72 » Sat 15 Jan, 2022 8:15 pm

stry wrote: I notice quite a few dramatised references on this board to what are portrayed as roads and bushwalking climbs from hell.

I resemble that comment! :lol:
I'm the 'anti-Chapman'. :wink:
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stry » Sat 15 Jan, 2022 9:06 pm

Baeng72 wrote:
stry wrote: I notice quite a few dramatised references on this board to what are portrayed as roads and bushwalking climbs from hell.

I resemble that comment! :lol:
I'm the 'anti-Chapman'. :wink:


I definitely did not have your soul baring and entertaining writing style in mind. :D
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Sun 16 Jan, 2022 2:23 pm

stry wrote:My following comment does NOT pertain to anything in this excellent trip report. I notice quite a few dramatised references on this board to what are portrayed as roads and bushwalking climbs from hell, when in most cases that simply does not gell with my memories of the particular experience.

My point being don't let such embellished accounts deter anyone from checking these things out for themselves. Retreat/abort is always an acceptable Plan B if one judges it to be necessary.


Agreed - for me, the rock scrambles on Mt Spec were like that. But I definitely found the descent of SNS much more technical than Mt Spec, and I wasn't expecting that. Definitely not a "descent from hell", but challenging. (Honestly, it would have been a really fun descent if it wasn't already very late, and we weren't already tired and trying to beat nightfall and possibly bad weather.)

I also suspect up would be easier than down. Much easier to see the hand and foot holds, and you don't get yourself into those situations where you're suddenly hanging from one hand and one foot and scrabbling about for the next spot.

Retreat/abort isn't necessarily an option if you get to the bottom of SNS and then encounter the overgrown path on Queens Spur Rd. The retreat would presumably be all the way back up SNS, over Howitt, and down Howitt Spur?

I'm not even sure what the conclusion to draw about the prickly overgrowth on Queens Spur Rd is. Don't go that way? Pack a machete? Join a track maintenance party?
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Lophophaps » Sun 16 Jan, 2022 4:09 pm

stry wrote:My following comment does NOT pertain to anything in this excellent trip report. I notice quite a few dramatised references on this board to what are portrayed as roads and bushwalking climbs from hell, when in most cases that simply does not gell with my memories of the particular experience.

My point being don't let such embellished accounts deter anyone from checking these things out for themselves. Retreat/abort is always an acceptable Plan B if one judges it to be necessary.


Agree. Some climbs are a bit steep and a bit long, but very viable. With care, going up Helicopter Spur, Speculation on the south side and the top of Stanleys Name Spur can be done in good weather. Diamantina Spur is often cited as hard, and it is for the bottom 400 metres of altitude. Paling Spur is just another up in light to medium scrub. Down means navigating! The Grey Hills are dry.

My best remedy is to get a lot of information, carry a bit too much water, and leave early so that if it takes longer than expected you have more daylight. From a base camp at Christmas a party left for a 6 kilometre return trip, down about 300 metres, light scrub at the top and dense scrub lower. They left at 11 am and returned at 8 pm, wrecked by the heavy scrub. On those warm to hot days I was walking by 5:30 to 6:30 am, in camp by 11 am to 2 pm, missing most of the heat.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Sun 16 Jan, 2022 4:32 pm

Oh, another tidbit: the women we met at Bluff's Hut had come up 8 Mile Spur (up the Bluff from Howqua River) and said it was very overgrown and incredibly hard work. It had taken them many hours more than they anticipated.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Xplora » Mon 17 Jan, 2022 5:50 am

Being there are many differences between people on this forum it would be safe for me to say people see things differently. It is all subjective. I have been up and down SNS a number of times and would not rate the scramble as anything difficult. Also been up and down Spec many times and not found that hard. Others may though. The difficult part is giving advice to people that will not lead them into trouble and not knowing the person's experience makes that harder. I am pleased Stevage had a good and safe trip and his girlfriend enjoyed the experience also. That is the main objective. A good effort to make it to Spec and back given the late start. Mt. Buggery is a great spot to camp if you don't need water. I camped there one night in winter and the sunset was spectacular. Plenty of frozen water about then.

It may be time we put Queen spur down to the Upper Howqua camp on the list for some attention. It is a great walk up to Mac Springs which ever way you go and the option of going down SNS to make a loop has always been appealing. It should be maintained particularly when most of the problem is to do with weeds. Hope to hear more from Stevage soon. A great first report.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Baeng72 » Mon 17 Jan, 2022 9:08 pm

Soul baring? Sounds painful!
I edit, re-edit, and then edit again, but I still can't not be me.
Thank you for saying it's entertaining. :)
I'm just a bit poo. That's about it.
Most folks just do these walks with minimum fuss, and maybe a laconic description, if they mention it at all.
You'd think I'm chasing Moby Dick each time I decide to do a walk, judging by the verbiage.
Much talk, little walk.
Oops, I did it again! (apologies Brittany).
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Hiking Exped » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 7:39 am

Another nice and useful trip report. It’s always good to know where and how fast the water is still flowing and how the brambles are growing and impacting paths this time of year.

And you met the the Fox :lol:
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 1:41 pm

Thanks for the trip report. I will mention that section of the old Queen's spur logging track to BTAC. They did track clearing work on it a few summers back but it is becoming worse :-0 with fallen logs and thick prickly scrub.
8 Mile spur from 8 Mile Flat to Rocky Ridge will also be in my list of suggested routes to clear.

I have gone down and up SNS and the lower section can be tricky to find the way if you have not been that way before. The steep Rocky upper sections are easier and safer to ascend than descend, IMHO.

Camping at Mt. Speculation is something I can recommend doing .
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 2:30 pm

Xplora wrote:It may be time we put Queen spur down to the Upper Howqua camp on the list for some attention. It is a great walk up to Mac Springs which ever way you go and the option of going down SNS to make a loop has always been appealing. It should be maintained particularly when most of the problem is to do with weeds. Hope to hear more from Stevage soon. A great first report.


Here's a photo of part of the overgrown section of Queens Spur Rd, to give you an idea.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 2:33 pm

Hiking Exped wrote:And you met the the Fox :lol:


Ah, the Fox is famous are they? :)

My second encounter with one. While doing the GR20 in Corsica, ten years ago, a fox stole my bag of snacks from my vestibule and ran off with it in the middle of the night. I gave chase (barefoot in underwear!) and it dropped it after 50m or so. Pretty happy to get my snacks back!
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 2:47 pm

Now that I've worked out how to add photos, here are a few more. :)
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The shortcut between 16 Mile Jeep Track and Bluff Track
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The water source near the turn off to Macalister Springs
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The longer rock scramble up Mt Spec (pretty easy)
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One of the harder rock scrambles down SNS
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The other noteworthy scramble up Mt Spec (easy with the rope)
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Our poorly chosen campsite at the junction of SNS and the Crosscut Saw
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View of Mt Eadley Stoney
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View from not far above SNS saddle campsite
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Pikes Flat - not the most beautiful, but fine.
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Approaching Mt Howitt. I think this is the junction to the path that goes directly to the West Peak. That path is completely overgrown by alpine grass, but you can still make out where it used to be.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 5:46 pm

Nice photos :-). Last month ( Dec. 2021 )We looked for that water source on Mt. Howitt and followed the sign and the rock cairns but found no water and certainly did not locate a pipe !.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Lophophaps » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 6:02 pm

Nice pics. I've been over the Crosscut many times in both directions and have never needed a rope. The pic of Stanleys Name Spur is much harder than I recall. It's possible that you were off route on both, easy enough to do when people make tracks that others follow. The last pic seems to be at the Howitt tree line on the Magdala side. If so you are on Howitt.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby paidal_chalne_vala » Tue 18 Jan, 2022 9:43 pm

SNS was tagged with blue tape from top to bottom , put there by Timbertop school team leaders in late 2020 when we went down it most recently. It made picking the right line easier on the steep rock sections.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Xplora » Wed 19 Jan, 2022 5:51 am

stevage wrote:
Xplora wrote:It may be time we put Queen spur down to the Upper Howqua camp on the list for some attention. It is a great walk up to Mac Springs which ever way you go and the option of going down SNS to make a loop has always been appealing. It should be maintained particularly when most of the problem is to do with weeds. Hope to hear more from Stevage soon. A great first report.


Here's a photo of part of the overgrown section of Queens Spur Rd, to give you an idea.


That's not so bad. Just kidding. It needs some work. I still don't recall the scrambles down SNS being that hard. The photo is interesting. Perhaps I went a different way. Others have mentioned rock scrambles on Diamantina spur that I don't remember. Maybe it is just me and my old brain.

I also had a friend take his XA Falcon on a loop from Bindaree and up the Jeep track. He got some funny looks from those in 4wd vehicles but he is a very experienced off road driver.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Lophophaps » Wed 19 Jan, 2022 6:16 am

There are two short easy rocky bits on Diamantina Spur.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Hiking Exped » Wed 19 Jan, 2022 9:47 am

Cracking pics Stevage
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby Xplora » Thu 20 Jan, 2022 5:32 am

Lophophaps wrote:There are two short easy rocky bits on Diamantina Spur.


So people say. I just never found them.
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Re: 8-13 Jan 2022 Upper Howqua-Bluff Hut-Howitt-Speculation-

Postby stevage » Thu 20 Jan, 2022 8:02 pm

Lophophaps wrote:Nice pics. I've been over the Crosscut many times in both directions and have never needed a rope. The pic of Stanleys Name Spur is much harder than I recall. It's possible that you were off route on both, easy enough to do when people make tracks that others follow. The last pic seems to be at the Howitt tree line on the Magdala side. If so you are on Howitt.


Yeah, it's possible. There were a couple of spots on the way down where it seemed there were at least two different "routes" (as in, other people had definitely gone the way we went), and on one of them, it definitely looked like we'd taken the harder one. It was pretty hard to pick which was meant to be the main line, at least in those conditions.
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