Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Bluff

I remember well my first overnight bushwalk. I qualify that statement with overnight because as a child we had spent many holidays camping and gone on many day trips during which we spent a lot of time walking in the bush. November 1977 was different because for the first time I was going bush for a number of days with three of my mates.

Ian Coull talked me into it and for that I am eternally grateful. I was a bit wary to start with because when I had gone away in the past with cubs and scouts it had always rained and the food was always terrible. I remember one trip to Mount Ritchie where I had to carry a huge suitcase full of blankets because I didn’t own a pack or a sleeping bag. This time Ian managed to borrow one of each for me and when Fog and Davo expressed interest in going, our trip was pt into the planning stage.

Ian, Fog and Davo were all veteran bushwalkers, their experiences garnered from High School walks organized and run by keen teachers. I didn’t go on any of these trips primarily because of my scout experiences which I saw as a trial and voluntary punishment rather than enjoyment.

Our trip was set down for the third week of November 1977. Davo and Fog had just completed their second years at Melbourne University, I my first at Monash and Ian his first at the Melbourne College of Decoration and design. Ian was the only one of us with a car, a black 1954 Morris Minor, and one fine morning we piled four large bulky packs and four good mates into it and set off for the Howqua Valley.

The Morrie may not have been quick or comfortable, overcrowded as it was on this trip, but it was certainly reliable although in the mountains later on, some concessions had to be made to its age.

We did have one sort of bother. At Yea we got a puncture and had to spend a few hours wandering around waiting for the local garage to get around to puttins a new tube in the tyre.

We finally arrived at Mansfield in the mid-afternoon, crossed the Delatite River and began climbing through the hills to reach the back of Mt Buller and the Howqua Valley. On some sections of this road we had to disembark from the vehicle and push the morrie up a couple of steep inclines, its poor old motor refusing to do all its work alone.

Our first night was spent at a place called Eight Mile creek, and our first meal was footy franks. As it was, this was the best evening meal we had, although at the time, we looked forward to easting well for the rest of the trip.

We rose early the next morning and shouldered our packs (which was a new experience for me) and set off up Rocky Ridge, a trip we expected to take about seven or eight hours. Rocky Ridge is a bugger of a climb beginning at Eight Mile Creek on the Howqua River and climbing steeply to Rocky Ridge saddle then on to The Bluff. Each time we crested a ridge expecting to find the saddle, another steep climb loomed before us.

It was a long, tiring climb and seemingly never ending, but we were blessed with fine weather. About 2pm we reached the saddle and broke for a lunch of dry biscuits and cheese. It was a little disappointing to come across a car park with cars in it; for me this tended to colour our achievement with a hint of futility and pointlessness. I was beginning to wonder why I had gone, my shoulders ached, my body was tired. These thoughts quickly vanished because the comradeship made everything worthwhile, as it always does for me in the bush.

The next part of the walk was reasonably easy, following a four wheel drive track up towards The Bluff. We all did pretty well until about 5:30pm when Fog collapsed with a chronic back complaint. Martyrlike he implored us to continue, saying he would come on after resting. Fortunately Bluff Hut was only 15 minutes further on, so Ian, Davo and I dumped our packs and we went back for Fog.

Bluff Hut was crowded that night so we were forced to stay in tents.

I slept with Ian in a nylon Kmart tent without a fly. This was terrible as far as condensation went and meant we awoke wet but warm the next morning. That was the first night we had TVP or textured vegetable protein for tea. This was supposedly a meat substitute made from soybeans. The photos of the prepared dishes on the packets looked great, but it tasted as nourishing as rubber. None of us were impressed.

The next day all of the other hikers left and we decided rather than go on to Mt Lovick that we would stay for the day on The Bluff allowing Fog some time to recover. The afternoon came and we walked up to the summit of The Bluff from the hut which lay in a small saddle tucked away beneath snow gums.

This was my first true experience of Alpine conditions and I shall never forget my first walk across the alpine meadows with Buller rising majestically across the Howqua Valley. Ever since that day the mountains have served to renew my spirits. There is something about the mountains that I never tire of; similar to watching waves pound upon a beach or sitting beside the Murray River watching the whirls and eddies pass you by. Hours tend to flow like minutes but no two seconds are ever the same.

The next day dawned fine and we set of on our return trip to the Howqua. We dropped off The Bluff and began to follow a track until we came to an area that had been burnt out the previous summer. Unfortunately the lack of leaf litter on the ground made the track indistinguishable from the surrounds. Consequently we got lost, deciding to follow a ridge we thought the track was following. We were in fact too far east.

Eventually the ridge ended in a sharp drop and backtracking we decided to drop off into a valley, a cardinal sin in the bush, but we thought it was the lesser of two eveils.

We came to a scree slope and as we prepared to climb down, Fog’s foot dislodged a boulder and he began to fall. I managed to grab him as he slid past me but the experience did nothing for his back. In the gully at the base of the scree we followed a creek knowing it would eventually lead to the Howqua River. The idea was good, the path difficult because the gully was overgrown with scrub and nettles so that by the time we reached the Howqua our legs were suffering badly.

We followed the river to a place called Ritchies Hut where we stirpped off and bathed in the cold mountain water. I don’t believe I ever had a more refreshing wash. That night we stayed in Ritchies Hut and then had a short walk out to the car the next morning.

The rest of the trip was uneventful; the morrie made it home without any trouble. This began my love affair with the Victorian Alps.

Postscript – I wrote this in my journal on 08/07/1985. Ian and Fog went on to be my best man and groomsman at my wedding, Davo went from Melbourne Uni to the ANU in Canberra and is now living in Perth. Ian and I are still best mates. Fog [which is a corruption of Geoff spelt backwards] was also a great mate with whom I lost contact after my kids were born. He completed his degree at Melbourne Uni and remained there working as a Lab Technician until he died of a stroke at the age of 39.

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