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by Jim Scarsbrook
Early January 2001 seemed a good time to walk in the high country, and following John Prior's invitation, ten persons were able to participate. By Tuesday night (2nd) there were nine of us camping on some pretty hard ground outside the Tunnel Portal at the junction of the Snowy and Burrungubugge Rivers, five kilometres downstream from Island Bend. Joining us were hundreds of March flies. A hot night promised a fine trip but next morning proved otherwise. Leaving two cars behind, we drove up to Guthega Dam, and found not only our tenth member, but a cold and windy front to contend with.
We immediately got right into it, climbing up a spur with the Guthega on our left and the Snowy on our right. Not far up some light drizzle joined us just as a walker found Denise's sun glasses - alas with his heavy foot. Looking back we could take in the Snowy Valley with the idle ski lift and a hairy descent for those so inclined. In the distance was the Illawong Lodge. Twisted snow gums made our path turn many times until finally we were above them, amongst clumps of alpine grasses and wide open valleys. This was the Rolling Ground and it was beautiful. The name has it's origin in the old stockman days when the horses would literally roll in the grass. Whether it was in joy or to throw off the March flies, is unknown. There were still many snow drifts about, left over from Winter, giving a white patch look to the green and brown.
The wind had a certain nip which made parkas a must, but the rain had retreated. As we passed the Granite Peaks, we started to descend a little and found, not far from a great view of the Munyang River valley, a pleasant campsite amongst snow gums. The camp water was only some three hundred metres away, but it took all the strength of a gladiator to battle the scrub and rocks to get there and juggle containers coming back. A little technology told us we were at 1860 metres.
The first serpent in the Garden reared it's head as soon as the tents were up - a pack of playing cards. Every moment of the afternoon was a deep and meaningful game of Five Hundred or Euchre. As the sun set over Dicky Cooper Bogong and the flies went to bed, the sounds of cards surmounted everything, well, not perhaps the drone of the mosquitoes.
Day Two dawned brightly and we were away by 8am. A quick decent to Whites River Hut on the Munyang River and a not so quick climb to the Schlink Pass (1820m) got the blood flowing. Then leaving the service trail we climbed steeply to a superb 360 degree view from Mount Gungarten.
On top of Gungarten
(Photo by Karen Davis)
Even the cold wind could not detract from the Snowy vistas of peaks and open valleys. Lunch was at Gungarten Pass at the end of the Kerries, before crossing open valleys, stopping at an unusual snow drift with a large cave in the middle - so large that we could all fit in the entrance and get wet feet as a dozen photos were taken.
Karen in the Ice Cave
(Photo by Stuart Leslie)
Then across the top of Valentine Creek and up to Tin Hut for an early finish to the day. We weren't quick enough though, as the flies we had experienced last night had beaten us there. The hut was built for cross country refuge in winter but only the desperate would use it in summer. A bit grotty and with a resident rodent. Water was easy to obtain and we slacked about in the alpine wonderland, drinking coffee and playing cards. One great luxury here was a new loo with a view. No squatting with the funnel webs at Tin Hut.
The Hut log book provided interesting reading and a good laugh when Denise asked who had an "eligible" hand to make an entry. Such a decision to see if one was eligible, but we decided that none of us were, so we settled for one that was "legible". And the cards played on.
Then it was group therapy time with most of the party sitting in a row (rather closely) like an elongated Bogong Moth and giving each other such wonderful massages - ah, a bit lower, ah - to relieve those bushwalker tensions. Even the fingers were restored to normal.
Denise, Jennifer, Stuart, Fiona, Jim
(Photo by Karen Davis)
It was soon after that Jennifer demonstrated her pyrotechnical ability with a Trangia. Believing that it was out, she placed the unused item next to a tent and whilst all were playing cards, failed to notice it burst into flame. Shrieks of alarm and manoeuvres by many to remove it before the fly sheet disintegrated. Luckily all turned out well and a big puff by a male ended the drama.
Day Three was to be a long one so it was up before the flies and away to start climbing towards the Brassy Mountains. The day was warm and the wind slow. We left our gear below Big Brassy Peak and free-climbed to the top. Actually, there was some debate on which rock was the top, so with all scaled by someone, we covered the options. Then it was time to move on, over Brassy Peak and into some interesting navigation.
We were now on the headwaters of the Burrungubugge River, but as the river lost height, it plunged down quickly, forcing us into a long detour and a steep decent into horizontal scrub along Dead Horse Creek. Not for the feint hearted nor the short person, as every step contained hidden depths. Would we ever come out? Obviously we did.
Then it was back into open tussocks and the river again, which we followed on sore feet to where Kidman's Hut should have been. Alas, it had been taken from us, and a lot of weary searching and the approaching night made us think of stopping anywhere. After much map-reading and re-reading, and a lot of discussion, we finally figured it was just over the 'next' hill - and there it was!
Brett outside Kidman's Hut (sepia tone added later for effect)
(Photo by Karen Davis)
The hut only had room for thin people and only one bed, so we put up tents outside (just as the drizzle started) and cooked dinner. No cards tonight. The rain cleared and we took in a brilliant triple rainbow, and a dramatically illuminated dead tree further down the paddock. Jim produced a song book and Stuart a harmonica and the noise from the others frightened the wombats away. Stuart decided on a mountain man's experience and slept in the hut. Ghosts of past stockmen kept him up all night talking. For the rest of us it was the drone of mosquitoes and a solid 4am rain-shower.
Day Four dawned fine to help us cook a quick breakfast and pack up damp tents before following the Burrungubugge River downstream. The day became very warm as we crossed grassland then into the tree belt. Late in the morning we reached the ruins of Constances Hut and it's neighbour, Burrungubugge Hut, into which we moved to escape the flies. This is a new hut with a large picture window.
Fiona and Jennifer battling the flies
(Photo by Stuart Leslie)
There only remained the long fire trail that was level at first, then it was steep up and then it was steep the other way, sorting out the sheep from the lambs in the walking stakes. Around a corner and our cars. A swim in the Snowy for some and a spot of lunch before the lift back to Guthega to retrieve the other cars.
It was a good trip and enjoyed by all. We all thought John had planned it well, only missing out on not providing the walkers with smoked salmon and a smooth red each night. A footnote was that we only made Jindabyne on the way home before the mother of all storms hit us with gale force winds and hail stones and lots and lots of water. The lake took on a new and eerie beauty as we slowly made our way home.