Saturday, 20 October 2012


I have been trying to organise a trip up to the Dandenongs, and particularly Cloudhill, for the last few springs without any success. But on Tuesday morning we awoke to find that all of our chooks had been slaughtered by (presumably) some random fox - and so had need to head up to the Emerald chook farm to replenish our coup. The mental wellbeing of the kids (and our egg supply) was at stake. 
The hills were looking lush and vibrant, with shades of Bowral and Mt Wilson. Cloudhill itself is stunning, and I was particularly amazed by the rhododendron forests. We had lunch at the restaurant after stopping at my favourite maple and conifer nursery and filling up the Ovlov.
Then on to the National Rhododendron Gardens, which have to be one of the principle attractions in the state, if not the nation - amazing we haven't been before. The juxtaposition of mountain ash and exotics, particularly azaleas, is absolutely breathtaking. We'll certainly be back next year.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Cobberas Reconnaissance

I first passed through this area with my dad as a kid. Not long after, I bought a 1:50000 1975 survey Suggan Buggan topo which I have dragged out of the cupboard nearly every year since. I also remember an early article in Wild magazine about a solo ski tour across the Cobberas Plateau that I have since lost and is irretrievable, but which made an impression. Cobberas #1 is only a few metres short of Hotham, and the entire Plateau is the second highest in Victoria. It also the most remote, and one of the last great areas of Victorian wilderness. With rivers draining from it into three different states, the fishing isn't bad either, although snow is perhaps limited by a rain shadow effect.
Darbs and I were pretty knackered after some massive vertical the day before so we got off to a late start, and we had to be back in Melbourne that evening. The Cobberas Track is seasonally closed and starts after a very picturesque hour and a half's drive from Hotham. 
A Cobberas day trip was possibly ambitious, but we set off on our mountain bikes at about 11 for the 6km to the Playgrounds, which is surely one of the more beautiful alpine campsites on the continent. We struggled for a couple of hours to find any trail up the south-east aspect of the mountain which whilst topped with snow, had no discernible lines for skiing. After the Blue Rag Range experience the previous Saturday, we felt vindicated for not having carried in our skis. 
Eventually a brumby with serious gastrointestinal issues led us to the trail-head and we found our first marker. Successive markers proved more challenging to locate, with brumby tracks often creating false leads. Many markers had either fallen off or come down with trees felled by a heavy winter.
Eventually Darbs' knee started to hurt. We were running out of time, and uncertain of the path. We had a late lunch at 1500m, and I had a quick dash up to 1600m where I successfully located and logged the upper trail with clear views to the summit, still a couple of km away.
I will have no trouble retracing the path next time, and whilst a day trip from Hotham is certainly possible (especially in summer when the track is open), an overnighter to watch the sunrise over the Main Range is certainly a better option.
We had a ritual end-of-season cleansing in the Buchan on the way home, which was Buchan cold. Meanwhile, storm clouds were brewing for the next October snowstorm... 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

October POW!

Whilst climbing out of Oz Drift Sunday arvo, I had a sudden intuition (which unfortunately turned out to be true) that I was actually supposed to be working the next morning. It was a major stuff up, but, good sport that Darbs is, he drove me all the way back to Melbourne, and then back to Hotham the same day. Climbing up past the Meg Monday evening, I remarked how the clouds and light felt very snowy, even though snow wasn't forecast. Ten minutes later it was puking and by the Corral, there was ten centimetres on the road and cars stuck everywhere.
The next morning we woke to a cold, crisp, bluebird day with up to 15cm of fresh drifted powder in places. It was like mid-winter, only no chairs on the cables, no people and absolute silence. With the whole mountain to ourselves, we felt like kids in a lolly shop.
The Loch car-park was desolate as we booted up for first tracks down Imagine in ankle deep fluff. Then another down Race Gully and then a final down the Cornice and Lower Imagine. It sure felt weird skinning up a Snake Gully without a solitary punter.
Then over to Avalanche Gully which was looking sublime. I had two lines right down to 1500 before another skiing the ridge, which included a ripping stack after air off the lip.
A couple of tourists, Clive and June from Townsville, got the lot on a camera with a tele-lens so we asked them back to the chalet for lunch with us.
In the afternoon we drove up to The Cross and skated over to the summit before dropping successive lines into the gullies and chutes of Dargo Bowl, linking all the way around eventually to an exhausted last drop in to Gallows.
Our hopes for a hitch were high, but traffic this time of year is light and we ended up walking the 3 km back to the Cross.
A cracking day to end the season! (Check the link here for some footage)