Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Cobberas

On the Garrett-Aitken Bleak Scale, you wouldn't bother with anything less than a 5.
Less than 5 is strolling around the Dove Lake duckboards in perfect weather with a selfie-stick thinking you're having a 'wilderness experience' - like last weekend (however most wives are intolerant of anything more than a 5). 
If one returns at all from an 11 ('Peak Bleak') on the other hand, it will usually be minus an appendage, organ, or small child.
Whilst an 8 or 9 can be amazing life-affirming experiences, these days Phil and myself are perhaps most comfortable with 6s and 7s, as we are often accompanied by minors with smaller Bleak-reserves.  
6 and above will always involve weather that will confirm oneself to have a pulse, and a 7 will always involve varying degrees of coldness, wetness, hunger, tiredness and pain.

A 7 is the perfect introduction of kids to Bleak.

Last time I attempted the Cobberas was a day after The Hunt for White October. The weather had turned ugly at Hotham, and JP and I wondered whether the Cobberas mountains might lie in a rain shadow from traditional cold fronts. They did, but we got hopelessly lost as it had been a big winter and many of the trail markers had vanished. In the end we gave up, but I have never stopped thinking of getting back for another shot - especially on skis.   

The Cobberas Plateau itself is a prominent massif which forms the headwaters of the Murray on the Victorian-NSW boarder. At 1813m, the highest peak nearly squeezes into Victoria's top 10. The area is extremely remote, but within good striking distance from Dinner Plain if the Limestone Road is in good condition.
Bleak conditions were predicted last weekend, so Phil was thrilled. Since it was my first solo camping trip with my 6 year old boy, I was more circumspect and suggested the Cobberas for the theorised rain shadow effect. It sure looked like it was going to be pretty bloody awful everywhere else. For our last few Victorian autumn trips, Phil has brought the first winter snow with him from Byron, and it looked like this year would be no exception.
On Thursday afternoon I put Balti on Uber over to my work and we then headed out to Tullamarine to pick up Phil and Pandan who'd flown down from Byron, before heading up the Hume.
We had dinner in Milawa and a red wine in front of the fire at DP.

With Saturday night and Sunday looking like the bleakest period, we decided to get going early Friday morning, stopping only in Omeo for food. 
With lots of rain a possibility (and because my car is crap), we decided to walk in from Limestone Road even though the Playgrounds track was open for summer.
There had been a significant improvement in trail markings since last time, with several new signs, a well-defined path made even more so by the brumbies, and frequent orange diamonds.  

It was a pleasant 13 km 4 hour climb to the summit through beautiful and occasionally ancient snow gums. The geology is different to the rest of the Vic Alps, with magnificent granite boulders in pinks and oranges. The view from the summit trig is spectacular with Bogong to the west and the Pilot and Main Range to the north west. 
It was also evident that a healthy dose of bleak was en route from the west. 

We set up camp to the lee of the summit in a pretty glade of snow gums at 1800m. Although it would team rain all night, there is no water to be found after the upper Buchan, so we were on rations. Lucky for us that we had some wine. We did some exploring for enticing ski lines, and a bit of bouldering on the granite tors.

The main reason kids love camping is that every other normal rule gets turned on its head.
Get wet and dirty? Sure.
Climb stuff? Go for it.
Eat high calorie junk? As much as you like!
Play with fire? Knock yourself out...

Soon the weather came in with fierce squalls and general moistness. Phil got to work cooking his stellar Rogan Josh, which he did mostly recumbent. 

As darkness descended, we hit the sack at the late hour of 6pm. The tent got hammered all night by a vengeful and petulant winter enforced to endure such a warm autumn. 
We awoke to alpine mist and general saturation.

With the Eagle's Nest repeater at Thredbo less than 40 km away, Balti could facetime maman, and I could get work done and keep an eye on the footy scores, which subtracted from the wilderness experience somewhat.
We could also check the weather, and could see that if what we were experiencing constituted a rain shadow, then we were in a whole lot of trouble if we chose to stay another night or walk the rest of the Cobberas Plateau.
And so we elected to pull the plug and retreat to the less bleak confines of Dinner Plain via the Golden Age at Omeo for a beer and a hamburger.  

A good effort by Baz and his little legs, I have told him that the next time will be on skis! Whilst a day tour from DP would be possible with a foot of snow down to 1300m, an overnighter is perhaps the better option to explore this exceptional range.

The storm that came in Sunday morning vindicated our decision, and I was a little concerned that the chalet would either leak or be damaged. After the worst of the rain had passed we headed down to the Victoria for a fish in what had now turned to sleet. The fish were obviously as impressed by Bleak-8 as we were and we only caught a couple of them for lunch.
I had a quick run to Room With a View and got pounded by sago snow which settled for a first winter dusting. Here's hoping for more bleak to come.