Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published June 7th 2012
As the highest mountain in the state, Mt Bogong offers some of the most majestic views in Victoria. Mt Bogong's summit is a large plateau covered in alpine grass and wildflowers, spread over easy inclines of awesome beauty.
From the Mt Bogong Plateau, you can look down on the tops of Feathertop, Hotham, Falls Creek and Buller from a dizzyingly high vantage point. The West Peak of Mt Bogong is 1965m above sea level, and offers breathtaking views of Mt Beauty and Mt Little Bogong far below. There is a striking contrast between precipitous drops off the edge of the plateau and the plateau itself – sharp rocks and sheer cliff faces compared to long, wavy grass and iridescent alpine insects.
How do you get to the Mt Bogong Plateau? Staircase Spur is the direct route up, although it takes at least six hours for a round trip and is a steep walk in parts. Leave early in the morning to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy what's up there and to come back down before dark. The plateau, often shrouded in dense cloud, provides no shelter from the elements and is no place to be at night. In winter, a whiteout or – worse still – a blizzard can be life threatening.
Just above the tree-line on Staircase Spur you'll notice the Gadsden memorial, a cairn and plaque dedicated to three skiers who died in 1943, two men and one woman. They were climbing to the old Summit hut (long since burnt down), but when visibility deteriorated they turned off the track too early, leaving their skis behind to move more easily. Lost and exhausted, the two men sat down and began to take small sips of brandy, hoping it would warm them up. Instead it lowered their body temperature even further. The Summit hut they were looking for was just a hundred metres away from where their bodies were found – in clear conditions, only a couple of minutes' walk.
The woman, Georgine Gadsden, pressed on, walking some distance away from the other two skiers. She began to feel hot and dizzy – burning up from hypothermia, in fact – and took her gloves off. Collapsing onto a sheet of solid ice, she slid into a deep ravine. Her body was discovered long after the bodies of the other two men.
Walk just below the east end of the plateau to Cleve Cole Hut, built to memorialize Cleve Cole's death, crossing the Bogong High Plains in the winter of 1936. A very experienced cross country skier, he was trying with two friends to cross the plateau from the south and descend Staircase Spur when driving snow, wind and fog hit. Unable to see or find his way in the treacherously flat landscape, his party hunkered down in a snow cave to wait out the blizzard. After two days they began to run out of food, and after four they decided to make a last-ditch attempt to descend.
Leaving almost everything behind – including skis – they crossed the plateau and walked downhill, linking arms to stay together. Look around and imagine traversing the plateau in zero visibility, having to check your compass every fifteen steps to make sure you're not going in circles. Unfortunately, they realised too late that they had descended into the wrong valley, and by that point Cleve Cole had wrenched his ankle and could not retrace his steps. The strongest member of the party hiked twenty-seven kilometres to fetch help from the nearest town, but was too late – by the time rescuers arrived, Cleve Cole was dying of hypothermia.
Below the summit plateau are mountain creeks, bubbling up crystal clear and fresh water. The creeks are one of the main reasons why stockmen used to drive their cattle up here before mountain grazing was prohibited. Instead of buying bottled water from 'mountain streams', taste the real thing.
While the extensive Mt Bogong Plateau is hard to get to, the reward is worth it: the sense of remoteness far from civilization, between rock and sky. You and your family will remember it for the rest of your lives.