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 September 28th 2011
If you're looking for a mountain adventure, nearby slopes like Mt Donna Buang just won't cut it. At 1986 metres high, Mt Bogong is Victoria's tallest mountain, dwarfing all its rivals. The Staircase Spur Trail is the direct route up, beginning at the Mountain Creek Picnic Area and ending at the summit of Mt Bogong. It's the perfect day hike – not an afternoon hike, but the whole day – for a fit and healthy family. Staircase Spur is best tackled in summer, so unless you're confident in your ability to slog through snow and ice, wait until the November – May period to give it a go.
According to Parks Victoria, the 16 km walk and return will take about seven hours without a break. The actual time will vary: ten hours is a good time to leave yourself if you're taking children or plan to spend some time recovering at the summit, but if you're fit enough to jog the moderate sections you can probably do it in five. Weather conditions will, of course, alter how much time you'll need. Take a backpack with lots of water, some food and warm clothing (even in the middle of summer) in case the weather turns bad and you need to stay in one of the huts overnight. Other precautions might include completing a 'Trip Intention' form and leaving it at the Visitors Centre, or asking for specific advice from the National Parks Service Rangers.
In the original language, Mt Bogong roughly means "Big Fella" – and the name is dead on. Spend the night at Mt Beauty or Tawonga or, better still, camp in the free camping area (with bush toilets) at the Mountain Creek car park. The terrain is moderately steep and rocky, so make sure you've got good runners (in good weather conditions) or hiking boots (in worse conditions). Leave at sunrise from the car park, following the Mountain Creek fire trail. You'll go over several creek crossings, some with foot-bridges, for about two kilometres before the Staircase Spur trail branches off steeply uphill to your right. From there, you'll climb a moderate incline through alpine ash trees, and just as the track gets rather steep it'll flatten out at Bivouac Hut, the halfway point. Have some morning tea here to refresh yourself. There is sometimes water available at the hut, but don't rely on it - the tank could be empty or contaminated. If you're really struggling (or the kids are) consider turning back here.
It is the highest mountain in the state, after all.
After Bivouac Hut, the track keeps climbing and you'll get some majestic views of the north face of Mt Bogong. This is where the sense of isolation begins to hit - looking back the way you came, the drop is incredible. You'll hear loud thumping and rustling sounds in the path to either side: wallabies and kangaroos bounding away through the brush as they hear you approach. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a colourful lyrebird. When you reach about 1700m altitude, the track will abruptly break clear of the trees and make its way to Gorge Gap. You'll have no shelter from the wind here, so the apparent temperature drops very quickly on a cool day. Remember that temperature falls one degree centigrade every 100 vertical metres. The last part of the walk is a steep climb – nearly 200m of altitude in under a kilometre – which is the most exposed section, and treacherous in icy conditions. After that, you've almost made it.
A short 200m walk across the grassy summit plateau will take you to the summit cairn. Have lunch here among the iridescent alpine insects, lizards and wildflowers, some of which you won't see anywhere else in Victoria. If you have time you may wish to walk another three kilometres east to Cleve Cole Hut, or a kilometre and a half west to West Peak and views of Mt Beauty, before you attempt the descent.
If you choose a fine and mild day for the walk - long after the last snowfall, which can persist halfway down the mountain in winter - you should be able to defeat Staircase Spur. It's high adventure, far from civilization and will give you a walk to remember (if you forget for a moment, your sore legs and feet are bound to remind you). When you finish, you can impress your friends with stories about how you conquered Mt Bogong – but you may want to do it sitting down. In an ice bath.
This is indeed a fantastic walk, we did it a few years ago. Your cautions about the weather and footwear are spot on - even on a warm day, it can get quite cool once you break out of the forest and you definitely can't do it in sandals. The weather conditions can change quickly too. Great article!
By Anita Coia - senior reviewer Friday, 26th of October @ 09:40 pm