Falls Creek Day-Walks

Every few years for a while, Barry, a member of the Canberra Bushwalking Club to which we belong, has organised a week of high country walking between Christmas and New Year in the Victorian Alps. Previously they have been at Hotham, and a description of these walks is given on this site. This time however, Barry based the trip at Falls Creek which gives access to the landscapes of the Bogong High Plains and their associated ridges and valleys. Thus, the fair Nello and I joined other club members once again for an end-of-year walkfest.

On top of the continent - at 1840m, Mt McKay is the highest
publicly driveable point in Australia

View over the Falls Creek area
from Mt McKay

Each day groups of walkers set out from our very comfortable ski lodge on walks of varying length and degree of difficulty to explore this very different region of Australia's high country. Descriptions of some of these are given below. We would like to thank Barry for once again organising a great week of mountain walking and to our fellow walkers for their company on the hikes and conviviality in the lodge (few will forget New Year's Eve 2015). Thanks to to Barry, Terence, Quentin and Lois, who led the walks that the Fair Nello and I enjoyed. We hope that, if you read on, you will enjoy them too.

Long road to Jaithmathang (20.5 km - 720m ascent - 710m descent))

The original plan for this walk was to drive to Pretty Valley Pondage and do a 20km walk out to Mts Fainter South and North, which offered expansive views out over the Kiewa Valley. However, as Robert Burns said, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley", and so it was today. In fact, we somehow missed the turn-off to Pretty Valley, then convinced ourselves that a locked gate blocked the road we should be on and decided to set out on foot from that point. Clearly, the Fainters were now out of range, but the closer summit of Jaithmathang was reachable from here. It turned out to be a lovely walk, if not the one we planned.

Morning mists on Rocky Valley Lake

The cloud begins to lift

The weather at the start though was bitterly cold; our group of eight strode briskly along the gravel road around the northern shore of Rocky Valley Lake. Beneath scudding grey clouds, the icy wind turned the water choppy as mists rose from its surface – an ominous beauty. Still, we didn't complain, as we had arrived yesterday in pouring rain and thick fog. Moreover, shafts of sunlight pierced the cloud, offering promise of improving conditions.

Heading cross country west of Rocky Valley

A mountain rivulet

The road led us quickly between dark lake water and the grassy slopes of the ski-fields to arrive at the end of a narrow reach backed by a heath-covered bowl. The route to access road lay dead ahead, up the slope and over the scrubby ridge – a pleasant and not too steep climb, through wet grassy tussock and lemon-scented shrubs, that brought us to the road just south of Mt McKay.

Reaching the ridge above Rocky Valley and its lake

View west from the ridge over the high country

Billy buttons at Pretty Valley

From here it was an easy stroll down the gravel road, past an encampment of riding enthusiasts and their horses, past several quarantined outbreaks of invasive hawkweed, and down to the causeway and carpark at Pretty Valley Pondage – this was where we should have started. By now the sun had dispersed the cloud and the wind, though still icy, had abated somewhat – it was a good spot for a break and it was very obvious why they called this place Pretty Valley.

Pretty Valley Pondage from the east

The road up to the High Plain

Setting off again, we crossed the causeway to climb gradually for two kilometres up the Fainter Fire Track through this open and almost treeless landscape (the few copses of snow gum comprised mainly the bleached white trunks of trees burnt in the 2003 fires ringed by low slow-growing lignotuber regrowth). At the top of a wide saddle, we stopped to admire the spectacular views of the rocky ridge of Jaithmathang stretching north towards the bluff face of the Fainters. Then it was a long and gentle descent down to the Tawonga Huts at the head of the creek system below Jaithmathang.

Heading across the High Plain towards Jaithmathang and the Fainters

The setting was superb, with several tin huts and an old stockyard scattered in the trees at the edge of grassy clearing with views down the valley towards Mt Bogong – a log in the sun beckoned and we accepted, sitting down to spend a long and enjoyable lunch break.

The main Tawonga Hut

The Tawonga stockyards

Old hut at Tawonga

During lunch, a few of the group decide to return along the road while the remainder pushed on to the summit of Jaithmathang – it was a win for the climbers, as this group would be able to pick the cars up and drive to Pretty Valley, thus saving us a seven kilometre road walk. The map we were using showed that the track to Jaithmathang started back up the fire-trail and followed a ridge across to its summit, so we dutifully retraced our steps to the point indicated.

View down Tawonga Creek to Mt Bogong

Watching a brumby watching us

The only trouble was no foot track existed, so we headed out across the grassy heath of the ridge, which in fact gave us the opportunity to see a small mob of brumbies higher up the slope. It also gave us the opportunity to meet up with the well-formed track leading up from Tawonga Huts (more of that later). This track led us quickly up towards the ridge-line, sidling along rocky slope for a while, before climbing up a boggy grass clearing to crest the boulder-covered summit of Jaithmathang.

Mt Buffalo in the distance

Looking north to the Fainters

On top of Jaithmathang


The views from the top were superb, with the steep-walled slopes of Feathertop directly across the valley from us and the pale blue silhouette of Mt Buffalo in the distance. To the south-east, the undulating open tops of the Bogong High Plain stretched across the horizon. The silver-fringed ridges and spurs showed the extent of the fires over a decade ago – recovery in the high country is a slow process.


View east to the steep slopes of Feathertop

The receding blue ridge lies of the Victorian Alps

The rocky roof of Jaithmathang Ridge

Rock gardens of Jaithmathang

After lingering for a while, we followed the track down, all the way to Tawonga Huts to discover it began at a marker not 50m from where we had lunch! The moral is, never to trust an old map, particularly one which still refers to Jaithmathang by its former and very incorrect name of Niggerhead. Still, we wouldn't have spotted the brumbies had we followed the new route up.

Looking back towards the Bogong High Plains

A stark reminder of the 2003 bush fires

Pretty Valley Pondage from the west

Descent into Pretty Valley

From our second visit to Tawonga huts, it was but a steady stroll up and down through the open High Plains landscape to reach the Pretty Valley carpark – time for a brief relax before the welcome sight of our walking companions arriving in the cars. It wasn't the walk we had planned, but it was a great introduction to the high country of Bogong.

North to Mt Nelse (17 km - 470m ascent - 470m descent)

After our first day it was good to find ourselves at the correct start point for our second walk – this time heading in the opposite direction towards Mt Bogong, Victoria's highest peak. It was also good to feel the rays of the morning sun, as the weather continued to improve. Our target was Mt Nelse, one of several summits in the rounded ranges between Falls Creek and Bogong. Setting out from the trail head on the shore of Rocky River Lake, we followed a well-formed track that gently took us up on to Heathy Spur. As we climbed the views of the lake below became more expansive above the heathy scrub for which the spur was named.

The climb up Heathy Spur begins

View across the heath to Rocky Valley Lake

The terrain became more flat and open at the headwaters of an unnamed creek, before crossing a ridge and descending to join the Big River fire trail. This led us around the head waters of Nelse Creek, its long valley draining off to the west. Ahead, to the north, lay the bulky dome of Mt Nelse.

Looking down the valley of Nelse Creek
Heading towards the dome of Mt Nelse

The blue ridge mountains of the Victorian Alps

Before reaching the base of Mt Nelse, we turned westward to follow a side-track down into a tree-lined valley to visit Johnston Hut. This well-maintained hut is run by a cross-country ski club and it was a good spot for morning tea beneath the shade of the snow gums.

The track to Johnson Hut

Johnson Hut in its tranquil setting

Instead of retracing our steps, we decided to do a bit of cross-country ourselves and make a direct assault on the summit of Mt Nelse. First crossing the boggy creek bed, we climbed up through a band of snow gums, burnt but recovering, to reach the open heath covered slopes. Looking up, the slopes shimmered silver and white, with fields of alpine daisies in full-bloom. We climbed up through them, a beautiful white carpet, with a spattering of pink and yellow from the other wild daisies.

Nello in the daisies

On the flat summit of Mt Nelse

Ascent of Mt Nelse

White everlasting daisies

View over the daisy field and beyond

Near the summit, the daisies were replaced by clumps of yellow-centred white everlastings – the top of Mt Nelse was a floral wonderland and, as a bonus, from the flattish summit we had a sweeping panorama of the high plains and mountains beyond, successive ridgelines fading into the blue.

Everlastings above Rocky Valley Lake

Fire-silvered slopes of an alpine valley

To the north lay the flattish summits of Nelse's northern and western tops and, as it was so pleasant on top of Mt Nelse, we decided to continue on, wandering along the rounded, flower-speckled ridge to reach Mt Nelse North, where we had lunch on the rocks beneath its trig. From here the northern horizon was dominated by the long dark profile of Mt Bogong itself.

Crossing the saddle between Nelse and Nelse North

At the summit of Nelse North

Panorama from the top of Mt Nelse North

Heading back, we descended Nelse North to follow the Big River fire trail southwards. Before, rejoining our outward track, we made a short detour, heading down the slope to visit Edmonson Hut, set in a grove of snow gums in the upper catchment of Nelse Creek. From the hut, we followed an access path out to rejoin the fire trail.

Edmonson Hut

Peregrine falcon

On the Big River Fire Trail

The headwaters of Watchbed Creek

Remembering 2003

This would now be our route to walk's end, as it crossed the top of Heathy Spur and followed the course of Watchbed Creek back down to the lake, a few kilometres from where we set out and where our cars awaited, following a pre-walk car-shuffle. This walk had shown a different face of the Bogong area and our appreciation of the region was growing.

Marum Point Circuit (12 km - 230m ascent - 230m descent)

Aqueducts are an important feature of the landscape around Falls Creek as they trap the run-off from the surrounding ridges and divert it into Rocky Valley Reservoir. Many walks make use of the flat paths that follow their courses, some heading off to huts, others to high points and others simply allow the walker to enjoy a stroll through the bush to the accompaniment of cool running water. Our walk for the day was one that used the aqueduct as the beginning and end of a climb up to Marum Point, a flat-topped hill to the south-east of Falls Creek.

Our group of 12 set off from Langford Gap to follow the smooth grassy track beside the Langford East Aqueduct, as it wound its way around the south-east facing spurs. It was very pleasant walking next to this stream of crystal clear water as it rippled its way down the narrow channel, sometimes flowing quietly, sometimes tinkling softly in the shadow of the thick bush cover on these steep slopes, even though bone-bleached tree trunks provided a constant reminder of the bushfires that devastated this area in 2003.

Setting out on Langford East Aqueduct with its .....

... wide wetland ....

.... and small pondages

In a couple of places the slope flattened to allow the water to spread out into reed-lined ponds. Views opened up to the south of the silvery fringes of burnt snow-gum forest to distant grassy plains and hills. We were clearly not the only ones to appreciate this, as lots of mountain runners were pounding the track, preparing for the famed Falls Creek to Hotham ultramarathon in a few days time.

View along the aqueduct

Looking south towards the Omeo Plains

Eventually we reached a point where one of the natural water courses tumbled more directly down the slope - it was a good spot for a break in the shade, as the day was heating up beneath a blue sky. It was also the place to leave the aqueduct and commence a steady climb northwards up the gravel Marum Point fire trail. This followed high up the western slope of the creek system, as the landscape left the regenerating snow-gum forest and opened out into a broad heath-covered catchment.

Upper creek catchment

Scattered trees on Marum Point

As the track curved around, the slopes of Marum Point also turned to a low snow grass and heath cover - it was time to go off-course and commence the assault of the peak itself, picking our way through the shin-high shrubbery. Peak is probably not the word for Marum Point and, in no time, we reached the flattish top. It was a lovely spot, with scattered snow-gums, carpets of yellow melaleuca heath, clusters of snow daisies and scatterings of billy-buttons and everlastings. Framed by the bleached skeletal trunks of burnt snow-gums, expansive views could be had of distant valleys to the south, the distant ridge of Hotham Heights ski resort and Mt Hotham to the west and the grassy dome of Mt Nelse (where we had walked the previous day) to the north.

Looking south from the top of Marum Point

It was lunch time and the group spread out to find small patches of shade from the regenerating snow-gum lignotubers, a slight cool breeze adding a degree of comfort to this tranquil spot. Lunch over, we headed westward, descending gently along a long spur. Ahead, the dark blue waters of Rocky Valley Lake were framed by the distant silhouettes of Feathertop and Mt McKay. Following the clearest line, we picked our way down through grassy clearings, patches of snow-gums and spongy sphagnum bogs to reach the Australian Alpine Walking Track.

View over Rocky Valley Lake with Mt Feathertop in the distance

The AAWT winds for over 600 km through the high country of South-eastern Australia. We followed it for a kilometre as it descended though some lovely snow-gum forest, rich with a dense cover of mint-bush, pea-flower and other shrubs. The regenerating trees here were already a few metres tall, but it will still be decades before the canopy is restored in its full glory - for the time we can but imagine it.

Recovering understory on the lower slopes

A surviving grove of snow gums

The bridge over Langford East Aqueduct

Homeward bound

Suddenly we emerged from the forest back at the aqueduct, where a covered log bridge provided access to the track on the far side (a good leap could have also sufficed). It was time for one more pleasant aqueduct path wander as we retraced our steps back to Langford Gap and the end of the walk.

Stroll on the High Plains (13 km - 140m ascent - 140m descent)

You can't come to this region without heading out on to the High Plain itself, and this was the day for the fair Nello and I. With seven others from the club, we drove out to the locked gate on the Cope Saddle Management Track and set out walking. It was a different sort of day, the wind had shifted to the north-west and felt almost warm and a watery sun tried to break through the veil of high thin clouds - good conditions for a high country walk.

Heading out along the Cope Saddle Track

The flat and boggy valley of Cope Creek


Cope Creek sphagnum bog

Following the snow poles

The gravel track led us down the eastern flank of treeless Pretty Valley, surrounded by the uplands of the High Plain. The valley floor was a lush green wetland, through which mountain stream water of Cope Creek percolated to create a series of ponds, miniature billabongs and winding ribbons of water.


Meanders of Cope Creek

Crossing the High Plain grasslands

Crossing the stream, the track led us gradually upward to Cope Saddle and its pretty red-roofed hut of the same name.

Cope Saddle Hut

At this point, we turned westward to follow a worn footpath along the long line of snow poles used to guide winter skiers across the featureless landscape. It climbed steadily up, through a grassy heathland scattered with daisies and other wildflowers, heading in the direction of Mt Jim, a slight snow-gum crowned bump on the horizon, famed for creating magnetic anomalies that throw compasses astray.

Mt Jim (not the biggest peak in the world)

Nearing the top of Mt Bundara

Mt Jim was not our target though, nor was the lone black brumby that watched us from afar. At Pole 397, we left the track to pick our way across the heath and up the gentle slope of Mount Bundara. On the High Plain, there are several points given the honorific "Mount" - a slight overstatement of the fact that they rise a little above the rolling surface of plain itself.

A superb old snow-gum

The dry bones of burnt trees

The top was notable for a couple of reasons - one being the presence of a small grove of ancient and unburnt snow-gums, their gnarled and patterned trunks holding up a full canopy of foliage; an unusual site since 2003. The other was the presence no more than 100 m away of another grove of snow gums, so badly burnt in 2003 that there was no regeneration - the bleached white bones of their dead trunks twisted into modern sculptural forms; nature as artist.

Bogong High Plains landscape

Portrait of a burnt snow gum

Billy buttons on the hillside

Descending the southern slope, we found ourselves at the edge of the High Plain, as the deep valley of High Plains Creek opened before us and mountains faded blue into the distance. The higher slope was covered with clumps of silver-leafed, yellow-flowered billy buttons, while golden buttercups appeared in boggier lower slopes. The sun was also slowly winning the day, as the veil of high cloud became thinner.

Descent from Mt Bundara

Looking across to Mt Cope

From the edge of the High Plain to the world beyond

The Cope West Aqueduct

Before reaching the forest of the lower slopes, we reached the Cope West Aqueduct draining the water from Mount Bundara to Pretty Valley Pondage. The wide track next to it was our route onwards, leading us westwards to Ryder's Yards, where the Ryder family grazed cattle in the high country until 2003. It was the end of a way of life for the cattlemen who brought their herds up here in summer and built many of the huts, but it was also a boon for the delicate alpine vegetation. It is not contradictory to appreciate the history without regretting its demise.

The tin hut there was a good place for lunch as well as reflection, especially as the bushflies which came out with the sun, preferred to stay outside.


The hut at Ryder's Yards

A reed-filled section of aqueduct

Panorama of the Bogong High Plains and Mt McKay

Leaving the hut, we followed the aqueduct further, as it wound its way around the open headwaters of a south-draining creek system to bring us back to Cope Saddle Hut. We had completed a circuit of Mount Bundara and could now retrace our outbound route across the wide flat grasslands of Pretty Valley to the car. It had been a great way to experience the openness and solitude of this curiously flattened landscape on the roof of Australia.

The meandering course of Cope Creek once more

Granite outcrop

Our last walk is not described here - it was down to the coffee shop via the Falls Creek aqueduct on New Year's Day. After dancing in the New Year at "the lodge that rocked", only a few hardy souls ventured out for a long walk in the mountains. The Fair Nello and I were not amongst them - A successful 2016 to all!