6 Invaluable Lessons From a Mountain Athlete’s Trek to Mt Feathertop Alice Winton-Keirl October 17, 2018 All Do you see yourself as an aspiring mountain athlete, ascending over 2000 meters overcoming harsh weather conditions? Or you may already be an experienced mountaineer seeking to conquer a new challenge? No matter what your adventure radar is, an adventurous Paddy Pallin staff member will take you through the practical lessons and unexpected challenges faced when climbing Mount Feathertop – Victoria’s second highest mountain located in the Australian Alps. Explore our 6 easily digestible lessons from climbing Mount Feathertop that can be easily applied to most outdoor adventure activities where Mother Nature acts differently than predicted! Do you see yourself as an aspiring mountain athlete, ascending over 2000 meters overcoming harsh weather conditions? Or you may already be an experienced mountaineer seeking to conquer a new challenge? No matter what your adventure radar is, an adventurous Paddy Pallin staff member will take you through the practical lessons and unexpected challenges faced when climbing Mount Feathertop – Victoria’s second highest mountain located in the Australian Alps. Explore our 6 easily digestible lessons from climbing Mount Feathertop that can be easily applied to most outdoor adventure activities where Mother Nature acts differently than predicted! Pulling up to park on the side of the road in the pitch dark at 1 am and proceeding to throw our hiking packs on for a mountain adventure, had me thinking two things: “I would rather be sleeping” and “what have we forgotten?” Our original plan was to drive from Melbourne after clocking out on a Friday, and make it to Harrietville where we would park and begin our mountain adventure to the North West spur of Mount Feathertop, Victoria’s second highest peak. We estimated that the hike up would take us 4-6 hours depending on the rain and wind forecast as well as how tired our bodies were. We planned to sleep in the MUMC Memorial Hut, summit the peak on the Saturday and return to the hut, then hike out Sunday. Piece of cake! Or so it seemed. As I stood beside the car attaching my snowshoes and trekking poles to my hiking pack, I thought about the fact that despite being a seasoned mountain athlete and adventuring across the globe, this was my first time on this mountain in my own backyard…and I was about to take it on in the dark. The forecast was predicted to get chilly (minus 6 plus wind chill). I thought about where I had packed the gear I would likely need to access first, what the trail ahead would have in store for us, and the daunting fact that to even gain access to that trail we had a creek-crossing first. The first section of this hike is a cruise; it is part road walking, part undulating ferny trail. It’s the kind of start to a trip where you can walk four abreast with a spring in your step. Shortly after, your springing steps come to a halt as you reach the creek. There’s no bridge. It’s like crossing a border into another world; you know everything is going to be different from this point on. Annie Holland crossing Stony Creek. Snowshoes ready for action on the upcoming terrain! All photos by Alice Winton. The water in Stony Creek was moving fast, but luckily not as high as expected. Some strategically placed hiking poles coupled with keen-footed rock hopping got us across the creek without one wet foot. The trail onwards from the creek is remarkably different. Blackberries that look deliciously tempting and vibrant green bracken reach across the single-lane trail that pushed us toward the base of the spur. We cross “Mount Annoying”, lovingly titled by the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club, as nearly all of the 100m elevation gain post creek-crossing, is forfeited as we descend down to meet the creek again. Crossing a dilapidated bridge, we begin our climb in earnest. The hike up the North West spur of Mt. Feathertop has acquired a reputation in the last few years. In 2013 bushfires spread across 1,000 hectares on the mountain, and as a result the regrowth is formidable! The mountain climb onto the spur includes a series of switch-backs with a 250m elevation gain. It’s known as “The Wall”, and when you’re on it, it’s pretty clear why. The path, if you can even call it that, is covered with bark debris, rocks that are awaiting their down-hill escape, and bush overgrowth preventing you from gaining any real stability. This is the gnarliest of Australian bushes. It was at this point that it seemed almost comical that we had snowshoes strapped to our packs. To top it off, my trusty hiking pole got caught in the debris on a switch-back turn, and while my balance was on the move, I stacked it. Hard. It seems to be that when you have a full pack on, your regular agility is nowhere to be found. My hiking mates called out as they rushed over, weighed-down and in slow-motion to see if I was injured. Part of hiking in a group is being responsible for each other. Making sure everyone is fit to continue. I was okay – a few scratches – shaken, not stirred. I untangled myself, and my pole, and we continued up. As we left the switch-backs behind us and started our scrub-bash up the spur, the temperature began to drop, and as we passed a single fallen tree in a sea of re-growth, we realised we needed to stop for a re-energising snack. Some Clif bars, bags of scroggin, and some homemade date slice went down a treat! It started to rain. Waterproof shells andgloves came out, and we set off again with the rain beating down around us bringing the sleeping bush to life in the dark. Before we knew it the crunch of snow underfoot began as the rain ceased. The snow-covered trail hiding the stringy bark and sticks, and the snow-hung leaves of the new growth creating a winter wonderland that sparkled in our head torches. We’ll let you in on the inside scoop – if you want to know more about the best waterproof jackets and fabrics that got us through mayhem,check out our climbing expert’s blog. The fresh snow beneath us began to show its depth as our weight with full packs pushed us through the frozen crust, every other footfall sinking to mid-shin. It was slow going as the snow pushed under our overpants and into our hiking boots. With one trekking pole a foot deep in the snow – the basket completely swallowed – and the opposite foot sunk nearly up to the knee, we threw the idea back to the only group member who had hiked the trail before, and suggested that it was probably time to get the snowshoes on. With the wind whipping through the now thinned out trees, a response was shouted back that there were only 200 metres left and to not bother. Slightly frustrated we pushed on again. As the weather jostled us we clambered our way onwards and upwards through the re-growth slapping us with face-fulls of fresh snow. The tree-line began to break; we were then greeted with stinging winds, and heavier snow. Ascending Mount Feathertop at night. It was as cold, dark, and blurry as this photo! What felt like at least 45 minutes later, out we came out of our sleeping ground, and up ahead was the MUMC Memorial Hut. Another experienced mountain climber in my group claimed “200m to go!”, leaving everyone stunned, with a smirk he further remarked, “Yeah, 200m up!”. It was 6am, we were tired and exhausted, and our packs had at least 5 cms of snow piled on top. With sunrise still 90 minutes away, the unanimous decision was to head back to bed. MUMC is one of the few huts in the Victorian high country without a fireplace, which meant that the temperature inside was around the same as outside, minus the wind-chill. Our body heat began to drop since we had stopped walking, the next challenge was getting out of wet clothes, into dry replacements and into the one of best sleeping bags on the Australian market. As I took off my waterproof shell and my insulated jacket, I was shocked to see that the front of my base layer near my belly button had a palm-sized blood stain! My first thought was I must have cut myself when I fell into the brush on the switch-backs. Then taking my wool socks off I noticed my ankle covered in blood too! I thought I must have done quite a job of it. To my shock, I found the culprit when taking my sock off completely. A pair of blood sucking leeches fell onto my sleeping mat – stuck frozen solid to my bare skin. As we woke, you couldn’t tell that dawn had actually broken. A complete whiteout. The snow continued to fall but the wind had ceased, the hut was enveloped. MUMC Memorial Hut on Mount Feathertop, with actual view, and boots. With a great pair of Icebreaker merino thermals, a Patagonia down jacket, some Icebreaker merino hut pants, and a new pair of insulated RAB Hut Booties, sitting out the weather in the hut became a very comfortable option. The hut booties even made the 50m trip to the toilet a few times, staying dry and warm with the elasticated ankle so no snow could hitch a ride inside. The weather didn’t clear. Someone else in the hut was going to attempt a week-long hike south to Mount Buller starting the next day, and we all discussed their trip plan and gave our two cents on where the trip might come into trouble. Our summit day passed us by while the white outside didn’t move. On the Sunday morning we discovered two things: one, that of the twelve or so pairs of boots in the entrance, only two pairs weren’t frozen stiff. Mine and one other were the only pairs of full-grain leather boots, and though they were a bit chilly on the foot, only the laces were icy. Thank goodness for my Scarpa Deltas. And secondly, there was not a cloud in the sky! The weather had moved off in the night and given us a stunning bluebird morning. While some boots still sat on the hut steps thawing out, the solo hiker left for the Razorback traverse onto the next mountain, and we packed up our gear. With home calling us, we enjoyed our re-hydrated breakfast, cleaned up the hut to a respectable standard, and strapped on our snowshoes for our descent, in t-shirts. Vic High Country from Mount Feathertop. What an adventure! A few lessons learnt over this short trip: Preparedness – the right gear really can make a trip (and equally so, the wrong gear can break a trip – definitely taking gaiters next time!). Communication is key in making better decisions (should have put the snowshoes on when the terrain required it). No matter how long you spend in the bush, leeches will always be something we don’t look forward to. The destination is not as important to get to as being able to get home! Change the plans if necessary – we didn’t make it to the summit that weekend, but we had a great time in the outdoors, full of challenges and good laughs. And we can always go back! (That solo hiker also pulled out a couple of days later due to bad weather.) Snowshoeing is tough in the Australian bush on the downhill (stacked it, again) Night hiking is great! And the North West spur is faaaaaaar steeper in the daylight. You can’t be discouraged if you can’t see what you’re up against! (make sure to always be well equipped with proper lighting and safety gear) If you’re lucky enough to be starting or ending your day above the clouds, stop and take a picture. Our backyard is incredible! Has one of your adventures ever turned out slightly different than planned? Have you ever had to turn around before reaching the summit? Share your outdoor adventure stories with us using the hashtags #ExperienceIsEverything and #PaddyPallin or tag us @paddy_pallin. #ExperienceIsEverything | #PaddyPallin Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.