Mt Bogong Conquestathon: up the Staircase Spur

bogong medal

As I mentioned last week, my friends and I were off to climb Mt Bogong. Well, we did it. It took a (very) long time, but it was a team effort and not only did we make it up the mountain, but we made it down too- which is no mean feat, when you consider that you reach the summit just 8 km into the 22 km round trip! This was my third ascent of the mountain in five months, having camped overnight on the summit the first time and done the full loop in one day the second, and each ascent (and descent!) has presented its own challenges and obstacles. In the lead-up to each of my climbs I’ve tried to do some research about the climb to share with others, but there’s not a whole lot out there for walkers doing the Staircase Spur – Eskdale Spur loop, so I thought I’d do a bit of a write-up here.

As a way of background, the Mt Bogong Conquestathon is an annual event run by the Mt Beauty Lions Club over the Labour Day long weekend. I’d love to link you to a website, but unfortunately that particular Lions Club is somewhat behind the times. To register to participate you simply turn up on the morning of the event, $20 in hand, and they’ll register you on the spot.

We started our walk just after 6:30 am, when light was only just beginning to emerge. The first 2 km of the walk are an easy undulating path along a 4WD track, with the occasional walking path diverging to cross footbridges. It’s a great warm-up, and you can power along it in about 20 minutes. The 2 km is over before you know it, and you find yourself at the start of the 6 km Staircase Spur. This spur is names the Staircase not for the hundreds (thousands?) of steps you walk up on your way to the summit, but rather the ‘stairs’ that make up the topography of the spur. The first half of the Staircase is nasty. It starts off ok, and you find yourself lulled into a false sense of security. Sure it’s steep, but it’s not too bad! Oh, did I mention that along the 6 km of the staircase spur you’ll be rising 1.5 km in height?!!

Around a quarter of the way (45 minutes at a reasonable trudging pace) there’s a giant log that’s fallen down and been cut into several pieces in a relatively flat small clearing. If you’re hiking in a group that’s split in two, this is a good place to re-group and catch your breathe. It’s also a good place to remind yourself to eat something, and drink more water. From this point the track gets harder. There’s very steep sections that are also slippery with dust and dry leaf cover, and it’s here that your legs will start to feel the burn a little (if they haven’t already!!). After an hour or so of this, you’ll reach the halfway point of the climb- Bivouac Hut.

I know some people camp at Bivouac Hut, but I can’t see the point- you’re only a few hours into the climb, and you’re asked not to camp in the hut itself anyway. Even if you’re not camping there, though, the hut makes a great rest point. There’s plenty of shade and flat ground, and a very well maintained drop-toilet (carry your own toilet paper!). Walking into the clearing on Sunday was a lovely experience- there would have been 60 or so people all resting and preparing to continue on their walk, but there was no more than a quiet murmur in the air. Although we were sharing the mountain with 240 other people, there was still plenty of space to enjoy the environment in which we were hiking. Everyone was super respectful.

After the hut, you enter what I think is the most beautiful part of the hike. Immediately after leaving the hut you find yourself surrounded my snowgums, and the terrain changes dramatically- we’ve now entered the ‘staircase’ section of Staircase spur. There are four ‘stairs’ altogether (I reckon, anyway). The first I would class as medium difficulty- you’re walking up well formed stairs of varying sizes most of the way, so it’s a constant uphill, but the length is not too long. At the top of each ‘stair’ the terrain flattens out for 10 or so metres, so you’ve got time to catch your breath. These are often the places with the best views, too. ‘Stair’ number 2 is what I would call the ‘arsehole stair’ (excuse my language). It’s not massively steep, but it just keeps going and going and going. You think you’re at the top- but you’re not!!! Stair 3 is much like Stair 1, but Stair 4 is where the magic happens- you can see the ridge you’re about to climb, but magically halfway up you round a corner and realise that the path is actually going to take you around the rest of the hill, not over it. It’s here that you get wonderful views of Eskdale Spur, which you’ll be walking down, and you can also see Michel Hut.

From this point you walk for about a kilometre on a relatively flat track through above-the-snowline terrain. It’s beautiful here, especially in summer when the flowers are out. Enjoy it while you can though, because the final climb before the summit’s a bit of a killer. Whether it be genuinely physically hard, or whether it’s just the fact that you’ve been climbing for four or so hours and your brain’s getting tired, I’m not sure. But either way, the combination of mental and physical toughness means many people call this the toughest part of the climb. I’m not sure I agree with them- if you take your time, pause for breath and a look at the view often, and remember to truly appreciate where you are, then the final 20-30 minutes fly by. From there it’s an easy 200 metre stroll along the ridge to the top.

bogong summitThe summit of Mt Bogong’s not exactly what you’d expect. Instead of the top of the tallest mountain in Victoria, it just kind of feels like you’re in the middle of a very highly elevated field. That’s not to say there’s not a great view though- on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt Kosciuzko (I had to google how to spell that).

The walk down Eskdale Spur starts out well. The terrain is rocky and reasonably steep but the views are spectacular. Once you hit Michel’s Hut and the treeline, however, it goes downhill somewhat. By this stage you’ll have been walking for approximately 45 minutes (if you stopped to take some photos along the way), and you’ve got somewhere between 45 – 70 minutes left of downhill depending on how confident you are on your feet. And believe me, you need to be confident. The Eskdale Spur is steep, slippery, and the surroundings can become monotonous after a while. Take care to stay mentally alert- it’s when you forget to concentrate that you find yourself flat on your backside!!

Make it to the bottom of the spur and you’ll find yourself at Camp Creek car park. I think this car park is closed off most of the year, and is only accessible by 4WD track, so chances are at this point you’ve got somewhere around 7 km to go (the definite distance is debatable). First up is a solid 700 m or so of downhill through tree fern-laden bush. It’s a nice change in scenery, but there’s a lot of scrub over the track so keep looking down. Once you’ve hit the bottom of that hill you’re on the home stretch- it’s all undulating 4WD track from now on. Personally, the first time I did this loop in a day, I found this stretch the hardest part. I concentrated so hard on the climb and the ascent that I left practically nothing in the tank, and that was a mistake.

Speaking of the tank, make sure you carry plenty of food and water. I got through 5.5 litres of water on Sunday, and that included refilling in the creek somewhere on the final stretch.

This walk is spectacular, and if you’re a bushwalker you’ve got to give it a go. If you’re not, then the Conquestathon’s a great place to start- but make sure you get plenty of practice km under your feet first!!!

bogong view

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