The Ascent of Mount Jagungal
An account of a four-day trip from Round Mountain through Derschko's, Grey Mare, over Jagungal, O'Keefe's, Farm Ridge and back to Round Mountain
Thursday 2nd November
We left Wagga Wagga at around 4.30 in Charles' Forester, and drove south via Tumbarumba, the Elliott Way and Cabramatta. It was a cool Thursday evening, and we prepared ourselves for the short walk in to Round Mountain Hut with slightly less enthusiasm than we might normally have had.
Round Mountain hut is so close to the road that I, for one, had been prepared to find it ramshackle and vandalised. The entry in 'Huts of the High Country' describes it in less than flattering terms, too; so the four of us were surprised to discover that the hut was neat and in good order, set in a lawn-like clearing with great views of Jajungal and the valleys surrounding it.
Thomas discovered a leech attached to his leg after going down to the river for water in joggers and shorts. I was a bit surprised, never having come across leeches before, and not in the least suspecting that you would find them up here in the mountains.
Two of us, Andrew Blake and myself, pitched tents; the other two opted to sleep inside. It rained pretty heavily in the night, but dawn was clear and reasonably fine, with patches of low cloud scudding around the valley below us.
Friday 3rd November
We were away by around eight o'clock, back up the steep slope to the Round Mountain Fire Trail. None of us had walked this track before, and though the map (we were using the 1:50,000 Khancoban (8525-i & iv)) showed a pretty easy, undulating walk, you can never be absolutely sure.
The first section of the walk, perhaps as much as three kilometers, is through the dead trees that predominate in this area and all the way to Cabramatta. Was it disease or a fire? I vaguely remember asking someone in Cabramatta some years ago, and being told it was the result of a fire, but I'm not certain of that.
We also started to find the blue worms on the track. There appear to be two versions, the dark blue one, and the dark blue with a lighter blue line down the back. We found these worms everywhere during the next three days.
We also found two brilliant yellow ones, one on the flank of Round Mountain and a second one on the other side of the Tumut river, on the Farm Ridge Fire Trail, on the way back on Sunday. These were smaller than the blue ones, perhaps 4 cm long. The blue ones would have been about 8 cm long.
As we progressed south, the weather improved and Jagungal loomed larger on our left hand side.
The peaks kept disappearing behind cloud, but we were getting a pretty good idea of the terrain on the northern side, which we thought would help us later. It didn't.
I kept regretting that I hadn't brought a tripod. Charles is on the left, Andrew in the middle and Thomas on the right.
A few kilometers on we came to the first bridge, and we stopped there for a drink. Andrew, one of his feet uncomfortable, found a couple more leeches squashed under his toes.
With the weather improving and getting on more quickly than we had anticipated, we were in pretty good spirits. Most of us were carrying more than we should have been, pretty common amongst occasional walkers. Too much food, too many changes of clothing. Too many gadgets, too, between the four of us. Who was carrying 90% of them?
We met Greg Layman shortly afterwards. Obviously very experienced, he seemed to have a very great knowledge of the mountains. He gave us several route notes and a copy of the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club map of the Round Mountain area and the Northern approaches to Mount Jagungal. We talked for quite some time. Greg had been out alone for nearly a week, and was returning to meet his lift out. Thanks for your help, Greg.
Not too long afterwards we met a trio of English people, a bloke and two women. I'm not quite sure if we were guessing or whether they told us that they were part of the British Olympic/Paralympic team, and checking out the mountains before going home. They were exceedingly lightly equipped, each carrying only a very small daypack. When I asked them about this, they suggested that our packs were full of luxuries. Tents? No they weren't carrying them. I don't think they were carrying much other than food, and then not too much of that, either.
On the other hand, they were moving like the wind, Lycra and joggers and British flags more evident than anything else.
They told us that if we were headed for Grey Mare hut we'd probably meet the Dutchman, who was in the mountains for three weeks, was carrying two rucksacks and had a radio. They had spent the previous night with him in O'Keefe's hut.
We checked out the ruined hut at 214027, finding few remains other than stacked corrugated iron, but also the peculiar growth of grasses, again lawn-like amongst the more natural snow grasses of the plains. Then we went on to Derschko's hut for lunch.
I didn't take a photo of Derschko's. I had been looking forward to seeing it, imagining it as being something special. The 'Huts' book certainly suggests it, and I had heard before that it should be seen. But I found it sterile and unappealing. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't see it like that if the weather had been bad, or if I had been ski-touring. It has double-glazed windows and lots of insulation, so in a blizzard it would be more than welcome. But other than that I found that after a quick look I lost interest. One point to make, here: if you were heading north looking for the hut you just wouldn't see it unless you deliberately looked back frequently. Missing a hut seems hilarious when the weather is good. It can kill you if the weather is bad.
After lunch we continued south. An easy road. Slight undulations but nothing too difficult. We were anxious to see if we could find the beginning of the Strawberry Hill Fire Trail, because we wanted to use that to approach Jagungal on the following day. None of us were too keen on an uphill bush-bash with full packs, and although it didn't look far we wanted to keep bush bashing to a minimum. (Talk to someone who was there about the Ink Bottle climb of the year before!)
After fording the tributary of the Tooma at 218967, we climbed what looked like an easy slope to the supposed start of the Strawberry Hill Fire Trail; the four of us agreed afterwards that it was a short killer slope. I don't really know why: it's easy to rush at them without breaking your stride if you aren't paying attention, and you very soon get exhausted. Anyway, we had a very long rest just there, under the pretext of discovering the start of the fire trail, which we didn't.
Twenty something kilometers with a full pack is fine when you do it regularly, though even then it's not so bright on the first day; we keep meaning to walk more regularly, but every time we go out we bite off more than we should chew on the first real day. So we were all flagging by then. Oh, we were keeping up the pace, and still moving along quite well. But really, we were all knackered. With the possible exception of Charles, I suppose.
I know that by the time we had spotted Grey Mare hut in the distance, I was just about ready to drop. But we still had several more kilometers and a ford to cross before then. We dragged ourselves on.
As we approached the hut up the long slope from Back Flat Creek, a fox suddenly broke cover and ran hell for leather up the track towards the hut, bounding and leaping with speed and agility. A couple of hundred yards from the hut he broke right and disappeared into the scrub of the hillside.
Grey Mare hut seemed to us to be another good one. Clean, well constructed, reasonably air-tight but sadly without the renowned murals. Anyway, Hans the Dutchman was there, and very interesting he proved to be. Was there anywhere he hadn't been?
Andrew got interested in the mine, and cleared the entrance to the first adit. Poking his head into the hole he had cleared, he could see that it was about thirty feet long. He covered it carefully again, lest children, picnicking with careless parents, should become lost and trapped in the mine.
Just after dusk the storm that had been threatening broke, and in the first rainfall Charles and I scurried to get into the tiny two-man tent we were sharing. Andrew got into his, too, though Thomas chose to sleep in the hut. The rain intensity increased until Charles and I gave up trying to talk. The noise was greater than any I had endured in a tent. The storm went on for some time, but I fell asleep before it ended.
Saturday 4th November, 2000
I was awoken by cries from Charles that it had snowed in the night. It wasn't quite light by then, and though we could see the whiteness everywhere it became quite clear that it was, in fact, hail from the evening before. No wonder it had made such a din.
We were quite late away that day, each of us, I think, secretly anxious about having overtaxed ourselves the previous day. However, by the time we had crossed the Back Flat Creek all three of us were feeling strong, and had decided to take the Strawberry Hill Fire Trail rather than approaching Jagungal, packless, from the north.
The route is, in fact, quite easy, though the fire trail is invisible until you top the hill. We bush-bashed straight up the side of Strumbo Hill, which wasn't too bad, but unnecessary: the best route would clearly be beside the stream immediately to the south of Strumbo... easy and virtually no bush to bash through. Aim to emerge on the saddle at 231954. Incidentally, we were half way up Strumbo before it dawned upon Andrew that his walking stick was also a monopod. From that point on, I was able to include myself in the pictures.
From there it is an easyish stroll around the contours to where we picked up the indistinct remains of the trail exactly where it disappears on the map at 243955. Follow the trail on up the slight rise, wheel left towards the saddle that you'll see there, and Jangungal will appear three kilometers ahead, looking brilliant and very impressive from that angle:
We added two kilometers to our distance by keeping to the contours rather than dipping into the valley ahead. We stopped for lunch in a hollow in the snow grass overlooking expansive sphagnum bogs, and I bored everyone witless with a rambling account of my Grandfather.
Two hours later we were climbing the steep slope of Jagungal. It was pretty hard going, and we stopped for breath every five minutes or so. But before we knew it, we had scaled the worst and had only four-hundred meters to go to the saddle. Once there we dropped our packs and climbed the peak unencumbered... it felt like we could fly.
Behind us you can see the snow-covered
main range, god knows how many kilometers away.
The concrete pillar (trig point?) is not constructed
on the very highest point of Jagungal, but
maybe it's the more convenient one.
At the top we toasted our absent friends, particularly Artie, in a fine whiskey, which I can tell you tasted much better up there than at lower altitudes. Away to the west we could see Wheeler's hut, an old friend; and to the South we could still see Grey Mare hut, quite clear if you knew where to look.
So down we went, and though we thought that a bit of bush bashing wouldn't hurt going down, we were very tired by the time we reached the rain gauge at the bottom something like an hour and a half, maybe more, later. Those who have climbed it from the north claim that the track up is fairly easy to see, but going down we saw no sign of a track.
From there it was an easy 2 kilometers to O'Keefe's, though once again the last five hundred meters felt like about three ks. When we reached O'Keefe's, we were greeted by four students from ?? Uni. Great young fellows, who, without being asked (we wouldn't have asked) got all their gear out of the hut and took themselves off to their tents, where they stayed until morning. They warned us about possum, about rats (the hut book was full of warnings) and they saved the day by offering loo paper... we had run out that morning.
I slept that night in the hut, as did Thomas. The other two pitched tents. A good night for me... slept like a log.
Sunday 5th November
Next morning we were out again quite late. Feeling good, we rolled along at quite a rate, and forked left at Farm Ridge hut ruin. A terrific spot. Someone once had great dreams of a tourist lodge there, or something similar. If the area had developed in that way, it would have been a hit. I'm glad it didn't work out though.
On the other hand, it's a shame that the hut was left to just fall down. A good basalt chimney and pretty good cattle yards are pretty much all that remain.
Climbing the ridge to the top it started raining, and we had a cold downpour for the next hour or so. The views of the Tumut Valley were terrific.
We dropped down into the valley to make the Tumut river crossing as the rain stopped. The plain was just like the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. The river was wide, but easy to wade, though as cold as hell. Never mind, there was a walloping great hill to climb to warm us up. Charles and Thomas forged ahead, Andrew and I staggered up behind. Thomas almost came a cropper when he slipped on a rock while crossing a tiny rivulet, risking a broken ankle that he managed to avoid, and we arrived thankfully at Round Mountain hut again by about 2 p.m..
We rested, had lunch (I picked up a leech after sitting on a sawn log in shorts... obviously lots of them around there after rain), and eventually struggled tiredly up the last hill back to the car.
We enjoyed a light beer each, still cold under the floor of the Forester. We stopped briefly in Tumbarumba for fuel, and were home by seven p.m..
A great trip.
To the National Perks and Goodlife Department who gave us free use of their backyard
To the Kosciuszko Huts Association who do such a brilliant job... don't weaken.
To our absent friends... you missed a great walk and a lovely drop on top, Artie.
To those we met along the way.
And finally to our families who made it possible for us to get away: absence makes the heart grow fonder.