Over the 2016-2017 New Year’s weekend, my son, Zachary, and I headed over to explore the Jagungal Wilderness Area in Kosciuszko National Park, southern NSW, Australia.
We’d never been in this area before, so it was a chance to walk somewhere new and see some different sights.
It took us a little over four hours to get to the Round Mountain carpark, south of Cabramurra, (with a coffee stop in Tumut along the way).
The day was bright and sunny with no clouds in the sky whatsoever. It was forecast to be about 18 degrees C, so a great day for walking. At the altitude we were quickly feeling the bite of the sun on our necks, even though we had lathered ourselves liberally with sunscreen. Strangely, for such a remote spot, we met about 30 people on the first day of walking, and most of them wore long trousers and ligthweight long sleeved shirts with high collars. The long pants we can do without (too hot) but we will certainly adopt high necked collars and long sleeves for next time we are down this way, both to stop the sunburn and to ward off the blowflies that nagged us the whole trip.
We set off down Round Mountain Trail, then turned left onto Farm Ridge Trail, passing Round Mountain Hut a few kilometres into the walk. The trail headed down steadily to the Tumut River, which we crossed before climbing the steep hill up to Farm Ridge.On the way down to the river, we met a father and his son of about 8 or 10 yrs who had to camp beside the Tumut River for a night because recent heavy rain had made the river too deep for the little fellow to cross safely. We also met a party of 19 walkers, all aged above 60 years! One of their party, an 80 year old lady, had gotten up at 6am and must have made it back to the car park early because Zach and I didn’t see her pass us that morning.
Photo: Zach on Farm Ridge Trail heading down to the Tumut River
Farm Ridge was a pretty, fairly flat walk, but neither Zach nor I had much enthisiasm that first day, just trudging along fairly silently. Usually Zach talks the whole time on a bushwalk and walks ahead of me, but today he stayed with me and was quiet all day. He had stayed up late the night before and I suspect he was very tired!
We met Grey Mare Trail and turned westward, arriving at O’Keefe’s Hut with plenty of afternoon left. At the hut Nunzio and Becky from Melbourne had just arrived and settled in, so we decided to set up our tent to give them the hut to themselves for the night. Zach immediatley got into this sleeping bag and slept for a few minutes while I made dinner (chicken flavoured rice and beef jerky). We ate on the grass with Nunzio and Becky and shared some stories until it was time to get some sleep.
During the night nature called and I exited the tent to the most spectacular view of the Milky Way I have ever seen. There were just so many stars! I guess being at about 1600 metres elevation and having a crystal clear sky helped.
Photo: O’Keefe’s Hut
We were told the next day was supposed to bring some late rain and it started overcast and stayed that way all day, but no rain descended upon us. We made our way from O’Keefe’s Hut to the track leading up to Mount Jagungal, where we stowed our packs, grabbed water, food, rain and safety gear and made the ascent to the summit. By now Zach had perked up considerably and was oohing and aahing as the mountain grew larger before us. He likes climbing mountains. As soon as we crested Toolong Ridge the wind started to buffet us at between 30-50km/h, or so the forecast had claimed the day before. It wasn’t too bad though and a steady climb from there rewarded us with a fantastic 360 degree view of the Snowy Mountain region and beyond in all directions.
Photo: The view west from the summit of Mount Jagungal with Zach in the centre of shot
We thought we saw standing snow below us, but when we ventured closer it turned out to be a series of huge, pure white quartz boulders and outcrops.
After roaming around on the mountain for about an hour, we walked back down, picked up our packs and headed for Dershko’s Hut for the night. We nearly missed it though, because walking north along Round Mountain Trail, you don’t see the hut unless you look back over your shoulder after passing it. I had told Zach that the hut should be just where it was, but he said he though it was over the next hill from his reading of the map, so it was lucky I looked back just when I did. We’d stopped to watch a big fox jumping head first into the grass ahead of us trying to catch his dinner and it was then that I happened to look back, thinking surely the hut must be just behind us.
Photo: Dershko’s Hut
We had the hut to ourselves that night and it proved to be warm and snug, but as it was our first experience of sleeping in a hut, Zach observed that sleeping on a hard floor or bench in a hut is less comfortable than sleeping in a tent set up on grass. We both conceded though, that we would probably rather be in a hut in winter snow than in a tent. Zach, by the way, wanted to go to sleep at 4pm, the time we arrived a the hut. He slept for about an hour while I browsed through some books and magazines I found in the hut and then made us some dinner (this time oriental rice, paella and beef jerky).
Photo: Zach asleep at 4pm!
The stars were not so spectacular the second night, even though we were at the same altitude and the sky had cleared, but they were still mighty nice.
Next morning, I woke Zach at about 6am and he proceeded to pester me about getting a move on, “Come on Dad, we have to go!”
Breakfast of vanilla porridge was scoffed down, pots were cleaned, teeth were brushed, I had a wash from a bucket because by now I was getting pretty whiffy from accumulated sweat and general body odour and then hwe cleaned the hut before hefting our packs and starting for our final destination, the Round Mountain carpark, about 14km ahead of us down Round Mountain Trail.
Unfortunately for me, I though it would be a good idea for Zach to learn how to use the GPS himself, so I gave it to him for the day. After about 200 metres of walking he looked at the reading it gave and declared “6km per hour! Cool. I’m gonna try to walk that fast all the way!” Now, I am a slow walker. On our last walk from Wee Jasper to Tumut along the Hume and Hovell track, there were sections we did at 2km/hr. Admittedly, it was hillier than today’s walk, but nevertheless I was never going to be able to keep up with a 6km/hr pace, so Zach walked ahead of me for most of the way to the carpark and stopped when he had lost sight of me, waiting for me to catch up. “I waited 8 minutes for you to catch up dad!” “I waited 12 minutes for you to catch up dad! You get the picture.
Yep, Zach was on fire again. He was keen to get back to the carpark and head home. He averaged 5.5km/hr and did about 14.5km in a little over 2 1/2 hours of moving time. Actually we started at about 8:30am and made it to the carpark just after 12pm, so with stops it took us a little over 3 1/2 hours. I staretd to fade as I climbed the last two steep hills, but was able to keep up a pretty good pace for me all the same.
That final day the weather was gorgeous. Bright, sunny, no clouds. It was warm, but we had a cool breeze at our backs every now and then and I couldn’t resist the sun sparkling off the crystal clear water in the two or three larger streams we crossed, so I unhitched my pack and kneeled down to drink deeply of the icy, thirst-quenching water (I told Zach that was why my times went out from 8 minutes to 12 minutes, he he).
Photo: The crystal clear water of a stream on Grey Mare Track just before O’Keefe’s Hut
To sum up we had a great three days of walking. The Jagungal Wilderness is a really awesome area to walk in, especially after good rains when the creeks and streams are bubbling with fresh water. The route we took was actually fairly easy walking, when compared to other walks we’ve done. Most of the time you walk along ridgelines and plateaus and don’t venture down into the steep-sided valleys much at all. We will probably visit again and explore the southern part of this wilderness, where it seems a lot of the walking can be done over alpine grasslands and where there are more huts to discover. Tarn Bluff seems to be a good spot to visit as well as Kidman’s Hut, Valentine’s Hut and Mawson’s Hut, so we will plan a walk sometime in the next few years if we can.