In mid-July 2016, after 30 cm of snow had fallen that week, my wife Margie and I decided to go snow camping in the Alpine National Park. On the Saturday morning we loaded our back packs, snow shoes and gear into the Toyota Prado and headed for The Bluff. The Bluff, at 1714 metres, is a spectacular rocky plateau situated in the Victorian high country east of Mansfield. I had not been there for two years since doing an overnight walk towards Mt Howitt with Joe, my youngest son (See: Towards Mt Howitt – Winter 2014). I was looking forward to this trip with Margie as it would be her first snow camp.
Our start was delayed on Saturday due to Margie’s work commitment so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon when we hit the intersection at Eight Mile Gap (10 klm past Sheepyard Flat/Howqua River). Because of the recent dumping of snow a number of drivers had decided to not risk driving further and had parked their cars at Eight Mile (1092 m). We fitted our snow chains to the Prado, and continued on towards Refrigerator Gap. After a few kilometres we came across a Subaru which had pulled over due to the depth of snow and low ground clearance. We then passed more vehicles parked with similar clearance issues. They consisted of XC skiers and a group from the Victorian Climbing Club on a mountaineering training weekend.
We were intending to drive as far as the seasonally closed gate on Bluff Link Track below Bluff Hut, however we were forced to park at Refrigerator Gap carpark (1260 metres) due to the amount of snow and difficult track conditions. Only one serious 4W driver with a modified vehicle had risked to travel beyond this point. Stopping at the Gap carpark meant an additional 6 kilometres walk. By heading off at 4 PM we weren’t going to get far before dark. We were originally hoping to walk to Mt Lovick and camp but the day was getting on. We now decided to walk about 5.5 kms before camping for the night and then walking to the Bluff Hut in the morning.
Fortunately it was a full moon night with clear sky so it proved light enough to continue our trek after sunset without the aid of a torch. The walking was relatively easy. In the early evening we set up our tent at 1280m under the light of the full moon, about 500m before the Bluff link Track gate.
The next morning we walked to the gate and a further two kilometres to the Bluff hut (1500m). The weather was perfect with a bright sunny sky. Our plan was to walk to Mount Eadley Stony and either return via the way we had come, or continue onto The Bluff and do a circuit back to the car via the Refrigerator Gap walking track.
At the hut we encountered three other skiers who had spent the entire previous day travelling via The Buff and Refrigerator Gap walking track. They said it was a difficult climb up the steep track to The Bluff from the Gap car park and advised that a walk down the face would be considerably risky in these current conditions. The skiers had decided to go back to their car via the Bluff Link Track. They convinced us to do the same. Not aiming to spend another night out we decided to explore the nearby Mount Eadley Stoney and return back the way we had come. The 1 kilometre walk up to the top of Eadley Stoney from the hut was most pleasurable with breath-taking views at the top (1662 metres). We could see the snow-capped Mt Howitt to the north, Mt Buller to the west and Mt Darling to the east.
Even with good MSR Evo Ascent shoes we found ourselves sinking deep into the extremely soft powder snow. It was a different experience to walking on the more granular and crusty snow of the previous 2014 trip. Obviously it was a wise decision to not continue along the loop circuit as it would have been very slow going and challenging particularly during the descent down to the Gap carpark.
The walk back to the car from Eadley Stoney was 9 kilometres. In addition to the 3.5 kilometres walked earlier that morning we did a healthy 12.5 kms of snow shoe walking for the day. After having lunch at the Bluff Hut on the way down we arrived back at the car at about 5 PM. We were the last to leave the mountain.
During the previous week 30 cm of snow had fallen. The recorded snow depth was 55 cm (based on records at nearby Mt Buller). This compared to 109 cm at the time of our 2014 trip. Although the snow was only half the depth compared to my previous trip it was more difficult to traverse as it was very powdery and had not consolidated from the thawing and freezing process. Overall it was a great weekend and we look forward to returning one day soon to this wonderful part of the Victorian Alps.