North-eastern Victoria’s Mount Feathertop makes for an unforgettable adventure that delights the eyes, mind and appetite.
Mount Feathertop in Victoria’s north-east stands as a sentinel over the Bogong High Plains. This majestic peak can be readily reached via the Razorback, however conditions can turn treacherous at any time of the year. Ideally, the trip timing should be flexible to occur in benign conditions.
In late spring, after a mild winter, the 11-kilometre hike in from Diamantina Hut along the tilted metamorphosed sedimentary ridge is surrounded by alpine meadows. We pass by low stands of blizzard-sculpted snow gums, many regenerating post-bushfires with epicormic green shoots. The open plains and sheltered dips are covered in a variety of wildflowers including alpine star-bush, hoary sunray and alpine sundew. We were in solid company, with botanist Fiona Brockhoff explaining the distribution of the native flora in this montane zone.
The track across the ridge offers sweeping views of the Ovens Valley to the left and to the right, in the distant north-east, is Mount Kosciusko and the main range of the NSW Alps. The route out from the Great Alpine Road just prior to Mount Hotham is a good option for an overnight hike without tackling the gruelling hike in from Harrietville some 1200-vertical-metres below.
The esteemed Ferdinand von Mueller was the first non-Indigenous person to climb Mount Feathertop in 1853 and it must have been an inspiring revelation for such a passionate geographer and botanist. Today, the camping is amongst snow gums surrounding Federation Hut. Back in the 1920s and 30s, the intrepid Harrietville Alpine and Ski Club held ski carnivals on Little Mount Feathertop. There were many other bold forays through the winters of the 1930s, often during seasons of enormous snowfalls hindering access to isolated huts. These indomitable folk displayed incredible fortitude – or folly – in their quests to cross the high plains, often with disastrous results when the weather turned for the worse.
Our trip was blessed with a pre-summer heatwave in the valleys below so, thanks to a tip, we pitched camp on an exposed ridge away from other campers. This inspired decision provided sunset views of Mount Feathertop and the Fainters and at first light the following morning, Mount Jaitmathang emerged to the east with birdsong wafting up from the West Kiewa river valley way below Avalanche Gully.
In just over a day, we had witnessed Victoria’s Alps in all their vernal splendour. The late-afternoon 360-degree view from atop Feathertop was literally breathtaking. A hearty minestrone was enjoyed as the cirrus clouds turned various shades of ochre. This bucolic setting was complemented by the boiling of a billy at dawn, surely one of life’s simple pleasures. Very soon the four of us had formed a rhythm of pausing to study the surrounds; the detail of lichen, the etching of a trunk from winters of heavy snow or the fine orchid, hidden amongst kunzea heathland.
Yet the most serene setting was at the spring emanating from a depression in the ridge below the summit.
As we filled up water bottles prior to the descent, the variety of detail amongst snow daisies, carpet heath and alpine groundsel next to the burbling brook lulled us into a contented state.
We passed by the Melbourne University Mountain Club’s geodesic hut, comfortable that we were on the last leg. Below us, the low gums gave way to wooded alpine ash as the track snaked through open forest. And then we were on the North West Spur for the final six-kilometres to the valley floor. Whether it was the increasing humidity, incessant cicadas or the sheer and relentless steepness, we were all soon trudging wearily in silence. Hour after hour, the enervating downward slog continued with minimal conversation and maximum perspiration. Never has a plunge into a freezing mountain stream been so welcomed. A hike to Mount Feathertop can be approached by various routes to suit all levels but following the Razorback out and back is manageable for the less experienced.
Yet an unforeseen blizzard, twisted ankle or snake bite could rapidly disrupt the most thorough plans, so come prepared. The rewards are immense and strong bonds will be formed. Tread lightly and soak up the vistas of this iconic alpine region.