Visiting : Gantner Hut, Crosscut Saw, Mt Howitt
Distance : 20km
When : Sunday 4th December 2016, 11:00am @ Howitt carpark
(Note: This is another solo
ride walk from my backlog. Bear with me as I’m writing this well after the fact and my memory may be hazy.)
Vague plans make for vague days sometimes. I had plenty of ideas for this ride/walk and a big list of things to see and do – Mt Howitt, The Crosscut Saw, Zeka Spur, Wonangatta Valley. I had so many ideas, in fact, that I wasn’t sure how to whittle them down into something do-able. As a result, I found myself barreling down the Princes Freeway at 7am, still throwing ideas around my head like I had all the time in the world to plan this imminent adventure.
Anyway, here’s how to do an overnight bikepacking trip with 11 hours driving, 5 hours hiking, no bike riding and the most comfortable camping spot you’ll ever find (assuming your own bed is comfortable).
My rough plan going into this ride went something like :
Drive to Licola
Ride up to Howitt Carpark
Do an out’n’back hike to Mt Howitt
Ride down Zeka Spur
Bivvy in Wonangatta Valley
Ride back to Licola
Except I was very short on details and I kept changing things even as I was driving out there.
Drive to Licola? Why not get a bit closer to the action and drive to Wellington Bridge?
I mean, if you’re gonna drive to Wellington Bridge you may as well drive to Arbuckle Junction, right? Get straight to the good bit.
But, starting at Arbuckle Junction is not much different from starting at Howitt Carpark. If you’re gonna get straight to the good bit you may as well get right up there, y’know?
So, by the time I rolled down the hill into Licola – four hours driving under the belt already – I just slapped up the indicator and peeled right onto Tamboritha Road. Didn’t even slow down.
I had a poke around Wellington Bridge. The climb up Tamboritha Road went quickly. I stopped for the obligatory tourist shot at Bennison Lookout, kept rolling through Arbuckle Junction and soon I was on Howitt Road.
Howitt road was dry and 2WD friendly but I took it pretty carefully and slowed way down for some rocks and ruts and generally used all the available road to avoid some massive potholes.
Soon enough I’d got “straight to the good bit”.
I parked up in Howitt Carpark, left bike in car, repacked my backpack for a day hike (left my bivvy gear in car) and started hiking out into the bush.
It was hot. Beautiful. I was loving it.
I figured I’d do my Mt Howitt out’n’back, grab my bike from the car and then roll down Zeka Spur to find a bivvy spot in Wonangata Valley that night. Yep, that was my plan.
I arrived at Vallejo Gantner Hut. I’d seen enough pictures of it in the research phase of this adventure, it was good to finally see it for real.
The famous “loo with a view” did not disappoint.
I had a good poke around and found Macalister Springs.
And then it was out to Mt Howitt.
I was increasingly gobsmacked by the terrain.
Singletrack hiking, views of Howitt and the Crosscut Saw getting better and better with every step.
I saw a tiny patch of snow clinging tenaciously to the backside of Mt Howitt. Took me a while to convince myself that it was indeed snow but, yeah, it must have been. This was in December, by the way.
But it was the Crosscut Saw that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. I had to go and check it out.
My face was fair breaking in two. So good being out in that wild place.
I lapped it up. Each eager step was a treat. Seeing the trail snaking off into the distance along that crazy ridge, I just wanted to be on it. Up there! There it goes! Oh man, I’ll be right up there soon! Let’s go!
I took so many photos along here. My mental map was in full update mode, translating all the internet pictures, topo maps, descriptions, all the various bits of information I’d collected in my head over the years of reading about this place and reconciling them with what I was seeing with my eyes.
Right, that’s Mount Howitt and that must be Mt Speculation at the far end of the Crosscut Saw. Which would make that thing up there Mt Buggery.
Buller way over to the left. And on the right there’s The Razor and The Viking. And down there, the Terrible Hollow. So good…
I stopped for a breather on the last high point before Mt Buggery. Did the maths and decided I’d better start heading back. I promised myself I’d be back to do the whole Crosscut Saw walk one day.
So many more photos.
I retraced my steps and, instead of heading directly back to Mac Springs, I took a right and headed up to Mt Howitt for a look at the summit. How could I not?
It was windy. Above treeline. I could see far. It was great.
I heard a melancholy bird somewhere in the distance.
Stopped to let it all sink in.
I love this place.
I love being here.
Ok, let’s keep walking.
I started heading purposefully back to Mac Springs. Oh! Better make a call while I’ve got phone reception.
I called home, talked to Rae. Max was on his iPad and didn’t want to talk to me. I was buzzing from my hike – from being in such an amazing place – pretty proud of myself up here, in the bush, seein’ stuff, doin’ stuff, bein’ an outdoors guy. No-one on the phone really cared though. I could just hear Rae doing stuff round the house while she was talking to me. Could hear the kids on their iPads in the background. The usual familiar home sounds.
It made me feel melancholy.
I said goodnight to Rae and the kids, didn’t know if I’d have mobile reception until the morning. Started hiking back past Gantner hut and back towards Howitt Carpark.
No more photos. Just walking.
And the rhythm of the walking and the mindlessness of it allowed my mind to wander and soon I was lost in thought. Lost in feeling. Turning it all over in my mind.
Why am I here? What is it that I’m doing? I’m going to sleep in the dirt tonight while my family sleeps at home.
It felt increasingly strange that I was going to camp out here by myself.
Like I was walking to the other side of the room and turning my back on them, like, “I’ll just go over here for a bit, don’t follow me.”
Shouldn’t they be here with me?! Shouldn’t I be showing them this stuff, instead of calling them at home and saying, “Yeah, it’s really great out here, you should see this, man!”
The whole thing just felt weird and wrong this time. Instead of feeling brave and adventurous, I just felt foolish and lonely.
By the time I arrived back at Howitt Carpark my mind was made up. Fuck camping! If I gunned it, I could be home tonight, before Rae went to bed. Spend the day with the kids tomorrow. I don’t need to sleep out here by myself to prove how awesome I am. Pffft. Just drive.
And so I did.
Rain was coming in and I drove fast and safe to get off the mountain and back down to Licola before the road got muddy. I made good time. Happy with my decision. Drove fast and safe all the way home.
It’s a long drive. Princes Highway at night, in the rain, after a long day. Ugh. I really don’t like that drive. Stay awake. Stay safe. Just get home.
The kids were in bed when I did finally get home. Rae was happy to see me.
I was happy to be home.
And that was that. My overnight bikepacking extravaganza was… over.
It didn’t really go to plan but then, it serves me right for not having a plan to begin with.
I had a great time seeing the Crosscut Saw and I’ll definitely be back to see it again so I’ll chalk this one up as a successful recon mission. And a lesson on the importance of having a solid plan. And a touchstone for when I’m planning future adventures that may be a lot more fun if I take a few more little adventurers with me for company.