The elusive Cairn Creek Hut,
Mt Bogong 2018
Finding the Opera House Hut has been Michelle’s dream since 2016. She did all the planning, bought the maps and prepared all the food herself; so it is only natural that I, Mickey should be the one to tell this story.
I had nobly left Michelle for two weeks of rehearsals and gigging in Sydney, and the National Folk Festival in Canberra with my beloved Squeezebox Trio. We were a huge hit, and some young women even told us they’d started a cover band after seeing us perform in 2015! But enough about how marvelous we were (which we were), the point I’d like to impress upon you is how I had boldly let Michelle do all the work, while enjoying the rockstar life – only to be whisked away after our final performance to Mt. Kosciuszko.
We drove from Canberra to Thredbo on Easter Monday and jumped straight onto the chairlift that allows you to skip 550m of elevation. We needed the boost as we had bigger fish to fry the next day and little remaining light - it wouldn’t be Mickey & Michelle if we didn’t start a hike racing sundown and the inevitable ‘head torch walk’ into camp.
This was the first time I had been back to Kosciuszko since my first hike on the AAWT and I’m pleased to tell you this time I didn’t feel like vomiting. The first day wasn’t too long, 6kms till we went off the track to Wilkinson’s Creek for an early sleep before the big adventure really began.
Next morning and it’s Michelle’s birthday! Hooray, I gave her some socks my mum knitted and we celebrated with a lavish breakfast of oats and chia…well at least she liked the socks. But we were going to need our energy if we were to find the fabled Opera-House, named so because it cost more per square meter to build than the actual one in Sydney. It was built by the SMA in 1966 to manage water aqueducts, accessible only by a tunnel from Siren Song or helicopter. The tunnel is now prohibited by the Snowy Hydro so there’s no track to it (now you see why Michelle likes it..)
There are supposedly three ways to find the hut:
We chose the rock scramble.
We were nervous because the man Mish had bought the maps from warned her off trying saying it was dangerous and difficult, but on the other hand the weather report looked great and she had heaps of birthday luck, so it felt like pretty even odds.
We set off early that morning, passed the absolutely beautiful lake Albina (which I had really wanted to get close to after seeing on our first hike), and down LNC. What can I say about that rock scramble, except that it was probably my favourite time hiking! I don’t have particularly long legs, nor am I very tall, so while I am not genetically predisposed to flying up a mountain, I wildly excel at rock scrambling and I loved every minute of it. Jumping from rock to rock, using the downhill momentum and my balance to make huge combinations of rocks for lengthy gains. All the while being surrounded by the ongoing waterfall really draws back to the platformer video-games of my childhood. I could’ve done it all day, hell, we did! (It was slow going at 0.5km an hour!)
I’ve attached a video so you can get an idea of the pace but please do know I am showing off for the camera, moving faster and taking riskier leaps. That being said in the whole 7 hours neither of us fell in the water once, or had any sort of (serious) accident.
All good things come to an end, or a waterfall, in this case the latter. Unfortunately that meant a one hour scrub-bash, that would’ve been a 45 minute scrub bash if we had’ve started on the correct side of the waterfall. The great thing about scrub-bashing is absolutely nothing, actually I take that back; the great thing about scrub-bashing is the gnarly cuts you get on your arms and knees. Chicks dig grazed knees!
After a short descent down the final dam, we made it to the Opera House in all its glory. Not only did it have a mattress, but also a fireplace! We made a pizza and slept the sleep of the victorious that night.
The next morning we had to climb back up the 1000 meters we’d descended the previous day. It was much less friendly on the knees, but it was still absolutely beautiful. After 3 hours we had had enough and decided to hike up the highest mountain we could see till we found a sealed path again. This might sound foolish but it actually worked perfectly. It saved us 4-5 hours of the next days hike and meant we could camp on Anton Anderson Saddle, marking the 2nd time in my life I have been the highest person asleep in Australia.
Day 3: Consett Stephens. Last time I hiked this pass I succumbed to fantastic knee pain and nearly to hypothermia. This time I was a lot fitter, more experienced and better prepared right? Wrong! It still beat the hell out of me. The beautiful scenery was instantly devoured by the swirling mists and the battering winds. However the elevated and exposed landscape does allow for some brief pockets of reception, and it was here we discovered that Michelle’s weather report that predicted sunny days and balmy weather in Kosciuszko was actually for Kosice in Slovakia (apparently you should write the whole name of the mountain into google..) Instead we should be expecting days of -6 degrees celcius with snow and rain.
This meant that we had to cut our hike short if we were going to avoid getting frozen. After a brief bed-repair job at Whites River hut, we made our way to the charming Horse Camp hut, which is now my favourite hut of all time. We desperately wanted a fire, but didn’t have kindling, so with MacGyver as inspiration we blew up a lighter in the fireplace and soon enough we had fallen asleep reading a book in our cosy, warm hut.
The final day was a doosy! Two separate rangers drove by to warn us that the snow was a-coming and it really put the fear of god into us. We walked out onto the highway and hitched a couple of kms with two lovely men named Matt and Dave, then we were back into the belting winds on a race against time to get to the Thredbo chairlift before it closed at 4:30pm. It meant a 25km day with very short breaks, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare!...only to discover the chairlift hadn’t been running at all that day because of the intense weather. Fortunately there was a maintenance man at the top who had just finished his shift and gave us a ride down the mountain in time for a shower and a pub meal!
Mt. Bogong is Victoria’s highest mountain at 1986m. It doesn’t have the classic mountain point like Feathertop but instead flattens out on top with a gentle ascent to the summit (once you’ve done all the crazy climbing and made it to Hell Gap mind you). The views go on for miles, mountain range after mountain range. When hiking the AAWT on a clear day you can see more than a week ahead at this point, with Kosciuszko sitting on the horizon some 150km away.
We drove into Camp Creek Gap and took Eskdale spur up to Bogong the next day. From this side there’s 3 ways to approach Mt Bogong. Here they are in order of most painful to least:
I’ve descended the Staircase before (it’s long, it’s steep) and would be interested in walking up it, but we had a long day ahead and needed to reach Mt. Bogong early if we were to have any chance of finding Cairn Creek hut again. So we chose Eskdale spur which has a couple of very steep parts but overall pretty good. We took a breather at my namesake hut ‘Michell’ which is about halfway, and then continued onto Mt. Bogong making good time; which we needed as we’d done our usual and not left the earliest. Quick break at the summit and then headed west down Quartz Ridge to the Cairn Creek turn off.
Cairn Creek hut was the first ‘elusive hut’ I wanted to find back in 2016. I managed it with the help of my friend Chris but it wasn’t easy - it’s only 2km from the main path but it took us 2hrs (have you ever walked 1km an hour because of terrain? It’s not easy). The hut was built by the SEC in 1952 to measure the results of a diversion intended for Big River, but the tunnel was never built.
We were losing light and I wasn’t feeling as confident. The hut is at a junction of two rivers so if you come down at the right spot you should be able to see this, unfortunately this time we’d come down too far to the west and I wasn’t sure if we needed to go east or west, all I could see was one river. It was nearly 6pm at this point and getting close to head torch time. We decided to head east and scrambled up the bank for 100m. I was feeling very uncertain and went to turn around when Mickey saw the hut in front of us (probably because I move out of the way!). We then had to cross two rivers to get to it at about 6.15pm. Luckily neither was swollen and we only had to take off our shorts.
Cairn Creek isn’t exactly the most amazing hut but you feel pretty good when you find it. It’s small with a little heater that has a smoking problem. There’s charming historical items in there including a first aid kit with ointments, bottles, a kidney bowl and instruction manual. There’s also various farming equipment, enamel bowels and a bunk bed you would not want to sleep on. The log book had a number of entries since 2016 but not many and the book goes back 20 years - in popular huts log books can change every year.
The 2nd day we made the hellish climb outta there, just getting to the main track before it started pouring. We took Timms Spur and walked through Big river with our shoes on because let’s face it, we were already wet. Luckily we had a nice ascent to keep us warm and the weather blew over soon after. We stayed at the lovely Ropers Hut that night. It burned down in 2003 and was reconstructed in 2008 using traditional techniques. It’s a very nice hut.
The 3rd day was only 9km, but within that you descend 800m, cross Big River and ascend straight back up 800m! We left at a sprightly 12pm and rocked up to our destination, Cleve Cole, surprisingly late. Cleve Cole hut is a very well loved hut, I’m sure every other hut is extremely jealous of the attention it gets. Built in 1937 as a memorial to Cleve Cole, (who died skiing Mt Bogong after getting trapped in weather) this hut is maintained by the Bogong Club and has over 100 members.
There’re bunks, toilets, a table, heater, sink, running water, stove (for members) and even a rudimentary shower. Unbeknown to us the Bogong club had an Easter holiday working bee on. I’ve never seen so many people cramped into a hut. Everyone was having a good time eating and drinking. They very nicely made space for us and offered the stove (they put the stove in because when there’re lots of people it’s dangerous to have so much cooking gear around). The locked room for members was open and random luxury items like guitars and sheet music came out. (Some poor person carried those up that spur…)
Of course it soon became apparent that we were musicians and inevitably the guitar got passed over. Luckily Mickey can play guitar because I certainly can’t and for some reason there wasn’t a harp in the locked room. We settled on the Beatles book (of course) and a sing-a-long began. Mickey is a left-handed musician and it is to my great amusement that people pass him right handed instruments expecting him to play them - I can tell you that this never happens the other way round. He can play them though and remarkably well (I suppose that’s the result of being a minority). I feel a little sorry for him though as a lot of the time I’m the only one in the room who can appreciate the difficulty of playing up-side-down, and this was certainly the case 1760m up in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere with a group of hikers just wanting to hear their favourite Beatles tune.
4th and last day we left Cleve Cole and headed back down Eskdale spur. A nice clear day it was great to descend with such fantastic views. We reached Camp Creek Gap after lunch and drove on outta there. This loop is truly fantastic with fantastic huts and views. Navigation (apart from Cairn Creek) is easy, you just need a bit of fitness for all the ascents/descents. x
'The Australian Alps has around two hundred historic huts. With some dating from the 1860s, the huts come from every era of European history in the Australian Alps. They were built for simple shelter by graziers, gold miners, foresters, government workers, skiers and bushwalkers.' – theaustralianalps.wordpress.com
My obsession with huts started back in 2013 when I first stayed at Federation hut next to Mt. Feathertop. Such an eye-opener when I realised that there were potential shelters other than a tent which came with a fireplace to keep warm/dry gear, (there’s always something damp) often a water tank and sometimes toilets. So much luxury.
I then found out there are huts which are difficult to find. Even MORE exciting! Often these huts were built a long time ago for some ye-olde reason and have since become superfluous, so no one goes there anymore and the track overgrows as a result.
Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA) is a fantastic database, and one of my favourite sites, as you can puruse all the huts of the high country. My favourite part is when the description says ‘difficult to find’ followed by thrilling buzz words like ‘rock scramble’ or ‘dense scrub’. The next step is to look up blogs to see what people’s experiences are of finding the hut. There is nothing more exciting than seeing ‘3rd attempt to find the hut, still no luck’.
I suppose at this point you might think that I have a problem? But hear me out; it’s really just one big Easter egg hunt, with the reward shelter and usually a nice place to camp. Sometimes there’re historical artefacts in there and a log book so you can see how few people have found it.