Mt Jagungal full circle

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In 2001 my friends Karen and Damir took me on my first overnight bushwalk to Mt Jagungal and with that walk ignited a passion in me to explore the outdoors on foot. In April this year, precisely 16 years after that first overnight walk, we reprised that trip to Mt Jagungal, The desire to do this walk again was part out of nostalgia and part a desire to revisit this beautiful part of the world. Although I had been back in intervening years, I had not been back with Karen and Damir, so this walk would be coming full circle on that first foray. Of course, doing the same walk again 16 years on is a different proposition: bodies have aged, bones are creakier and the going is a bit slower than in 2001, but I was also wiser and better equipped than I had been on that first walk. When I say better equipped I don’t mean that I have more gear, but that I have better gear and carry less of it!

I flew up to Canberra on the Friday evening of the Anzac Day weekend and on Saturday morning we set out by car towards Cabramurra. The weather forecast did not look good and it rained for most of the way. The radar, though, seemed to offer some hope that the worst of the rain front would have passed Cabramurra by the time we would arrive to start our walk. In Cabramurra we huddled in a picnic shelter as the cold rain drenched the ground and ate our sandwiches there to avoid having to eat out in the rain once we started our walk. My prediction that the rain front would have passed became a reality half an hour later. We parked the car and it stopped raining; if there was ever a good omen for a walk, it was this! There were a few other hardy souls out, but it didn’t look like it would be too crowded at the huts.

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We set out with our packs on the 4WD track that leads out and shortly after the start we got a visual on our objective. Mt Jagungal is the most prominent mountain in that part of the Snowy Mountains and is a beautiful sight. At times stopping for a small snack and a drink of water we plodded on towards Dershko’s Hut. We arrived in the late afternoon with still plenty of daylight to set up camp. The hut itself was occupied by various people, but we tend to prefer to sleep in our tents anyway. Damir scouted out a good position on one of the hills above the hut which gave us a perfect view of Mt Jagungal. We pitched our tents, filled up our water bottles and bladders and started preparations for our pasta dinner. With the patience of a Buddhist monk Damir occupied himself with making a small fire to warm us as the evening air rapidly got colder. It took nearly an hour, but then he had coaxed the wet kindling and wood into a comfortable and well-controlled fire around which we ate our pasta, indulged in a drink of Noble One dessert wine and of course chai and chocolate afterwards. Then it was off to our sleeping bags for a good sleep.

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It was cold at first, but then I warmed up and when I woke in the morning I understood why it had been so cold with the ground around me all covered in frost. But it did provide for a wonderful view of Mt Jagungal in the morning from my warm down cocoon. Inevitably it was time to rise and get breakfast and tea going, dismantle tents and load up our packs again to reach our objective. We got off to a slow start, thanks to those creaky bones and some sore muscles, but once we got going it was all good. At the foot of the mountain we ditched our packs, took some snacks and water, my InReach Explorer and our rain jackets for the ascent. Those rain jackets turned out to be a wise choice.

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We climbed steeply through scrub at first until we got to the plateau where we continued our walk in between magnificent snow gums. At the same time we saw the brilliant blue sky being threatened by a dark cloud building up in the direction where were going. As we got closer to the top, the weather turned quickly, forcing us to put on our jackets as it started to rain, then the clouds moved in completely. The summit marker was approximately 80 meters away as the cloud descended and despite it being so close, we knew it was lunacy to continue. We had been there before, there would be no views due to the cloud cover and going on would court the risk of complicating our return if we lost sight of the track. So after a quick war council, we turned on our heels and followed our tracks back down, only relaxing after we got out of the worst of the cloud. Despite the disappointment of not making the summit, we still enjoyed the views and the walk itself and for all intents and purposes we practically summitted.

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The rain stopped as we got to the steep bit and by the time we got back to our packs it had dried out completely. We had some lunch standing up and then put on our packs on again for the rest of the walk to our next goal, O’Keefe’s hut. This is where I have to own up that having an InReach doesn’t necessarily mean that your waypoints are correct. Although I had done my best to get them all recorded accurately, I had made a big mistake with O’Keefe’s hut, thinking it had burned down in the bushfires in 2003, unaware that it had been rebuilt. And so my waypoint was well short of the actual location of the hut. We were confused at our location, not remembering it from our previous foray, but as it did offer water nearby and a good spot for our tents, and given we were all tired, we decided to put up our tents, cook our meal and have a good rest. But not before enjoying a magnificent sunset and its red pink play on the hillsides surrounding us.

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The next morning we got underway a bit faster than the previous morning, as we had quite a walk out ahead of us. After about 40 minutes we passed by O’Keefe’s hut, our elusive goal of the previous day, rebuilt and looking very comfortable. I had a tinge of regret and felt foolish for having got it so wrong, but I’ve since updated my waypoints on InReach, so that this mistake does not get made in future. It was another beautiful and sunny day and we soon turned off onto Farm Ridge Track to cut through to the Tumut River, which we had to ford.

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We had left this river crossing for the end so that we didn’t have to do most of the walk in soggy boots. We rolled up our pants, but kept our boots on and waded through in knee-deep water to the other side. From there the track ascended for quite a long time until we reached a plateau again. From Round Mountain Hut we had a last glimpse at Mt Jagungal, who had denied us a summit and yet the walk felt like a great success. Shortly afterwards we turned right on Round Mountain Trail again and walked back to the car, which was the last one still there, exchanged wet socks and boots for dry footwear and got into the car for the long drive back to Canberra, pizza, wine that evening and the inevitable stiff bodies the next morning. And of course, five minutes after starting the drive back to Canberra it started raining again.

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