Mt Feathertop (VK3/VE-002), 1922m, 10 Points, is the second highest mountain in Victoria. Along with Mt Bogong and other summits and highlights along the Australian Alps Walking Track it is a popular hiking destination for more experienced and fit bushwalkers. A number of sites offer advice and information for climbers. So far there have been 6 SOTA activations (since first activated by Wayne VK3WAM in 2013).
Mt Feathertop is nothing short of majestic. The mountain is a lesson in geology, the result of an upending of stratified and super-heated slate and schist millions of years ago. Imagine your lasagna picked up and balanced on its side. Razorback is the path along the sharp edge, a ridge with sides that drop away a thousand meters in places. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by successive waves of ranges. Bogong, Nelse, McKay, Blue Rag, The Twins were all pointed out by a fellow walker. Hotham and Loch are nearby neighbours. It is an impressive alpine environment.
Access to Mt. Feathertop is via two different trails, the Razor Back and Bungalow Spur Trail. I chose the Razor Back, an undulating trail that traverses from Dimantina Hut, 3km on the Harrietville side of Mt. Hotham, across to Federation Hut, below the start of the ascent to Mt. Feathertop. It is 11km each way. To access the Razor Back, from Harrietville, follow the signs to Mt. Hotham on the Great Alpine Highway. Approximately 3kms before you reach Hotham Village you will notice the Dimantina Hut and the Razor Back trail head on your left.
The Bungalow Spur Trail takes walkers through many layers of vegetation as it ascends from Harrietville to Mt. Feathertop. Access to the Bungalow Spur trail is left off the Great Alpine Road at Harrietville (just before the school bridge over the Ovens River). Follow the road for 0.5 km to the parking area.
Federation Hut is a campsite and alpine hut rebuilt on the site of what was once a cattleman’s hut. As far as huts go it is well kitted out and clean and is accompanied by an eco toilet – the only toilet you’ll encounter on the walk. The flat, grassy area around Federation Hut makes a good picnic spot for lunch. Backpacks can be left at Federation Hut while you make the ascent. The ascent up Mt. Feathertop is not long distance wise, but very steep. Another option for Mt. Feathertop is to make it a two-day walk, camping at Federation Hut for the night (no permits required).
David VK3IL did this walk with a group over the Melbourne Cup long weekend 2016. They took 3 days, starting up another track about a kilometer from Bungalow Spur Track called the Bon Accord Track. He explained their route in an email to me at the time:
We started at Harrietville and went up Bon Accord spur, camped the first night at the site of ruins of Bon Accord hut. Day 2 was completing Bon Accord spur and crossing the Razorback to Federation hut. We camped the second night there – it’s a great spot with plenty of space for tents, a drop toilet and of course the hut with a fireplace if the weather is bad. Day 3 we walked back down Bungalow spur to Harrietville.
The Razorback from the Great Alpine Road is probably the quickest route to Feathertop. It’s possible to do it as a long (22km) day walk, or a fairly easy overnight hike. It’s about 2km from Federation hut to the summit and the last section is quite steep. Most people set up camp at Federation hut and then climb the summit with no pack or a light day pack only.
Of the 2 spurs, Bungalow spur is definitely the quickest and easiest with a good track the whole way up. Bon Accord is quite overgrown in spots and you have to walk through Washington Creek as the bridge was destroyed in floods in the last couple of years. It’s also a steeper track than Bungalow spur which is a steady climb.
Mt Feathertop is definitely worth a visit, the views are quite spectacular and it’s Victoria’s only true rugged alpine summit.
Unfortunately for him, the weather turned bad, it hailed and snowed overnight, and in consideration of his two young companions (13 and 10 year olds) he abandoned his activation plans. Feathertop is considered one of Victoria’s more unpredictable alpine summits, and averages one death every decade, mostly as a result of weather changes and exposure.
Towards the summit
I chose the Razorback, from Diamantina Hut, 11kms to Federation Hut was meant to take about 4 hours (including stops for snacks and photos). I departed the sign-in book at 10:40am and arrived at the summit by 2:10pm, 3.5 hours. The Feathertop experience is enhanced by being able to see the summit in the distance from about the half way point. On the day I went, the track was positively busy. I met fellow walkers Denise and John who have done the walk many times. John set a good pace and I enjoyed their company. I greeted fellow walkers I passed on the way back, and everyone had a story or something good to say about their day. I passed three groups walking in to stay at Federation hut.
At the summit
Other activators have noted that there is nothing to tie a squid pole to on the barren summit, so I came prepared with a cable tie, nylon rope, 3 tent pegs and a light upholsterers hammer. It was the first time I have guyed a pole but everything worked perfectly. Carrying a hammer to an 1900 meter summit may sound unnecessary, but I was glad I did, as the ground is all shale and rock and it took multiple attempts to get each peg to grip. You could use a rock as a hammer but you might need to carry one up as the summit is bare.
An alternative might be to use a headset microphone, hold a lightweight pole in one hand and log with the other. Or record the activation on a digital recorder or smartphone. Wind noise would likely be a problem.
Conditions were good on 40 meters, 11 chasers on a work day:
|03:35z||VK4RF||7MHz||SSB||s55, r55, Rick, Brisbane|
|03:36z||VK4HA||7MHz||SSB||s55, r55, Rick, Brisbane|
|03:45z||VK5WG||7MHz||SSB||s58, r55, Nev|
|03:50z||VK3PF||7MHz||SSB||s57, r43, Peter|
|03:52z||VK7LTD||7MHz||SSB||s59, r54, Terry|
|03:55z||VK2IO||7MHz||SSB||s58, r55, Gerard|
|03:58z||VK3MEG||7MHz||SSB||s58, r58, Steve|
|04:00z||VK3GGG||7MHz||SSB||s58, r57, Mick|
|04:02z||VK3ZPF||7MHz||SSB||s57, r55, Peter|
|04:12z||VK7CW||7MHz||SSB||s56, r31, Steve|
As I was packing up I heard a strange sound overhead. It sounded like a lightweight engine, but not. In the massive blue sky appeared a glider, quite low and directly overhead. The sound was that of the air rushing over the craft. It was a perfect addition to a unique and unspoiled environment. A petrol engine in a light plane would have been jarring but the presence of a glider overhead was made to order for this place.
I left the summit at 15:28 and arrived back at the car by 19:10, 3 hours 42 minutes. It was a long walk back. If you count the 1 km loop from the saddle beneath the summit across to nearby Federation Hut to check it out, the walk was a total of 23 km on a Grade 3 track (Mt Bogong is Grade 4), the longest day walk I’ve done to activate, but a great alpine experience and recommended, if you are up for it. A long walk like this one focuses your thoughts on how you can reduce day-pack room and weight. The MST-400 is bulky, although not heavy. I have lots of other options for reducing weight. If I come back for VK3/VC-001 (Mt Bogong) I will definitely carry less… it is apparently considerably harder. I was impressed with the number and age-range of Feathertop walkers, and of those who I spoke to, how many are regulars. I will definitely do it again.