This year I tackled Feathertop as an overnight walk, leaving the car on the side of the Alpine Highway near Diamantina Hut at 1645 on Saturday 19th Jan 2019, after having driven up from Melbourne. It was about an hour later than I’d hoped for, but a daylight savings sunset time of 2032 gave me nearly 4 hours in the warm but cooling air to get to Federation Hut. The walk in along the Razorback Trail was in good conditions, but I was carrying my SOTA kit and camping gear, not well optimised, way too much weight, and it all started to hurt in the last hour. I met at least a dozen summiteers on their return leg, some looking like troops limping back from a battle, a few considerably worse for wear. More on this later.
Nonetheless I made it to Fed Hut in the twilight with time to set up camp and chat to some of the other walkers on site. The moon came up over Feathertop to the east, then the summer sun set, bronzing the 9km long ridge back along direction I’d come.
The next morning I had breakfast and walked to the summit, a 200m ascent on some of the Razorback’s sharpest edges. At the top the 40m centre loaded vertical went up with tethers to borrowed tent pegs.
40m was wonderfully quiet, stations lept out of the speaker. Self spotting brought out a few SSB chasers from interstate, a valiant attempt from VK3SQ unfortunately couldn’t be completed.
Then on CW, another strong set of signals from a few loyal, hard working chasers. I went up to 20m and spent some time listening to weak CW DX, one of whom turned out to be a Californian with his beam pointed in the wrong direction.
The flies and bugs were persistent, the sun was now hot, the smartphone video camera shut down. A bunch of trail walkers arrived and chatted with animation. Did I mention they did the Razorback ‘run’ in under 2 hours? Or that they do the return loop with 1.5 litres of water?
On the way back to camp, I detoured to locate a rumored spring on a side track. It was soon found, and it was pure, icy, life-giving gold. I had enough water with me, but the unexpected high temperatures up on the ridge had made it warm. Finding a pure jet of ice cold water was like walking into a well stocked bar. I guzzled a full water bottle full, as much as I could stomach, then refilled and returned to the trail. Apparently this spring runs continuously during summer.
After repacking, I headed out for the return trek of 9km. After the leisurely activation and more chatting to track mates, it was nearly midday, and the hottest part of the day ahead. Pressing on, I endured uncomfortable heat for the next nearly 4 hours, made worse by the pack weight, and the fierce heat rebounding into my face from the shaley rocks under foot. No shade on the Razorback.
This felt like a deathmarch in parts, there was no joy in it, and I could not hit any kind of rhythm to make the time go by. It’s not a very difficult walk, grade 4, but it is up and down, and the track is rough and always changing, so that every foot placement needs a flash of concentration. How the trail runners do it without multiple sprains and twists beats me, I can only assume they are younger and fitter than I.
A number of 20 minute rest breaks got me through, each one taken under whatever meager shade from a stunted Eucalyptus Paucifolia I could find. Later I found out that it had been 41 degrees Celsius down in the valley below. I couldn’t confirm the Hotham temperature but it must have been low to mid 30s with extreme UV.
Back at the car, then Tawonga Caravan Park, I showered and felt human again. No permanent damage to radio or activator. A meal, drink and coffee in town and I was ready for the sleep of the dead.
Thanks to SSB chasers VK5CZ, VK2NP, VK7FRJG, VK4TJ, VK2DAK, and on CW, VK2IO, VK3BYD and ZL1BYZ.
I carried 3 litres of water. It was not enough in hot weather. I should have had 6L. The spring rehydrated me and saved me from an even tougher return plod. In the future, I will consider 1.5L a day to be a winter time guideline.
Although I drank or felt like drinking water constantly, I lost almost all appetite, and hardly touched the food I carried. When I did eat it was not enjoyable. An apple was the only refreshing thing I ate for 2 days. I put this down to the heat, as once I was back in an air conditioned restaurant the appetite came right back.
I want to comment on the general lack of awareness of a lot of weekend walkers I met on the Razorback. I passed a man jogging, and when I asked him why, he told me he was fetching water for his walking companion. About 45 minutes later I came upon the rest of the group. All were inappropriately dressed, little fashion tops, barely any sunscreen, tennis visors for hats, fashion runners, and worst of all, tiny water bottles of maybe 500mL max. The lady who was in most distress had calmed down. I gave her some water. She had what I can only describe as a ladies’ pocket handkerchief sized collapsible water container. They all looked stressed and fragile. The sun was dropping so they would have got back, eventually, but I am sure they would have some mental scars from the experience.
I wondered if they see the sign ‘Mt Feathertop 11km’ and read it as 11km return. It’s 11km there. There are warnings for the public at the trailhead but they are not being read or understood. The Mt Bogong Staircase Trail is much better signed , but that’s a story for another post.