Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More High Country High Jinks

* A lovely pair of Gang-Gang Cockatoos.
I was so excited to find these birds.

We have been in the High Country for about 10 days now. The scenery is spectacular, the rivers clean and pristine and the camping basic and isolated. There have also been a few small dramas.

*VJ preparing for a swim at Harrisons Cut at the bottom of the VERY steep Stock Spur Track.

After leaving the pretty Mitta Mitta River we stocked up in the town of Omeo before heading out on leg 2 of our high country adventure trek. This part of Victoria is a mecca for 4wders and the main street was chock full of landcruisers and patrols with all their spare wheels and hi-lift jacks. We headed out of Omeo and turned off reasonably good sealed road and almost immediately were back into 'rough track'. This initial part of the trek is deemed easy in the guide book with the Stock Spur Track rating a special mention about the "steep descent".
* A fairly standard intersection.

Before this leg of our trip if you had pointed out some of the roads we've driven over I would never have thought a vehicle could do it. The goal posts keep moving and once you're halfway up or down one of these hills/spurs/ridges you're committed. I have done a lot of hanging on and muttering quietly

*Steam rising off the river at Ollies Jump Up about 4 days ago. I still rise quite early. This was a particularly cold morning that required the wearing of thermals, fleeces and tights under duds - and this is summer.
We shared this camp with Jeremy and Anastasia from Coogee who were doing the same trek as us but were in a bit more of a hurry. They built a beaut fire that we shared over a few wines and exchanging travel tips before the conversation became quite philosophical, probing and deep.

*Payniac, a litte seedy, manipulating a picnic lunch on top of the world, well Australia anyway.

We try and heed other travellers warnings and tips and had been told that the camping on the Crooked River near the town site of Talbotville was pretty good so we planned to spend a few nights there before embarking on what was to be the toughest section of the trek! A bloke we met at Ollies Jump Up on learning of our intentions to head up the Station Spur and Womabt Range put the fear into me after asking us if we had a winch. We most certainly do but what on earth would we need it for? Is it that steep?
* The wombat spur track down off the wombat range - all in all a pretty good track.

Serendipity, dumb luck, whatever you want to call it, intervened here as the day we were to begin this treacherous section the car would nae start. Flat as a dunny mans hat (as the RACV man said). There are no photos of any of the various attempts to get the car going as at the time it was the very last thing on my mind. This was NOT funny. Either way you looked at it we were a long way from assistance and a tough long way at that - many sections of these tracks require prolonged use of low range 4wd. Luckily Colin, his kids and his hilux were close by and came to the rescue. Battery was so flat that we couldn't even jump it! Ended up being tow started.

With the car going and the battery apparently holding charge and restarting after driving for a bit we discussed our options. Dargo was the closest service town and were more or less headed there when we agreed that everything seemed hunky dory and if we kept going along the adventure trek, although remote was a popular spot for campers etc. And so, with small misgivings on my part, we continued into the Wonangatta Valley. A stunning open grassy plain on the Wonangatta River that up until the 80's was still used to graze cattle.
We had a lovely secluded spot on the river and some kind character had built a pool within the river with rocks. Lovely. It was really starting to hot up and was quite windy - you start thinking about how/what you would do in the instance of fire. Fire bans include any open flame so unless we can get into a hut to cook there's no hot food for dinner as we use a gas 2 ring burner for all meals not cooked on open fire.
Anyhoo, and quite unsurprisingly when we went to start the troopy yesterday, guess what? Flat battery. This time it was Carl and his mate John who came to the rescue with their Rodeo. It took a little time but we finally got her started.

*One of the many picturesque huts that are dotted throughout the high country. This is Kennedy's Hut on the Mitta Mitta River in the Omeo Valley. The river was reputed to have platypus, alas we did not see any.

Let's just say this was an especially emotional time. I was reliving any story I had ever heard of people having to have their vehicles flat-bedded out of these situations at a very high price. There was talk of aborting the trip. I expressed my lack of faith in the troopy while we went over and over anything we might have done differently. Had a deep river crossing shorted something? Had a wire come loose? What seemed to be happening was that over long periods (12+ hours) of inaction the battery was completely discharging. You will all be pleased to hear that our auxiliary battery that runs our trusty Engel fridge is still ship shape and through this whole ordeal we have had icy cold beer!

*Payniac after building a little raft, or maybe he's just washing his feet?

After our much appreciated help and we were on our way again we started to talk about just how willing people are to provide assistance to others in need. Should we have given them something to thank them? I think they take away a story and although we are definitely the ultimate beneficiaries in these transactions most people would not hesitate to help if they can. We also had a pretty steep learning curve these last few days, batteries, leads, and tow ropes etc.

*This sign was on the side of the bridge facing away from us on the East Buffalo track as we headed to Myrtelford to get the battery looked at. The hazard was perhaps the bridge itself, we're not sure. The bridge didn't look as though it'd take the 3+ tonne that we are and so we decided to ford the creek. The water was maybe 2 metres wide. The exit was nasty and steep and the site of our first bogging. We also thought we'd blown the back left tyre as we could hear a hissing sound!
It was just a nightmare situation - if we did have a flat we couldn't really stop the engine for fear she wouldn't go again. I still have no idea how we would've changed the tyre in that position as the back step was sitting beautifully in the mud and dirt. Back left and front right wheels were in the air with the back embedded. Oh no!!! Rocks will do the trick, we'll just build them up under the wheels for traction - no rocks. The only stretch of the river, any river, we'd seen without bloody rocks. The trees were positioned beautifully for winching, although I doubt very much we'd have got the winch out as it lives in the back of the car (perhaps we ought to rethink this). It turned out all that was needed was a average sized stick under the front wheel and she had enough traction in L1 to pull herself out. What a day! I promise to take photos next time, and there will be, we get bogged but I found this situation less funny than the flat battery as I knew that Carl and John were only about half an hour behind us on this same road (on their recommendation as the other way out of the valley was the notorious Zeka Spur Track - 2 hours to do 22km by all accounts) and I was worried about over extending the friendship.

We are now safe and clean in Myrtleford where we had to have the troopy jumped again this morning despite disconnecting the battery overnight. Thank you RACV. Payniac has gone to Wangaratta to get a new battery as we've cracked one of the cells, same as what happened in Alice. It seems the batteries are made of tough stuff but not quite tough enough for this country.

We are at a loose end now with our high country adventures brought to a premature close. We will probably head south through the national parks and check out some more of the huts that we both like so much - very Man From Snowy River. It's a great problem to have, where will we go tomorrow?

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