We decided to do a four day Cruise between the Labor Day and Easter weekends, in the hope that things would be fairly quiet on the tracks. As it was, it wasn’t too bad, but there were still a surprising number of vehicles about, especially as the Friday and Saturday were supposed to be wet, very wet as it turned out. Our aim was to head east from the Thomson Dam and make our way to Licola after exploring the area in-between, which we hadn’t done extensively for some time. I think we were given a warning of what to expect as the rain pelted down while I waited at the Moe BP station for our Melbourne travellers to arrive.
Our journey started at the Thomson Dam, where we stopped to air down our tyres and for our Jeep owner to do mysterious things. Despite the terrible weather at the beginning, the rain had eased off somewhat by the time that we reached the Thomson Dam and looked like it might hold off afterall. Once all the checks had been completed, we headed off to Fultons Creek Track to descend steeply down to the Aberfeldy River. At the start of Fultons Creek Track, the track was in reasonable condition and posed no issues on the way down, taking us through some very picturesque areas and, as we rose up again, the track looked quite promising. Every indication was that today was going to be a pretty good day, despite the still foreboding weather.
The track rose and fell several times, then started to rise once more and that’s when we encountered our first obstacle. After Fultons Creek’s second crossing, at a section where the track had been recently bulldozed, I managed to get part way up and then lost traction, going nowhere. The bulldozing had given the track a layer of very soft soil that had absorbed water like a sponge and, when you stood on it, water just welled up and started to flow away. Driving on this was naturally problematic and, after several attempts, winching became necessary; but electrical gremlins had struck my winch, so I was going nowhere. I managed to reverse back down and let the Jeep have a go where the diff lock would help immensely, unfortunately, such was not the case and the Jeep only managed to get perhaps 20 metres further up the track before winching was again required. However, the Jeep’s winch suddenly gave up the ghost as well and with one working winch left, we didn’t want the FJ Cruiser to attempt a triple recovery. So after quite some time and additional hand winching, we were all back at the creek to find an alternate route.
Once we’d turned around, we thought that would be the end of that challenge, but Murphy and the track had other ideas. No sooner had we started back the way we’d come, that we found that the now constant rain had begun to make the earlier firm track somewhat greasy. I managed to get past the greasy section but, for whatever reason, the Jeep was taken to task and lost traction, coming to a rapid halt and then a backwards slide while reversing. The only option was to get the FJ Cruiser (with twin diff locks) to drive past and onto a spot where it could give the Jeep a tow, as there was no way that I could reverse down close enough to provide additional assistance and would have failed anyway. The FJ got past the difficult spot OK, but towing wasn’t going to work as it was so slippery. So with winch and snatch straps combined, the Jeep came out and after several further winches, both vehicles were back on the firmer part of the track.
So after around four plus hours in mud and drenching rain, over possibly no more than maybe half a kilometre of total track, we were back on terra firma of sorts and off to Jacksons Hut, located well north of where we were now. The rest of the journey to the hut was mainly two wheel drive and we had no intention of attempting further tracks in this area. We were pretty weary by this time and had no desire for a repeat performance that would invariably take us well into the night. Jacksons Hut was fortunately free, which was good, as the weather had really turned for the worse and it was getting bitterly cold and wet. With a fire going, it was time to dry out saturated clothes.
I mentioned in another story that Jacksons Hut is an interesting hut but, unfortunately, it’s surrounded by piles of rubbish and whatnot left by other travellers. It makes the place look a mess and it seems that the Department for Everything has also taken note, placing an order for removal of the hut. I’m not quite sure what the notice actually means, as it implies that if an owner is not found, then ownership will transfer to the Crown by default. I suspect that no one will own up to the hut, but I do hope that it’s not demolished, as it’s not a bad hut and does serve as a genuine place of refuge in this part of the High Country, and it’s not all that poorly constructed either. Take away all the 44 gallon drums and other rubbish, and the place would look quite good indeed.
The next morning we headed north and then swung around to Glencairn and towards the Macalister River. Having travelled the Macalister and parts for decades, I knew that the tracks would be navigable even in the wet, as the tracks are pretty much all rock. And so it was as we reached the first river crossing, which provided a start to cleaning off the mud collected the other day (in more ways than one). Even with the heavy rains, the Macalister River needs a lot of water from the winter run-offs to make the crossings difficult, so this wasn’t a concern this weekend. The only problematic crossing can be number five, as it has a very large boulder in the middle of the crossing and the best way around is to skirt it from the right (when going upstream). The sixth river crossing is always a tempting place to camp.
After the seventh crossing, we turned right and headed up Butcher Country Track and then took Butcher Country Link to the Caledonia Track. Butcher Country Track was quite moderate, but the Butcher Country Link Track had been well and truly eroded on a couple of sections with steep, rocky, drop-offs that required very slow going. And because of the steepness, there was no way that I was able to stop safely and get some photos, which is a pity. Our next port of call was Dingo Hill Track that starts at the Caledonia Track junction. Along the way there are some very nice camping sites that we’ve used in the past and we took the opportunity to have lunch at one of these spots. That was probably a good idea as two groups of vehicles went past as we lunched, which meant no awkward passing. Dingo Hill Track turned out to be easy and we made fairly good time getting to the top.
Once at the top, we took Scrubby Hill Track to the Lost Plain, hoping to get McMichaels hut. Good fortune smiled upon us once more as the hut had just been vacated, if the slightly warm fireplace was any indication. As always, we quickly set up our beds and then the second order of the day was to make sure we had enough firewood for the night. Very wet and cold weather appeared to be on its way again and this was one place where keeping warm was the first order of the day. Fortunately, there was plenty of wood on hand and so we didn’t need to forage far, but the previous day’s and today’s efforts were beginning to catch up with us.
As the mists rolled in, we settled in for a hopefully comfortable night. The dampness and cold seemed to seep in through every crevice in the hut and it took a while before we started to feel relaxed and warm. It seems that every time we come here, it’s always wet and cold. One thing that caught our attention was a placard placed in the hut that wasn’t there previously and none of us could understand why there was a need for such, unless it’s to provide legal cover because of today’s ‘blame someone else for your actions’ attitude. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people are prepared to take responsibility for their own actions, which leads to notifications such as this being placed everywhere. In any case, we took it in the spirit of an emergency refuge and tonight it was indeed a refuge given the weather conditions and our tired state.
The next morning we were planning to go on to the Pinnacles and follow some tracks south towards Briagolong, but it seems that the extremely cold night had affected the fuel lines of the Jeep and it wouldn’t start. For several hours we tried everything we could to solve the issue, which we’d concluded was the diesel waxing up and blocking the primer pump, as only a dribble was coming out; but our efforts were to no avail. So it was decided that one vehicle would drive to Licola or the closest spot that had mobile reception and call for a flat bed. But just before leaving, the Jeep was given one more chance and it decided to start and kept running. So after about 10 minutes of running and driving around without issue, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, called it a weekend and headed for home.
Everyone made it home safely and without incident, and thus ended another interesting and enjoyable Cruise. The Jeep posed no further problems, so possibly it was the quality of diesel that was the cause, but who knows. It was also fortunate that we did go back one day early as, not long after arriving home, I had to take my wife to emergency at Latrobe Regional Hospital. But to top things off, just as we were nearly at the hospital, the Patrol blew a turbo hose. I was able to do a temporary repair and limp to the hospital and, to cut a long story short, I ended up fixing things very late at night in the hospital carpark after getting spares from home (a huge thanks to one of the Traralgon taxi drivers). Had this happened out in the mountains, it would have been a very different story indeed (new turbo hoses have been bought as spares). BTW, wife is OK.
Update 1. I finally got around to finding out why the winch didn’t work and, as suspected, it was one small wire that had separated from a joiner. Once soldered back together, everything worked fine. The amount of mud that was in the box housing the solenoid was incredible, so I removed the plastic outer covering so that, in future, mud could escape and the housing could be hosed out easily. The winch on the Jeep was unrecoverable, as the internal mechanism had totally collapsed and wasn’t worth trying to fix. A new Runva winch now resides on the front of the Jeep.