I don’t really know what happened to 2019 as we simply didn’t have a Cruise, with our last one being in Nov 2018. Summer (for what it was) flashed past and then at the end of 2019 when the tracks re-opened, the bushfires started, burning into the New Year and causing us to defer things once again. Things have settled down now, other than flooding rains, but travelling to the East is out of the question as all the tracks are still likely to be closed and will likely be so for some time to come. I’d be very surprised if the majority of tracks will be open by 2021. But once again we were itching to get out and our only option was to go closer to home, which meant around the Thomson Dam and Licola area. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as COVID-19 and the statewide shutdown may or may not have impacted on crowd numbers, despite there still being a surprising number about on the first day,
So we started off from our usual meeting place at Tyers, a handy location for all comers, and then proceeded towards Licola. I had initially intended to head to Licola directly, but decided to first take Burgoyne Track, which is always interesting, cross the Macalister River and then travel up Green Hills Track and not long after take Cobb Spur. We’d come down Cobb Spur some years back and it was an interesting track, especially as it had been raining some days earlier, so I thought why not go up the track for a change, as it’s something we had talked about. Unfortunately it had been graded and was a fairly tame drive. We climbed Cobb Spur until we reached the summit and then followed it paralleling the Macalister River valley, taking in some nice views of the valley in which Licola sits. When we reached the Jamieson-Licola Road, we headed down to Licola for a short break. It’s always been a kind of tradition to stop at Licola unless the place is filled with 4WDs (I’ve been going there for nearly 45 years) but, depending on the time of day and year, even that doesn’t sometimes prevent us from stopping. Licola was actually quite packed that morning, especially with motorbikes on a rally.
From Licola we headed up to Tamboritha Saddle to take Dingo Hill Track down to the Caledonia River with the intent of heading up Butcher Country Link Track to the Macalister River. We’ve done this many a time and you can never tell beforehand what the conditions will be like, as so many things can affect the track conditions. As we’re never in a hurry to get to any place in particular, we’re always amenable to pulling up early if a good campsite presents itself and the Caledonia has a few pretty good campsites that allow privacy from other travellers. Much the same applies to the Macalister, but to get to these campsites would mean travelling south and I wanted to head north from the junction of the Butcher Country and Macalister River Tracks. There used to be a great campsite near the 10th river crossing, but that has been long closed off for some reason and pretty much forgotten. There also used to be a small, but fantastic, campsite at the 13th river crossing, which was as far as you could go in a 4WD. As it turned out, the evening was wearing on and we found a good campsite on the Caledonia River and decided to call it a day.
The next morning we headed up Butcher Country Link Track that takes you to the Butcher Country Track. The Link Track is one of those tracks that changes every year and even during the year depending on traffic. It’s always been steep and rough, but varies in degree depending on its condition; but it was all too easy this time round as it had been recently graded. Once up the Link Track we headed along the Butcher Country Track towards the Macalister River, making another obligatory stop at the helipad on the Butcher Country Track. I don’t think this is really a helipad, but it is a narrow, open, area where most people stop for a look. From there the drop down to the Macalister river doesn’t take too long and we were soon headed up the Macalister River Track to Grimme Track (or Grimme Creek Track as some maps have it marked). Grimme Track used to be diabolical 20+ years ago, especially in the wet, but it’s a shadow of itself nowadays, even though it’s marked as a double black diamond.
At the junction of the Macalister River Track and Grimme Track, there’s a track that leads to spot called High Cone. We’ve passed this track innumerable times, but never ventured to see what’s at High Cone. So this time we decided to take a look and it turned out quite interesting to say the least. The track started off quite mild, but as we got closer to High Cone, the track became rougher and rockier and a bit challenging on a few spots. Tackling the roughest of these spots you had to crest a couple of rock ledges and on the final, steepest, one I must have squeezed a loose rock between a fixed one and the tyre came off the rim. While the others were helping the last vehicle out of the first pinch some distance back, I pulled out the winch cable and hauled myself off the ledge and then slowly drove a short distance to see about the tyre. I thought the tyre was stuffed, but it appeared OK and was only dislodged from the outer rim. With a bit of butane and some effort, we managed to get the tyre to seal enough to get the compressor air to hold and then the tyre reseated itself in no time. There were no issues with the tyre thereafter during the entire trip.
Once we reached High Cone, we decided to walk up the last pinch as the crest looked diabolical. It was good that we didn’t just drive up, as High Cone had enough room for just one vehicle and the Jeep that gave the crest a go lifted wheels right at the peak and looked a bit worrying for a fraction of a second. Reversing down the short stretch of track would not have been a fun experience as it was very steep and loose. The views from High Cone weren’t all that impressive, but at least we can now say we’ve been there. So we turned around and found a spot for lunch and then proceeded down Grimme Track towards the Barkly River. Grime was a nothing track due to the recent bulldozing and the same applied to the other side. In the wet it would get quite slippery because of the clay surface, but when dry it was pretty much a walk in the park.
Once at the end of Grimme Track, we headed north and took Son Of Bitch Spur Track south towards the Barkly River in search of a campsite. There aren’t many campsites along this section, but the one we did get wasn’t too bad. Had this campsite been taken, it would have been a long drive to find another, but this one had only just been vacated as the fire pit was still smoking. Thankfully the predicted rain didn’t arrive so we had a pretty good night, but these tight valleys can get very cold, especially early morning. Once packed, we headed south along Son Of Bitch Spur to Mountain Ash Spur and took that to Middle Ridge Road. There was nothing eventful along either of those tracks, as both had again been recently bulldozed so all the rough stuff had been smoothed over. From Middle Ridge Road we took the N21 Track to the Jamieson-Licola Road and headed south to South Road. The plan was to take some tracks to Donnelly Creek and find a campsite or hut if possible.
I missed the first turnoff and so we took Whitestar Track, which then allowed us to connect to Toomstar Track. This turned out to be quite a good move as Toomstar was very steep and a good drive down. The drive up out of Toomstar to Tomboon Track was equally interesting, as it too was very steep, though not overly rough. We then took Tomboon Track until we reached Jorgensens Track which would take us down to Jorgensens Flat. Jorgensens Track was also very steep and slightly rougher than Toomstar Track, so provided some interesting moments. It’s one of those tracks that you prefer to go up, rather than down. Unfortunately it was a track where I couldn’t easily stop and take video. Once we reached Jorgensens Flat, we found the hut empty and decided to make the hut our stay for the remainder of the day. On each of our days, we’d start roughly at 8-8:30 in the morning and pull up around 2:30-3:30 to give us time to set up and relax a bit before nightfall. Six or so hours of constant driving is enough for us nowadays and so we see no need to keep on going until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening.
It was also good to have a hut in which to sleep, as we could lay out our tents to dry in the early evening and not have to do this back home. It was also quite cold and windy, so setting up the fire later inside was a lot better than outside in the open. Though it took some effort to get the fire roaring and the heat didn’t extend that far towards the back of the hut, escaping to the high roofline and disappearing through the gaps. I’ve written before about Jorgensens Hut and how the tin garage nature of the hut is far removed from the ambience of traditional timber huts. The other thing about the tin garage aspect is the noise. One of our troop snored the entire night and so loudly that I expected by morning that half the hut would be filled with cut logs. We’d also learned the day before when phone reception was available for a short while that Australia was now in full lock down, borders all closed, businesses shutting down and everyone in a panic. Given half a chance, we’d all most likely have preferred to stay where we were.