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On Walkabout On: Australia’s Razorback Trail

Last month I made the drive up Australia’s very own Great Alpine Road in Victoria’s northeast:

The Great Alpine Road travels for 308 kilometers over the heart of Victoria’s high country between the inland, farming city of Wangaratta and the seaside city of Bairnsdale. I wasn’t planning to drive all the way to Bairnsdale but instead to the half way point at Mt. Hotham.

I have been up to Mt. Hotham before for skiing last year and have been meaning to get back up to this area in order to hike one of the most famous trails in all of Australia, The Razorback Trail:

The trail ran along a ridgeline between Mt. Hotham and to the summit of Victoria’s second highest peak, the stunning 1,922 meter Mt. Feathertop:

The weather the day I decided to drive back up to Mt. Hotham was absolutely perfect, between the city of Wangaratta and the small mountain hamlet of Harrietville, was nothing but blue skies and the temperature was around 23 degrees.

From Harrietville, The Great Alpine Road begins its steep, winding journey up to the top of the Victorian Alps. Eventually the road reached the top of the mountains and I pulled over to take the picture below at Danny’s Lookout:

The lookout provided a stunning view of the Victorian Alps which included even distant views of Mt. Buffalo. Also from the lookout I could look down into a number of steep valleys that gave me great perspective of how high up in the mountains I was.  Despite the great view the first I noticed at the lookout however was how cold it was outside. I looked at the digital thermometer in my Jeep and noticed that the temperature had dropped to 5 degrees Celsius outside compared to the 23 degrees in Harrietville.

From the lookout I had a short drive left to go on The Great Alpine Road in order to reach Mt. Hotham and the start of my planned hike:

I eventually reached the location where the hike began, just below Mt. Hotham’s summit and parked my Jeep along the side of the road and took in the beautiful landscape of The Razorback lying in front of me:

I walked down the road to the start of the trail and saw that the distance to Federation Hut just below the summit of Mt. Feathertop is 10.5 kilometers:

I figured to get to the summit of Mt. Feathertop was probably about 11 kilometers and then add in the return walk, that would make the entire trip about 22 kilometers. It would probably take me three hours or more each way on this trip which meant it would take about 6-7 hours total to complete the hike. It was now 10AM which meant that I would finish the hike around 4:00-5:00PM, well before sunset.

Everything was going according to plan accept the cold, but I had actually packed plenty of warm clothes for just this possibility. I put on my winter jacket and beanie hat and headed down the trail confident that the hike itself would warm me up just fine.

The hike was really stunning with gorgeous views thanks to the mostly clear blue skies. However, something I hadn’t planned for before I took off on the hike began to occur. The farther I hiked the more the wind seemed to pick up. As I continued down the trail the wind was battering my face with a biting cold and was making walking on the trail twice as difficult.

I continued on though and the trail began to go up and down the various hills that composed the ridgeline. Eventually the trail dropped and wrapped behind one of the hills providing me a much needed windbreak:

However, once I came out from behind the hill I was once again on an exposed ridgeline with the winds absolutely pummeling me as I walked:

The picture I took above may look like a nice calm day, but it was actually 5 degrees out with strong blowing winds that made even taking this picture quite difficult. Also the act of requiring to remove my gloves to use the camera was quite unwelcoming as well. Despite this, I continued on, hoping to get to the far off tree line that could serve as a much needed windbreak.

However, I was quickly falling behind schedule on this walk which would make my return later then expected and possibly I might not get back before night fall if I kept this pace. This was not a welcoming prospect in this cold weather. I also figured that once I reached the higher altitudes the winds would only get worse and thus prevent me from making up any time I had already lost. Because of these reasons as well as the fact this walk had ceased to be of any fun and decided to turn around.

I hadn’t even walked halfway across The Razorback yet and I had already walked 1.5 hours. I took one more look at The Razorback and Mt. Feathertop looming ahead before turning around and heading back to the trailhead:

On the walk back the conditions didn’t improve but I did try to take some more pictures knowing that warmth would soon be found once I got back to my Jeep. In the below picture you can really get a good since of how jagged this land is with its steep hills and narrow valleys:

If you look closely in the above photo, you can even see Mt. Buffalo hovering in the background. Walking back the wind wasn’t hitting me in face as much anymore and I was actually able to enjoy the scenery a little more as well as appreciate how scenic The Razorback Trail really is:

Eventually the summit of Mt. Hotham was looming in front of me and it would only be a short walk later until I was back in my Jeep with the heater turned up as high as possible:

It ended up being a good thing that I got back to my Jeep when I did because if you look closely at the last two pictures you can see the dark clouds moving in. I got off the mountain and back home without any weather issues but on the Monday afterwards the big news story was the amount of snow that fell on the Victorian Alps that weekend, which I had just missed.

Even though I didn’t reach the summit I was glad I didn’t get stuck in a snow storm and really the missed opportunity to summit Mt. Feathertop has only made me that much more eager to attempt to hike up again.

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Update: Since this posting I have in fact competed the hike across the Razorback and to the summit of Mt. Feathertop.  You can read my travelog about this hike at this link.

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