Nestled between Australia's highest and second highest mountains lies a pile of boulders called Muellers Peak. I've seen it many times while on my way to somewhere else, and from a distance it appears to be nothing more than an inhospidable rock pile; but get up close and you find that it's a very nice place to be.
I had a brief encounter with Muellers Peak on a recent walk to Mt Townsend and decided to return and spend some time there. On this trip I'm accompanied by David, a long-time photography and bushwalking friend of mine, and will be met on the second day by some other friends.
Muellers Peak is best approached from the tiny skiing community of Charlotte Pass. I park on the side of the road and we head up the Summit track towards Mt Kosciuszko. After about an hour we reach the Snowy River, and I am reminded of the bumper stickers proclaiming that the Snowy must flow. They're right, the Snowy must be allowed to flow again, and it's heartening to hear that recent talks have recommend the flow be increased to the point where the river becomes a sustainable ecosystem.
However we're within a kilometre of the source and it's flowing just fine here, the temperature is rising so we remove our boots and soak four very hot feet. David goes one further and jumps in for a swim but the water is too cold for me, it was snow about twenty minutes ago.
At this point I realise I'm developing blisters; I don't understand, I never get blisters, and we've only been walking for an hour. Then I realise that I'm only wearing one pair of socks, I usually wear two pairs, and can only assume that this is the cause of my ailment. I apply some quick first aid, and a second pair of socks, then we continue up the road.
Before long we reach Seaman's hut. It's usually crowded with day-trippers, but today there's not a person in sight. After a brief snack we resume our walk, but not on the Summit track. At the rear of the hut can be found another track that leads into a valley. Looking across this valley we can see our destination, Muellers Peak. To the south of the peak, towards Mt Kosiusczko, there is a saddle, and near the middle of the saddle, invisible from here, is a cairn indicating the start of the Mt Townsend track. It's this cairn we are aiming for, so I take a compass bearing on the spot I think the cairn is located, and we move off. On a clear day a bearing is not necessary, but in the high country the weather can close in very quickly, and there are no landmarks in the valley. The compass bearing is just a precaution, either to get to the saddle, or to return to Seaman's hut if it gets really bad.
The walk across the valley is uneventful, and we reach the saddle forty minutes later. At this point, we are not much lower than our intended campsite at the northern end of Muellers Peak, I consult the map, and am briefly tempted to contour along the side of the mountain rather than follow the track downhill then climb back up. But I fell for that one before. The western face of Muellers Peak consists largely of a boulder field that is a pain to negotiate. While the track does loose some height, which has to be regained, this is far preferable to crossing that boulder field.
Although Muellers Peak does have a definable summit, it is really more a ridgeline. At several places along the ridge there are small meadows, and it's one of these I plan to use as a campsite. We follow the track as it traverses the lower western slopes of the mountain then, when I judge we were directly below my intended campsite, we turn eastward and climb. Before long we are standing at the top of the ridge in the meadow I remembered. However we feel that it is a bit exposed, and scout for a more protected spot. Muellers Peak is sprinkled with many small grassy areas, nestled among the boulders, that are suitable for one or two tents. We choose one such area to camp.
Our camp site has shelter to the west (the prevailing weather direction in these parts) and a cliff face with stunning views of Lake Albina to the east, but no water. In fact there is no water anywhere on Muellers Peak, but Wilkinsons creek flows in the valley below, a few hundred steep metres, but not too much of a slog without a pack.
And speaking of water, it's getting dark and we are a bit deficient in that department, so David decides to fetch some from the valley below. Always willing to pull my weight, I volunteer to sit on a rock with a torch in case he needs a beacon to find his way back.
David vanishes into the gloom.
I look up and notice some Bogong moths, actually I notice millions of Bogong moths, flying in apparently random directions. Before long the moths vanish and their silent flight is replaced by the sound of rain on dead leaves, one of my favourite sounds of all time. I scan the sky to ascertain how much rain we are in for. But there are no rain clouds, come to think of it there's no dead leaves.
Adjusting my focus to a point just above my head, I see thousands of insects swarming up the cliff face and through our campsite. In stark contrast to the moths, these insects are very noisy and have a definite single mindedness about their direction. The noise appears to be the beating of their wings. It's a great experience, standing on top of a mountain in the twilight being mobbed by an insect swarm, and I raise my hand in the hope that one will fly into it so I can identify the creatures. No such luck, not a single insect touches me at all, let alone flies into my hand.
Far below Wilkinsons creek reflects the sky, and lays
like mercury in the increasing blackness of the valley, it's a beautiful
sight, and I'm busy day dreaming when a noise alerts me to David's return.
Oops, I forgot the torch.
Next morning it's fine and warm again, I'm really using up my Karma on this trip, still, on my last two Kosciuszko walks I was tentbound by bad weather for days, so I guess I'm due for a break. We are meeting friends at Mt Townsend later this afternoon, but that's only an hour's walk from here, so we are in the fortunate position of having nothing to do, but sit around and admire the view.
I grab a 35mm camera and set off to explore the summit. The terrain between our camp and the mountain's peak looks very rough, but I'm surprised how easy going it is. A quick rock scramble and I'm in a meadow. I cross it and pick my way through some more rocks, only to encounter another meadow. One more scramble and I'm within metres of the summit and, you guessed it, another meadow. As it happens you could quite easily camp in a sheltered position almost right on the summit.
I continue past the peak to look towards Mt Kosciuszko and realise that we had come the hard way yesterday. Instead of following the track from the saddle, we should have made our way straight up the ridge to the Muellers Peak summit. I'll remember that for next time, but for now it's time to get back to camp, and I turn northward.
A bird explodes from the underbrush and alights on a nearby rock. I know this trick though, and direct my glance backwards along the bird’s trajectory to a small bush. Crouching down I see what I expect, the bird's nest, and the chicks that she is trying to distract me from. Peering closely I see a ball of feathers punchuated by a single, wide-open, eye. What a beautiful creature, I would love to hold it, but of course would never do so. In fact I realise that I've already stressed the animal, so I move on.
We strike camp and head for Mt Townsend where we meet the rest of the party and camp for the night.
For two days we explore Mt Townsend and its surroundings. This has to be the best part of the Kosciuszko National Park
As we approach the northern slopes of Muellers Peak I find myself recommending that, rather than go around, we should climb the peak then drop over the other side. I now know that it's not as rough as it looks, and convince the others of my plan.
Within an hour we are at the summit looking down over Lake Albina and Muellers Pass.
From here we can see Seamans hut, and I would normally head directly across the valley to the hut then return along the Summit track; but I've walked that road so many times. So we decide on a different return path.
Dropping down to Muellers Pass we head straight up Mt Clark to about the halfway mark, then contour around to the east and have lunch just out of the wind on the eastern side. After lunch we continue down the eastern side for a while, then turn north and head for the junction of the Snowy River and the "grey brick road" as the track to Blue Lake is known.
It's a bit scrubby, and I wish I'd brought my gaitors, but I can almost smell the chicken pies in the Jindabyne pie shop at this point, and I make a bolt for the river. A quick foot soak in the Snowy, then we make one last effort and walk up "heart-break hill", the very steep final few hundred yards of the Blue Lake track.
As I slog up the hill I wonder about the human race's obsession with finding the extreme, everything has to be the highest, the widest, the southern most etc. I don't care for such things, but I don't want Muellers Peak to be left out, so I decide find its claim to fame.
Hmmm, let's see. How about "Muellers peak is the highest pile of boulders between Australia's highest and second highest mountians". Yep that should do, but for me it will always be the user-friendly mountain, a quiet place to relax and enjoy nature. And isn't that what bushwalking is about?
While the walk to Muellers Peak is an easy one suitable for beginners, it should be remembered that the high country weather is very unpredictable. Two weeks after this walk, in the middle of summer, there was a howling gale, zero visibility and snow at Charlotte Pass, goodness knows what it was like up on the Main Range. These conditions can decend at any time and with incredible speed, I've known the weather to change from balmy summer, to a life-threatening blizzard, within half an hour.
For this reason it is important that at least one party member is experienced in these conditions and can navigate in a white out; and all members must have good equipment, no jeans and nylon spray jackets please. You should have a high quality outer shell garment (with a hood) to protect you from wind, fleece middle layer clothing and full-length thermals.
Because it's often cool even when the sun is bright it's easy to be fooled into ignoring normal sun protection measures, but the UV radiation in the mountains is very high. Use a sunblock liberally and wear a hat that suitably protects the back of your neck.