We had decided the night before to get up early because there is a long drive from Mansfield to Mt Feathertop (2hours) and the last 2km down Buller was in the dark.
The silhouetted trees on the edges of fields made for an attractive early dawn with fog still lingering in places along the way.
Once we found the trailhead and parked the car we walked past a farm where a fellow hiker came out to ask if we were heading up Feathertop. He said he had tried to go up a little while earlier and was turned back 20min into the hike by a stream that was impossible to ford without getting your feet wet. He said that the water was flowing too high over the rocks and at a rate that doesn't make for an easy crossing.
John turned to me and said "We've come too far to turn around now, Tim" and so we shouldered our packs and started hiking.
About 20min later we came to the ford of the rive that the hiker had told us about.
We spent about 15min trying to find a different location to cross and then John just walked to the edge and waded over the most prominent rocks to the other side, reporting that he barely got any water in his boots.
The temperature at the start of the hike was -1C and, though the water wasn't as cold as I'd expect, I have had some experience hiking with wet feet in winter. It is not recommended.
With John on the other side my only options were to take my shoes off and wade through or do as he suggested and take my chances with my boots on.
I stepped onto the first rock - the water reaching up above the top of my boots and about halfway up my gators. So far so good - the water was rushing so fast that it was trapped outside the gators.
Four more steps and I was over with perhaps a couple of tablespoons of in the shoes - I rationalized that I'd sweat that much in the next few miles anyway.
The vegetation in the low reaches of the mountain felt like a rain forest - thick ferns and bushes with large trees above.
We saw multiple instances of scat that had us puzzled - it was about 35mm diameter and the consistency of clay. Some googling now makes it likely that this is wombat poop. I spend most of the weekend talking about seeing a wombat so I suspect that John will be skeptical of this claim. Google images shows that eastern grey kangaroo and wombat scat looks almost the same and I notice now that the kangaroo poop is clay colored while wombat's is darker. I think we saw both.
We had started hiking at 8:30am and by 12 we had reached the Melbourne university hut which is a few km from the summit. The hut is interesting - a set of bunk beds with a mezzanine floor built into the dome shaped building.
The interior was very damp and my glasses and camera misted up when I stepped inside. I did a panorama while John was walking around the room so he appears twice in the photograph below.
At this time, the tax of the previous day's hike, a lower carb meal (pork ribs and vegetables) and not having hiked as much as usual over the past couple of months started to take a toll. (I suppose I shouldn't discount being jet-lagged too).
I had started to feel a little dizzy and although I had been able to keep going at a constant pace, it was not a very fast one. We looked at the distance to the summit and the time and concluded that we might not make it all the way up and back down again before dark. John suggested that we push on until the cutoff time of 1:30 - which we did.
It is always disheartening having to do this and I felt some regret that we hadn't realized that this would be as taxing as it turned out to be - we would have known to start earlier.
The trail features such a long steep section that you are well advised to give yourself longer than the expected time for this distance.
The sun was out and the sky was clear so looking back from our vantage point of the pre-summit ridge was spectacular.
The hike back down was painful and slow. My feet and legs were sore from the two days of hikes and the relentless gradient did not make it easier.
The woods just before going down the most significant steep sections offered an interesting view of the vegetation and the unusual trees.
We reached the river crossing after a painful journey down and found that someone had dropped a tree partially over it - I suspect in an attempt to cross. The tree slowed the water down on the largest rock and since I couldn't find a clear path on top of the rocks, I just waded across and came to the other side with at least a coffee mug's worth of water in the bottom of my boots. I reached back and loosened the log that had been dropped partially over the stream to give John more leeway.
I recorded John's crossing on video.
The final stage of the hike in wet socks and shoes didn't help to make it less painful but we eventially made it to the car at 4:30 - almost an hour before it got dark.
The ground was cold as we took our wet boots off and settled into the car for the drive home.
Back at the motel in Bonnie Doone I had another well-earned beer and ate a large noodle dish for dinner before bed and the prospect of (hopefully) an easier last day of hiking on our third and final day in the Australian Alps - Cathedral Ridge!