Murray Source - Tom Groggin Hike 2013
Murray Source - Tom Groggin
Warning: The walk described in this section is very challenging. Anyone attempting to repeat this should be an experienced walker especially in thick scrub and through rivers. You should ensure that you have proper walking and camping gear, carry an emergency beacon and not walk alone. You should also carry a minimum of 8 days food.
During a walk in the Pilot Wilderness Area for the Canberra Bushwalking Club lead by Karen in 2009 the idea arose of walking along the Murray from its source to Tom Groggin – a distance of about 70 km. Karen had already walked the Black-Allan Line and I had paddled much of the Murray River so for both of us it was an extension of our earlier travels along opposite ends of the NSW-Victorian border.
The problem with planning this walk was the lack of information. My First Edition 1:100,000 Jacobs River map shows a “Foot Track” that leads from the Cascade Trail down to the confluence of Tin Mine Creek with the Murray River and from there closely follows the Murray downstream on the Victorian side to Tom Groggin. However, we did not know of anyone who had walked this track and the track did not appear on later maps. Also, with respect to the Upper Murray, the July 1982 edition of the “it” (the Canberra Bushwalking Club Newsletter) stated:
There are few tracks in this area. Fishermen's tracks continue for some way up the River from Buckwong Creek. An old 1909 Mines Department map shows a mining track along the river from Tom Groggin to "Pendergast's Old Hut” on Limestone Creek, but there is no trace left of it.
Furthermore, the only report, to our knowledge, of anyone travelling along the river from the source to Tom Groggin was a party who walked and liloed in several stages in the 1980’s taking about a week following the river. On their final day they followed a track along the river from Tom Groggin Top Flat down to Tom Groggin but since that was 25 years ago we did not know if the track still existed. After our trip I found that Rod Wellington, a Canadian, had walked and rafted down this section of the river as part of his source to sea expedition in December 2009 - March 2010. His account of this section of the river would not have given us much hope of an easy walk. Rod is the veteran of many expeditions and recently paddled the Missouri-Mississippi Rver system from source to sea. Even later I read "Crossing the Ditch" by James Castrission which is his account of paddling across the Tasman Sea with his mate Justin Jones. Their first expedition in kayaks was with friend Andrew on the Murray from source to sea in late 2001. In it he briefly describes how below Cowombat Flat they became "surrounded by bluffs in scrub that was near impenetrable" so they surfed their packs down the rapids in freezing water for three days. All their gear got wet including their sleeping bags and matches so they spent the nights shivering in their wet thermals and needed to resort to "spooning" each other. Fortunately, when we started our walk we were not aware of these horror stories from these famous adventurers who had preceded us.
Luckily we were able to gain vehicle access to the Cascade Trail to be dropped off near the Murray source to begin our walk. This was much appreciated because it saved us 2 days of hard slog with full packs along the firetrail from Dead Horse Gap at the start of the walk. This would allow us up to 8 days walking along or in the river. The walk was advertised in the Canberra Bushwalking Club program for 24-31 March 2013. There were only three walkers – Karen, Bob and myself supported by the land crew lead by John in three vehicles.
Day 1: 24 March 2013
The first day involved driving from Canberra, leaving a car at Tom Groggin and then being driven along the Cascade Trail to near the Murray Source. We visited the metal pole that marks the source and we visited Cairn No. 1 on Forest Hill that marks the start of the Black Allan Line. By the end of the day we were camped about 1 km downstream of Cowombat Flat. We were pleased to find brumby tracks that assisted our progress through the forest below the flat.
Day 2: 25 March 2013
On Day 2 we continued to follow the brumby tracks. These would peter out occasionally or head away from where we wanted to go so there was a bit of scrub bashing before picking up another trail. We had lunch beside the Murray just before the Bulley Ck confluence. Downstream of here the valley falls steeply on both sides down to the river so we decided to gain some height on the NSW side and then contour along the 1100 metre contour for a couple kilometres. This was a difficult climb through trackless scrub with full packs on a warm day. We then descended down a spur to the river at the upper end of McHardies Flat, crossed the river and found our support crew who we suspected might be camped at The Poplars Camping Area at the end of McCarthys Track near Round Mountain. We had covered about 8 km for the day. That night we were well fed and “watered” by our land crew and a very enjoyable evening followed.
Day 3: 26 March 2013
Progress on Day 3 was very good. On the NSW side we found numerous brumby tracks along the river flats. Occasionally the tracks would peter out or we had to gain a little altitude when we were on the outside of a river bend or we needed to detour around blackberries but by the end of the day we had covered about 13 km. At this rate we thought we had only another 3 days before reaching Tom Groggin. We camped about 4 km, as the crow flies, upstream of the Tin Mine Ck confluence.
Day 4: 27 March 2013
On Day 4 we soon found that progress became much more difficult. The vegetation became lusher and thicker and we could only find faint animal tracks at best. Our speed dropped to about 500 m/hr. We then decided that walking in the river was quicker (1.5-2 km/h) than on the banks and by lunchtime we had reached the Tin Mine Ck confluence. After lunch we continued walking in the river and made a detour up a side creek but we could not find any trace of the “Foot Track” marked on the Jacobs River map. We camped about 3 km, as the crow flies, downstream of the Tin Mine Ck confluence. Our campsite was a rocky/sandy beach that required some landscaping to ensure a good nights sleep.
Day 5: 28 March 2013
It started raining early on Day 5 and we continued the river walking. We took a couple shortcuts across bends in the river. Whilst these were shorter in distance we did not think they saved any time because the bush was so thick that progress was very slow. During the day we saw two dark coloured deer standing in the river shallows. The river was now becoming narrower and deeper and flowing through a steep sided valley making river walking difficult. We pitched our tents early on the wet afternoon on a rocky ledge and small sandy beach not far above water level. Whilst we had only progressed about 4 km for the day the scenery on Day 5, as on Day 4, was the most beautiful of the trip.
Day 6: 29 March 2013
Our campsite was only 2.5 km, as the crow flies, from Tom Groggin Top Flat but we knew it would take us all of Day 6 to get there. The weather had cleared and in order to cut off a large bend in the river we crossed to the NSW side and climbed about 150 m up to the 800 metre contour, crossing several spurs along the way, before descending back down to the river. By lunchtime, we were exhausted and had only covered 2 km but we had now reached the river flats and found brumby tracks. After about a kilometre we crossed Cascade Ck and after about another kilometre we crossed the Murray to reach Tom Groggin Top Flat. This area had evidence (e.g.tarps, fry pan and emply fuel tins) of regular visitors over many years. It gave us great confidence that we now had a relatively easy walk out to Tom Groggin the next day.
Days 7-8: 30-31 March 2013
Our optimism at the end of Day 6 started to disappear early on Day 7 as we followed brumby tracks that either petered out or headed in the wrong direction. We decided to climb high up a spur and descend another back to the river where we were pleased to find a distinct track with evidence of pruned branches. Later investigation has shown that this track follows the river closely to Top Flat - the problem is finding the correct brumby trail when you leave Top Flat heading downstream towards Tom Groggin. This track followed the river all the way to Buckwong Ck camping area on the Davies Track. Since it was Easter Saturday there were people camped in the camping area. Unfortunately, our first sight of another human in almost 5 days was a boy having a crap behind the bushes that shielded him from the campsite but this was in front of the bushes and next to the track from the direction that we were coming. We decided to stay the night in this camping area after walking about 12 km from Top Flat leaving us an easy 4 km walk along the Davies Plain Track to the car at Tom Groggin early on Day 8.