OVERNIGHT HIKING IN THE JAGUNGAL WILDERNESS

I knew we’d be back here. The alpine high country seems to call to us like a siren to come and explore it some more. On this occasion we headed back to hike through an area of Kosciuszko National Park that we had yet to explore, the Jagungal Wilderness Area. Even it’s name sounds ridiculously cool! And to make it even better, we made it a two night overnight hiking expedition. Did my hip and knee hold up? Did we catch pneumonia? Did we get hopelessly lost? Read on and find out. 

Getting there and away

To get to the trail head at the Round Mountain carpark from Sydney, it’ll take you six hours via Canberra past the towns of Adaminaby and Cabramurra. Canberra or Cooma will be your best places to stop and fuel up or grab last minute items as there wasn’t much at Cabramurra, especially if you are arriving after usual trading hours.

Mount Jagungal Hike

Starting off from the Round Mountain carpark we passed the gates and made our descent down the Farm Ridge Fire Trail towards the Round Mountain Hut, which was already being occupied by a few hikers and a mountain biker. We continued along the Farm Ridge Trail and made our first major water crossing across the freezing Tumut River, then began ascending the sustained incline up to the ridge until, 12km later, we decided to camp by the Bogong Creek for the night.

We woke the next morning to a complete frosting over of the entire valley and our tent, and had to wait until the sun peeked over the hill to thaw our things out and dry the tent enough to pack it away. Once that was done, we continued our ascent up the ridge line and along the Gray Mare Trail past O’Keefe’s hut and the western side of Mt Jagungal until we reached Derschkos Hut, our next campsite. This was our shortest section at 9km and was moderately difficult, though had we chosen to summit Mt Jagungal, that would have added more time and exertion to the day, but since we started late and had only enough food for the three days, we opted to pass it up this time. 

Once we were back on the Round Mountain Trail it was an easy 13km hike along the flat plain back towards the Round Mountain carpark and trail head. Although most of this section was very easy, closer towards Round Mountains it starts to get steep again as you need to ascend the Round Mountain Ridgeline – so leave a little steam in the engine for the end!

To summit or not to summit

From a distance Mt Jagungal, at 2061m above sea level, doesn’t appear daunting at all, though once you round the track just below it you realise that the deviation to the summit will extend your hike by at least another night or two. The face of Mt Jagungal is very steep so the safest path up to the summit is along the long ridge at the back, which is not clearly marked and very far off the main path. On this occasion we opted to pass up the opportunity to summit it, and decided to consider it once we had set up camp for the night, though once we arrived at our camp site it was even further away so we decided it would be a next time expedition.

Overnight hiking

What did we bring?

I had completed my first overnight hike on my first visit to Kosciuszko, and although that was only for one night, there was three of us to split the food and gear to lighten everyone’s load – this time it was just Siu On and I to shoulder the burden. Our overnight hiking set up consisted of the following items:

  • good fitting hiking backpacks with good shoulder and hip support
  • our hiking poles
  • hiking clothing and shoes
  • compact and lightweight tent
  • 2x inflatable sleeping mats
  • 2x sleeping bags
  • thermal clothing including base layers and puffy jackets
  • 2x collapsible bowls, 2x sporks, 2x thermos cups
  • our Jetboil
  • just enough food for the hike (eg cup of soup sachets, 2 minute noodles, flat bread, tuna, oats, processed coffee, etc) and 4 litres of water
  • basic toiletries

I felt that our set up was pretty good and the only thing I would personally change in the future would be to upgrade the sleeping bag as my cheap Kathmandu one didn’t keep me warm enough in the cold or pack down. I’d also bring along more nutritionally dense food since, the cup of soup did nothing to sate our hunger, and energy bars would have been better for us.

Where did we camp?

On our first night we were too tired to make it to our first hut (O’Keefes Hut), so we opted to camp down the hill near Bogong Creek instead. As we set up nestled the valley’s golden field to the soft sounds of the running water, the setting looked idyllic, though when we woke up the next morning it was apparent that we didn’t make a very good decision. The entire area had frozen over – including our tent! We hadn’t anticipated that it would get that cold and it did set us back as we had to wait until everything thawed out and dried before we could pack our bags and head off. Next time I think we will just push on even if it takes us a while to get there, plus being camped so close to the creek meant that we had to walk 200 metres away to relieve ourselves, which isn’t ideal when it’s already frozen outside.

On our second night we made sure that we got to the next hut! We almost walked straight past the off shoot of the path to Derschkos Hut, but luckily Siu On spotted some dried up mountain bike tyre marks that led us to the scenic and shimmering white mountain hut.

Derschkos Hut is equipped with two separate rooms and a shared common area that has benches, dried wood and a pot belly oven to cook and heat the hut. There are also useful items in it including a bucket for water (which can be collected just behind the hut), random food items left from previous occupants, and a selection of saws to cut firewood. This hut was luxury to me, and there was even an outhouse up the hill to save you going to the bathroom in nature! I slept so well here that it was hard to get up the next morning and leave the warmth.

How did we go

Considering how terrible my experience was completing the Main Track to summit Mt Kosciuszko last year, this two night hike went without too much of a hitch. The track is generally very easy to follow, and the huts have been lovingly maintained with excellent camping facilities outside the huts if you’re not able to stay inside. Neither Siu On or I had any injuries and we didn’t get lost; all in all it was definitely a successful overnight hiking expedition!

This section of Kosciuszko National Park was severely affected by the 2003 bushfires which almost destroyed this area completely. All that is left is the most hardy of plant whose young green shoots have made little progress in the 14 years since the fire razed through. Although the landscape is littered with the graves of twisted grey gums and craggy looking granite boulders, there is an abundance of birdlife here and insects that have returned. I still found a lot of charm in the landscape and you will definitely feel like the modern world is a million miles away here. Already, we are looking forward to coming back to Kosciuszko for more of this beautiful alpine country.

Happy travels,
Jelena and Siu On

All photographs by Jelena Auyeung.