Last Autumn, the smoke from numerous burn-off operations across the state, left a thick haze which shrouded the upper Jamieson River valley. In the heat we had followed an overgrown logging road up a steep ridge, but as we gained height the ridge became more rocky and a faint foot-track lead us up to the recently burnt snowgum forest which marks the final ascent to Mt McDonald. Faint signs of regrowth were evident in the twisted limbs of the gums. Underfoot, the red shale crumbled, offering little support for the grasses and alpine herbs. The track soon disappeared amid fallen logs, and for the next two days we had only a map, the ridges and the odd cairn to lead us to Mt Clear.

With the sun setting behind The Bluff, we decided to conserve our dwindling water supplies and dined on salami, some nuts and an apple each that first night. The next morning the spine of Mt McDonald's east ridge glowed a brilliant red and marked our day’s journey towards the steep slopes of the The Nobs, High Cone and Square Top. Most of this area was burnt during the recent fires, and while some track clearing and marking has since been undertaken, the walk is one where you must be attentive to the lay of the land to guide you. A little before sunset we made camp at the saddle below Mt Clear.

As the sun rose on the third morning, we emptied the last sips out of our drink bottles and made our way up the lush southern slopes of Mt Clear. Gone was the reddish scree, replaced now by a rich mountain soil which stuck to our boots. At the summit we could see a stand of long unburnt snow gums, and to our surprise a fellow traveller. He told us that he had to head off, but had we been ten minutes earlier, he would have offered us a cup of tea. We must have looked thirsty, so after a few strides, our stranger looked back and said "There's spring water just 'round a bit if you're looking for a drink.” And so, following a foot pad that led from the stand of gums we found a small depression which water was percolating into. Cuppa Soup soon in hand, we feasted our eyes over the Macalister River valley, trying to make out the names of the distant peaks.

Early in the afternoon, we made camp besides  the  stream  at  Chesters  Yards:  the site of a now abandoned mustering yard. The smoke haze which had characterised the past two days had blown off with a stiff southerly wind,  and  we  went  to  bed  early  to  keep warm. I woke in the night to tighten the draw-cord on my sleeping bag and drifted off again to the sounds of the snow gums braving it aginst the wind. Opening the tent in the morning, I squinted my eyes against the glare.... snow. The magic of the year’s first snowfalls followed us across the high plains and toyed with our imaginations as we began our long journey back to Melbourne.

A new full colour edition of the classic Alpine Walking Track by John Siseman and John Chapman is due to be released some time in 2009. Notes to this walk are available in Bushwalks In The Victorian Alps by Glenn van der Knijff, $32.95.

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