Many of our greatest adventures have one thing in common; spur of the moment.
You learn a lot through spur of the moment trips. Mostly that there’s a lot to be said for forethought and planning. You learn by overlooking the little things like
For someone who needs order and structure to feel like life is stable and all is well, it’s strange that these “drop of the hat” trips don’t stress me out. I’m blessed with a wonderful wife who is very tolerant of my impromptu schemes. Not everyone can be so lucky, so many of these trips end up being solo expeditions when friends remind me they need more than 3 hours notice to come on a weekend away.
Mt Saint Gwinear was intended to be a solo trip. Dawnyele had generously encouraged me to disappear for the weekend after couple of stress-filled weeks.
I had never been to Mt Baw Baw before but had read about the mountain bike trails up there. I poured over some maps and the Heatmap on Strava and plotted out a route from the alpine village across the plains to Mt Saint Gwinear. About a 14km loop.
The plan was to set up a camp off the road along the Tanjil River, ride to Saint Gwinear and back during the day, fly fish the evening and morning, then drive home. In classic Tim fashion, that’s not what happened.
Arriving at the village it was 3 degrees and very cloudy. I half-heartedly kitted up to ride. It was hard to get motivated with the cold and the wind. The path I took from the alpine village winds up to the summit of Baw Baw on a walking track covered in wood chips which sapped a lot of energy. So much so that I hadn’t even noticed that by the time I got to the cairn on top it was sunny and warming up. This whole part of the mountain is very accessible by foot and provides amazing views in all directions. Just down from the cairn is a great picnic area at Muellers Lookout decked out with a viewing platforms and some tables.
From the top down towards the plains there is a nice variety of cross country single track for mountain bikers. The trails are tight but flow nicely through the snow gums. On this trip there were a few trees down which broke the flow a little, but I still got a good feel for the area and a desire to come back and explore some more.
You can follow single track almost the whole way to the junction of the alpine resort and the national park. This is where I left the main trail and took the walking track that links the Baw Baw Resort park to the Australian Alpine Walking Track.
The vegetation and scenery from this point on exemplifies everything I love about the Victorian alpine regions. The snow gums start looking a lot more weathered and hardened from being more exposed to the wind and snow. The forests open up into the beautiful heath-covered plains littered with granite boulders. This part of the trail has been extremely well constructed. Any swampy areas are built up with boardwalks, and the ascents and descents are protected well from erosion with stairs and run-offs.
While the tracks have obviously been built with walkers in mind, they are easily ridden with no adverse affects on the environment or need to leave the trails. On a bike, the descents down the rocky chutes and stairs are sometimes technical but extremely fun and fast. Well suited for a dual suspension bike, but nothing too rough for a hardtail. Getting up them is a different story. There was a bit of walking involved.
About half way towards the Alpine Walking Track, the trail crosses the headwaters of the Tanjil River. It’s a beautiful little alpine spring that offers crystal clear water at a convenient location on the ride to top up water bottles.
From here the trail rises to Mt Saint Phillack, then across to Saint Gwinear and track gets considerably rougher. Once you hit the Alpine Walking Track it is evident that you’re on a much more frequently traversed trail and some sections are heavily worn and rutted out.
The entire ride so far I hadn’t seen a single person, so it was a surprise to come across a decent crowd at the summit of Saint Gwinear. You can park about 2km from the summit on the north east side of the mountain if you don’t want to cross the plains from Baw Baw. There was a near constant stream of people coming and going from the time I got which certainly broke the serenity of the area. I didn’t stick around long and began to work my way back.
Stopping for a breather at Phillack Saddle is where my plans for the day changed. This spot was absolutely stunning and I was disappointed I didn’t have any coffee gear with me to make a brew and soak up the views. I had brought my whole coffee case with the Chemex in the car to brew by the Tanjil that night, but obviously that wasn’t going to fit on the bike.
Spur of the moment , I decided that this is where I wanted to camp for the night solely for the purpose of brewing here at sunset. Even if it meant hiking back carrying the coffee case. 7km…how hard could it be?
I tore back to the car on the bike and packed everything I’d need into my hiking pack. It proved difficult as I had planned on camping at the car so had brought a medium sized gas camping stove. I managed to squeeze it in along with food, sleeping bag, bed roll, tent and clothes. It seemed to weigh a tonne for a simple overnight walk. The coffee case was stocked to the hilt with everything required to brew but didn’t feel too heavy as I set back towards Saint Phillack.
I took the shortest route around Baw Baw which climbed up Muellers Track; a black diamond downhill MTB track that I had thoroughly enjoyed tearing down on the way back to the car. Very rocky and technical, going up it on foot was a challenge with a heavy pack and the coffee gear.
Hiking back across the plains, I swear the case was collecting rocks on the way as it seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. About the time I reached the Tanjil spring I was doubting whether or not it had been a good idea to try and cart so much weight 7km each way for the sake of a coffee. I decided to dump the tap water I’d brought and fill up with fresh alpine spring water to brew with.
The quality of the water you put in will drastically change the taste of the cup. Collecting water from a natural spring or creek will add tannins and other organic material. Depending on the source, it may not taste as it would using bottled spring water, but I love that it’s crafting a cup that is unique to the location you’re in.
I set up camp not far from the summit of Saint Phillack in a pretty clearing that had a convenient boulder to use as a brew bar. The sun was getting low and the temperature was dropping quick. The evening light was casting a beautiful orange glow that looked amazing against the pink speckled snow gums.
The coffee I’d brought was a washed Kenyan SL28 & SL34 from Code Black. I’d only brewed it once before this trip and had really enjoyed it off the V60. I had a feeling that after the trek carrying all the gear, I would appreciate it a lot more.
It took forever for the water to boil as the wind coming up from the valley was absolutely freezing. I ground 20g of beans for a 1:16 ratio to make a 320g brew. Not really enough for the 6 Cup Chemex, but I didn’t want to waste beans not knowing how it would turn out.
Being glass, the Chemex was cooling rapidly and I had a bad feeling the brew bed wouldn’t be holding a suitable temp. I made the mistake of not returning the kettle to the stove between pours which in the end resulted in an under-extracted cup that had a deliciously sweet and sharp taste, but was lacking something to balance it out.
As referenced in a previous post, my palette is far from accurate in being able to discern and identify many individual tastes present in coffee. But I know from brewing this same coffee in less arctic conditions that when all the flavours are present it is full of sweet peach notes and very fruity. One thing I really notice about brewing using locally sourced spring water is that it seems to highlight the acidity beautifully in some coffees. This was a major difference I noted in brewing this in the alps versus brewing at home. So while the alpine brew didn’t turn out too flash, it was delicious in a way it only could have been up there which made for a great experience.
After a cold, cold night in the tent, I hiked back to the car and never did get any fly fishing in. I’m looking forward to the next trip up there that will have a little more forethought put in to taking a more convenient brew method.