All downhill from here

Lake Tali Karng via Wellington Plains; Victorian Alpine National Park
Coffee Supreme’s Rwandan Mahembe on the V60

The first time I visited Lake Tali Karng was on a Duke of Edinburgh hike at school, which probably would have been around 1992.  From memory, it was my first trip to the High Country and I fell in love with the area.  I’ve since been back to the lake 8 times, either solo or with friends.  I even took Dawnyele in there once, back before kids.  Back when she was still tricking me into thinking she actually enjoyed hiking.

Photo by Tom Lobbe

The high plains in the alps are an incredibly beautiful place; covered in robust plants that have to withstand scorching heat in summer, snow all winter, and wild storms that seem to come out of nowhere.  The snow gums that cover much of the landscape would have to be my favourite tree on the planet.  Their bark looks like it’s been painted on and their twisted growth stands as evidence of the forces they have to endure to survive.

A Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and Jared Messenger (Homo sapiens)

When a group invite came from a bloke at church to make the trip into the lake over a weekend in February, as much as I love this place, I’ll admit I was hesitant at first.  If I’m brutally honest, group activities aren’t my thing.  I’d usually rather gouge my eyes out with a fork than participate in a social group.  Such is the life of an introvert.  I find socialising incredibly draining.  Yet, one-on-one I have zero issues and have a genuine heart for people and their life stories.  Still trying to figure out how that works….

But the invite came literally the day after I had told Dawnyele “I think I need to step out of my comfort zone and start connecting in with these guys at church”, so the timing was the push I needed.  And truth be told the group was awesome, conversation flowed easily, and adventure was had.

Tim, Keilah, and Jazmine Dewar, Jared Messenger, Mark and Tom Lobbe, Steve Dewar, and myself.

We left home around 7:30pm and got to our first nights camp just out of Licola at around 11pm.  Being car-based for the first night was great, as it meant being able to have a good cook-up in the morning with things you wouldn’t normally lug around on a hike.  Eggs, kransky and fresh bread rolls fueled us for the next few hours, knowing that those luxuries would be an option the following day.


We packed up and left the Wellington River, driving another 40km up to McFarlane’s Saddle to start the hike.  We’d broken the hike into two parts; McFarlane’s Saddle to Nyimba camp across the plains (8km), and then for those who wanted to or were able to continue down the brutal descent to the lake, Gillios Track down to Tali Karng (8km return).

The hike across the plains is a nice easy stroll.  Nothing too difficult, although it was almost derailed in the first couple hundred metres when Jared tripped and face-planted the only rock on the path.  With skin missing from his nose and forehead, blood gushing from his nose, we sat tight for half an hour or so to make sure he wasn’t concussed or in shock.  This kid is seriously accident prone.  Having him go down so early in the piece made me wonder what the rest of the 24km would hold.


With no further issues, we reached the camp.  No sooner had we set up then the weather turned.  This was going to be a real test of my hiking hammock and tarp.  All the reviews said that the tarp is great for keeping light rain off you, but little more.  It was raining so heavy that Jazmine was able to fill her water bottle with the water flowing off my tiny tarp in mere seconds.

I got the hammock to replace my one-man hiking tent that was getting old and leaked like a sieve.  Fortunately, the tarp held up phenomenally in the rain and very little got wet.  Unfortunately for Jared, he had my old hiking tent.


The rain lasted maybe an hour and once it cleared, a group of us set off down to the lake.  Gillios Track is nothing short of stupid.  It eases you in with a nice gentle stroll through beautiful ferns and towering gums.  Then just when you’re comfortable and enjoying it, it shows it’s real colours and becomes an insane descent dropping 600 metres in elevation over about a kilometre.

This is the only picture I have that gives any indication of how steep Gillios Track is.  It’s from a 2009 hike with Peter Ruys and his dad when they were training for Kokoda.  This is about three quarters of the way down the steepest section.  Lake is in the background, and it’s still a LONG way down.

My knees didn’t cope at all going down.  I already have bad cartilage in both knees, but something with my ligaments was not happy and within a hundred metres of the steep section I was relying 100% on my walking poles to support my weight when stepping down.  I made it down, but it was probably not wise as the damage done meant getting back out was even harder.

Complaining later to Tim Dewar about being too young to feel as old as I do, he gave me an insight that makes a lot of sense and fits the bill perfectly for me:

You can’t say “40 is too young to be feeling like this”.  It doesn’t work like that.  You might only be 40 physically, but to calculate how old you feel you have to add the ages of your kids onto your own age.”

I feel 87.


Jared and Jazmine braved the icy water and swam.  I cooled my knee in the water but that was as deep as I was prepared to go.  It was bitter cold.  The weather turned again and Round Two of torrential rain came in fast.  It followed up with heavy cloud that meant visibility was reduced to about 20 metres.  It made for a refreshing but eerie 4km walk back up to the top of the mountain.

Jared and I went ahead from the other 3.  Tim knew his youngest daughter was going to struggle coming back up the hill so wanted us to get back to camp quicker so the others knew not to worry.  We got back to a roaring fire that was the most welcoming thing I’ve ever seen.  Mark and Steve went into worry-mode when they heard Tim and his girls would still be an hour away with light fading rapidly.  They set off to assist and returned right on dark looking very worn out and ready for the fire.


It rained for most of the night and I was pleasantly surprised at how dry I stayed.  There was only a small amount of water that had managed to get in and dampened the underside of the bed roll.  I think if the wind had been stronger it would have been a different story.  The tarp is good for anything coming straight down, but the ends are very exposed meaning rain plus wind wouldn’t be a good combination.

This trip was the first real success of sleeping well in the hammock; a Hennessy Expedition Zip.   I’m sure it helped being totally drained of energy both nights, but it proved super comfortable and I had no issues getting to sleep.  I think the next step will be to get the insulated underquilt made for the hammock.  The only issue I had was staying warm when I moved either side of the bed roll.  The temperature dropped close to zero overnight and anything touching the base of the hammock without insulation chilled to the bone quickly.  Ambient air temp inside stayed comfortable enough thanks to the tarp.


I had ditched my usual hiking coffee option of the Aeropress in favour of a Hario V60-01 for this trip.  My theory being that I could simply clip the V60 to the outside of my pack and save space inside.  It worked a treat, as did pre-grinding at home to avoid bringing the hand grinder.

The coffee I brought was a Rwandan red Bourbon from Coffee Supreme.  It had been a killer coffee on the Aeropress with lots of ripe tangerine flavour and acidity.  Brewing on the V60 in near-freezing conditions in the morning gave a very different cup.


There seemed to be less balance in the flavours with the sour and sweet notes being more prominent.  It makes sense, though, as the water is exposed to the ambient temp for longer in a V60 during the draw down so the brew bed would have been much cooler than ideal.  The bitter notes that balance out the cup seem to need higher temps to extract.

That being said, the result was still fantastic and it put some much needed warm smiles on cold faces.  I think I was Mark Lobbe’s favourite person on Earth for a moment there.  I’m glad I took enough to share around.

Mark Lobbe in Coffee Supreme-heaven (photo by Tim Dewar)

Hiking back out over the plains, I told the group of a story from the time Dawnyele and I hiked in here that, to this day, stands as one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in my life.  The whole trip is worthy of it’s own article for all that happened on that hike, so I’ll cut to the chase in this one.

Long story short, the strenuous hike up out of the lake had ruptured a growth on her kidney that we didn’t even know was there at the time.  She collapsed at the top of the hill, still 8km for the car.  After about an hour of rest and recovery, we slowly started making our way back across the plains.

It was at least 30 degrees and the sun was biting hard.  There was so little shade and she wore out quick.  In her pain and tears, not knowing how we were going to get her back to the car, we prayed.

Without a word of a lie, no sooner did we finish praying for His comfort and help, up the valley from the south rolled solid cloud, and across the plains from the north, the same thing.  The cloud literally looked like it was rolling across the plains like a breaking wave.  It had us sitting with jaws dropped watching it approach.  Coming from both sides of us at once, it met in the middle and we were surrounded in thick fog.  The temperature dropped by about 20 degrees instantly and Dawnyele just laughed.

It was still a tough walk out of there for her, but she made it.  Take it for what you will, but I cannot deny that we saw God’s hand at work then when we needed it most.


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