Myths and Mountains

Royal Auto Magazine

Story by Cam Cope


Trail rides lead to a wilder past in Victoria’s high plains.

With his left hand holding the reins and his right casually directing a packhorse by lead-rope, Lin Baird leans back in the saddle and glances over his shoulder. Stretched out behind him follow 18 horses saddled with packs and riders inching their way towards an exposed rocky pass known as Hell’s Gap.

Cast against Mount Bogong’s sheer south-eastern flank and a deep gully of impenetrable forest far below, it’s easy to see why the southern Great Dividing Range has long held theatre in Australian national mythology. Bushrangers, brumbies, cattle rustlers, drovers and legendary horsemen all played out their epics amplified by the same dramatic backdrop.

Today most visitors experience the Australian Alps in a queue at the base of a chairlift in winter. But from December to April it’s still possible to ride out amid the mountain plains and twisted snow gums where Australia’s icons have been immortalised.

Operating out of a hand-built home stead in the shadow of Mt Bogong at Tawonga, Steve and Kath Baird (and sons Lin and Clay) have run Bogong Horseback Adventures, a unique, multi- award winning horse expeditions business, for just shy of 30 years. I begin a five-day expedition into the High Country by arriving at their stables a nervous novice. With a sense of comedy, Lin and Clay immediately set to demystifying safety around horses and introduce me to the basics of “natural horsemanship”. As hominid and equine acquaint, Lin winks in my direction and labels me a predator – apparently because I have eyes in the front of my head. “Horses on the other hand are prey animals,” he says, and the likes of Spur (the grey standard bred gelding I’m paired with) are care fully trained to put up with the likes of me.

As I settle into my saddle up valley on the old East Kiewa River stock route, it crystallises that a ride into the Victorian Alps is also a journey into its multi- layered history. Steve points out that Ned Kelly and Bogong Jack, the Gentlemen Bushranger, both made hideouts here among the high ridges and heavy timber, but over the coming days the plains also reveal brumby traps, cattlemen’s huts, Chinese goldmines and sites of incalculable Aboriginal significance.

An essential part of ascending these mountains at a hoof ’s pace is also an intimate appreciation of the different climates and vegetation. After our first camp in a tree-fern gully on Bogong Creek, Clay leads us higher into the mountain folds via Timms Spur, and as the temperate rainforest gives way to leathery snow gums, the air becomes crisp. Finally, we ride above the tree line onto alpine meadows presided over by Mount Spion Kopje, Mount Nelse and Cemetery Spur. Although the highlight is yet to come: under clear March skies we practise a canter and watch wind swept peaks that will soon be hidden by snow glide effortlessly by.

Each day the journey demands three to six hours in the saddle and an active persistence to transition from passenger to rider. But fortunately the struggles of travel by horseback are no preclusion against gourmet dining or a comfortable sleep. Lin and Clay serve wine in the evenings and prepare meals built consciously from locally sourced, homegrown and organic produce. Smoked pork sausage and puy lentil cassoulade, Moroccan lemon chicken on couscous, marinated pork loin and stir-fried Chinese greens all feature on the menu and work as a general prescription against saddle-induced bowleggedness. Post-dinner our swags make private observatories to the stars before a blink of sleep brings frost and breakfasts of fruit, muesli, wood-smoked bacon and eggs on toast with billy-boiled tea and coffee.

Before our final evening, Lin again proves the salt of his surname, clearing fallen trees with an axe on Long Spur as we climb onto the Bogong High Plains proper. It’s our final assault on the mountains, and as we approach Hell’s Gap on day five I suddenly recall how a Victorian Aboriginal elder, Uncle Albert Mullett, once summed up the Australian Alps to me as the “Kakadu of the South.”

Looking over an immensity of forests, ridges and valleys, I finally begin to understand what Uncle Albert meant. This is the heart of more than three million hectares of adjoining national parks, state parks and state forests stretching from Victoria to the Australian Capital Territory. It’s an ample theatre to host the mythologies of a nation, and so far – thankfully – the play continues.

Easter Friday Moonlight Ride

BHA are running a moonlight ride followed by a ‘Long Table’ dinner Spring Spur Riders Lounge. This will be available to book soon. We will send out a tweet and post on Facebook when this ride will be available to book.

Mount Bogong Packhorse Adventure

Mount Bogong

As you approach Spring Spur you can’t help but notice the imposing bulk of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, standing over the Kiewa Valley to the east. As a lone massif it is separated from the Bogong High Plains by the deep cut of the Big River, and basks in the summer warmth with it’s spurs radiating out in all directions.

Early European visitors, the cattlemen, identified Staircase Spur, Eskdale Spur, Long Spur and T Spur as the most practical stock routes to the summer pastures on top. Bringing mobs up from the Kiewa, Mitta Mitta and across from the High Plains via Duane Spur, the going was always a bit challenging, but rewarding at the same time.

The cattle have gone, but the mountain continues to change with the seasons from deep snow cover and icy ridges in mid winter to a blanket of spectacular wildflowers in early summer. Mount Bogong has lent it’s name to the adjacent and vast Bogong High Plains and even to our business Bogong Horseback Adventures.

As long established operators we are entrusted with the only horse access between the stony refuge of Cleve Cole Hut on the eastern slopes, across the mountain and down to the base of the Eskdale Spur at the head of Mountain Creek. This allows us to complete a 5 day loop expedition that culminates with a descent of the Eskdale Spur on our final day. An exciting and spectacular scene, to top off five days of mountain forests, rocky ridges, high plains and sheltered camps by mountain streams.

Join Bogong Horseback Adventures for what many have described as the experience of a lifetime. We are offereing a special promotion for our two remaining Mount Bogong Packhorse Adventures for this season. Ride dates are on February 22nd and March 15th 2015. The first four places booked will receive 20% discount on our retail price of $1950.

Follow the link to our bookings page and quote this code: BOG2015

High Country Harvest Festival at Spring Spur

Spring Spur StaySpring Spur Stay and Bogong Horseback Adventures are excited about being part of the High Country Harvest program again, during May 2015. As the harvest comes in celebrate the bounty of local produce from the rich pastures and soils of the autumn coloured valley. Share in the delights of the food and beverege artisans of North East Victoria.

Here at Spring Spur Stay the gardens are overflowing with heirloom tomatoes, organic garlic, all kinds of fresh fruit and country herbs. The pigs are getting fatter and the chooks are getting clucky. It’s a perfect time of year to taste the best that Spring Spur has to offer. The kitchen will be featuring home grown ‘paddock to plate’ meals, inspired by the garden and High Country flavours.

Spring Spur have put together great weekend packages combining the delights of the kitchen with horse riding experiences from Bogong Horseback Adventures on our wonderful Australian Stock horses. Book in for a half day harvest ride with lunch, the perfect combination of adventure and good food. Finish off with the Baird’s own culinary creations, It’s always a delight to tuck into a home cooked meal after a mornings ride.

Make Spring Spur Stay your Country Home Away from Home for the weekend. Enjoy a ride and lunch on either the Saturday or Sunday, then explore the other attractions the North East Valley has to offer. Wine making, bread and cheese tasting, cycling or visit the craft beer and cider producers. Then retreat back to Spring Spur and unwind, soak up the golden autumn light or enjoy a glass of red by the fire in the Riders Lounge.

Take a look at our High Country Harvest Festival packages

Aussies Ride the Sierras

WILDERNESS COLLECTIVE | WC-009 | EASTERN SIERRA NEVADA from Wilderness Collective on Vimeo.

Lin and Clay Baird, who run Bogong Horseback Adventures with their parents Kath and Steve Baird from the family property ’Spring Spur’ in the Kiewa Valley in North East Victoria. They have enjoyed guiding rides in the High Sierra Mountains seasonally for over 10 years, with many trips as expedition leaders.

The Sierra Mountains are located in central California, USA. The Mountain range is known for its stunning wilderness areas including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon NP; Mt Whitney (4420m), historic trails including The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, cultural links with Native American peoples and early outdoor enthusiasts such as John Muir and members of The Sierra Club.

Lin and Clay have brought a little piece of their experiences back with them for the Australian bush by adopting some of the US packing styles by using Bogong Horseback’s very own mule duo ‘George & Mildred’ joining our traditional Australian pack horses on their Australian Expeditions.

Traveling with horses and mules in the Sierras’ is a unique experience. Riding well bred American Quarter horse types suited for the High Sierra Mountains, accompanied by an experienced team of pack mules, each with their individual ‘mule-analities’ and big loud bray. BHA has partnered with a well respected pack outfit operating since the 1940’s with a long association with the Sierras and traditional packing into remote wilderness areas.

Take a look at the full itinerary here – Aussies ride the Sierras