Ferns beside a still pool

Upper Murray River

14 Dec 2019 till 28 Dec 2019

Key Waypoints and Information

Wild rivers are earth's renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning.

Richard Bangs

The upper Murray River tackles the walk in and the upper 150 km of the river of which I broke these into four major legs:

Summit to Source
The summit of Mount Kosciuszko down to the source at the Black-Allan Line. ~60 km
Source to Limestone Ck
Trekking down the Murray River. ~15 km
Limestone Ck to Tom Groggin
Pack rafting down to Tom Groggin. ~50 km
Murray River Gorge
Tackling the Grade I - IV rapids of the Murray River George. ~70 km

There was a total of 180 km hiking Mt Kosciuszko down to the source with a gear drop to Limestone Creek. Due to low flows, I walked an additional 43 km down the Murray dragging the kayak with only about 82 km actual paddling. If I had travelled from the start to finish in good conditions and no gear drop, then I would have been looking at approximately 55 km on trails, 15 km off trails and 125 km kayaking!

Leg One: Summit to Source

14 Dec 2019

Man on stone cairn

On foot from the summit of Mount Kosciuszko down to the source of the Murray River.

Key Waypoints

  • minus 45 km

    Jindabyne

    Elevation 926 m
    Coordinates 36° 24' 53.8" S, 148° 37' 7.6" E
    Population 2,630 Supermarket(s)

    Last town on the bus timetables. It is also the last major supply pickup point with a Woollies and market in town.

  • minus 7.5 km

    Thredbo

    Date 14 Dec 2019
    Elevation 1,372 m
    Coordinates 36° 30' 11.6" S, 148° 18' 37.8" E
    Population 470 General Store
    Looking down a large hill to a town at the bottom

    The Foodworks in town, the last supplies until small general store at Jingellic (285 km) unless you coordinate a supply drop or detour to IGA in Corryong, VIC (13 km SW from Alpine Way Bridge).

  • 0 km

    Mount Kosciuszko

    Date 14 Dec 2019
    Elevation 2,228 m
    Coordinates 36° 27' 21.2" S, 148° 15' 48.9" E
    Metal grid path above grasses leading towards snow capped hills

    Official starting point.

    To chairlift or not to chairlift? Since I am considering the summit to be the real starting point, this doesn't matter to the overall scheme of things, but it would feel more pure doing the walk up too.

    With the car parked at Thredbo, this will be a loop to the summit starting from Thredbo and up to the summit (13 km), before heading down Dead Horse Gap trail (5 km), linking back to the car using the Thredbo River Track (4 km).

    Elevation profile graph
    26.2 km
    975 m
    6h 14min
    Option One: Merritts Nature Track
    4 km directly up from Thredbo on a steep track.
    or
    Option Two: Kosciuszko Express Chairlift
    Sit back and enjoy the view for 15 minutes as you climb 550 m to the Eagles Nest cafe.
    Kosciuszko Walk
    13 km Grade 3 track to the summit and back.
    Dead Horse Gap walking track
    Moderately steep track winds down to the valley.
    Thredbo River Track
    Follows the track down the river to Thredbo.

    Ultimately, I walked the entire loop from Thredbo with an overnight bivy at the top of Australia!

  • 55 km

    Cowombat Flat

    Date 21 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 55 km Elevation 1,184 m
    Coordinates 36° 47' 46.5" S, 148° 11' 41.8" E
    Small stream in grasslands

    Close to the source of the Murray River.

    Elevation profile graph
    42.6 km
    754 m
    1,124 m
    9h 17min
    Cascade (Hut) Trail

    Easy to navigate Fire Trail past Cascade Huts to the Tin Mine huts.

    Cowombat Flat Fire Trail

    The Cascade Trail ends as it diverges at Tin Mine Huts and the Cowombat Trail that heads south west. This leads directly to Cowombat Flat and from there the source.

    Snow Gums & Pilot Creek Trails

    Part of the AAWT, these trails are an alternative longer trek that also leads down to Cowombat Flat. I walked the Sun Gums Trail when doing the gear drop to Limestone Ck. Thick steep bush was encountered off trail between the Snow Gums Trail and the Murray River.

    This should have been a fairly easy trek on various fire trails, but it was fairly dry and I had to watch my water very carefully. Water sites listed in the AAWT guide were low and dry in some cases.

  • 60 km

    Source (Black-Allen Line)

    Date 21 Dec 2019
    Elevation 1,349 m
    Coordinates 36° 47' 49.3" S, 148° 11' 48.3" E

    The Indi Springs have become the de facto source for the Murray River, namely as it is the closest tributary to Cape Howe. This has a pipe that was placed by the RMIT survey group in 2006 during a survey of the Black-Allan line.

    For more detailed info about finding the source can be found here.

    Map

    For me it was an easy hour's walk up the dry riverbed from Cowombat Flat in fairly open terrain to the Black-Allen line, but I hit dense bush as I explored further.

Leg Two: Source to Limestone Ck

22 Dec 2019

Following the upper Murray River down to Tom Groggin is the big unknown in the trip. Potentially impenetrable bush and / or dangerous flood waters or snow could make this an intrepid journey.

What I found in early summer was an easily passable small mountain stream with some log jams, rocky outcrops and thick surrounding bush. A lot of animal trails due to the high number of feral horses made detours around any log jam easy.

Key Waypoints

  • 60 km

    Source (Black-Allen Line)

    Date 21 Dec 2019
    Elevation 1,349 m
    Coordinates 36° 47' 49.3" S, 148° 11' 48.3" E

    Other than having to scramble around two small waterfalls, this involved walking down in the Murray River itself.

    A Grade 5 walk that is at the easier end of the scale with a couple of scrambles and a number of deeper pools to navigate (depth 1.3 m plus). I found the pools were best tackled by wading these while holding my pack above my head. This avoided numerous scrambles around the rocky edge.

    Rocky creek and trees
  • 78 km

    Limestone Ck

    Date 22 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 20 km Elevation 854 m Slope 24.75‰
    Coordinates 36° 47' 2.8" S, 148° 6' 20.9" E

    Significant increase in the flow as the two creeks meet and is the likely first place you can paddle.

    Two rivers joining

    I kept walking to my gear drop about 1.5 km further downstream (the given coordinates mark this bivy) and this was about 1 km upstream of the Poplars campground, a 4wd only access camping ground.

Leg Three: Limestone Ck to Tom Groggin

22 to 26 Dec 2019

3D Map

This is the longest section in the Pilot Wilderness Area, where my plans were to use a packraft to kayak down the Murray River with an optimistic goal of just two days.

With a good flow and whitewater experience, this section would only take one to two days (49 km), and the worst case estimate is as much as seven long days to traverse this 70 km section of the river.

Note that without any floatation device (kayak / raft / lilo), trekking this section is likely difficult in places due to fairly deep pools and steep rocky outcrops.

River Data

A water level of at least 0.5m and flow of 500 ML/day is a likely good base level (Biggara gauge). I do not know if higher flood flows would wash out the rapids, but it would be more dangerous with the log jams.

Note, the actual flow at the Poplars would be only about 10 to 20% of the flow seen at Biggara.

Conditions were fairly bad with low flows and I took 4.5 long days on the river and another 3 days walking to get to the source. Due to the hot & dry conditions, I was hauling the kayak nearly 45 km through unpaddlable waters. I was averaging 1.5 km/hr wading the river and only 1.2 km/hr when hauling the kayak.

My trip was initially planned for mid-November, but was unnecessarily delayed by two or three weeks waiting for the trail to be flagged as open when it was likely easily navigable, followed by an unseasonal late snowfall, and then work. However, even mid-November the flow was low and I would have likely experienced similar difficulties.

While planning various escape routes before starting this trip, smoke haze obscured most key bearings and the terrain / thickness of the bush made me extremely wary of trying to do any more off trail hiking than what was absolutely necessary. Especially after already losing key survival gear doing the same thing during the gear drop. As such, I really only considered traversing up or down the Murray river as the only viable escape options here.

I pushed on and this leg was completed without having to leave the river other than to skirt around the occasional log jam.

Key Waypoints

  • 78 km

    Limestone Ck

    Date 22 Dec 2019
    Elevation 854 m Slope 24.75‰
    Coordinates 36° 47' 2.8" S, 148° 6' 20.9" E
    Gauge: Biggara, MDBA
    Flow: recommended: above 0.5 m

    Influx of waters from Limestone Creek should significantly increase the flow.

    Rocky stream

    Passing by the Poplars marked the start of two solid days dragging the kayak along pools that were too shallow to paddle and even shallower rocky riffles.

  • 95 km

    Tin Mine Creek

    Date 24 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 18 km Elevation 717 m Slope 7.61‰
    Coordinates 36° 39' 38.9" S, 148° 12' 9.2" E
    Ferns beside the river

    It was only with the influx of the various tributaries down to around Tin Mine Creek that allowed me to start paddling short sections (~80% dragging, ~20% paddling).

  • 110 km

    Cascade Creek

    Date 25 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 15 km Elevation 629 m Slope 5.87‰
    Coordinates 36° 35' 33.4" S, 148° 12' 31.1" E

    It is isolated and untouched wilderness with deep pools with clear water and rocky outcrops.

    Dingo on rock
  • 115 km

    Leather Barrel Ck

    Date 25 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 5 km Elevation 604 m Slope 5.00‰
    Coordinates 36° 34' 43.1" S, 148° 10' 53.2" E

    Fun small runs and occasional grade II rapids along this stretch of the river.

    Deep creek surrounded by rocks

    The additional flow finally allowed me to mostly paddle the remaining section down to Tom Groggin.

  • 127 km

    Tom Groggin Campground

    Date 26 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 12 km Elevation 527 m Slope 6.42‰
    Coordinates 36° 32' 32.8" S, 148° 7' 43.4" E
    Two kangaroos

Leg Four: Murray River Gorge

27 & 28 Dec 2019

River with minimal water and a lot of boulders

Raft or walk?

Grade IV rapids would be a risky trip solo so I was contemplating either a guided raft trip or walking an extra 50 km along Harrington's Track.

A guided tour of the gorge would make the logistics should be fairly easy to finish this leg off. Otherwise, it will be traversing the gorge solo somehow, then hitchhiking the 80 km back to the car or vice versa.

River Data

A water level of at least 0.8m for the gorge is recommended for a true whitewater experience, which roughly corresponds to a height of 0.45m at Biggara.

Refer to the Biggara gauge for the current level and planning page for previous trip analysis of water flows.

Finishing leg two on Christmas day and knowing that the flow will be terrible, I didn't even try to contact Rafting Australia about the possibility of a guided trip. With a possibly suicidal mindset, I bit the bullet and decided to keep going. Surely it couldn't be that dangerous with these flows?

My rather stupid decision paid off and I had an amazingly fun trip through the gorge on what were probably mostly technical Grade II+ sections. Second day was mostly flat water paddling down to the Alpine Way where I caught three separate rides hitching to make it back to the car within 4 hours.

Key Waypoints

  • 127 km

    Tom Groggin campground

    Date 27 Dec 2019
    Elevation 527 m Slope 6.42‰
    Coordinates 36° 32' 32.8" S, 148° 7' 43.4" E
    Gauge: Biggara, MDBA
    Flow: recommended: above 0.5 m
    Old suspension bridge
  • 134 km

    Grassy Flat Rd

    Date 27 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 7 km Elevation 526 m Slope 0.14‰
    Coordinates 36° 29' 11.1" S, 148° 7' 34.2" E

    Series of deep pools and occasional Grade II rapids. A single Grade III drop "Riley's Ride".

    Last easy take out point before the Murray River Gorge, and marks the start of the VIC Harrington's track should you want to bypass the Grade III+ to IV rapids.

    Calm river surrounded by cliffs
  • 138 km

    Murray Gates Rd (4wd)

    Date 27 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 4 km Elevation 506 m Slope 5.00‰
    Coordinates 36° 27' 45.8" S, 148° 7' 26.1" E

    This marks the start of the harder whitewater section of Grade III+ to IV rapids.

    A more in depth guide for Murray Gates

    Man in front of some large rocks in the river

    I paddled this section with a reading of about 0.22 m at Biggara, about the absolute minimum level in a rubber ducky. This level was too low for a creek boat.

  • 153 km

    Biggara

    Date 28 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 15 km Elevation 323 m Slope 12.20‰
    Coordinates 36° 20' 12.5" S, 148° 3' 10.9" E
    Gauge: Biggara, MDBA
    Flood: minor: 2 m, moderate: 2.6 m, major: 3 m
    Flow: no flow: -0.15 m, recommended: above 0.2 m

    End of the gorge. Scattered farm houses.

    Poplars and willow trees on the river banks.
  • 195 km

    Bringenbrong Bridge, Alpine Way (B400)

    Date 28 Dec 2019
    Distance between locations 38 km Elevation 265 m Slope 1.53‰
    Coordinates 36° 10' 9.1" S, 148° 1' 30.7" E

    Common starting point for those skipping the upper sections.

    The additional flow generated from the waters of the Swampy Plains River changes the nature of the trip instantly, from a mountain creek to a true river. There are even reports of people putting in at Swampy Plains River at Khancoban. Even with the additional water entering the system, the flow was only 560 ML/day.

    Riverscape

    This marked the end of the first phase for me, as I was interrupted by commitments in Brisbane, QLD and closures due to the Corryong fire.