Mount Feathertop is Victoria’s 2nd highest peak standing at 1,922m. The mountain is known to have snow for at least 4 or 5 months of the year.
We have attempted to climb this mountain in winter twice. It poses quite a few challenges during the winter season. The trails are rather hard to spot after a fresh lot of heavy snowfall unless you have a handheld GPS unit to guide you. The light fades out pretty early in the day and cloud cover sets in at altitudes above 1,700m which reduces visibility quite substantially. If you are planning such a hike, best to aim to leave as early as possible in the morning.
The round trip is about 23km with 11.5km from base to summit if you are using the slightly easier Bungalow Spur route which originates from Harrietville. The Razorback is the other option but is probably best left to seasoned climbers and mountaineers who are well versed with the art of survival in sub zero conditions as well as understand how to perform self rescues. If you are planning to take the Razorback Route in winter, probably highly advisable to take a working EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon) unit as well as a satellite phone along with you in case you need to be rescued.
We found walkie talkies quite effective as we were in a group of 9 climbers. It was handy to be able to communicate between the different groups as we were all walking at different paces in packs of 3 or 4. We were easily able to relay breaks, landmarks and relative positioning as well as pace between the groups.
4 season tents, snow shoes and sub zero rated sleeping bags should definitely be on the packing list as well as plenty of water and warm clothing.
It takes the same amount of heat, gas and energy to convert snow to regular water that it takes to bring regular water to a boiling temperature. Always a good thing to remember if you’re in a small group and don’t have much gas at your disposal. The trail is relatively easy to follow up until the Old Federation Hut Site (which burnt down during bushfires) as there is only a limited amount of snow at that height. Once you get to this point however, the trail gets quite steep to climb and has at least 2 to 3 feet of snow cover during those winter months.
The hut at the top campsite is quite handy to use as a refuge and to be able to cook dinner as well as play some games well protected from the external weather and elements. The hut is communal and has a fireplace as well. Visitors need to collect their own firewood and and start the fireplace and keep it going to stay warm.
The true Mount Feathertop summit is a further 1 and a half kilometre walk from the Federation hut site. As you climb over the saddle across from the Federation Hut, the summit becomes visible and is a good 200 to 300 metre steep incline to get to the top. Snow shoes definitely make it easier to navigate this terrain probably more on the way down than on the way up as it can get quite slippery and unstable.
Once on the way up to the summit, stay towards the Eastern side of the trail as best as possible but not too much as the summit is plagued with false cornices and a wrongly placed step would mean quite a substantial fall and injury and even a possible fatality.
All in all, it is a wonderful climb and great to complete over the weekend. The best way is to drive up on a Friday as it is a 4 hour drive up to Harrietville from Melbourne. Overnight, you can stay at Smoko where there is a free campsite called Smoko Camping Ground. There is no piped water but there is a moving spring at this campsite which can suffice for basic washing of utensils, brushing and cooking (provided that you either boil the water first or use water purification tablets).