During a walk in the Pilot Wilderness Area of Kosciuszko National Park with Karen Cody in 2009, the idea arose of walking along the Murray River from its source to Tom Groggin – a distance of 70 kilometres or so.

This section of the river is in a wild, remote area rarely visited in modern times. Karen and I had looked into the mysterious Murray valley from surrounding ridges on past bushwalks. It was impressive how remote and wild the area appeared and after several years of thinking about it we decided to give it a go.

I had previously paddled most of the Murray River and Karen had walked the Black-Allan Line (the straight part of the NSW/Vic border from the Murray source to Cape Howe). So for both of us it was an extension of our travels along opposite ends of the NSW-Victorian border.

Earlier Accounts

The problem with planning this walk was the lack of information. My First Edition (1979) 1:100,000 Jacobs River map shows a tantalising ‘Foot Track’ that leads from the Cascade Trail down to the confluence of Tin Mine Creek with the Murray River and from there the track closely follows the Murray downstream on the Victorian side to Tom Groggin.

However, we did not know of anyone who had walked this track and it did not appear on later maps. Also, with respect to the Upper Murray, the July 1982 edition of the ‘it’ (Canberra Bushwalking Club Newsletter) stated:

There are few tracks in this area. Fishermen’s tracks continue for some way up the River from Buckwong Creek. An old 1909 Mines Department map shows a mining track along the river from Tom Groggin to ‘Pendergast’s Old Hut’ on Limestone Creek, but there is no trace left of it.

Upper Murray River

The picturesque upper Murray River doesn’t make for an easy bushwalk by any standard.

Furthermore, the only report of anyone travelling along the river from the source to Tom Groggin was a party who walked and liloed in several stages in the 1980s taking about a week following the river down to Tom Groggin. On their final day they followed a track along the river from Tom Groggin Top Flat down to Tom Groggin but, since that was 25 years ago, we did not know if the track still existed. For their first two days downstream of Round Mountain they needed to pull their lilos through the shallows, progress was slow, the water was cold and campsites were difficult to find in the thick scrub.

After our trip I found that Rod Wellington, a Canadian, had walked and mainly rafted down this section of the river as part of his source to sea expedition from December 2009 to March 2010. His account of this section of the river would not have given much hope of an easy walk (Rod is the veteran of many expeditions and recently paddled the Missouri-Mississippi River system from source to sea).

Even later I read Crossing the Ditch by James Castrission, which is his account of paddling across the Tasman Sea with his mate Justin Jones. Their first expedition in kayaks was with friend Andrew on the Murray from source to sea in late 2001. In it he briefly describes how, walking below Cowombat Flat, they became ‘surrounded by bluffs in scrub that was near impenetrable’ so they surfed their packs down the rapids in freezing water for three days. All their gear got wet including their sleeping bags and matches so they spent the nights shivering in wet thermals and needed to resort to ‘spooning’ each other to keep warm.

Other Murray paddlers who start their journey from the source tend to walk to and from the source from Dead Horse Gap via the Cascade Trail and Cowombat Flat Fire Trail, which generally runs parallel to the Murray but about four kilometres to the east. There is good reason for this as explained by Josh Jones when he and Ro Privett enquired at Tom Groggin Station during their quest to paddle the entire Murray River.

This is where we sought further advice on the upper Murray between the source and Tom Groggin and learnt that three groups have tried to hike this section and have dismally failed.

Fortunately, when we started our walk we were not aware of these horror stories from the well-known adventurers that had preceded us…

…The story continues in Wild issue 146. Subscribe today.