Jeff Kingston > Bushwalking
I walked in this part of Kosciusko National Park in November 2023 with an NPA group led by Richard Thompson. However these notes are entirely my work and my responsibility. They are a supplement to the map, not a replacement. We walked from Tooma Dam (actually from the start of the Dargals Trail) to Pretty Plain Hut to Wheeler's Hut to Tooma Dam. But several itineraries are possible so this page tries to cover the area in general rather than one specific walk.
The main fire trails are the Dargals Trail, from near Tooma Dam to Paton's Hut and on south across the Tooma River then up into the forest; the Snakey Plain Trail, from the Cabramurra-Khancoban Road a few kilometres west of Tooma Dam to various places including Wheeler's Hut; and the Hell Hole Trail, from the Dargals Trail to the Jagungal area near Derschko's Hut. There is a new signpost on the Dargals Trail at the start of the Hell Hole Trail.
There is also a spur trail off the Dargals Trail a few kilometres south of Paton's Hut. There is a signpost but it is old and illegible. The spur trail soon breaks into two branches, one crossing the Tooma River and going up to Wheeler's Hut, the other going to a gauging station at another point on the Tooma River.
All of these routes are open and easy to follow. I know this partly from my experience on this walk, and partly from reports from other walkers. There are a lot of ups and downs. Crossing the Tooma River requires care; at our two crossings, the water flowed at well above knee height over a bottom of large river stones. I am not sure about the state of the Dargals Trail after it goes up into the forest; we did not go there.
To walk out from Wheeler's Hut via the Snakey Plain Trail, follow the only trail (towards the Tooma River) for a few hundred metres, across two small creeks, then turn left a short way up a rise. The trail is quite clear. I'm told that it has several steep parts and is a much harder option than crossing the Tooma River and walking out on the Dargals Trail.
Options for off-track walking are much more limited in this area than in the higher country around the Main Range or Jagungal. There are three vegetation types. First, there is open snowgrass in the frost hollow valleys, where visibility is good but the tussocks underfoot are tiring and sometimes boggy. Second, there is bossiaea scrub along the valley slopes, which is very tiring to walk through, indeed close to impenetrable when full grown. And third, there is forest surrounding the entire area higher up, where off-track walking is also likely to be very tiring owing to thick scrub (including bushfire regrowth) at ground level. So most off-track routes follow open snowgrass valleys.
Every map seems to show different tracks to Pretty Plain Hut. Most of what is shown is wrong and it would be a big mistake to trust whatever map you have. Our party explored all potential routes except (5) below. Here is what we saw for ourselves.
(1) From the Hell Hole Trail where it crosses the Tooma River, head south, first up the Tooma River, then up Bulls Head Creek to Pretty Plain Hut. This is the usual way to get to Pretty Plain Hut. It's open snowgrass all the way. There is a faint intermittent track up the western edge of the valley floor, except that in one place, a wide open area about halfway up, where the Tooma River emerges from the forest, the track cuts straight across (south) to where the valley narrows again. Do not cross either the Tooma River or Bulls Head Creek at any point.
(2) From Pretty Plain Hut, head south, first up Bulls Head Creek, then through scrub, emerging onto a fire trail running east-west along the ridge line to the south. I do not know whether the fire trail is there or not, but I do know that there is no trail, not even a clear foot track, up Bulls Head Creek south of Pretty Plain Hut. We explored this route for about one kilometre and it was open but very tiring. We turned back shortly before the point where the creek emerges from the forest.
(3) From Pretty Plain Hut, head north-west then west across a low ridge into the valley of Pretty Plain Creek, then south up the eastern side of the valley of Pretty Plain Creek, then up through the forest to the fire trail mentioned in (2). This is the most likely route apart from (1). Members of our party explored this route and reported that it was easy to follow as far as they went, which was part-way up Pretty Plain Creek, at which point what had at first (i.e. at Pretty Plain Hut) seemed like a vehicle track had dwindled to a taped foot track. This is probably the route used by vehicles during the rebuild of Pretty Plain Hut after the original hut burnt down in the 2003 bushfires. It seems likely that there is a track all the way to the fire trail, but I do not know that for certain, nor do I know whether you can then follow the fire trail east or west.
(4) From Pretty Plain Hut, follow (3) into the valley of Pretty Plain Creek, but after heading south for a short distance, turn west across the creek and up through the forest to the Dargals Trail. This unlikely route is shown on one map as a fire trail. Members of our party explored this route and managed to cross Pretty Plain Creek, but were met with an impenetrable wall of scrub and forest on the opposite hillside.
(5) Directly across country from Grey Mare Hut to Pretty Plain Hut. Another unlikely route, but apparently sometimes taken by parties in search of self-punishment. Accounts in the Pretty Plain hut book, and one first-hand account given to me, speak of miles of thick scrub.
The best camp sites are Pretty Plain Hut and Wheeler's Hut. Each has good spots for at least six tents, plus a pit toilet. Other camp sites are at the point where the Dargals Trail crosses the Tooma River (we camped on the south side of the crossing, although the north side might be better), the gauging station, the point where the Hell Hole Trail crosses the Tooma River, and a point halfway from the Hell Hole Trail to Pretty Plain Hut, at the north end of the large open area, beside the Tooma River.
Virtually any creek shown on your map will have good water. At Wheeler's Hut there is a faint track running north along the hillside to water, first a trickle with old planks across it, and then (after pushing through some bossiaea) down to a much better creek.
If you are walking from Pretty Plain Hut or the Hell Hole Trail to Wheeler's Hut, you will probably be tempted to cut across country from the Dargals Trail/Hell Hole Trail junction directly to Wheeler's Hut. It is about 2.5 kilometres in a straight line and avoids two crossings of the Tooma River that you have to make in order to get to Wheeler's Hut on tracks. I suppose that on balance it is worth doing, but it's scrubby and you might get lost. Anyway we walked this dubious short cut, so here is my guide to it.
Starting from the junction of the Dargals Trail with the Hell Hole Trail, walk south up the Dargals Trail for a hundred metres or so until a clear snowgrass gap appears to your right. Walk west over this gap and down the gulley on the other side of it to Boundary Creek. There is a foot track down this gulley, but it is hard to follow and there is a lot of scrub to push through, even on the track.
At the bottom of the gulley, turn right and walk north down Boundary Creek for about 0.5 kilometres. It's open but the tussocks and bogs make it hard going. Then turn west up the best slope you can see. If you pick the right spot, you might be able to get up the slope and down the other side without having to push through any bossiaea. We turned up too soon, I suspect; we went up an open stretch but at the top we had to go north along the top of the ridge to the next open bit, struggling through difficult bossiaea along the way.
Anyway, assuming now that you are on an open gap on the ridge separating Boundary Creek and Dargals Creek, towards its northern end, you just need to walk west over the gap to be rewarded with a clear view of Wheeler's Hut. Down the slope you go, across Dargals Creek with its old alluvial gold workings, and up the other side. It's very tiring, uneven ground, with some scrub on the way up.
Going the other way, from Wheeler's Hut, if you look across the valley you will see a large clear area like a highway going up on to the ridge separating Dargals Creek and Boundary Creek. Head for this area, go up it and down the other side into Boundary Creek, turn right up the creek for about 0.5 kilometres, then turn left up the gulley (if you can find it).