Mt McLeod is tucked into a less-trodden side of Mt Buffalo National Park and it’s an epic spot for an overnight hike. Just make sure you pack your best winter gear.
- Watching the sunset from the summit of Mt McLeod
- Hiking in snow
- Hiking in a remote part of Buffalo National Park few people go
Arriving in Bright
The car hummed its way along the road into the quaint town of Bright as I watched the sun shine through the eucalyptus trees and the river pass by. Bright was buzzing with people for the long weekend.
I was with my good friends Celine and Aury, as well as my brother Matthew. It’d been months since we’d seen each other in person, let alone gone hiking together, as COVID-19 had us locked down in our suburbs. To say we were itching to get into the mountains would be an understatement.
The initial plan was to camp both nights in the park, but unfortunately, with the devastating impact of the bushfires earlier in the year and the recent COVID-19 restrictions, many trails and campsites were closed.
We rejigged our plans and spent the first night at a campsite near Bright. The next morning we drove into Mt Buffalo National Park to explore its northern region and hike up to the campsite at Mt McLeod.
On The Road to Mt Buffalo
After a night of cards, marshmallows, and good yarns, we woke early and hit the road to Mt Buffalo. The road wound up the mountainside, while a low lying cloud crept up from the valley below. As the car gained elevation with each hairpin turn, the view slowly revealed itself. The alpine landscape was captivating.
We approached Lake Catani, and what I first assumed to be plastic bags on the side of the road, I later discovered to be clumps of snow. I didn’t expect to see it at such a low elevation – it made me nervous about possibly camping directly on the snow. Yet, the part of me that seeks adventure was thrilled with this potential.
Hiking Mt McLeod
The beginning of the hike followed low marshlands along a creek. The terrain was varied; there were times when we traversed through forests of eucalypts, with small plants peeking through the snow, and other times when we hiked through large grassy plains, with large boulders that appeared as if they could’ve been placed there by a helicopter.
As we ventured further, we lost sight of the trail under the deep snow. We often had to slow down, stopping to check for signs of footprints or lines of trampled vegetation before continuing. The cold winter temperatures and dusting of snow made the environment feel strangely foreign to us non-Australians.
We underestimated how long it’d take us to hike through the snow, and with 8km left to the campground, we abandoned our plans to see another viewpoint and hastily began our ascent. After a weary uphill slog, we made it to an empty clearing that was the campsite. I felt so lucky to be in this remote, pristine environment with very few other hikers.
We left the camp to climb up to the McLeod summit with an hour until sunset. The views teased us as we scrambled up the rocks. We were rewarded with a 360° view of the park and mountain ranges beyond.
In celebration we shared a bar of chocolate, which tasted even better than usual after the effort we’d put in. We were ecstatic and grateful that we made this journey together as we watched the sunset unfold. The sun slowly set beyond the hills to the west, rendering the landscape a golden red glow.
Back to Camp
That night the temperature plummeted to well below zero, which made it difficult to prepare and cook dinner. We sat huddled together, all layered up, waiting for our masterpieces to cook. The moisture particles in my breath froze each time I exhaled. I was mesmerised by this for some time; just standing there watching the frozen particles drift like steam in the beam of my headlamp.
The icy air made it almost impossible to sleep, as the tent didn’t retain any heat from our bodies. I slept in my socks, merino layers, and beanie, yet still each time I turned I awoke feeling chilled. At the coldest point of the early morning I lay awake, desperately waiting for dawn to arrive, just so we could get moving and be warm again. The time felt eternal.
Read more: Snow Camping – A Beginner’s Guide
The sky slowly transitioned from blue dawn colours to warm morning hues, as the sun rose behind the summit, and the frosted grass softly reflected this colour shift. There was not a breath of wind. If it were any other morning I would’ve relished this time, however this was no regular morning – everything we’d left outside was frozen. Water bottles. Boots. Packs. Everything.
We hiked down the mountain and found a sunny spot to have lunch and thaw out, where we sat smiling, appreciating the freedom we now had.
- Weatherproof tent
- Warm sleeping bag
- Head torch
- Down jacket
- Hiking pack
- First aid kit
How To Get There
The drive to Mt Buffalo is about 4-4.5 hours north east of Melbourne.
With warm gear and moderate fitness this hike should be a piece of cake.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gain / Duration
16km+ hike depending on various viewpoints along the way / Approx 200m elevation / 2 days