Mount Stirling sits at the head of the Delatite River, which flows westwards towards the Mansfield Plains, and is over the valley from Mount Buller. As you approach from the Mansfield Plains, Stirling sits out the back and to the left of Buller, merging more into the background than it’s neighbour, with it’s rocky and impressive west ridge.
The mountain lies within the traditional territory of the Taungurung language group, made up of nine clans which spread across much of the central region of Victoria.
It is one of the easier alpine areas to get to from Melbourne, because you can drive well up into the sub alpine zone. There are a range of good walking tracks to get to the summit. These double as cross country ski trails in winter, so are generally fairly wide and not too steep. From the Circuit road its a cruisey walk of an hour and a bit to the bare dome of the summit, where wonderful views open out to the mountains further east – a big long arc of rocky hills and ridges, from The Bluff to Crosscut Saw and through to Mt Cobbler. There is a 4WD track over the summit that’s open outside of winter months but that road is a bit of a disaster – a rocky scar ripped over the mountain and kept open like a nasty wound by would be heroes in their rigs or dirt bikes. In winter it has a nice remote feeling as the ring road (Circuit Road) is closed.
Over the past few years the Mount Buller resort has created a network of mountain bike trails on Stirling and Buller and down into the Delatite.
Its a wildly popular cross country skiing destination, with groomed and graded trails and ski patrol. It also has some good steeper slopes off the southern summit area into Stanley Bowl.
There have been various attempts to develop ski resort facilities on the mountain over the years, but it is still mostly intact, certainly compared with its neighbour Mt Buller.
An amendment made to the Alpine Resorts (Management) Act in 2004 legislated permanently against the installation of down hill skiing lift infrastructure at Mount Stirling. There is a growing amount of infrastructure, including the older GGS (Geelong Grammer School) hut just on the northern treeline, and Bluff Spur hut, nestled in amongst amazing old snow gums. Further out there is Craigs hut, built originally for the Man From Snowy River film, and a bit of a mecca for the 4WD brigade. There is also a new hut near the Cricket Pitch, as well as the ski facilities at Telephone Box junction (this is where the road is closed in winter).
The higher parts of the mountain are managed as part of the Mt Buller Alpine resort, which has done some excellent rehabilitation work over the years. Cattle grazing caused considerable impacts on the sub-alpine wetlands on the mountain. In 2010, the Victorian National Parks Association launched a push for the Mt Stirling area to be managed as a national park by linking it to the Alpine National Park and handing its management to Parks Victoria.
For me it is a place of retreat, somewhere to escape up into the silence and snow gums. Clean water tumbles from the mountain, the distant plains can be burnt brown, but up on the mountain, the snow gum sit silent and green and strange rocks populate the open forests. Raven and Currawong call through the trees. The silent time before the snow is possibly the best, when things go all bare and seem to ready themselves for the coming winter.
Access is a breeze: basically drive almost to Mt Buller alpine resort. Just after passing through Mirimbah (apparently pronounced ‘Mirim-bah’ in Taungurung) you go past the ticket booth for the resort, turn left here and cross the river. There is a good 2WD dirt road up from here that is open year round up to Telephone Box Junction (TBJ).
TBJ has parking plus (in winter) a ski school and hire, and small cafe. This is where you need to park in winter, however outside of the ski season you can continue on and follow the Circuit Road, which circumnavigates the mountain. It is a good quality 2WD road all the way around (although keep an eye out for logging trucks).
Two good starting points for walks up the mountain are either at King Saddle, then up Stirling Trail to the summit, or at the start of Bluff Spur trail. The trail from Woolly Butt saddle is less enjoyable as you will probably get lots of 4WD vehicles on the track.
The road over the mountain itself is an environmental travesty, and should be closed and re vegetated. It is quite common for 4WD enthusiasts and trail bike riders to take their vehicles off the track and up to the summit itself and generally promotes the ‘drive through and see it but don’t actually experience anything’ approach to outdoor recreation. The summit road continues from Woollybutt saddle to Craigs Hut, then back to the Circuit Road. Craigs hut as originally built as a prop for the film the Man from Snowy River.
Bluff Spur hut has wonderful camping under graceful old snow gums. There are various options for remoter camping to the east of the south summit, and some nice options along the Stirling trail between King Saddle and the Geelong Grammar School (GGS) hut.
Apart from Craigs hut, the other huts on the mountain are:
· A small and old shelter at Woollybutt Saddle (on the road so expect lots of 4WDers)
· Bluff Spur hut – built in the 1980s in memory of two young men who died on the mountain after getting lost. This is primarily intended as a day and emergency shelter
· Geelong Grammar (GGS) hut, on the northern tree line. A lovely hut which is often used by GGS groups, especially in winter
· A new hut between the Cricket Pitch and GGS hut on the Mount Stirling trail
· There is some basic infrastructure run as an Alpine Winter Camp by Stirling Experience.
It’s a comfortable walk of about 80 or 90 minutes from the Ring road to the summit. A good roundtrip is to walk up Bluff Spur and descend via Stirling trail almost to King Saddle, before following ski trails back to the start of the trip. Different parts of the mountain were either not burnt, lightly scorched, or cooked in recent fires, and this round trip gives you a range of fire-killed and intact forest. You will normally find water in one of the 2 streams crossed by these two trails, each about half way up the mountain. The walk from the Circuit Road takes you from alpine ash forest, into snow gums and then out above the tree-line as you near the rounded, dome like summit of the mountain.
Check here for a walking and ski map.