Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Australian Alps Walking Track - Honeysuckle Creek to Tharwa

DateWednesday, 15 May 2019
StartHoneysuckle Creek Campground
FinishNamadgi National Park Visitors Centre
Daily Kilometres15.4
Total AAWT Kilometres659.6
WeatherCold early, then mild and sunny
AccommodationOvernight train to Melbourne
AchesMy knee still a problem descending, but improving.
HighlightReaching the end of the AAWT and our journey on a beautiful sunny day.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We had no nocturnal visitors, and didn't sleep too badly on the concrete floor of the campground's picnic shelter.  However, we were both awake by 5:30am, and packed and hiking, with frozen fingers as usual, by 6:40am.  It was lovely single-track trail through peaceful forest and past grey boulders for the first hour or so and the sun finally began to filter through the trees and warm us a little.

After an hour, the trail emerged onto the Bushfold Flats, a large grassed valley populated by many kangaroos who seemed less fazed by human interlopers into their domain than those of the past.  The sun was now up, though there were plenty of frost patches, and it was a glorious morning to be walking through the bush.

From the flats, the trail climbed through dry eucalypt forest up onto the shoulder of Mt Tennent and we found a perfectly-placed log in the sun to have our last meal, breakfast, on the trail.  We had good mobile phone coverage for the first time in three days, and spent some time catching up on emails and I posted the past three days blog.

From there it was an occasionally steep descent, with many fine views, to the finish of the AAWT at the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre in Tharwa.  We arrived about 11:45am and were greeted by the park staff with a free drink (or ice-cream), a certificate, cloth badge, and an iconic "Alpine Track" marker as we had seen attached to many trees along the way.

Cousin-in-law, Chris, kindly picked us up shortly afterwards and treated us to a shower and lunch at his and Jocey's home.  Later, we will be catching an overnight train to Melbourne, retrieving my car, then driving back home to Terrigal over two days during which we will collect our food cache drums from their hiding places.

The hike has been everything we hoped for, even including those bad times when we wished we were somewhere else, but survived.  We enjoyed fantastic Australian bush scenery and soaked up the solitude and isolation that often saw us go for days without seeing another person.  Of the trails I have hiked, the AAWT is the most hardcore.  Especially in Victoria, where the climbs/descents can be extremely steep and the trail unmaintained, overgrown and hard to follow.  Nevertheless, often the only way to see and experience this country is deal with these challenges, and we were glad we did.

Australian Alps Walking Track - Oldfields Hut to Honeysuckle Creek

DateTuesday, 14 May 2019
Start:  Oldfields Hut
Finish:  Honeysuckle Creek Campground
Daily Kilometres:  34.2
Total AAWT Kilometres:  644.2
Weather:  Cold early, then cool to mild and sunny
Accommodation:  Picnic Shelter
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  I'm still limping along with a swollen and occasionally painful left knee.
Highlight:  Hard to pick, with beautiful scenery and perfect weather all day.
Lowlight:  As I write this, a very bold possum is persistently sniffing around our gear looking for food.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We got away around 6:40am, knowing we had a reasonably long day with three significant climbs.  It was again very cold, with a heavy frost, frozen puddles and isolated snow patches from the fall a few days ago.  We first climbed up to Murray Gap through beautiful forest and past frosty grassy flats, and crossed into the Australian Capital Territory and the Bimberi Wilderness Area.  It was a lovely morning and we soaked up the serenity of this seldom-visited bush.  We kept commenting to each other on how beautiful it was and how lucky we were to be seeing it.

From Murray Gap, the trail descended down to the Cotter valley where we enjoyed breakfast leaning up against a locked hut in the morning sun.  It had warmed up, and for the first time in over a week, we stripped to shorts and T-shirts, anticipating a strenuous climb up and over Cotter Gap.  It was hard work, but again offset by enchanting forest scenery, intermingled with large grey boulders.

The forest became noticeably drier as we made the long descent into the Orroral Valley.  After a break for lunch, having made good progress for the morning, we set out on our last 10km of the day.  We began by crossing the grassy flats of the valley floor with kangaroos visible here and there, and then began the last, and hardest, climb of the day up to Orroral Ridge on a firetrail.  It seemed to go on forever, but eventually we reached the top and then had an easy 4km to our destination, the Honeysuckle Creek Campground, managed by Namadgi National Park.

It's vehicle-accessible, and we soon saw our first person for three days, as someone drove around the campground while we set oursleves up in the Campground Picnic Shelter.  They soon left, and we again had the whole place to ourselves, though we can hear the squealing of tyres and roar of vehicle engines not too far away.  We have decided to sleep in the shelter, though it provides limited protection, to save having to pack up a wet and frozen tent tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, we won't have any nocturnal visitors.  Tomorrow is our last day, and we have just under 16km to hike to reach the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre and the end of our journey.  We're excited to finish, but also recognise how fortunate we have been to enjoy this experience together.

Australian Alps Walking Track - Ghost Gully to Oldfields Hut

DateMonday, 13 May 2019
Start:  Ghost Gully Campground
Finish:  Oldfields Hut
Daily Kilometres:  24.1
Total AAWT Kilometres:  610.0
Weather:  Very cold early, then cool and sunny
Accommodation:  Oldfields Hut
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  My left knee still swollen and sore, especially down hills.  Julie felt unwell all day, but soldiered on.
Highlight:  Crossing the vast alpine flats on a clear sunny day, dotted with small herds of brumbies and mobs of kangaroos, and a sense that we had it all to ourselves.
Lowlight:  Undoubtedly, getting up and packing up on a freezing cold morning when everything was covered with a heavy frost.  It was brutal.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We knew it was going to be a very cold night when the temperature plummeted at sunset last night.  We both ended up wearing many layers of clothing to bed, and didn't want to get out of our sleeping bags when the alarm sounded at 6:00am.  It was very unpleasant packing up (see above), and took 30 minutes longer than usual as frozen fingers fumbled with clips, straps, pegs, etc.

We set off along the trail at 7:40am, our feet crunching on the thick frost as we avoided large frozen puddles.  The first rays of the sun hit us shortly afterwards and were very welcome, though we wore extra clothes until our breakfast stop at 10:00am.  Even then, the frost was thick in the shadows and was still visible in places in the early afternoon.  We spread out our tent fly, still covered in frost, over a tree to dry (somewhat) while we relaxed and ate in the warming sun.

The scenery had again been beautiful, especially on such a clear sunny day, as the trail meandered between patches of snowgum forests and vast grassland flats in shallow valleys.  We hiked another 10km to lunch through similar country, startling herds of brumbies and mobs of kangaroos along the way.  At lunch we spread out everything to dry, including sleeping bags, which were damp from condensation last night.  We were not in a big hurry, since we had decided to stop at Oldfield Hut, just 4km further on, so again spent time enjoying the sun while I also tried to send a few emails using the sporadic mobile phone coverage.

We reached the very pretty Oldfield Hut at 3:30pm, after a long climb from the flats, happy with the idea that we would have a longer day tomorrow, but not have to start out by packing up a frozen tent.  Another frost is forecast.  On arrival at the hut, we spent 20 minutes fruitlessly trying to locate water in scatchy spiky scrub in a nearby valley, before giving up and returning to the hut to notice there was a rainwater tank around the side!  Duh!

We washed and had an early dinner by a woodfire Julie got going in the hut's fireplace.  The old hut has plenty of draughty cracks, and we'll be sleeping on the rough wood slat floor, so I suspect it will be another very cold night.  We're looking forward to some creature comforts in just a day and a half more, when we finish our hike.

Australian Alps Walking Track - Snowy Mountains Highway to Ghost Gully

DateSunday, 12 May 2019
Start:  1km north of Snowy Mountains Highway
Finish:  Ghost Gully Campground
Daily Kilometres:  29.4
Total AAWT Kilometres:  585.9
Weather:  Cold, light fog early, then sunny all day
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal and chips, chocolate and ANZAC biscuits
Aches:  My left knee, injured in a fall crossing a river yesterday, was quite sore and swollen all day, despite a double dose of anti-inflammatories.
Highlight:  Getting to our last food cache and enjoying some treats with dinner.
Lowlight:  None really
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

I had a poor night's sleep with my injured knee swelling up and becoming inflexible and painful, and then we both had the joy, on a freezing morning, of donning wet socks and boots after last night's river fording.  On these icy cold mornings we do as much packing up as we possibly can while still in our sleeping bags, and then in the tent, but there comes a time when we must get out and take down the usually wet and icy cold tent fly sheet, pull out the tent pegs and fold up the tent and groundsheet.  By the time this is done, our fingers are seriously frozen, and it's always a relief to don our gloves and packs and generate some heat walking.

This was one of those mornings and we were very happy to be on the move around 7:15 in a light fog along a pretty trail that passed through alpine meadows and small snowgum forests.  As the fog began to lift and the sun broke through in places it was magical, and apart from a couple of skittish small herds of brumbies, we had it all to ourselves.  Despite me slowing our progress with my gimpy knee, we made reasonable time and stopped at the delightfully located Witzes Hut for breakfast.  We sat on some improvised benches and enjoyed the peaceful scene and the sun while the tent fly dried hung over a small tree.

We decided to walk another 10km to the Murrumbidgee River ford before our next stop and lunch.  It was warm walking, much of it across vast snowplains, but noticeably cold whenever we stopped.  There were actually two fords, the first across Tantangara Creek and then about 800m later, the Murrumbidgee.  Neither of us wanted to get our drying socks and boots wet again, so we changed into our camp/running shoes and crossed both in succession.  The Murrumbidgee was quite deep and fast in parts, and it took us a while to find somewhere we considered safe to cross.

After being spoiled with easy firetrail walking for the morning, the afternoon involved quite a lot of cross-country travel and navigation, though most of it was through open country.  We got off course a couple of times, but nothing serious, and the last part was spent following an old telephone line along a beautiful ridge in the sun, with good views to the north and south.

We reached Ghost Gully Campground, basic to say the least, at about 4:30pm, having collected our food cache from its hiding place about 200 metres away.  We had the place to ourselves, apart from more brumbies, and set up camp and washed in the sun's setting rays.  As soon as it did set, the temperature plummeted, and we threw everything into the tent, including our cooked dinner, and organised our rations for the last 2.5 days, while eating dinner and snacking on our treats.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Australian Alps Walking Track - Mackay's Hut to Snowy Mountains Highway

DateSaturday, 11 May 2019
Start:  Mackay's Hut
Finish:  1km north of Snowy Mountains Highway
Daily Kilometres:  40.0
Total AAWT Kilometres:  556.5
Weather:  Cold to cool and sunny
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  Both very tired
Highlight:  The late afternoon walking along the Tabletop Trail where we had great views across alpine meadows to nearby mountains lit by the setting sun.
Lowlight:  After 39km of hiking, by which time the sun had set and it was getting very cold, we had to ford the Eucumbene River.  It was too deep to avoid getting boots and socks wet, so we just waded across.  About half-way, I lost my footing on the slippery rocks, and fell in.  Not totally, but enough to get myself very wet and cut my knee.  By the time I managed to stand up and reach the shore, I was saturated and cold.  Julie quickly replenished our water supplies, as we had intended to do, and then with me shivering violently, we climbed a hill to find a camping spot and set up the tent as quickly as possible.  I crawled in, changed into dry clothes and got into my sleeping bag where I stayed for about 30 minutes until I stopped shivering.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We knew we had a big day ahead of us if we were to get back on schedule after two easier days to make sure we had hut accommodation in the poor weather.  It had snowed a couple of inches overnight, and we set out hiking at 6:40am across a snowy landscape in very cold conditions.  However, the skies were relatively cloud-free and there was the promise of a dry and sunny day.

Our route took us northwards on firetrails all day, much of it along the crest of the Great Dividing Range, and we were treated to many fine views in between sections of snowgum forest, with everything frosted with a layer of snow.  Julie was cracking the whip, pace-wise, and we made good time along the relatively easy trails.  About the only time Julie travels slower than me is on the long uphills, and there were few of those today.  The rest of the time she was setting a good pace and I was trying to keep up.

As the day passed, it got warmer and the snow gradually melted, and for the first time in days, we were hiking in shorts again, though still wearing our jackets.  After the bad weather of the past few days, we were really enjoying the sun and appreciating the beautiful scenery as we cruised along.  Around 3:30pm and 30km, we decided to try for another 10km, which would take us across the Snowy Mountains Highway (not allowed to camp 2km either side of the highway) at the ghost mining town of Kiandra and get us close to back on schedule.  All went well apart from my fall into the Eucumbene River (see above), and the fact that tomorrow morning, which no doubt will be freezing, we'll both set out with wet socks and boots.

We reach our last food cache tomorrow night and are looking forward to some treats.

Australian Alps Walking Track - Grey Mare Hut to Mackays Hut

DateFriday, 10 May 2019
Start:  Grey Mare Hut
Finish:  Mackays Hut
Daily Kilometres:  21.2
Total AAWT Kilometres:  516.5
Weather:  Very cold and overcast with frequent sleet and snow showers
Accommodation:  Mackays Hut
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  None to mention
Highlight:  None really
Lowlight:  None really
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

After a very cold night, sleeping on hard wooden beds, we were slow to get going and didn't start hiking until 7:45.  This didn't really matter, because given the forecast for very cold and snowy weather, we had already decided to only walk as far as Mackays Hut, just 21km further on.  The next hut after that was a further 18km, so too far to contemplate in bad weather, and we preferred to stay in a hut, rather than camp, given the forecast.

It was very cold when we set out, and Julie was wearing pretty much every item of clothing she had available.  The cloud was low, there was a chill wind, and regular sleet showers swept by as we climbed up over the shoulder of Jagungal across exposed open alpine country.  There were frequent stream crossings that required carefully stepping on rocks about boot depth below the surface, so we soon had damp boots and socks again.  My boots have done over 1000km now, and are showing definite signs of wear, including splits in the Goretex uppers, so the water seems to just go straight into the boots these days.

Despite the conditions, the scenery was still awesome, and between showers we could see far across alpine meadows and heathland that were drained by crystal clear and icy streams.  In other places, we passed through misty and eerie snowgum forests.  Magic.  Given the conditions, we walked without stopping for 3.5 hours to reach O'Keefe's Hut, by which time, we were warmed up and Julie was ready to remove a few clothing layers.  We had a late breakfast in the quaint hut, from where there was some mobile phone coverage, and did a quick catch-up on email, checked the weather forecast, and posted the past few days blog.

From O'Keefe's Hut, it was just 9km to Mackays Hut, which we reached by 2:30pm after several more snow showers.  However, on arrival, the weather seemed to be clearing, and we gave serious consideration to continuing on for another few hours and camping.  It was a toss up, and in the end we decided to trust the weather forecast which predicted continuing snow showers through to midnight, and stay in the hut.  This puts us 10km behind where we want to be, so we will try and make it up over the next two days to reach our food cache on schedule.

We eventually got a fire going in the rustic hut and ate an early dinner watching the snow fall outside.  Looks like we made the right decision. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Australian Alps Walking Track - Horse Camp Hut to Grey Mare Hut

DateThursday, 09 May 2019
Start:  Horse Camp Hut
Finish:  Grey Mare Hut
Daily Kilometres:  22.4
Total AAWT Kilometres:  495.3
Weather:  Very cold and mostly sunny
Accommodation:  Grey Mare Hut
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  None to speak of
Highlight:   The beautiful wintry early walking with the rising sun illuminating the ice-covered tree branches and snow-frosted vegetation.
Lowlight:  Multiple creek crossing that were just too deep and/or wide to be negotiated without getting our boots and socks wet.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We woke at 6:30 after our late night yesterday, and were walking by soon after 7:30 under partially clouded skies with no hint of precipitation, but it was cold.  There was snow on the ground, but not thick, and the mountains around all had fresh white dustings.  Tomorrow's weather forecast is for another cold front and more snow, so we decided that we will plan our next two days to stay in the mountain huts where there will be better protection, possibly wood for a fire, and we won't have to pack up, and set up, a wet tent.  Having decided on that strategy, we could either have two short days, or one long and one short day, to be sure of finishing at huts.  We were hopeful of reaching the more distant hut, O'Keefe's, today (35km), but the fallback plan was Grey Mare Hut (22km).

Initially, we made rapid progress on a beautiful morning on a good firetrail, and stopped in at Schlinks Hut, which was quite large, for breakfast.  But, when we turned onto Valentine's Trail, our progress slowed somewhat.  It was rougher underfoot, and had many short sharp hills, though visibility was good and the alpine scenery spectacular.  We had seen some reasonably fresh footprints going in our direction on the trail and in the snow, and just before reaching Valentine's Hut, met a young couple coming the other way.  They were both wearing Outward Bound shirts, and were out for a couple of days hiking.  We had a chat and they said they were retracing their steps having visited Valentine's Hut, and would perhaps hike out to Guthega Power Station (where they had left their car) today as they weren't equipped for the 20cm of snow forecast for tomorrow!

Valentine's Hut was beautifully maintained, and would have been a good place to stay, but it was still early in the day so we kept on moving.  We retained hopes of reaching O'Keefe's Hut, but the slow trail and time wasted futilely trying to find a way across multiple creek crossings without getting our feet wet, made it increasingly less likely.  Just before 3pm, we reached Grey Mare Hut and decided that with 12km still to go to O'Keefe's, we were likely to end up walking after dark again, and neither of us were keen for another long day.

We climbed the sidetrail up to Grey Mare Hut, which has a spectacular location high on a mountainside overlooking an alpine valley, and stopped for the night.  It was already very cold, and we both had wet boots and socks, so the first order of business was to get a fire going.  This we managed, with a little help from some kerosene left by a previous occupant, and we then attended to the normal camp set-up chores.   Despite the fire, the hut was cold, and we were soon wearing most of our clothes again after a warm flannel wash.  We ate early and went to bed early.

Depending on how much snow falls tonight and tomorrow, we are now likely to be a little behind our revised schedule which has us finishing around noon next Wednesday (5.5 days time), but the forecast is for a stable and dry weather pattern after tomorrow's cold front passes and I have little doubt we can make up the time.