Wednesday, May 15, 2019

190515 - The End ..... on another spectacular day.

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.

190514 - Almost there, on a perfect day

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.

190513 - Brumbies and kangaroos

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.

190512 - Sunday stroll (for Julie)

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

190511 - A good day...until the end

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.

190510 - Another cold front, as predicted

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

190509 - Jagungal Wilderness

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.

190508 - Adversity

DateWednesday, 08 May 2019
Start:  Thredbo Village
Finish:  Horse Camp Hut
Daily Kilometres:  35.2
Total AAWT Kilometres:  472.9
Weather:  Very cold, strong winds and almost constant sleet or snow
Accommodation:  Horse Camp Hut
  Breakfast:  Hotel buffet breakfast
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated meal
Aches:  Both very tired and cold
Highlight:  Eating a late evening meal by the wood combustion stove in Horse Camp Hut after a long and very challenging day.  It was great to be dry and warm at last.
Lowlight:  Wasting 30 minutes in the dark, cold and drizzle around 6:30pm, outside Guthega Power Station, trying to work out where the official AAWT route went.  Apparently a bridge it used to cross a river far below us no longer existed, even though there was still an arrow pointing that way.  As we were working out our options, a young worker driving out of the carpark stopped and asked whether we needed help.  He couldn't tell us where the AAWT went, but we were very tempted to ask whether there was any room for us to bunk down inside the power station for the night.  In the end, we thanked him and told him we were OK.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

As we ate our buffet breakfast at the hotel, we could see the wind raging in the trees outside, rain squalls passing by, and fresh snow on the upper ski slopes.  It was very tempting to book in for another night, but knowing there was another cold weather front due to pass through in two days time, there didn't seem to be much sense in waiting a day.  We checked out at 8:20 and began the long and occasionally steep climb up to Thredbo Top Station, and the AAWT, using the service road which seemed more direct than the hiking trail.  The higher we climbed, the colder and windier and snowier it got.

At the top, we took shelter in an alcove outside the closed restaurant and donned more gear to deal with the very bleak conditions.  The wind was sandblasting us with ice pellets, the ground was completely snow and ice-covered, and it was bitterly cold.  The walk from the Top Station to Mt Kosciusko is very popular, so the National Parks have built an elevated steel mesh footway to protect the delicate alpine environment.  This works well except in freezing conditions.  It became increasingly treacherous, the higher we went and the steeper the grades.  I seemed to find it harder than the sure-footed Julie and had one spectacular slip where to avoid face-planting on the steel mesh I threw myself down a metre off the walkway and heavily face-planted in the snow, driven down by the weight of my pack.

We eventually reached Rawson Pass where we had to make a decision about whether to stick to the recommended/preferred Main Range route, but there was no argument from Julie when I suggested we play safe and take the lower, official AAWT route, even though it added 9km to our walking distance.   We also skipped the side trip to the summit of Kosciusko, Australia's highest mountain, but we had only two months ago run a 50km trail race which visited the peak, in much nicer conditions, so didn't feel we were missing anything.  The weather was just diabolical and visibility was less than 50 metres. The possibility of having to camp in such conditions if we took the high route was too dire to contemplate.  Even the lower route was very exposed for the first 10km and we took a break at Seamans Hut, a refuge, to have a snack and try to warm up.  While there, two students from Canberra called in for a break on their way to Kosciusko from Charlottes Pass.  They looked a bit unprepared for the conditions to us, but they were keen and we wished them well.

Conditions ameliorated a little after Charlottes Pass, where the road ends, but it was still sleeting, windy and unpleasant.  We had a long roadwalk from there to Perisher, another very small ski resort, and took a break in the unmanned visitor centre to have a snack and for Julie to repair a blister.  By this time it was 3:30pm and we had at least 12km to go to reach our target hut for the night.  Given the still bleak conditions, we gave serious consideration to camping in the visitors centre for the night, though there were workmen about and the possibility of getting kicked out in the evening existed.  I did check to see if there was any accommodation available, but none was listed and the whole village still looked mothballed.

So we left Perisher for more roadwalking to Smiggins Hole, another shuttered tiny ski resort, and then via a quiet back road to the Guthega Power Station.  We thought we were on track to reach the Disappointment Ridge Hut by 6:30pm, but alas, the official AAWT seemed to disappear at that point with a bridge missing (see above).  Finally, we worked out an alternate route and changed our target to Horse Camp Hut, which we reached at about 7:15pm.  We were cold, wet and tired, and were very pleased to find the hut in excellent condition (it is looked after by the Kosciusko Huts Association) and decided to light a fire for the first time this trip to try and dry some of our wet gear.

It was late by the time we ate, but we are warm and dry, and will sleep in a little tomorrow after a very memorable day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

190507 - Rest and Recuperation

DateTuesday, 07 May 2019
StartThredbo Ski Village
FinishThredbo Ski Village
Daily Kilometres0.0
Total AAWT Kilometres447.1
WeatherMild and sunny
AccommodationThredbo Alpine Hotel
  BreakfastHotel buffet breakfast
  LunchPies and pastries
  DinnerBurgers and chips, apple crumble and custard
HighlightBeautiful day for hanging around the very quiet Thredbo Village and enjoying an al fresco lunch at the bakery in the sunshine.
LowlightCleaning up the bathroom after drying out our groundsheet.  House-keeping would have had a fit if they had seen the floor and bath after all the dirt and leaf matter had dried and dropped off the sheet.
Pictures: No pictures today.
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We had the perfect recovery day in Thredbo.  After sleeping well in a bed that is bigger than our tent, we enjoyed the excellent buffet breakfast included with the price of our room, before completing our usual drying, packing, laundry, email, etc., chores at a relaxed pace.

By around 11am, we had completed most chores, and spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around the village on a clear, sunny and mild day.  Thredbo is about 4km off the AAWT, and our first task tomorrow is to get back to the trail which passes by the Thredbo Top Station, 650m above us and 4km by trail.  There is a chairlift operating for tourists, provided the weather is OK, and we toyed with the idea of hiking up there today, with no packs (so that we have walked every step) and catching the chairlift down, and then using it to get back to the Top Station tomorrow morning along with our fully-loaded packs.  However, it was expensive ($31 each one-way) and with a forecast of moderate winds and snow tomorrow, we could not be sure the chairlift would even be operating.  Looks like we are destined to start tomorrow with a big hill following a big breakfast.

After a lovely lunch sitting in the sun outside the bakery we did some more shopping before meandering back to our room and spending a lazy afternoon doing more email and planning our next days hiking, with the TV on in the background.  Later, we had dinner at the same bistro as last night, one of only two eateries open in the whole village.

There are two cold weather fronts coming through in the next three days, each forecast to bring winds and snow to the alpine region.  Tomorrow's planned hike takes us along the Main Range, the highest stretch of trail you can hike in Australia, so I'm a little apprehensive about the conditions we will face and perhaps have to camp in.  However, we have good gear, and can make a choice to take a lower less-exposed (and 10km longer) route when we reach Rawson Pass on the shoulder of Mt Kosciusko (Australia's highest at 2228m) after about 11km of tomorrow's hike.  We are anticipating the worst and hopefully will be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, May 6, 2019

190506 - Into Thredbo

DateMonday, 06 May 2019
Start4.0km south of Tin Mine Huts
FinishThredbo Village
Daily Kilometres 28.8 AAWT plus 4.0 from trail to Thredbo Village
Total AAWT Kilometres447.1
WeatherCool and overcast in the morning and mostly sunny in the afternoon
AccommodationRoom at Thredbo Alpine Hotel
  LunchTrail Mix
  DinnerCheeseburger & chips
AchesBoth very tired.
HighlightThe spectacular open alpine scenery from Bob's Ridge all the way down to Thredbo on a beautiful afternoon, knowing that showers and junk food awaited us.
LowlightNone really
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We woke at 5am and were packed and walking by 6am using headlamps, having never seen our campsite in daylight.  It was overcast with no Eta Aquariid meteor shower to be seen, sadly.  It started to get light around 6:40am as we cruised along the somewhat muddy 4WD track enjoying the quiet alpine forest gradually being revealed around us.

Getting to Thredbo, and our booked hotel, was on our mind, and although not racing, we kept up a comfortable and steady pace.  As is my habit, I turned on my radio to try and find some of the morning ABC news programs around 7:30am, sometimes a fruitless task, but not today.  Julie, who sometimes likes listening to music as she walks, then usually looks for a music station.  Even when not listening to the radio/music, we don't tend to chat much while walking.  Generally, it's just a companionable silence, absorbing our surrounds, and pointing out anything that piques our interest.

Late yesterday, and several times during the morning, there were signs posted along the track warning that a 7km section of the trail up ahead was closed and access prohibited because of tree clearing operations.  It was a bit late to tell us, given we had no alternative route, so we continued on hoping there would be no problem.  Although we did encounter a lot of cut trees and bulldozed areas, along with muddy churned up track, we never did meet any workers or see any machinery.  The only life we saw all morning, apart from birds, were two good-sized wild dogs, that both loped off to avoid us.

We reached Cascade Hut, with 13km to go, just before lunch, and were happy with our progress, but tired.  The scenery began changing from forest to more open alpine country as we climbed over Bob's Ridge, and the sun came out, lighting up some spectacular vistas.  It was very pleasant and rewarding walking.  We crossed the Thredbo River, then followed it downstream from high on the slopes to Dead Horse Gap, where we met a road.  After a short break, we left the official AAWT here and continued following the river downstream 4km on a lovely trail all the way into Thredbo, arriving at our hotel at 3:30pm.  That left plenty of time to check-in then get down to the little supermarket/post office to buy some snack food and pick up the food parcel and some better tent pegs I had ordered (the pegs that came with our new tent have a tendency to bend easily).

Later we showered, did some laundry and had dinner at a bar attached to our hotel.  With still a month to go to the start of the ski season, Thredbo is very quiet, mostly populated with workers getting ready for the season, and just a couple of eateries open.  We have had another good day, and after two long days of hiking, are looking forward to a lazy day tomorrow.

190505 - Into New South Wales

DateSunday, 05 May 2019
Start:  Limestone Creek
Finish:  4km south of Tin Mine Huts
Daily Kilometres:  33.8
Total AAWT Kilometres:  418.4
Weather:  Overcast, drizzling and cold in the morning, and mostly cloudy in the afternoon
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  Both very tired
Highlight:  Crossing into New South Wales from Victoria by jumping across the mighty Murray River at the remote and atmospheric Cowambat Flat, a vast open meadow in the heart of the mountains.   There's even wreckage from an old transport plane that crashed there in 1953.
Lowlight:  Getting lost a number of times in cold and wet conditions as we tried to follow the "poorly defined" AAWT up Stony Creek in the early morning drizzle.  There were brumby tracks everywhere, which didn't help.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We woke to cold wet conditions again, with a saturated tent fly, as usual, and were packed and on the trail by 6:40am.  We first had to cross Stony Creek where I managed to put my foot in a hole and get a wet foot to start the day.  After crossing the creek, the AAWT followed it upstream on faint trail which we repeatedly and frustratingly lost amongst the myriad brumby tracks. Even when we were on the trail, it was often just a muddy scrape along a hillside and slippery.  After an hour or so of this, the AAWT climbed steeply up a spur and eventually reached Cowombat Flat track, a very muddy 4WD track that took us northwards in the drizzle.

After a while we heard the sound of engines and were soon passed by about 20 trailbike riders who were, illegally, riding the same trail northwards into the declared wilderness area.  They were the first humans we had seen in three days.  A little while later, at the gated entry to the wilderness area, we stopped for breakfast in the drizzle, looking very bedraggled and cold when the first of three park ranger vehicles arrived and the very friendly rangers got out for a chat.  They even took a picture of us with one of the rangers for their internal newsletter to show that hikers actually used the trails they looked after.  They were interested to know about the trail-bikers, but there didn't seem to be much chance of catching them.

By the time we had finished breakfast, we were getting quite cold and put on extra gear for the morning's walk.  The trail was muddy, and slippery in parts, but the grades weren't too bad and we made good time as we caught glimpses of the Cobberas mountains to our right.  We had decided last night that if we covered plenty of ground today and tomorrow, we could probably reach the ski village of Thredbo, and our next day off the trail, by tomorrow night, a day earlier than scheduled.  With that incentive, and the cold conditions, we powered on towards Cowombat Flat and the NSW/Victorian border.  Not long before getting there, we met the three rangers on their way back and had another chat (they were impressed with how much ground we had covered).

After savouring the beauty and tranquility of Cowombat Flat (see above), we crossed into NSW and followed an old disused firetrail into the Pilot Wilderness Area.  There was a very long and tiring ascent, but at the top we joined the Snowgums Trail for a beautiful evening ridge walk through snowgum country, startling a couple of brumbies along the way.  After leaving that trail, we began looking for campsites, but had difficulty finding something and continued walking until well after dark.  Around 6pm, we found a barely suitable spot and set up camp.  It was cold, and after erecting the tent, we threw everything into it and washed, set up, and ate inside.  It was a satisfying day in many respects.  We saw more remote, varied and wonderful mountain scenery, while making good progress, distance-wise, evidence that we now have good backpacking fitness.

We're planning an early start tomorrow for the 33km to Thredbo and hope to get there around 4pm.

190504 - Brumby poop ...... everywhere

DateSaturday, 04 May 2019
Start:  Old Buenba Hut Site
Finish:  Limestone Creek
Daily Kilometres:  26.8
Total AAWT Kilometres:  384.6
Weather:  Cool to cold, overcast, with a few showers
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  None in particular
Highlight:  Misery Trail, which was an old disused 4WD track along the summit of a snow-gum covered ridge, was a beautiful and well-earned walk to follow a long and arduous ascent.  It was a peaceful little plateau, another "lost world" with glimpses to nearby forested mountains through the white gnarly trees.
Lowlight:  Brumby poop.  It seemed that all day we were walking round it, over it, or through it.  I understand the romance associated with these wild horses that roam the mountains here, but they have no predators and have clearly changed the landscape in significant ways.  Apart from the poop, there are brumby tracks everywhere through the forests and water sources and marshy areas have been trampled.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

It rained just before we got up, but stopped by the time we were ready to pack up, although again we had a very wet tent flysheet to stow in my pack.  According to the guidebook and my memory, we had many sections of "poorly defined" trail to follow today, and I was somewhat anxious that poor navigation would cost us plenty of time.  However, as it turned out, the trail was better marked and easier to follow than I recalled.

From the Buenba valley, we climbed gently through forest to the Buckwong Track a pleasant firetrail with easy walking and we made good time until our breakfast stop which included a futile attempt to dry the tent fly.  From there, the trail followed the Buckwong Creek upstream through a series of grassy, and a little boggy, flats that were clearly popular with the brumbies.  Then came a seemingly never-ending climb on rough trail up to Davies Plain Ridge, with the very welcome Misery Trail (see above) which marked the high point of the day.

From there the AAWT descended into the Limestone Creek valley via more beautiful single-track trail and one steep slippery descent, fording along the way Dead Horse Creek where we both got our feet a bit wetter than intended.  Limestone Creek itself was also a challenging ford, before we collected some water and walked a few hundred metres further on to find a relatively dry place to camp.  Some rain arrived as we started cooking, and our meals were consumed in the cosy tent.  The weather has been a bit strange all day, with periods of quite intense cold and the occasional shower.  Hopefully we'll see some blue sky tomorrow.

190503 - Up and down

DateFriday, 03 May 2019
Start:  Benambra-Corryong Road Crossing
Finish:  Buenba Hut Site
Daily Kilometres:  26.5
Total AAWT Kilometres:  357.8
Weather:  Cool and mostly sunny
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  Both very tired
Highlight:  It would have been nice to reach our campsite a little earlier, but we still had a lovely last few kilometres through the open grassy flats of the Buenba valley as the sun set and kangaroos grazed all around us.
Lowlight:  Perhaps encountering a dead brumby on the track near the day's end.  Very aromatic!
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

It was a wild night with thunderstorms passing overhead and almost continual rain, torrential at times.  Our tent kept us cosy and dry and we woke to clearing skies and very wet undergrowth.  Our tent fly was saturated and our groundsheet and tent were also a bit wet, so I got to carry an extra kilo or two of water until we had the opportunity to dry them out at lunchtime.

Essentially, it was a day of two halves.  The morning was spent climbing to Johnnies Top (1565m) and the afternoon was spent descending to the Buenba valley.  The climbing was quite wet early on, especially on a section of overgrown old firetrail where the vegetation was sodden.  I was in the lead and would not have been much wetter if I had been swimming, as each overhanging branch dropped litres of icy water on me.  However, when we reached the Beloka Range Track, the trail was wide and easier, and we both dried out and enjoyed the sun and forest.

At Johnnies Top, we stopped for lunch in sunny and breezy clearing and spread out all of our wet to dry, which it did in about 30 minutes.  Sadly, there were no views from Johnnies Top, or on the following descent along a long spur, but it was lovely trail through peaceful eucalypt forest which we savoured.  The final part of the descent was quite steep and my knees were crying out for relief by the time we reached Corner Creek at the base of the spur.  Crossing the creek itself didn't present too many problems, but finding our way out into the Buenba valley did.  There were indistinct trails everywhere, courtesy of the brumbies, and it was impossible to know which was supposed to be the AAWT.  Instead, we resorted to the GPS to find out way through the somewhat marshy and forested landscape, disturbing a small herd of brumbies along the way.  We lost quite a lot of time navigating through this section and didn't reach the Old Buenba Hut Site, our target for the day, until around 5:20pm, just before dark.

We collected some unattractive water from the near-flooding (after last night's rain) Buenba Creek and set up camp on the beautiful grassy flats.  It is a very cold night and stars carpet the sky.  Nearby, we can hear a brumby neighing.  Perfect!

Friday, May 3, 2019

190502 - Lazy day

DateThursday, 02 May 2019
Start:  Taylors Crossing Hikers Campground
Finish:  Benambra-Corryong Rd Crossing
Daily Kilometres:  8.8
Total AAWT Kilometres:  331.3
Weather:  Mild and overcast with frequent showers
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix, chips and ANZAC biscuits
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  Nothing much
Highlight:  Finishing our hiking before noon and having a lazy afternoon in the tent, snacking and reading as the rain beat down outside.
Lowlight:  None really
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We slept in until just before 7am and packed up quickly in case it rained.  There had been quite a lot of rain until the early hours, but not much after that and the tent was quite dry.  We set out around 8am and walked along quiet (no vehicles at all) eucalypt-lined rural gravel roads for the first 6km.  It was a pleasant change from the forests, with just a few farm dwellings and sheds, and some cows and horses in the pastures.  We also saw quite a few kangaroos, the first of the hike so far, which seems incredible given how far we have travelled.  We have seen plenty of animal evidence (droppings), but no animals apart from a snake on the first day and plenty of birds.

Eventually, the AAWT left the roads and climbed to the top of a small mountain where we stopped for breakfast in the hope of getting some mobile phone reception to check mail and update the blog.  We rarely have reception at lower elevations, so try pick places for breaks near the tops of hills to get/make updates if we can.  From there we had a difficult descent along poor slippery trail to the ford of Morass Creek, still fresh in my mind from my last AAWT hike, but we made it across with out incident.  The water level was much lower than I had remembered.

After the ford, we only had a short uphill hike to reach the Benambra-Corryong Road, near which we had hidden our food cache, reaching there just before noon.  It felt a little surreal arriving here on foot after driving so far to drop the food drums off originally.  It had already rained intermittently during the morning's walk, so conscious that it could start raining again at any time, we cleared a spot and erected our tent before going off to find our food drums.  They were where we had left them and after having a wash and changing into our cleaner (it's all relative) camp clothes, we sorted out all of our food for the next five days.  I have over-catered our daily rations, so the first order of business was to remove a handful or two from each day's muesli and trail mix to lighten the load.  We will leave the surplus in the drums, along with our rubbish, for when we pick them up after the hike.

The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing inside the tent, while it showered outside, eating our treats and reading and snoozing.  As usual, Julie checked out all of the maps and guides, and in particular, the elevation profiles, to see what climbs we have in store for us.  We had an early dinner and went to bed hoping it woukd not be raining in the morning when we need to pack up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

190501 - Halfway there

DateWednesday, 01 May 2019
Start:  Mt Wills Hut
Finish:  Taylors Crossing Hikers Campground
Daily Kilometres:  26.1
Total AAWT Kilometres:  322.5
Weather:  Foggy then overcast with occasional rain and high winds
Accommodation:  Tent
  Breakfast:  Muesli
  Lunch:  Trail Mix
  Dinner:  Rehydrated Meal
Aches:  Both very tired
Highlight:  After a pretty wet day, having a dry last two hours of walking to reach the very pretty hikers' campground at Taylors Crossing, where we managed to set up camp, wash and eat just before it started raining again.  Very lucky timing.
Lowlight:  Fog and cloud prevented views for most of the day.
PicturesClick here
Map and PositionClick here for Google Map

We delayed getting up to 6:30, and left Mt Wills Hut around 7:30, having farewelled our fellow hiker residents.  They were also hiking the AAWT, but only the section from Hotham to Thredbo, and planning to take 17 days.  We plan on 8 days for the same section.  It's possible we will see them again, since they also have food cached near the Benambra-Corryong Road, where we will be spending much of tomorrow, but probably not.

There should have been great views from Mt Wills as we traversed its alpine summit, but it was very foggy and breezy, and even navigation was difficult, with the GPS resorted to on several occasions.  I was listening to the morning news as we hiked and heard there was a severe weather warning for all Victorian alpine areas.  We were lucky that most of today's hiking was going to be about descending from the alpine areas, and although we had enough rain to make things unpleasant, and we could hear the wind roaring in the tree tops, it wasn't too bad.

The rain did make the steeper descents tricky in parts, but there were many sections of the day's hiking where we travelled along narrow trails through dense wet forest, and there's something beautiful and atmospheric about the Australian bush in the rain.  Our route went along the Omeo Highway for a couple of kilometres, and we saw a few vehicles, the only people we saw all day after leaving Mt Wills and before getting to Taylors Crossing where there were a couple of tourists.

From the Omeo Highway, a long descent down Gill Spur brought us to Gill Creek, a damp ferny place where we had lunch. It was probably here that we picked up some leeches, a couple of which left Julie hiking all afternoon with spectacularly bloody legs.  After fording Gill Creek, there was a monster ascent in the rain on a narrow track through sodden vegetation up to the top of the Wombat Range that left us both exhausted.  But from there, the rest of the day was almost entirely on firetrail and the rain eased, making for very pleasant walking at a good pace.  We pushed on to Taylors Crossing, a few kilometres further than scheduled, knowing the camping there was good (see above).  We now have an even shorter day tomorrow (9km) to our food cache on a day forecast to be very wet, so we might just get there, set up the camp, and spend the rest of the day eating (our treats), reading and sleeping inside the tent.