Thursday 28 October 2010

Hike Day 8 - Mount Kosciuszko

So here we were – the last day. Breakfast was followed by a briefing from our guide, and a reminder of the gear we needed: gloves, hats, snowshoes, poles. Feeling weirdly nervous (maybe having stuck it out and walked every day, I thought it might be my turn to be felled by injury) I got my things and headed out.

The Thredbo Lift Company had kindly provided us with free passes, so back in the bus we went to drive to the bottom of the mountain. Gear on and into the chairlift. The day was beautiful: bright sun, bright sky. Not much snow on the trails visible from the lift.

But at the top there was thick snow as far as the eye could see. (So much for my assumption that a) the highest mountain in Australia wasn’t that high and b) wouldn’t have much snow. Hey - do you think maybe there is a reason they call ‘em the Snowy Mountains?)

Snowshoes on – obligatory photo opp – trudged over to the path just visible in the snow. This metal grid made easier walking but the snowshoes were a bit of a liability whether worn (clunky) or carried (heavy). It was 6km to the summit and relatively slow going because of the snow.

We had a quick break for water with a view of the summit, looking like a perfect boule of vanilla ice cream.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. Some clouds coming down ahead of us. Singing hristmas songs to keep myself going: Sleighbells ring – pant – are you - pant pant - listening?

We stopped again at the base of the summit – more cloud but no snow falling so all clear to go to the top.

The boule was hard work. Steep, slippery, using snowshoes to carve steps. Every breath burned. Two thirds of the way up we came to a vertical section. With no purchase, people were slipping backwards. Using the points of my showshoes, poles, fingers (teeth, even?) I went up on all fours. Once over the hump we could see the top. We waited until everyone was together then walked the last 20m or so.

And how did it feel when we made it to the summit? Unreal. Surreal. Not quite the feeling of accomplishment I expected. But perhaps it hadn’t sunk in. That, or I was subdued by the knowledge that we still had to walk back down. It was beautiful up there, though.

Photos. Picnic. Then, after one last look around, turned to face the descent. The only logical way over the hump was seated. Obviously. Coat-tail tobogganing is excellent fun.

Trudge, trudge, trudge through the snow. Beautiful views of the valley. Thinking about how I felt now that the hiking was nearly over.

Almost before I realised it, we were back at the chairlift. On the way down I took photos of my feet and thanked the stars that I wouldn’t have to put the boots on ever again.


That’s the end of the nuts-and-bolts (blisters and porridge?) story. I have been thinking a lot more about what the hike has meant to me and will post about that next week. But this interpretative panel we passed on the way up may have a clue: everything is connected.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Hike Day 7 - Island Bend to Perisher

Next to last day and, as walks go, not the most exciting.
(Not the least exciting, by any means, but I think some of the scenery and experiences of previous days had spoilt me.)

We were ferried to the start point – click, click, click for some Day 7 photos.

The first 8km were along the road. Along the road and up a long hill (a ‘pesky’ hill, tm Simon Lewis) we went. We had great views of the mountains and the Snowy River, but I guess it’s always less fun walking on road, as opposed to on a track.

We had a short break for morning tea then more uphill – but this time with more interesting scenery - and signs of a wombat hike:

We took the road for Smiggins Holes (a few people commented that it sounded like a place in The Hobbit) – much more like it. There was snow!

Dramatic mountain views! Best of all, no cars. We had our lunch with a great view, though it turned out to be a very ant-y spot.

Onwards, upwards. Smiggins Holes was a ghost town. It’s a ski resort, but empty now that the ski season is over. Ski resorts are, by their nature, much better looking under snow – which hides a multitude of ugly building sins.

From Smiggins Holes it was just a few kms to Perisher. And very dull they were, along the main road, with snow-bitten, bleached khaki landscape. Lots of crows adding a sinister atmosphere. (Plus: Perisher. Not a very inviting name, is it?) We had high hopes of finding a happening ski resort, but were disappointed on arrival to see the Perisher wasn’t much more alive that Smiggins Holes.

I was just glad to have made it through seven days relatively unscathed. One more day to go!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Hike Day 6 - Gungarlin River to Island Bend

After the dark and stormy night, I woke at dawn and unzipped the side of my tent that faced east: no rain, just a little mist and the promise of a brighter day. I got up, put on my boots and went to the creek to splash my face and fill the kettle.

E appeared and said she thought she could see a brumby in the distance. I grabbed my camera and set off in pursuit. I walked along a track by the river, jumped over a marsh and, as I got to the clearing E had pointed out, realised there was not one, but three horses – two adults and a baby. Closer still and the leader of the pack (all he needed was a black leather jacket) put up his head and looked at me. No point trying to hide: I was wearing a red jacket. And even if I hadn’t been, I’m sure I was pretty fragrant after two non-showering days. Leader of the Pack called to the others and they started to run.

As well as the original three, six or seven others appeared out of the bush, mostly dark brown but there were a couple of bays too. With the mist and the still-dim sky, there was something dreamlike about the scene. Completely magical. The brumbies weren’t scared, just demonstrating that they didn’t find human company to their taste.

Back to camp and breakfast of porridge and tea. The sun was up by now and as we packed our bags and struck our tents it shone in earnest.

Once we’d set off, the group broke into little clusters. With hurt knees and sore feet, people walked at their own pace. We’d been told this was a short day (only 14km) and enjoyed walking along the forest track, smelling the great scent of gum trees. We had one mishap though, where we turned left where we should have turned right. The path came to an abrupt halt so we had to backtrack through Snake Gully (christened because of several sightings. One I saw with my own eyes – a big black snake slithering beside us. Urgh.)

We walked quickly back to the junction and then turned downhill, crossing the Snowy River (I hoped we might see the Man from Snowy River swooping down on his horse, but sadly no.) Up, up, up one last pesky hill and then, just after 2, we reached Island Bend where the Bushpigs’ (local rugby team) bus was waiting to collect us.

The driver generously detoured via Jindabyne and SHOPS. Almost overcome at the sight of civilisation, I bought paw paw ointment (more on this wonder-unguent anon), blister plasters and COFFEE. Also Grazia because it’s important to be well-informed.

We were staying at the ALI lodge on the outskirts of Jindabyne: comfortable dorms, lovely bathrooms (clean and warm, lots of hot water) and a train in the yard that doubled as a living room.

Dinner and bed at 9. A mattress never felt so good.

Monday 25 October 2010

Hike Day 5 - Adaminaby to Gungarlin River

Up at six – to a beautiful sunrise that helped calm the nerves of the night before. The lodge was a zoo, with four parents, five children and twelve hikers (though two of them were going back to Canberra and two were just starting off). More porridge for breakfast, with soy milk, which is surprisingly yummy on oatmeal with honey.

H and C, the new hikers, got their ndoros on the front porch and then we had to hit the road. The plan was for the hikers to be ferried to the other side of the lake and then the two leaving us would drive to Cooma to catch the bus to Canberra. But H’s car didn’t have much petrol and about 15km short of our destination she stopped, saying that if L didn’t drive it back from there, she wouldn’t get to Cooma. The rest of us squeezed into two cars to get to the Nimmo Road and the start of the day’s hiking.

Support Crew James drove his 4x4 into the forest park, carrying our tents and gear plus two injured hikers. He later came back and gave three more people a lift to the top of the back-breaking, feet-hurting, soul-destroying 4km hill. (Were the dead dogs we saw strung from a tree an omen?)

Owww … everything hurt and it was hot, which was both better and worse. But we made it up to the turn off for the Power Line Trail. Apparently the others were a little worried we wouldn’t make the turn and left us a trail of orange peel. We didn’t spot it – but maybe the wallaby we saw had eaten it.

Along the trail, the power lines a comforting and oddly picturesque wayfinding device. Down a steep hill this time and into a beautiful plateau. It was like some kind of English pastoral scene: short, herby grass, butterflies, trees bent into interesting shapes. We stopped in this idyll for lunch (and the obligatory squats and stretches.)

After lunch up another hill, but not such a bad one. We met the guy in charge of the campground, who warned us, with a certain note of alacrity, that weather was blowing in: maybe thunder, maybe snow.

On again, sometimes stones underfoot, sometimes more dirt road. Excitement when we got to the gate – and sign – that marked our entrance to Kosciuszko National Park.

And not long after, we reached Gungarlin River Campground or, you know, Arcadia. Just a few trees beside the clearest, coldest creek; an iron plate over a firepit; a long drop that was inhabited by birds (the shed, not the dunny itself.)

We basked in the sun for a while, but wary of the promised bad weather, we had dinner (bags o’ curry – not bad) at 4. R supervised dinner and led us all in a game of charades afterwards. The dark clouds and rain started blowing in at 6 and we all dashed into our tents. I amused myself by taking photos of the tent, then read an Architectural Digest from 2001 and listened to the rain. There was a brief hiatus around 7 and I ducked out to use the dunny but went back to bed afterwards and was asleep in minutes.

Woke up a few hours later – LOUD rain, thunder, lightning, wind pulling as hard as it could at the tent pegs. I lay there praying the tent would stay put and not start to leak. The rain eased and I went back to sleep. Woke up occasionally when the wind got especially loud, but the tent (oh lucky stars and garters) stayed where it was. (Neighbours not so lucky – the flashing of their torch around 3am indicated that emergency tent repairs were underway.) Dozed off again until dawn.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Interlude With Laughing Kookaburra

This is a little backtrack, because there was something I forgot to say about the night we spent at Mount Clear.

It rained all night and it was cold in the early morning. I burrowed as deep as I could into my sleeping bag and hoped that the weather was going to improve. And then I heard the kookaburra.

How did I know it was a kookaburra? Because of the song:

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry, merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh kookaburra, laugh kookaburra,
Gay your life must be.

They really do sound like they're laughing. Don't believe me? Listen here.

Later in the day, a fellow hiker told me that when you hear the kookaburra calling it usually means the weather is changing. And since we'd traded rain for sun, I guess the kookaburra knows a thing or two.

(Image via Wikimedia commons)

Friday 22 October 2010

Hike Day 4 - Mount Clear to Adaminaby

Otherwise known as the day I walked more than 40km.

The day started of cold and misty but everything brightened (literally and metaphorically) after the first cup of tea. It was a beautiful morning.

Porridge by the fire, then we made preparations for th day. A group photo, then we set off up the big hill leading through the forest away from the campground.

It was a fresh, bright morning, walking on forest track for the first couple of hours. We met a group from Outward Bound – their leader said he’d been told to look out for the hike4hunger hikers, which was funny. Fame at last!

Morning tea really was tea: we met Jo and Jay along the road and they had a flask with them.

Yay for tea! I don’t think I ever appreciated it more than on the hike. (And to put things in perspective: I’m normally a three coffee a day girl, but I didn’t have ANY for five days.)

It was just girls walking today – the two male hikers in our group were nursing various ailments (as, to be fair, was one female hiker.)

The scenery was less wooded, more hilly and scrubby as the day wore on. We lost three more of our company, who decided later in the morning to take the option of a lift (and a rest afternoon) so we were down to six.

We had lunch under a tree by a creek. My feet were very sore and blisters thoroughly disgusting, so I put my feet in a bag of ice James produced. (Don’t worry, I checked if anyone wanted to eat the ice first.)

Estimates of how far we had to go varied (James said 16km, Simon said 10km), but the afternoon was a slog up bitumen and dirtroads. There was some pretty scenery to distract from our feet, but mostly it was quite bleak.

We stopped for another break in the afternoon and two more hikers were picked up so we were but four. Spurred on by the lure of a beer in Adaminaby (I should explain that the hike was alcohol-free, but we thought that if we made it all the way to the pub we might be due a cold one, cf Ice Cold in Alexworth waiting for – etc), Jay, Jo, Louise and I kept walking. And walking. And walking. Our initial 8km estimate (from the place we stopped for our afternoon break) was stretched and stretched. My feet felt like deadweights strapped to my ankles. But we went on….

After an hour we did group stretches by a very smelly river and, somewhat revived, we walked very slowly up the last hill of the day. We practically crawled into Adaminaby, searching for evidence of the World’s Largest Trout. Finally we saw it, AND the pub across the road.

It was more the idea of the beer than the beer itself that thrilled us. Legs practically locking, we drank the beer and devoured salt and vinegar crisps. We were picked up and driven to our overnight accommodation – a beautiful stone and wood house, with an amazing view of lake and hills and horses.

Unfortunately, by then I was done in. All I wanted was to find a quiet place for a good cry. Also unfortunate: quiet, private places were in extremely short supply at the lodge. I nearly fell into my bowl of pasta at dinnertime, then I had a hot shower and a little weep in the train-station like bathroom (multiple entrances, people constantly coming and going). Everything felt out of kilter and all I wanted was to sleep. The wonderful stars provided some consolation, but I found it very hard to sleep that night. This was the wall, then. I really wasn’t sure I could keep going. I tossed and turned and worked myself up into a bit of a tizzy. Eventually I crept downstairs (most of us were sleeping in a loft), had a drink of water, washed my face. Went back to bed (once I managed to find the stairs in the pitch dark!) and slept like a lamb.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Hike Day 3 - Caloola Farm to Mount Clear Campground

The story so far: 51km walked, three hours sleep slept, a couple of blisters gained, Canberra left well behind.

We were well-warned about Day 3. 28km, lots of up and down and twelves creeks to cross which would likely mean wet feet.

I woke up (or gave up on sleep) about 5.30. I sat up and poked my head outside – it was still dark and misty. I ventured to the long drop (a good test of how long I could hold my breath) then got dressed. E (the hike leader) and I got the kettle on for tea and then we made porridge. After breakfast, we had a quick turnaround to get packed up and on our way.

We were on the track by 8, walking through bracken and low cloud. We saw our first kangaroo of the day just after we started. Also had our first river crossing, though we managed to ford it so shoes and socks stayed on. The terrain was quite rainforest-y – or perhaps it just seemed that way because of the mist, clouds and creeks. It was overcast for much of the day, but not actually raining.

The track we followed was a fire trail through the woods – mostly a yellow, sandy road, with lush foliage on either side. Lots of birds, frogs and BIG, vicious, man-eating ants.

In the afternoon, the forest cleared and there were more open spaces … and kangaroos. Lots and lots of them. We were definitely in kangaroo country. Big ones, little ones and baby joeys sticking their heads out of their mothers’ pouches.

We crossed our final creek in the late afternoon, then walked up our last hill to find Mount Clear Campground. There were lots of roos waiting for us in this basic – but beautiful – campsite. The tourist information booth doubled as a dunny, with brochures on hiking trails thoughtfully provided by the toilet.

Dinner was spaghetti bolognese pre-prepared by Jay (yay!). (For a pre-dinner treat, I exposed my worst blister on my left big toe to a chorus of eeeewwwws round the campfire.) The spaghetti was delicious but unfortunately it started raining while we were still eating. We had to clear up and do the washing up in the rain. One last cup of tea (in raincoats) by the fire but with nothing else to do we all went to bed at 8. Kept awake by the sound of the rain, the ground, the cold – and some animal noises too.