Day 3, Challenge 3: Moods
After such a beautiful afternoon yesterday, today is bleary with mizzle. Clouds are low on the hills. I head out into the smudged middle distance and pay attention to the details, trying to get into a good mood. Water drops on spider webs and fence wire, the shining colours of wet leaves on the path, the trickling sound of a hidden stream, sheep emerging from the fog like woolly boats . . . There is something very beautiful about this quiet, close world. I walk softly and hear the scuffling of little animals and birds in the hedgerows. I surprise several pheasants, which take off in noisy bursts, their chok-chok-chok alarm call trailing them into invisibility.
Dampness clings to every surface, just enough to feel unpleasant. Damp shirt, damp spirits. After a small, unintentional detour, I climb what I presume is the North Downs. There’s no view to speak of, so it could really be any old hill. My feet are wet from the grass. Not worth the effort, I think.
Still, I take enjoyment from the otherworldly appearance of an overgrown brassica patch, the pearly drops of water decorating crinkled leaves. I see just how close I can get to the pheasants on one bare field - they don’t seem to be able to comprehend that I’m a human, or they can’t see me in the dense fog, so they go about their business within a few metres of the path.
I come to a field filled with looming cattle and decide to bail off the path. It looks like steers, not cows with calves, but I can’t see more than 10 metres ahead, so I don’t know how far the exit to the field will be, or if there’s any other way out. Usually I’m not too bothered by cattle, but I worry that in the fog they’ll get surprised or spooked when I appear in their midst. I take my chances with the road running parallel to the field. It’s not fun - high hedge, fast cars, no shoulder, very poor visibility. I’m thankful that I packed my little LED torch, which I shine into the oncoming traffic. It seems to work, but I’m pleased to get back on the footpath, wet grass and all.
One point in the day really stands out. The path tips into a secret dip between some hills, the Postling Downs, and the low rumble of traffic suddenly disappears. The noise of the M20 and A20 has been almost constant for the last couple of days, so it’s sudden absence is slightly eerie. I think of Allysse and how she describes her enjoyment of Richmond Park in London being mitigated by the flight path overhead and the busy roads cutting through (in Issue 00 of Queer Out Here). This traffic noise hasn’t ruined the walk for me, but it’s made me appreciate how motorways can affect an environment not just from visual or physical perspectives (e.g. by cutting off animals from their territories or blocking migration paths), but can be really disturbing from an aural perspective, too. The sonic environment of this part of Kent has really been screwed over, I think.
I’m too busy with my own thoughts and I somehow miss a turning and veer off track. My feet are cold and wet, I can feel the plaster on my blister coming unstuck, the traffic noise is irritating and now I’ve gone the wrong way. I’m altogether in a good state for a bit of a strop. And yet . . . I’m not grumpy. I’m the only person here, I’m the only person my mood is going to affect in any way, so what’s the point? And after all, there’s no wrong way when you’re not heading anywhere in particular. I pick and eat a mushroom and make tracks for a nearby village.
My plan is to sit in the church for a bit to dry off. The church is locked, but the porch is open, so I wring out my socks, tend to my blister, have a bite to eat and ponder my options for the rest of the day. There’s a village with a pub on the other side of the next hill - or at least, so the OS map says. I check online and see that the pub is (a) still there and (b) open, and decide to head over for a loo break and a bit of warmth. I’ll make my next decision then.
The pub is the carrot I dangle in front of myself as I climb to the top of what feels like a big hill and toddle down the other side. I’m not really enjoying myself, and the thought of climbing up an even bigger hill into even more cloud after the pub doesn’t sound great. As I sit with my half pint of cider and bowl of chips, I realise I’ve already made my decision. Instead of following the North Downs Way, I’m going to take the easy path along an old railway line to Peene (Peene!). There might even be a bit of shelter. I call Dan to arrange a new pick up point.
It turns out to be a good decision. It's raining, but I meet a friendly ram, pass a few happy dogs (they don’t care if it rains, they’re just full of joy to be outside) and enjoy the last bit of my walk along a flat, pretty trail. Dan’s waiting at the end next to Peene Railway Museum (unfortunately it’s shut) with a choc orange flavoured cupcake. We drive up to the place I was planning to finish and spend a few minutes looking out over Folkestone to the (barely visible) sea. It's a bit of an anticlimax, but that's OK - it's not the destination that counts. I'm feeling pretty Zen.
Then it’s home time. All in all, I’ve had a great few days. Dan’s enjoyed doing his own thing, too. Hopefully we’ll do it again one day.
This was the third day of a three day walk in October 2017 from (approximately) Maidstone to (pretty much) Folkestone along (mostly) the North Downs Way.
Day 2, Challenge 2: Stamina
I cheerily wave goodbye to Dan and set off with anticipation and curiosity. What will the day bring? How far will I walk? This was always meant to be the longest day, but I haven’t planned a precise destination. This is deliberate, because I don’t want to get caught up in reaching or exceeding a certain mileage. As I follow the track, leaves of rust, yellow and chocolate beneath my feet, I try to find some markers on the horizon to gauge my process. I think there are some wind turbines out there, but the rain in the distance makes it hard to tell. Where would they be, anyway?
I play chicken with the rain as it comes closer and I detour down into Charing. I’m envious of Dan’s cake exploits yesterday, so I’m pleased to find Mulberry’s Tearoom open early. Over a delicious and enormous slice of coffee cake, I watch the drizzle and chat to my friendly tearoom host. I mightn’t have seen many people on the path, but both the North Downs Way and the Pilgrim’s Way are very popular - especially with Dutch cycle tourists, apparently. The rain pauses and I head off, but not before Ms Mulberry (not her real name, probably) apologises that the scones aren’t quite ready for me to take away and admonishes me not to talk to strangers!
Of course, just as soon as I leave the shelter of the tea room, it starts tipping down. Oh well. It’s only water - and it’s not cold, either. I flip the my hood of my coat over my head and wear it as a cape. It works fine. I stick to the country roads around a ploughed field and secretly race a couple of walkers who are on the diagonal footpath through it. (I win - the field looks like hard, muddy going.) My shoes splat against the asphalt and I enjoy the feeling of water splashing up onto my legs.
I’m really appreciating the freedom of walking at my own pace. It’s not that Dan and I usually have an issue with that; we’re pretty well matched. But even so, without any other body’s input, I pay more attention to my own. I am probably walking faster than I would with Dan, but I can’t be sure. I’m also stopping to take photos without having to think about catching up, or being in someone’s way. I might be stopping more, but without having to negotiate with anyone, I feel more in the flow.
Soon, the way leaves the road and pops over a stile onto a farm track footpath. I greet two men, one with a radio, one with a gun crooked over his arm, and ask if it’s OK to walk through. “Go ahead,” jokes one, “but duck if someone starts shooting.” I send my best wishes to the pheasants for a safe and speedy escape as I trundle through the estate.
And there’s blue sky! I’m pretty excited about this, even as I realise I’ve left my sunscreen at home. As much as I’ve enjoyed the walk so far, everything’s a bit better when the sun comes out! I pass through a village that I barely remember (it has a huge green in the centre, and gardens bright with fuschia flowers) and then I find myself at the point where the North Downs Way splits in two - or into one big loop. One sign points towards Dover - via Canterbury, the other to Dover - via Folkestone. I stand at the post, suspended for a few moments within possibility, and misquote Robert Frost before I take the path to Folkestone.
The path to Folkestone goes to Wye first. Wye? Wye not. Wye sits on the same plain as Ashford, beside the River Stour, in an elbow-crook of the North Downs. In that analogy, this branch of the North Downs Way runs straight from wrist to armpit - along the bottom of the triangle. Down in the valley, I cross a busy road, cut behind an apple orchard, say hello to some donkeys, chooks and geese, then pass through a market garden field before heading into town. I stop in the churchyard for a much-needed lunch break and take a look at the blister I’ve been developing. I can’t really feel it, but it’s definitely there. I knew this last night and I really should have put a plaster on this morning, or when I stopped at Charing. “Oh well,” I think as I cover it up, “better late than never.”
It’s a struggle to get going again after lunch, but it’s such a nice day it would be a shame to stop. My motivation isn’t improved as the path heads straight uphill to the top of the Downs. I need the loo. I feel sluggish and slow. “It doesn’t matter,” I have to tell myself. “You don’t have to walk fast, you just have to walk.” This has been developing as a bit of a mantra today. As the Americans say, hike your own hike.
After a steep woodland path and a short road walk, I’m standing on top of the Wye Crown, a shape carved into the chalk hillside. I can’t make out the crown, but the view more than rewards the climb. Oh, it’s amazing! I can see Wye, and the hills I was on this morning, and the outline of Ashford and those wind turbines . . . They must be the ones near Rye, I suddenly realise, and yes, there’s the Fire Hills and, perhaps, beyond, the South Downs at Eastbourne! It’s all so much closer than I imagined. The sun is out and everything is shimmering. I wander along the top of the escarpment, peering down into tiny fields and woods below.
If I wanted, I could stop and call Dan to pick me up. I don’t want, though. I’ve still got a couple of miles in me, and there’s no rush. I don’t have to walk fast, so long as I keep walking. The view is a great distraction, while it lasts. Soon, though, the path turns away from the edge and trails along country roads through plateau-like farmlands. I am now busting for the loo and eventually find a quiet lane with a notch in the hedge. Thankfully, nobody comes along!
My legs are getting stiff, now. I look at the map and weigh up my options - there are two villages, a mile or two apart. I decide to aim for the closer one. There are no worries, though, no anxiety. I’ll get there. “You don’t have to go fast,” I say as I hobble along, “you just have to keep going.” There’s a trig point to aim for, too. When I get there, a grey-haired man is leaning on his van, looking at birds. I tell him about the wildlife I’ve seen, he says he walked the Pennine Way years ago. Now he has plans to kayak around the UK. “Some people say I’m too old. But the people who really know me just offer to bring me supplies!” We chat for a while, before I go down the hill into the village and wait for Dan to pick me up.
“So, how far did you walk today?” Dan asks.
“I really don’t know. It felt quite a bit further than yesterday. Twenty kilometres? Hopefully at least twenty, or I’m less fit than I thought.” I calculate it when we get back. Twenty seven kilometres. Sixteen miles. That counts as a long day for me. And I could have stumbled out another couple of miles if I’d needed to. It would have been slow, but, hey, you don’t have to walk fast, you just have to walk.
This was the second day of a three day walk in October 2017 from (approximately) Maidstone to (pretty much) Folkestone along (mostly) the North Downs Way.
Day 1, Challenge 1: Anxiety.
I start the walk angry. I am angry because . . . I don’t know why. There are a series of niggles, but nothing to upset me this much: we had to drive miles past our destination and use a roundabout to turn back on the highway just to get into the carpark; there are no toilets at the reserve and I’m busting; the weather was fine this morning and now it’s overcast; the velcro on my camera case is coming unstitched so I can’t keep it on the hip belt of my bag (I leave it behind and rely on the phone). I’ve been looking forward to this walk for a couple of weeks, but now it’s about to start, I’m unhappy.
I’m going to be walking by myself. This should be exciting, because it will be my first multi-day solo walk. Well, “solo” to a certain extent. Dan’s dropping me off and picking me up each day, but he’s doing his own thing while I’m hiking. If this goes well, it might be the start of a new era of holidaying, where I walk (which is fun and relaxing for me) and Dan relaxes/mooches around/doesn’t do much (which isn’t usually my bag) and we meet up in the evening for dinner and sleeping (which we both agree are excellent). Dan thinks he wins because he gets to do whatever he wants; I think I win because I get to walk - and I get a personal taxi service.
It’s great in theory, but now we’re about to wave goodbye to each other I’m both angry and sad. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?” I try to coax Dan. He doesn’t - he wants to eat cake and read, which is exactly what he’ll end up doing. “You’re always a bit like this at the start of a walk,” says Dan. “You’ll feel better in a little while.” We part ways and I turn around every few steps to wave, as if I’m heading into some vast wilderness rather than taking a stroll on the North Downs near Maidstone.
Five minutes later, Dan’s out of sight. So, this is it for the afternoon. Not much I can do now except walk. I put down one foot and then the other foot. I look out at the view on my right, keep an eye out for the National Trail markers. It’s just walking. I can do that.
Soon, I’m at the bottom of the first flight of steps. Ugh. Who ordered this? I’m annoyed all over again. I mean, sure, the North Downs are a range of hills, but who would have thought the North Downs Way would go up and down them? I give myself a talking to. “There’s no one else here. You can go up this hill as slowly as you want. It really doesn’t matter.” So that’s what I do, And, of course, it isn’t so bad. The hills aren’t big. At the next flight of stairs I think, “OK, this is how it’s going to be,” and adjust to the reality of the path. The view is good from up here - the slope sweeps down to a wide, low plain with fields and villages and roads - and when there’s no view it’s because the path is a half-magical tunnel through shrubs and trees in autumn yellow, orange and brown.
After 20 minutes or so, I still don’t feel great. I ask myself, “What’s wrong?” and then, “OK, but what’s really wrong?” until I hit the core of it. Anxiety. I’m unreasonably anxious. Last time I went on a real adventure, on the Snowy River, I developed a lot of anxiety. I became scared of everything. I worried constantly about our safety. And I didn’t deal with it then, so now, on my first multi-day walk since, it’s reemerging. I’m trying something new, I’m by myself, I don’t know what’s going to happen . . .
“What am I worried about?” I mutter. I list a few things, but it boils down to: “Something might go wrong.”
And what if it does? If I hurt myself, mobile reception is fine, so I can call someone. If a dog chases me, well, I’ve had dogs growl and snarl and bark at me before - generally they stop once you’re off their territory, plus they should be used to walkers on this well-trodden path. If the phone dies and I can’t check the map, the North Downs Way is very well waymarked - and I know there are villages nestled at the foot of these hills, so I can go to one of those and phone Dan from a pub or a random person’s house. If someone attacks me . . . OK, the chances of that are very slim. And there’s nothing I can do about that, really - the decision to assault someone is the aggressor's decision, not the victim’s. Really, the two things most likely to go wrong are: 1, it rains; and/or 2, I don’t enjoy myself. Those are some pretty low-stakes problems to have.
As I’m climbing another hill, it dawns on me that some of the physical symptoms of this anxiety are similar to the markers of physical exertion. My heart is pumping overtime, I’m a bit out of breath, my chest is a bit tight, my limbs a bit wonky, adrenaline is working its way around my body - it’s fight or flight-y. I wonder if I’ll feel less anxious when path is flatter. I reach the top of the hill and, sure enough, this turns out to be the case. Huh. So, where usually I feel anxious and as a result I get these symptoms, today I’ve got the symptoms and my brain has converted them into “I’m anxious”. Perhaps . . . actually, yes, I think this is true: I’m not really that anxious after all! This realisation amuses me so much that I laugh out loud and disturb some pheasants.
One hour in and I take a moment to appreciate that everything is now great. I’m relaxed and happy (ahh, endorphins!). I feel like I could keep going for hours. I’ve found my stride. The well-marked path dips in and out of the trees, and I can see the flowing skirt of the escarpment slowly receding behind me. I love walks like this, where you can look back and trace your progress, look forward and wonder where you’ll get to today. It’s very satisfying. The only people I’ve seen so far were two riders racing their horses along a gallop below the hill. This is what I was hoping for. This is the life!
I get lured into Hucking Estate by the Woodland Trust’s signs. They seem very clear, directing me to a viewpoint, but I somehow manage to go the wrong way. Ah, but no way is really the wrong way, is it, if you’re just out for a wander? I meet a shepherd carved out of wood and climb over a locked gate to get back onto the North Downs Way. I pass through a beautiful section of grassy glades and hawthorn thickets, where white cows seem to glow in the muted afternoon light. I watch a kestrel - suspended, a silent focal point in the midst of a frantic wind that gusts up the slope at Eden’s Hole.
The path tips me off the hills and I’m almost disappointed. But now I’m walking along the Pilgrim’s Way, an ancient trackway and road system that stretches from Winchester to Canterbury. Two cyclists pass me and, as they pass, one exclaims how amazing it is to be following the route that people have been following for a thousand years. I stop for a Snickers and a loo break. Later, I sit with a pilgrim (once again, carved from wood). But mostly I breathe deeply, open my stride and put the miles behind me. Chalk cross, chalk path, chalk cliffs. Any anxiety I had is a distant memory. Here I am, walking. I love walking.
This was the first day of a three day walk in October 2017 from (approximately) Maidstone to (pretty much) Folkestone along (mostly) the North Downs Way.
You might have already seen a few photos from our trip in my overview blog post, but I have hundreds more. Want to come over for a slide show? (I'm only half joking.) Over the coming weeks, I'll share photos of the Snowy River and surrounds from source to sea. This one spans the first few days - there are more from the foothills of the mountains, but they'll be in the next post about the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
The walk up the mountain was very pleasant, especially as the clouds started to clear. In this photo, Dan and I are (I think) approaching the crest of the Ramshead Range, with Ramshead North on the left. Read more about our walk up the mountain.
This is the Snowy River, a photo taken from the first (or last) bridge across it - a steel mesh footbridge on the walk from the top of the Thredbo chairlift to Rawson Pass. We saw tiny fish here, mountain galaxias, speckled and wiggling in the shallows.
The extremes of this landscape: huge, ancient granite boulders, exposed to the sky and weathered into a rounded jumble by thousands of years of rain and snow and wind; tiny flowers and delicate mosses of the ephemeral bogs. Beautiful.
The sign at Cootapatamba Lookout notes, "This waterhole was named Kau-oola-patamba, the place where the eagle drank, from an Aboriginal storyline from the north." Lake Cootapatamba (as it's generally written) is the highest lake in Australia. It’s one of only a handful of cirque lakes, or post-glacial tarns, found on the mainland, formed in the bowl-shaped hollow that occurs at the upper end of a valley where a glacier has scoured out the rock. Lake Cootapatamba is cupped in a shallow plain, and as we climb we see the landscape descends in steps down the mountain. You can't see it in this photo, but just over the ridge behind the lake there’s a tiny, bright red hut, a survival beacon designed to catch lost skiers and hikers who come the wrong way off the mountain in bad weather.
There was a cairn, like an OS trig point, at the top of the mountain. Several paces away, across the rocky top, someone had built their own cairn. Further downstream, in the middle of nowhere on a fire trail that is only accessible by management vehicles and people on foot, we found another stone tower.
Here a small stream meanders over a high plateau before disappearing into a steep-sided valley. This was one of the few views that made me feel that I really was physically at the top of the world. This landscape is beautifully described in Alan Gould's wonderful poem "Flying Over the Australian Alps", which I reproduce in part here entirely without permission. Please read the full piece at the link.
Under you Australia
is a broad unmade bed hills pleating folding
as if around an entanglement of limbs forests
cushion the yellow light greenly or vanish
into reservoirs of cobalt shadow a valley
ignites along the filament of its creek dams
perhaps a dozen take dazzle-fire like insect wings
You are travelling the earth is travelling
in a slow enchantment from a time toward a time.
Granite, granite, granite. And then, suddenly, an entire hillside of slate. This reminded me of the abandoned slate quarries of Wales though as far as I'm aware this has never been used as such? The spot in the photo caught my eye because of the tiny microclimate in the hollow, where a huge range of wildflowers and alpine herbs were growing.
Thick stone walls clutch green-framed windows, protecting the glass from the weather. A chimney straggles from a dark red roof, secured with wire to the ridgeline. This is Seaman's Hut, named after W. Laurie Seaman who, along with his companion Evan Hayes, was one of Australia’s first skiing fatalities. On 14 August 1928, Seaman and Hayes were on Mount Kosciuszko when a blizzard closed in around them. A search party following the pair’s tracks deduced that they’d been separated. Seaman had followed the pole line back down towards Rawson Pass. He was blown off course by the strong winds and retraced his tracks, but missed the pole line of Summit Road in the blizzard. His body was found near the current hut site almost four weeks later, where he had presumably waited for Hayes to join him. Hayes’ body was not found until 1930, over two kilometres away above Lake Cootapatamba. Seaman’s Hut was built by the NSW Tourist Bureau using money donated by Seaman's parents with the idea that anyone who might need emergency shelter on Kosciusko would be able to find it. It's maintained by the Kosciuszko Huts Association.
The second (or second last) bridge across the Snowy River, on the gravel road from Rawson Pass down to Charlotte Pass. It sees a lot of foot and bicycle traffic. In fact, until 40 years ago, the road from Charlotte Pass was open to vehicle traffic, too. A 1930s pamphlet The Motor Road to Kosciusko declares, “Every motorist should aspire to driving his car to the very Summit of Mount Kosciusko” - and many motorists (including the women drivers ignored by the pamphlet) did so. It wasn’t until the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation kicked in during 1977 that the road was closed to public vehicles. We stopped at this bridge for a while and I stood still in the clear water until the curious galaxias grew confident enough to come and nibble my legs. It tickled!
Alpine mint (left) and some kind of pea flower (right). The mint has a very Australian smell - not much like the mint you might grow in your garden. I kept meaning to make myself a mint tea, but didn't get around to it. At any rate, it's probably illegal to pick it in a national park.
Snow gums. How amazing are they? White Sallee is their other common name. As we came down the mountain, their presence indicated that we were dropping out of the alpine region. The snow gums don’t grow very big up here, due to the low temperatures, the snow and ice, the wind and frosts - as you descend, they get taller and straighter. The bark folds like skin in the bends of the trunk, making the trees seem part-animal. The bark is silvery grey, dripped and streaked with pale coffee cream, the pink of new skin and red, orange and pea-soup green. The colours flicker in ribbons around bending, curling limbs and flow across the gnarled base of older trees.
Facing upstream from the lookout at Charlotte Pass. The left hand fork is the Snowy, the right is Club Creek coming down from Club Lake. The track that crosses them both at the confluence is the Main Range Walking Track - the long way from here to Mount Kosciuszko! We started our second day by taking the track down to the river, then turning right and following the river bed downstream.
Here I am, at the start of Day Two. Look how happy I seem. That is the face of someone who really has no idea what they're in for! The going was easy here - it got much harder later on. Behind me you can see the path coming down from Charlotte Pass and to the right of the image you might just be able to make out a chimney - all that remains of Foreman's Hut.
The river began as a fairly shallow, wide stream. We could walk along the side, hopping from rock to rock when needed. Around the corner, though, the Snowy sank into a small gorge, the water became swift, the rocks became a little harder to negotiate. It got more difficult to climb out of the river onto the hillside and, once out, the slopes were often covered with dense alpine shrubs, almost impossible to walk through. I worked up quite a sweat, despite the cool, overcast day, and it was nice to be able to stick my head in the river, wash myself off a bit, and grab a drink while I was at it!
The rock formations here - and throughout our trip - were wonderful. This photo shows two basins that have, over thousands of years, been hollowed out of a granite boulder by the grinding motion of smaller stones moved by flowing water. I wonder how long the stones in the right hand basin have been there?
As the day wore on, we found ourselves clambering down more small waterfalls, over bigger boulders, through deeper water. This is the last photo I took while on the river - there's a gap of almost two hours before the next one. I'd already hit the wall by this stage, but over the next couple of hours Dan also got the wobbles, we realised that we'd not come nearly as far as we'd thought and we scrambled ourselves to a point where the river was too deep to wade safely any more. Eventually, we climbed up a small waterfall onto the hillside, where we found the vegetation was thinning out. We walked cross country, avoiding bogs where possible, until we found a footpad heading down to Illawong Suspension Bridge, Illawong Hut and the footpath out to Guthega. Adventurous!
The photo on the left was taken on the walk to Illawong Hut. Yes, it's the remains of a crustacean - a yabby. Probably. (I've just Googled yabbies and discovered their scientific name is Cherax destructor. How cool is that?) This explained the holes we'd seen the day before up near the source of the Snowy - they were probably yabby holes.
On the right is a cool contraption that was once used for crossing a creek between Illawong Hut and Guthega. It's a heritage monument now, and the plaque calls it a flying fox. Presumably you sit on the metal seat and pull it along one chain link at a time - in the photo you can see that the links on the far side of the seat are bunched up while the ones on the near side are extended.
Out of the mountains
This is the road out from the ski village of Guthega, high on the slopes above the Snowy River (which is in the valley to the right of this photo). We kept thinking how few people we saw - no walkers off the main trails, and only a couple of cars every hour. If this was in a small, densely populated country like the UK, it would be crawling! The tall red poles are road markers for visibility when everything's under snow. The epic number of reflectors on this one caught my eye. Someone's been busy.
The intersection of Guthega Rd (sealed) and Link Rd. Link Rd is a summer-only track that leads over the mountains to Smiggin Holes ski village on Kosciuszko Rd. But the main feature of this photo is obviously the bushfire-deadened snow gums on every hill. In 2003, a complex of fires killed several people, injured hundreds and caused huge damage to the outskirts of Canberra, while another raged through almost two thirds of Kosciuszko National Park. In 2006-7, when the longest continuously burning bushfire complex in Australia's history burnt through Gippsland and the Victorian Alps, Kosciuszko National Park again experienced serious damage. These are the scars. All across the ridges and slopes, the bony hands of burnt gums thrust up from the stony ground, fingers fanned out brittle and bare. The pattern is repeated over and over, crosshatched monochrome etchings on the slopes where there should be a flurry of leaves. With distance, the burnt trees blur together, giving the impression of dark cloud or smoke, as though the slopes themselves are the remains of a still-smouldering fire.
By this stage, the end of the third day, we had dropped out of the subalpine region and into the montane eucalyptus forest. Whereas snow gums are pretty much the only tree in the subalpine altitudes, there are several species of tree in this photo (in the reflection and behind the mirror in the river valley). You can also see how the tree behind the mirror is growing much straighter and taller than the snow gums in previous shots.
Goodnight, mountains! This is taken on Kosciuszko Rd, looking towards Sponar's Chalet (you might just be able to make it out at the bottom middle of the photo). It has to count among some of the most spectacular sunset skies I've seen. Emily stopped the car and we all spent a good while gawking as the clouds moved from yellow to fiery orange and bruised purple.
I'll post more pics in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you can read a trip overview (if you haven't already) and/or a more detailed account of climbing Mt Kosciuszko.
Kate invited me to contribute to her Mountain Monday series of guest posts last week. Here's an excerpt from my piece, all about our walk up Mount Kosciuszko/Targangal at the beginning of our Snowy River adventure.
Directly beneath the chairlift, the Australian Alps Walking Track struggles up the steep hillside. I wonder if people who hike the full 655km of the trail from Walhalla in Victoria to the outskirts of Canberra sneer at those of us dangling our legs from the metal benches above. Perhaps someone is watching us even now, puffing their way up from Thredbo village, shaking their head at our laziness. I doubt it. We didn’t see anyone heading up the fog-dampened track this morning, only those who - like us - finished their snacks, pulled their beanies low over their ears, wrapped their scarves across their faces, hefted their backpacks, handed over their tickets and jumped on the ski lift.
A chilly wind twists around my legs and the cloud draws close, silently reducing our view to the ground immediately below - a few straggly trees, boulders, yellow grass - and the next chair in front of us, swinging from the lift rope. Beyond the hum of the drive at the bottom, the chairlift itself is quiet. For a moment, between one breath and the next, we’re in a small, eerie world of grey, accompanied only by the clunks and whirs of wind and metal on metal.
Then Emily burps, we laugh, the cloud swirls back and the view of the valley unfurls behind us. There are slashes of treelessness under the chairlifts and in long downhill strips which in snow season would be ski runs. The morning sun catches a ridgeline; silver skeletons of snow gums mark the huge bushfires that burnt through here a few years ago.
Please do head over to The Adventures of Kate to continue reading!
Almost two months ago, we flew to Australia to try to walk down the Snowy River. Spoilers: we couldn’t do it. But we had a lot of fun trying!
Here’s what we got up to and how our plans changed. (Many of these pics are from the phone camera and a lot of them were taken by Dan. I’ll be blogging more photos from the camera as I get around to editing them.)
Plan A was to walk the river. We flew into Melbourne, stayed with our friends for a night, then Emily picked us up and drove us to my parents’ place near Orbost. The next day, we hopped back in the car and zoomed up to Jindabyne. Emily stayed with us in Jindabyne for most of the next week, ferrying us around, cooking dinner, finding out interesting things and generally being a superstar. Day 1 was an easy day walk up Australia’s highest mountain and back down. It started with a ski lift up the steepest bit, followed by hot chocolate in Australia’s highest cafe, then a walk to the source of the Snowy (pretty much). Emily went back down to the car and Dan and I went up to the summit, visiting Australia's highest toilets on the way. We then headed down the other side to Charlottes Pass, stopping for me to paddle in the river while little galaxias nibbled my legs.
Day 2 was probably the hardest day of walking - or rather, scrambling - I have ever done. The river began as a fairly open bed, with lots of little rocks to use to walk along the side, but which soon became a swift stream rushing down through a gorge, over multiple rapids and small falls. Out of the river, the hills were covered with dense alpine shrubs, almost impossible to walk through. I hit the wall early on, and spent most of the day shaking with the effects and aftereffects of multiple adrenaline dumps. “It wasn’t meant to be like this on Day 2!” I wailed at one point. It took us several hours to make our way down the river to a point where Dan also hit the wall and we couldn’t get any further. We climbed out up a waterfall and trudged across the hillside, finally catching a glimpse of the hut where we’d planned to have morning tea (it was now about 3pm). We found a footpath leading to a suspension bridge, made it to the hut, ate the last of our chocolate and followed a path out to the road at Guthega where Emily picked us up - several kilometres short of our planned end-point for the day. We were physically tired, but mentally and emotionally we were absolutely drained. What had we got ourselves into?
The next couple of days were clear road-walking along the river. Mornings were cool and the valleys often stuffed with cloud, but it burnt away quickly leaving hot blue skies. We encountered three copperhead snakes, saw dozens of kangaroos (some fighting!), a few wallabies, the cutest little red-bellied birds (flame robins), a wombat and many other denizens of the bush. We found a beautiful campsite overnight at Island Bend, once the site of a Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme township. Plan B came into effect on Day 4, when (due to the slow progress on Day 2) we ran out of time. A track we thought might take us through alongside the river was signposted, “This trail is now closed to all unauthorised use at Jindabyne Pump Station. Due to safety concerns it is no longer possible for mountain bike riders and walkers to continue along the trail past the pump station and they must return to this point.” We didn’t fancy walking 10km along the track only to have to turn around and walk 10km back - plus the rest to get us out to somewhere with phone reception or passing traffic. Instead we walked a few hours out to Kosciusko Road and hitchhiked into Jindabyne. The only previous hitchhiking we’d done together was a couple of miles in Norfolk when we’d gone for a walk and ended up running late for Dan’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. This was a bit more exciting!
On our day off in Jindabyne, we strolled around town, wandered along the lake shore and went to the fantastic Birchwood cafe for more than one meal. We spent a bit of time in the visitor centre, looking at the tiny corroboree frogs, learning more about Kosciuszko National Park and admiring the model of the area, showing Old Jindabyne and the route of the Snowy River before both were drowned beneath the lake.
We moved to Plan C the next day, when Emily waved us off and drove back to Melbourne. We made our way down to the river below Jindabyne Dam and started pushing our way through the scrub along the river bank into the gorge. Twenty minutes later, we’d come about 200 metres. At this rate, we would run out of food before we could make it to Dalgety. We traipsed back up the hill in the baking heat and followed a dirt track around the top of the gorge and up the Mowamba River to the road. We mulled a few options over as we had lunch and investigated Mowamba Weir. A bus goes between Jindabyne and Dalgety three times a week, but we weren’t sure it would stop for us. A chat to a couple of blokes fixing a car in a nearby back yard confirmed it wouldn’t, so we decided to hitchhike to Dalgety. “I’ve never picked up hitchhikers before, but you two look pretty harmless,” a woman told us. I think she meant we looked pathetic, huddled out of the blazing sun in the one patch of shade we could find! We made a pact from now on to pick up hitchhikers when we can - it’s such a relief when someone finally stops. In Dalgety, a dry town in a dry place, we pitched our tent minutes before an epic rain, wind and hail storm settled in and washed away half the caravan park’s new roads. I was certain our tent would be a goner, but it survived - as did we, which I’m not sure would have been the case had we been stuck in a gorge with a rising river.
Plans D and E
Our time in Dalgety included Plans D and E. We paddled a section of the Snowy upstream of Dalgety on a canoe borrowed from Sue and Colin at the caravan site. We spent as much time in the water as out of it. The dazzling, clear skies of the morning turned to storm clouds and lightning by mid afternoon and we thought it might be a good idea to get off the river. We pulled into a random garden and shouted, “Hello! Is anyone home!” Anyone was home - two anyones, in fact - and they were very nice to us. We sat on the verandah as it bucketed down, drinking tea and telling tales until Colin came to our rescue.
We got the maps out while we were in Dalgety and realised that, while it might be possible to walk the length of the river, we would probably move downstream at a rate of about 6-10km per day rather than the 15km per day that we’d originally planned. The going was much slower than we’d anticipated, what with having to rockhop, wade, bushbash, ford the river and creeks, and detour up the sides of the valleys. Our options were to attempt to walk a long section of the river in its entirety, or to do several shorter sections along the whole length of the river but not see the stuff in between. We opted for the latter and roped my dad into driving up to Dalgety to do a bit of car-based exploring. Gosh, we had a fantastic day or two. We travelled through some amazing landscapes, saw some intriguing places, met some interesting people and generally had a fun time. It rained.
We retreated down to my parents’ place on the lower Snowy near Orbost, skipping ahead to spend a few days exploring that area. Perhaps this could all be encompassed within Plan F. We went bushwalking at Raymond Creek (a tributary of the Snowy), inner tubing several kilometres down the river from Wood Point (seeing many Snowy River crocs), wandering along the road and riverfront at Jarrahmond (visiting the gauging station) and walking from Marlo to Frenches Narrows (a salty lagoon at the end of the Snowy). We also paid a visit to Mount Raymond fire tower, where we enjoyed fantastic views over the Orbost flats, the hills beyond and out over the coast.
Plans G and H
We spent a night in Buchan with my parents before my dad then drove us back up to NSW. We planned to have a few days walking and exploring before meeting my aunt and uncle at Jacobs River - as arranged months before. We tossed up driving all the way around to Paupong via Dalgety, which we’d visited the week before (Plan G), but in the end went for the more sensible (or easier, if you want to be cynical) option. Dad dropped at Jacobs River (Plan H) and we walked upstream from there.
We followed old tracks and animal trails a day upstream, left most of our stuff in our tent at the bottom of Byadbo Fire Trail, did an epically steep return day walk along fire trails to Slaughterhouse Hut (an old cattleman’s hut maintained by the KHA), camped another night, then headed back to Jacobs. This was a fantastic three day trip, which I’d recommend to anyone interested. As well as lots of native animals and birds, we saw many wild/feral horses, deer and what I believe were dingo/wild dog hybrids. (Despite my fear of dogs, our two encounters with them at the end of the Byadbo Fire Trail were some of the quietest and most amusing animal encounters of the trip - especially the time when three dogs coming down to the hill towards the river were surprised to find a person having a shit in a hole. The person coughed, ahem, the dogs stopped, assessed the situation, then melted back into the bush. Spoiler: the person having a shit was me.)
With my aunt and uncle, we did a day of supported walking down the Barry Way almost to the border of NSW and Victoria, enjoying the beautiful views along the valley, the easy walking, the sunshine and flowering gums. We didn’t have to carry our packs and we rocked up to shady picnic tables adorned with wraps, dips, salads, croissants and wine! After this, instead of walking to McKillops Bridge along the river, we drove around with them (Plan I). This proved to be a pretty epic adventure in itself. Their 2WD stationwagon was packed to the rafters and we had about two inches of clearance as we made our way down the narrow, winding gravel road. Fortunately, we didn’t meet any other cars on the way down as there is minimal space for passing between the huge sidecuts on one side and the steep ravines on the other. There are some pretty epic views, though! We spent a couple of nights at McKillops Bridge, exploring under it, swimming in the river, going for walks and poking around the rapids.
Plans J and K
Understandably, my aunt and uncle weren’t keen to drive back out the same way, which put paid to Plan J (walking down by Campbells Knob, crossing the river, heading overnight on the Deddick Track and following Moonkan Track back to Jacksons Crossing, then walking out from Jackons Crossing to Balley Hooley). The only other road crossing of the river in Victoria is at Orbost, so we headed back down to my folks’ place the other way, via Goongerah. This coincided with my mum’s birthday, which was pretty nice!
Everyone we spoke to had weather news: a big stormfront was on its way. We hastily arranged Plan K. My aunt and uncle dropped us off north of Buchan and we walked in to Jacksons Crossing. The 4WDers we met at the top of Basin Creek Road were keen to tell us how steep the track was. They weren’t wrong. It was a hard walk, but the bush, the rainforest, the farmland, the bluffs and the river were gorgeous. The next day we couldn’t find the bridle track we wanted to walk out on (bushfires? overgrowth?) and after an hour messing around in the bush we had to hoof it back up the 4WD road, putting in a bit of hard work to make it to our arranged pickup point with my dad. We made it back to my parents’ house minutes before guests arrived for my mum’s birthday lunch.
Because we had accommodation booked in Buchan and because we had friends coming to meet us there from Bendigo, we couldn’t really rearrange the timing of our stay there. We had a lovely stay at the Buchan Motel, watching kangaroos through the morning mist from our balcony, exploring the area and going on a cave tour with our friends. We also got the chance to explore some of the less-travelled parts of the Buchan Caves Reserve - waterfalls, mossy boulders, little creeks, old walking tracks and tall eucalypt forests. After a couple of nights, it was back to Orbost via a short walk and picnic at Balley Hooley at the confluence of the Buchan and Snowy Rivers, this time with another uncle and aunt (Plan L).
The last section of the adventure was always the vaguest in terms of plans, as I am familiar with the area, we knew we’d have somewhere to stay and there are lots of options for exploring the river. So I think this section can all come under the heading of Plan M. We walked around Orbost with my sister, reading all the interpretation signs, paddling in the river under the bridge, finding huge Wanderer/Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars and pupae in the sensory garden. We picked our way up the rainforest on my parents place, along the creek bed from the river to the driveway, again with my sister. We hired bikes in Orbost and cycled 50km - down to Lochend, the Devil’s Backbone and Lake Wat Wat, back up along the hilltops to Newmerella, out to Simpsons Creek on the East Gippsland Rail Trail, down the hills onto the flats at Bete Bolong (visiting my uncle, who gave us some much-appreciated lemonade) and back over the river into Orbost just as the sun was setting. We went boating with my dad from the Brodribb around to Marlo in a tinny borrowed from my parents’ friend.
Plan A had us finishing the walk on Tuesday 18 April, heading out across Frenches Narrows, over the dunes and along the beach to the mouth of the Snowy. And that’s exactly what we did. My parents came with us and we picnicked in the sun, watching pelicans, terns, gulls and other birds wheel above, bob on the waves, sit on the sand, pick over the seaweed or stalk through the estuary water. We waded back across the estuary and wandered back to the car along the boardwalk. The next evening, after another day at the beach, Dan and I went down to the river at the bottom of my parents’ place. I crossed the river one last time and collected a bottleful of sand.
The best laid plans
I’m still sorting through all my feelings about the journey.
Sometimes I think: We had an amazing time, we encountered so many places, animals, people and things, we had some fantastic adventures with friends and family and we’ve seen more of the river than most people ever will. We had a few close calls and a lot of fun. We are so fortunate to have had the chance to do this - to take time off work, to travel and to have these experiences. It was brilliant!
Sometimes I think: Two years of dreaming and planning, countless hours of research, a huge amount of effort organising logistics, all that support from other people, all the money spent on gear and food and transport - and we failed. We didn’t see as much of the river as I hoped, didn’t do as much walking or camping or swimming as I wanted. We took the easy option too many times. Can we really call it an adventure?
Sometimes I think: If there wasn’t a real possibility of failure, perhaps it wouldn’t have really been an adventure. Perhaps failing is an integral part of adventure.
Sometimes I think: How amazing is it that we managed to do as much as we did? How good is it that we could adapt when things started going awry?
If we hadn’t changed our plans, we would have been on such a tight schedule that we would have missed a lot of what made the journey so delightful. I wouldn’t have stood still on an empty road in the Monaro, watching a huge storm blow across the mountains. We wouldn’t have hitchhiked. We wouldn’t have canoed down the shallow, sparkling river upstream of Dalgety, spending as much time in the water as out of it. We wouldn’t have seen an albino emu or spent a day hypothesising the geological and cultural histories of landscapes as we went 4WDing with my dad. We wouldn’t have seen the feral goats near Stonebridge. We wouldn’t have had the chance to revisit special places we found - to swim, to ford the river or simply sit and wonder. We might not have had time to watch the kingfishers at Jacobs River or linger beside the river as the steam or mist danced above the water in the still, cool morning at Willis. We wouldn’t have been able to spend hours cooking up delicious meals over a campfire with my aunt and uncle. We might not have been able to float quietly on our inner tubes past Snowy River crocs on the rocks and birds on the fallen trees. We wouldn’t have explored so many tributaries - the warm trickle of the Mowamba River downstream of the weir, the swift, refreshing water of Jacobs River, the deceptively picturesque Deddick River winding through dry scrubby hills and weed-choked paddocks, the big rock slabs and terraces of Raymond Creek, the Buchan River rising after heavy rain, the temperate rainforest of Pipeclay Creek, the reed-lined Brodribb River. We wouldn’t have been able to poke around underneath McKillops Bridge. We might have been too rushed to ship oars and drift downstream on an outrunning tide, the water lapping at the aluminium hull of our little boat, watching the world go slowly past, snacking on Fererro Rochers. We wouldn’t have spent so long leaning over the railing on the footbridge with my mum, watching hundreds of different fish dart and flash through the estuary water. We mightn’t have met people when we pulled a canoe up into their garden during a storm, when we sheltered from the rain in a camp kitchen, when we hitchhiked, when they gave us permission to drive or walk through their property, when they told us stories about the river. Some of my favourite memories are of the slow, quiet moments when we didn’t have to hurry.
Sometimes I think: I’m glad we got to spend so much extra time at my childhood home and in the river there. While we were in Australia, my parents unexpectedly sold up. They will be moving away in August, so this was my last chance to spend time there and to say goodbye. I think this is probably why we ended up back home as often as we did. In the end, despite having seen the river in so many guises during this journey - skipping down mountains, flowing through the Monaro, disappearing under the granite at the spectacular Stonebridge, sweeping between the huge dry hills around the border, mingling with saltwater in the smooth tidal reaches near Marlo - the few hundred metres at the bottom of hill near Pipeclay Creek will always be the first place I go to in my heart and mind when I think of the Snowy River.
I'll be posting more photos from the trip over the coming weeks (or, more likely, months), so stay tuned! Thanks to everyone who helped us out on this journey: Emily, Kate, Elisabeth and Jerry, Nathan, Jesse, Christie, Sue and Colin, Sian and John, Rosemary and Mason, the Presentation of the Mother of God convent, Caroline and Barry, Alex and Julie, Bridget and family, David and Jane and Mimo, John and Chris, Esther and Gabe, Pete, Cynthia, Glenn, Mary and Ben, Margot and Aaron and the fire tower network. If I've forgotten anyone, I'm sorry.
Last weekend we headed up to Sissinghurst in Kent. I took a few photos and made an audio blog of our walk.
There's no transcript of the piece, but it includes:
This was a bit of an experiment to see how well the digital recorder worked and if the recordings might be edited into a single piece, so it's not the most polished thing ever. It's probably best to use headphones to listen. But hopefully it gives you an insight into what it's like to go on a walk with us!
Please do let me know if you enjoyed the audio! I'll post a Snowy River adventure update later this week and then the blog will be taking a break until after we return from Australia in late April.
The last of my 2016 posts - two months together, as there's not much I haven't blogged already!
We celebrated two fortieth birthdays (not mine!) in November. I was very proud of the ridiculous quantities of decorations I managed to find. I think my favourite was this pirate and sea-themed banner, which is customisable for any age. Genius.
We went for a very windy (but beautiful) walk along the beach from Hastings to Bexhill with a couple of friends.
I might as well share this video of the waves again. I find it quite soothing. Maybe you need soothing, too.
As the days got shorter and the weather colder, we scaled back to smaller trips in order to get outside without the pressure of completing long walks. We climbed up East Hill in Hastings . . .
. . . and went for a walk near Herstmonceux with our local LGBT walking group.
Later in December, we headed up to Norfolk for a week-long holiday. We stopped off in North London for a night, then broke the next day at Wandlebury. We'd briefly vsited Wandlebury a couple of months before and I wanted to check it out again.
I also wanted to go for a walk every day in Norfolk - and we almost managed it!
That's it! I quite enjoyed this reflection on what was a pretty good year (personally, if not globally). You can find my other 2016 year in review posts here: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October.
(Try saying that five times fast!)
We spent a week of winter holidays in Old Hunstanton, a pretty village tucked up in the northwest corner of Norfolk, where The Wash becomes the North Sea. We have several favourite short walks in the area - these are a few of them. I've included GPX files so you can download them if you want, but most of them are pretty easy to figure out for yourself once you're there! They’re all circular or there-and-back strolls that will take 1-2 hours, so they’re perfect for stretching your legs in the morning or for catching a breath of fresh air after lunch.
1. Above and below the Hunstanton Cliffs
Although on paper this walk is pretty much a there-and-back-again kind of affair, the 'there' along the beach is very different to the 'back' along the cliff top. We started in Old Hunstanton, walked up the beach below the famous two-tone cliffs, had a cuppa in Hunstanton at the lovely Norfolk Deli, then wandered back via the lighthouse and old ruins. You could just as easily do it the other way around. (NB: check the tide times if you want to make sure you can get around the bottom of the cliffs.)
Another diverting feature of the beach, the wreck of the Sheraton, a steam trawler built in 1907 and wrecked in 1947.
2. Up through the Ringstead Downs
Norfolk is famously flat - but it turns out there are some "hills" just out the back of Hunstanton, at Ringstead. We drove out one beautiful frosty morning and parked at the Ringstead end of the downs, following the path straight up between two low, mainly wooded rises. The return walk was much the same, though we detoured up to a lookout over the little park in an old chalk quarry and then down through said park before heading to the car.
3. Beach huts and holiday homes . . . next-the-sea
This walk follows the River Hun (which is not very big, for a river) from Old Hunstanton to Holme-next-the-Sea, with the golf course on your left. At Holme, walk out towards the beach, then follow the Norfolk Coast Path back to Old Hunstanton. You'll see all manner of holiday accommodation, from hotels to beach huts, caravans to fancy houses - especially if you explore the villages at each end.
Holme is where the Peddars Way joins the Norfolk Coast Path (they're treated as one national trail). More warning signs!
Now we're talking! Beach huts (or beach boxes, if you're from Melbourne). We slept on the verandah of a box like this last December. Not this time!
4. Handsome Holkham Hall
This final walk is a little longer and a bit further east along the coast at Holkham. Holkham is a large, walled estate with a fancy hall, a landscaped and well maintained park, farmland, various monuments and loads of deer. They have a number of suggested walks, both shorter and longer than the one we did. We set off a bit after 9am on Boxing Day and by the time we had finished the carpark, the village and the nearby nature reserve were heaving. We'd chosen a good day to come early!
Probably my favourite building at Holkham (and one of the oldest): the ice house. Not spectacular, but very cool. (Cool, haha.)
I hope you found those little walks enjoyable to read about - and if you ever visit that corner of Norfolk, I hope you give them a go. Let me know if you do!
Oh my gosh! In less than two months we will be in Australia, setting off the most exciting (and physically challenging) adventure we’ve ever attempted. Eep!
View of Mount Kosciuszko and the Etheridge Range from the headwaters of the Snowy River - Trevar Alan Chilver.
I posted about our Snowy River adventure plans back in July and again in October. So, I reckon it's about time for another update.
We’ve organised most of the transport and food drops that are essential to completing the journey. I’m really grateful to all the friends and family members who have offered to help (or allowed themselves to be roped into it). From our perspective, it’s not only about getting a bit of food and a pair of clean socks: I think sharing our trip with other people, even if it’s just for an afternoon or an evening, is going to be a real highlight. We’ve also booked accommodation at the three spots other than my parents’ house where we’ll have the opportunity to sleep in actual beds (Jindabyne, Dalgety and Buchan). Luxury! It remains to be seen if we actually make it to said accommodation on the booked nights. Who knows what might happen?
Now that transport, food drops and accommodation are pretty much sorted, we’ve given Kate, our dehydrated-meal-producing-kitchen-wizard, a proper breakdown of how many meals we need. These homemade delights will be supplemented by a steady stream of instant noodles, sachets of porridge (not as fancy as Elizabeth's!), scroggin and chocolate bars. I have a spreadsheet. (Of course I have a spreadsheet!) Emily, who is as big a planning nerd as me, is going to do the supermarket shopping side of things and divide everything up into food drop tubs in advance of our arrival. I admit that I’m a bit envious that she gets to do this, but she’s promised to Skype me for a “boxing” video and to take a few photos. I will no doubt share them here or on Twitter.
Thanks to family in Australia, we have a full set of paper maps for the river - nine of them, in fact. I’m in the process of comparing them to satellite images, photos and other sources to make sure they’re accurate where it counts (e.g. emergency access, fire trails) and to see if there have been any major changes since they were printed (e.g. new developments and roads). It might also give us an idea of which side of the river we might like to be on - for example, to avoid cliffs, bluffs and flowing creeks, or to take advantage of wide sandbanks and flatter areas for pitching our tent. Of course, satellite images aren’t necessarily up-to-date and it is the nature of rivers to reshape their immediate surroundings, but this should give us a good overview.
Having decided to try getting from McKillops Bridge to the Buchan River on foot, I’ve been turning my attention to another problem stretch in terms of access. From the dam wall at Jindabyne to where the river runs back into the Kosciuszko National Park, we’ll be travelling through the Monaro. We’ve been asking around and most people have suggested it’s not possible to walk this section either. I’m not sure if that’s because (a) it’s legally dubious (in Victoria, the river is bordered by a strip of Crown Land which is technically, if not practically, OK to walk along - in New South Wales, only the water itself is public access), (b) it’s not physically possible to walk or (c) it’s not possible from their points of view, although it might be from ours. Other options include wide detours away from the river (probably on bikes, considering the distance) or paddling. We shall see.
Back in October, I wrote that we were a falling behind in our gear acquisition. This really started to stress me out, but I think we’re back on track. We have sleeping bags (two Pipedream 400s from Alpkit) and new shoes (originally I got Merrell Moabs, but I had to return them as they didn’t work for me, so I am now the proud owner of a pair of vegan-friendly Merrel Grassbows which are amazingly light; Dan got Meindl Responds). I gave Dan the job of sorting out our electrics - he’s bought spare camera batteries, a nifty little USB/international charger, memory cards and whatnot. My parents got a PLB from KTI - which we’ll borrow for the trip (working out the international registration and transport was just too difficult). Excitingly, our tent has arrived! We ended up going with the Alpkit Ordos 3, which feels huge for its weight. We had fun last weekend setting it up in our friend’s garden. There are a few other bits to get, too: gaiters (to help fend off snakes), a decent digital dictaphone/recorder for note-taking, gas (has to be bought in Australia), toiletries, first aid kit top ups, a map case and so on.
We really have done bugger all physical training. We’ve gone on some short walks and are planning a few middle-distance day walks over the next month. It’s just so cold and wintery. Bleh! I’ve pledged to carry my bag (with some stuff in it) for all our walks from now until we leave. Speaking of bags, we need to do a trial pack at some point to make sure we can carry everything. No doubt we’ll end up jettisoning a few bits and pieces. I’d also like to set the tent up again - and sleep in it at least once! - before we leave.
Mentally and emotionally, I’m still not really sure how to prepare for this trip. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve never done anything like this before, never set off on a trek without knowing it was possible. Last week, I realised a lot of my anxiety stemmed from uncertainty - not only about what we’ll come across, but how we will deal with it. So I turned all managerial and decided to write down what I wanted to get out of the journey - a kind of aims and objectives, if you will. What a dork. I came up with six main goals:
So, that’s where we’re at. I’ll try to write another update before we leave (maybe about food!). I hope you’ve found it at least mildly interesting to see all of the things that go on behind the scenes in planning a big trip like this. Let me know if you have any questions . . .
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