Sunday, April 15, 2018

Honeysuckle Creek to Tharwa, AAWT, Namadgi National Park - December 2017

I've made it....arriving wet and bedraggled at the Namadgi National Park visitor centre at lunch time today:)
Waking this morning there was some good news, yep the fact that I woke up in a nice dry hotel room was a positive, looking out the window into the grey light of dawn the bad news was that the rain was still coming down seriously heavily. Pulling on my walking clothes I grabbed my pack, now a lot lighter without me needing to carry my sleeping gear and set off in the ute back up to Honeysuckle Creek. I’d been a little worried that the heavy rain that had fallen all night might of cut the roads, and while there were a few reasonably long and deep sections of water over the road we managed to get me up to Honeysuckle Creek safely. Arriving at the Honeysuckle Creek this morning was actually the first time since I’d left Walhalla 39 days ago that I was confident that I’d actually be able to complete the AAWT, up until now there had always been a potential disaster of one kind or another at the back on my mind that could have stopped me.
Rain and rocks, the story of today on the AAWT really.
While I was now pretty certain of making it to the Tharwa Visitor Centre the last section wasn’t going to come easy. Slipping on my full wet weather gear and tightening up my storm hood I sloshed my way out of the car park, somewhere behind me I could hear Sam driving off back down to Canberra and I was on my own, the only noise being the constant thrum of the rain on my hood and the splashing of my boots through the puddles. If anyone has logged onto this post hoping for some great photos today to finish off my AAWT walk then unfortunately I think you’ll be disappointed. With the rain coming down it was all waterproof camera shots this morning, the best I can say is that maybe they convey the atmosphere of the day a little. Heading along what I think was ridge (although it was a little hard to tell with the limited visibility) the AAWT was pretty well level until it passed through the Booromba Rocks Carpark, from here on it was gently down hill for awhile.
There wasn't much in the way of long time views today.

I was now getting the occasional view across to some granite crowned peaks but for the most part it was just head down and chew up the kilometres. Eventually I arrived at an open grassy area which I assumed was Bushfold Flats, the only sign of life here being some large mobs of very wet and bedraggled kangaroos grazing, somewhat forlornly up near the tree line, well they looked forlorn to me but then again everything had a bit of a melancholy feel to it today. I was actually having a little trouble picking up the AAWT across Bushfold Flats, the grassy pad was very faint and with visibility limited to say the least, it was just a matter of heading in the direction that I needed to go and hope that I would eventually pick up the AAWT again. As you’ve probably guessed I did manage to stay on track but it was definitely the trickiest navigational challenge for the day. I’m thinking that normal conditions with normal visibility then the flats would probably be a lot easier as far as navigation goes.
I'm about to emerge onto the open Bushfold Flats.
Bushfold Flats
I'm thinking that you could probably camp on Bushfold Flats, although I'm not sure of the legality of that?
After walking down Bushfold Flats for awhile, somewhat amazingly all the while in deteriorating conditions, I picked up a walking track and started to climb what is really the very last climb on the AAWT. I suppose it was appropriate that I made my last climb on what had been a pretty epic walk in less than ideal conditions today, I’d had everything from snow and sleet to hot and humid days with thunderstorms. Climbing through the heavy rain the AAWT toped out, after gaining about 150 metres, on the crest of a ridge. The top of this ridge is where I would of left the AAWT to head up to the summit of Mt Tennent if I’d been crazy enough to want to bag the summit in these conditions.
The grey blobs on the tree line are Eastern Grey Kangaroos, they looked about as wet and bedraggled as I looked this morning.
Mt Tennent was hidden in the cloud.
If anything conditions were getting worse as I made my was along Bushfold Flats, that's the AAWT just visible as a water filled depression in the grass heading through the tussock.
My very last climb on the AAWT.

With the AAWT starting to descend the track now resembled a waterfall in spots, I’m imagining that this section of walking track would make for a nice walk on a clear day. My topo map has me thinking that there would of been some nice views down towards Tharwa and the Murrumbidge River down here, but I’ll have to go back one day to confirm that. Heading down here I was largely walking across huge rock slabs, which this morning were awash with water, but it didn’t matter to me I was having a ball sloshing my way down to Tharwa. After stopping to check out what was today fairly substantial waterfall I dropped to Cypress Pine Lookout.
Dropping down towards the visitor centre, I'm thinking that this would be a very nice walk in good weather.
I love this kind of rock slab walking.
The open forest and steep slope would normally allow for some good views I'm guessing.
At least the creeks were pumping this morning.

Cypress Pine Lookout features in Mr Chapman’s guide book bible for the AAWT, in Mr Chapman’s book there is a photo of his better half Monica, lazing on the bench seat gazing out into the distance in what I call a classic ‘icebreaker’ pose. Figuring that I could recreate that photo I found myself a convenient rock and set up the camera, assumed the ‘icebreaker, stare into the distance’ pose and waited for the timer to do it’s work. Unfortunately it was raining that hard that the waterproof camera had so much water on it’s lens that it couldn’t actually auto focus so all I got were photos of a fat yellow blur which was me in my yellow waterproof jacket. So not to be deterred I grabbed the camera, turned the timer off and wiped some of the water of the lens. Holding the camera I decided on the tried and tested selfie mode, wanting to recreate the famous Chapman photo though I needed to look as though I was staring into the distance whilst kicking back on the seat at the lookout, unfortunately the Feral walker isn’t as photogenic as Monica Chapman and despite my best ‘blue steel’ effort the photo just looks like a very angry old man, oh well it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Cypress Pine Lookout.
Cypress Pine Lookout features a lot of Cypress Pines, who would of thought hey?
Blue Steel..... more like Angry looking Old Man I'm thinking;)
The weather finally started to clear a bit as I made my final descent.

Giving up on the lookout I continued dropping steeply down the slopes of Mt Tennent towards the Namadgi Visitor Centre. With the gradient of the AAWT starting to level out a bit the rain finally eased enough that I managed to get a view across Naas Road towards the visitor centre. After sloshing my way across a couple of usually dry gullies I crossed the bitumen Naas Road and meandered the last 100 metres to the Namadgi Visitor Centre, heading straight to the information board signalling the start or end of the walk where Sam was parked in the ute. The AAWT was officially done and dusted. Dragging Sam out of the ute into the rain she took a couple of ‘after’ photos of what was a very wet and bedraggled looking Feral walker, I was still not really comprehending that I’d actually finished the walk at this stage. After throwing my pack into the ute I wandered into the visitor centre to let the rangers know that I’d finished, signing the book I noticed that Hilly had finished last night. After signing the AAWT book the ranger pulled out a beaten and weathered looking diamond shape AAWT marker, yep the original and best looking type, and gave it to me, along with a certificate, that was very very sweet!
The Murrumbidgee River flows through that valley, I'd waded across the river days ago many kilometres further up stream.
The blur is the Namadgi National Park Visitor Centre at Tharwa, my epic AAWT was now over.
The last (or first) AAWT marker.
The fact that I'd finished still hadn't really sunk in at this stage:)
The Dirt.
I walked 15 kilometres and climbed 390 metres on a medium grade days walking on the AAWT. After my 39 days walking the AAWT I walked 732 kilometres and climbed 28,535 metres on what has been the hardest sustained walking that I’ve ever done. Needless to say finding water wasn’t a problem today, camping looked like it would of been possible at Bushfold Flats and there is a dam there to get some water to treat. Navigation was a little vague across the grassy Bushfold Flats but that was probably more to do with the limited visibility than anything else. With the rain bucketing down I didn’t even pull the phone from it’s dry bag today so can’t help much there. I was using Mr Chapman’s notes and map as well as Rooftop’s Namadgi-ACT South Activities Map.

Over the years I’ve done harder days of walking than those I did on the AAWT, Mt Anne in Tasmania and Mt Bowen on Hinchenbrook Island in Queensland (which I’ll post about at some stage) spring to mind, but to back up, day after day in conditions that were sometimes not the best, on tracks that are quite often indistinct and overgrown, was hard. The section from Walhalla to Mt Hotham is particularly hard going, with at least one steep climb pretty much every day and lots of overgrown pads it made for a fairly hard start to the walk. I was a bit surprised to find that the AAWT between Mt Hotham and Thredbo to be in pretty good nick, most of the tracks were clear and well marked which is surprising because the AAWT traverses some very remote and rarely visited country on this section (the country is that remote that I couldn’t even pick up a signal on my little AM/FM radio along here for quite a few days). As my fellow AAWT alumni Anne told me as we crossed paths near the border, the Thredbo to Tharwa section is a bit like a holiday, the walking up here was as easy as it gets and there are plenty of huts and a few roads around if things do go pear shaped.

To walk the AAWT you need to be able to navigate in what is sometimes almost trackless scrubby terrain, that said it was probably easier navigation wise than I’d feared that it might of been. The toughest sections were the short section between Thomson Valley Road and Upper Thomson Road, the top of Mt Shillinglaw and Selwyn Track between Harry Shephards Track and East Buffalo Road, oh yeah, I almost forgot the Razor Viking section, that is a bit vague in spots although it's better than it use to be I think. I only ever used John Chapman's notes and map along with my compass and GPS to get me through each day, at night I’d break out my other maps and check out what was in store for the next day (keep in mind that I’ve done quite a few of the tougher sections more than once over the years so I had a bit of on the ground knowledge). Unlike some other long distance walks the AAWT has variety of different markers and signposting along it’s length, everything from the diamond shaped old markers to more modern triangle markers of differing colours (usually yellow or orange, although the change of direction markers are grey on a treated pine post normally about 300mm above the ground). As well as the official markers there are a variety of unofficial signposts and marker’s including cairns, chain saw blazes, messages scratched into burnt trees and hand written messages on existing signposts. It can be a fairly cryptic walk and you need to be alert to clues that you are heading the right way sometimes, this is particularly so on the Victorian section.

I planned and locked in for this trip for at least a year before setting off. Once I committed myself to the walk and organised the time off work then I concentrated on making sure all my gear was in good working order and organising my food drops. I used John Daly's AAWT itinerary out of his Kosciuszko book as a base line which worked pretty well, I found that I’d generally get ahead of his schedule (and that was the theory) and arrive at my next food dump with a day or two’s supplies up my sleeve. I split the walk up into eight sections which were;-
Walhalla to Champion Spur
Champion Spur to Mt Speculation
Mt Speculation to Mt Hotham
Mt Hotham to Benambra-Corryong Road
Benambra-Corryong Road to Cowombat Flat Track
Cowombat Flat Track to Thredbo
Thredbo to Kiandra
Kiandra to Tharwa

I left food on Champion Spur Track as it is a little quieter than the nearby Fiddlers Green, you could get a 2wd in here in dry weather with care.

I had to put in my Mt Speculation food drop before winter as the tracks would be still closed when I set off, last time I went into Mt Speculation along Speculation Road it was very rough, low range 4wd however every other time I’ve been it’s been reasonable, so I guess the best idea would be to check with Parks Vic about the latest track conditions. I walked my food drop down passed the locked gate towards Wonnangatta a few hundred metres and picked it up on my way down to Catherine Saddle to camp.

Sam bought supplies up to Mt Hotham when she drove up to meet me there so I didn’t have a food drop, that said the people at The General said that they’d be happy to hold a food drop for me (you’d have to be staying there obviously)

Benambra-Corryong Road is easily accessible by 2wd. I placed my food drop and water a couple of hundred metres west of the road, the camping is very good here, much better than down on Morass Creek, the other alternative down at Stoney Creek looked pretty shitty to me as well as it appeared that the blackberries have taken hold and the camping would be very close to the road.

I put my food drop in on Cowombat Track where the AAWT comes in near Stoney Creek, there’s plenty of good camping off the track and normally there is water, you’ll probably need a 4wd of some description in here. I placed this drop when Sam came up to Mt Hotham to meet me on Melbourne Cup weekend which meant the track was open, if the track is still closed it’s a pretty easy walk in to place a drop.

Like Mt Hotham, Sam bought supplies up to Thredbo when she came up to meet me.

My Kiandra food drop was up Pollocks Gully as far as I was allowed to drive, I then placed the food drop under some alpine scrub, there were a lot of food drops scattered around under these bushes but they were not visible from the Snowy Mountains Highway or Tabletop Trail so would probably only be discovered by other AAWT walkers, so it should be safe enough.

So, using Mr Daly’s itinerary as a base line and placing these drops meant that I never had to carry more than seven days worth of supplies which suited me nicely, my days of slogging through mountains with 10 or 11 days worth of supplies in my pack are probably over (he say’s more in hope than reality!). Apart from food and other essentials, I’d always put a couple of pairs of fresh socks in my drops which no doubt helped keep my feet in good order. I’d also photocopied and laminated Chapman and Daly’s notes so left them, and any upcoming maps, in the relevant food drops as well.

Well that’s about it as far as the AAWT goes. I suppose the question that has got to be asked is would I do it again? The answer is yes, with a qualification. Now I’ve done it I’d want to do it differently to keep things fresh for me, so with that in mind I’d probably hold off until I retire from work and then spend a lot longer completing the journey (with a lot more rest days and side trips). I’ve always fancied having a go at it in winter so that might be an option in the future, if I’m still capable and fit enough when I can eventually pull the plug on work? In the mean time I’m looking at the Heysen Trail in two or three years, we’ll see….

Relevant Posts.
AAWT, Previous day, December 2107.
AAWT, Day 1, October 2017.
Canberra, Lake Burley Griffen-Central Basin, 2015.

Two hours after finishing my stroll I suffered through a massage, I still wasn't fitting into the one size fits all gear too well - at least I didn't put on weight like I did when I walked Kokoda a few years ago;)
Driving home through the mountains the next day picking up my food drop containers was another wet and wild adventure in itself.
Retrieving my Kiandra food drop container, Sam wasn't even leaving the safety of the ute.

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