Mt Jagungal full circle

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In 2001 my friends Karen and Damir took me on my first overnight bushwalk to Mt Jagungal and with that walk ignited a passion in me to explore the outdoors on foot. In April this year, precisely 16 years after that first overnight walk, we reprised that trip to Mt Jagungal, The desire to do this walk again was part out of nostalgia and part a desire to revisit this beautiful part of the world. Although I had been back in intervening years, I had not been back with Karen and Damir, so this walk would be coming full circle on that first foray. Of course, doing the same walk again 16 years on is a different proposition: bodies have aged, bones are creakier and the going is a bit slower than in 2001, but I was also wiser and better equipped than I had been on that first walk. When I say better equipped I don’t mean that I have more gear, but that I have better gear and carry less of it!

I flew up to Canberra on the Friday evening of the Anzac Day weekend and on Saturday morning we set out by car towards Cabramurra. The weather forecast did not look good and it rained for most of the way. The radar, though, seemed to offer some hope that the worst of the rain front would have passed Cabramurra by the time we would arrive to start our walk. In Cabramurra we huddled in a picnic shelter as the cold rain drenched the ground and ate our sandwiches there to avoid having to eat out in the rain once we started our walk. My prediction that the rain front would have passed became a reality half an hour later. We parked the car and it stopped raining; if there was ever a good omen for a walk, it was this! There were a few other hardy souls out, but it didn’t look like it would be too crowded at the huts.

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We set out with our packs on the 4WD track that leads out and shortly after the start we got a visual on our objective. Mt Jagungal is the most prominent mountain in that part of the Snowy Mountains and is a beautiful sight. At times stopping for a small snack and a drink of water we plodded on towards Dershko’s Hut. We arrived in the late afternoon with still plenty of daylight to set up camp. The hut itself was occupied by various people, but we tend to prefer to sleep in our tents anyway. Damir scouted out a good position on one of the hills above the hut which gave us a perfect view of Mt Jagungal. We pitched our tents, filled up our water bottles and bladders and started preparations for our pasta dinner. With the patience of a Buddhist monk Damir occupied himself with making a small fire to warm us as the evening air rapidly got colder. It took nearly an hour, but then he had coaxed the wet kindling and wood into a comfortable and well-controlled fire around which we ate our pasta, indulged in a drink of Noble One dessert wine and of course chai and chocolate afterwards. Then it was off to our sleeping bags for a good sleep.

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It was cold at first, but then I warmed up and when I woke in the morning I understood why it had been so cold with the ground around me all covered in frost. But it did provide for a wonderful view of Mt Jagungal in the morning from my warm down cocoon. Inevitably it was time to rise and get breakfast and tea going, dismantle tents and load up our packs again to reach our objective. We got off to a slow start, thanks to those creaky bones and some sore muscles, but once we got going it was all good. At the foot of the mountain we ditched our packs, took some snacks and water, my InReach Explorer and our rain jackets for the ascent. Those rain jackets turned out to be a wise choice.

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We climbed steeply through scrub at first until we got to the plateau where we continued our walk in between magnificent snow gums. At the same time we saw the brilliant blue sky being threatened by a dark cloud building up in the direction where were going. As we got closer to the top, the weather turned quickly, forcing us to put on our jackets as it started to rain, then the clouds moved in completely. The summit marker was approximately 80 meters away as the cloud descended and despite it being so close, we knew it was lunacy to continue. We had been there before, there would be no views due to the cloud cover and going on would court the risk of complicating our return if we lost sight of the track. So after a quick war council, we turned on our heels and followed our tracks back down, only relaxing after we got out of the worst of the cloud. Despite the disappointment of not making the summit, we still enjoyed the views and the walk itself and for all intents and purposes we practically summitted.

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The rain stopped as we got to the steep bit and by the time we got back to our packs it had dried out completely. We had some lunch standing up and then put on our packs on again for the rest of the walk to our next goal, O’Keefe’s hut. This is where I have to own up that having an InReach doesn’t necessarily mean that your waypoints are correct. Although I had done my best to get them all recorded accurately, I had made a big mistake with O’Keefe’s hut, thinking it had burned down in the bushfires in 2003, unaware that it had been rebuilt. And so my waypoint was well short of the actual location of the hut. We were confused at our location, not remembering it from our previous foray, but as it did offer water nearby and a good spot for our tents, and given we were all tired, we decided to put up our tents, cook our meal and have a good rest. But not before enjoying a magnificent sunset and its red pink play on the hillsides surrounding us.

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The next morning we got underway a bit faster than the previous morning, as we had quite a walk out ahead of us. After about 40 minutes we passed by O’Keefe’s hut, our elusive goal of the previous day, rebuilt and looking very comfortable. I had a tinge of regret and felt foolish for having got it so wrong, but I’ve since updated my waypoints on InReach, so that this mistake does not get made in future. It was another beautiful and sunny day and we soon turned off onto Farm Ridge Track to cut through to the Tumut River, which we had to ford.

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We had left this river crossing for the end so that we didn’t have to do most of the walk in soggy boots. We rolled up our pants, but kept our boots on and waded through in knee-deep water to the other side. From there the track ascended for quite a long time until we reached a plateau again. From Round Mountain Hut we had a last glimpse at Mt Jagungal, who had denied us a summit and yet the walk felt like a great success. Shortly afterwards we turned right on Round Mountain Trail again and walked back to the car, which was the last one still there, exchanged wet socks and boots for dry footwear and got into the car for the long drive back to Canberra, pizza, wine that evening and the inevitable stiff bodies the next morning. And of course, five minutes after starting the drive back to Canberra it started raining again.

Revisiting Wilsons Promontory

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Back in December a few days of good weather offered the perfect opportunity for a few days walking at Wilsons Promontory. Starting out on a Saturday afternoon, I walked from Tidal River to Oberon Bay campsite. Wilsons Prom is a favourite place of mine and this was the fifth time I went to walk there. But my walks haven’t always been without troubles here; the second time I visited a friend took a tumble and hurt her knee badly (but still continued the three-day walk); the third time a friend and I were evacuated onto the beach at the end of our walk as a back burning exercise spiralled out of control and the Prom went up in flames; and the fourth time I got a terrible bout of gastro and had to stagger my way out and eventually be driven out the last bit by one of the rangers. So this time, I wanted to exorcise ghosts of the past and I was aiming for an uncomplicated, happy walk.

1612_au_wilsonsprom-7552It was extremely windy when I started out, with an occasional sunshower, but mostly fine. The walk took me past the bulky mass of Mt Oberon, along the coast to the Oberon Bay campsite, which is nestled behind the beach. That didn’t protect it from the gale force winds, though, and the inside of my tent eerily resembled something out of Operation Desert Storm. I had to suck it up and not fret over the amount of sand that was ending up on my sleeping bag and everything else. I even slept with a buff pulled over my eyes, so that sand grains would not lodge in my eyes.

1612_au_wilsonsprom-7572Early the next morning the winds finally died down and after a quick breakfast I was on my way, heading across the peninsula towards Waterloo Bay. Shortly after leaving the camp I could hear cries of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, who were flying in between the trees and keeping a watchful eye on my progress; I suspect there were young birds to protect from evil bushwalkers like me. They accompanied me quite a way until they finally moved off. By then I was nearly at the junction and headed straight for Waterloo Bay. The place looked stunning when I got there and I enjoyed a few minutes sitting on the white sandy beach contemplating life and soaking in the view. Not long afterwards I arrived at Little Waterloo Bay campsite where I stopped for lunch and to fill up on water for the next stretch and quench my substantial thirst. As I walked looking for water I nearly stepped on a tiger snake which was crossing the path. It was not impressed with my progress and had lifted its head, lying motionless. It was only after I took several of steps backwards that it lowered its head and continued in its direction. I got my water, but I will admit that for the rest of the walk every dry twig or branch on the path started to look like a snake in my mind!

1612_au_wilsonsprom-7577After my lunch break I continued on my walk. The path climbed a bit steeply at first and then started a stretch which I remember well from previous walks and is quite demanding in working your way over and around lot of rocks and trees. But I was freshly fed and watered, so I coped with it much better than previous times and had energy to spare to climb up to Kersop Peak at the junction to soak in the view. And that was well worth it on this glorious day. The view stretched wide and far and even the lighthouse was visible from here. I took some photos and then descended back to the path for the descent into the beautiful Refuge Cove. My knees were grateful when I walked into camp and at 3pm I still had the pick of most sites. After putting up my tent and sorting out my things I indulged in a dip in the rather unexpectedly chilly waters of Refuge Cove, but it was blissful for the weary muscles. That was followed by a sponge bath to get the salty water off my skin and before too long it was time for making some dinner in the congenial company of a group of fathers and sons who were off to the lighthouse the next day.

1612_au_wilsonsprom-7597For me, the next day meant a long walk out. I was up early as I wanted to get going as soon as possible, because after the walk there was still the drive back to Melbourne. The stretch from Refuge Cove to Sealers Cove was beautiful, in particular the views towards Five Mile Beach on the northern part of Wilsons Prom. It was another spectacular day and every beach looked very inviting. At Sealers Cove I had to take off my socks and boots to wade across the stream and walk a while along the beach, before reaching the boardwalk through the swamp. The boardwalk ambles for almost two kilometres before reaching the path going uphill. About five minutes before the end of the boardwalk, I came across a massive tree that had crashed over the boardwalk and required some interesting gymnastic moves to get over, across and underneath. From there began the steady climb to the appropriately-named Windy Saddle, which took almost two hours. Although it had been a while since I last walked this section, bits of it appeared different and signs soon explained that destructive floods in 2011 had wreaked havoc on the path, with many sections needing to be rebuilt and in some cases rerouted.

1612_au_wilsonsprom-7613Eventually I reach the Windy Saddle and stopped there for a quick lunch. Then it was on again for the last hour, which thankfully was a gentle downhill walk. When I got to the carpark at Telegraph Saddle I still had another downhill walk in front of me to get back to the hikers car park. And although many cars passed me, no one stopped to offer a lift, which was frankly a bit disappointing. Maybe people thought I was happy to walk along the road, but in the heat most people should have been able to figure out that a lift would have been very welcome! I got there eventually, and after 22km for the day, various blisters (the price you pay for forgetting your shoe inserts) I deserved my shower and the ice cream that followed.

 

The Great Ocean Walk

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Having returned to Australia after finishing my time in Brazil I had great plans (and in fact had been preparing them for months) to walk the Australian Alps Walking Track, but the weather this year did not co-operate. Shortly after returning it became evident very quickly that I would have to postpone the six-week walk indefinitely, given that the Main Range was still covered in snow, rivers had swollen and in some cases were flooding, and furious winds were unrooting trees. It did not make for the environment to do a solo walk in and although I was disappointed to pull the pin on it; I knew it was the right thing to put a halt to my plans.

For a consolation walk I looked at various options and the Great Ocean Walk came out as the best option; it being easily accessible and generally described as a stunning walk. It starts in Apollo Bay (reachable by taking the train to Geelong and then switching to a bus) and finishes at the Twelve Apostles (also serviced by public transport: by bus to Warrnambool and then a long train ride back to Melbourne). Although the walk can be compressed in a few long days, I decided to opt for the more leisurely version of eight days, camping at each of the sites that have been created for walkers. It makes for easy walking days and plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings after reaching the next campsite.

Duly stocked up with food for eight days (much of it sourced from the ample provisions I had put together for the 6-week walk), I set out for Apollo Bay and arrived as rain swept through the town. But the sky looked promising, the rain soon dried up and the sun came out as I started the walk. The first bit takes you through town and along the road until you get to the beaches and then it becomes prettier as a walk. The path was pretty muddy from recent rain, so the gaiters came in handy. After the third section the path turned inland and uphill, then downhill to cross the Elliott River after which is turned very steep to climb up to the campsite for the night – Elliott Ridge campsite. A few people were already set up, but there were plenty available sites and a nice shelter to cook in and water available from rainwater tanks.

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The next morning was beautiful and by about 9am I was underway for the next section, which meanders through wet Eucalypt forest. The ground continues wet and muddy and I’m glad I get to do this section on a dry day and not a rainy day. One section is a bit tricky with the mud slowing me down quite a bit. Eventually the turquoise sea starts to shimmer through the trees and the path descends to the beach. The campsite for tonight – Blanket Bay – is tucked in just behind the beach and I’m the first person to arrive, so I have the pick of the sites. After setting up the tent, I have some lunch and need to chase away an inquisitive magpie who is after my ham and cheese. The rest of the afternoon I spend enjoying the beautiful surrounding, going for a walk on the beach and the rock platforms nearby and relaxing in the sun.

The forecast had predicted rain to come in the late evening, but it only arrives in the early hours of the morning and it really buckets down. My plan was to wait out the rain and then get going, but with its late arrival, it is also going to take longer to clear, so I get up before things get too saturated. That is when I discover that something has had a go at my food supply bag. Initially I suspect the magpies, but a ranger later tells me that it would have been possums. The food bag is ripped apart, all my ham, salami and cheese is gone, so are my nuts and cranberry snacks. I have to hunt in the rain, picking up soggy zip lock bags, gathering trash and remaining food and doing an inventory of what I still have. Will it be enough to complete the walk? Lunches are going to be lean – just a cup soup each day and a thin slice of mountain bread. And I’m one breakfast short, but it should work. Just.

After a meagre breakfast, I set out in the rain, coming across three men in yellow ponchos with big backpacks going in the opposite direction. The rain continues unabated, but with all my rain gear on I should be OK. The path goes uphill first and then, after a while, descends to Parker Inlet. It’s described as beautiful, but that beauty is hard to see in the rain. I was keen to get here as early as possible to reach it at low tide to cross the stream and the estuary. It looks fairly shallow, but it has a lot of current and the crossing of it results in soggy socks and shoes for me. I don’t know why I didn’t think about taking my socks and shoes off, but there you go, the damage is done. On the other side the path climbs uphill and continues on to Cape Otway. The rain continues too, making me feel colder and colder, as the wet is starting to seep through my rain gear. I’m holding out for a hot cup of coffee at the cafe at Cape Otway, but am sorely disappointed to discover that I can’t access the cafe, unless I pay A$19.50 entry fee to see the lighthouse. That’s a rip-off in my opinion and so I refuse to pay it, just buying a few snack bars to top up my diminished food supplies and continuing on to the camp site, which is not far off. There in the shelter I start boiling water for hot soup and tea to get myself warm. After about an hour the three poncho men wander in, dripping wet and cold, like me. We all huddle together in the shelter drinking hot beverages until the rain finally becomes lighter and eventually stops altogether. That moment galvanises all of us into action, stringing up lines to dry wet clothes, partially setting up tents to let them dry out and basking in the sun when it comes out eventually. Everything has time to dry, except for my socks and boots. The other four walkers from Blanket Bay camp eventually arrive as well. They had cleverly negotiated down the lighthouse for a A$10 entry fee and had a nice hot lunch in the cafe. Smart people!

The fourth day is another easy walk and I’m not walking until just shortly before 10am. The track meanders over the cliff tops, at first still in a bit of returning rain, but then it dries out with the sun coming out, but definitely windy conditions. The sea below is hammering the coast in big swells. Eventually I get to Aire River, where I meet the family of four again, who very kindly offer to take my trash from the first four days. The walk-in campsite is above the car camping site and again I have the pick of the sites. I have time to do some laundry and get that dry in the windy conditions. Later in the afternoon I am joined by Catherine and Sidney, from Virginia in the USA. As we share the shelter we chat and I learn that they are here for a conference, but planned in the hike for a bit of sightseeing. They are doing double days all the way, having started that day at Cape Otway and continuing tomorrow to Ryan’s Den, before walking out on their third day. They are obviously used to long kilometres and are fit and fast walkers.

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The next day is beautiful and sunny and we catch up with each other regularly along the way. Today’s track is fantastic, with lots of cliff top walking, revealing expansive views before dropping down into a more forested area. I see several swamp wallabies on this section. After about three hours of walking, we get to Johanna Beach, a wide and beautiful sandy beach, which makes for tougher walking with our packs. We are getting there in time for low tide to cross the river. This was definitely a socks and shoes off crossing and we wade barefoot through the strong and freezing current, which reaches up to our calves. Afterwards we sit on some rocks to put our socks and shoes back on and that is when we fail to spot the track leading up from the beach. So we walk to the end of the beach and then have to backtrack again to the rocky patch before finding our exit. From there it goes up the hill again to the Johanna Beach walk in camp site, which has to be the best one of the whole walk. Catherine and Sidney walk with me to there before continuing their hike to Ryan’s Den. They still have quite a bit of walking to do, while I get to pick the best site with stunning views of Johanna Beach. I discover a bladder of wine, left by a previous hiker with a note attached to enjoy, which I most certainly do while reading my book and promptly falling asleep in the sun.

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The next morning I’m up early again and set out at 8am, which is earlier than I had planned. The walk uphill towards Milanesia is easier than anticipated and I come across various kangaroos. Somewhere along this section I lose my spork, as I discover much later, posing yet another challenge to my nourishment. After getting to Milanesia beach and crossing the stream (being much wiser now in beach crossings I manage to keep my shoes on and dry), the track heads uphill, and downhill, uphill and downhill and so on for the next few kilometres, until I’m cursing the track. Ryan’s Den camp is another nice one, but the sites are more hidden and you have to walk up to the grassy knoll to get to a seat from where you have the great views. As I’m eating my lunch some young kids come through asking the way to Milanesia Beach. I try to tell them that it’s a long way and that they still have a long way back to Wreck Beach carpark, but they don’t listen and blunder off straightaway into the bush. Due to the loss of my spork, dinner this night is eating the rice curry with fingers, which works remarkably well.

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I wake up to light rain on and off and a strong wind blowing. Packed up I try to boil water in the shelter, but the wind blows straight into it and the water takes ages to reach a boil and then doesn’t really. So I don’t linger long there and set out on my walk. It’s more up and downhill with some beautiful views popping up in between, making it well worth the effort. After the up and downhill the track veers off into a forested valley, which makes for pleasant and easy walking, eventually coming out at The Gables carpark. From there I continue on to Wreck Beach, but choose to walk over the tops, rather than descend the endless steps to the beach. The final camp site, Devil’s Kitchen, is reached soon and with tent up and the final lunch consumed, I can relax and read my book.

The next morning features a very fine and misty rain and eager to be on my way for the final stretch, I am packed up by 7:30am. An hour later the rain has increased to persistent, soaking rain, which eases up by the time I get to the Gellibrand River. At this stage I’m already soaked through, including shoes and even through my rain jacket. After consuming my last snack bar, I keep walking until I reach catch first sight of the Twelve Apostles ahead. From there I continue in a steady pace until reaching the Visitors Centre. I’m delighted to discover they sell good coffee and indulge in one with a sausage roll to soothe my rumbling tummy. Then the weather finally clears fully and I go out for a look at the Twelve Apostles. Apparently only seven are left nowadays, but it’s still a beautiful sight. Waiting for the bus I manage to dry my tent in the sun, as well as my clothes, but my boots and socks stay wet until I’m back in Melbourne, much later that night. But a hot shower takes care of those cold feet in no time and I’m back in civilisation.

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