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Sunday, January 1, 2012

The AAWT: Kiandra to Thredbo

The Sons have for while planned to walk the Australian Alpine Walking Track from Canberra to Kosciusko. Pressures of work meant that the first half of this, south-bound, route had to be postponed. But we decided that we really must do the section from Kiandra to Thredbo over Christmas.  In the end our route deviated from the AAWT for most of the way to avoid track-bashing and to get into deep wilderness.

So a few days before Christmas we headed off to the abandoned gold mining settlement of Kiandra. By the time we got there, the mood in the car was not quite the ecstatic pre-trip feeling you would hope for: the weather forecast was for seven days of unremitting rain. Just as we got to Kiandra and started unloaded our packs an enormous hail storm struck! Pulling a tarp over the packs, we lept back into the car sat in the car and sat, watching the hail pile up on the windscreen for about twenty minutes.

But after a while the hail stopped, and the rain died down. Climbing out of the car we discovered that the tarp had blown off. So we shouldered our wet packs and we headed off into the mud. Pretty soon the rain returned, and spirits sank a little further. But after an hour or so it went away, and by the time we arrived at our planned camp site, Nine Mile Creek, there was sun to be seen. Nine Mile Creek is the site of an abandoned gold digging, and there are signs of its past life to be seen all around the creek.

Here we are newly arrived, thrilled to be able to erect the tents in the dry:

Day Two

After a peaceful night enjoying the ghosts of the diggings (as promised by Chapman's notes) we arose to bright sun. We headed off towards our next target, Happy's Hut. We took a shortcut down a hill to the hut through a snow gum forest with thick undergrowth beautifully in flower: the most splendid thicket of Dianella in flower I've ever seen. After the 45 minute descent we arrived at the hut which has a splendid outlook and a lovely balcony. Although we were not able to overnight here, it seems a fine hut and we retrospectively rated it at Two Rats (the significance of this will become clear later).  Here we are taking the opportunity to air our sleeping bags during lunch.

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Heading out across the plains we came across an extraordinary construction which contains what seems to be an eagle's nest. How were eagles persuaded to nest in it? You can just see most of the party resting on the track.

Next campsite was McKeahnie's Creek. We went up the hill from the creek looking for dry ground, and in the morning the mist in the creek valley showed us how wise we were.

And again:

Day Three
Another lovely sunny morning! It was developing into a pattern of dry days with evening thunderstorms. So we set off as early as possible each day so as to get to camp before the evening storms.

This morning we got one of our best views of mighty Mt Jagungal in the distance. One of the highlights of the walk was that Jagungal loomed in front of us for days, and then receded.

Out third camp was O'Keefe's Hut on the edge of the Jagungal Wilderness. You can see in these photos the looming thunderstorm which we raced to the hut:

O'Keefe's hut was a fine billet, with the exception of a very smoky chimney. It contained a very useful old-style food safe of wire mesh, so the surplus food left by a previous party was rat-free - we awarded it Two Rats.

Day Four
The next day we headed into the Wilderness proper. Here's a picture of the party resting under a tree about to approach the Jagungal Saddle:

Passing through the saddle Jagungal starts to recede into the distance:

Pushing on through the wilderness we hadto ford various streams. Here is the party descending into the valley of the Valentine Creek. This was a really magical day. We saw six people in the first six days of the walk, but this day we didn't see a single one, nor a single recognisable track. In the previous days we had seen Scarlet Robins everywhere, but from here on the main birds, apart form the ubiquitous crows, were a small lark-like bird, presumably Richard's Pipit, and a tiny quail, probably a Button Quail?

After fording Valentine Creek it was a short trip to Mawson's Hut. This was a lovely hut, well equipped for winter. It was thoughtfully provided with the complete worlds of C.J. Dennis, A.B Patterson and Henry Lawson! We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner of Pad Thai and Blueberry Cheesecake (the freeze-dried cheesecake mix from Mountain House in the US is amazing!). Christmas crackers with traditionally crap jokes and hats were provided by Paul, and we had had genuinely delicious by non-Bush standards Xmas pud earlier in the day courtesy of Maureen. Here we are at Xmas Dinner!

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Amongst the many fine facilities of Mawsons Hut were rat-excluders to put across the bottom of the doors. We hung all our food well out of reach, but lost some soap to the rats. This led us to invent the rat-rating for mountain huts: the more rats, the worse the hut. Mawson's sets the standard as a one-rat hut.

Day Five
The next day was meant to be along the Kerries, up Gungartan, and down to White's River Hut. But the day dawned misty. Very misty: visibility was perhaps 50 metres at best. We headed off, but soon found we had to walk by instruments, using GPS to locate ourselves, setting a waypoint a short distance away, and walking to a bearing. We decided to take the shortest route to a firetrail and headed directlyto the Schlink Pass. All went well and we soon found ourselves at the Schlink Hut, where we met an NPWS ranger who gave us good news about the weather for the remaining two days. A quick walk down the firetrail took us to the White's River hut.

As on previous days, soon after our arrival there was a thunderstorm. Here you can see it brewing over Gungartan and the Kerries from the front porch of the hut:

These huts have very distinctive iron chimneys

And here is  photo of a couple of the party looking out the window, unaware of what ugly surprises the hut still had in store for us:

Despite the best efforts of NPWS, this is a Five Rat hut. In part perhaps because it is so close to the firetrail from Guthega it seems to get the kind of visitors whose idea of a bushwalk is a slog up a dirt road with a backpack full of bundy. Instead of a historic logbook, there was an A4 exercise book where various groups of schoolboys boasted about breaking the furniture. So the rats were more than usually keen. The first sign of trouble was when a rat ran across someone's face at about 3am. A little later the front room was invaded by them, and they scampered happily to the dismay of the party members in the room. They destroyed two of our camp water bladders, and had no intention of being driven out: 'we were here first' their little red eyes exclaimed from the fireplace. At least some of them seemed to be Rattus fuscipes, so they had a real claim to first occupancy. Eventually all was settled, and we got a little more sleep.

Next morning the weather had improved, and set of up the track to the Rolling Ground. Once there we came across our first snow in mid summer!

The presence of snow necessitated the consumption of Kendall mint cake:

From the Rolling Ground we had to make our way across the Consett Stephen Pass. It's a thin bridge that can be hard to locate. It was day of drifitng mist and sun, and as we approached the pass the mist suddenly lifted and prevented us having to find it with GPS. Here's the party in the pass:

After the pass we are on the Main range, and the first delight was Mount Tate. Here's Maureen, first to conquer the mountain:

And here are some of the wonderful views that were to be see seen:

And here is your photographer on the Summit:

Next campsite was on the Anton Anderson pass, between Mount Anton and Mount Anderson. Early arrival gave us a chance to explore a little. Here's a picture of the ubiquitous Snow Daisy, Celmisia Longifolia.

Here's Paul, sheltering under his beloved tarp:

And here is the whole party with Mount Anton in the distance:

One feature of the land to the east of the Pass is enormous rock formations that look like Easter Island statues. I didn't have a long lens with me, so they look a little piddling in this photo, but it gives you a sense of the landscape:

Day Seven
The morning was glorious. At the very moment I emerged from the tent the sun rose:

Walking out of the pass into the higher country we started to really feel we were on the roof of Australia:

Here is Mount Anton, now behind us:

And here is a view back North that shows the summit of Mount Tate, on the right of the photograph, that we so much enjoyed the previous day:

Next summit was Mount Twynham. Here's one of us looking out at Mount Kosciusko, the rounded peak in the background:

Up on this peak, you have a real sense of the world being below you:

And here are Paul and I on the trig point!

And here is the party reluctantly walking down from the peak:

You will have noticed many pictures of stark white forests. Northern hemisphere readers might think it was winter and the trees had lost their leaves. In fact it is the legacy of the 2003 fires; terrible firestorms that killed thousands of hectares of Alpine forest. The white skeletons of the snow gums are what remain. There are saplings under them all, but it'll be many years before they grow to the height of the old trees. Here's one of us looking out over dead forest to the horizon:

From here the track began to get a little more touristy, especially after the Blue Lake track and massively so after Mount Koscuisko. But the view of Lake Albina always impresses:

From there is was out over the tourist track, and down the chairlift to Thredbo where Karola was waiting to collect us. Mission accomplished. Well done Sons (and Daughters)!

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