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Friday, April 5, 2013

Kiandra to Canberra: The Jack Smart Walk

Earlier in the year we tried to walk from Kiandra to Canberra, following the Australian Alpine Walking track with deviations to get off-track walking and wilder country. The walk was to be in honour of JJC (Jack) Smart; perhaps Australia's first really great philosopher. He was a doctoral advisor for a couple of us. He taught philosophers that they can't just make it up - if you want to know how the world is, you need to start with the best available scientific picture of it.

He also was a very keen bushwalker, who in his many years at the ANU came to know and love Nadmdgi National Park and the Bimberi Wilderness as well as anyone. He walked often with two of the Sons in those places, and introduced one of us to Bimberi Peak, the highest peak in the ACT and on one of the highest in Australia at around 1913 metres.

That attempt back in the summer of this year, 2013, failed as we waited and waited for better weather conditions, but the bushfires just got worse until the window in which we could all take leave closed.

So we postponed until Easter, and we couldn't have been luckier with the weather this early Easter. Cool days, reasonable nights, and hardly a drop of rain for all six days and five nights.

The route started at Bullock Hill Fire Trail which leaves the Snowy Mountains Highway a few km after Kiandra and finishes at the locked gate and carpark near Mount Ginnini on the Mount Franklin Road in the ACT.

Day One: Brumbies and Miller's Hut

The route starts a few km along the fire trail past a horse trekking camp, at spot where we descend to the Murrumbidgee River. It's just a trickle, but we made amusingly heavy going of it since we had just started and no-one wanted wet boots so early in the trip! Then it was up and over a hill and gentle walking over glorious grassy plains. Pretty soon we saw our first pack of brumbies. Apologies for the photograph: I wasn't expecting wildlife photos so didn't have the needed lens!

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Fairly soon we came to an old telegraph line which a lot of people follow in lieu of a track. Here we are gathered around it:

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At that point we gave up on the telegraph line, and just navigated direct to Miller's Hut, outside of which we planned to camp that night. Here we are glad to have finished our first day. A short day, but that's not bad thing for a first day!

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Paul, of course, got a fire going in the hut and we relaxed with the first of many billys of tea.

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Day Two: Miller's Hut to Bill Jones Hut

The morning dawned bright and frosty:

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The huts are strange constructions, few of them have decent chimneys. Here's a view of the sheets of tin that count as a chimney in Miller's Hut!

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Then, it was time for a last look at the area before heading away

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The trip begins with a short stroll along the grass, before striking the dreaded Port Philip Trail, dreaded because it is basically a road, and vehicles and horses use it from time to time. After a short clump along that road, we head off along the AAWT to Hainsworth Hut for morning tea. Some horse trekkers have had the same idea:

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Horse damage in these valleys is extraordinary. Great piles of horse poop litter the paths, and abound in the plains. The damage to the ground from the heavy hooves is visible everywhere. I expect Brumbies and horse trekking are equally to blame, but something needs to be done if these valleys are not to turn into basically pleasure farms rather than nature reserves.

Editorial over. Everyone lined up for an obligatory Hut Photo, and we walked off.

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We crossed through Blue Waterholes Gap and into the Tantangara Plain via some lovely country. Very soon we were at Bill Jones Hut. It's not a fine hut: no floor and no verandah, but a lovely spot nestled in some Black Sallies (Eucalyptus stellulata) on the edge of the plain.

Here's a view of the plain looking over to Murray's Gap

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Three of us headed off to look for Murray Cave, which appears to have vanished. If any reader knows what the story is, please leave a comment!

I stayed behind to watch the light change in the valley:

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Soon the intrepid search party return, with news of the missing cave:

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And here's one looking especially intrepid:

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Regular readers may have noticed there is a bit of genre of water-gathering photos in this blog! Here's one from Bill Jones:

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Day Three: Jones Hut to Oldfield's Hut

We head across the plain to Oldfield's Hut. But before we get there we detour to Pockets Hut for morning tea. A delightful spot it is too, with lovely views of Bimberi and Murray from the west. This especially excited those of us who know those mountains well from the east and from the Gap, but have never seen the range from the west before.

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Here we are much refreshed on the balcony. A zero rat hut if there ever was one. Clean, pretty, and well set up in a lovely location.

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Soon we are descending into the little valley west of Murray's Gap which contains Oldfield's Hut, one of the delights of the high country. The valley is glorious, and the hut is charming and well appointed.

Here are a couple of us hard at work shortly after arriving:

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There was a plan for some people to summit Mount Murray in the afternoon, but we realized that time had run out for that. Instead a small expedition headed off to explore a local hill that we dubbed Sports Bra Hill (rather one of us suggested that, we generally deplored it, but somehow the name stuck). Here it is to the left; Mount Murray is to the right.

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And here is a rather better view of Sports Bra behind a lovely old Black Sallee:

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These Black Sallees are lovely trees. They are a water loving alpine eucalypt, that can usually be found near water courses, hence their prevalence around huts while being otherwise not common. You can recognise them by their characteristic mottled bark with lots of smooth green areas where the old bark has peeled away:

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And here's the back of the hut with Murray looming over it. Note that the back of the hut is tin, the front lovely timber!

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Finally for this day here's a picture of the view the whole valley affords of Bimberi Peak to the left, Sports Bra in the middle and Mount Murray to the right. The panoramic shape doesn't work well with the blog, but you get the idea:

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Day Four: Oldfield's Hut to Dead Horse Gap

What an amazing difference thirty seconds can make to a landscape. Here's the view from the hut verandah a few seconds before dawn:

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And maybe fifteen seconds later this is what it looked like!

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Think you were going to get away without seeing a compulsory group hut shot? No way! Here we are with our Canadian mountain biking friends we met the evening before. Todd and Kim - thanks for  the Monopoly games! It's still very early as you can tell by the ruddy light.

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The walk up to Murray's Gap was an object lesson in avoiding camping in frost hollows. As you walked down just a few metres, the temperature would drop by up to five degrees, and you would leave dry grass for thick frost. Here's a photo of some of the group in a little hollow which is both frosty and shrouded with mist!

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Soon we hit Murray's Gap (Yes  I know -- sign photo -- get used to it more to come!)

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From Murray's Gap we find the path up to Bimberi Peak. Guide books say its hard to find, but it seemed like  a bush  highway. We hope it doesn't get more so: it's still a genuine bush experience climbing Bimberi, but much more path and it would feel like a tourist track. We had  a couple of wildlife experiences on the way up - a very well-fed looking Brown Snake and, just as we caught sight of the trig point, three black cockatoos flew low over the top of the mountain.

Didn't take long to get to the top!

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And look what we found in an inconspicuous place on the summit! Jack climbed this peak at the age of sixty six with some ANU graduate students.

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Bimberi is a wonderful peak. There are views in every direction, out over Canberra and the Brindabellas and Tidbinbillas, out over the Scabbies and back to the Snowies. Here's the view to the West:

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And here's Daniela looking out over the route for the rest of the walk:

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And here's the view leading to Cotter Dam:

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We then headed down off Bimberi to the west, via a gnarly descent to Bimberi Gap. This is beautiful, but really quite tough country. The saving grace is that the bush while dense is not too spiky. From Bimber Gap we found a brumby trail that took us straight up to the tops on the other side, saving some crucial time. There was a little water up there near the descent to Dead Horse Gap. Possibly it would have been prudent to camp there.

We then descended to Dead Horst Gap. At this point we realized that although we had reasonable hopes of water there from a visit twenty-eight years ago and from the map, we had nothing like a guarantee, and we had not enough time to get to Leura Gap, where we might descend to the old Leura Hut site and find water. We split the party to find water on the slopes to the east and west, and found a little in both directions so all was well. After filling up we started dinner when we noticed a glorious sunset. Paul and I raced west. Before we got to the edge of the gap I glimpsed this through the trees:


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And when we got there much of the glory was gone, but here is a photo of the remains. A bit tacky perhaps, but it gives you some idea of what it was like when the whole sky was red.



 We had seen a small group of Gang Gang cockatoos at Billy Jones Hut, but from Dead Horse Gap onwards they seemed to be our constant companions - no wonder they are the symbol of the ACT parks service. Other than that the most common bird was the Scarlet Robin - there seemed to be a pair at every turn in the track.


Day Five: Dead Horse Gap to Pryor's Hut

The next day we continued along the ridge. The plan was to follow the ridge as much as possible, dropping down to Mt Franklin fire trail as required given progress. We decided that Leura Gap was as far as we could make it before having to take the fire trail given our available time; especially given the Northern Kosciusko tourist map shows the Leura fire trail giving excellent access to the Mt Franklin trail. That track is not shown on the latest 1:25K map.

We rounded the first small peak and descended into an unnamed gap henceforth to be know as Von Der Vogelweide Gap, for reasons that must remain shrouded in mystery. In the gap was a particularly lovely group of Bracteantha sp. paper daisies. As they studded our trip, these ones - in better condition than most given the lateness in the season - needed to be photographed.

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The next peak that we contoured around was rather tougher. We had a close encounter with a snake were harrassed by paper wasps and native bees. I got a wasp in my trousers that bit rather more times than is good, and others were bitten on the head and the arms. That, combined perhaps with impatience and tiredness, led to a couple of very minor falls that held us up for a while. But soon, largely unscathed, we reached Leura Gap -  clearly time for morning tea.

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And here's one of us after a revivifying cup of tea:

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From Leura Gap is was 15km of easy road bashing to get to Pryor's Hut. Easy that is by now; we were all somewhat fitter than early in the walk (and of course carrying less weight). We met the third snake of the trip, and, rather more welcome, ran into a ranger who was able to confirm that our car was still there at the other end! We decided to go on to Pryor's hut rather than camp by the stream, as no fires are allowed in this bit of the country. But we could find no water at the hut, so some of us had to to walk a couple of extra  km back to the last stream to gather water. We did this using the excellent little Sea to Summit assault packs. They weigh only about 30 grams, and take up almost no space, and our invaluable for water gathering or for almost pack-less ascents when you are leaving gear at a campsite.

Back at the hut we eat and set up camp.  Here's Daniela outside her tent:

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Pryor's hut has some very serious rat damage, and still smells strongly of rat, but the parks service seems to have done an excellent job of poisoning them and we didn't see a single one.

We were up in the pre-dawn so as to get up Mount Gingera as early as we could. Sadly it was very misty, and the prospects of views were few. We joked partly to keep up morale that of course the mist would lift just as we achieved the summit. But just before the top it wasn't looking good:

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We reached a shrouded summit, but moments later and very suddenly:

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The mist then came and went over a twenty minute period. Here's Daniela waiting for another break:

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Here's the next break, with some peaks showing through the clouds below the mountain:

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More waiting:

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And here's the last bit of view before the mist settled again:

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At that point we set of back to the hut where Tom had remained feeling a little ill. It occurred to us that people who were relatively recent arrivals in Australia may be more than averagely vulnerable to stomach upsets and the like, and some better bottle hygiene, and use of US-style hand sanitiser (which you don't wash off and so is OK to use in wilderness) might give more protection.

It was a short road bash from the hut to the car. Warning double cliche: happy completion shot and sign shot:

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And before we set off Paul revealed he had cached Lindt chocolate rabbits for us in the car for a late Easter celebration! On the drive back, just as when we dropped off the car, the number of Red-necked Wallabies had to be seen to be believed. They seem to live here at a density you would not expect from anything but Eastern Grey's in rich farm country!

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Thanks everyone for a wonderful, wonderful walk. The driving at both ends was extensive (car shuffle from Mt Franklin to the Snowy Mountains Highway) but it was well worth it: though if you can manage two cars and two parties with a key swap half way it'd be an even better way to do this walk.

RIP Jack Smart, and our heartfelt best to Liz his wife, and his children, grandchildren, and all those taught or influenced by him.







1 comment:

  1. Had you seen http://forkword.com/cooleman/coolcave.htm#murray for Murrays Cave?

    ReplyDelete

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