2005 Kosciuszko - Gungartun

summary: This was my first ever hiking trip. We headed out into the wilds of the Jagungal wilderness over Gungartun pass and beyond.
date: 28 April to 1 May 2005
people: Graham, Eddy, Chris, Dave
views: 1622

Snowy Mountain Hike – The tale of a novice hiker

For many years (well a few anyway) I have prepared for this day. I made sure I bought the best quality hikers tent, and the best quality sleeping bag, all in the preparation for strapping these things on my back and heading for the hills. Well after that I bought a four wheel drive and the hiking aspirations were quenched by the smell of diesel fumes and a 12 volt fridge! But just recently, the hiking urge was stirred in me once again. Given the opportunity to spend three days walking around the gentle slopes of the Snowy Mountains got me very excited. So excited that I actually committed to this expedition, long before I was fully aware of the consequences! The following words are a journal of the trip, the highs and lows of my experience, the novice hiker.

Day 1: Getting there

We set out from the office in Wollongong on Thursday, 12:30pm. We had agreed that we should try and fill up on as much food as we could on the journey to the end of the bitumen, so the first stop was McDonalds. After that, we quickly headed up Mount Ousley and onto the freeway to land of despair. After stopping in Jindbayne, and again filling up with some good cooking, it was time to head to the starting point of our adventure. We had just enough time to do a little window shopping, and admire some very warm looking gloves in the window of the shops at Nuggets Crossing before completing some running repairs on the Citroen, and once again getting underway.

The starting point for our stroll in the mountains was Guthega Power Station. Although it appeared we were driving in an area that was reserved for workers at the power station, Eddy assured as that this is where all the hikers parked and not to worry about the signs. So we get ourselves sorted out, hiking clothes were pulled from the car, and packs were packed up and adjusted for the first leg.

Day 1. Leg 1. – Guthega to Disappointment Hut

Since it was now 6:50pm, the first leg of our walk was to take place in the dark. We were later to understand that this was a good thing, since in the dark we were not able to see how long and steep the track went up into the distance! We were all wearing head lamps to show the way, although some of us were trying to get their "night vision" working, despite the fact that the moon was still a couple of hours from rising, and the sun had long since begun shining on another continent!

At first I was a little confused at why my GPS was telling me that it was going to take until 4:49am to reach our first waypoint, the aptly named Disappointment Hut. I eventually realized that it was set to the wrong time zone, and in fact our ETA was now a much more respectable 7:49pm.

The track was pretty easy to traverse at this point, as it was a well maintained fire trail. However, it was pretty steep and the going was pretty slow at most times. We eventually arrived at Disappointment Hut at 8:10pm. It was still dark, but the skies were clear and there was very little wind. The Hut was old, but in the 1950's, but in reasonable repair. It would suffice for shelter if the unmentionable weather were to turn bad.

While putting up our tents and collecting firewood, we discussed the pros and cons about the latest weather forecast. The definition of Gale Force winds was something that received a lot of attention! Fortunately while we sipped warming whiskey, and soothing hot chocolate, the skies remained filled with nothing but stars.

Day 2. First Morning

We were woken several times during the night by what appeared to me as Gale Force winds. Again, this point was debated at length throughout the following days. And come morning, there was also the pitter patter of rain drops on the roof of the tents.

Not to dampen our spirits, we rose from our warm/cold sleeping bags and began to plan the days activity. First of all was a nice warm breakfast of porridge/muesli and anything else that we managed to pack into the corner of our packs that was reserved for food. This is were the usefulness of the Hut becomes obvious. Although cramped with the four of us, it provided us the ability to stay dry, and high spirited while we prepared for the day outside.

By the time we had worked out what we were doing, the weather had cleared a little, and the rain had stopped. This gave us an opportunity to pack up our tents while they were only a little damp, and hence not too much extra weight in the pack.

Day 2. Leg 1. Disappointment Hut to Whites Creek Hut/Schlink Pass

Now that the rain had stopped, 9:30am, and our packs were once again at their heaviest weight, it was time to head off to the next point of call. Eddy was trying to ease us into the hiking world with another section of simple fire trail hiking. Our first destination this morning was White Creek Hut.

First order was to fill up with water, or at least, take on as much water as we wanted to carry. Remembering that our packs already weighed the best part of 20kgs each. Along the first section of track, known as The Aqueduct Track, there was a number of overflow points which enabled us to fill our bottles. And since this water is clean and fresh, straight from the alpine region, there was no need for purifying of any type.

We passed a couple of people that had spent the night at Whites River Hut who looked as though they were in a hurry to get back to civilization! They thought they were telling us something we didn't know when they said "prepare to get wet"!

Whites Creek Hut was a much more impressive sight than Disappointment hut. To start with, we were seeing it in the daytime! Secondly, it was in a fantastic location with a bubbling creek on either side, and wonderful rolling hills to look at. Inside was also more impressive, with all the mod cons, including central heating, dining table, spring frame beds, and for those people getting away for a sexy weekend, there was even a black lacey brassiere!!

We spent a short while at the hut, resting and filling out the log book, before heading off to Schlink Pass.

Again, this was more track hiking so no problem with being too difficult. Once we got to Schlink Pass, we stopped for lunch and to prepare for the next leg of our journey.

Day 2. leg 2. Schlink Pass to Tin Hut

Once lunch was complete, and the obligatory Schlink Pass photo's, we set off down the fire trail. It wasn't long before Eddy told us we needed to make a right, about 100m down the track. Well we went a 100m, and took a right. This was where our journey turned from a leisurely weekend stroll, to a seriously strenuous off track hike!

The right turn we took simply took us off the track, and into the bush, heading straight up a steep slope and toward Gungartan Pass. Although we could have taken an easier route, it would have taken longer to get to Tin Hut. And since we were still not sure what the weather was going to do, we needed to get across Gungartan Pass before the barometric pressure dropped below 1000mbar, and the potential of the bad weather would take hold. Since the pressure had already started to drop, it was now 1010mbar, it was time to really get moving.

Fortunately for us, the fires that took hold up here a few years ago really decimated the undergrowth, and the trees. So the going was not as difficult as it could have been. Nonetheless, it was still a hard hike. At times we were rock hoping across giant boulder fields, and the next minute we were tramping through boggy sphagnum moss and trying to avoid ending up knee high in water, or worse still, losing a boot!

Unfortunately Dave did manage to find the water, and soak a boot. But it gave us an opportunity to rest and look up at Gungartan Pass, and what lay ahead of us.

Chris head off first as we watched him disappear into the valley floor below the pass. He seemed to be trying to avoid some boggy areas, and also the nemesis of the boulder hop. So The rest of us decided to go around the edge of the valley and hopefully avoid some of the wet stuff below.

Either track had its difficulties, but we ended up getting to the top of the pass unscathed. It took a while though, and with a quick check of the GPS, it informed me that the barometric pressure was now 995mbar, better not tell Eddy!

We managed to meet up with another couple of hikers that were just making a short day trip from The Schlink Hilton to Gungartan Pass as part of a mountain bike trip through the mountains. They had hoped to get to Tin Hut before heading back to The Hilton, but the way the weather was looking, and the difficulty of the track, they decided to make it to the top of the pass and then head straight back. As we found out later, they had spaghetti bolognaise waiting for dinner, so I would have made the same decision!

After making it through the pass, the next point to concentrate on was Tin Hut. Although we were still a long way from it, we needed to make good time as we didn't want to get caught in the middle of nowhere as it started getting dark. I felt that I was now in one of the most remote locations I have ever been in, despite having previously crossed the Simpson Desert!

Our track took us through more seriously difficult terrain. Initially looking like it was not too hard, we traveled a good distance over fairly flat terrain. But then just as we finally sighted Tin Hut across the next valley, we realized that we should have paid more notice to those contour lines on the map! We had a rather steep decent to make into the valley floor before climbing the other side to Tin Hut.

Chris had managed to scoot off ahead as the rest of us contemplated our best decent. We hopped over a few rocks, climbed through a large amount of heather, and finally got most of the way to the bottom. A quick stop to replenish our water supply and we set off to Tin Hut.

Tin Hut was also a great little hut. It was cozy inside, with a heater and plentiful beds. The guys had decided to spend the night in the hut, while I was to take up residence on the flat area to the back of the hut. One reason for sleeping in the hut was to take advantage of some heat, but as I had plenty of faith in my sleeping bag, I was happy enough to pitch the trusty fairydown and sleep outside.

We had prepared a great dinner for tonight, including udon noodles, hokein noodles, with vegetables and, um, well, onion. Perhaps not the greatest idea ever! But we heartily consumed the food and discussed our days adventure before moving outside for a short while to admire the sky full of stars, and still no sign of that bad weather! It was about here that others started to believe that the wind the night before had actually been the Gale Force winds predicted!

Day 3. Days Ahead

Although I was cold during the night, I slept well. I realized just how cold the night had been when I rose from the tent and saw the thick layer of frost covering it. I slowly walked around the tent scraping the ice from it (with my nice warm gloves), but by the time I had reached my starting point, the tent had again frozen over!! Ok, it was cold!

And who would have guessed that at Australia's highest toilet, there would be a queue!! Well I guess I didn't have to wait too long, and the view was definitely worth waiting for!

Once we were all awake, which took a while, and we had finished bitching about how cold it was, we started to pack up and plan the days activities.

As we took in more of the amazing views, we started to head off to our next destination, Mawson's Hut.

Day 3. Leg 1. – Tin Hut to Mawson's Hut

The day was looking like it would be perfect weather, despite a fairly strong wind, the skies were blue and temperature was starting to climb.

We decided to head over the back of the range that we were on, and head over to The Brassies, before turning west and heading off to Mawson's Hut. This was to try and avoid some of the ups and downs of the day before, and to avoid the boggy track down the middle of the valley.

The plan was working quite well as we followed the contour of the hill, until we reached our first major obstacle. Of course you don't think its an obstacle until you are half way through and it is easier to keep going than turn round and go back! But this boulder field almost got the better of me! Since my pack had managed to unbalance me a couple of times the day before, I was now being over cautious when it came to jumping from rock to rock. Eventually, after back tracking several times, I made it across safely.

We adjusted our plans a little here and decided to keep to the same contour of the valley rather than continue around the back of the brassies. It made plenty of sense since we could see the valley that we were heading to now, in the distance, and the way through looked pretty clear.

We were now starting to enjoy the off track hiking a lot more, the ground was firmer, there were less knee high shrubs to contend with, and the slopes were nowhere near the steepness of Gungartan Pass. We eventually got to Valentine Creek, which is a major creek that runs through the valley. Fortunately for us there was an easy area to cross, despite Eddy telling us that he had previously had to cross this with shoes in hand, and feet plunging into the sub-zero water!

From here it should have been a simple matter of once again following the contour of the land until we ran into the hut. We followed the GPS and map readings, and very soon we were only 400m from the hut. Thinking that we were almost there was perhaps a little premature though, as we were suddenly presented with yet another small valley and cliff face to ascend! This time though, two of us managed to take the high road and a nice easy traverse of the steep section, and the other two, well they had to work harder!

Eventually we popped out of the trees onto Mawson's hut. The hut was great once again, with incredible views, and a pleasant meadow of wildflowers surrounding the front area.

We stopped here for lunch, and to dry out some sweaty feet, since the sun was still burning brightly at this stage.

Day 3. Leg 2. Mawson's Hut to Valentine Track

We made an executive decision at this stage to head directly for Valentine's track, and then in the direction of home rather than to Valentine's hut. This would make our trek the following day a little shorter, which turned out to be the right decision in the end!

Not that this leg of the trip was going to be any easier than the others! We initially head up over the back of Mawson's hut which was pretty easy going, although there was some resistance in the shrubs. But we found that pretty easy going. Then it was along a valley and up to yet another saddle, since it was the quickest and least steep of all directions.

This is where things started to become difficult. Once over the saddle, we headed down towards a creek at the bottom of the valley. There was quite a lot of trees to contend with during this section, and the track was pretty steep. So it took us a while, and a well deserved break at the bottom before we decided we were still traveling in the right direction!

After crossing the creek, we traversed alongside it for a short while, before Eddy decided that the best way to challenge this section was to go vertical! We had to hike straight up the face of the current valley and down the other side, where we SHOULD cross Valentine's track!

The up hill section was steep enough to once again warrant a break half way. There was some stern words had amongst the troup at this stage as we were starting to tire, and wonder whether we would ever make it to this damn track!

But after catching our breath, we continued upwards, eventually coming out on top of the mountain, and ready to head straight down the last section before getting back to a more civilized way of walking! Valentine's track took us about another twenty minutes to find, after wading through waist high grass, and eventually crossing a small boggy patch before once again setting foot on a real track!

At this stage, it was getting closer to the time for the sun to retreat, and it was also getting a little cloudy. So we decided to traverse the track back towards home for as long as we could before dark, and setting up camp. We ended up walking probably another 2km before deciding to pitch camp. No hut this time, so it was all outside in the elements for a change.

We collected water, collected firewood, set up the tents and got a fire going all before it got dark. Then while Eddy cooked us all dinner, the rest of us relaxed and laughed around the camp fire. Since this was our last night in the wilderness, there were some bittersweet memories that we were trying to forget/remember, depending on their sweetness or bitterness, you get the idea!

Day 4. Homeward bound

During the night, I heard what sounded like a little rain, but wasn't sure. Not until I woke and got out of the tent did I realize that the valley we were in was completely fog bound. Not only that, but it was certainly raining at the same time! So now we had to pack up the camp in the rain and get started for home.

Day 4. Leg 1. Overnight Camp to Schlink Hilton

We had all decided the night before that getting an early start was the best idea for today. And after packing up our tents, breaking the poo shovel, and getting underway, it was a little after 8:00am. Since our tents were now soaked through, they added a considerable amount of weight to our packs. Around about here I wish I was sharing the weight of my tent between three people!!

So the track was easy to walk, although there were some significant ups and downs along the way. But at least we were now walking on a track and didn't have to risk life and limb jumping from rock, to bog, to bush in the rain.

The whole way to Schlink Hilton was raining. Although this would normally have dampened people's spirits, we were still pretty much on a high just for the thought of sleeping in a warm comfortable bed tonight! I'm not sure how long the walk to the Hilton was, but it was certainly a welcome sight as we rounded the bend and saw this massive structure before us, shrouded in mist!

We were expecting to see some people here, since it is a well used hut in this area. But as all the other huts before us, this was also empty. We checked the log and found entries from the two mountain bikers we had met two days earlier. We were a little disappointed that they hadn't made mention of us in their log entry. But that didn't last as we realized that we had made no mention of them in the log at Tin Hut!

A short period of time was spent at the Hilton, where I got to earn my 'burnt' badge by lighting Eddy's stove and boiling water for a couple of hot drinks before braving the elements once again.

Day 4. Leg 2. Schlink Hilton to The Car

Yes can you believe it, the last leg in this epic journey. We had just a few more hours to walk, and yes it was still raining!

First section took us back up the track to Schlink Pass which we had passed through a few days earlier. Then on past Whites Creek Hut, although we didn't deviate from the track to visit it and its lacey contents.

The rain was now on and off, so things were looking good as we headed down the final section of track. We passed Disappointment Hut, and had a short break where we contemplated the achievements that we had successfully made over this trek. Our exhaustion was very evident, but we were all still very much looking forward to being able to get back and tell all those people about the experience that they had an opportunity of being a part of, but missed out on.

On the last section of the track, we were presented with a wonderful rainbow which appropriately started right on top of the power station car park! As we turned from the dirt track to the hard bitumen of the car park, we suddenly started to complain of sore feet!! I also spotted a huge apple tree, heavy with fruit, so was able to continue my three day feeding frenzy before we finally made it back to the car.

A couple of the workers from the power station came out for a chat while we changed and re-packed the car. When asked whether they have ever been interested in following the tracks of the high country, their answer was appropriate "only in my four wheel drive", perhaps my next trip will once again be on four wheels.

The End.

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