AAWT Stage 14 – Dead Horse Gap to Kiandra
The final edition from ‘Team Steamroller’
2014 was coming to a close and the AAWT kms weren’t yet complete. To be fair, we knew that the final stretch as we approached Canberra and the distance from Melbourne grew would be tough to achieve. We simply couldn’t drive 7 hours each way to hike on a weekend. So the Christmas/New Year’s break offered a prime opportunity to ‘smash’ a big chunk around Mt Kosciusko. Given the kms, ascents and descents, hours of hiking necessary and that two of the primary team steamroller members got engaged previously in Kosciusko National Park, taking on the section from Dead Horse Gap to Kiandra seemed a good challenge. Of course, Team Steamroller also wanted to protect the veracity of their name, so ‘alternate routes’ were planned and in Team Steamroller’s usual tradition, a few ‘detours’ were unintentionally added, but more on that later.
So on Christmas Eve, the truly dedicated team steamroller (Jacob, Lorelei, and Katka), Mark, and Lucie, piled into Caroline’s car (as usual without Caroline actually) and we ‘flew’ out of Melbourne. Okay, we didn’t fly. We forgot a few maps in our rush to leave and had to take our first ‘detour’ of the trip: back home to get them. Then, finally, we were off.
It was warm and the initial pleasure of the A/C unit in the car was soon replaced with it not working (= not pleasure, team steamroller hates the heat). The backseat was beyond uncomfortable: Katka who had feared that the A/C would be on too strong for her to handle sweltered in her jeans. Lorelei initially passed ‘the f&ck out’ but then after a petrol station stop (where ice-creams were purchased of course) could not. Construction soon began on an anti-sun fort. Of course the problem-fixer, Lucie, lead the effort. A sarong was raised to block the back window. Paper was stuffed up on the sides of the windows complemented by ‘P-Plate’ signs aiding the window sun blockade. We survived long enough to stop at a rest area where we had Christmas Eve dinner without the utensils buried in the depths of the over-packed car. In addition to the pleasant company of some gorgeous black cockatoos, we met a fair number of ants, harbingers for the upcoming hike. Eventually we reached our campsite, set up camp and went to sleep.
Day 1: Dead Horse Gap to the Main Ridge (and then a detour)
After meeting our best fwiends the kangaroos, Mark and Lucie dropped Team Steamroller off at Dead Horse Gap and Mark pointed up a hill and said he thought we needed to go there to do our first planned detour: instead of going up the more mellow AAWT path we were going to go over the Rams Head Range. Of course we ignored his advice and started up the AAWT track, but once we’d gained some elevation Jacob advised that we needed to go back down and go where Mark had pointed. And so it began.
Upon finally correctly going up (steeply) toward the Rams Head Range, Katka and Jacob looked at the maps to see which direction to take. I (Lorelei) tend to find the first day of hiking tough. I was relatively slow and without power. I let them lead; only they had different interpretations of the map. Jake, always annoyingly spritely on the first day of the hike, bolted ahead directly up Rams Head North. Katka and I grumbled and struggled to keep up without a proper track, a cold wind blowing and our confidence (or my confidence at least) low. Katka, the cartographer, was more angry: “why is he going straight up? We don’t need to go up this, we can go around”. We were too far behind for her to actually ask Jake. I was just tired and didn’t know what was going on. Upon joining Jake at the summit Katka dropped an f-bomb at Jake. Later she said that it felt good.
So over the Rams Head Range we went, past our old friend Rams Head, to a slightly sheltered spot and down to the main track to Mt Kosciusko. The weather was getting worse. A cold rain joined the cold wind as we approached Rawson’s Pass. Katka had wanted to climb Mt Kosciusko (as a matter of pride) but the visibility was non-existent and Jake and I (previously having not been overly impressed with that highest peak in Australia said we might give it a miss and wait. Katka looked around and thought she could probably give it a miss too. We had planned to go over the Main Ridge for a while and eventually set up camp, however the weather was awful and it was brutally cold on the tops, plus with zero visibility navigation was likely to be problematic. We hid in the toilets at Rawson’s Pass to deliberate a safer plan (sometimes we’re smart). We didn’t particularly want to follow the official AAWT which just went along roads for ages but we had a bad track record of navigation and even if we were Captain Cook, it still seemed somewhat sketchy to take the Ridge. So we dropped down to Charlotte Pass. We still weren’t overly excited about taking the roads though, so we decided to set up camp a bit early on the Snowy River along the Lakes Track and decide what to do in the morning when the weather would hopefully be better. Camping on the valley along the Snowy River showed just how much the Kosciosko Main Range attracts foul weather; we set up camp in the sun while dark ominous clouds hugged the nearby Main Range.
Day 2: Snowy River to Schlink Hilton
We woke up to a view of the now sun-kissed Main Range. However, we aren’t the type of hikers to be on the trail by sunrise. By the time we were ready to depart camp, seemingly never-ending clouds had emerged and the wind had started again. The direction we were headed didn’t look quite so bad and we were feeling refreshed after the sleep, plus we had heaps of time so we decided to hike back up to the range along the Lakes Track and take the ridge. Again the weather was in fact still pretty bad, particularly as we came over Mt Twynam (the 3rd tallest mountain in Australia). We finally found a sheltered spot near the top and put on more layers. We carried on and started to descend to the Anton-Anderson Saddle and the weather greatly improved (of course this was after we had finally put on more layers!). From there we actually navigated pretty well as the track disappeared. We had great views from the top of Mt Tate, went along the West Tate Ridge for a bit and then crossed over to ‘the Rolling Ground’. The Rolling Ground took a bit of attention to navigate and I wasn’t overly confident we were getting it just right but somehow we managed. This section of the hike was pretty hard to walk; there was no track and it was ankle-sprain-city with uneven ground and lots of boggy bits, but we finally made it. We even managed to correctly interpret the guide and maps and found the very overgrown vehicle track leading down from the range to the Whites River Hut.
Whites River Hut was nice and cute but the day was still a bit young and so we decided that since we’d gotten a bit behind we’d walk an extra hour to the Schlink Hut, now called the ‘Schlink Hilton’ on many maps due to its posh nature with beds with proper mattresses and a pretty good loo. However when we arrived (after a hot last hour of hiking that Katka didn’t enjoy much along a vehicle track) it was quite busy with hikers who were not overly welcoming so we decided to camp. We had a quick nice dip in the creek (always ‘bests’ for the day), had dinner against a fantastic back support rock (which doubled as a fine platform for drying clothes), slapped some annoying ‘March’ flies, played a little 500 and went to bed.
Day 3: Schlink Hilton to O’Keefes Hut
The sun remained strong the next morning as we packed up camp and headed toward Valentines Hut. The guide we had described a number of possible detour routes for the next segment of hike and given that we’d already taken a few ankle-spraining, navigation-necessitating ‘routes’ with no track, we were actually quite happy to follow the official AAWT which primarily followed vehicle track. So when we got to the junction with ‘Valentine’s Trail’ and thought for some reason that that was one of the potential detour routes and that we didn’t want it (of course without double checking the guides or maps) we ignored it and carried on. After some km’s of descending along the vehicle track we reached a junction by a river and decided to double check which way to go on the map (Jake didn’t want to but luckily I insisted!) However, our map consultation did yield the unfortunate realisation that we were supposed to have taken Valentine’s Trail and were now on the Geehi River and so, ashamedly, we turned around and walked back up the hill, in the blazing sun, to get back to Valentine’s Track. This was hard on the soul and hot, plus of course there were march flies trying to eat us at every possible moment; in fact, one learned how to eat me while I walked, a trend that was then passed on to his friends despite me killing him. However I was in the best spirits of the crew; but that wasn’t saying much: Jake was grumpy and Katka whose pack weighed a tonne, was very upset.
Eventually we actually took Valentine’s trail which amazingly led to Valentine’s Hut which was just adorable. It was red and had white hearts painted above the window on the outside. It was a cute little hut and we wished we were staying there instead of just having lunch there but that’s just not how team Steamroller rolls. So we carried on. The subsequent track was on an old vehicle track and involved quite a lot of fording of rivers. The biggest one was straight after Valentine’s Hut and I messed up, got my feet wet and found myself a bit relieved that I could then just walk through the water of the very many subsequent fords. Consistent with the diversity of streams that we were crossing, we were doing quite a lot of ascending and descending which did eventually begin to grow a bit old. Luckily we did catch a glimpse of some gorgeous falls (Valentines Falls?) and approached and then eventually passed right by Mt Jagungle which was an awesome mountain standing on its own. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to climb it but we’d like to return one day. With the marchfly mayhem, we had decided to go all the way to O’Keefe’s Hut where we could at least cook inside. It was a big day and we were pretty tired when we finally arrived at the Hut. Luckily the people there were very friendly and invited us to come in to cook and hang by the fire which was great as I basically lost the plot with the march flies while setting up my tent. In fact I’d told Katka I’d help her but then got stuck into a march fly massacre trance which ended with me chasing Katka and Jake around trying to spray their legs with bug spray. I’m not sure what they thought about that. Once again we had a clean-up by the river and then made dinner which we all enjoyed thoroughly.
Day 4: O’Keefe’s Hut to Happy Hut
The next day was another fairly big one though we weren’t sure whether we’d camp somewhere before Happy’s Hut or take a slightly longer detour to camp at it. We did feel bad for Katka with her heavier hiking pack and increasing blister problems. However by Day 4 our determination was strong and we were sort of used to big days (that’s not to say there was no pain though). We set off and again there were quite a lot of little ascents and descents plus some stream crossings. Eventually we made it to Gray Mare Hut and decided to walk and extra 20 or so minutes to go up and have lunch at it. There was a weird old man inside staying there who seemed to be deaf, especially to women’s voices. He told us he had vomited all over Mt Jungungle a few days previously and had been hiking for many years. He was odd. We liked how many dead march flies were in the Grey Mare Hut.
After lunch, we carried along toward Happy’s Hut, having decided to go all the way there so we could at least cook away from the march flies. Given it was another big day I was delighted to find the power lines along the track that were on the map and indicated we were making progress. Along the way I discussed my interest in how much water there is in Kosciousko National Park (Yeah sh*t). Katka became enchanted with the wildflowers. My knee had started to hurt a bit along the way and Katka was suffering a bit so I found us both some walking sticks (wizard sticks) and we walked with those. Toward the end I was limping. This may not bode well for my upcoming hiking madness! Uh oh. Eventually we dragged ourselves up to Happy’s Hut which we could tell from afar was busy. When we got there, there was a huge group of approximately 25 or so people. We had to hunt around for a while for a reasonable campsite. I was somewhat delirious with fatigue and went to wash up by the river and just sat in the icy water as I do when I’m messed in the head like that. I kept whipping off my clothes giving free titty and bum shots. Jake warned that people could definitely see me, to which I kept responding, “its fine, they’re all European, Europeans love that shit” because there had been one fellow who talked to us that was Polish. It was weird. Katka washed further downstream (perhaps not knowing how European they all were). We soon sadly learned that despite all the people, there was no long drop! Given the exorbitant number of tents around, this necessitated some serious bush bashing to get away from the crowds for pees, and especially, poops. Perhaps my worst of the hike was a poop I was having when all of a sudden I felt a horrible stinging in my thigh. I flailed a bit but couldn’t move properly as I was mid-poo. The stinging continued, then again, then another part of my thigh. I thought it was a wasp but when I eventually finished my poop and moved my clothes a bit an evil march fly emerged. My leg swelled up proper for the next few days and there is still some minute evidence as I write this (5 weeks later!!) Okay enough about my poop, let‘s move on to Day 5.
Day 5: Happy Hut to Four Mile Hut
The next morning we took a ‘shortcut’ which involved some bush-bashing to avoid some backtracking and extra kms. There was some apprehension at times but Jacob did a good job navigating. We continued north toward TableTop Mountain, considered hiking up it but weren’t sure we should kill Katka anymore. Jake and I got a little scolded for talking about the PCT way too much (we definitely were!) We eventually stopped for lunch by a stream which would have been more serene and nice if ants and march flies weren’t attacking us. Katka was particularly over these guys by then. We were tracking well and had lots of time to waste as we were ahead of schedule and didn’t need to pick up the others until the next day so we decided to walk to Four Mile Hut after a short day (“hey free accommodation!”) We got there in the knick of time before a bunch of thunderstorms rolled by and man it was great inside with the storm going nuts outside. The cosiness was made better by the extremely abundant fresh mint we used to make mint tea. The mint was growing down by the river, near a few apple trees! We also gathered piles of wood which we split and had a nice fire in a woodstove that said “Ultimate 500” on it, and of course we played 500 (for the next 6 hours) next to it. We were fully settled in; I had even folded all my clothes and put them on the shelves in the hut, when a hiking club arrived. I felt bad that we had taken over the hut but Jacob assured me that feeling bad was going out of style and that we could stay in the hut. I told the other hikers that they could come hang and we could make more room in the hut if they liked, but they had just started hiking that day and said we deserved it more. The wind was strong outside and apparently one of their tents busted but they still didn’t come in. We had a lovely sleep.
Day 6: Four Mile Hut to Kiandra
The next day we had a nice walk out to the carpark. Katka got excited by the snowpoles for cross country skiing and we played lots of dumb games like categories “annoying things from this hike” and “awesome things from this hike”. It was a very cruisy day though the march flies had evolved to better bite while we were walking by now but what can you do? When we reached the car (yay!), we read the plaque telling us more about the gold mining history of the area (very interesting), took a few selfies and read an interesting note from Mark and Lucie, but we’ll let some others talk about that….
Altogether it was another (fairly) successful, awesome Christmas hike from Team Steamroller!!!
Total Ascending (TA): 3070m
Total Descending (TD): 3225m
Total Distance of AAWT completed (TKM): 107.4km
AAWT Points: ((TA+TD)/1000)*(TKM/10) = 67.61 points