AAWT Stage 2 (trip 3) – Stronachs Camp to Mount Victor
Written by Jon
Vanessa admitted to being ready for a challenge, having not been able to make the NZ hike and having 2 weeks off for the school Easter break; so we boldly decided to tackle this part of the AAWT with only one vehicle and our mountain bikes.
The plan was to drive to the finish (Mt Victor) leave the bikes there before driving to and starting from Stronachs Camp. Then cycle back to the car at the end of the hike.
It had been raining for 3 days continuously, so we thought twice on Friday whether it was a smart move but the forecast said it would be less rainy on Saturday and almost dry on Sunday so we said ‘What the Hell”. We intended to take the 4 hour drive down on Friday evening, dump the bikes at Mt Victor & then drive to the start, where we would sleep in the car and start afresh in the morning…Good plan! What actually happened was that we didn’t leave home until 7.45pm. The drive as far as Thomson’s dam was OK, albeit wet, but once we hit the dirt tracks the visibility and the road conditions deteriorated. By the time we drove through Aberfeldy it was a bit testing…the last 10km to Mt Victor had potholes looking like ponds and made the going very slow but entertaining! We eventually reached Mt Victor at 12.30am. We had had enough ‘fun’ & decided to sleep in the car and drive to the start in the morning.
First light, we were pleased that the rain had eased off and was now no more than a light drizzle. We hid & locked our bikes & helmets behind a few bushes and headed off to the start. The drive was much better in the daytime but the 54km still took us 1 hr 30 with very undulating gravel tracks…Not looking too promising for the ride on Sunday.
Stronach’s Camp to Blue Jacket
Starting at 9.30 the first few kilometres were very pleasant. A light mist made the woodland trail slippery underfoot and a number of fallen trees made entertaining obstacles but not too much to concern the intrepid duo, other than the deforestation along the way :-(.
Leaving the woods and joining Park Road we met some hunters who were proud to show us the deer they had just shot (photograph not attached). All up, the 12km covered in the morning had gone very smoothly and we only had to cross the Thomson River at the timber footbridge (lovely photo in my guidebook of this study structure) to reach the campsite, where we planned to each lunch…So we thought.
4 days of rain had turned the Thomson River into the Thomson Rapids! Half of the bridge was still there but between what was left of the bridge and the opposite bank was 8ft of rapid flowing river. We scouted up and down the banks for a better place to cross and decided that there were none within a few km. If we were going to carry on, we had to cross here. We decided to take our shoes off and to place them in our backpacks. Truly glad we had bought new pack liners and having put the waterproof outer cover on my pack, armed with a six foot long stick and my flip flops (thongs) I decided to ‘test the water’. Using the stick and balancing precariously on the sodden remains of the bridge, with my backpack on my back, I estimated that the river was about thigh deep (for me!). Downstream to the right of me the river bed fell away to over 6ft deep, so staying on your feet was important.My very loose plan was to stand in the middle of the gap and throw my backpack the 4ft or so to the opposite bank where it would land in the bushes. Then for Vanessa to pass her backpack to me and repeat the exercise. We could then both wade across with the aid of sticks and each other to support us. Vanessa wasn’t too keen on the plan but in the absence of another suggestion, we went for it. All went well, to a point…I threw my backpack, it landed softly in the bush…then it rolled down the slope into the rapids. For a second it lay there floating upside down…in my rush to reach it and throw it back out, I lost my thong which was swept downstream. I also collected a half dozen thorns in my un-flip-flopped foot and on my hands. Regaining my composure Vanessa passed me her backpacked and I managed to get that to land safely…Phew!! Vanessa and I then waded across but not before I told her to aim for the thorniest area possible! We reached the far bank relatively unscathed, save a few thorns and a wet outer backpack. The good news was that my flip flop got wedged under a thorn bush further down our bank and after a bit of bushbashing I rescued it with a stick :-). Unfortunately the prospect of some really entertaining photos of the river crossing attempt were outweighed by the need to put the camera somewhere dry whilst we did so.
The whole river episode probably took us around half an hour so we decided not to stop for lunch as we had the toughest part of the day’s hike still to come. The next 3km was all steep uphill to the crest of Mt Easton. The track was relatively clear although infrequently marked and the occasional lyre bird or two to brighten the day. During the walk up, we discovered we had collected a number of leeches from the river. Vanessa loves leeches.
At Mt Easton we had a quick lunch and started the descent to Blue Jacket campsite, where we would be sleeping the night. The descent was even steeper than the climb. The clay based soil was both slippery and sticky and at times our shoes were inches taller and weighed twice the usual. We were glad that we were going up rather than down.
We arrived at Blue Jacket just as it was getting dark. 22km covered on a very eventful day, we were glad to make camp for the night. At about 3am we both awoke with a start, when we heard something which at the time I commented sounded a bit like a tent pole snapping but the tent was still upright so we went back to sleep. In the morning we discovered that it was exactly like a tentpole snapping but that’s a problem for another day.
Blue Jacket to Mt Victor ++
Our hike on the Sunday was to be a lot shorter than the previous day, as it was almost all uphill and we had the prospect of a 54km cycle with backpacks to follow it. Neither of us fancied cycling in the dark. Starting was a short walk along the river from Blue Jacket to Red Jacket, we stopped and looked at the small historical cemetery before heading uphill to follow the Victor Spur Track. The guide book suggested we could take either the less defined walking track or the 2.5km longer Victor Spur vehicle track. We initially picked the walking track but after about 10 minutes decided that it was not particularly well marked/maintained and considering the tight schedule we thought it was wiser to backtrack and take the more defined route rather than get lost and arrive late. The walk up to Mt Victor was pretty uneventful but the consolation was that the weather cleared to reveal blue skies and terrific views.
Arriving at Mt Victor, there was a nervous few moments as we searched for the bush where we had left the bikes. Time for a well deserved lunch break!
Donning bike helmets and backpacks we started the cycle part of our weekend. The first 6km was the most fun we have had in ages. All downhill on winding gravel tracks, with beautiful views and not a vehicle to be seen. The next 10km to Matlock (a small village with a sheltered picnic area, toilets and 2 permanent residents) was mostly uphill and at times hard work with the backpacks. At this stage Vanessa admitted that, as she had another 4 day hike beginning the following day, another 38km with backpacks would not be good preparation. We decided it would be best for Vanessa to stay with the backpacks and for me to cycle the remaining distance with the possibility of hitching a lift from a kindly motorist if one should pass. Unfortunately neither of us had any phone reception so we hoped nothing went too wrong. I set off full of energy and relieved to be shot of the backpacks but within a few km it dawned on me just how steep the roads were. Great fun going down on the mountain bike but hard work on the ups. It took 2 hrs to cycle from Matlock to Stronach’s Camp. In the first hr, when I was full of energy, I saw 2 vehicles but did not flag them down. In the second hour I didn’t see a single vehicle and would quite happily have taken any lift as I was running on empty for the last 10km. Cursing every slope and wishing for a bit of flat road, I eventually reached the car at 4pm and took an hour to drive back to collect Vanessa, who by that time was all rugged up and as relieved to see me, as I was to see her.
All in all a very eventful weekend.
(excluding cycling and swimming)
Total Ascending (TA): 1505m
Total Descending (TD): 1535m
Total Distance of AAWT completed (TKM): 30.8km
AAWT Points: ((TA+TD)/1000)*(TKM/10) = 9.4 points
Roll on ANZAC weekend! Go Adventure Gang!