Friday, November 11, 2016
And so, here I find myself sitting in Halls Gap with my husband, Michael and our parents (in-laws).
Michael and I are about to embark upon a hike. For the first time since 2002 I have opened my hike log and taken pen to paper. This is the first overnight hike I’ve done in all those years.
We’re here to walk from the Mt William car park, down into Boundary Gap and then up the other side to the Major Mitchell Plateau. We’ll camp at 1st Wannon Creek Camp and stop there the night. Next morning we’ll head around the eastern edge of the plateau, drop off at Stockyard Track and down to Jimmy Creek.
I have my trusty backpack, my boots, food and water.
Ready to go.
I wanted to start at Kalymna Falls. When I submitted the notification of intention to the National Parks, the ranger rang me and said I couldn’t. It’d been washed out.
My heart sank.
Bomjima Picnic ground I suggested hopefully. No, she said, it’s been closed for years.
More heart sinking.
I was a little worried that perhaps Boundary Gap was out of action. Can I start from the Mt William car park? Yes.
This is the launching place of so many adventures of my 20s.
Preparations have taken ages, new tent, water bottles, socks, pants, hats, stove. My pack weighs 18kg. Michael’s about the same.
Our morning started with the sound of a thousand cockatoos right outside our bedroom window. Begging me to get out of my bed and ready to go! There were so many other bird calls in there too, they were gently calling me to arise. Unlike the cockatoos who seemed rather more insistent.
We all had breakfast in Halls Gap and by 9.30 a.m. we had made all the final adjustments to our back packs, including an emergency repair on Michael’s.
We drove to the Mt William car park. I’m really quite excited as we drive up the windy road. It wasn’t long before our bags are on our backs, kisses, handshakes and advice of taking care before we are heading off to start our adventure.
Slowly we start. It’s just after 10.00 a.m., it’s overcast and a little windy. On the top of the mountain it’s probably 10°c. We take some time to get used to the back packs. Pulling on the straps, make adjustments to the waist belts. My calves are screaming at me, as they do, when I walk up here. I remind myself that we have plenty of time and I slow down. My legs thank me.
We got to the top of Mt William in good time, it’s only a 2km stroll on a made road. We avoid the summit and turn off to the right before. We’re now on a rocky 4WD road with plenty of low vegetation. The flowers are magnificent. Lots of small blooms, fantastic colours.
The walking was good and while being careful to put my feet in the right place, it was pretty easy. Michael stopped to take photos along the way. This first part of the walk is fairly short, so we had plenty of time to smell the roses, or the native flowers as it happens. The road runs out and is replaced by the rocky path that will take us downwards.
By 12.15 p.m. we’d reached Boundary Gap. It’s quite a steep walk down the side of Mt William to the gap. I really love this little spot between the mountains. As we walk off the top of the mountain the low shrubs give way to taller trees and less rocks. Nestled between these two mountains, still high above sea-level, is this well-wooded area, tall thin trees, small ferns, flowers. I’ve walked this track many times over the years, mostly with my hiking partner, Marcelle. Michael has borrowed Marcelle’s Macpac backpack. The same one that has travelled around the world and up and down hills. I find myself in the same position that I’ve been in so many times with Marcelle. Struggling along behind her, with a view of her pack. I glance up and see the same view now, the blue backpack with the Macpac logo. I’m transported back 25 years. The vision is popped instantly when I see Michael’s furry face.
We stop for lunch on the valley floor. Rice and salmon, both out of sealed foil bags. I heat the rice on my new stove and then mixed in the salmon. A little bland, but ok.
The next bit of our adventure beckons, from the floor of the valley, the only way out is up. So up we went. I trace my eyes along the rocky track and can see the forest giving way again to more rocks and less trees.
Then it began to blow a gale, followed by rain. We stopped to put on our new over-pants and continued to head up. The clouds hurled through the gap behind us, out past Mt William as if being ejected by a great force. The rain set in with few breaks between squalls.
It was slow going now, the rocks are slippery as we scramble up and over them, before long though we are on the edge of the plateau. We haul ourselves up and over huge boulders. My memory is clearly faulty, I imagined this part of the walk to be much longer and harder.
Still, I love this.
A howling wind is blowing the clouds that obscure my view of the world. In what seems a blink of the eye we attain the top. I can’t believe it was such a short distance. The top is rocky, low trees and shrubs, plenty of grasses. Still lots of colours from the wild flowers.
At around 2.00 p.m. we see the first sign of the camp ground, it’s the ventilation pipe from the loo! The creek is flowing, so much water. It’s the first time I’ve seen this. Previously it was simply a trickle and I struggled to fill up drink bottles without a heap of silt. Now we have an abundance of tannin stained water, and our water bottles are still full. We need to jump the creek to get to the camping site that we’ve picked. We quickly erect the tent and unroll our sleeping mats. It’s difficult to keep everything dry. The mats are mostly in the tent, all they need is a couple of quick breaths to inflate them. Michael is done in no time. I grab the valve on mine and blow into it and there seems to be no inflation. I keep blowing as if I’m filling the biggest balloon. It takes a couple of minutes before I realise that I’m not having any impact and that there must be a hole. An inspection of the mat reveals that the seam along the edge is no more and the innards exposed. I may have muttered a bit. There’s little else to do because of the rain so we climbed into the tent and slept for about 3 hours.
When we awoke, it was very very wet, still raining. That didn’t stop us pulling our wet weather gear on and heading off for a walk in the rain, without our backpacks. We saw lots of wildflowers with a rainbow of colours.
Back at camp half an hour later we had a cup of coffee and then prepared dinner. Which wasn’t hard. You cut the top off the foil bag and pour in boiling water to reconstitute our roast chicken, gravy and mashed potatoes. Was pretty yummy, considering the freeze-dried nature of it.
It’s been raining the whole time since we arrived at the First Wannon Creek camping ground. Nothing for it but to go to bed.
This is quite an elaborate dance that needs to be done.
The 2-person tent is only large enough for one person to sit up at a time . The process begins by loosening your laces, then sitting with your bottom inside the tent, feet outside. You take off shoes and socks, put shoes between the fly and the tent, put socks near sleeping bag to keep dry. Slip off your coat, carefully, so as not to spray water around the tent. Roll coat up and place at edge of tent, just on the inside. Remove outer garments. pulling jumper over head without extending arms outside the tent, unbutton shirt and try to remove while keeping elbows bent, then slip into thermal top. This will make your arms wave around in a confined space in a most unbecoming way.
Slip off your over-pants by raising hips slightly and trying to push them down your legs then roll up. Try not to get water over anything. Stow them near the raincoat. Remove trousers by lying down, lifting hips and trying to get them over your knees without hitting the roof or having your legs protrude beyond the tent opening. Then try and slip into your thermal pants by slipping both legs in and trying to stop the legs of the underwear from getting wet on the over-pants or coat.
Now you’re ready for bed. Lie back on your sleeping back and search for the opening. When found, bunch your knees up under your chin and attempt to slide your legs into the opening, work out you have to unzip the bag , do this by lying down on the bag again, locate the zip and undo.
Try to climb in again. Twist your legs and body to make the bag straighten out. Make sure you can get feet to appropriate corners. Realise the bag is upside down as the hood now covers your face.
Lie down and spin the bag around to make sure the hood is on the sleeping mat.
Now, find the zip and try to pull it up. It won’t work and will need you to contort your body to use your other hand to hold the bag material still while zipping up. You body temperature will have risen, you’ll be puffing slightly and wishing this bag wasn’t quite so efficient in retaining body heat.
Oh, where’s my pillow?
Once settled lie really still as your partner commences the same dance.
I lay down on my flat sleeping mat that at least gave some protection from the cold wet ground underneath the tent, only to discover that my sleeping bag has a draft too!
It rained all night. The wind rattled the tent and the rain pitter-pattered on the roof.
Be sure to check out Michael’s gallery of images.