A question I've been asked is “Do you meet other trekkers along the Trail?”, and the answer has been “Nah, not other hikers or trekkers. I’ve bumped into a few four wheel drivers though”.
Sitting in Canberra on Christmas Day (and thinking how long overdue I was for sharing an update), it was clear to me I’ll have a different answer to that question the next time I’m asked. Now it will be “Not quite as busy as Bourke Street, but from Kosciuszko to Gundaroo I met up with quite a few trekkers.”
In the last 25 days I’ve hiked about 430 kilometres, bringing the total BNT Take 2 tally to over 1000 kilometres. Yay! I’ve cracked triple digits. I’m being careful, though, not to get too cocky about this milestone, and I’m still taking each day as it comes. I’ve learnt that to successfully complete the BNT takes about 30% hard work, meticulous planning and preparation, and the rest is luck.
Picking up where I left you in my last update, as Mount Kosciuszko was an unofficial side trip, I decided that I’d try and hitch a ride down to Tom Groggin to resume my hike. Well, that was the plan; I walked about 6 kilometres in the sleety rain from Thredbo, with about a dozen cars passing me, before I got a ride with a lovely elderly gent. That saved me about 20 kilometres, and by the time we got to the gates of Tom Groggin Station, the rain had stopped and the sun was shinning. It was around 10:30am, a lot later than my usual set off time, but I decided to set out for Keebles Hut anyway.
It was a lovely hike along a dedicated BNT track through Kosciuszko National Park, and I arrived at camp around 3pm. I was getting a bit weary towards the end of the hike, but knew I was getting close to camp. I could see a building in the distance and said to myself “Well that’s where Keebles Hut should be, but that’s not a hut – that’s a house!” Sure enough it was the Hut...score!!!
I had just inflated my sleeping mat and rolled out my sleeping bag, when there was a knock at the door. “Come in, it’s a public hut” I called out. In came Johno and Sarah, and Johno’s brother Chris. They were down from the NSW mid north coast on a holiday. These guys had hiked and cross country-skied through these parts extensively and wanted to say hi when they saw a fellow hiker come through their favourite part of the world. I have to say the view across to Mt Kosciuszko from the Hut was pretty special, so it was easy to see why they love it so much. We were chatting all things gear when Chris asked if I’d like a beer. My eyes nearly popped out of my head in excitement. It must have shown as Chris put two in front of me, the first one going down without touching the sides. I was invited to share dinner with them at their camp. How could I refuse slow-cooked chicken and veggies in a Dutch oven - sooo yum!!! It was great sharing photos of our respective adventures and crapping on until very late. The constant supply of VB made sure my “crapponometre” was registering in the red zone, until I decided I’d had more than enough, and staggered off to find my way back to the hut in the dark. It was lucky I was taking a rest day at Keebles Hut as I had an award-winning hangover the next day.
Continuing on the trail, and after an early, cold misty start (that included an icy crossing of the Swampy Plains River), it turned into a gorgeous day, and a lovely walk into Khancoban.
I was a couple of days ahead of schedule, and looking forward to an extended break in Khancoban when, the next afternoon, fellow BNT trekkers, Zoran and Rhonda (along with their seven horses) arrived. It was great hanging out with them again.
Charlie, the BNT section coordinator, popped out to meet us, delivering some feed for Zoran and Rhonda’s horses and offered to take me into Corryong, which I gladly accepted. What a great little town, too. I enjoyed wandering through the farmers market, and then through the main street and admiring the “Man from Snowy River” statue. I’ve seen a few of those hills, there’s no way you’d get me galloping down the side of one. Balls of steel, now immortalised in bronze.
Rhonda and Zoran set off on Saturday morning, which meant they’d be ahead of me on the Trail now. I wondered if I’d catch up to them again. I enjoyed lazing around Khancoban, pigging out on cafe food, and chatting to a number of fellow travellers passing through. They included a young bloke from Switzerland who was travelling around Australia, and doing a number of hikes, and had just come from Kosciuszko. I also met a nice fellow, Rahul, who runs a trekking adventure company in Nepal. Ha, here I am complaining about how tough the Victorian Highlands were and this guy makes his living hiking in the Himalayas.
Sunday, around 7pm, I finally got to meet Kimberley Delevere of Trot to the Top: riding the Bicentennial National Trail fame. Kim completed her south-to-north solo unsupported trek of the BNT in August with super pony Archie. I nearly met Kim when she was nearing completion of her second last guidebook, but my leg packed it in (ending my north-to-south attempt) a day or two before we were due to meet. Lucky for me Kim hung up her trekking riding boots, clipped on a pair of Trail Angel wings, and drove a couple of hours to catch up with Charlie, and meet me. Kim shouted us an awesome pub meal that evening, and it was so much fun swapping BNT war stories. The next day Charlie and Kim rode the last 6 or so kilometres with me. It was pretty cool having a mounted escort into camp and I really enjoyed the company. Kim is now knee deep in planning her next adventure, canoeing solo (with her dog Rastis) the length of the Murray River - she’ll nail it too! What a remarkable women.
From Khancoban it was 5 days hiking through some truly impressive country before getting to my next resupply in Providence. Along the way there were some big climbs (so much for all that being left behind me in Victoria), but I finally got some great weather and was blown away by the views. Before arriving in Providence, I met a couple of hikers who were setting off for a few days - they were gob-smacked when I mentioned I was 57 days into my hike. I warned them that the snakes were out in force as I’d seen three that day already, including one I nearly stepped on. (Fortunately I managed to scramble to the left just in time, falling over in the process - what a clutz! I didn’t mention that bit to them.)
In Providence, after just setting up my tent, I heard my name being called; it was Rhonda. “Hey Rhonda, when did you guys get here?” It turns out they arrived the day before and were taking a rest day.
“We’re on the other side of the caravan park, come on over for a chat”
“No worries, I’ll finish setting up and get a load of washing on and I’ll be right over” I replied
I didn’t expect to catch up with Zoran and Rhonda so soon, but I’m glad I had. They’d managed to get a ride into town that day and had bought some fresh supplies. Lucky for me they shared some ribs with me.... it was sooo delicious. They were hitting the trail again the next day and very kindly offered to carry my food resupply - awesome, it’ll be nice hiking out with less than 20 kilos on my back I thought. As the next day was going to be a shortish one (22 kms), I planned to set off with them - great, a 7:30am start meant a sleep in!!!
It was a beautiful morning, and I was feeling refreshed and looking forward to being on the Zoran-and-Rhonda team as a “Pack Human”; what a spectacle we must have been to passing motorists - The 2017/18 BNT Brigade.
Things started well enough, and for the first 6 kms I kept pace. That was until it started to warm up a bit - oh and of course we hit some hills. It was then that I discovered these weren’t horses at all - they’re cyborgs! Machines! How the hell am I supposed to keep pace with these things? I foolishly tried for a little while and it damed near killed me. “You guys go on ahead” I said, “I’ll meet you at camp.”
I blinked my eyes, and these machines were three hills off into the distance, mere specs on the horizon.
I finally got to camp and Zoran and Rhonda had unpacked and had a fire going in the hut. Circuits Hut was no hut though, it had three bedrooms, each with spring bed frames, and a kitchen area with a table and chairs...very swanky.
I decided it would be easier if I stuck to my early starts and set out the next morning at stupid o’clock. Luckily the moon was bright so I didn't need to dig my lamp out. Another gorgeous day appeared when the sun burnt through the fog, and it was an enjoyable walk. I was clambering up a very steep hill and was very close to Oldfields Hut when I came across two gents at the top. Greg and Peter were hiking the Australia Alpine Walking Trail (AAWT) and had come across a whiff of reception and were making calls. I dropped my pack to rest and say hello. Greg was on day 50 of his hike, Peter I think was a week or so in, and had joined Greg to do a section. I was chatting to Greg and Peter for a good ten minutes when Zoran, Rhonda and the Cyborgs came clip clopping up the hill. I went over to pat Amber, my favourite, and she looked knackered and had worked up quite a sweat getting up that last hill. Not a machine after all!
Zoran and Rhonda continued onto the hut whilst I tried to get reception. My phone was showing a bar of reception but it was only there to tease me and drain my battery. I gave up and headed down to Oldfields Hut and set up for the night. Oldfields Hut turned out to be quite a popular trekking spot, as we were soon joined by Greg and Peter, then Eliza and Cameron, with Jess arriving solo a little later. We got a rip roaring fire going and settled in for the night swapping trekking stories. I said to Rhonda, “Wow, talk about a Trekker Mecca, two groups doing the BNT, and three doing the AAWT, all arriving here on the same day.”
From Oldfields Hut, there was another five days of hiking before Canberra, passing through some beautiful country. Whilst I continued to set off early each morning on my own, I camped with Zoran and Rhonda each night and enjoyed their company - not to mention the morning coffees they shouted as well. I have a confession to make also: whilst I’m a happily married man, I have fallen in love with another. Her name is Amber and she is so sweet; check out this pretty thing! I have told Zoran and Rhonda that seven is too many, and I’d be only too happy to help them out and take Amber off their hands, but no dice. Oh well, I was just trying to be helpful.
I arrived at the Yarralumla BNT Camp first, having left Rhonda and Zoran to take a shortcut, that didn’t wind up being so short. (And I took a taxi for the last 10 or so kilometres to avoid becoming hopelessly lost in Canberra Suburbia.)
At the Yarralumla camp, I met Lauren Woodbridge. Lauren, a professional horse trainer, was at the equestrian centre working a number of her clients horses. She stopped by to say hello and asked if I was with and Rhonda and Zoran. “Kind of” I said, “I’m walking the BNT and have been travelling with them since Providence. They’re not too far away, I reckon they’ll be here mid to late afternoon.” As it turns out Lauren was an experienced BNT Trekker, having done from Healesville to Maryborough in QLD on horseback when she was fourteen, along with her mum (Frances) and younger brother (William). It was great meeting another BNT Trekker and sharing our respective experiences about the Trail.
Lauren, set off to continue working her horses, but mentioned her brother would be along shortly and would be happy to drop me off in town if I wanted to head in and shop. It was lucky for me that Frances Woodbridge knew Rhonda, with the Woodbridge family all geared up to don their Trail Angel wings, as I was the beneficiary of this awesome generosity as well. It wasn’t too long before William arrived, delivering the sack of cracked corn Zoran had ordered and had delivered around the corner to the Yarralumla Woolshed, as well as gifting them a few bales of lucerne hay and some Christmas nibbles (chips and chocolates). William tossed my an icy cold can of Solo, and boy did I enjoy slamming it down fast. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride into town," he said. William took me to a few sights along the way and I was hugely impressed with the National Arboretum. I got dropped off at the Kathmandu store in the middle of town and bought myself a new gas canister, before grabbing a beer and burger. The town was certainly jumping with pre-Christmas revellers. I had a quick wander through the retail precinct, and couldn’t stop myself from pigging out on an Indian Vindaloo curry from the food-hall. I didn’t know I needed it so much until I walked passed. Feeling quite replete, I figured a taxi back to Yarralumla was in order.
Lauren, was about done with her horses when Zoran and Rhonda arrived. They looked weary; it had been a long hot day having skipped the camp at Kumbah. At least Lauren got to meet them that afternoon and agreed to come back the next day.
The following day was a busy but wonderful one. We got to catch up with Alex Noon again, having first met her at the BNT AGM in Narbethong in October. Alex, a BNT supporter, Trail Angel, endurance rider and trekker aspirant, certainly flapped her Trail Angel wings, running us all over town to replace broken gear and shop for supplies. We then each appreciated hot showers at her place and enjoyed a fabulous lunch, before being chauffeured around on a great sight seeing tour. It was certainly a memorable day!
Zoran and Rhonda set off early Christmas Eve, whereas I enjoyed a lazy day. Alex popped back out with wonderful Thai Green Curry and taking me to the shops for a beer top up - definitely a very relaxing Christmas Eve!
I spent my first Christmas alone, ever. I had a nice sleep in, enjoying the cooler weather, and loved the 40 minute Facebook video call from Beth and the kids. I do miss them terribly, but am very lucky to have such an awesome supportive lot in my corner!
Alex and I went on a short 15km hike on Boxing Day to the Old Honeysuckle Tracking Station, now part of the Namadgi National Park. It was a great walk, and a bit of goosebump moment, reflecting on the role Honeysuckle played in one of the most significant moments in the history of man - the day we walked on the moon. Honeysuckle received the first signals that were beamed to the largest ever television audience of 600 million people.
I’d had a great Christmas break in Canberra, but it was time to get back on track. I set out Wednesday morning to Hall. I let Google maps guide me there, and enjoyed some of Canberra’s extensive recreational trails, as well as shortcutting the day by 10 kilometres through suburbia. It was about 5 kilometres from Hall that I met another trekker, Luke. He had done the Camino Trail in Spain, amongst other walks, and does a lot of long distance cycling around Australia. He certainly was a little surprised to see a hiker in the burbs and gave me a few pointers of what to look out for along the Trail in and around Canberra.
I got to Hall just before lunch. What a cute little place it was, too. It’s a shame everything was closed between Christmas and the new year including the post office holding my food resupply parcel. I shared this info on Facebook, along with a photo of an awesome replica of Doctor Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S and a quip suggesting I’d try going back in time to collect my parcel. I was blown away by the number of Trail Angels that emerged with offers of help. It all worked out fine and I enjoyed my stay in Hall.
The next day was a long slog to Gundaroo on a hot 34 degree day. The real highlight was catching up with Kathryn and Preston again. These guys completed the BNT heading south in 2014/15, on horseback, a bit of cycling and lots of walking. I first met them at the BNT AGM in October. Back then (in Narbethong) Gundaroo seemed so far away. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve made it this far.
Chatting to Kathryn and Preston, it became clear that these guys are full on adventure junkies and have trekked many of the worlds best trails. Lucky for me they have also donned a massive set of Trail Angel wings, too. I’m enjoying a rest day on their property in Gundaroo and am being thoroughly spoilt.
They say completing the BNT depends on a high percentage of luck. All up now, including my first north-to-south attempt, I’ve done over 1700 kilometres. I still have a long way to go, but based on the angel dust from all the Trail Angels wings I’ve experienced so far, luck is something I have had in large doses. Things are looking good. I still know things can change at the drop of the hat, but it has been an honour and privilege meeting all the past and present trekkers from Kosciuszko to Gundaroo. Regardless of what happens, I’ve had an awesome time! The Kosciuszko to Gundaroo Trail Angel Trekker Mecca ROCKS!!!
I’d had it in my head that once I hit Omeo, the last of the real rugged, steep climbs would be behind me. It was going to be easier from here. Judging by some of the comments of past trekkers in the BNT log books I read at Omeo Caravan Park and at Bindi Station, I wasn’t the lonesome ranger with those thoughts. Clearly Victoria wasn’t done with me yet. She was saving the best for last...cheeky bitch! No offence. When people say “I’m heading up north”, clearly the “up” bit is true for Victoria, rather than just being an expression. It’s all fucking uphill!!
Ok, I know I’m pissing and moaning, and I should stand in front of a hill and just get over it! (see what I did there...?) For me, I think it’s more about having an expectation and things not measuring up. Anyhow, this is my midlife crisis and I’m out on the BNT finding myself; it’s my hike and I’ll piss and moan if I want to.
However, I think that bit is now done. Yes, there were some unexpected massive steep climbs, but the hike from Omeo to Tom Groggin was brilliant, including the little side trip to Kosciusko, which ticks another bucket list item off. I can’t believe I walked here from home in Healesville!
The first day out from Omeo, had a bit of everything; long, steep ups and downs, misty fog, clear blue skies, wild winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain. I was rewarded with a room in the shearer’s quarters at Bindi Station, with a lovely hot shower, and a comfortable rest day. Thanks Penny & Fraser!!
I did moz myself when in the last blog I said how comfortable I was not having made any wrong turns. From Nunniong Plains I went right instead of left. I was even making good pace in the steady rain until after an hour I saw a track off to the right that I didn’t remember the day before when studying the route. I whipped out the GPS and yes I had travelled 5 kilometres in the rain in the wrong direction. I surprised myself with how calmly I managed the situation. Ok, that’s bullshit: I threw a right tanty before collecting myself with a few deep breaths and repeating to myself 'onwards and upwards'. Actually, I don’t think the deep breaths arrested the tanty, it was probably more the resolution that I’d hitch a ride to make up the lost 10kms if I got the chance. Not that I’d seen much traffic the last few days - in fact none... I got back to where I made the wrong turn and a couple of kilometres in the rain before taking a break.
Lo and behold, a 4WD arrived that I flagged down. Bec, the driver, was doing her masters at Deakin in (I’m guessing) some sort of environmental science, and was out doing research. She had a couple of volunteers with her to help, Kyle and Sally. I got a ride with these guys and got dropped off 8 kms down the road. That ride made up most of the time I lost with my wrong turn. What an amazing spot of luck. It was a steady climb the rest of the way and, with the weather clearing, I was able to get out of my wet weather gear. I arrived at Brumby Hill - a gorgeous little spot - just as another thunderstorm was threatening. I managed to dry out my gear and pitch my tent in quick time and fortunately the rain held off, bar a few splodges that fell here and there. Getting to camp at reasonable time meant I was also able to give my legs a proper going over with the FisioCream and my massage roller (aka one of my trekking poles). All of this hill work was taking its toll, with my leg muscles feeling very tight, and I’d also felt a bit of a twinge in my left hamstring; however, the massage was able to work that all out.
I think the brumbies at Charlie’s Creek adopted me as part of the herd, which was kind of nice, but the constant munch-munch-munch around me, and the frequent squealy barnies they got into during the night, meant I had a pretty haphazard night's sleep; that and the howling winds. Leaving bright and early the next morning the race was on to get to Davies Plains Hut before the rain arrived. I won that race despite the steep climbs. Davies Hut was the quintessential Victorian bush hut, brilliant, and I was grateful for the shelter. The rain hit shortly after rounding up a bit of firewood and getting water. It didn’t stop all night, only intensifying with thunder and lightning in the small hours of the morning.
It rained all the way to Tom Groggin but, despite this, I was making great time. I got to the Buckwong Creek Camp ground with my boots starting to squelch and the damp finally winning the battle against my wet weather gear, but not yet feeling cold. As I got closer, I realised I had to fjord the creek, and when I saw it I thought, “Holy fuck, that looks a bit swollen”, and was certainly flowing quite fast. I decided to cross anyway. That moment was right up there with an equally stupid decision I made up north with my first attempt of the BNT: crossing the Daintree River knowing a big croc was around. This time my luck held as well and I made it safely across. I arrived at Tom Groggin Station an hour later to collect my food parcel looking like a drowned rat.
There was a group of trail riders sheltering from the rain under the balconies of the Tom Groggin Station Homestead. I learned they were doing a charity ride with The Purple Bucket Foundation, and had booked out the accommodation and facilities on offer at Tom Groggin Station.
I was just expecting to collect my food parcel and then traipse back the two kilometres to the Dogmans Hut to camp. Alison (Chick), the president of The Purple Bucket Foundation, suggested I hang around and dry out there, and that they were about to dish up lunch, and I was more than welcome to join them. Chick pointed me in the direction of the bathroom and said there’s a hot shower waiting for me - I didn’t need to be told twice. Sheer bliss! [Ed: and probably for them, too, after getting a whiff...]
I got to chatting to Chick and her story is amazing. Her daughter Emily had an accident falling from her horse and fracturing her wrist. After a number of complications, and also a couple more unfortunate accidents, Emily developed a debilitating illness that saw her crippled with chronic pain and ultimately confined to a wheelchair, requiring constant care. The Australian medical community were at a loss to diagnose the problem and offered surgical options with hideous risks and an at best a 50% success rate. Never giving up hope, Chick came across a specialist in the US that was offering treatment with a 96% success rate, no risky side effects and non-invasive. After jumping through hoops to get Emily over to the States, Emily’s life was turned around after a dozen or treatments. I’ve significantly abbreviated this amazing story, but it was years of anguish, pain and suffering to get to this point. Chick was appalled this treatment is not available in Austalia, and that the illness isn’t even formally recognised. After long fights with government agencies and the Australian medical community, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is now formally recognised as an illness, and Chick continues to champion the cause to raise awareness of it. When Emily’s pain specialist first heard she was going to the States to seek this treatment he had never heard of, he said if it worked he would check it out. After the amazing turnaround with Emily, Chick has held him to his commitment, with the specialist having been trained in the procedure and equipment. This treatment will soon be made available in Australia to other sufferers of CRPS. I met one, Nel, a lovely young lady, battling and suffering this illness. Nel, was there for the trail ride, with her father, Rob, who cares for her 24x7. Lovely people, and their lives will be made significantly easier with this new treatment. Chick is doing great work with The Purple Bucket Foundation; check out their website, www.tpbf.org.au or www.Facebook.com/purplebucket, any support will help suffers like Nel get treatment sooner.
I had a lot of fun at Tom Groggin Station with the Purple Bucket team and the folk participating in the trail ride. I enjoyed dinner, chatting around the campfire, way past my bed-time, sleeping on a comfy bed and followed up with a wonderful egg and bacon brekky. I even got a lift to Thredbo for my little side trip to summit Mt Kosciuszko. Not only did I get lucky crossing the flooded Buckwong Creek, I got immensely lucky to have met these wonderful people.
After arriving at Thredbo I checked into the hotel and had a look around. Great little village! I enjoyed my pub meal and having a few beers with Scott and Dave, who were both tackling the Australian Alpine Walking Trail. Poor Scott had been stranded in Thredbo for nearly a week after sustaining what sounds like to be the same injury that derailed my BNT north-to-south attempt. He was in good spirits though, good on him.
After having a great brekky, today was the day for me to mark off an item that had been on my bucket list for a long time; the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. I took the enjoyable route, chairlift for the first 500 metres, then a lovely 14 kilometre return hike. It was a shame it was clouded in, but still quite magical to have done this. I copped a bit of stinging sleet, then snow, as I neared the peak.
Standing at the peak of Australia’s highest mountain was a humbling experience. Reflecting on my pissing and moaning about the steep climbs through Victoria, I cast my thoughts to Chick & Emily, and Rob & Nel, and the real challenges they have, and continue to face - I am a right twat: these guys climb mountains every day and just get on with it, no pissing and moaning. The Kosciuszko summit isn’t part of the BNT, it was a bucket list item for me, a side trip. I have now ticked that off the list, my Purple Bucket List! Onwards and Upwards.
At 47 years young, Chris Anthony, who is married with 3 wonderful kids, tried his hand at being an adventurer for the 12 months tackling the BNT.