I've been telling everyone that I'm hiking the BNT. Ok, I'll fess up, I'm actually on a bloody big pub crawl. I'm finding, though, that the distance between pubs is considerable, and the crawling is not alcohol induced but rather big hills and fatigue.
Since my last post in Mount Molloy I've travelled another 200 kilometres. In that time there have been all sorts of challenges, including a couple of tumbles, but only two pubs.
After Mount Molloy I was expecting some really remote and harsh country - I wasn't disappointed.
The first day out from the comforts of Mt Molloy pub was a big one, a 30-kilometre hike. The going was mostly ok, with a relatively well-defined trail to follow. The last section before camp got a bit tricky with the trail all but disappearing into two-metre high spear grass. I think I found the designated camp spot; however I decided to give it a miss because of the spear grass. I presssd on for another kilometre looking for a better spot, and, upon checking my GPS, I realised I was off course and on the wrong side of the dry creek. It was too late in the day to circle back so I set up camp in a small clearing I stumbled across. Knowing I was slightly off course, and that I needed to conserve water as I wasn't able replenish at days end, I didn't sleep very well that night. The massive wild pig that came crashing through the spear grass into camp just after dark probably contributed to my unease and pretty shitty night's sleep. Crocs, pigs and mozzies are at the top of my hate list - I'm learning to live with the mozzies, but still have a pathological fear of crocs and pigs.
I couldn't wait to get going in the morning, but had to wait until it was light enough to try to pick up the faint track amongst the spear grass. Initially I thought I could follow the track I was on and that it would cross the creek and pick up the Trail again. No such luck, it ended at some cattleyards, so I had to circle back. I retraced my steps for a couple of hundred metres to where the track came closest to Dora Creek. I checked my GPS and figured I could bush bash for about 400m and rejoin the Trail. As daunting as it was fighting my way through spear grass and scrub without any track, it worked out ok. I stumbled across a track, and was hugely relieved to see a marker after travelling along it for a bit. This pretty much summed up my experience for the next two days.
When I met up with some of the BNT team in Mareeba, I agreed to leave my GPS switched on to record my track to assist with map updates etc. Looking at the track my GPS recorded through this area, I kind of wished I hadn't agreed to this now. "Bloody pub crawl is right, the crazy old codger is filling up his hydration pack with booze at his pub stops, too, judging by this GPS track" I imagine them saying after I've handed it over.
Clearly I need to brush up on my orientation skills. That said, some of the notes suggest following brumby trails, which I did until enthusiasm was replaced with exasperation when they started branching off in multiple directions. Shortly after crossing St Kilda Creek I came across some brumbies. "Oh good" I thought " I'll get the low down on the right brumby trail to follow straight from the horse's mouth." Horse's arse, more like it, they just snorted at me and buggered off. Even though they weren't that helpful, I really liked meeting these brumbies.
I finally navigated my way to the gate and a clearly visible track taking me to Kingsborough. I met Ken who was doing a spot of prospecting off to the side of the track, and gladly accepted the offer of water. It was great not having to treat it first and to simply guzzle it all down - lovely! I wasn't sure of what to expect at Kingsborough, as the Trail notes simply say 'refer Ike,' Kingsborough's only resident, for a suitable place to camp. Ken told me it is a campground with hot showers- well that sure put a spring in my step for the last few kilometres.
When I got to Kingsborough ( after taking a stupid wrong turn and having to bush-bash down the side of a mountain to get there) I was again surprised - it was an amazing little oasis in the middle of an otherwise harsh and arid landscape. Ike gave me a big bunch of banana's, which I scoffed into after setting up camp. I found Ken and shared his camp fire and greatfully sipped the offered coffee and enjoyed swapping stories of what we're up to. I slept wonderfully that night - no pigs!
The next couple of days hiking were relatively uneventful but very enjoyable. I even cranked up the music singing along to some tunes; I have this fantasy that by the time I finish the BNT I might be able to hold a tune [Ed: it's never going to happen...]. Ok, I might need to drink more water as I've heard delusions are a symptom of severe dehydration. [Ed: up that water rationing a lot!]
I was looking forward to Mutchilba, being able to have a beer, get my supplies, and enjoy some good reception to catch up on things.
Tragedy struck! There's no pub in Mutchilba, and (quite likely, less importantly) it's an Optus town, so no reception for this Telstra boy, followed by "Didn't you pick up that parcel last week?"
Things worked out ok though. I had a rest day in Mutchilba, and the kind lady at the post office drove me into Mareeba and paid for some replacement supplies. Late morning I hiked about 6 kms down the road and found a comfy spot where I got three bars of reception yay! It was great calling home.
The next few days of hiking took me back into some really remote and dry country. So, fully loaded with supplies and water, I found the hike to Stannary Hills physically demanding. The series of short sharp climbs were through a (seemingly) never ending valley, on a track that was like a dry river bed, with rock and sand constantly shifting under foot. I was a little weary when I finally reached the large dam for camp. I lit my first campfire of the trip to relax by. I slept well but was woken by brumbies bolting past the camp in the middle of the night.
The last updates to the BNT guidebooks stated the pub at Irvinebank closed in 2015. I was reminded of this as I passed very old signs advertising it with the words "cold beer" barely readable, faded with age.
It was just after lunch when I got into Irvinebank and I was delighted to discover the pub was actually open. It had been a long time between drinks on this pub crawl; and geez, those first couple went down well.
Irvinebank was a great little spot. I enjoyed a hot shower at the free camp, beer and a pub meal, visited the museum, and gas bagged with the locals over more beer.
The next morning I headed out at sunrise. The climb over Mt Misery was great, and the views all the way down Silver Valley Rd were simply spectacular.
A pleasant camp at the waterhole by dry river, another campfire, double rations for dinner, and had a great night's sleep.
I was off the next morning at first light as I had 28 kilometres to get through before reaching my next pub stop at Innot Hot Springs.
I don't know why I found this day's hike so tough. Whilst it was long(ish), there were no major climbs to speak of and it was a good trail to follow. My feet were getting really sore, though, and I was dog-tired - I rested a few times, taking off my boots and applying the magic magnesium rub - that helped, but it didn't cure.
I arrived at Innot Hot Springs around 3pm. I promptly checked in and grabbed my resupply parcel I had mailed a while back. Yep, you guessed it, I also ordered a beer, but my mind was on other things - the hot springs of Hot Springs in fact. I soaked in those thermal pools of warmth, medicated myself with a couple of cold tinnies, and enjoyed the great company of some Italian backpackers I struck up a conversation with.
Before closing out this post I'll share with you a direct quote from Tom Mauloni of Mt Albion Station who I met on the road to Irvinebank: "You need to get your fucking head read!" I was a little taken aback at first by this remark, until Tom elaborated: "Why on earth would you want to be walking all that way? Wouldn't doing it on a horse be easier?" It was great chatting to Tom, and we both had a few good laughs. "Tom, it's no big deal really, I only need to walk about 20 or so kilometres....and keep on doing this for the next 300 or so days"
As I sit here, thinking it is nearly beer o'clock and time to have another soak in the Hot Springs, it has dawned on me that I've walked about 450 kilometres with only about 40 to go before I finish the first guidebook. Finishing this beast doesn't seem so daunting now that that it's under 5000 kilometres to the end - even less when I count it by pub stops. Cheers!
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.