It was an early but wet start setting out from Marysville. Fortunately it was only light rain and, more fortunately still, it stopped briefly whilst I pulled down my tent and packed up my pack. Lovely: wet gear to add a kilo or two for the hard slog to Keppel’s Hut. However, I soon lost the melancholy attitude as I set off down Lady Talbot Drive and marvelled at Marysville’s Mountain Ash forest - still bearing the significant scars of the Black Saturday bushfires, but shrouded in mist to give it a wonderfully eerie, yet beautiful, feel.
The climb to Keppel’s Hut was long and steady; my iPhone tells me it was 27 kilometres, but it didn't seem as steep as I remembered. Don’t get me wrong, I was still knackered when I arrived. The first order of business was to take off my heavy pack and retrieve the supplies I had stashed in the bush nearby a few weeks back. Next was to get a cracking fire going, set up my clothes line inside the hut to dry my gear out, and to crack open the bottle of tawny I’d very cleverly included in my supply bucket.
Not one to be happy sitting around idle, I spent my rest day restocking the firewood and cleaning up this wonderful hut. I may well come across as a goody-two-shoes, but I was bored and figured it was the least I could do (and I was pretty happy with end result).
I like my early starts and, as I didn’t need to pull down and pack my tent, I set off from Keppel’s Hut just before sunrise. What a truly magnificent sunrise I was rewarded with, too; in this part of the world, no filters on my phone are necessary to show off the gorgeous views.
I planned on pushing past the designated camp by Royston River, foregoing the option of another hut, to camp at a four-road junction a further 10(ish) kms on, and making the day's total a 30-odd kms. It also, and more importantly, would make the next day's hike 30 kms, too. I had it in my head that these 10 kms would be gently meandering alongside the river. Well, I got that wrong: 5 of those kilometres were a rather steep climb up Mt Bullfight, and the other 5 a rather steep climb down the other side. To say I was stuffed by the time I got to camp around 2pm would be a mild understatement, and I’m sure you’ll understand how much I enjoyed the 1.8-km round trip to collect water once I’d set up camp. Actually, it wasn’t all bad (in fact, the only bad thing was the exhaustion), but I definitely earned the views.
As I was walking along the top of Mt Bullfight I was thinking how lucky I’d been not to see any snakes, considering the sun was out. No sooner had the thought left my head when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this beautiful creature sunning itself by the track as I walked by. It gave me a bit of a fright but I had to get a picture anyway. I’m not a complete idiot...I used the zoom on my phone, hence the pic being slightly blury.
My rest day at the junction of four roads down from Mt Bullfight was relaxing and uneventful - aside from the on and off again rain. I managed to get a good fire going just after lunch, and it was good enough to survive the showers through to an early dinner. Despite a brief pause in the rain, the sound of distant thunder helped me make an early dinner call. It turned out to be the right one: just as I shovelled in my last spoonful of dinner by the fire, large fat splodges of rain started falling, so I scurried for the tent. The most spectacular thunder and lightning show was put on for me; the best I had seen in a long time. I must say I was a little nervous that I’d drown during the night, be struck by lightning, or have a tree fall on me. I’m sad to report that my fire didn’t survive the deluge, but rather pleased to report I did, in fact my tent passed with flying colours. I kept dry and warm all night. [NB: apologies for the earlier draft of this post having the word 'lightening' in it twice - I have been warned by my Editor this is a serious misdemeanour]
I think the rain had stopped a little after midnight although I can’t be truly sure, as it may just have been the time I finally drifted off to sleep properly. I woke at 5am, though, and packed up as quickly as I could as I didn’t hear any rain pattering on the tent. Great, wet gear again! I set off at 6am and climbed a few hundred metres just as the day was breaking. Everything had a lovely clean fresh smell after a good wash from the rain.
I had all good intentions of aiming to get to camp early based on the time I set off, but that went out the window when I saw this view. I just sat there and enjoyed it for a while. I also had my first bit of phone reception in a while so fired off a few posts and took the opportunity to call my lovely wife and brag about my “Good morning" view.
It was a glorious walk from there and I had the urge to just keep stopping to capture it all, but I had a camp to get to at Big River. The day was turning out to be longer than I’d thought or planned. I was climbing a particularly steep hill on Gillets Track, and had already travelled 25 kms, when I heard the rumble of a 4WD. I moved off to the side to allow it to pass when the window came down and a voice called out “Geez you’re hiking all the way out here? You look like you need a beer”. As it turns out, John was out on a camping trip with his mate Onda (like Honda without the H, it’s Turkish) testing out his new 4WD, and what a beast it was. After an enjoyable beer, John filled my hydration pack up with water. Thanks gentlemen!
At that point I was thinking I was nearly at the end of Gilletts Track, and then only a couple of kilometres to go down Eildon-Jamieson Rd before getting to camp at Big River. John did warn me that there was quite a bit of Gilletts Track to go and Big River was quite a way off. Yup, John was right, 12 kms worth of right. The day's hike turned out to be 37.5 kms all up, and I was very glad when I finally arrived there around 3pm. The first thing I did was to dig up my supplies and was relieved to find them all intact. The sun was shining so I also took the opportunity to unpack and dry my gear out before setting up camp. I had an early dinner and settled into bed with a good book. Yep, you guessed it, it rained.
The next morning I decided to ditch the rest day at Big River and take it instead at the hut on Mt Terrible. I had intended on getting away early but it was still raining when I woke up, I wasn’t too fussed with a late start seeing as it was only 12 kms to the hut. I finally got away at 8:15am, filling up with water from Big River before heading up Newman’s Track. I’m so glad I did as it was every bit as steep, and then some, as I’d been warned. It rained on and off for most of the climb and the last 40 minutes it hailed, and then snowed.
I was very relieved when I arrived at the peak, and oh, what a beautiful hut. It was insulated and even had a nice pot belly stove. Only one slight problem: no chopped wood, and I didn’t like my chances of scrounging for enough dry wood that would be big enough to last but small enough to be able to make use of it. To make matters worse, I could see a few long, thick branch limbs down by the fire pit and picnic tables, but no means to cut them up. It was still snowing and bitterly cold, so there was only one thing to do, I unpacked and climbed into my sleeping bag. I had no sooner zipped up and started to feel warm when I heard a car outside. I jumped out to meet the new arrivals.
Harry and Mal, from Jamieson, came up to check out the new hut that was rebuilt in 2016 after the original hut was burnt to the ground in 2012. They were equally impressed with this magnificent hut. Harry offered me a beer, which I gratefully sunk, and he then proceeded to chop up a couple of those tree limbs by the fire pit. He even went to the trouble of giving me a bit of petrol mixed with oil to light the fire. I initially thought this may be overkill, but after my attempts of lighting the pot belly stove with wet gum leaves and toilet paper failed abysmally, I was very grateful for the fuel mix. It worked a treat, albeit with a bit of a 'whoof' when I dropped a bit of lit toilet paper in. Thanks chaps, I had an awesome night, and was able to dry all my gear after stringing up my clothesline in the hut.
The next morning it was still freezing. A quick check of weatherzone.com revealed it was -1 at Mt Terrible. There were a few logs left over, and a bit of fuel, too. I was tempted to get the fire going straight away, but realised I had only enough wood for an hour's warmth tops, so I decided to tough it out and save it for the evening.
Back to the books and my warm sleeping bag. My wife bought me an iPad when I got back from my first attempt of the BNT, saying it would be easier for me to do my blog when I get back on the Trail. I was rapt, but also guiltily thought “Oh great, that’s an extra kilo to lug around, and I’ll need to upgrade my solar panel to charge it, even more weight”. However, with that extra kilo I am now lugging around a library, a map store and a whole lot more - Beth, you rock! [NB: in my earlier draft post I wrote 'wrapped' instead of 'rapt' ... refer note above - that's strike two from my Editor...]
I was a few more chapters into a John Grisham novel that I’m really getting into when I hear another car outside. I unzipped myself from my sleeping bag to greet the latest visitors.
Shane and Sally, from Toongabbie (I think that’s it, anyway - apparently about 20 mins from Traralgon), are newlyweds doing a 4WD adventure camping trip through the Victorian High Country for their honeymoon. One leg of it to come up and check out the hut and the Mt Terrible views. A lovely couple; I really enjoyed meeting them and having our brief chat. How lucky am I? I was shouted a coffee (oh the bliss of caffeine), and Shane got busy with his chainsaw and chopped up the remaining tree limbs by the fire pit. He even found a larger tree limb nearby and proceeded to chop that up for me as well. Enough wood for me to spend the rest of the day and evening comfortably warm, and getting ready for the hike tomorrow to Knockwood.
It’s a shame that soon after Sally and Shane left the cloud lifted and the mist cleared to open up the view they came to see. These shots and the video at the end are for you, Sally and Shane!
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.