The Hume & Hovell walk, part 2

Hume & Hovell 2 - Thomas Boyd to Albury, 330 km solo

26th September – 6th October 2007

Photo: The end of the walk. No wonder children broke out in tears and backed away, dogs howled and mothers hustled their daughters away... This is how I looked as I walked through the main streets of Albury - more like a terrorist than a tourist.

Found – 1 pair of very expensive sun-glasses (not the Oakleys I mention at the end of this story… I’m keeping those). If you lost this pair of said glasses somewhere on the H&H walk in September 2007, just tell me the brand and give me a description of them, and roughly where you lost them (within thirty kms or so), and I’ll return them to you).

First, the statistics, rough at first, but more accurate later as I do the maths:

Route: Thomas Boyd Trackhead (Tumut) to Hovell Tree at Albury.

Distance: 330 km

Days: 11

Average speed: 30 km per day

Greatest distance covered in one day: 44 km

Greatest continuous speed: 130km in the last 3 days (Lankeys Creek to Hovell Tree)

Distance on tarred surfaces: about 65km, 50 in the last 10 hours of walking.

Qualification: One or two short cuts were taken along the way, primarily cutting out the squiggley bits in the streets of Albury; from the outskirts I took the most direct route.

Prior to the walk

I made four important modifications to my equipment:

Trangia – I converted one of the smallest Trangia stoves to be far safer in use, (I almost started a grass-fire last time out) and perhaps doubled its fuel-efficiency by drilling out two of the nesting one-litre pots from the larger kit to resemble a smaller version of the traditional Trangia stove. For a tiny increase in weight, I probably saved half the fuel burned normally by keeping the heat where it is needed, rather than let the slightest breeze blow it all away.

Photo: I drilled out two 1 L pots from a larger Trangia set to imitate the standard wind-shield... making it a few grams heavier, but saving probably half the fuel - therefore a net loss in wieght, and a huge net gain in safety.

Photo: Ideally the wind-shield should be much shallower and a few mm wider, and the lid a flat, recessed lid rather than the deep pan-shape I used here, dictated by Trangia's lightest set. If I could convince them to create a similar set to mine, we'd all be better off.

Water bag – putting a water-bag inside a rucksack has always seemed to me to be the most stupid idea – you can’t tell how much you have left, and when you need to re-fill you have to unpack first. Plus, of course, you put pressure on the bag.

I wanted my bag on the outside, but in previous attempts couldn’t make it work – the water got too hot, and it slumped down all the time, stopping the flow, getting in the way and looking stupid.

This time I took some of that cheap, closed-cell material cut from the end of one of those blue earth-mat things, and using contact adhesive, glued it into a flat tube, slightly bigger than the water-bag itself.

The material is just stiff enough to keep it compact and upright. The bag and its blue tube slip under a strap and down into one of those rather useless angled net pockets backpack manufacturers like to stick on modern packs. The closed-cell foam is marvelous insulation, it turns out, keeping the water cool even on a very hot day.

The only problem is that the blue material has great non-slip properties, and it is hard to get the water-bag to slip inside it, and also hard to get the tube under the strap and into the net pocket.

On the whole I’m very pleased with it.

Telephone charger

I bought a neat little device with which to charge my (and most other brands of) mobile telephone from a single AA battery – There is no brand-name on it, but it is a silver tube with a few electronics at the end, and choice of connectors to suit your particular phone. In Wagga it is sold by Leading Edge Electronics in Baylis Street (I believe they are everywhere), and not only works a treat , but is worth its weight in gold. It is sometime a bit nervous about charging, but I’ve always managed to get a good charge eventually. I use NiMH 2700 amp hour batteries, which seem to have the oomph to do the job best.

Solar battery-charger

The one I bought, Silva Solar 1, is a fairly solid square of solar panel made by the Swedish compass etc manufacturer. It charges 4 AA batteries at a time. I started off with 4 fully-charged batteries, and used them in my GPS and my telephone charger without trouble, even though the skies were grey most of the early days, and I was under tree-cover for much of the remaining time.

I fix it to the top of my pack with Velcro, which I sewed there, and put it away carefully on arrival (lest the surface get too scratched).

With a tube and spring converter, it should cope with AAA batteries too… I've written to Silva about that. Also about possible addition of LEDs to show charging and full.

The Start 26th September 2007

We planned to do this with the original three, Peter Lockley, Greg Scott and myself.

However, Greg's increasing level of work responsibility was always going to be a problem, and after two years, Peter and I decided we would go in September this year, 2007. With most preparations made, Peter eventually dropped out too, and that only the week before we were due to leave.

Despite my family's disquiet at my going off alone, I decided that that's what I should do. I always carry an EPIRB, I had my telephone, I had an ECG to check the condition of my heart (I'm nearly 64 at the time of this adventure, after all), as I had done with such success the previous October (Canberra to Thredbo, 250 kms)

So on 26th September, Wendy, who was running a clinic in Tumut that day, dropped me off at the Thomas Boyd Trackhead outside Tumut at 7.50 am.

It was a beautiful day, and I started well, with 28+ km to do... a big ask for a first day.

Photo: The first bridge over the Goobarragandra river

The first section was pretty flat, running between riverside trees and scrub, culminating in the second crossing of the river back to the reserve area on the Tumut side of the Trout farm.

Photo: The second crossing of the Goobarragandra River

After that we went up the road a bit until we dived back down to the river and over a newish road bridge - at least it looked newish.

From there a short stretch of paved road led through a couple of houses and on to a dirt track wandering through beautiful beef country (the country was beautiful, not that it was particularly good for beef; that’s something I know nothing about). We had about eight kms of that, I suppose, and then it came suddenly to an end as we crossed a small wooden bridge and came face to face with a sudden sharp rise, so steep amongst bushes that I slipped and fell ten feet back down the bank, cutting my hand and scraping my arm as I did so. A great start!

Photo: Echidnas are monotremes (as are Platypusses) rather like European hedgehogs

After that there were a few kilometers of pretty steep country where the track wasn't all that well defined, steeply uphill mostly through some of the greatest grass-trees I’ve seen, until eventually it was downhill and onto farming land. 'Continue along fence' was the stern admonition. A couple of blokes sawing up a tree that had fallen over a fence were all I saw, halfway up a pretty steep hill. 'All downhill from here on,' they said, but it was far from all downhill.

By the time I reached the Snowy Mountain Highway I was pretty well done in, 22 kms behind me, 6 + to go. The sky was dull and threatening rain by then, and I was very tired. But there was nothing to be done about it, so I slogged on, step after step, so tired that I felt I was going to go to sleep as I walked. The dam wall was the last straw, and I staggered up the hill through the trees, a carefully winding track making it easier but longer.

Eventually I got to the Blowering campsite at around 4.30pm, only to find three walkers already there. Nice guys, Steve, Matthew and Elizabeth from Newcastle.

After very brief hellos and a cup of tea provided by Elizabeth, I ate what I could (Cup of soup and half a Macaroni cheese) and went to bed. A slight telephone signal there. Rained for an hour or so after I got into the tent. Had no trouble sleeping - zonked until around 2 in the morning when I took of my jacket and long-johns... too hot.

I had bought a new pair of merino long-johns, and they are a little thicker than the tops – but as I shall generally only wear them on cold nights that’s fine… though they aren’t quite as light as I would have liked (but you can’t have it both ways!).

27th September 2007

Up at 5.30, away by 7.50 after speaking to Wendy.

Couldn't find the track and went far too low down the lake shore - very tiring. Went on searching when I could higher up, but didn't find it for ages. Very tired. Lovely country but too tired to really appreciate it. Stopped at Browns camp for a long rest. Dried my tent which was soaking, made a cup of tea. Too tired, really, even to sleep. The Newcastle three came through only 15 minutes after I had arrived, though they had left an hour after me, which shows how slowly I had been moving, and how quickly they were.

They had started from Wee Jasper the week before, and had taken a day off to rest and wander in Tumut, and to have a night in bed with a shower etc.. All three were much fitter (and a heck of a lot younger, too, than I was).

Planning to get away from Browns camp by noon, with 12+ kms still to do. Forced myself on after an early lunch, feeling slightly better and developing a much better swinging gait, but basically hot and tired. The track around Blowering dam was not, as I had expected, perfectly flat (as it follows the shoreline) but in fact could be quite hilly at times. It was here that I saw the only (live) snake of this trip – a 2 metre brown swiftly crossing the fire-trail. The only other snake I saw was dead, just outside Albury on the second-to-last day.

Matthew, Elizabeth and Steve had booked ahead to stay the night at the Forestry camp, and had even got the caretaker to pick up their shopping, and do some more for them, in Tumut.

As I got further down the track, tired, footweary and feeling like crap, I began to wonder if I could get in too, or maybe share a shower, at least.

The walk from Brown's camp, where I had lunch, another 12.5 km, seemed almost more than I could manage. I had seriously considered staying at Brown's Camp for the night, but I really didn't want too; I decided to keep going.

It was a hard walk, but relatively flat; I slogged on at a reasonable rate, but hoping like hell that I didn't have extra distance to go if I walked the half-km to the camp, only to be turned away.

It didn't happen though: as I came in sight of the camp, which from a distance looks like the grounds of a stately home, I could see a car there... I understood that the caretaker lived in Batlow or something, and would drive in to book them in, so the car seemed in place. As I arrived, though, the three of them were hanging around outside, and it became obvious that the caretaker hadn't arrived yet.

A phone-call established that she would arrive, and half an hour later she did... and I could have a cabin - $20 bucks a night.

Photo: Steve, one of the Newcastle Trio at Blowering Forestry Camp

It turns out that as well as a shower, there is a drying cabinet; so I quickly washed all my clothes except my shorts (perhaps I could do them too? Why not?) (I didn’t).

So I have had a beautiful shower, had several cups of liquid - Milo, coffee, Cup-o'soup - and I'm now on the verandah warm and comfortable (the air has been bloody cold all day). I now have long-pants, two thermals and my warm jacket, and I'm toasty and quite happy.

There is some telephone signal here (a bit iffy) and tonight I'll call home and Sam.

Photo: Matthew Hawkins, one of the Newcastle Trio

Photo: Liz, one of the Newcastle Trio

September 28th.

Didn't call Sam, for some reason. Wendy seems well, and all is well at home. I left a message for her last night and spoke to her at 7 am this morning. Had lots to drink last night, tea, coffee, milo; and had a cup-o'soup and the last of the macaroni cheese. The latter has gone downhill since they brought in the new stuff. Must write to them. (Fantastic Pasta)

Hot shower, drying cupboard, dinner and into bed at around 7.30 pm, but couldn't sleep - too hot, but wanted to make sure the drier did its job on my wet clothes, so left it on till it stopped. Took a tramal( heavy duty painkiller), because my 'restless knees' were dreadful. For those who don't know what 'restless knees' is, it is the strangest sensation where the knees just have to keep moving every, what, 30 seconds? Most disturbing.

Eventually got to sleep, and woke a couple of times to urinate. This is great because I believe it is good to drink as much as possible, or suffer that dreadful exhaustion.

However, climbing out of a sleeping bag and then a tent, then getting back in, is much, much worse than rolling out of bed and weeing out of the doorway. Sorry folks, that's what most people in this situation do, rather than walk some distance to the toilet block. I've seen it a million times. And what can be better than weeing in the light of a full moon, as it was last night?

There are hundreds of yellow-tail black cockatoos here. They have lots of light-yellow tail-feathers, and a yellow spot on each cheek.

They flew in last night, all from the same area, in the old-pine sections of the forests. They flew back here in the dusk, mostly in threes but sometimes in bigger groups. Lovely to see.

When Godfrey told me the call was that of the black cockatoo rather than the Eagle... I was surprised, and I had never even seen a black cockatoo before.

It was fine yesterday, but today it is completely overcast with a load of very light, short showers. So I'll have the poncho ready for immediate use. Interesting to see how it will go.

Friday 28th - day 3. 1.30 pm

A day of short cuts - first we used Yellowin road instead of the lake shore road, cutting off 5 kms of the first ten. Then shortly after, as the lake was dry at that point, I cut across the lake bed, cutting out about another 3 ks, so what should have been a 25 km walk to Ben Smith Campsite became 17 instead.

Photo: The dried bed of the Yellowin arm of Blowering Dam

Photo: Small flowers growing on the dried bed of Blowering Dam

I set off by myself at 8.20, as the others had just started breakfast, and expected that I'd be in ages before them, especially as I was moving easily and freely. I left messages scrawled in the dirt for them, but they decided instead to go straight over the hill, a nice easy direct route, it seems, and when I first saw them they were high up on the hillside, waving down at me. They must move very quickly anyway, much faster than I do.

The last section of the route was away from roads on a tiny track through the woods, very nice. Little grey fantails everywhere.

The campsite itself is buried in the woods, a nice grassy but hilly spot. I'm wondering what will happen here if there is heavy rain.

Wind roaring over our heads.

Got in at about 1pm, wondering what to do with the rest of the day. Rest and sleep, of course.

Photo: My trusty tent, a ' Hallmark Hangout'. 1.3 kg, sturdy, light, almost perfect for lightweight camping where there are likely to be mosquitos, snakes and other unpleasant visitors.

In fact had a nice restful afternoon, reading, listening to the radio etc. Nice companionable dinner with Liz, Steve and Matt, until rain drove us to bed at around 8.30. There was a lot of rain and heavy wind in the night, both of which stopped at around 9.30 pm, and we had a restful night with high humidity, so that our tents were soaked in the morning.

Saturday 29th September 2007

Rang Wendy twice with full reception. Got going about ten minutes after the others at about 9 am. Easy walk across farmlands and into the mountains, with the rise nicely graded on a benched trail. Very much easier going than expected, until 2 kms before Buddong falls, when it became almost vertical... an exaggeration, but it felt like it. Buddong Picnic area was a dump, and would have been a dreadful camp. But a sign there said a new 'Buddong Creek Campsite' was 5.5 km ahead, so, especially as it was only 1.30, I decided to carry on, unsure if the others were ahead or behind. Got to Buddong Hut, typically messed up by yobbos (it is right next to a logging road, a welcome break for tail-bikers), so carried on, to meet the others at around 2. 30 at the spot where the new campsite should have been... no camp.

A quick conflab had us all deciding to go on again to Paddy's Dam Campsite, which we estimated at around ten kms ahead.

This turned out to be right, and we got in around 5 PM, me last. They are much fitter than me, but poor Liz, Matt's partner, is obviously having difficulties keeping up.

The dam is a lovely spot, but as we were there in the middle of a long weekend, the site was full of families camping, mostly 4x4 s accompanied by a trailers-full of trail-bikes (for the kids, by the sound of it!). As we arrived, a bloke lurched towards us with two little girls, a can of beer in one hand and a fishing-rod in the other, obviously three-parts drunk. Never mix alcohol and water, they say.

Photo: Paddys River Dam; Not a very exciting photo, but all I could manage as I walked in, tired and cold.

All afternoon it was incredibly cold, maybe around 12 degrees. My face was freezing all the time, and I had the Araphat wrapped tightly around my face, breathing through the material. Cold all night.

I was very tired. Ate and pitched tent and went to bed, though growing closer to the Newcastle three.

Sunday 30th.

Not so cold last night because I wore almost everything I had... only one thermal unworn.

Dry and breezy in the morning, and not quite so cold.

Slow start although up at 5.30 ish, chatting around fire, socialists all. However, slow to get away. 9.40 now, and they are 45 Mins ahead of me. 22 km to Junction Campsite.

As I left camp, I walked through the site where the drunken man had been camping with his family – they had gone, but the fire, which looked as though it had been freshly built up, was still blazing merrily. I had to spend 15 minutes putting it out before I could leave in good conscience.

That was a great day’s walk through lovely forest landscape. For the first time I was feeling really fit and relaxed, and able to enjoy my surrounding to the full. It was still very cold, and it was only the continuous movement that kept me warm. I found myself doing my old thing, not stopping at all except for ten minutes to eat my lunch.

Photo: Trees down everywhere, just the natural cycle of growth, death and re-growth of a native forest. H&H team cut a section out of fallen logs blocking the track

On the forest floor I saw a bird - roughly the size of a wattle bird, but with dark blue patch on cheek or neck. In flight, has a fan tail with a strong white border 1 cm in from edge. Creeps around forest floor. It was only a few metres from the track, hiding behind the branches of a fallen tree.

Photo: Some nice person has sawn nice steps over and through this fallen giant - obviously a very long time ago

Minutes after I had fished my ten-minute lunch break I came across the Newcastle three, much to my surprise. I think Liz was pretty tired. Anyway, I walked with them for a while, but soon they stopped to adjust packs and I passed them. A while later I passed Steve, too.

We eventually came down out of the forest and onto rolling farmlands, recently planted with pines. It was nice to stretch the eyes, even if it was on plantation pines.

Photo: Nice to stretch the eyes a little, even if it was on pine plantations

Not far to go, then, and suddenly, from the top of a rise, I saw a hundred metres ahead a fox in the middle of the open ground ahead, being dive-bombed by magpies – I’m glad it’s not only cyclist that get the treatment! He snarled a little at them, and they left him alone. I walked forward behind a tree and got a couple of good photos, even though they are naturally distant shots. (They turned out to be too distant and too blurred... using a Nikon SLR spoils you for the use of the tiny, cheap camera I take with me on walks!)

Junction Campsite is the best I have seen. Everyone loved it - a grassy glade of about half an acre at the bottom of the valley with a nice newish pagoda affair for shelter. Instead of coming on to Henry Angel, I stayed there overnight.

Photo: The Junction campsite - a lovely spot. Here are the two tents of the Newcastle Trio, and the usual shelter/picnic-table setup at the beautiful campsite

That was my best day this trip, both in terms of walking and fitness. A great mostly down-trending track, very easy walking. (I later had several excellent days).

This morning a short (6.6 km) walk through mine workings, pleasant but uninspiring.

Photo: Laughing Cookaburra, the largest of the kingfisher family... this one let me walk past him within 3 metres, hardly turning to look at me.

Got here (Henry Angel Trackhead, Tumbarumba) early after having left at 7.30. Arrived cold and washed clothes. Hung them, the others arrived soon after, and I lent my phone for them to call for a lift. I’m not sure it happened, the signal being dodgy. I should have got their number from them, but I didn’t think about it. They left me their ‘Cards’, though.

They walked off intending to walk to Tumba if necessary. They are going on to Canberra for a week’s day-walking with Matthew’s sister. I was sorry to part from them. Nice people, good company. They offered to leave me the small (clean) billy, which I accepted gratefully. They also gave me the updated set of trail maps, which I hadn’t realised existed. They proved to be invaluable.

Sorted out re-supplies, gave everything else to them and another bloke at the site, and walked out – no point driving back to Tumba for a few old maps and a couple of coffee cans!

New campsite, Manus Lake, 17 km ahead, so must get a move on.

Pants not dry so will have to wear them wet. Tried to dry them on electric barbecue by piling the surface with twigs and stretching them out on top – worked well, but took too long. Put them on wet, hardly noticed – they dried on me in no time.

Left at noon.

Lake Manus. - Monday 5 pm

What a lovely spot!

Not an easy walk, especially up from Tarcutta creek. Very interesting country for the next five kms or so, dramatic gulches and steep ravines, climbing all the time. Once at the top the country changed to deeply rolling landscapes first along a ridge through Bogandyera nature reserve.

Photo: An inconvenient tree-fall... had to climb over the roots to get past

When I was seven kms out from Manus Lake I rang the place marked on the map as a bed & breakfast, only to discover that they wanted $115... just a cabin on a farm, as far as I can tell... completely self serve.

Anyway, walked on happily but becoming tired... of course my total for the day was once again 24 kms.

Not really a good campsite here. The shelter is far too exposed, with the wind blowing right across the lake. There is very little ground flat enough to pitch a tent, and though I tried several times I couldn't get a peg into the rock-hard clay, dried like concrete. It also seems to be on a gravel base, which leaves it pretty rough. I actually pitched the tent literally on the lake bank outside the designated camping area where the ground is softer and nearly flat. No promised electric barbecue, no water tank.

Photo: I had to camp outside the designated camping spot because of sloping site and rock-hard ground... but a lovely spot!

But the wind dropped, and the sun began to set and the place became magic. Full radio reception, so listened to usual evening programs until seven.

Nice dinner of Pasta Bolognese, coffee and Milo.

A remarkable fact came to light today, and this is that I have had no hand pain at all all week.

Tuesday 2nd October - Chris' birthday. Sent him a message first thing.

Within seconds of the sun going down last night the tent was running wet. Mist arising from the lake, and blown in my direction, simply soaked everything.

I decided I'd be okay, and went on to have a great evening, and for the first part of the night I was warm with no extra clothing. However, I had made sure that I left the long-johns beside the sleeping bag, easy to hand to don if the need arose. Well, it did, around two in the morning.

It was damp and fuggy in the tent, but not madly uncomfortable.

I got up at six am, and slowly ate, dried and packed. A very pleasant morning beside a beautiful foggy lake. Of course, the fog was entirely local, arising only from the lake.

Photo: Warming, drying and packing at Manus Lake

So now on to Munderoo campsite, 18 kms of easy walk.

Photo: Bird life on Lake Manus

The only problem is that the next day, day 7, it'll be a hard 28 km day. So maybe I'll think about going another 7 kms to what looks like a picnic area. We'll see.

It's now Wednesday 3rd, 5.45. What a day!

But I'd better deal with yesterday first. I left Lake Manus at around 10.15 or so, and briskly walked along sealed and unsealed roads for most of the day, uphill and down dale, quite steep and long, through mostly farm land at first, beautiful what… dairy? Cattle country? Rolling downs that looked lush and well-watered.

Photo: Well-watered lands and black cattle

Gradually got into higher plantation country, lots of five-year old trees (guessing - 1.5 m high?), but also a lot of mature pines. I don't mind walking through mature pine country at all... lovely scents, nice high vistas through the pines.

Photo: Recently planted pines - from the litter left on the land, it looks pretty inefficient form of land use

Photo: The ubiquitous H&H sign. The stamped number gives the number of km to or from the nearest Trackhead. Sometimes, though, vandals like to play silly buggers, swapping the numbers around. I think the numbers are a recent addition.

I got higher and higher and higher. Eventually got to Munderoo campsite (this was all Munderoo State Forest) at about 3 pm and made a cup of tea. Realised that metho was beginning to be a problem (methylated spirit... used as fuel in Trangia cookers). Lovely spot. Would very much have enjoyed staying there overnight, but realised that if I did I would have 27 hard kilometers the following day.

Photo: Munderoo Capsite - a lovely spot... but to camp there meant I would have to do a lot further on the following day... so I went another 7 km to Horse Creek

Photo: The main range of the Snowy Mountains in the distance - still covered with snow

There is a rest place marked on the map as a table under trees, which is seven kms on, so I decided that I would aim for that. There was no sign of water there, so I loaded up with three litres at Munderoo.

The seven kms seemed very long, but I walked through lovely country, and eventually through open park-land-like glades between the pines. I knew I was almost there when I came to this dam, but the water looked pretty unappetising, so I was glad that I had brought plenty.

A couple of kms further on I came to the rest area, Horses Creek. This consisted of two wooden benches face-to face in the middle of the woods, with a lovely grassy sward all around. Fantastic. There was creek beside it which at first I thought was just stagnant pools, but when I looked more closely realised was actually running quite well. As long as one avoided the weed, which was like gossamer, the water was fine. Well, fine for boiling or pill-sterilising.

Photo: A magic little campsite in the middle of nowhere.

So a quick camp-pitch and all was well. It got cold quite early, as usual, so I ate and got into bed, hoping for a peaceful listen to Radio National; alas, I could only get it when sitting in one spot on one of the benches, so in bed all I could get was some inane stuff on Star FM from Wagga - obviously caters mostly for sub-teens, listening to the phone-ins.

Not really a good night for some reason. Tired enough when I got in to bed, but awake a lot through the night. Sweaty in bed, too, I think that's this relatively cheap bag I use. Probably a more expensive one would breath better.

In the middle of the night sometime I pulled on tights and jacket against the cold.

In the morning there was a decent dry breeze, so the tent didn't need drying. Got ready to go asap, but included a hot strip-wash, as I had missed out on that at Lake Manus.

Set out briskly through the woods, beautiful and full of wild-life - birds, wallabies. Away by 8.15, I think. There was a lot of uphill though the map seemed to indicate all downhill to the creek at Lankeys.

Unusually I was suffering a pain in where I fondly imagine my liver is, just below the solar plexus. Not huge, just nagging and unusual. Actually, I can still feel it and it's higher than that, about level with the bottom of the sternum, so more likely in the intercostal muscles.

Anyway, unsettling. In fact, though the country I was walking through was fantastic, especially with the very elevated viewpoint, I wasn't feeling all that good all day. Very tired with aches and pains all over the place.

Photo: Every now again you come across log books to sign... very important to fill them in, as funding often depends of use of facilities provided.

Came down from the hills fairly rapidly. In fact, for a while the ridge I was on descended very steeply, then rose just as steeply to almost as high as the previous start-point, like a slightly sloping saw-blade, so that height was really only lost with a lot of effort.

Photo: steep country and ridge-walking

From native woods into farmland, still very steep with black cattle widely-spaced, and on down to meadows wide and nearly flat. Eventually, after what seemed a lifetime of walking, turned north again up the Lankeys Creek valley, narrower and more steeply-sided. Lankeys Creek looked from the map as though it should have a shop, so I was looking forward to being able to replenish my metho supplies.

After rambling some kilometers along the river bank as the track indicated, (up, down, up down) I got fed up with this and crossed a paddock to the road: more boring, but at least relatively flat. And so it proved for the last four kms into Lankeys Creek.

A big shed beside the road bore the sign 'Lost Patrol Camel Farm', and there were, indeed, camels in the paddock... four or five of them by the look of things.

Photo: Camels and lost patrols...

Suddenly my GPS pointed off the road, and I had arrived at the camp-site - but no shop! No houses! Nothing, in fact.

The campsite was great, but the map indicated a 'bunk-house accommodation' and gave a telephone number, and I had already decided that night in a bed, a shower and a clothes washing was in order, so I called out to some locals who were coming out of a gateway to ask where it was.

I had noticed, of all things, several railway carriages parked under some trees beside the road, and I was already harbouring a suspicion...

Photo: Platform 3 1/2

Which turned out to be true.

Peter Down is a hell of a nice and very interesting guy. He's been all over, and worked a lot with camels in the desert here, trying a tourist operation with a mate of his.

Anyway, I called out to him and immediately got offered a tea or coffee and a shower. Living in the carriages, he is sort of creating a whacky conference centre. In the mean time he didn't know what to charge me, had no insurance, and everything is a bit all over the place.

So first I accepted a shower and two cups of coffee and two pieces of cake, and we yarned for over an hour. He's going to feed me tonight, has no metho, has given me a room with a toilet. I used his washing machine to wash all my clothes, and hung them between the carriages.

He left to get on with things (changing a motor-bike tyre, sharpening a chain-saw... stuff like that).

Thursday October 4th, 7 am

Still telling the story of last night:

I went down to take some photos of the campsite. Peter told me to look out for the pump in the river. He uses a very old device that uses the power of the river to pump a small but continuous flow very high indeed - in this case it must be a hundred feet from river to his railway home. Very impressive, and all operating for free, and from such a tiny device.

Photo: The Laundry...

Photo: Flushing toilet in the Driver's cabin

Photo: Lankey's Creek Campsite

Photo:... realised I wasn't alone!

Suddenly I realised that I wasn't alone - I looked around and there was a ruddy great camel about five metres from me. They move silently with their huge padded feet. There were three of them actually, and they wandered past me without really bothering about me. Then I realised that three more were up on the hill, outside the fence, free to get onto the road. I ran back to get Peter, and yes, three of them had got out.

Photo: 3 out, 3 in

Photo: Beautiful creatures...

There is a road cutting immediately behind the carriages, so it was doubly dangerous with three huge camels caught without escape, and the potential for cars and trucks to come speeding by... which they did, by coincidence.

Peter, having dealt with this before, grabbed a loaf of stale bread and drove up there, stood waving the loaf. They immediately came, but two of them turned the wrong way and went further into the cutting, certainly getting closer to Peter, but faced with a cliff.

Photo: A danger to traffic?

Photo: Peter had had this trouble a time or two before...

I was standing at the edge of the cut, waving down drivers who came upon the scene very suddenly. What they must have thought is anyone’s guess, with me in only black tights, walking boots and a tee-shirt! So down Peter ran to get them back to where they could climb out. All turned out well.

We got them back in and then tried to see where they had got out. The neighbour’s roadside fence was down, but they had actually got out much further up the hillside. Peter reckons they are learning to behave in quite un-camel-like ways.

Peter then went off with George, the bloke who he has hired to help out for a while, to saw some fallen timber into thick planks, in situ. Went at it for at least an hour, until it was almost too dark to see.

When they came back, Peter started cooking, the most unusual pizza I've ever seen: a frozen base, lashed with tomato paste, topped by salami, mushroom, onion and then two eggs, then smothered in cheese.

While waiting, he gave me a beer, just ordinary Melbourne Brewery stuff, but it tasted and smelled absolutely delicious - the best beer I've ever had. I refused a second one.

Then he called George, who was in his carriage watching TV. I called first, but got no reaction. So Peter reached into a drawer and pulled out a real army bugle and blasted 'Come to the cookhouse door, boys', and he couldn't possibly not have heard that.

Ten minutes later the pizza was ready but still no George, so I went and called him a second time. This time he came. No, he said, he hadn't heard the bugle!

Then out came a bottle of terrific wine - Shiraz, Boomerang Bay.

Altogether a wonderful unexpected evening.

Off to bed at around 9.30, and he wouldn't even let me help with the washing up.

Great night sleep, though awake for a while from around

Got up at six, no movement around the place. Cold and quiet. I sorted my gear, packed, left out all the food and other rubbish I didn't need (space blanket, rolls of tape, extra polythene bags.

Cut off the top of my successful water-holder, and came to the kitchen to make some coffee, had breakfast (my own), and write this log till Peter gets up, which he just has. Yesterday was great, and I said goodbye to Peter with some fondness for the man... He would take only $20 for the night, the meal, the wine, the beer, the washing... what a bargain!

To say nothing of the company. He's going to organise a camel trek for four nights some time next year...might be tempted. Wonder if Wendy would enjoy it?

Photo: Just before I left, one of the camels came to the door of the kitchen (twin sliding doors, as in the underground trains, of course) and begged for food...

24 hard kms today to Tin Mine. Going to be a long day's walk. But I've had a great rest and refreshing company. Good call home to Wendy, as well, though should have got her to call me back, of course.

Weather good and cooler today and warming into the weekend.

I should be finished by Saturday.

Friday 5th October.

An amazing day yesterday - 44km!!

Well, I took a short-cut at the beginning which saved me 3 km, so perhaps 41 km is a more honest total.

It was listed as a moderate walk, but I found it pretty easy, swinging along on fire trails the whole day. Mostly in the Woomargama National Park, which is all forest. Mostly Grey and Yellow Box (check with Harry's account) Nice enough, rolling country quite high (around 700 meters most of the time, rising to 800 later in the day. Masses of bird life and Wallaby. Wallaby run away by leaning forward and keeping low, very fast, rather than the kangaroo which has a high, upright bouncing action.

Photo: The start of Woomargama National Park

Photo: The only Turkeys were the ones who tossed it out of the window

Cockatoos keeping up warning signals as I approached each group. One lot gave me the fright of my life when, in an otherwise dead silent section of the wood, a single cocky let rip from somewhere quite close to me, making me almost jump out of my skin.

Photo: Sarsaparilla vine, which can be found all over the mountains. A beautiful plant

Photo: Tin Mine Campsite - plenty of room to pitch a tent

Arrived at Tin Mine at 1.30. Huge open space with grass finely cropped. Maybe ten acres? I don't know. Nice little camp-site right next to a frog pond, quite big. So early, and with nothing else to do decided to have a cup of tea, then press on for another ten kms or so, or maybe even to Sam Bollard campsite 20.4 km ahead.

Photo: The fireplace at Tin Mine - a remarkable swinging affair.

Photo: The sign at Tin Mine - confirming a 44.4 km day.

Off into the woods, then, keeping up a fair pace. The woods, however, were heavily burned by a ground fire, last year I'd guess. Most of it was on the southern side of the track, almost as though it had been deliberately lit right along the track - perhaps burning the bracken undergrowth? No crown-fire at all. Very tall trees, same Box varieties by my untrained eye.

Left foot hurting like hell, the top of my foot just behind the big toe, where the boot bends. This has been hurting for days, and I assumed it was getting bruised by the boot.

Anyway pressed on at at least 5 kms an hour, the rise for the first two hours being quite gradual. Couldn't work out the problem with Sam Bollard waypoint, which was reading far too far away, so after careful checking, realised that the waypoint was wrong, being at the locality Woomargama. Don't have any idea of how that occurred, but once realised it was easily fixed, though my faith in the coordinates, read from a 1:100,000 map, was not great. However, they turned out to be spot on.

Photo: The view from Norths Lookout, Mt Jergyl

Having passed over Mt Jergyl, the route quickly descended to the end of the National Park, and I entered a private pine plantation, thick and tall on both sides of the track, like walking in a canyon. Not at all like the previously mentioned mature pines, but thinner, straighter and only about five feet between rows. A silent, brooding forest. No bird song, though I did see a few wallabies.

Photo: The dark dread chasms of the plantation pine

This went drearily on for about 7 km, with fairly steeply hilly country. However, I roared along, hardly even slowed by the hills. This was very similar to day nine of the Canberra-Thredbo trip, when I covered 38 km in one day. Nine days of walking makes you pretty fit.

Photo: Sam Bollard Campsite - at sunset

Eventually reached the campsite just before dark, a blood-red sunset through the trees. Pitched, ate, slept. A good night, too, not at all cold (took off jacket and shorts soon after retiring).

Beautiful morning, not cold. All through the night heavily industrial sounds, including road-roller sounds, very loud, fairly close. Can't understand it. Still going at dawn, then suddenly stopped.

Photo: Dawn at Sam Bollard - this used to be the end of the H&H track, but has now been extended to end at the Hovell Tree

Much maintenance this morning including rubbed raw patch on left foot - not bruising, bleeding!

The day was going to bring me pretty close to the outskirts of Albury, and while earlier in the trip I had wondered if there was any point walking into the centre just to get to the Hovell Tree, I realised that I didn’t want to just end the walk any old where. So the next decision was where to camp the next night, Friday.

Everyone had told me what a rip-off the Great Aussie Resort was, and it appears as though they actually control, and charge for, H&H walkers camping there. Hard to believe, I know.

So I realised that seven kms further up the road was a rest area, and decided to use that, if I could make it that far. The map distance looked like about 38 kms. I carefully taped my feet, particularly the wounded toe-top, with fresh tape. I ate a good breakfast, using the fireplace rather than metho – and the billy-can of course was a great help in boiling lots of water, fast. Incidentally, I discovered (Newscastle trio take note) that a blackened billy can be quite easily burnished again by rubbing it with a handful of wet, spikey grass… that tuff stuff you often get on dryish ground around campsites. Perhaps anything rough will do the trick; when I was in the scouts we rubbed Dixies with river sand to get them clean. (A Dixie used to be a big, thick Billy can).

Away by nine, with another 30 or so to do.

You’re not going to believe this, but I swung away on the road in fine form 5 and a half kms per hour, left-foot no longer hurting, whistling and loving the refreshing start of the day’s walk. Downhill fairly steeply into lovely countryside. At the bottom of the hill half an hour later I realised that I had seen no H&H markers for a while, (in fact I could remember seeing none that morning), and thought I’d better check, so got the GPS fired up and, sure enough, I was way off track. Cursing, I studied the map and thought, anyway, that I was bound to hit the roadway ahead very soon if I kept on the track, and then I’d just have to take the left turn to get back on my own track. Ah well!

Hurrying on to make up for lost time, I realised after another ten minutes that this result was not being shown by the GPS. I got out the compass, and quick as a flash, being a brilliant navigator, discovered that I had been heading north instead of south!

Cursing, I turned and headed back the way I had come, uphill fairly steeply all the way. Telling myself that it was okay, no disaster, lucky I was pretty fit, lucky the rucksack was fairly light, lucky it was a lovely day (in other words, trying for positive things to say to myself).

An hour and a half, and a great deal of sweat, after I first left Sam Bollard, I was back where I started, and saw where I had gone wrong: a huge sign, 2 metres by 1 metre, pointed the right way to go. I had missed it.

So off I set in the right direction, chuckling ruefully at my silliness.

Photo: The Mystery of the Mountains - did someone tie a huge dog here to die, and did it subsequently free itself? And if so, where is it now?

I was soon back into my stride, crossing the road from whence came all the noise of the night before, (I think), and into a steep, dry wood following a footpath. The track was pretty indistinct, and there were very few markers. I kept loosing sign of the track, going back to the last pointer to make sure I hadn’t misread the sign, then carrying on, only to eventually loose it again. This went on slowly but reasonably successfully for half an hour or so, the track flattening out for a while, and suddenly I was on no track, and I couldn’t find the last marker I had seen. I wasn’t going to be fooled again! Out came the GPS, the Map and compass, and I studied the land carefully. Clearly, the track should be further down the hill. So down the hill I went, searching carefully for the track. No track.

Now for those of you who don’t use one yet, you should know that a GPS is an exceptional tool for telling you where you are, and at every point of the way I knew pretty exactly where I was. I just couldn’t find the track. Backwards and forwards I went, uphill and down dale, searching. The track crossed a river somewhere no too far ahead, so I should head THAT way.

Fortunately the undergrowth was very light. The map, however, (a representation of part of the 1:100,000 Topo map) only had contours at 40 metre intervals. You can have an awful lot of up and down without registering a single contour on such a map! The maps showed slowly sloping land, I was surrounded by gullies too steep to do anything but scramble down, often on my bottom.

So far, my morning had been a disaster. Three hours gone, and I was only about 4 and a half kms away from my start point. I was using my water more rapidly that I had planned, I was getting hot and cranky, and not having fun at all.

I came at last to the river, just a rocky trough lined with the calcified remains of evaporated pools. At least I knew exactly where the track should be, right around the next big left-hand bend.

And so it was, and from there on I had no more trouble with finding the track, though, naturally, it started off steeply uphill for some distance. However, there was no looking back. At the top of the hill was the last log-book of the whole track, and a nice bench seat. I had just 8.4 kms to go, pretty much all downhill, before hitting the Bowna road at the bottom.

Off I went. I was pretty much out of water by then, it was getting on for 2 pm, so I stepped it out. Eventually came across a lovely seep of clear fresh water, and filled my bottle completely, sterilising it with pills – Aquatabs, with which I had sterilized just about all my water since I first started the walk. The tablets were okay – no taste at all, and I could drink the water half an hour after use.

The track wound its way high above the surrounding countryside, reaching ever-so-slowly for the end of the long ridge along which I was traveling. The weather was crystal clear, cool enough to prevent sweating, (the whole trip had been pretty cool, and as a result there were no flies to speak of at all… I love walking in October!) (Of course, it was October when we had walked out of Yass, and the flies along that two-day stretch were dreadful!).

What did make me just a little mad was that when the track finally reached the valley floor, it had to deviate around one last property, rather than use the road that would have taken us quickly to the main road, but past the farmhouse. No, the track had to climb steeply up and down the other side, with a thirty-metres-or-so buffer zone of unused land all the way around the offending property.

Now, Warwick Hull (H&H Manager?, Administrator?) will tell me the truth about this property and I’ll probably have to edit this out. But really, some people are the bloody limit, aren’t they?

Anyway, apart from the extra hill, I guess it was only an extra kilometre.

Onwards, then, the kms mounting up for the day (particularly if you consider the extras I had incurred). I was getting tired, and of course it is always very hard on the feet to walk on tarmac, especially walking into the evening sun, with a stiff, if cooling, breeze heading you.

Photo: 65 km of Tarmac from here on in (well, almost)

It was a bit like head down and get on with it.

I noticed that though there was very little traffic, all the drivers were in big, new 4x4s, and were all women, and were all very blonde. This remained pretty much true all the way into Albury.

I reached the Great Aussie Resort and passed it by. Another 7.3 kms to do. Rather than turn left and use the reserve tracks, I kept to the tarmac. The distance would be identical, but I should be able to move faster. I guess I did, but it was still nearly dark when I reached the bigger road junction ahead. Too late I realised that this major road is the Hume Highway.

Walking alongside the Hume highway is a bit like holding a picnic at the end of an international airport runway: the noise is unbelievable, the wind from the passing trade truly awesome, and the danger of being hit by a flying object seemed very high indeed.

However, it was only about a kilometre to the rest area, so I switched on my headlight to ‘blink’ and turned it to the back of my head, and plodded on. Normally I would have crossed over to face the oncoming traffic, as my Mummy had told me always to do; I did for a while, but the hard shoulder got narrower and narrower, so I crossed back to what I considered the safer side.

Funnily, several people honked as they passed, and held out ‘thumbs up’ to me, as though I was doing something they thought was okay: maybe they were throwing rotten tomatoes at me, and it was only the bad light that made me think they were somehow on my side.

I staggered into the rest area, and looked around. I’d have to be mad to stay there. The noise of vehicles passing was deafening, there was no mound or other substantial barrier between the road and rest area, and though there was a little grass, it was only on the side of the clearing nearest to the road.

For some reason I didn’t fill up my water bag. I was just about out of water, and though I could read the sign saying ‘water not potable’ or somesutch, ( why these signs have to be written like that amazes me) I knew I could sterilise it with tablets. However, I didn’t, and after a few moments walked on down a cul de sac lane heading towards the lake, trying to get away from the noise.

I had two thoughts in mind. The first was that I should walk to the lake’s edge to find water; and that, if there was no water because the drought had lowered the level, I would be able to walk across the bottom of the lake the next day, thereby saving 15 kms. However, the lane seemed to be very long, and though the map had suggested that the area was a stock reserve, there were clearly farm properties on both sides of the road.

After 2 kms I gave up, and looked instead for a flat patch of grass beside the road. Eventually I found what I though was just that, and pitched my tent between a tree and a big bush, a limited disguise in case of yobbos using the road late at night – it was a Friday, after all.

I had just a drop or two of water in the bag. I drank half of it, nibbled a small bit of cheese and some salami, and got into bed. The site wasn’t as flat as it had looked in the dark, and sloped towards my feet. Better than being head down, though.

Actually I slept reasonably well, and felt both comfortable and rested. It rained a little before dawn, and a tiny bit afterwards, but really not even enough to wash the dust from the tent.

As soon as it was light I got out of bed, drank the remaining water, and packed everything up – a record for me… it took about ten minutes.

Then I continued walking towards the lake.

I didn’t go far, though, before I realised that I probably wouldn’t get as far as the lake without going on to private land. Maybe, maybe not. I did what I now consider to be a silly thing: I turned around and walked back to the road-side rest area. One day I’ll go back and have a look if I could, in fact, have saved all those kilometres.

So I got back to the rest area, got some water, had a nice breakfast amid the din and turmoil, and started walking all around the top of the lake, a long and weary 15kms. Actually, once I had reached Burma road, and was thus off the highway, it was quite nice walking.

Photo: Country roads, un-tarred but still pretty hard underfoot.

Country lanes, nice and quiet. It took quite a while, though. The road turned into Bowna road, and I finally turned for lunch into Thurgoona Oval, home of the mighty Thurgoona Bulldogs, were I sat in the shade of the somewhat depressing ‘stands’ and boiled the water for some tea, and ate pretty much the last of my lunch cheese and salami.

Very tired by then, and getting very footsore, I got it together and wandered on, still keeping up the 5 kms per hour business, all along from Wirlinga, past the airport and into town. Nearly there.

As soon as I hit the main streets of Albury I became conscious of how I looked… because every second person turned to look at me as I passed. I had on my new-found expensive wrap-around sun-glasses (I had found them in the morning beside the Hume Highway, Oakleys, and they were so comfortable I’m going to keep them for cycling) and as well as that my Araphat, which is sort of like an arab headdress, so I must have looked at the least mysterious, and at worst like a terrorist.

Photo: The end of the walk... now I just had to get home.

Up Dean street I went, then winding in and out until I came first to Hume street, and finally to the Hovel tree.

Not quite ‘The End’, because I had still to get home to Wagga, and preferably that day, which story I might keep until another day.

Photo: Waiting for may last ride home - made it home before dark!

So eleven days to do the 330 kms, and the last three days at more than 40 kms per day.

I ended up with a painful blister on my left heel… and I lost 6 kg in body weight.

A great walk.