Canberra to Kosciuszko
This trip was done December 1997 or thereabouts.
Kosciuszko seems to have different common spellings! The correct one is Kosciuszko. If you have any doubt check the Governement official Australian Alps National Park website!
John and Stevie were sitting in a hut in the Snowies, looking at the firetrail winding past. They realised it would be fun to return with the Mountain-bikes one day. Imagine cycling to the Snowy Mountains all the way from Canberra.
Three weeks later they returned, this time with the bikes and myself to make up three. It was too good an opportunity for me to get fit again.
After virtually not using my bike for over a year I had resurrected it! One new tire, one puncture fixed, a new seat, a back rack. The borrowed panniers full of food and supplies to last for 6 days, a borrowed sleeping bag, a borrowed pump…. Between the three of us we had not planned the route, nor planned tools or anything. That would take the challenge out of it!
It was Christmas day, and it was hot in Ngunnawal, Canberra. By walking the dogs alongside my packed bike around the nearby Gold Creek Homestead I was assured that nothing was going to fall off the back of my bike. The 20-year-old H-framed backpack appeared securely tied on despite the amateurish looks. My KT-26's were doubly tied onto my feet and I headed my bike for Lyneham to meet John and Stevie.
Hung over from their Christmas Eve celebration John and Stevie were still packing, but when our chartered Landcruiser appeared to drop us off we scrambled out of the flat. Sean, our friend and driver, was to drive us out of Canberra somewhere. Somewhere we decided to be Corin Forest Recreational Facility because John seemed to have an unexplained sudden urge for it.
It was noon, we were at the locked gate at Smokers Trail. We loaded up the bikes on the wrong side of the fence. The car left. I realised my 2 water bottles weren't even full up and apart from my 6 little juice bottles (one a day to keep the vitamins up) I had no other water containers with me! Sweat poured out of me while lifting heavily loaded bikes over the fence as the water issue dawned on me.
The water filter
This was it. We yelped like puppies as we screamed down the first hills with joy. We even clambered up the first ones without too much pain. Our first stop was lunch at a creek crossing. John's water filter was tested to fill up our bottles which had evaporated surprisingly quickly - despite the fact that this was mainly downhill territory! It was a reassuring feeling to have this filter. After lunch we turned right onto Cotter Hut Road - pretty good fire-trail, remote enough to ensure no traffic.
The first puncture
Every time the track headed down a hill we would benefit from the hard earned potential energy as it would smoothly transfer into serious kinetic energy. This kinetic energy caused my first flat tire. My mistake was that I was brainwashed to have my tires on 45psi for off-road. With the excess load I really should have the tires on perhaps 65psi. The inadequate pressure caused the tire to fold on impact and pinch the tube between rim and tire when my heavily burdened bike slammed hard into a protruding rock on one of these blissful downhill bits. This incident caused four little holes in my tube.
Stevie pulled up to help me. Quite a sacrifice of him, for on downhill stretches the brake pads don't store energy. Energy is just absorbed and turned into heat that dissipates without any benefit to the rider whatsoever. This meticulous way of looking at energy and force is necessary on trips like this because human muscles have to work really hard to get you over the hills!
My new puncture repair kit was safely sitting at home in Canberra, and my old kit was with me, but pretty empty. Only one patch left in it and the glue inside had vapourised. My pump was packed underneath my backpack, and although it was easy to get to I cannot recommend this place to others because it was already bend in half over the tough new Blackburn rack!
The shredded tube was too much for on-site repair. It looked too futile with the three existing patches on that same tube already. Stevie's pump came in handy as I pumped a new tube to greater pressure then I had ever dared to in the past.
Although no route was planned as such, my personal plan was to cycle to Oldfield's hut for the night. But my personal plan also included starting at Orroral Tracking station, which may have made that a feasible proposition. However, we got as far as Cotter Hut where there was a rainwater tank. We camped in the fenced-in enclosure and watched the kangaroos hop in and out. With our combined century of knowledge we ensured that our visit had not left a trace of evidence. Aware that we were in a water catchment area we hadn't even jumped in the creek flowing past. We were on best behavior, but nothing in this world could have prevented me, with my absent mindedness, from leaving my cycling gloves on the front steps of the hut. The gloves were blue gummy organic feeling things with finger straps to keep them between the bouncing handlebars and my bony hands. Most people would ditch them on first sight, but I had them for almost 10 years and was almost used to them.
Day 2 carried us up our first major set of contours: Murrays Gap. It was hot. It was really hot, and the going was tough. My IsoSport did not seem to provide the miraculous energy source that the AIS endorsement on the tin seemed to suggest. If I'd read the label I could've known this fact, but who reads labels when the sporty graphics - worth a thousand words - already radiates strength, endurance and virtual omnipotence?
Getting up the hills proved a difficult task; we often had to push the bikes. Pushing fully laden bikes up seriously steep trails with lots of loose shale and dirt requires a certain technique. It is very slippery, the front wheels want to continuously slide away, as do one's feet. The easiest way was to push from behind the bikes and let the front wheel steer itself. Looked tricky, but worked fine in practice.
When the last creek crossing before the top of Murrays Gap was crossed, and I tried to get on the bike again for the last minor hill my legs collapsed underneath me with cramps. This was the point I had feared. Total collapse. I had a bad cramp in my left thigh muscle, my right thigh, my left calf and my right calf muscle, simultaneously! I tried to straighten my legs, combating pain. As I stood up I could see the heads of John and Stevie over the crest. After a few minutes I was able to walk my bike over. Cycling in the next few hours was out of the question! How will I break this news to them!
As luck would have it John had suffered a freak gear failure. His chain had broken! Not being seasoned bike repairers, but with chain-breaker and amazing patience we tried to fix the chain. As I swallowed a salt tablet for my cramps and ate dried fruit with chocolate, I gulped down copious volumes of filtered water.
Fortunately the chain was hard to fix. Two links were damaged and we had no spare ones. The attempts to keep the better of the two links resulted in pain and frustration. When it was fixed and we got on the bikes to ride towards the ACT-NSW border - the top of Murrays Gap - it broke again in the first 100 yards. We decided that now was a good time for lunch.
Hours later the salt tablets, the fluids, the energy food and lunch had restored my muscles to operating state again. John's bike was fixed and we were off. Arriving at Oldfields Hut, a wonderful hut, on the first of the high alpine plains, I counted my blessings and felt like calling it a day. Not so, my mouth voted for the push to Blue Waterholes, a unanimous decision. The next hour or two crossing Seventeen Flat on the Snowy Mountains Walking Trail and onto the Cooleman Plain, we made our descent into the picnic/camping area of Blue Waterholes.
There were car campers and a good source of drink water. Water fresh from a spring where icy cold water bubbled into a creek. We set up the tent and the belambu (mosquito net) under a tree - my refuge for tonight. The fate of a good farter. That night kangaroos meticulously checked out our dishes and gear, and black birds danced and squawked in our little camp at first light. We headed out of the camp into day three with stiff muscles from the day before.
Instead of the Blue Waterholes 2-wheel-drive trail we rode around on the much nicer and remoter Mosquito Creek Fire Trail, which eventually runs into the former anyway. The road was good now, and we sped towards the Snowy Mountain Highway, as cars passed us regularly.
We ran into two other cyclis, Steph and Richard who were virtually doing the reverse route. They gave us some advice and some directions. They let us look at the Berridale map that we failed to bring. They offered us the use of this map; we proudly refused, preferring true adventure travel. We managed to off-load one of our three insect repellants to them, hard to refuse given they were covered in welts already!
As we got to the highway near the Yarrangobilly Caves access roads we made up our minds to cycle along it for 20 kilometers South to the gold mining ghost town of Kiandra. As the day ended my bottom bracket started making pathetic grinding sounds. This is not a trip-fixable repair, and it sounded like doom and gloom only halfway to our intended destination Mount Kosciuszko. Worse still, my knee started feeling really sore. Every time I put any pressure on the pedal my bearings would grind and my knee would scream. My knee was not a roadside fixable situation either - funny how I had conveniently forgotten about my knee getting sore with cycling in the past!
We decided that a water filter was like electricity, easy to do without, but once you got it it is hard to not use it all the time. We did try hard to drink unfiltered water whenever seemed safe to prove how (fool)hardy we were. But at the remnants of Kiandra, on the highway, we did the filtering thing, filled up our bottles, and I briefly considered the piking-out option of hitching a car-ride into civilisation. We decided to head into the Mountains, and find a camp spot just up the hill.
The trail which in winter forms part of the Mount Selwyn cross-country ski track went up and up and up. As our patience grew thin, the air cooler and the sun headed over the hills we decided to camp at the first creek. It was 7:30pm when we came upon a campsite where Melbourne University people had struck camp already. Not having a map of the area, and having signed a book along the trail which was signed by about 20 others that day already, all heading in a similar direction, we decided to call this home for the night. We were deadbeat.
A cold moonless night in my belambu, indigestion and full of good humour I still managed a good night's rest in the long alpine grass on my towel and wrapped in my sleeping bag.
The march flies
We got up with the march flies and checked the map with the hikers. As the cold morning air made way for the hot summer sun and we got our stuff together we watched a few other groups of hikers running through the bush. Some with GPS's and lost, others following the safe trail and chirping with each other excitedly oblivious to the beautiful alpine flowers and nature.
March-flies got more and more aggressive, sticking to us uphill and downhill, biting us. We went through many creek crossings, past many hikers and eventually left the bush for the crossing of Happy Jacks Plain into the Munyang Range, and onto Grey Mare Trail. We still seemed to be following the Snowy Mountain Walking Trail which apparently starts in Tharwa, in the ACT, and is reasonably well staked out by little signposts despite the fact that to me it seemed a little discontinuous at times.
Given the number of tourists in the park over Christmas we decided to camp before O'Keefe's Hut when we came across a splendid campsite complete with a river that we could dip into. It was an ideal tent site complete with an improvised fireplace with firewood! This was it. With a sore knee and joy in my heart I stripped off and got into the water. Barely got out when two hikers appeared over the crest and camped next to us!
My plastic bags in which all my precious belongings, including numerous sardine tins, were kept dry seemed to increase in numbers. The sound of rustling plastic was becoming a reassuring sound that my luggage made any time it exploded into a sea of more white bags. This was the case each time I needed anything from my panniers or pack. I could relate to the mental homeless cases one sees in cities, those that carry their junk in Woolworths shopping bags and spend hours sorting everything all the time!
Grey Mare Trail
The next day would see us on the Grey Mare Trail around Mount Jagungle to the Grey Mare Hut where we would turn left onto the Valentine Track. At O'Keefe's hut, after a one-hour's ride, I swallowed the first of my two energy bars. I had bought them for the latter part of our trip as a final resort when miracles were needed. At $2.50 they did not seem worth it, but it gave me such a kick that I was fighting fit within 10 minutes and felt amongst the fittest. Not only that, they lived up to miracle status when my knee stopped hurting at the same time!
We went up and down around Mount Jagungle, passing flocks of hikers, crossing creeks and travelling over some very tough parts of the trail. My KT-26's were soaked with water the entire day despite the fact that I squeeze dried my socks after every water crossing.
John's indestructible pannier rack broke today, and with the burden of seriously overgrown trails where we had to push our bikes up tough hills through trees on the track, John resorted to adrenaline to push him along. As we turned into the Valentine track well after lunch, which was much steeper and more over-grown then all the previous trails, my energy bar's magic finally wore off. As my headset had come loose over time, and we didn't have the correct tool for it, pushing my bike up from behind - as we had done up Murrays Pass and ever since - became impossible as my front wheel did not want to track in a straight line. Thus I was forced to negotiate the narrow overgrown trail alongside my bike, pushing with my right hand behind the seat, legs fighting the trees in the middle of the track, and the left hand on the steering wheel and rear brake lever. Neck, arm and leg muscles were not happy about this.
The view of the Valentine Falls was pleasant, as was the big red bellied black snake we saw in the high country. But nothing could dampen my spirit more then passing the renowned Valentine Hut itself, with its award winning view from the loo there! We had to push on, which we did, as it was our second last day. Tomorrow was to be Kosciuszko or die. Today was the day that John and Stevie finally realised I was useful for ferrying bikes across creeks and rivers as I was beyond caring for wet feet. They managed to keep their feet only marginally drier.
As we hit the good fire trail going to Schlink Pass, the one that joins Geehi Pond with the Guthega Power station, even some downhill bits felt like uphill. I was so stuffed I had to get off my bike to ensure nothing was actually dragging anywhere. I was convinced my bike was not rolling easily enough down the road, it turned out to be an illusion. As the gradient of the road increased, and I flew past the Schlich Hilton (a superb hut), wind in my hair, adrenaline in my blood, I raced into White River Hut on the Munyang River. We joined the other happy campers and did a body parts count, which was deemed necessary as everything felt limp, and our hands tingled. I cooked us a good risotto.
The bad luck
Our last day started off good. We yodeled away from the hut as we headed down the fast downhill run to the Snowy River many vertical meters below. Barely reached terminal velocity when my rear tire pinched two more holes into my tube - the preventable pressure thing again, I really had to blow up my tires harder! John and Stevie had disappeared down the mountain, and I had to walk good downhill stuff with bike in hand because my pump had not gotten any straighter, nor had my puncture repair kit replenished itself.
Eventually Stevie appeared to the rescue. John too eventually came back, expecting blood and gore and a bloody good excuse for the long wait and backtracking he had to do. With vigor I pumped up my tires to extreme pressure. The rest of the ride to the Munyang Power station I slid skidded and floated with my highly pressurised tires over the loose surface. It was a hairy ride, almost losing the bike a few times, but arriving in one piece.
The final ascent
At the Guthega Power station we found a carload of hikers about to leave on a hike. We gave them our excess food in exchange for fresh oranges and apples, a heavenly break from the boring contents of my plastic bags! We dumped out bags of garbage that one needs to carry though the national parks, and I swallowed the second, and last, power bar. The SMA (Snowy Mountains Authority - those in charge of the dams/elec. generation) facility there had a tap with fresh water, which saturated our bodies in preparation for the final push to Kosciuszko.
Miraculously my bike's bottom bracket had sorted itself out, my knee ache had not come back, and I was able to push my bike with its lightened load, up the dirt road to the deserted ski-resort of Smiggins Hole. Onto the sealed road and up to Perisher Valley where we came across our first shops and we enthusiastically bought our first cold fizzy drink again.
We raced up the contour ridden sealed road to Charlottes Pass with ease, and then followed the pilgrimage fire trail full of mountain bikers and walkers to the top of Kosciuszko. Amongst the masses of people we took a photo on top, I swallowed the last of my cherry liqeur (the bulk of which had accompanied the boiled Xmas pudding deserts) to celebrate the fact. We then headed towards Thredbo for our final destination. The last kilometer up Kosciuszko we had to walk because of a National Park imposed bike-ban, and the last 4 kilometers along the raised metal walkway to the top of the Crackenback Chairlift in Thredbo idem ditto. The ride down the Cannonball Run, a 600 meter or more final descent into Thredbo Village was hair raising, but on a good fire trail. A few hiccups along the way, but luckily no serious stacks.
The good life
The hotel, the food, the beers, the joy was indescribable, and we still beamed the next day, all the way home in the bus back to Canberra.
One cannot ride all the way from Canberra to Kosciuszko, but if you are prepared to push your bike, you can make it