Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hume and Hovell: Conclusion

Now: Can I recommend this trail to a friend? Definitely NO!!!!! The Hume and Hovell wins the prize for the most mismanaged and worst maintained trail I have ever hiked! And this is a pity because the trail could be a real gem.

Let's start with the good things: The trail goes through some really wonderful landscape and forests. You will see wild waterfalls, lots of wildlife and more temperate rainforest than you expected. Truly beautiful stuff that I have not seen on any other Australian trail.

There are really nice campsites all along the trail spaced about 10 to 25 km apart. They all have a toilet and a covered picnic area plus some more or less decent camp spots. They either have a water tank or access to water. And hopefully by the time you hike it the flood damage to some of these campsites has been repaired.

Echidna on the trail
Now let's come to the not so good things: It appears to me that this trail has been created with a lot of funding and energy. It must have been really nice when it was first opened. But then either the funding has been cut or the energy has vanished or both, because now it is totally neglected...And this causes various problems:

The waymarking: The trail is marked with wooden boards (totally over the top) or wooden/metal/plastic poles in the ground. In many cases these poles have disappeared or are overgrown making navigation extremely difficult. It is a total mystery to me why they just did not use blazes on the trees. They are much cheaper and cannot be brought down by animals. And there are trees everywhere! This combined with the fact that the trail is usually too overgrown that it is not recognisable make navigation a nightmare in places. Also there are no regular spaces between markers. The waymarking on the Heysen Trail was somewhat sketchy in places too but you could count on the fact there should be a marker every couple of hundred meters. If you do not see a marker for a km you have lost the trail. Not so on the Hume and Hovell: Sometimes there are markers every hundered meters and sometimes there is none for 10 km!!!!!!

Maps / Waypoints: There is a decent set of maps for the Hume and Hovell but the scale is 1 : 100 000 and that makes navigating with a GPS going cross country really difficult. The Heysen Trail has its complete track with waypoints on the website making navigation really easy. Unfortunately there are no GPS waypoints for the Hume and Hovell - not on their official website nor anywhere else. I was sort of lost almost every day...

Trail conditions: The Hume and Hovell uses a mix of about 50% old forest roads (thank God for that), 10% paved roads and 40% foot trail. Usually I would rather hike on foot trail than anywhere else, but not on the Hume and Hovell. The foot trail has been created about 10 years ago and sometimes it looked to me that they have not done any maintenance ever since. Foot trail was generally so overgrown and/or full of blowdowns that you are down to 2 km/hour of less. I scratched my legs and arms with all sorts of poisonous bushes, grasses and trees and I still look like an accident victim. I even tore my backpack climbing over blowdowns.

Note the driftwood on the table
Trail management: Due to the bad weather there were all sorts of detours and closed sections on the trail. This can happen to any trail - but at least you can warn the hikers!!! Not so on the Hume and Hovell! There has been a construction site causing a detour for over a year and there is no warning about it on the website or on the trail!!! Same thing for damage due to landslides or flooding! And there is an official trail coordinator for the Hume and Hovell... This was one of the most disappointing things for me - I ran into all sorts of trouble that could have easily been avoided if I had been warned beforehand. If you decide to hike the trail you definitely have to contact the trail coordinator beforehand: When contacted directly he answers emails very quickly and extensively. Just don't count on information on the official website or on the trail.

In hindsight the Heysen Trail was a piece of cake compared to the Hume and Hovell. The Heysen has difficult sections but at least the waymarking is generally good. And due to the Friends of the Heysen Trail it is generally maintained pretty well. Apparently there is no such a support organisation for the Hume and Hovell. I have not met ANY hiker on the whole Hume and Hovell - and in hindsight that does not surprise me. The trail is in such bad shape that hiking it is just no fun.

Bottom line: The Hume and Hovell could be a great and beautiful trail - but due to mismanagement and negligence is has turned into a hiker's nightmare. It is such a pity....

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hume and Hovell: A nightmare in various forms


Seems I do not have much luck with my hiking trail recently.... After a bad start the Hume and Hovell turned out to get worse and worse and worse and turned into some sort of nightmare. It threw almost everything at me that a trail can do to you and in the end I was longing to be back on the Heysen Trail, which is nice in comparison! But let's start from the start:

Are all radio speakers overweight?

I left my first resupply town, Tumut, in really good spirits. I had done a nice resupply, had updated this blog in a nice library and had met a nice older lady, who had dragged me into the local radio station where I was interviewed on air. The last time this had happened had been on the CDT in Chama, New Mexico where I had peeked into the local radio station and was immediately dragged in to give an interview. The station in the US was called "Rocky Mountain Radio" and the one in Tumut "Sounds of the Mountain". Another similarity is that both radio speakers were quite overweight....

But my good mood did not last long, because.... see what happened:

Note the flooded fire grate
The construction site: The trail goes around Blowering Dam and the first campsite (where I had planned to stay that night) was right next to the dam wall. I roadwalked out of Tumut and when I turned into the road leading to the dam I was alarmed to see all sorts of warning and danger signs. Apparantly the dam wall was being upgraded and therefore the whole area closed. I still hoped that the trail would go around this area - but of course, no such luck. At 6 pm I stood before a huge fenced off area with all sorts of signs saying "Danger" and "Keep out". What pissed me off most was that there was no warning about this on the Hume and Hovell website or a note an the trail. And this construction site existed since early 2009!!!!! I still had 1,5 hours of daylight left and all the construction workers had already gone home for the day - they had all passed me when I had roadwalked in. What the heck: I had already hiked into a prescribed burn and a airforce base in Florida, so I could deal with a construction site here. I sneaked in - but felt really bad! If I was caught, there was no way I could talk my way out of this like "I did not see the huge 2 meter high fence and the 100 "DANGER" sings. But I did not get caught... and made it to my camp site.

The flooding: Surely the worst was over now? No such luck! Due to all the recent rain the dam was full to the brim and that meant that large parts of the trail were flooded. And not only the trail: Even the camp sites. I saw firegrates and picnic benches under water....

The blow downs: The trail now moved a bit away from the shore and I was hoping for quicker progress now. But again: No such luck! Apparantly it had not only rained a lot, but there had also been a lot of wind. The shoreline is lined with pine plantations and hundreds of pines had fallen across the trail creating the worst blowdowns I have seen since the AZT. It took me 5 hours to hike 5 km and I ripped my pack open. This is when I started to hate the Hume and Hovell Track.....


The landslide: I knew that a thunderstorm was passing through this day and the next. I spent the first thunderstorm nice and cosy under a shelter and hoped to make it to the next for the night. But of course the trail was so badly overgrown that progress was slow and I was still on a 300 m climb when the next thunderstorm started. It got darker and darker and the lightning stared - and I had still one km to go. Great!!! And then: The trail was gone!!!!! There had been a major landslide and it had completely destroyed about 50 meters of trail. Of course there had been no notice about this on the website or on the trail.... There had been no reasonable place to camp for the last 10 km, especially with a lot of rain threatening. And there was also no real way around the bloody landslide. And I was running out of time, too... And therefore, I just climbed over it. In hindsight I do not know whether this has been such a good idea. Nothing has happened to me and I made it safely across clinging to tree roots and praying. If I had fallen, I would not have killed myself, but I could have hurt myself badly... I got even more pissed when I saw a small and weathered sign 1 km further along the trail with a warning. Why had there been no sign coming my way? When I arrived at the picnic area where I wanted to camp it had already started to pour down - and this was the only picnic area on the whole trail and probably in whole Australia that did not have a shelter. I ended up in the toilet waiting for the rain to stop.

I can still smile
The deluge: The forecast was for even more rain the next day, so camping in an area with no shelter seemed a bad idea. I had 50 minutes of daylight left and 3,5 km to the next campsite that was supposed to have a hut - the only one on the whole trail. But what if some hooligans where already having a party there or the hut did not exist? It could not get worse than standing in a wet toilet and therefore I almost ran to the hut arriving just with sunset. And I was lucky for once: The hut was full of empty whiskey bottles and beer cans, but nobody was there - although someone must have left not too long ago as there was still some hot coal in the fireplace. So this was my home for the night - and the next night, too! When I woke up in the morning it was still raining. It was basically raining for 24 hours straight with major downpours every 60 minutes. So I decided to stay put for a day. But I was worried about people showing up wanting to party here. The hut was accessible by 4WD and Australians love to drive around in their vehicles in all sorts of places. And for sure at noon three 4WD showed up with license plates like "BULL 1". Great, I would have some beer drinking company! I was still deliberating what was worse - spending the night with some drunk bogans or sleep in the rain - when I realised that there was a girl in one of the cars. She asked me what I was doing here and when I explained my situation she gave me homemade biscuits and milk!!!! The whole group had no intention of partying in the hut. They were out to see how the rain was doing (seems to be very popular in Australia) and had some car problems. After fixing that they left waving at me... How wrong had I been. 2 hours later more noise - but not from a vehicle. Somebody must be moving through the forest! Another hiker? I was very much surprised when I looked outside and realised that my "hiker" was in fact two wild horses that would stay around the hut for the whole night. Luckily they did not want to come in though....

The lake that is no more: I  made it in one piece and with the help of homemade biscuits into my next resupply town Tumbarumba. I sincerely thought that it could not get any worse now and inquired about trail conditions at the Tourist Information. The trail went around a lake next and that looked really nice on the map. But then I was told that there was no more lake!!!! How could that have happened? Well, the lake had been created by a dam and with all the recent rain the dam had BROKE flooding the whole region - and now there was no more lake, just a river and a lot of flooded ground. I heeded the advice and roadwalked that section. The flooding had been so bad that one campsite had been completely destroyed. The roof of the shelter had been "decapitated" and lay next to the foundations, which were badly eroded.... I kept walking.

Roof is next to shelter...

The ford: In the last part of the trail you have to go around Lake Hume, another reservoir. I had been warned on the map that a part of the trail would be flooded, but some locals told me to give it a try anyway. This part of the trail is a dirt road walk and when I approached the section I could already see that about 400 meters were totally flooded. But the alternative was to do a road detour of 7 km... so I just walked into the water and hoped for the best. The ground was good as this was a road walk and I could still see the traffic signs sticking out of the water. But the water got deeper and deeper.... I walked back and took off my backpack to put it on top of my head - and walked in again. I must emphasise that the footing was really good and there was no current whatsoever - elsewise this would have been totally foolish. I ended up on tiptoes with the water up to my mouth!!!!!! This was the deepest ford I have ever done in my entire life - but I made it! I was shaking badly when I arrived on the other side because it had been pretty exhausting to balance my heavy backpack on my head - but I had had a free bath!

Well, as you might have guessed by now the Hume and Hovell will not become my favourite trail... but I made it all the way to the end in one piece although I am badly scratched up!!! I am really looking forward now to the nice and easy Bibbulmun Track.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hume & Hovell Track: Difficult start

My Hume & Hovell hike did not seem to start under a good star....

First of all, the bus would not drop me off at Yass, which is the starting point for the track. You wonder why that is? I wondered, too. My bus was a VLine bus, which apparently stands for Victoria. And as Yass is still in New South Wales, VLine is only allowed to pick passengers up there, but not to drop them. This gave me another 3 hours of sightseeing in Canberra before the departure of the nationwide Greyhound bus....

Things did not go smoothly with Greyhound either. First of all the driver told me he would not go into Yass, but drop me off at a service station on the highway. Unfortunately, he could not show me on the map where that bloody service station was! Depending on the location that meant either a very long walk or actually cutting off a couple of kilometers of road walk for me. Luckily, it turned out to be the perfect drop off point saving me 5 km of boring road walk!

I got off the bus, grabbed my backpack and disappeared into the station's rest rooms to get water and arrange my stuff. When I re-emerged 10 minutes later, the bus was still standing there and a big commotion going on. This was  supposed to be only a short drop-off stop! I asked one of the passengers what had happened. While the bus's luggage department was open, a thief had stolen another backpack with 1,000 AUD in it. The robbed passenger had left in pursuit of the thief and now everybody was waiting for the outcome. Everybody except me: I got away from there as quickly as possible before somebody tried to steal my backpack and started my hike.

I was dead tired from 3 very short nights in Canberra that I had spent in front of the computer and so I stopped as soon as I found any decent camp site. I slept for 14 hours straight and woke up with a cold. Or at least this is what I first thought it was. My nose was running and my eyes were itching. I was especially worried about my itching eyes because the last thing I needed now was conjunctivitis.... But then it dawned on me: Maybe I was just allergic to something? Everything was blooming and Maik had already had allergy trouble in Australia. But I have never been allergic against pollen.. What was going on? Well, I still don't know - but the symptoms disappeared within 2 days.

Lake Burrinjuck
At least the boat ride across Lake Burrinjuck worked out as planned. I arrived in time, paid 30 AUD and was on the other side in 15 minutes. So far, so good. But then the hiking problems started. As you might have guessed.... this area had received a lot of rain and wind recently. Surprise, surprise.... And telling by the trail registers I am the first person on this trail for the last 1,5 months. And that means: This trail section, that has been rated "hard" to start with, was totally overgrown and full of blowdowns. Hiking was tough and I got more and more behind schedule. All that plus a serious attack of chaffing made life miserable. On day 3 I got lost and only realised it after I had climbed up 300 meters. Great - I descended back and climbed up 300 meters again on another hill. By that point I was already one day behind schedule and slowly running out of food. But to also tell you the other side of the story: The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful! Undisturbed rainforest, rushing mountain streams and the occasional waterfall.

Waterfall along the trail
I camped in a meadow last night only to wake up by a torrential thunderstorm. Although my tent held up pretty well, I did not sleep very well that night. I broke camp very grumpily in the morning to start what the map guide called "a delightful stroll along the river". There was nothing delightful about it. First the whole thing was totally overgrown preferably with thistles. Everything was wet and after 10 minutes I was totally soaked. The river I was following had been flooded so badly that there was tons of debris like huge tree trunks all over the place. I started yelling in German. To make things worse there was a nice little paved road on the other side of the river. But the trail was routed on my "delightful" side. I started to wonder whether it is more practical to swim across and get wet or continue walking and get wet, too. Finally a swing bridge showed up. I have been on many swing bridges in my hiking career but this was definitely one of the worst. It was so scary that it took me full 15 minutes to cross about 200 meters over. Do they ever check the safety of these bridges once they are built?

As you can tell from this post I finally made it in one piece. I arrived on the other side on the road with 2 choices: Either continue 15 km of "hard" rated trail and then hitch into town or hitch straightaway. Being totally soaked, pissed off and out of food I was still deliberating what to do when the first car came along. I put out my thumb and got a ride into town. Life is so much better now.... And prospects are good: the next sections are rated "easy" or "medium"!

Friday, November 5, 2010

My life as a tourist: Part 2

 Well, my life as a tourist is coming to an end tomorrow as Maik is flying back to Germany (with my bicycle!) and I will start a new trail, the Hume & Hovell Track. But I have seen a lot of Australia in the last 2 weeks since my last entry:

Brisbane: We drove into Brisbane on a Sunday and with a GPS - thank God, as traffic can be hell. We even found a parking spot immediately and started a 9-hour long non-stop tour through the museums. And what wonderful museums they had: A brand now Art and Contemporary Art Museum - absolutely fantastic! I even saw some pictures of the Australian painter Hans Heysen, after whom the Heysen Trail is named.

Glasshouse Mountain
Glasshouse Mountains: I had just planned to go there because we needed a place to camp in a National Park but this turned out to be truly spectacular. These mountains are the "plugs" of old volcanoes and while the volcanoes have eroded away, the mountains are rising steeply into the sky. We even climbed one!

Mount Morgan: is a former mining town that offers 2 hour tours of the town and the old mine. This did not appear in any guide book but we just took a risk and went - and found the most entertaining tour of small town Australia. The tour company is a family enterprise with Dad driving the bus and one of the five daughters doing the tour. They tell you everything - really everything about their town including even the names of the sheep that are kept by the local police to "mow" the lawn in front of the police station... They are named after Australian lawn mower brands. But that is not all: At the end of the tour you even get to see dinosaur footprints on the ceiling of a man-made fire clay cave... Not that we would have recognized that they are dinosaurs, but still....

Beach on Keppel Island
Keppel Island: is basically the stereotype of a Bacardi Rum TV ad tropical island with white deserted beaches, palm trees and clear water. To make things even better there was the best internet connection on this trip and fantastic snorkeling! Yes, I went snorkeling for the first time in 20 years. Maik says I am a natural for snorkeling because I did not drown myself on the first attempt...

Outback Australia: The outback we saw in Queensland was pretty green - it had been raining a lot recently. We saw the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and learnt everything about life in the outback. We even visited a wool scour and the Royal Flying Doctors and learnt that working on an oil rig or as a sheep shearer is probably not one of our dream jobs..

Blue Mountains Waterfall
Blue Mountains: Eventually we had to turn back southward again towards Sydney and discovered that Australian National Parks are not the most accessible ones: We drove 124 km along Wollemi National Park and there is not a single decent road leading into it. Out of frustration I suggested visiting the Blue Mountains - and big surprise: We encountered some of the most impressive scenery and waterfalls! Now I understand why the Blue Mountains are World Heritage.

Canberra: Here we are staying with Aussie Dave, an Australian long-distance hiker and his wife smack bang in the country. Maik is feeding the kangaroos and cockatoos every morning and then we go sightseeing of which there is a lot to do here. The Parliament building is very new, but not very pretty, but at least very interesting. And because the Old Parliament is now empty, they turned it into an even more interesting museum. Not to mention the National Art Gallery and a confusing Australian Museum. I am a bit sight-seen out and ready for hiking again!

Canberra War Memorial
I can't list all the National Parks and small towns we visited. We have seen everything from fantastic beaches, subtropical rain forests, spectacular mountains and arid outback to small towns in the middle of nowhere whose only claim to fame is a giant banana (Port Macquarie) or a statue of the local sheep shearer hero Jackie Howe, who had shorn 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes (Barcaldine)! We ate lamb sausages and kangaroo steak! We never paid for accommodation or camping while we had the camper van. And Maik drove over 5.000 km! Great trip and I am pretty sure Maik will come back to Australia....