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.

1 comment:

German Tourist said...

Dave, thank you for all your comments. I will write more about the Hume and Hovell and how it compares to the Heysen Trail. I do not have your email adress. How can I contact you?
Christine