Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Heysen Trail or What trail?

To start with I want to mention that the Heysen Trail will probably never be one of my favourite trails. I will finish it, I will be proud of it, but I will not love it. The main reason for that is that there is hardly any trail on the Heysen Trail! For whatever reason - no funds, no manpower or maybe hiking philosophy - the Heysen Trail Association has not built a single km of trail. At least I have not seen any and I am 2/3 through now. Only when you are in National Parks there is trail - and quite beautiful and well marked one as well. But unfortunately, you spend very little time in National Parks....So what are you hiking on the Heysen Trail then?

4 km/h road
The Heysen Trail Association (or Friends of the Heysen Trail) have 5 signs they use for waymarking and these signs very well reflect my hiking misery:

Walkers follow Road: This is the best one! You are usually walking on nice dirt roads and average 4 km/h! Beautiful!

Walkers follow Track: In the best of cases you are following a nice, level, easily identifiable track. Life is good! But more often this track has not been used for the last 50 years and is obsured by blow downs, creek beds and wash outs. It can be almost vertical and you wonder how any jeep ever travelled on that track. But still, this is usually one of the better parts of the trail.

Knife-edge walking
Walkers follow Ridge: That means that the Heysen Trail takes you up an incredibly steep mountain range, usually going cross country on rocky terrain and when you are on top of the whole thing and can look down on a beautiful, flat dirt road paralleling the range, the markers on top where you are all of a sudden disappear and the last one says: Walkers follow Ridge. Instead of hiking 4 km/h on the parallel dirt road down there, you are climbing around steep precipices clinging to rocks and lonely trees at an average speed of 1 km/h. The problem is not so much getting lost as the ranges here are very pronounced, but finding a way where you will not sprain your ankle or fall into the abyss.

Lovely rocky creek bed to follow
Walkers follow Creek: Of course, all the creeks are usually dry - except when I hike the Heysen Trail. But water is not the biggest problem here. The creeks here can be pretty wide and can flood - therefore the Heysen Trail people have put the markers on top on the creek banks. So far so good. That means you have two choices: You follow the markers on top of the creek bank where the terrain is usually quite nice - but every 200 meters there is a side creek entering. And that means that you have an almost vertical climb down and up the bloody side creek. Or you stay in the creek bed stumbling along on football sized boulders and hike into the wrong side creek, because you have not seen the trail marker on top of the creek bank. No matter what: You are averaging less than 3 km/h and risk sprained ankles. Of course the Heysen Trail maps do not give distances and the creeks can be very winding. What looks like 2 km on the map can turn out to be 4 km. Sometimes you follow a creek for an entire day - and you never know how far you will get that day.

My most favorite marker
Walkers follow Fence: This is the very worst of all!!!!! Fences here are drawn regardless of what the geography of the terrain is. Usually the fences go straight up the steepest hill and then almost vertically down. Or they follow a steep hill side on apple sized rocks. Or they take you straight through a deep creek bed. And they always go cross country - no trail whatsoever. The terrain is so bad that I have wrecked my shoes after only 3 weeks! Usually a pair of hiking shoes lasts at least 6 weeks, sometimes 8 weeks. I am constantly sewing and glueing the soles of m shoes. To make things worse I could not use my trekking poles for the last week due to my hand injury. Things got so bad that I stood on top of one of these steep slopes and started to cry looking down... All I could see was an almost vertical downhill. I was tempted to sit down on my butt and glissade down, but there are too many rocks.
Look for the fenceline

I realise that the Heysen Trail is routed along the fence lines for practical reasons: First of all it has to do with liability - the Heysen Trail Association has insurance for hikers while they are on private property, but that covers only a small corridor of the private property, usually the fence line. Second, this is open grazing country. Sheep, cattle or just the elements would knock down trail markers if they were in the middle of nowhere. Third, the terrain is just very difficult here in general: Extremely hilly and rocky. But nevertheless the terrain is getting to me: The elevation gain per hill is not much, usually just about 50-100 meters. But you are CONSTANTLY hiking straight up and straight down. You think you know about PUD's (Pointless Ups and Downs) from the AT? Forget it! The AT is tame compared to the Heysen....

But no matter what: I will finish this bloody trail....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your summary of the trail. The countryside will change further south but the weather may warm up before you finsish at Deep Creek!
In regard to paddling the Murray, Peter Hall's book is called Murray River Odyssey published in 2006.
David from Curnows Hut