The Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) is the premier long distance trail through the Australian mountains. Stretching about 680 km from Walhalla in Victoria, it passes through the Alpine National Park in Victoria, Kosciusko National Park in NSW and finally into Namadgi National Park in the ACT. Alicia Crossley recently walked it solo. This is her reflection.
My name is Alicia I’m walking the Australian Alps Walking Track from Walhalla VIC – Tharwa ACT, I’m going to be passing through country. I promise I will always be respectful of people, culture and country as I move through. I ask in return that you please help guide and protect me on this journey. These were the words I uttered as I gently clutched a handful of living eucalyptus leaves in Walhalla. Pack on my back, boots on my feet and an excited nervous enthusiasm within, I began walking on a sunny blue sky day just as I had hoped it would be. A 680km track lay ahead, passing through Baw Baw National Park and Alpine National Park in VIC, Kosciusko National Park in NSW and finally into Namadgi National Park in ACT. In the end I was to walk 741km due to some track diversions, times of geographical embarrassment (lost!) and additional side trips to peaks or points of interest I chose to include. I walked solo. I was out for 42 days, 37 walking, 3 rest days and 2 bad weather days sitting in tent waiting out weather.
A lot walk faster, some walk slower. I’m not ultralight or ultrafast, I was making my own personal journey. I carried all I required on my back with 7 resupply food drops placed along the way. My pack weighed 14 – 18 kg depending on how much food and water I had on board at any one time. A lot of preparation and planning lies behind a trip like this. It all feels bit surreal right now having only just completed the walk…I feel I need to reintegrate slowly from the natural world where the day is determined by the sun and weather back into the unnatural word of fast paced time pressured everyday living.
Solo walking is not for everyone, it carries additional risk. It’s also a skill to be by yourself particularly for a prolonged period of time in nature. I chose to walk solo because I’m comfortable that way and I couldn’t see myself walking it as part of a group. It’s a simple state of being and I feel completely at peace and relaxed in the mountains by myself, it’s where I feel the most like me. I do walk with others but I see, hear and feel so much more when I’m solo. I had previously done several walks of 1 – 3 week durations, one of which was a 2 week solo walk, so mentally I approached this trip as 3 x 2 week walks. It didn’t seem quite so daunting then. I had safety measures in place, I carried a PLB (personal locator beacon), a phone, large capacity power bank and checked in when I could with my assigned contact people who knew roughly where to expect me when. A keen understanding of your own level of experience, knowledge, skills and limitations are also required to safely walk solo.
The track is a mix of distinct and indistinct walking tracks, fire trails, 4WD tracks, brief road walk sections and several designated wilderness zones with no track at all. There are frequent overgrown sections where you’re pushing through head high fire regrowth, climbing over and under fallen trees, and there were blackberries and leeches to contend with at some water sources in the southern section of Victoria. Black River springs to mind, several people had warned me, don’t stop here! I side step gingerly across a slippery log several metres long and a couple metres above the river, don’t rush, keep your footing, don’t think about the leeches you know are making their way up your gaiters, you know they’re there because you already flicked a couple off before the log crossing began. Slide off the log, where to put your pack, its just mud and blackberries, dense blackberries covering every surface on both banks, find a spot to push down to the waters edge, don’t slide right in but at the same time don’t grab the vegetation to hold yourself or you’ll have a handful of berry barbs in your skin, you should be getting water from the fastest flow but you can’t reach that without toppling in so the still edge will have to do, fill all your containers, drop the purification tablets, leech check, pack on, now where’s the track?! There’s a slight depression ahead, looks like someone pushed through there, just go, all you can think about are leeches on every fern frond you push past, just go, get uphill away from here, up and up, I don’t stop for almost an hour. I’m hot, its humid, I’m sweating like mad, it’s uphill all the way to Mt Shillinglaw.
Some days it’s the weather thats the challenge. I found myself off track between Mt Wills and Mt Wills South, briefly lost in a whiteout with rain and wind further adding to situation. I’d been on the track then accidentally followed an animal foot pad for some time before realising my error, tried to correct myself but instead taken myself even further in the wrong direction, I couldn’t believe how quickly I’d become disorientated and on a section of track I had walked before added to my frustration. I’m in all my wet weather gear and I’ve only just left the hut but already I’m wet from pushing through saturated vegetation off track and the rain in getting heavier, I’m cross with myself as today I’m walking all the way to Taylors Crossing, a big day, and I’m wasting time lost in the first hour of walking! I’m thinking maybe I should return to the hut, but how, I can’t even find the track! Before leaving the shelter of the hut I’d read the next section in the guidebook and studied the map. My waterproof map case is splattered with rain drops, its hard to read the map inside. Eventually I used a GPS app on my phone to find my way back to the track, finally seeing a track marker. I actually walked over to touch it to make sure it was real!
Another extremely wet day finds me saturated from a morning of pushing through wet overhanging scrub, despite walking quickly now that the foot track has turned on to a 4WD track I’m getting cold and hungry. I know I need to stop and get more layers on and eat but stopping means cooling down even more, putting more layers on means unzipping my jacket which will be really hard to zip back up as the zip is stiff and my hands are so cold they can’t work the zipper. I do stop, I eat fast, I get an extra thermal top on, I do struggle with the zip and as the weather worsens I make a decision to retreat further down the 4WD track until I can find flat ground and setup the tent. In the end it takes all afternoon to reach flat ground. I setup, I’m wet, cold and exhausted, it’s the lowest I’ve felt all trip. Ironically it’s been raining heavily all day yet I’m low on water, I filter water from a track puddle. I sit not knowing what to do first then whip into action, wet stuff in a pile, dry thermals on, into dry sleeping bag, start cooking and eating…I’ve got shelter, now I need food and sleep. There is nothing more I can do today.
Highlights far out weigh the hard times on my walk. The first big moment for me is finally arriving at Mt MacDonald after the long climb up from Low Saddle. Finally I’m in alpine country, above the tree line, the country I love so much, I recognise Mt Timbertop and can place myself in context geographically. For the most part I have brilliant weather on my trip. Walking the Crosscut Saw and Mt Speculation under clear blue sky is spectacular. The alpine scenery is a highlight for the entire trip, particularly the Main Range and Mt Jagungal areas of Kosciuszko National Park, areas I find starkly beautiful and intimidating all at once. Other highlights come via the generosity of strangers met along the way, 3.5 litres of water from a 4WD camper packing up, this saves me a 1hr side trip to a creek in a dry section near The Nobs, on another occasion it’s the gift of a banana and orange from 2 mountain bikers. In Thredbo it’s happy relaxed company and a dinner cooked and shared with 3 young guys I’d met by chance several days earlier at Cowombat Flat, me walking the AAWT, they an overnight trip to Mt Pilot.
I walk and camp through 2 full moons on my trip, what stunning nights these create, I’d fall asleep for a couple of hours only to be awoken by a light so brilliant I’d layer up and head outside to stare in wonder. When the moon is gone it’s the midnight show of stars and the milky way that lure me from the tent in the middle of the night to stand outside in awe until I get too cold and retreat back to my sleeping bag. Food becomes a highlight as the trip goes on my hunger increases. As I walk towards each food resupply box stashed in the bush I try to remember what I’d packed. Thankfully I’d put the time and effort in to ensuring there was a wide variety of food so I never get tired of any one item. My favourite food moment would have to be the packet of naan bread toasted on top of the tiny pot belly stove in Mt Wills Hut as I thawed out and my gear dried out around me following a cold wet day…note to self, always pack naan bread in the resupply box when theres the potential for a wood stove or fire.
The walk was damn hard work, the hardest walking track I’ve ever done, but we can do hard things. Some days were exhausting but you can always push yourself a little further physically and mentally. Feeling a little scared is okay, it means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. When things all felt a little against me I tried to think of 3 things I was grateful for…surprisingly you can find 3 things pretty quickly so that told me life wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
Would I do it again? If you’d asked me in the first few weeks of the walk I’d probably have said no but by the end I’d say there is high chance I would walk it again. Maybe with company, who knows. For now I’m on a high reliving what I’ve just completed. A mix of brutal and beautiful, mental and magical springs to mind when I think of the walk. I feel so proud at my achievement, so privileged to have had the opportunity to take the time to do the entire walk in one go and immensely grateful to complete it incident free, feeling truly fit and strong the entire journey. I’m also hugely grateful to those family, friends and strangers I met along the way who provided physical, verbal and moral support from near and far during my walk. Thank you.
All images are from Alicia’s walk.