Something new for the Cartophiles: the Wobbly Old Blokes sub-branch. This was inadvertently launched by Patricia Daly in her Facebook post that showed five Cartophiles wading across the Snowy River at the start of out walk along stage 2 of The Bundian Way.
The Wobbly Old Blokes are Pierre, Ray, Kit and two new Cartophiles, Grant and Bill. In addition to their many walked kilometres, Bill is a senior member of the SES based in Jindabyne and Grant was a farmer and RFS Captain in the Monaro for many years before he retired to Merimbula.
The Bundian Way is a 365km shared history pathway that follows an ancient Aboriginal walking route from the high country around Kosciuszko to the Eden coast at Fisheries Beach. The pathway is at least 10,000 thousand years old; far older than the Silk Road or any of the great pilgrimages.
Stage 1 is from Dead Horse Gap to the junction of the Pinch River and the Snowy; Bill, Grant and Ray walked it in spring last year, but I was in hospital and missed out. Pierre has previously ridden it on his mountain bike. Stage 2 is from the Pinch River junction to the town of Delegate, but we chose to end our walk on top of Mt Tingaringy rather than walk through miles of farmland. We knew the 48km would be a tough enough challenge.
The walk was all along fire trails, which was a little disappointing. However, this section is not without challenges. It’s along ridge tops in a rain shadow area, so there’s no water along the way. To cover the first couple of days we were all carrying 5-6 litres of water, which made our packs very heavy. Ray had gone out a couple of weeks earlier in his Landrover and left two water drops, one at about 32km and one at about 42km. We were going to need them for replenishment. It’s also, as we were to experience, very steep.
We gathered in Jindabyne and, after coffee in the CBD Café, drove south for about an hour to our start point on the Snowy River. This is wild, uncompromising country, too steep for extensive grazing and too remote for timber. It was a daunting prospect even to drive through it.
Wading across the Snowy wasn’t as cold as I’d expected, although the current was strong enough to make me concentrate. We spent some time cleaning all the sand off our feet on the other bank before heading off along the fire trail. We started with flat, easy walking, but we were soon climbing the first of what would prove to be many, many hills for the day. The top of the first big climb was a saddle where Sheepstation Creek rises. It’s pretty obvious that the old pathway climbs the creek line, and we promised to come back one day and follow that route.
Then we climbed again. And climbed. And climbed. On many sections the gradient was much more than 10%, described by one cycling site as, “A painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time.”
After 4-5km (and climbing 300-400 vertical metres) we stopped for a rest and some photographs down to our start point. I’d dropped my pack and gone forward 50m or so to get a photo when a bay brumby stallion strode up onto the track in front of me. Sadly, I didn’t have the presence of mind to get a photo as it shied away and cantered off into the bush again.
The rest of the day was spent descending from one knoll before climbing the next, higher, knoll. In the early afternoon we stopped to explore Sandy Creek Hut, built in the 1950’s by the Walker family for brumby running. There is no water tank at the hut and the creek was dry. We left the hut, and climbed.
We made camp on top the hill at the intersection of the Sandy Creek and Byadbo Trails. In total we’d covered 16km and climbed a net 1000m vertically. With the descents we probably actually climbed about 1,500m, making the day a category 3-4 walk. We were pooped.
Dinner, a fire, quiet conversation, a spectacular sunset before the darkness of the Byadbo wilderness. Ray shared his whisky around the group while we looked at the amazing display of stars unpolluted by artificial light. We were in bed by 8.00. My Fitbit tells me I slept for just over 9 hours that night!
The next morning was misty. The first water drop was 16km away and, prompted by how hard the first day had been, we wanted to reach it and push on further so the last day wouldn’t be too long.
The first part of the walk was a long descent ̶ a lot of yesterday’s gains were quickly walked away. By 9.30 the mist had burned away and the scenery was fantastic. All the while we could see Mt Tingaringy looming in the distance, easily identifiable by its large cliff face. Today we would walk in a long curve, heading east initially before swinging southeast towards the Victorian border.
It was another day of steep climbs and steep descents. We saw several kangaroos along the track, but sadly there was much more evidence of feral infestation. There was lots of brumby sign, especially where the stallions mark their territory with piles of dung. Occasionally we’d see wild dog scats, and several times we walked past rabbit warren middens. At one stage I dropped behind the group to adjust my pack, and had to wait while a family of wild pigs ran across the road in front of me.
We made the water drop by lunch time and between the five of us emptied the 20 litre collapsible water container Ray had left there. We were lucky the weather wasn’t warmer, or water could have been a real problem. In his book On Track, John Blay, Bundian Way Project Officer with Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, describes walking this route in about 2005. After finding his water drop chewed open and drained by wildlife he wrote, “This is serious … my sips have been getting sparser as the afternoon draws on. Even so, I don’t have enough moisture to urinate … It’s more than a day’s walk to the next place where I know I’ll find water.”
We pushed on and made camp at the intersection of the Link and Tingaringy Trails, about 22km for the day. We were happy with that given the steepness of the country and the extra weight of carrying our water. Pierre and Bill were there well ahead of the rest of us; about a kilometre from camp I hit the wall and had to stop for a rest. Ray and Grant generously stopped with me while I recovered.
Another fire, another gloriously starry night, more companionship, except with Bill’s whisky this time.
The third morning was foggy again, but once again the sun burned it off by about 9.30 to give a clear views from our ridge top trail. The walking was much easier today and we made good time. The forest was wetter and more open, with beautifully twisted mountain gums. Grant told me that they’re also known as monkey gum, because they’re a favourite food of koalas.
We were now walking almost due south towards the Victorian border and Mt Tingaringy. We had about six kilometres to get to the next water drop at the junction of the Karachi and Tingaringy Trails.
There were a few short, steep hills, but nothing like the monsters we had confronted on day one. We passed a track going down to the old Merambego homestead, then climbed a steep hill to top of the ridgeline and the track junction at about 11.00am. We’d arrived but … no water!
Ray admitted that, when he dropped the water, it was getting dark and he was in a bit of a rush. He was also worried because he’d had a flat tyre and couldn’t afford another. We all searched, but the water container was not to be found. Now we were in a dilemma.
Bill and I each had about three litres of water left, but the other three were almost dry. Our support crew, Ray’s wife Patricia, Grant’s wife Mandy and Pierre’s wife Clare, would get to us in around five hours. We could wait at the junction for them, or climb to the top of Mt Tingaringy, a walk of about 5km that climbs about 450m, or we could walk out along the relatively flat Karachi Trail. We chose the climb.
We redistributed the water and headed uphill.
This was a long, slow climb interspersed with short, savage inclines. The trees became more stunted the higher we went and the views opened up accordingly. We had lunch in a clearing at the top of one particularly nasty pitch, with views northwest over the Byadbo Wilderness towards the main range. The wild country looks much the same as it must have to those ancient native travellers who stopped here for a rest.
We were nearly there, but there were still surprises. Someone had shot three wild dogs and hung then from a tree near the summit.
We reached the top of the mountain at about 2.00pm. The sky had misted a bit, but the views were still stunning. We could see south into the Victorian Alps, north into the Monaro, and west/northwest into the Kosciuszko National Park. Two wedge-tailed eagles soared above us as we rested, prompting lots of jokes about making sure we moved to prove we weren’t dead.
The girls in the support crew joined us at about 3.30pm, and by then there was a cold wind blowing across the mountain top. We decided that a night around the fire on top of Tingaringy was not as attractive as a night in the Delegate Hotel, so we jumped into the two 4WDs for the tough descent of the fire trail, often in low range. A pretty-faced wallaby stood by the side of the track and watched us leave.
A shower, a beer or two in the bar and a barbecue dinner were a great reward for completing a challenging walk. This is not a walk I plan to repeat, but it has really whet my appetite to complete the Bundian Way.
Kit Craig, April, 2016