Last night was not just a bit of rain, but a major storm front, and although I had few better alternatives, camping in the saddle between two 6000 foot mountains was probably not the best place to spend such a night.
In order to reduce weight, I had decided not to carry a full tent, but rather went with a bivvy bag (basically a waterproof cover for my sleeping bag). I had used this without a problem before – but then again I had not experienced a storm like that. With the howling driving wind, about an inch of rain and the water running off the trees in streams, and flowing down the hill in rivulets, I was soon soaked through.
It was at this point that I realized another fact – I had previously always used a bivvy bag with a synthetic sleeping bag. For this trip, I had gone with a goose down sleeping bag – down is lighter and warmer, and my bag was rated for much lower temperatures than I was likely to encounter on this trip. The downside of down is that it does not retain its warmth when wet, so my night was cold, wet and miserable.
Although I was cold, I was confident that because I was wearing wool clothing (which does stay warm when wet), I was not at risk of hypothermia. I had some additional warm clothing in my pack, but that would have meant climbing out of my sleeping bag, exposing myself fully to the wind and rain (even if the bivvy bag was not waterproof, it was doing a pretty good job of cutting out the wind), and getting all the gear in my pack wet too. I decided it was better to stay in bed and just shiver moderately.
As soon as dawn came, I quickly packed up my gear, shoved a couple of granola bars in my mouth, and set off on the 3 miles to the nearest hut. Along the way, I had to cross the Goodradigbee River – although it normally runs under a culvert in the road, with all the rain, the river was up considerably, and I had to ford it OVER the top of the bridge. As I was already soaked through, I didn’t even bother taking my boots off – I just walked straight through.
There are rough bush huts dotted throughout the mountains – generally built by cattlemen who used to graze their cattle in the high country in summer (although some were built by the gold prospectors). Although National Park rules now prohibit grazing in alpine areas, in many cases these huts have been preserved as emergency refuges for hikers and cross-country skiers. My destination this morning was Oldfield’s Hut – a large (3 room) and well constructed hut that has been well maintained.
By the time I got there, the weather had cleared somewhat and there were even patches of sunshine, so I was able to hang some of my gear out and start drying it. Judging from the amount of water I wrung out of my sleeping bag and clothing, I must have carried an extra 6 lbs in water that morning. Some dry clothing (especially socks) and a cooked breakfast was very welcome.
Oldfields Hut - drying out my gear
I spent about 3 hours at the hut, before setting off again. Today was my first encounter with the Snowy Mountains Scheme (more of which in future blogs) – an odd roaring sound in the middle of an open valley turned out to be a valve house, where a pipeline and tunnel takes some of the flow from the Goodradigbee River (downstream from where I crossed it) across a couple of broad valleys and into the catchment of the Tantangara Reservoir. The roaring came from an open valve, from where the water was rushing into the next section of pipeline.
As I continued further down the track, I encountered a wild dog. I couldn’t be sure, as the track was a combination of shadow and sun, and he took off as soon as he saw me, but the coloring looked like a dingo (yes, of “A dingo took my baby” fame), rather than a feral dog.
The rest of the day’s walk was though a broad and open valley, where I encountered about a dozen brumbies (wild horses – the equivalent of American mustangs).
I finished up at Bill Jones hut on Coolemon Plain. This was a much simpler hut, made of corrugated iron and dirt floor, but by camping there I was able to dry out my gear some more. Also, by cutting out some intended side trips (climbing Bimberi Peak, and the Blue Waterholes area) I have made up half a day, despite taking the morning off. I'm actually a little bit angry with myself - if I hadn't dawdled so much over breakfast yesterday, or had pushed a little faster (especially on the downhill sections), I could have made Oldfield's Hut last night, had a dry night, and have made up half a day anyway. No point in playing what-ifs, but I perhaps need to think more carefully about timing, speed and where I choose to camp.
Total distance covered 14.9 km 9.25 miles
Total ascent 245 m 800 feet
Total descent 515 m 1700 feet
Sketch Map of today's hike