Thursday, 25 December 2014

GNW Teralba to Forestry HQ and sort of back again

Great North Walk Teralba to Forestry HQ

As the end of the school term approached, my mind as usual turned to "what adventures could I have".  Out came the maps (*sound of wife sighing*).  Imagination is a wonderful thing (although in my case it can be a bit weird and distracting), and my mind turned to a few long days of walking along the Great North Walk from Teralba (just before Newcastle).  I had my set of Dept of Lands GNW maps, and some course directions from the GNW100s race.  I considered a few options, but decided to simply start at Teralba on Sunday morning, walk for a day, and take it from there.  Do some exploring, be flexible.  Christmas was looming, so my leave pass was for three days tops.  A tentative plan was I would make base camp, spend next day running and exploring, then return back to Teralba.  I have a 64km Bogong to Hotham run in early January, and this was a bit of a training exercise as much as anything else (lots of good hills to climb along this stretch).

Simple ?

Not quite.

Saturday night was an early Xmas gathering, which meant bed time was midnight for a 4.30am wake up for the 5.30am train to Teralba.  I woke early, confused the dogs, downed a thermos of coffee, then headed for the station.

The dawn train to Newcastle was the Living Dead Zombie Express filled with young party goers all passed out and sprawled across train seats.  A sea of scantily clad mascara smeared beauties and boozy bleary eyed blokes.  When the voice announced "next stop Gosford" the undead silently rose and shuffled away, only to be replaced by another bunch of walking corpses, including a fellow covered in blood, cuts and bruises.  I avoided eye contact.  I'm a lover, not a fighter.

I disembarked at Teralba, where I was desperate for a loo.  Really desperate.  Thankfully I discovered a public toilet for teeny tiny people in Anzac Park, then filled up my water bottles, and by 7.30am I was off.
beautiful Teralba

and off we go

The walk started with a big question about water.  I had decided to head this way because with so much recent rain, I worried rivers and creeks would be up elsewhere.  Whereas this notoriously dry part might actually have water for a change.

view to the Sugarloaf Range
After about 6km of road bashing, I came to Wakefield.  A nice little community centre with a big full rain tank.  A good sign.  I had another drink and another desperate loo stop.  A reminder to not stay up late eating and drinking before an early rise (which I will no doubt ignore as usual into the future).
Wakefield Community Centre

Wakefield sees the start of actual trail walking, which should sound lovely, but it is also the unofficial local dump.  Couches, building materials, asbestos, crap at various places along the way.  I did get to walk under the F3 which I found thrilling (don't ask me why), and as the as the trail rose steadily into the Sugarloaf Range, the dumping dwindled.

going under the F3 / M1
The incline got quite steep, and was lined by tape warning "mine subsidence" for the entire climb.  I was passed by a group of bike riders, all safely attired, all riding safely, all giving me a wave.  Obviously they haven't read the biking hoon handbook.  They then disappeared off on a side trail (which was blocked with tape and warning signs and mining company vehicles on the return.  Hope they returned home safe and didn't disappear down a crack in the earth).

For some reason my brain disengaged at this point and I missed the most bleeding obvious right turn off to Brunkerville.  Being a State Forest, it is crisscrossed endlessly by trails (which is why bikes and 4WD love this area).  Not many are marked.  I was now descending a steep section and thinking to myself "wow, this is going to be a sucky climb on the way back".  As the sound of traffic grew louder I had my suspicions, then when a sign appeared I checked my maps and quickly realized I was way off, and that "sucky climb" was going to be sooner than I thought.  I began the return climb in tandem with a 4WD who pipped me at the post.  When I returned to the missed turn with its obviously large signage, I couldn't believe it.  It did put a dent in my plans both in terms of effort and time, but no real problem.

I had hoped to be at Brunkerville Gap by about 11.00, but that was going to be after 12.00 now.  When I hit the start of the downhill with about 3km to go, I was still making good time.  This was put to a halt by a large and incredibly beautiful black snake.  He eventually swam away through the puddle, then I was left to walk carefully onwards.
black snake

down to Brunkerville Gap.  Then up that mountain in the distance.
Arriving at Brunkerville Gap, I refilled all my water bottles.  I didn't want to, because I knew I had a long hard climb up to the other side and the extra weight of water is always a pain.  But you just have to along here because water is unreliable.  I rinsed off under the tap, called the lovely wife for a chat, and munched on trail mix for lunch.  My trail mix this time was fried noodles, some cheap Indian Nibble Mix on special and probably passed its use by date, some salt and vinegar chips the rest of the family had declared inedible, and the dregs of a nibble mix no one was going to finish that had been sitting in the pantry for ages. Deeeeeelicious.

After my rest, I started up to Heaton Lookout.  Oh my word, what a climb.  Just constant up, and very little shade.  All the rumours of this climb are true, and a 14kg pack wasn't helping.  By the top I was dripping sweat and had a nice sit down to cool off at the Communications Tower, then wandered off to Heaton Lookout accompanied by more bike riders.
views half way up

Heaton Lookout
Heaton Lookout has fantastic views, and a surprisingly large number of people were up here.  There were two water tanks.  One vandalised, one working.  Also a nice fellow who was walking the GNW who pointed me in the right direction (maybe I was going the wrong way...again...).

The next section is lovely rainforest, easy enough walking, but which was much slower going than I expected.  In part because all the recent rains and leaf litter have obviously covered over sections of the trail.  This put a real slow on my progress as I scouted around.  I have read some online postings complaining about orange paint markings, but I was most thankful to see them and know I was on the right track.  I did find trickling water in Wallis Creek to treat and top up my water, but I did also manage to lose a bottle down a gap between rocks as I was scrambling about.  I eventually hit 4WD trail again.  And then the fun began.

slow going, but beautiful

After the rainforest section, I was looking for a sign indicating Foster Rd that never appeared.  I backtracked and tried various tracks to match up with my maps and directions, but nothing seemed clear cut. I wasted a lot of time here, and did a lot of extra walking.  With so many 4WD roads, a few more GNW signs would be appreciated.

Eventually a sign indicating Great North Walk pointed off down a side trail.  I was expecting more 4WD road, but followed the trail.  It dropped away to a creek, became very vague, and eventually faded.  At this point I did crack it and got the poos.  After scouting around I decided to simply climb up and hope for the best.  Eventually I hit 4WD trail again and found signage for Glen Rd up to Bakers Rd.

From this point I had been hoping for some water from a creek to treat, but nothing except occasional pools of black death.  My maps indicated possible water tanks, but nothing (it turned out that finding my way to Hunter Lookout I may have found the water tanks, and maybe at Rocky Creek campsite, but hindsight is useless).  I hit the Forestry HQ campsite with its vandalised water tanks and had some thinking to do.

If I pushed on, I may well find myself miles from anywhere with no water.  Not good.  The "possibility" of water at Crawford's Tank in another 20km  was not a chance I wanted to take given what I had experienced so far.  If I tried returning to Heaton Lookout, I might well find myself night walking in rainforest and become somewhat more lost than usual.  Not Good.  I could camp the night, and desperately dole out my water supply and head back tomorrow.  Not so good either.  In hindsight I should either have camped at Heaton Lookout, or collected and treated extra water in my 3L bag at Wallis Creek.

For now, another option was to redirect down Watagan Creek Rd towards civilisation and look for either a creek, a dam, a school - something.

It seems incredible that with so much rain recently, it could be so dry.  I began wandering down towards the farms and there wasn't a sign of moisture along the way.  I hit asphalt and began a long long walk.  As the sun began going down, the temperatures dropped, a cool breeze began, my thirst decreased, and the walking was fairly easy.  I had enough water to keep me going for quite a while, so decided to just keep on going until...whatever turned up. I didn't have a map for this area, but the lie of the land is pretty obvious.  I was just heading back in the direction of Brunkerville, so eventually I decided, if I had to, to simply walk it into Brunkerville.  I was hoping for a school somewhere. They always have water and a clear spot to camp, but no luck.  Lots of signs indicating schools, but they must all be tucked away hidden somewhere.  Watagan Creek Road hit Sandy Creek Rd, and I took the right turn and kept on going. I saw lots of big houses, with lots of big dogs, all of whom heard me and set to barking as I passed by.  Does everyone have at least five dogs up this way ?  The sun eventually went down so I dug out my head torch.  I'm sure I surprised a few drivers as I plodded along.  After each car passed by, I turned off the light and enjoyed the night.  Pure dark skies and a night sky filled with stars.  We miss so much in the city.  I was in a lovely surreal state by now., appreciating that this is truly one of those things people just don't allow themselves to do and I was going to remember this night for a long time (although probably they aren't crazy as me and don't really want to).  Eventually I hit the main road back to Brunkerville Gap, and pushed on into the night.  By now I had begun developing some lovely blisters and was slowing down.  I found a Uniting Church with a water tank and had a refill and a break.  I toyed with the idea of camping here, but as I could now see Brunkerville Gap silhouetted in the distance I decided to finish this thing off.  These last few km were a slog with blisters and sleep deprivation creeping up on me, but being so near the end I kept going; and I was enjoying the challenge of it all.  I had the occasional roar of a truck to keep me alert as I plodded along the road shoulder.

Eventually I hit Brunkerville Gap and returned to my picnic hut where I had enjoyed lunch many hours earlier.  I dug out my 3L bag, filled it up, refilled my smaller bottles, and hobbled off to find a campsite back up the trail.  I noted on the way down that the stretch along here was like baked clay, and that 4WD used it.  I found a spot to the side with a bit of flat, and looked like it would take tent pegs and not get me run over.

Laying out my tent and getting pegs through the ground was hard work, and with my head torch on, every bug in the area was being attracted to me. I was also knackered (it was now after 11.00pm and I had been going now for 15 1/2 hours, and I later mapped out the walk to be 50km with change).  What else could add to the mix ?  How about a 4WD the size of a tank, covered in bars and an assortment of massive lights pointing in every direction lighting up the night like it was daytime !

"Maaate, are you camping here ?!?!"
"Jeeez, you're game"
"well I wasn't expecting company this time of night"
"awwww, maate, lotsa fourby's up here all night long"
"well I am off the road"
"yeah, but, ya never know.  Ya should be OK if they got their lights on.  Hope no one runs over you.  Have a good night"
"Cheers boys.  You have a good night too" 

I then completed the most dismal effort ever at pitching a tent, dived in and zipped up to escape the huge bugs enjoying a tasty late night feast upon my salty body, and stripped off.  I found my big square DECOR food container, slipped it under my head as a pillow, and crashed. 

a dismal effort but did not care

I woke, lay quietly as the sun rose, then as I moved I thought "what is that stench" and quickly realized it was me.  Whew ! What a smell.  Let me out of here.  Of course as I began moving about I remembered I had blisters.  Not the worst I've ever had, but definitely Top 5.

A quick breakfast of powdered milk and MILO and I was ready to face the day.  Except that after about half a km of hobbling I had to stop and drain the blisters.  A slight improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.  It allowed me to enjoy the climb along what I found the nicest part of the walking.  This small section along the spur to Brunkerville is so pretty.

spur up from Bunkerville
The 16km walk back to Teralba was uneventful now I knew where to go.  At Wakefield I halted to strip off, rinse my revoltingly stinky slimy clothes, and wash down.  I sat on the porch of the Community Centre like a homeless man in the sun.  I had brought some sports drink powder, so I mixed this up and had a huge glucose/ electrolytes hit, which got me powering along the road to Teralba in time for an early train home.  At the station I dug into my pack for one of life's great pleasures - a clean fresh shirt.  Bliss.  I bumped into the walker from Heaton Lookout who had been walking five days from Wondabyne.  If he reads this, apologies for my incoherence.  I was a bit weary.  I think his walk sounded much better planned than mine, especially as he seemed to be saying something about water at Hunter Lookout.  Thinking back, so many questions I wanted to ask him.  I did learn a lot though, and next time (oh yeah, there will be a next time) I will have my head around this part of the world a bit better, and a whole bunch of food and gear I just don't need.

I love both walking and running.  Running can orient a lot around events, specific training, or just squeezing it in when you can.  It is its own special pleasure.  Walking can be just as physically challenging (and at times way more), but can have an extra element of freedom and flexibility.  This was a hoot of an experience, despite being absolutely nothing like what I had planned.  Time to rest up, let those blisters heal, and get ready for a 64km run in January.

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