Tag Archives: Wilderness

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

About 2 hours by bus south-west of Córdoba is the small Condor Gorge National Park. There is no formal transport to the National Park, you simply book a ticket to the nearby town and ensure the driver drops you off on the way.

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Córdoba province is at the northern ‘dry’ end of Argentina. Most of the upper regions are desertlike pampas, not sandy like the Sahara desert, but arid dry plains much like the Australian Outback just not as red.

After my two hour bus ride, I walked beyond the national park sign and along a dirt road between two private properties until it finally opened out into rocky rolling hills. After 10 minutes I arrived at the registration building and signed the book to say I was in the park.

There’s only one main natural attraction in the small national park, the gorge. It’s about 2 hours walk (according to the admin staff) to the southern lookout. You can continue down to the river and up the other side to the northern lookout, but that’s about it.

So, I set out from the the administration building and headed up the road a little further until the sign sent me onto a rocky trail heading up a gradual hill.

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I was told there are markers every 15 minutes on the way towards the southern lookout, but it only took me 10 minutes to reach each one, so I guess the markers are for the family groups and slower walkers.

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About 30 minutes in I reached the top of a cliff and looked down across the hazy pampas to the lake and the small villages scattered below. Then, as I began walking again, a condor swept up and floated on the air currents not 2 metres above.

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10 minutes later and I came to a sign warning me about Pumas and snakes. This actually gave me the sense that I was walking in Australia again with its dangerous wildlife. It’s like living on the edge!

Half an hour later I arrived at a split in the trail, to the left it headed to the southern lookout, to the right down to the river and up the other side. I took the left track and climbed down the side of the cliff a little to where the lookout was. I stopped there for lunch looking down on the gorge below and the small river running through it.

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The walk so far hadn’t been terribly hard, although it was rather hot in the sun with no trees for shelter. After lunch, I headed back to where the trail split and took the other route, following it until it began heading fairly steeply down into the gorge. It’s about a 500 metre climb down to the river, but it didn’t take me long and eventually I came out to the bridge and crossed to the other side.

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With the hard part to go, I paused under the bridge for a few minutes before starting back up the hill. It took me a fair amount longer to get back up the side of the gorge because of the constant climbing, but after a couple of rests along the way I did eventually make it and headed back across the rolling hills to the administration. Just as I left the admin building, I saw a bus go by on the road in the distance and knowing that they only go past every hour, I slowed my pace. After waiting almost another hour and unsuccessfully flagging down 3 other buses, one did stop for me and I was whisked back off to Córdoba.

Overall, it was nice to get back out on the trail after a couple of weeks wining and dining in Mendoza. It was great walking on a hot trail again like I used to in Australia and definitely different to the last few months hiking around the cold south.

With my next stop being Buenos Aires, and with the lack of National Parks in the capital province, I will try to walk as much as I can around the city.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Cerro Catedral, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

After a week studying español in Bariloche it’s time to get back out on the trail. This weekend, myself and a companion from my hostel are planning to climb Cerro Catedral (yes it’s spelt correctly) to Refugio Frey, where we plan to stay the night and do some day walking around the lakes.

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Our original plan was to do a 3-day hike, walking on to the refugio after Frey, but the amount of ice on the higher trails meant the climb beyond Refugio Frey would be too dangerous.

We packed and caught the bus for the 20km trip to the township of Catedral, a town set up for the ski slopes above it. The weather was beautifully clear when we headed out and remained that way for the entire weekend. A rare weekend for this time of the year in Bariloche and perfect for the hike.

We headed out along a wide dirt road away from the huge car park for the ski fields. After a short walk, we left the road and walked up a short thin trail to the official beginning of the trail and a wooden hiker…

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The first part of the hike meandered south along the base of the rocky edifice of Catedral Norte, heading away from the chair lifts and the ski fields.

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Along some parts of the trail sat snow from an earlier snowfall, although much of it had melted leaving a thin layer of mud.

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The trail continued on its fairly flat way across the southern base of the mountains heading towards Lago Gutiérrez…

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The trail crossed many small arroyos flowing down from the mountain, many flowed beneath a layer of ice. This created some very beautiful natural icy sculptures.

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The trail rounded the base of the mountains, with a clear view of the lago as we headed west up the gully towards the refugio. The trail became icy as we walked and we had to watch our steps to ensure we didn’t slip off the path. There were sections of the trail that looked like normal dirt but you could occasionally put your foot right through it leaving a 10 cm deep hole. Ice forms in layers beneath the mud, pushing it up and making it fragile. Some places it was obvious, but other places you didn’t know it was there until your foot went through it. Beneath the ice was more dirt, so it wasn’t dangerous, just strange to walk through the icy mud. The ice itself hardens into layers of hexagonal rods about 3cm thick, and there always seemed to be three layers of the ice.

Walking through a cold forest gully, we avoided as much ice as possible. The climbing began across some muddy tracks until we came to a flattened areas where an emergency hut had been built under a massive boulder. The boulder slants down making the inside back wall of the hut. Inside there is a flat platform to sleep perhaps 3 people and a fireplace.

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With the light starting to fade, we pushed on along the gully, sighting the roofs of buildings at the top. As we walked, the top of the Cerro Catedral range could be seen off to our right with a light dashing of snow around its jagged peaks. We continued climbing up through some slippery mud until we came over the crest and crossed an icy arroyo to see the refugio ahead of us.

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Refugio Frey is expensive to stay in and provides little more than a mattress upstairs and no heating. We cook our food in a tucked away corner and settle in for the night with several other people including 3 young and rather noisy preteen boys.

It wasn’t too cold for most of the night, but as it headed towards day break it began to grow a little colder. I arose just before sunrise and headed outside with camera to catch the sun upon the mountains at the back of the valley beyond the frozen laguna. I watched the sun shine pink on the mountains opposite before lighting them up in a golden light.

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We decided to climb the wall of the valley to Laguna Schmoll. To get to the other end of the valley we decided to walk across the frozen lake. This was rather fun as it was fairly solid. The children at the refugio got out on their ice skates and stayed there for much of the day. At the far side of the laguna is the arroyo that feeds it, we walked across the ice but this wasn’t as solid and I broke through on two separate occasions. Thankfully, my trusty boots are waterproof, so it wasn’t too much of a worry.

The climb up the rocky wall of the valley was fairly easy, although there was snow in several places and some ice. This part could have been climbed with packs, but it was the next part that we weren’t supposed to do without crampons.

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Another pair of hikers had also climbed to the laguna, but they couldn’t speak english and I’m not totally confident with my spanish yet, so I left my companion to chat with them while I investigated this new valley.

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After stopping for lunch, my companion and the two other climbers decided to climb the icy wall without crampons (or packs). I scouted it a little and decided against it and let them go. On the other side of the lower valley is a ridge that leads to another set of peaks. This is sun drenched and has no snow or ice on it, so I decided to climb this instead.

I made my way back down the rocky wall and around the side of the laguna towards the short ridge, with the refugio across the lake.

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Then in the warmth of the sun, I made my way up the side of the ridge. It was an easy climb and standing atop it could see down both valleys. This is the mountain Pico Bara at the end of the ridge…

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The climb up Pico Bara was fairly easy and there were several different ways to climb it. It was a lot of fun, crossing from the back side with some snow, to the sunny side and back again. The views from the top were pretty impressive, both looking back along the valley…

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…and down upon the refugio a couple of hundred metres below.

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After a brief stop in the chilly wind, I headed down again. It didn’t take me very long to reach the bottom, where I met up with my companion and donning our packs we headed off back down the mountain.

The trip down was a lot quicker than the climb, as you can imagine. It had taken us about 4 hours under pack to climb to Refugio Frey and 2 hours and 30 minutes down again. We were really pushing it, but still missed the earlier bus by 15 minutes. We waited another hour over a couple of beers and caught the next bus back to Bariloche for a well deserved shower.

The Trail Wanderer

Cerro Lopez, Parcue Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

In the mountains around Bariloche there are many different walks. I had originally planned a hike called The Nahuel Huapi Traverse. This is a-4 day hike through the mountains from Cerro Catedral to Cerro López, starting about 20km from Bariloche. But since it’s almost winter much of the trail is closed because of extreme ice and snow. There is, however, still access to some of the refugios that I’d have been staying in. So, I have split the hike into two shorter ones. The first is what would have be the final day of my longer hike, up Cerro López to Refugio López.

From the hostel in Bariloche three of us from the hostel, two ladies and I, have to catch a bus the 20km to the start of the walk. It’s sunday and we have to put money on our loaned bus card and when we get to the store to do that, it’s closed. So we have to run 5 blocks to get to the next store. It’s very cold this morning, but after a five block run in my warm clothes, I’m more than hot.

Forty minutes later we arrive at the beginning of the walk and it feels icy. We headed off through the forest on a rocky trail. The wind is very brisk and there’s a mix between being hot from sweat and being frozen.

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The climb began steeply up the mountain and was challenging, especially after a few weeks of little hiking. We pushed on in the light but chill wind and stopped for a break to look back at the lakes…

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After 5 minutes, the sweat down out backs had turned to ice, so we pushed on following the red dots…

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The first 1/3 of the climb was perhaps the hardest and steepest, the second 1/3 flattened out a little, although was still fairly intensive until we came over the ridge to a lodge over looking the lakes. The lodge was closed for the season.

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The scenes of the lakes was just too vast below us to fit into one photo. Looking back towards Bariloche, the lake actually looks bluer than the other portions.

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On the peninsula below us there’s a clear patch where Hotel Llao Llao is situated. For some reason the sun only wanted to shine on this particular area.

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From the Lodge, we continued walking steeply up the hill and as we walked could see the pink Refugio Lopez perched on a ridge high above the autumn coloured trees.

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We followed the trail that became a slippery dirt trail. It lead to a 4WD track and we followed it for a while before it rounded the top of the gully and headed up steeply towards the refugio. Another 20 minutes later and after a short scramble we arrived. We knew it was going to be closed, so didn’t plan to stay longer than to eat some lunch.

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We could have continued walking up the mountain to the top, there are markings, but it’s not recommended because of the new snow…

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After a while we headed down again, faster than the climb. The slippery part was more difficult coming down and I slipped, skidding down on one knee, but kept my graces by not actually falling over.

Once we arrived at the bottom, we realised that we had 2 hours to wait for the bus. There’d been two other groups on the trail, one being two local guys waiting for a ride. One of the girls in my group asked it they had room in their car and next thing we knew we were being driven into town. The locals here are fairly friendly…

Today was a good if not strenuous walk with fantastic views of the lakes, and while it was supposed to rain it held out. Even more thankfully, it hadn’t snowed, although a few flakes had fallen. For the next week I’m taking a spanish course, then one of the girls and I are planning an overnight hike up to Cerro Cathedral, what would have been the first part of the traverse.

The Trail Wanderer

West Canungra Creek Circuit – Green Mountains

Lamington National Park: Green Moutains section map

Map is owned by and used with courtesy of Queensland Government.  Please visit that site for more detailed information on hiking in this region.

Today I’m out with my hiking group from meetup.com.  Meetup.com is a great way to find hiking groups in your area and they often go to many interesting places.  The downside of meetup.com groups is they tend to attract larger groups of walkers and can be more about being social than the experience of being out in nature.

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This time we headed into the Green Mountains section of the Lamington National Park to do one of the many circuits.  This is also where I began the Gold Coast Hinterland Great! Walk only three weeks earlier.  The hikes start at the same location and use about a kilometre of the same trail before splitting off and going their respective directions.

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The West Canungra Creek circuit has a Class 4 rating but I believe this is only when it is wetter.  Because it was pretty dry and the streams were down,  the crossings were easier and the rating should only be a Class 3.

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The circuit is 13.9km long and meanders down towards Canunga Creek.  It then heads along the stream, with several crossings towards to “Yerralahla” (blue pool).  There were plentiful small waterfalls, downed trees, rocky outcrops and stream beds along the way.

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About half way around the circuit, the track forks, eventually meeting up again a couple of kilometres along.  At the fork I decided to take my leave of the group to get a bit of time to myself in nature.  As I walked I came across a pair of large waterfalls.

Yanbacoochie Falls…

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Elabana Falls…

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I met up with the group again when the trails reconnected.  We continued our way back along towards the end of the circuit, crossing a treetop walk on the way back.

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Overall an interesting walk and talk, I got to speak at length to a guy from Chile about South America, the starting place of my big adventure next year…

Next week, I wrap up the Glass House Mountains and do a couple of short walks at Mount Coot-tha.

The Trail Wanderer.

Gold Coast Hinterland Great! Walk

The Gold Coast Hinterland Great! Walk is a 54km, 3-day hike across both the Lamington and Springbrook National Parks with a 5km road walk in between.

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Day 1 – 21.4km: Green Mountain O’Reilly’s retreat to Binna Burra

The day began in Brisbane at 5.30am.  After much driving I dropped my car off at the Settlement Campground, the endpoint of my hike.  I was delivered to the beginning by my good friend and her lovely but exceedingly strange adult daughter – at least the long drive wasn’t boring!

I headed out from the Green Mountains O’Reilly’s Retreat at 10:30.  I’d estimated the walk at about 6 hours plus breaks with an ETA to Binna Burra at 5pm.  I started later than I intended, but that’s the price you pay for a ‘car shuffle’ on a linear hike (where the start and end are not the same place).

Thirty minutes into the walk and I came across my first snake – a young red bellied black – which slithered quickly away.  It was the last I was to see for the day and only one of two this adventure.  The track overall was fairly easy-going with no steep climbs or descents and the initial 300m climb was not terribly apparent as it was a slow climb over several kilometres.  The hardest part of the day was that much of the track was a muddy mess, meaning traction wasn’t good.

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The waterfalls of Conondale National Park are not repeated here, with only small creeks and run-throughs.  The lookouts over the border of New South Wales were pretty fantastic though with Mt Warning standing out among the hills.  The track continued and after a while, more lookouts, this time out towards sea and the Gold Coast skyline.  Unfortunately, not so clear in the photos.

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As it was the Saturday of a long weekend, the track was very busy.  I saw at least 40 other walkers on trail doing one of the numerous side tracks or day walks.  Then, as I headed downhill towards Binna Burra, my first campground, I saw wallabies!  It was a wonderful surprise but unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with my camera.

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Binna Burra isn’t a walkers camp, but it’s the only legal camping location in the area.  Just make sure you book a spot in advance.  It’s a full camping park with washing machines, hot showers, fantastic pizza on Saturday night and happy hour!  It’s not really wilderness but a couple of quiet beers after a hard day’s walk never hurt anyone!

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Day 2 – 24km: Binna Burra to Woonoongoora Walker’s Camp

I left Binna Burra along the Lower Bellbird circuit trail and headed quickly back into the forest along a gentle downhill.

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I passed a couple of lookouts which gave great views of Egg Mountain protruding out from the forest in the distance.  As I walked I passed several small waterfalls and a series of awesome cliffs.  At some points along the trail things became a little precarious as I literally had to hang on to a tree to get around one corner.  But that’s what I was there for… adventure!

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To get to Egg Mountain, I had a massive downhill slog.  Steep downhills are the worst as they put a lot of pressure on the knees, ankles and feet.  Weaving down the trail can make things easier, although dry dirt trails can make things slow going, as care must be taken with placing feet to avoid sliding.  I passed Egg Mountain and followed the fence line of Numbimbah correctional centre for a couple of kilometres before arriving at Nerang-Murwillumbuh Rd where I stopped for lunch at the river.

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The trail followed the road for about 5km before coming to the Numinbah café where I stopped for an ice-block and coke.  After walking 18km with a 22kg pack, the last 5km in the open sun, who could resist?  As there is no water at the next camp, I took supplies here for both my cooking requirements and for tomorrow’s walk.

After the cafe, the trail cut back into the forest up a steep hill towards the walker’s camp.  The climb was tough, made tougher as it was at the end of a long hot day and because I was carrying extra water.  I finally arrived at the walker’s camp, a field set out for camping with only a camp toilet and nothing more.  The grass was knee height, which made pitching my tent a little more difficult, but it did make for a softer sleeping spot.  After setting up camp, I settled in for a cool evening.

Day 3 – 9km – Woonoongoora Walker’s Camp to Settlers Camping Ground

Nine kilometres doesn’t sound far, but this part of the walk has multiple steep climbs and descents.  The first climb apparently has 900 steps, about 82 floors of a building, or so the sign said.  I only counted 829, but after climbing with a heavy pack I’m surprised I could still count by the end, so I could be wrong.

A quick stop at a park for a snack after the climb and I was off again into the forest.  The trail follows the Nerang River for a fair distance, crossing it on several occasions and has many small waterfalls.  I knew I was getting close to the end of my walk when I started to see people on the trail again.  Lots of people.  But then it was the Monday of a long weekend.  I must have passed 100 people as I headed towards Purlingbrook Falls.  The falls are spectacular from both the pool at the bottom…

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…to the top, and is the major reason so many people were visiting, although the climb was long even though it only had only 290 stairs and was all concreted.

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Settlers Camp Ground was not far from the top of the falls. I arrived at midday and drive the 100km home.  Overall a Great! Walk indeed!

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Conondale Great! Walk

The Conondale Great! Walk is a hike within the Conondale National Park north of Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

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The hike is a 4-day, 56km forest hike. In my planning, I compressed it into 3 days, walking sections 4 and 1 together and beginning the hike from the car park of section 2.  The weather was clear and warm.  I estimate my pack weight at about 22kg.

As this Great! Walk is set up by the Queensland Government, campsites must be booked in advance on the website for specific days with camping permits to be displayed.

Day 1 – 30km 

Planning for an overnight hike is important and this is somewhere I failed.  On my topographic map I failed to plan for the three river fords between the park entrance and the beginning of section 2.  I do not have a 4WD vehicle and thus had to park my car at the park entrance.  Because I’d booked the campsite at the end of the 2nd section that’s where I had to go.  This meant my planned 17km walk for the day became a 30km one.  (Section 1 = 11km, Section 2 = 17km, walk from ford = 2km).

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Section 1 is popular with day walkers and I saw a few along the river at various places and walking to the abandoned gold mine.

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The walk itself was a moderate grade 3 and enjoyable.  I reached Booloumba Falls at around 1.30pm and stripped down for a swim and some lunch.

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I started section 2 at about 2.30pm.  17km to camp…

Not long after the falls, there was a side trail with no markings.  I decided to follow for a short time and found it led to a small clearing with an unlabelled monument in it.  I stopped only briefly before heading back to the junction and continuing on.

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In my research I was made aware that there might be leeches on the hike but what I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer amount.  When hiking I like to take rest breaks every hour or so.  But whenever I stopped for 30 seconds anywhere along the trail, leeches would begin crawling up my boots.  The only leech free places were the large stones at the edge of stream crossings and there weren’t many of those on section 2, so I just powered on without rest.

Section 2 is grade 4 and a tad slower going.  Night fell with still 10km to go before camp.  Night in the forest is dark, even with a head lamp.  With no one around all I could do was march onwards.  A portion of section 2 is an old fire track.  After walking 6km along it in the dark with no markings I began wondering if I’d missed something.  But when I eventually found a marker I was relieved.  With 4km to go I turned down it and walked on 100 metres before having the sudden urge to look behind me.  When I did I found that I had missed another marker in the dark and returned to it.  It sent me off along a thin trail.

After 11 hours on the trail I finally reached camp and sat on the camp table to rest away from the ever-present leeches.  Setting up my tent was interesting.  Leaping off the low table to set up part of it before leaping back on again to flick the leeches from my boots before leaping down to do the next part.  Eventually I got the tent erected and zipped myself in.  I didn’t bother cooking dinner, instead just having some fruit and a salmon pocket.  As I lay down to an exhausted sleep, I discovered a leech on forehead!  I removed it from the tent before finally falling asleep.

Day 2 – 15km

A spontaneous 30km walk with a pack tends to push one’s body, so my sleep was not the most comfortable.  But early in the next morning, I was awake and ready to go.  I brewed a coffee and got to packing. While the leeches were still prevalent, I worked around them, packing up my tent like I had erected, leaping back and forth onto the camp table.

Once I set off I found it impossible to plan for my breaks because of the leeches.  Thankfully there were more creek crossings so I actually got to rest several times on this section.  There were two other variables introduced into the mix today.  Snakes and goannas.

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This 2 metre Carpet Python was a bit of a surprise just lying there across the track but easily avoided.  The few small green tree snakes were cute, but it was the red-bellied black snake sunning itself on the track that caused the most concern.  While only a meter long, I wasn’t going to stay near the aggressive bugger so cut a wide berth around it and continued on.

A red bellied black.  I was not pleased to see him and got away very quickly...

The goannas were generally fairly small and gave away their presence as soon as they heard me by crashing through the undergrowth and climbing a tree.

I arrived at the next camp in the early afternoon and after setting up my tent with few leech incidents, I took lunch and a book to the Summer Falls, right near the campsite.  The tall set of falls have a flat rocky area at the top, so I stripped down, bathed, ate lunch and languished for the afternoon in the warm autumn air.

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Day 3 – 13km

After a brisk morning climb, the trail grew drier and the leech problem went away.  Still, I chose my places to rest.  Once bitten, they say, but in my case more like 10 times bitten…  I think I did well only to be bitten that many times considering the amount of leeches I flicked from my boots and pants.  Rubbing DEET on your boots definitely slowed them down.

Day three seemed less wild, with more vehicle tracks, horse tracks (with plenty of recent poo) and the occasional vehicle.

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Towards the end of the day, there was a steep climb Mount Alan where I was forced to stop every 20 metres or so to catch my breath.  The view from the top of the fire tower was well worth the climb.

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The final hour back to my car was easy and being a Tuesday, was fairly human free.

Overall an interesting three days in the wilderness, a great learning experience and a lot of sweating, but still enjoyable.

The Lone Trail Wanderer