In Pursuit of Eternal Comfort

As our start date, April 10th rolls closer there seems in me an eternal need to figure out exactly what it is I will need to take on the PCT. This, in my minds is a fine line between maximising comfort and eliminating weight.

Scrap mental snakes, I have a mental list and to be honest for me not only is it far more overwhelming, but also far more complicated to eradicate than a snake. A snake is simple, you stop, consider your options, usually stay put and maybe stamp your feet a couple of times till the path is clear and you can move forward safely. However, pondering how many undies do I pack, or should I keep the overpants, plus juggling fingerless gloves vs. some silky merino full fingers, or spork over legit knife and fork is keeping me quite occupied as I check off groceries at my casual job. The internal conflict and divulgence into with what, and how is becoming tiresome to say the least.

When our friend, Annie, returned from the hike I asked her what was essential, what must I have? I wanted some holy grail, but she just mused ‘hike your own hike’. I took this as figure it out for yourself. Everyone’s different and what’s good for one, might not be for another.

Anyway, I went away and bought some news things, on sale, and then I wrote to Annie again, and she sent me a list and told me to wait until I got there to get my things. So I will.

Peace settled in my mental world. I’ll wait, it’ll be cool, I’ll check Annie’s list and hot foot it into the blazing southern Californian desert.

And then we had some news via a blog today about the late snow in ‘Merica at the moment. This means that thru hikers on the PCT may find it, at times difficult to thru hike.  This news puts me on edge only a little, as I am not one for the cold. It talked about 2017 being a year that would turn many hikers away, and that maybe parts of the trail would be inaccessible. It was a little daunting, and a little sad, but mother nature knows no mercy, and I’m not going to blame her for that with all the f***ed up things we’ve done to her. However, in conclusion to this late night ramble it got me thinking. As Phoebe mentioned we are in the final stage before take off, or maybe a more fitting term ‘first tred’. And unlike so many adventures in the past this PCT journey seems to be teaching me about taking my time to figure it out as I go. Maybe it is a more snake like approach we (I) need to have. Take everyday as it comes, stop to consider the options, give space for things to unfold as they will and in a way that is not only safe but in rhythm with the natural laws of, might I dare say it without sounding like a total woo woo, the universe.

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The One Month Count Down

Yep, so you probably guessed it from the title, we start walking in one month from yesterday and I’m so excited! The PCT has been a 2 year obsession of mine, and those who know me are either tired of me talking about it constantly or have dreamed of joining me. The two that have stuck are my sister Harriet and old old friend Meg. We are the PCT girl gang! We have grown up together, originally sharing a backyard in Melbourne and building cubbies with complex rope pulley systems to transport messages in a secret language, playing lion king and going on family holidays together which were often bushwalking to a secret cave our dads found in the 70s in the Grampians. When Meg was 7 her family moved to the country and Harry and I spent our holidays riding horses all day, swimming in dams, deliberately getting lost in the Wombat State Park, finding the secret daffodil grove in a maze of thorns and building horse yards in the bush to camp overnight at. We have also travelled together in South East Asia and most recently walked for 3 weeks on the AAWT (check out our previous blog posts). This has all been mental and physical training for the PCT, and I think we have built a strong foundation for a successful hike!

We plan to post daily in this blog about our adventure, internet connection/phone range permitting. So friends, family, and friendly strangers please follow us on this long long walk from Mexico to Canada. What an adventure. This is a queer friendly, body positive, feminist space, so meanies please quietly excuse yourselves.

March feels like a month of goodbyes, the clock is ticking and time spent with friends, family and my lovely girlfriend Mia precious. Yesterday Harriet and I went for a drive with our dad from Healsville to Warburton via Mt Donna Buang. We went on a few short walks to Ben’s Cairn and into old growth rainforest especially to see Myrtle Beech trees, one of the few pockets of them in Victoria. They are the ultimate fairy tree and a family favourite, here are some picks. Xxooxxoo

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Regal Mountain Ash

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Harriet and the Tea Tree

AAWT Day 20 – Cleve Cole Hut to Mountain Creek Car Park

I am writing this 2 days after returning to the city and I still feel weird and removed from this life, but this feeling is lessening every day.

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Gang at Cleve Cole, Photo friendly hiker

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Gang chilling on the summit, Photo Meg Wettenhall

With the promise of a pub lunch we were all pretty eager to get going, yet the whole 1500m descent was still bittersweet as we watched the foliage change from alpine to planes one last time. My hopes of the cloud clearing overnight did not come true and we walked up the final 200m climb to the summit of Mt Bogong in wild winds and swirling mist that wasn’t quite rain but managed to sneak under our collars and into our raincoats. Reminding us of our time on the Main Range but not as extreme, we were all pretty relaxed and took selfies in the terrible weather. I was secretly disappointed as the last two times I was on Bogong I was in similar weather. We passed Hells Gap and were reasonably well protected but as we approached the Staircase Spur turnoff the wind practically pushed us off the mountain.

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Cloud threatens, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cloud arrives, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cloud wins, Photo Phoebe Robertson

The Staircase track was beautifully made with many stone steps and a gentle gradient for such a long descent. I said goodbye to my favourite stunted snow gums and green grey snow grass and arrived at Bivowack Hut for a quick knee break/time-out. This is my first hike with poles as I previously thought they were only for oldies, but I am now a total convert and love them. I have had very little knee pain this whole trip and I have had a knee reconstruction.

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Knee break, Photo Meg Wettenhall

The Hut heralded lower elevation forest and the trees suddenly became huge and the mist broke up and we saw the sun! We passed many people climbing up and shocked many of them with our weather reports from the summit as apparently it has been excellent weather in the low lands. Some day-hikers weren’t even carrying jumpers! I don’t think they will make it far past Bivowack Hut. The ground was littered with many skeleton leaves and Mia and Meg saw a satin Bower Bird.

Down in the valley we crossed Mountain Creek numerous times on our final jeep track walk to the car park. We saw 3 snakes in 3kms (one a 15cm long bb tiger snake) and decided we had entered snake pit #2! Da da dahhhhhhhh! Bye.

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Harriet 3 weeks out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Me (Phoebe) 3 weeks out, Photo Mia Schoen

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Mia 10 days out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Meg 3 weeks out, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 19 – Mt Wills to Cleve Cole Hut

Oh no! Its our last full day on the track. I reckon this walk has been a success, and I have had a real adventure with my best friends and family. At the same time I am also looking forward to some of the instant and easy comforts of home; hot shower, eating things that you don’t boil, not being able to smell myself and chairs!

It’s Harry’s Bday today! We all woke at 5am to watch the sun rise from the magic Mt Wills rocks. We raucously sang Happy Birthday as the sun peeped over the horizon, and we watched the mountains to infinity change colour and light the Main Range pink and gray. Tendrils of cloud moved in from the west/Mt Bogong like fingers grasping for us. Getting cold we lit a fire at camp and made our last bit of cowboy coffee. I didn’t notice the clouds roll in while packing up the tent but when I looked up Mt Wills was shrouded in fog. It became colder and we all set out gaitered and coated up.

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Beauties, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Sun’s coming up, Photo Mia Schoen

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Happy Birthday Harry! Photo Meg Wettenhall

 

We meandered down the jeep track leading to Omeo Highway through the same brilliant snow gum forest as yesterday, only this time eerie in the mist. Taking a left turn we descended on a foot track down another steep and direct path out of the snow gums to Big River Saddle, loosing 600m quick! From the little clearing and intersection of jeep tracks we started our 900m climb up Long Spur to Cleve Cole Hut.

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Eerie snow gums, Photo Mia Schoen

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Double-checking the bible, Photo Mia Schoen

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Scrubby trail, Photo Mia Schoen

 

The first few kms went by quickly on well graded open dirt road, visibility had improved in the lower elevations, but cloud was still thick in the air. The jeep track quality quickly disintegrated and by the time we reached the crest of Long Spur we were breast stroking through thick vegetation over our heads. The mist was wet, the intermittent rain was wet, the foliage was wet, we got very wet, water managed to get inside raincoats and rain pants. We then entered a white out time warp with 5m visibility. On our undulating track which neither climbed or descended quickly we had absolutely no reference points to figure out how far we had gone. It felt like we were walking in a loop, on and on, never starting that final climb that would lead us to Mt Bogong proper. Meg was getting tunnel vision and asked for a pep talk as we too a break before our final climb (unbeknown to us in the mist). This is quite a feat, after 19 days of walking Meg struggles for the first time, Mia Harry and I have voiced, cried and got angry at the trail numerous times, Meg just once. Powerful lady!

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Oh the views :(, Photo Mia Schoen

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Bye bye AAWT, ❤ forever, Photo Mia Schoen

We were all so cold and relieved by the time we reached Maddison Hut Site, till we realised that this was the point when we had to leave the AAWT, our trusted guide, who got us over Mt Kosciuszko in a storm, who led us over only 3 paved roads in 3 weeks, who showed us brumbies and native wildlife in abundance, and who was always there for us. AAWT we love you!

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The gang at Cleve Cole Hut, Photo Phoebe Robertson

 

 

Despite our AAWT love we were all very excited to get to Cleve Cole Hut where we promptly made Harry her B’day blueberry pancakes and freeze-dried strawberry ice-cream, which was more of a mousse. Cleve Cole Hut is busy with 3 large families camped here. We had planned to hang out in the hut more but after 3 weeks of hardly seeing anyone we were a bit challenged by 15 people in a small space. The cloud had mostly lifted by late afternoon and so we pitched the tent and hung around outside, watching the surrounding mountains dip in and out of cloud. The sun even made a very brief appearance after dinner. Hopefully this signals a better day for tomorrow so as we are not swindled of views when we climb to Bogong’s summit.

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Stinking up the hut, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Birthday cutie! Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Hint of sun, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 18 – Gill Creek to Mt Wills

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Going up! Photo Meg Wettenhall

Something must have changed, 2 days from the end of the walk and we have hit our sweet spot where our legs are strong, we are fit and our packs are light, or at least they do not feel like weights dragging us downhill. We climbed 1150m today over 12kms and arrived at camp by 1.30, a new PB for us!

Gill Creek was just as mosquito-ee this morning as when we went to bed, we hastily packed up and started plodding. The climb up to Omeo Highway seemed to go quickly and before we knew it we had popped out of our egg and bacon (native pea) hiker highway onto the regular car kinda highway. We sat around on the verge and (maybe) confused one solitary car that came by.

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Obstacle course, Photo Mia Schoen

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Break, Photo Mia Schoen

The cloud was still low and it was too cold to stop for long. We continued our uphill plod up the highway, I have never noticed that they put glitter in the white line paint. Our turn-off led us along old grassy jeep tracks full of fallen trees, around the back of Mt Wills. We then started our 2nd climb for the day through blackberry brambles and more egg and bacon, requiring us to pull stealth moves to make it through the prickles unscathed. The scenery slowly morphed from bushfire regrowth to beautiful alpine snow gums and a carpet of snow grass. We explored the rocky outcrop of South Will which gave us excellent views of Bogong and the High Plains from our precarious perch.

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South Wills, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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So many photos, Photo Meg Wettenhall

The track between South Wills and Mt Wills was the nicest track we have walked all trip! I didn’t mind in the slightest that it wound its way steeply up at times, it felt like I was on a mysterious treasure hunt through boulder tumbles, weirdly stunted and twisted snow gums (from the altitude). The track kept to the ridge offering us regular views of mountains upon mountains. We reached the hut and made a hot lunch of salami and left over mac-n-cheese. So delicious.

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Treasure hunt trail, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Luxurious camp kitchen, Photo Mia Schen

We spent the afternoon on the summit looking at the Main Range on the horizon and trying to pick out all the mountains we had crossed in-between. It felt amazing, and was a hard view to leave. We are at the same level as a front of towering cumulus, but the cloud seem to be moving parallel to our position, fingers crossed for nice weather tomorrow. Mia painted a portrait of me and the view.

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Kosciuszko views! Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Soaking it up, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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The artist, Photo Meg Wettenhall

I had gotten quite high and so was quite alarmed when a low generator buzz started out of the blue while we were cooking dinner. I immediately thought of aliens. It stopped about 2 hours later, or ears are so sensitive to man made noise. We stayed up chatting around the camp fire eating green curry, but are now in bed watching the changing colours of sunset in the clouds. Mt Wills is an excellent campsite and our afternoon of doing nothing has gone so quickly, I would love to return.

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Setting sun colours, Photo Mia Schoen

AAWT Day 17 – Mitta Mitta River to Gill Creek

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Lil wallaby, Photo Mia Schoen

We woke by the mighty Mitta Mitta to a spattering of rain, I woke at 5.30 but couldn’t rouse the troops. Sometime after this Bill snuck out of camp needing an early start to make it to Mt Wills today, our destination tomorrow. Every morning we state we need an early start and shouldn’t have coffee, yet every morning we do. We left camp late at 8am and walked inland on windy dirt roads up into the mountains. We saw a huge cicada about 7cm long with red devil eyes, buzzing around very confused in the grass. Everyone managed to get tunnel vision on one of the climbs and walk right past a lazy yellow bellied black snake on the edge of the road. It rained and then was sunny all morning, yesterdays humidity sticking around in the air and on the sweat pouring off us.

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We like to climb, Photo Mia Schoen

By lunch we had reached the top of the range and thats when the wind really started to pick up, and the rain did too and we decided to push on to camp for lunch. Powered by dark chocolate liquorice bullets we marched our way down another steep spur on an overgrown path. Meg spied a tiger snake and scared it off for us. Meg our guide and spy, always out in front on powerful legs. We reached an old overgrown jeep track and followed it along the deep valley to camp. The jeep track was a huge green tunnel with small skinny saplings rising like columns, leaves all around, grass and small white flowers from the prominent blanket leaf trees underfoot.

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Lil Meg and the old dead tree, Photo Mia Schoen

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Crossing Gill Creek, Photo Phoebe Robertson

The tunnel ended at Gill Creek, which is a magical creek full of towering ferns and secret passageways…and leeches as Harry discovered, screaming. We waded across to the campsite just big enough for our two tents. We had reached camp by 2.30! A record for this trip, we were all so excited by the thought of downtime. Mia and I walked up the hill a little way and sat on the roots of a 100m tall gum, looking down into the valley below and smoked a jazz cigarette, drank some of Mias Internet powdered beer and felt like we had everything and were so lucky to be sitting in this tiny out of the way valley, in the middle of a mountain range in a huge old forest.

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Close quarters, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Meg loves stinky socks, Photo Phoebe Robertson

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Gang feeling good #1, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Gang feeling good #2, Photo Phoebe Robertson

AAWT Day 16 – Johnnies Top to Mitta Mitta River

This morning was warm, the night and rest were serene, we were all so sleepy and tired. I woke the gang at 5.30 but everyone requested 5, so it was a hesitant start to the day. We had all felt so strong yesterday, we viewed the climb as a challenge and were so proud and pleased with ourselves when we got to the top. Today was the day after and everyone, even Meg, was feeling sore.

After coffee we started off down the jeep track in a relatively gentle descent. We had covered 10km by 9.30am and nearly half our days hike, but that was before we hit the steep bit! Which was the final 300m of knee and ankle crunching descent before we hit the Benambra/Corryong Rd. The pain was there, and so where the wild flowers, purple fringed lilies, white and yellow orchids. The bush was open, grass long, trees big and it was and enchanting place to stop…but we still had kms to walk.

We descended further out of the enchanted bush and into the colonised Morass Creek Gully. We ate lunch in prickles by the creek, which was brown with hopefully tannins but probably run off pollution from farmland nearby. We poo-pooed it. It was humid and we sat in the hot windless gully in dwindling shade dreaming off the mighty and clean Mitta Mitta (fed by Big River which runs below Mt Bogong our final destination).

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Morass? Photo Mia Schoen

We crossed Morass Creek after lunch and proceeded to climb 200m steeply out of the gully on the most unloved track of all time. The track in many parts was crumbling away and was overhung with dense regrowth that we had to push against with every step. It the heat it was like being in a warm stuffy tunnel and we were all a bit delirious and covered in sweat and leaves when we finally reached the top. We call the track bad names, said goodbye and moved on to walk through the Fraser Tablelands, on cleared roads through some of the most picturesque farm scenery; rolling hills, lush green grass, wonky hay sheds, goats to pat.

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Country road, take me home, pls. Photo Meg Wettenhall

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Cute and wonky, Photo Meg Wettenhall

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New gang members, Photo Mia Schoen

Well after we were all sick of walking on such hard surfaces we reached the Mitta Mitta, and who should we see but Bill! After having walked from Buemba Hut Site to the Mitta Mitta in one day (insane) he had a day off to recoup and swim off the heat (smart). We scared off a local family with our hiker tang on arrival, which was lucky as we all promptly fulfilled our days wish (long sweaty trail fantasy) and went swimming. Mia of course went off adventuring and floated 100m down river, getting back upstream looked challenging.

We were all feeling tired but sated with todays hard work, we got some excellent views of Bogong covered in snow this morning, and we are really looking forward to getting there and the high alpine country again in a few days time.