2021 Heysen Trail

Day -7 Plan B
Tasmanian Trail
Tasmanian Trail

A number of weeks ago I started to realise that with the growing lockdowns around the country, walking the Heysen Trail was potentially not going to happen and as a result I started working on a Plan B. Realistically there were only two geographic options open to me from both a border closure perspective; the Northern Territory or Tasmania. From the perspective of less COVID, I opted for Tasmania as a safe place to be during the pandemic.

My trail of choice is the multi purpose Tasmanian Trail travelling 480 km through the centre of Tasmania. This trail isn’t without challenges, particularly at this time of the year. While I have made the necessary travel bookings, this weekend just coming is all about final preparation as I keep a close eye on the various webcams along the trail and monitor the COVID situation. Over the next week I will post daily on my preparation and I will also release a podcast episode on my upcoming trip on Wednesday 28 July so stay tuned.

I still need to consider what travel restrictions may prevent me from doing during this trip but all I can do is play it by ear.

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COVID strikes again! It’s just eight days to go until I was due to start my much anticipated journey on the Heysen Trail. Had I started this trip in early June, I would have finished it just prior to the latest round of COVID lockdowns; hindsight is wonderful. Things weren’t looking good a week or so ago and while South Australia at that stage seemed to be avoiding the lockdowns, as a Canberra resident I wasn’t allowed to enter the state. As the current round of lockdowns increases and as I write this post, I was left with a number of alternatives:

  1. Delay the start of the walk on the Heysen Trail
    • As a Canberra resident, living in the safest place in the country at the moment, I am unable to access South Australia because apparently we are surrounded my germy NSW. While I had seven weeks of leave booked and had the capacity to shift this leave, it is a very narrow window having just started a new job. As such while I managed to get my required leave, delaying the walk start by two weeks wouldn’t have made me popular at work. This is also assuming that it will be just two weeks before the borders open but I don’t really see me being able to access South Australia until at least late August at the earliest.
  2. Pull the pin on the trip altogether
    • The second option and ultimately the one that I have landed on is to pull the pin on the Heysen in 2021. I chose the Heysen Trail, originally planned for 2022, because it was located in a single state and didn’t require crossing multiple borders as I walked. I figured that this would be the safest option in the event of another COVID lockdown which unfortunately wasn’t the case.

This walk was one of my most anticipated long distance hikes in years but having said that the trail will be there next year and hopefully by that stage lockdowns will be a thing of the past! At least I have a full set of planning in place so when it does come time to try again it wont require a huge amount of logistical preparation.

This doesn’t mean I wont be hiking and after some very rapid decision making ‘I have a cunning plan’! Check in on the next post to be released on 22 July 2021 to find out what I am up to.

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We recently released my updated multi-day gear hiking list and almost without exception this is what I will be carrying with me on the Heysen Trail. Since I released that list I have been thinking through what I need to change – its really about tinkering around the edges and with the exception of some really minor gear choices i.e. things that weigh under 50 grams, my thought processes have confirmed my selections.

For me the biggest changes over the past year have been new footwear, something that changes almost yearly, and a new ultralight sleeping bag, the Sea to Summit Spark II.

In theory my pack will weigh under 18.7 kg including 2.5 litres of water, eight days of food and stove fuel; in theory. As I get to within around ten days of the trip I will start putting my food together and do an initial pack and then repack. As I lead into the walk start I’ll confirm the actual weight at that time.

The only potential variation throughout the trip is if I need to carry extra water. That could add up to another 2 kg to the weight but given my planning, I should be able to stick to my 18.7 kg maximum which is what I will be carrying as I leave town stops fully loaded with food.

See my plan Gear list here

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I’m now under three weeks until the planned start of my 1200km journey on the South Australian Heysen Trail and as the kickoff day approaches I have a number of concerns, two in particular, that are floating around in my brain creating doubt.

The first and most obvious one as this post goes to air is the impacts of COVID. As this new wave sweeps much of the country Canberra residents are currently prohibited from entering South Australia even though we have the best record of any state or territory. I’m still feeling confident that this ban with change prior to my trip but I’m starting to think through alternative options including delaying the trip for a week or two if necessary. Should the lock downs continue past that time it may become necessary to push the whole trip off until autumn 2022 as I have hard commitments that are creating a block in late September/October that can’t be shifted.

My other main concern is one do with physical fitness. My level of training is back to what it was prior to my 2018 trip on the Bibbulmun Track and I feel confident that I am doing what is necessary to get me through the trip but only time will tell.

In relation to everything else such as gear preparation, food preparation, accomodation etc everything else is going as planned as I allocate time each week to tick off various tasks in getting ready. All I need to do now is assume that I am starting on my planned date and see what happens!

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There were a number of reasons that I chose to walk the Heysen Trail at the end of July. First and foremost the cooler weather was my main reason but water availability was also a major consideration. Given that on average both the northern and southern sections of the trail travel through areas relatively low in rainfall. Then on top of that the southern area of South Australia tends to be a Mediterranean climate with most of the rainfall (about 2/3) falling during the cooler months from May-September. What this means in practice is that the water tanks provided along the trail are more likely to contain water at my proposed time of travel having usually had decent rainfalls over the previous few months.

The Heysen Trail website identifies 70 public water sources long the trail, not including towns, but water supplies can be unreliable, particularly in the north.

In my last post I talked about one of my navigation options being the Guthook app and a big bonus of this are the water reports posted by hikers as they go. The Heysen Trail website also contains water information but internet access may not always be available. The thing I like about Guthook is that you can check the water history going back a few months to see what the pattern of water use is as well as recommendations about where you should be picking up water. One of the jobs still left to do is to make a list of water resupply points and identify sections I may have to carry extra, just in case.

Over the past year I have shifted to an MSR Thrulink inline water filter so if worst comes to worst and I have to drink farm water (including sheep and cattle saliva), I’m prepared. I will also always carry a small supply of water purification tablets as a back up just in case although I have never had to use these.

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Navigation on the Heysen Trail is pretty much like any other trail you will hike. In many cases paying attention and following the trail markers will cover most of your needs. Having said that when I hiked the Bibbulmun Track in 2018, I went off track twice. The first time was because I failed to look two metres to my right as I stood up after a tea break which ended up costing me an additional 3km for the day to rectify bringing my total for that day to 44km. My fault entirely and not something I wanted to do on such a big day already! The second instance was because a tree had managed to fall perfectly across the management trail and it camouflaged the turn I knew was coming. In this instance I realised what had happened within about 200 metres so no big issue that day.
On the Heysen Trail, just as I did on the Bibbulmun, I will have a number of navigation options available to me:
  1. Heysen Trail map set and compass
    • Mainly used for planning and something that I will use at the start of each map section to familiarise myself with what’s coming. I will end up using roughly around 1.5 maps per week and when I get into town I will send the used maps back home. While I know how to use a compass, I have never needed to navigate back onto trail.
  2. Guthook Guide Phone App
    • For me this is my main form of navigation. It works without a phone signal. However the GPS usage on the phone sucks through the battery so I usually use this app without the GPS only turning that feature on when I have a doubt about my location or want an accurate distance to my next destination. If you are a long distance hiker then the Guthook app is a ‘must have’ – it just makes life so much easier.
  3. GPS
    • I will have a set of GPX maps loaded onto my GPS and again this is an option I tend not use on the trail but its great as a ‘just in case’.

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In February of this year I was talking to a work colleague about my long distance hiking plans for the year and realised that there was a strong likelihood I was going to be doing the Heysen Trail. This realisation prompted me to start doing some serious physical preparation. Given my issues with my last two long distance hikes, the success of my trip was dependent on attaining the level of fitness I achieved for my 2018 Bibbulmun Track trip.
What this meant for me was an increase of physical training over and above my normal fitness routine, starting six months out. My biggest challenge was that at the start of 2021, I was at the heaviest I have ever been and around 12kg heavier than I like to start a long distance hike. As I write this post with just over 5 weeks to the start of my trip I still have 8kg to go and in all honesty while I will loose another 2-3kg, I’m not going to reach my goal. On the plus side, my fitness level is heading towards a fairly high point so I’ll cope with the additional weight and with the amount of weight I expect to lose on this hike, this is not a bad thing.
My fitness regime includes daily walking totalling around 6km, a weekly hike of up to 20km, two weight sessions a week, two cardio sessions, hill walking and pack training. I integrate pack training into the last two months of my preparation and I am now using a pack that is permanently set up and now weighs in at 18.5kg which is around my maximum pack weight for this walk. While this physical training is extremely important, it has an added side effect of preparing me mentally and as a solo hiker this can’t be overlooked.
Every hiker prepares differently for a long distance trip and my lead-in preparation has been developed over a number of years. I know what I need to do to be prepared; I just don’t always do it!

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While I put a lot of thought and consideration into every piece of gear I choose to take on a long distance hike, without a doubt I put the most effort into choosing my footwear. Each and every hike I do varies and it’s rare that I choose the same pair of shoes for two hikes in a row. The reasons for these changes include the ever changing model updates by the footwear manufacturers as well as the expected trail tread and distance.
My previous shoe of choice was the Altra Olympus 4.0 and I also considered the Altra Timp 3.0. Both are very good shoes but given I am planning on walking nearly 1200 km on the Heysen Trail, I wanted something that would last the full distance. As much as I love the Altra shoes their inability to do the big distances would have meant I needed two pairs to complete the trail.
After spending the past eight months testing different footwear options, I’ve chosen the Topo Ultraventure Pro combined with Superfeet (Blue) Premium Inserts (three pairs). For me this combination provides a beast of a footwear combination that will cope with everything this long trail can throw at me while being comfortable at the same time.
While Topo shoes don’t have the street cred of Altra, they are gaining in popularity. I have found that each of the three models I have tested and used for extended periods have all been great but from my perspective, the Ultraventure Pro is the evolutionary peak of the range to date and one well worth considering.

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There’s a saying in hiking that goes ‘Hike Your Own Hike’ which essentially means the experience you have on a particular hike is uniquely yours rather than trying to fit into someone else’s expectations. Many people hike to escape the pressure of their daily lives, to return to a more natural existence away from technology and the daily grind. For others it’s an opportunity to get out into nature to enjoy the natural environment or just for the sake of it. And for others it’s the physical challenge.
When I hike long distance, and solo, I do so for a number of reasons. These reasons differ from when I’m doing a hike with my wife Gill and include:
  • The logisitics
    • I’m one of these weird, but very common people, who love the planning component of hiking. I typically start out planning a hike two years in advance and while at this stage its more of an extremely high level thought process it focuses me on what’s happening. As I head into the final 8 months prior before a hike the planning becomes much more specific.
  • Fitness
    • I find that doing long distance hikes gets me to my fittest by the end. Health-wise this is borne out by the before and after health tests I get done for each trip and anecdotally I just feel better.
  • Nature
    • Yes I love being out in nature and in particular my favourite environment is the Australian arid and semi arid regions. Having said that I’m not the sort of person who enjoys just sitting and looking at a vista for hours on end. My limit is at most 30 minutes and for me that’s a long time. In my case the landscape is a backdrop to my experience, and while I enjoy it and savour those occasional moments of sheer splendid beauty, its not my main focus.
  • The solitiude
    • Humans by our very nature enjoy a degree of interaction and heading out on a long distance hike for 6-8 weeks, solo, is a challenge for that. When I did my Bibbulmun Track Hike in 2018 I was on-trail, rest days included, for 36 days. During that time I estimate I spent a total of 8 hours talking to other people which is a far cry from what I would normally do given my job involves a degree of stakeholder engagement which means I spend much of my day  talking.
    • I find I love the high levels of solitude that a multi week long distance hike affords me. I have to ability to ‘get in the zone’ and let my body take over as I cover my average 32 km days. I dedicate just enough mental capacity to keep me on-track and safe, and this is almost a subconscious process as I scan the trail for proper footing as well as dangers like snakes and drop offs.
    • Long distance solo hikes afford me the ability to think and think deeply which is something that the distractions of day to day life prevent me from doing. For me this is the main reason I do long distance solo hikes.
There are as many reasons to hike as there are hikers so ultimately it comes down you ‘do you’ and don’t try to live up to others expectations about what a hike should be.

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Some of the life decisions I make are very random and spontaneous while others are planned down to the nth degree. In regard to my hiking, I fall into the latter category for a number of reasons.
Firstly, as someone who still works I have a limited amount of leave and if doing a walk, of whatever length, I need to set a defined start and finish date. I have ‘zero days’, rest days without walking, ‘nero days’ with almost non walking, and I also have two days where I’ll be walking 40+ km a day. Understandably on these days I’m getting down in food and my pack weight is either at or near its lightest. Having said that I always build in contingency days to make allowances for things outside my control.
Secondly, I am goal driven on my solo hikes and if I set myself a daily distance I will typically achieve this. In regard to the Heysen Trail I will be staying in a combination of hostels, caravan parks and campsites and will need to book these, campsites included. Stopping in towns over weekends is a real issue with a number of events impacting my trip and again requiring me to lock-in accomodation sooner rather than later.
Thirdly there’s the food. I need to know how much food to carry with me as opposed to the meals I will be buying at a cafe or store on trail.
Last but not least from a safety perspective I need to provide a schedule to my wife Gill so she knows where I will be but also when and where to send my food drops.
This schedule is all about the logistics and nowhere in this post have I talked about the experience, that’s next week’s post!

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Some of the life decisions I make are very random and spontaneous while others are planned down to the nth degree. In regard to my hiking, I fall into the latter category for a number of reasons. Firstly, as someone who still works I have a limited amount of leave and if doing a walk, […]