Over the past couple of years I have been planning on walking the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) and given that 2020 has been the year that it has, working towards this trip has been a challenge to say the least. Between the fires and COVID I have been been paying attention on an almost daily basis and trying to piece together the state of the track and the ability to travel. And now just on a month out, it’s time to make a decision and unfortunately the decision is to pull the pin! This decision is based on two main factors:
Many of you will be familiar with the saying of ‘There’s no use flogging a dead horse’ and in 2020 that’s what the Australian Alps Walking Track is. Safety and enjoyment rule when I decide to do a trip and while there are some risks that I am willing to take, there are some that I’m not. The trail will be there next year and the year after. Realistically I am looking at November 2021 to re-engage with the AAWT to try again so keep following us for when that happens. In the meantime go to the link below to see our 2020 replacement trip! Definitely a very different sort of trip to the AAWT but one that meets my needs.
An issue that continues to be a problematic for me is sourcing footwear, in particular for my long distance hikes. For shorter hikes I have a few more options and can get away with a less than perfect fit but given that a hiker’s foot will swell over a long multiday hike, shoe choice is critical. Prior to undertaking my Bibbulmun Track hike in 2018 I was the proud owner of size 14 US feet. Now two years later, my feet are a size 15 US. Given that mens shoe size 12 and above account for less than 2% of the male population, the footwear manufacturers understandably don’t provide a lot of options. Earlier this year I identified the brand and model of my trail runner for this trip with included the additional consideration of being able to cope with gaiters.
I was very organised having made my selection around three months ago but when I went to order my preferred choice, I discovered my first choice was not available and neither were my second or third choices. This resulted in a mad scramble, contact with manufacturers and retailers and an almost daily scouring of online stores to find what I needed. As luck would have it I located my preferred option on the day this post went live but I am now faced with a delivery timeframe that may not meet my start date!
As luck would have it I have a pair of brand new ‘just in case’ trail runners sitting in my cupboard that are very comfortable even though they are not my best option due to the gaiter requirement – beggars can’t be choosers! Now I just have to wait on the freight system to see if my first (I mean third!) option arrives arrives in time.
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Its now 52 days until I am supposed t0 start my journey on the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). Note the use of the words ‘supposed to’. By now most of my planning decisions would have been made, my gear selection sorted, and I usually would have started my serious pack training two months out. This year however has is very different and will no doubt be something we talk about years into the future, and not just because of COVID.
The issue I am dealing with is, in most cases, common to most but not all.
Issue 1: Injury: A couple of week ago I sustained a shoulder injury. I wouldn’t have minded so much except I was just walking up the stairs at home, stumbled and in the process I managed to tear a shoulder muscle. This injury is an ongoing problem for me and one that ripples down the entire length of my body. I know how to deal with it but it’s just plain annoying and has changed my pre-hike preparation plan.
Issue 2: COVID! I can get into Victoria now but need the restrictions on movement to be relaxed to be able to move freely and cross back into NSW. Things are looking up in Victoria as I write this post and pending any relapses, it’s looking like the border closures and crossings will be resolved allowing walkers to complete the journey. We are still 6.5 weeks off but we are getting there.
Issue 3: Fires. This is the big issue for this track and is likely to be what stops me and everyone else doing the walk prior to Christmas.
The closures in Victoria will remain an unknown until early November which is less than two weeks out from the start. As a ‘just in case’ I am arranging alternative hikes and boy is it difficult to find long distance hikes that aren’t effected by fires. It’s lucky I love to plan!
While I haven’t ruled out walking the Australian Alps Walking Track in 2020, its not looking good at the moment. There are a number of closed areas in nearly all of the Victorian Alpine Parks due to last summer’s fires and in particular, key areas that impact on the AAWT. The NSW parks are also an issue and while there has been some change to the areas of closure, I am as yet not convinced the changes I need will be in place in the next two months. The major issue is dangerous trees and given the sheer size of the area along the east coast that was impacted by the fires, the various parks services can only do so much to make the areas safe for hikers.
Getting up to date information is a challenge. I discovered that information on the closed areas is split across two seperate websites in regard to the Victorian National Parks whereas in NSW you don’t have to go searching. To me this has just highlighted the need for a dedicated track website more along the lines of what exists for the Bibbulmun Track or the Heysen Trail.
I am still hopeful and will keep an eye on things over the next 4-6 weeks to see where things land. I also have a request in with Parks Victoria about their expectations for the AAWT and am waiting to hear back from them.
While COVID is still an issue, I am banking on regional Victoria being open in another two months and the NSW/Victoria border being open but I’ll wait and see on that one as well.
One way or another, I will be hiking somewhere in mid November and have identified a few alternate long distance options that total just over 400 km that will keep me busy for about 2.5 weeks. My training and preparation is still on track regardless of which option I end up going with.
Given that the Australian Alps Walking Track takes in the Australian Alpine region you could be forgiven for thinking that water won’t be an issue on this track and in most cases you would be right. In 2019 I walked the 112 km section from Kiandra to Tharwa and based on my water expectations and my first hand experience over the previous five years; this turned out to be a mistake.
Ultimately what it comes down to is quality and quantity. Quantity wise while the main rivers and large streams along the 650+ km track are usually pretty reliable it’s the smaller creeks that you can’t be depended upon. Given my need to identify workarounds if I have any hope of doing this walk in late 2020, I now need to clearly identify where the water sources are likely to be when I go off trail. This trip, if it goes ahead, will be one where I top up frequently ‘just in case’.
Water quality is the other variable on the AAWT. Due to the large number of wild horses, the quality of the water in the Australian Alps is questionable and there is no way I would drink without filtering. On my 2019 taste test trip, I was forced on one occasion to drink water from a dam that could be best described as gelatinous cow saliva! I was very glad I was carrying a filter.
94 days to go until my planned start on the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). Over the past few weeks there has been some good news regarding track closures that provides a glimmer of hope in being able to do this trip this year. However this has raised an issue – am I a purist or am I a pragmatist?
As a purist I, and everyone else, will be unable to complete the AAWT for up to another 12-18 months because sections remain closed because of the summer fires. As a pragmatist I should be able to work with detours to create a single footpath from Victoria through to the ACT, albeit off-track, and technically not the AAWT. I’ve decided that I am a pragmatist at heart.
While I still have a lot more research to do, I am piecing together a picture of what this trip could look like. As an example, the AAWT in Namadgi National Park and the Bimberi Wilderness is still closed and will be for a long time but now that the northern reserves in the ACT are accessible, I can enter ACT through Brindabella National Park bypassing the closed areas and finishing at the town of Tharwa. Or if I’m really keen, the Namadgi visitor centre gate which is where the AAWT finishes anyway.
The one sticking point is COVID – something outside of my control. There is however, still hope.
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The Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) is by no means Australia’s longest trail, far from it. But what it lacks in distance it makes up for in complexity. Complexity in planning, complexity in logistics, complexity in navigation, and in many cases high degree of remoteness that means you can’t just pop into town when you feel like it.
Unlike other Australian long distance hiking trails, the AAWT isn’t a continuous footpath. This track consists of formed trails and management tracks, but there are also sections that are unmarked requiring you to follow a compass bearing, land formations and points of interest. The image for this post was just one example on the 112 km section of the AAWT from Kiandra to Tharwa that I did in 2019 to provide me with some background in planning the full trip. You definitely get a sense of the remoteness.
Over the past year one navigation aid has come to market for this trail that will make this trip much easier and that is the Guthook Guide navigation app. While this app has been around for a number of years, the AAWT wasn’t included but is now. I will still carry paper maps and a compass however this app is very helpful both in the planning phase (providing distance to the last/next campsite and elevation profiles) as well as on track (providing an extra degree of comfort, just in case you think you may have gone astray).
In addition to the Guthook app and paper maps, I will also carry a GPS. I’ll download the AAWT GPS file but in my case the GPS is more about logging my trip rather than for navigation. Similar to Guthooks, my GPS allows me to work out where I am so it will be a good backup.
Trying to walk the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) in 2020 was always going to be a gamble. As it stands there is still one section of the track that is closed with no detour in place, due to last summer’s bushfires. It will be this area, the Bimberi Wilderness Area, that will decide if I can walk the AAWT or not. From what I understand, I am unlikely to know whether this walk can go ahead until just a couple of weeks before my start date.
That brings me to Plan ‘B’. Never to be complacent in the planning department I have a series of alternate long distance hikes that combined, would replace my planned 26 day AAWT hike. The problem is that I’ve focused all my attention on Victoria; and then Covid 2.0 hit. Just when things looked like getting back to some semblance of normality, not once but at this stage twice. I expect that in four months time Victoria will be open for business again but who knows?
Although there’s a Plan ‘B’ I need to assume the worst which brings me to Plan ‘C’. I’m now working on planning options that don’t involve Victorian trails and that will keep me within NSW which should cater for all but a complete lockdown. It’s just lucky that I enjoy planning as I’m now either working on or finalising three sets of multi week plans involving a total of six trails of varying length including the AAWT!
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No matter what length of hike you plan on undertaking, fitness training should always be part of the preparation. Obviously the longer the distances and the bigger the daily duration, the more preparation you need to undertake. In addition each of us has unique physical needs dictated by our history. For me I have a partially crushed disc in my lower back, shoulder spurs and a calf injury that all combines to create ongoing issues that run the length of my body and that I know how to manage; it’s only when I don’t, that I have problems.
After getting off the Hume and Hovell Track in 2019 I had a long hard think about how I managed to do a 1000+ km thru hike on the Bibbulmun Track the year before without any problems but had major issues on a trail less than half the length. It took me a little while to identify the contributing factors but first and foremost was my lack of physical training.
In 2018 my preparation started eight months out because I had no frame of reference for my first long distance hike. I did everything I could to ensure I was physically fit. In 2019 complacency set in and I didn’t do anything other than my normal weekly fitness regime which was a dismal failure in preparing me for walking 20+ km per day.
Training for a long distance hike over multiple weeks where I average 32 km per day and aim at covering 200 km per week is a very different beast to training for a 100 km hike undertaken 0ver 5-10 days. For most people this type of hiking can be classed as extreme and falls into the endurance sport category given I burn up to 8,000 calories on really big days and average 5,800 calories/day over the duration of a trip. Training for a long distance hike needs to start months in advance, with a clearly defined set of goals to ensure that you peak just prior to the trip.
So in March 2020, eight months out from the proposed start for my Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) thru hike I started ramping up my physical preparation well in advance of the mid November start date; just in time for Covid to hit and impact my access to the gym. Luckily by that stage I was doing 5 km walk daily walks, a 90 minute cycle each week, and increasing my weight training based on what equipment I have at home. In addition I am also working on my flexibility and strength training (for more detail listen to podcast episode 032 where Joe Bonington discusses preparation for long hikes/adventure activities). The only missing piece, at least at this stage, is the ability to access a swimming pool which I find necessary to keep my back happy and healthy. Over the coming months I will start to do longer hikes including some 30 km days and around two months out (mid September) I will get serious about training with a loaded pack.
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At the time of publishing this post I’m now down to 150 days before the designated start day for my thru hike on the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). For me the planning isn’t the difficult bit however there are a number of concerns associated with this hike that in all honesty, I’m not sure can be overcome or that I have any control over.
Five months sounds like a long time but it really isn’t. We’ll see how I go!
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At the time of publishing this post I’m now down to 150 days before the designated start day for my thru hike on the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). For me the planning isn’t the difficult bit however there are a number of concerns associated with this hike that in all honesty, I’m not sure […]