In my previous post I discussed my choice for heading north when I start my thru hike on the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). This one key choice now allows me to plan the rest of my trip with the next key consideration being ‘when to hike’.
Long distance hiking trails in Australia fall into three main categories. Those that can be walked year round, those that can only be walked at certain times of the year because the trails may be closed, and those that can be walked year round but really shouldn’t unless you make some serious planning and logistical considerations. The AAWT is one of those in between trails; it can be walked year round but as far as the majority of hikers go, probably shouldn’t be walked in mid winter. Some people can and do walk the AAWT in mid-winter but you need to have serious snow experience and winter survival skills to do it safely. Walking in mid-summer means you are exposed to high temperatures, high UV, and you may be impacted by bushfires.
Over the past six years I have read and researched all I can find on the AAWT as well as walking various parts of the northern end of the track. What is very apparent is that most people seem to walk the AAWT in two main windows. The first being from late October through to mid-December (e.g. Spring to early Summer), and the second is from March through to mid-April (e.g. Autumn). Both of these windows provide different challenges.
Anecdotally, most people walk the AAWT in the Spring-early Summer window. During this period there is potential to be impacted by snow and over the past few years I have seen instances where we have had snow in early December on the higher sections of the trail. Even if the majority of snow has gone, you are highly likely to have snow drifts you will need to cross on the high sections of the alps so you need to factor this in to your planning. The Spring window will have good water availability from the Spring snow melt, but this can also mean that some river crossings may involve you getting wetter than you had planned. I try to avoid getting wet where I can but at this time of the year it’s harder to avoid.
One other potential negative for picking this time of the year is the snake activity. I know from personal experience in sections of the AAWT I have walked that during late Spring and early Summer there are likely to be a much greater degree of snake activity. Given this track involves walking through remote areas, sometimes through long grass off-track, I expect to come across snakes; it’s a given. I usually don’t wear gaiters when I hike but on this track they will form part of my standard kit. A very big bonus of this time of the year are the wildflowers.
Choose the Autumn window and you may struggle with water availability away from the main streams and rivers. When I hiked a 112 km section of the AAWT from Kiandra to Tharwa in April 2019, water sources that had consistently provided me with water over a number of years, had dried up leaving only the main streams and rivers.
Snow again can be a problem in the Australian Alps and this year we had heavy snowfalls in mid April in the high country. Having said that, sections of the AAWT are still closed due to the Summer bushfires.
And the winner is?
In my case I have opted for the Spring window and have my start date at 14 November 2020. I have three reasons for my decisions:
In an ideal world, I would have prefered to start walking in the last week in October but given some pre-existing commitments, I am starting three weeks later than I would have liked.
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The Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) travels approximately 680 km from Walhalla, Victoria, with the northern end of the trail located in Tharwa, on the southern outskirts of Canberra.
Amongst the many decisions that need to be made for this, or any other walk, is direction of travel. From a planning perspective this choice, as simple as it sounds, cascades on to just about every other decision you make including camping locations, food drops, transport and even distances travelled per day.
I recently published an article on choosing travel direction called Walking Home: a creature of habit where I outlined my reasons for choosing travel direction on a hike and in my case I am definitely a creature of habit. In regard to my 2020 AAWT trip I’ll be starting in Walhalla, Victoria and heading in a northerly direction.
I have two key reasons for this decision. First and foremost walking towards home, in my case Canberra, makes sense psychologically. It just feels right waking up each day knowing that I’m progressively getting closer and closer to home. Secondly, from a transport perspective it would have been so much easier to leave from Canberra; getting an uber/taxi to the trailhead from home is relatively easy and inexpensive but finishing in the south raises return transport challenges particularly if I finish early or late. In all honesty, I would be living my version of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Starting at the Walhalla trailhead is still a public transport challenge so, to facilitate my northward journey, Gill will drop me off at the trailhead, minimising my travel time by about ½ a day. While I have contingency days up my sleeve, I’d prefer not to use them getting to the trailhead.
So northward it is!
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Each year I try to walk a long distance hiking trail for my main annual holiday. Sometimes I do this solo and other times with my wife Gill. For Gill her decision to walk with me tends to be based on several factors that include the length of the hike. As a rule, her preference is around the 2½ week timeframe – she says there are so many other things she could be doing after that – so anything longer than 2½ weeks and I am on my own.
Walking solo as opposed to walking with others is a very different beast. It forces you to look inwards, to be self-reliant, and to be comfortable with long periods of solitude. For many hikers spending multiple days or even weeks by themselves in the middle of nowhere isn’t high on their list.
In November of this year, 206 days away to be exact, I am planning to commence my solo hike on the 680(ish) km Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). The AAWT starts in Victoria, travels through NSW, and finishes in the ACT, travelling through Australia’s alpine regions. The AAWT is by no means Australia’s longest trail, not by a longshot, but it is classed as one of the more technical walking tracks. This track can be impacted by snow for up to eight months of the year, is affected by bushfires in some years, involves travelling in remote parts of Australia’s high country, and the availability of water can be a bit sketchy. So, you need to plan and pay attention. In addition, there are some sections in open country that are off trail and as such, the ability to navigate is more crucial on this track.
As I write this post, we are in the middle of the Coronavirus crisis and #stayhome. Depending on where you live in Australia, the ability to travel remotely has been greatly curtailed for all but essential purposes. I am an optimist at heart and I am assuming that by the time I intend to start this walk towards the end of this year, travel restrictions will have been relaxed. Not to put all my eggs in one basket, I’m making alternate plans just in case.
My usual lead into a long distance hike happens in discrete stages. Stage one starts a couple of years out as I decide what hike I will be doing and I do general reading to familiarise myself with the chosen trail. If possible, I will walk a smaller section of the trail and in the case of the AAWT, I walked the 112 km section from Kiandra to Tharwa over Easter 2019. It was an enjoyable walk and confirmed some concerns I had, but also provided some clarity on what was required for me to do this track.
Stage two is where I am now and usually starts around six months out. This is where the detailed planning occurs and over the last ten days, I have done a fair chunk of my logistical planning. I have booked my leave at work, set out my first draft of my daily schedule, arranged my transport requirements, and completed my detailed food list. In addition to logistical considerations I am also ramping up my fitness training. Over the next few months I will review my gear – I have several items due to be replaced purely based on the logistical and environmental requirements specific to this track.
Over the coming months I will post updates at key stages and more frequently as I get closer to the start date. As usual, I will be podcasting during this walk but I have yet to work out what that looks like given the remoteness and potential for lack of connectivity.
If we all do the right thing now, my planning won’t be wasted. I look forward to sharing this trip with you.
Each year I try to walk a long distance hiking trail for my main annual holiday. Sometimes I do this solo and other times with my wife Gill. For Gill her decision to walk with me tends to be based on several factors that include the length of the hike. As a rule, her preference […]