Our AAWT adventure began with quite a bang: within 24 hours we had been snowed on, leeched, worried that our stove was broken and had had to filter mosquito larvae out of our drinking water! This was clearly not a journey for the faint-hearted.
While we knew that snow down to 1000m was forecast, neither of us really expected quite as much as we actually got. What started as sleet as we walked into Mt Erica carpark on Wednesday afternoon, set in as a soft and substantial fall overnight at Mushroom Rocks (1200m) and continued for most of the next morning. Walking up Mt Erica and beyond was therefore like walking through a pristine winter wonderland with the crunch of boots on powder, the ferns and scrub happy to shake off their loads as we pushed through them. It was very beautiful but also cold. We had a few rays of sunlight at times, but basically we were cold whenever we weren’t moving or in the tent that second day. We set up the tent in the snow and cooked only slightly sheltered by the Whitelaw chimney ruins. It really made us appreciate the sun and the privilege of warm feet.
And the stove. Fortunately the issue turned out to be the fuel intake tube being positioned the wrong way around so that it was sucking on air once the level was a little reduced. This was soon fixed, meaning that we didn’t have to go a second cold night without a hot drink.
The snow started melting on our third day as we also descended beyond its reach. We had never been past Whitelaw’s in this area before so this was where we entered into new territory – somewhat apprehensive about what we had read about fallen logs and potential difficulty in navigation. There was certainly a lot of clambering under and over involved in this section of the route, as well as the detangling of feet from bark lassoos and gleeful spying of the next AAWT marker. We were quite awestruck by the devastation wrought to these almighty forests, not just fire but by the removal of nearby wind barriers in the form of logging coupes.
Although our original plan had been to camp at Stronach’s Camp, retaining our ‘lead’ on ourselves seemed useful as it would allow us to rethink some of the bigger days imminent that I had been quite worried about. We therefore camped our third night at Thomson’s River Camp: the first of three river camps we did in this section of the walk. All three rivers proved straightforward to cross (knee deep only) and were delightful in terms of water quality and opportunity to freshen up. Indeed, we did the first of many small bags of washing here, using a ‘Scrubba’, castille soap and a bit of cord between trees. I hadn’t been certain that we would have time to do this so was very pleased that we did. You don’t expect to be completely clean on a hike, but throughout this one we did manage to wash out underthings quite regularly and have a splash ourselves.
The walk on from Thomson’s was probably our first taste of how brutal the AAWT can be. Mt Easton isn’t a famous peak, nor a particularly high nor beautiful one. There aren’t any views to speak of. The gravel track simply goes straight up it like a savage scar – and then down it again. We groaned and hauled ourselves up it, stopping every 50m or so to let our heartbeats return to safe levels and to take a few mouthfuls of all the water we’d had to lug for this express purpose. Over the next few days, we did the same for Mt Victor and Mt Shillinglaw as well, not to forget most of Mt Skene. The climbing itself wasn’t much fun. However there were some lovely forest stretches within and between this, lots of wildflower, bird and lizard life and the occasional glimpsed view. We really enjoyed reading the interpretives around Blue and Red Jacket and Fiddler’s Green and thinking about those who had lived and mined there not really so long ago. It was also nice, when the sun began to emerge properly later in the week, to just feel a bit of that again after being so cold. For the whole of that first week, we encountered no-one but a few 4WD’ers, dirt bike riders and one mountain biker, some of whom we exchanged waves with but none of whom any meaningful words.