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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 12: Mernmerna & Slaty

Sunday, May 15, 2016 – 16.99 km

I slept badly last night due to paranoia about mice/sleeping bag/tetanus shots – seeing a mouse scurrying down my bunk certainly didn’t help – and woke feeling weak and nauseous this morning. Unsure whether it’s because of the lack of sleep or something else. Maybe I need a tetanus shot?

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The HT was mostly creek walking on easy terrain today. Slaty Creek was striking with its high banks of ruddy slate.

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Slaty Creek

All day, my navigation was slightly off. I didn’t get lost, but I saw only a few trail markers aside from those that I was specifically looking for, so I kept wondering whether I was missing beautifully constructed single-track somewhere (lolno). The map states to be careful to note the direction when leaving Mernmerna Creek, and I agree that care is needed. I was specifically looking for the marker and I think it would have been easy to miss, but I was missing everything today, so who knows? Around point ‘B’ on the map the trail leaves Slaty Creek for what may or may not have been single-track, but I couldn’t find what the blazes I was supposed to be walking on, so I just bushwhacked for awhile. When I rejoined the creek, I mysteriously did so at the exact location of an HT marker, so there’s that.

Not a hard day of walking, but it felt hard since I was feeling sick. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow, since it’s a long haul to the next campsite-that-might-not-be-a-legitimate-campsite.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 11: Back to the Trail

Saturday, May 14, 2016 – 20 km

Leaving Hawker this morning, I returned to the Heysen via a ~6 km highway walk. It was pleasanter than your average highway walk, with minimal traffic and a flat gravel shoulder of 1-1.5 metres lining the road. Roadkill was scattered around generously though and I could have lived without the skill of being able to identify the scent of dead kangaroo flesh.

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Too few drivers paid attention to this road sign.

Upon rejoining the HT, I saw something amazing: footprints! Evidence of people actually walking the trail! They had been made when the ground was soft, so the timing seemed correct for them to have been left by the Aussie couple, but I won’t discount the possibility that other people are walking this thing.

I saw some paddy melons (Citrullus lanatus), not to be confused with the poisonous plant also called paddy melon (Cucumis myriocarpus) or pademelons (a type of wallaby). Legend has it that a Heysen thru-hiker once supplemented his diet with paddy melons and credited them for his completion of the trail. I would be nervous about eating a paddy melon by mistake instead of a paddy melon.

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A paddy melon.
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Lots of creek-walking today, but the creek was gentle, sandy/gravelly at first and then slightly rockier (and more scenic) but with flat open banks and animal trail. Cattle droppings were sprinkled around… cattle, my old nemesis… Ridiculous numbers of sheep droppings surrounded pools of water.

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The HT followed the creek all the way to Mayo Hut, which is scenically located on a high bank. Superstitious people might take issue with Mayo Hut because a pamphlet inside the journal box states that a man passed away here, but I (while wondering which bunk he died in) take more issue with a journal entry describing mice scurrying around inside someone’s sleeping bag. Anti-mouse food storage options included a plastic box and hooks for hanging food/packs; I hung everything. Nice sunset on this windy night.

Mice report: 0 mice seen, but great trepidation about the night

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 10: Rest Day #2

Friday, May 13, 2016

As the only tenter, I attracted attention and a couple invited me over to talk this morning. They turned out to be trail angels, generously giving me a spare headnet and pen, buying me dinner and offering to drive me to Quorn to get a gas canister (I refused the last). Thank you Susan and Ken! You’re amazing!

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In need of repair

Also today I repaired my tent, patching small holes in the groundsheet and fly and re-repairing a stuff sack that had torn again after my repairs to it on the Great Ocean Walk. I visited the only cafe in town to purchase a late lunch and a sandwich for tomorrow; the owner seemed cranky about making food even though I placed my order more than an hour before closing time. Don’t offer lunch so late if you don’t want to make it…

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 9: In Town

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I decided to rest for two days in Hawker. Despite being a tiny town with a population of around 300 people, Hawker contains a police station and hospital… not to jinx future hikers by mentioning that. The biggest tourist attraction is a panoramic painting of the view from St. Mary’s Peak in Wilpena Pound. I’m staying at the caravan park at the eastern edge of town, which is a few minutes’ walk from the western edge of town. It has a laundry, camp kitchen, pool and very friendly owners. Caravans are numerous – caravanning in Australia is popular and there’s a term, ‘grey nomads’, for retirees who spend the entire year caravanning – but I’m the only tenter.

I spent today completing camp chores: laundry, picking up my resupply package at the post office, and looking for canister fuel. The Friends’ website claims that canisters are plentiful at the general store, but the general store had none, and the place across the street (a combo visitor centre/store/service station?) only had monstrous 400+ ml canisters. I still have a small amount of gas left in my first canister, so I decided to pack in a sandwich for one supper and rely on my remaining gas for the other two suppers. Bought a container of ice cream ❤

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The outlets in the laundry room/kitchen are slow at charging my phone.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 8: Back to Civilization

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 – 9.84 km

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My original plan for today was to hike from Mt. Elm Campsite to Jarvis Hill Trailhead, then begin the next section of the HT along Yourambulla Ridge before entering Hawker for resupply/rest via the next exit point. That plan was based on the fact that I wanted to walk the ridge, and if I walked it during the next leg I would have a 30 kilometre day.

However. The Heysen hasn’t been harder than expected, but it’s been harder on my body than expected, and my muscles were threatening revolt if I started along some dodgy ridge. Therefore I sadly took the hit and headed directly into Hawker from Jarvis Hill TH, an easy road walk nonetheless bothersome because of my poor abused muscles. I was consoled by the fact that as I was leaving the trailhead, five cars pulled up and a noisy crowd piled out and started up the trail.

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Road to Hawker

Five days alone isn’t really that long, but it’s long enough to get accustomed to not thinking about whether there’s something on your face, or how to structure your thoughts into sentences comprehensible to other people, and so on. I remember being backpacking-culture-shocked and relieved to get to Patagonia after those first days on the AZT, and kind of ‘okay whatever, will no longer talk to Piney’ about seeing people after five days alone in the Mazatzals, but this time I actively felt that I didn’t want to see anyone. I’m blaming it on months of living in hostels – the trail gave me a space of my own and a sense of ownership over my surroundings. I should probably start renting an apartment for my mental health. Or just, you know, become a trail bum. Let’s go with that.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 7: Historical Fences

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 – 16.14 km

The weather improved overnight and the sky was clear in the morning. Today’s hiking was a mix of roadwalking, fence-walking (am I confusing people with this term? Maybe I should say fence-following), and a small amount of cross-country probably following some historical fence. A higher elevation section before the trail turned east towards Mt. Elm Campsite offered nice views.

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The campsite is located in a forest that’s somewhat sparse around the actual area you’re supposed to camp in, but there’s no wind tonight for my first time on the HT. I thought to myself that it’s amazing how quiet the countryside can be. And then I moved around on my Neoair. Crinkle crinkle.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 6: HGTTG

Monday, May 09, 2016 – 19.03 km

Today’s weather was the same as yesterday’s, but the walk was less exposed and didn’t present much difficulty other than the mud. A tiny bit of single track (rare!), preceded fence-walking and roadwalking through hilly country.

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Calabrinda Creek Campsite was bizarrely located on an exposed hilltop. A ridge in one direction may have offered shelter were the wind blowing from that direction, but the wind had other ideas and was blowing with massive force from elsewhere. My journal notes get curt and grumpy here: ‘Setting up tent massive effort and didn’t get groundsheet on. Will not be able to sleep. Didn’t want to cook but did’. I had to place my pack and several rocks inside my tent before inserting the tent poles, otherwise pitching it would have been impossible. I kept remembering the words of Arthur Dent: ‘I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle’.

I noticed that the outhouse didn’t stink, so I glanced into the toilet. Gross I know, but I must report that THERE WAS NOTHING THERE. NO ONE HAD USED THE TOILET SINCE THE LAST TIME IT WAS EMPTIED. This may reflect a combination of ‘badly located campsite’ and ‘no one hikes the HT ever’. Today is my fourth day in a row without encountering people.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 5: Safety Pins

Sunday, May 08, 2016 – 22.05 km

I woke up at 10:00 PM, 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, and rain was pouring down every time. My tent floor soaked through beneath my air mattress, but nothing else got wet. The downpour continued through breakfast and I knew that today’s walking would involve exposure in traversing Mt. Arden, so I considered whether to take a rest day or leave later and stealth camp somewhere. The next designated campsite was 22 km away and I didn’t trust my ability to cover that distance quickly on the HT (I’m scarred for life from the stream-walking yesterday). I was bored by 8:30 AM though (so quick!) and the rain had petered away to drizzle, so I packed up my wet tent and left.

Soon after the campsite, a big red arrow pointed in the wrong direction. Ignore the arrow. The trail climbed out of the forest into terrible wind that rushed up the mountainside in big gusts of rain and mist. I considered turning back – I hadn’t seen anyone on the HT since the first day, so no one would be popping up to help me stave off hypothermia if I broke an ankle – but I was warm despite being wet and the walking was mostly on road, so I continued.

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On Mt. Arden

After wild winds on Tasmania’s Overland Track, I bought safety pins to secure my pack cover using the bottom loops on the cover and the mesh back of my Exos. Today was the first chance I’ve had to test it, and it worked great.

As the exposed section of trail stretched on and on, I got used to the misery of walking in wet and windy weather, though I regretted missing the views. My boots were soaked through, my socks were sodden and I felt a blister forming.

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Finally the trail descended out of the wind and followed markers along a hill to easy stream-walking along a pebbly streambed. It’s amazing how good cruddy weather feels after extraordinarily cruddy weather. There were puddles but the creek wasn’t running, as per usual for this area. I saw wallabies, but not the yellow-footed wallabies that are supposed to live in Buckaringa Gorge. To be honest, I’m not a fan of wallabies or kangaroos. There’s something bizarre about how they hop around, don’t @ me.

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After the creek came a dirt road. Walking on the road was actually harder than the stream-walking since my boots got weighted down by mud. The rain finally stopped though and flies emerged from the ether as soon as a single beam of sunlight poked through the clouds.

I managed to dry my tent floor and set it up sans-footprint on the platform at Buckaringa North Campsite, which is located in a forest near a road. Creepy scenery, but pretty sunset.

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Drying out my tent at Buckaringa North.
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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 4: Mapfail

Saturday, May 07, 2016 – 11.87 km

I only hiked 11.87 km today… and it was exhausting. Let me start by explaining something about the HT maps: the HT is represented by a thick blue line transposed over another line showing you whether the route uses 4wd track, road, walking trail or no path at all. The rules for when there’s actual ‘trail’ seem generous; for example, whenever the HT follows a fence, it’s marked as following a walking trail even though there’s often no distinguishable path to walk on. So when I say, ‘TODAY THE MAP WAS LIES’, rather than really being lies, it’s just that ‘what is and is not walking trail’ is defined in a way that would seem bizarre to most hikers and the majority of rational and non-rational human beings everywhere.

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The map classified today’s HT as being mostly walking trail, but a large chunk was actually ‘follow creek’. ‘Follow rocky creek through beautiful gorge with very difficult rocky terrain’. There were hundreds of goat trails appearing and meandering and vanishing, so maybe they’re what the map was referring to when it claimed there was walking trail, but animal trails aren’t useful when you don’t know what’s going to get you further along the gorge as opposed to standing at the top of a cliff and considering how to get down (the classic hiking ‘oh, it was an animal trail’ scenario).

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The trail.
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More trail.

A friendly portion of 4wd track followed many kilometres of creek-following, then the trail switched back to creek-following but the banks were low with actual trail to follow. I saw evidence of camping – it looked like the post-4wd track section is walked by more people. Ironically, the part with usable trail isn’t marked as having trail on the map. So you have an initial section with a number of relatively useless goat trails, and it’s marked as trail, then a section with a defined path that humans use and can actually be followed, and that’s not marked as trail. The moral of this story: assume that nothing marked as walking trail on the HT maps is actually walking trail. You may be pleasantly surprised and you’ll never think ‘ugh, I wish that I had left camp two hours earlier instead of lazing around eating Nutella’.

The cloudy sky splattered rain that was instantly absorbed into the ground and air. I smelled wet goat and it was bad, man. It’s simultaneously pleasing and distressing when something on the trail smells worse than you. The flies dwindled and had mostly disappeared by 2:00 PM. They liked my pack cover and remained sitting on it even while I took breaks, though maybe they were just sluggish because of the cold.

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Fly hotel

It looked like no one had camped at Mt. Arden South in years and I had to clear a spot. The shelter has a shelf to place items on, but no bench and it isn’t large enough to camp beneath. In the dark I saw a kangaroo and a huge moth with eyes that glowed in the light of my headlamp. The moth ended up getting between my tent fly and the tent. Things I don’t want between my tent fly and the tent: flies and huge moths with glowing eyes.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 3: Flies

Friday, May 06, 2016 – 16.22 km

Some excerpts from today’s journal notes:

‘Terrible flies, shouldn’t they land on animal crap somewhere, failure as flies’
‘Flies terrible!!! 100 at once. Piggyback on backpack.’
‘Flies miserable. Almost insufferable but haven’t committed suicide.’
‘Flies inside tent – happy to be two centimetres from eyes until made to be two centimetres from eyes.’
‘Flies disappear with darkness.’

And no, I don’t take many notes. 60% of today’s notes were about flies.

Anyway, the HT followed a road before turning onto a dry, rocky streambed. Progress was slow, but the gorge was beautiful.

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I saw feral goats – two cute kids and mother and one that looked injured.

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Feral goats

Eventually the trail veered away, climbing for awhile before descending to a plain and following fences across flat ground with nice views of the ridges.

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The campsite, Eyre Depot, consists of a small shelter with rainwater tank and a lovely albeit exposed flat spot for tents. Supposedly the tank is less reliable than the two nearby, but it currently contains water. There’s no one else here, and I saw no one on the trail today – the rest of my time in Australia has been filled with company, so having some solitude is nice.

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I must elaborate on (whine about) the flies. I own a headnet but didn’t bring it because I never imagined that the flies could be as numerous as they are. New ones kept latching on as I walked today, compiling into 100+ by the time I arrived at the campsite. I tried to urge myself to serenity by thinking of that Troll 2 actor (‘OH MY GODDDDD’) but it’s hard when the flies get near my nose or mouth, and a few times I became so annoyed that I had to sit with my hands over my face. The weather is supposed to cool down tomorrow, so hopefully that will help.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 2: Day 1

Thursday, May 05, 2016 – 17.86 km

I left the pub around 7:00 this morning, realized after walking several blocks that I still had my room key, and scurried back to slip it under the locked door. I chose to view this incident as ‘Discovered mistake so quickly! 🙂 ‘ rather than ‘Blatant incompetence before hike has even started 😦 ‘.

An initial bout of road-walking westwards from Quorn transformed into fence-walking with pointless ups and downs. One could technically contour across the landscape, but it’s private property. The pastoral scenery was pretty in the morning light, though.

I reached Dutchman’s Stern Conservation Park, where the Dutchman’s Stern hike (~6 km) intersects with the HT. I highly recommend it – the views were amazing and the best scenery all day.

View from Dutchman's Stern
View from Dutchman’s Stern

I slackpacked by leaving my pack at the second junction and returning to the first junction along the Dutchman’s Stern trail.

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I ended the day at Dutchman’s Hut. It’s posh, with a microwave, kettle and flush toilet! And rat traps, but a microwave, kettle and flush toilet! It shares the property with other buildings, I think a private residence and some sort of B&B. The rainwater tanks had plenty of water.

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Dutchman’s Hut

The Aussie couple I met on the bus to Quorn arrived an hour after I did, and we talked about gear, trail food and trails. They’ve hiked the Bibbulmun Track and also the Larapinta, which is on my to-do list. No one else arrived tonight, and the Aussies are heading back to Quorn tomorrow, so I’ll have the next section of trail to myself.

Rat report: 0 rats seen.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen 1: Logistics

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The primary resource for HT hikers is the Friends of the Heysen Trail and Other Walking Trails’ website. Currently it’s not 100% accurate (for instance, the transport listings need updating and one of the links leads to someone’s unrelated blog) but it contains useful information about trail towns, campsites and the trail itself. Camping is at designated sites with rainwater tanks. The water levels in the tanks aren’t monitored (where’s a Fred Gaudet when you need him?) and I couldn’t coax the Friends or any government official into saying whether the tanks ‘usually’ have water or ‘sometimes’ have water, etc. I suppose they don’t want to be responsible for a hiker underestimating water requirements. As for other water sources, the most information I could pry out of them was ‘Pigeon Bore requires a lot of pumping’. Take note! Because that’s all I have for you!

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Adorable statuary in Adelaide

For resupply, I mailed two resupply boxes from Adelaide, one to the post office in Hawker and and one to the Wilpena Pound visitor centre. Public transport up north is expensive: $85 to Quorn from Adelaide with Genesis Tour & Charter, and $140 return to Adelaide. The buses are infrequent, running once per week or twice if there’s enough demand. Another option for getting to Quorn is to take a bus to Port Augusta and ride the train from there, also infrequent and expensive. I chose the bus and met two other hikers on it, an Australian couple. They’re hiking to the first campsite after Quorn, then leaping up to Hawker.

In Quorn I’m staying at the Criterion Hotel/Motel, which I would recommend. It’s a pub with private rooms for only $35 (shared bathroom, soap and shampoo and coffee/tea provided). The owner said ‘let me see what I have available…’ but I’m the only person here. The hallway is silent as death and I’m stealing all the water from the pitcher.

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Heysen Trail

The Heysen Trail: Introduction

Located in the lovely land of South Australia, the Heysen Trail extends for 1200 kilometres (more or less) from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge Road. Scenery includes the Flinders Ranges, the hilly country around Adelaide and a chunk of coastline, with the route crossing both public and private land. The trail itself contains some single track, but is mostly a mix of directives like ‘follow creek’, ‘follow fence’ and ‘follow road’.

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Along the Larapinta

I discovered the Heysen on Wikipedia, as so many good things are discovered, and found it alluring for several reasons:

1. I wanted to see the Flingers Ranges, which is why I’ve chosen to start with the Quorn to Parachilna section (about 245 km, a nice experiment for my foot, which I injured after completing the Arizona Trail).

2. It sounded challenging in terms of navigation and terrain (a guy came up to me when I was looking at a map in Adelaide and said DON’T DO IT, IT WILL KILL YOU), and I wanted a challenge for my wits and a break from the more commercial hiking environment of the Australian hikes I’ve done so far. For example: On the Great Ocean Walk, two (perfectly lovely) slackpackers were being met by a tour operator at the campgrounds, most of which you could drive to. He brought/set up their tents, cooked, etc. The first time I arrived at camp, they had set up two camping chairs between the wooden benches and table inside the shelter for hikers. I didn’t feel like another hike where people, however lovely, set up their camping chairs, literally or metaphorically, inside the shelters.

More extreme example: The Tasmanian government has developed a 4-day hike that you can walk for the low price of $495. You wouldn’t think that anyone would need convincing that this is ludicrously expensive, but a number of people have tried to defend this price to me by saying ‘a Port Arthur pass is included, boat trip included, nice huts, etc.’. Of course the retort is, it’s a hike and why should those things be included for any purpose other than to inflate the price? I’m not saying that glamping and/or the principle of making hikes as easy as possible to appeal to a different crowd is ‘wrong’ on any level other than my own preference. It’s just different and we all want our own crowd to be appealed to.

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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

If you’re thinking of walking the Heysen, there are a few things you should know immediately:

1. You need the maps.
2. The maps lie.

Let the journal begin!