Hume and Hovell Report – Part One

Hume and Hovell Track – Yass to Albury – 440km – 24 July 2010

“For the sake of those who bear my name, I should wish it to be held in remembrance as that of one who, with small opportunities but limited resources did what he could for his native land.”  Hamilton Hume – Australian Explorer

Running & Planning the Hume & Hovell

Planning our run on the Hume & Hovell was done in two parts, with three days in January and another four days over Easter required to scope out the entire trip.  Unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to work and wedding plans, so Terry and Darrel took charge with the help of friends.  Knowing the track and our daily distance targets would be critical for any successful attempt in July 2010.

The Recce – Part 1 January 2010

Day 1

A nice way to start with thunder and rain for the first leg – Cooma Cottage to Burrinjuck Dam totalling 52 kilometres of easy running.  A team of four included Martin, Terry, Joel and Darrel who were all excited to be getting under way and hoping to have some fun.

Day 2

Martin, Terry and Darrel jumped onto the water taxi at 6:45am for the Burrinjuck to Bossawa leg.  Another 52 kilometre section, which turned out to be a great day with plenty of climbing, views and jokes.

Day 3

Joel, Terry, Martin and Darrel started the last leg from Bossawa to Tumut Highway, which measured around 46 kilometres.  It was great running in the morning and in the afternoon 20 kilometres of hills and paddocks.  Finished the 3 days with 150 kilometres completed.

The Recce – Part 2 Easter 2010

We decided to use Laurel Hill Lodge as a base camp for the 4 days, which turned out to be a great choice with great people.  It was the perfect running base with 3 separate bedrooms and a big open dining area.

Day 1

Starting at Tumut Highway we set off around 6:00am and had an easy 6 kilometres of tar sealed road which led onto a fire trail winding through the valley. Day one saw us cover 53kms.

Day 2

Keith and Terry started around 6.00am with a big day ahead seeking to cover 68 kilometres including plenty of climbing as well.  Darrel was surprised at how well the boys looked after a big day.  Great effort.

Day 3

Keith and Darrel had an early start commencing at 4:30am.  They headed off and made good time through the river flats of Tumbarumba creek.  After the first crew stop Keith swapped with Terry who completed the remaining distance to give a total of 70 kilometres for the day and a brief game of cricket.

Day 4

Terry and Darrel had arranged to meet Warwick Hull and his son for the last section.  They met around 6:00am and set off at a nice easy pace.  There was plenty of talk on the way to the first stop which was at the old Tin Mines site.  The last 20 km’s was pretty easy and Terry decided to leave the old guys to ponder what it would be like to be 30 again.  Day 4 was completed with plenty of energy and 43 kilometres done, making 234km for the long weekend.

The lead up

We may have been prepared for the main task – that of running the full 440km.  However, it was the small things that were posing some issues on Friday as we drove towards Yass readying ourselves for what lay ahead.  First of all our accommodation for the first night of running had fallen through, no worries we were kindly pointed in the direction of a new roof over our head for the night (barely).  Darrel was still coming to terms with the trailer we had hired for the trip.  Driving out of Sydney he looked in the rear view mirror and remarks “Jeez that car behind us is bloody close, oh it’s just the trailer phew”.  Right.  Moving on.

Darrel came through Sydney picking me up first at Balmoral and then onto Maroubra to pick up Terry.  The trailer was already looking pretty full without adding any food or crew gear.

After a quick lunch of hamburgers, chips, scallops, Powerade, Fanta, Coke and ice-cream we arrived in Yass mid-afternoon.

Priorities for the afternoon were centred on purchasing our running food for the week. Almost $500, 2 checkout operators and the biggest trolley I’ve ever seen later, we were on our way.  We also encountered the famous flapjack slice which would accompany us on our way through to Albury.

With the shopping done we visited the grave of Hamilton Hume on the outskirts of town as a mark of respect and to gain further insight into his life.  All three of us quietly pondered what lay ahead over the course of the next week as we looked out onto endless rolling hills, soaring eagles and a clear blue sky.

When we arrived back at the house to finalise packing Darrel commented that I was the “least organised most over organised person he knows” it provided him great delight watching me faff around  packing boxes, while he just tosses his gigantic bags of lollies into his bag and yells out “that’s done.”

Darrel had mentioned on the way that he had brought along porridge to have for breakfast each morning before running.  We’d made sure to buy extra at Woolworths so we would have enough for other runners.  Back at the house Terry and I soon discovered Darrel had not just packed porridge for “breakfast”.  Everywhere we turned there was another one of Darrel’s containers or bottles or boxes with a stash of Oats in it.  We were in stitches, even an innocent looking drink bottle was yet another “Oat safe”.  I’m not sure whether Darrel thought we were going to be out there for 3 months or whether he was paranoid Terry and I would be into his oats early so he had to hide them in 43 different jars and locations.  Perhaps they were magic Oats?

We had a big dinner at the local pub, said hello to Sue, the caretaker of Cooma Cottage who promised us unconvincingly that she would be up at 2am to see us off.

Back to the room for a couple of hours sleep, Dan and Gareth came in and the rest of us tried to get some nervous last minute sleep before the big day ahead.

Darrel was up first at 12:45am.  We were up and out the door quickly and parked outside Cooma Cottage with about 15 minutes to spare.  I stayed in the car shivering.  Rick from the National Heritage Society arrived to see us off and take some pictures for the local paper.  At 2am, under a full moon and a sky packed bursting with stars we set off.

Terry was in a good place, he felt blank but was excited and the early running though Yass and onto Black Ranges Road felt easy.  Darrel was worried, he knew it was a long way having previously trained on the course.  I thought our early pace along the flat road stretches was a bit quick and called out every time another kilometre went by at sub 6 minute pace.  It’s easy to run fast early, our goal was to make sure we could still run after covering the equivalent distance of over 10 marathons.

As usual on most early morning runs you come across the only other people who are out and about – drunks coming home from the pub.  A couple of young blokes in an old Commodore were keen to ask us what we were doing as we ran through the local streets.  I’m still not sure they believed us when we told them.

Moving off the bitumen roads and onto the gravel roads of the Black Range Road, the moon was full and we had an entire paddock of cattle stampeding across the paddock next to us for ‘safety’ as we ran by for the next kilometre or so.  All the way along the track, cattle would follow us or stalk us in the belief that we held the keys to a fresh grass filled paddock or a tractor load of feed.  In truth they could probably smell Darrel’s pockets and were seeking out some Oats.

Our planned first crew stop was to be around 6am and 32km in at the Captain Campsite.  Unfortunately an “alarm malfunction” back at the house meant that Dan and Gareth weren’t quite on time.  This wasn’t problem as we were running straight along a gravel road for the next couple of hours and they would find us eventually.  The crew arrived 10 minutes late, and we all filled up with food and water for the next 21km leg to Lake Burrinjuck, with Dan joining us to run the next leg.

It was funny watching Dan fresh off his Gold Coast marathon PB try and find a comfortable “ultra marathon shuffle”.  Even funnier were the brand new white Nike Free road shoes he was wearing.  All of us in our dirty trail shoes were looking for a big mud puddle for Dan to christen them in.

The smooth gravel road of the Black Ridge soon turned into rocky fire trails as we passed Carrols Creek and shortly after this, the stunning Lake Burrinjuck started to appear in the distance down in the valley.  We cruised well along here and some of the warm night layers were soon removed with the group keeping up an excellent pace.  We found ourselves on a superb single track for the remaining 7km run into the Burrinjuck Nature reserve where we would tick off the first 53km of the run.  The last few hundred metres were treacherous as Darrel decided that the “road closed / Bridge under repair” signs were merely a suggestion and we tight rope walked 5 metres across the exposed beams of a bridge that looked like it had been put in by Hume and Hovell themselves.

Arriving just before our scheduled water taxi to take us across the Lake, we had another crew stop where some of us filled up with sausage rolls and Powerade.  As the boat only seated four including the driver it was time to say goodbye to the crew and head off on our own for the next 27km.

The boat ride was the only way across the Lake and was good fun, giving us a chance to think about what really lay ahead now after having run with the other guys all morning.  The last 53km would be the easiest of the trip and it was now time to really get stuck in with the three of us on our own and the 400 odd kilometres in front of us.  The lake was glassy and smooth yet we were bouncing up and down like there was a 3 metre swell, we put it down to the weight of the boat and the number of sausage rolls put away at the last crew stop.

First of all we needed to find a location for the boat to drop us on the other side of the lake so we could rejoin the track.  None of us wanted cold wet feet so early in the trip so after a few false landings aborted due to large rocks preventing the boat landing we found a deep grassy spot and jumped off thanking the driver.  It was at this time the driver realised he didn’t have the outboard engine fully extended in the water and that was the reason for the rough ride.  We were thrilled to have worked this out just as we disembarked, warm in the knowledge that our driver would have a smooth ride back to the boat ramp.

The next 20km into Wee Jasper were relatively straightforward as we passed through farmland filled with sheep, kangaroos, wombats and a Park Ranger who had come to check on us.  He caught us on an up slope which we were walking to conserve energy.  As he passed he told us jokingly “we should be running” before wishing us well and he headed off to drop the satellite phone we had arranged at the nights’ accommodation spot.

Soon after passing through Wee Jasper we took the right hand turn towards the summit of Mt Wee Jasper.  The next couple of hours would be spent climbing from an elevation of 350m up to 700m only to then drop back to 350m as we crossed another valley before working our way up to the 1,121m summit of Mt Wee Jasper.  This was a moderately difficult climb but it was the main task of the day so we got stuck in and headed up and up and enjoyed the change of scenery from rolling sunny paddocks to tall dense forest.

Once at the top we attempted to sign the log book, but without a pen we scribbled on it with a stick.  We were curious to see the names of John and Lyn Daly who were on the summit only days earlier.  The Daly’s are guide-book authors, and I had only recently been in contact with them purchasing a couple of copies of their Australian Alpine Walking Track books for a future run.  We agreed with their comment that the Hume and Hovell Track is a great and very underrated track.

We had 5km to make it to the Log Bridge campsite which was to be our stopping point for the day.  As we descended to 3 km from this point we were met by Matt, Martin and Dan who had run out to meet us.  This was always a huge lift and we ran well through the mixture of tall pine and native forests to an obscure logging road on the edge of the track.

We had covered the days planned total of 80.2km in 12 hours and with all of us feeling good, it was an easy decision to push on a further 9km pass Pompeys Pillar to 4 trees road, yet another obscure logging road.  This section was all single track with a large amount of blackberries, slippery rocks and it was quite cold under the canopy of the dense forest above us.  Running next to us along this section about 10 metres below was Pompey Pillar Creek and the mist off the many water drops and rocks was cold and made the rocks we were running on even more slippery.  This was a bit of a slog through here, the scenery was great, but it was getting later in the day.  The extra 9km today though would provide us with greater options on the upcoming days and the terrain would have been very difficult to negotiate at 2am the next morning where the rocks would have been icy and the valley air even colder.

Just on dusk we emerged from the thick forest very happy with our 89km total for the day and keen to get in the car and back to the accommodation for the night which was an hour away at the Shearers Quarters at Wee Jasper reserve.

The crew had already put a bbq on for us, which was much appreciated and meant we could unpack and repack our running gear, sort out our beds for the night and stretch.  Darrel had the additional task of re-planning the next day’s run as we were now ahead of the planned crew stops.  This was to be repeated each day and Terry and I owe Darrel and the crew a huge amount of thanks for being so flexible and accommodating with the schedule.  Even after the next days plans were put in place with a 3am departure and 4am start I stuck my head around the corner and gave Darrel the signal – it was now going to be a 2am departure and a 3am start.  Soon after was the first crew mutiny, whilst they were ready for some crazy stunts waking up at 1:00am wasn’t very appealing. After some discussion it was decided that we would drive ourselves to the start and the guys would meet us at the first scheduled stop and they would get some much needed sleep.

Whilst the Shearers Quarters may have been lacking running water, heaters and plumbing they did have a comfy mattress for each of us and a roof over our head.  Gareth decided he would move his mattress into the communal area and sleep in front of the fire.  Gareth told us he was Fire Warden at his work and would like to keep a close eye on it.  All of us slept well after a big day and a great dinner thanks to the crew.

A 2am departure from the Shearers Quarters called for a 1:15am wake up. Again Darrel was first up and slid into the driver’s seat to take us back to 4 trees road so we could commence running from the exact spot we finished the day before.  I soon learned that Darrel was in the driver’s seat so he could push the pedals and I was in the passenger’s seat so I could control the steering wheel while the Great Oat Eater could eat his porridge whilst driving.  Darrel is very good at multi tasking and even tried to add kangaroo, wombat, fox and rabbit hitting to his list of things he can do at the one time.  Suddenly running for the next 16 hours didn’t seem so difficult.

After having crewed the previous day we were thrilled to have Gareth “Slow Maniac” Parker join us for the whole days running.  Darrel was extra thrilled because it would mean all his short jokes would have two targets.  Terry was jubilant as the short joke to short person ratio was doubled and I was ecstatic to have someone new to chat to.

Just before 3am, it was close to zero degrees when we started running , with the first 5 km along a muddy fire trail with large puddles every 500m. We would seek to go around these puddles, only to get caught up in the blackberries and risk slipping in.  We were moving well through here and the effects of the previous days distance were not an issue.

As we continued our run, we passed through Micalong Creek Campsite which marks the start of the largest montane swamp in Australia.  It stretches for more than 5km and is half a kilometre wide.  We crossed the swamp very carefully on frosty frozen boardwalks, we slid around the edges of the enormous wetlands as the frost sparkled off the reeds in the full moon light and as our head torches caught our warm breath in the cold air, we would be momentarily caught in a thick fog.

As the time crept closer to 6am it got colder and colder.  Our hydration pack hoses started to freeze, and for extra measure I wore two pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves with hand warmers thrown in.  Ear warmers, beanies, buffs, jacket with hood and arm warmers all kept  me comfy as long as we kept moving at a decent pace.

It was a glorious night and the moon was only one day away from being full, and as it lowered in the sky we ran with it looking out to the right it was now level with us.  We crossed Micalong Swamp at the identical location Hume and Hovell crossed on 30 October 1824 and for the rest of the day we would be running footstep for footstep with them.  It’s amazing to be able to do this on this track.

Our excellent pre-dawn progress was momentarily halted by a larger than normal creek crossing, this time without a board walk or bridge.  Darrel, Terry and Gareth tried to build one out of logs and rocks.  I decided I would use my supposedly waterproof bag liner and a large sandwich bag to put over my feet and walk through.  They decided after giving up on the makeshift bridge to take their shoes off and walk through.  I got across only to find half the creek now inside my not so waterproof bag liner and plastic bag, quickly emptying them I had to move around to keep my wet feet from freezing solid. It was explained to me that putting my feet in a sandwich bag and trying to get across the creek with around 18 inches of water was never going to work.  Meanwhile the boys were all across and sitting on the rocks with heater packs on their feet trying to get feeling back in their toes before putting their dry shoes and socks back on.  We will remember this creek crossing for a long time.

The sections here were either along terrific single track which would then cross over sections of logging roads.  The logging roads should have been easy to run on, but the deep muddy tire tracks of the logging trucks had been frozen solid and they were very tough to run on as it was like running on uneven shredded up sharp cement.  Terry rolled an ankle on one of the ruts but after a kilometre or two it loosened up and enabled him to run freely.

We passed a couple of teenagers out camping on the track with a very inviting fire going, they kindly let us know that the 15.5km to the next crew stop would take us 4.5 hours.  Darrel let them know that if it took us that long he’d be dead.  We worked our way along through the Billapaloola State Forest into the Micalong State Forest and soon enough we were at an elevation of 1,000m and in the tall snow gums of the Kosciuszko National Park.  The fire trails and single track along this section were superb, with lots of soft bark down and a real alpine feel to the mornings running.  Wombats, kangaroos and lyrebirds were in abundance.  I was more excited at seeing the incredible number of wombat holes as we ran along and in the early morning grey light took to yelling at each one “WAKE UP WOMBAT!”  This was a novel way to pass the time, trying to stay warm, keep alert in the pre dawn murkiness and also provided great amusement to Darrel, Terry and Gareth and the wombats.  Even if they didn’t find it funny, I’m sure they appreciated the effort.

From the top of Mt Nimbo (1,240m) we could see exactly what Hume and Hovell described almost 200 years ago “the large circular basin” which was now the valley of the Goobarragandra and its tributaries.  Much of the view “is filled by range after range, peak after peak, stretching to the horizon”.  It was at this point that Hume and Hovell also spotted smoke rising to the North –West which was a signal fire lit by the aborigines and they sought out to meet with them in order to find a suitable route through the mountains.  Given they had been in the area for the last 38,000 years they probably knew a thing or two about route selection.

Coming down from Mt Nimbo was good fun and the running along the tight single track was a blast, dropping from 1,200m to 370m over the next 10km.  The blackberries in this area were nowhere near as bad as they had been on the training weekends carried out by Darrel and Terry earlier in the year.  As we approached The Hole logbook the grass on the lower lopes was covered in a thick frost that could very well last throughout the day in this shaded area.  We were only 5km from the Thomas Boyd track head, and our scheduled first crew stop when Matt and Dan showed up having run out from the track head.  It was great to see them again after a very cold and productive 37 kilometre morning run.

Martin joined us here to run for the rest of the day making it five runners again.  After the quick crew stop to drop off the headlamps and pick up water and food for the next 27km section, we set-off again footstep for footstep on the explorer’s route along the Goobarragandra River which is now used to host white water rafting and kayak tournaments during the summer.  Two giant swing bridges were required to cross the river, and we enjoyed the level single track through here.  I had an altercation with a tree branch which luckily enough missed my left eye, but other than that it was a stunning clear blue winter day.

We continued along through various properties using stiles to get over fences.  The stiles were made of steel pipe not wood as the goats have worked out how to hop across the wooden stiles.  We passed a local property owner who was mucking around in his tractor, and once we moved through the property we joined an old water course that had been used by the Chinese in the 1930’s to sluice gold out of the surrounding creek beds.

Along the water course Darrel decided it would be good to try and herd cattle, and for a kilometre he raced two small cows. Although this wasn’t a real race, Darrel would have won the bronze medal.

After crossing Walls Creek we continued along the identical track forged by Hume and Hovell.  We had been advised that we were guaranteed to get lost in the next section as most of the markers have been flattened due to cattle rubbing up and down the posts to scratch themselves.

It’s a tough section, and we headed straight up through large granite boulders, grasstrees and Stringybark trees.   The terrain now resembled something of a cross between a New Mexican desert and a Native Australian Grasstree exhibition.  After numerous passages through the large boulders and many switchbacks we neared the top.  I could see a number of rock wallabies and kangaroos bounding knowingly up and over and through the boulders and caves above us, but was not prepared for what happened next.

A crackling sound like a landslide burst out from my left and a lone cow took off along the track sending with it a pile of rocks across the track in front of us.  It ran along the track in front of us, stopping to make sure we were still following and then around the next corner it disappeared again.

After heading down from our previous position, we traversed several gullies and over more stiles to find ourselves in prime grazing land as far as the eye could see.  The track generally follows the fence lines of the properties it passes through, and this made for some short but steep sections.

Darrel and Gareth must have been finding the pace easy as soon enough a dare was issued.  Despite the warnings that quite a number of fences are electrified, Gareth bet Darrel that he wouldn’t lick the electric fence that we were following.  For $100 Darrel accepted, and all of us were on edge as Darrel leant forward and just before licking it touched the fence to make sure it wasn’t live, then licked it.  Now Gareth was $100 down so he tried to win it back by grabbing horse poo and rubbing it on his cheeks.  I think they’re now even and we didn’t have to test whether Darrel’s pacemaker would survive a little jolt.  I think Darrel even did a push up in the paddock here.  I suggested strongly that with over 300km still to go it would be a good idea to focus a little bit more and make the most of the clear blue skies, moderate daytime temperatures and perfect running terrain, which consisted of large clear paddocks with many sheep, cattle and alpacas.

As we traversed the fields, we passed through Foxes Gap and again were amazed at the expanse of country. We could only imagine the thoughts of Hume and Hovell who at 5pm on 2 November 1824, stood in the exact same spot and found foot prints from aboriginal men, women and children which led them down the valley.  They even found cuttings in trees where the aboriginals had used stone tomahawks to mark their way.

We were met by Dan and Matt who had come out from the second crew point of the day at Blowering Dam campsite.  Once we hit the Snowy Mountains Highway I was on familiar ground as somewhere about 150km South is a road crossing used in the Coast to Kosciuszko  (“C2K”) race which I completed in December last year.  The C2K is Australia’s longest ultra marathon event starting in Eden and finishing at Charlotte Pass with a mandatory trip up to the summit of Australia’s highest Mountain, Mt Kosciuszko.  Thinking of the race which is on again this year, I was reminded we were doing twice the distance on our run to Yass.

Turning off the Snowy Mountains Highway and onto Tumut Plains Road, the flat bitumen roads allowed us to open up the pace a bit and stretch the legs.  Darrel and Dan managed to sneak in a sub 5 minute kilometre in preparation for their Great North Walk attempt before we all jogged into the Blowering campsite for lunch and a refill of all supplies.

John and Lyn Daly had come out to meet us here as they were having a couple of days rest in Tumut before continuing their walk.  They were excited to chat but also knew we were concentrating on ensuring we packed the correct supplies.  They said they would be happy to show us over the Viking section of the AAWT when we are in the area.  The afternoon forecast was for thunderstorms and rain, so we made sure that full wet weather gear and headlamps were packed for the next 32km section up and around Blowering Dam.

Blowering Dam is the site where Ken Warby set the world water speed record in 1978 at over 500km/hr.  The Dam is absolutely massive. It is three times the size of Sydney Harbour, has up to 40 farms underneath the dam, the dam wall stretches 112 metres in height and after having already run 153km in the last two days, we had 32km along the Dam foreshore to finish the day at Yellowin Rd campsite.  Time to get cracking.  Darrel and Terry had enjoyed a big lunch of roast chicken and pasta salad while I stuck to my usual running food, gels and cliff bars.

The running along the waters edge was relatively easy, but as the track winds in and out of each corner of the dam the distance towards the afternoon campsite seemed to take forever.  The forecast showers did not eventuate but clouds massed in the distance and as the sun set over the dam it was a glorious spot to be.  There were many hundreds of kangaroos jumping around and as we neared the planned end point for the day, Matt and Dan had some news.  The forests to the West of the Dam were due to be logged the following day and the roads would be closed.  This meant that if we were to finish here we wouldn’t be able to get back to our spot the next morning to restart.  Faced with this and after 95km for the day we continued for another kilometre up the road to Yellowin Forest Road and stopped.  We were all exhausted, 16 hours and 96km for the day, but we were now down to just 255km to go.

It was an hour’s drive back from Yellowin Forest Rd to Tumut where we were staying, and where Dan and Gareth were to leave us and drive home so they could be back for work on Monday.  Thanks guys.  Gareth said that after running the 96km with us he was stuffed and was tired all week.  We were stuffed and tired, but still had a few days of tough running ahead of us.

Dinner was brief, a few pieces of pizza thrown down with some ribs.  Terry ate his running food due to not being able to eat pizza.  Darrel poured over the maps and the next day’s logistics while I sorted out the next day’s running gear and likely food and water needed for the first leg.

Finally getting to bed at around 10pm, the next 3 hours were excruciating as my hip flexors and calf muscles felt like they were being turned in a vice, and then stabbed with a red hot poker for good measure.  I was face down yelling into my pillow hoping for my muscles to relax so that I could sleep.  I was beyond tired but was actually looking forward to 1am so I could get up and get going again.

End of Part 1 of 2

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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