Hunters Hut (km1941) – St Arnaud (km1980)
Today was another day of great weather so I decided to make the most of it by putting in a huge effort. Yes, I was already feeling a bit worn from the 4 previous hard days. I probably should have just stayed at the last hut but some rain was forecasted for late Saturday through Sunday and I am already thinking ahead to the next section. There are a couple of big passes and river crossings that would be great to get through while the weather is so nice.
I left the hut around 7:40 am, even though I swear each day that I am going to get an earlier start. It was just too comfortable drinking coffee in the hut and chatting with Gail and Alistair. The trail notes described the upcoming section as ‘undulating’, which really meant lots of steep ups and downs of around 500′ or more. There was also some more red boulder trail, which was really slow going. Perhaps the toughest part was some sketchy sidling through slip areas. There were no trees, just barren rock and lots of slippery little gravel to aid in sliding out. But it was still kind of fun.
The boulders are the trail.
Much of this stretch reminded me of either hiking in the dry Colorado foothills or through Haleakala, the big volcano in Maui. Or maybe Mars or the moon, if I ever had the chance to hike on either one.
Along the way, I ran into 4 TA NOBO’s, 3 of which were American. Two of the guys were trying to set some sort of speed record and looked the part. They gave me high hopes saying that it only took them 4 hours to get from town to Red Hills hut… and that being mostly uphill for them. I had just arrived at Porters hut at 10:00 am and still had a ways to go to get to Red Hills. It was going to be long day regardless of if I pressed on.
The route to the final hut undulated more but not as big of climbs. It got hot, as the vegetation that did grow was all stunted and not providing any shade. I passed 3 more NOBOs.
I got to the hut just after 2 pm, which seemed way too early to stop. It was a really nice hut, similar to Hunters. But the water tank tap was defunct and I had to get some water from the enarby bog for my late lunch.
I started the new (as of this year) Maitland Ridge Trail segment of mountain biking trail around 2:30 pm. This was added to the TA to decrease the length of the road walk into St Arnaud, but only by about 3 or 4 kms. The old route was a straight shot down a 4wd track to the road. This new track involves more climbing (roughly 500m) and is a lot longer, detouring along a few ridges and peaks. I reckoned that because it is a mtb track that the climbs wouldn’t be too steep. I was wrong!
After the already taxing day I’d had, this last bit was a killer. But the views were great and the walk through the forest one of the best I’ve experienced. In consideration of all the things I needed to get done in town, plus a quick turnaround onto the next segment the following day, I should have taken the old route. Apparently that’s what many other TA walkers have done. But what can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment.
Once on the road, it was already past 6 pm, I had 8 kms to go, and I was really tempted to just get a ride into town. I could always walk the road the next day. But there was no traffic, so the choice to walk was an easy one. After a few kms, I got a cell signal and from there, the walk was easy. I busied myself making calls, reading emails, and checking the wx forecast.
I first needed to figure out where to stay. I tried the Alpine Lodge–all booked up. Then I called the Travers-Sabine Lodge and the nice lady said yes, she had a bed for me. Great and I hung up without asking the price. I was just then walking past a homestay about 3.5 kms outside of town that had a TA accommodation sign out front. They probably had a cheap tenting option but I was focused on getting into town.
I made it to the lodge just after 7 pm. I was very relieved to find that the bed was just that, a dorm room bed for $32. But, it wasn’t exactly a dorm room but rather a 2 bedroom suite/cabin with a kitchen and lounge. The rooms were set up each with double beds and a few bunks…think mom, dad and 2 kids. I shared one room with a sweet Australian couple Jan and Rob. It was a little odd at first with them being in the double bed and me in the bottom bunk like an adopted kid but it worked out great. There were 2 others in the second room, one a TA walker Magnus from Sweden. I’d been seeing his name in all the hut books throughout the Richmonds, so it was nice to finally meet him.
I also want to give a shout out to Yvonne and her husband (forgot his name). They are the owners of the lodge and seem to go out of their way to assist TA walkers. I’d heard mixed reviews about the place but having stayed there, I’m not sure how anyone had an unpleasant experience. My stay was perfect and I enjoyed reminiscing with Yvonne about the old Angelus hut. Apparently the one I stayed at in 2003 has been replaced by an even larger one and you have to book ahead of time now, paying extra. She brought out photos of the old hut snowed-in and described how they had to use the shovel on the roof to dig down to the entrance to the hut.
Once showered and with the laundry started, I walked down the road to the Alpine Lodge to pick up my food resupply. There was a $10 holding fee, since I wasn’t staying there, but that was better than paying $150 for a room. While there, I couldn’t resist getting a $20 12″ pizza. I got ‘the wild’ because it came with chunks of lamb and venison sausage. I’d like to tell you how savory it was but I inhaled the whole thing as soon as I got back to my cabin. It was good but I could have eaten anything at that point.
I stayed up past 10 pm sorting my new mess of food and doing a myriad of other chores. I always wish I had more time each day…how is that when my self-appointed job is just to hike? Finally, I allowed myself to go to bed and get some much needed sleep. It was a big day and I accomplished a lot! Hopefully I have won myself a few nice days in order to get over the 2 big passes coming up.