New Zealand 2020
Finding the Opera House Hut has been Michelle’s dream since 2016. She did all the planning, bought the maps and prepared all the food herself; so it is only natural that I, Mickey should be the one to tell this story.
I had nobly left Michelle for two weeks of rehearsals and gigging in Sydney, and the National Folk Festival in Canberra with my beloved Squeezebox Trio. We were a huge hit, and some young women even told us they’d started a cover band after seeing us perform in 2015! But enough about how marvelous we were (which we were), the point I’d like to impress upon you is how I had boldly let Michelle do all the work, while enjoying the rockstar life – only to be whisked away after our final performance to Mt. Kosciuszko.
We drove from Canberra to Thredbo on Easter Monday and jumped straight onto the chairlift that allows you to skip 550m of elevation. We needed the boost as we had bigger fish to fry the next day and little remaining light - it wouldn’t be Mickey & Michelle if we didn’t start a hike racing sundown and the inevitable ‘head torch walk’ into camp.
This was the first time I had been back to Kosciuszko since my first hike on the AAWT and I’m pleased to tell you this time I didn’t feel like vomiting. The first day wasn’t too long, 6kms till we went off the track to Wilkinson’s Creek for an early sleep before the big adventure really began.
Next morning and it’s Michelle’s birthday! Hooray, I gave her some socks my mum knitted and we celebrated with a lavish breakfast of oats and chia…well at least she liked the socks. But we were going to need our energy if we were to find the fabled Opera-House, named so because it cost more per square meter to build than the actual one in Sydney. It was built by the SMA in 1966 to manage water aqueducts, accessible only by a tunnel from Siren Song or helicopter. The tunnel is now prohibited by the Snowy Hydro so there’s no track to it (now you see why Michelle likes it..)
There are supposedly three ways to find the hut:
We chose the rock scramble.
We were nervous because the man Mish had bought the maps from warned her off trying saying it was dangerous and difficult, but on the other hand the weather report looked great and she had heaps of birthday luck, so it felt like pretty even odds.
We set off early that morning, passed the absolutely beautiful lake Albina (which I had really wanted to get close to after seeing on our first hike), and down LNC. What can I say about that rock scramble, except that it was probably my favourite time hiking! I don’t have particularly long legs, nor am I very tall, so while I am not genetically predisposed to flying up a mountain, I wildly excel at rock scrambling and I loved every minute of it. Jumping from rock to rock, using the downhill momentum and my balance to make huge combinations of rocks for lengthy gains. All the while being surrounded by the ongoing waterfall really draws back to the platformer video-games of my childhood. I could’ve done it all day, hell, we did! (It was slow going at 0.5km an hour!)
I’ve attached a video so you can get an idea of the pace but please do know I am showing off for the camera, moving faster and taking riskier leaps. That being said in the whole 7 hours neither of us fell in the water once, or had any sort of (serious) accident.
All good things come to an end, or a waterfall, in this case the latter. Unfortunately that meant a one hour scrub-bash, that would’ve been a 45 minute scrub bash if we had’ve started on the correct side of the waterfall. The great thing about scrub-bashing is absolutely nothing, actually I take that back; the great thing about scrub-bashing is the gnarly cuts you get on your arms and knees. Chicks dig grazed knees!
After a short descent down the final dam, we made it to the Opera House in all its glory. Not only did it have a mattress, but also a fireplace! We made a pizza and slept the sleep of the victorious that night.
The next morning we had to climb back up the 1000 meters we’d descended the previous day. It was much less friendly on the knees, but it was still absolutely beautiful. After 3 hours we had had enough and decided to hike up the highest mountain we could see till we found a sealed path again. This might sound foolish but it actually worked perfectly. It saved us 4-5 hours of the next days hike and meant we could camp on Anton Anderson Saddle, marking the 2nd time in my life I have been the highest person asleep in Australia.
Day 3: Consett Stephens. Last time I hiked this pass I succumbed to fantastic knee pain and nearly to hypothermia. This time I was a lot fitter, more experienced and better prepared right? Wrong! It still beat the hell out of me. The beautiful scenery was instantly devoured by the swirling mists and the battering winds. However the elevated and exposed landscape does allow for some brief pockets of reception, and it was here we discovered that Michelle’s weather report that predicted sunny days and balmy weather in Kosciuszko was actually for Kosice in Slovakia (apparently you should write the whole name of the mountain into google..) Instead we should be expecting days of -6 degrees celcius with snow and rain.
This meant that we had to cut our hike short if we were going to avoid getting frozen. After a brief bed-repair job at Whites River hut, we made our way to the charming Horse Camp hut, which is now my favourite hut of all time. We desperately wanted a fire, but didn’t have kindling, so with MacGyver as inspiration we blew up a lighter in the fireplace and soon enough we had fallen asleep reading a book in our cosy, warm hut.
The final day was a doosy! Two separate rangers drove by to warn us that the snow was a-coming and it really put the fear of god into us. We walked out onto the highway and hitched a couple of kms with two lovely men named Matt and Dave, then we were back into the belting winds on a race against time to get to the Thredbo chairlift before it closed at 4:30pm. It meant a 25km day with very short breaks, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare!...only to discover the chairlift hadn’t been running at all that day because of the intense weather. Fortunately there was a maintenance man at the top who had just finished his shift and gave us a ride down the mountain in time for a shower and a pub meal!
Right. My Turn. I’m leading this one. I grew up in the mountains. I know them like the back of my hand, right? Wrong!
Having well and truly caught the hiking bug by now, I’d decided there must be an incredible long distance hike in the Blue Mountains, and I was only sort of right. For such an expansive and scenic location, there is very little in the way of overnight hikes in the Blue Mountains. After much research, I decided on the Kanangra to Katoomba, a three day, 45km hike, with plenty of splendor and a healthy amount of isolation.
With the full knowledge that I would be leading this hike, I looked up to the great leaders of history (ie: Jim Kirk) and meticulously plotted our itinerary on my newly purchased maps. Maybe had I spend a more time on logistics and a little less on making our own custom fantail wrappers, I wouldn’tve overlooked the 3 hour drive to get to Kanangra (thanks Mum) and we wouldn’tve spent so much time walking in the dark…
Well a little night walking never hurt anybody, or maybe just a few people, and it certainly wouldn’t stop Kirk, so off we went. Kanagra walls are just so incredible, they are already so remote themselves but as you descend into the thick bush you lose sight of the skyline and the feeling of isolation intensifies.
Although we found evidence of other hikers, we never saw another soul. No hikers, no tourists, not even a wallaby. Instead we were treated to intense navigation through the bush when the path seemed to vanish, not to mention steep climbs and the bitter cold and rain. We never made our intended campsites, our delayed start was such a handicap that even after an hour or two of night walking we still had another two before we’d make camp, and those two feel like twenty when its raining.
On the second day we crossed the cox river, and after drying (and then warming) our feet, we found ourselves in the path of a wild pig. Cue the wild deer scene from Stand By Me, cue Sigur Ros’ ambient soundscapes so we can intimately reflect on the beauty of the wild. Cue absolute terror when we realise its coming straight for us. What do you do when a giant wild pig is headed straight for you? You hear about wild pigs that can run away with a hunting dog biting its rump until the dog suffocates, what the hell were we supposed to do. Well, we just stood there nervously and the pig ran away. Gripping stuff right?
We didn’t make camp that night either, but one more day of walking till we reached Katoomba, only to find that we’d unwittingly walked a third of an even longer, even more isolated track! We’ll be back for it one day, but we were well due for a pub meal and a warm blanket. Full gallery
To say I was unprepared for the AAWT would be an understatement. Mish called, saying she needed a new hiking partner for the final 3rd of her 650km hike from Victoria to Canberra. Having zero gear and even less experience, I felt like the perfect man for the job.
I had three days to quit my jobs, move out of my house and get down to Canberra for a lift to Thredbo. Once there it was decided my high school joggers with holes in them weren’t going to be sufficient, I bought some decent ones and was gifted my very first spork (a fetching hot pink). Before you knew it we were setting out from Thredbo the next morning.
Before we’d even left though, a young hiker came back into town having decided to quit the hike after 400km, his leg pain and the weather proving too much for him. To prove this ill omen didn’t worry me, I held in the vomit that’d been trying to escape my body for the first 20 minutes (the cold and lack of sleep over the past few days catching up). It worked and I think I’d have made a very promising new companion to Michelle if I hadn’t been holding my compass upside down.
But eventually I adapted. The long walks and the incredible cold make the warm food and sleeping bag at the end of the day all the more comforting. On the second night, we were somewhat forced into becoming the two most elevated sleepers in Australia, having lost the track over the Main Range in the snow. A brief flirtation with hypothermia was not enough to take away from the astonishing views and the incredible feeling of your body becoming an energy burning, mountain ascending machine.
There is something very satisfyingly primal about a lack of reception, screens or even standards of cleanliness (the latter of which I’ve never particularly adhered to anyway). Long stretches of isolation, no news from the outside world and fresh food, people always ask me if I got bored but honestly, there was no time to. With all the planning, the eating and 8 hour plus of sleep every night, boredom just wasn’t an option. Not to mention that when you know you're walking to Canberra, every kilometer comes with a tremendous sense of worth.
Then all of a sudden the hike was over. It was a very rude shock. During the hitch into town our driver told us that gay marriage was passed (finally)! Somehow society didn’t collapse and I was able to enjoy my first shower in 15 days. I’ve definitely got the bug, so stay tuned for more of my zany adventures of ill-preparation in the mountains!
Now this was a biggy. I remember first finding out about this hike when I was 23. My dad took me on a 3 day hike up Mt Feathertop, finishing at Mt Hotham. I was absolutely blown away. As we walked higher and the trees started to thin out to beautiful alpine meadows I remember thinking ‘this is it, these are the places I want to know more about.’
For some background, the AAWT is a 650km hike of mountainous and often remote walking from Walhalla (VIC) to Tharwa (ACT) across the great diving range. I spent a year planning and preparing for it with my friend Chris. To my complete surprise and pleasure I managed to complete it on the 18th of December 2017 in 43 days! It was an epic challenge to say the least and touch and go in parts managing injuries. I had a surprise hiking partner change 2/3rds into the hike which found Mickey on his first overnighter, which just happened to be 212km!
Yes yes the hike changed me and all that, I just don't think that you can do something this out of your comfort zone and not have it affect you? I definitely came back wanting more. I have since decided that some of the more rewarding experiences come with being a little apprehensive and uncomfortable (physically and mentally). Couldn't recommend it enough. x
click for full gallery
Mickey or Michelle, depending who has more to say on the subject :)