WHEELERS, PRETTY PLAIN AND PATONS HUTS
SNOWY MOUNTAINS, NSW
KOSCIUSZKO NATIONAL PARK 5-8 APRIL 2016
A NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION (ACT) HIKE
BRIAN S (LEADER) PHILIP AND JAN G, MAX S, TERRYLEA R, BARRIE R (Me!)
O to dream, O to wake and wander
There, and with delight to take and render,
Through the trance of silence quiet breath;
Lo! for there, among the flowers and grasses,
Only the mightier movement sounds and passes;
Only winds and rivers, life and death.
These are my riches, that none can take away from me,
Stored as mountain grass is stored in the byre;
These shall shine of an evening when winter befalls me,
Sitting by the fire.
Mine are the torrents and the timeless hills,
The rock face, the heather and the rain,
The summits where the life-wind thrums and thrills,
And, answering, the glad heart sings again:
The good grey rock that loves a grasping hand,
The stress of body and the soul’s rebirth
On the tall peak where gods and men may stand
Breathless above the kingdoms of the earth:
The drowse of summer on the sunlit crags
Lulled in the blue and shimmering air of June,
When Time, the lazy mountain- traveller, lags
To dream with us an endless afternoon:
The ice-wind stealing downwards from the crest
To hush with frost the reedy river’s flow,
When all the mountain land on winter’s breast
Sleeps, in the deathly silence of the snow.
These are my riches, these and the bright remembering
Of ridge and buttress and sky-shouldering spire;
These I shall count, when I am old, of an evening,
Sitting by the fire.
The cold fresh mornings, when the mist is creeping from the grey hills and the vigour of dawn is in the blood; the warm sun-steeped spaces at noonday; the purple dusk, when the veld becomes a kind of Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon, full of fairy lights and mysterious shadows; the bitter night, when the southern constellations blaze in the profound sky, he who has seem them must carry the memory forever (John Buchan)
This walk covered some 43 km, about 2/3 of which were on fire trails. We camped adjacent to Wheelers Hut, Pretty Plain Hut and Patons Hut on the 3 nights, and the distances walked each day were about 9 km, 13 km , 18 km and 3 km respectively.
These huts in the Snowy Mountains are historic – erected as temporary accommodation for stockmen running cattle in the mountains in the summers, but not exclusively so, as some were built by others, such as miners and the early skiers. Falling into disrepair, most have been restored and today are used by bushwalkers and skiers. These huts always evoke an emotional response as they form such an integral part of Australia’s history. They look most picturesque in their surroundings. However, I find them dark, gloomy places; wonderful when in need of shelter, but very dark inside. A number of the huts were burned down in the 2003 fires but have since been rebuilt. Grazing in the high country did a huge amount of environmental damage and has been banned in the KNP for many decades.
DAY ONE, TUESDAY 5 APRIL 2016
Brian and I met up at Max’s home just before 7.00 am and travelled in Max’s car. 20 minutes later, on the Monaro Highway, and well clear of Canberra, we received a text message from Jan to say that they had picked up Terrylea and were on their way too. We met at Adaminaby for morning tea which we had outside the bakery . Then it was onwards.
We left one car at Tooma Reservoir, just off the Tooma road, where the Dargals Fire Trail (FT) joins the Tooma Road, as this was where we would come out. The other car was left about 3 km further west, where we commenced our hike at 11.15 am, , setting off along the Snakey Plain Trail. High winds had been forecast for this day and the next, but we were lucky as they didn’t seem to eventuate, not where we were, anyway. Much of this day’s walk was through forest, but every now and again we had views of distant hills, including Mt Jagungal. This was probably our warmest day, our packs were full and at their heaviest, and we had some steep hills to climb. It was hot work. However, the birds sang and we were happy. It was wonderful to be out in the wilderness, and to know that we had several days in front of us. We had a 200 m climb over the Jagumba Range, on the top of which we had lunch. Somewhere about here we came upon a sign proclaiming that we had entered the Jagungal Wilderness. From here we descended to Snakey Plain and thence through mountain ash forest on Wheelers Hut FT and so to the hut.
l-r: Max, Terrylea, Jan, Brian, Philip
about to set off from the Tooma Road along Snakey Plain Trail
In high spirits the walk begins
Ah! Now we are getting somewhere ! (photo by Terrylea)
Wheelers Hut is really very attractive, surrounded by lovely Snow Gums and a Black Sallee and looking out across Broadway Creek with its long-since abandoned gold diggings, and Broadway Plain. In front of us the land sloped gently down to Broadway Creek and then rose again on the far side, with the massive bulk of Jugangal on the horizon. A beautiful little creek flowed nearby , giving us water.
One of the pleasures of going in a party led by Brian is that he seems to always make camp early in the afternoon , giving time to explore or to just sit and relax. This trip was no exception, and we were always at our day’s destination between 2 and 2.30 pm.
It was a beautiful, warm, golden, autumn afternoon. A dreamy afternoon, of soft light. The surrounding hills were softened by a slight haze, and Jagungal did not stand out in sharp relief but was a soft palette of mauves and blues. We spent a leisurely afternoon , putting up our tents, getting water, making afternoon tea, sitting and dreaming, watching the changing light, listening to the birds, immersing ourselves in the oneness of the wilderness of part of our fragile earth.
We cooked and ate in the hut, and enjoyed a fire we lit in the huge fireplace. However, by about 8.00, with the temperature dropping, we headed for our tents. Miles from city lights, and with not a cloud to be seen, the stars were blazing, the Milky Way spanning from one horizon to the other. Terrylea lay on her back to get a better view.
A Golden Afternoon
Max on the bench and myself
Philip and Jan enjoying the wilderness
Me, Philip & Jan. Photo by Terrylea
The view down to Broadway Creek. My Notch tent is on the far left, Jagungal Peak just visible through the trees above Terrylea
Snow gum in front of the hut
gum oozing from that same Snow Gum
Black Sallee in front of the hut.
A dreamy afternoon. View from Wheelers Hut to Broadway Creek and Toolong Diggings with Jagungal on the horizon right of centre
View from Wheelers Hut
Jagungal from Wheelers
DAY 2, WEDNESDAY, 6 APRIL 2016
During the night, the haunting call of a boobook owl. I can’t say that I slept well, but I did feel refreshed. I suppose that I was awake by 5 am. I always go to bed at night with my stove and pot, tea and sugar and breakfast close at hand. It wasn’t long before I had opened the tent door to make my early morning mugs of tea from my sleeping bag and then also have breakfast in bed. As I did so, the black sky started to lighten and the eastern sky started to turn crimson just behind the line of the black hills, while a sliver of a moon still hung in the sky just to the north of the east. Warm in my bag, sipping my tea, the sky gradually lightened, the sun turned on a brilliant orange red sunrise behind the silhouetted hills and snow gums, before the first, delicate, golden light spread across the grasses and low shrubs in front of me, subtly transforming the Hut in soft gold. What a way to start the day.
“Dreaming, When Dawn’s left hand was in the sky”
“”Awake, for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight
The soft, gold ,reflected light of dawn lights the sleeping grass
before the sun is over the hills
And sets Wheelers Hut aglow.
We left the hut at about 8.15 am and, in high spirits, walked down and across Broadway Creek, heading more or less east, crossing several of the old Toolong Mine Diggings on the way. They are quite extensive and it is sobering to think of the huge effort that went into shovelling all that earth, rocks and stones.
Leaving the hut and making for Broadway Creek and Toolong Diggings
l-r : Philip. Max, Brian, Terrylea and Jan
Same again, but this time with me in the pic.
After crossing Broadway Creek we followed a tributary creek uphill which involved some scrub-bashing, before linking up with the Dargals FT which we followed to the intersection with Hell Hole Creek FT which we then followed. Eventually we turned onto a footpad, badly dug over by pigs, on the west side (true left bank) of the Tooma River to Pretty Plain and then to Pretty Plain Hut. Along this footpad Philip frightened a Copperhead snake which took off into the vegetation. There were still some flowers out, helichrysums, purple eyebrights and a few Billy Buttons . Along here we stopped for morning tea.
Striding out along Hell Hole Creek Trail
We stopped at the confluence of the Tooma River and Pugilistic Creek, and leaving our packs, crossed the Tooma River to walk up Pugilistic Ck about 600 metres to the ruins of an old hut. Max knows someone whose father actually used the hut. It nestles in a bend of the river, backed by a steep slope and with a wonderful view of the creek and the high hills in front of it.
Hut ruin on Pugilistic Creek
Max and Terrylea
Hut ruin on Pugilistic Creek
Brian and Philip, left and Max and Terrylea right
Recrossing the Tooma to our packs we decided to have lunch here. Philip and Jan also had a bath. The water was cold, but the air temperature was warm, the sun was still shining and there was no breeze. However, the expected change was coming through from the south and so we made haste to get to Pretty Plain Hut before it rained. Our way then went up and along a ridge separating Pretty Plain Creek and Bulls Head Creek (Pretty Plain Hut is actually on the latter). Max was now in the lead and set a scorching pace along a fairly vague foot pad.
By the time we reached the hut it was overcast and a bit windy, with rain threatening. Quickly we put up our tents and made all shipshape. We collected water and some firewood and Brian and I had a wash in the icy creek.
The hut is fairly new, rebuilt in 2010 from logs .
Pretty Plain Hut. The side door takes one into the main hut of two rooms. The front door takes one into a room which, strangely, has no internal access to the rest of the hut. ( My Notch tent by Tarptent is in front. )
Rain swept in between 6 and 8 pm, shower after shower, but although it sounded torrential on the tin roof, it was actually fairly light. After we were in our tents, while it was still raining, I noticed a change in the atmosphere – the humidity had suddenly gone, and the breeze, now from a different direction , had a sharpness, almost a clarity, to it. I called out to Terrylea, whose tent was closest to mine, and mentioned this to her and said that the rain would soon stop and the morrow would be good. Within 10 minutes the rain stopped .
DAY 3 THURSDAY 7 APRIL 2016
The wide seas and the mountains called to him,
And grey dawns saw his camp-fire in the rain.
“The cold fresh mornings, when the mist is creeping from the grey hills and the vigour of dawn is in the blood” (John Buchan)
Grey in the gloom of morning,
Wrapped in thy robe of mist;
Blue as the daylight broadens,
Pink where the sun has kissed.
I awoke to the calls of kookaburras echoing in the forest and to a dark, gloomy, grey and dripping pre-sunrise world. The hills had disappeared behind thick mist which was down to almost the level of the creek. But the feel of the air told me that when the sun came up life and sparkle would return, the clouds would stir and lift and vapourise. Sure enough, it was not long before the world started to breathe, the mists lifted and shifted and played tag with the hills, shafts of gleaming sun broke through, patches of blue appeared and bands of mist and high ridges turned pink, even while, underneath, the white gums were still magically ghostly below. Soon we were in brilliant sunshine. A stunning, sparkling morning.
Terrylea entranced by the mist and light shifting over the hills
About to leave Pretty Plain Hut
A sparkling morning, the mists have dissolved
Again, we set off at about 8.15 am, in high spirits, retracing yesterday’s route over Pretty Plain, back along Hell Hole Creek Trail until Dargals Trail which we then followed. We saw robins and Terrylea saw a pig running away from us. Along the way something caught my eye near my boot as I strode along and I decided to have another look. It was a White Lipped snake, about 18 inches long. It was in the process of having breakfast. About 2 inches of the tail of a lizard was sticking out of its mouth. As we watched, its muscles worked and the bulge of the lizard moved down its body. Not long after this, on a little creek, we stopped for a long morning tea, lazily in the sun. Then it was onwards, to the ford on the Tooma River. I had not brought any crocs or other footwear, and the rocks on the bottom, though small, were sharp. When I was half way across, Philip came back with Max’s crocs which made the second half of the crossing much more bearable. On the far side we had a long and lazy lunch and Brian, Jan and Philip also had baths. The Trail continued to give us exercise, given its undulating habit. But we were well into our stride and walking strongly. At one point we could see Wheelers Hut in the distance.
Leaving Pretty Plain Hut Jan, Terrylea and Brian
Looking back to Pretty Plain Hut
Brian photographs the view to Pretty Plain while Jan and Philip look back towards the hut
View north to Pretty Plain and on the left, Pretty Plain Creek, on the right, Bulls Head Creek
Beside the Tooma River
Pretty Plain and Tooma River.
White Lipped Snake
Crossing the Tooma River on the Dargals Trail, photo by Terrylea
Lunch at the ford on Tooma River
Leaving the Jagungal Wilderness
From our last track intersection (Wheelers Hut Trail) a look at the map suggested that Patons Hut was about 4 to 4.5 km up the Dargals Trail. I estimated our speed was about 4 km an hour and so, after about half an hour, started to keep a look out for Patons Hut. Sure enough, I saw it on a hillside, tucked in amongst the trees and continued to get tantalizing glimpses of it as the trail wound its way up and down and around the ridges. Eventually I estimated that I must be nearly there ( I was now in the lead and about 100 metres ahead of Jan.. – Although in front, I had been keeping the others in sight) I crossed a creek and looked up and saw the toilet. But where was the track in to the hut? I walked on a bit, and thought I must have missed it. I went back and met Jan, I turned around and together we walked forwards and found the broad grassy trail leading up to the hut at a tangent back away from the trail. I had stopped just a bit too soon earlier on. From our direction along the trail the turn off to the hut and the hut were more or less hidden from the Trail. In fact, from our direction, the beginning of the track to the hut looks just like one of the many grassy clearings and the hut cannot be seen (see the photo of Terrylea next to the cairn Max and Brian built) We walked up to the hut and dumped our packs. I lay on the grass in the warm sun. Alas, two of us missed the turn off and had to be rescued!
I reached the hut at just after 2.00 pm, so , having left Pretty Plain Hut at 8.15, having had a river crossing, a longish morning tea and lunch, we had done very well, having covered 18 km. and ascended and descended some 450 metres in that time.
It was a glorious afternoon. Still, dreamy, warm, sunny. In a beautiful spot. We pitched our tents on golden short grass, with a view that stretched forever. Nearby was an idyllic little rivulet, tucked into a fold in the hill, close to the hut from where we collected our water. What beautiful water! Not once on this trip did we have to treat the water. I was the last one down to get water, and I sat there utterly entranced by the little stream chuckling over its bed, overhung with beautiful green mosses. Hidden away, warm in its fold, sheltered, it was a magical spot to stop. I had a shave and a wash while there, and even now can see and hear that lovely place. Brian and Max built a cairn where the turn off to the hut commenced,. It is wonderful to have time in the afternoons to just relax and let the wilderness flow into one’s soul, with all its peace, beauty, harmony and perception of eternity.
Patons Hut :-
Looking back down the entrance track to Patons Hut to the Dargals Trail
Terrylea and the cairn built by Max and Brian
As can be seen from here, the beginning of the track to the hut looks more
like just another grassy clearing and the hut is not visible.
Helichrysum Daisy (Everlasting)
We gathered around the fireplace outside and were soon making tea or coffee and absorbing the beauty of this wilderness.
And so the afternoon drifted magically and lazily on, until the temperature started to fall. We put on warmer clothing to guard against the coming cold and started to cook our dinner. How much nicer than being in the dark hut!
Jan lit the fire and we all marveled at the incredible evening light on the trees and hills. Sunset was stunning. I noticed the change in the breeze – the drift of cold air down the hill (katabatic wind) . Sitting chatting around the fire as night descended.
A stunning sunset at Patons Hut
The end of a lovely day
Night draws in but the fire holds us spellbound
As we dream, looking into the flames, we treasure the time
the 6 of us have had together, the closeness, the camaraderie, the
memories which will be with us forever. And we treasure
the beauty of this fragile earth which we hope will always be.
But will it?
DAY 4 FRIDAY 8 APRIL 2016
A chilly, overcast morning. By about 8.15 again we were on our way. Max and Philip went ahead to collect Max’s car from the starting point. We only had about 3 km to walk to the cars and were soon on our way.
The trees are watching
To quote Brian “ . On the return journey we stopped at Bradley and O’Briens Hut (occupied by Cochran’s seven day horse trekkers – Khancoban to Yaouk – returning from Corryong Festival, $2150), and later at Sawyers and Delaneys Huts, before lunching at Adaminaby bakery, together with the Bentley Club, touring vintage models from Victoria. We were back in Canberra soon after 2 pm. “
Driving to Adaminaby the outside temperature was 13*c.
This was one of the best walks I have ever done – wonderful days, wonderful walking, great scenery, solitude (we never saw anyone else) wilderness, and the best of companions who really made the trip. I would love to do another and much longer trip with these same folk.
“The cold fresh mornings, when the mist is creeping from the grey hills and the vigour of dawn is in the blood; the warm sun-steeped spaces at noonday; the purple dusk, when the veld becomes a kind of Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon, full of fairy lights and mysterious shadows; the bitter night, when the southern constellations blaze in the profound sky, he who has seem them must carry the memory forever; it is such things, and not hunger and thirst and weariness which remain in a man’s mind. For the lover of nature and wild things … it is little wonder if, after these, home and ambition and a comfortable life seem degrees of the infinitely small. And the others, who are only brief visitors, will carry away unforgettable pictures to tantalise them at work and put them out of all patience with an indoor world – the bivouac under the stars on the high veld, or some secret glen of the Wood Bush, or the long lines of hill which huddle behind Lydenburg into the sunset.” (John Buchan)
I was using my Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 litre pack which has proved so good and is certainly the most comfortable pack I have ever carried. It is so much lighter than other packs on the market and I love the separate pocket for the tent and also those for the cooking pot and water bottle. My sitmat and my neo air go on the outside too.
I was also using my Notch “tent” by Tarptent for the first time. I had worried about condensation and also the colder temperatures and wondered if I should take my Hubba Tent, but in the end took the Notch and it was exceptionally good. Despite the humidity on night 2 with all the rain, and cold temperatures on the other 2 nights condensation was not a problem even though the inside of the outer fly was wet. The Notch weighs only 770 gms and uses trekking poles , although one may also buy lightweight poles if one so desires.
My stove is an alcohol one (methylated spirits), the Caldera Ti Tri Cone from Trail Designs. Burner, 900 ml pot and windshield weigh a mere 166 gms. It is very efficient and takes 10 ml to boil a cup (250 ml) of water. I love it.