Run to the Hills - Camping in the Snowy Wilderness
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
About halfway through last year I decided I was getting very sick of year 12. Hardly to my amazement I soon discovered that many of my friends were also feeling this way, so I decided we needed to do something before we all went quite insane from being stuck in this system of white boards and walkways. We needed to remove ourselves as far as currently possible without crossing an ocean or exiting the Earth’s atmosphere. Personally I wanted to go camping so I posed this idea to the group and after some discussion we had agreed that camping sounded like the go. But where? I talked long with one of my friends who’s mother is an experienced ranger working in the parks around Canberra (Namadgi and Tidbinbilla). I was quite curious of the camping regulations in the area however after getting more information from her about the strict rules of this national park I decided we needed a place that was more lenient and accessible. Fortunately I knew some good places to go which were within our limits as students.
Seeing as it was the middle of winter we didn’t have our eyes set on any coastal wilderness areas. Instead we looked towards the mountains, more specifically, the Southern regions of Kozciousko National Park better known as the Snowy Wilderness or the Suggan Buggan region. I had recently been down to this area to go white water rafting with Alpine River Adventures (https://www.facebook.com/alpineriveradventures/?fref=ts) and thought it a fantastic place to come back to and camp in, so what better time than now? In most people’s books a better time would have been a warmer time but a few extra jumpers isn’t much to carry and the positives of camping in winter far outweigh the negatives. The particular spot we had our eyes on was a series of camp grounds situated along the Snowy River, down Barry Way about 60 kilometres south of Jindabyne. The sites sit at the bottom of a valley, protected from strong winds and harsh weather coming down from the mountains, a big plus for the time of year.
We officially had our place, the date was set for the first week of the winter holidays, now to get everything ready for the well needed escape.
So We Plan…
We were well on our way of getting things together to head out, but one of the most pressing issues that presented itself to us was the issue of cars. Out of the few of us that were legally licensed to drive, I was the only one with a readily accessible four wheel drive – our farm ute. Taking a four wheel drive to this area is something I would strongly recommend. Even though the track is decently maintained it can take a bad turn if the weather becomes wet or icy, making the clayey soil very slippery and boggy – careful going around the bends! The road is also quite subject to erosion due to it’s poor structure so check the weather conditions before going; if it’s been raining for a while there are likely to be ridges and ditches along the way. A two wheel drive can get you through fine but to avoid potential mishaps and disaster a four wheel drive is the more reliable option. The road is also marked as unsuitable for caravans or trailers, no surprise from the promise of a few tight turns on the descent into the valley.
With our transport decided we were ready to gather the essentials and be off. Seeing as this is quite a remote area we had to be readily prepared for the unexpected. There is no chance of reception in the area so taking a satellite phone or emergency beacon is a wise move as well as letting someone know when you intend on getting back. Sorting out a first aid kit is a good plan as well as taking a spare jerry can of fuel. Seeing as this area is protected by national parks it is asked that visitors bring their own firewood and not chop or gather any in the park. Remember also if you go to this area to take all your rubbish with you, even compostable food scraps. Seeds can produce unwanted flora in the park and certain foods are dangerous to native wildlife. As the rangers like to say to visitors “Take only photographs, leave only footprints”
Aside from such things we packed enough food for the trip based on the wise words of one member of our group “It must be of hobbit sized quantities!” In reality it does not need to be so. Camping food is simple food so we stuck to the basics: things that would last, didn’t need refrigeration and had the potential to fill stomachs easily and efficiently. Never overcomplicate your camping food, you’ll be surprised at the great flavours that come from cooking over a campfire with simple ingredients. Other things added to the stock-list were water, torches, pocket knives, matches, maps, binoculars, spare batteries, cooking gear, sleeping gear, a good pot of tea and of course, the tent.
Hit the Road Rolling
With fuel tanks full and humans seated we headed off in the early morning towards Jindabyne where we planned to stop shortly for lunch and continue on our way. On the approach we glimpse the shores of lake Jindabyne as we come over a crest on the road; a vast expanse of water at the bottom of the mountains with the town around its edges. Lunch was acquired swiftly, legs were stretched then we left the last evidence of town life on our way towards the Snowy Wilderness. Soon the landscape begins to change in small increments, snow gums appear and small patches of alpine grasses are spotted. Reaching the limit of the mountain range before the road begins its descent down to the river system we stop at a lookout platform to admire the layout of the valley with its deep green bush and sweeping hills. A truly spectacular view.
Finally we reach the bottom of the valley as the road levels out and the hair-pin bends cease to appear and we get our first sights of this section of the Snowy River.
The next decision to make was to choose a camp site. There are numerous ones dotted along the river so we decided to drive along until we found the one that suited us best. Passing Jacob’s River, Halfway Flat and the Pinch, we continued down to Running Waters where we chose to set up camp, delighted to find that the site was deserted of other campers . Each site has something to offer and it’s really down to what you’re looking for. Halfway flat is quite a beautiful spot but not as open as Running Waters which was our main reason for choosing this particular site. With the first job of the cars being unloaded of both people and then gear, we set to putting up the tent. As each camp ground is essentially right on the banks of the river the ground can be quite sandy in some spots and therefore unsuitable for pitching a tent, unless of course you have tent pegs designed for sandy ground, a good item to have when camping here. We had brought a set of longer and stronger tent pegs than the usual ones we use on solid ground which served us quite well. With the tent securely up we set off to further explore the surrounding landscape, firstly checking out the river, finding the pit toilet, and deciding on a spot for a fire. One big advantage of this time of year is that fire bans are lifted, I mean, who doesn’t want a good camp fire in the middle of the bush? It adds beautifully to the atmosphere of it all and in my books, is an essential part of the whole experience.
The first taste of exploring our surroundings was not to last long as the day was swiftly approaching night and we needed to get our first meal ready. Contrary to my earlier point on refrigerated food, we had brought some sausages for the first night in our esky which were to be a main part of tonight’s meal. Getting the fire up and going hot for the first time was a slightly arduous task that required some patience and perseverance as the ground was wet from recent rain but we soon had bright embers hot enough to last a long night. I must at this point say that the group was quite split down the middle between those who knew what to do with a frying pan over a fire, and those who didn’t, so for now I placed myself at the forefront of cooking, showing the others how it’s all done. My first rule is be generous with the oil. Cast iron is the best to use over an open fire, don’t go bringing nice non-stick cookware, it will be ruined.
As we had the first lot of sausages on we all pulled out some camp chairs or found a spot on a nearby log to relax as the evening darkened, and, depending on your tastes, enjoyed a well deserved beer or glass of wine around the campfire after the day’s car trip. There is something highly prized about being in the complete silence of the bush with only the crackle of the fire to disturb you as you enjoy the company of friends. I’ve never been a fan of city dining and feel that the current situation we were in was much more rewarding and comforting than dining in any highly regarded restaurant.
And so the evening of our first day drew to a peaceful close, the group heading off to the tent as the fire slowly dwindled out and lost its heat. Even though it had been a decently warm day, out of all the nights we were yet to experience, this was out coldest, but we were all still there to experience the following days.
The Days Ahead
And so we enjoyed our spot, finding places to go along the river and enjoying each others general company. Soon we had fallen into a comfortable rhythm of the day allowing us to function efficiently in a camping environment. Searching the maps we had brought we decided to traverse further outwards along the river and via various walking tracks. On one particular day we decided we wanted to walk to the Victorian boarder so food and water was packed and we headed out, following the river for some time but also the road when the bush became to difficult to traverse. The walk down held some beautiful scenery, the river opening up with large sandy banks at times, and the surrounding hills offering interesting rock formations. About halfway down the road we stopped for a rest and some food, finding a shady spot as the day had become quite warm after the long walk. Locating where we were on the map and thus how far we still had to go, we decided, after some discussion, that if we went all the way to the boarder it would be well past dark by the time we got back. So we chose to explore the spot we were already at for some time, relax under the trees and then head back towards Running Waters. As I mentioned earlier, on the way up we had spotted some nice open and sandy spots along the river which on the walk back we stopped by to enjoy some sun.
It wasn’t long before the idea of jumping in came to mind so bracing ourselves, a portion of this group of young fools ran towards the icy banks of the Snowy River and plunged in, breaching the surface with deep gulps of air as the shock of the temperature hit our bodies and forced all manner of nerve endings to seize up from the sudden change. Swiftly the water was emptied of people, but after about a minute of standing in the sun to recover some circulation we decided to do it again, enjoying the water for a little longer this time as we were somewhat accustomed to the temperature, or rather, we had gone completely numb. There is truly nothing more invigorating than a cold shock to the system when one is warm from walking a few kilometres. Everyone should try it at least once, unless of course you are medically advised not to. With hearts palpitating we rested for some time to dry off but were soon back on our way towards the camp ground. It had been decided that the next day we would drive to the Victorian boarder.
Reaching Victoria the next day was probably more fulfilling than it had any right to be but it was a new place to check out and we even found a good spot down on the river bank to set up for lunch later on. Off we headed into the bush after parking the car, following wild brumby trails though the trees. The whole area has a slightly eerie feeling about is due to the skeletal, tall and thin trunks of closely packed trees. All is completely silent save the wind through their branches making it a very nice place to just wander slowly through.
After some time drifting through the trees, our stomachs call us and we head to the car to collect things for lunch. On the walk back there is a slight pick up in the wind but nothing dramatic. However, there are some very ominous clouds seen down the south end of the valley but are some way off. Gathering our things we head to the river bank and start setting up the gas cooktop. Suddenly the wind does indeed change and is now blowing right into us and bringing those clouds with it. All within one minute the storm is swept right on top of us and it starts to heavily rain with even stronger winds to back it up. Packing up our half started lunch we swiftly retreat to the car and head back to camp, trying to beat the storm before it reaches our unsuspecting supplies. Our efforts are somewhat in vain. Our site managed to get rained on with our fire pit getting wet and the wind collapsing part of the tent as well as snapping some poles. We were lucky that the worst of the storm had stayed south of us, and in no time the clouds had parted and the sun was back out. This didn’t stop us from hiding in our repaired tent for the rest of the day and playing board games.
All too soon our time came to an end. We still had enough food to last another day at least, three maybe at the most, but to not return on the day we had said would undoubtably spark worry and we had no way of contacting anyone to let them know of an extended stay. Packing up our things, farewelling the area and eating our last breakfast we hit the road back up the valley towards home but not before, in mock ceremony, covering our faces with charcoal, quite to the surprise of the cafe assistant we met at Jindabyne for lunch with her simply asking the question “Where on earth have you guys been?” with the simple reply of “Oh you know, camping”. I think we all agreed that we had been more than camping, and had in fact spent a fantastic time discovering a hidden paradise on the shores of the Snowy, a place which at first sight may seem like just another section of the Australian bush, but after spending some time there to experience it properly, it well and truly turns into something deeply unique and special.
I almost feel sorry for spreading word of this place as it is so quietly nestled away and almost a local secret, but I think it deserves to be seen and explored by many, many people. So from the avid and enthusiastic campers who have traversed many a wilderness, to the inexperienced and yet to learn novices, this place is a wonderful area of the Australian bush just waiting to be discovered. If you end up heading out that way I hope you have a fantastically rewarding experience with your own stories to take away.
Thanks for reading.