Australian Alps Walking Track - Prologue

The Australian Alps Walking Track was established in the 1970s - often more a route than a defined track, it stretches about 650 km across the highest mountains of this flat continent from Walhalla in Victoria to Tharwa in the Australian Capital Territory, passing through several National Parks, declared Wilderness Areas and some of the most isolated country in the south-east of Australia. To walk the track, or at least part of it, is a goal of many bushwalkers. I had been particularly attracted to walking the northern section, as it is virtually my backyard and yet I knew it less than parts of New Zealand, the Andes or Himalayas.

When a friend told me about an expedition by the Canberra Bushwalking Club to walk the track, I jumped at the opportunity to join them for the last two sections from Dead Horse Gap to track's end at Tharwa. The fair (and wise) Nello considered the prospect of 11 straight days walking with all food and supplies, gave me a curious knowing smile and declined my invitation to come along. True, this would be a lot tougher than past long walks we had done; we had walked the distance more than once, but always allowed for rest days in comfortable surrounds and used food caches to cut down on weight. On the Australian Alps Walking Track, there is no such luxury and you need to be totally self-sufficient.

This was also an opportunity to walk with the "hard men" (in its generic sense) of bushwalking and I wondered if I would make the cut. Our leader, Rob, was certain one of these, this being the fourth time that he had walked the 650km plus length of the Track. Karen was walking the entire track for the first time, while others like myself joined them for different sections. The rendez-vous between each section was therefore critical and planned with military precision - I had a arranged a lift by car to our rendez-vous point with club member Jim, who was also doing the last two sections. We picked up the next week's resupplies for the walkers on the track and headed south - the deadline was 15:00 at Dead Horse Gap (Grid reference 131 571), 5 km west of the Thredbo Skifield.

Bushwalker Stereotypes

I refer above to the "hard men" of bushwalking, which is a term of respect, but probably requires some explanation. One thing is certain, there is no such creature as "a bushwalker / tramper/ hiker / trekker", whatever you might label yourself. The people who engage in such activities are an exceedingly diverse bunch and often hard to categorise. Nonetheless, it has helped pass the time on some trips to come up with a few stereotypes, based on my observations of fellow walkers.

For me, walkers can be divided on the basis of five criteria: distance / time (How far or how much?), weather (when?), track / accommodation (where?), gear (what?) and purpose (why?).

How far? Some people only like to walk for a few hours, others whole days, others are happy to spend a few days out and yet others like the challenge of spending weeks at a time out on the track.

When? Basically the split is between fair weather walkers and those not perturbed by excesses of rain, wind or temperature.

Where? Can be divided into the nocturnal where and the diurnal where: for the diurnal where, there are those who like only wide gravel paths, those who don't mind a narrow bush track and those who are only satisfied if they can get off-track and do a bit of good old bush-bashing; for the nocturnal where there are those who love to camp out and those who don't. The latter may prefer day-walks based from comfortable lodgings, or may be are happy to do longer walks if there is an auberge or B&B to stay at the end of each day. Some are put off by the thought of carrying a heavy pack, others by the thought of sleeping rough in a tent.

What? three basic categories exist here: the traditionalists, with their leather boots, canvas gaiters, oilskins, extra-short shorts etc; the technophiles who love their composite materials, goretex, easy dry water-wicking non-smelling insect-repelling fabrics and kevlar reinforced poles and packs, a GPS perhaps; and the simple fashionistas who just want the latest name in designer outdoor gear.

Why? the critical question: for some it is the walk itself - longer, harder, higher, faster - the Rob DiCastellas of bushwalking; for others it is an exploration of nature - no stone left unturned or rose left unsmelled - the Harry Butlers. A subcategory of the latter is the photographer, destined to slow down any walking party, with endless stops to capture landscapes, flora, fauna, sunsets etc (mea culpa).

And this doesn't even consider the pyschology of walkers - the need to lead or, conversely, not liking the sound of footsteps behind; the solitary wanderer vs those who like social banter, the organiser vs the follower etc. No one person falls neatly into any single category here and everyone is enjoying the great outdoors in their own way, but I know that I recognise myself within these multi-dimensional spectra of possibilities. Where do you think you fit?


We arrived early at Dead Horse Gap to be greeted by a cold blustery wind and constant interchange of cloud and sunshine. Not long after Rob, Karen and Rupert appeared heading up the rise of the gap, looking lean and fit after their long stage from the Mitta Mitta River in Victoria. They were ready to hoe into the fresh bread, fruit and salad, milk and hot coffee that we had brought from the club for the rendez-vous picnic. Dehydrated food becomes very tedious after a week on the track and it had been 28 days and over 400 km since Rob and Karen left Walhalla!

After lunch, Rupert said farewell and headed back to Canberra in the car, while Jim and I joined the others for a short 50m stroll to a grassy flat surrounded by gnarly old snow gums that overlooked the Thredbo River. Here we pitched our tents and settled in, checking our gear for the start of our section of the track in the cool sunshine of an alpine autumn day.

Campsite on Dead Horse Gap

After 8 days on the track, Rupert, Karen and Rob check in

Gnarly old snow gum

The rendez-vous had worked well and tomorrow we would set out for the 200+ km walk to Tharwa. My adventure on the Australian Alps Walking Track had commenced. Rob and Karen retired early before darkness fell - I didn't understand why then, but it wasn't going to take too long to find out!