Autumn 2019 - Bikepacking in the Brindies
I love mountain biking, I love backpacking, I love the high country and… well my kids are okay too. So when we had 24 hours to kill in Canberra this autumn, I decided it was a perfect time to bring the bikes and give the kids a taste of bikepacking - in the ACT high country.
DON'T YOU MEAN BACK-PACKING?
No you silly rhetorical question that I wrote to myself... Bikepacking is basically about attaching everything you need to your mountain bike and riding into the wilderness.
There is a lot of purpose built gear available like frame bags, saddle bags, handlebar-bags and mounts that fit onto your frame or fork to turn your Mountain Bike into a pack-mule, reducing the need to wear a backpack - it's all really cool and adds up to be quite expensive. But since we aren’t riding too rough or too far, I just attached the tent onto my handlebars with compression straps. I also used a a rear pannier rack that clamps onto my seat post - and strapped a compression sack to it containing all our clothes. I then strapped an old army bag to the handlebars to carry all the food... and strapped a foam mat on top of that - So my old hardtail was fully loaded.
I also carried the sleeping gear, 3 litres of water and the stove in a small rucksack on my back. Each of the girls carried daypacks with water, jackets, camp pillows and teddy bears (all essential items).
The improvised bike-packing set up on my old steel Charge Duster, our "pack-mule"
NAMADGI FIRE TRAILS
The ACT high country in Namadgi National Park is perfect for bikepacking, there are multiple well graded fire-trails that are only accessible on foot or bike and even though the altitude is well over 1000 metres in parts of the park, many of the gradients aren’t too steep. And due to the pastoral history there are a heap of old stockmans huts and historical homesteads that can be accessed via the trails. We explored a couple of them in November 2017 on the Settlers Track.
The hut we are aiming for this time is Frank & Jack’s hut, a stockmans hut built in the 1950s. It is accessible along the Old Boboyan Road in a scenic part of the National Park. We park at the “Yankee Hat” carpark and continue South along Old Boboyan Road, past the locked gate for about 2.5km. Frank & Jack’s hut is situated on the Bogong creek track heading West. It’s the second major turn on the right at a dried up creek junction. It's only a short ride but since the kids are novice bike-riders and aren't used to mountain fire-trails, its a perfect introduction for them.
FRANK AND JACK'S HUT
Frank and jack's hut is a relatively modern construction, with weatherboard walls, a brick fireplace and tin roof. It is positioned in the valley beneath Mt Gudgenby and is surrounded by Kangaroos and Wallabies. The hut is well set up with a table, seats, a bow-saw for cutting wood and a fire extinguisher you hope you'll never need to use. We are using the hut as our kitchen and living space and sleeping in the tent outside. Where there are plenty of spots to pitch a tent and a drop toilet around the back of the hut for when nature calls.
It is really exciting for the kids to arrive at an old hut like this, it adds a new element of discovery and mystery to the adventure and we have an enjoyable time exploring the surroundings.
THE GUDGENBY VALLEY
After a snack we spend the afternoon exploring the area around the hut. The Gudgenby Valley is surrounded by some of the ACT's tallest peaks and was historically travelled each year by Aboriginal people who feasted on the bogong moths in the summertime. There is also a long pastoral history in the valley dating back to the mid 1800's with evidence of cattle and sheep grazing. Everywhere we look Kangaroos and Wallabies are staring back at us and we see signs of Wombats.
Dingoes are also common in the Gudgenby area, their howls can be heard in the night and if you're lucky you might see them.
The roos are always close by in the valley
As the autumn sun drops behind the mountains we prepare for a cold night, enjoying dinner then marshmallows by the fire and watching the lightning-fast microbats hunting in the falling light.
Feeling like pioneering stockmen, we play cards into the night by the warmth of the fire, before retiring to sleep in the tent. The light of the stars and moon brighten up the valley around us as the temperature drops.
Red sky in the morning... something, something flat tire warning?
There was a heavy dew overnight and it's not much above zero degrees so we layer up and light the fire straight away. This morning we are packing up, loading the pack-mule, getting back on the bikes and riding back to Yankee Hat carpark to drive over to Nanna's place in Canberra.
After breakfast we hit the road back to Yankee Hat car park. Mary finds a tree to climb while I fix a flat tire - a gift from the rocky Namadgi roads to our two wheel drive car.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
It is a bit of a stretch to call this a bike-packing trip but for a quick 24 hour adventure it has has been outstanding. It was a fun introduction for the kids to the concept of using a bike for overnight adventures and it also helped them gain a bit of confidence on the rolling rocky trails with a few high speed descents and slow uphill walks. Frank and Jack's hut is just the beginning of a network of huts and structures that are available to explore and as fun as it is with kids I'd love to come here with some mates and see how far we can go.
Back at the carpark, Daisy enjoying her own thoughts
Namadgi National Park is a really special place and gives you an authentic high country experience a short drive out of Canberra. It can get very cold here with snowfalls possible any time of year so be prepared. It can also get very hot and water isn't always easy to source, so bring enough for your adventures. If you have more time you can explore the 6km Yankee Hat trail and see ancient Aboriginal artworks.
To get to Frank & Jacks hut drive south out of Canberra, through Tharwa into Namadgi National Park. Turn off onto Old Boboyan Rad and park at the Yankee Hat carpark. Head S/SW for about 2km then turn right onto Bogong Fire trail.
For more information check out Namadgi National Park
Or read about our adventure on the Settlers Track in 2017
Or find out some of the Aboriginal heritage of the Australian High Country
And to learn more about bikepacking check out Bikepacking.net
The author wishes to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land featured in this article.