Character Building in Ngunnawal Country
A Four day, Three night spring adventure in the ACT High Country - with kids
“It’s doable, but it’s hard.” This was the message I got from the ranger at Namadgi National Park when I enquired about climbing Mount Gudgenby and crossing over the saddle into the Naas Valley for a three night trip in the school holidays. The re-growth from the 2020 fires was at it’s thickest. Her colleague had climbed up the week earlier, and a walk that used to take a few hours, now took most of the day. That didn’t fit with my plan to take three teenagers and one tween up and over, so I opted for reaching the saddle below the summit, then descending to the valley. After some more intel from the Bushwalk.com forum I gathered “It’s doable, but it’s hard”.
Perfect for the Crazy Danger Crew – Ava (16), Daisy (14), Rory (14) and Mary (11) plus myself and Crazy Chris (still legitimately mid-forties if you round it down).
We’ve been adventuring together for years, but we’ve only done one or two night remote walks - this would be our first time doing three nights. All the kids were carrying full sleeping gear & clothes. Chris and I were carrying most of the food, water and cooking gear, with a few treats thrown in for motivation.
Necessity meant a late start in Canberra on the Monday afternoon, so our first night’s camp was near Frank & Jack’s Hut in the Gudgenby Valley – an ideal starting point to tackle the Gudgenby Saddle and a short walk in from the Yankee Hat carpark. The walk would see us explore the remote Bimberi Wilderness area before coming back through the Naas Valley and finishing at the historical Settlers track.
Chris brought the teenagers from Sydney to meet Mary and I at Danger Nanna’s house in Canberra, where we did a quick food audit and sort. We left Kambah after 3pm in a convoy and drove south to Brayshaw’s hut where we left the Bongo Van at 4.30; Forty minutes later we were embarking on foot from the car park at Yankee Hat for the easy walk to Frank & Jacks.
As the light faded and the temperature dropped, we set up camp in the valley below the hut among the Kangaroos. Our first night involved fresh pasta and tarot readings by candlelight. After the kids went to bed, Chris and I hooked into our whisky supply and stumbled into tents later than ideal.
It was a late start, all of us rising after seven am, and Mary still fast asleep in the tent at eight, oblivious to the army of macropods surrounding her. Once we had breakfast, dressed and packed up we were on the track around ten. We headed north-west along the Bogong Creek firetrail, before circling back south-west towards Mt Gudgenby. We topped up our water at a boggy ford at the end of the firetrail – adding tablets for purification – we weren’t intending to drink the water but needed supplies in case we ran out water before hitting the legendary spring on the saddle.
From here the foot-pad to the saddle used to begin, but has been lost since the catastrophic fires of 2020. We used waypoints on the GPS app that vaguely followed the old path, but the density of the re-growth dictated the path we would take. Weaving, climbing, crawling and at times pushing straight through thick Acacia, Eucalypt and Tea Tree scrub. We saw an echidna and a small snake and stopped various times to drink our boggy water (with electrolytes added for taste). As our morale lowered and our elevation rose, we found some cairns, leading us around some large boulders. We eventually reached the high point of the saddle at 1326m at two PM. It had taken almost 4 hours to walk about 7km and the kids were not impressed.... Doable but it’s hard.
We had a good lunch break and morale lifted, a light rain began to fall, cooling us off while Chris and I explored the saddle looking for the spring to replenish our water supplies. I nearly stepped on a large Copperhead snake that seemed completely at ease with the situation – while I did the “snake dance” goose stepping over it.
With only half the journey completed and less than half the day ahead, we took off down the western side of the saddle at 2.30pm. We found the spring on the way down – not the luxurious paradise we had in our imaginations – but a delicious, trickle of clear water, beginning its long journey to become the Naas River. Progress was much faster descending and morale was high, but the regrowth still slowed us down. We were considering camping by the Naas creek but heavy rainclouds loomed ominously – everyone was exhausted.
It was around 4.30pm when we finally hit a recognisable track - the remnants of Sam’s Creek Firetrail and the much clearer Stevenson’s Firetrail. Chris and I decided to power through to the shed on a forced march through the valley. The open fire-trail was fast but our sore feet were feeling every rock. By the time we spotted the shed in the distance the rain was more constant but the kids were happy. At 6pm we had our packs off and were setting up tents – just in time for the storm to hit. We sat in the comfort of the broken plastic chairs and watched the storm from the palatial shelter of the crutching shed, complete with lightning, thunder and hail banging on the tin roof. Grateful we weren’t camped by the creek in the scrub.
It was early to bed - securing our packs and food under our tent to prevent the resident possum from ransacking our supplies - and we slept to the sounds of intermittent rain and dingoes howling in the night.
We woke to a damp and foggy morning. We had a short walk for day three - less than 10km of fire-trail to Waterhole Hut - so we took our time with breakfast and explored the surrounds. The kids discovered a spooky old orchard and the remains of a recently slaughtered Roo. The lingering mist gave the impression of a horror movie and the kids described the orchard as like somewhere a Witch would live. We had been making our own horror movie and shot the last scene at the shed just before we left at 11.30.
We had an option to take the short route continuing East through Naas Valley or to take a longer route past the Lone Pine Homestead ruins and over the high forest of a hill to the west. It was a beautiful day and morale was high so we took the scenic route. We had already seen a lot of the Naas valley and this gave us a taste of some more established forest and diverse topography. There was a bit more climbing than the kids bargained for and there wasn’t much left of the Lone Pine Homestead (apart from some enthusiastic ants), so we continued climbing and found a nice spot for lunch among some boulders near the junction with the Bulls Flat Track. After a bit more climbing we descended back down to the valley and linked up with the Waterholes Firetrail and an easy flat walk to Waterhole Hut. By 3pm we had our packs off and were soaking up the afternoon sun.
We set up our tents in a field uphill from the hut and settled in for another stormy evening, enjoying damper and fried rice under the shelter of the hut. After marshmallows and a preview screening of our new horror movie, we were in bed by 8.30, with fog settling in for our last chilly night.
We woke to a frosty, misty morning with ice on the tent. Today we would be completing the journey to Brayshaw’s Hut, where the bongo van was parked ready for our trip back home to Sydney – a far cry from the environment we woke up in. Waterhole Hut is the furthest most point in the “Settlers Track” an easy 9km loop that takes in three historical huts and other relics of the area’s pastoral history. At 8.30am we left the hut, taking the Northern part of the Settlers Track, the shortest route climbing over Pheasant Hill where we could see the red form of Westerman’s Homestead on the other side of the valley.
Westermans Homestead across the valley
We made it back to Brayshaw’s Hut by 9.30 after a short 3.3km stroll. We loaded up the bongo and drove to Yankee Hat carpark to pick up Chris’s 4WD. On the way out we popped into the Namadgi Visitors Centre for a cold drink and to let them know we survived the journey. Doable… but hard.
Departing from Waterhole Hut
This was a fantastic walk but challenging with off-track scrub bashing. We used the Yaouk 1:25:000 map and also pre-plotted the course with way points on Terra Maps. See below for a detailed google map and link.
If you plan to walk here - or anywhere in the high country - prepare for any conditions. We had freezing nights, with ice on the tents followed by hot sunny days. We were able to rely on the creeks and water tanks for water but in times of extended drought it could be very different - so make sure you always carry enough water. Or check in with the team at the Namadgi Visitors Centre.
There is a pit toilet at Frank & Jack’s Hut, but Luton’s Crutching Shed and Waterhole Hut don’t have toilets. They do have good quality shovels so please be discreet and take your toileting away from the places of heritage value or obvious campsites.
Mountain huts are maintained by volunteers and Parks staff, so be sure you keep them clean and take all rubbish away with you. Replace any firewood you use and set up your tent a good distance away from the hut to allow other users access.
The Route - North to South
Day 1: Car shuffle to Brayshaw’s homestead then drive to Yankee Hat Carpark and walk to Frank & Jack’s Hut (half-day).
Day 2: Walk up Mount Gudgenby Saddle to Luton’s Crutching Shed, via Naas Valley.
Day 3: Luton’s Crutching Shed to Waterhole Hut via Bulls Flat Track.
Day 4: Waterhole Hut to Brayshaw’s homestead via Settlers Track. (Short day – car shuffle back to Yankee Hat).
Check out the Google map file here