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Scorched Earth to Rebirth - Spring 2020

Off track in Namadgi National Park, in the ACT High Country. Ngunnawal Country.

It’s been three years since I began organising overnight hikes in every season with the kids. And every four months we’ve somehow managed to stick with the plan - with the exception of last summer - when the worst bushfires in our living memory raged across the eastern states of Australia. Last summer was a summer of hell.


One of the many wonderful places impacted by the fires is Namadgi National Park in the ACT high country. Parts of the park are still closed - like the Yankee Hat area we bike-packed in 2019.

For our Spring adventure we’re heading to the Naas valley in the south eastern corner of the park. It just re-opened, so we don’t know what to expect. What we do know is the historic Horse Gully Hut is still standing and we are going to step up the challenge by going off track. Our team is the old Crazy Danger Crew. Rory & Daisy (11), Mary (8) and Ava (13) plus Chris and me (both mid 40’s but young at heart).

WHERE WE’RE GOING WE DON’T NEED ROADS


Horse Gully hut can be reached via the Naas Valley fire trail, from the Mount Clear Campground. It’s an undulating but scenic 8km dirt road meandering through the valley. With crystal clear creek crossings, fields and hills. You can’t get lost walking or riding this way and the scenery is lovely. Our friends Pat and Kylie will be riding this way with their two small kids. But not us... today we’re starting at Shanahans Mountain and from there we're following no track, just a map, a creek and a crazy dream.

Shanahan's Mountain summit


At about 1420 metres, Shanahans mountain is located on the Booth Range and has majestic views to the east. In the valley below, we see our next stop, a stunning grassy meadow with a series of intersecting pools, flanked by wooded hills. We can also see how devastating the fires were - with barely a tree spared.


Between us and the valley is a steep and precarious scree slope. We traverse the high ground until we find a gradient that seems manageable and begin the descent. At best it’s really hard work, at worst it’s dangerous and Chris takes a tumble cutting his wrist on the sharp shale halfway down.

Slideshow - Shanahan's Mountain

After struggling down the scree for an hour and a half, the gradient becomes gentler and we stop zigzagging and start walking safely down the hill. We make it to the valley floor realising we could have traversed a bit further up high and taken a gentle spur all the way down, halving our effort and time - it's all part of the challenge of navigating off track - but it has put us behind schedule.

After a quick lunch we follow Shanahan’s creek down the valley to a junction with Naas creek - where the two creeks become the Naas River - and fill our water bottles. With the fresh re-growth and the crystal clear water it looks like we are walking in another country, a huge contrast to the brown and golden tones of the year before. We rock hop for a while then take the high ground to avoid a steep rocky gorge and re-join the river a bit later.

By early evening the kids are exhausted and Chris is injured from his fall on the scree slope. The map shows an opportunity for a short cut, climbing a hill between us and our hut in the Naas valley. Chris - unable to climb with his injured ankle - continues solo along the creek to take the long way around the hill and meet us on the other side.

Chris continues solo along the river


The kids and I start climbing the hill - hoping the the hut is waiting on the other side. Half way up, Daisy falls over, after dislodging a loose boulder - she has been soldiering on stoically all day but this is her tipping point, a combination of pain and exhaustion pours out helplessly on this charred hill in the fading light… please let the hut be there.

We re-group and eventually make it over the hill. Through the trees the kids see our little tin hut in the valley below and morale instantly raises. We intersect with Chris on the track who most likely took the best route and arrive at the hut, exhausted but with renewed vigour and relief that we didn’t kill the kids… or their spirit of adventure.

We made it! Chris approaches Horse Gully Hut


 

HORSE GULLY HUT


The hut is our home for two nights and we set up our tents and light the fire. After an epic day we’re all happy that tomorrow we are going to play around the surrounding bush and won’t need our packs. Our friends Pat & Kylie and their two girls Stella (7) and Charlie (5) will be joining us with their service dog Murphy - A super Labrador who can detect seizures - they are all arriving by bike along the Naas fire trail any moment.


It’s some time after dark when they arrive after a much harder than expected journey. Pat’s towing an overloaded chariot with his mountain bike while he and Kylie try to motivate the exhausted kids. They are shattered, but have an esky with fresh food and wine, so we settle in for an enjoyable night - knowing tomorrow is a day of leisure and luxury.



Slideshow - Our first night at the hut


 


DAY TWO


We wake at sunrise to a frosty morning - and have a long relaxing breakfast of pancakes and coffee. The space around the hut is safe and open, perfect for playing and exploring and we have the whole place to ourselves like a private retreat.

It’s a perfect warm spring day, so after breakfast we head North down the track to explore and wade in the Naas river.

Pat and Kylie really know how to glamp - and their chariot is full of luxuries and toys. After lunch of delicious jaffles cooked in the coals (in a jaffle iron that came in the chariot). Pat sets up a hammock that the kids play on for hours, spinning each other around in full 360 degree loops.

Kylie brings out a book of Australian Aboriginal Tales from the Dreaming and nominates a story tree on the hill behind the hut. We sit on the hillside as Kylie, Daisy and Rory tell a story each before we return to the hut to tuck into a huge lasagne baked over the fire.

Daisy and Stella narrate from he Story Tree


 


DAY THREE

We wake to another freezing morning but well rested after our luxurious day. Today we tackle the 8km fire trail back uphill to the Mount Clear campground and the end of our adventure.



After breakfast we clean up the hut and surrounds, load up the chariot and bid goodbye to Horse Gully Hut. Pat's chariot is filled with all the luxuries that made yesterday so much fun and the kids brace themselves for an 8km uphill slog along the Naas Valley fire trail.

Pat and the chariot - fully loaded


It's a warmer than average mid-spring day and the smaller kids are struggling with the walk, while Pat struggles with the chariot. Chris helps by carrying Charlie's bike, while Rory and Ava ride Stella and Kylie's bikes. And I help push Pat and the chariot up the hills. After about 3km it's after midday and we're exhausted. So we stop at a creek to cool off and eat some food.

The local ranger saves the day by taking the contents of the chariot and Charlie's bike in the back of his ute, allowing the two smaller kids to ride in the chariot. And we power through the next half of the trek, enjoying the creeks and scenery along the way.

We make it to Mount Clear campground, with all the gear waiting safely by Pat & Kylie's Pajero, feeling hot, tired, hungry and thirsty... but also good... really good.


 



THE END OF THE ADVENTURE


Over a good pub meal at Rose Cottage in South Canberra we reflect on the adventure. Namadgi is a great place to go off track for the first time - in fact this is the very first place I went off track when I was a fifteen year old high school kid. The terrain is easy to read and the distance is manageable, even for an eight year old like Mary. But if you plan to hike 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 where the kids dived into the creeks to cool off. We were able to rely on the creeks and water tank but 12 months earlier it would have been very different - so make sure you always carry enough water.

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 starting at Shanahan's Mountain and finishing at Mount Clear Campground - Collinton 1:25000

 

Namadgi is one of my favourite wilderness areas. The kids and grown ups had a wonderful time and breaking the trip up over three days made it like a mini-holiday. Although in hindsight, there may have been a little too much stuff in the chariot - but we all appreciated Pat's sacrifice... and the help of the Ranger to get everyone home.


Find everything you need to know about Namadgi National Park here


Or here to find out more about Horse Gully Hut on the KHA website


Or check out our much easier Namadgi hut adventure here


Or here to find out about the Ngunnawal heritage of the region

 


The author acknowledges the Ngunnawal people who are the

original custodians of the land featured in this article


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