Australian thru-hikes may not have the international fame of the Appalachian Trail, the PCT, or Te Araroa, but that doesn’t stop them from being bloody spectacular! Explorer Kate recently soloed the 680km Australian Alps Walking Track.
I’ve Always Been Drawn To The Mountains
My heart belongs above the tree line, lost in the layers of hazy mountains extending out to the horizon. My dreams are filled with a long traverse across a sharp ridgeline, a final summit push onto a rugged snow-capped peak. I long to walk along the boundless open plains, scattered with wild brumbies grazing in front of forgotten huts.
The Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) is made for us mountain lovers; it connects the alpine zones of three states, crossing the highest summits in the country, and descending down into the overgrown bush.
Starting from Walhalla, Victoria, it zigzags its way across the Great Dividing Range over 680km, ending its grand traverse in Tharwa, ACT. The AAWT is one of Australia’s greatest thru-hikes, yet few people have even heard of it.
The First Encounter
Three years ago, on my first overnight hike, I came across the AAWT. Nailed to a gum tree hung a yellow diamond marker. Hanging for so long, the tree had engulfed the marker into its very core, appearing as if the trunk’s jaws were trying to eat it.
It wasn’t this that held my curiosity, but the strange image of a mountain with two little legs and big black printed words, ‘Alpine Track’. I continued hiking, but couldn’t shake off the intrigue as to where this track may lead.
Returning home, I was told by colleagues that this was the old marker for the Alpine Walking Track, one of the perks of living in the mountain community. I bought John Chapman’s book, basically the AAWT bible.
It breaks the AAWT down, explaining the elevation profile, water sources, distance between campsites and insight into the historic sights and huts along the way. This ‘bible’ began to paint a picture of the hike I’d been dreaming of.
The AAWT is the ultimate wilderness experience. It’s a combination of 4WD tracks, logging roads, old grazing paths, brumby trails, well-used hiking routes, and sometimes no sign of a track at all. You can go days, sometimes weeks without seeing another human being, as the track passes through some of the most remote areas of the national parks.
You’ll walk through lush ferny forests in Baw Baw National Park, overgrown bush and rocky peaks in the Alpine National Park, and wander through open grassy plains in Kosciusko National Park.
While some sections of the hike are virtually unknown, other areas are more popular for section hikers, often done as a day trip or multi-day hike. These sections include ‘The Cross-Cut Saw’ in Alpine National Park, ‘The Falls Creek to Hotham Alpine Crossing’, and ‘The Main Range Track’ in Kosciuzsko National Park.
On the AAWT, waking up before sunrise, hiking up peaks and starting your day with the sun becomes the norm. Summiting over 30 mountains along the way, you realise the uniqueness of every mountain.
The sheer rock face of the Viking, coming vertically straight up from the ground, making for a steep ascent that is worth every step when you reach its rocky peak.
The undulating ridge of the razorback to Mount Feathertop, its many promising false summits. The giant rock cairn marking Victoria’s highest peak, Mount Bogong, with its sea of clouds in the valleys below. The first sight of a city as you follow the footpad marked only by rock cairns to ACT’s highest summit, Mount Bimberi.
The peaks will add a new challenge to your journey on the AAWT, but the memories, unforgettable.
Imagine a backdrop of mountain peaks, an open field divided by a fast flowing creek. In the distance stands a small structure. Pulling closer and closer, it’s a high country hut. Nestled amongst the gum trees with the sound of the trickling stream nearby; a place of refuge, hidden from the outside world.
Each hut tells its own story. Some built by Graziers, herding cattle across the roof of Australia; our high country. Others have been built by backcountry skiers, wanting a place to dry their clothes and rest their exhausted bodies. A few built to commemorate the first European explorers to walk these mountains, creating their own path, discovering new peaks.
Along the Australian Alps Walking Track you’ll pass over 30 huts on the actual trail, with options of side trips to visit more. They became sanctuaries for a wet day, serene lunch spots and a place to pause in an ever-changing environment.
A Hiking Mindset
A thru-hike is not only a test of your fitness, but a journey through your deepest thoughts and memories as the silence leaves you with only self-talk. Mental strength grows as you find trust in self, persistence and the will to continue when you return from that wrong turn.
It all multiplies your senses, the sound when you pause cannot be replicated and the views seem endless, never quite captured by a photo.
When walking for hours with images merging, trees seemingly indifferent, you find your thoughts wandering and looping, but eventually settling into the present. Thoughts dive inwards and you unintentionally explore every inch of your being.
By reading this article the seed has already been planted. The AAWT is waiting for you, a trial that shifted me, will yield an impact for all. It may be the whole track, a section or two, a day trip here and there. My vision is to see others trying the track with clarity, as I take on my next adventure!