Last weekend we hiked through the Alpine National Park to Lake Tali Karng with our friends Cath & Rob, it was beautiful and turned into a slight misadventure. Rob is a dedicated hiker and Cath is fairly experience as well, whereas Li and I are pretty inexperienced, I haven’t hiked since high school & the scouts.
So we this in mind we planned an easy two day hike, downhill all the way in an area Rob had visited last November. We left a car at the bottom of the walk at the end of the sealed road on the Wellington River and drove to the high plains and left a car at MacFarlanes Saddle. It was bright and sunny Saturday lunchtime when we started hiking across the plains heading towards the lake. We chatted and took in the beautiful grasslands around us then stopped a couple of hours in for a break and some late lunch.
Another hour of walking got us to Gillios Track a steep rocky descent from 1300 metres to the lake at around 900 metres. This descent was hard work, loose rocks and tight chicanes with a pack on ones back isn’t easy, especially when you aren’t use to it. I had a touch of trouble at this point, my left ankle is weak having being twisted badly several times in the past. So this descent was made harder by trying to avoid a twist, which I did with a few very minor exceptions.
Great relief was felt all round when we reached the lake, all sweaty with our legs shaking from the descent. Our reward for all that hard work, Lake Tali Karng, sparkled in the late afternoon sun a beautiful blue green. We trekked around the lake till we reach the western edge and setup camp in the vicinity of a group of men boisterously swimming in the lake. Slightly disappointed not to be alone with the lake we made the best of things and greeted them warmly, which was returned in kind.
They turned out to be a group of Serbians, all originally refugees from the war in the 1990s. After we swam, we setup camp and Rob cooked our dinner on the tiny camp stove. The Serbians lit a fire and started laying out a vast array of food. We were a little uncomfortable about the fire as it was explicitly disallowed due to the damage wood collection does to the surrounding bushland.
However since it was a minor infraction we didn’t make an issue of it and they invited to join us in consuming not only the vast array of food they had but a considerable amount of homemade plum brandy as well. We gladly obliged and chatted with them into the night, staying up far later (and far drunker) than we would have on our own. In all likelihood it contributed to the events that followed the next day.
In the morning we slept relatively late for a camping trip, enjoying the extended twilight being surrounded by mountains provides. I cooked breakfast (a mediocre rice pudding) while the camp was disassembled. We then walked around the lake to visit the falls at the eastern end of the lake. The falls were beautiful and the water tasted wonderful and we filled our bottles, replacing the suspect lake water which we had been consuming. We then returned to the camp site and set off for the car at around 12pm.
Lake Tali Karng was created by a big land slide across a valley around 1500 years ago and as we left the lake we hiked down this rock fall. The area we were journeying through is aptly called the Valley of Destruction and it was almost as difficult a descent as down Gillios Track was the day before. It was quite slow going and my ankle continued to threaten a severe twist a worrying problem given the 18km and 14 river crossing ahead of us. I used a Gandalf-esk stick to assist and avoided severe injury for the two or so hours it took us to get through the valley.
A few hours into the hike we reached what looked like a fork, one a 4×4 track heading up a hill and another trail marked by ribbons. We followed the ribbons for 10-15 minutes before becoming suspicious that the ribbons weren’t for us but for one of the many running groups or schools that use the area. We turned around to return to the fork and I read some writing on one of the ribbons as we passed. “Remove 15/4/2012 GGS” could be read and I passed on the remove and date to my companions, annoyingly as you will see leaving out the GGS part.
Once we reached the fork we broke for a rest while Rob went down the 4×4 track to see if this was the trail we needed to follow. We swatted march flies (YUCK) while chatting, expecting Rob to return shortly. He returned 30 minutes later to the pronouncement that he was 95% sure that what we had thought was a 4×4 track was infact the trail. We followed with some small trepidation, not wanting after all to be lost in the wilderness.
This is where the hike became a bit less fun, the not knowing for sure where we were didn’t do great things for our moral and the trail was a lot of PUDS (Pointless Up and Downs) which was a bit tiresome. Another hour in, 4 hours into the hike in total, we reached another fork. This one was marked with a sign and was either the 4×4 track we thought we had ecountered earlier or one further along. It brought on more worry as if it was the first 4×4 track we were only 1/3 our way through the hike and had burnt 4 hours of what was suppose to be a six hour hike. At some stage during this part I mentioned the GGS on the ribbon, which Rob said likely stood for Geelong Grammar School.
Shortly afterwards another set of signs confirmed our fears. We still had 12kms and 14 river crossings left to do and only 4 hours of good light to do it in, being about 4pm by this stage. We stood around looking worried and Rob explained our options. We might make it if we hiked faster, and if we didn’t make it with the light we might chance the last section with headlamps. Or we could go as far as we could and camp. Rob would then go ahead alone to the cars and phone coverage so he could let our families know we were fine.
We decided either way we needed to move faster, to which Li responded that she couldn’t possibly do any more than she was already doing. A pack shuffle was initiated, with Rob taking Cath’s small pack as well as his own and Cath taking Li’s. We then set off at a faster pace, hoping to beat loss of the sun.
This section was a blur, we ate lightly and only stopped to remove our shoes for river crossings. The crossings themselves were a mixed blessing, the water was reviving while the rocks underfoot were slippery and painful on our sore feet. I focused on the person’s feet in front of me, part of me despairing while another part of me thinking of the tale I would tell once we returned. This XKCD comic did cross my mind at the time: http://xkcd.com/77/.
From what I saw and still remember the Wellington River was beautiful, each point we crossed worthy of it’s own day of camping and exploring. We saw several frogs, walked past many good swimming holes and missed examining many sights including a few amazing rock formations.
At 8pm as the light faded, we reached the last crossing and the car. After some tired rejoicing Rob and I left the girls to bathe while we collected the other car from the top of the mountian. It took us over an hour and a half to return to the girls, being that we were tired and driving on mountain dirt roads at night. As we drove up the mountain I turned my phone on and recieved a flurry of messages from my worried sister.
I messaged her that we were alive and safe but not to expect us for several hours yet. To this she responed with great relief and informed me we had been reported missing not 5 minutes previously. Amusment and apologies followed, and a few other family memebers sent messages of love.
Once we returned to the girls, who were a touch worried sitting in the dark by the river, we set off for home. We stopped off in Traralgon at midnight for dinner and consumed too much McDonalds, something I am not proud of but it was good at the time and the only food available. We then set off down the freeway for home, stopping at around 2am for a hours sleep for safety’s sake.
Li and I made it home by 4am and stumbled into bed after being thoroughly inspected by the cat, presumably we smelt very interesting after all our adventures. Once the sun rose we let our respective employers know some of what had transpired and returned to bed for some much needed sleep.
 A new term for Li and I which was explained to us on the hike when Li pronounced her frustration at the PUDS.