It’s mid-April, and getting cold in the Snowy Mountains. Rachel and I set out from Dead Horse Gap on a blue-sky Easter Sunday, sharing the trail with hikers and cyclists, but by late afternoon the next day everyone else has gone. For four of our six days on the trail, we don’t see anyone else. It’s just us and our packs (which become as essential and familiar as dear friends!) in the bush with the wildlife.
Looking back, the first few kilometres are a blur: busy, workaday me still hanging around in my head even as my feet are carrying me into the wilderness. That first afternoon I can’t quite focus on my surroundings; we chat, which takes my mind off the first big hill, but an anxious inner monologue plays alongside.
It’s a short enough first day – less than 10km – along the Cascade Trail to Cascades Hut. We share the spot with four others, who have the fire going in the outside fireplace and, as is so often the way on the trail, we swap stories for a while over cups of tea and hot chocolate.
After dark, our world narrows to the circle of firelight and the beam of a headtorch.
I sleep well, thanks to a new sleeping mat and warm bag, and get up in the early hours to a starry sky. The small, contained world of the evening is transformed, expansive and shadowy in the moonlight.
But it is emerging from my tent in the morning that makes me feel I’ve really arrived here, in this other world so far from daily life. There’s a pink dawn and the gentle light over the grassy banks of Cascade Creek. I’m finally here. Really here, in the bush, in the mountain air, far away from the working world, and excited for the days ahead.
Day 2 is a 16 km walk along the meandering, pleasant Cascade Trail – it’s a fire trail with two vehicle ruts to follow among the ash. The sky clouds over as the day progresses – we’re expecting rain tonight and the next day. It’s already been a wet season, so fungi are out in full swing. Flaking bark reveals multi coloured tree trunks.
We’ve been leap-frogging a large school group all day and half-expect they’ll be camping at Tin Mine Huts with us tonight, but we meet them at the trail junction having a snack before pushing on. Three mountain bikers swing by the huts for a late lunch on their way down the Ingeegoodbee – we chat, then wave them off. And that’s the last we see of other humans until we pop out along the Barry Way four days later!
Tin Mine Huts
It’s only mid afternoon, so we take our time settling in here – pitching tents, moving them to flatter spots, investigating the two huts, getting water, watching the horses. Two of them are clearly very used to human company, and hang around on the flats by the creek and near the huts. Encountering them on the way to the loo in the dark isn’t much fun for either party.
The promised rain looks to be brewing as the clouds thicken in the west. R gets the fire going and we start to get into a routine: hold out for dinner until 6, and bed until 8. Each night I settle in at exactly 8.25pm, a rhythm and a time I’d never achieve at home!
It rains off and on in the night, but really sets in after breakfast just when we’re deciding on our plans. We were going to head to Cowombat Flat, but decide to stay here where there’s a hut to dry off in after a wet day, and do day walks instead. So Tin Mine Huts become a base for the next three days, which turns out to be a good decision, because each day presents us with something very different, and weather that seems utterly suited to the landscape.