Heysen Day 14: Wilmington to Melrose (32km today, 315.8km on trail)

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Geez it was a solid day today. 10-20mm of rain was forecast late afternoon and I was determined to beat it. 32km day ahead up and over Mount Remarkable and down into Melrose.

I hit the bitumen out of Wilmington backtracking along the off trail kilometres done yesterday. It was flat going and easy in the first light of morning. The sun was slowly rising, casting a dark amber hue across the horizon behind me. I had to keep looking back to capture the view. With not quite enough light to see my feet the head torch was on.

By the time I’d hit the trail again I’d stowed my torch. Another kilometre or two of bitumen before the Heysen swung onto Stoney Track, a bush track, leading to the Stoney Creek camp site about 7km in for the morning. There was a steep rocky spur line from this camp and I took a quick break, munching down second breakfast.

I can feel the hunger more now and will have to start consuming more calories. For now I’m satisfied with a the odd groaning stomach signalling more food, with plenty of belly fat still to loose.

A steep start up the spur line. A little after 7am and I can feel my shirt starting to dampen with sweat. I try and pace myself, slowing down to not exert so much but it doesn’t help. I push up, one step at a time, taking a quick little breaks every 200m or so. It is tough. It’s a relief to hit the top and find flatter ground.

I follow the ridge line for a short while, picking through large boulders and start the descent through thick wattle groves, squeezing pack between branches in places. Soon enough the Heysen breaks out of the trees into open grasslands. I’m fairly sure this is part of the National Park but can’t tell if these are natural grassed areas or reclaimed farmland. Huge mobs of roos up to 20 strong sun themselves in the morning light until they notice my presence and all but the dominant males fleeing. The large males just stay put, alert and keeping an eye on me but remain where they are without a care in the world.

Beyond the grassland I entered into what I can only describe as a roller coaster bush track for many kilometres. Straight up and straight back down over rolling hills. Several sections were far too steep for my liking and I had to employ the short rest breaks every 200m or so, calves screaming out at the incline. These would be tough tracks in low 4WD. Slowly but surely I made my way up this painful section of trail, doing my best to stay positive. Completed, the trail moved into a creek line. Dry but not as tough as the dry creek beds after Hawker.

At some point I hit the 300km mark.

Besides the roos, hundreds of them, fallow deer occupy these parts. I had sighted quite a few already along the bush track, mostly in twos. Towards the end of the creek line I was moving as usual, with quite a bit of noise, with the click clack of metal walking pole tips on rock, the wind straight in my face. I looked up and spied a fallow stag about 50m away, his head up initially up before continuing to graze. I stopped dead in my tracks and started a stalk to see how close I could get.

Moving slowly, deliberately across the rocks trying to keep my noise down I’d take one step at a time. The dry vegetation and rocks didn’t allow for a completely silent approach. Its hard lugging a pack over rocky ground as well. The wind played in my favour helping dampen any noise and pushing my scent back behind me.

He would put his back up, sniff the air and keep grazing, completely oblivious to me presence. I gained ground, loosing sight of him behind a large rock and as I moved to within 20m wasn’t even sure he was still there. I thought he had done a runner. There were a few large boulders to climb over and he would be just over the other side. Poking my head up there he was only about 10m away. I stopped and stood still filming with my Gopro for a couple of seconds before he finally notice me and bolted. Wow! I’ve never been that close to a deer in the wild before. Normally they are in my rifle sights from 80 – 150m away. Such a treat to experience.

Exiting the creek line was another huge straight up climb. Switch backs wouldn’t have gone astray. Switchbacks make so much sense. Calves screaming again but its not far to the top and onto flatter ground.

Gray’s Hut was a couple for kilometres away on a bush track. Before leaving home my initial plan was to stay here, then walk the 12km into Melrose the following day, resupply and head back out on trail straight away. I’m not averse to changing plans on the fly and worked out yesterday that it would be better to push harder today, beat the rain down to Melrose, stay in a budget pub room and have a solid feed, avoiding a wet and windy night under a tarp. That would also mean taking the time in the morning for a cooked breakfast and allowing for a shorter day to Murray Town tomorrow.

I knew from Grays hut the going was going to get tougher. A another solid climb out from the hut was followed by a descent straight back down to the valley floor and a sheer climb out the other side. I could the trail on the other side as I made my way down to the gully and it did not look pretty.

It wasn’t pretty at all. The first kilometre and a half up the other side was sheer hell. Straight up, again. Calfs screaming again. It was a brutal climb up. My shirt was saturated from sweat and it was dripping off the brim of my cap. But it wasn’t hot, just hard work.

By now deep thunder rumbles could be heard over the range behind me, the wind had picked up and clouds covered the once blue sky. The rains were not far off. Half way up the ascent I had to just stop. Sweat pissing out from everywhere I felt like spewing. Luckily the place I picked to stop happened to be at the top of the worst section. From here the terrain flattened, still climbing but much easier now.

I finally reach the top of Mount Remarkable just before 1pm. I sat down for some lunch but didn’t hang around ling. I could barely stomach anything and with a saturated shirt the wind cut through starting to chill me to be bone. It was time to get out there. Seven kilometres of descent and I’d be in Melrose. Maybe I’d feel like hot chips or something else by the time I made it down.

The descent was rocky as hell but well graded. I think maybe the whole mountIn is basically a pile of rubble. Nothing solid about place. By now I had a wind layer on to warm up land it wasn’t long before the rain jacket came out as the first heavy drops of rain fell.

Not far to go now and beat most of the rain. I was rugged up and flying down the hill, crossing several large scree slopes or landslip areas.

I made it. Happy to have reached Melrose, dry and warm. I headed straight to the general store for a belated lunch of you guessed it, hot chips and a coke. I sat outside munching chips as the rain fell harder now. The store would close in half an hour and I took to opportunity to resupply with food. Four days worth to see me through to Crystal Brook.

A shorter day tomorrow will be welcomed. Besides my options are not great. Beyond the 18 kilometres to Murray Town there is not much in the way of camping as the trail leads through more pastoral lands. It would need a hard push of 43km to reach next designated campsite, which I just can’t do on this trail yet. Although the terrain does flatten for the next few days.

I grabbed a budget room at the Mount Remarkable Hotel and very thankful I did. The skies opened up and bucketed down all night. So glade not to be under a tarp.

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