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Thunder, lightning, very very frightening.....

Updated: Jan 17

The thunder rumbled in the distance, and I cautiously looked up. I was still at least 8km from where I wanted to camp for the night, but storm clouds were visible coming over the mountains around me. I was conscious that being high on the ridge was probably not the smartest thing to do in a lightning storm. I had reception so I checked the radar and an alert from Vic Emergency told me a large storm, bringing hail, wind, thunder, and lightning was due in the area. I had checked the weather before I left, and I knew I had rain coming – I was prepared for rain. Somehow the ‘rain’ turned into a storm that I didn’t see until I was already out there!

“Shit” I muttered to myself and started to look around me for potential shelter. I turned a corner and the perfect clearing appeared in front of me. It actually wasn’t that ideal - there were trees that could fall on me, but they were small-ish and whilst they might hurt, they wouldn’t crush me. It was perfect for the moment.

The ground was sandy so I hoped it would drain well and I wouldn’t wash down the side of the mountain. A massive clap of thunder answered any doubts, and I quickly got my tent up and threw everything inside. It was about 6:30pm. As I sat in my tent, trying to get my wet clothing off (thanks to sitting in a creek because I was so hot 20mins earlier) the rain started to patter on the tent walls. Big fat rain drops warned me of what was to come.

Suddenly the sky lit up and thunder rolled in. I knew I had to count between the lightning flash and the thunder clap to work out how far away it was, and I started counting. For 30mins I counted and ate cheese wraps to distract myself from the fact that the storm was right above me and I was scared. It soon passed however, and I got out to look around; no landslides, no trees down. I was ok. I retrieved my hiking poles which I had left a distance away and cooked up some dinner. It had been a long day with a 5.5hr drive from home to Falls Creek to start my hiking adventure....

The first 10kms were relatively easy as I started to get used to the heavy pack. It was hot so I had a lot of water, also carrying enough in case I didn’t make it to another water source for the night. After crossing the river and having a splash I headed up. About 6.5kms with over 600m elevation gain. It was steep and hot and hard work. I came across a tiny creek running down the side of the mountain and literally sat in it, wetting every part of my body to cool down. Silly in the end because I had lots of wet gear to lie in a puddle outside the tent door all night.

When I did finally stop, I had a massive headache which I assumed was dehydration. I didn’t want to guzzle too much water so popped an electrolyte. I didn’t feel good at all.

I tried to sleep after dinner when another alert popped up on my phone. Damn having reception! I spent the next 30mins watching an incoming storm on two weather apps. Eventually it hit and it was longer and more ferocious than the earlier storm. I leaned out of my tent and threw my poles away. I put my metal Jetboil outside the tent and turned my phone to aeroplane mode. As lightning flashed right above me and the thunder cracked, I was covering my ears and I started to really freak out. It was only three seconds between thunder and lightning, which meant it was right on top of me.

I often get asked if I am scared whilst hiking alone and the truth is that I am not. I do not fear death (I don’t welcome it either) and I honestly believe that I am safer walking alone in the bush than I am walking alone in the city – from people anyway. I cannot really say why I enjoy solo hiking, but I do love the additional challenge of having to look after myself, I love the fact that I have to make the decisions, and I have to think things through, and I am only accountable to myself. I love that I work to my schedule and my pace, and I just find that being alone in the bush does something to my soul. I come out feeling at peace with myself, I come out of the bush like I am refreshed, rejuvenated and my mind feels so much clearer, even if the body is stuffed. It’s like a deep soul cleanse that I cannot describe in words.

Having said all that – I was scared in this storm. A few times I resigned myself to the fact that a lightning storm was just how I was going to leave this world.

The thunder, lightning and rain finally stopped about 1:30am. I hadn’t washed away, I hadn’t been struck, and I was ok. I finally fell asleep. The adrenaline that had been coursing through my body for hours finally dropped and I was exhausted. Two hours later I woke up starving. I hadn’t finished dinner and now I was ravenous. I shoved a muesli bar in my face and tried to sleep again. At 5am I woke up feeling tired and sore. I ventured out of the tent to have a wee and everything was soaked. I saw the beauty in the rain drops dripping off the trees, the quiet stillness of the morning but I was also still rather shaken from the intensity of Mother Nature the night before.

I curled back into bed and tried to doze. At 7am I gave up and made some coffee, ready to start day two. I squirmed into a wet sports bra, which had been hanging in the tent to dry, and a wet pair of shorts – thank goodness for spare undies! The sun started to shine above me, and I was off and walking before 8am.

I knew it would be a big day. I hadn’t over planned the trip but I was hoping to do the 100kms Running Wild Alpine course loop. I had given up on attempting the 145km loop when I realised how hot it was going to be. When the forecast says 25C+ when you are on the top of a mountain range you are very exposed to the sun. This causes heat stroke, dehydration and slows you down. You also need to carry a lot more water which makes you heavier. I had made plans for heat but not for lightning!

I continued to climb another 600m over the next 8.5kms. The sun was out so I had my wet clothes hanging on the back of my pack to dry but I still had a wet tent shoved into my pack, hoping to dry it later. After an hour, the mist rolled in and I couldn’t see anything but a few steps in front of me. It was eerie and humid.

Despite the beauty of being in the fog, I was a little bummed I couldn’t see any views around me. I kept pushing along, crossing a creek and doing a double take when a brown stick moved, and I realised it was a tiger snake. My first snake for the hike! I went around him and pressed on. I could hear voices in the distance and because of the fog I couldn’t tell what direction they were coming from. Like a scene from a horror movie, horses suddenly appeared through the mist with riders wearing stockman hats. “Ahoy there” called a lady. “How are you?” I breathed a sigh of relief when I realised they were not murdering horseman! I shouted a hello and moved off the track and watched as the beautiful creatures passed me heading in the other direction. My first signs of other humans.

Another 3.5kms and I came to Ropers Hut, where I stopped for a snack and a pit stop. There was a man leaving, heading for the river and I gave him some time to get some distance between us before I started to follow. The hut is beautiful – tucked away under the gums. The original hut was destroyed by fire but has been rebuilt - It was originally used by cattlemen, and I took a moment to imagine them coming in from the plains to shelter after a hard day in the saddle. What incredible history.

From Roper’s Hut I headed down to Big River. The path to the river is steep, muddy and covered in leaf litter with tree roots lying in wait to catch you and trip you over. It was 3.5kms of solid down and my quads were shaking when I finally came around a corner to see the river. My fellow hiker had his shoes off and was crossing the river, using the chain to hold him steady, and I splashed in behind him, shoes and all - The joy of hiking in my trail shoes. It was now past midday, and I was hungry. Knowing I had a solid climb ahead of me I pulled out a dehydrated meal and my Jetboil to boil some water and have a decent lunch. I swapped my long sleeves for my now dry t-shirt and loaded up on water before the climb, unsure if I would have much water at the top.

As much as I had just come down - I was now going up. Steep, muddy and technical track for the next few hours. At times I would count ten steps and then stop to catch my breath. I was soaked in sweat; I was stumbling and I was knackered. The sun was out, and it was harsher with every metre I climbed up. I hit 1000m elevation and I whooped with joy at doing a vertical km. Then I kept climbing. I distracted myself from the heavy pack by admiring the beautiful view with more and more mountains visible with every step up, the incredible flowers everywhere which made me smile every time I looked at them.

It was a never-ending game of cursing the hard climb, the overgrown track, and then smiling at flowers. I came across a lot of fallen trees and it’s always the question - over or under. I always choose 'over' with a heavy pack on. One tree however was only letting me go under, so I tried to swing myself under and ended up flat on my back with a pole sticking into my hamstring and like a turtle with a heavy shell I was all arms and legs in the air.

Eventually I stopped giggling, I rolled over and climbed up, the ego bruised but also the body. Finally, the climbing stopped, and I came into a beautiful clearing with a little creek trickling down the mountain.

I sat on a log and almost cried with relief. I’d been walking 8hrs and it had been tough hiking. I realised that I was bathed in beautiful sunshine, and I had a very wet tent in my pack. I quickly pulled out everything wet and lay it in the sunshine. I looked around me; the creek was trickling next to me, the trees were green, there were flowers all around me and the birds were chirping above me. Why would I push on for another 5hours and potentially hike in the dark when I could stay here?

I wanted to challenge myself this hike, but I also wanted to enjoy myself and I could think of nothing better than hanging out by this beautiful creek for the night. I was sold. I unpacked the rest of my pack – what I like to call a ‘pack explosion’. It was 5pm and I assumed no other hikers would come through, but I was at a T-junction which meant hikers could come from three different directions. I glanced each way and took a punt, stripping to my undies and jumping into the creek for a bathe. It was freezing! I stood ankle deep trying to breathe through the coldness of the water and enjoyed being reasonably clean! Fresh(ish) undies and top and I was a new woman! The wet undies dried pretty quickly, and I hung them and my bra inside my tent to air them out. Oh, the joys of hiking - I smelt and everything in my tent smelt.

At 7pm I was just finishing up my Radix mexican chilli meal for dinner when a man walked down the hill - from the same way I had come. My first thought was annoyance. I chose this spot to be alone - my second thought always goes to safety. I am alone.

He lay on the grass and said he was shattered, having come from Falls Creek and I dropped some hints about him continuing another 2kms to the hut. He left his pack and went for a wander and came back saying he would camp further up the track a bit. He was lovely - I enjoyed chatting with him, but I am always still on edge about being safe and would prefer to camp alone than have a stranger camped nearby. I hate having to be like this - every hiker I have ever met has been so incredibly lovely. But this is reality as a female hiking alone. I never give strangers my actual route, I always drop into conversation that my hubby is meeting me or picking me up somewhere along the track, I sleep with my feet at the door and have a booby trap at the tent door which will wake me up if someone tries to come in. The booby trap also works for the killer kangaroos that scare the pants off me.

As he headed away, I sat at my tent door and watched the sun drop behind Mt Bogong. It was beautiful to sit outside my tent in the grass and soak up the sun. I was shattered after a big day on little sleep. I am used to running so much further but the weight of a heavy pack makes everything so much harder. I pulled out my map and made a rough plan for the next three days, which gave me a short final day so I could drive home. I planned my days around water, so I didn’t have to carry too much and as the sun dropped, so did the temperature. Very soon I had everything closed up and I was curled in my sleeping bag ready for an early night (minus the storms!) I snuck a peek out my tent window just before closing my eyes and I was enveloped in the cloud.

I wake on day three and I am surrounded by fog. It’s eerie and it’s beautiful. I know I want

to summit Mt Bogong this morning so I am in no rush as I would prefer the fog to lift. I’ve also got a shorter day so I can relax this morning. It’s not usually like this - I have self-diagnosed myself with “hurry disease” after reading an article about it. I am always in a hurry to do everything. I am always hurrying to get to the next destination or the next thing. I am always thinking about how to save time. I now catch myself doing it and consciously try and slow down. I often think when I am hiking, I must be always moving and then collapse into bed when it gets dark. I am appreciating now that hiking also includes those moments when you stop and appreciate the view, when you’re still and Mother Nature moves around you. The quiet moments of mediation when you’re exhausted and enjoying a hot coffee in the morning rather than drinking it whilst packing up a tent. These moments also make the hike.  

After two days of over 2000m in elevation my body was stiff, and I could use a slower morning. I have my cereal, make a coffee and curl back into my sleeping bag with the tent doors open so I can look at the scenery. I slept very well. I was like a log for 4hrs before waking at 12:30am and then back asleep solidly. I definitely feel the difference that a good night sleep makes.

I chilled out, listening to the birds wake up around me until about 8:30am and notice the fog is lifting so I got out of bed and start to pack up. Within the hour the sun was up and shining and I was off walking. It was already very warm in the direct sun and I knew it was going to be an exposed day. As I headed to Cleve Cole Hut, I was struck with the beauty around me. Flowers danced in the wind, the creek gurgled below me and as I climbed higher the mountains loomed around me. I took a short detour to check out Howman Falls which was well worth the 1km detour.

When I arrived at Cleve Cole Hut it was empty - and I didn't hang around for long but pressed on to the summit of Mt Bogong. The sun was now beaming and it was a hot climb. It’s not overly technical to get up Mt Bogong - it just feels never ending until I finally reached the summit. One on side of me were endless mountains stretching as far as the eye can see. On the other side was cloud and I could not see a thing!

I dropped my pack and pulled out some food. I was starving and ready for an early lunch. Being so high I turned on the phone and made a quick call to hubby to let him know I was safe and well and sent off a few messages that I was ok. I enjoyed a tuna and cheese wrap whilst the march flies hovered around me and spent a good hour on the summit relaxing and taking some pics. Normally I don’t spend much time up here because of the weather so I enjoyed the warmth and the time to just soak up the mountains. The fog started to close in and I needed to put on my fleece and I knew it was time to move on - over and down my favourite ‘quartz ridge’.

This is technical, steep, exposed and scary and I love it! At times, the track completely disappears, and you have to trust your inner compass - or pull out a real one. It’s a tough slog and I stopped a few times just to cool down and have a snack. It was a challenge but I loved it. I looked around me and there were mountains everywhere. I could not wipe the smile from my face.

Eventually I left the top and dropped down to the river - a steep track that is so overgrown I often wondered if I was still on the track at all. I finally arrived at Big River and the sun was still high in the sky. I pulled everything wet out of my bag and laid it out to dry. Then I stripped to my undies and soaked in the river - it's freezing cold, but my body needed it. I spend about an hour trying to work out if I push on to Warby Cnr or I stay by the river. I knew there were three men ahead of me staying at Ropers Hut which is 11km away, but I preferred not to stay with them - I preferred solitude. There was plenty of daylight left to press on but no water for about 10kms which meant a heavy pack uphill. Or I could sit by the river all night and enjoy the beauty of it.

I chose the river.

For a few seconds I felt guilty for not pushing on. For choosing the ‘easier’ option of camping up. Then I reminded myself it’s about the journey and not the destination.

I had no reception so I sent off a GPS pre-recorded message on my spot tracker to hubby, so he knew where I was camped for the night. I was very sunburnt, despite applying suncream repeatedly and I was keen to be by the icy river.

I set up my tent and laid back listening to the water. It’s soothing - but I’ll admit it did make me want to pee a lot! I kept looking up the path hoping no one would join me and then told myself to quit it. Looking up the path won’t change what other people are doing and it just made me anxious. So, I laid back with my feet up and rested. I’d been in wet shoes for 3 days and my feet were looking a little worse for wear and could do with some drying out. I was also down to zero clean clothing and gosh I smelt. You know it’s bad when you smell yourself, but I also loved the rawness of not caring – the days became about moving and eating and resting. Nothing else really mattered.

By 6:30pm I was starving (yep - again), so I made up my dehydrated spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and whilst it rehydrated, I sat watching the birds in the tall trees around me, listening to their song and enjoying the cooler air. Because I was lower, the sun disappeared behind the mountain early and it cooled down immensely. I took a moment to check in with the body - some aches and bruises but otherwise it was feeling good. I was filled with gratitude for my amazing body and what it had achieved over the last three days. It was time to snuggle into bed and rest.

It was a rough night sleep. I couldn’t sleep to begin with and then the body just really hurt. Every time I rolled over my hips screamed at me - no matter which way I turned. My shoulder cried if I lay flat and I just couldn't get comfortable. A local owl found the whole thing hilarious - hooting at me from above! I eventually got a few hours before waking up at 5am and dozing until 7am.

When I finally emerged from the tent, everything was wet, but the sun had broken and was starting to peek through the trees at me. I made up my muesli and a coffee and enjoyed the sound of the river beside me and eventually packed everything away and loaded up on water for another hot day.

I was on the move by 9am and started the big 12km climb to Warby Cnr. It was tough – the sun was hot and I was heavy and moving up.

It was however, such a beautiful climb - I stared at Mt Bogong through the trees and I keep looking up to see how far I have come, and smiling at her glory. As I climbed higher, I could see mountains in every direction, and I just kept smiling. When my belly told me it wanted food, I stopped mid track and set myself up with a cheese and tuna wrap - surprisingly delicious even though it’s fake cheese. I lay back and watch the clouds and just loved everything about that moment. Even the march flies were leaving me alone. Eventually I put my pack back on and headed off - stopping every now and then to just look around me at the incredible view.

I came into Edmonson Hut – another old grazer’s hut - about 2pm and laid out all my wet gear to dry in the sun. I made a coffee and I was chilling on a log trying to decide whether to push on or stay the night. I had a good 6hr drive home the next day and I was at least 10kms from the car. I figured I could do a few more kms and camp along the track making tomorrow a shorter day and thus a more relaxed drive home. Whilst I was pondering this decision, three ladies walked in and said hello. One was a local showing her friends around for the day. She told me that they were expecting 80mls of rain tomorrow and my decision was made. I would press on and camp a few kms from the car so I could get on the road early the following day.

I had the most beautiful walk from Edmonson Hut along Heathy Spur. I was relaxed, the views were amazing, the flowers were out and I was really enjoying myself. I am glad I made the decision to do it in the afternoon with the sun out, rather than very early the following morning, likely in the mist.

I had read that there were some spots along Heathy Spur where I could pitch my tent, but I just couldn’t find any. The area around the track was not flat, and there was a lot of small shrub and trees littered across the horizon. Around 4kms from the car I found a nice spot under a tree and decided to set up camp. Just as I made the decision, the skies opened and the rain came down heavy. I sat on a rock, getting soaked and once again ate a cheese wrap. I felt like every time I need to make a decision or think things through, I turned to a cheese wrap. A smart call really; it’s always better to make decisions with food in your stomach!

I decided to just press on to the car rather than set the tent up in the rain. I knew I could sleep comfortably in the back of my car on my sleeping pad, and it would mean I would be safe from the rain, and I could get an earlier start on the road before the bad weather hit. I came out of the trails at the top of the village and somehow found my way back to my car, arriving about 7:30pm and I was so happy to see her!

The first thing I noticed is the pub was still open. I walked straight in, ordered a beer and a parma. Heaven! I couldn’t even finish it!

I ended up in a quiet camping spot not far off the road and camped up for the night – happy to back in my car, content with a beautiful few days in the mountains and with a full belly and a full heart I dozed off.

The final morning was stunning – the sun broke over the horizon as I woke up and I went for a walk to stretch out the legs. It was cool, but not cold and whilst the body felt stiff, I felt reluctant to head home. I was, however, excited about real coffee but it was far too early to get it up the mountain, so I packed everything up, sorted all my gear and by the time I was down the mountain and into Mt Beauty the world had woken, and I had a coffee in my hand ready for the road trip home. Six hours later I would be on the couch with fur baby and hubby and reliving my tales. As I drive through Tawonga I look up to Mt Bogong on my right, the summit hidden in the rain clouds rolling in. “See you again soon my beautiful mountains” I whisper.

Until we meet again.


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