Hiking the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT)

AAWT

On the AAWT: Annie and her little hiking partner (RIP) somewhere near Mt Speculation.


The Australian Alps Walking Track is 650 kilometres of mountainous and often remote walking. It begins just south of Canberra on the edge of Namadgi National Park, continues south through Kosciuszko National Park, crosses the infant Murray River entering Victoria and the Alpine National Park, through the Bogong High Plains, further south to Mt Howitt finally finishing at the old gold mining town of Walhalla south east of Baw Baw National Park. The track passes through spectacular country: grassy high plains, towering mountain forests, tranquil snow gum woodlands and rugged alpine summits, making it one of the best long-distance hikes that Australia has to offer.

I hiked the AAWT in 2013 and again in 2018.

Below I will go over some of the most common questions I get asked about the AAWT.

Annie atop Mt Bogong.

Water on the Australian Alps Walking Track

Water is readily available along the whole trail, it requires careful planning as to where and if it is available, as well as consideration on consumption. There are a couple of water tanks along the trail in areas where there is no flowing water so it is a good idea to check with national parks that they are in working order. Keep in mind that if it is a dry year tanks, creeks and springs may be dry.

To purify my water I always carry Katadyn Micropur Forte Tablets. Many of the water sources are also used by animals and will require treatment, in particular the water sources in Northern Kosciusko that are used heavily by the feral horses that have populated the area. The tanks often have larvae or other such swimmers in them.

Most hikers will use a combination of drink bottles and water reservoirs. Any system is suitable as long as you have capacity to carry adequate water, a 6L water capacity is recommended.

Food on the Australian Alps Walking Track

The most logistically challenging aspect of the AAWT is above all food and the most common questions I field are about food. It’s no surprise, for me and many hikers a good menu is one of the most important aspects to a successful long-distance hike. Not only is it important to meet dietary requirements that will adequately provide enough energy for the next day, eating well can also be a source of great comfort and pleasure.

The most effective way to manage food is by leaving food drops. These are caches of food left along the trail. You can also purchase food from towns near the trail or have it mailed to the post office of such towns. If you are mailing food it is important to make sure you are collecting the package on a day the post office is open.

One of the spots Annie left a food drop, Kiandra Courthouse.

Where to leave food drops on the AAWT

There are many places where the trail crosses roads and these are the best places to leave food drops. Alternatively, some hikers prefer to hike in food drops and leave them at huts. I went into Jindabyne and Mt Beauty to resupply from their larger supermarkets and I left food drops at the Kiandra Courthouse, Benambra-Corryong Road and the Jamieson-Licola Road.

It is good to spread out food drops in regular intervals. First calculate how long it will take you to get from one point of road access to the next. How many food drops you have balanced with walking pace will dictate where the food drops are left. See our Lightweight Food For Hiking blog post to get a gauge of how much you will need for each day. Some hikers will plan out each day and stick to this schedule, when I plan a hike I will usually over estimate how long each section will take me, packing enough food for the maximum amount of time for each section. This leaves room for a slower pace if so desired or required. I like the flexibility this system allows me. It is important that you account for a lower fitness level/slower pace in the early stages of the trail. It is also important to consider sections where you might want to slow down your pace, or any side trips you want to do (of which there are many) – these will require more food.

I keep my food drops in durable 25L water storage drums. These work well because they are animal and weather proof. Taped securely to the container I have a laminated sheet with my name, contact information and trip intentions.

What to put in a food drop

When I pack a food drop, variety and practicality are at the forefront of my mind. See our Lightweight Food For Hiking blog for effective menu planning methods.

Along with all of your food it is also a good idea to have packed in a food drop the following items:

  • New fuel cannisters
  • Toilet paper
  • Extra zip lock bags
  • Maps and trail notes needed for the coming section
  • A fresh pair of socks
  • Cleansing wipes to freshen up
  • Treats: can of coke, wine, long life cream

You can leave your rubbish and any gear you may want to get rid of in the food drop. It is important to collect your food drops once you have completed the trail.

Wildflowers just past Cleve Cole Hut.

Footwear for the AAWT

The kind of shoes you will need to complete the AAWT will depend on how heavy your pack is, how heavy you are, if you have a history of joint pain/injury (particularly ankle), and personal preference. Where one hiker will opt for a sturdy boot, something like the Asolo TPS 520 or 535, another hiker will use a lightweight boot such as the La Sportiva Pyramid or even a trail runner such as the Salomon XA Pro 3D. Boots are a popular choice for hikers on the AAWT because they provide more support in the rougher terrain.

I recommend a good quality, medium-cushion sock that will withstand the many kilometres you will be hiking without getting holes. I use a synthetic or a wool/synthetic combination sock that will breathe well and dry quickly. A good option is the Bridgedale Hike Mid Performance Sock. I always take a pair of thick, warm socks to sleep in as I get very cold feet. I find that having warm feet improves my overall temperature and comfort level. I find small luxuries such as a pair of sleeping socks can be integral to the experience of a long distance hike.

Clothing for the AAWT

The best time to hike the AAWT is between October and March. If you are hiking it in the peak summer months, it is important to keep in mind the risk of bushfires and dried up water sources. The weather through these months can vary in temperature from below freezing to over 40 degrees Celsius. I have on the AAWT woken up to a foot of snow on the ground and within the same week walked in 40+ degree weather. It is imperative that you have clothing that will be appropriate in these varying weather conditions.

It is important to have clothing that offers sun protection. A lightweight shirt, shorts or pants and a sunhat are a must for hiking in.

You will need a set of thermals such as the Icebreaker 260 Tech Leggings and crew top as well as a good fleece or insulated jacket. A down jacket has the best weight to warmth ratio so this is my go-to. It is important to note that lightweight down jackets are not as durable as many of the synthetic options. Down will also not work if it gets wet, so if you do go for a down jacket it should never get wet.

A good rain coat is a must. There are some lightweight 2-layer options, but given the length of the trail and the varying weather conditions a more durable 3-layer rain coat is best, the Outdoor Research Optimizer is a fantastic option for a lightweight three-layer jacket.

I always carry a beanie with me and wear it most days. I use my beloved Outdoor Research Peruvian Hat, it has a tightly woven wind proof fleece with ear flaps and a chin strap. You may not be appearing on the cat walks of Milan, but you will be warm!

Feeling replenished after a town visit.

Sleep and Shelter on the AAWT

A good quality down sleeping bag rated to at least -10 is recommended. The Mont Helium 600 is a great option. Keep in mind that sleeping bag temperature ratings are a general guide. Men and women have experience ratings differently, but in addition some people will feel the cold more than others.

A sleeping mat can be just as important when it comes to temperature. There are plenty of great lightweight options such as the Exped Synmat HL (available in different sizes) or the Thermarest Neoair. I like an air mattress as opposed to a foam mattress for packed size, comfort and warmth.

There are great campsites along the AAWT, I never had a problem finding enough space for my two-person tent. You will need a good quality 3-season tent, the Mont Moondance is a great option because of its balance of weight and durability. I like to use a two-person tent when hiking alone because it means I have the luxury of extra room and I can have all my gear in my tent with me, of course it means carrying more weight.

Navigation on the AAWT

While electronic navigation tools such as telephone apps like Guthooks or devices like the Garmin eTrex series or Coros watches are useful, it is highly recommended to always take maps and a compass. I used a combination of both, as well as trail notes. It is important to keep in mind that electronic devices can fail or run out of batteries so a comprehensive knowledge of navigation using a map and compass is essential.

Safety

A PLB (personal locater beacon) is an absolutely essential item. There are many sections of the AAWT that have phone service, however you should not rely on this alone. No matter how prepared you are, you can never discount the fact that you may need a rescue.

Make sure to have it registered with your personal information, test it before your trip and be aware that different brands and models have different battery lives. See our <blog post on PLBs.

First Aid

Depending on your individual needs, your first aid kit may vary. I always carry a snake bandage, sunscreen, lip balm and tape for blisters. Other items such as personal medication and insect bite cream can be tailored to fit your personal needs.

AAWT Guidebook

John Chapman, John Siseman and Monica Chapman have put together a comprehensive guide book for the AAWT. I would highly recommend using this as a resource in the planning/preparation stages and also while on the trail. It includes priceless information in regard to road access, resupply points, water sources, small less detailed maps for a quick reference, campsites, information on the flora and fauna, historical relevance of the area and most importantly trail notes.

Miscellaneous

Trekking poles are not for everyone but they have become an essential piece of gear for me. They are great when hiking in uneven terrain; your knees and ankles will thank you! They can also be used to set up shelters such as a tarp. Sunglasses are also invaluable.

While some hikers use trekking poles or tent pegs to dig cat holes, this can be time consuming and less than ideal if you are in a rush. I use the Deuce of Spades trowel. I like it because at just 17g, it is very light. It is also compact and easily slips into a heavy-duty zip lock bag with toilet paper. See our blog post on correct toileting procedures.

I always carry hand sanitiser with me, I use it after toileting and before eating. It gives me an air of civilised cleanliness even in the stinkiest of times.

I hope to have imparted some of the core pieces of information that are integral to a successful completion of the AAWT. Keep in mind that every hiker is different and there are a multitude of systems that can be fine-tuned on top of these foundational pointers.



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