This trip started with a somber moment (not that I realised it at the time). On arrival at Lyell I noticed a group of despondent trampers sitting over by themselves looking rather glum. I thought their pick up ride was late in arriving and was probably the reason for looking like they did. As I wanted to get my gear sorted prior to the arrival of our riding colleagues, I left them to it.
The other riders on our trip soon joined us. The plan was about half of us ride from Lyell and the other half ride in from Seddonville. We would all stay overnight at Stern Hut, swap keys and then continue in the direction of travel the next morning. As the guys driving through to Seddonville prepared to depart one of the tramping group approached them about getting a lift to cell phone coverage. It turned out that one of their party had died of a heart attack 200m into the track and they had just carried him back to the start point, but couldn’t call anyone as their was no coverage. I only found this out the next morning, but he was 93 years old and in the hills doing what he loved with his family. As terrifying and traumatic as it was no doubt for his family, I would love to live to that age and still be walking daily and heading into the hills tramping. Far better than lying in a rest home. My thoughts go out to this man’s family.
Anyway back to the adventure, the ride from Lyell up to the Lyell saddle is a relentless climb and I was loaded down with most of our gear. I climbed for the good part of an hour before I needed to take a wee break. Lyell Saddle hut was 18km onto the ride, with Ghost Lake Hut further along at the 30km mark. I was wanting to get there for a late lunch, having started just prior to 10am we were climbing steadily at 6km/hr. It was a long slow climb up to Lyell Saddle but once there there wasn’t too much climbing and a few undulations and downhill prior to Ghost Lake.
The effort required to create this trail, is amazing with it built metre by metre through the hills. A lot of volunteer hours and dollars was invested into creating this track. Due to the natural terrain some parts of the track have guidance and advice to dismount and walk through areas that are narrow and/or dangerous for various reasons. The first major area like this is known as Big Slips and it is the first time that you get any view of the surrounding hills as up until this point has all been in the bush.
We finally got up to Lyell Saddle, left our bikes on the main track and headed up the track to the hut a short distance away. The main huts are all new and were built first and provided accommodation for the track builders. WOW, Lyell Saddle Hut certainly has some amazing views and the ‘sleepouts’ are nice and cozy.
After a banana and some scroggin it was time to hit the road and head further up and along to Ghost Lake Hut. We paused for an Em’s Power Bar on a corner with a nice log seat and bike rack. Not long after this point I had a bad gear change and snapped my chain. I wasn’t happy (as this was a new chain after my issues at Easter: read my report here on our Wakamarina ride). I was hungry and the lunch location was still 7km away. As I quickly set to work fixing my chain, Rachel got the cooker going and boiled some water for our dehydrated meal we had planned for lunch. The chain was repaired quickly and then we ate before we continued riding.
As we climbed, Rachel had been riding away from me as she had a lot less weight to carry up hill (to start with I’m 30kg heavier than her and had a heavier backpack, a heavier bike and also had a rack on the bike with our sleeping bags). She was sick of me being slowed down by my weight so once we had eaten she grabbed my pack and I continued riding with hers. There was no reason I was carrying more than her other than for the simple reason I had a larger backpack and was unintentionally being chivalrous.
We continued riding onwards and upwards out of the bush. Up in the alpine section the views were great and we paused and took some photos but my backpack was frustrating and uncomfortable for Rachel and we swapped back. The section across the tops was a great ride and the descent down into Ghost Lake Hut was a bumpy wee ride, but rolling into the hut was a bit of relief. We topped up with water and enjoyed the view……up until we realised that in the distance we could see the track climbing up and to get to that point it had to descend a long way.
WOW, what a technical descent that required a lot of concentration. Rachel zipped ahead getting ahead by three or four switch backs, as she is a more talented and technical rider than me. We then began the climb up to the Skyline Ridge which was nowhere near as long as the 20km climb up from Lyell and after the gnarly descent from Ghost Lake Hut it was a welcome relief to be pedalling again. The view from the ridge was amazing, especially looking back on Murchison.
What goes up must go down and then it was time to descend. Hitting the Skyline Steps the only option was to get off and walk, but the challenge was how to manage your bike on the step narrow steps. There was no easy way, you just had to keep moving forward and downward.
Once at the bottom, it was a sweet downhill on a nice flowing track pretty much all the way to Stern Valley Hut. Along the way we had a couple of small stream fords (including one that appears to come straight out of a tunnel in the side of the hill) and a couple of bridges.
On arrival at the hut we joined other riders and trampers who had already arrived and coincidentally the riders coming from Seddonville in our party. All of the new huts have a range of Park tools (including chain breakers) set up in a workshop area (see picture). A quick dip in the river to wash the mud off and getting into some warm clothes. As it was nearly dusk, it was time to prepare some dinner. Dehydrated Thai green curry was on the menu with a Nuun electrolyte drink to wash it down with.
As a long day of seven and half hours riding had left us both tired we retired early with no alarm set. We were staying one of the sleepouts and making the most of the double bunks with a mozzie net.
Read my Day Two post here: