“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
The sun hadn’t provided any light just yet, and the narrow trail was darker than it should have been in the morning twilight thanks to a constant envelope of shrubs and branches and vines. The light from my head torch danced off rocks and buttressed roots. Starting an adventure like this, early in the day, leaves plenty of time to take in the constant changes of light and greenery. According to the National Parks information the trail ahead would provide: “Ancient rainforest, cascading waterfalls, crystal clear creeks, tall open forest, and expansive views. This Great Walk offers ..a full four-day 56 km circuit walk”. My plan was to move through this ancient rainforest, softly, quickly and all going well to finish, before sunset.
There is nothing quite like being alone in the forest. I’ve always enjoyed it. Even as a young boy, camping with my parents I would wander up creeks, exploring on my own for the entire day. Without talk, without distraction there is nothing left but to listen and pay attention to what is in front of you, behind you, all around.
The first hour of solitude was lit by my head torch, but for the rest of the day it would be from what little light made its way through the forest canopy. The initial trail winds its way through the rainforest, parallel with the creek that would later provide cascades and waterfalls as I climbed slowly upwards. In fact, for 28 kms I’d climb slowly upwards, rising vertically, more than 2000 metres.
Crossing the creek in front of the cascades provides a brief break from the canopy above and a glimpse of morning light. Low clouds hang overhead, amongst the trees on the surrounding hills, twilight would remain and in doing so it creates a sense of calmness, via a blanket of dappled light. Walking the narrow track as it climbs higher, twisting its way past rocky outcrops, still with a thick forest canopy and the sounds of more waterfalls ahead.
It has been said many times, no doubt, that trail running reduces everything to its basic level. Climbing requires more effort, your breathing increases, small sections of track that level out provide relief, flat ground appears more beautiful. A moment of rest is akin to the perfect pillow. After many hours, pure, clear, lovely water appears even more precious. It tastes sweeter and feels better than any sweetened drink could ever feel. You take nothing for granted and the simple things become fascinatingly perfect. When your legs tire, your body starts crying out for rest, for food, sometimes you come across a view that makes you forget for a moment and you just observe, you just see what there is to see, right there, right in that moment in time.
It’s different to hiking though. Running burns through energy and seems to help you reach that moment of simplicity so much quicker. There is also that beautiful feeling of moving quickly and quietly through the forest with little or no equipment that can make you feel more connected to the elements, or more correctly, more at the mercy of the surrounding environment. A mountain has no feelings, the steep climb is just that, a steep climb – it is neither cruel nor kind. It is us who attribute feelings to things to, I guess, help us explain our surroundings, but as you move through a landscape, with the bare essentials, you become closer and more connected to everything around you. In our everyday lives with our technology and schedules and commitments we are cocooned from our surroundings.
I briefly stopped at a camp site, just to check my location and pace and I hear the muffled voices of campers. A guy walks towards me and appears slightly shocked to see someone else out here. We wish each other good morning and that’s it. I’m not really in the mood for talking, I didn’t come here to talk, I came out here for adventure. I drink water from my foldable cup, collapse it again in my hand and set off through the ferns.
A previous big wind, perhaps a storm, perhaps something worse, has felled branches and trees across the track. For every 10 steps I took I’d be forced onto my hands and knees to crawl under tree trunks or branches wrapped in vines. This was more tiring than simply getting into a rhythm of running and walking. Once again the unexpected, should have been expected. Always, without doubt, something is going to make you leave your comfort zone and push you harder than you may have thought you would need to.
By the time I had reached the half way point I was only just leaving the rainforests into a higher, slightly drier, eucalyptus forest. But only briefly, as the afternoon would see me descend back into rainforests and creeks. The track was wet, muddy at times, so that when ever it would rise up, my shoes would slip on the muddy ground, I laughed and said aloud “that would right, don’t make it easy!”. Who was I talking to? The trees most likely.
A knew from the map and the profile of the track that the afternoon would bring more downhills than the morning. Downhills, to the uninitiated must sound tantalising, refreshing, easy. Nope! I’ve seen downhills destroy a healthy set of quadriceps quicker than any climb. Gravity might provide some assistance on a downhill slope, but it doesn’t mean a free pass. It didn’t matter. The green ferns, endless ferns, the track weaving its way around and down mountains and across crystal clear creeks provided all the distraction that was necessary to forget about silly things such as tired legs.
As the track rounds a bend I pass another camp site, the bush is drier here and track clearer and easier to run on. I stick the headphones in and select an appropriate song. Mason jennings’ song Ulysses, its perfect beat, seems appropriate right now as I pick up the pace and run with a breeze on my face.
Just one more climb now up to the fire tower and then its all downhill to my vehicle. The sun is dying in the west, the coolness creeps through the undergrowth as the heat disappears for another day. By the time I reach the trail head I’m ready to rest. I stop and turn and look back at the track and before I even get time to think I give it a little nod and say aloud, “thank you”.
The track: Conondale Range Great Walk
Water: Stay healthy – bring a good water filter and/or purifier (there are water tanks at the designated campsites and plenty of creek crossings).
Duration: Depends on your pace and the maintenance of some of the trail. It took me 9 hours on my own with only a very short break for lunch. Actual distance with some side trails for sightseeing was about 58 km.