Rumble in the Jajungal
Who? - A mixed bag from The International Kook Exchange.
Where? - Jajungal Wilderness, NSW Snowy Mountains, Australia.
How? - Bikepacking.
Recommendations & Highlights?
- Sometimes (always) it’s great to feel absolutely tiny in the world.
- Being outside in rough places with a good crew makes everything worthwhile.
- Having shoes that will dry off quickly will make the river-crossings far more pleasant.
- Take a PLB or register with the Rangers for safety’s sake.
Home: Sydney, Australia
Favourite activity: Bikepacking
Favourite brew: Coffee or Shiraz
Favourite snack: Peanut butter.
Nick Kohn is an outdoorsman who spends most of his time bikepacking, though he has hiked, dived, motorcycle toured and travelled throughout SE Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Europe and Australia.
He has cycled through Italy, France, Spain and across the Silk Road from Mongolia through to Turkey, as well as a little in Australia. Next stop - USA and Canada.
As a proud member of an international crew, the Kook Exchange decided it was time for an adventure. Ten of us headed out into the Jagungal Wilderness, situated in the Snowy Mountains of NSW.
There was a huge vibe as the two vans arrived in Adaminaby, the first with people and the other with bikes. We unpacked, reassembled and got on the trail. A spin-off of the notoriously difficult Hunt 1000, us Kooks were about to venture on the first ever Gronk 690.
Le Tour de Kook was going to involve lots of chats and admiring the scenery, plenty of breaks for coffee and snacks, more hike-a-bike than you could imagine and a little riding in between.
All bar myself had been into the Jagungal Wilderness before - however I was no stranger to the isolation and harshness of such an environment.
The days could not have been better. Blue skies, low winds and a temperature that made the regular river crossings not too uncomfortable. We started the routine that we would get used to over the next few days - pedal the flats, push up the hills, carry through the water and bomb the descents. It’s a fun but exhausting cycle. It was a pleasure to take the time to stop for rests and notice the beauty of rivers and streams that slithered through the otherwise austere plains.
We ventured from the safety of civilisation, into the belly of high country NSW, rolling on gravel tracks and cloud-like grass. Before long, the sun was setting, temperature dropping and energy almost gone so we set up camp. Level ground in a small clearing of otherwise densely packed bush made for a comfy spot to spend the night. We had kookaburras laughing and rosellas squawking as we cleared ground for tents and got the fire started to warm up before the inevitable cold swallowed us up.
I awoke each morning to the special feeling of being huddled up in the sleeping bag with the fire cracking and quiet voices whispering around its warmth. It took some time to muster the courage to pack down and tramp on.
The landscapes ranged from dense forest trails hedged by snow-gum, eucalyptus and wildflowers to wide-spread grass lands entrapped by deceptively steep hills on either side. This made for difficult but enjoyable riding - with views like that, it is difficult to notice how sore your legs are.
The further we ventured into the Jagungal, the smaller we became, to an excitedly terrifying point. There is nothing, yet everything around you. Mother Nature acting at her finest as she dwarfed us with mountains, trees and rivers.
As we continued to climb higher, the chill became far more noticable. Snow was now visible on distant hills which was surprising for mid November. As we moved through Guthega, Smiggins, Perisher and towards Thredbo, we finally met the snow. We pedalled over slush and along the grated hiking path and down to the safety and comfort of a Thredbo Village hotel.
On this ride, we were lucky enough to spend some time in a handful of the old Kosciusko survival huts - each one with its own distinct personality. These have been built through Australian history by farmers, miners, anglers and explorers as a safe haven in a place where conditions can change in an instant.
Mackays Hut was the first we came across, being an old sheet metal structure with a sturdy brick chimney. Its name has been etched into some hardwood decorated by two horseshoes and mounted on the white front door. The beds inside look like something from an 1800’s prison camp but some is better than none. Mackays was constructed in 1945 by local grazers who owned the land at the time until the Park was taken back by NSW Govt.
The next we dropped into was O’Keefes - a larger and less rusty version of Mackays and sat on the top of a nice little ascent by the river (with a bridge!) to give a beautiful view of the snow gums and faraway sections of the park. O’Keefes is unique in that its walls are lined with 1940’s newspaper articles, describing new and exciting inventions such as the ‘loadable #1 tool for hand and brain - Parker pen’, the controversial and different clothing of the Arab Empire, an advertisement for a small wine company by the name of Penfolds and information of a faraway land by the name of Mongolia.
Interestingly, O’Keefes was built in 1934 but got destroyed in the 2003 fires. The very same family that built it over 70 years ago assisted with it reconstruction in 2007 and supplied new furniture and more old newspapers to ensure it had the same feel as the original.
I awoke to find Dave and Dan already having the fire blaring to help with the morning chill. The smell of metho in the air, as Trangias were fired up to cook brekky and the light began to stream through the windows
Somehow, the landscapes kept getting wider and the hills more severe. Besides the sandy ribbon that twists through the terrain, there is very little path to follow. From one of the hill tops, the trail can be seen winding along ridges, and if you look close enough the famous Valentines Hut can be spotted. This bright red little beauty is something out of a dream. In an otherwise totally green and brown landscape, this hut is a romantic little shelter that features a cursive name board above the door frame and white awning with little red hearts.
This haven is relatively new compared to the others we visited, being constructed in the 1950’s as a shelter for surveying and radio crews.
Who & when?
This track can be done as a ride or a walk but keep in mind, she’s a real toughie!
Due to how wild, isolated and volatile the Jagungal Wilderness area is, it is no place to mess around if you don’t have experience. Make sure you go in prepared and know how to use your navigation equipment. It is recommended to register with the Rangers and take a PLB just in case you find yourself in a pickle.
The weather out there can change at the drop of a hat (it was -10 degrees and snowing four days after we got through in late November!) so make sure you do your research before you head out.
Big thanks to the Kosciuszko Hut Association for the information on the history of each hut, but more importantly, their maintenance and regular upkeep to ensure travellers have a safe place if weather turns.
Written by Nick Kohn - @strokeofstoke.