Self Supported Southern Flinders Fastpacking Frenzy Trip Report. Part 1 of 3.

This is the first of a three part series, or Trilogy if you will, covering a current or recent Fastpacking trip, depending on what time you read this, I completed in mid-September 2022. This first part covers the motivation for the trip, the planning and the Key Performance Ethics. Either read it all in one hit or click through to each sub-section:
– Motivation
– Planning
– Gear List
– Food List
– Route
– Travel Logistics
– Weather
– Fitness Preparation
– Key Performance Ethics

Motivation:
I moved to Quorn in September 2021 to be closer to the Flinders Ranges. There’s a separate blog post detailing why I did that but simply put I thought if I could adapt like a chameleon to the Flinders I would be the ultimate outdoor badass. A simple step in this adaptation process was getting to know my backyard of the Southern part of the Flinders Ranges. But how to best do this? I had read a copy of Warren Bonython’s book on his journey through the Flinders and really enjoyed his account of his own personal multi-trip saga along the whole Flinders Ranges. His connection to the Flinders is an obvious constant thread though the book and something I hoped to emulate, so emulating his journey seemed like a good way to get more connected to my new backyard. It would be awesome to try and copy his whole route from Mt. Hopeless to Crystal Brook with the extra challenge of doing it all in one go, but that’s a big task and a big chunk of time would be needed…

Every South Australian bushwalker should read this

But that idea at least set the scene for walking a section of my new backyard. Perhaps focusing on the Southern Flinders Ranges and using the Heysen trail (which was created to honour Warren Bonython’s journey) as a guide was a better starting point? You know, feel it out over 400km and see if the whole thing is worth it.

Planning:
Alright, got a rough idea for a trip, now comes the fun part of working out the logistics. My engineering analytical skills come out to play in this stage. I had a few options:

  • Cruisy bushwalking style, solo or with whoever had time to join me, covering 20-30km’s a day in typical Heysen trail style. (20 days)
  • Hard and fast bushwalking style, probably solo because it’s unpleasant and unappealing, covering 40ish km’s a day. (10 days)
  • Fastpacking style, carry the bare minimum, walk/jog the flats, run the downhills, cover up to 80km a day. (5 days).

The first two options I had in my wheelhouse. I’ve bushwalked a fair bit and hold the fancy shmancy title of an Advanced Bushwalking Leader so it would just be a matter of putting in the time on the trail and I’d have myself a pretty straightforward trip. Fastpacking though, was something I’d read a fair bit about and is a big deal on famous US trails such as the PCT, the Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail and a bunch more. It involves carrying everything within a 25-40L pack (a day pack size essentially) and covering the ground at 5-6km/hr for anywhere between 12-20 hours a day. It’s a happy medium between trail running and bushwalking. The appeal of trying a new method of travel, and learning a new skill, was too appealing to say no to so I went down the rabbit hole of planning a fastpacking trip.

To manage the risk of attempting a new skill I’ve only learnt about from the internet I figured a good insurance policy was to invite a mate along who would also be keen. Enter Chad, the Willunga Wormfarmer, Freak. Chad’s a fellow outdoor adventurer who has similar long-duration trips on his resume (bike packing from Canada to Mexico, and across a few Australian deserts) plus I knew he would be a big fan of the fastpacking style having been to the US a few times where fastpacking is all the rage. Second plus, Chad is the most Zen person I know and so by inviting him along I would either: (a) benefit from his continual optimism and superior mindset to adventure at times or (b) finally see Chad crumble in the outdoors if we had bitten off more than we could chew. Both were appealing.

Chad and I before we tackled the Mt.Anne Circuit (in Tasmania) in one day.

Anywho, off into the nitty gritty of it all we go:

Gear List:
The following gear, besides the Wilderness Equipment Tarp and 1.5L bladder was all gear I already had and trusted. I’ve used the tarp numerous times when working with Pembroke (slept under one for four weeks of work) but just never had my own and I probably should’ve already had a hydration bladder (I had one once but it broke and I never replaced it).

Exploded view of all the gear I’ll be using or wearing.

PACK
– Macpac Fiord 40L
SLEEPING SYSTEM
– Macpac Escapade 500 Loft Sleeping Bag
– Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow
– 0.5m of cheap closed cell Roll Mat
TENT/TARP SYSTEM
– Wilderness Equipment Ultralight Overhang (Tarp) 2.4m*3m
– 8 pegs
– Groundsheet (ex-floor of an old Wilderness Equipment I-Shadow tent)
CLOTHES (*what I’ll wear)
– Macpac Prophet Rain Jacket*
– Cheap pair of Overpants
– Western Mountaineering down jacket
– 2XU running tights (full length)
– Macpac Merino Midlayer top
– ioMerino Mullet Trail Socks
– ioMerino jocks*
– Adidas sports shorts*
– Snowys top*
– Tarkine Predator Hat*
– Icebreaker merino socks*
– Tarkine Goshawks*
HARDWARE
– Black Diamond Storm Headlamp with 9 spare AAA batteries
– Osprey 1.5L Hydration Bladder
– Wide Mouth Nalgene 1L capacity
– Bandaids, Epipen
– Portable charger and cords for watch and iPhone
– iPhone 8 and headphones
– Suunto 9 Peak
– Sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, vaseline
– Spoon and Peanut Butter container (for eating out of)

If the above list still seems like a lot it pays to think of what I’m leaving behind from a normal ‘cruisy’ bushwalking trip: sleeping bag liner, comfy pants at night, beanie, book, TENT, INFLATABLE ROLL MAT, sandals for at camp, STOVE and pots, change of shirt.

Food List:
Probably the trickiest part of planning a fastpacking trip is getting the food right. Factors to consider are: taste, weight, nutritional content, ease of consumption, ease of purchase and ease of preparation. I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist and I’ve only learned what I know from the internet and experience but this is how I planned my food requirements.

  • Aim for 5000-6500 calories per day
  • 150-250 calories every hour whilst moving in the form of muesli bars, nuts, wraps with peanut butter.
  • When stopped moving for the day consume as many calories as possible and digest overnight. Going on above parameters I might consume anywhere between 2000-4000 calories whilst moving and will need therefore 1000-3000 calories in one meal at night.
  • Require a mix of simple carbohydrates for when going uphill or before a running effort and fats and complex carbohydrates to fuel me for the constant fast walking
  • Protein is important too for muscle repair and should be consumed at regular 4-6hr points throughout the day to ensure I don’t break down.
    With the above worked out a few different options present themselves going on what I like to eat at home and when out on other trips. It’s also important to note that we will be passing through several shops and will be planning on topping up our supplies each time. In addition to this we will place two food drops, one at my place in Quorn (very safe) and the other at Buckaringa North (protected by Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies).
  • Start of the day options: Wraps, peanut butter, oats soaked in cold water or eaten dry. These items can be prepared before I start walking and have in my bag on my back the whole day.
  • Moving options: Muesli bars, Clif Bars, Clif gels, Electrolyte drink, Chocolate bars, bags of chips or Jatz, biscuits or cookies
  • Night-time refuelling options: Wraps with tuna and cheese, more oats, fruit cake, beans and wraps, PUB MEALS
    Each day will involve a slight mix of these options depending on what I ate the day before, how my body is feeling and what is available at the local shops along the way. Part 2, the actual trip recount, will have a full list of what I ate per day.
The stash at food I’ll be collecting when we pass through Quorn.

Route:
The Heysen trail is a well documented route (read more on it by clicking here) that passes from Parachilna through to Crystal Brook (and on to Cape Jervis) via: the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, the foot of the Elder Range, the foot of the Yourambulla and Yappala Ranges, the Argadells private property, Mt.Arden, The Dutchman Stern Conservation Park, Mt.Brown Conservation Park, Mt.Remarkable National Park, the Wirrabara Forrest and the Telowie Gorge Conservation Park. Supplemental to this, there are a number of small towns/shops we will pass through or are just off the trail. These are: Wilpena, Hawker, Quorn, Wilmington, Melrose, Wirrabara (bit of a detour), Laura (it’s a stretch but it’s still nearby in a worst case scenario) and obviously Crystal Brook.

Going off rough fastpacking speeds of other trip reports I’ve read, and basing it off my own personal walking experience I believe we could hold 5km/hr at a minimum as we walk along the trail with 6km/hr being quite achievable. With this in mind and setting the goal of walking anywhere from 12-16 hours a day, (allowing a couple of hours for breaks, purchasing food, setting up camp this gives anywhere from about 4-7 hrs of sleep per day) we should be able to cover 60-80km’s a day. Using our Thursday afternoon departure time of 3:00 from the Prairie Hotel this gives us the following itinerary.

DayStart PointEnd PointDistanceEstimated Time Taken (@ 5.5km/hr)Re-Stock Point
Thursday (0.5)Prairie HotelAroona Ruins33 km6 hrs
Friday (1)Aroona RuinsRed Range Camp74km13:30 hrsWilpena @ 46km
Saturday (2)Red Range CampBuckaringa North73km13:30 hrsHawker @ 31km AND FOOD CACHED AT Buckaringa
Sunday (3)Buckaringa NorthWaukerie Creek79km14:20 hrsQuorn @ 60km
Monday (4)Waukerie CreekMurray Town74km13:30 hrsMelrose @ 51km
Tuesday (5)Murray TownCrystal Brook72km13:30 hrs
The Rough Plan

The beauty of this plan is that every day, besides the first and last day’s, we will pass through a town at an hour that the IGA and or Pub is likely to be open so we can fill our bags with food. In addition to this we decided an extra food drop out at Buckaringa North would cut the biggest section of trail between food roughly in half and is easy to get to from my house in Quorn. Also, the rough time of 13:30-14:20 hrs we need each day to walk fits nicely around the 13:30 hours between 5:30 am -7:00 pm where it’s light enough to walk without a head torch, which will make walking a lot easier. This is also good because when it’s too dark to walk that’ll be a great time to sleep or eat food.

We’ll be following the blue line.

Travel Logistics:
I live in Quorn, about 2/3 of the way down the trail and Chad lives in Willunga. For Chad to get to Quorn he has to drive past Crystal Brook, the end terminus of our walk. So, by me picking Chad up at Crystal Brook we have a car stashed at Crystal Brook ready for when we finish. Chad the smart man also suggested we stash the car with food and nice things at the Crystal Brook Caravan Park to ensure if we were cooked out of minds we could lay low in the caravan park for a night to recover before going to our separate homes, a great idea and one that hopefully I’ll highly recommend.

To get to the start of the Heysen Trail we could drive my car there and dump it there for five days. I have done this before and ended up with a phone call from the Police asking why I’d parked my car there (panicked locals thought it may have been connected to a missing person at the time) so that option wasn’t too favourable. There are a plethora of options advertised on the Heysen Trail website of how to get to the Parachilna trailhead and there’s always friends and family around that I could guess could drop us off. But that means anyone who repeats our trip has to rely on their own friends and families or private operators. We chose to honour the repeatability factor in our decision making and selected the most reputable, affordable and reliable private operator offering a lift to the Prairie Hotel (14km’s away from Parachilna). For $75 each, still pretty steep in my frugal opinion, we had ourselves a seat on the Victor Harbor – Copley bus that passes through Quorn every Thursday (and returns along the same route every Friday). Using this bus also meant that worst case scenario we just had to get to Quorn where my car was being left and we’d have a way out of whatever nightmare we were in.

The bus service we’ll be using

Weather:
Being both freelance outdoor edders Chad and I could make sure we both had some free time at the same time for this trip pretty easily. I wanted to fit it in around my running and also pick a time of the year where the weather is likely to be not too cold, not too hot and a good amount of daylight hours. September ticks a lot of these boxes with the only negative being that it can sometimes get pretty windy and unstable during spring and it’ also a lucrative time for outdoor ed (meaning we had to forego some employment opportunities). The other reason September works well is that I’m hopeful the physical adaptations my body makes to compensate for this effort will translate across to the Heysen 115km in October without putting my body too far in the non-recoverable zone. But the weather, let’s get back to the weather. At first, we both thought it would be cool to wait for a weather window and go when it’s nicest. This was cool for a few days and the forecast was opening up a nice window that even cooperated around using the bus schedule until the forecast changed from fine and sunny days after a front to drizzly windy days after a front. Again, I’ll report back in Part 2 of how the weather actually tuned out but the positive way of looking at this forecast is:
– Drizzly weather is good for keeping the core body temperature down meaning we won’t sweat as much.
– Windy weather is bad for sleeping and if it’s unappealing to sleep we’ll just keep walking, thus completing the trip faster. It’s also good at keeping the bugs away.
– If we could do it in drizzly, windy weather it’d show anyone who is thinking of following in our footsteps that it’s possible no matter what forecast you have (except for a flooding thunderstorm type event, then it should be avoided because the creeks here will stop you in your tracks in a flood).

Quorn Daily Forecast as of Wednesday 14th September
A slightly different forecast view. The coloured bar indicates average wind strength (white/blue is light winds 0-10 knots, green is medium 10-20 knots and yellow/red/purple would be 20/30/40 knots)

Fitness Preparation:
I’m not going to spell out my actual fitness regime, I’ve done that enough in prior Race Reports so if you’re new here go to the About Me section and you’ll understand my physical prep. To specifically sharpen my fitness ready for fastpacking speeds I went on two walks with my full pack that both lasted an hour. One was doing the Warren Gorge loop where I fast walked the flats and ups and ran the downhill section and the other was going up Devils Peak, then I did some gallivanting around the top, before cruising down without any time pressure on me. I was testing out to see if I would experience any chafing or rubbing with my pack which I didn’t.

Lastly, on the Sunday before the trip I went on a trail run through Edeowie Gorge where I ran the flats and then walked along the creek stopping repeatedly for photos. This was to bring my proprioception skills up to speed because I knew some sections of the trail weren’t nicely groomed fire tracks or roads to which my body had been used to. I did this run/walk without much fuel to also get a little bit more confidence my body can move constantly for 5 hours without needing too much sustenance.

Edeowie Gorge Data. 10 min/km translates to 6km/hr.

I can’t speak for Chad’s preparation but I do know he is active on Strava so you can check out what he did there in the weeks leading up to the trip if you’re interested. Click here to stalk Chad’s Strava Profile.

Key Performance Ethics:
I believe it’s important to set out what I call ‘Key Performance Ethics’ at he start of the trip because these are like the loose goals/things I’m hoping to get from this trip. If we have a bad time we can refer to these for motivation. If we are consider changing the plan along the way we can also use these KPE’s to gauge whether our new plan still satisfies our original ideals and hence, whether it’s an acceptable change. An example of this is in the scenario when we allow ourselves to divert off the Heysen Trail into a town to get extra supplies . If we were hell bent on doing a Heysen Trail trip, as opposed to just using the Southern Flinders Ranges as our KPE, we would make sure we re-joined the trail at the same point we left it. If we didn’t even have the Southern Flinders Ranges as our KPE we could just walk along the road the whole way. Like in actual ethical discussions, there’s no right or wrong in whatever KPE’s we set but as long as we have them we’ll be able to hold ourselves accountable to something.

‘But what of ethics?’ you say. Ethics are like the weather; here today, gone tomorrow

Mark Moorhead. Taken from the Arapiles Climbing Guidebook.
  • As I set out in the Motivation section, I wanted to get to know the whole Southern Flinders Ranges a little more personally. This stems from my belief that you’re always a little bit more comfortable, and able to perform better, if you’re familiar with your surroundings. It’s like when you go on holiday, check into your new room or house and spend the first ten minutes looking for all the light switches, where the spare toilet paper is and judging how soft the bed is. I want to cover off all that on this trip so I can finish back at home and go ‘right, now I know where everything is (along the Heysen Trail at least), what can I do with it’.
  • Second main over-arching concept I wanted to ensure didn’t get left behind was I wanted this trip to be as repeatable as possible, hence why I’ve collated all this information into a blog. It’s always cool to look at what ‘big’ adventures people get down on the Heysen Trail, like supported FKT’s, or on a National Scale, running from Perth – Melbourne, or paddling from Australia – New Zealand and call these ‘inspiring’ trips. Yeah sure, they’re inspiring in a sense to see what a human body is capable of if pushed to the limit but I find their ability to inspire me to try and attempt the same thing is not as great. The reason being is that big adventures like that require a V8 Supercars worth pit crew, a lot of time off work AND an extraordinary physical effort. I’m only interested in the extraordinary physical effort component of these trips and see the ability to get a massive support crew and time off work being large barriers to the average person attempting these same adventures. I.e. Someone does a really big cool trip, gets credit and mad respect for it in the media and everyone else looks at it and instantly goes ‘that’s crazy, I’d never be able to do that’ because the bar is set so far away from them to achieve it, when in actual fact, no-one who does these things is special (yes, you’re not special, we’re all the same, get over it). I want to live in a society where it’s normal for people to be fit and use their bodies daily to get outside to do cool stuff. Being outdoorsy shouldn’t be the exception to the role, we’re an animal after all and we’re born to live outside!

    So, with this trip I wanted to try and ensure that it would be as repeatable as possible for any Jo Blo who knows how to move their legs. The gear we’re carrying is not super specialised or ultra lightweight, we’re using a bus to get us to the start but you could easily drive there yourself and it’s only 5 days of effort (one week off work, not two). You might be tempted to say ‘yeah, but it’s hardly a controlled experiment when you’re a lot fitter than the average Jo Blo’ and to that I say, that’s another reason I brought the Willunga Wormfarmer along! He has the average level of fitness that should be acceptable for a human (which I’ll grant you this, is higher than what most people would accept but he’s still not crazy fit) and only runs a couple of times a week. So if I can do it, and Chad can do it then that increases the chance that Mr or Mrs Jo Blo, who is hopefully still reading, can do it too and my dream is potentially one step closer to reality (you’ve gotta have hope!).

    Also, by opting for a more guerilla warfare/self-supported approach we’re potentially setting a standard to beat along the trail that can’t be beaten by simply going down an endless arms race to see who has the best support crew and logistics. To beat our effort would require either superior fitness or superior fastpacking skills (less sleep required, less time wasted setting up camp etc.) both of which I would tip my hat too for whoever raises our standard higher.
  • Finally, the third concept I’m aiming to tick off/explore is how my body responds to fastpacking both physically and mentally and whether it’s something I’ll do more of in the future. It’s pretty exciting to try out a new skill because if all goes well, it’s like getting a new best friend! So many more options for activities!

That’s a lot of words on how this trip came together and how we hope to pull it off. Hopefully that covers any questions you might have but if not, please let me know if there’s something I’ve missed. Stay tuned for Part 2 in this trilogy to see the day-by-day account of the trip. Part 3 will also be available at some point which will detail a general reflection of the trip (key lessons, funny moments, suggestions for next time/others) and also cover off on the recovery process I used to get myself ready for the final few races and work commitments at the back end of the year.

P.S I have scheduled this post to be published when we start walking at the Prairie Hotel. I won’t have phone reception for a day or so so if there’s any errors or comments before then you’ll have to just suck it up and wait for a bit. By publishing this report at the time we start it either sets it up beautifully for a nice reflection or I’ll have to explain why we bailed on this plan in an equally long apology post…guess we’ll see what happens!

The final dinner before our departure on Thursday 15th September.

4 responses to “Self Supported Southern Flinders Fastpacking Frenzy Trip Report. Part 1 of 3.”

  1. This is intense but also inspirational for Mrs Jo Blo! Looking forward to Part 2 of the trilogy Frase

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with the Darcy family, looking forward to parts 2 and 3. If part 1 is anything to go by it is going to be an intensive, extensive description of the trip in part 2 and a significant summary of what was learnt, laughed at and enjoyed, ( maybe even some not so enjoyable moments)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] to, or back, to the latest addition of the SSSFFFTR. As advertised in Part 1, this part will cover a simple daily recap with lessons learned and the recovery process left for […]

    Like

  4. […] final chapter of the SSSFFFTR. Don’t start here. Part 1 has the planning, Part 2 has the actual recount and Part 3, this part, will delve into the key […]

    Like

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