The decision to walk all 56km of the Yurrebilla Trail in one day was originally about challenging myself with a group of women in our Wise Women Walking community who also wanted to take the ultimate test of finishing the trail in one day. For those not familiar with this trail, the Yurrebilla Trail is 54km or 56km depending on trails chosen in the stunning Adelaide Hills. It meanders through 8 beautiful conservation parks, national parks and reserves passing Mt Lofty, allowing you to follow this trail and always be no further than 15km from the city of Adelaide. Yurrebilla according to traditional owners the Kaurna people means “twin ears” referring to Mt Lofty and Mt Bonython.
Long story short, numbers dwindled, a date change to walk with other people almost happened but didn’t happen and so hubby Ian and I decided we would give this trail a red hot crack. We knew we needed a lot of daylight hours and cooler temperatures, so we risked the first Saturday in November hoping it wouldn’t be too warm.
So how did I end up lining up on the start line solo? Ian got crook the week prior and a shoulder injury presented out of nowhere so he was out. I tried a few more adventure friends in the days before but they had either done it the weekend before with another walking group and weren’t crazy enough to repeat the ordeal anytime soon or were working/injured/not ready either. OK I thought, this will be an opportunity to spend a bit of time with me (not a bad thing, I had neglected myself for most of the year with work, work and more work) and to be on the trails all day by myself had a ring of excitement to it.
There would be more challenge than normal. I wouldn’t have someone to talk to or distract me from the physical side of things or the mental games that happen – more about that later. I also would need to navigate alone and talk myself into keep going if I was wanting to give up. But I do have an endurance gene that I only discovered really in my 20’s. I might not go fast, but I can keep going.
With that mantra in my mind on the drive to Black Hill I realised that the worst thing that could happen would be not finishing. Or getting bitten by a snake. But I had a compression bandage to deal with that so I decided that not finishing would be worse.
Most people do the Yurrebilla Trail from Belair to Black Hill finishing with the almighty climb up and over a mother of a hill with an already very tired body. Well I had decided to meet the mother early having never done the trail in reverse direction before, I had also decided to do the Trail differently. I love hiking and would normally kit up with the boots, day pack, thermos and a packed lunch. But I also love trail running and while I was nowhere near running the whole trail (I never have, the hills are too steep!) I decided to combine – walk and jog and go as light as possible. This meant carrying max 2 litres of water, snacks, loo kit, zip log bag for rubbish, snack bite bandage, puffer and phone. I wore my usual running kit and groovy gaitors to keep the stones out of my shoes.
Ian was going to do a support package drop for me about 20km in at Norton Summit and then I would see him at about 35km at Cleland and at various stages onwards from there in case I needed to pull the pin. The trail passes a beautiful pub and also café at both these points which were the coffee spots if I needed one. Priorities people
Even though there was rain falling as we left home at 5.30am the forecast was going to be ideal for a day on the trails. Cloudy morning and sunny afternoon, and as the sun came up, the rain stopped and the hills were covered in cloud. Perfect. Just after 6.30am I was off.
My brain was spinning a bit with what I was doing. It wasn’t really a run or a walk or a jog or a hike. I might need to think of a name for it. Jalking? Jiking? Hogging, Wogging, no stop it. It doesn’t need a name I told myself. The climb up continued. Into the clouds I went. Waking up kangaroos and listening to the hoots of owls I welcomed the stillness. I hoped the stillness would enter my racing mind. It was still going overtime.
With fresh legs, getting over Black Hill was dare I say it, pleasant. I even started to jog up once up on the top flatter section before descending down Quarry Track. Probably didn’t need to jog down but found myself hugging the edge of the trail where the besser blocks are cemented in place. Much easier to hop down quickly than the blocks. A mountain biker scared the beejeesus out of me but other than him and a couple of older guys also heading up at Ambers Gully, these were the only people I saw.
Once on Montacute Road, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to collect the rubbish I was seeing. There is always so much rubbish along the roadside that with our group walks along here, we often fill a garbage bag and come back for it after the walk. The roads were quieter than when we usually do this section in the afternoon so I was able to stay on the road for most of the time. Before I knew it, 7km done.
Once in Morialta, the climb up past Fox Dam felt steeper than I remembered. Its funny when you do things in reverse you forget the easier downhill bits mean a decent uphill challenge the other way around. Funny that. I did stop for the most beautiful rainbow lorikeets who matched my bright coloured running top. They were so vivid in the dulled cloudy conditions still thankfully keeping the sun and heat away.
Morialta is one of my favourite parks – there are so many trails here and lots of challenge if you want it. The waterfalls and rocky escarpments I never tire of and I love that some of the trails are a bit rocky and adventurous. I was able to jog along Rocky Hill Track and most of the way to the lookouts. The city views started to appear as the clouds rose. So many vantage points to see the magnificence of this park. More people to say hello to here which was nice and a quick chat with a lovely couple that gave me some recovery time on a bit of uphill. Passed the rock climbers and abseilers, crossed the creek twice before the Third Falls. I realised this would be my last waterfall for today after seeing the first 2 earlier. Goodbye for now Morialta.
As I left the gorgeous green trails behind me I realised I only had a few kms to Norton Summit and I would have done 20km. My support package would be there and Ian had recorded a video and texted it to me so I would find it OK. There would be sunscreen, electrolytes and snacks. I stopped briefly to talk to the horses at Morialta Barns, such beautiful souls, before legging the last bit into Norton. I was already a little over the sweet snacks I packed after giving up sugary foods (again) the week before. I took the nuts, BBQ shapes and was grateful for the loo stop and water refill. My hydration kit was nearly empty. I faffed around for ages trying to put the hydration kit back together – I had borrowed Ian’s as mine was leaking and I had ordered a new Osprey Dyna 6 the day before the walk (so organised, not).
So about 20 mins here faffing all up before I realise I am cooling down, so I put the leftover package stuff back in its hiding spot and with the legs a little heavy, I head up the hill and past the school. The only part of Yurrebilla Trail that scares me is not the remote sections of trail with no phone coverage, or the fact that I am on my own, it’s the sections of roads. In order to connect between the gorgeous parks that this trail winds through, you have to follow some roads and some have no footpaths or room for pedestrians and come with some crazy blind corners. Some drivers choose to use the hill roads as rally car race tracks and even with me being practically on the guard rail (with a steep drop over the side) drivers will hoon past so close its intimidating. I was grateful to get that scary bit behind me.
Cue the beauty. Giles Conservation Park welcomed me with this. Talk about serenity. I was hugged by the ferns and got lost in my mind as I got a bit excited and jogged this gorgeous section. Then it was down, down down into the gully where ruins and koalas dotted the trailside. The male koalas were growling and I did see a few more sleeping in the gums. One was performing incredible gymnastics skills to get to the gum leaves – this made me think of how many fall out of the trees. Do they land like cats I wondered?
The climb up out of the gully becomes Horsnell Gully Conservation Park. A few blackberry bushes scratched me as the trail narrowed. With spring well and truly here, the trails were a bit overgrown in sections, so different to winter when we walk here. The uphill bit was decent and after realising I needed a loo stop (knowing what limited opportunities there would be until Cleland) I tried to think of the last time I had sighted someone – it was Norton Summit. There was not a soul on the trails. I looked around, listened for voices and decided it was remote enough to go just behind a tree near the trail. As I finished and fixed myself up, hopped back on the trail and a lady passed. Bloody hell that was close. I don’t think she saw anything. But she literally came out of nowhere.
Keep moving I thought, still got a way to go to get to Cleland. I could feel hot spots that were going to be blisters if they were not already. My left hip and quad were also giving me grief since Norton Summit – I text Ian to say I might have to end my day at Cleland. I am not happy about that as I text. I snacked on trail mix as I walked contemplating finishing early. Maybe we could just finish with lunch at Cleland? No I tell myself, I will fix my foot even if I don’t run the rest of the way. More beautiful views as the trail winds its way between Summertown and Cleland. Some nice muddy bits after the rain last night. Did a great slide but remained upright. Phew. Might stick to concentrating for a bit.
Then my favourite trail of ALL TIME. I love this one – cue the Wine Shanty Track. I use this trail regularly for trail running and taking groups, I just love the trees here even though DEW keep doing prescribed burns, the ferns and wooded landscapes are just gorgeous. Despite my silly foot, I just have to jog this trail as much as I can – the trail is that kind of trail. Another three mountain bikers pass. Am I hungry I ask myself? Yep just a bit, I grab a snack and realise I am at the gate. The café is just 5 mins from here. I will be there at 2pm – I told Ian 2-2.30pm so I am happy. I walk now to recover a little and head straight for the café counter. A guy pushed in front of me to order a coffee and I nearly let rip. I hold my tongue. Then I realise I might be hangry.
I order a toasted Turkish bread thing (not meant to have bread but today, all rules are broken, no time to peruse the menu) and an almond milk flat white. Ian is just 5 mins away but I start ploughing into my lunch and that coffee, crikey, never tasted so bloody good! I can feel myself return, but its crazy to think that I didn’t know I was perhaps a bit more out of it than I realised. Ian arrives. Conversation is limited between mouthfuls, he brings in the support package, my laptop (yep client had a medical emergency and I had to cancel their flights) and like a multitasking boss, reapplying sunscreen, eating, drinking, cancelling the flights and giving updates on the journey so far my break totalled 40 mins. Ian refills my hydration kit after I tell him I am going to continue. I am too scared to take my shoes and socks off to check my feet. Better off not looking. They seem to be OK. We now have a plan that he will be at strategic road points to check in with me from now on.
I race off feeling a tad overfull (that Turkish toasty was delish but huge). I must have needed it because I feel better than before it. Thank you coffee, thank you Universe, I high 5 them both in my mind. With lunch fuelling me, I knock off the Cleland section in an hour including the busiest trail of the day – the Lorna Jane Highway aka Mt Lofty Summit trail – but rather than getting annoyed at the crowds I am listening in to the banjo frogs and thinking how awesome it is to hear this on one of the busiest trails. Frogs are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. This makes me happy.
The uphill section to the gate is a sweaty effort – with a max of 24 degrees the warmest part of the day has arrived. Once out the gate, I find myself taking the downhill road section at Eagle on the Hill with more hoon drivers doing rally car practise. I am so used to doing this section heading up that it feels weird to head down it. I hadn’t ran since lunch, but I realise after a bit of jogging that lunch is still sitting high. I relax back into a walk exposed to the hot sun. I keep sipping my water.
I cross the road, check in with Ian as planned, I am good to keep going and I don’t need anything at this stage I tell him. Clearly still on that coffee hit.
The next section though is through paddocks before reaching Waite Reserve. This is my least enjoyable section. A million flies from the cow pats in the paddocks find me quickly, it is hot in the sun. I pass a father and son with his toy machine gun. I consider using it for the flies. Through a few more gates and once in the Reserve the signage for the Yurrebilla Trail is almost non-existent. Of all sections of the YT this section is my least familiar. And going in reverse has made it harder. I have led a group the wrong way here once before – oops – and twice I find myself questioning if I am on the right track. It just doesn’t look right. The grasses are chest deep here in places and in the full sun I am quite convinced I am going to meet a legless reptile. I cannot run through here and just want to be out. I take a wrong turn up a hill, pause, realise I am standing on a bloody ants nest and jump around like an idiot trying to get them off me. Insert expletives here. Minutes later I am still finding them up my legs biting me. Sorry guys, I got lost, wont stand on your house again.
I pass the familiar views of the city – great views from here.
Following the trail, I see movement in the corner of my eye. A very fluffy looking dog, (no wait is that a fox?) turns and runs away with a fluffy tail. I could be hallucinating; I didn’t think foxes came out during the day much and were they really that fluffy? It’s 4.30pm by now, I’ve been on my feet for 10 hours but I am too annoyed with the flies to think about fluffy foxes. I really am not sure if I saw this. Am I delirious?
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I am out. Through the gate and then behind Carrick Hill, before another gate and down the hill to McElligotts Quarry car park. I am a bit baked. Ian makes me an electrolyte drink and I want to keep going knowing I only have 2.5 hours or so to go. My stop here is brief and I don’t dare sit down.
As I wind down the hill I realise I don’t think I can run any more today. That Waite section and heat has killed me. While my body and brain have an indepth discussion about this, they agree I will only walk from now on. I probably ran 10km so far maybe more but my fatigue levels have decided to test me for this final section. I know that I am so close (10km to go) I just have to push through the fatigue. My feet are OK – or can I not feel them anymore? I don’t even know. I remind myself that I can still finish. Even if I crawl.
Mentally I fade during the Brownhill Creek Road section. The flies have stayed with me (thanks guys) and this increases my annoyance at everything. I want the sun to go down too but if I had the choice the flies would go first. I know I have a few uphill sections left and I just want them done but I am not near them yet. This road feels so much longer than I remember. I was walking here just a few weeks ago. The memories are fresh. I hear the frogs, they distract me momentarily as I cross the creek a couple of times and then finally one of the uphill sections looms – the switchbacks to Pony Ridge Road.
Suddenly I am choking. Did I inhale a bug? I don’t know but out of nowhere I have a coughing fit. I can feel something at the back of my throat, or am I choking on myself? I end up grabbing the puffer, feeling like a twat trying to inhale it without choking further. After literally leaving a lung on the trail, I start up again and after 10 mins I am on the road. I celebrate by eating a nut bar. I realise then that I have not eaten since lunch – that was over 3 hours ago.
Entering the final 5km at Belair, my memories of this section were not of much uphill but I was surprised to find myself struggling up to the top of at least 3 climbs (they were probably small in real life) cursing. I was pushing through brain fog and my body was hurting. I won’t lie. I was sore and unable to walk with my usual gait. I might have looked a bit wonky even drunk. Worse still I had the most painful undie chaffing going on below the equator that to be honest, on top of all the fatigue and sore stuff going on, this was unbearable. I knew there was a loo about 1km from the finish line. I knew what I had to do once I was there.
The bird song was a welcome distraction as I passed the dry waterfall, taking the downhill trail into the small green valley. The welcome sight of the ivy-covered Echo Tunnel meant I had to sing once inside. I never sing out loud like that but today I didn’t care. I tried a verse of Amazing Grace until I forgot the words and finished with “Was blind, but now I see” just in time to get to the end of tunnel and yes I could now see – my way to the finish line. Yay! I cheered inside. From now on the trail would be mostly flat! I had a renewed sense of energy but we can’t call it a second wind because I had at least 5 of these moments throughout the day. I picked up the pace, wincing with my chaffing. I chatted to a magpie, a kangaroo then my watch (it was telling me it was going to run out of battery) and my phone (that was low too) telling them we were nearly there! We would make it!
The toilet stop had me taking off the offending underwear with much difficulty, the chaffing was bad (no photos due to location) and I hobbled up the stairs to the Belair Railway Station commando style (wait can girls claim this term?). No finish line photos as I didn’t have the energy. But I was done. My watch had died but I knew I had done 56km. 12.5 hours since the start line. It was 7pm. I stretched, drank water and insisted we pick up hot chips on the way home.
I couldn’t get out the car, but Ian bought the largest serve of hot chips he could find
When we got home, I was at a stage of exhaustion that I don’t feel often – I had seized up and I was struggling to speak. It was weird to feel that way again – exhaustion at this level means that I have passed a point that took A LOT to get there. I was so relieved to complete the whole distance. I needed this challenge to prove a few things to myself in the end and to commit to finish something I start. Believe it or not this was a positive way to close off the year for me without a race and by rewarding myself with some intense me time. I loved being with nature that whole time with nothing else to think about. My mind still insisted on bringing up stuff that I had to process. It taught me a few things:
- Your body is capable of more than you think it is
- Trails are the cheapest form of therapy going
- Stop to take it in, the views, the birds, the wildlife, the sounds – take photos
- I don’t need a race to prove myself (this was not about timing but about just finishing)
- I will do this again one day
If you are considering doing the Yurrebilla Trail solo here are a few tips:
- Start with Belair to Black Hill (in a northerly direction) as the signage is better
- Download maps from Walking SA website
- Tell someone you are doing the walk in one day with details of your plans/finish time etc
- Organise a support crew or do your own support package drops at regular stops on the trail where there is multiple road access points
- Limited taps and flushing toilets – take a loo kit with you that allows you to carry out any used loo paper, carry enough water
- You can always stop to get a lift/taxi if you need to withdraw at various stages along the way
- Carry at least a snake bite bandage if you are going “light”
- Best times to do the trail for longest day light hours and without too much heat are late October and early November
- Check CFS website for prescribed burns and BOM for weather forecast info
- Carry a phone but note there are sections of this trail where there is no coverage
Also if you wanted to walk sections of the Yurrebilla Trail with a professionally led group, we operate 3 stage hikes throughout the winter months – head to our calendar for upcoming events
Thanks to Ian for being my support crew and for organising the hot chips.
Lisa Murphy is a trail enthusiast with a love of hiking and running the trails. Always seeking her next challenge, she is also Chief Adventurer at Big Heart Adventures and started the Wise Women Walking program to get more women out on the trails and walking.