Back at School – On the River


Back at school – On the river

30/4 – 1/5/15

Clyde River

Canoeing and kayaking two day tour between Nelligen and Anglers Reach.

Glassy smooth water. The sharp nose of my very old “dancer” kayak rippled the surface reflections. Clouds built but didn’t spill. Multicoloured canoes and kayaks moved along closer to the shore and contrasted to the shades of bush greens on the bank. The Clyde River. The river all Canberrans know as they speed over the concrete bridge at Nelligen on the summer pilgrimage to or from the coast. Our group of students and teachers were some of the very few that ever venture further than the road or shore.

On the first day I had mixed emotions being back with a school group in the outdoors with that ever present niggling duty of care. The beauty of the late afternoon conditions and a short stretch slightly away from the group helped as the slow calm of the river seeped back to my core. I was working with a group of trainee guides who were assisting the teachers who were overseeing the students who were also under the tutelage of a student teacher along with a couple of ex student helpers. A tangled complex web of skills and knowledge transfer and mentoring. This was a true learning community. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that I had been able start this program and that now it was seeming sustainable.

At dusk the would be guides dived into their rescue practice tasks. The water was cold. The final part was completed as the moon rose.

Later evening sent us all from the fire to bed. In the middle of the night mist covered the moon.

The weather in the morning had improved. We paddled off in mainly sunshine. The trainees took control and kept it moving and made it fun and swapped the canoe pairs and gave them turns in the kayaks and smiled lots and wound us in and out of overhanging trees in the still water, and cared for them and handled all the scenario rescues and did everything right. I had to relearn that on nearly all of these adventure trips it takes time for the experience to have its effect on people. The change from the first day in the individuals and the group was noticeable if you tuned in. Something subtle often takes place. For this group and some students it would take a few more trips in beautiful surroundings and away from mobile reception with skilful leaders for special characteristics to start showing through. Generosity, inclusiveness, confidence, being at ease in a group.

It did feel good to have a small bit part in it all again.

Club Day at the Local


Club day at the local


Booroomba Rocks



Maybe some people are club people and others aren’t. Macquarie Uni Mountaineering Society, Navy Ski Club, Canberra Canoe Club, Canberra Bushwalking Club, Southern Tablelands Four Wheel Drive Club, had been or are a big part of my life.

We chatted companionably as backpacks of gear were sorted in the carpark. Zac, the current president of the Canberra Climbers Association, filled us in on what he knew of the earthquake situation in Nepal. Climbing groups were allocated and we hiked up the hill.

Over at the northern slabs I spied two new shiny bolts on a climb I had taken many years to psyche up for and develop the skills to do. It was extremely dangerous but if your technique was solid and your mind in lockdown it was fabulous. The bolts now made it much less of an undertaking. Diminished. They stuck out like shiny silver flags in an acre of almost pristine granite.

Charles, an ex Pom, pushed through the first tricky section on lichen damp steeps. Both of us are not monarchists but we still chatted about the new baby princess born the day before. Fourth in line for the throne. Lady Di would have been her Grandmother. She was one of my heroes. I still can’t believe how one of her best mates could sing “Candle in the Wind” at her funeral in Westminster Abbey with such composure. While writing this I stopped and relived it again on youtube……..”we’ll miss the wings of your compassion more than you will ever know”. I hoped that Club Royal and the baby’s despicable grandfather, soon to be our head of state, would treat her better than her departed too soon grandmother. Forty years prior I would like to have been able to be a Pom and stay on in England.

I led the stunning second pitch of Counterbalance. “If this was in the UK you would have to book up a time on the Internet six months in advance” joked Charles. At the belay ledge another party from the club crossed over our route and I could hear another of our groups further across. Later we abseiled to a ledge and did Hurricane Cracks, another classic. I top roped a harder crack system nearby. On the top when questioned Zac explained about his clever rescue knife that he carried on his harness. He’d been caught upside down in a bunch of old ropes descending the second rock step on Everest and nearly died. The knife was a present straight after. Clubs have a huge amount of shared knowledge and experience that can be transferred. My break from work had finally enabled me to have enough time to become involved with this club that I had been on an email list for about eight or ten years. Comeraderie at the crag.

All we needed at day’s end was a local English pub in the village nearby where we could swap yarns about the day together.


Goodbye England’s Rose – Elton John.

Notes on Falling

Notes on Falling


Sydney storms

Houses washed away lives lost

Falling rain

Torrents in the creeks


Force of gravity

On the bend of a space time continuum

Black holes in deep space


Cats drop from apartment blocks

Reaching terminal velocity after 9 floors

Spin and splay and relax and walk away unscathed


The last moments before sleep

Snap awake

Genetic memory from the time we slept in trees

Lions below


Our most common human dream


Price of iron ore


Government revenue, the economy


Ian lead climbing

Several meters above his last runner

Committed to moves he can’t reverse

Tangled feet hands on the wrong holds

“Watch me”

And he’s off, top runner pulls

Sudden stretchy stop 8 m down

Clean, fast, ok


Time seems to compress on the way down

Mind and senses focused


Like slowmo


Plane climbs steeply then levels out

Clip to the tandem

Sit on the edge lean forward

Screaming exhilarating terror

Lips, cheeks face pulled back with G force


Tumbling into love


Tingling heart catches fire


Mum at home

Down the stairs in the middle of the night


Cracked pelvis

Discomfort pain mobility limited

A walker to get around

Care and assistance

A loss of independence

6 – 8 weeks


Mother in law

Walker wheel collapses

Tumble to the floor


Cracked hip, gashed elbow, leg




Student client’s Mum

Forgot to clip in


Thinks on the way down

“let me not be paraplegic, let me die”

But lives

Shattered ankle and humerus

School group nearby watch it all


30m abseil

Last section overhanging

Student watchers sing their buddies down

“I’m free, freefalling”.



With thanks to RadioLab

Ethics and Retreat


“Ethics and Retreat”

Secret spot #2

14 – 16 April

Rockclimbing – more new routes

What marks do we leave on the world?

What do we leave behind?

What is the evidence of our passing through?

Any published writings. A pile of detail and forgotten emails in the digital cloud. For a time we rest in the hearts of our surviving loved ones. Maybe our stories persist with our friends and family. In Education our legacy is probably fairly short lived, with a possible few students being deeply affected in their own lifetimes if we are lucky. Research. Roads, buildings and inventions in other industries are longer lasting and more tangible. A carbon tonnage in the sky. In other cultures and countries our footprints are much lighter.

Of the whole volume of outdoor rockclimbing activity in Australia probably less than one percent involves the pioneering and establishment of new climbs. The vast majority of activity takes place on existing routes at cliffs that are documented on the web and in guidebooks. Cliffs are the country, mostly exclusively, of climbers. No-one else has the interest and expertise to venture beyond the tracks worn at the base of the crags. Loose rocks are quickly removed from higher up to make the climbing safe. Ethical debate rages in some circles about the placement of bolts which last for aeons. Some climbers don’t use chalk because it can remain in places on the rock protected from rain. Even in national parks cliff care groups do access track maintenance.

Last thing in the afternoon on day 1 I had descended a route and “cleaned” off the loose rock. The process involves carefully threading the abseil rope into a small backpack with the end tied off at the top. This allows you to abseil down the rope as it feeds out of the bag on your back. Any rocks that fall do not hit and damage the rope as it does not hang below. A prussic backup is insurance for any rocks that might fall from above and hit the climber as s/he descends. This turned out to be a sometimes loose cliff with giant columns stacked like huge “pick up sticks”. Parts of it were a climber’s delight – solid with zooming lines. A loose rock made a scar on the talus below as I worked my way downwards. The climbing looked hard but there were several resting spots.

Next morning I launched up. The climbing was superb. Sustained. Hard for me. The protection was excellent. Technical jamming of all types. Thrilled at the top to have been climbing well on steep, difficult, high quality stone. I called the climb “Scar Tissue”, grade 19 or 20. This cliff is on an outlying ridge out the middle of nowhere. Who knows if there will ever be a guidebook or even if anyone will ever climb it again? The climb exists now. A claim to fame? Evidence that I passed through?

Secret crag #2

Late in the day I led up a blocky corner and then out onto a steepening wall. Again the climbing was superb. Long reaches. High step ups. Balance. Thin cracks provided opportunities for protection but fiddling in small wires that wobbled in the parallel sides didn’t inspire confidence. I’d pulled off a hold on another climb and was spooked by the time I reached a hard section that verticalled.

“Did you hear that thunder?” Ian from below.

A wire and tiny cam didn’t feel like enough. Hesitation. Another look at full stretch. Only this section and we’d be on the half way ledge. It was getting late. I lacked confidence in my strength and was afraid of the unknown and psyched out by the questionable protection lower down.

“I’m lowering off”. The decision made. Not to push myself through. We don’t often retreat together. I wasn’t up to it. Not now. Not today. Our plans would have to change for the next day as we would have to return to retrieve the gear and rope or finish the climb. Disappointed.

It wasn’t far back to the top and then to the car. Almost dark under heavy cloud when we arrived and rain started. 10 minutes later it was pelting down. Had I pushed on and made it we would have been on the climb in the heavy rain and fading light. An epic avoided.

The rock was dry in the morning. We both abseiled the route again. I had a close inspection and removed some moss from a key ledge. The climbing was achievable but I still maintained it was too hard for me to lead. Ian set off from the ground. At the vertical he placed a couple more pieces of gear then committed. He did the moves to the small ledge then got tangled up and fell. His top wire pulled. The rope stretched. Eight meters down he came to a stop. Unhurt. A clean fall. He doesn’t fall very often. Rest. Back up to the high point his solution to every climbing problem is to put in some more pro. Next shot he cruised it. Yay. His push through was very impressive. I enjoyed following. The second pitch was a classic. Exposed channel chimney right up the prow. What a climb!

Ian at the steepening

Ian at the steepening


Interlude (not an adventure)


Canberra half marathon

April 12


Commonwealth Avenue was long and tedious around the 14 km mark. I ran the white line, weaving through the broken lines as a distraction. Earlier I’d been singing out loud like karaoke where only I could hear the music and only those around me could hear the singing. What the hell. I was loving every step, feeling strong and free. The sun was out. My playlist was a cracker – all my favourite loud running songs. “It’s a beautiful day” sped me up over Kings Avenue Bridge. “Living on a prayer” along the white line. I’d felt like dancing. I couldn’t control the urge to fly, arms out, as the music crescendoed. I almost risked a grapevine dance move at one point early on down past Parliament house when I was running faster than planned and feeling good. Half way through I committed to the faster pace. I was on top of the world. My two best buddies, one in front and the other behind, had stayed the night before and we’d had uproarious good fun. Wives, Cath and Kathy encouraged us from a series of points in the first half that were close to the start. I was flushed with the thrill of running free.

Two years ago I had suddenly been struck with a form of aggressive arthritis. Multiple medications were ramped up from basic to serious cancer drugs to try to tame it. I thought I’d probably not run again. Then very slowly it improved in small increments. Regular blood tests. Very slow reduction in the meds and side effects – mainly fatigue. I eased out of work and started running again tentatively.

Three weeks ago I had been able to stop taking the drugs. One week ago a final blood test showed everything was back to normal. Amazing. It could come back again but for now it was gone. Lucky, lucky me.

“Viva la Vida” carried me along at full volume like it always does.

In these long runs there is always a point where it gets hard, usually about three quarters of the way thru. At this point I saw up ahead a group of my friends and colleagues from college. They waved and cheered. I was overcome with emotion and started the flying routine, then punching the sky. A little further on I realised I’d picked up the pace even more with all the exhilaration. They had picked just the right spot of maximum need for maximum support.

I pushed smiling up to a final turnaround. A little further Roger, a colleague, stood waving, cheering, smiling. I had to stop and give the big bloke a bear hug in thanks.

18 km

A few kilometres from the end they were waiting for me again. All shouting, waving and gesticulating. The plane arms went out and I wove towards them. Dan waved his cycling yellow jersey. Jess jumped up and down. Colleen madly clicked photos. And everyone else cheered wildly. Joe and Gordo wave me through. High fives all around. If I could have twirled and cartwheeled I would have. What generosity and care. To come down out of their Sunday to give me a burst of support when I would need it most. What makes people do these things for each other? I pondered while I lifted the pace towards the finish. When our goings get tough who comes to our aid? I’d connected in some special way to all these people. Was it that they all knew what struggle and pain and suffering is all about. And that to care and reach out is part of the best of ourselves.

“Sky full of stars” blew me away over the last bridge. “Chariots of fire”, which had been our theme song over dinner the night before, played inside my head as I sprinted to the finish. Spent. Cath and friends, hugs. Gratitude. Sometimes some of us are lucky enough to be able to regain the wealth that is our health and wellbeing.


Dirty Deeds


Dirty Deeds

Maria Island – Tasmania

March 30 – April 1

Bush cycling


The wall is cold, hard. Whitewash now cracked. From the warm down cocoon of my sleeping bag my hand rests flat on the stone. Dark. Middle of the night. A few mozzies. Time seems to bend and crack like the exhibit in MONA where video of people in a city distorts to stretch and compress the action. I can feel you here, James Merner, touching the wall, bloodied. These very same walls constructed by your hand. The masters found out about your bricklaying and building skills. At first it seemed like a way to gain favour and privileges in this god forsaken place at the end of the earth. You were able to lessen the cruelty a little while you were of use to them. Two years to replace the logs and bark with this strong new penitentiary. 66 convicts to a room, 4 rooms. Your hopes of earning a return to Hobart dashed by the commissar – no reprieve. Stealing two pairs of trousers back in England had led you here.

66 convicts to a room, 4 rooms. Locked in together at night. A place the troopers wouldn’t risk entering in the dark. Cruelty of overseers translates to those around you. I touch the wall and feel your black despair. No reprieve. Back in the cell with the others now your work is done. You wake and know it’s on. Whispers, stirring bodies, stench of vomit and piss and shit from the overflowing bucket in the corner. Men, dirty, grimy, cold, scratching at sores jostle awake. In my waking nightmare I see the top dogs call the action. Low talking complaining leads to growling. Some legs and arms flail dance not caring what they hit. In the darkness you try to melt into a corner in the throb. Knowing arms twist you into the room, into the seethe. The noise builds to a rhythmic group scream. 66 convicts to a room, men here for life, no women anywhere. No hope. They turn on each other, on the lowly. Wild, they separate into two groups on sides of the room then in an apocalyptic climax both sides rush at each other in a futuristic Metallica heavy metal wall of death. Broken and unbroken now move together in a circle like a whirlpool. Pushed into the central pit you are hit from edge to edge then lose your footing and are trampled by the mob. Soldiers outside fire into the sky to break the spell of the rabble.

Can people rise above their own harsh realities to live good lives in concert with each other? James Merner, did you in the end?

The commissar reports “frightful irregularities” next day.

I sense your desperation, your dashed hopes, your terror, your utter despair as I tourist in this same room. I brew up tea and update my bird list. Outside the evening light is golden over the other convict buildings of mixed stone and brick. I read on the information on the wall that after being refused reprieve you escaped the island on a bark canoe, were apprehended and then imprisoned with hard labour in the Hulk chain gang for a year as punishment. Tiers of bunks with separating battens were erected later so each convict could be confined safely at night. The Island seems hushed and still as if remembering its grim past. I consider my own minor acts of lawbreaking and bending the rules and thank my lucky stars that I didn’t live 190 years ago in England.

James Merner, your story here disturbs part of my world view as I tremble into the possible past. A cool breeze comes through the open window. Scuffling outside now in the dark. My hand cold against the wall. A devil screeches close by. I don’t know if you were an honourable man or a scoundrel that got his just deserts for deeds done. But I sense your pain and anger and desperate despair. I marvel that you could live through it all. I’ve had the view that our troubles to each of us are equal. That we all feel despair and pain and we have to honour this in each other. That even now people do unspeakable things to each other, parents to children, men to women, like to like. Do we have an innate capability to inflict violence on each other or do people reflect what they are surrounded by? Motorcycle gangs attired in black, emblazoned with skulls ride our streets armed, shooting at houses and each other? School kids and adolescents can be very cruel to each other. We all feel the effects of these things deeply. In some realms there’s an epidemic of despair among young people. I know I’ve been instrumental in preventing two youth suicides but also had another young person in my pastoral care group end their life just out of college. But now James Merner you’re showing me through the wall that we are not all equal in our darknesses. I imagine battens across the bunk bed in the gloom. Sleep again, finally.

Cruiser and penitentiary

Cruiser and pennitentiary

In the morning we hire bikes and cycle down the island. We complain to each other about the lack of gears, the inappropriateness of the cruiser bike for bush tracks, the grumpy captain on the ferry, about our sore bums. I consider what is real in our suffering. I think about heavy metal music and the dark times of youth. The growling screamo vocals and wild and dangerous mosh pit movements that tap into a collective searching for an outlet for anger and frustration. Is this any different to the Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper of my own formative years? Teenage melancholy circling in on itself and fed by mass popular culture. Has it taken me till now to realise that only some of us have real “frightful irregularities” to deal with? Or am I getting old? As I drift away from my long and intensive work with young people am I letting go of my own youthful vulnerability that I was confronted with in nearly every classroom?

For $20 each we get on the ferry back to the mainland. James Merner how much would you have paid? Your penitentiary stands proud on the hill above the bay, and recedes in the salt spray. Whitewashed walls.


Tasmanian devils have been introduced onto Maria Island where they have never been before. Healthy individuals are surviving and breeding isolated from the main population suffering from a deadly facial disease. It is thought the disease developed from a genetic mutation in a single female which has spread widely on the Tasmanian mainland through the population that has diminished genetic diversity due to decimated numbers thereby leading to less natural resistance.

Museum of Old and New Art – “On Perspective and Motion – Part 2” a complex video and mirror installation by Daniel Crooks 2006. Gonzo interpretation by Elizabeth Pearce – “Stretchy Time. You know when you’re bored, time stretches, and when you’re traumatised (dumped, injure yourself), it compresses again? I think this is what this is about – the stretchiness of time – with technical mastery.”

I ordered a new snowboard about 10 years ago – a model highly recommended by an expert. When it arrived I was tempted to send it back because of the graphics. Over time I have got used to it and am now starting to identify with the ghost rider in the sky/powder. Model name -“Nitro Punisher”

Test of the toughest


Test of the toughest

Freycinet – east coast Tasmania

March 26 – 28



It got underway badly. We were well prepared and packed all ready to walk leisurely up to the lookout and then down to camp at Wineglass Bay with plenty of time after the morning’s drive.

“No. You have to do the circuit walk anticlockwise”. Visitor Center ranger guy. Ugh! Rules and regulations in National Parks that were different to the “Great Walks of Australia” book were annoying. Now we had to throw all our last minute gear together and dash off to give ourselves a chance at completing the extra 9 km to the recommended campsite. Only being a 3 day hike Cath had cooked a yummy chicken dinner that was left in the car. I raced back a few km and retrieved it then raced back to catch her up. Weather conditions were perfect and views were great but we were still agitated about the longer distance and changing well laid plans.


We eventually made Hazards Beach and a subsidiary campsite at its southern end. Cath was tired. There was ample water. The site was fabulous. We stopped early adding thereby a few extra km to the already long day’s walk the next day. Our good feelings resurfaced in the sunset over a glassy sea sitting on stunning orange and pink granite boulders. The cameras went wild.


Later Cath got the clever camper award by putting all our food in a big dry bag to seal in the smells and then tying this up in a back pack. Her master stroke to prevent possum extraction was to coat the pack rain cover with aeroguard to confuse and scare away their snouts. Before bed I fashioned a walloping stick just in case. In the middle of the night we came under attack so I yelled and bashed the backpack outside leaning against the tent. Unzipping the door I thrashed the ground with the stick. Then I heard rustling on Cath’s side, ripped her door open and brandished the club wildly. Then I heard it in her sleeping bag! She was wide awake by now and shouted at me not to strike. The rustling was her knee changing position on the blown up silver wine skin she was using for a pillow. Close call.

Now Cath is a very keen walker. She has been training hard for an upcoming extended hike on the Larapinta Trail in central Australia in July. These walks in Tassie were to be a lead up. About five years ago she had a resurfaced right hip (pretty much a hip replacement) and then three years ago an upper tibial osteotomy on her left knee. Both for osteoarthritis. She also spends many hours each week walking in the pool and doing physio exercises. The climb up and down from Pine Valley Hut to the Labyrinth had caused grief to her knee so she was not in her best shape at this moment in time and had been very tired reaching the “early” camp.

I am a recently retired outdoor education teacher and have had a different sort of knee arthritis issue that recently has seemed to resolve itself. I was back running and training for an upcoming half marathon. So I was in good shape. In my work and in other personal adventure trips I am accustomed to carrying big packs and heavy loads. I looked at our current hiking exploits as team affairs where the aim was for us both to enjoy ourselves, achieve our goals and finish in reasonable nick. To this end I carry more stuff and Cath carries enough to make a difference. On a 3 day hike I carry about the same as I would on a 6 day trip which is quite achievable. We’ve worked out our limit is about 4 days. Any more than this or the necessity to carry lots of water and I will start to lose the ability to enjoy myself. I’ve spent 30 years of my professional life assessing people’s capabilities and supporting them to work towards achieving worthwhile adventure outcomes. I have a conservative approach to the mountains. Getting out of depth or overextended is not a place to be in a situation where the weather can change, people get exhausted or injured and rescue or backup may be difficult. On work trips I had got in trouble a couple of times with students injured, exhausted and cold with the weather closing in. Both required rescue. One of these was challenging. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made with much gentle negotiation to minimise the possibility of sticky situations developing. I thought I had some good skills in this.

Our next day’s walk would be long and we had added another 4 km by camping early.

Canberra Bushwalking Club have an excellent grading and length calculation guide to their hikes. For every 100 m of ascent or descent you add a kilometre to the route length to give an estimate of the effort required and the length of the day.

The estimated route distance of our planned day 2 was about 16 km. When we took into account the 580m climb and descent that added about 11 km of effort making a total of approximately 27 km. The route went over the top of Mt Graham and it didn’t appear that there were any escape routes if things went pear shaped. The weather was forecast to seriously deteriorate later in the evening. I thought we were biting off more than we could chew and suggested we could reverse part of our previous day’s walk and go the easy way to our planned destination, camp and then hike up the mountain without packs as far as we wanted – safe, easy, lots of options. Cath was having none of it. We were up at 7.00 and walking by 8.15. The easy way out just didn’t cut it for her. I didn’t want to see her weepy and in pain. She had determinedly struggled through so much rehab already.

The first part went well. 4 km. Drink. Rest. Turn uphill. Cath’s knee was going well. We were slow and steady and rested regularly. On the steeper sections to the major saddle she placed her feet carefully and followed the mantra for going up and down with dodgy legs – “good go to heaven, bad go to hell”. This puts the effort and weigh on the correct leg to reduce strain on troublesome knees. Her walking poles got a workout. Lunch 1.00 pm. The final 180 m ascent to the summit involved some scrambling up slabs and large steps. Small bushes made good handholds.

Approaching the summit

The view 360 degrees on the summit was magnificent. Schouten Island and coastline stretching south. Rugged cliffed coast to the north. In the foreground beautiful Wineglass Bay and the dramatic granite peaks of the Hazards. Inland to the west some weather was building slowly. The sea out east was still, calm, flat, perfect.

View from atop Mt Graham

The route down looked long. 3.00pm we departed the top of the mountain. Most mountaineering accidents occur on the way down. Descending was harder for Cath. We slowed but plodded on. I tried to navigate our position accurately on the map but it seemed to take an age to get anywhere. Steep down. Slow. A flat section through button grass fields. More steeps. Another flat. Now she was really tired. I figured we were still only half way down. 4.30pm. The track threaded through cliffs with a few steep drops below narrow foot ledges. Eventually we started the long ridge to the bay still way below. The last few jelly beans. Cath started getting angry. At the track mainly as the steepness and length didn’t match the description she had read. At the terrain. At every small uphill. At the down climbing over boulders. At my navigation which had us about 2 km away for ages. Very weary. I wanted to carry her pack too which she reluctantly agreed to for only a ten minute section. Angry we were still not there yet. I hadn’t seen her negative like this before.

Afterwards she said that she always knew she could make it down. Long distant deep memory of having done things harder in the past gave her this knowledge.

6.15 finally we made it down. Cath was utterly spent. Admiration.

Wineglass Bay lived up to its reputation as one of the ten best beaches on the planet. A sculpture of whalebones stood beautifully on the beach in the sunset. We risked the exposed campsite with the terrific view. Over dinner possums and a Bennets Wallaby attacked our camp unafraid. Bravely I fought them off with a walking pole. The aeroguard trick worked again. About 5.00am rain pelted down, thunder rolled around the bay and lightning rent the air outside our cosy tent. Grimy, sweaty, stinky, warm we breakfasted in bed in hilarious jocularity as the storm blew itself slowly away.


Champagne waves broke perfectly on the sand as we walked along the beach. The sun returned by the time we made the lookout. Water flowed everywhere, down runnels in the steep slabs and the creek in the gully below.

Chanpagne in the wineglass

Hot shower. Comfy bed. At the bistro Cath celebrated her winning of the Toughest Camper Award with a champagne dinner. The walk had been a real test and challenge. It was a great confidence booster for the Larapinta. A new benchmark had been set. Nothing could be as hard as “Mount Graham”!

Enchanted Landscape – Pine Valley

7 and 8

Pine Valley

March 17 – 20

Tasmania – Lake St Clair area



The small transport boat took us up Lake St Clair in the opposite direction to our journey 35 years previously at the end of an Overland Track trek. We hiked in to Pine Valley Hut. Deep forests covered in verdant green mosses, boggy areas clothed in miniature landscapes of ferns and coral plants, eucalypt stands. The walking alternated between wondrous and a trudge as the track stretched further than anticipated and our 5 day packs seemed to gain weight. We expected the hut to be empty as it sits off the main through route but found it jammed full of exuberant overlanders who were all in high spirits as they would finish the following day. We had come in to make a base camp and spend time exploring the area.

The Labyrinth

Uphill through more mossed forest of towering gums and King Billy pines. Stillness. An ent bade us farewell as we passed. Damp. I have images of elves, fairy tales, trolls, goblins, Robin Hoods and ninjas. It’s hard to photograph and capture the almost luminescent green that blankets everything. Close up the moss covering is made up of multiple species, each with its own intricate shape and shade of jade. Up an almost vertical creek. Drizzle. Up some more. Twisted roots.

The cloud lifts a little as we break out onto the saddle. Valleys drop away on both sides. Mist blows up over a sharp ridge to the south, Lake St Clair appears in the cloud gap, crags show for moments. The smooth rocks are covered in wildly coloured lichens. The sun pokes out briefly and lights it all up. It feels like everything is happening at once and I gallivant around trying to see it all and capture it all on camera and generally revel in the drama and wild beauty of the scene.

As we walk across the plateau I try to photograph the lichens green, blue, orange, white, pink, black. Fiery barked snowgums made brilliant by the wet contrast with the rocks. Cresting a shelf a sublime scene is revealed. The rock is glaciated and has left depressions that have become small tarns edged with the coloured stone and cushion plants. King Billy pines bonsaid by the prevailing wild weather stand in the mist. This is a magical alpine landscape. Further on a part of the shelf juts out. From this outlook we can see a string of larger tarns spread over a lower shelf. Beautiful. Mist then clearing. The sharp peak of Mt Geryon appears then the crags of the Acropolis. Inspiring.

Cath and I shelter from wind and driving rain behind a small bluff for lunch. An information and warning board in the hut stated that 4 people had died in the Labyrinth area. Weather can change quickly, navigation in mist could be very tricky, time can get away while exploring, it’s a strenuous walk up and down, once off the track a walker may not easily find it again.

On the way back across the tops the rain alternates with clearing mist. We strike good conditions through special parts of the landscape. We take our time with the downward climb/scramble/hike. Several years ago Cath wouldn’t have thought this possible, carrying a pack into a semi remote wilderness. This has got to be one of the best day’s walking anywhere – equal to some of the classic days we had hiked in the French Alps years ago.

Cephissus Falls

Stars blazed the whole sky at 3 am so I looked forward to a break from the rain and some sunshine to relieve the overcast next day. A little later the downpour continued, hammering on the hut roof as dawn light filtered grey into the dingy recesses where we woke cosy and warm. Intrepid overlanders breakfasted, packed then left in full wet weather kit. Showers became heavier and then cleared a little. We ventured out into the forest. Immediately we entered the deep green silence. The ground became a cushion carpet of mosses and lichens with a narrow winding path reminiscent of the best fairy tales. The falls cascaded then streamed and wound through the carpet. Small pandanus stood like sentinels keeping watch on the flow of water. Cath stood motionless in a zen like garden. Some type of nameless ancient spirit seemed to dwell here between the creek, the mosses, the tiny lichens and the massive trees. It may have been part of a long hidden genetic memory from when we hunted and gathered in forests like this aeons past or more recently from my early childhood exploring the forested creek down the hill from my house, similarly dark and green however the brown water there was not from natural tannins in the plants but from pollutants from upstream factories. The wind picked up. We watched the tree giants sway. Water was everywhere – in the stream, sitting in puddles, absorbed by the spongy mosses, droplets hanging from every leaf and frond, falling steadily as rain, rising up inside my goretex sleeves and squelching in my boots.

This third day of rain we spent hours in the hut playing cards, drinking tea, keeping warm and trying to piece together Asian geography to put into understanding our conversations with a Taiwanese hiker we had shared tea with. She had been on the “track” for eight days with a small pack, no tent and no sleeping mat, relying on the huts, walking in rain. She had enjoyed two fine weather days and was loving her first hike. She had trudged off in the morning on her seventh day of rain. I felt better prepared but also a little luxuriant with my down mat and hearty food. A part of me envied her quiet, tough resilience and positivity.

A clear sky on dusk raised our hopes for an ascent of the Acropolis the following day. Then more showers that led into rain in the the night and at dawn so we packed early and headed back out to the boat down Lake St Clair. At Narcissus Hut where the boat departs we joined a large group of overlanders jockeying for a place on the 2 boats scheduled. There were too many of us so a hectic and stressful interpersonal hassle played out in the arranging of an extra boat, the ranger washing his hands of rescheduling punters, more people waiting on the jetty than there were seats available – all this in cold, wet, windy conditions. People were already strung out and tired. It was a contrast to the simplicity of a few days life in the hut and exploring the enchanted forest.


Around 8,000 people walk the Overland Track every year making it Australia’s most popular multi day hike. A booking system regulates numbers starting the trek between October and April. Walkers are required to go from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair (north to south) – this evens out numbers at huts and the lack of need for people to pass each other going in opposite directions means the track width is maintained at a minimum.

While Cath and I were walking out a “Canberra man fell off a mountain and died in Tasmania” (Mount Ossa).

Rocky Cape


Rocky Cape

March 16

Tasmania north coast

Day walk


The track led up through coastal scrub to the base of a quartzite cliff. At its base a slot cave led deep into the rock. Higher up another cave entrance was visible. An interpretative sign told about the early Aboriginal people who used the shelter and the shell midden, artefact and charcoal evidence of their occupation. On the other side of the bluff was another cave. We followed the instruction not to enter out of respect. The stories were made and presented by indigenous people of another area. The locals were all gone.

Coastline stretched east and west in the distance. Small villages perched in the inlet bays on the beaches, colourful across the turquoise water. White stone on the headlands covered with bright orange lichen. A sea eagle glides overhead. Huge pacific gulls mix it with the sea gulls on the beach. The ocean is calm, smooth.

My daughter works for a community development arts company and lived in one of the small coastal towns. She had spent 4 years in the “desert” working with Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory and WA. Now in the lush green and wet south she has embarked on a quest to immerse herself in the Tasmanian environment and completing all the 60 short walks in a brochure she picked up. She guided our tour of her favourite nearby places.

Adventure Climbing


Adventure climbing

March 10 – 12

Secret spot in the Blue Mountains – no clues given

Rockclimbing new routes

Ian Brown is one of Australia’s foremost current adventurers having expeditioned across the Antarctic, climbed in Greenland fjords, established major new climbs in the Darran Mountains of New Zealand and hiked criss cross over Cape York among other major undertakings. He has also quietly been one of the most prolific rockclimbing new route pioneers over a thirty year period in Australia. As we trudge through scrub, up and down steep talus slopes and balance along unstable cliff edges in yet another area he has dug out of the encyclopaedic recesses of his archive of new crags, this one from a hike 30 years ago, I contemplate the privilege of being a part of a couple of these exploits. Some have ended badly – the most oft remembered is the so called “fabulous outback rock untouched by modern people” that turned out to be conglomerate rubble miles from the car. We just looked at it and started the long return journey home leaving behind a small pile of large pebbles/handholds that fell off the cliff as we pulled on them. Oh well. Some of the discoveries were good and one had been a cracker. We had shared a gold mine of new climbs at Point Perpendicular over a five year period before rumours got out. Each treasured day was strictly divided depending on whose turn it was to select the line and lead. We both had notebooks of climb names that were added to as fast as they were used up. Ian had persisted, and uncovered the place that has become Australia’s premier sea cliff for climbing, where many others had looked but not appreciated the potential. I’d learned to trust his judgement and knowledge and take the risk.

So here we were saturated with sweat and scratched to buggery by scrub gawking up at the most amazing climbers crag. Every meter a zooming line of superb and mostly hard climbing on rock that looked great where it didn’t balance in precarious spires and worrisome pedestals. Steep, thin, perfectly straight crack lines the full 40 – 60 m height of the cliff. This was another gold mine of classic climbs as good as anywhere. At the far end disappointment. At about 1/3 height on a nondescript line a piece of protection was hung to a carabiner. There was some minor evidence of a foot pad along the bottom that we had tried to ignore. Here was incontrovertible evidence that we had been beaten to the treasure. Many of the lines however looked unclimbed. Research would have to be done to investigate just how many of the climbs had been done and by whom before we returned with climbing gear.

Ian’s second crag in the same area proved more immediately fruitful. Half a day’s scrub bashing showed us about a kilometre of cliff broken in places by gullies and ramp systems.  The rock angled back a little with the strata of the geology which also produced overhangs at regular intervals. The climbing appeared initially ok but not fantastic. Ian picked a promising line and tentatively made his way up to a steepening having threaded his way between loose blocks. At the hard part he hesitated and put in some protection. Then another piece of protection. And another. Then confidently he pushed through to the top. On following I found the hard move desperate. He was climbing well. Strong and confident. “Footloose 19”. A quality first climb.

New age crystals

My turn next and I launched up a rising traverse out of a corner onto an arête which continued up to a large ledge and belay. Surprising great climbing on good rock. Earlier we’d found a bunch of copper pipes hidden in the rocks at the summit. Two of them had big crystals taped to their ends. New agers must erect them to attract lightning during storms. “Crystal Power 16”Leading Crystal Power

Last of the day Ian led a hard crack system. I struggled on the hard section. Again the climbing was excellent. This crag seemed to be revealing a hidden quality not apparent from observation. This is sometimes the case. It’s not until you actually engage with the rock that you appreciate what it offers.

More exploring. Aboriginal grinding grooves on flat topped mesas nearby. Sunset over ridges to the west.

Next day Ian wove his way up the line of the crag. “Watch me here” – this near the top, so I paid careful attention on belay. He threw a few loose rocks off and pulled through to the top. Following I really had a hard time at the start. The climbing was superb, the rock scrumptious. The top move I found desperate – Ian had done this while removing loose rock and placing protection in the best hand jam hold making it unusable for him. This was one of the most impressive leads I’d seen him do. “…………. 19/20?”

Ian on the hard move near the top

Ian on the hard move near the top

At the top we spied another whole section of quality cliff a couple of kilometres away on a far ridge. And another granite wall in a gorge on the other side of the deep valley.

I got in an alpine style ridge climb that had some beautiful easy moves up nice rock.

Writing up the routes and sketch mapping what we’d found at the end of the trip I could feel the excitement of the next few years of developing another “secret” spot. Another little notebook of lists of climb names would have to be produced. What a valuable treasure time is.