In other cultures it’s common for people to hike up mountains at special times, to see the sunrise or just to mark the day. Maybe we don’t do this so much in Australia as we do not have any big mountains. Mount Gingera is a special place. It is a peak that rises above much of the surrounding country. The trek in takes some time and effort. Most of all it feels remote. There is a strong sense of wildness with civilisation just a small smudge on the horizon.
On New Years Eve My wife and daughter and I walked the 8 km to the mountain after a two hour drive from town. The day was hot so we started walking in the late afternoon after a quick bite of dinner at the trail head. As we neared the summit in the dusk we heard a low thrumming sound like a lorry labouring up a long hill or a far off jet. The noise slowly grew louder. On reaching the rocks at the top we were surrounded by thousands of bogong moths. They were in a frenzy of movement with no pattern to their flight. I had seen lots of bogongs before but never like this. They usually aestivate in the hot summer months which is a bit like hibernating. They find the cool cracks and dark inner recesses between granite boulders where they attach themselves to the rocks in blankets. They slow down their body processes and the breezes cool them. After summer they fly back to their normal abodes in the western plains. To see them like this was astounding. They didn’t seem to be flying out on mass as if they were exiting the high country. On my camera the flash went off automatically and captured them in dramatic detail. Against the backdrop of golden sky over distant Jagungal and Tantangara they swarmed.
We tore ourselves away to search for a campsite nearby. Heavy footfalls sounded in the snowgums on a shelf below. A ghost white brumby and a brown sensed our presence and disappeared back into the growing gloom. After laying out the tent and a few bits of camp gear I explored the rock slabs for a view of the whole night scape. Two large eyes flashed in the torchlight then slunk away. The whole place seemed to be alive in this short period as the dark descended. Our intent to start the new year with the natural world at the forefront of our lives was richly rewarded with these surprises. The 9.00pm fireworks coloured a tiny space in the far distance as we toasted the time and place with a tiny champagne.
Later when it was properly dark the orange street lights of Canberra flickered through the haze like the shimmering embers of a large bushfire far away. This was a reversal of the vista Cath and I had witnessed from Tuggeranong as we watched the afterburn across Namadgi and Mt Tennant of the 2003 fires.
In the morning there were layers of moths in the cool cracks in the rocks but none flying around.
Postscript. Moth expert Ted Edwards, an honorary fellow with the CSIRO Australian National Insect Collection, says that “it is usual for a proportion of the bogongs to fly at and after dusk at least on a warm night. We know almost nothing about this behaviour, including whether the moths are off to feed, whether they are seeking more secure hiding places and what proportion of moths are involved.”
Historic bush huts, a walking trail that meanders through woodlands and across grasslands, old stockyards, grave sites and a sense of isolation from modern civilisation. The Settlers Track in southern Namadgi is one of the most pleasant walks in the region. Early life out here for the settlers was tough. Lonely. Harsh. Sometimes tragic. Sheep and cattle country.
Our little group of walking friends had links of a different sort to the bush that went back 40 years to uni bushwalking days. What a pleasure it was to continue sharing the simple enjoyment of a hike, the weather, the trees the history.
Our lives not as hard as the settlers but more complicated.
At least on the Track we could step ourselves back inside the huts and appreciate a little of the life and times of those with names synonymous with our Namadgi – Brayshaw, Oldfield, Westerman.
Back along the road we walked the shorter trail to Shanahan’s Mountain with fabulous vistas towards the east. In “giving back” as a volunteer guide at Tidbinbilla Jill could now advise visitors with detailed knowledge about these other walks.
Settlers Track – Southern Namadgi, 6 or 9 km loop. Shanahan’s Mountain Trail – Southern Namadgi, 3 km return. Brochures from Namadgi Visitors Center.
Settlers Track Brochure link http://www.tams.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/404591/The-Settlers-Track.pdf
We watched through the window spray and seaweed thrown two storeys into the air as waves pounded the stone wall below. Just after 7.00am the first of a small group of brave swimmers appeared pink headed round the point. Somehow they had made it out safely from the beach then headed across through the chop and rebound. 1500 meters overall with a stand on the beach at Shelley to wait for the slower people in the group at the half way point. Every single morning of the year. Conditions permitting were a grey area and up to each person to make their own judgement. The “Bold and Beautiful” informal, no exchange of money, swimming group. Ocean swimmers.
We had done some ocean swims in the past. The Cole Classic on almost this same route with a couple of thousand others. Months of training, butterflies in the stomach, the swim and elation at finishing. Now we were hoping to join this group who practically do the “Classic” every morning.
I did a trial swim with my brother while the swell was still big and just managed with a total hammering coming back in to the beach which tumbled me into the sand. I surfaced into foamy water that didn’t support my body weight as much of the water was bubbly air. Lost my goggles and swimming cap and coughed and spluttered my way into the beach. Overambitious.
On the first calm day Cath and I did a practice run. It was a little spooky on our own. Deep water mixed up with rocky terrain and seaweed shallows. With googles unfogged it was almost like a strenuous version of snorkelling. I knew there were sharks in the water. I knew if I was attacked I was unlikely to see it coming. I knew the statistics of thousands of people in the water every day and no recorded attacks in Sydney for some time. But. And I kept occasionally looking over my shoulder out in the depths.
Next morning the sea was calm. We registered at the surf club and were given our prized pink caps. Milled around for a while and chatted nervously. The start was massive – hundreds of people pushed out through the small swell and then swam out to wait off the point. Legs, arms, bodies, sleek, tubby, strong, strugglers all mixed up and headed towards distant Shelley Beach. Breathe, stroke, kick. It was hard to build a rhythm in the pack but the camaraderie was wonderful. A hundred different styles and speeds. Pink heads were everywhere. Male, female, young, old. Across the open part I measured off sections past blocks of units, the outdoor pool, tall trees and finally made it onto the sand. I was about half way through the pack. Around stood hundreds of healthy humanity sharing a long early morning swim in the most staggering surroundings. This must be one of the best informal, non-competitive sporting events in the world. Every morning. Free. Patiently and without any pressure the crowd waited for the slower swimmers. Then the splashing arms and legs whitewashed the whole of the small beach as we all left for the return. I slowed towards the end and found more space. Every now and then I raised my head between strokes to check direction before ploughing on again. Round the headland I tried to take it wide to come in with the waves but found myself closer to the rocks and swimming doggedly tired against the gentle rip. Eventually on the beach Cath and I bubbled over with impressions and feel good vibes. Health. Vitality. Cleansed body and mind and soul. Manly, so beautiful. Ready for breaky and to start the day.
The following day we swam like old hands. Confident. Capable.
On Christmas day the crowd was just as big. At Shelley we sang happy birthday to one of the swimmers as we waited. Back on the main beach day trippers had already arrived with hampers to stake out the best bits of shaded grass and beach for the day.
Surfing Manly with Royalty
Surfing – Manly Beach
20 – 24/12/15
Storms lashed the coast early in the week. After some tough times during the year we’d lashed out with a pile of hard earned for a week in an AirBnB right near the water. The swell picked up. The beach was closed. Surfers went wild. Along the main beach the bigger sets rolled in and peeled left and right. Out at Fairy Bower the long right hander was crowded. From our window bay I watched it all. Surfing is a wonderful spectator sport. Fluid moves, wipeouts. Power in the waves and the riders.
When the weather cleared I ran along the beachfront promenade – walkers, scooter kids, pram pushers, Christmas groups from the western suburbs, beach volleyballers, swimmers, joggers, runners, cyclists, people doing yoga and hard isometrics, scuba divers, kite surfers, kayakers, snorkellors, sailors, coffee drinkers, picnickers, beach dance party goers. It was like the world was out And right there was where it was all happening. The homes and units along the water’s edge make up a millionaires’ row but the beach, the surf, the foreshore and the coffee places belong to Everyman.
In the smaller swells that followed and matched my ability I took my longboard straight out from the main beach. There were other surfers in the water but I was amazed there was space for all of us. I got a few nice ones. Lefts and rights. And long enough to play a little up and down along the face. Enough to bring out the full body smile and the endless “just one more” as I bailed out each time in the shallows. I thought of the Hawaiian Duke, Kahanamoku, in the summer of 1914/15 showing the locals right here how to ride a board on the waves, initiating with Tommy Walker the whole surf culture that has become such a huge part of Australia.
Late the next day I surfed again. Sitting out the back my gaze shifted from watching for swells o ut at sea then round to the scene on shore. The strip of beach sand was backed by the stone wall with the path above alive with active souls. A strip of grass, Norfolk island pines, the road, coffee shops and surf shops then the high rise units and hotels. In a sweeping arc all the way from Shelley Beach to North Steyn. Magnificent. I felt a connection sitting out there, still, calm, waiting, with Layne Beachley. Years before I had been to a conference where she did the keynote. Then I read her book. What a tough life she has had in so many ways. One of our most successful sports people ever. 7 times world champion. Totally inspirational. And she surfed right here too. The “Beachley Classic” is held at Manly every year. In the National Portrait Gallery there is a photo of her by Petrina Hicks. I’m not usually one to be taken by a person’s appearance but this shot portrays her arresting eyes that seem to be made of translucent pools of clear, blue ocean. Layne’s comment on the portrait was that ‘whales look you right in the eye, sharks stare straight through you’. I caught a last wave of the week in.
In the evening beautiful coloured lights of the Manly foreshore were visible from Shelley Beach.
Layne Beachley from “Beneath the Waves” (2008) on what makes a champion;
2 Champions have a strong support team
5 Champions have often suffered emotional or physical trauma before they succeed
An old cable linked rusted metal stakes drilled hard into limestone. The barrier to an old safety fence at a lookout now abandoned. Cooee Point. A mate had pushed one of the first climbing routes up the cliff below in the seventies. “Old and Grey”. It had a fearsome reputation for lack of protection and a crux through loose overhangs at the very top of the 300m wall. Times change. Now bolted sport routes at the current limits of human climbing capability lace up most of the rock. Bold and sustained. The preserve of those at the cutting edge of physicality and adventure spirit. This is one of the biggest cliffs in Australia.
I played mind games with the cable while I set anchors, rechecked knots and placed protective carpets over the sharp textured stone on the rounded edge. Caleb went fearlessly over the edge. Dan abseiled down further to the right. On a spare shorter rope I ducked the cable and lowered myself to the brink then locked off. The space sucked at my psyche and tried to pull me down. 300m of verticality below my feet. I’ve never been comfortable abseiling and this just didn’t feel right. The plan was to multi-pitch abseil all the way to the gorge floor. We hoped to link up anchor systems on existing climbs or find natural anchors when we needed them. A commercial company advertises a 300m abseil down this cliff. Maybe we could find a way down. The hoped for series of double ring bolt anchors were not in the area Caleb and Dan had gone down.
We moved further along and found evidence of climbers developing routes. Lots of shiny new bolts at the top and lines of rings plunging below. Glue containers, carpets and drink bottles were stashed in an alcove back from the edge. Caleb went over and found a ring bolt anchor 30m down and then spied more bolts further on. We may have found the top pitches of a super hard climb a couple of Dan’s friends had been working on. I tied on and photographed at the edge. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had just got on the rope and gone down. Red flags marched into mind. The edge area was sloping and unstable here. Pulling down the rope would be tricky over edges. The climbing guidebook highlighted the loose nature of some of the rock. Caleb found a broom on a ledge. I started to feel like this was not the place for us – abseiling. Some times your gut takes over. Intuition? Instinct? Experience climbing big cliffs – Frenchmans, Bluff Mountain and Buffalo – from the ground up where you get used to the exposure as you ascend – made me feel we were somehow crossing a threshold in this place. We didn’t belong here, like this.
Yosemite. Tuolumne Meadows. Stunning, beautiful alpine granite. Huge walls. Wonderful climbing. History and stories. Over decades I had read the magazine articles and books, seen the Ansell Adams photos. Inspired by the earlier adventures of John Muir. These are climbers’ dreams. They are/were my dreams. To go there and spend time in the vertical world. Immersed. In the balancing of life’s relationships, family, work, time, money some dreams get prioritised to the periphery. Occasionally creative alternatives pop up that fulfil the ache left behind. My local crag, Booroomba Rocks, has 5 pitch routes up to 200m long with ledges big enough to sleep on. An idea percolated while I waited for the right time.
I hiked up in the early afternoon. I climbed the first two pitches roped soloing before dark then camped on a ledge and climbed the remaining three pitches the next day. The system I had was mostly relatively safe – the end of the rope tied off to a bottom anchor I then led each pitch while feeding out rope lengths attached to my harness with alpine butterfly knots. This was pretty much the same as normal lead climbing except that there was more slack in each new loop without a belayer meaning I would fall further than “normal”. I had done the climb years before and felt pretty confident. The crux second pitch focussed the mind/body/judgement totally as the climbing for me was tenuous slab climbing on slopers and very small holds. Staying in control through this section was challenging when unclipping the next loop and undoing the knot in the rope with one hand and teeth then watching the rope snake further down below my feet making a potential fall longer. There is not much protection on this steep, hanging slab section anyway for the leader but somehow up there with a slack rope I felt very alone and exposed. (Whenever I watch the video of this part I am instantly “gripped”.) Even after this section at the headwall the protection is fiddly and a little questionable. I was totally stoked to reach safe ground at the ledge. I then abseiled down the anchored rope and reclimbed the pitch with the pack using jumars as a self-belay and backup knots as I removed the protection. The water was heavy so I hauled it up next in a smaller backpack. The system worked reasonably well on this climb. It took a lot of time but unlike normal climbing with a partner I was on the go the whole time rather than spending half the time sitting belaying.
The night on the ledge was beautifully cool. The aesthetics were heightened by the situation – being surrounded by rock, sun set, evening glow, breeze, tree silhouettes, stars, dawn. The distant street lights of Canberra shimmered like the embers of a bushfire.
The second day’s climbing was easier but had its own adventure exacerbated by a strong wind which twisted the ropes and tried to blow me off the balancy moves. At the top I felt a great sense of satisfaction. I had experienced much of what I envisaged the big walls overseas to be like. Now I’m thinking about a week up on Tiger Wall and The Bluffs at Arapiles as the next step.
Please note that any solo (roped) rockclimbing activity is dangerous and requires a very high degree of skill and knowledge to apply even an elementary level of safety. The attached video is not intended as instructional material.
52 Adventures. That's the aim. One each week. Like any real adventure the outcome is unknown. The journey, the comrades, the solitude, the challenges, the special places are what matters. And this is the record – writing, images and video. Enjoy.