Category Archives: Hiking

Mount Franklin – Arthur’s Pass New Zealand – Summer Solo

As each new stage revealed itself I considered turning back. With a comrade we would have talked through the options and continued on our way. Alone I felt with each stage I was getting deeper in and further off the beaten track. No mobile reception. The sat phone was a last resort at the bottom of my backpack.The initial hike in along the Mingha River had been pleasant. Braided stream crossings, Lord Of The Rings moss forests, ferny grottos, blue pools beneath rapids and cascading glacial waters, high valley walls on either side. At times I felt like Frodo on a quest. The high point of Dudley Knob gave gorgeous views back down and up valley. Up and down over tributary streams to Mingha Bivouac which was being refurbished by a tradesman and passing hikers. There were quite a few of them. Many were hiking the Te Araroa, a trail that stretches for 3,000 km from the top of New Zealand to the bottom. Some were doing “just” the South Island and others the whole thing. My route in was  partly along the river trail of the “TA”. Most were “southbounders”, pairs, couples, solos. Kennedy Falls plunged 150m into a raging torrent below. Walking at a moderate pace, stopping to take photos and eat and drink, it took 4 hours to reach Goat Pass and the very pleasant hikers hut. Then down, following the streamway, criss-crossing to switch sides and sometimes threading the stones in the actual stream. Waterfalls tumbled from on high. Down the Upper Deception River. Deception Hut was true to its title, promised much and delivered nothing – hot, stuffy, full of sand flies, grotty and not even enough ground to pitch a tent outside, in a patch carved out of the bush. I had considered overnighting there but a decision was already made for me. From the later start of the day, 10.00am, it was already 4.00pm. My time estimate for the climb from the hut at 750m to a hopeful camp at Lake Anna at 1750m was about 4 hours. Give or take, a lot of unknowns.

“Ascend the slide upstream of Deception Hut to the scrub line then sidle into the head of the creek” (Good Luck Creek). Guidebook brevity. I finally twigged that a “slide” was a narrow river of talus rocks that had flowed as a landslide from the crumbling cliffs way above. Previously I had learned that these possible routes through surrounding steeps were not quite as vertical as they appeared when you actually started climbing up. This one looked long and very steep, especially the top part. Stage 1. Charlie had taken a nasty tumble in this hostile sort of terrain. I spied out discontinuous runs that were partly vegetated – these stones had been stable long enough for plants to grow around them and so made reliable steps. I linked a few of these then when they ran out I took to the lines of larger rocks – these are most often more stable, but when unstable the consequences are greater. I moved to the right hand side where larger stones met the bush edge then back to the middle and then back right. Up and up. On the smaller rocks it was a matter of moving up quicker than the stones flowed down. There is mostly a strange sense of equilibrium on some “slides” where the rocks have come to rest and when they slide away they don’t go far. I guess the steeper ones, and particularly collapsing moraine walls, are often too vertical to be negotiable. As I approached a narrowing towards the top with a slight sense of vertiginous instability due to a subtle steepening of the angle I was able to crab walk gingerly across to a scrubby gully on the left.

Going any higher on the slide was not an appealing option. Stage 2. The gully was almost vertical but led to a ridge line that looked good. Large tussocks and bushes provided surprisingly secure handholds which enabled ascent. In fact they felt more reliable than some of the rock hand and footholds in the Southern Alps. At the first flattening on the ridge I found a cairn and didn’t feel so alone. A route had been taken this way by others in the past. This was reassuring and a confidence boost. Perhaps Gandalf or Strider had passed up here. The ridge led upwards to about the 1250m level where there was a vague sloping shelf that looked like it could provide access across the face of the valley wall. Stage 3. The scrub was almost impenetrable – at times I had to weave between bushes, at others just bash through, occasionally disappearing into a hole beneath the foliage. Slow. Tiring. Lifting legs up and over too high branches. This was turning out to be a true New Zealand alpine mountain struggle with a bit of everything just to get to the climb. Semblances of overgrown track appeared randomly in the scrub – bliss.

Mount Franklin above Upper Deception Stream

Eventually I could see and then finally reached the upper shelf of the creek, a beautiful stream that crescendoed over a set of falls off the edge of the scarp into an unseen void. I picked out what looked like a possible summit of Franklin above a high shelf of stone.

Stage 4. 6.00pm. Even though a grassy campsite beckoned nearby I felt fit and strong. I had recently put in some long days in the hills and also something about being alone was energising. Overcoming each obstacle, being totally self reliant. In remote country. I pushed onwards, upwards, first over deep tussocks then over scree stonefields without vegetation. The creek disappeared beneath the rocks. Safe and low angle. Just a trudge. Up. I got into a count, 1 to 20, 5 times over, then look up, check the progress, count again, and again. Slow progress. By 7.00pm I had reached a point where the creek reappeared below a series of waterfalls. My phone navigation app indicated I was at 1388m – I couldn’t believe I was still at least 300m lower than the lake. Stage 5. At least the way ahead was clear and the end point for the day in sight. A zig zag line up beside the main fall led through cliffs onto a shoulder. Moss and alpine flowers. The sound of falling water. Colder. Step by step. Look up, pick an objective 20 to 30 meters away, a distinctive rock mostly, reach it, pick another one, like a marathon run towards the end, just one small section at a time, step up, and again, and again. Eventually I made a col from where the lake opened out just beyond – green, beautiful, perched high on the mountain, a reminder of a glacier. A cutting cold wind. Always the weather, glanced out to the west to track changes to the cloud patterns, monitored the higher peaks in the distance to gauge the level of their cloud shrouds, stayed in touch, not a place to get caught unawares. 8.00pm. 10 hours, 15 km, 1400m ascent. Felt good.The days are long in NZ, the evening sun goes down after 9.00pm and there is light for a while after that. Tent up in the wind on a flat spot that had been cleared by other climbers and walled a little with stones. I anchored the tent by threading walking poles and tent pegs through the peg loops and then piling heavy rocks on top of them. Built up the walls a bit more to deflect some of the wind. Wisps of cloud played among the spires of Franklin’s upper ramparts. Jumped inside and cooked up. Warm food and drink, sheltered from the wind, jacketed, beanied and sleeping bagged. I felt cosy and cocooned. As long as the tent held up. The forecast was for ok, not brilliant, weather. No storms predicted. Things can change though.

Overnight the wind must have abated. I had journeyed deep into slumberland.

Dark cloud layered the western sky above the ocean. Mt Murchison, heavily glaciered, stood above the pack in the south west. Overhead was mostly clear. 7.30am. Packed up camp, hid all my stuff under a small overhang and covered it with rocks so the cunning keas couldn’t tear it to bits. I sidled around the lake on scree then ascended another stonefield to a high col on the narrow ridge separating Franklin from the peak above my camp.

Looking east from the col

The view down the other side was magnificent, a huge drop to a hanging snowfield. A braided river silvered in the morning light up into a range of lower mountains. In a scene of quiet, slow drama valley cloud spilled over passes between mountains. Stage 6. In places the narrow spine across the col was knifedged. I scrambled carefully along, up and down, ledges one side, over a pinnacle, across a slab, down, along a line of footholds. A gaping abyss on both sides. Switched on. A few loose rocks kicked off. Crampon scratches from winter ascents. To the last col before actual Mt Franklin. Weather was holding, a breeze from the west wasn’t bringing the gloom any closer, Murchison had a cloudy head by then but it wasn’t getting lower or spreading to other peaks.“From the col above Lake Anna climb via the steep South Face and South Ridge (an excellent route)”. Close up it looked doable without a rope and gear and a buddy. Not as steep. A line of scree, always a line of scree, appeared to lead up to a traverse line right to a sharp ridge that spired up to the first summit. Stage 7. Each stage flowing into the next, like an adventure puzzle, piece by piece. I climbed, at last felt like I was climbing, route finding, moving up. Through the loose stones that fell away below over a drop. Out along the traverse line and then to the ridge. Up carefully. Gently move up on rattly holds. New Zealand weetbix rock. Up the arête. Move after move on black and grey. Always downclimbable if things got too deep, too out there. I wondered what it would be like in winter, in snow and ice, maybe more solid, glued and frozen together. First summit. Along to the next, and the next false summit. Finally to the last, but no there was another away over further yet. And eventually the cairn on the true top. Mountains and valleys in every direction.

Looking east from the summit

Nothing higher. Plummeting depths all around. I could see my campsite beside the jewel green lake way below. Rested a little. Kept glancing at the clouds and monitoring the wind. Ate and drank. Photos. A great sense of achievement. Thrilled I had pushed through each stage on the way up, into the unknown. With other people we would have done the same, most probably without using a rope, made the same decisions. On my own I had been singularly focused. Flowing through at my own pace was liberating.

Down. I was keen to get down. Through the now known territory. Before the weather changed. Down the climbing sections switched on. And relaxed and so easy down the screes, slid down with gravity. 10.00am second breakfast in camp. Packed up. Retraced my steps. Spent time photographing the flowers and plants beside the waterfall. Endless stonefields.

 

A small deer in the tussocks. Across the scrubby shelf I happened upon more of the old track.

 

 

Found more cairns to follow, some that I’d added a stone or two to make them memorable for the return journey.

 

 

 

 

Lowered myself down the tussock gully back onto the “slide”. Like a grey river ready to carry me away. I sought out the gravelly runs and slipskied down mostly in control. Walking poles became ski poles. Then the larger stones that didn’t move were more laborious, slower. A fraction of the time. 2.00pm at the base.

Lunch. A plan was hatching – to get back to Arthur’s Pass at a reasonable time. This would enable me to make the most of the following day’s good weather forecast to climb Mt Rolleston. So I pushed on back up Deception River. Passed marshals in high vis vests, yellow sign posts through the river, helicopters overhead, a team of officials and medics at Goat Pass Hut and timing stations – all being put in place for the famous Coast to Coast race the next day. Across NZ in one or two days. International multi sport event. 1000 participants run, cycle, kayak. $1000 each. My feet got hot. I worried about blisters. Tired trudging with a lightness of heart. Easy going downhill. New Zealand mountain hikes always take longer than expected. It’s difficult to internalise the scale.

7.00pm. Back at the car. 11 1/2 hours. Camped at the DOC campground beside the road in the village. Packed ready for Rolleston. Bed. Slumped into stillness.

4.45am. The alarm went off. Without even opening the door of the tent to check the weather I turned it off. Wonderful, soft slumberland. My legs were heavy. Best horizontal. Rolleston would still be there.

Later that day. Over coffee the weather up high had clouded in. Visibility would have been almost zero. A lucky decision. Rest.

The 100 Peaks Challenge. I’d never heard of Mt Franklin. Not a must do mission. Not necessarily the best climbs or the tallest mountains. More a guide to encourage people into the mountains. Thank you NZAC for this centenary initiative. A structure for a lifetime of forays across The Ditch. Now my list has its own scratchings and additions.

Postscript – the following day I overnighted at the NZAC lodge with a noisy crowd of Coast to Coasters (slept in my tent on the quiet grass outside to escape the snoring and 4am comings and goings).

Zermatt Adventures – hiking, via ferratta and basic mountaineering

All the walks described here are very briefly outlined on the brochure map “Panorammakarte/Plan Panoramique/Panoramic Map” which is available in tourist information and accommodations for free in Zermatt. Also on the www.zermatt.ch website. Hiking routes are graded and times estimated. See also the Cicerone guide to “Walking in the Valais”.

Five Lakes Walk – 5 Seenweg

Hike

2 1/2 hours, mostly downhill. Start – 2 funicular lifts from Zermatt to Sunnegga then to  Blauherd. Finish – Sunnegga, funicular transport back to Zermatt.

An underground funicular railway took us from Zermatt to Sunnegga and then a cable car to Blauherd at 2571m. Immediately we were on a high mountain shelf with sweeping views of the valley far below, alpine meadows and the higher snow capped peaks. The Matterhorn in the distance towered above everything.

Sidling the hillside led to the Stellisee, crystal clear water, the snowy dome of Monte Rosa as the backdrop. Wild flowers, herb fields, the Matterhorn ever present. Classic, iconic Switzerland. Cath walked ahead, like “Heidi”, in high spirits. Sunshine. Views from postcards in every direction. It was hard to take it all in as the path wound down gently and occasionally more steeply in switchbacks. The Grindjisee was partly surrounded by stands of fir trees like scenes from a fairy tale. Down lower we crossed a stream torrent. Crimson flowered low heath, more small fir trees and boulders edged the Grunsee. Then it was steeply down a narrow trail beside another tumbling stream to the Moosjisee, a man made small lake of opaque aqua. Finally over a small rise to the Leisee. This lake, closest to the cableway, had a beach, seats for relaxing and was the swimming spot for hot days.

On a varied, gentle, spectacular 2 1/2 hour walk mostly downhill we had become fully immersed in the Swiss Alps.

Mettlehorn

Basic Mountaineering

This is a serious full day hike involving the use of crampons and ice axe to ascend the top snowy valley and final peak but without the danger of crevasses. 1800m of ascent and descent. “Superlative…for many years it was seen as one of the two classic training climbs of the region….” Kev Reynolds, Cicerone Guide to Walking in the Valais.

The trail to Trift departed from the village centre of Zermatt. Between hotels then old wooden cottages and into the forest the steep path zig zagged upwards. 300m higher the Edelweiss Alterhaupt perched on a promontory overlooking the whole valley and offered drinks and food. Onwards and upwards, hard snow covered the cascading stream in places. A deep gouge made a  furrow through a section of ice to the next section of trail which switch-backed through steep rock where thick ropes had been attached as handrails. The grassy slopes were laden with a hundred different types of windflowers – yellow, white, pink, purple, blue, red. At the edge of perception I could almost hear tinkling cowbells and yodelling. Another 400m up I reached Hotel du Trift set wonderously at the base of a huge cirque – the Zinalrothorn, Mettelhorn and Unter Gabelhorn towering above. The hotelier, breakfasting with guests at a table in the morning sun, offered advice on the weather.

The trail branched off into steep herb fields flanked by another tumbling stream. As the altitude increased the Matterhorn became visible above a ridge line. Over a rise I reached snow patches in a hanging valley where I threaded my way up on exposed grassy and rocky areas until there was only snow. It was soft enough underfoot to be secure without crampons and it steepened towards a high col. Here the view into the next valley opened out – a snow slope dropped down into a bowl where an exquisite small blue watered lake lay enclosed by ice, and below this the valley wall plunged way down to then rise up opposite to snow and ice covered peaks along the range to the north to the perfect, jagged summit pyramid of the Weisshorn. Cloud moved slowly through the landscape, alternately obscuring then revealing the surrounding mountains. Fairly confident I could retrace my steps if the mist came in and stayed, I put on crampons and swapped walking poles for my ice axe. The snow was still soft on the surface.

Occasional glimpses of the summit of the Mettelhorn beckoned me across the snow (neve) below the Platthorn and then further to a steeper snow slope that led up to the final rocky section. Feeling the altitude I moved in sections, each interspersed with short rests, zig zagging upwards. The  snow slope was edged by a massive drop into the valley.

At the top I rested, lunched, photoed. Took it all in. Hung my legs over the void. Watched the mists and cloud swirl and drift. Figured the mountains in the 360 degree panorama, made some plans for climbing futures. Felt glad to be alive, overwhelmed really, thankful to be healthy, on top of the world.

 

Then down. Concentrated. Took great care. Each step placed carefully, to catch a crampon spike or trip would have led to a slide, and hopefully a self arrest with the axe but much better not tempt fate with a fall. Cramponed feet kept apart. Down past the col as the incline lessened I could relax and slide a little with each lengthened stride and make good pace. Back at Trift I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate. Just out of the oven an apfelkucken appeared as if by magic, with cream. Nearby a Swiss flag fluttered above a garden of flowers and in front of a gushing waterfall in the middle distance, while above glaciers caught the afternoon light. Down through the fields of flowers. Everywhere tumbling water sounded through the stillness in tune with my own sense of gratitude and vitality.

Matterhorn Glacier Trail

Hike

A half day hike traversing the lower shoulder of the mountain. Gently undulating from Trocker Steg (2 cable car rides from Zermatt) then down to Schwarzsee (cable car descent back to Zermatt). Like being in the “throne room of the mountain gods” Galen Rowell.

The cable cars swept us straight out of the valley to the snowy shoulder at the true base of the mountains. We wove the path between stoney rises and glacial lakes. On one side was the icy ridge of the Furgsattel that led up to one side of the Matterhorn, Italy lay just beyond. In front the lower glaciers gave way to sheer rock walls that led up into the clouded summit of the famous mountain. My eye was continually drawn to the Hornli Ridge that faces directly towards Zermatt. This is the popular and historic climbing route that one day I might hope to climb unassisted by guides. We walked slowly from vantage points to lakes and then to stop to just drink in the scene. Stupendous. Monte Rosa, brilliant white, behind, the rounded dome of the Breithorn almost directly above, and the sharp peaks that lead to the Weisshorn. It is hard to imagine a more sublime mountain scene. The cliched shape of the mountain seemed to retain some of its mystery and power by being partially shrouded in mist for much of the time. Following the season of enormous snowfall and probably due to some extent by global warming the whole scene was alive with flowing meltwater. The Hornlihutte stood on a level section of the ridge above, enticing.

This must surely rank as one of the finest short walks in the world.

 

 

Via Ferratta/Klettersteig Zermatt

Via Ferratta

3 seperate but linked “iron ladder” via ferratta routes have recently been established on the crags above the village on the west side. The access trail leads up from behind the railway station or off the path to Trift, signposted. 15 minutes hike uphill from Zermatt to the start of Route A or B.

Route A – good intro to techniques and to a little exposure

Route B – intermediate to advanced, steep, exposed, some strenuousity

Route C – continues on from Route B to a high grassy slope

 

Linking all three routes takes about 3 hours plus another hour for the descent via a hiking trail (if you know what you are doing). An info brochure is available from either the Tourist Info office near the railway station or the Zermatters Alpine Centre. There is no cost for the activity if you have experience and equipment (helmet, harness, via feratta set – these can be hired in the village). Guides can be paid to take you through the course and provide instruction – see the Alpine Centre.

The real climbing started beneath the main cliff face with a steep ladder up blank rock. This was followed by a series of traverses on half logs, natural foot holds and iron bars and rings. These were linked by ladders in a mix of natural climbing and use of the ironwork, all protected by newly laid cable. At a particularly exciting part you are high on this cliff way above the village in quite hostile terrain below a large overhanging roof system with another overhang below. Spectators from the village can watch people climbing across the black, grey and yellow rock. At the top of this section you hike along a vegetated shelf to a larger cliff which is ascended on a series of ladders and natural foot and handholds. The cable is always at hand to affix the via Ferratta carabiner cords and also to use as an aid to climbing. As you ascend the views just keep getting better. After another linking short walk I met up with a pair of “amigos” from Barcelona. For the third and final large cliff of steep and spectacular climbing we photographed and videoed each other, chatted about climbing in Spain, Chamonix and Australia and had fun in each other’s company.

Breithorn Solo

Basic Mountaineering

This is the easiest of the 4,000m peaks in The Alps (4164m). Half a day. Start from the top of the Matterhorn Glacier Express lift from Zermatt. Equipment required – ice axe, crampons and walking pole. People who are not comfortable with use of crampons and ice axe and not experienced with glacier travel should hire a guide from Zermatt.

My concern going solo was crossing the glacier which could contain hidden crevasses. Without a climbing partner on the other end of a rope there would be no chance of stopping a fall through the snow into the hidden chasms in the ice. After much research on the possible dangers and risks I decided to go up and have a look and assess conditions as I found them on the day. In beautiful weather I walked along the ski run following a pair of other climbers and not far behind a guided group. A route across the glacier was well compacted by the feet of many others. I could not see any sign of crevasses so followed this pathway over the snow. Other groups roped up and put crampons on and some just hiked across like me. On the other side where the slope from the summit dome of the mountain steepened I put crampons on and got out the ice axe. Most people were now roped together however some others walked up unroped and skiers ascended also unroped but with ski crampons on.

On the day it seemed safe to make the crossing. Also I presumed that the guides take on full responsibility for their clients by having them roped in. There was also the possibility that they try to maintain an atmosphere of peak adventure and an air of being necessary for the climb. Previous reading had indicated that they did get fed up rescuing people who were not properly skilled or equipped or prepared – fair enough. The angle and runout closer to the top was such that an uncontrolled slip from someone unroped or unable to self arrest with an ice axe would have resulted in an accelerating slide off the mountain.

The summit is truly spectacular. There is space to sit safely for lunch or stand and appreciate the magnificent view of peaks all around and the valleys plunging way below. There were certainly a number of other people to share the experience with but being climbers and skiers, all with an interest in the challenge and aesthetics it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The altitude affected people in different ways – there were some really struggling to keep up a slow pace and others who were probably better acclimatised. From the top the safest and easiest way to descend is to follow the same route down. Down the narrow furrow of footsteps in the snow back to the glacier.

An exciting alternative for the confident and sure footed is to continue along and then down then  narrow snow ridge to the east. On the northern side of this ridge is an almost vertical drop of thousands of feet to the rocky talus below and on the southern side it is slightly less so. Passing the occasional person necessitated one person to leave the narrow foot pad and stamp out some foot placements in the snow on the steep slope just off the ridge crest. The feeling of moving through the mountains was intense – grand scenery, concentration, brilliant aesthetics, physical exertion and mastery. From a saddle further on it is possible to ascend to the next summit on the ridge which consists of a narrow cornice. To climb further and keep following the ridge would be fabulous real climbing over steep mixed rock and snow in a classic alpine position, probably requiring a buddy and a rope. Next time I’d have both and aim to do much more – the Matterhorn, Monta Rosa and maybe even the Weisshorn and Finsteraahorn. The list grows but also becomes clearer with each step into this landscape.

Back down to the saddle it is then a straightforward trek back down to the main trail. A single narrow but deep crevasse, easily crossed, kept me focused. The snow had softened by early afternoon making the walk back a little tiring, though it was all downhill or flat.

Gonnergrat to Riffelalp via the Mark Twain trail

 Hike

The third in our series of “this must be one of the best short, easy hikes in the world”. 2 1/2 hours though more time is recommended to fully immerse in it. Start at Gornergrat, having most likely caught the train up from Zermatt to 3089m.

The main trail downhill leaves the stupendous view from the lookout platform. With the crowds of tourists seeking a pleasant walk through the iconic Swiss mountains you wander down a network of trails towards Riffelsee. The wonderful mountainscape of the Breithorn, Castor, Pollux, Liskamm and Monte Rosa rises up above the Gornergletscher glacier below. Huge hanging lumps of ice cling to the mountain tops ready to crash down. Rapidly melting rock strewn glaciers feed raging torrents. Silently standing aloof the Matterhorn beckons the walker onwards and steadily down. Wild flowers become more prolific as the altitude drops. A thousand photo opportunities present   themselves with the mountain as the backdrop. Even I, who wholeheartedly loves the mountains and the natural world, was surprised at how much pleasure everyone was gaining from its presence. Beautiful alpine lakes bubble into an alpine stream past the rocky bulk of the Riffelhorn. Most of the tourists depart the outer trails here heading for the Rotenboden or Riffelberg stations.

The Riffelseeweg trail leads into the Mark Twain Weg which is an absolute cracker of a walk. At first the route winds down following the stream between rocky bluffs and flowered herb fields. Around every corner was a new scene just made for a toblerone advertisement. It was hard to move past the notion that we were walking in some fairy tale or through the “Sound of Music” or that we might have been “Heidi’s” grandparents in another time and place. This was actually real. Across the face of the hill the track is dug into the steep slope and this is where the flowers intensified into fields of yellow and white that covered the grasses which dropped away into the Gletschergarten gorge. Crimson alpine rose undergrowthed small fir trees on the steep rocky sections that led us down to Rifflealp.

Cappadocia Hiking

Cappadocia is a place of magical beauty in the arid heart of Turkey. Canyon like valleys, stone fairy chimneys and ancient dwellings carved into the rocky landscape make for a wonderful place for walking. Goreme is a fabulous base. Tourism in Turkey decreased dramatically following a major terrorist incident in Ankara in 2015 and the crackdown on the attempted coup in 2016. Personal experience over the time of the 2018 election indicated that Turkey was surprisingly calm and very well ordered. We felt quite safe travelling in Istanbul and Cappadocia. Tourists seem to be putting these places back on their lists but at the moment things seem quiet and uncrowded. Some of the walking trails are a little overgrown and decent maps are hard to come by. With advice from friendly locals and the basic maps that are freely available some great walking is achievable. Winter is cold and possibly snowy, summer is hot. There are standard day tours operated from Goreme that take in a variety of sites and include some walks – the Red, Green and Blue tours.

Rose Valley ***

One of the best walks in the area. Half a day. Can be started in two places – either from higher up the road past the Goreme Open Air Museum just past the Kaya Camp Area (see alternative below). This is about an hour’s walk from Goreme. Three paths depart here – take the left hand path then take a right turn off this after 200m and follow this steeply down into the deep valley. This narrow dirt road becomes a footpath into the canyon trail. Ancient dwellings have been carved into the soft rock, tunnels have been excavated to channel water and there is a church complex further into the canyon up on the right hand side. Apricot and grape fields give way to an opening of the lower valley as it leads to Cavusin. From here it is a short walk to the capped fairy chimneys of Pagabasi. A taxi back to Goreme can be arranged either at Pagabasi or Cavusin.

A better starting point may be from Aktepe Hill which could be accessed from Goreme by taxi.

In 2018 there were no trail side stalls on this walk.

Kiliclar Valley **

A short 2 hour walk very accessible from Goreme. A lovely walk in the late afternoon when soft evenglow will light up the fairytale landscape. Start from the top of the hill 200m up the road past the Goreme Outdoor Museum. A sign marks the start of the narrow foot trail which descends into the narrow and steep canyon. Ladders enable descent of some sections. Tunnels, cliff dwellings, amazing geological features, red crags. At the canyon opening beautiful fairy chimneys and pinnacles dot the rolling fields. A short walk back to the left over a ridge brings you back through more apricot groves to Goreme.

Ilhara Valley *

This valley runs for 14 km but arranging to do the whole walk would require being dropped off at one end and arranging a pick up at the other. The whole valley is reputed to be an excellent walk. As part of the “Green Tour” we did a 4 km section in the central most popular section. The valley was a spectacular gorge with high vertical walls, different geologically to the Goreme valleys. In the walls were churches and dwellings. Cafes and restaurants were found along the the valley floor, some with tented rooms above the river. A good path followed the full flowing river.

Note that Ihara Valley is a couple of hours drive from Goreme.

Love (White) Valley ***

Spectacular, surprising and delightful. A real highlight. 2 hrs from the bottom end to Urchisar.

This is accessed at the bottom end of the valley below Goreme by a 10 minute taxi ride or a 2 km road walk. The valley is open to start and right away almost you wander through a wonderful forest of striking stone towers. Wild flowers were abundant in late July. The formations and cliff dwellings are amazing. Walking in the top section is over undulating rocky rolling white folds of stone. You exit up left into apricot groves and then to the main road and on to the towering fortress of Urchisar with its hollowed out spires and grand 360 degree views.

From Urchisar the return from Goreme can be by taxi or a return hike down Pidgeon Valley.

Pidgeon Valley *

Take care which entry you use to access this walk if starting from Urchisar. The entry from the viewing area south of the town will give access to a valley that includes a reasonably dangerous knotted rope descent down a blank section of cliff. The valley accessed from the north of the town provides a more straightforward hiking route.

2 hrs from Urchisar to Goreme.

The cliffs are often overhung by smooth, rounded caps. The valley is dense with ancient cliff dwellings. A deep canyon is glimpsed in places. The trail is overgrown and sometimes hard to follow. The only cafe in the gorge serves great Turkish coffee. The proprietor, in 2018, said that 5 years ago there would have been 1,000 walkers each day whereas now there might be 20 – 30 at the most.

Goreme

Is a great base for walking and exploring. The morning balloons are a festival of colour – giving a magical air of old world floating flight. Through the soft light of early dawn they rise and fall among the buildings, valleys and stone towers. Sun crests a high ridge golden in the stone houses and surrounding hills. Small corner stores and a COOP supermarket stock all sorts of supplies. Restaurants are cheap and the TripAdvisor top picks are sensational (Pumpkin, Top Deck, Bubek Kebap). Carpets, ice cream, cafes, flavours, spices, lamb and veggies, aromas. Sparkling lanterns inside stone dugouts or balconies with cool evening air. The muezzin calls four times a day over the loudspeaker from the mosque. Acoustic fusion Turkish Arabic world music. Lyrical chatter of the Turkish language. The sports Club is where the local men hang out and play board games and cards and chat. It’s an international tourist village with an authentic local feel. It seems a little down at heel due to the decreased number of tourists but therein may lie some of its present charm and laid back atmosphere. Stone towers are interspersed along almost every winding street and throughout the town. Hotels and accommodation are found at every corner and dug into all the rocky slopes. It feels very organic, seeming to grow out of the hills. Pink, yellow and grey. Most establishments have large generators for when the electricity goes off. A couple of places have pools which are fabulous for cooling off in the heat.

Whirling Dervishes

We were lucky to be able to witness this in a “caravanserai” building dating back to the 12th century days of trade along the Spice Road. Four men in black cloaks with long white skirts performed while three played the haunting soundtrack. It was all very respectful, meditative and carefully choreographed. The music rose up to the high ceilinged stone church like structure from drum, windpipe and zither. They twirled faster and faster to bring heaven down to earth and to reach a state of transcendence. The practice is based on a dance formulated by Rumi. There were only 9 of us in the audience but still the performance was highly professional and complete. We were transfixed and quite carried away.

 

 

Kumano Kodo

Kumano Kodo

 Nakahechi Route – a 5 day walk

 

Background and History

“Kumano is the ancient name for the southern region of the Kii Peninsula – a sacred site steeped in mystery and legend. Since ancient times this lush and rugged environment has nurtured a profound form of nature worship in which mountains, rocks, forests, trees, rivers and waterfalls are deified and revered as objects of worship. Kumano’s rich natural landscape is believed to be the otherworldly abode of the gods, and has been the focus of pilgrimage and spiritual training for centuries.” (Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guide Book, 2017)

Grand shrines and sacred sites of Buddhist sanctuary and mountain ascetics are linked by a network of pilgrimage routes. Together these shrines, sites and pilgrimage routes are recognised as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The Kumano Kodo is “linked” to the only other UNESCO recognised pilgrimage route, the Way of St James in Spain (Camino de Santiago), enabling walkers to become “Dual Pilgrims”.

For more than a thousand years the Kumano area has been a place where Buddhism, Shinto and nature worship have been combined, adjusted and redefined – syncretised. Spirits of the dead inhabit the peaks. Pilgrims sought healing, regeneration and salvation. In this “paradise on earth” they walked to be spiritually and physically purified. In Shugendo, a combination of folk religion, shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism and Shinto, followers sought to gain supernatural powers through ascetic practices in the mountains. The early Kumano, 794 – 1185, was the golden age of pilgrimage reserved for the Imperial and aristocratic families who trekked in great assemblages. Later, 1185 – 1333, the Samurai warrior class continued the tradition and then from 1336 – 1573 came a wave of more common people. During the 17th to 19th century the Kumano became very well frequented. Under a stricter regime the Kumano fell into decline from the late 19th century. Only very recently since the 1990s have contemporary Japanese people rediscovered the pilgrimage routes and then in the last 10 years has it been opened up to westerners.

Day 1    Into the Mountains

Access was easy. Train to Kii Tanabe. The tourist info at the train station has free info booklets with maps. The bus station is right outside the station. Lots of helpful people speak English and were very friendly. An ATM is nearby and probably supermarket if required. Buses departed for Hongu stopping at Takijiri Oji every hour. The bus took 40 mins.

All accommodation and luggage transfers should be pre booked from the Kumano Kodo website which is a little complex but can be worked out and the website does everything once you learn how to use it for bookings. A booking request will take a few days to process. We had a group of 9 and some nights we had to be accommodated at different places in the same locality.

At Takijiri Oji we were met by our luggage transfer people with “welcome” signs. There is a Kumano Kodo visitor center with more booklets of maps and stamp booklets that are both free but must be requested. Water is available in the center.

The pilgrimage starts at Takijiri Oji where there is a shrine, stamp station and covered shelter.

An ascent of 300 m steep hiking took us up through beautiful forest on a path which was held together by the roots of many trees. It twisted and zig zagged and wound past rocks and mossy logs. An optional crawl through a tight rock cave added challenge. Towards the first flattening the trail followed a narrow ridge line. Stone steps and flatter open trails led us to the first lookout which revealed marvelous views of very steep hill slopes and deep valleys, all thickly forested in varied shades of dark green. The forest reminded me of ninja movies from my childhood where characters leapt backwards up into the trees from the ground and the “Twilight” films – brooding, silent, still. Small villages nestled in the valley bottoms. On the way up and across the ridge top we chattered, catching up with those in the group we knew and getting to know the others, gradually establishing and deepening the friendships with each other.

“To resolve to attain supreme enlightenment and then, to travel this distance can only be accomplished by way of our own feet.” (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

Further on we rested at small shrines then entered a village perched on the ridge. A special walkers’ rest area provided excellent views of distant ranges foregrounded by terraced vegetable and rice gardens. Yellow and pink and white flowers bordered a narrow road. An old man proudly showed us his beautiful bonsai trees and well-tended garden. A larger shrine had been freshly painted. Accommodation – delightful hospitality, very comfortable rooms with stunning views across the valley. Hot bath with glimpses to the distant mountains. Sumptuous food. Good company.

4km – 2pm to 4.30pm, 430m up, 200m down. Takijiri-oji – Takahara

Day 2   Bamboo and Cedar

In the morning showers swept up the deep valley to our North. Mist rose and wisped between the forest and a low layer of heavy cloud in a changing series of Japanese landscape paintings. Birdcalls, crickets, and breeze made up the soundscape. Almost alive with a watchful presence the misty mountains had stood bearing witness to our fleeting passing and even to that of the pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo from across the centuries. What changes would they endure in the future I wondered.

A rainbow coloured the ranges auspiciously as we started walking. A good omen for the day ahead. Uphill through the village. Rainfall flowed at the roadside and turned a small waterwheel. Forest. Uphill. Sunlight streamed occasionally through the canopy. Dappled light then dim as cloud and mist vapours rose through trunks. Damp. Ferny forest floor on steep slopes under tall cedar trees. A pond overhung by delicate green. Shrines, red raised mini shelters, ancient standing stones, jizos alone beside the mountain path. The narrow track was carved into steep hill sides. Beautiful light, soft, changing with the vegetation and weather. Countless thousands of trees. Eerie birdcall.

We walked, sometimes chatting, sometimes quiet and alone with our own thoughts, tuned in to the landscape, to the past, to our own inner worlds. Brightly coloured in our designer outdoor gear contrasted the greens and browns of earth and plants. Mosses covered trunks growing and rotten, delicate fungi, surprising red crabs scuttled. Rest, eat, laughed together, regained hydration lost in copious sweat. Humid. Warm. Hard work uphill.

The trail is well signposted and mapped. “Kumano Kodo” with arrows and “Not Kumano Kodo” indicated diverging ways not to go. Distances. Interpretive information signs at key points of cultural interest. We stayed in touch with a couple of other groups, Australians, an older Japanese couple, and others.

Streams flowed over smooth stones. The sound of running water. Log bridges. Another small shrine. A place to collect another stamp in my pilgrim booklet. Lunch shared, plans made for the next day as we had to split up for different accommodations. Bamboo in amongst the forest cedars. Large village, paved road, cup of tea. Then uphill on a narrow road. More uphill.

Tsugizakura-Oji shrine at the top of the hill. Magnificent cedar trees, like an ancient growing cathedral. Tori gate, stone steps led up between the giants. We are quiet and awed again by the connection of nature, spiritual pursuit, homage.

“If the surroundings are serene, the mind is clear. When the mind and its surroundings are deeply connected, morals are profoundly cultivated.” (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

At sunset the forested hills across the valley turned iridescent green. Our small guesthouse, Minshuku Tsugizakura, became a door opening onto the best Japanese hospitality we had experienced. Comfortable room, a very friendly older couple. It only holds 6 people and each was treated like a queen or king. The sumptuous meal was prepared by, Mr Yuba, a retired chef with 50 years Tokyo hotel experience and a passion for creating the tastiest dishes. The food was served and interpreted for us by, Christopher, a New Zealand Japanese with impeccable English and Japanese. Conversations ranged across diverse subjects adding a deeper layer to the “Masterchef” cuisine. This experience was an honour and privilege to be treated to. Bath, tired, plum wine, sleep.

13 km, 8.45 am – 4.30 pm (the walking seems to take a long time – hills, lots to investigate, millions of photos, rests, lunch, humidity, chatting). 830m up, 650m down. Takahara to Tsugizakura

Day 3  Through the Tori Gate

Breakfast was a replay of dinner with a fusion mix of Japanese-western friendly micro dishes. Bacon and eggs Japanese style, fruits and yoghurt, orange juice and then fish, tofu, pickles, salad etc. After copious thanks and smiles and gratitude for the extraordinary hospitality our hostess drove us down to the bus stop. We bussed through a short section of road walking to make a shorter day which enabled us to get to Yunomine, a famous onsen village. Much of the trail is serviced by local buses from nearby villages so the walk can be made extremely flexible based on time constraints and physical capabilities.

From Hosshinmon-oji we walked through small settlements. Fecund veggie patches and what appeared to be rows of tea hedges. Many houses fronting onto the route had quirky carved figures displayed for hikers. From a hilltop shrine we glimpsed Hongu, a final destination for the ancient pilgrims, the place of one of the primary temple complexes.

I walked alone for a little and pondered. If part of our hike, our journey was to be something of a pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo what is it that we were trying to find? To discover? To pay homage to? To learn? To connect with? that brings a deeper meaning to our walking together. What would we “take home after internalising our experiences?” Like the lotus flower – I can grow in strength into something fine, acknowledging the darker and negative sides of myself, working thru them to seek beauty in myself, relationships and my impact on the world – perhaps to leave criticism of others behind, to make my garden more beautiful, to be careful and positive in my dealings with others. To gain a deeper awareness and understanding of the pursuit of challenge and lifefullness thru mountain asceticism and effort. To gain a more appreciation of the universality of our human seeking for deeper meaning in life connected to the cosmos.

Our “mind” is covered in the dust and dirt of our weaknesses, trauma, bad habits, cruelty etc. We need to work hard to sweep this dust away. We are connected to our physical surroundings. By “cleaning” our rooms and tidying them we create order and beauty and so do the same to ourselves. (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

Forest under bright sunlight contrasted the previous day’s somber mistyness. Ferns, rooted pathway, stone steps, sandstone worn from centuries of footfalls. Less humidity. A high vantage point provided distant views of a giant Tori gate in the valley below.

The famous temple of Kumano Hongu Taisha seemed to rise out of the land, made of timber with a thick thatched roof and brightly coloured wall hangings. Incense and smoke – a purification symbol. The area was busy with walkers and day trippers. We lunched in the grounds nearby, bento boxes packed with goodies and rice balls wrapped in leaves. Stamps pilgrim booklets. Left the town, exiting under the massive Tori gate, the biggest in Japan.

Up, up and up. Steep root bound steps in forest that got darker again. Mosses, ferns. A small shrine and the remains of a very old tea house – rest. More upwards effort. Then the trail showed its incredible age. It wound down a narrow ridge on a pathway that had been worn into a deep groove, steeply down, down. Crossed a stone bridge into the old onsen village. Sulphur smells of the hot mineral waters mixed with the aromas of timber. The constant sound of running water from a stream that ran through the middle of the settlement.

Onsen. Relax. Washed away the day’s sweat. Conversation in the bath about Jung’s collective consciousness connecting with the Buddhist concept of the universal consciousness or mind. Hot mineral salted water. Clean. Washed through. Another series of culinary delights at dinner seated on the floor. And later a cooler evening.

Bus from Tsugizakura to Hosshinmon-oji then walk to Hongu and on to Yunomine.  11km walk

Day 4   Over the Mountain

A short bus ride took us to the next trail head at Ukegawa.

At the start of the trail a newish sign in four languages proclaimed “Peace to the World”.

Coloured flowers in gardens. Steep uphill for 400m. Through the back yards of houses. Into the forest. The weather was clear and warming but a gentle cooling breeze blew across the hills. We made our way upwards steadily. We were getting into a rhythm with the days and the group. The forest and hills, greens and browns became like home, meditative. A time to think and reflect. A time to interchange. We rested at the remains of a tea house that had been very busy on the route during the Edo period between 600 and 848 AD. The antiquity of the path we were following added a huge depth of history to our journey. At times we walked along high, narrow ridges where the slopes on each side plummeted away. Some sections of track were carved into the steeps and very old stone walls hold it in place in others. Small wooden bridges crossed streamways. Lush ferns, moss, tangled undergrowth, open forest.

 

 

 

 

A small, solitary Jizo shrine was perched atop a pile of small stones. I felt quite affected by the script that described this. It seemed to encapsulate a key part of the rich and mythical nature of the spiritual belief of the people of the past, and perhaps the present also, that pilgrimaged along this Kumano Kodo. The lyrical description, the story, the rawness of my own mother’s recent passing, the thought of young children dying and the large pile of small stones struck a chord deep inside me.

A rare opening in the forest which coincided with a high point revealed a panorama of hills and mountains that faded from green to blue into the distance. We morning teaed and chattered and laughed together. A small Jizo watched over us. At its feet a recent hiker had laid a small bracelet as an offering that was inscribed with colourful peace signs.

At first I was dismayed at the spoiling of the sanctity of the tiny shrine but on reflection I thought of it as a form of syncretising of modern beliefs and symbolism with those of the ancients. This is exactly what had been taking place over millennia in the Kumano in the merging, blending, mixing and coming together of different forms of Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, shamanism, folk religion and Shugendo.

Undulating terrain followed for several kilometres. We lunched on our bento boxes at a shelter on the site of another old tea house ruin. Then downhill. Past poem monuments and small shrines. I walked alone for a time with some music – a hybrid chant overlain with lilting electric guitar – that connected immediately the inner landscape with the outer world. And more steeply down. Stone steps. Smooth river rocks had been transported high onto the hill to stabilise the path and in places to form a tessellated pavement which could have proved difficult in wet conditions. For some of us with joint issues the down was much harder than the up. Eventually to the village. And the river, pristine, clear and deeper green water flowed over rocks and pebbles.

An old school had been converted cleverly to accommodate walkers in comfort at Koguchi.  We swam in the cold water in gently swirling pools below a riverside shrine. More delicious food for dinner. Plans were made for an early start to the challenging last day.

Moonlight suffused through paper screens. The flowing stream sounded outside our window. Smell of timber.

Bus from Yunomine to Ukegawa. Walk Ukegawa to Koguchi. 13km. 670m up, 690m down

Day 5  Walk

The trek over the Ogumotori-goe section is the hardest of the Nakahechi Route. A long day  ascending, traversing and descending a large mountain. Straight into mossy stone steps, up and up and up. Forest. Chat and step up a thousand times and then a break and then again. The incline was well graded, not as steep as anticipated. A boot repair with zip ties seemed to be working well. We kept to a slow and steady pace. A flat section half way up provided a little welcome relief. Maybe it was the meditative nature of repetitive movement through the forest landscape that made the actual nature of the path so interesting. Large stone pavements, smooth rocks heavily mossed at the edges of the “way”, steps edged with triangular shaped blocks, twisted cedar roots, logs that hold back erosion and my favourite a large ascending smooth slab that could have been treacherous without pegged in logs affixed horizontally. In places huge gnarled trees had grown into the side of the path and occasionally a large boulder had come to rest in the center.

At one point golden light beckoned through the trees from higher up. Under foot constantly changed and surprised.

Flat shelves had been excavated and held strong with stone retaining walls. These had become overgrown through the centuries. In ages past this area had been a small village of accommodating guest houses. I imagined the noise and activity of owners hustling pilgrims to stay in their lodgings, the smells of cooking, smoke from fires, and walkers, some struggling uphill and others in high spirits nearing the completion of their journeys with one last mountain to cross.

This steep hill known as Dogiri-zaka means “Body Breaking Slope” – an 800m climb. “Even the famous poet Fujiwa Teika (1162 – 1241) was at a loss of words after walking this section, stating in his pilgrimage diary from 1201 that, ‘This route is very rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is'”. (Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route Maps information booklet)

I was able to feel a small connection, in my own struggles upwards, with the Shugendo who sought to gain supernatural powers through ascetic practices in the mountains. Stone poem plinths had been placed at regular intervals. I wished I could have read each inscription, the Japanese script appeared evocative and mysterious. Brendon’s altimeter GPS watch indicated earlier than expected our imminent arrival at the high point and still in good condition we made Echizen-toge Pass. Small celebrations, chocolate and a group photo.

Thankfully downwards for a short time took us to a beautiful stream. Grottos, mossy boulders, flowing water, ponds, overhanging delicate green foliage. Reflections.

According to Kuki Ietaka, chief priest of Kumano Hongu Taisha (one of the three Grand Shrines) “Kumano is a feeling, not form – a manifestation of the Divine Intangibles – a celebration of life’s powerful vitality. The value of Kumano is universal, timeless, and as relevant now as it was 1000 years ago. It is a peaceful place in nature to take a moment to reflect on, and reaffirm one’s future direction and meaning in life – a sacred space to open one’s mind, heart, soul; all of one’s senses; and let the artificial boundaries and borders of the modern world disappear – allowing us to contemplate life as one unified humanity on planet earth. The importance of a pilgrimage to Kumano is not in its completion, but rather what you take home after internalising your experiences.” (Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guidebook, 2017)

Up and over an intermediate hill on the larger ridge line to the remains of an old tea house. Now there is a forestry road and in spite of guidebook exhortations that there are no facilities on this day’s walk there was a flushing toilet, shelter and a drink vending machine. The small cans of hot coffee from the machine proved very popular. Jenny shared sweet mung bean cakes carried from the day before. We undulated on the forestry road and the trail along the tops. Water flowed gently beside and over the path flagstones at times.

Like characters from Lord of The Rings we passed through the “Abode of the Dead”, “the souls of the dead gravitate to these higher mountains, where spirits inhabit this section of trail”. The forest then parted to reveal a rare view of the region ahead – the ocean, convoluted coastline, a small seaside town – our ultimate destination. Bob stood tall on a tree stump. Laura and I did ninja jumps in the trees. Our finish was in sight way below. And we all ate rice balls for lunch, again.

 

 

 

Down, down, down. Joints complained. Knees, hips, ankles. It was a long way to the base.

Eventually our journey ended at Kumano Nachi Taisha, one of three grand shrines of the Kumano. The temple complex was wonderful. Incense fragranced the air at the entrance to ancient wooden temples. A massive old-growth camphor tree, incorporated into the terraced grounds, has a narrow cleft in its base through which pilgrims can pass into rebirth. From the terraces a magnificent view of a colourful three storied pagoda shrine in the foreground and the plunging Nachi-no-Otaki falls, the highest in Japan. We stamped our pilgrim booklets and walked on tired legs to the bus stop.

Later at the coast in outdoor onsens we soaked in hot mineral water while looking out over the smooth green sea to other islands. The setting sun touched high clouds with colour. Raptors floated effortlessly over the water and a fish jumped. The natural world rolled ever onward and our “other” journey continued.

14km, 1260m up, 930m down. Koguchi – Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Totals – walking

Distance  55.4 km

Ascent     3,400 m

Descent.  2,970 m

Logistics

Bookings – for accom and luggage transfer done through Kumano Travel (see note below). The website is excellent once you have engaged with the route.

Costs – package for 5 nights accom, dinner and breakfast and some bento lunch boxes, and luggage transfer was about $700AU per person. Extras were for drinks, snacks, onsens etc.

Food – provided was very Japanese. Dinners are generally sumptuous. The occasional mini mart in villages provided more variation. Suggest you take tea and coffee and other special drinks and powdered milk if you are addicted to these otherwise plenty of green tea provided. Take a coffee mug? Bring some muesli and powdered milk if you struggle with Japanese breakfast. Suggest making use of mini marts to stock up on snacks.

Boots were found suitable

Luggage – arranged transfer worked seamlessly

Groups – don’t worry if you can’t always be accommodated in the same place as there are usually multiple places available nearby

Pace – we walked slower than on a standard hike/bushwalk because we had shorter days planned but also because we found there were lots of interesting things to investigate along the way. Also there was quite a lot of up and down.

Path – ancient and mostly well-formed but could be slippery in the wet.

Walking poles – highly recommended to have 2 in case of wet conditions and also to ease the downhills.

Water – fill up enough for each day – at least 2 litres – each morning. Vending machines for drinks also available.

Map booklets – maps should probably be printed from the Kumano Travel website before you come in case you can’t get them in Japan. They are available from Tourist office in Kii Tanabe, the Kumano Heritage Centre at Takijiri and some places along the way.

Stamp booklets – each of the special places has a very nice little unique stamp that can be collected into a Pilgrim Booklet. You have to ask at the Kumano Heritage Center at Takijiri for the Booklet.

Local buses – are accessible from many places along the route and make flexibility easy to enable changes to walk plans along the way.

Signage – is generally but not always excellent.

Local people – very friendly and helpful

Useful contacts and info

Kumano Travel – is an international award winning community-based initiative; a bilingual (Japanese and English) online reservation system for the region. Accommodation reservations, tours and activities, local guides, info, luggage shuttle, model itineraries

Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Pilgrimage Route Maps. Booklet

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guidebook 2017 – available through the website of Kumano Travel

http://www.kumano-travel.com/index/en/action_Default_Index

Swiss Alps Hike

67            Swiss Alps Hike

img_1356

3 days in the Grindelwald area – in the company of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

Absolutely 3 of the very best days of hiking in the world.

 Above Interlakin is the Grindelwald Valley which is a base for skiing, farming, touristing and climbing. The countryside which makes up the forehills of the high mountains and the winter ski slopes are accessed by a network of small mountain trains. Summer hiking trails criss-cross and thread together into a wonderful network offering numerous possibilities of single day, multi-day and shorter walks.

 img_1363Schynige Platte to Faulhorn

 “If there’s a walking heaven this is it”. Cath, after an hour.

 “This is the best hiking I have ever done”. Me, after two hours.

 The trail started 1500m above the valley floor. The Panoramaweg Trail wound along a wide ridge. Up and over small rises and boulder fields. Alpine grasslands, small conifers, low shrubs. Rounded peaks. Across the deep valley in the south the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and a host of other mountains thrust skywards with snow fields and hanging glaciers perched precariously anywhere the cliffs weren’t quite vertical or overhanging. These were our companions throughout the day. Away down below the precipice and plunging forest on the north side of ridge top path Interlaken nestled between two jade green lakes. We crossed steep scree slopes and zigzagged our way steadily upwards. Cow bells rang out on small hanging fields below.img_1376

Everywhere the mountain scenery was superlative. We were both overcome with the beauty of it all at various points and a feeling of deep happiness that we were able to experience the landscape, to be in it, to walk through it, to feel it, to wonder at it. Eventually at the peak of the Faulhorn was our mountain hut, a sort of low key hotel really with dormitory style bunks and a restaurant – luxury.

img_1389As the sun set on a perfect day wisps of mist rose from the valley at times obscuring and then clearing from the giants of snow and rock and ice across the valley.

Dinner in the highest and oldest mountain hotel in the alps. Dorm beds among the soft night sounds of 20 other hikers.

The half of a day walk took us all day due to the time spent filming and photographing. Accessed by cog railway from Interlarken to Schynige Platte.

11 km, 700m ascent overall.

 Faulhorn to Grosse Sheideggimg_1373

Down, down, down. To twin alpine lakes that reflected the high peaks on the opposite side of the valley. Postcard picture perfect. Lunch by a stream. A marmot sat on a perch and squeaked a warning to his mates of a lurking fox in the tussocks below. All nationalities wandered past. Mountain bikers, para gliders lent a playful colour to the backdrop and the sunshine. We grazed on wild blueberries as the trail flattened and sidled across alpine grasslands. All the time the Eiger stood powerful and shaded flanked by grey rock towering peaks that grew even bigger as we approached.

Bus down to Grindelwald at the end of the day

 Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg

We climbed steeply up the “Eiger Trail” from another cog railway station and along a series of shelves close to the foot of the Nordwand – the famous north face. My climbing passion had been kindled, sustained and fired by stories of early trials and ascents of this fierce wall. It’s one of the three classic north faces of The Alps, the Matterhorn, the Grandes Jorasses and the Eiger. Facing away from the sun they are iced, cold, prone to grim weather and sudden storms. 64 people have died trying to climb the Eiger so far. Terrible tales of tragedies and accounts of “heroic deeds” and climbing narrative hold a revered place in mountaineering literature.img_1416

When the track reached its highest point I followed a faint climbers’ path up to the base of the wall. I retraced the steps of Heinrich Harrer, Hinterstroiser, Dougal Haston, Ulli Steck, Toni Kurtz and the cream of the world’s climbers. I stepped slowly, taking time and paying my respects. I reached a snow field that rose to meet the wall at the start of the first ascent route then turning round I found a cairn of stones with some sticks nearby and a few pieces of old climbing gear. Closer inspection revealed the timber to be a broken cross wired together. I fixed it and replaced it into the small rock pile. This day the weather was perfect but still the place felt cold and foreboding. I could make out the original route and even imagine myself onto parts of it lower down. Higher up the hidden snow slopes, the scale of the wall and hanging glaciers were a terrifying prospect. Being with the mountain that I had read about and conjured from the stories for so long gave me a powerful sense of acknowledgement – that it was real, that I was here, that this was a special place for people with a love for the mountains. I didn’t need to climb it or anything even like it but I felt deeply connected to the place and the history and climbing in general.img_1427

 Postscript

The next day we caught the cog railway train that runs up through the Eiger to the shoulder of the Jungfrau. On the journey down we were accompanied by two young Americans who had just finished climbing a route on the east ridge of the Eiger. They had spent a cold night out on a small ledge the previous night before topping out. They were over the moon about their exploit and we yarned and chattered all the way down.

The next day was cloudy, windy and raining.

 Post postscript

I surfed the internet looking for mountaineering boot suppliers in London. Perhaps now life times were right for me to start getting some skills for some trips and easy climbs in the higher mountains of the world.img_1397

Bogong Moth Frenzy NYE

48

Bogong Moth Frenzy NYE

31/12/15 – 1/1/16

Brindabellas mountain peak

Hiking

 

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.

 

IMG_0860

Settlers Track – Namadgi

47

Settlers Track – NamadgiIMG_0380

28/12/15

Hiking

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.

Brayshaws Homestead
Brayshaws Homestead

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.

Westermans Homestead
Westermans Homestead

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.

Waterhole Hut
Waterhole Hut

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. Shanahans 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

IMG_0370

Underestimated and Under threat – The Best of the Snowies on Foot

All photos in this post by Peter Kabaila

 

42

Underestimated and Under threat The Best of the Snowies on Foot

5-6/12/15

Snowy Mountains

Hiking

 

The first part of the trail was a fire road. Used to be a public road. Dad had driven my brothers and I almost to the very top of Kosciuszko in the early 60’s. We walked up the same road, now closed to all but walkers, cyclists, skiers and Parks people. Gently uphill. The packs settled in to our shoulders. Chris was on his first overnight walk for decades. The other six of us had more recent experience with the loads on our backs. In August 1985 Stephen Crean, the brother of politician Simon, had disappeared somewhere along this section while skiing from Charlottes Pass to Thredbo. Wild stories postulated his fate until his remains were found by chance a long time later.

At the Snowy River crossing we rested and refilled water bottles. Here it is a small stream bubbling between granite boulders and fields of alpine plants. In one sweep you can take in its entire catchment in the shallow plateaued hollow bounded by the Ramshead, Etheridge and Stillwell ranges of small rocky peaks near the top of Australia. From here it builds before waterfalling and rushing down to be met by Spencers Creek before it hits the wall at Guthega Dam. Downstream of the dam it becomes a tale of wild river tamed, contained, dammed and shut in and redirected by “development”. The Snowy Scheme uses the water for hydro power before sending it through to the west side of the mountains for irrigation. Now the fight is on for the reestablishment of environmental flows to be released into the original river system to reinvigorate its health. 2% of its original water for one of the country’s wildest rivers just isn’t enough. Our “development” stretches deeper even than this in the current attempt to offset climate change by cloud seeding to increase diminishing winter snowfall.

DSC_0206 IMG_0276As we ascended the next steeper section the horizon extended with vistas in all directions. The Snowy River valley meandered northwards, the Main Range mountains lined up in the west and the Monaro Plains blued the distant east. At Seamans Hut another rest, a breather this time. Laurie Seaman had perished here in a blizzard in 1928 and his mate Evan Hayes not far away. Seaman’s parents sponsored the building of the shelter hut. In the big snow year of 1980 Cath and I had brought crampons, an ice axe and all our toughest gear for an attempt to cross the main range in winter. We camped in the lee of the hut as atrocious weather struck. In the early evening a bedraggled group of scouts arrived at the hut with tales of a leader and another scout lost up higher near Rawsons Pass. The wind overnight pummelled our Antarctic strength tunnel tent nearly flat. We abandoned our trip and skied out at first light to raise the alarm and initiate a rescue. Turned out they were from WA and very ill prepared.

From Seamans Hut the trail climbs and winds round the edge of the Etheridge Range. I looked across the cliffed eastern slopes into the sheltered areas where four snowboarders had died in 1999. They were experienced in the mountains and established a high  snowcave from where they intended to access some of the best untracked terrain in Australia. A huge dump of snow caught them unawares in the night. Wind from the southwest blew masses of powder snow over the range which then accumulated and settled on the lee side right on top of their base camp. The snow sealed off their ventilation as they slept and then asphyxiated. Their bodies were not found until the spring thaw. I’d had a school group out in a similar situation in a sheltered place below a ridge. Massive snowfall settled on our tents and in the night I got up three times to dig them free of the 90cm of powder that built over us. One of our walking party, Peter, had a narrow escape that night having dug himself out of his own snowcave as I made my first round from tent to tent with the snow shovel. We had embraced and thanked his lucky stars in the midst of the maelstrom.

At Rawsons Pass we rested again and refuelled. Peter connected up with some Asian tourists. Mountainbikers parked their bikes. The trek to the summit became crowded. A long distance trail runner sweated past. Mount Kosciuszko is one of the world’s Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each continent. To climb these Seven Summits is a massive undertaking and was quite an achievement for the first successful mountaineers. The danger and challenge has not diminished but commercialisation has widened the number and capabilities of people attempting it. Guiding companies can even take clients to the top of Everest and Denali for the appropriate fee ($60,000US for Everest). I have tried to take student groups cross country skiing up Kosciuszko a couple of times but never managed the summit even though it is only 6km from the Thredbo chairlift top station. The snow is always icy, the weather often not good. The last aborted attempt was due to deteriorating conditions and a forecast blizzard later in the day. We saw a party of Japanese mountaineers setting off for the summit that day as we pulled the pin and headed back down. As the storm developed we heard that they had been trying their seventh and last summit on the list, and the lowest. They had been advised not to go that day but had time constraints with connecting transport and flights so had not heeded the advice of their guiding company. Apparently they did not make it and needed a full scale National Parks, SES and Police Rescue team to bring them back to safety.

The weather for us was perfect. Clear and warm but not hot. The wild blue yonder of the western slopes and Victoria came into view as we circled up to the big cairn on top. Chris had never been there before so the obligatory photos were taken and sent to his family back in Canberra. The scene with snowdrifts, rocky outcrops, peaks and dramatic cloudscapes was straight out of the famous Eugene Von Gerard painting from centuries prior. Distant Mount Jagungal beckoned in the north.

One of the best sections of our route, now on a walking path rather than fire road, was from Kosciuszko north towards Lake Albina and Muellers Pass. The track descends a narrow ridge with deep valleys on either side. Less of the tourist walkers take this track around the Lakes Walk. At a lookout rock I spied two brumbies at the bottom of the valley to the east below Rawsons Pass. Two sleek black horses strolled at ease, grazing. I felt conflicted between the colonial patriotism of “The Man From Snowy River” and all it stands for. DSC_0069Wild horses running free through the high country. Stockmen galloping after them. Chasing the country’s rural heritage which is so much part of our national psyche. A connection with The Bush and our rural past that many of us hanker for. Later that day we would camp in a sublime hanging grove of streams and delicate cushion plants and alpine bog – the areas so fragile under the brumbies’ hooves. The horses were grazing in the vicinity of the old Kunama Lodge which was part of one of the earliest ski tows for adventurous skiers on the main range. It operated in the early 50’s until an avalanche swept away the hut and killed Roslyn Twynam Wesche in 1956. The hut, tow facilities and nearby stockmans huts have all been since removed. Similarly Lake Albina Lodge and the Soil Conservation huts have also been removed from the Main Range area.

Stone paved steps led past rocky outcrops and above large snowdrifts. After Muellers Pass the track was dug into very steep slopes and we sidled across the side of Mount Northcote. Lake Albina perched on our left in a stunning glacial valley that plunged deep into Lady Northcotes Canyon. We had struggled down and back up out of there from Watsons Crags years before. Steep and treacherous country. Across Lake Albina rose Mount Townsend, probably the best of the highest mountains. It is a real peak, isolated, rocky, steep and imposing. This was the mountain Prabhdeep Srawn was heading for in 2013 before he disappeared. Extensive searches since have not yet found any trace of him and the coroner has ruled that he most likely died in the mountains.

DSC_0119Traversing Mount Northcote is one of the major challenges on a winter crossing of the Main Range. It is steep on all sides and being exposed to the worst of the weather is nearly always covered in a veneer of wind blasted ice. I have made it across twice. The first time my mountaineering experienced brother cut steps across the steeps with an ice axe so we could walk and carry our non metal edged skis. Even this was scary as any slip would end several hundred meters below. On the second time I was a better skier and tracked across on metal edges with a heavy pack. Until the edges caught a sastrugi bump and I skittered off downhill at accelerating pace towards the rocks and frozen lake below. I managed to twist over onto my stomach and grab the tip of one ski pole which I forced into the ice. Luckily the point dug in and I slowed to a stop. Mt buddy now high above could not do anything. I had very tentatively stood up again on the edges and stepped up and across to the saddle with no confidence and with great fear. Our view over lunch of blue ranges and plain lands to the west was framed with Mt. Townsend and Watsons Crags. Spectacular.

People in the group chatted in pairs or trudged solitarily up to the top of Mount Carruthers. This is a rounded hill but is in a fine position among the steepest parts of the range. Club Lake was far below. A few large snowdrifts remained in the shadier slopes. Hardy micro alpine plants and flowers grew in stony areas over these hilltops and ridges. “How much further to Go?” The harder part of the day was upon us. Tired. Sore shoulders. Running low on water.

We skirted the top of Blue Lake. We had experienced multiple wild nights camped down there in winter. The nights always seem to be the worst. My brother had spent 5 days huddled in the squalid emergency basement of the Soil Conservation Hut in an endless blizzard. Before the time of mobile phones we just had to sit it out at home waiting for word from him which eventually came through. Another time a friend had work commitments so tried to ski out in a whiteout and managed to ski in a complete circle, luckily ending up back at our camp 3 hours later. The cliffs and gullies that lead down to the lake were well below our track across the tops. In 2008 Tom Carr-Boyd was skiing along an ice cornice in this area. His brother below noticed that he was in a dangerous situation and yelled at him to move back. In trying to get back from the edge the overhanging ice broke and avalanched Tom to his death below.

Jerry left us on the final climb of the day up Mount Twynam and rejoined the Lakes Walk trail back to Charlottes Pass. The view back towards Kosciuszko from Twynam was full of Von Gerard cloud drama, rocky foreground, snowdrifted peaks and dark green valleys.

DSC_0144We romped down snowgrass meadows and rock slabs to our camp in a small hanging glaciated cirque below the summit dome of Twynam. This place reminds me of stunning photos of Sierra Nevada landscapes. Granite cliffs formed a backdrop. Two streams fed by large snowdrifts tumbled over boulders and small falls to flow more slowly across our enclosed flats. Soft plants and patches of coloured wildflowers carpeted the floor. Camp was set up on a flat soft space between rocky bluffs and a creek. Peter and Amanda camped out further at the edge where the ground dropped away to the valley and the main stream flowed downwards. Our tents added more colour to the alpine mountain scene. The landscape encouraged a relaxed afternoon tea taking it all in then exploration. Bob followed a stream up to a waterfall. Chris found a high rock vantage point. Cath stretched beside the creek. I climbed the easy angled rock and snow slopes. Peter took photos. The place had a pristine magical feel. Cosy, intricate, untouched. A hidden gem among the grand peaks of the Main Range.DSC_0190

Overnight the dark blanket of sky was heavy with stars. In the morning the alpenglow pinked then yellowed before the dawn. Breakfast as the sun rose. We were all reluctant to leave.

DSC_0199Off the main route we picked up the faint path of the Australian Alps Walking Track. Along the spine of the range we passed Mount Anton then climbed Mount Anderson and traversed below Mann Bluff. The flowers across this section were the best we had seen. Still a little before their prime they patchworked the meadows in sprays of white and yellow and pink. Everywhere you looked was a scene from the “Sound of Music”. Steep, deep valleys fell away on the left and on the right was the Snowy River way below and on its far bank the hills rose to the ski slopes of Perisher Blue. Occasional bits of wire and fence posts were the only reminders to our untrained eyes that this used to be grazing land before it was national park. Amanda peak bagged Mount Tate over an early lunch. From here the route of the whole hike was laid out. It seemed like a long way. This two day combination of linked up trails must be one of the best walks in Australia and the equivalent of any hike in the world.

At Consett Stephen Pass it became clear to some of us that there was still several kilometres to walk. We climbed to a high point east of the pass then headed across open snowgrass country to the south east. The pace slowed and the group quietened. Eventually we found the start of a faint track that took us down a ridge towards Guthega Dam. Through more patches of wildflowers among eerie snowgum tree skeletons from a previous fire. Half way down we rested. This was the tough bit for some. Sore shoulders, dodgy knees hurting, tired, thought we would have been finished by now, getting hot. Chris had hit the wall (he told us later) but pushed stoically onwards.

DSC_0344Crossing the dam wall thrust us back into development and civilisation with a thump. Slow steps up the final hill to the car.

Coffee, pastries, pies at the bakery in Jindabyne. The simple pleasures of finishing a demanding hike. Everything had gone like clockwork. Our bodies had held up. This had been a short but very rich experience, a classic journey taking in the best of the Snowy Mountains. Safe. The weather had been delightfully kind – calm and cool.

 

Day 1 – Charlottes Pass to Seamans Hut to Rawsons Pass to summit of Mount Kosciuszko to Mount Carruthers (at this point the Lakes Walk branches off) to Mount Twynam then down to camp just to the north of Little Twynam – about 18km

Day 2 – Little Twynam camp to north east ridge of Twynam then Mount Anton to Mount Anderson to Mann Bluff to Mount Tate to Consett Stephen Pass then down the long ridge to Guthega Dam and up to Guthega Village – about 14km

Volunteer

41

Volunteer

3/12/15

Budawang Ranges

Hiking

 

Grass tree flower spikes were covered with white, honeyed bloom brushes. As we walked gently uphill through forest the pace settled into a steady rhythm. Chat. Walk. Talk. At a conglomerate rock we morning teaed. Then downhill to the turnoff from the main path into the Budawang Ranges from our starting point at Wog Wog carpark. The superb vistas from Corang Peak, prehistoric landscape of Burrumbeet Brook, the towering sandstone massifs of Mount Owen and The Castle that lay beyond the other worldly Monolith Valley were all down that main path. Our less visible trail headed off left.

IMG_0207

This was my first time leading a walk for the group. “Corang Cascades, 15km, mostly on bushwalking tracks with some stony sections.” Cath especially and I had done quite a few walks with this group over the year. Coordinated by Andrew, who had led morIMG_0214e than a hundred over the years and Ray who must have done way more than this even. It was a trail we had done recently and I’d done several times before. It was remote but had a decent track and was a good distance. The route led us down a rocky spine into a delightfully cool, moist creekbed.

In my “retired” life of less than a year I was still working through how best to use my time. Being time rich is such a treat, a source of wealth. With gratefulness I feel lucky to be able to afford to finish full time work. So now the balance includes having lots of time with Cath, doing some personal adventures, writing, extended family time and trying to spend some time having a positive impact on the world. Contributing. Like leading this walk for others, for the club that has provided enjoyment for us. Once a month I help out with landcare in the catchment – planting trees, erosion control etc. Vinies Night Patrol enables me to make coffees and chat with the homeless and downtrodden and lonely of Canberra also once a month. Next year we will do two weeks on a conservation property at Lake Eyre. And I coach and mentor a niece with her high school academics every Monday afternoon. I’m still looking for a way to assist with refugees and the environment in more meaningful ways but am not quite ready to jump in deeper just yet.

Another descent into a creek and ascent out of the gully. Into the heath. Hot. Scratchy. Hard to see above it. Awkward. This was the tough bit. It seemed to go on for ages.

Volunteering. Being of service to others in some way. It feels right. To balance our comfortable lifestyle. To assuage guilt for our life of “luxury” in Australia perhaps. In Australia about 30% of the population (6 million) do some kind of voluntary work, caring or contribution to society. Some stats from Volunteering Australia give a powerful picture of the generosity and commitment of Australians.

Age

In 2010, the volunteer rates for adults by age group were:

  • 18-24 years – 27%
  • 25-34 years – 30%
  • 35-44 years – 42%
  • 45-54 years– 44%
  • 55-64 years – 43%
  • 65+ years – 31%
  • Overall – 36.2% of the adult population.

Labour force status

In 2010, the volunteer rates for adults by labour force status were:

  • Employed full time – 38%
  • Employed part-time – 44%
  • Unemployed – 20%
  • Retired – 31%
  • Others not in the labour force – 30%.

Frequency

In 2010, the frequency of work done by volunteers was:

  • At least once a week – 35%
  • At least once a fortnight – 11%
  • At least once a month – 16%
  • Several times per year – 24%
  • Less regularly – 14%

In 2006, Australian volunteers worked a total of 713 million hours. The median number of hours worked by each volunteer, broken down by age and gender was:

  • 18-24 years – 48 hours per year
  • 25-34 years – 38 hours per year
  • 35-44 years – 48 hours per year
  • 45-54 years – 64 hours per year
  • 55-64 years – 80 hours per year
  • 65-74 years – 104 hours per year
  • 75-84 years – 104 hours per year
  • 85 + years – figure considered unreliable
  • Total for men – 52 hours per year
  • Total for women – 60 hours per year
  • Total for all people – 56 hours per year (or 1.1 hours per week).

Why people volunteer

In 2006, the reasons why people volunteered were:

  • Help others/community – 57%
  • Personal satisfaction – 44%
  • Personal/family involvement – 37%
  • To do something worthwhile – 36%
  • Social contact – 22%
  • Use skills/experience – 16%
  • To be active – 16%
  • Religious beliefs – 15%
  • Other – 20%

The Real Economic Value of Volunteering

Dr Lisel O’Dwyer (University of Adelaide) estimated the dollar value of the contributions made by Australian volunteers in 2010, based on the average annual number of hours worked multiplied by the average wage rate. She estimated that in 2010, formal volunteering (excluding travel) was worth $25.4 billion to the Australian economy.

Notes on adjusted value: Dr O’Dwyer also argued that because the value of volunteering is attached to a multiplicity of outcomes, one hour of a volunteer’s time should be valued not just once, but several times (to account for other entities that benefit from the volunteer’s time). Based on this reasoning, she estimated an adjusted total value of volunteering in 2010 at around $200 billion (using a multiplier of 25% of the average hourly rate multiplied by four entities).

Volunteering and happiness

Volunteering Australia has compiled the following facts about volunteering and happiness:xli

  • Volunteers are happier, healthier and sleep better than those who don’t volunteer – doctors should recommend it.xlii
  • 96% of volunteers say that it “makes people happier.” xliii
  • 95% of volunteers say that volunteering is related to feelings of wellbeing. xliv
  • Volunteering results in a “helper’s high,” a powerful physical and emotional feeling experienced when directly helping others.xlv
  • Just a few hours of volunteer work makes a difference in happiness and mood. xlvi
  • Sustained volunteering is associated with better mental health. xlvii
  • Altruistic emotions and behaviours are associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity. xlviii
  • A strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable helping activities. xlix
  • The experience of helping others provides meaning, a sense of self-worth, a social role and health enhancement. l
  • Volunteering is highly associated with greater health and happiness. Li

http://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/VA-Key-statistics-about-Australian-volunteering-16-April-20151.pdf

Eventually we cleared the heath and made our way more easily through scribbly gum woodland. Descending in the heat of the day the sound of water tumbling over rocks slowly built. We broke out of the bush onto the river. Upstream was the large platypus pool and downstream the cascades. Shoes off. Relax. Cool feet. Photos. Lunch. A dip for a few that braved the cold. A check with Andrew’s gps confirmed that the walk was going to be longer than advertised.

IMG_0233

 

IMG_0231

Back through the heath seemed shorter on the return trek.

In the forest at the 15km mark I announced, “Since you have all been such a good walking group for no extra cost you are all eligible for the special bonus prize of an extra 3km!”

Afternoon tea back at the cars. “Thanks for leading the walk.” One small part of crafting a meaningful life falls into place.

Wog Wog carpark on the Mongarlowe Road to Corang Cascades 18km return

Capture

The section of the Morton National Park we had been walking in had been purchased with funds from the volunteer efforts of the Budawang Committee.

 

Fog

38

Fog

11/11/15

Camels Hump and Pierce Trig

Hiking

18km

 

Rain thrashed the windscreen and unsettled me as we drove home from the pickup point on the other side of town. Our three passengers must have thought Canberra was a place of wild weather.

Ali, Mohsin and Basir had arrived in Australia 3 years previously. They had left Afghanistan and Pakistan and journeyed via Singapore and lastly by boat from Indonesia to end up on Christmas Island as asylum seekers.  A month later they were transferred to detention centres on the mainland and later allowed to live in a large city within the Australian community. We were reluctant to ask too much about their journeys and experiences for fear of raising painful and disturbing memories and emotions. They were on a familiarisation trip to rural Australia and to search for work. Until a month ago they had not been allowed to work. For three years they have been waiting, living in limbo, wondering what Immigration will decide for them, unable to see the future.

We offered them what we could. Food. A free place to stay on their trip north. Chat about cricket. A friendly welcome to Canberra. A look at Parliament House and the Lake. Then they were off in the morning and returned a few days later for another night on their way back south. We drove up Mt. Ainslie for the view of the city. The use of our wifi. Small things indeed from the huge wealth of our average Australian lives. In the where-to-be-born index (QLI) we rank 2nd in the world with Pakistan a lowly 75th and Afghanistan not even rated (this measures a country’s ability to provide opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life).

As Hazaras Ali, Mohsin and Basir had left their homelands, leaving behind massacres under the Taliban, a long history of discrimination, decades of war in Afghanistan and sectarian violence in Pakistan. Hazaras are targeted by militant groups and Human Rights Watch estimates that more than one hundred have been murdered in Quetta this year. Many Hazaras have drowned from boats trying to reach Australia and the MV Tampa rescued a boatload of mainly Hazaras that were sent to Nauru.

In the morning we drank tea and ate toast before leaving early to take our three guests back over to the other side of town where they were to meet their transport. During an awkward quiet moment in the car we switched on the radio at the exact same time as the start of a news story about the death of an asylum seeker on Christmas Island who had taken his own life in despair. This had sparked riots in the detention centre where convicted criminals are housed with asylum seekers. The quiet in the car seemed to deepen. Outside the day was grey and overcast.

Cath and I dropped them off, wished them well and then drove to the mountains for our walk.

Raincoats. Drizzle. Up the steep fire trail through forest. My head was fuddled and conflicted. I found it hard to focus on the present. Thought patterns and emotional responses clouded me in. When I started conversations to make contact with some others in the group by showing courteous interest in them I ended up being harangued by a couple of insensitive older bores. Higher up we reached the cloud level and entered thick mist. Eerie. Quiet. Still. No views.IMG_0174I walked on my own for a while trying to clear my head and get above the clouds. Large eucalypts stood like guardians on either side of the track. The peak was deemed too dangerous to push on for in the slippery conditions. We lunched forlornly sitting and resting on the damp earth. On one side the bush was pristine and had its own dripping beauty. On the other were black stumps and dead bushes of a recent fire – occasionally new green shoots appeared. At a high point a cliff dropped away into thick grey murkiness.

The pace slowed on the long way down. Tired legs. Only the foreground to see. Head still in the clouds. Eventually I left the three somewhere up there – enveloped in their own fog, unable to see a way out or take any control, bewildered by the inhumanity of it all, the unfairness. Lower down, for me, it cleared. I could see across the valley to the ridges opposite, the green fields, a house in the distance.20151111_144414

Later that evening I listened to a local nun, Sister Jane, talk about her despair at our (Australia’s) treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and her plan to bear witness for the month of lent on the steps of Parliament House. The story of an African fellow who was now working in Canberra as a social worker having escaped beatings, political oppression and death threats in Zimbabwe to become a refugee here. Jon Stanhope’s scathing criticism of his beloved Labour Party and their stance on the “indefinite, mandatory, offshore detention” of asylum seekers, the lifelong trauma caused by the detention of children and a UN report detailing our torture of detainees at Mannus. And George Browning questioning whether Australia (we) was actually contributing to conditions that produce refugees (foreign aid at its lowest level, refusal to engage with the wrongs in the world like East Timor, our interference across the world like the invasion of Iraq and the resultant growth of ISIS and our refusal to join the responsible world in properly addressing climate change).

Later again as I read Tim Winton’s “Palm Sunday Plea: Start the soul searching Australia” everything cleared a little more and my perspective became less conflicted.

 

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/tim-wintons-palm-sunday-plea-start-the-soulsearching-australia-20150328-1ma5so.html

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s where-to-be-born index (previously called the quality-of-life index, abbreviated QLI) attempts to measure which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where-to-be-born_Index

Insight: Pakistani death squads spur desperate journey to Australia  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/25/us-pakistan-hazaras-idUSBRE89N1LP20121025#ZS2VwGHI2DzuFhtI.97

Names have been changed to protect the identities of the guests.