Category Archives: Hiking

Test of the toughest

9

Test of the toughest

Freycinet – east coast Tasmania

March 26 – 28

Hiking

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching the summit

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

View from atop Mt Graham

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

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

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

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

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

Chanpagne in the wineglass

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

Enchanted Landscape – Pine Valley

7 and 8

Pine Valley

March 17 – 20

Tasmania – Lake St Clair area

Hiking

 

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

The Labyrinth

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

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

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

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

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

Cephissus Falls

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rocky Cape

6

Rocky Cape

March 16

Tasmania north coast

Day walk

 

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

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

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