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Mount Aspiring – Sublime Adventure

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Mount Aspiring – Sublime Adventure

(Note – topo sketches included at end)

The rope connected us. Tied us together. Inseparable. I’d consider and agonise over its necessity many times in the next week. Ours was beefy, strong, purple. A crossover from the static and predictable world of rockclimbing, not well suited to the wild and dynamic higher mountain. Aspiring. The questioning would reach a crisis at the last throw of the dice.

Day 1

The plan was a good one, to walk in some of the way as the forecast weather cleared, which would give us a shorter day for the main approach to Colin Todd Hut up on the ice plateau. From the Hut we could climb the peak. Rain and storms had swept the South Island as we made last minute preparations and gathered more information.

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Snow covered the peaks on the drive in to the road head. Creek crossings were a little flooded for the hired corrolla. We left Raspberry Flat at about midday with the showers seeming to retreat up the valley as we walked. The Matukituki River was swollen green with rain and glacial melt water. Through daisies fields and past cows and sheep the flat trail led us to Aspiring Hut where we rested and took stock of the weather. We pushed on relying on the forecast for an improve which it did for a time. Shovel flat, high hanging glaciers, Pearl Flat, wire bridges over streams, into magical mossed beech forest like Middle Earth. We forged ahead through wet scrub on a lesser trail getting saturated. Scott’s Bivvy Rock beckoned us. Alas even the fancy GPS phone navigation app could not help us locate it. We thrashed around looking. Totally buggered. Showers returned. 7.30 pm. In a tussocky clearing we sheltered from the wind behind a clump of bushes and laid out bivvy bags. “I need food”, Tom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stood around miserable, ate dinner in the rain. I struggled into my goretex bag and wrestled into sleeping bag and dry thermals. Then through the long night I fretted between searching for down soddening drips and leaks and asphyxiating due to lack of oxygen. Showers persisted through the night. Miraculously I stayed dry and warm and alive and welcomed the relief of morning. More sprinkling rain brought a sleep in.

 

 

 

Day 2

The forecast good day did clear a little so between showers we packed up. EVERYONE had advised us not to go up the Bevan Col route in wet conditions so we headed off on a retreat towards the alternative French Ridge Hut which would give us shelter and a chance to dry out, but use up a valuable extra day.

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Walking down beside the stream within 100 meters of our Bivvy spot we noticed some of the river rocks were drying out. Maybe the notoriously treacherous steep slabby rock would be dry enough to be feasible. So we decided to change the plan and try for the Bevan Col route. 100 meters up the valley we discovered the palatial, dry (compared to a rainy night in a bag) Scott’s Bivvy rock We could have spent a fun, comfy, dry night holed up in the small shelter under the rock and looked out at the passing showers. We lost the track then and struggled and fought through tangled, wet boulder scrub with the really heavy packs (RHPs) for way too long. The food, fuel, warm clothes, too thick rope, rockclimbing gear, my antique heavyweight ice axes etc etc weighed too much. I thought a lot about Sherpas, porters and people of the past with their heavy loads carried into the mountains as I struggled. I thought about how much work and punishment a body, my body, Tom’s body could take before breaking down.

At the “Head of the Valley” we met up with a Canadian couple who had camped for two days waiting for the weather to clear. They somehow exuded mountain competence and experience. Up past the first waterfall all the rock was wet, and steep! The other two started up a low route on a rising traverse of narrow ledges as Tom and I roped up and pitch climbed a section up to and past a bolt, more vertically and closer to the edge of an abyss on the right. The Canadians joined our route and within sight of each other (this leant a significant air of confidence and commeraderie) we decided the rope was unnecessary as there were no real anchors (we didn’t see any more of the abseil route bolts that must have been hidden from us) and the terrain seemed ok. Just! Tussocks and small plants were good to pull up on, the boots edged on small holds and grooves enabled us to balance our loads and teeter upwards as the drop below beckoned with greater height. One section had tricky moves on a ramp overhanging the abyss. Scared. Tenuous. I’d seen a video of a group having an epic descent in heavy rain. They had given up, camped on a small ledge then finally reached the ground next day terrified and drenched. Eventually we made the flat ridge at the top. Flat. Safe. We navigated together then in mist, sharing our info and topo sketches and trying to make sense of the complex terrain. Down a little then up right along a system of slabs which were covered in snow and wet, balancing delicate moves with the RHPs.

The slabs dropped off to the valley floor. After crossing a stream gully we slogged up a steep snow gully, sharing the step making effort. Above a buttress we climbed onto a snow arête and saw the Col only a little higher and further over.

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In a small clearing in the clouds the white summit cap of Aspiring mystically appeared, lit up by the late afternoon sun. As if rewarding us for our effort and risk, and beckoning us on. A moment of clarity and beauty. Our first view of Tititea.

It had taken 6 hours to toil up the 950 meters to the Col. Having roped up we crossed our first crevasse within meters of starting down a snow ramp and then onto the Bonner Glacier.  It seemed to take forever, slowly plodding across the snow and ice. I focussed my mind on looking out for crevasses and tried ridiculously to step lightly. Following the Canadian’s steps was reassuring but no guarantee. At every step I tried to sense the tension in the rope behind leading to Tom, to be ready to instantly throw myself down and dig my boots into the snow so I could hold his fall through into a hidden canyon of ice. This was our first glacier crossing since our mountaineering course. On our own. At the end of a very long day. Stay switched on. Don’t relax. And hope Tom, at the other end of the rope, was doing the same and was ready if I suddenly holed through to thin air underfoot, that he’d hold me dangling by that thread over the icy void.  With RHPs. A final killer 100 meter ascent from the glacier slip sliding up a narrow gully took forever before we reached the rocky domes around the hut. 7.30 pm. Totally spent – physically and mentally.

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The weather cleared. Aspiring/Tititea is a stunningly beautiful mountain. Any ascent from the valley floor is a huge challenge, nothing is gained easily and the fickle weather dictates the terms. Friends have spent weeks hutted and camped nearby only to return home without having stepped on the mountain. We were trying to make the most of the first period of forecast clear weather for the whole summer season (mid Feb) so far. Boots off. Food. Tea. Dinner. Comfort. Shelter. Relief. Rest. Amazingly at 8.30 pm two fellows arrived who had walked in in one 12 hour push – epic!

The Plan – 3 days good weather was forecast – clear, light winds. So far in New Zealand we had only had the occasional good days in amongst atrocious conditions – rain hammering, winds belting. We shared valuable info on possible ways of doing the North West Ridge with the two other pairs. They were on tighter time schedules and aimed to climb the following day. We would trust the weather and have a day to rest and explore to sort out which way we would take, and to familiarise.

To sleep, to sleep, dry and long. My heart seemed still to be thumping as I lay in the moonlit hut – altitude (surely not), dehydration, exertion?

Day 3

The “one day walk inners” left at 4.00am and the Canadians, who turned out to be a mountaineering instructor and an Antarctic remote camp supervisor, departed with more confidence at 7.00am. Later on we followed their tracks up the ISO Glacier and then went on to climb on a nearby smaller peak, the Rolling Pin.

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We returned via the Shipowner Ridge to the hut. Throughout the day Aspiring stood clear and majestic from every vantage point, intimidating, tantalising and always beckoning. Much later than expected we spied both groups near the summit in perfect weather – around 2.30pm. Later still we saw nothing of them. 2 guides arrived with clients who had walked across from the helicopter landing about 2 km away. Then another 2 couples arrived from French Ridge Hut having made it through the Quarterdeck Pass which was normally cut off so late in the summer. Throughout the afternoon I checked on the climbing pairs, seeing nothing, with a growing sense of concern for their safety.

From all our sources of info there seemed to be four main ways to climb the North West Ridge.

  1. The “full” NWR – very long and time consuming on the lower third. And we had already done the  Shipowner Ridge section.
  2. Via the ISO and Therma Glaciers – a quicker way past Shipowner but still slow below the “slab”.
  3. Via the Ramp – a steep snow slope overlaying slabs that bypasses all the rock on the ridge – deemed too dangerous due to avalanche risk so late in the season.
  4. Via the Kangaroo Patch which is a snow slope leading up to the “slab” at 1/3 height.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Late in the day the guides and their clients did a reconnaissance up the Kangaroo Patch, and in the process set a nice set of steps in the steep snow. Based on our own analysis this was also our preferred route. I worried some more about the two climbing parties who were spending so much time on the climb and I considered how remote and isolated they were should anything go wrong.

Tom and I carefully prepared for the next day – lunch, gear, rope coiled and set out, bags packed, clothes laid out, boots and crampons readied. It was reassuring to have time to do all this methodically – for our first big mountain. Just like in our training course we had everything ready for “summit day”. We just hoped the weather gamble would still pay off.

Eventually one party returned at 8.00 pm. They’d had an epic 16 hour day including having to reverse 4 pitches trying unsuccessfully to do a rising traverse on snow across the slopes above the Therma Glacier. The other party returned at 8.30 – 13 1/2 hours. Tom and we’re both thinking that if these parties had taken so long we would be in for a very long day. It was difficult to get to sleep with the buzz in the overfill hut, and to stay asleep later. Keyed up. I drank water through the night top prehydrate.

Day 4

I awoke before the alarm at 2.50 am, lit the stove and woke Tom. Within 15 minutes there were 5 climbing pairs bustling about. Muesli, 2 cups of tea and another drink of water.

Harness on, crampons, backpack, axe, rope. First out the door. A slowly moving set of tiny headlamps followed up the crunchy set of steps under moonlight and a canopy of stars. At 6.00 we reached the slab. At its left edge we climbed a short easy pitch up the ridge as the other parties got going, and then traversed round left onto the open face. The sky lightened a little. Fears of a bottleneck on the rock dissipated as parties climbed around each other on the fairly straightforward rock. Friendly and unhurried, waiting, moving aside, cheery chat. We made up a commeraderie of climbers from Australia, New Zealand, France, Peru and Italy. It was like a day out on a popular crag – on the “Matterhorn of the Southern Alps”, surrounded by now pink tinged snowy peaks and plunging dark valleys and glaciers and snow all around and below. 3 pitches of roped rock climbing on the left hand face (looking up) brought us back onto the ridge proper. I felt at home on the rock – on familiar ground. We were going well. Tom and I moved efficiently together. The practice climbing we’d done was paying off. I laughed and chattered and waved to the other groups nearby.

For a time we simulclimbed the rocky ridge with 20m of rope between us threaded round blocks and through gaps in the rock. On both sides verticality plummeted away to steep snow and ice below the cliffs. The sun goldened the surrounding peaks and ranges. The two guided parties dropped behind and one pair went in front.

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At 8.30 am we reached the “notch”, a low gap between the rocky lower ridge and the snow and ice of the summit section. Morning tea, stash the rock gear and some water for the descent. We removed the rope as the snow looked straightforward and consistent. Without anchors and belays, which would have taken too much time, any slip or mistake by one of us would mean the end for both if we had remained roped together. I remembered a line from my course, “If you’re not attached to the mountain the rope is a danger to you both”. Crampons back on we made our way up.

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Stepped up slowly through the snowfields. As the angle steepened I zigzagged a slow and careful ascent. The ground and snow continued to be fine for well placed steps, driving the side points into the surface for maximum grip. Over near the right edge Where cliffs dropped away I  was able to spy another group on the near vertical ice couloir section of the South West Ridge.

Higher up my mind played tricks with the numbers I had written down as staging points. Tom’s altimeter had us at 2870m which I calculated at about 500m still to go but I could hear whoops and see helmeted heads peering over at us from not very far above. The summit ice steepened but it was still ok for us to safely solo so we made our way up subtle slightly lower angled ramps and then out left a little. And then there it was. 10 m away. The others were taking photos of us as we made the final few steps. I was overcome.

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I had to hug and shake hands with everyone. Reaching a dream that had percolated for forty years happens only rarely. Time and health and loved ones and the world has to come together in a special combination in that one place at that one moment. The world is indeed a wonderful place. Peaks and lakes and glaciers and valleys and ice and snow and rock blazed with light everywhere. In certain moments time and life is concentrated in sublime adventure.

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10.30 am. We photoed and laughed and lunched in perfect windless calm on Tititea’s mountain top. The south west ridge pair appeared to join the merry throng. In a quiet moment Tom and I shook hands in a gesture of thanks to one another for sharing the climb and for making it possible for each other.

Down – switch on again. The ascent is only half the climb. We stepped down the icy sastrugi, slow, measured steps, taking lines that gave the greatest chance of a self arrest should we make a mistake. Minds off the view, eyes locked on feet. Concentrating hard not to tanglefoot or catch a crampon strap. Back at the notch I collected the rock gear. Six of us scrambled back along the narrow rocky ridge together. Awkward moves over the left or right faces or along the actual crest. Up and down. The axes came out for a steep short icy section and the rope for a snow slope protected with an old piton.

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At the base of the steep buttress now 8 of us shared ropes and chatted as we abseiled 4 rapells in happy company together. Then all safely back at the slab we descended at our own pace in pairs roped together against the hidden crevasses in the softer afternoon snow.

Back to the hut. 3.30pm. I was tired but not buggered. The climb had been splendid. Easier and less nerve wracking than anything on the Bevan Col route, which was true to popular legend. All our skills had been brought out, but we had not been pushed out of our comfort zones. Bit by bit, section by section, it had all been OK.

Tea. Boots off. Rest in the warm sun. Inner glow. Food.

A tepid bath in a secluded pond in the rocky knolls nearby – heated by the sun, clean and washed, then lie on the warm stone, naked before the stupendous landscape and the sun. Best bath ever.

The guided parties arrived over dinner. Our thoughts turned to the next stage – getting down to the valley. The Bevan Col route filled us with dread even on dry rock so we opted for French Ridge via the Quarterdeck – in spite of the crevasse stories.

Day 5

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Another up at 4.30am and depart at 5.30 morning. We hoped for firm snow in the cold morning. We plodded back across the Bonner then did a slow climb to the higher part of the glacier between ice falls. The blue ice rose like a silent, slow moving wave in front of us.

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The sun touched the South West face of Aspiring.

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We trudged upwards, the packs a little lighter. A long uphill in the sun and glare took us to the snowy pass of the Quarterdeck which led down to French Ridge and the safety of hiking trails. It’s never over till that lady sings and I couldn’t hear any notes in the breeze. We had also left early to go through the Quarterdeck icefall before the sun softened everything up. So a quick stuff of the face with food and we were off. It was firm and hard still. A little scarey. Down steeply, then across a huge crevasse at the edge of the cliff above Gloomy Gorge, down some more, over (just!) a crevasse with a large foot hole, down, gingerly across then onto a steep section of ice. We front pointed sideways on frozen toe holes from previous climbers. Committed, we continued across then diagonally down.  The ice axe pick dug in deep with each step.  A massive yawning crevasse waited 30 meters of steep ice below. This was much harder than anything on the climb, the course or even Bevan Col. Trust your buddy. Front point down, some more, careful. I could see the bottom. Concentrate. Tom’s crampon came loose. I dug a little stance for myself and tried to ram my axe handle into the ice for an anchor, unsuccessfully. Tom stayed in control, balanced with his pack on, ice axe dug in, and carefully reattached it. Trust. Don’t fall now. Ice screws were in the bottom of the pack, unavailable. The rescue knife that could have cut us free from one another lay forgotten at the back of my harness. We didn’t both have to go. Then down a step at a time. Eventually onto softer then less steeply angled snow and finally to the bottom. Release. Relief. A close call, just in control, there’s a very fine edge between safety and danger sometimes.

Lunch on a sunny rock. A pair of tar scampered over the snow. Valleys. Mountains. Down snow then scree and rock and into alpine grassland. French Ridge Hut. Tea. Views. Keas. Muesli leftovers for a second lunch. Waterfalls tumbled from hanging glaciers everywhere into the valleys. Their constant murmur, a low hum, sounded like it could be the lady’s song at last.

Day 6

Down, down, down. In the dark (it’s a habit now) to reduce the risk of getting stuck in the carpark due to flooded streams from the forecast afternoon rain. Down from the bright red hut. The descent track hugged the edge of the drop into Gorge. Tangled roots provided hand and foot holds. Into the beech forest at last. Careful not to twist a knee or ankle. The stream at the bottom, 900 m below the hut, tumbled and churned glacial green and silver over boulders beside mossed trees. Rest, eat, recuperate.

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Along the valley floor the track wound back in and out of the forest and daisy fields. At regular rest stops we looked back and far above to the mountain top visible above the ice of the Breakaway. High, aloof, imposing, now with a wind blown cloud plume in the deteriorating weather.

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We passed by a variety of people, hikers from across the world, the DOC hut warden off to catch and band robins. And at Aspiring Hut a pair of seasoned climbers, “Aspiring is probably the finest mountain in New Zealand”.

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And a group of exuberant young adults who had mountain biked into the clearing to lunch and rest. A similar age to the students I had worked with for many years I struck up a conversation with a bubbly guy and girl at the table where I was tying up my pack. I learned that they were a group from Mount Aspiring College out on an outdoor trip for the day. “I want to climb Mount Aspiring in 2019. It’s my aim”, the shining young man told us with a determined and hopeful grin while pointing up the valley from where we’ve come. “Good luck and good on you”, I responded and thought ‘may the force be with you and may the lady of the waterfalls sing your safe and exuberant return from the journey’. In this brief interchange I sensed a strong connection through a wrinkle in time, a reflection of my self across the decades and across the wooden bench. A circularity, a sense of completion and renewal. The call and wonder of the mountains.

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THANKS

Tom – for being on the other end of the rope, for trusting and for sharing every aspect of the journey

Tai – from AGL for all the info so generously shared about the climb and access

NZAC – for providing the forum for Tom and I to connect up

AGL – for the terrific Technical Mountaineering Course which gave us the skills and knowledge and confidence to take it all on (Bill and Tai)

Adventure Consultants and Aspiring Guides in Wanaka for providing even more bits of information

NOTE

Message from daughter on the day we left – “Sorry I missed your call. I was at an African dance class. Hope your adventures are sublime.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Abridged article in NZAC Australia Section magazine Sept 2017

 

Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers

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Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers – 2 weeks

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) sanctuary 15 – 30 June 2016img_0076

Having kept an eye on the SA Outback Roads website for a month it was clear that with the recent rains we were lucky to make it to Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary’s gate on schedule. All the way up the Birdsville Track was green. Sanctuary Manager Tess met us at the gate with a welcoming smile and instructions on driving carefully in her tyre tracks. Over the first big dune a large claypan opened up. Over the next was the homestead and nerve centre for the property. Arid desert country at the meeting point of the Tirari, Sturt Stony and Simpson Deserts and bordering Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre, the old grazing property now provides a continuous reserve system linking the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre National Park. Cath and I, both recently retired, had committed to a two week volunteering stint.

On the first day we settled in to our extremely comfy cottage. After an induction Tess drove us out to a beautiful place on the Warburton Creek, Stoney Crossing. The birdlife was plentiful on the strongly flowing floodwater. Sunset across the enormous sky was stunning.img_0111

The property is managed by a couple, Mark and Tess, who are employed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy. On our second day we cleaned and tidied up the Saddlery which is set up as a base camp for scientists and research survey groups. Tess drove out to the remote part of the property to escort back in a couple of palaeobiologists who were investigating 100,000 year old egg shells of Genyornis, a large emu-like bird – now extinct. Showers were threatening. Mark had been stranded in Leigh Creek by closed roads and rain further south. We started a cleanup of the workshop and garage area and unpacked some new air conditioning units. As rain started the scientists just made it out to Mungerannie before the access road was closed again. Apparently when the big rains came on New Year’s Day (180mm) Tess and Mark couldn’t get out for 4 months due to floodwaters coming down from the Channel Country and the damaged roads. Over sunset we watched black kites in groups cruising over the dunes and swales.img_0047To minimise damage to the internal tracks we restricted ourselves to the homestead area. Next day we tidied up garden areas and removed bushes that could have been a fire hazard. Cath did some caulking of the cracks in the cottage while I made up some bed bases and tops for work benches. It was a wonderful change to be doing work that at the end of each day you can look over what you have achieved and actually see the results. We drove over to the next door air strip and collected the mail.

img_0088Our days took on a pattern. Start work at 8.30am and go thru till 4.00ish including breaks then go for a sunset walk over the dunes and along the claypans birdwatching, exploring and photographing. Dinner, catch up on emails, read. Be in the landscape, experience the weather changes, live on the property, learn about all sorts of things, do physical work.

On day 4 we continued gardening and carpentry. Mark finally got through with his load of solar panels and batteries and food supplies for him and Tess. Amazingly a fuel tanker arrived and filled up the diesel and generator tanks and dropped off some helicopter AV gas drums. There was heavy rain in the Channel Country in the Cooper and Diamantina catchments. We got the TV going in the cottage and discovered that the one station we could get broadcast AFL during prime time 5 nights a week. A shame those games last so long!

img_0140Mark burnt the piles of brush that we’d removed from around the buildings. Then we drove out together to check on the campsites in readiness for a couple of small groups of ecologists and volunteers – to “Pretty Place”, “The Island”, “Stoney Creek” and “Boat Ramp”. Yellow flowers were starting to carpet the landscape. Mark spotted a red backed kingfisher. After lunch I helped unload the heavy solar gear at the airstrip hanger and washed down the vehicle that had been in to town. It’s quite a job to remove all the mud to ensure all the weed seeds are removed. Kalamurina is mostly weed free but a few species are knocking at the fence to get in.

On day 6 heavy morning fog lay in the home claypan. I cleaned up and fitted a new battery in the tilt trailer hydraulic unit and finished the bed bases. Cath got the plum job of “tyning” the outer part of the airstrip which involved driving slowly and carefully up and down and round in the landcruiser ute towing a heavy meal square which scraped the ground smooth and free of weeds – all while listening to the only cd in the cab – Slim Dusty. I started fabricating some signs and working on a mobile workbench.20160620_121102

Day 7 we worked on the airstrip together, driving and hoeing the round markers. The strip is used for visiting tour groups and emergencies mainly so must be maintained to RFDS standards. The property strip is clay based, next door’s is sand based and 60km away at Mungerannie on the Birdsville Track there is an all-weather gravel strip. We had the afternoon off and went birdwatching at “The Island”.

Next day we were homestead bound again due to rain so I assisted Mark prepping the area for the solar installation. On the property nearly everything is recycled. I spent time stripping the plastic off various bits of copper wire to take into town for recycling. Cath assisted with stocktaking the RFDS emergency box. In the afternoon I continued with measuring up and routing the signs while Mark did several jobs. He’s a super talented guy with immense skills developed over intensive time in the bush. He welded, backhoed, fenced and road maintained like an artisan. He and Tess must be some of the hardest working people in the Southern Hemisphere. They have amazing attention to detail and safety and deep care and concern for the property. We drove out to “Stoney Crossing” and saw pelicans, kites, spoonbills and a host of others. 4.8mm of rain fell overnight and in the middle of it I inexplicably received a text message.

20160627_103123I finished fabricating some metal signs and together we painted a stack of survey pegs. More showers fell during the day and Cath had an afternoon off. In the evening we watched a video from the collection, counted out our supply of teabags and rationed our remaining fresh vegies.

On day 10 we did more signs – I routed and Cath painted. We sorted and cleaned the sheds some more. In the afternoon it fined up and in the evening we walked west to a large claypan through the now blooming desert.

20160625_151023At last next day the roads had dried out so after lunch by the Warburton we spent the afternoon out at “Mia Mia Camp” dismantling and removing broken rural structures and old building materials – tin, timber, logs, poles, wire. The rechargeable angle grinder worked a treat along with the shovel, mattock and rake hoe.

Day 12 was Sunday. We had the day off. More rain overnight so a group of campers were brought in from “The Island” camp to base themselves in the Saddlery.

On day 13 we finished the sheds and continued on with the signs. Day 14 the weather cleared again. I washed down the vehicles that had been into Mungerannie and back the day prior. We continued routing and painimg_0030ting then walked out to “The Island” to stretch the legs. On day 15 I washed down the wash down pad before the drying mud turned to concrete. We finished the set of signs which stood proudly against the back wall of the super tidy and clean sheds. We walked parallel down the dunes to where they dropped steeply into the Warburton. Wildflowers profused in white, pink and yellow and a variety of birds sang the sunset.

On our final day we packed up the “Saddlery” after the visitors left, cleaned the cottage, pulled out a line of star pickets in the home paddock and packed the car for a crossing of the Simpson Desert. The tracks on Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary were still muddy so the annual July bird survey had to be cancelled. More rain was forecast. We departed and made it out between closures of the access road.

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Budgerigar

Pelican

Black kite

Willie wagtail

Crested pidgeon

Fairy martin

Sparrow

Brown song lark

Red capped robin

Zebra finch

Red-backed kingfisher

White-necked heron

Whistling kite

Cockatiel

Rufous songlark

Black-shouldered kite

Magpie

Galah

Magpie lark

Gull billed or Caspian tern?

Black-faced woodswallow

Weebil?

Royal spoonbill

Great egret

Yellow-billed spoonbill

White-faced heron

Nankeen kestrel

Masked woodswallow

Black-fronted dotterel

Diamond dove

Crimson chatimg_0125

Raven

Horsfields bronze cuckoo

White-winged fairy wren

This was a pretty good tally for us beginner birdwatchers.

Special thanks to Mark and Tess and AWC for the opportunity to live in the desert and make a small contribution.

Thanks to Dr Phil Tucak (AWC) for corrections and to AWC for permission to publish this narrative and photos.img_0034

Thankyou

photograph by William Blunt

Thankyou

I’ve learned over the year that when I open myself up to taking note of deeper meaning in experiences and looking for connections they tumble forth with reflection onto the page. The added richness to life and adventures has been surprising and wonderful.

This journey has taken me into the ocean, canyons, rivers, caves, cliffs, forests, deserts and to sacred mountains.

“52adventuresblog.com” has given me the structure to write and photograph and film regularly.

Along the way I have tried to minimise the self-indulgence and self-focus inherent in a blog and attempted to give attention to those alongside. By far the most popular entries have been about “others”.

THANKYOU for your interest, for reading, mostly for sharing being out there in the bush. Your company has been a treasure. Thankyou for letting me write about you. With your help and support I was able to complete the 52nd adventure on the 365th day of the year following completion of the first adventure. More importantly I was privileged to be able to share time with very special people. THANKYOU.

The future

I might explore a very small print run self-published book of the highlights (let me know if you are interested). The blog will remain live. The adventures will continue and the writing will happen at opportune times. But I won’t try to keep to 52 in the year. Other writing will take precedence – Africa Stories, contributing to a mythopoetic book on outdoor education, working on films and who knows what else. Maybe a small charity initiative taking shape – “Save the Planet, Save the World – One Day at a Time”.

Thankyou,

Peter

 

52 adventures list

95 days in the bush for the year

Trips from ½ a day to 10 days duration

Canberra area, Blue Mountains, Snowy Mountains, Tasmania, Central Australia

Activities – rockclimbing, caving, cross country skiing, cycling, hiking, surfing, canyoning, ocean swimming, vertical rescue, abseiling, whitewater kayaking, ski touring

 

Thankyou

52        Bowens Creek Canyon

7/2/16 Canyoning – Blue Mountains  Lower Bowens Creek North

51        Serendipity

6/2/16 Canyoning – Blue Mountains  Serendipity and Wollangambe 2 Canyons

50        Edge – Night Climb   

4/2/16 Booroomba Rocks       Rock climbing

49        Gibraltar Creek

11/1/16           Natural world immersion

48        Bogong Moth Frenzy NYE

31/12/15 – 1/1/16      Brindabellas mountain peak

47        Settlers Track

28/12/15         Hiking

46        Bold and the Beautiful

Ocean swimming        Manly to Shelley Beach return           23,24,25/12/15

45        Surfing Manly with Royalty

Surfing – Manly Beach           20 – 24/12/15

44        Drawing the line

14/12/15         Bungonia – Cooee Point         Abseiling

43        Big Wall Roped Solo Booroomba

10-11/12/15    Booroomba Rocks       Rockclimbing

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

5-6/12/15        Snowy Mountains        Hiking

41        Volunteer

3/12/15           Budawang Ranges      Hiking

40        Respect, Admiration and Gratitude

2/12/15           Booroomba Rocks       Rockclimbing – with Neil Montgomery

39        Friends Fab Fun on the river

14/11/15         Cotter to Urriara Crossing      1.43 on guage at Mt. McDonald

38        Fog

11/11/15         Camels Hump and Pierce Trig            Hiking             18km

37        Fields of flowers

4/11/15           Short Wednesday walk – Tuggeranong Hill. 8km. 2 ¼ hours.

36        Vertical Rescue

29/10 – 1/11/15          White Rocks, Snake Rock, artificial environment, Legoland

35        Rope Guiding

20/10/15         Jindabyne Rock           Abseil guiding

34        Hero At The Seaside

16 – 19/10/15 Cycling and bodysurfing – Illawarra coast

33        Snakes and Lizards

15/10/15         Western Foreshores Walk – Googong Dam carpark to Tin Hut return – 21 km  Hiking

32        Riverplay

23/9/15           Point Hut to Pine Island – Murrumbidgee River        Whitewater kayaking

31        A walk to the creek with Mum

30/8/15           Pennant Hills Park

30        Making the Most

25 – 27 Aug 2015        Perisher Valley Nordic trails   Cross country skiing

29        Jagungal –  Journey to the sacred mountain

17 – 20/8/15   Kosciuszko National Park – Jagungal Wilderness       Ski touring

28        Cross country ski trails with novices and winter Olympians.

14/8/15           Nordic Ski Trails – Perisher Valley     Cross country skiing

27        Mount Twynam – A Day in a Life

26        Larapinta – Part 2 Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap – 9 days

8/7 – 15/7/15              Western Macdonald Ranges – Northern Territory – Central Australia     Hiking

25        Larapinta Trail – Part 1 Mount Sonder – Day walk

7/7/15 Western Macdonald Ranges – Northern Territory – Central Australia         Hiking

24        A chilly swim in the local river

30 June            Murrumbidgee River  Whitewater kayaking

23        A walk in the old country – Gibraltar Peak

26 June            Gibraltar Peak – Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Hiking

22        Cliffcare

21 June            Honeysuckle Crag – Namadgi            Rockclimbing

21        Outlaws, bushrangers and hidden treasure

12 June            Canberra Nature Park – Rob Roy       Hiking

20        If we could read this landscape

6 – 8 June        Budawang Range        Hiking

19        Bucket List

4 June Googong          Hiking

18        The Good the Bad and the Ugly

1 – 2 June 2015           Wee Jasper again – days 8 and 9 working underground       Caving

17        Caving Connections

26 – 27/5/15   Wee Jasper again       Caving

16        The Outdoor Education Teacher Underground

18 – 20/5/15    Wee Jasper     Caving

15        Walking with Dad

9 – 10/5/15      Blue Mountains – Blue Gum Forest    Bushwalking

14        Conversations while Walking for Pleasure

7/5/15 Canberra Centenary Trail       Walking

13        Club day at the local

3/5/15 Booroomba Rocks       Rockclimbing

12        Back at school – On the river

30/4 – 1/5/15  Clyde River      Canoeing and kayaking two day tour between Nelligen and Anglers Reach.

Notes on Falling

11        Ethics and Retreat

Secret spot #2 14 – 16 April    Rockclimbing – more new routes

Interlude        Run

Canberra half marathon         April 12

10        Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Maria Island – Tasmania        March 30 – April 1      Bush cycling

9          Test of the toughest

Freycinet – east coast Tasmania         March 26 – 28            Hiking

7 and 8            Pine Valley

March 17 – 20            Tasmania – Lake St Clair area            Hiking

The Labyrinth, Cephissus Falls

6          Rocky Cape

March 16        Tasmania north coast Day walk

5          Adventure climbing

March 10 – 12            Secret spot in the Blue Mountains – no clues given   Rockclimbing new routes

4          Eighteen

March 8          Booroomba Rocks       Multi pitch rockclimbing

3          “The biggest abseil you could do on a school trip”

March 5          Blue Mountains           Abseiling

2          Back on Rock

Feb 15 Booroomba Rocks       Rockclimbing

1          Surfing in the Lucky Country

2 – 8 Feb 2015 Point Plomer – mid north coast NSW  Surfing

Manly – Surfing with Royalty + Bold and Beautiful

46 and 45 – Manly

All photos by Elspeth Blunt

46

Bold and Beautiful

Ocean swimming

Manly to Shelley Beach return

23,24,25/12/15

The prized cap
The prized cap

We watched through the window spray and seaweed thrown two storeys into the air as waves pounded the stone wall below. Just after 7.00am the first of a small group of brave swimmers appeared pink headed round the point. Somehow they had made it out safely from the beach then headed across through the chop and rebound. 1500 meters overall with a stand on the beach at Shelley to wait for the slower people in the group at the half way point. Every single morning of the year. Conditions permitting were a grey area and up to each person to make their own judgement. The “Bold and Beautiful” informal, no exchange of money, swimming group. Ocean swimmers.

We had done some ocean swims in the past. The Cole Classic on almost this same route with a couple of thousand others. Months of training, butterflies in the stomach, the swim and elation at finishing. Now we were hoping to join this group who practically do the “Classic” every morning.

I did a trial swim with my brother while the swell was still big and just managed with a total hammering coming back in to the beach which tumbled me into the sand. I surfaced into foamy water that didn’t support my body weight as much of the water was bubbly air. Lost my goggles and swimming cap and coughed and spluttered my way into the beach. Overambitious.

On the first calm day Cath and I did a practice run. It was a little spooky on our own. Deep water mixed up with rocky terrain and seaweed shallows. With googles unfogged it was almost like a strenuous version of snorkelling. I knew there were sharks in the water. I knew if I was attacked I was unlikely to see it coming. I knew the statistics of thousands of people in the water every day and no recorded attacks in Sydney for some time. But. And I kept occasionally looking over my shoulder out in the depths.

Nervous wait for the start
Nervous wait for the start

Next morning the sea was calm. We registered at the surf club and were given our prized pink caps. Milled around for a while and chatted nervously. The start was massive – hundreds of people pushed out through the small swell and then swam out to wait off the point. IMG_4038Legs, arms, bodies, sleek, tubby, strong, strugglers all mixed up and headed towards distant Shelley Beach. Breathe, stroke, kick. It was hard to build a rhythm in the pack but the camaraderie was wonderful. A hundred different styles and speeds. Pink heads were everywhere. Male, female, young, old. Across the open part I measured off sections past blocks of units, the outdoor pool, tall trees and finally made it onto the sand. I was about half way through the pack. IMG_4040Around stood hundreds of healthy humanity sharing a long early morning swim in the most staggering surroundings. This must be one of the best informal, non-competitive sporting events in the world. Every morning. Free. IMG_4064 IMG_4062Patiently and without any pressure the crowd waited for the slower swimmers. Then the splashing arms and legs whitewashed the whole of the small beach as we all left for the return. I slowed towards the end and found more space. Every now and then I raised my head between strokes to check direction before ploughing on again. Round the headland I tried to take it wide to come in with the waves but found myself closer to the rocks and swimming doggedly tired against the gentle rip. Eventually on the beach Cath and I bubbled over with impressions and feel good vibes. Health. Vitality. Cleansed body and mind and soul. Manly, so beautiful. Ready for breaky and to start the day.

The following day we swam like old hands. Confident. Capable.

On Christmas day the crowd was just as big. At Shelley we sang happy birthday to one of the swimmers as we waited. Back on the main beach day trippers had already arrived with hampers to stake out the best bits of shaded grass and beach for the day.

 

45

Surfing Manly with Royalty

Surfing – Manly Beach

20 – 24/12/15

 

Storms lashed the coast early in the week. After some tough times during the year we’d lashed out with a pile of hard earned for a week in an AirBnB right near the water. The swell picked up. The beach was closed. Surfers went wild. Along the main beach the bigger sets rolled in and peeled left and right. Out at Fairy Bower the long right hander was crowded. From our window bay I watched it all. Surfing is a wonderful spectator sport. Fluid moves, wipeouts. Power in the waves and the riders.

When the weather cleared I ran along the beachfront promenade – walkers, scooter kids, pram pushers, Christmas groups from the western suburbs, beach volleyballers, swimmers, joggers, runners, cyclists, people doing yoga and hard isometrics, scuba divers, kite surfers, kayakers, snorkellors, sailors, coffee drinkers, picnickers, beach dance party goers. It was like the world was out And right there was where it was all happening. The homes and units along the water’s edge make up a millionaires’ row but the beach, the surf, the foreshore and the coffee places belong to Everyman.

In the smaller swells that followed and matched my ability I took my longboard straight out from the main beach. There were other surfers in the water but I was amazed there was space for all of us. I got a few nice ones. Lefts and rights. And long enough to play a little up and down along the face. Enough to bring out the full body smile and the endless “just one more” as I bailed out each time in the shallows. I thought of the Hawaiian Duke, Kahanamoku, in the summer of 1914/15 showing the locals right here how to ride a board on the waves, initiating with Tommy Walker the whole surf culture that has become such a huge part of Australia.

Late the next day I surfed again. Sitting out the back my gaze shifted from watching for swells o ut at sea then round to the scene on shore. The strip of beach sand was backed by the stone wall with the path above alive with active souls. A strip of grass, Norfolk island pines, the road, coffee shops and surf shops then the high rise units and hotels. In a sweeping arc all the way from Shelley Beach to North Steyn. Magnificent. I felt a connection sitting out there, still, calm, waiting, with Layne Beachley. Years before I had been to a conference where she did the keynote. Then I read her book. What a tough life she has had in so many ways. One of our most successful sports people ever. 7 times world champion. Totally inspirational. And she surfed right here too. The “Beachley Classic” is held at Manly every year. In the National Portrait Gallery there is a photo of her by Petrina Hicks. I’m not usually one to be taken by a person’s appearance but this shot portrays her arresting eyes that seem to be made of translucent pools of clear, blue ocean. Layne’s comment on the portrait was that ‘whales look you right in the eye, sharks stare straight through you’. I caught a last wave of the week in.

In the evening beautiful coloured lights of the Manly foreshore were visible from Shelley Beach.

 

Layne Beachley from “Beneath the Waves” (2008) on what makes a champion;

  • 2 Champions have a strong support team
  • 5 Champions have often suffered emotional or physical trauma before they succeed
  • 9 Champions give something back
  • 10 Champions inspire

Respect, Admiration and Gratitude

40

Respect, Admiration and Gratitude

2/12/15

Booroomba Rocks

Rockclimbing – with Neil Montgomery

Took a little time putting his boots on. Then he put the rack on over his slings and had to shuffle them back over. A few large cams were taken off. A new belay device hung on his new harness. Not dithering. But not fluent. Rusty. Weighing it all up in his head.

“People don’t use stopper knots anymore do they?”

It had been a while. Years since he had climbed properly. Now here we were at the bottom of our local crag’s classic climb. Equilibrium. The perfect slab. The perfect climb for us both. Hard enough. Beautiful polished granite. Two superb pitches. Cool summer day. Gentle breeze. Like everything had been laid out for us.

It had taken about a decade. For me to entice him out from his always busy world for just a day where we could climb together. For fun. Just us. No students. Not PD. Just a climb. Where we’d both started independently about 40 years prior. On rock. Just one day. Precious.

First steps up were smooth. A wire in a thin crack. Then a sling over a spike. Not many people even notice them these days. More moves up the slanting groove. Fluid and confident as the protection thinned and he was straight back into the mindset. My hands could feel it as the rope paid out steadily. Runners in, he moved straight up the committing wall to the belay. He slowed again there and laced up a bombproof anchor.

“Safe”.

35 years ago I’d chanced a job at an Outdoor School teaching mainly environmental studies and a sprinkling of adventure activities. Over a long time there I kept hearing rumours of a guy at Narabundah College doing phenomenal things in his outdoor ed program. Caving in the Nullarbor. Ocean Sailing. Hiking in Tasmania and the Gammon Ranges. Climbing at Arapiles and the Warrumbungles. Amazing. Abseiling into the Big Hole 90 meters then jumaring out. Snowcamping trips. Wow. It seemed that whatever adventures I could dream of he was already doing with high powered students. Like there was no limit to what was possible. So long as everyone came back safely. He trusted the students with safety and good judgement. They trusted him. The school trusted him. The Department of Education trusted him. He carved out and pioneered the very best outdoor education course in the country. Safety guidelines and standards followed where he led. Somewhere I picked up a copy of his “Single Rope Techniques” book. I began to picture a person of quite extraordinary outdoor and adventure skills and knowledge. Occasional meetings we participated in together reinforced this. His course grew to include units like Lead Climbing, Advanced Vertical Caving, Bushwalking Leadership so students could incorporate these amazing trips into their academic programs.

On the belay ledge we chatted about the Larapinta Trail that he had done with a group that had 10 out 12 days of cold and rain. My recent tough personal experience seemed like a doddle in comparison. We swapped the rack and I led the next pitch placing a few wires early on then clipping two new bolts on the thinner section. I anchored on a tree and lowered so I could see him on the way up. Catlike he padded up as I took a couple of photos.

“1983 to 2012”. He responded about how long he had worked at the college. A friend of mine, who worked in the Maths faculty where Neil also taught the smartest kids in the territory, had told me that he was the most popular teacher among the student cohort in that subject. His classes were the first to fill up to bursting. Only sometimes when you get to know someone how they are matches the impression you might have of them. Like an onion every layer of Neil that was revealed to me increased my respect. He had resisted the promotional ladder in school as he loved teaching so much. I had managed in about 20 years to wrangle my way onto two of his outdoor ed day trips. Both were incredible. Wyanbene Cave took us through cold cold cold water into the Gunbarrel Aven and on to the very end. Then back. Way more advanced and challenging than I would ever contemplate. Similarly Jerarra Creek Canyon had multiple abseils and a scary climb out. Of course his students handled it all beautifully. In the cold darkness of night on exit from Wyanbene as we changed, freezing, out of wet overalls he warmed the massive pot of minestrone soup he’d made at home and brought for the group. It was only much later I started to fully appreciate the significance of this type of generosity and care and planning. His leading and relationships with students were the most naturally skilful and genuine I had ever witnessed. In leadership theory “situational leadership” is good for aspiring outdoor education teachers to work towards. At higher levels of capability come “charismatic” leaders, “transactional leadership” and “servant” leadership qualities. At the pointy end the best leaders are “transformational” and “authentic”. Neil’s leadership stretched beyond even this and aligned beautifully with the latest in leadership theory. His head, heart, body and soul seemed to etch his being among those around him. Passion, strength, imagination, humility suffused his work. He seemed intuitively in tune with the people and the world around him. I could see that his groups became communities where each person was cared for and appreciated. He had an almost tangible “presence’ in the group and led with a spirit that rose from a deep well of concern for “the good of humanity and the natural world” (Smith, 2011). Extraordinary. Overnight at Wyanbene he shared his deep knowledge of astronomy and the universe as we sat around the fire. I began to sense a huge intellect. During his 30 years at Narabundah he had met his wife there and then in time brought his own children through.

He enjoyed the next lead across the top of the Northern Slabs to the easier ground. Lots of pro, a moac even and more spikes slung in good old style. As we rolled the ropes he recounted how he had lived the dream in his twenties spending years doing caving expeditions, living overseas and climbing in the USA at all the places I had spent a whole adulthood dreaming about – Yosemite (he storied about an epic on the Salathe Wall), Tuolumne Meadows, Joshua Tree and the Sierras – like a sort of bubbling stream of music pictures and landscapes flowed through my mind as we talked about his early premature “retirement” before he had even started working properly. Now I was at the other end filling my retirement with adventure days like this somehow bookending our two lives in a small way.

Early afternoon. He brewed up some tea over lunch. Now he works at ANU in the science and maths faculty. He is acknowledged and valued highly there for his unusually high level of teaching skill and experience and care for his students. Some things never change. We talked about research and he intimated ideas of a new way of looking at time and motion and philosophy that he is working on. As the concepts washed through my mind I pictured him in his office, across the corridor from one of Australia’s Nobel Prize winning physicists, with his own Nobel Prize if there was one for being an outdoor leader, a teacher, an inspiration, a mentor, a pioneer and just the person he is.

Later Neil found more spikes to sling and threaded his way with cams and wires up the two main pitches of a more moderate climb. This brought back more confidence and finesse to his moves on the vertical walls and cracks. On the final section of the day he pulled through some harder layaway steeps. In my own outdoor education work I was able to follow his lead into a series of wonderful adventures and life changing experiences with my own group of fabulous students. I couldn’t have forged a more challenging, meaningful and enjoyable period of work in education. For that I owe him profound gratitude for the courage and imagination to set up the possibilities of my own trail.

At the end of the day we were both satiated. Smiling.  Content. Back at the crag. “Derwentias” he said, noticing my interest in a beautiful purple flowered plant along the side of track back to our packs. “I’ve planted heaps in my garden at home”.

A few days later Neil emailed offering to return one piece of gear “next time” on a possible night climbing escapade when the weather would probably be too hot during the day. I had a delightful image of us enjoying more occasional perfect days like this one into the future.

I’m not embarrassed to have a few well-chosen heroes to admire and try to emulate. Especially those in our own circles.

IMG_0323

Thanks to Heidi Smith for providing some of the words and concepts on leadership Unpublished PhD thesis Extraordinary Outdoor Leaders: An Australian Case Study 2011, UOW

Winter in the Murrumbidgee

24

A chilly swim in the local river

30 June

Murrumbidgee River

Whitewater kayaking

A short day’s paddle from Casuarina Sands to Urriara Crossing. The level was about 1.2 at Mt. McDonald. Canberra has some great whitewater right on its doorstep – half an hours drive from the city. It is generally only paddleable for a short time after rain which makes it difficult to fit in with work, family and other commitments.

Sometimes things go to plan.

Air temperature max 6 degrees C. Water temp – cold. Check the video (GoPro chest mounted).