Dirty Deeds

10

Dirty Deeds

Maria Island – Tasmania

March 30 – April 1

Bush cycling

 

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

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

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

The commissar reports “frightful irregularities” next day.

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

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

Cruiser and penitentiary

Cruiser and pennitentiary

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

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

 

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

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

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

Test of the toughest

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.

Adventure Climbing

5

Adventure climbing

March 10 – 12

Secret spot in the Blue Mountains – no clues given

Rockclimbing new routes

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

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

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

New age crystals

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

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

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

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

Ian on the hard move near the top

Ian on the hard move near the top

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

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

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

Eighteen Again

4

Eighteen Again

March 8

Booroomba Rocks

Multi pitch rockclimbing

Driving to the crag for another day climbing Charles chats about his work and his week. He’s a very smart guy (18 on his Google Scholar index I discover later). Previously an astronomer he is now an energy scientist. We discuss the current energy situation. The price has plummeted for oil. The USA, now wealthy with its own huge supplies of shale oil, has recently changed the geopolitical landscape of the energy world.  Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest reservoirs and decades of oil supplies. We range over fracking and coal seam gas. One solution I find interesting is the geosequestration of liquid CO2 from coal fired power stations into empty gas and oil wells.

We climb Denethor, swapping leads on three good pitches. By chance a piece of gear is dropped so we decide to try a more serious slab climb nearby so we can retrieve it. Equilibrium, one of my favourites from the past. The first pitch tunes me in to the harder run out moves up the sheer expanse of striped granite. The second pitch pushes me into a real climbing zone where I have to concentrate the psyche on staying in control when a long way out from protection. I feel like I’m climbing well again. Charles cruised up smiling.

“Well I didn’t think I’d be able to do this 6 months ago”. He had squashed his middle finger in the Simpson Desert. “Me neither”. I had been struggling with fatigue, arthritis and an out of whack immune system. I could now envision working up to climbing at a solid grade 18 again with a bit of training.

On the way home we stop at a wild apple tree beside the road. All the lower ones within reach from the ground are gone. “Come on. We are climbers. Surely we can get some from higher up”. It felt good to say that. They’re crisp and a little tart but they’re free.

Next day I read in the paper that the Indian government is pulling out all stops to develop renewables and cut back severely on fossil fuel imports in the near future. Adani, the Indian company driving the development of the huge Galilee coal basin in Queensland, is also switching to investment in renewables. At the same time Australia is ploughing ahead with Galilee as it tries to become the most backward focused energy nation on the planet. Wake up electorate!

Charles on Equilibrium 17
Charles on Equilibrium 17

Biggest Abseil

3

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

March 5

Blue Mountains

Abseiling

It’s like a guilty pleasure in times of global warming. Driving at night on the highway with the headlights leading the way and loud, loud music setting the groove. I delve way back to one of the biggest selling albums of all time, 2 years in the charts. The heartbeating start transports me back to 1973 where I lay on the floor in the dark between speakers on high volume, thinking in deep teenage about life. Some music dates but this is still rich and fresh and sumptuous. A brilliant full moon rises. Themes sing straight to my heart even from the little voices in between the main tracks “I am not afraid of dying, why should I be afraid?” – I’d been to the funeral of a relative’s best and beautiful friend a few days prior, “Time, ticking away the moments that make up a dull day” I’m trying to work out how to best spend my time in retirement, the guitar soars inside my speeding metal and glass cocoon, “money, its a hit, don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”, how much do we need to live a good life? “Us, us, us and them, them, them”, we’re still at war with each other.

Dan Pitch 1

I met up with the group from my old college from which I had recently finished work. It was late. Sleeping in the staff cabin was interspersed with snorers, Siri being bumped on and the wind. 5,30 am get up, quick cuppa and muesli then off in the bus by 6.00.

We set up the ropes on the top pitch of Malaita Wall. I had wanted to do this famous descent for years. Dan, the teacher in charge, abseiled down first as the sun rose between the Three Sisters, pink clouds in the south, dawn light shining on the sheer face. He’s a great operator – experienced guide, knowledgable teacher and very skilful people person.

Pitch 1 45 m vertical and spectacular, a little scary in strong wind, to the top of a pinnacle.

Pitch 2 30m down a steep groove to a large ledge. I supervise as a trainee guide anchors the students then sends them down on a safety rope belay. Scramble down a steep but safe track.

Pitch 3 35m between two trees with the southern Blue Mountains stretching off behind into the distance, range upon range. Down a steep slab, over the first exciting overhang to a wide ledge, scramble right on a safety line.

Pitch 4 25m almost vertical wall, everyone confident by now.

Pitch 5 and 6 45m We run them both together for the students then the last person descends in two sections to minimise rope drag on the pull down.

Total 180m

Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall

Dan “That’s got to be about the longest abseil done by a school group”. He’s right. We take two groups down in the day. Punters pay about $250 to be guided down this wall. I wonder if the students, who all took it in their stride, appreciate what they’ve done.

Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall – Dan descending first

Dark again on the long drive home. I sing out, alive and wide awake like I’m at some “great gig in the sky”.

 

Back on Rock

2

Back on Rock

Feb 15

Booroomba Rocks

Rockclimbing

 

Rockclimbing for personal enjoyment rather than as an educational activity for others and a huge duty of care for me. This was like revisiting some old friends – the forested granite cliffs and tracks and views that are so deeply ingrained in my psyche, climbs that felt familiar but new again after such a long layoff. Sitting on belay, still, the calming peace of the bush. An eagle soars overhead. With both Charles and myself throwbacks to the old days of double ropes and out of date protection devices that still work effectively. We both trade stories as we swap leads on two easier grade multi pitch routes (Possum, Hortensia) that provide surprisingly absorbing technical and varied climbing.

Rockclimbing has come of age now in Australia. People like me have been doing it all their adult lives into retirement. It’s no longer just the fringe sport of athletic youth. Styles and equipment, even venues, go in and out of fashion but the pursuit endures.

I wonder how long I will be able to keep climbing. Considering Armando Corvini who has lost many of his fingers and toes to frostbite in the Himalayas decades ago and is now at least 75 and still climbing I’ve got at least 20 years yet. Yay. Here we go again!

Surfing in the lucky country

1

Surfing in the Lucky Country

2 – 8 Feb 2015

Point Plomer – mid north coast NSW

Surfing

Day 1 – We arrived late afternoon, set up the camper on a small rise with a view looking out beyond the beach and over the bay to the headlands of Big Hill and Crescent Head in the distance. From camp we could see the small swell wrapping cleanly round the point, almost too small even for me to catch and ride. Work had slipped away as the miles were driven. A wild wind swept the headland that opened to the rugged vista south.

Day 2 – Rain and buffeting wind overnight, morning cool, windy, tiny surf. We cycled along the back beach road to another headland and took in the shipwreck scene – crashing swells onto ragged rocks, wind blown spume. Hopefully the waves would improve as the tide goes out and it shallows across the reef flat off the point.

Surfing the north coast with time to spare and a lack of crowds in beautiful places where waves peel gently off a point – this has been a very long term dream. Having fallen in love with the ocean as I started surfing in my early teens I read Tracks magazines, watched Morning of the Earth and longed for the freedom and wherewithal to be able to live the dream. It occurs to me now that I have taken one path to be here. My family moved to UK for several years and on return I took up teaching and discovered other adventures eventually making a rewarding career in outdoor education. I sometimes got goose pimply close to this dream when I led surf trips up the coast for college students. We’d stay about 10 km north and surf from dawn till dusk. We even made it on safaris up to Byron Bay a couple of times. I surfed occasionally between times in amongst family coast trips and remained a beginner with an ancient wetsuit and a couple of boards that were never quite right. Then Kevin Rudd bought me a shiny new MacT malibu with a $900 government stimulus package in the GFC. A new wetsuit and I was away. Suddenly I felt like I could surf a little and progress to advanced beginner stage. I love small surfs where the green peels across and I can play up and down the face. On another trip with Cath we stopped here and I had the best surf of my life so here we are back again this time as the launch of my retirement from full time work. We’ve got the smart 4WD, best tough camper trailer money can buy and comfortable superannuation. We are set up on a rise with a view to the break.

Day 3 – I stepped awkwardly across slippery rocks into the shallows. The longboard and wash is hard to negotiate. After a set I paddled furiously across the reef hoping another big wave wouldn’t thump me backwards. The swell has picked up. I sat in the takeoff zone – too far wide and the waves would be too fat to catch, too far in the water wasn’t deep enough to quell the fear of being smashed. It’s a friendly scene. Small group. Plenty for everyone. A bigger one looms and I was in just the right spot. Paddle hard. Jump up. Down the face. Bottom turn then it walls up ahead. Green. Spray being blown gently back. The lip holding up just a little. Slice an arc to the top then slow backhand. Float across the slope. Feel the power of the swell. A few more slow dancing turns. Glorious. Then cut back across left and ride the break into the beach. Walk back out along the grassy track. Stoked.

Another path could have led me straight from school up the coast seeking an alternative lifestyle, searching for waves and meaning beyond the mainstream. A step straight off the pancake. Living simply, in touch with the ocean. Work, money. Maybe it got too hard to sustain or maybe I found a niche where it all worked out. For others the journey led back to the city when family and children struggled for better options. I didn’t take this path.

I could feel the crossroads right here. The real and imagined. So many others too that were let go or chanced away in multitudes of small and large choices. I feel tuned in to past possibilities, and maybe futures. Being here where one of my dreams becomes reality. A heightened sensibility at the end of one major stage of life with the opening up of another.

My brother, David, arrives in the evening. He’d taken a couple of precious days out of his long service leave between taking his family on an extended holiday and returning to work.

Day 4 – We went out early and David got the wave of the day. A good size. I watch him bottom turn then fly across the face which appears translucent as the early morning light shines through from behind. The lip curls over above his head. Past the fast section he plays with the fuller wave face and rides right into shore. He calls in at camp to down the rest of his earl grey before walking back out to the point for the next wave.

Surfing bros

Later we sit together in the take-off zone. It’s been many years of work and immediate family and a million other commitments since we’ve spent time just being together.

Cycle along the beach at low tide to the other headland.

Day 5 – Cath makes more tentative beginner steps with the wave ski. She practices the basics then we both go out the back. I catch a nice wave and stand up. Up ahead Cath paddles in as well. It’s her first proper wave and we ride it in together hooting with her excitement. The surf drops. Snorkel the reef at the take-off area to investigate the rocks that are covered with kelp and growth. They sit just below the surface at low tide. No wonder the bigger waves rear up there. Cups of tea watching the surf ebb and build through the day. Fire, dinner overlooking the ocean, “Brothers” wine. It’s meant a lot to David going surfing up the coast with his brother – to me too. I feel totally spent physically at the end of the day, nothing at all left in the tank.

Day 6 – Another nice small surf and plenty of fun. Cath catches more waves on the ski. We visit Crescent Head and I marvel at the perfect landscape of the headland and beach. It’s one of Australia’s surfing reserves. There is a perfectly formed line of waves curving along the point with a good crowd of surfers even on this small day.

This is the first time I have surfed whenever I’ve liked and for as long as I wanted. I feel satiated now. Normally I can remember each good wave but they all now merge into a deeply happy feeling and sense of great satisfaction at being fit enough and skilful enough and strong enough to be able make the most of the high quality swell here. It’s a marvellous way to start retirement from full time work. It seems like a rare treasure of health, personal financial security and the astonishing chance of being born in the lucky country. What bliss. What luxury. Gratitude. Fire, stars, the full moon hung in a Norfolk Island pine silhouette.

52 Adventures. That's the aim. One each week. Like any real adventure the outcome is unknown. The journey, the comrades, the solitude, the challenges, the special places are what matters. And this is the record – writing, images and video. Enjoy.