Monday, May 20, 2013

Mt Woodroffe, #7 of the State 8

Is it OCD? That sees a list of the eight highest peaks in Australia's states and territories and then wants to tick them all off? Maybe. This one, Mt Woodroffe - South Australia's highest peak - was my number seven, of eight, the so-called State 8, or Aussie 8. Apparently I'm not alone in my affliction, there were 28 other people booked onto this tour.
SUMMARY - Mt Woodroffe climb/hike
Duration1 day hike (3 day trip)
Start/endNgarutjara (3 day trip to/from Uluru)
FridayDrive from Yulara, Uluru, to Ngarutjara camp (base of mountain)
SaturdayHike up Mt Woodroofe (Ngarutjaranya) 1435m
SundayDrive from Ngarutjara camp (base of mountain) back to Yulara, Uluru
AreaAPY Lands (permit required)
BookingsDiverse Travel Australia, SEIT Outback Australia
Topographic Maps1:250 000 Mt Woodroffe SG52-12: printed map, on-demand 1:100 000 print, free download (official map)

The only way to access Mt Woodroffe, in the remote APY Lands in northern SA, was via a tour group. Once a year they run a trip in, and it's the only one with permission from the Traditional Aboriginal Owners to do so. It's also rare for them to give anyone else permission, so the tour is the most practical way to do it. It makes Mt Woodroffe the most difficult of the State 8 to organise.

With the permission in mind, at our camp on the first night near the foot of the mountain, we were visited by Lee, one of the Custodians. As can happen in these situations, we took him all a bit too seriously, almost missing his first joke and his fine sense of humour.

When he first sat by the fire, he took his shoe off to warm his foot, complaining about the severe pain in his foot that a heel spur was giving him. Of course we doubted - I can hear your mocking cries now - that he would make it to the top of Mt Woodroffe. We were equipped with all our expensive hiking gear, when he looked more like he had come from fixing a car (he had, as it turned out). Of course, how wrong we were, it was Lee who led the charge up the first steep waterfall rockface. Few followed up the waterfall though, preferring to pick an easier route over a gung-ho approach. There was no doubt that Lee got into as much mischief now as he did when he was a ten year old boy.

Later Lee's father, aged 82, arrived. It quickly became apparent that he would talk in exchange of cups of tea, and if the tea disappeared so would he. He talked with a hint of humour in his slow words. He'd only been learning English in the last 10 years, evidently taught by the many school girls that came out here on school trips (SEIT tours core business is ten-day school Aboriginal cultural camps, this being one the campsites they use for that). I'm not sure how much that skewed his vocabulary, but in exchange he would teach them his language.

On our first day, after arriving at camp, we were taught how to not use the supplied swag, and a discussion ensued about the wisdom of camping in the creek bed, with it soft sand and shade. Normally, of course, this is a poor decision - to camp in a creekbed - but when you can see the headwaters, just a mere 7km away up the mountain, it's pretty safe to camp, even in a wide creek. I've done it before when the headwaters can be seen. If it rains, and especially if it rains a lot, then it's time to move. Pretty hard to miss rain in a swag.

We drove over to the foot of the mountain, to assess routes to hike and climb up the following day. Being a rogainer, I was already formulating a few options into plans, and on the drive closer was able to clarify some of them. At the foot, with most of the mountain obscured behind the immediate base, advice was given as to the easiest routes, and as to where the harshest spinifex lay.

Before dawn the following day, we drove back to the base and at first light set out. It was a case of each to their own, or better still, in small groups. A few set out directly from the cars with a short but sweet route, a straight up the mountain. It was a route plotted through the harshest spinifex, but nonetheless a sound route. Most others followed Lee to the waterfall rockface, before quickly dispersing by a variety of routes. For a while there it looked like we would find about 29 different routes up the mountain. I took a gentle route around the waterfall, taking my plotted course up to the ridge in the east, before hiking up the long spur to the summit. It was the easier route, relatively free of spinifex, and easy to navigate. Although I got to the top first, even having taken the longest route, I had hiked alone, and no doubt that allowed for some speed. It was just seven minutes later that the next group arrived, having taken the most direct route up from the cars.

For all my efficiency and speed in getting to the top quickly and with minimal spinifex injuries, I must have banged my head on the way down - maybe I should wear a safety helmet on such climbs - for I momentarily lost my mind. I decided against taking the three additional people now hiking with me along the long distance ridge, and decided on a shortcut down. Ricky, perhaps sensibly, decided to hike on along the ridge to the western end and it's unnamed summit. It wasn't long down our shortcut that it became obvious - this was no shortcut, and indeed, it took us longer to complete then the distant route. Thankfully I brought those three companions to share the misery of my foolishness. Ricky, having completed his second peak climb, caught up with us near the base. So much for our shortcut. Encouragingly, it seemed that everyone was slower on the trip down, compared to their trip up.

The view from the top took in distant Uluru and Kata Tjuta, some 130km away across the NT border. The Musgrave Ranges spread out to the east and west, a mess of scraggly mountains. Many South Australians don't know what lies up here, thinking that St Mary Peak in the Flinders Ranges, on the Wilpena Pound rim, is the highest peak in South Australia. It's not. Here in the Musgrave Ranges lie 21 mountains over 1,000 metres, and the top seven mountains of the State. St Mary Peak comes in as the 8th highest. Mt Woodroffe rises 680 metres above the surrounding plains.

An old stone surveyor's cairn marks the top of the mountain. A famous photo, taken in 1933, with three Pitjantjatjara guides, shows how the cairn originally appeared. The mountain was named after George Woodroffe Goyder, the 1857 South Australian Surveyor General highly regarded - at least now anyway - for his work in establishing what became known as Goyders Line, the line across the state that marks arable farming land from that which is not sustainable farming land. He was mocked at the time, but hey, at least there's the odd thing around the state named in his honour.

My skills in the exploration of the stone cairn fell well short of my skills displayed in getting up the mountain, and it was someone else who found the logbook in a rusted old can buried deep in the stone cairn. The word 'logbook' is a somewhat generous description, it was almost entirely a collection of rotten indecipherable paper fragments, with the odd modern addition of single pieces of paper. Why some people feel the need to describe the 'marvelous' or 'spectacular view' they saw is beyond me, it's really quite self evident to others who have managed to get there to read the logbook. Anyone with the misfortune of climbing in poor weather, which really is misfortune in Central Australia's stable weather, would hardly find enlightenment with the description of the view in the few moments they spent huddled on the leeward side of the stone cairn before heading back down.

With 29 people on our tour, every one of them made it to the top of Mt Woodroffe that day. Whilst it's cliched to say "there's one in every crowd", it was nonetheless true. If there is one thing more fun than 29 people on a tour, it's this: 29 people offering advice to the one person who is scruffing around in the red dust under the vehicle with a car jack replacing a blown tyre. That wasn't quite true, we had two vans and a ute for the tour, so whilst there were plenty offering advice, it wasn't quite as bad as 29 people. It was a big tour group, I had been warned when I booked that if the tour didn't reach the minimum of four people, it would be cancelled. Last year it was cancelled, with just two bookings.

So in my State 8 pursuit I've been all around the country and found many hiking places to return to. My first peak, Mt Ossa, in Tasmania was mostly accidental, a side trip on the Overland Track. I almost gave up climbing it too, if it hadn't been for Tim's enthusiasm. Now five years later, only one remains. A crazy plan is in place to complete it - Queensland's Bartle Frere. We shall see my friend, we shall see.

View photo album in Google Plus (9 photos).

More photos to come

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Download GPX file of the Mt Woodroffe summit climb hike - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file of the Mt Woodroffe summit climb hike - view in Google Earth

My State 8 (Aussie 8)

The highest peak in each Australian state and territory:
  1. Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales (NSW), 2228m, March 2012
  2. Mt Bogong, Victoria (VIC), 1985m, March 2012
  3. Bimberi Peak, Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 1913m, March 2012
  4. Bartle Frere, Queensland (QLD), 1622m, NOT YET DONE, June 2013?
  5. Mt Ossa, Tasmania (TAS), 1617m, December 2008
  6. Mt Zeil, Northern Territory (NT), 1531m, July 2012 (first attempt August 2011)
  7. Mt Woodroffe, South Australia (SA), 1435m, May 2013
  8. Mt Meharry, Western Australia (WA), 1252m, June 2010

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Caught! A hike turns into prison island

The Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania is isolated - it is essentially a series of islands joined to the mainland by two narrow isthmuses. With those natural barriers you can see why it was chosen as the site for the notorious Port Arthur prison for re-offending convicts – those convicts who committed crimes whilst serving sentences in other Australian convict prisons. Despite the prison closing in 1877, over the past few days the peninsula has again became a prison island for residents and travelers alike. Bushfires burning on the mainland and the upper peninsula isolated those beyond the fires. But like the odd convict, I made a successful escape on a fishing barge.

Having completed a hike through some of the Western Arthurs in South West Tasmania, I bid my farewell to Kate, Tim and lil' Gracie, who we established in the last couple of days was making a sound that was quite probably my name. I bussed it out to Eaglehawk Neck, on the Tasman Peninsula, for four marvelous days of easy hiking, camping and novel reading along the Tasman Coastal Trail, near Port Arthur.

Of course I didn't know that the bus trip out was a tour of the soon to be devastated and somewhat grim bushfire zone. Glad I looked out the window at the quaint little towns and the glimpses of houses settled in pretty forests.

From Eaglehawk Neck, having encouraged some fellow backpackers that no-one would care if they camped freely on the beach, after all I was planning something similar, I hiked along the beach towards Doo Town. I had no appreciation for that town name yet, every bloody house was named "Doo-Little" or "Doo-Relax" or something else equally corny. Later I learned the town name came from the first shacks, named using that convention, rather than the shack names from the town name. Now that's much more original.

I hiked along a short track, checking out the creations the sea had made in the limestone cliffs - blowholes, caves and canals. From Waterfall Bay I planned to set out on the Tasman Coastal Trail, a short distance to a pleasantly named Camp Falls. Time was getting on, it was well past seven, and even with the 9pm sunset I was nervous, what if there was no water there, or, as it didn't appear on all official maps, no campsite in the forest? Staring blankly at my map while standing at the trailhead, readying myself to take that first nervous step along the trail, two people stumbled out of the bush, looking for the said campsite. Clueless in the where-am-I-map-reading-game, they had clearly walked past some picturesque waterfalls, perhaps looking for something more like a five star campsite than simply a clearing beside a waterfall. I didn't want to seem rude by telling them their map reading skills were evidently craptacular, so we wandered around looking for a suitable place to lay the tents. They were ever optimistic, "the campsite might me down here", yes surely, a name like Camp Falls wouldn't be at all derived from its proximity to said falls. I settled on a fire track junction, as good a clearing as any in the sunset, and they continued on looking for the Lost Gold of the Mayans, amongst other things.

The following morning, when I came upon Camp Falls, I was of course devastated, it was gorgeous. A fantastic secluded campsite in the forest, easily room for half a dozen tents, no mud, and not one but two sets of Norsca shampoo style waterfalls, the other aptly named Shower Falls. Which I thought, of course (as I am wont to do) was a bloody brilliant idea.

I continued on my merry way, soon realising my own map reading skills hadn't been too brilliant as I made a 500 metre ascent of a mountain in the way of my planned campsite. By lunchtime after another refreshing swim, this time in the pleasant waters of Bivouac Bay, I settled down for an afternoon of reading at the campsite. A 500-page book was just perfect. Yes yes I hear you, but on a Kindle, too heavy to carry all the books I intended to read on this hiking trip.

The following day I returned to Camp Falls, I couldn't possibly pass up camping here. Sitting quietly on a nearby headland overlooking the ocean, I contemplated how marvelously I had organised this particular trip. Great hiking, great campsites, great water and great books. Perfect. Then the ocean turned a distinct orange hue, and my circumstances changed quite dramatically.

Behind me a huge smoke cloud was growing, and approaching at some speed. The sky turned red and the colour grew eerie. No wonder the Mayans turned to sacrifice when midday sunlight was eclipsed, this was surreal.

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Download GPS file of Tasman Coastal Trail

View a 2008 blog post about the southern end of the Tasman Coastal Trail, from nearby Fortescue Bay out to Cape Huay and Cape Pillar.

Just as I was contemplating the leap off the coastal cliffs to the treacherous ocean below, so close and enormous did the fire now seem, I found some mobile phone reception. Lap it up Jeremy, the mobile network was soon to be lost in the fires. I established that the fire was some 30km away, and I was merely the victim of the smoke. Surely I could camp here still. I wasn't too far from a town. But the decision didn't rest easy with me. I could barely sit down. No, this was stupid. If the smoke was here, the fire, even 30km away, was on its way. Just before packing up my unslept-in tent, I checked the updates on the internet again. Oh shit. Things had gotten decidedly worse. The fire had leapt two bays, and was now the other side of the ridge just three or four kilometres away. Not only had I now received an emergency evacuation sms, but the nearby Doo Town was to be "impacted by fire within 10 minutes".

I now proceeded to set a new time record in packing my pack, and another in the fastest exit off a trail ever. It was hot, and the smoke had me scavenging around in my first aid kit for my ventolin puffer. An hour later I made it into the relative safety of Doo Town. Mothers were hurriedly filling their cars with possessions and children, whilst husbands cracked another beer, turned on the hose and peered grimly into the distance.

A police car pulled me up beside me, gave me a good dose "what the fuck are you doing", well please, travelers on foot get stuck in disasters too. I explained my plan was to get to the boat ramp and ocean, it seemed infinitely safer than the campsite in the forest I was at, and did they have a better plan for me. Yes they did, get to the fire refuge at Nubeena. Not being a local, I didn't know where that was, but sure it wasn't within walking distance, the boat ramp I proceeded to, keen on picking up a lift from a local to the fire refuge.

The locals thought little of the police evacuation idea, preferring to watch their houses burn from the comfort and relative safety of the boat ramp, the ocean and their waiting boats. Within minutes I had made friends and found myself a cold beer - a Cascade no less, none of that VB or XXXX canned shit down here - and a sausage fresh off the bbq, and settled down to watch the unfolding scene.

The witching hour of bushfires almost over, as the 3 to 6pm time is when bushfires go feral, as this one had, things calmed down a bit. Ash was falling from the sky, and I pondered whether I should find a young virgin to have sex with immediately, as things seemed to be shaping up much like a certain town once known as Pompei. I could see up the hill that the police were going from door-to-door evacuating people.

As the sun set, gorgeously of course because of all the smoke and ash in the air, the locals grew weary of this "emergency" thing. The fire had progressed no further, it hadn't made the ridge yet, god knows how it wasn't over it yet. Distressed by the idea of sleeping in their boats, on the beach or in the cars, the townsfolk simply gave up and returned home. There was no power on at home anyway, goodness knows why a bed in a stinking hot house seemed attractive over the beach. Sleeping on the beach, much by myself, wasn't too easy. At midnight I could see the flames on the ridge across the bay, the nearer ridge wasn't yet showing the same red glow but it seemed likely it soon would be. I could see the police going around from house-to-house again (de-ja-vu?), evacuating people again. Although I knew the tide times (how?), at 3am the beach sleeping decision showed itself to be a remarkably short sighted option. Scrambling, such was the incoming tide, back to the carpark, I found it now full of people sleeping in cars. Aah such comfort. Fellow people, we would make it through this.

Dawn broke at 5am, and predictably, the townsfolk were again weary of this evacuation, and they trotted back to their homes. I was almost all alone again on the jetty, the fire didn't seem to have progressed, the wind had changed direction and the sky above was now clear and sunny.

Bored by myself on the empty jetty, I trundled down the beach to Eaglehawk Neck. The nearby mobile phone tower had obviously now succumbed to the fire, and the police weren't visiting anymore with new information. The road was blockaded at Eaglehawk Neck, and it was the official evacuation place over Doo Town.

So now I spent my day sat in the shade of a pleasant tree on green grass, watching with much bemusement as car after car drove up to the roadblock trying to get down the road off the peninsula. I met and chatted to a few locals who had lost their properties. There was no electricity, running water (what's with all the pumped water), no working fixed phones and a pretty dodgy stand on one-leg dance to do to get a somewhat sometimes bar of mobile service, if one could find the single sweet spot down beside the lake that got the magical if not damn illusive phone reception. But I was well placed, the police were on hand with lots of misinformation. Every once in a while they would tell some more which would be chinese whispered into the waiting crowd. Often when one finds oneself in an unfolding disaster reliable news information can be quite hard to get, as was the case here. What we later did read in official news didn’t necessarily matched up with what we had seen first-hand. By Tuesday afternoon the Tasmanian government acknowledged that their biggest learning so far related to the single biggest frustration of people being rescued from the peninsula - a lack of information (or indeed, any information). Hard to imagine, but reliance on a working telecommunications system might be shortsighted (even if it kept working, how would you charge your phone after a 72 hour power failure?). Maybe we all need to go back to using AM radios, that is what one of the main parts of the ABC's (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) charter - to reliably broadcast information throughout Australia in emergencies.

We settled down to another smoky night, to the sound of the occasional piece of heavy machinery making a dash from one fire front to another.

The following morning it was evident that the attitude amongst the gathered people, few that they were, was turning a corner. Angry was the name. The lack of information from the police wasn't helping, and with no more phone service the rumours were doing their work. It seemed people would soon be exchanging blows as they rated other people's creative news interpretations.

It was increasingly evident that the road off the peninsula would not re-open for another couple of days, so I hitched a ride further down the peninsula with Mathew and Kate, and Mathew's two kids. They had spent an ugly night trying to sleep in their van without any blankets, whilst I'd spent the night sleeping on my blow-up hiking mattress with my sleeping bag in the ash rain. We drove over to Nubeena, the official safe place fire refuge. There were 2,000 people there, and sure to be a good supply of food, and possibly even power and phone service.

Arriving just in time for a community briefing, it was clear things had got pretty grim up there in the hills on the road above Eaglehawk Neck. News here flowed much more freely, and with much more of an official and credible tone. Crews were doing a sweep from property to property, evidently looking for what no-one wanted to find. The road back was clear, well clearish, but it was slow going. The main issue with the road now was twofold, one they were hastily re-erecting power poles so as to restore power to the peninsula. Secondly, and we had got a sense of this back at Eaglehawk Neck that morning, things had turned, it was now a crime scene up there. They didn't want people poking around unnecessarily, messing with things and risking finding that awful find.

Freshened with some fresh food, a quick charge of the mobile phone, mobile reception and a quick trip to the local powerless chemist for an emergency supply of medication, my stay in Nubeena turned out to be quite brief. It seems I really did luck it up by hitching a ride with these guys. Mathew set about contacting a friend of an uncle's friend he once worked with, or some such tenuous relationship, with a fisherman with a do-anything go-anywhere barge who worked locally. It seemed an incredible and somewhat unlikely plan.

But he wasn't the only one working on him, a close friend of this fisherman's wife was also making contact. A plan had been hatched. I suspect the close friend of the wife was the clincher in this deal. With Mathew's phone flat again (there was lots of competition at the charging station), the close friend started the exploration of the 2,000 people in search of a family she had never met: an average height guy, kinda skinny, with some awesome tatts, and a wife, of average height and brown hair, two kids and a white van kinda thing. Shouldn't be too hard hey? They entered the main compound, and there beside the gate on the street we were, having selected a spot beneath some trees that looked set to provide reliable shade all day long. "Are you Mathew and Kate?" I don't think she could believe her luck at finding them so easily. The fishing mate had left Hobart already with the fishing barge and would be arriving in two hours.

We went down the local wharf, where the local guy who had generously taken it upon himself to assume control of the jetty informed us that calm as the sea looked, the kids were at great risk of being swept off the jetty by a freak wave. Such was this quiet bay.

A larger ferry was coming in with more food supplies, and the jetty man was adamant there was no way our barge was getting to get in its way. Fair call, we couldn't dispute that. Having established we were there for a reason, unlikely as it seemed, we took to joining the parcel line helping unload a few fishing boats with valuable supplies of water and baby goods, and then loading them into waiting utes.

With fresh news of the barge's imminent arrival, the jetty man cleared a small spot beside the wharf. As the barge made its way in, one thing was clear, it was much bigger than any other boat here, and it wasn't going to fit into that little gap. Size counts on the sea, and the other skippers soon moved their boats out of harm’s way. Thankfully there wasn't much being unloaded by now, so that settled our consciences a little.

The grumpy jetty man appeared to be impressed by the barge and its skipper's plan, and cheered up lending a hand getting the three cars on board, which was no mean feat in itself.

A gathering crowd, hearing rumours of an incoming goods ferry that might "take a couple of people" back to Hobart, watched with what could only have been great mirth as the fishing barge docked, and set about loading three vehicles using a crane and precarious system of straddling the cars across the jetty and barge.

We watched on as Mathew did what can only be described as the most impressive parallel parking attempt in history, as he inched his van backwards and forwards in a thirty-point shuffle between the barge superstructure and the perilous edge of the barge.

A handful of santa sacks from the hospital appeared on the wharf, and it only seemed right to grab them for the journey back to Hobart. Assured they contained "no sharps, I think, some sheets with bodily fluid but no shit and stuff", um, interesting understanding of the phrase "bodily fluid", we lightly manhandled the leaking bags onto the barge as well. And we were off, incredible as it seemed, and possibly just as incredible to the gathering crowd.

If you had told me Sunday morning that I would be off the isolated peninsula that very day, I would never have believed you. I truly thought I would be stuck to at least mid-week, long overstaying my holiday and missing work.

Two hours later we were back on the mainland. I can’t think what the fuel for the barge would have cost. Somehow a slab of beer seemed somewhat inadequate as a thank you gift. Mathew and Kate had given me a pretty awesome ride hey, they even dropped me off at the caravan park near the airport. I had to pick up my bag I had held at the hostel I was going to stay at in the city, I had missed my booking of course and they were full up. Later, at the caravan park, the hostel called me enquiring as to when, and if, I would be turning up tonight. They'd mixed up my booking. Oh well, in the morning the airport was just a stroll away. With the promo code #bushfire I had a free flight home with Qantas - top work!

Conditions have worsened in the days since, with the safe areas and remaining people at Doo Town and Eaglehawk Neck told to evacuate to Nubeena, as the fires flared up in strong winds and further roads were closed.

A part of me missed the opportunity of the bus trip off the peninsula. If I had gone that way I would have seen some of the destruction first hand, but that's the macabre guilty sticky-beak side of me hey.

A big thanks for all those of you who followed the unfolding drama on Facebook. I couldn't always, or often, see what you were saying, such was the limited reception, but it was encouraging so many people were concerned about my safety. Just another hiking adventure really. Floods, bushfires, helicopter rescues, transformed deserts, it all happens.

Even after swapping some details, I couldn't find Kate on Facebook. If anyone knows a Tasmanian woman of average height with brown hair, and a partner of average height, kinda skinny and with some awesome tatts, put me in touch. Ha ha. Appalling description. If anyone knows a woman with a good sense of humour, and a friendly partner running a carpet cleaning business with the occasional tatt, both into Kung Fu, who live in Snug south of Hobart, I think we might have them. I've got more details, but it starts to sound weird to leave it here.

View photo album in Google Plus (14 photos).

Monday, December 31, 2012

Western Arthurs, South West Tasmania

SUMMARY - Western Arthurs, Tasmania
From Port Davey Track carpark to Junction Creek, Alpha Morraine, Western Arthurs and Kappa Morraine.
Duration 6 days
Location South West Tasmania
National Park South West National Park (note there is no mention of Western Arthurs on their website)
Start Port Davey trailhead carpark, just south of Scotts Peak Dam
Day 1 Carpark to Junction Creek (3h). Recommended time: 2-3 hours

Junction Creek to Lake Cygnus (4h30m, total 8h15m). Recommended time: 3h30m-5h
Day 2 Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon (4hrs). Recommended time: 2-3 hours
Day 3 Lake Oberon to High Moor (8h). Recommended time: 5-7 hours
Day 4 High Moor to Haven Lake (8h20m). Recommended time: 4-6 hours
Day 5 Haven Lake to Two Mile Creek, via Kappa Morraine and McKays Track (2h45m to Kappa Morraine junction. Recommended time 1h30m-2h30m. Total time 8h30m)
Day 6 Two Mile Creek to Carpark trailhead, via Junction Creek (4h)
If before I had set out on a trek along the Western Arthurs, someone had asked me a simple question, "Do you like rock climbing?", I might have thought more about tackling this difficult hike. The answer, you see, to that question, would be "no".

I don't mind rock climbing, but I certainly don't love it (or even like it?). I didn't hate the hike - it was exhilarating - more a case that I didn't realise just how much rock climbing there was. Of course I knew there were difficult sections involving scrambling, and possibly ropes, I had read enough guidebooks, articles and blogs to know that, but I underestimated just how much rock climbing there was. A solid two days of the six contained this, and a lot of it.

During the most dreadful weather, a bit of me wanted to get off that mountain range, and quickly. No wait, I lie, all of me wanted to get off asap, we were in the most exposed campsite - at High Moor, and it was a difficult day's hike either backward or forward to reach an exit off the range. By dreadful weather I mean some kinda squall. We had 3G service earlier that day and had checked the weather forecast: light winds and some showers. That forecast was soon questioned though when we saw a solid block of cloud approaching at speed in the valley well beneath us, indeed, we could see over the top of the cloud formation. It looked pretty solid, and visibility soon dropped as the cloud ramped up over the range enveloping it. Soon the rains began, turning to fierce horizontal rain. Not pleasant for hiking in, but even less pleasant for camping in. It was a true test for each of our hiking tents, and one I'm afraid neither stood up too well in. Fierce horizontal rain has a way of working its way into a tent, these single pole tents just didn't have enough defences.

Regardless, we were safe: warm and dry. The leaks in each tent could be contained. When we reached camp we hurriedly set up our tents and crawled in, drenched to the bone. In lulls in the wind we shouted out to each other, "Tim, are you in dry clothes?", "Tim, are you warm?", "Tim, is your tent holding up?". Next time I tackle a hike in South West Tasmania it will be in better tent: something with three poles, a fly that sits lower to the ground (that gap was the source of the water leaks), and probably a shared tent, something like 2.5-3.5kg I suspect (not the 1.5kg tents we each had).

The hiking was difficult, the first day showed us that. Accustomed to being fast hikers, we were alarmed to do the first section at the upper limit of the recommeded time. Two to three hours was the recommended time, we did it in three hours. This pattern continued - even alarmingly, got worse - we completed some days in longer than the recommended maximum time - 8.5 hours for one 4 to 6 hour section. Others we met hiking were doing similar times. I had read of others doing similar times too, but in all those cases I figured they were fat (oh really), not so fit, or weighed down by two litre bottles of coke.

The rock climbing was a real challenge. Scaling wet rock walls, climbing down rocky chutes. Tree roots were a real life saver. They're not the wisest thing to stake your safety and weight on, they can easily break or pull out, any read of a guidebook for the South West will warn you of that. But they were well used, and without them the climbs up and down would be impossible. Of course it paid to be extra careful not to step onto them, a foothold sure, but they could be slippery. I couple of times I resorted to getting my rope out, tying my pack to it, and dropping it down beneath me. It scratched my pack and its contents up a lot, but it was well worth it. Without my pack on, I had no trouble with the rock climbing. Carrying a 19kg pack on your back does somewhat dent your rock climbing confidence!

Despite it being a challenge, Tim and I are level-headed chaps, so it was all good. Tim lead on the climbing, but I took heart from a memory of the two of us working on a rooftop of the shed at Biggs Flat. We'd climbed atop, and I remember turning around to see him sitting straddling the ridge, with me wandering up and down on foot. Give me a structure I understand, I'm happy wandering around at height. Not so for Tim, but give him a cliff or a tree, no worries. Each day's hike was rewarding, I'm just not sure I'm ready just yet to again tackle the two days between Lake Oberon and High Moor, and the Beggary Bumps between High Moor and Haven Lake.

The Beggary Bumps had us scared. The day before, from Lake Oberon to High Moor, was the first of the very difficult days, with lots of rock climbing. It barely rated a mention in the guidebooks in comparison to the ominous Beggary Bumps, how impossibly hard was that going to make the following day on the Bumps?!? Alas, our fearful impression put us in good stead for the Bumps, it was no more difficult than that Lake Oberon to High Moor section, but just as rewarding.

We sometimes got a little lost. John Chapman's guidebook, South West Tasmania, easily had the best track notes. But the guidebook, although in it's fifth edition, is still well out of date. It frequently refers to track conditions that seem very different to what we saw. We were surprised by how much track work has been done by the Parks & Wildlife Service, especially outside the Lake Oberon to Haven Lake section. In areas across the moors there is either boardwalk or laid stones, avoiding what would have once been a very muddy track. Each campsite had timber tent platforms, and fly-in fly-out toilet capsules. Near Haven Lake we noticed that the rock had been cut away to form perfect footholds, making scrambling dead easy. Marker arrows made other areas easy to follow. John Chapman's guidebook makes no mention of these, it warns of hard to follow routes where there is now a clear track, and multiple false leads where there are none, just a clear track. There are still false leads, we sometimes went down routes which looked well trodden, to find they went no-where at the bottom, or top, and so we had to return back to the main track. My advice would be to always examine the track, to assess how walked on it was. If too few feet seemed to have passed along it, almost certainly it is a false lead and not the actual track - so return right then and find the actual track, it's often quite obvious where you went wrong as you backtrack.

Apart from one afternoon, night and short morning of mental weather, we had excellent weather. Some cloudy, some sunny, always changing, as the weather on mountain tops is wont to do.

Our bodies were hurting, the weather and our tents spooked us, so we elected to get off the Western Arthurs range at Kappa Morraine. It would save us one further day on the range, and two further days of hiking. My arms were pretty sore on this hike, and I suffered numerous supersized blue and black bruises from falls.

We ate well, this being the first trip I had dehydrated all the meals for. We had plenty of Indian (Saag Lamb is a real winner), and spaghetti bolognase and chilli con carne. For lunch pesto was delicious spread on crackers. Gotta get more into this dehydrating thing, sweet meals, easy as, and quick to cook on the trail.

Would I do the hike again? At the time, during those two difficult days between Lake Oberon and Haven Lake, I definitely thought not. This was easily the hardest hike I had ever done. I've done remote, and long, and with water challenges, difficult to navigate, but never this degree of rock climbing. But having said that, and that I don't really enjoy rock climbing, each day was still rewarding, I didn't need to wait to the end of the hike to appreciate that. I'd like to explore some more of the Western Arthurs, and indeed the South West National Park, perhaps a Southern Ranges Traverse, an almost circuit via Lune River, Mt La Perouse, Hidden Waterfall, New River, Precipitous Bluff, the South Coast Track and Cockle Creek.

View photo album in Google Plus (47 photos).

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Download GPS files

Hike along the Western Arthurs from Alpha Morraine to Kappa Morraine.
Available as GPX files (for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit) and KML files (for viewing in Google Earth).
  • Carpark trailhead to Junction Creek: GPX | KML
  • Junction Creek to Lake Cygnus, via Alpha Morraine: GPX | KML
  • Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon: GPX | KML
  • Lake Oberon to High Moor: GPX | KML
  • High Moor to Haven Lake: GPX | KML
  • Haven Lake to Kappa Morraine Junction: GPX | KML
  • Kappa Morraine Junction to carpark, via McKays Track and Junction Creek: GPX | KML

Monday, September 17, 2012

Black Magic on Wilpena Pound's Peaks

A bushfire back in January cleared the way for us to tackle some of Wilpena Pound's peaks - this time Mt Karawarra, Point Bonney and Tumburru Peak. Previously the vegetation was so dense it was a difficult 1km/h, but now that fire had blackened the landscape we could get in.
SUMMARY - Wilpena Pound peaks
Duration3 days
Start/endWilpena Pound Resort/General Store
FridayWilpena to Hills Homestead for water, on to base (1h45m). Base to Mt Karawarra (1109m) and return 4 hours
SaturdayBase camp to Point Bonney (1133m) 2 hrs, along ridge to Tumburru Peak 1hr, return to base camp via deep gorge 4 hrs
National ParkFlinders Ranges National Park

We weren't certain how much had been burnt, despite the fire maps we had, or how clear the vegetation now was. Numerous previous trips had shown that the vegetation on the Pound walls, including on this southern side, meant walking was slowed to 1km/h and was tough going.

From the pound floor it took 90 minutes to reach the summmit of Mt Karawarra, despite the burnt vegetation not being as extensive as the fire map detailed. It wasn't until the following day, when looking at Mt Karawarra from Point Bonney, did we really appreciate just how steep Mt Karawarra really was.

We base camped on the pound floor, enjoying each other's company each night. We shared stories around our small fire, and exchanged gear talk (a favourite of hiker's everywhere). Tim mixed and baked a carrot cake on his wood burning emberlit, promising a self-saucing chocolate cake next time! We shared wine, crackers and blue cheese. Inadvertently we later shared the blue cheese with an inquisitive wallaby or goat, but they showed no interest in our rocket and basil dip.

On the second day we climbed up Point Bonney, skipping past Iluka Hill, saving it for another day. Simon and Vicki had previously climbed it, it was a relatively easy climb from the outside. It's true, I had been up it twice before, and failed in both attempts due to time constraints, but this time it was better left for later. At the summit of Point Bonney we found the logbook, with just 32 entries over 20 years. One entry from this year, one from 2010, one from 2008, 2006 and 2003. That dense vegetation kept people away.

The rock slab cliffs beneath the peak were enormous and dramatic, and a stark contrast to the gentler slopes inside the pound. We lunched at Tumburru Peak overlooking the cliffs.

Walking down from Tumburru Peak we descended quickly to a creek below, pushing our way through the burnt out sticks of the vegetation. It's hard to imagine getting through this vegetation at all prior to the fire. We dropped into a deep gorge we had been eyeing off for a while. It had escaped the fire, was shielded by high rock walls and filled with boulders and rock pools. Kate nearly stepped on a colourful long snake, which wasn't particularly aggressive, and later identification from parks staff confirmed it as a carpet snake.

On Sunday we walked back out from our base camp, partaking in more than one icecream on our journey home, spending an pleasant hour in the courtyard of the Cradock Hotel for lunch.

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Download GPX file of the Mt Karawarra, Point Bonney and Tumburru Peak hike - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file of the Mt Karawarra, Point Bonney and Tumburru Peak hike - view in Google Earth

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

25 hours hiking? Why not!

A 25-hour hiking race? Why not! We'd done a 12-hour and 6-hour rogaine, so now a 25-hour challenge. Rogaining is a team sport which involves cross country navigation and strategy. This time it was up in the forest and scrub of Wirrabara and Kate joined our team, bringing along her navigation prowess.
Rogaine, Wirrabara Forest

Our route marked with a red line (we travelled clockwise).
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While studying the map and planning our route in the hours before the rogaine, I made the comment that the scrub near the ridge line was, from memory, pretty thick. A big bushfire had burnt through much of the area in May, so we were hoping this would have cleared some of the dense ridge. It had, leaving a loose, sandy and rocky surface that was still hard to climb. Not all was clear though, through the untouched native scrub we managed about 1km/h, and gained lots of scratches for our efforts. We were pretty relieved when we finally made the ridge with its road!

On our way through the scrub, we spied a girl waiting on a distant hill, apparently for the rest of her team. But not so, over the other side some ten minutes later, we found a single person – this is a team sport btw – asking whether we might have seen a girl in a blue top! We had of course, but on the other side of the hill. A wee bit silly that they got separated, we met up with them later that night and they had spent an hour and a half finding each other.

We tackled the higher ridge and scrub in the daylight first, returning after dark via the lower forest with its gentle hills, open forest and easy to navigate service tracks.

A couple of the controls (point markers) were over the other side of the ridge, which meant climbing back up to the ridge again afterwards. That was a bit tough! At one control, number 71, we spent some time discussing where we thought we were, and each of our interpretations of the topographic map. Down we went, but we certainly weren’t coming back up the same way, pleasantly open that it was, we skirted across the side of the ridge to another track.

Seven hours into the rogaine we watched the sun set from the ridgeline, exchanging tips with teams coming the other way.

In the darkness we descended off the ridge and back into the forest, armed with our head torches of various brightnesses, and the full moon. At the furthest point from the Hash House – the base of the rogaine – we sat down at a picnic table on the summit of Mt Ellen and had a moonlit picnic. From here we trundled back to the Hash House, thinking of the enormity of our plan which still required a three-hour walk back to the Hash House base when we were dead tired.

At 2am we sat down for some hot food and in front of the warm fire at the Hash House in Wirrabara’s old schoolhouse.

Armed with four hours sleep, and with the warm sun up, we returned to our rogaining. This time we planned a shorter route, with more options to return early - and most of all - an easy walking route. We were back at ten past 11 in the morning, with 50 minutes to spare. We weren’t keen to climb a nearby scrub hill to fill our last 50 minutes, we were all limping in one form or another.

We scored 1760 points, covering 63km, and came 7th overall, and 4th in the mixed category. We spent 15 hours on Saturday, 11am to 2am (49km), and 3 hours out on Sunday morning (14km).

View all results on the SA Rogaining website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nakun Kungun Trail, Coorong

Looking. Listening. These are the catchcry words of the Nakun Kungun Trail, a 27km hiking trail through the Coorong.
SUMMARY - Nakun Kungun Trail, Coorong (sometimes spelt Nukan Kungun) - a two day weekend hike with the Adelaide Bushwalkers (ABW)
TrailheadsSalt Creek in the north, 42 Mile Crossing picnic area/campsite in the south
Friday night campsiteCampsites at the northern end of Loop Road, 1km from Salt Creek
SaturdayCampsite (near northern end of Loop Road) to free-camp near the southern end of Loop Road - 13km/5hrs
SundayLoop Road to 42 Mile Crossing picnic area, with sidetrip further out to Coorong beach (9.5km/2.5hrs + 3.2km)
National ParkCoorong National Park
Nearest townSalt Creek, consisting of petrol station
CampsitesOfficial campsite near Salt Creek (toilet in picnic area) and 42 Mile Crossing (toilets in picnic area). Free camping permitted along trail.

Saturday morning our walk leader, Kate, spotted a Mallee Fowl, or possibly, as she conceded, “a wild chicken”. It seemed most likely to be the Mallee Fowl, endemic to this area, there were plenty of interpretive signs about them. Tellingly perhaps, no-one else saw the encounter. Kate was, as a birdwatching expert, her own downfall. On the drive home she spotted a similar creature scurrying near the roadside, and upon consulting her bird book deemed it to be hen of some sort (she did know the sort, I just don’t recall it).

Invitations to explore one of the many large wombat holes to find their happy inhabitants were quietly declined. No matter, eventually we came across a shy wombat, who had curiously made its burrow under some timber decking at an historic site. It would seem not many people passed this way, despite this particular area being signposted from the bitumen road.

Later we spotted an echidna, who shyly crawled under a bush and curled into a ball.

We saw many birds, including hooded red robins playing on fences, but not being on the shore, few pelicans.

So our looking and listening did pay off.

What we didn’t see was much of the Coorong. Although the trail follows the Coorong it does so at a quiet distance, only at its very southern end does it venture near the sand dunes or the shore line. There it also makes its passage over the water via the 42 Mile Crossing.

On Saturday, after setting up our campsite near the southern end of Loop Road, we set off bush bashing to find the illusive Coorong shore. In windy conditions we found the body of water choppy, and far too wide to attempt to cross.

On Sunday, beyond the picnic area at 42 Mile Crossing we battled the wind and brief driving rain to cross the seemingly endless dunes to reach the coast. The waves were being lashed by the wind and the strong waves were eroding the beach. It was, as this beach often is, spectacular.

We were disappointed that following the trail meant we infrequently visited or caught glimpses of the Coorong and its distant sand dunes, but the looking and listening was rewarded with some great wildlife sightings. For the most part the trail passes between the main bitumen highway and the dirt Loop Road, with the Coroong water and iconic Younghusband Peninsula further west. Only infrequently did we hear or catch glimpses of the roads. The trail passes beside many shallow lakes, which are separate from the main Coorong water body. During drier times these would be dry salt pans.

The trail is reasonably well maintained, and is signposted, but isn’t well travelled, so occasionally we did loose sight of the trail. Doing so wasn’t unpleasant, the areas were often covered with fine green grass. Often when we misplaced the trail we followed the tyre prints from a recent ATV vehicle, presumably from a maintenance ranger. Without that I think we would have spent much more time wandering the scrub.

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Download GPX file of the Nakun Kungun Trail (corrected) - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file of the Nakun Kungun Trail (corrected) - view in Google Earth

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Finishing off the Larapinta Trail

Two years ago I had to pull out of completing the 233km Larapinta Trail though the West MacDonnell Ranges, west of Alice Springs. I returned mid last year to finish off the eastern half, but wildfires closed the trail, so we occupied ourselves with other hikes. Now, for a third - and successful - attempt, I tackled the more challenging section of the Larapinta Trail.
SUMMARY - Larapinta Trail, Ellery Creek to Alice Springs Telegraph Station (Sections 6 to 1)
Previous trip Redbank Gorge to Ellery Creek (Sections 12-7), 2010
National Park West MacDonnell National Park
Location West MacDonnell Ranges, west of Alice Springs
Start Ellery Creek (Section 6/7 Trailhead)
End Alice Springs Telegraph Station (Section 1 Trailhead)
Time 6 days
Distance 138km
Day 1 Ellery Creek to Rocky Gully (Section 6), 4h20m 15.2km
Day 2 Rocky Gully to Fringe Lily (Section 6/5), 7h40m 23.6km
Day 3 Fringe Lily to Brinkley Bluff (Section 5/4), 8h5m 17.0km
Day 4 Brinkley Bluff to Jay Creek (Section 3/2), 9h15m 23.4km
Day 5 Jay Creek to Simpsons Gap (just west of) (Section 2), 6h15m 27km
Day 6 Simpsons Gap to Alice Springs Telegraph Station (Section 1) to nearby caravan pak, 6h15m 27.2km

When you've done half a trail, you think you've got a good feel for it. I'm not sure I had with this one, it held more surprises than I imagined. My week was filled with tough climbs, glorious views, cool breezes on hot days, pregnant rain drops on hot climbs, good company at campsites, plenty of other hikers on the trail, and, as with any Central Australia walk, rocks, and plenty of them.

This time, I'm telling most of my story through photos, and their captions.

View photos on Google+.

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Download GPX file of entire Larapinta Trail - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file of entire Larapinta Trail - view in Google Earth