Monday, 21 September 2015

Major Mitchell and Mount William

I recently found a copy of Tyrone Thomas’ 120 Walks In Victoria, first edition from 1977.  Good ol’ Tyrone introduced so many  to bushwalking with his hike suggestions. The first edition included some where ‘running’ and ‘expert navigation’ were required (it should be mentioned that that particular walk does not appear in later editions). The description for day two of a walk over The Cathedrals reads “walk northwards along the crest of the range for four km then at the far northern end plunge steeply down any ridge eastwards, cross Little River and turn north back to the walk starting point”. Others require using compass bearings and maps, both of which apparently existed before smart phones.  Good old fashioned bushwalking.

I also have a 1984 edition in which some of the walks are recognisable as hikes that would appear in guides today. Walk 113, Bomjinna – Major Mitchell Plateau, isn’t, however, one of those and that’s the walk we were intending. Tyrone’s directions are simple: “First use a good foot track from the picnic area westwards. The pad leads up a valley in forest, then through the cliffs near Mount William right to the Mount William turntable”. Sounds simple enough. Fire and flood have, since then, removed the trail, which is now partly rehabilitated, partly overgrown and partly ‘around here somewhere’.

Climbing Mount William along a no longer there track 

The first stretch is still recognisable as possibly an old four-wheel drive track, although flood damaged despite some rehab work. At some point we left that track and headed south (I think) to climb a ridge from where we had a wonderful view of the cliffs ahead. From there the track disappeared but we headed in the general direction  of that way for a bit and then uphill and across and maybe slightly downhill and over to the right until we hit the line of cliffs, where we followed the person in front because we thought they knew where we were going. A check of a GPS app reassured us that the track was once around where we were walking, assuming the track was accurately mapped (unlikely) and anyway, the person at the front does know where they are going – I’m sure of it. Well, we soon arrived at the turntable, so they must have.

From the turntable it’s a 27 km slog along the bitumen to the summit of Mount William. Okay, 27 km might be an exaggeration distance-wise – it was probably about two – but it’s pretty accurate slog-wise. Bitumen! Argh! Lunch at the summit was very welcome.

The view from along the bitumen
Next was across the tops on the usual track, dropping off Mt William and climbing onto the Major Mitchell Plateau. This has to be one of Victoria’s best walks, with fantastic views east and west. As we walked, hikers heading the other way passed on rumours of another hikgn party up ahead “There must be at least ten of them,” one person said, while another said “At least a dozen.” It was going to be busy in the one camping area at First Wannon Creek. We briefly considered stopping the night after dropping to Boundary Gap but the absence of water and a couple of dead ‘roos put an end to the considerations and we pushed on to First Wannon, climbing onto the southern section of the plateau. The climb, at the end of a long day, was tiring and my poor muscles started to cramp,

The camp was crowded-ish with a group from Geelong, who kindly and without any fuss made room for us. Camp, food and an early night under stars with a special guest appearance of the space station flashing overhead.

Next day was cool; tents were packed up damp and we set off again. Despite the cool windy conditions it was superb day wandering across the plateau before finally descending east to where the cars were parked near Mafeking.

Not that cold really ...

Just a bit of a chill in the air

Across the plateau

The Major Mitchell Plateau is one of Victoria’s best walks, very popular so there are bound to be a number of hiking parties sharing it on any given weekend. One of the highlights was Will acting like a ten-year-old, leaping around on the rocks at the top of one of the climbs and saying rather excitedly how “Wow” it all was. He was right, it is very “Wow”.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Beeripmo – hardcore or marshmallow?

We gathered at Richards camping area, Mt Cole State Forest,  in western Victoria. The aim was to do the  Beeripmo Walk, a 21km circuit through Mt Cole State Forest and Mt Buangor State Park. There were seven of us in total but I had never met anyone else in the group; however, at a pre-hike coffee stop in Beaufort I noticed three people who looked suspiciously like hikers. “G’day” I said.  My suspicions were right. They were hikers and they were members of the same hiking group, a mob that calls themselves “Hardcore Hikers” which I joined on-line via a website called Meetup.

We started off wandering through a granite boulder strewn valley along a creek towards Raglan Falls, which were a sort of trickle over a number of cascades rather than a waterfall as such. Maybe they look different in mid-winter after a huge deluge but it was hard to call them a waterfall on this day. From the top of the falls we enjoyed great views down the valley we had just wandered up before climbing to Cave Hill through open forest and a series of views over the hills and plains – first towards Mt Cole and then as we headed north towards Langi Ghiran and the Grampians beyond. Lar-ne-jeering (Langi Ghiran) is Djab Wurrung for “home of the Black Cockatoo” but all we saw were the basically white Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.

The walking was pleasant, wandering in and around granite boulders through open forest with the peaceful sound of cockatoos (SQUAWK!) and the distant hum of another common species found in state forests – the trail bike. The track led to a lunch spot perched on a rocky clearing with more views. After lunch was a climb to the top of Mount Sugarloaf (about the fourth Mount Sugarloaf I’ve climbed – Cathedrals, Kinglake and I think there was down the Otways somewhere) with views looking south back over our tracks. From Sugarloaf it was a short stroll to Beeripmo Camp and our overnight stop.

Hardcore Hikers do hardcore,  difficult hikes but the Beeripmo hike was listed as “introductory”, and some in our group were doing their first overnight hike, testing new gear and skills. This led to a number of discussions about hiking and hiking gear.

Between the seven of us we had six tents, three of which were on their maiden voyage. The age-old bushwalker pastime of comparing gear began with a tour of each tent. Is it easy to pitch?, Is it roomy?, Do the colours clash with my hiking gear? and other questions vital to acceptable standards of hiking were asked. Dinner and a variety of cookers were then compared for fuel efficiency, along with talk of recipes and freeze drying your own tucker. Naturally the talk turned to that favourite of all hiking topics – pack weight and ways to shed ten, maybe twenty grams.

A number of demonstrations of how to lower pack weight were then given. Things like removing the wine by pouring it into cups and then drinking it (shedding 200 gram for red wine, 20 gram for Port per cup, the process can be repeated if necessary to save additional weight), how eating the 250 gram block of chocolate reduces your pack weight by 250 grams and how toasting the marshmallows and eating them saves around 2 grams per marshmallow. All very important things for the beginner overnighter to learn. A lesson in the fine art of marshmallow skinning was then provided.

1)    Roast the marshmallow
2)    Remove the caramelised outer layer (the skin), leaving the soft inner core on the stick for a second roasting
3)    Repeat steps one and two until there is no more marshmallow

At around 9.30 (the “bushwalkers midnight”) we wandered off to our various tents to snuggle down for what was shaping up to be a star-filled, cold night.

Morning came with a cool wind blowing. Breakfast, pack, and off we go, in warm gear, but soon to shed layers as we headed towards Mt Buangor summit for photos and views. The summit is a side trip so we dropped packs. As I mentioned before, the forest appeared to have a resident population of trail bikes. This rather noisy species not digs up tracks but could, possibly, make off with a backpack, so we carefully placed them out of sight. 

The summit was soon reached, the wind had dropped, layers removed and photos taken.  From the summit we made our way to Mugwump Hut for an early lunch before continuing back to the walk start along an easy section of track next to a fern gully through open forest that looked like it would be superb in Spring with orchids and the local Mt Cole Grevillea.

Was it hardcore? No, but Beeripmo is a really good introductory walk. Marshmallow? Well they don’t weight much and are rather tasty when roasted.

Thanks to V from Hardcore for leading the hike, and thanks also to my hardcore hiking mates/cobbers/buddies who joined me on the trip

The lunch time view

Camp - the blue tent on the left is mine and the first time in the bush.

The summit of Mt Buangor.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cathedral Ranges - quickly!

Facebook – the chance to catch up on stuff you don’t give a stuff about. A friend recently posted about his 150km, 12 hour marathon in the Blue Mountains, with updates every fifty kilometres. That is the antithesis of why I go bush. I want to be as slow as possible, explore ever side track I can.

My most recent  hike was through the Cathedral Ranges. I was part of a hiking group – people I hadn’t met before who were doing the walk as training for the Oxfam Marathon, which requires people to walk a ridiculous distance in less time than 24 hours. The plan was to start at Cooks Mill and hike to Mt Cathedral via Mt Sugarloaf and then back via Neds Saddle – an 18km round trip with climbs and rock-hopping and all sorts of knee and ankle straining stuff.  And the idea was to do it fast. Well, reasonably quickly at least.

We set off along Messmate Track to Sugarloaf Saddle, a breath-taking start to the day (at least, I was having trouble breathing by the time we made Sugarloaf Saddle). A quick pause, long enough for a snack  and to discover my water bottle had leaked half its contents into my pack, and we were off again – Wells Cave to the Sugarloaf summit. Wells Cave posed all the usual problems (Does the track really go up that rock face?).

For the first time in my many ascents of Sugarloaf I tried a new way to overcome the final obstacle, the final climb. For anyone who hasn’t taken this route there is a final ‘test’ after you scramble out of the cave. A slab of rock lies against the main cliff and there is a slot between them that needs to be ascended.  There are three options. The first is staying in THE SLOT between the cliff and the slab, which feels safe but is a pain and near impossible (off-width is the technical climbing description, which means too narrow to climb without it ending in tears). The second, and my usual, is THE CLIFF, which requires some finger hauling but is quite fun and feels safe-ish as you are only ever a metre or three above the ground. The third is to climb THE SLAB. The Slab  is the easiest route up but has the greatest exposure, meaning you are very aware that gravity wants to hurl your body down the twenty metre drop below you and that you’d probably be seriously dead if that happened. After struggling on the cliff, I went for the slab and soon made the summit.
Did I have time to take a photo? Barley, as we were soon on the move again across the Razorback. This has to be one of Victoria’s best walks. Stunning views and  a bit of challenging walking and rock hopping. The distant goals of The Farmyard and Mount Cathedral could be seen in the distance (which is why they are called distant goals – they can be seen in the distance).

The Cathedral Range and the distant Mount Cathedral in the distance

 We made the Farmyard around lunchtime – some two and half hours after setting off from Cooks Mill. I filled up my water bottle and quickly ate a little soggy something. Apparently we weren’t stopping for lunch just yet but continuing on our way.

At about this point I started to lag behind. It wasn’t that I was getting tired but that I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with … oh look, a Jacky Lizard, hang on, I’ll just …  Sorry, as I was saying, I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with no photo opportunity passed over, except, maybe, the view over the Acheron Valley, no time, gotta keep moving. The rest of the hiking party were waiting patiently at the next track junction so that I wouldn’t get lost. The sun was shining, the day was getting warm, and the bushes were getting prickly. The next stop was for first aid (prickle removal) and then lunch  at the now not so distant Mount Cathedral. Another bit of first aid (I treated some pre-blisters with some tape) and the decision was made to cut the walk a bit short by not including Little Cathedral (except for one extra fast-hiking party member who had already been there and was on his way back!).  

Jacky Lizard

After lunch we all headed on down the track to … hang on a bit, another lizard, Cunninghams Skink, Egernia cunninghami, I’ll just change lenses and then … . Okay, where were we? Ah, that’s right. After lunch we headed down the track to Neds Saddle, downwards, ever downwards, to the Little River valley. The last section was along the river, an easy walk that included the highlight of passing through a logging coupe – the last remnant of the pine plantation that once stood in the middle of the park. (If anyone cares to purchase the land and donate it to the park now is a good time.)

Cunninghams Skink - cute

The end! Eighteen kilometres in five hours, or something like that. It was a great walk (as always), but next time, even though it means carrying more stuff, maybe two days, some time to take photos.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A French Island Holiday

Imagine spending a sunny afternoon cycling around a French Island. Sounds pleasant. The French Island in question, however, isn’t in the Mediterranean but in Westernport. It doesn’t have wine and croissants but mosquitos and snakes (or so I was told).

The journey started from Cowes on Phillip Island on the ferry, a smallish boat that chugged the thirty minutes across the water to Tankerton. Tankerton is, I thought, French Island’s main centre, and it may be, but there is nothing there. At least there is nothing at the jetty except the three of us who disembarked – my wife and myself with our bikes and a local – and some parked cars. Cars on French Island – generally rusty, unregistered and most probably unroadworthy. There is no local council, no police, no law saying your car has to be registered. Salt air makes sure that only the dregs of the car world remain here. They were the most noticeable thing about getting off the ferry at Tankerton – the line of rusty cars.

The other passenger disembarking was a local farmer. He smiled and asked if we had any mozzie repellent. We didn’t (I’d forgotten). He laughed and said he had some in his car – everyone on French Island has a  stash of insect repellent handy, probably two or three, he informed us. As he rummaged around he also chatted about snakes.

“You’ll see a few, but they’re friendly. Copperheads and Tigers. They’ll just ignore you, they’re pretty lazy really.”

We headed off down Coast Road, which follows the island’s west coast past mangroves and paperbarks, mostly in the national park which covers maybe half the island. It was rather corrugated. Even the corrugations had corrugations.  One of the island’s main roads though apparently. We had about three hours before catching the ferry back to Phillip Island and the plan was to ride to the Pinnacles (good views, I’d heard) and then to Tankerton for a coffee. The Pinnacles are found along Pinnacles Track which leads off from the Coast Road and we were soon peddling inland. Slowly. The track was sand and the going was slow; walking pace at times, but occasionally slowing to  ‘walking while wheeling you bike up a sandy hill’ pace at other times.

The Pinnacles is one of the high points on this rather flat island, rising a staggering couple of hundred of metres above sea level. The views were rather obscured by the surrounding shrubs but there were glimpses of the wetlands further north, Phillip Island across the bay and the industrial port of Hastings to the west. We ate lunch and reapplied sunblock before continuing on our way – more sand until Pinnacle track reaches Chump Road. Much to our relief Chump Road was gravel – eventually – after the sandy bits.

We were soon on Tankerton Road – the island’s main drag – a strip of corrugated gravel that runs across the island to the distant chicory kiln tea rooms and the even further away former prison. Next time – there was coffee in the other direction.

The general store and post office was our next stop; a rather grand building decorated with photos, a cat skin, and shelves of books. The proprietor was busy making choc-top ice-creams – possibly an  island delicacy – but stopped to take our order for coffee. The kettle was then filled up and put on the stove (none of that fancy barista machinery here) and a reasonable coffee was soon sitting in front of us – possibly the best coffee available on the island.

We then continued onto the jetty with time for a walk along the beach checking out the mangroves and wildlife. The ferry back to Phillip Island was a bit more crowded than the trip earlier that day  with a total of four people on board. One of them was dressed in lycra cycling gear and had his bike on board. Noticing our bikes he asked about cycling on the island.

“Would a road bike be okay?”


That’s not just “nope” but “really, no – road bike – no, bad idea, you will cry”.

French Island is another world. Interesting to visit, a throwback to another time – not sure when – but definitely another time. There’s a camping area in the national park and probably a couple of other hidden spots that might make it a worthwhile overnighter. We didn’t see any snakes, which is unusual as the island has a reputation of there being quite a few (shake out your sleeping bag before getting in – just in case). We also weren’t bothered by mozzies, which is also apparently unheard of. And we didn’t see many people (only two actually), which, apparently, is quite normal.

Oh, and the shop did sell wine. Might even sell croissants. Could have a real French Island holiday.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Baw Baw Plateau - snow in October

The Summit.
Early Friday morning in Bairnsdale for work – except someone hasn’t turned up. Great, I can head off … but … nope, we can still have a meeting. Finally, back to Traralgon and … the boss wants to have a coffee.

I had to travel down to the LaTrobe Valley for work and  have always wanted to hike across Baw Baw Plateau so thought I could combine the two. It would be my first overnight hike for some time and my first solo overnighter in years. The plan was to start from Mt St Gwinear carpark and head across to the Alpine Walking track and see how far I could get. My original target was Mushroom Rocks but by the time I get to the trail head at Mt St Gwinear it’s already early afternoon. Plan B is Talbot Hut ruins.
The day was glorious – blue skies, a light breeze, and I’m ready to head off, and my phone rings. Mobile phones are horrendous things.  After a quick couple of calls I’m finally off, climbing the grassy road up to St Gwinear summit. After a few hundred metres I notice small patches of snow by the side of the track – exciting – there should be more up higher.

To help me on the uphill bits I have a new mountaineering and hiking pole. It has a telescopic body, a compass and torch built into the handle, and an inbuilt springy bit to absorb shock. My dad bought it thinking it was a regular walking stick, but it isn’t and so I ended up with it. I have never used a walking pole before and this trip would be the first time. Not being used to using a pole though I actually forgot to grab it when I set off and left it leaning against my car. Standing at the summit, puffing and panting and marvelling at how my 16kg pack has affected my level of fitness, I’m left wondering if it would have been useful.A brief stop, some photos, and back to the track. I soon made Camp Cave and the Alpine Walking Track and headed south across the plateau through snow and mud. The track in this section is often wet, and after a dump of snow earlier in the week, was very wet; wet enough to cover my boots, soak my socks and seep down to my feet. My gaiters were useless (largely because they were in my pack rather than on my legs) and blisters soon started to form. 

I met a hiker heading the other way, hiking the Walhalla to Hotham section of the Alpine walking track. He had gaiters on. I met another party of hikers – two blokes (wearing gaiters) with their dog (not wearing gaiters) – also hiking Walhalla to Hotham. Maybe there is something in this wearing gaiters thing, I think to myself as I squelched on looking for a dry rock to sit on so I could hunt my gaiters out of my pack and wrap them around my ankles. Sadly, by the time I do, it is too late. The wettest  bits of the track are behind me, the blister on my left heel is ready to pop and my boots, socks and feet are saturated.

Walking solo means you only have yourself to talk to. I am climbing a hill thinking I must be near the camp, telling myself that if I trip and fall and knock myself out on a rock ...  I wonder what  the news report would say: “Search on for missing hiker. Police have little concern at this stage because the missing man is an experienced bushwalker”. Or would it be: “Police fear for life of man hiking without gaiters. ‘He even left his walking stick behind’ the SES search leader said.” I am actually getting tired and slowing down to stop myself from stumbling. I check the map and matching landmarks to map marks figure I only  have about 500m to go. I see a green tent through the snowgums and feel relieved that I will soon be at camp. Alas the green tent turns out to be a moss-covered boulder. I check the map again and realise I had misread it earlier; a quick correction and I now know for sure I really do only have about 500m to go. A few hundred metres further on and I use the GPS app on my phone and look at the scrap of map I am carrying (a photocopy of the section of the map that covers where I am hiking; the whole map is in my pack if needed) and kind of guess where I am on the map. I figure it’s a good estimate and that this time I am positively sure that I am absolutely, definitely only 500m from camp, so certain that I don’t bother getting the whole map out to check properly. I have hiked for many years, I am an experienced hiker and know how to read a map. What I should have also learnt by now, however, is that when you are tired and want to be at camp you are always at least twice as far away as you think.

A moss covered rock - obviously. I think it's about 500m from the camping area, but I could be wrong.

Thinking “Where the hell is this camp!”, I almost walk past it. Talbot Hut site is a great camping spot. There isn’t a hut, just the chimney, but there is a running creek for water and plenty of space for tents. I set up camp, cook dinner and relax. I text my wife to let her know I’m still alive, take a few photos with my phone and email them to various people with messages like “Hope you had a nice day at the office” in the hope of making them jealous. Mobile phones are great and an essential tool for the solo walker in case you do need help. It is therefore important not to waste the battery emailing photos or using the GPS app unless  you really, really need to.

My tent, purchased in the 1980s, next to the hut ruins.

The track through the snow.
Sunset was fantastic – I suppose – I was already in the tent and half asleep, but I reckon it would have been a nice one.

Saturday morning came with sunshine, bird song, hot coffee, snow gums and blue skies. It was going to be a fantastic day. I covered my heels with Elastoplast, put on some dry socks, broke camp, and started back. The track seemed drier than yesterday (or maybe it was because I was wearing my gaiters rather than carrying them).  I made good time and was back at the car sooner than I wanted to be. And my dad’s hiking pole was still there, waiting for it’s first road test.

I didn't have any track notes, just  made it up as I went using the Rooftop map, but it isn't a difficult walk. Navigation is easy and there are no big climbs. My pack weighed 16kg plus, but I have old gear - a 3.8kg Macpac Olympus tent from the 1990s and an even older backpack. I cooked on a Trangia (large size) that I bought when I went to Tassie for the Franklin River Blockade. Lightweight hiking? Well I did leave my spare camera and lenses at home. Overall, a great easy hike.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Twenty swoops to coffee

Sunday – a beautiful sunny day – I jumped on my bike and headed off to Yarck and the Giddy Goat Café with a vision of cake and coffee. It’s about 20km and an hour’s riding, but the best way to measure the distance is in “magpie swoops”. Stage one – up the hill out of town – was one magpie swoop. Down the other side to the highway – past the sign saying beware of the magpies – was about four swoops. I warned a rider heading the other way but he just laughed saying  “It’s worse around Yarck”. I didn’t believe him and continued on.
As I approached a large Red Gum by the side of the bike path I could hear young magpie nestlings in a high branch chirruping “Here’s another one Dad, go get ‘im”. Swoop. Onwards I pedalled, stopping only to create an arrangement of leaves poking out of my helmet to try and stop them getting close enough to draw bloood. Three more swoops and I made Cathkin. Only five more k's to Yarck.

I lost count of the swoops along this section. Dismounting, crouching by my bike, seeking a stick to wave around – two swoops. Back on the bike, trying to pick up speed, waving my stick while a pair of magpies tag-teamed  in coordinated and sustained dive-bombing along an uphill stretch. Two riders approached from the other direction, all three of us madly waving sticks over our head as we pedalled.
I was getting tired; my nerves shredded. With one hand on the handlebars, the other on my stick, the ride continued as a mess of stick waving, swooping madness. The café eventually came into sight. A lone magpie gave chase for the last two hundred metres or so, giving a final swoop as I dismounted by the bike rack. Café coffee drinkers watched on from the verandah.
“You got a friend?” one asked.
“No”, I replied.

Inside, things got worse. All the cake was gone.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Goldfish Bottle Blues

This isn't really relevant to anything much, certainly nothing to do with hiking or even being outside. But it's maybe the scariest thing I do - get on stage in front of a real, live audience. Luckily, they were friendly.

Here's a YouTube link.

PS I'm the one on the left with the harmonica