Friday, 4 April 2014

To Bogong or not to Bogong ....

Having never stood on the summit of Mt Bogong in my many years of hiking and back-country skiing I decided it was about time. I planned a three day excursion – a day to climb up, a day at Cleve Cole Hut to recover and check out the local sights, and a day to clamber back down to the car. The first question my wife asked was “Who are you going with?”. Hmm. the plan was  to walk alone but apparently that wasn’t going to happen so I enlisted the help of my brother.

 When things go wrong on bushwalks you can usually trace a chain of errors that lead to the final problem.

Error number one – telling my wife I was hiking alone. If I didn’t mention this little fact I would have had a lovely walk during great weather.

Error number two – inviting my brother, which immediately changed the timing of the hike, delaying it a day or three while the weather slowly darkened, and also dragged it from three days to two.

Error number three – starting up Mt Bogong with someone who clearly wasn’t going to make it.

 The problem was resolved by letting it be known that we can go somewhere else while we still could. So, after ascending The Staircase for just under an hour or so, and having covered perhaps hundreds of metres of the actual climb, we turned around. Destination number two was Mt Buffalo (you can see Bogong from there), setting up base  camp at Lake Catani and enjoying various day walks and a bottle of red that wasn’t on the original menu.

Chalwell’s Galleries

Not far from the lake camping area is a short walk to a small peak where you clamber in and around granite boulders. As we started to climb amongst the tors, we noticed a hiker in front of us, near the top of a boulder. Beside the path was a jumper, which I figured he had left behind.

“Is this your jumper?” I called out.

“No, I’m not a jumper”, he responded.

“Is this your jumper?” I called out again.

“No, I’m not”, her replied.

The conversation continued in this way until we reached the gentleman, a Californian by the name of Chuck. We then learnt that what we in Australia call a jumper, Americans call a sweater, and what we in Australia refer to as someone attempting suicide by leaping off a cliff, Americans call a jumper.  Chuck was just letting us know that, although it was rather warm, he wasn’t planning on taking his life. He explained he was going to pick up the jumper/sweater on his way back.

“It’s a circuit”, I said.

“No, where does the track go?”, Chuck asked, sounding somewhat disbelieving.

It was a good question as the track seemed to just stop. After a short bit of searching we found a kind of hole in the ground.

“Down there.”



We descended into the hole, which led to a chasm, accessible via a ladder leading to a log with steps cut into it, and generally had a ball clambering around until we found ourselves back at the trail head. Along the way Chuck invited us over to his camp for a wine after dinner.

“What campsite are you on?”, we asked.


“That’s a coincidence, so are we.”

And so we were, though I think a sign saying twelve must have been souvenired.
The way forward ... or down

The Gorge

There are  various tracks around The Gorge to various lookouts. The tracks to the points most distant from the car park were obviously less walked and at the furthermost lookout we were a little baffled as to where the track was. But, being experienced hikers who have made it a hundred or so metres along the track to Mt Bogong, it didn’t present us with too many difficulties. The lookouts are mainly on the north side of the Gorge with views to the Chalet and the ramp where the hang gliders leap off. There are also some interesting bits of history like the remains of a piano.
The piano, or what's left of it.

The Chalet

Closed for a number of years now, The Chalet is a wonderful building that is probably impossible to run at a profit, or to even manage so that it could scrape by with only minimal losses. Maybe one day … with significant dollars thrown at it. A fascinating step back into history to a time when railways were running massive tourism enterprises miles from any railway station.

The Chalet sitting above The Gorge

The Horn

The explorer dudes who named Mt Buffalo Mt Buffalo thought the mountain looked like a buffalo lying on its side. I’m not sure where they were looking from - I’ve never really seen the resemblance myself; but, from the McDonalds on the freeway, it kind of sort of, if you squint, gives a sort of impression of a buffalo. Buffalos have horns and the bit that looked like a horn was therefore called The Horn. It’s the highest spot on the plateau and has fantastic views after a short, easy walk that takes about ten minutes to what was on the day a cold windy lookout. I’ve skied to the Horn but didn’t climb it – too icy and slippery I was warned – but wish I had of; with the plateau under snow the view would have been magnificent.

The Cathedral and The Hump

The Hump (another buffalo the animal feature) and The Cathedral (not found on regular buffalos) are peaks in the central plateau area and the short walk to the top The Hump is well worth the effort. It was here that I was reminded of the dangers of walking alone; jumping between rocks I nearly missed my landing, my foot sliding between two boulders in a way that would have neatly snapped a leg bone if I landed a centimetre of twelve over. The views are, again, fantastic, particularly of the nearby Cathedral. I snapped away, scoring a picture that made it to the ABC news a day or two later. The Cathedral is also accessible, but it takes a bit of off-track walking and to get to the very top requires ropes and climbing gear. Maybe next time.

The Cathedral from The Hump

Climber on The Cathedral

The Monolith

The Monolith is a huge boulder on top of a hill. Once upon a time you could climb a ladder to the top of the boulder but the ladder has been removed as it was considered too risky (I think it gave lawyers cold sweats). You can wander around the peak on which the boulder sits, take in yet more views, and probably, if you tried really hard, fall off and scare the lawyers. The top of The Monolith is still accessible to rock climbers.

Lake Catani

This is where the camping area is, and it’s a pleasant camping area. The first thing you notice when you get there is that most of the campsites have reserved signs on them – not because they are actually reserved but because they might be – while a dozen or so are available for people who just turn up. The lake itself, well, I actually forgot to go and have a look this time, though I have paddled around it before and it is quite pleasant. The lake is the water supply for the camping ground though, for legal reasons, you aren’t supposed to drink the water without adding chemicals or boiling or filtering , none of which I bothered to do (the lawyers, having removed the ladder, have installed signs regarding the danger of the water). Dinner, wine – and Chuck had a campfire – made for a good night’s camping.
Lake Catani from The Monolith. The campground is amongst the trees on the near side of the lake

… and Mt Bogong

Soon …

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

From the bottom of the sea to (almost) the top of the mountain

It’s holiday time, somewhere nice where I can hike and surf and do lots of fun stuff, but not a resort please. I hate resorts. I’m not too keen on the tourism industry full stop; it seems to generally lack imagination creating “artificial packages” rather than real experiences, places where the only change is the nationality of the person serving the VB. Come to Bali and eat Aussie style food. No thanks, but I digress.

We looked at various places, trying to find one that suited. My wife wanted to snorkel and maybe try scuba diving; I wanted to hike a little as well. We eventually decided on Lord Howe Island only two hours on a bus with wings somewhere to the east of Australia. Lord Howe does have resorts offering “a civilised, stylish and sophisticated escape”, but we opted for something a bit simpler, maybe even uncivilised.  (We did talk with one person who was staying at one of the more civilised resorts. They were out jogging but stopped to chat. The first question was “Are you staying at xxx?” and proceeded tell us how wonderful xxx was and “why would anyone want to stay anywhere else”. We politely explained that the reason we were here was to experience the island, not a plunge pool.)

Our first encounter with wildlife was paddling around the beach near our accommodation. There are special turtle tours you can book but we just waded out to where the water was knee deep and had a couple of turtles swimming around us and no-one else around. They were there every day, munching on the seagrass.

We hiked over various ridges and hills and climbed half way up one of the island’s two big mountains. The walk was steep but rewarding. We ate our lunch in a cave watching Red-tailed Tropic birds wheeling around. All the island’s walks had great views and none were too hard, although we didn’t climb Mt Gower, the island’s highest peak and hardest trek. Mt Gower can only be climbed as part of a guided tour, is longish, steep and apparently quite tiring. Sadly, having leukaemia means that my energy levels sag rather easily and big climbs aren’t on the agenda unless I can set my own pace.
I did, however, get permission from my haematologist to saturate my cancerous blood with nitrogen by going scuba diving. This first involved a lesson in breathing underwater. Before we could get in the water we had to watch a video, answer some questions and show we had learnt a couple of basic techniques. We were supposed to demonstrate the techniques again in shallow water but the tide was out so we went straight to the dive site, off the boat and dived down about four metres to the bottom. Then the test: 1) clear the mask of water, 2) remove the breathing thing from your mouth and then put it back and 3) remove and let go of the breathing thing, then find the breathing thing and put it back in your mouth. The reason this is normally done in shallow water is so that if something goes wrong you can just stand up and breathe. This was not an option.

It was quite a weird sensation. I had a momentary feeling of “Oh, $&@#” but concentrated on watching a passing fish until I relaxed. After passing the test we cruised along the reef, checking out the coral and wildlife. “Oh look, a shark” and “Ah, a stingray. Isn’t this how Steve Irwin died?” and so on, except you can’t actually talk to anyone, only make hand signals.

An interesting part of scuba diving is buoyancy. You have lead weights to make you sink and a vest you can pump air into to make you float. The idea is to neither sink nor float but remain at the depth you want to be at – that is, have neutral buoyancy. The interesting part is that if you go below that depth you have negative buoyancy and start sinking, you go above it and you have positive buoyancy and start rising. And if you start sinking or rising, you become less or more buoyant and start sinking or rising even quicker, becoming even less or more buoyant and sinking or rising even quicker still. My buoyancy quickly became bounce-ancy as I went up and down from stuck on the bottom to breaking the surface. The other interesting thing is the pressure change that happens with every bounce and if you forget to equalise… Probably why I ended up with a blood nose! I did, however, finally manage to control my depth and had a hoot of a time.

We returned to the same reef a day or two later for a snorkel, which was also wonderful, though I think I preferred diving and seeing the reef from other angles, not just from above.
I missed out on a surf – it was a small plane and I didn’t want to cart the board over for what would probably be only one session in the waves. I did ride my bike to one of the surf beaches (bikes are the preferred means of transport on the island) and felt that I didn’t miss much although the place looked like it would turn on some good, uncrowded waves.

Overall, a fantastic spot. And maybe one day I’ll get back there to catch a wave and climb that mountain.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Little River Falls, Cathedral Range State Park

Hidden in Cathedral Range State Park is the Little River Falls. Access isn’t easy; up Lowersons Track to an old snig track that should take you down to the river. Then it is a stroll along the river itself to the base of the falls. Lowersons was easy. The snig track was good for about ten metres but then disappeared under the scrub. The track notes described it as heading along the contour until it meets the river. The track notes were, however, over twenty years old and maybe not that accurate anymore. The contour was still the same though and so we continued on pushing our way through thickets of Gorse Bitter-pea, a lovely flower protected by spiny, prickly leaves. The river was just over a kilometre away and we soon caught sight of Bissetts Pinnacles, a rock outcrop on the other side of the valley. We aimed to hit the river opposite the pinnacles and made it there about two hours after setting out, about three kilometres from our start at Cooks Mill and around a kilometre downstream from the falls.

The river was running fairly hard, which meant that the falls should look pretty damn good but getting there might be pretty damn difficult. The track notes redeemed themselves by being quite accurate; they simply stated that there was no track. All we had to do was make our way upstream. We pushed on slowly, crossing the river occasionally to find easier country. The sides of the valley and the fall of the river became progressively steeper until we found ourselves on the south bank confronted with granite boulders down to the water’s edge. The north bank look like it offered easier going and there were a couple of options for crossing over. The best option was a log over the river, a wet slippery log, with the river splashing against it and a fall into the top of a small waterfall-whirlpool thing. Possible, but the consequences of failure were pretty high.

If there was an accident, calling for help wasn’t on. We live locally and know the SES crews. Calling for help ourselves if something went wrong, being rescued and having the sad story in the local paper, would have been too embarrassing to contemplate. Besides, there wasn’t any phone reception. 

We were stuck on the wrong side of the river and decided to head up and over the top of the gorge. We clambered up, hands and feet style hiking, hoping to find some way through. After a couple of false leads we made some movement forward, or rather upward, until we found a suitable spot for lunch and a chance to work out our next move. It had become obvious we weren’t going to get down to the river further upstream as the gorge was too steep and high. We had two alternatives – call it quits and retrace our steps through the mongrel scrub or try for Tweed Spur Road, about a kilometre further up the ridge through mongrel scrub. Going back didn’t seem right, and one kilometre of scrub bashing sounded better than three kilometres of scrub bashing, so we headed up.

The climb was steep and heavily vegetated with more of the prickly Gorse Bitter-pea, occasionally replaced by thick wattle regrowth, about twenty stems per square metre, regrowth from Black Saturday, and the occasional rock outcrop, which provided sometimes up to four metres of pleasant walking. One little outcrop provided a chance for a rest and, through the forest, a view of a glimmer of water falling in the distance – the Little River Falls.  The falls are quite a drop and no doubt would be spectacular up close. However, they weren’t up close and we weren’t about to try and get any closer.

With some sense of achievement – we had seen the falls – we checked the map. Looking at landmarks – the falls, the North Jawbones in the distance and Bissetts Pinnacles on an adjacent ridge – we figured we were about 800 metres from the road. With a sigh of resignation, we continued on (up) through more scrub until eventually making the road. We had been walking just under six hours and covered about four and half kilometres. The last 800 metres took almost two hours.

Only eight kilometres of road walking in front of us and we would be done.

Things I learnt: don’t rely on twenty year old track notes.

Gorse Bitter-pea, or Daviesa ulcifolia. See the prickly leaves? The Latin name - ulcifolia - refers to the fact that the prickly foliage will give you ulcers!

Wandering through the scrub. In some places it was head high. The blue and red shapes are my walking companions.

Tall Greenhood growing along the river

A slippery log we used to cross the river.

Little River Falls  - seen through the trees

Along the river

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Time spent in trees

My latest adventure didn’t take me very far from home – only into the back yard in fact. It all started because the grass was getting a wee bit long and it had actually stopped raining long enough for me to consider getting the mower out. The grass was still a little damp but I noticed a number of birds fluttering about and decided to get my camera and try to get a few shots.

I have taken a few bird shots over the years and many show the birds from underneath; them being in trees and me being on the ground. I post the best ones onto Flickr, and I received an invite once for a particular photo to be included in a group dedicated to animal bottoms. That seemed a little weird to me and I declined the offer. But it did make me think about my bird photo collecting.

 So I decided to climb the tree to get some better pics. It is a wonderful, spreading tree that once upon a time, when the kids were younger and into climbing trees, I’d tied old climbing ropes onto. The ropes are now gone and so getting to the first fork isn’t quite as easy – not hard – but not as easy as it used to be. Adding to the degree of difficulty was the SLR with 70-220mm lens dangling around my neck. I have never been kind to cameras and probably should have grabbed the lighter, tougher “Tough” camera. But I didn’t.

 The birds bounced in and around the branches and in and out of focus, while I gripped a branch with one hand, held the camera with the other and pressed the shutter button with another – which is one hand more hand than I actually have so I’m not quite sure what actually happened, although I do remember teetering and nearly toppling a couple of times.

 Here, for your enjoyment, are the photos.

Grey Fantail, wondering what this person is doing in the tree. 

Varied Sitella

Ever played Angry Birds?

Sitellas seem to enjoy being upside down

Hanging out with the birds

Red-browed Finch giving lessons on how to hang on in a tree

Eastern Rosella

King Parrots - from the ground up

Crimson  Rosella

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Hollow Mountain

A friend told me about a walk in the north end of the Grampians where you climb through the mountain to get to the summit – Hollow Mountain it was called. I was fascinated and decided to check it out as soon as I could. That was way back in 3 BC (before children) and a week or two ago I finally hiked Hollow Mountain in the company of my eighteen year old son, the youngest of my children.

I had read Tyrone Thomas’ description of the walk, which takes in the summit of Hollow Mountain and then continues over Mount Stapylton and returns over Flat Rocks.  I had, however left his book at home and so we settled for the shorter walk up Hollow Mountain and return – about an hour or two of walking.

The track starts easily enough through some pleasant bush before starting the climb. I had read that this was an exhilarating trek but didn’t find it all that difficult or scary – maybe I’ve done a bit too much climbing for it to bother me. It was fun however and the views were great. We came across one cave that we realised later we could have used as a short cut through the mountain but instead we continued on around the wide ledge that surrounds the northern slopes. The final climb was an easy scramble to a windswept peak with great views in all directions. But the wind was cold so we soon descended, stopping to talk to some boulderers on their way to the cave, which I noticed had chalk patches all over its roof.

I was disappointed about the lack of “climbing through the mountain” until we came to a point on the track where there were two direction arrows painted on the rock; an orange one pointing the way we took and a faded red one pointing into a cave. Thinking that this might be directions to the hollow part of Hollow Mountain, and it being only a short walk so far, we decided to investigate. We were soon scrambling around a series of wind-scoured caves, finding ourselves on edges over deep gullies and looking out at cliffs and valleys. The mountain is actually hollow – well part of it.

After scrambling around a bit we decided it was time to head back to the car, so we went … maybe that way. No. How about this gully? Nope, doesn’t feel right. Eventually, scrambling down, under and then through a gap, we emerged onto a rock platform which might be connected to the rock platform where the walking track is. So, left or right? Let’s go right. No, that leads to a small cliff that would pass as impassable and hurt a lot to fall off. Back we go, left, until we eventually found a track marker.

On our descent we came across another group heading up. We patiently waited while various member of the party were coaxed up one of the narrow, edgier, bits of the path and arrangements made for the one person who decided not to move along much further. My son bounced down as soon as space was available and I quickly followed, gently twisting my knee in a way my orthopaedic surgeon wouldn’t approve of.

I’ve decided to call this walk a training run at the full walk as described by Tyrone Thomas, which takes in the route we took to Hollow Mountain (with the option of crawling through the boudering cave) and then through the caves and on to Mt Stapylton. Given that between hearing about the walk and walking the walk I’ve been able to raise two kids to adulthood, it might be a while before I complete the circuit.

And of course photos were taken, one of which ended up on the weather report of ABC News for an entire weekend. That’s another one minute and twelve seconds of fame.

The view, as seen on the ABC weather report

Inside the mountain

New Holland Honeyeater, back at camp

The Wall of Fools, near Hollow Mountain

After Hollow Mountain we did a quick walk out to The Balconies in the central Grampians. Great views on a very touristy style track. We also found where the park rangers store all their rock cairns when they aren't using them to mark tracks.

A sea of rock cairns along the way to The Balconies

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


The light was fading and there was still some distance to go – and I wasn’t sure which direction to actually go in. An information board outside the Rainbow service station gave me details of the park but no idea which way to go to actually get there. I went inside and asked the woman behind the counter.
“Straight up the road that way” she said, pointing north.
“And how far is it?” I asked.
She looked kind of confused and gave a vague answer of “might be twenty minutes, perhaps an hour …” leaving me wondering if she had ever been out of Rainbow.

About forty minutes later, and after taking a few dubious turns at intersections on the basis that “it is probably this way”, we arrived at the camping area. With the aid of the headlights we set up the tents, fixed a new mantle on the gas lamp for some better light and cooked dinner. A cloudless sky allowed a million stars to shine on us and guaranteed a cold, frosty night.

The morning came and I lay in my tent in my warm sleeping bag listening to the birds calling. Should take some pics, I thought, so I dressed, grabbed my camera and headed out for some early morning photos. The tent door crackled as the night’s layer of frost broke and I made my way into the feeble sunshine.  It was bitter, somewhere just below zero I reckoned. A cup of tea might help, but it seemed too cold for the metho burner to light. But I was up and so took some photos, which, unfortunately, meant taking my hands out of my pockets. 

Ice on my son's tent - brrr
Frost on my tent
The sun rose a bit more and the trees started dripping as the temperature rose above freezing. The metho stove started working and I soon had a hot cuppa in hand.

The plan for the day was a shortish walk – about 8km – through some mallee scrub to a dry lake bed. We set off and strolled over the dunes as the sun started making things a bit warmer. Our jackets were soon in the backpack. The track took in a bit of a nature trail with “lift the lid” educational signs. The first message was about how spiders like to live under the lids; the second one had a spider. (How the rangers do it, I’ll never know.) I don’t like educational signs; I find them obtrusive and hate the feeling that someone is trying to control my walk and make me do what they want – you will learn!

One of the amazing things about Wyperfeld was how quiet it was. There was no traffic noise, no other people noise, no wind in the trees, just birdsong. One of my reason for travelling to Wyperfeld was that it was mentioned in an on-line forum as one of Victoria’s most remote places, and it certainly had that feel about it. Wandering over a dune from the camping area and there was this feeling that there was no-one else around. Hiking around the walks and the view was uninterrupted Mallee. The only intrusion was these stupid signs telling me that there might be emus about. There were emus about – they are quite large and I noticed them without the help of the stupid sign.

Emus - hard not to notice them really
The extensive views. Quite an amazing landscape
Apart from the emus there was quite a bit of other bird life and I managed to take about two hundred photos in two days. About six are reasonable. (My high school photography teacher used to give us a roll of 36 and tell us that if we had more than two good shots we weren’t being critical enough so I got into the habit of throwing away photos early.) The wonderful night sky photos that are all the rage these days are still beyond me, which is disappointing as the stars were magnificent every night.

The green parrots were the most frustrating, never staying still for a photo. Until, on our last morning, midway through packing the tents, I noticed one sitting in a hollow not far away. I slowly made my way forward, taking photos as I went in case it flew off, until I was close enough to get something that might prove half decent (maybe I should just buy a bigger lens?). and so, after playing cat and mouse (camera and parrot), the green parrot - a Ringnecks - decided to put on a modelling show and was safely captured in pixels. I could depart happy.

More Galahs
Another Galah

The Ringneck

Brown-headed Honeyeater (I think)

The End

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Trucks, hot rods, waterfalls and moments of fame

Sunday was the annual Truck and Hot Rod Show, which started with the traditional fog covering the town. I sat inside my warm lounge room wondering whether to tempt fate and venture out into the hordes of Bundaberg Rum drinking truck-heads. Eventually, I sort of rugged up and headed out the front door and soon I was amongst it: big trucks, small trucks, red trucks, blue trucks, old trucks, new trucks, and a steady stream of country and western music. 

I’m not sure how many truck shows there have been, but they keep getting bigger – more people, more checked flannelette. And generally cold with rain as an optional extra. I took my new camera – an Olympus TG-280 – a nice small, point and shoot type with the added bonus of being waterproof and shockproof, suitable for surfing and climbing and truck shows. Sadly, I am not all that inspired by painted duco.

The next day was warm and sunny, the sort of weather that the truck show organisers would love but seldom get. It was quiet in town; it seems people only come for the day and not many hang around for the Monday Queen’s Birthday holiday. (It isn’t even her birthday – Queen Liz was born in April – the holiday is traditionally around June to allow for nice weather – in England! In Australia, we celebrate in June, when it is cold, except in Western Australia, where it is in September, or maybe October.) I decided to make the most of what might be the last of the nice weather and do a short walk somewhere. My first thought was the Cathedral Range, because it is nice and local, but in the end I headed further south to Marysville to see the redeveloped Stevenson Falls.

The falls area was very heavily burnt in the 2009 Black Saturday fires. I had only been there once since then, shortly after the fire. The area was very black; a mess.  A lot of work has now been done repairing and reshaping the carpark, walking tracks and so on. First stop was to the top of the falls, a shortish walk to a small platform with views down the river valley. Trees and scrub were sprouting throughout the forest of dead trunks. In one or two spots, the regrowth was lacking a bit, probably from landslips. Back at the bottom of the falls, I took a few pictures, wandered over to the other side of the river for a couple more shots. There were lots of tourists around, with a number of accents and languages being spoken.

I set up my camera for a long exposure shot. My wife wandered away, a bit embarrassed to be seen with the guy mucking around with cameras and lenses and tripods, so I rushed a couple of shots and we headed back into Marysville for a coffee.

Looking through the pics later I found one or two that I thought were okay and loaded them onto my Flickr page (you can have a look at my Flickr page via the link at the side).

A few nights later, I’m watching the ABC news on the television. The weather section comes on. Each night they choose a photo from their Flickr group as a background to the weather report and they had chosen my photo of the falls.  My phone buzzes a minute later, and then again, and again. Thirty-six seconds of my fifteen minutes of fame has now been spent.

A week or so later I made it to the Cathedrals, hiking up Ten Fathom Ridge from Neds Gully to take a few photos. At the top I basked in the sunshine and took in the wonderful view of the fog-laden valley that is home. The birdsong was amazing. I could hear cockatoos, kookaburras, magpies and lots of others, all coming from a single lyrebird somewhere in the bush. I came across two or three in the short walk I did, all in top voice. Sadly I couldn’t get close enough to get a good photo but I managed a recording using the camera’s video function. The file is too big to post but here is a link to the recording on my Soundcloud page.