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



Thursday, 10 July 2014

Five Mile Beach, Wilsons Promontory

I’m going to take a step back in time and recall my first ever overnight walk. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge Hiking Fiasco, who’s blogs about his trip to Five Mile Beach brought back these memories of this hike, negating years of therapy trying to recover from it.

Planning your first overnighter has the innocence (or ignorance) of not knowing what walk to do. It was a decision between Five Mile Beach – a long, dry, unsheltered dirt road – or Sealers Cove – a track winding through fern gullies and rainforest. Being a hot summer’s day, we chose Five Mile Beach, The reason being that it didn’t have any hills where the trek to and from Sealers Cove does. Ignore the fact that is longer, hotter and … well, we didn’t know.  

On your first overnight hike there is also the pleasure of not knowing what you need and so not knowing if you’ve forgotten something important, like water, until you develop the thirst for whatever it is you’ve forgotten, like water. Luckily, we became thirsty not long after setting off, like within a couple of hundred metres of the carpark, and a quick retracing of steps saw me scrounging through the detritus in the boot for any sort of water container. Luckily I owned a fairly clapped out vehicle with a leaky radiator and so had a bottle of water in the boot for topping up the car’s cooling system. This was some time ago now and younger readers may not know this, but once upon a time bottles were made of glass. As such, they were quite heavy. Plastic bottles did exist, and we had one small one with us, but it contained an essential camping requirement known as Tawny Port so emptying the contents to allow it to be used for water was not an option.  And so, with one whole litre of precious water, we headed off.

The track starts off through low heath scrub. The vegetation was interesting, and the way the track just faded into the distant horizon made a spectacular view. This thrill lasted around an hour, after which the vegetation was less interesting and the way the bloody track just faded into the distant horizon ...  Eventually we had some respite as the track wound down to Barry’s Creek and we realised from being in the shade just how hot the sun had become. We stopped for some tucker and briefly considered camping the night but decided against calling it quits so early in our hiking careers. We moved on, back to that bloody track just fading into the distant horizon.

StKilda Junction – eventually – and we would now leave the road and head to the coast. Our spirits rose as we walked across the causeway to what is truly a magnificent beach. Feeling that we were pretty much at the end of our ordeal, we set off along the sand and noticed that the creek – where the campsite and fresh water would be found – was at the end of the beach, near the bloody distant horizon. We also learnt that walking on sand is not fun; probably even less so after a long, long road bash.

The beach was empty and, despite the pain of walking on soft sand, glorious. We made the creek and a campsite was easily found. I wasn’t sure if we were in the right spot – there weren’t any official signs – but a tent peg struck poo and toilet paper  so I figured this must be where people camp. I wandered upstream, found a spot where I could get freshish water, and we ate, drank Port, and considered it a good day.

We awoke early the next morning to strange sounds around the tent but soon realised it was our muscles groaning at the thought of walking back. “Be brave”, we told our weary bodies over breakfast, “there is only a thousand kilometres of beach and a million more of road to hike”. We set off. The tide was out, the sun low and the day’s heat still waiting to pounce (which it did, later, when we were on the road) making the beach walk pleasant. After the beach section, we crossed the causeway to the road where the walking became CENSORED and CENSORED. As the sun rose, the hiking became even more CENSORED, but, I am pleased to say,  there were no tears or blisters, only sulky silence and the trudge of boots on gravel. And the CENSORED track fading into the CENSORED horizon.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Haunted


I had driven past the old, run-down asylum many times and noticed it becoming more and more dilapidated. One day I had a bit of time to kill so I thought I’d take a look. I parked nearby and grabbed my camera. A cyclone wire fence had been strung up around the whole place to stop people getting too close, but the fence was, at best, decorative and in places, absent and so didn’t pose any problems. I avoided the main building and entered a secondary building around the back. The rooms were dark, the windows and doors largely boarded over, the internal walls covered in graffiti.

The room I first entered was once a kitchen; steel benches lined one wall. I moved through this into an old dining room. One wall was all windows and would have faced onto a garden at one time but the windows were long broken and the panes covered with boards. The darkness of the room was oppressive and shivers were running down my spine, partly because I knew I was trespassing and partly thinking about the people who once lived and worked here. I made for the exit and the sunshine; somewhat amazed at my own reaction to being inside the building.

Outside I took a few more photos as my time ran out before heading home.

A trawl of the net and I discovered that the asylum had once housed some of the state’s worst insane criminals. It has now been vacant for nearly twenty years and some of the buildings are thought to be haunted. Some people wandering the buildings have reported loud banging on the walls, odd smells and the sound of children crying. One story tells of a young girl wandering the upper floors with a  music box. Wandering around a haunted building seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon, I thought, so I vowed to return.

My second visit was to the main building. I entered a stairway and ventured to the second floor, wondering if this is where the young girl might be. The main corridor was dark with small rooms off to one side. All were vandalised. One large room had no roof, a fire at some stage having destroyed it. I took a few photos and retreated.

Venturing through the asylum was an interesting experience – atmospheric would be an understatement. There were no other people around but I know the place is visited by many; photographers, graffiti artists and  probably a few others you wouldn’t want to stumble across. Ghosts? Maybe. The darkness, dilapidation and history of lost souls makes it is easy to imagine yourself encountering one.

POSTSCRIPT

One of my photos made it onto the Australian Broadcasting Corporation News’ FaceBook page. The resulting comments were interesting, ranging from one person “seeing” spirits in the photo to another person commenting that ghosts need to work on their communication skills – “banging on walls” is ineffective communication and just plain rude.


 
The Main Building


Walkway along one of the back buildings

The Dining Room (I think)

Dining Room

Stairway to second floor of the main building

Main building, first floor corridor. This photo appeared on the ABC's FaceBook page. Someone commented thayt they could see spirits in the photo.

Upstairs room

Upstairs corridor

The Administration Building.

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.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

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.

“Thirteen.”

“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