A walk in the rain – Mt St Leonard, Healesville

 

A cloudy day for a walk

A cloudy day for a walk

Not every day can be a perfect day for a walk.

But sometimes those crappy weather days can be pretty nice.

A friend and I recently walked up Mt St Leonard, near Healesville, about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne.

It’s just over a thousand metres high and great for a climbing workout that’ll have you huffing and puffing.

The day we decided to climb it was cold and wet.

The forecast was for the rain and cloud to clear during the day and we thought by the time we got to the top the clouds would have cleared and we’d be rewarded with fantastic views.

Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t with us, and the rain was heavy and the cloud dense just as we arrived at the summit.

We sheltered under the observation tower at the top briefly before deciding there was no chance of the weather changing any time soon and we headed back down … carefully on the now very wet and slippery trail.

While we didn’t get much in the way of views during the walk, the low, misty grey cloud through the trees created a quiet, serene atmosphere.

It also made us focus on what was close – the smells of the forest, the tweet and twitter of birds, the colours of the trees and the wallabies and lyre birds that scurried into the bush at our approach.

So for me, while wet, cold, grey walking days can be uncomfortable, they can also be as enjoyable as the warm, blue sky days.

The walk up and back took us about five hours. The trail is a wide, easy to follow track with well marked signs when it diverted to a walking track.

And steep. Very steep, especially towards the top. Be prepared for sore legs afterwards.

A blistering time

After years of bushwalking I’ve yet to discover an effective way to prevent or fix blisters.

I copped some pretty bad ones on my last walk at Wilsons Prom that left me hobbling around for a week and it made me wonder whether there really is a way to stop them.

I feel like I’ve tried everything but nothing’s worked.

Here’s a bit of a list of what I’ve tried to no avail.

  • Wearing two pairs of socks – just made my feet hotter and sweatier.
  • Bandaids – eventually lost their stickiness and rubbed off.
  • Fancy moleskin patches – again, rubbed off.
  • Trying to build up sticking plaster around the blister – again, rubbed off.

One thing that kind of worked was sticking plaster straight onto the “hot spot” where it feels like a blister is forming. But I found this only works on the heel where there’s plenty of skin for the plaster to stick to. It still eventually rubs off though. And it’s not useful for toes or on the side of the foot.

I suppose one problem is much of my walking has been in Tasmania, where you’re guaranteed to get wet feet. And when that happens, little will stick to your skin. Plus trails are rough and the movement of your feet twisting and turning on uneven ground encourages rubbing.

Of course, walking in thoroughly broken in boots does help. But if you’re walking 20km a day in them, I doubt that alone will keep you blister free.

At the moment my only strategy to deal with blisters is telling myself to “toughen up, princess” and carry on. There’ll be plenty of time to get your feet back to normal after the walk.

If anyone’s found any effective ways to deal with blisters, I’m happy to hear them.

My mangled feet after finishing the South West Circuit in Tasmania

 

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse

I’ve always wanted to stay at a lighthouse.

Wilsons Prom lighthouse

Wilsons Prom lighthouse

These lonely, isolated outposts on remote coastlines have always intrigued me. Exposed to harsh weather, perched on cliffs or rocky outcrops, there’s a certain romanticism about them although I imagine they were also incredibly difficult places to live and work for the keepers who maintained the lighthouse. Stories of how they made most of their situation always intrigue me.

I finally got my chance to stay at a lighthouse recently at Wilsons Promontory, where the old lighthouse keepers’ cottages have been opened up to hikers.

 

Wilsons Prom National Park is about three hours drive southeast of Melbourne and is one of Victoria’s natural jewels. The coast and beaches are spectacular, as are the forests and bush you hike through to reach them.

The lighthouse cottages have been wonderfully renovated.

There are three self-contained cottages – the large, head keeper’s cottage, and two others, one for couples and another for groups.

My friend and I stayed in the old head keeper’s cottage, which has four bedrooms (I think) with bunk beds and a large kitchen, sitting room and showers and toilets. Luxury compared to my usual camping!

As we didn’t need to carry in a tent or stove, we had plenty of room in our backpacks for good food – no dehydrated stuff this time. We had smoked salmon pasta for dinner our first night and falafels and couscous the second night with nice cheese and crackers and pastes for nibbles. Lunches were wraps with cheese, cured meat and fresh salad stuff.

Another reason for staying at the lighthouse were its resident wombats. Wombats are one of my favourite Australian animals and the opportunity to see them wondering freely around the cottages was something I couldn’t resist. And I wasn’t disappointed, as you’ll see in the photos.

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It’s quite a slog to get to the lighthouse. We took the most direct route, from Telegraph Saddle, along the dirt service road used by rangers. It doesn’t go all the way to the lighthouse though thankfully. The final 3-4km to the lighthouse is along a walking track that follows the coast through tall forest. Possibly the toughest part is the last 200-300 metres to the cottages, up a very steep concrete path from the rocks where stores used to be unloaded. It’s about a five to six hour walk in.

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We arrived about 4.30pm and the wind was blowing strong and the ocean was rough. Thick fog came rolling in and the lighthouse almost disappeared from view.

The next day we did a 20km day walk to South Point, the southerly most point of the Australian mainland. It was a funny day weather-wise. To the west of the lighthouse the sky was clear, but to the east the fog hung heavy and thick. Out to sea you could hear the fog horns of passing container ships. The fog eventually lifted in the late afternoon and the views were clear when we had a tour of the lighthouse and climbed to the top.

Our third day dawned clear and the wind had died down. We had all day to get back to the car so we decided to walk back via Waterloo Bay and its beautiful white sandy beach. We had great views of the coast and looking back to the lighthouse, and saw a whale breaching in the distance. That was an unexpected bonus!

All that walking had one downside – blisters. I was wearing my Scarpas which haven’t been out for a while and it felt like I was breaking them in all over again. Not a good thing to do when walking 20km a day. By the end of the walk, heading up the last hill to get to the car at the saddle, every step was painful. My left small toe was the worst and it felt like a blister had formed on top of another blister if that’s possible. A week later and it’s finally gone down and back to normal.

But the trip was worth it.

Why I won’t be going back to Tidal River

Sometimes camping really sucks.
Like when the campsite you’re at has had a wedding booked at it and the frigging nightclub music doesn’t stop until 1.30am.
That was my recent Saturday night at Tidal River at Wilsons Promontory with a friend after we’d just walked over 20km on blistered feet (to be the subject of another blog) and were looking forward to an early night and a long sleep. But it was not to be.
Even with earplugs it was impossible to drown out the racket. The dull thump thump bass of a DJ’s beats were constant. At every pause between songs we silently wished that was the last. We were disappointed often.
Tidal River is a very popular campsite, with families as well as walkers and holiday makers there. Few would have got a decent night sleep this night.
There’s something utterly incompatible with this scenario. A beautiful natural location, managed by Parks Victoria, the government organisation charged with looking after our wilderness areas, hosting a loud, intrusive wedding and reception.
I realise there may be a view that parks should have to pay their way. But to the detriment of what makes them special? And disruptive to other users?
Anyway, I’ve learned my lesson and won’t be going back to stay at Tidal River. And I’d recommend anyone thinking about it to carefully consider what they may end up experiencing.

Climbing walls again!

After a break of a couple of years I’m back climbing.

It’s something I’ve done off and on for about 20 years. The thing about climbing is you need someone at the bottom of the rope to belay you, to hold and tighten the rope if you fall, stopping you from falling. And if you’re going to do it outside, you should go with people who know what they’re doing – ie how to tie knots and set up ropes safely and securely.

So the off times have been when I haven’t known anyone who likes climbing, or has the right amount of knowledge, or just the time to do so. The on times when circumstances have aligned and I’ve have found the right people.

I’m back on again after an old friend originally from Germany moved back to Australia.

I find climbing a great combination of a physical and mental workout. Physical because you’re using your arms and legs to climb the wall, and mental because you need to think about how best to get to the top.

On the wall

On the wall

You can’t just muscle your way up. You need to think how to place your feet, where to put them, which holds to grab and how to hold them. You need to be efficient in your moves otherwise you’ll tire quickly.

And that’s one of the things I like most about climbing. The best climbers aren’t necessarily the ones with the biggest muscles. The people who get up quickly and make it look effortless are actually small and lithe and are economical with their movements. They look like they flow up the wall.

I climb at an indoor gym although outdoors is the best. At the gym you’re using colour coded holds to determine your climb while outdoors you use anything and everything to get yourself to the top.

The shoes.

The shoes.

Plus being in the outdoors in the fresh air, amongst the trees and birds, just makes everything better. But if you’re going to go outdoors, you also need equipment, which can be expensive. And as I said earlier, know what you’re doing. Because while climbing is a safe sport, it’s only safe if you make sure you follow safety guidelines religiously and don’t cut any corners.

So if you’ve never tried climbing, give it a go. It’s a fun bug to be bitten by.

 

 

Salomon Series, Anglesea

Last weekend I did the final Salomon Series trail run for 2014.

It was at Anglesea, a seaside town on the way to Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, about an hour and a half drive from Melbourne.

Again, I was doing the long course, which this time was 23km – a couple more than last month’s long course of 21km at Olinda in the Dandenongs.

And what a spectacular day it was for a run.

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The morning was cool with a chill breeze but the sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue.

It didn’t take long to warm up when the race started.

The first six or seven kilometres were along the firm compacted sand of the beach under tall cliffs topped with bush that we’d be running through on the way back to the finish.

The ocean was calm and the gentle breaking of the waves on the beach was a steady, hypnotic soundtrack that was a nice distraction from my huffing and puffing as I jogged along.

The course went over a set of rocks that slowed things down a bit as some runners were a bit unsure of the uneven, sharp surface, and then up a headland that took us into coastal scrub and along twisting, turning single trail.

I’m not ashamed to say but the first big climb was a tough one and I fast-walked much of it.

The course then took runners up and down through the bush until the final few kilometres had us running along the top of the cliffs we’d run under at the start.

The view out over the ocean was spectacular. The water was a deep blue and completely calm and flat. Anglesea’s houses in the distance were a magnet to the finish.

Finished!

Finished!

I crossed the line in two hours, 15 minutes and 19 seconds – faster than my time in the Olinda run, which was a couple of kilometres shorter, but hillier. I finished around the middle of my category.

Anyway, now that the Salomon Series is over, I’m kind of left wondering what to do next. I’ve got all this fitness now and need to do something with it.

A friend is suggesting the Melbourne Marathon in a few weeks. Hmmmm, maybe.

Some of my favourite multi-day walks

A few weeks ago Australia’s Outdoor magazine published a list of the top ten multday walks in the country.
I was quite chuffed to discover I’ve done six-ish of them – Queensland’s Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island and Fraser Island Great Walk and Tasmania’s Overland Track (a couple of times), Eastern Arthur Range (I’ve done some of the Eastern Arthurs walk – into and up Federation Peak and out), Western Arthur Range Traverse, and South Coast Track.

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The list made me think there’s plenty more walking I’ve got to do and also about what would be on my list of top overnight walks.
So while the ones I’ve mentioned above are certainly in my list of top walks, here’s a few others that have made an impression on me and I’d recommend.

1. Mount Remarkable, South Australia – Walking through the eastern side of this park presented some beautiful landscapes that, for me, are the picture of what I like to imagine the Australian bush is. It’s a romantic picture but one I like to daydream about. Open spaces dotted with big old gnarly trees and massive blue skies overhead. If you time it right and go around when the area gets rain, the ground is covered by a blanket of green grass and the streams at the bottom of steep gullies are running.

Mt Remarkable National Park

Mt Remarkable National Park

2. South-west circuit, Tasmania – This was my most recent big walk and it was the subject of some of my first blog posts. It had everything – amazing coastal views, challenging terrain, beaches, mountain ranges, strenuous walking and the feeling of utter and total independence and being away from everything.

On the South West Circuit

On the South West Circuit

3. Mount Bartle-Frere, Queensland – This was the first overnight walk I ever did on my own. I had no idea what I was doing but it started a lifelong passion for the outdoors. I was living in Atherton, my home town on the Tablelands in Far North Queensland at the time, and walked from the western side of the mountain. The mountain is covered in dense rainforest. So dense that when I went off track for a bathroom break, I had a moment of panic when I went to return to my pack I’d left on the track and couldn’t find it. After some deep calming breaths and a careful retracing of my steps I found the track again. I don’t think I’ve felt a sense of relief like that since. The climb is a physical challenge but apparently the view from the top is worth it. The weekend I was at the top it was covered in cloud and I didn’t see a thing. Here’s a link to a map of the walk.

4. Walls of Jerusalem, Tasmania – One of my favourite places in Tasmania. Passing through Herods Gate into the walls is like walking into another world. You’re surrounded by high imposing peaks – King Davids Peak, The Temple and Solomons Throne are just some. Then walk down into the penicil pine forest of Dixons Kingdom and its old trappers’ hut and resident wallabies. Wonderful.

Solomons Throne

The Temple

5. Blue Gum Forest, New South Wales – Another early bushwalking experience that showed me the beauty of the Australian bush. A beautiful stand of tall blue gums in the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains. It was saved from the axe by a group of bushwalkers who bought it in the 1930s to save for future generations. Inspiring bush and an inspiring story.