Prepping for a big walk

My big walk for the year is getting closer and here’s my steadily growing pile of gear for packing.

Whenever I think of something I’ll need I throw it on the spare bed.

Gear!

Gear!

Tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, wet weather gear, thermals, tarp, ground sheet, EPIRB, GPS, maps, track notes … the list goes on and on. Water bottles, stove, fuel bottle, gloves, beanie, socks, medical kit … and I’m still to package up my meals!

Lots to remember and prep for for a solo 10 day walk in Tasmania’s south west – the Precipitous Bluff circuit. Aside from what goes into the backpack there’s also accommodation in Hobart, what to leave behind in Hobart, transport to the start of the walk and transport from the finish point.

But it should all be good. Stay tuned …

Cairns at Mt Baw Baw

They like cairns at Mt Baw Baw.

Nope, not Cairns the hot sunny humid holiday centre in North Queensland, cairns, the pile of rocks to mark something. (Although if a decent cyclone went through Cairns, it could also end up a pile of rubble. Sometimes I wish one would – oooo controversial!)

Anyway, since my last walk in the Alpine National Park near Mt Buller, I’ve acquired a taste for Victoria’s high country.

And a few weeks ago I finally got around the driving up to Mt Baw Baw, one of the closest alpine areas you can drive to from Melbourne.

It takes about three hours along the M1 freeway, then through some nice farm countryside, and then a very twisty, turny and steep road to the ski resort.

It was so twisty turny that by the time I reached the top I was feeling pretty car sick and glad to get out and take a few VERY deep breaths.

My walk started out from the village along the Summit Trail, through snow gums, until I reached the first cairn of the day, the summit cairn on top of Mt Baw Baw.

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I then hit the Village Trail and followed it until I reached the turnoff to head into the Baw Baw National Park.

It was nice, single track walking through forest and open plateaus. It was very quiet too. I don’t remember hearing many birds or wind through the trees.

The next cairn was at Mt St Phillack.IMG_0574

I carried on walking until I reached the junction for the track to Mt St Gwinear, which was my destination on this day.IMG_0575 IMG_0576

The junction is at a place called Camp Saddle, and there’s a brilliant little cave shelter there formed by a couple of huge rocks. It would be a great spot to stop and rest in bad weather.

At the top of Mt St Gwinear was another cairn and a great view out over the alpine region and down to Lake Thomson.IMG_0581

I retraced my steps to get back to Mt Baw Baw. The walk to Mt St Gwinear and back was about five hours I think. But I was taking it pretty slow and stopping and starting a fair bit so it could probably be shorter.IMG_0583

I’m looking forward to getting up there again some time and aiming for Mushroom Rocks or Mt Whitelaw. Hopefully before the snow starts.

 

Ignoring the signs to find a new path

Sometimes, ignoring track signs can be for the best.

Normally I’m a stickler for following a set path and signage suggestions, but you shouldn’t always believe everything they say.

For example, we spent Christmas with my family in Far North Queensland. They live in Atherton, on the Tablelands, west of Cairns. (Now, according to the tourism marketers, known as the Cairns Hinterland – blergh!)

Atherton sits at the base of Mt Baldy, the hardened core of an ancient volcano.

Mt Baldy

Mt Baldy

In all my years growing up in Atherton I only ever climbed the mountain once.

So on our recent trip home I decided to climb it again for old time’s sake. And to walk off some Christmas over indulgence.

The views from the summit are fantastic – the town below, farms, Tinaroo Dam, volcanic features like the Seven Sisters and Mt Quincan, and ranges in the distance that include Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere.

The top of Mt Baldy. Widow Maker is to the right

The top of Mt Baldy. Widow Maker is to the right

Also at the top is an official, wooden sign that says the track finishes there. But the track appears to continue. And tacked to a tree is a laminated piece of paper with a mud map showing that the track continues down the other side of the mountain and links up with some other tracks to create a loop walk.IMG_1109

This was a real treat for me as I’ve often wondered what was on the other side of Baldy.

And what I discovered was a well-walked track through dense rainforest, which was a significant change from the dry, sparse scrubby bush the track going up the mountain passed through.

From the summit the track went down and around the southern side of the mountain and returned to the scrubby bush around the base. It also linked to a track that went steeply up a nearby hill called Widow Maker, which I’d never known was called that.

The views from the top of Widow Maker were fantastic too.

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So instead of a shortish walk up the mountain and returning the way I’d come, I found a longer, more interesting path.

So ignoring the track signs can sometimes lead to some pleasant discoveries. Is there a lesson for life in there?

Alpine National Park – trip report

As I mentioned in my previous post about my Alpine National Park walk, here’s a bit more of a comprehensive post about my trip.

Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking.

After a four hour drive from Melbourne, stopping at Mansfield for a very unsatisfying takeaway coffee, I set out from the Eight Mile Plain campsite in the Howqua Hills, on the upper walking track that follows the Howqua River. It’s an easy track, gently rising above the river, allowing pleasant views up and down its length.

The weather started out mild but at one point I thought I heard a plane overhead. I looked up and saw behind me some dark clouds starting to build. It wasn’t a plane I’d heard but thunder, and the rumbling was becoming more frequent. The air started to feel thicker and it was about then that I thought of my raincoat, which I’d packed deep down into my pack because I hadn’t thought I’d need it so soon into the walk. But the temperature was comfortable so I didn’t worry about getting wet. And it’s nice to walk in the rain sometimes. It was a surprise however when it started to hail.

By the time I reached Ritchies Hut the rain and hail had moved further up the valley and sunshine was popping out between the clouds. I stopped at the hut for a short rest, had lunch and then carried on up the track.

About an hour later I reached the track’s end at the 4WD dirt road which I was to spend the rest of the day following to get to the Upper Howqua campsite.

It wasn’t much fun walking along a hard dirt road and avoiding passing 4WDs, but there are no walking tracks to reach where I was heading. It’s hard on the feet but the walking was fairly quick. The scenery and bush is still nice to look at.

I passed a few camping areas where there were quite a few car campers on the way to the Upper Howqua campsite I was aiming for. I reached it in the late afternoon and was surprised to see it was chock-a-block with car and 4WD campers. A map I’d seen suggested it was closed due to flood damage. (I know, I know, if I thought it was closed, why was I aiming to camp there? Well, I figured it would have to be pretty messed up if one person in a single tent couldn’t find a small patch of ground to set up on. And how likely was that?) After wandering around looking for a place to squeeze in I started talking to a lady who said there were bush campsites further up the river, along the track I was going to follow the next day. That sounded good to me so I continued walking for about half an hour beside the river, which had become more of a stream, and found a lovely flat grassy patch that was perfect to pitch my tent for the night.

 

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Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.

Woke up to grey, cloudy skies and set off up the river about 9am. My plan was to head up Howitt Spur via the Mount Howitt Feeder Track to reach the alpine area and Vallejo Gantner Hut. It was not to be but thankfully there was an alternative route.

I reached the junction of the Feeder Track and Queen Spur Road (not really a road) where there’s a big campsite and headed up the Feeder Track. The bush was dense and thick blackberry bushes closed in on the track and eventually, after clambering over a large fallen tree, it disappeared. The bush had reclaimed the track. I scouted around a bit to try and find it but to no avail. It doesn’t appear to get much use as I couldn’t see any signs of other walkers. I pulled out my GPS but saw that the batteries were low so I didn’t want to have to rely on it while bushbashing up the spur. Looking at my map I saw that the Queen Spur Road links up with Stanleys Track which then goes up to the Crosscut Saw and from there you can get to Vallejo Gantner Hut.

So I backtracked and got onto the Queen Spur Road, which felt like an old, disused road. It climbed steadily and linked up with Stanleys Track, which became a proper walking track. From there the track got steeper and I started getting good views down the valley and up to the ridge I was heading for. I also started coming across flat grassy patches of ground dotted with tiny flowers and ringed by short, tough snow gums. They make wonderful places to stop and look around and rest.

Near the top of the spur there was a bit of rocky clambering that demanded careful attention but eventually I reached the top and entered a wonderful, grassy, treeless saddle on the Crosscut Saw that gave spectacular views of the rest of the park and its valleys and ranges on the other side.

The track to the hut was rough but easy to follow. Lots of up and down. It was a relief to reach the hut and settle in. There are plenty of campsites around the hut and some brilliant ones in the trees with views over the park. Water is from a steadily flowing spring. Clean, cold and refreshing!

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Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.

This was a tough day. Warm, still and blue skies but tough walking. The track across the Crosscut Saw is rough and steep. Heading out to the mountain there are two sections where you do a lot of steep descending (into a spot called Horrible Gap appropriately enough) before climbing back up to reach the summit of Mt Speculation. And because I was doing this as a return walk, I knew that all that descending I was doing, I’d have to go back up.

But it was worth it. The 360 degree views from the summit are spectacular. Which you can see here.

By the time I headed back to the hut the day had turned very warm and I’d only brought two litres of water with me. I had to ration my drinking to ensure I had enough to get me back, which was hard. I just wanted to gulp it all down. When I got back I sat down at the spring and sculled a couple of litres to rehydrate before wandering back to my tent for the rest of the afternoon.

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Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.

Another tough day of up and down walking along ridge lines but the views were all worth it.

I crossed over Mt Howitt and couldn’t see any sign of a track that I might have come up using the Howitt Feeder Track. (I did see a wild dog – so if anyone from Parks Victoria is reading, maybe there should be some traps or whatever control measures for feral animals you use in there.) Alpine flowers blanketed the grassy plains. Snow gums twisted and leaned in all directions below the snow line.

I had a mini hissy fit with all the climbing I’d been doing so didn’t bother climbing up Mt Magdala but instead took the track that crosses its face. It was a bit nerve wracking as the mountain dropped away very steeply to the right and it felt like there was nothing but air on that side. It was a long way down. My steps were very careful and deliberate on that section.

Eventually I reached the 4WD track I was heading for, which I would follow for the rest of the day to Bluff Hut, via Lovicks Hut. The track was pretty rough, even for walking, and there was more up and down to slog through.

Getting to Bluff Hut was a relief. By then my pack straps were digging into my shoulders and I was adjusting my pack every 10 minutes or so to try and make it more comfortable. Water was from a water tank beside the hut.

As an aside, while at Bluff Hut and as I was finishing my dinner around 7pm, I met a couple of uni students who were walking back to their car. They had driven up from Melbourne that morning, walked as far as they could before returning to their car, and then driving back to Melbourne. They said they just needed to get out of the city for a walk after a busy few days working at a bike shop during the post Christmas sales. They’d left Melbourne at 6am, started walking around 11am, would get back to their car around 8pm and then drive back. And one of them had to work the next day. I was in awe!

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Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.

Set out early, 8am, as I’d heard from a walker the previous day (not the uni students) that today was forecast to be a hot one.

I headed out on the track across The Bluff. The start of the track from the hut isn’t signed or obvious but it’s in front of the car park. Once you’re on the path it’s easy to follow.

It was steady walking along the bluff with great views across to Mt Buller and down to the Howqua River.

The track down off the Bluff is very steep. In places you’re grabbing onto trees to steady yourself going down or scrambling down rocks.

At the bottom of the Bluff track I carried on to head down Eight Mile Spur back to the car, which I’ve written about in my previous post.

All up, it was a good walk. It’s a bit of a shame to have to use 4WD tracks but there’s just no other way that I could see I could do it as a circuit. But it was all worthwhile.

 

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Alpine National Park – Victoria

How following my nose and a bit of controlled falling got me home

It was my last day of five days’ hiking in the Mt Howitt region of the Alpine National Park in Victoria, about four hours drive north-east of Melbourne, near Mansfield, when I reached what ended up being the hardest part of the walk.

I’d started by walking up the Howqua River, then up North Range to the Crosscut Saw, camped at Vallejo Gantner Hut, done a day walk out to Mt Speculation and back and then over Mt Howitt to Bluff Hut and then across and down The Bluff.

 

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It was now day five, I’d reached Refrigerator Gap, and the car was just six kilometres away, according to the map, down Eight Mile Spur.

Here is where it got tricky. I’d noticed on a later edition of the map I was using (Buller-Howitt Alpine Area Outdoor Recreation Guide 1st Edition) that the section of track I was about to follow, across Rocky Ridge, was marked “can be difficult to follow”.

This had given me pause to think about alternative routes back to the car following four-wheel drive tracks. That would add another eight kilometres of walking, which wasn’t appealing. Plus I’d walked this track once before a few years ago when it was partly covered in snow and had managed to find my way so figured I still could.

But since then there’s been plenty of bush regrowth and old, burnt trees have fallen across the track, obscuring the way.

I then noticed some old horse manure on the ground and remembered reading online about horseback tours along Eight Mile Spur. I assumed the dung was from the horses and whenever the path became very faint along rocky patches or through overgrown grass, I smelt for and looked out for the dung.

It’s not the most ideal method of navigation, and I did have my GPS with me, although the batteries were very low, but it worked for me this time.

I followed the dung and the faint track left by, I assume, the horses, until the track became more obvious at the point where the spur turned downhill, towards the Howqua River.

From here I thought it would be an easy amble down all the way back to the car at Eight Mile Flat.

However, again, bush regrowth made the track hard to follow and the dung disappeared. There was also a lot of leaf and bark litter on the ground that masked signs of a path.

I lost the track. Thankfully I was far enough down that I could hear the river and knew it was pretty much straight in front of me. All I had to do was keep going straight down, bash through a bit of bush, and I’d reach the river and the track I’d started out on.

It was harder than I thought. The ground got really steep and it was a struggle to stay on two feet. I grabbed at grass and trees to try and control my descent but I still fell over a few times. Thankfully on my backside and not forwards. The temperature was also in the mid 30s Celsius.

Anyway, after what felt like forever I finally reached the track above the river, stopped to gulp the rest of my water as sweat pored from me, and plod my way back to the car, where I rewarded myself with a wash in the river to clean off. Looking at the map I was about a kilometre off course. It looks like I’d veered to the right and followed a different spur down to the river instead of veering left and continuing down a less steep section of Eight Mile Spur.

I’ll write a fuller trip report soon.

My route

Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking

Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.

Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.

Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.

Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.

 

The Scotland Island dog race

In the spirit of Christmas I thought I’d share a unique Christmassy event I’ve had the pleasure to experience twice now: the Scotland Island Dog Race.

Every Christmas Eve in the late afternoon at Pittwater, north of Sydney, a motley collection of dogs and their owners assemble at Church Point, pay their entry fee of a tin of dog food and longneck bottle of beer, and jump onto a barge across to Scotland Island.

All sorts of breeds are represented – labradors, border collies, golden retrievers – along with a range of unidentifiable others.

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On the shore at Church Point the Pittwater community gathers to meet, catch up and share Christmas good wishes over drinks and picnics. It’s one of the best community events I’ve been a part of. There’s a sense of spontaneity about it and an atmosphere of everyone enjoying themselves.

On the water, boats line the route the dogs and their owners will swim and paddle 500m-600m to return to the finish line back at Church Point.

On shore, looking across to Scotland Island, there’s little indication of when the race has begun. But after a little time, the figures of each dog’s owner on kayaks or surfboards, encouraging their dogs along, become clearer.

It’s then the excitement begins to build, as those on shore try to work out which dog is leading.

There’s plenty at stake. Will it be a local dog that wins? And if so, from which bay? Or will it be a ring-in from outside the area?

The last time I was there, in 2012, the winner was Slick, a big dog of indeterminate breed, who belonged to the son of one of the residents of our bay. So we claimed him and the celebrations for Slick continued when we returned to the bay.

Legend has it that the race began in the 1970s when two ferry boat captains raced their dogs from Scotland Island to the mainland. It’s grown since then to become one of the highlights of the year at Pittwater.

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.