Wombat State Forest MTB ride – video

A few weeks ago, before the weather in Melbourne turned cold, grey and rainy, I went for a ride on the mountain bike trails in Wombat State Forest.

The last time I rode out here was a couple of years ago when I did the Wombat 50 MTB race (I wasn’t racing. Just happy to finish) so I’d forgotten what to expect.

What I got was 19km of fast and flowing single track that weaved its way through the forest. There was lots of opportunity for speed down gentle descents while the ascents weren’t too long or taxing.

Great fun.

And as a bonus, Woodend, a nice town off the highway is just a 10 minute drive away. So after a few hours of pedalling the trails, there was time for a reward treat of coffee and cake at one of Woodend’s cafes.

It’s better to watch the video it in HD – less blurry. Not the most exciting edit but still feeling my way through and exploring the GoPro editing software.

Mountain biking at the Buxton MTB complex

About an hour-and-a-half drive east of Melbourne, past the turn off to Marysville, is the Buxton mountain bike complex.

It’s a seven-and-a-bit kilometre loop of single track of up and down and twisting and turning through scrubby forest and tree ferns.

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And it’s great fun.

There are also linking side tracks to explore when going around a second and third time.

In the wet it’s a bit slippy and, being the fraidy cat I am about falling off, I take it a bit slow. But in the dry it’s a blast. Especially the twisting downhill sections and the track’s sloping berms.

What I learned from the Precipitous Bluff walk

Precipitous Bluff in the distance, two days' walk away

Precipitous Bluff in the distance, two days of walking away

1. Once again, I packed too many clothes. Clothes take up a fair bit of space in a pack, no matter how much you try and squash them down. And they add weight. I ended up carrying an extra pair of walking pants, shirt, and thermals that I didn’t end up needing. That nagging feeling of “I should bring extra just in case” got the better of me. But really, they weren’t necessary and as a result my pack was probably heavier than it should have been.

2. The importance of not panicking. When I thought I’d lost the track in the scrub half way along the walk I thought that was it, I’d have to turn around and head back. When you think you may be lost, don’t keep pushing onwards as it may make your situation worse. Backtrack until you’re back on the path and then continue carefully to ensure you don’t wander off again. I did just that and when I ended up back at the same spot the track disappeared I scanned the ground ahead closely to pick up signs of where other walkers had been before.

3. Be flexible with plans. You never know what may happen on a walk so it’s a good idea to not be too strict with your timetable. You might end up at a campsite you were planning to stay at earlier than you think and decide to push on to the next one. Or you might find a nice site where you might want to spend an extra day. Or the weather might turn pear shaped, forcing you to stay put until it clears. Accepting that stuff happens and to just go with the flow and enjoy it will also relieve you of unnecessary stress.

Head out to the whale sculpture for a bit of mobile phone coverage

Head out to the whale sculpture for a bit of mobile phone coverage

4. If you’re going to finish your walk at Cockle Creek and haven’t organised transport to pick you up, make sure you’ve got coins so you can use the public phone, which only takes coins and Telstra Phone Cards (do they even exist anymore?) You may get one bar of service on your mobile at the ranger’s hut – enough for a text. Or you can walk out to the whale sculpture where the signal can be a little be stronger.

 

 

5. Not really a learning but a reaffirming of what I already know – Tasmania’s wilderness is wonderful.

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Views like these make Tassie such a special place

 

Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 3

Day 6. Cavern Camp to Osmiridium Beach

This day I headed to join the South Coast Track. But to get there, I had to spend half the day wading in the New River Lagoon heading down to the coast as there’s no track along the shore.

It was actually probably the easiest day of walking because while I was wading up to thigh deep in places, it was flat! No up and down!

The water was cold but it didn’t bother me much.

The biggest surprise for the day was meeting a bloke who was heading up the lagoon carrying a paddle. He was the first person I’d seen since starting the walk and was on his way to climb Precipitous Bluff. The paddle was for a blow up raft he was carrying. He said he’d tried to paddle up the lagoon but the wind kept blowing him back so he had to walk. He’d be able to use it coming out.

The one tricky spot was crossing a creek that entered the lagoon and was too deep to wade so you had to walk inland a bit until you reached a tree that had fallen across. It was slippery and I straddled it and edged across. It wasn’t glamorous but I got across safely.

Joining the South Coast Track at Prion Beach it kind of felt like the walk was over as all the really hard stuff had been done. But I still had another three days of walking to go.

I passed a group of school kids who were on their way to camp at Prion Beach and I had Osmiridian Beach all to myself. The weather cleared up to a sunny afternoon and the views of Precipitous Bluff and Pindars Peak and Mt Whylly against blue sky were brilliant.

 

Day 7. Osmiridium Beach to Granite Beach

A short walk to Granite Beach so I had a bit of a lie in and didn’t set out until after 9am.The weather had turned again and it as blowy with gray cloud overhead.

It started spitting rain as I walked along the end of Granite Beach, where it’s more boulders than sand.

At the campsite I quickly put the tarp up, got the tent up under it and then the rain started and got quite heavy. So I ended up spending another afternoon in the tent cocooned in my sleeping bag warm and dry, reading.

I worried a bit for the guy I passed yesterday as if he tried to climb Precipitous Bluff in the kind of weather I was getting on the coast, he’d be having a not very pleasant time of it.

Late in the afternoon a woman walking the South Coast Track in the same direction as me showed up. Introduced ourselves and had a nice chat.

 

Day 8. Granite Beach to South Cape Rivulet

A long tough day slogging along the muddiest part of the South Coast Track and up and over the South Cape Range.

As soon as you leave the Granite Beach campsite you’re stepping into mud. The track is pretty much one long bog. There are plenty of side tracks as people have tried to step around and avoid the worst of the mud. You’re not meant to do that as it just widens the track and has a greater impact on the landscape. I’m ashamed to admit that I did try skirting the bog a fair bit as I’d discovered the sole of my left boot was splitting from the upper. I was trying to nurse it through the last few days of the walk. I didn’t fancy trying to finish it wearing my sandals. Still got muddy though.

There was a lot of up and down, which was exhausting. But it was worth it as South Cape Rivulet is a very nice flat, sheltered campsite just up from the beach and the roar of the Southern Ocean and its crashing waves.

 

Day 9. South Coast Rivulet to Cockle Creek

The last day. And happy/sad about that. Happy that I was successfully finishing such a hard walk and sad that I was leaving behind such spectacular wilderness.

Easy walking up and over Coal Bluff and then along a beach to some stairs to climb onto some cliffs and then head inland towards Cockle Creek. The walking is easy, flat, and much of it on duckboards. In fact, it becomes a bit tedious.

But the end is a great feeling. Seeing the information shelter marking the end at Cockle Creek and signing out in the trip intentions book was very satisfying.

I was surprised to see how busy Cockle Creek was. There were a few cars parked in the parking area outside the ranger’s building and quite a few car campers.

There’s little/patchy mobile phone coverage at Cockle Creek, and I had to walk around a fair bit to find enough bars to send my wife a text message letting her know I was okay (I’m with Optus). There is a public phone but I only had enough coins to call Evans Bus service to arrange for them to pick me up the next day. The phone takes Telstra cards but do they exist anymore? The bus (a mini van) generally only operates during the summer months. They take you as far as Geeveston and then you get the public bus back to Hobart.

It was nice to spend the night at Cockle Creek. It’s an interesting area with a history of Aboriginal tribes, French scientific explorers, whaling and timber milling. It’s now the “End of the Road”, the furthest south you can drive in Australia.

 

Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 2

Day 3. Ooze Lake to Wylly Plateau

Woke in the morning to cloudy skies but some sunshine so I quickly got ready, packed up and set off to make the most of the weather while it was good.

Unfortunately, it only took about an hour for the cloud to come back down and showers to start. But at least I was walking and the cloud wasn’t so thick that I couldn’t find the cairns the track notes said I needed to follow.

The route climbed up to a small saddle  just under the summit of Pindars Peak where the track branches to go to the top and then traversed under the peak’s sheer cliffs and descended an open ridge to scrub. I’ve been on top of Pindars Peak before and it was cloudy this day so I didn’t bother bagging it this time.

It was a long, tough, exhausting day of walking. This was the day when the bush bashing started and the track disappeared in places. The weather was showery too, which was frustrating because looking down to the coast it looked sunny.

Heading down off Pandani Knob I entered dense bush that closed overhead. At one spot the track just seemed to stop. Leaf litter on the ground obscured obvious signs of a track. I looked around and couldn’t see any sign of it. I doubled back, retracing my steps to see if I’d missed a turn somewhere. Back on higher ground, I stopped and had some lunch and pondered my next move – turn back? I went back down, slowly and carefully and watching for any path I may have missed, and returned to the spot where I lost the trail. This time I looked more closely and methodically at the ground and found patches of mud where boots had gone. I was back on the trail, much to my relief.

Leaning Teatree Saddle was a dog’s breakfast for the track though. It was muddy and there were paths in all directions. I stuck with ones that appeared the boggiest and, therefore, most trafficked and I was okay. On the way up to Wylly Plateau people had placed sticks across false trails too, which were a great help.

There was no shelter on the plateau and I didn’t get much sleep as showers and strong winds buffeted my tent through the night.

 

Day 4. Wylly Plateau to Low Camp

Woke up around 4am and just lay in my warm, dry sleeping bag listening to the wild weather outside the tent. It was such a nice feeling – warm and snug inside; wet, windy and cold outside.

But I knew I had to get moving at some stage. Around 6am I had a look outside and could see a line of light on the horizon as the sun came up. Dense dark cloud lay overhead though.

I packed as much as I could inside the tent and then around 8am the clouds started to break and the rain stopped. I jumped out of the tent and got it packed as quickly as possible in the weather break and then set off walking again.

More hard walking bashing through sharp, cutting scrub, losing and finding the track again and then rock scrambling up Kameruka Moraine. I surprised myself however and got into Low Camp after only three-and-a-half hours of walking.

 

Day 5. Low Camp to Cavern Camp (up and over Precipitous Bluff)

Someone did a lot of work creating the tent sites at Low Camp in the saddle at the base of Precipitous Bluff’s cliffs. They’re sawn tree logs laid flat. Luxury! Slippery though while wearing boots. There’s no water nearby though and I had to carefully gather water from small shallow pools around the campsite and purify it.

It rained for much of the night and morning again and wind whipped the tent. The roar of a waterfall coming off the bluff added to the wilderness soundtrack.

When it came time to pack though, again I was incredibly lucky and the rain stopped for long enough for me to get everything into my pack and to set off. I also had a chance to eat breakfast outside the tent and in the open for the first time since I started walking.

This was the big day. Up Precipitous Bluff and over the other side. By this stage I was very keen to get off the range and down to sea level where it looked like the weather was better and more stable.

I sloshed off through the mud towards a steep valley on the bluff and the waterfall I could see from the campsite. The route went up the side of the waterfall, which involved a fair bit of scrambling up rock faces. It was a bit nerve wracking with a heavy pack on and the rock wet from rain. The path continued up a valley and levelled out a bit at the top of the waterfall. The views were fantastic but were not to last as the cloud came back down again and strong winds blew.

By now I was sick of the weather so put my head down and focused on getting down the other side. Incredibly, the track on top is a constructed path  of large flat rocks laid out in a long line. I am in awe of whoever did that.

The path down was well marked with cairns and went steeply down through rocky gullies. Again, very nerve wracking. The scale of the dark cliffs all around were awesome. Very Lord of the Rings/Mordor-like. Passed a couple of nice waterfalls streaming down the rock faces which I happily drank from. Once out of the cliff section it was into dense forest on on the descent spur. It was still steep and in places the track disappeared again. But thankfully there was plenty of coloured tape tied to trees and branches to mark the route. Orange and pink became my favourite colours.

There was some beautiful forest of huge old eucalypts surrounded by carpets of ferns. Back on level ground I walked under tall tree ferns and moss covered trees. At one point I heard and saw a lyrebird.

Reaching the campsite on the shores of New River Lagoon was a huge relief. I was back at sea level, the weather was calmer, it wasn’t too windy and the campsite was sheltered amongst tall trees. I could also put up my tarp and sit outside my tent when showers came through. Bliss after nearly seven hours of intense walking.

To be continued …

Precipitous Bluff, Tasmania – Part 1

The Precipitous Bluff walk in Tasmania is hard. One of the hardest I’ve ever done. Nine days of walking with a heavy pack. Several days struggling through dense, hardy scrub with sharp leaves that slashed up my hands as if I’d been juggling a razor. Scrub that pushes you back when you push against it and catches on your pack as you pass, refusing to let go. Changeable weather that saw me spending a lot of time sheltering in my tent from rain and strong winds. Much climbing up and down ridges and then a very steep scramble  to get on top of the bluff and down the other side. Following a track that disappeared in places and had me doubling back several times to regain it or scouring the ground for signs of where other boots have gone before.

Precipitous Bluff and New River Lagoon. Behind them are is the Ironbound Range

Precipitous Bluff and New River Lagoon. Behind them is the Ironbound Range

It’s definitely not a walk for the faint hearted and I would counsel anyone considering doing it to seriously assess not just their fitness, but also their bush fitness ie preparedness to get wet and dirty; walk long days on rough muddy tracks in poor weather in wet boots and socks; have a head for heights; and have the patience to go slowly and carefully when necessary.  John Chapman’s track notes, which I used, are good but don’t reflect just how hard it is.

Day 1. Ida Bay quarry to Moonlight Creek

Just one of the challenges of walking in Tasmania is just getting to the start of a walk if you don’t have your own transport.

I started on a Sunday and took a public bus from Hobart to Geeveston, south of Hobart, and then a taxi I’d booked to get me to the track head. I used the Dover taxi service, Australia’s southern-most taxi!

The track is obvious and well walked and starts out flat, passing the old quarry and its remnants, before beginning a steady, and steep in places, climb through dense forest up Moonlight Ridge. It was warm and I sweated buckets.

Emerging from the forest on the crest of the ridge I was surprised to find the area was a wasteland. I didn’t know that a bushfire went through the area last year. The ground was ash black and burned sticks were all that was left of the tea tree and pandani that used to grow here. There was some regrowth happening but it’s going to be a long time before it returns to the bushy state it was the first time I came up this way about six years ago. It didn’t make the walking any easier through as the ground was still boggy and the scrub remains were still tough and unyielding.

I overshot my intended campsite for the night at Moonlight Creek as nothing looked familiar and the tent sites weren’t as obvious without cleared vegetation to point them out. Doubled back after checking my GPS and seeing I’d gone past the site. Showers overnight.

 

Day 2. Moonlight Creek to Ooze Lake

Woke to a cloudy day with patches of sunshine and great views down to the coast.

I carried on following the track up Moonlight Ridge, sidling Hills One, Two and Three, with fantastic views of mountains, valleys, lakes and ridges around and ahead of me.

It only took me five hours to get to Ooze Lake, which surprised me as I thought it would be longer. The climb up Maxwell Ridge after Pigsty Ponds wasn’t too bad. Coming down the other side was steep and involved scraping through sharp scoparia bushes.

After arriving at Ooze Lake I wandered around for a while trying to find the driest spot to pitch my tent as the ground was pretty damp. Could be why they call it Ooze Lake I suppose.

I got into my tent to lay down for a bit of a rest in the afternoon and after a while started hearing the pitter patter of rain on the fly. I quickly got everything I’d left outside into the tent and then settled down to read. A couple of hours later I opened the tent to look outside and saw that dense cloud had come down and I couldn’t see more than 50m in front of me. This was a bit concerning as the track notes said that the next day I would need to be careful to follow cairns marking the route if walking in mist.

I made dinner in the tent vestibule and then burrowed down into my sleeping bag as it continued raining outside and the wind whipped at my tent.

I woke up at some point in the night to silence – no rain or wind. That was comforting.

To be continued …

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 …