Category Archives: Bushwalking

Up and down Mt Juliet

It took my legs a week to recover from the climb up and down Mt Juliet. Ugh, age is catching up with me.

Just outside Healesville, an hour and a bit east of Melbourne in the Yarra Ranges, Mt Juliet is 1120m high. The walk to the top is only 4.5km. It’s steep. Very steep.

The day I did it was a rainy, cold winter’s day.

The track was slick and slippery and it felt at times that with every few grunting steps up I’d slide back down a few. Very frustrating.

I spent most of the walk up huffing and puffing with my head down, covered by my rain jacket hood. Whenever I paused to look around there wasn’t much to see other than cloud and towering mountain ash trees.

The summit is covered by mountain ash so there are no views. There’s a large geographical survey cairn at the top but I didn’t spend too much time up there as the wind was blowing and it was freezing.

The steepness and slipperiness made the walk back down just as difficult as getting up. I slid down on my feet in a few places and ended up on my backside a few times.

Even with walking poles, going up and coming down were challenging.

I was very glad to get back to the car at the end, get changed into dry clothes and watch the rain as I ate my lunch.

Mt Juliet is definitely not a fun day out. It’s a walk more suited for anyone who might be training or seeking a challenge. I’m not sure I’m too keen on coming back to walk it again.

Post walk

Getting to Healesville you pass through the Yarra Valley and its wineries. So going back to Melbourne it would be sacrilege to not stop at a cellar door.

This time I tried Maddens Rise. A great little cosy cellar door with nice views, nice people and nice wine. They also have a large grassy area outside that kids, if you have them, can run around on while the parents taste. I picked up a bottle of the Cinq Amis (a blend of cab sav, merlot, malbec, cab franc and petit verdot) and shiraz.

I also stopped to look at Levantine Hill. Spectacular cellar door with a posh restaurant (Ezard). But they charge to taste their wine – minimum $18. You get that back if you buy a bottle of wine, but their cheapest is $38. So, cheapskate that I am, I passed.

 

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Out and back on the Huon track

My most recent hiking trip (late Feb 2018) to Tasmania didn’t go to plan.

The plan was to walk the last section of the Western Arthur Range I hadn’t done – lakes Promontory and Rosanne.

But a flooded river and an indistinct track junction put paid to those plans.

While a little annoying not to tick off a few more Tassie bushwalking features, I still had five-and-a-half days of hiking and camping in the bush.

Day 1.

I set out from Hobart with my lift to the start of the Huon Track, near the Tahune Airwalk outside Geeveston, around 7.30am and was walking by 8.45am.

It was steadily spitting rain so I started in my waterproof jacket and pants. Handy too as the bush was wet and brushing past branches leaning into the track was like stepping into a shower.

The track is an old vehicle track and easy to follow, although in places the bush is reclaiming it.

I set myself a pretty quick pace as I was aiming to reach Cracroft Crossing, about 25km away, to camp.

The start of the walk was very nice. A couple of gentle up and downs and then flat walking along the Huon River.

It’s obvious no one has been along the track with a chainsaw for a while as there are plenty of trees down. They slowed my progress as they had to be climbed over or under or around.

I was relying on track notes in John Chapman’s South West Tasmania book. The edition I have, the fifth, is about 10 years old. To help me gauge my time I was aiming for a place called Blakes Shelter, which is described as a three sided shelter. It doesn’t exist anymore.

About 8km in the track begins to show why it’s nicknamed the Yo Yo Track – lots of steep climbing and descending of spurs, made harder by having to negotiate all the downed trees.

It wasn’t long before I was soaked with sweat under my waterproofs.

After about 10 hours of walking I made it to the campsite next to the Cracroft River, which I needed to cross to continue.

Throughout the day I’d been sloshing through flooded creeks and the Huon River had looked pretty full.

When I finally got to the Cracroft, it was obviously flooded. The water was running fast and looked deep. There was no way I was going to get across so set up my tent in a nice sheltered clearing, got dry, had dinner and finally settled into my sleeping bag around 9pm utterly exhausted.

Day 2.

I got up early and looked at the river. It still looked pretty flooded. I could see it had dropped a bit as the water was no longer lapping at the stick I’d placed in the ground to mark its level the night before.

I thought I’d test it and went into the water without my pack. I only got about 10 metres in. The water was up to my waist and getting deeper, the current was strong and it was a struggle to stay upright. There was no way I’d be able to get across with my heavy backpack.

The only thing to do was to give it a day and see if it would fall more. Thankfully the rain had stopped yesterday afternoon.

I also had a good book to keep me occupied – Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I thoroughly recommend it. A page turner.

Throughout the day I checked the water level and could see it was falling.

Knowing that I’d lost a day of walking, I changed my plans to skip Lake Promontory and instead climb up to Lake Rosanne.

Day 3.

The river had continued to fall overnight and I was able to cross. The deepest the river got was to around thigh level and the current didn’t seem as strong.

The track notes say that the other side of the river has campsites and a toilet. Well, the toilet isn’t there anymore and the campsites aren’t that nice. They’re better on the eastern side of the river.

The weather was good although early morning fog blanketed the button grass plains.

I was aiming for a track junction that would take me up onto the Western Arthurs and Lake Rosanne.

Unfortunately, I missed it, which I realised when I reached Strike Creek, a lovely spot with a pebbly beach about two hours from the Cracroft.

I thought I could head back to try and find it but worried that if I didn’t spot it I’d just end up back at Cracroft Crossing.

So I decided to continue on the track I was on to Pass Creek, which is on the track to the Eastern Arthur Range and has a campsite, just for a change of scenery.

I’m glad I did as the views were spectacular, especially after the fog lifted as the sun came out. Rolling hills, button grass plains, and the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges, including Federation Peak.

The campsite is nice. According to the track notes it has a toilet but it doesn’t. Which is its only downside as it’s surrounded by dense tee tree scrub which is hard to get through to find a spot to dig a hole.

Day 4.

The weather was fine again and I set out for a leisurely walk back to Cracroft Crossing.

I met a couple along the way and stopped for a chat, telling them of my unforeseen issues with the flooded river and missed track junction.

They said they thought they’d seen the junction and described a small pile of rocks as marking it.

I continued on slowly and found the pile of rocks and sure enough, a vague track heading off towards the Western Arthurs. Annoying. I think I missed it because a) it was pretty indistinct, b) I hadn’t read anywhere that that was what to look out for, and c) I wasn’t looking at the ground at this point of the track because the view ahead of me was spectacular.

Anyway, a lesson for next time and for anyone who might read this who wants to do the Western Arthurs from east to west, instead of the usual west to east.

The couple I’d met also warned that the weather was forecast to start raining again.

When I crossed the Cracroft again back to the campsite I’d become very familiar with, the water level had dropped again and was only around knee height at its deepest.

Day 5.

I wasn’t going to try walking out again in a day and planned to aim for a nice looking camping spot overlooking the Huon River I’d seen on the way in.

As the man said, it started raining again.

I carried a walking stick with me this time and I think it helped with climbing up and down the steep spurs again.

I reached the sheltered campsite after about six and a half hours of walking and didn’t feel too bad. The rain didn’t feel too bad either. It was more like steady spitting.

The campsite had lots of mozzies. It looked like something had been here before as there were some old star pickets lying around, an old saw and a cast iron jaffle maker. Bizarre.

That night I thought I was going to be hit by a big storm. There was a lot of thunder booming all over the sky but there was little rain with it. I learned later that Hobart copped the most of the storm.

Day 6.

My pick up was meeting me at 3pm back at the start of the track so I had a relatively leisurely walk out.

I think I finally found where Blakes Shelter used to be – looks like a big tree branch came down on it some time ago.

The weather was okay, not much in the way of rain. I was able to walk without the hood of my rain jacket on so could have a good look at my forest surroundings and the river.

Had lunch and brewed a coffee at the walker registration shelter and read the graffiti – pro and anti logging stuff. Someone had also scrawled that there was no shelter at Blakes Shelter (I should have spotted that when I signed in at the start!).

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Signed out

My ride was there to meet me and then it was back to Hobart to meet my family who’d come down to join me for the last days of my week off.

Overall, a nice trip, despite not getting to do what I intended. My new Asolo boots did a fantastic job sloshing through rivers, creeks and Tassie mud (no blisters) and my new Nemo sleeping bag was also very comfy.

Lessons

  • My tarp continues to be one of the best bushwalking investments I’ve made. Fantastic to put up over my tent so if it rains at night I don’t have to pack up a wet tent. And I can back up under it in the rain.
  • Think I’m old enough to start considering using a walking pole – the stick I used felt like it made walking easier.
  • Dehydrating and making up meals at home makes dinner time so much simpler.
  •  I took less clothes this time and think it helped with weight and space in my pack.

A bushwalker’s lament – organising a walk in Tasmania

Ah, the frustrations of being a solo hiker and trying to organise a bushwalk in Tasmania.

As much as I love Tassie, it still drives me nuts how difficult and expensive it is if you want to do some solo hiking in some of the less well known (ie not over run by tourists) wilderness areas.

Getting to the start of trails in areas like the South-West is impossible without a car. There’s no public transport or regular bushwalker service during the summer “on” season. Your only options are hiring a car or getting a lift from somewhere.

Hiring a car seems like a waste though as the car will be left parked for however long you’re going to be walking for. There are some bushwalker tour companies but they only service the popular walks – like the Overland Track.

I had thought I could catch a bus from Hobart south to a small town called Geeveston and then try one of the taxi services in the area. This is what I did when I did my Precipitous Bluff walk – bus to Geeveston, lift to the start of the track, lift from my finish at Cockle Creek back to Geeveston, bus back to Hobart.

But when I called to enquire I learned the taxi service (sole driver) I used had retired and there was just one other left based in another nearby town – Huonville.

After a bit of Googling, the Parks Tasmania website listed a bloke who provided transport for walkers but when I called him he said he’d also stopped doing it. But he referred me to Par Avion, a tour company that flies tourists and walkers to Melaleuca, an airstrip and popular starting/finishing point for walks in the South-West.

Par Avion gave me the names and numbers of two people who offer transport to walkers (Dallas – 0429 168 905 and Jemma – 0447 250 979). I called them in November and their diaries were already starting to fill up with bushwalker trips. So I guess I’m not the only one in this situation.

Unfortunately, because I’m hiking solo, I have to cover the whole cost of the lift – which is more than the cost of my flights to Tassie. Thankfully, I’m in the fortunate position to be able to afford this. But wow, it’s a hefty hit.

Anyway, hopefully the weather gods will be kind to me and the walk will be worth it.

 

 

Federation Peak

I am in awe of the climbers and film makers who have made a movie about scaling Federation Peak in Tasmania during the wettest winter on record.

Some friends and I did it in summer and it was hard. For these guys to do it in winter, in the wet, is incredible.

Federation Peak is regarded by many as Australia’s hardest hike. Just getting to the base of the peak is a very tough slog and then climbing up the tower to the top via the usual route is basically rock climbing without ropes. People have fallen and died.

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The conditions the guys making the movie faced look atrocious. And they were going up a scary looking route called The Blade. I can imagine the thought “why are we doing this!?” must have gone through their heads many times.

When we did it about seven years ago we had some pretty off weather too. It rained constantly as we clawed and crawled our way up Moss Ridge. Moss Ridge is basically a short cut to get to Federation. But it’s also a steep, densely forested tangle of fallen trees and roots that made it feel like we were scrambling through a jungle gym – with heavy packs.

It was cold and rainy when we got to the Becherviase Plateau, at the base of the peak, and we hurriedly threw up the tent and dived in to get dry and warm. We were tent bound all the next day because of the weather until it finally started clearing in the evening. The next day it dawned blue sky and still – perfect conditions to climb.

Only two of us went up as our other friend stayed at the camp (he was afraid of heights!). We met a group going up who’d come from a different direction and tagged along with them. The climb is a grippy scramble edging along and up a rock wall. There’s a tricky (and scary) section where you clamber over a ledge and you’re dangling in empty air. We were lucky that coming down we encountered another group who were on the way up and had set up ropes on this section which we shared to get over. The exposure on the rock is incredible, with a sheer drop hundreds of metres down to Lake Geeves.

Anyway, we made it safely back to camp and the feeling of relief and achievement was incredible. We spent the rest of the day lounging around in the sun, drying stuff out and getting organised to head back out.

The next day the weather started to come in again and we realised how lucky we were to have that one day of sunshine to climb Federation.

When did gear get so expensive?

As much as I love shopping for outdoorsy stuff, I am always surprised by how expensive it can be.

I went looking for new hiking boots the other day. I’m planning on doing a multi-day walk in south west Tasmania early next year and needed new boots after my old Scarpas finally gave up after years of wear. They’d served me well and it was sad dropping them into a Geeveston bin after I’d finished my last big walk – Precipitous Bluff.

boots

New boots!

My new boots are full leather Asolo TPS 535s. They’re tough and sturdy, which is what you need when walking in Tasmania. But the cost! $389. And these weren’t the most expensive available (the Gore-Tex version were $469).  I suppose you do get what you pay for and, hopefully, a premium price equates to a premium product. Especially if it’s something you’ll be relying on to get into and out of a wilderness area safely.

But it makes me wonder if the cost of hiking gear discourages people from taking up camping and hiking. Especially when starting out. Tents are hundreds of dollars, sleeping bags are hundreds of dollars, backpacks are hundreds of dollars. But I suppose you buy this stuff once and it should last you a long time. (A good example of that is my tent. It’s the only one I’ve ever bought and it’s lasted me … I forget how many years … many.) And I guess you can always hire or buy second hand.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. You don’t always NEED to buy the latest and shiniest gear for walking. And I suppose a lot depends on the kind of hiking you’ll do. You don’t need much if you’re only doing day walks in fine weather, as opposed to multi-day hikes in remote and rough terrain.

Maybe I’m just getting old and want to complain about how expensive everything is these days. First world problems.

Anyway, I should just be grateful that I’m in the fortunate position to be able to buy the occasional expensive item so I should just shut up and enjoy it.  And start breaking in these new boots.

Major Mitchell Plateau hike

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I did the Major Mitchell Plateau three day circuit walk in the Grampians National Park recently.

A three hour drive west of Melbourne, The Grampians have been a destination I’ve been wanting to visit for a while.

An unexpected week off from work gave me the opportunity to throw on the backpack and see somewhere new. After more than a year since my last overnight hike (a new baby don’t give you much opportunity for camping) I wondered whether I still knew what to do.

I started out at Sheep Hills Carpark and quickly fell into the steady rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other.

The track was obvious and rose steadily to Mt William. Unfortunately the day I set out was grey and rainy and the views of bush and surrounding mountain ranges were intermittent.

The final climb along the road to the top of Mt William was steep and hard on the feet. There was no reward at the summit as it was completely clouded in. It was cold and windy so I didn’t bother spending much time up there and set out for the First Wannon campsite.

The track got rougher but was still easy to follow. It descended steeply into Boundary Gap and then climbed just as steeply again up and onto the plateau. There was a bit of careful rock scrambling near the top which I wasn’t ready for. After about five hours of hiking up and down through the rain I was feeling pretty shagged and keen to set up camp and get dry and warm.

It was a nice campsite with a drop toilet and a small creek running through it.

Day two for the walk across the plateau dawned much nicer, with puffy white clouds and plenty of blue sky. This was the day I got all the views across the Grampians and the surrounding farmland below.

It made enduring the weather of the day before worthwhile.

The walk off the plateau is steep, followed by a long steady descent to Jimmy Creek Campground.

Again, I was pretty happy to get to the campsite so I could relax, even though it meant leaving behind the feeling of being remote and away from everything.

The third day back to the car was pretty boring – an undulating fire trail with little in the way of views.

Back at the car I headed to Halls Gap, the tourist town in the middle of the Grampians, where I stayed at one of the caravan parks for the night before heading home. I liked Halls Gap; a pleasant spot where you could base yourself for day walks around the area.

Fernshaw to Dom Dom Saddle return walk

For a great day walk with ups and downs to stretch the legs, about an hour out of Melbourne, the walk from Fernshaw to Dom Dom Saddle and back in the Yarra Ranges is well worth a look.

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Starting at the Fernshaw picnic ground beside the Watts River just outside Healesville on the way to Marysville, the track is well trodden and easy to follow. Although in some places large trees have come down across it after what must have been a massive blow so there’s a bit of scrambling required to get over them and through tangles of smashed limbs and branches.

The first part of the walk is pretty flat and winds through tree ferns and tall, straight mountain ash. You can hear the river somewhere amongst the trees. You then climb up and down a couple of steep, forested ridges to reach Dom Dom Saddle, another nice picnic area on the way to Marysville.

At about 20km long, the walk is a decent one for some huffing and puffing exercise and time out among the trees.

And we made it back to the car in time to stop off at Tarra Warra winery for some wine tasting on the way home. That’s one of the best bits about walking in the Yarra Ranges, the cellar doors to visit in the Yarra Valley on the way home.