Tag Archives: Hiking

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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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 …