Tag Archives: Hiking

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.

Advertisements

Major Mitchell Plateau hike

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

img_1835

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 …

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 …

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.

IMG_0552 IMG_0551

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.