Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Planes, Trains and Automobiles at Cape Wollamai

Years ago, when I cycle-commuted to work in Calgary, there was an unfortunate incident involving a patch of ice, a bus trap, a bicycle, and the #37 bus. A bus trap, to those not familiar with such devices is essentially a pit dug into the road way wide enough for the wheels of a bus to straddle, but not a car. Generally, they are about 40 cm deep and bridged with steel bars. On this particular wintry day, I hit a patch of ice as I was cycling beside the bus trap, and, in a flash, I was in the bus trap, with my bike on top of me. As I was laying there somewhat stunned, I heard a deepening rumble, the ground began to shake, and, quaking I looked up and saw the #37 bearing down on me....

Rounding Red Point today on our way to Cape Wollamai, I felt a bit the same. We had just endured being buzzed by at least 20 jet skis, and now, as we were bouncing around in their rebound, a huge tour boat was aiming straight at us. We edged in closer to the rocks, as did the tour boat, and then, the noise of yet another infernal combustion engine and a low flying float plane - tourists gawking out the windows - skimmed by about a metre above the wave tops. Our kayak trip to Cape Wollamai was not exactly turning into a wilderness experience. 

The paddle trip from The Narrows, down Cleeland Bight, past Red Point and out to Cape Wollamai would be a wonderful excursion if only ever other inhabitant of this country was not permanently attached to an infernal combustion engine.

We launched from just south of the bridge that joins San Remo to Phillip Island as we wanted to avoid paddling back through The Narrows against a ripping current later in the day. It's an easy paddle south down Cleeland Bight, and actually not that interesting until you get to a pretty little cove between rock outcrops near Red Point. Beyond Red Point the kayaking gets interesting. There are sea caves and rocky islets as you approach Cape Woolamai and the water is incredibly clear and aquamarine green. You might see sea eagles or even seals. Once you round Cape Woolamai you are out in the big southwest swell that rolls up the coastline. 

Unfortunately, I got vertigo again from the ocean swells and had that "oh, oh, everything is spinning, I think I am going to fall out of my boat" scene all over again. That, combined with the insane amount of boat traffic caused us to turn around soon after we had passed Cape Woolamai. The nautical regulations actually mandate a 5 knot speed limit when passing within 50 metres of another vessel, but, most Australians seem to have those numbers transposed and they pass within 5 metres going 50 knots. After a number of very uncomfortable close encounters with stupid boat operators we turned back and paddled into the sheltered waters where at least the wakes would not dump us out of our boats. 

In a rare lull between maniacal boat operators, we did see a big fur seal fishing and watched him coming up to the surface with a huge fish in his mouth which he proceeded to bang about presumably to render it insensible so he could swallow it. The kind of thing I'd like to do to a few of those boat operators.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Into The Wild: Lawrence Rocks and Point Danger

Sometimes when I slip into my sea kayak, the whole experience feels like coming home at the end of a long day, kicking off my tight shoes, and sliding my aching feet into a pair of comfortable slippers - everything just feels right. The boat rocks under me, but my hips are loose and automatically I lean this way or that, the boat steadies, and all is well. Other times, the boat feels foreign, it rocks and cants, yawing from side to side, and I catch myself leaning crazily from side to side, hoping that I won't be spilled unceremoniously into the water, and cursing the poor primary stability of my kayak. 

The day we paddled from Pivot Beach out to Lawrence Rocks near Portland, was one of the latter. Lawrence Rocks are a cluster of wave battered rocks in the Southern Ocean lying about two kilometres southeast of Point Danger and home to a large colony of Gannets. Isolated rocks such as these will always garner the attention of sea kayakers, much as splitter cracks in a granite wall attract rock climbers. There is just something overwhelmingly alluring about paddling across the ocean to a small cluster of rocks, just as hand-jamming your way up a granite wall is incredibly satisfying.

 Lawrence Rocks from Danger Point

As soon as I saw the rocks on the nautical chart I wanted to paddle out. Doug and I don't get much time paddling in big ocean swells, and, although a two kilometre crossing is short, particularly after some of our long (18 km) Queensland crossings, paddling in the cold Southern Ocean is way more serious than paddling in the warm, reef protected waters of Northern Queensland. But, we were lucky, the weather forecast was for only 15 knot winds (a light breeze here in Windtoria) with a two metre southwest swell. We would have some protection from the swell for the first four kilometres until we approached Point Danger. 

One of my best single day trips kayaking in Australia was a 22 km trip from the sheltered Dolans Bay in Port Hacking north along Cronulla's surf beaches to the tiny protected Boat Harbour. We had even milder conditions for that trip with five knot winds and a half metre swell. Paddling out on the open blue waters of Tasman Sea was simply superb. Paddling out to Lawrence Rocks was just as much fun, but a bit more difficult, and thus more satisfying. 

 Ready to launch from Pivot Beach

We launched from a little beach (Pivot Beach) about 4 km (one hour) north of Point Danger and ambled along towards Point Danger enjoying the wonderful sensation of floating over kelp beds in the clear aquamarine water. Point Danger was breaking well out so we turned off to Lawrence Rocks before and, in a gradually rising swell, paddled out towards the rocks keeping a careful eye on the breaking swells. We paddled, and we paddled, and we paddled. We did inch closer to Lawrence Rocks, but, for every stroke closer to Lawrence Rocks we seemed to move an equal number of strokes closer to the breaking swells. A current was dragging us west at a similar speed to that at which we were paddling. 

This is the rub of sea kayaking in general and particularly in Australia. Nautical charts in Australia seldom show current direction or strength yet a two to three knot opposing current will stop just about any kayaker dead. Kayaks also sit so low in the water that seeing exactly where swells are breaking and where the clear passage is can be very difficult. We did edge closer to Lawrence Rocks, and were probably 75% of the way there, but, the whole scenario was becoming strangely reminiscent of our circumnavigation of Hook Island that started with us being dragged south to the tidal rips off South Molle Island. Doug noted that there appeared to be a small passage between the breakers that stretched between Point Danger and Lawrence Rocks, but navigating through with the strong current running seemed beyond our skill level. 

 On the sheltered clear waters near Pivot Beach

Interestingly, I came across a report from an experienced sea kayaker on the paddling opportunities around Portland and he notes that "the SW swell wraps around Cape Grant and accelerates towards Black Nose, where it hits a series of shallow reefs and bommies which gives rise to some breaking waves." He further notes that "there is a channel through it all" although the current can run at up to four knots. 

We turned around, and, as the swells rose in front of us and our kayaks bounced in the current I got horribly sea-sick. The kind of sea sickness that is accompanied by vertigo and dizziness. I instantly began sweating prolifically as my head swirled about. Doug suggested rafting up, but I did not want to get dragged any further west, so I fixed my eyes on the relatively still horizon and paddled forward. In lots of ways, sea kayaking is not that different to trad climbing. When you are trad climbing you have to relax onto small holds in a position of balance, find the right piece of gear, slot it into position, clip your draw, clip your rope, and only then can you move again. Sea kayaking you need to relax into the boat, find your balance point and keep moving forward.
Gradually, we pulled out of the current and into the more sheltered waters closer to the coast. Rafting up, I took my paddle jacket off which was soaked with sweat, and we both breathed a little easier. 

Inside the sheltered waters north of 
Blacknose Point, Lawrence Rocks behind

Doug was probably ready to give up, but I was not. It seems to me that if there is something you really want to do in life, you'll most likely do it, no matter what. I really wanted to paddle out to those rocks, and the weather and sea state would never be better than it was. I had an idea that we should have paddled out from Blacknose Point keeping well to the east of the rocks. Ironically enough, the paddling notes I found later (referenced above) indicated that this was the best tactic to reach Lawrence Rocks. 

So back out we went, heading more of less southeast and keeping Lawrence Rocks well off to our starboard side. It's about four kilometres out to Lawrence Rocks from Blacknose Point, and we were now paddling into a 12 knot wind and the rising swell so it took us about an hour to get close. The closer we got, the more we had to aim off to the east as we were still getting dragged west, but, gradually we closed in on the rocks, and were thrilled to watch the gannets flying around the flat topped rocks. In the eastern lee of the rocks, I was even able to take my hands of the paddle to snap a few pictures. 

 Into the wild

Feeling happy and satisfied, we turned around, and began the paddle back. I immediately felt the old queasy sea-sickness as the swells rolled forward before me, but, I now knew how to deal with it. The kayaks, of course, suddenly felt quirkily unstable as we had both a following swell and sea, and our flat bottomed rockered kayaks seem to require constant weight adjustments to maintain stability and avoid broaching on a following sea.
We arrived back at Pivot Beach with almost perfect conditions for riding the now small swell straight into the beach. Looking south towards Point Danger, the sea was now white-capped extensively. We had paddled about 22 km, pushed ourselves just the right amount, learnt something about yourselves and the sea, and felt that small glow of satisfaction you feel when you have faced your fears. 

Sometimes we are tempted to practice the small skills endlessly in preparation for tackling the bigger objectives, but somehow the bigger objectives never come. We stick to short, safe climbs instead of heading out to climb longer routes in the mountains, we stay on the groomed ski runs instead of skiing the backcountry, we paddle only in protected waters instead of venturing out into the open ocean. We tell ourselves that we just need to ski, climb, or paddle a little better before we can realize our dreams. It's a myth. At some point, your skills are good enough, maybe not perfect - they will never be perfect - but they are good enough to move beyond the arbitrary boundaries you have embraced. It is time to move into the wild. 

 In the lee of Lawrence Rocks

The Long Beach Walk: Nelson to Portland on The Great Southwest Walk

Every Canadian knows the old axiom that "if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes." Generally, I love beach walking, particularly wild deserted beaches along Australia's Southern Ocean where the waves crash onto the shore and the sky is always damp with sea mist. But, after 50 kilometres pushing into a stiff headwind and sinking into soft sand with every step, I began to feel like the tag end dog, the view just never changed.

The Great Southwest Walk is a 250 km loop walk that starts and ends in Portland. The first section, heading anti-clockwise traverses the eucalpytus Cobboboonee forests and reaches Lower Glenelg National Park at Moleside. The track then follows the Glenelg River to Nelson, and the final 115 km follows the coast through Discovery Bay Coastal Park all the way to Portland. We didn't have much interest in plodding for days through forest, and we had already paddled the Glenelg River from Pines Landing to Nelson, so we chose to walk the section from Nelson to Portland over six days. 

 Storm clouds over the Southern Ocean

Nelson to Lake Monibeong:
There used to be a campsite at White Sands, 12 km from Simpsons Camp on the Glenelg River, but, that camp has unfortunately been removed so the first day from Nelson is now about 22 km (or 25 km if coming from Simpsons Camp). Instead of parking in Nelson and walking three kilometres out to the beach on roads, we left the car parked at the Nelson beach parking area hoping that Nelson was not a hot-bed of car jackers. All the first day, we walked along the beach, pressing into a headwind (the prevailing westerlies switch to easterlies around November). Mostly the beach sand was firm and flat so walking was pretty easy. We found numerous parts of a whale skeleton on the beach, the most interesting was a long piece of backbone. On scattered craggy rocks sea-birds roosted, but otherwise the beach was empty.

About two hours from Nelson, some low-lying rocks (McEarchen's Rocks) push the track up off the beach onto the dunes behind, and the next three kilometres to Nobles Rocks is on wind scoured vegetated dunes. Past Nobles Rocks, there is about another six kilometres along the beach to Suttons Rocks where a 1.6 km detour leads inland to Lake Monibeong campsite. The walkers camp is set off before the car-camping sites and has a shelter, table, and bore water is available. You can wander along to swim in Lake Monibeong where the water is much warmer than the Southern Ocean and a little pontoon is available for swimming. 

 Doug starting out along the long beach walk

Lake Monibeong to Swan Lake:
It is about 16 or 17 km from Lake Monibeong to Swan Lake along the beach, a little more than that for the days total as again you have to detour inland to the camping area at Swan Lake We had even stronger headwinds and softer sand so walking was a bit arduous, and we had to hinge forward at the hips to keep our balance. I first began to comprehend how the view hardly changed, as there are not even scattered outcrops of rock on this section to break up the long, long beach. The 20 knot wind discouraged resting, so we took only a couple of short breaks huddling down behind our backpacks on the damp sand. You could sit face first into the full brunt of the wind if you felt the need of a facial peel. 

At Swan Lake there are big sand dunes and Portland Dune Buggy Club has a big camping area here. We timed our walk to pass through this area on a weekday as a weekend would be like visiting hell with all the infernal combustion engines ripping about. It's an annoying trudge inland over soft sand to the walkers camp which is beyond the Dune Buggy campground (huge) and situated just behind the car-camping area. Swan Lake is a further few hundred metres walk and the water is warm (by Victorian standards) for a post-hike swim. 

 Walking the beach

Swan Lake to The Springs:
In the morning, walking out to the beach we passed an emu on the dunes. This last section of Discovery Bay is a hard walk into the wind on soft sand that slopes down seaward. I must admit this section felt like a bit of a trudge. We both had head colds which left us feeling tired, head-achy, and with continuously running noses. I had got sore feet and blisters from walking on the sand barefoot for a couple of days with a heavy pack and feet not strengthened by beach walking, and Doug had pulled a muscle in his calve. 

Before starting the days walk, I'd decided I would have a short rest every two hours. I never knew two hours could pass so slowly. I'd walk along saying to myself "don't look at your watch, don't look at your watch, don't look at your watch." Finally, after what must be half an hour, maybe even forty minutes I'd look at my watch and see that five minutes had passed. Resting again was a five minute affair huddled behind our packs. 

Inexplicably, about 15 minutes from the end of that long, long beach, the track climbs over the steepest sand dune on the entire 50 kilometres of beach and immediately does a 180 degree turn and leads you back to the north, then to the east, and finally back south. After about an hour, you pass a short spur track that leads down to the end of the beach you just left! Doug and I both stood and gaped here wondering what sort of masochist the track builder actually was. 

 Doug feeling small by the Southern Ocean

From where you leave the beach to The Springs camp is about six kilometres and it is delightful walking up on the cliff top with wonderful views. Amazingly, the first time I looked at my watch, I'd been walking almost two hours since my last rest, and, shortly thereafter we arrived at The Springs campsite. 

This is undoubtedly the best campsite of the trip as it does not require a long detour and isn't simply slashed out of the surrounding scrub. It is a short walk out to the cliffs of the coast, and you can wander down an old cattle ramp to the springs which seep out of the limestone into big pools on the basalt rock platforms at the high tide range. We both wandered around down on the rock platforms. Doug saw some seals, and I had a refreshing wash in one of the big pools of spring fed water. The ocean is incredibly clear and there are fantastic tidal pools to explore.

 Point Danger and Lawrence Rocks

The Springs to Trewalla:
This day has a bit of everything. Some wonderful walking along the cliffs around Cape Bridgewater with many viewing platforms, interesting rock formations, seals, and birds. The track descends to the beach at Bridgewater Bay and we went into the Surf Life Saving Club and had a cold shower and dumped our garbage in a bin. This was the only spot where we saw any people in the full six days. 

There is another three or four kilometres along Bridgewater Beach before the track climbs up into dense coastal scrub and then undulates along to Trewalla Camp. This is not a particularly nice camp, as it is about half a kilometre or more from the beach, but, it has the usual serviceable shelter and table and some scattered, although very inclined tent sites. 

 Morning on Bridgewater Bay

Trewalla to Mallee:
After days of southeast winds, we had hot northerlies to walk this section. The day starts with five or six kilometres along the beach, mostly fairly soft sand, and it was feeling blindingly hot first thing in the morning. I had a swim in the ocean at the end of the beach, but the track immediately climbs up to the top of the dunes so I was sweaty again almost immediately. There is a kilometre or two of undulating sandy walking through thick coastal scrub before the track breaks out onto open cliff top and very scenic walking all the way to Cape Nelson Lighthouse. 

We had lunch perched out above the ocean near the lighthouse, and, even though it was Saturday, there was no-one about. Some more cliff top walking past lots of view points leads to Mallee Camp which has been newly hewn out of the mallee. This is another somewhat disappointing camp. Parks Victoria has made a series of tent pads all in a row, and, while they are at least flat, they are all in the baking sun, are side by side, and have no privacy or shade. Luckily, the usual shelter provided some relief from the heat. Unfortunately, there is no easy way down to the ocean to swim as this whole section of the coast is cliff-lined. 

 Out on the Bridgewater Peninsular

Mallee to Portland:
The final day is long, about 22 km if you take the long route around the coast into Portland, but much shorter if you jump off at Sheoke Drive. We took the long route as we wanted to walk past Point Danger and the Gannet colony. It's all good walking and very scenic along the cliff top until you are about three kilometres past Sheoke Drive where the track becomes choppy and somewhat difficult to follow. Some sections are good, some are a bit overgrown, and some walking on sealed roads is required. 

We stopped at Point Danger for lunch and I detoured down to look at the Gannet colony but without binoculars they just look like fuzzy white birds out on the rocks. My feet were really sore and blistered and I was getting slower and slower walking while Doug's sprained calf was actually feeling better. About three kilometres past Point Danger, the track runs out and you have to walk the last five kilometres into the centre of Portland on roads. I made it just past the fertilizer factory and Pivot Beach before deciding my feet could take no more, so I waited by the side of the road with the packs while Doug walked the last bit into Portland. We rented a car, drove back to Nelson and found our vehicle unmolested at the Nelson beach carpark.

 Looking along Bridgewater Bay to Cape Nelson

Some Sundry Notes:
The Nelson to Portland section of the Great Southwest Walk is well worth doing but the days might feel longer and harder than you expect. We found the headwinds tiring, and tiresome, and you'll undoubtedly have some soft sand to walk on. The coastal sections are all pretty easy walking and the views are diverting. The campsites are, for the most part, disappointing. Parks Victoria just can't seem to get it right. Although all the camps have a nice shelter with a picnic table and bench seating, most have very few flat spots for tents. At some of the camps, we had our tent up on the only really flat site available. There are spots hacked out of the bush here and there, but most of them were so angled that you'd almost be better sleeping on the picnic table. Two of the camps - Lake Monibeong and Swan Lake - require long diversions off the track, and Trewalla and Mallee are just plain ugly with no views and no easy access to the beach. All of the camps would feel crowded with a group.

It is way cheaper to rent a car in Portland and shuttle yourself back to your vehicle at Nelson than it is to get a shuttle with the local commercial provider - about half the price. If you could get someone to pick you up at Point Danger, you'd save the tedious walk into town on roads, and a shuttle out to the beach at Nelson would also save three kilometres on the road.

I don't know if this walk ever gets crowded. We did it in mid-December and besides all the beach goers at Bridgewater Bay, I didn't see anyone until we got to Portland. We had all the camps to ourselves. If possible, avoid the infernal combustion engines at Swan Lake by passing through mid-week, and, not at all in the Christmas holiday period. The water at all the campsites is marked unfit for drinking but we drank it all without treating it and suffered no ill effects.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Paddling the Glenelg River Trail

The Glenelg River originates in the Grampians (right near where we did this walk up the Chimney Pots - the river was dry) and runs out to meet the Southern Ocean at Nelson in southwestern Victoria. The lower 50 km of the river lies within Lower Glenelg National Park and Victoria Parks has a "canoe trail" down the river featuring eight campsites for canoes/kayaks only spaced along the river. We've done a few nice canoe trails in Australia - two years ago in early January we paddled the Murrumbidgee from Gundagia to Wagga Wagga, and, in southern Queensland we paddled the Noosa River. These aren't epic sea kayak trips but they are relaxing, enjoyable, and, when an effort is made to separate the motorized users from the non-motorized users, well worth doing. Be warned, however, that although the canoe camps are for kayakers/canoers only, motorboats also use the river. 

We decided to put in at Pines Landing as the 25 km from Dartmoor to Pines Landing has many, many snags. The water level is high enough, but you will spend a lot of time avoiding trees in the river, and, truthfully, there is no special scenery on the extra 25 km. Pines Landing is a small canoe only campsite accessed off the Nelson-Winnap Road. The only sign marking the turn is a faded blue arrow spray painted on a tree and the track is a little rough, but we got our car and caravan down so it's not that bad. The guy who shuttled us told me that Victoria Parks does not want to sign the access as they are trying to keep vehicles out of this canoe only campsite. Signed or unsigned , the locals use the area to launch small power boats, camp and fish. Pines Landing is not really a very nice campsite in any case, so, unless you are paddling from Dartmoor, you may as well skip it. Apparently, most people put in at Moleside (4 km downstream) which is accessible right off the paved road. 

Looking downstream from Pines Landing

After unloading our boats and gear at Pines Landing, Doug drove down to Nelson and got a lift back to Pines Landing with Chris from Nelson Boat and Canoe Hire ($65) while I packed the boats. We were on the river and paddling by about 10.45 am. The Glenelg River is brown and sluggish, so you won't get much help from the current, but, paddling is easy, and we were able to amble along at an easy 5.5 km/hour (roughly). We stopped for lunch at Wild Dog Bend, and then paddled on to Skipworth Springs to camp. Unfortunately, this is not a very nice campsite at all. The area is fairly small and heavily treed so it has a bit of a gloomy feel - particularly on a grey day. More importantly, however, there is virtually no level ground for a tent and the spring seeps all over the track from the jetty up to the campsite creating a big mud pit you have to walk through every time you want something from your boat. We were sharing the site with three brothers in a raft and they found a semi level site up the hill a bit. We also found a fairly level site near the water, but once the lads got the blasted campfire going, we were getting smoked out and had to move our tent up above the outhouse and put it on the access track as there was no other even semi-level ground. It was a bit of a lumpy night spent sliding off our sleeping mats. 

 Four hungry baby birds

You can, however, take a stroll along the Great Southwest Walk easily from the campsite, simply walk down the road above camp a short distance until you see the red arrows. I spotted two echidnas, a koala and a snake on my walk. There are many, many koalas in this area and it is currently koala mating season so all night the males make a hellish grunting sound that really is something to hear. There was also a nest of four baby birds sitting on a roll of toilet paper in the outhouse!

Our second day on the river was cool, windy and drizzly. Cool enough that we really didn't feel like dallying on the river, so we paddled fairly smartly down to McLennans Punt for a cold, shivery lunch (much like lunches on a mid-winter ski tour in Canada). Our plan was to camp at Lasletts, so that our last day was only 17 or 18 km, but, Pattersons Canoe Camp is such a nice camp, and has shelters! that we pulled in there instead. This a really nice camp with a wooden ramp to pull your boats up (most of the other sites have jetties that are actually very difficult to manage in a kayak/canoe), a huge banquet sized picnic bench, three old, but perfectly serviceable huts, and a new outhouse. The Great Southwest Walk is accessible for afternoon strolls, and, on my afternoon walk I saw three kangaroos, two emus, and three echidnas. No koalas, but we could hear the males grunting from camp. 

Echidna out for lunch

The last day from Pattersons to Nelson is both the best and the worst paddling. The river enters a limestone gorge and there are short limestone bluffs and caves along the shoreline. There is also an increase in motor boat traffic, particularly close to Nelson, and, a series of ugly boat houses along the shore, most notably along the section of river that dips over into South Australia. It took us about 4.5 hours to paddle the 22 km, including a stop at Princess Margaret Rose Cave (we just wandered about, but you can take a cave tour), and a snack stop at Simpsons Landing. It was a windy, cool day, but, if you've done any paddling in Victoria, you'll realise that windy cool weather is pretty much the norm. 

 Limestone bluffs on the river

It was early December when we paddled the river and fairly cool, cloudy, drizzly weather. We met only two other canoeists, and three men in a boat (that should be a book title), and the motor boat traffic was fairly light. I suspect January is a completely different story with motorboats hooning about and many canoe-campers. The canoe campsites are supposed to accommodate 20 people, but, apart from Pattersons which is spacious, they are all pretty small and would feel pretty crowded if full. You could camp at any of the vehicle accessible sites as they all have jetties and some have boat ramps, but, the car accessible campsites cost about $38 versus $10 per person for the canoe sites. All sites are now booked online (Victoria Parks new policy) It would be tough, but not impossible, although likely illegal, to camp outside of the campsites, as the banks of the river are mostly heavily vegetated. We did, however, pass a few flat grassy spots that would be suitable for camping, but, the ranger might fine you. The scenery is pleasant, but not spectacular. There is lots of wildlife of all shapes, sizes and species so if you like nature, you'll enjoy this paddle. Putting in at Moleside is much easier than Pines Landing, and you won't miss anything. Nelson Boat and Canoe Hire does shuttles and rents canoes, but, apparently they are busy in the summer so you might have to book ahead.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mount Eccles

Another volcanic park today, this one Mount Eccles National Park which features some more lava tubes, drystone walls, a remnant volcano and a lake filled crater. In keeping with typical Victoria weather, a couple of hot days was followed closely by cool, windy weather. There's a few easy loop walks you can do at Mount Eccles. We strolled around the lava circuit, which features a number of interesting volcanic features. The first one you get to is a big lava tube that you can walk way back into - take a head-torch. The floor on this one is even and the ceiling curves smoothly overhead. It's pretty interesting to think that 30.000 years ago lava rushed down this passage. 

 Drystone wall

The track then follows the course of an old lava flow and along the way passes many drystone walls. I assume these were made by early settlers as the ones at Mount Napier were. About half way around the circuit, a passage between more lava walls leads to a clamshell shaped cave before passing a dry crater. A short climb and you are on top of Mount Eccles, where, luckily, this handy sign points the way. 

 Why say more?

We also took a lap around Lake Surprise which is really lovely as the lake is full of different kinds of birds singing, echidnas and dark coloured wallabies. 

 Lake Surprise

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Koalas And Lava Tubes at Mount Napier State Park

After just about suffering heat stroke walking up the Chimney Pots yesterday, we got an early start in the morning, drove south, and walked to the top of Mount Napier, an old volcano, before it got crazy hot. This is a short but moderately interesting walk as the crater is still pretty obvious and there seems to be a healthy population of koalas in the surrounding forest (we saw three).

The old crater on Mount Napier

Just a bit further south are the Byaduck Caves which are actually lava tubes with collapsed roofs. These are pretty interesting too, especially when you consider that these passages run for almost 30 km underground. The caves are formed when the roof collapses and opens up an entry into the lava tubes. One cave has an easy scramble down into the bottom and you can wander in the back where it is delightfully cool and moist. 

 Lava tube at Byaduck Caves

By lunch, we had set up for the afternoon and were doing what you do when you live in a caravan without air conditioning and the temperature is in the high 30's Celsius. You just try to survive until it cools down. 

Mount Napier Koala

Last Grampians Walk: Chimney Pots

A last hike in the Grampians on a hot day, way too hot to be walking uphill in the burning sun, but, we can be stupidly stubborn sometimes. Chimney Pots is a big many tiered rock buttress accessible off the Glenelg River Road. The track is not where marked on the topographic map, but is actually about one kilometre further east along a short spur road that parallels the Glenelg River Road. 

It all starts casually enough strolling along a good trail, crossing a dry creek and then climbing gently until you reach a junction where you can either circle Chimney Pots in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction. We went clockwise, which was really silly as we panted up the steep track in full sun and came down in shade.
Heading clockwise, you bump along the bottom of a cliff for a short distance and then climb steeply until you crest a shoulder and traverse around the north side still climbing. Another junction is reached and a short scrambly side trip leads out to a fine viewpoint on a big prow of rock just below the final cliffs of the Chimney Pots. It was interesting to see Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon, both of which I had walked up from this angle and there are many interesting rock outcrops on the hillside north of Chimney Pots. 

Back at the junction, the track climbs a short distance to crest the ridge and then heads downhill through a shady, green and very pretty valley to the main track. 
 Viewpoint at Chimney Pots

Mount Sturgeon

It's always good to stop for a short walk when you are driving, so, the day after we walked the Major Mitchell Plateau, we stopped at Mount Sturgeon track on the way south. Doug sat out this walk as his bung knee from Umbrawarra Gorge was a bit tender after the long descent from Mount William. The track to Mount Sturgeon starts where indicated on the topographic map, but actually heads northwest to junction with a track that goes up Bainggug before climbing Mount Sturgeon from the north. 

My legs felt a bit heavy after the previous days walk when I started out, but, as soon as the track started gaining elevation I limbered up and made good time to the top. There are a couple of short descents before you get to the very top where you have a grand view of the eastern plains and north up the Victoria Valley. A nice diversion on a day otherwise spent driving. 

 Mount Abrupt From Mount Sturgeon

Along The Major Mitchell Plateau: Jimmy Creek to Mount William

If you are walking in the Grampians, the obvious choice for a long day walk is the Major Mitchell plateau and the track that runs from Jimmy Creek to the gated road on Mount William. I had this on my tick list of walks to do while at the Grampians, but was not expecting too much of the walk as the ridge does not have the interesting rock features of some of the other areas of the Grampians, and, I suspected the trees would be too thick to prevent views. 
Turns out I was wrong and this long walk (19 km, 1500 metres of gain from Jimmy Creek) was one of the best walks we did in the Grampians. Apparently, Victoria Parks considers this a "remote" area so you have to register out to do the walk and back in again when you finish. This is easily accomplished at the Visitor Centre, but, when questioned by the Parks staff, I glossed over the fact that I would be walking solo from one end, and my partner solo from the other. All these bureaucratic bodies get unduly concerned about people walking alone or doing other things they consider foolhardy.

If you had someone to drop you off and pick you up, the logical way to do this hike is from Mount William down to Jimmy Creek as the track is overall down-hill. Without that luxury, one of us had to endure a lot of elevation gain, and the other had to endure a lot of elevation loss. Personally, I - and my knees - would rather walk up than down but I gave Doug, who has a slightly bung knee after an adventure in Umbrawarra Gorge, the choice. Secretly, I was glad that he opted to start from Mount William leaving me to start from Jimmy Creek.

 Serra Range

The track climbs steadily from Jimmy Creek until it reaches a big gently inclined plateau where the various Wannon Creeks drain to the west. There's not much point giving a step by step breakdown of the hike as there is really only one track, and you simply follow it, mostly up, but occasionally down. At about five kilometres (roughly 1.5 hours) you reach a cleared helipad and the track joins a rough road for a short section. You can escape off to the south here down to Mafeking. Shortly after this junction, you encounter the steepest climb of the walk where the track gains about 200 metres in half a kilometre. There's also a bit of rocky scrambling here. 

The next five kilometres along to Wannon Campsite is wonderful walking along the ridge top with expansive views in all directions, but, most prominent the jagged Serra Range to the west. The bush is low scrub reminiscent of the heathland bush found along much of Australia's east coast and flat slabs of rock provide easy walking. There were masses of different coloured wildflowers blooming when we did this walk in late November. I met Doug somewhere around point 1152 metres about 45 minutes from Wannon Campsite. 

I stopped for lunch at Wannon Campsite where there are clear tent pads, an outhouse and water from Wannon Creek. A short climb out of Wannon Campsite leads to the steepest descent on the track down into Boundary Gap. This is a scrambly section of track that eases as you descend but you'll lose about 170 metres of elevation in just 300 metres. It feels like a long climb out of Boundary Gap - it's about 250 metres - and, once up the first climb, the towers on Mount William look very close. But, there are still two or three more short descents followed by slightly longer climbs until you finally reach the paved road at Mount William. Turns out that Mount William (1167 metres), or perhaps point 1167 metres south of Wannon Creek, is the high point in the Grampians, so you can feel good about completing a long walk and tagging the highest point in the Grampians. 

Apart from Doug, I didn't meet anyone until I was almost back down at the gate on the Mount William Road and that gives this walk a wonderful remote feel. If you don't mind humping an overnight pack, there are definitely worse places to spend the night than Wannon Campsite.

Back In Time For Lunch: Through The Wonderland Range

This is an easy walk that is only about 11 or 12 km long and visits a number of the highpoints (both literally and figuratively) of the Wonderland Range. Start either behind the caravan park in Halls Gap or through the Botanic Gardens, and follow the steps (many, many steps) up to Mackeys (Cherub) Peak. If you're old, you can probably blow past a few 20 and 30 somethings who are staggering along the track with shopping bags and cameras held out on poles to snap narcissistic pictures of themselves. 

In not too long, you meet the track that comes up from the Wonderland car park and the hordes of people who have managed to stagger up this way, also carrying shopping bags. I had no idea shopping bags had replaced backpacks. Stroll along the track towards Bellfield Peak. There are some good overhanging rock formations perfect for a few pull-ups or ankles to bar (rock formation) as you walk past. 

 Tower Hill

Instead of taking the shortest route down to the Sundial parking lot, you can take a slightly longer loop out to Lakeview Lookout where you may find some dubious abseiling going on. Beyond Sundial carpark, you'll leave the crowds behind as you stroll up to Sundial Peak where there is a sundial (and a view), then wander down the track passing one more lookout and following a curving ridge down to Lake Bellfield. Be back in time for lunch.

Mount Rosea Circuit From Borough Huts

Mount Rosea, at the northern end of the Serra Range is usually hiked from the old Rosea picnic ground, but, I much prefer either a through walk or a circuit walk to an out and back, so I came up with a loop walk that started from Borough Huts campground, passed over Mount Rosea and returned back to Borough Huts. Be warned, however, that this is much longer than simply walking up Mount Rosea from Rosea Turntable and includes much more elevation gain. Below are my track notes, use them at your own discretion.

There is no sign at the start or any indication in the Borough Huts campground that this walk starts there. At the west side of the campground, cross Fyans Creek (low) and follow an old road for about 175 metres heading west. Memorial Track (new sign) branches off to the right (north) and almost immediately crosses (dry) Middleton Creek. The track climbs gradually and in about a 0.5 km crosses another old road. Continue gently climbing for another 700 (horizontal) metres and cross another old road (easy to miss as it is quite overgrown). From this point on, the track begins to climb, gently at first but soon getting quite steep. In half a kilometre, you cross another old road and you could follow this old road up to meet the track higher up, but it is easily as steep as, if not steeper than the track and might be best saved for the descent. One section of track has a washout where the track all but disappears, and the track is also a bit bushy and overgrown.

Near the top of Mount Rosea

After you have gained about 200 metres, you cross the same old road again (alternate route) and the gradient eases but the track still climbs to cross one last fading old road. The track levels out a bit and begins heading more north (rather than NW) and a new track is intersected. This is called the Chislett Track on the map and it has had major work done on it and is in very good shape. It climbs gradually to Sanderson Gap and then weaves through rock formations to the top of Mount Rosea where there is a compass rose, seat and lookout. The Wonderland Range looks low from here, Mount Williams may have its head in the cloud, and the southern Serra Range looks suitably remote.

From Mount Rosea, the track descends the north ridge winding through rock formations, tunnels and caves until you are below the escarpment and the track becomes wide and fast walking down to Rosea Turntable at the intersection of Stoney Creek Road and Silverband Road. About 50 metres downhill on the Silverbank Road, a pile of cut logs marks the old Silverband Falls track (long since closed by Victoria Parks) which leads down Dairy Creek and intersects the Silverband Road at a U bend in the road. You can follow this track - brushed in but passable - or follow the road down to the Burma Track. Either way, you'll walk about 800 metres. If you follow the track, it disappears into the creek after about 200 metres but there is still a faint foot pad visible most of the way and it is easy enough walking in the creek. If you've followed the creek, you need to walk back up the road for 40 metres or so to get on the Burma Track (so you don't save any distance only some road walking).

Walking off Mount Rosea

The Burma Track has some impressive washouts from floods and some huge boulders are poised to roll onto the road below next time heavy rain falls. You have to scramble down into and out of a couple of large gullies in the first two kilometres. After about two kilometres, there is a very faint old road branching off to the left which runs down Glen Hills to meet the Grampians Tourist Drive at Lake Bellfield. If you carry on, in less than a minute, you reach a much more prominent junction. The uphill fork is a new track not marked on the map that steadily gains elevation and intersects the Chislett Track (you'll recognise the junction from earlier in the day). If you want to avoid the extra elevation gain (and subsequent loss) take the lower left hand fork and intersect the Memorial Track just before it begins it's steep descent.

We took the new (upper track) which is in really good shape but climbs more than necessary to the junction with the Chislett Track. Instead of following the bushy and washed out in places Memorial Track down we took the road down until we were below the steep descent/ascent and had intercepted the track again. The descent on the road feels steeper even than the track. Then, simply follow the Memorial Track back to Fyans Creek, and have a dip if there is enough water in the creek. This is a nice remote feeling hike and you'll only meet other people on the section from Rosea Turntable to Mount Rosea.

Mount Stapylton and Mount Zero

Most of the northern Grampians is currently closed after a bushfire ran through last year, and, Victoria Parks does not seem to be in too much of a hurry to open up the tracks or climbing areas, but, two hikes at the northern end - Mount Stapylton and Mount Zero are currently open. Both are short so you can easily do both in either an afternoon or morning. 

 Overlooking Stapylton Ampitheatre

Mount Stapylton is definitely the most interesting. The track runs up rock slabs to Flat Rock where there is a grand view of the impressive Taipan Wall, then descends a short distance to cross a burnt valley before climbing around the south side of Mount Stapylton and heading up to the summit on more rock slabs. A sign marks the end of the hiking track (marked by yellow triangles) but, if you are a peak bagger, you'll immediately notice that you aren't actually on top of Mount Stapylton which rises a short distance higher. Some old faded red arrows led out on rock slabs around the west side of the mountain and a few scrambling moves (some may not like this section) lead to the real summit. There is an impressive amount of rock all around and most climbers will be dreaming of wild new routes waiting first ascents.

 Mount Stapylton

On the other side of the road, Mount Zero takes less than an hour round trip along a similarly well marked track gaining a saddle on the east side and then romping up rock slabs to the top. A great view of Mount Stapylton awaits and a compass rose helps identify the surrounding features.

So Long Arapiles

I am way behind in this blog as I've been out and about climbing and hiking too frequently to have time to record our latest activities. Which means this will be another of those ultra boring travelogue type blogs where I just bleat on about the last things we've done. 

Aphrodite at Arapiles was a grand climb, although I got stuck on the first pitch for a while contemplating a ground fall if the micro nut (rated for aid only) were to fail if I failed to pull the slick moves up to easier ground. Finally, after staring at this "crux" for a long time and testing the moves, I stepped left, found myself on route (instead of off-route) and with a lovely cam placement to protect the few moves to easier ground, and, I was away. The first pitch has interesting climbing to a belay stance not far below the notch on Tiptoe Ridge, the second pitch ambles up easy terrain but you can make it more interesting by taking the steepest route, and the third pitch traverses left to pull a roof on big jugs in "an exposed position" (it is pretty exposed). Halfway through the crux moves there is the most bomber thread, but I ended up moving past it as I had no long sling handy having used my usual thread sling on a chicken head lower down. If you plan to climb this route, keep a double length skinny runner handy for this most awesome bit of natural protection. 

We wandered off and climbed Diapason after Aphrodite, although it was getting a bit hot in the sun. A nice starting pitch up a steepening crack with some interesting moves, a rambling pitch up the middle of the buttress, and finally a chimney move or two and an interesting step across onto the wall complete the route. 

We also climbed Watchtower Chimney which is about the most fun you can have on a chimney route and the third pitch is just superb. Doug led pitches one to three, and I took the easy final pitch. Pitch one starts up a steep crack that gradually fades out, there is a carrot bolt, and then you traverse left to a corner crack. I traversed low with my hands on the ledge, while Doug did this section the hard (unprotected) way by traversing with his feet on the ledge and no hand holds. I can just about always find the easy way. Anyway, if you go low, you get some gear placements at your hand level, go high, and you'll have a longish runout to the corner. The corner crack offers sustained and quite slick climbing and I was happy not to be leading it.
There is a small belay stance in the corner, and then a short pitch up to the chimney. Doug went a bit higher than the normal belay spot to the top of a chockstone which made a bomber belay and necessitated just a few chimney moves that required me to hang both pack and shoes off my belay loop. The third pitch is atmospheric and a little difficult if you are leading it as you are not quite sure where to go or how to tackle it. If you don't want beta, don't read on! First, stem up above the chockstone, then step up onto the right hand wall where a ledge runs along the top of the chimney. Climb along this stepped ledge until you get back into the chimney proper higher up. A few chimney moves with good ledges for feet and you are up out of the chimney and at a big belay ledge. No Joe Herbst moves required. The final pitch climbs an easy crack then rambles to the top. 

One of our other last multi-pitches was Hurricane Lamps Crack which I enjoyed but Doug found a bit choppy. The first pitch requires just a few chimney moves to start but most of it you can stem. Pitch two is up a steep crack and has multiple options. Pitch three traverses a small ledge to pull around a nose of rock and up steeply. Pitch four is short, just 10 metres, but is tough to combine with pitch three due to rope drag. There's a slightly stiff for the grade but fun start and then you are up on the "tennis court" and the final two pitches are easy rambling to grade 8 and can be done as one long pitch. 

We also did a few routes up at Preludes Wall as it stays shady in the afternoon. All good routes that are between 25 and 35 metres long and feel a bit stiff even for Arapiles grades. Steep and technical at the same time requiring good footwork and body tension. Of course, the Pillars of Hercules at the top provide bomber anchors and there is a rappel anchor at the far left side (25 metre rappel). 

After six weeks or so of climbing, we've finally left Arapiles and are now in the Grampians. The climbing was beginning to feel a bit the same - which is not a criticism of Arapiles as, everywhere in the world I've climbed if you stay in one place the climbing begins to feel a bit the same. Squamish is slabs and cracks, more slabs, more cracks. Skaha is steep crimping followed by more steep crimping, the Black Rocks are steep basalt jugs and cracks, Frenchmans Coulee is similar, and, well, you get the picture. It was also starting to get a bit hot at Arapiles with lots more days of continuous over 30 Celsius days in the forecast. Already I've got a bunch of Grampians hikes to write up and not much time so the boring travelogue type blog post is likely to continue.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slightly Bold

Going cheap: one 51 year old (almost 52 as my mother informed me yesterday) climber who can lead "slightly bold" pitches and tackle overhangs on "big holds in ... exposed position(s)."

I once read Andy Kirkpatrick describing sea kayaking as moments of utter boredom (I wish I was dead) interspersed with moments of utter terror (I'm going to fucking die) with a slice of utter commitment (I hope my partner dies, not me) thrown in (read the whole blog post here). Things weren't quite so clear cut today, but I did feel some moments of sheer joy (this climbing is awesome) interspersed with some moments of not quite utter terror - must get solid piece in NOW - while leading today's routes. The beauty of climbing is it doesn't really matter what grade you are climbing, you can always have this intense experience where your whole focus is narrowed down to the moves in front of you.

Arapiles Morning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Arapiles Climbs

After a pretty unpleasant 40 Celsius day the usual southerly change came through and it got cold again. Victoria seems to be a continuous cycle of hot and cold weather never really settling into anything really pleasant. We had a casual day at Arapiles climbing some one and two pitch routes until it began to thunder and rain just as I was finishing up Mesa (an easy grade 10). For once, there was a rappel anchor on top and Doug and I were off in a flash as the thunder rumbled all around us. 

Detour ahead in Watchtower Chimney

The next day I had my pick and we climbed Xena and Diapason.  Xena is on the Pinnacle Face so has the standard easy walk off down the tourist track. I led all the pitches and it is a fun route with good gear, good belays and solid rock. Pitch one is supposed to be 8, but I thought it was slightly harder than pitch two which is 9, although there was really only one slightly thin move on the first pitch up a steep smooth crack. Pitch three is a ramble up easy terrain and pitch four pulls a roof on good jugs and then eases to grade 8 terrain. We scored a booty cam from the belay on Siren which some party had left behind. It was a bit hot in the sun, but there was some breeze so after lunch, we walked up to the Organ Pipes and I led all three pitches of Diapason (grade 8). Pitch one rambles up a steepening crack which can be tackled straight on or out to the left. Pitch two is quite easy up the buttress, and pitch three involves a couple of quasi-chimney moves before a steep little traverse and then easy ground. Lots of protection available on all the pitches and you can rappel off rings past Piccolo so the descent is easy too. 

 Doug on pitch two of Panzer

Doug led all three pitches of Panzer (grade 12) the next day. This is really a good route with a lot of variety in the climbing. The first pitch is quite slabby with a thin traverse. Gear is adequate but spaced. Pitch two climbs a steep corner, then steps right around an arete onto the face and continues up on more spaced gear placements. The last belay is under a roof, and, in classic Arapiles style, the final pitch traverses out right on easy ground, climbs a little corner, and then continues up juggy terrain to the top of a little tower. The last pitch seems easier than the other two but is still graded 12. You have to downclimb off the back of the tower (about 5.3) and, as a fall would be greatly injurious if not fatal, I climbed down first on belay and stuck a couple of pieces in for Doug, none of which he appeared to need. 

 A pretty bomber anchor

The usual punting was being done on Arachnus on both days we were nearby with the leaders endlessly shouting "slack" and grunting with effort as they tried to surmount the rope drag resulting from using sport draws on this route. I'm beginning to think a sign at the bottom of the climb warning people not to use short draws but to take double length runners would save a lot of grief. The rope always zig-zags so severely from side to side that the gear being placed is subject to huge sideways pulls. 

 Doug starting up Watchtower Chimney pitch one

Yesterday we climbed Watchtower Chimney and had time for Stalagmite (nicely in the shade) afterwards. Watchtower Chimney is alternating pitches of grade 12 and grade 8, Doug led the first three pitches and I the last easy pitch. Pitch one starts up a steep crack that gradually fades out and then you traverse left on slabby terrain to a slippery corner. Doug took the high line on the traverse putting his feet on the little ledge with a crack in the back, but that left nothing for the hands and no gear, but I took the low route with reasonable dishes on the slab for my feet, good hands in the ledge/crack (and you could put in a couple of pieces of gear). I found the corner slippery and tricky, but I always suck on the first pitch of the day. Pitch two finished up the corner and then tackles the chimney. Doug got a good chockstone belay after a couple of chimney moves, but I suspect most folks belay below this chockstone. The chimney is interesting climbing and tough for the leader to work out exactly how to tackle it. You start above the chockstone with some stemming moves, then step onto a ledge on the right and balance up this awkward stepped ledge on the right wall of the chimney. A step across to the left wall gives a few more face climbing moves, then you move right up into the chimney until you are almost, but not quite, wedged in and with your back against the right wall, and your feet on ledges on the left, chimney up until a couple of good holds help you pull up out of the chimney onto a big belay ledge. The route is pretty much over by then with just a couple of 8 moves up a crack on the right and a romp to the top.

 Doug in Watchtower Chimney

We walked up to Preludes Wall after a late lunch and Doug led Stalagmite (grade 13) which has two distinct cruxes up overhangs. The bottom crack, although steep, looks featured but is a little harder than it appears at first glance and the second (final) overhang requires good body positioning and tension to avoid thrashing about - as I did At the top of the route is a big cave with huge "stalagmites" that make bomber belays (although I am sure a certain local guide would insist on "backing" them up). A short walk along the ledge with the stalagmites is a rappel anchor so this was another cushy route. 

 Lake Wynn Reserve

We decided to stick with our two days on/one day off climbing schedule which has turned out well as it has been raining since mid morning today. I wandered off on a 14 km walk which took me across the now completely dry Lake Natimuk to the northern end where I picked up a track through a wildlife refuge that runs along the also dry Natimuk Creek, a short stretch on a quiet road and I got on another track through melalueca forest by Lake Wyn (salt) wildlife reserve. That's another week at Arapiles gone by. 

Lake Wynn