Monday, March 31, 2014

A Quiet Day At Undarra Volcanic National Park

It's a quiet drive west along the Gulf Development Road to Undarra Volcanic National Park. Slowly, outcrops of volcanic rock begin to appear between the eucalpyts until, when you arrive at Undarra, large granite boulders stud the landscape. All the way out we were trying to decide whether we would pay the somewhat exorbitant fee required to enter the lava tubes, and, were half relieved when we reached the resort to discover that we had arrived in the “off season” and there were no tours. No decision to be made. 

 Doug at Atkinson's Lookout
We found a trail map showing the walks and duly set off along a concrete path towards the “bush breakfast,” the distance of which was marked off in 50 metre intervals as if the tourists could barely manage to stagger the 250 metres to get belly up to the bar. Passing the “breakfast bar” we walked along beside a jumble of granite boulders where dozy grey kangaroos lounged in the shade. I noted, cynically, that Undarra Resort also runs an expensive wildlife tour, no doubt to see the very kangaroos that are so plentiful you almost trip on them. 
We took a turn to the right, then another right and hiked up onto “The Bluff”. Someone has come up several original and highly creative names like The Bluff, Bush walk, and Swamp track, to denote the various walks and landscape features. The Bluff is a series of large granite boulders and slabs and affords a view down onto the extensive Undarra resort complex, 90% of which appears to be comprised of old rail cars. Continuing on, we took a left and wandered out to Atkinson's Lookout passing a small waterhole on a milky creek along the way. Just before you reach the lookout, an ominous sign insists you “Go Back. You are entering the exit of a half day circuit. Return to the Lodge for trail information.” This sign was so ridiculous, I had to take a photo. I'm not sure what would happen were you to walk the remaining 10 km in an anticlockwise direction and in a couple of hours instead of a half day. Would it be like trying to drive the wrong way down Pitt Street in Sydney? Anyway, the lookout is a pleasant rock platform with shade and a view over the surrounding plains. By this point we had decided that the walking, though pleasant, wasn't particularly inspiring, so we returned to our car, after a dip in the waterhole on the way past, had lunch, and grabbed our rock shoes and went bouldering up on the Bluff until we needed to leave for the next attraction. The granite is mostly very solid, grippy and, in many places has a desert patina very much like City of Rocks in Idaho. The rocks aren't quite so tall, however.

 There's trouble ahead

We also drove out to Kilkani Cone which is the remnant of an old volcano. There is a 2.5 km circuit up to the crater rim and around the circumference and this was actually a really interesting track. It's a scenic walk around the rim with several other small old volcanoes visible, the forested lava plains now spread out below, and the almost perfect circular crater filled with green grass and trees on your right.

Bally Knob, Enough Said

The same day as we walked Stewart Head, I left Doug working in the caravan at Little Millstream Falls and set off on the short walk up Bally Knob in the Misty Mountains. Now, I have previously walked “trails” in the Misty Mountains, and, like most people who have done so, I swore off ever doing so again. But, the track to Bally Knob supposedly led to a good view point and, the start was a wide swath mowed through the forest so I had high hopes that this time walking in the Misty Mountains would be different. 

 Trail to Bally Knob

Things went well, very well, for the first 40 minutes. About five minutes down the trail, the track crosses a main road but resumes well marked and well cleared on the other side. Initially, it meanders along beside a milky stream, climbing gently, until, about 30 minutes in, a steep climb leads past a forested bump on the right side. Initially, I thought this might be Bally Knob, but, I had not been walking long enough (it is four kilometres to Bally Knob from Little Millstream Falls). Beyond this bump, the trail descends for five minutes to a saddle, and, about the 40 minute mark, the Misty Mountain effect kicks in. The trail begins climbing again but rapidly disappears into high grass and dense forest. At about the 50 minute mark, another small summit is approached, but this time, the “trail” descends and contours past on the left side. By the time you have reached this point, there is no longer a track, just some flagging and marks on trees. The grass is thick and high, the bushes scratchy and dense, and the “track” indistinguishable from the surrounding forest. I ploughed on until I had been going just over an hour by which time I should, by my calculations, have been standing on Bally Knob, but, there was nothing to be seen apart from a densely timbered hill to my side, the top of which was getting further and further away as the track gradually lost elevation. 
It was clear that Bally Knob is both well named and devoid of both views and a track, so I, cursing the Misty Mountain “track” system all over again, turned around and walked back. If you are ever thinking of walking in the Misty Mountains, bang your head against a wall, any wall will do, until you've knocked some sense into yourself.

Sauntering Up Stewart Head

Herberton is, apparently, one of the first (maybe the first?) town on the Atherton Tableland and the surrounding area is cross-hatched with old mining claims. At 900 metres, with a narrow main street, old mine tunnels, adits, slag heaps, and general mining refuse laying about, Herberton is very reminiscent of Rossland in the West Kootenay. Rossland, of course, is buried under a metre of settled snow each winter, a sight which Herberton won't see until the next ice age. 

 Morning light on the Stewart Head trail

Using our metabolic flexibility to full advantage we set off to walk the 12 km circuit to Stewart Head west of Herberton in, you guessed it, the Herberton Range before breakfast. The town has done a pretty good job marking all the interlocking old mining roads around the local area and designing scenic hikes. Stewart Head is the longest and heads west, climbing gently, until it rounds Saint Patrick Hill on the south side. This is pleasant walking, lightly shaded, on an open ridge line for most of the way with views into the valley on either side. Passing Saint Patrick Hill, you can now see Stewart Head, a mere forested bump to the west. The trail heads down along a ridge, then climbs to another ridge line where a prominent sign directs you to either Stewart Head or back to Herberton. The final 500 metres to Stewart Head is overgrown with long grass and climbs steadily. Near the end, the trail is moderately ankle twisting as it runs over slippery rocks and you cannot see your footing through the long grass. Purists will be dismayed, but I was quite happy to find that someone had chopped a few trees down to open the view up to Herberton, Specimen Hill and Mount Empress to the east. 

 Herberton from Stewart Head

Back at the big sign pointing to Herberton, an old mine road leads downhill past several more mine workings to a couple of quarries, one flooded. Beyond the quarries, the trail follows a main gravel forestry road for about 10 minutes until another large sign pointing right to Herberton leads onto older quieter trails. A steepish climb up one hill, then a second more gradual climb and the trail merges into a morass of other mining trails. There is still some sporadic signage, but this section is not as well marked as the early sections. Still, if you follow your instincts (hopefully you have some sense of direction) you'll soon find yourself heading north back toward Herberton and, if all goes well, you'll come out on the upper end of Denbigh Street and a short stroll down residential streets back to the parking area. The circuit took us three hours at a comfortable pace and makes a pleasant walk if you are in the area. There are many other shorter walks on both the west and east side of Herberton and the Information Centre/Mining Museum has good pamphlets detailing the walks.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Back On The Road: Chillagoe

Leaving Freshwater presented some difficulties. First, as we pulled the caravan out onto the street the power cable pulled out of the back of the car and had to be lengthened (a few days before I had shortened it to what we believed to be the correct length), then, a block from our house-sit we realised we did not have the towing mirrors on and could not remember where we had stowed them. Back we went. The towing mirrors, however, were soon located, installed, and around midday, after five months in Cairns we resumed life on the road. 

The route west of Cairns to Mareeba on the Kennedy Highway was, of course, very familiar now. Stopping for lunch in Mareeba made sense, but somehow was a let down as we had only been travelling for an hour. The country west of Mareeba on the Burke Development Road was all new to us and we looked around with interest as we drove up onto the height of land on the Great Dividing Range (just over 500 metres) at the rolling hills, sporadic rock outcrops and eucalpyptus forests. Farmland soon gave way to ranching country. The settlements out this way are small, although Dinbulah, with a few shops and a post office was bigger than I expected. West of Lappa, near the old Mountain Maid Mine, we found a gravel road and pulled off into a camping spot by a small watercourse under eucalpytus trees and went walking along the gravel road as far as the Sunny Mountain Station. The setting sun coloured the forest purple and pink, and, after living in suburbia for five months, the solitude was delightful. Unfortunately, the hand pump, which, unbeknownst to us, had clogged with salt deposits during our stay in Cairns broke. 

Chillagoe Limestone

Next morning, we drove into Chillagoe, population 310, which is spread around a few blocks either side of Queen Street and called in at “The Hub” an information centre with way too much interpretive information. I paid 10 cents for a town map and had to endure the spiel complete with scribbling pen marks (no highlighter!) from the retired gent behind the counter. We pulled into the Chillagoe Tourist Village (CTV) – a reasonable enough caravan park, although “village” might be hyperbolic – had breakfast and made a packed lunch. 

West of Chillagoe, on a good gravel road, is the Mungana Section of Chillagoe National Park. Here there are some fairly recent aboriginal paintings under a small overhang and also The Arches cave. Back in the early days of settlement, aborigines who were not working for white land-owners were rounded up and shipped off to either Palm Island or Yarrabah – little wonder a century later there was rioting on Palm Island. 

Fig Tree at The Arches

Walking around The Arches cave site – a tall limestone cave that you enter at ground-level and which has many different chambers, most open to the sky with fig trees and satin ash sprouting up – all I could think about was how great it would be to get our Hilti drill out of storage and put up a bunch of climbing routes. The limestone is reminiscent of the Black and Tan Wall at St George in Utah, and supremely grippy. 

On the way back to town, we stopped at another big cave by the road side and I identified more new routes. Near town, the old smelter site is a “tourist attraction” complete with “Slag Heap Lookout” - I have a picture to prove it. The view from the old mine Superintendent's home site is actually quite lovely, looking out over the lightly forested Walsh Creek Valley with The Featherbed Range behind. 

Slag Heap Lookout

We also drove down to parking area for two “tourist” caves and two “self-explore caves.” Getting into the Bauhinia Cave is via a slippery down climb, and, once down there, you can scramble and crawl around in the dark among some interlocking tunnels and caverns. Pompeii Cave has an easy downclimb to get in and has only a couple of short tunnels. You can walk along to Balancing Rock from the parking lot where there is potential for yet more new routes! 

Grippy Chillagoe Limestone

Our second morning in Chillagoe, I drove down to Royal Arches Cave and walked back to CTV via a couple of different trails. Bizarrely enough, the hiking trail between Royal Arches and Balancing Rock was closed due to “wet weather.” Yeah, the grass was wet, what a hazard! I did some bouldering on the way home, but, it was hard to find any bouldering problems that were just the right degree of difficulty. All the ones I did were way too easy. 

Balancing Rock

From Chillagoe, we had to drive right back to Mareeba as we didn't feel confident taking the caravan down the Petford to Herberton Road, particularly after all the recent rain. At Herberton, we tried to find a spot in the bush to camp for free, but the whole area is heavily populated and we ended up at the caravan park in Herberton. In order to prevent any further rain, we put up our new tarp over the door of the caravan, and, no sooner had Doug fixed the broken hand pump, than our water tap broke.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Leaving Cairns

Five months have passed since Doug and I came down the hill to Cairns. In some ways it has been a pretty relaxing time. No long hikes, backpacks, climbs and only one multiday sea kayak trip. But, we have bouldered and worked out at the gym just about everyday and have consequently had fairly continuously stiff, sore muscles. 

On Friday night, we had a wonderful dinner at the house with our Cairns friends. They are all great people and welcomed us so completely into their circle of friends, and were really one of the big reasons we stayed in Cairns for this long. We will miss them all. Yesterday, I had one more burn down at the Esplanade climbing area, and one more WOD at the PCYC gym. 

In the absence of any real climbing, we really got into bouldering while we were here, albeit on an artificial wall. Apart from bouldering on our home-made climbing wall in our house in Nelson and weekly training sessions during the winter at Castlegar bouldering cave, I've never really done a lot of bouldering. I don't even know what grade route I could climb. Actually, it has been so long since we did any regular climbing, that I don't think I know what grade I climb at any more.

With very little experience bouldering, my tactic was just to go two or three times a week, and climb for about an hour. Of course, I had my goal to climb the roof, but, once I had done that a few times, I admit to not having much focus for my bouldering sessions. If there were marked routes, I would work those. Most of them, however, I could get after one to three tries, and there were only one or two that I never got. I don't think that means I am an incredible boulderer, I actually think my success had more to do with the routes being fairly easy than me being fairly badass. 

I am pretty sure I got stronger, but, in hindsight, I think I would have got stronger still had I had some method to my bouldering. I could make a bunch of excuses (I can think of half a dozen right now), but the truth is, I was much more focused on getting a reliable eskimo roll and lifting heavy weights at the gym, than I was on bouldering. 

We leave Cairns tomorrow, and I would like to retain some of the strength and power gains I've made while we have been in town. It is harder to train on the road and easier to think of excuses. I know myself well enough not to make grandiose claims about how dedicated to working out I'll be while on the road. Truthfully, I'm not sure I have the chutzpah to keep training hard while we are travelling. Time will tell, I guess. 

Finally, go here, for a really cool climbing blog that isn't full of all that shiny, happy, hippy, dippy, Barney world view shit that drives me crazy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not Much Worse Than The One You Had Before: Cambie Creek to Skaist River On Skis

You guessed it, more rain in Cairns, so time for another stroll down the pathway of my memories.  Looking for inspiration, I clicked open our trip database (having a programmer for a partner can be pretty handy) and used the handy "this day in history" feature - a tribute to our good friend now sadly missed, Kim Kratky -  to find this old trip report from 2009. 

Robin, Betsy and Doug at the end of our trip

Prologue: In late February/early March, we’d kicked around a few ideas for a short ski traverse for mid-March with Captain Bivouac and Betsy Waddington, but, we seemed unable to settle on a destination we could all agree upon. Captain Bivouac, romantic as always when it comes to the Rockies, was convinced that a great Rockies traverse travelling many kilometers each day up untrodden valleys to lost passes on long skinny skis with leather boots and cable bindings would be the best trip imaginable; but Doug and I, altogether more realistic about conditions vetoed this plan as we knew from friends in the Rubblies, that this years’ (2009) snowpack was significantly worse than last years, and, in most places was failing to support even a light weight skier. 

Eventually, the idea of a trip through Manning Park surfaced, and two days later, Doug and I were driving west to meet Robin and Betsy at Cambie Creek packed for a 5 to 6 day trip with a rough itinerary we could shift around to suit conditions. 

 Three Brothers Mountain from the south

Day 1, Cambie Creek to Big Buck Mountain: The first day out with a big pack is always a bit of a grunt, and it seemed a bit of a trudge up Cambie Creek and Fat Dog trail to the sub-alpine area around Big Buck Mountain. Of course, the trail was just a bit worse than previous as immediately before we left, a group of six snowshoers and one postholer had marched off up the trail ahead of us, stomping the ski track into a rutted mess. 

Once we got to the subalpine ridges near Big Buck Mountain, we finally passed the snowshoers, and emerged into the full brunt of a strong SW wind. Wandering up towards Big Buck we had lots of whumpfs and there were numerous recent slab avalanches, evidence that the snowpack was just a bit worse than before. We ended up setting up camp early in a sheltered area about a kilometre from Big Buck Mountain as we weren’t sure where the next protected area would be. Unfortunately, a gang of five sled hooligans were roaring around the sub-alpine, well inside the park boundary on their sleds. At one point they drove right past our camp and all the way over to the Heather Trail. For all we know, they sledded right down to the Ranger Station.

 Big Buck Mountain

It was at this point that Doug and I discovered that I had forgotten to pack the pole for our tent vestibule and had brought half the amount of white gas I should have. I left Doug trying to jury rig the vestibule and skied the kilometre or so to the top of Big Buck Mountain where the wind was almost strong enough to blow me to Princeton. 

Day 2, Big Buck Mountain to Nicomen Ridge:  Our makeshift vestibule using two ski poles actually worked better during the night than the proper version with the aluminium tent pole, but when we tried to pack the tent in the morning it was like trying to wrestle with a hungry alligator. This is our second single wall Integral Designs tent – the first, lasted 15 years, never leaked, got wet with condensation or threatened to collapse in a storm. But, the newer version – advertised as “breathable”, breathes about as well as a fish out of water, and, despite sleeping with the door open all night, the walls were caked in frozen condensation, thick enough to generate a Rockies ice climb in good plastic conditions. 

While we bemoaned our misfortune to have purchased such a dud, Robin related his recent shopping expedition to MEC looking for a replacement summer tent. It seemed he had inadvertently sent the salesperson into an apoplectic fit when he described his ideal tent as one “tall enough so I can sit up in one end while Betsy cooks in the other”. This sent the salesperson into paroxysms of proclamations of certain death due to grizzly bear attack. Once the salesperson had recovered the power of coherent speech, it became evident that MEC had a good selection of tents, but none quite as good as the one Robin was trying to replace. 

 Betsy skiing up Fourth Brother Mountain

The wind was somewhat less than the day before, and it was snowing only very lightly as we skied past Three Brothers Mountain on the southwest side, through a narrow pass and on through gentle sub-alpine terrain to the west side of Fourth Brother Mountain. Here we dropped our packs and skinned a short distance up to the top of Fourth Brother Mountain, where, true to stereotypes we found the small area just below the summit littered with beer cans dropped by the sledheads. 

We had lunch back at our packs, and then carried on skiing generally northwest staying right on the ridge top where the terrain is broad and easy all the way to Nicomen Ridge. We followed Nicomen Ridge east for about 300 metres until a spur ridge runs north. This was the crux of this very easy ski trip, a short section where you must stay right on the ridge to avoid avalanche exposure. We skied easily down the north spur ridge and found a sheltered area to camp just before the ridge begins to climb gently to the north again. 

 Betsy above Nicomen Lake

Day 3, Nicomen Ridge to Hope Pass:  It was snowing again in the morning and the weather was just a bit worse than it had been the day before. We were lucky this section of the trip was in the trees as any time we came into a larger opening we would feel the brunt of the wind driving the snow along. From our campsite we climbed gently to the summit of a north south running treed ridge, then descended about 140 metres down to a pass, before climbing again, this time heading northeast to reach a broad flat ridge system that led us east to another large flat summit.

Lunch was a cold affair, spent huddled under some trees while the snow fell and the wind blew. After lunch, we continued north passing by some small tarns, and then eventually descending to Hope Pass, a narrow cleft between two treed ridge lines. At Hope Pass, it was snowing heavily and blowing, so we followed a compass bearing west to a small tarn that offered sheltered camping in the trees. 

 Our tent now free standing

Day 4 Hope Pass to Grainger Creek:  By now, Doug and I were thoroughly wet inside our “waterproof, breathable tent” and approached our third night in this frigid version of a sauna with some trepidation. I slept in every piece of clothing I’d brought with me, including a down jacket, and managed to stay warm, but woke with the ice on the walls a full centimeter thick by now. 

There was a fresh 20 cm of snow on the tents in the morning, but luckily it felt pretty light. Although it was still snowing, we headed off to ski to the top of Skaist Mountain, following the inevitable compass bearing to the northeast. The top is fairly open, and might have had decent views but all we saw was snow and a hint of a ridge line in the distance. 

Back at camp we wrestled the tent away and headed off skiing slightly downhill and heading west. The trees were tight and some of the terrain a bit tricky to ski through. However, the fresh snow made the descent a fair bit more pleasant than skiing on breakable suncrust. Robin was having a terrible time with his gaitors, which, for some inexplicable reason had been made with Velcro closures – who exactly thinks Velcro will work in snow? – and they kept popping open and forming the shape of a inverted snowplow which funneled large quantities of snow into his boots at every turn. Clearly, these gaitors were much worse than the pair he had before. 

 Easy skiing along the route

After we’d been descending and traversing for perhaps an hour, Doug stumbled onto the Hope Pass trail and for a while, we cruised downhill following it through switchbacks and down near to the Skaist River. Near the river, we lost the trail and also lost quite a bit of time trying to find it again. Eventually we did, and skied on for perhaps half a kilometre before repeating the whole process again. After doing this about three times, we decided to just head in the direction we knew the trail was going and hope to pick it up. After this, we never lost it for more than a few hundred metres, and always found ourselves back on it again in short order. 

The lower we got the heavier the trailbreaking got, and occasionally, the snow would stop falling and the sun would pop out. In these brief interludes the snow quickly became wet, sticky and heavy. We plugged away reaching a bridge across the Skaist River around 3 pm where we stopped during a brief sunny spell for a snack. 

 Robin tunneling into a snowbank

Once across the bridge we lost the trail and wandered a bit on a small island in the river, which we eventually had to get off. I stood midway and watched Betsy doing some creek skiing to exit on my right and Robin doing some snow- tunneling to exit on my left. Unexpectedly, given the hilarity which watching Robin had provided, his exit seemed easiest and I cruised up that way. Continuing downstream we hit an impassable canyon and had to skin up a steep side-hill perhaps 80 metres or so where we suddenly came upon the trail again.  It was near 5 pm by the time we reached Grainger Creek camp and we were all feeling tired. Our tent now had a glaciers’ worth of ice on the walls and we were actually able to erect it without using the poles at all. 

Day 5, Grainger Creek to Cayuse Flats:  Next morning we got away before 9 am but spent the first 20 minutes searching for the trail on the south side of Grainger Creek. Eventually, Betsy found it and we started the day by skiing uphill for 15 minutes on a trail that was supposed to be following the creek down. 

Doug enjoying the skiing

The trail certainly provided some entertaining skiing – the very occasional wide downhill section interspersed with a mixture of narrow, lumpy trail with numerous running cross creeks, severe uphill sections, downed trees that required clambering over, half-downed trees best passed by doing the limbo with a full pack, and various other impediments to smooth travel. After the initial 15 minute climb, we managed most of the way without skins, but, right at the end, the trail headed straight uphill again, and all of us but Robin, put our skins back on and somehow finished the trip going uphill again. 

Epilogue:  The moral of life, as we saw it on this trip, is that every piece of outdoor gear you get will be almost as good as the piece it is replacing. Think about it – you are probably, like us, using pots that your grandfather made in shop class and are now 50 years old because the new ones burn instantly, your latest tent leaks just a bit more than the last one, your gaitors won’t stay on/closed/fit over your plastic ski boots, the pump for your new stove broke within the first six months of use, and the replacement pump- which cost half as much as the stove - requires a whole shop of tools to get it apart to lubricate the flange, your skins don’t stick as well as they did, or that goofy G3 tail attachment always blows off the end of your ski, and so it goes. The best you can hope for, is to end up just a little bit worse off than when you 

 Three Brothers Mountain

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Staying Out Past Sundown

Can you guess it is still raining in Cairns? About 120 mm yesterday and the forecast looking wet as far as it stretches. Time for another wander down memory lane, not too far this time, only back to May of 2013 when Doug and I did a two day walk through Sundown National Park in southeast Queensland. You might have thought after yesterday's cliff hangar ending that I would describe some kind of epic, wild and crazy paddling trip around Mallacoota Inlet. But, that's not how it was. We had one day paddling what is creatively called “Top Lake” and one day on “Bottom Lake.” Both were actually quite wonderful, and, as I have started and it's raining, I may as well briefly describe them here. 

 Paddling down the inlet

We launched at Gypsy Point on Top Lake which is quite far up where the waterway is fairly narrow. The water was calm and still and seething – yes, it really was seething – with fish and birds. Once into the main part of Top Lake we paddled into the deep eastern bay to Dead Finish where we had a swim, then crossed due west and paddled back north past Sou'west Arm and back to Gypsy Point. The next day we launched from Karbeethong Jetty and paddled south and around the islands near the mouth of the inlet where, in rough water, I almost got run over by a yobbo in a speed boat as we were both dodging the swell in the narrow channel. We also paddled up into Cemetery Bight, went for a walk, a swim and wished Victoria Parks wasn't so draconian about camping as it would be really nice to spend a night or two kayak camping around the inlet. 

Let's leave Mallacoota Inlet now and get back to Sundown National Park. Traprock, apparently not the correct name for this type of rock, is some kind of hard sedimentary rock that makes up a large part of Sundown National Park in Queensland's southeast corner. I read the real name of the rock on an interpretive sign at the start of the short trail that leads up the Severn River to the Permanent Waterhole (very innovative) name, but, the name was mixed in with lots of geologic jargon and never settled into my brain. Of more interest, or at least of more interest to me, was the semi-buried disclaimer that warned bushwalkers against drinking from Little Sundown Creek below the old arsenic mines, areas so polluted that they are off limits to the public. Regrettably, Little Sundown Creek drains into the Severn River and we had made dinner and guzzled litres of tea made from water out of the Severn River. Unfortunately, the interpretive sign didn't list the symptoms of arsenic poisoning but if they include sore feet and overall generalized fatigue, I think both Doug and I have been poisoned. 

 Doug in lower Ooline Gorge

Our trip started innocuously enough. At 8.30 am we were hiking up the well maintained but regrettably short (one kilometre) trail that leads to Permanent Waterhole and the start of Ooline Creek (named after a rare species of tree found up Ooline Creek). A sign, the last you will see for two days and 30 plus kilometres marks the start of Ooline Creek, but I suspect even Doug and I could have located it. 

Ooline Creek runs roughly north for about 9 km and ends near the park boundary. Travel up the creek/gorge is actually really pleasant. There are big stretches of traprock that make for easy walking. In places, short cliffs rise on either side of the gorge, small pools arise here and there. Some sections have little (now dry) waterfalls, but it is easy to scramble either straight up the falls on solid rock or to traverse past on either side. Travel, while not overly arduous is relatively slow, as there is no trail and the gorge/creek twists from side to side. 

After a couple of hours (or maybe more I can't remember) the gorge becomes a creek bed and the creek bed becomes a bit bushy. Up near the northwestern boundary of the park, a distinct side creek enters. We decided to jump out of Ooline Creek and take this smaller tributary creek northeast to the park boundary, thus guaranteeing we had at least one successful short-cut on the trip. Travel up this tributary creek is initially easy on traprock, but, in not very long it gets quite bushy and it is easier to exit the drainage and simply follow a compass bearing. We had sporadic game trails, and, apart from the last bit where the bush got thick and scraggly, the bushwacking was very easy. 

 Waterholes in the traprock

After about 4 hours travel, we emerged onto the bull-dozed boundary of the park right by a dog fence. We must have been a bit further north than we thought as we came very quickly to the spot where the park boundary turns to the northeast from north and we should have (eventually did) followed the management track along the park boundary. 

I saw this track which had a marsupial fence (I couldn't tell the difference between fences but the Park Ranger told us one was a dog fence and one a marsupial fence) running beside it, but, did not realize it was where we should turn as our map showed no fence at this location. Instead I kept going north along the fence line. After a half kilometre or so, which involved an annoying descent into a drainage and out the other side, the fence line turned northwest. I stopped, pulled out map and compass, but really couldn't work out where I could possibly be on the park boundary where the fence was running northwest. I did what I usually do in these circumstances – rightly or wrongly – which is walk a bit further and see what happens. Well, a bit further on, the track beside the dog fence ended and I could no longer ignore the pervasive feeling that I was walking in the wrong direction.

Doug caught up with me and we took a GPS reading with his mobile telephone which cleared up all the mystery about the direction the dog fence was going as we had left the park and were heading pretty much due north into ranching country. A rather tedious walk, back up and down two gullies we had crossed before led us to a minor track that was running northeast. We checked the GPS again which showed we were almost in the right place for the park boundary. The 100 metre difference between where the trail was marked and what our GPS read we put down to sloppy map-making and strode off down this minor trail, which soon ended. At this point we remembered the much larger dozed in track by the marsupial fence. We had both discounted this track not only because we seemed to arrive at it too soon, but also because it was heading east, not northeast. By now I was clutching the map in my hand unwilling to put it away as I thought I would need it again momentarily. Once back at the track with the marsupial fence, I noticed that there is a small 50 metre section where the track runs east before turning to the northeast. Another mystery solved.

We were now beginning to feel a bit pressured for time as dusk falls around 5.30 pm and we thought we might have to descend all of Blue Gorge before finding a campsite and, a rough calculation put us at the top of the canyon, still four kilometres distant, at about 3.00 pm. Doug needed some lunch, however, so we had a really quick stop and then marched on. 

 Traprock scrambling terrain

South of Black Jack Creek, a major creek draining west, the map shows two tracks, one a direct line northeast along the park boundary, the other jogs out to the east and loops back and is at least a kilometre longer. When we got to this section, which is easily identifiable as there is no trail to the northeast - the marsupial fence simply disappears into bush - and the big management track veers off downhill to the east. On the map, a straight line northeast along the marsupial fence is about 200 metres, so despite the comparative (or because of) lateness of the day, we we decided on a short-cut, along the marsupial fence for 200 metres. After all, it's only 200 metres, only it's not. We thrashed down to a creek bed, crossed this and, with increasing difficulty in the tangled bush, thrashed up the other side to find the terrain dropping again to a deeper rockier creek. Increasingly nasty thrashing got us into this creek, but to continue on looked desperate. 

Our short-cut was no longer looking like a quick option. We rapidly decided to bail on the short-cut and hike down the creek as, within 200 metres, according to the map, (only it's not) we should meet the management track. After a lot of thrashing down this creek we finally took another GPS reading although it seemed impossible that we could have missed the management track as it should have crossed our path at right angles. The GPS showed that we were now 200 metres past where the management track should be. We decided we would carry on for 10 more minutes heading east as logic – and map reading – dictated that we should at some point intersect the management track. Five more minutes was sufficient and, with no more thoughts of short-cuts in mind, we continued along the track. The full detour is far more than indicated on the map, but is also far quicker than attempting any short-cuts. 

At 4.00 pm, two hours later than we should have been, the management track descends to cross Blue Gorge Creek which is merely a small drainage at this elevation. A game track starts off heading in the right direction and we followed this for 10 minutes until it ran out and then simply got into the creek and continued on. The creek gradually becomes rockier and rockier and eventually turns into a deep, steep sided gorge. Overall, in about 1 kilometre, Blue Gorge descends almost 400 metres. 

There are lots of little drops in the gorge which are easily scrambled, but there are also three high drops which you have to scramble down and around. You can tell that you are approaching these as the ground appears to fall away ahead. We were in a bit of a race against the encroaching darkness so didn't have much time – any time – for taking photos. There are three big drops you have to scramble around as well as a whole series of smaller ones. The first we passed to skiers right on loose ledges above a huge drop, the second we passed by scrambling up grassy ledges and down steep ground into a side canyon. A narrow grassy traverse along the edge of a final drop got us back into the main canyon. The third we also passed on the skiers left by an easy if steep traverse again into a side canyon and then back to the main canyon.

Reflections and cliffs along the Severn River

A series of small drops that are easily scrambled follows, and, it's a good thing this section was easy as the sun had long since set and we were hiking by headlamp. A final rather nasty downclimb down steep blocks covered with slippery grass was only possible by lowering our packs on a short piece of cord I had brought with us. There may be an easier way around this final drop, but we couldn't see it in the dark. Thereafter the canyon just seems to go on and on, with little drops, pools of water, traprock ledges and loose stony ground. I kept thinking I could see the dark line of the Severn River ahead of us, but, in fact, it wasn't visible until we were virtually in the river. The first clue that we had finally made it through the canyon was the sound of water running over stones. 

We couldn't find any sort of campsite nearby. In fact, we hadn't seen a single campsite in the previous 10 hours of travel, so while I made dinner from the arsenic tainted river, Doug levelled a site on the gravel flats. After swilling a litre of arsenic water we both crawled into bed and shortly fell to sleep.
The sun rose directly over the Severn River and we had glorious (and warming) morning sun early. Breakfast involved more imbibing of arsenic water and, leaving at the same time we had the day before, we began the days stagger down the stony river bed. 

Walking down the Severn River

This part of the trip is really a bit tedious and tiring, although I was trying to think positive all the way about how good it is to walk sometimes on rough ground and how not everything should be easy, and similar deluded thoughts. But, after about four hours of walking on constantly rolling hard river boulders, crossing and recrossing the river a dozen times with my feet beginning to throb, even I had to admit that seven hours of this type of walking was not really pleasant. 

Eventually, we got to the north end of Permanent Waterhole. Here we found a bit of a game trail that rounded the one kilometre long pool on the northern bank. About 200 metres before you reach the trail there is a small rock bluff beside the river. Doug took his shoes and pants off and tried to wade around to save climbing up and over, but, the pool was too deep to wade without getting our packs wet so he came back and we scrambled up above the bluff, clambered over another marsupial fence, and finally staggered down to meet the trail. 

Reading back over this trip report, it all sounds kind of desperate, but, actually this was a great hike and I would be happy to do more walks in the park. Despite being relatively small in size, the park feels delightfully remote, the traprock gorges are beautiful and walking along the Severn River, despite being hard on the feet, is gorgeous.

Walking The Wilderness Coast

How about another trip down memory lane? My memory lane, not yours, of course. It's raining in Cairns today and I have spent most of the day poring over rock climbing guides trying to work out both how to access various climbing areas around Townsville and which routes we are least likely to die on. Tedious business. But not nearly as tedious for you as reading a blog post about my day, which is why I have decided to write about the Nadgee Wilderness Walk that Doug and I did back in January 2013. 

The Nadgee Wilderness walk is only half of a longer Wilderness Coast walk that runs from Sydenham Inlet in Victoria to Wonboyne Lake in NSW. Logistics are always difficult on these one way walks and we were unable to source any transit from Sydenham Inlet to Wonboyne Lake so we had to settle for walking only half the full distance starting in Wonboyne Lake and ending at Mallacoota. Another difficulty with this walk is getting from the eastern side of Mallacoota Inlet where the walk ends to the town of Mallacoota which is on the western side of Mallacoota Inlet. Apparently, the inlet sometimes closes over completely but most years there is a narrow but substantial opening through which the tide floods in and out of the massive Mallacoota Inlet with frightening ferocity. I don't want to give away any of the story line, but, suffice it to say that we had a rather interesting plan to avoid the $200 boat fee that one of the locals charges to ferry walkers across the inlet. 

 Doug on the beach near Nadgee Lake

But, on with the story. According to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) the walk takes 3.58 days which shows admirable precision that I don't believe I will be able to match in this report. Doug and I walked about 65 km in total as we took a couple of detours and also had to walk to the trail-head at the Merrica River Ranger Station from Wonboyne Lake. There is an expensive shuttle service that will take you from Mallacoota to the trail head at Merrica River Ranger Station (but does not include the boat shuttle across Mallacoota Inlet) that runs at about $200 a person but we figured we could do the shuttle for far less than that using the extremely efficient, reliable and cheap Victorian transit – it cost us about $12 each. 

Accordingly, we drove to Mallacoota, found somewhere to leave the car for a few days, and took a little minibus out to the Princes Highway at Genoa where we connected with the larger Victoria bus-line running north to Sydney. Unfortunately, we didn't have time before the mini-bus left to check out the opening of Mallacoota Inlet, but that may have turned out to be a good thing in hindsight. The best we could do was ask a couple of tourists who were lounging about on the west side of the inlet if you could easily cross the inlet, to which they answered “yeah, no worries, you can walk right across.” At Genoa, we boarded the larger bus and were somewhat shocked to hear that rather than driving us into Wonboyne Lake, the bus would instead dump us unceremoniously at the side of the highway where we could enjoy a 12 km walk on the black top in 30 degree heat into Wonboyne Lake. 

Dramatic storm clouds over the Wilderness Coast

Just as we were ejected, somewhat rudely with our shoes and socks still in our hands, from the bus, a tiny red convertible pulled up to make the turn to Wonboyne Lake and Doug stuck out his finger in the universal sign of the hitchhiker (not giving the finger, you understand). We were amazed but happy when the driver pulled over and somehow we managed to squash in along side the weekly groceries with our overnight packs. We got dropped off at the only store in Wonboyne Lake (also the postal outlet) as we planned to buy dinner before walking out to the trail-head in the evening. This saved us packing an extra meal. Our kind driver warned us that we should go in and tell the proprietor we wanted to buy dinner as, apparently, the shop-keeper usually closes up early even at the height of summer – business isn't exactly bustling in Wonboyne Lake. While I waited outside Doug went in and arranged with the owner/proprietor for us to come back no later than 5.30 pm to order dinner – you could have a burger or a burger. 

We wandered down the hill to Wonboyne Lake where we found a little picnic area and passed the afternoon swimming and reading. Our topographic map showed a road connecting from the little marina where we were hanging out to the main access road to the Merrica River Ranger Station. I remembered reading a report of some other walkers who also had to walk to the start of the track taking a short-cut from Wonboyne Lake and guessed that this was likely the shortcut. Taking this road would save us about 3 km of painful road walking. 

At around 5.00 pm we wandered up and ordered – you guessed it – a burger for dinner. It took a little bit of work to convince the owner that neither of us wanted the bun, but, once he had realized that we would pay the same amount for a burger with or without the bun, we became firm friends. Doug asked him about the short-cut and we got some rambling reply about tourists falling off cliffs and dangerous tracks above steep drop-offs and how he would be responsible if the local SES (State Emergency Service) volunteers had to come out to recover our bodies. It all sounded very strange. Either, despite living in Wonboyne Lake (not a big place) all his life he knew nothing about the track or he was hiding a grow-op in the woods. The latter would make a better story but I actually think it was the former as he finally admitted he had never been into the Nadgee Nature Reserve, which, was literally, a hamburger bun's throw away from his front door. 

We ate our bunless burger as some very brightly colored birds flew about the verandah on which we were sitting and then we took up our packs and walked back down to the little marina. We had decided to try our luck on the short-cut route. I won't say any more about it, as it does cross private land (we saw no-one and no sign of habitation). If you can read a map, you'll work it out. If you can't you deserve to walk the extra distance. 

 Nadgee Lake and Impressa Moore

The Merrica River Ranger Station is, coincidentally enough, right by the Merrica River and there is a big open field with toilets and tank water nearby that makes a good place to camp before you start the walk. We have had some experiences before with overgrown/obscured/non-existent NSW NPWS hiking tracks and were wondering just how overgrown this walk would be when we read the log book and noted that only one or two parties walk the trail in any given year, and the last entry consisted of a long and harrowing account of a party that had taken 6 days to walk the track and firmly believed they were going to die on the attempt. We went to sleep wondering if we were in for another Budawang adventure.

Most of the first day of the walk is on fire-roads and, while pleasant, does not have the scenic attraction of later parts of the walk. The old road follows a blunt ridge top south through shady eucalpyt forest for about 5 km to a track junction. Tumbledown Mountain lies a kilometre or so to the south and I decided to take the track to the top in hopes of a view of Newtons Beach. Doug declined so we parted here and arranged to meet later down at Newtons Beach. It took me longer to get up Tumbledown Mountain than either Doug or I had anticipated as the track wraps right around the mountain. On top, by squinting here and there through timber, I was just able to catch a glimpse of Newtons Beach, but not enough for even a blurry photograph. 

By the time I had come down the fire road to the junction with the track that leads north to Newtons Beach by Wirra Birra Creek Doug was wondering if we had missed each other. We backtracked about a kilometre on a narrow track through melaleuca forest to come out on the northern end of Newtons Beach. These beaches are what makes the Nadgee Wilderness Walk so stunning. The water is clear aquamarine and crashes forcefully onto the white sand of the beach, and, with no road access, the landscape is wildly deserted. We plunged naked into the water and, almost equally quickly leapt back out again as the water was cold and the surf aggressive 

We should have walked the 1.5 km south on the beach but we were afraid of not finding the track at the south end so we walked back through the melaleuca thicket to the main track and followed this narrow track south as it snaked in and out of dry creek beds through thick forest to finally emerge at a tiny pocket beach between two headlands where there is a small saltwater lagoon and a rustic camping area. We had a swim in the lagoon and some hot tea, and then I walked back up the track to an overgrown path that leads up Little Creek for about a kilometre until the water is finally fresh, black with tannin, but fresh. Round trip, including filtering four litres of water, took me an hour. 

Next morning it was Doug's turn to collect the water and it was raining lightly when he returned and we started walking. We had heard that the next section of the track can be overgrown so I had long pants on while Doug had fashioned himself a very utilitarian pair of gaitors from reusable shopping bags as he had forgotten to bring any long pants on this trip. 

 Melaleuca tunnel

We started the day crossing the short beach and then dived into melaleuca forest where the trail is a tunnel under overlapping branches. Past the melaleuca forest the trail lies through beautiful coastal heathland, battered over by the wind, but full of small brightly coloured flowers and green parrots. There is a small beach where the Nadgee River runs out to sea and then the track continues over Impressa Moore to Nadgee Lake. The brackish waters of the lake are surrounded by dense stands of reeds and the water is dark with tannin. A small spit of land separates the lake from the sea where the waves crash onto the shoreline. After another few kilometres of heath and moore, the trail passes Bunyip Hole where a trickle of water flows down hill to a hollow, and the trail emerges onto the windswept rocky shore. 

 Shopping bag gaitors

Boulder and talus walking along the beach leads to big sand dunes at Cape Howe and the Victoria-NSW border. From this point on the walk is simply stunning. Twenty kilometres of storm battered deserted beach leads west to Mallacoota. A couple of kilometres beyond Cape Howe the wreck of the Iron Prince lies rusting in shallow water off a small rocky promontory, a reminder of the ferocity of the ocean in this part of the world There was a southerly gale blowing as we walked the beach and the sea mist in the air combined with the crashing of the surf on shore, the tearing wind and the screaming of sea birds all blended together to make this a wonderful wild walk. 

About half way to Telegraph Point, Lake Wau Wauku runs out to sea. Sea birds were taking refuge on the eastern shore as we followed a track past small dunes to a campsite by a reedy stretch of inlet where the water was fresh enough to drink. We had a wonderful campsite sheltered from the southerly gale but after some hot tea, I wandered around past the sea birds onto the eastern shore and enjoyed watching the wind tossed seas.

Next morning, with the gale still tearing at our clothes we continued walking west along the lonely beach. We passed Telegraph Point and Gabo Island where a yacht was trying to shelter from the storm but looked to be bouncing about on a huge swell. Near Tullaberg Island we detoured up a steep sandy track through dunes to Lake Barracoota. The lake is fringed by reeds and full of birds. After exploring the lake we walked back to our packs and rested for an hour to allow the tide to drop to make the remainder of the beach walk a bit easier. When the tide is high and the seas pushed up by wind, there is virtually no beach left to walk on. As we are leaving Lake Barracoota we meet a solo hiker who had walked in from Lakeview on Mallacoota Inlet where he had been dropped off by the local who does the boat transfers. We are glad we haven't booked a boat transfer back as if we had to take the track to Lakeview we would miss half the beach walk. We finish up the walk in bare feet pushing into the wind all the way to the narrow spit of land where we get our first glimpse of the channel that feeds Mallacoota Inlet. 

We are shocked by how fast the water is running out and how cold it is. There is a substantial swell running through the channel as well. Our plan, which is now seeming rather silly, had been to wait until ebb tide (5.00 pm) and swim across while the inlet is flooding. We would stash our packs in the bush, and come back later with our sea kayaks to retrieve them. However, the current is so strong, the distance so large and the water so cold that I am not sure I will make it. Despite growing up in Australia, I am not a strong swimmer. 

There is a family also on shore fishing and they have a motor boat so Doug goes over, explains our situation and asks if they can help us. They are, of course, amazed that anyone would walk as far as we have (which really isn't that far) and are happy to help us out. We lounge about for a while, every so often checking out the current and shuddering, until finally the family gets tired of standing about catching no fish in a howling wind and we all squeeze onto the boat for the ride home. They had launched the boat from Bucklands boat ramp which is about three km from where our car is, but, they are staying in the caravan park at Mallacoota so even give us a ride back to town. We offer to pay but they refuse. Thanking the family profusely, we walk through town, retrieve our car, and drive to Genoa to camp for the night. The next day, we launch our kayaks and spend the day paddling around the islands and bays of lower Mallacoota Inlet, but that is another story.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Non BadAss Guide to South East Queensland Climbing

Today we go back in the archives, not as far back in time as the Misty Icefields adventure (2008) which I posted recently. Only back to the end of 2013 when Doug and I were motoring slowly northwards from NSW to the tropics of Queensland. We were doing what all rock climbers do, searching out nearby climbing areas where we could get a vertical fix on our way north. Here is a compilation of my thoughts on the various climbing areas we visited. 

First, the disclaimer. This is not the usual CYA disclaimer, this is the “I ain't no badass” disclaimer. Simon Carter, who is a badass, has a new guidebook to the southeast Queensland crags out and covers the various climbing areas at the Glasshouse Mountains, Brooyah, Tinbeerwah, Serpent, and Kangaroo Point. If you want details on exact climbs, and photos of lots of big balled climbers on scary run-out routes, go buy his book. I don't own it, but I own some of Carter's other books and, in addition to all the usual route information, the books are illustrated with stunning photos, a good smattering of history, and are pretty funny – in a black humour kind of climbing way – to read. 

Australian climbers I have found tend to be pretty badass because the rock and the routes are pretty unforgiving. There seem to be very few areas with easy climbs and solid protection. The Aussies still have a fairly robust – read no damn bolts here – ethic so long run-outs, dodgy carrot bolts, and sketchy gear placements seem to be common. None of this is helped by the tradition of placing carrots (bang in machine bolts) instead of real glue-ins and the anti-bolting stance of most of the relevant land management agencies – more of the no damn bolts here mentality. Layered on to all this is the great Aussie tradition of sand-bagging which makes every climb a real adventure, whether you wanted one or not. 

Doug leading Witches Cauldron, Frog Buttress

Another long winded digression which began with the “I ain't no badass” disclaimer and which was intended to read “I ain't no badass, and this is a sketchy tour of some climbing areas we hit on the way north.” 

Rumour has it that Frog Buttress was named either for some condoms found by the first climbers at the top of the crag or because the cliffs are situated on Mount French. Both could be true. This steep rhyolite climbing area is only about 50 metres high and 400 metres wide but what it lacks in size it makes up for in burliness. The rock is rhyolite and steep. I want to put that – STEEP – in capitals. Bloody steep. Back in the hurly burly early days of climbing, Frog Buttress was really popular, but, it didn't seem that popular when we were there. We only saw a handful of other climbers even though it was supposedly prime climbing season (winter). The routes are mostly traditional, although there are a few bolted aretes. We managed to stagger up a few of the easier graded routes, which were hellish stiff for the grade. I found the climbing varied between good fun and brutish, with a heavy emphasis on brutish. In keeping with the no bolting ethic there are very few rap anchors, so getting off climbs can be difficult and may involve long exposed traverses on minuscule ledges to reach twigs tied off with dubious tat which you have to rap off. What fun. 

 Glasshouse Mountains from Ngun Ngun

The Glasshouse Mountains are a widely spaced group of about 12 rhyolite plugs from old volcanoes. They were named by Captain Cook as he sailed north because they reminded him of the glasshouses back in the UK. There are hiking tracks up some of the peaks, some are closed off by the National Parks Service because of ridiculous and unspecified “dangers” and others have climbing areas scattered along the bases or summits. Climbing seemed a little more popular here and we saw a few other climbers on our days out. We had a lot of rain when we around the area so we didn't climb as much as we might have had the weather been drier. We did, however, climb some fun, well protected, easy sport routes, as well as some fun, poorly protected sport routes. There are some traditional routes as well, but we did not get to any of those. Of note is the west side summit hike to the top of Mount Tibrogargan which is strangely reminiscent of climbing at El Portero Chico in northern Mexico. The “trail” ascends some class3/4 slabs and attracts a bevy of hikers (the area is quite close to Brisbane). I'd be interested to know how many accidents have occurred on that trail as the “trail” bears more resemblance to climbing than it does hiking. 

Doug on the Tibrogargan hiking track

We were keen to climb at Mount Tinbeerwah near Noosa as it seemed from our climbing guide that there would be good variety of easy/moderate sport climbs. Not so much. The National Park service has banned bolting, so there are only a handful of routes with bolts on them, and, without exception they are carrot bolts. That would be fine if there were gear placements, but there aren't. The rock is extremely compact, and greasy. All the routes we looked at had the cruxes at the bottom where the rock was slimy with black lichen – the base area is overgrown with lush vegetation – and, the only protection was carrot bolts with the first clips five to seven metres up (well above the crux). Carrots, of course, can't be stick-clipped as you have to first fit a bolt plate over the top. We climbed a few routes, but shied away from twice as many (OK, ten times as many) as we climbed. I expect this place will continue it's rapid slide into obscurity as not many people are interested in taking ground falls. 

Kangaroo Point in Brisbane is the place that, as far as I can tell, badass climbers love to hate. We loved it. The climbing area is on the south side of the Brisbane River, accessible by public transit, has tons of amenities (including a “beach” swimming area nearby), is lit up at night for night climbing, has big burly top-rope anchors (if that is your thing), and, has been so well milked for climbing routes that, on some routes, holds overlap. There are traditional routes and sport routes, and rappel anchors on most routes. We did more climbing in one morning at Kangaroo Point than we did in a day at other areas as the routes are so easy to find, and, you don't have to piss around getting off. 

Finally, Brooyah State Forest near Gympie is also a popular area. There is a nice camping area in the State Forest with a river running along the back and it is a short drive to the different climbing areas. Again, there is a mix of traditional and sport routes with nice glue in ring bolts. There are some very good routes here on typical Australian sandstone. We stayed a few days and could easily have climbed for a few more. 

As I have noted before, there is virtually no climbing around Cairns. Townsville, however, has a pretty active climbing scene, and as we are due to head south in the next week to the Townsville area I may be able to publish the “wimps guide to climbing around Townsville.” Look out for it wherever quality publications are sold.