Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Do Not Want To Go Back: Round The Freycinet Peninsula By Sea Kayak

Wineglass Bay to Crocketts Bay on Schouten Island:

As we paddled southwest along the small granite cliffs of Thouin Bay towards the promontory of Cape Forestier and Lemon Rock, I made note of the tiny half-sheltered rocky coves in which, should it be absolutely necessary, a kayaker might make a rough landing. There were two, and both would be desperate landings. Soon after, we rounded Lemon Rock and our boats began to rise and fall on the rolling southwest swell. The ocean was deepest blue, the tall cliffs of Cape Forestier golden orange, and the sea surface rising and swelling in unpredictable haystacks as the current moved swiftly past. A seal dived beneath the front of my boat and a large Pacific Gull flew overhead. It was an exhilarating place out here on the Tasman Sea knowing we had 16 kilometres to paddle before we could hope to land. 

Early that morning we had got up, packed the caravan, driven south to park in Freycinet National Park, hitch-hiked south to the Wineglass Bay trail head, walked into Wineglass Bay over the Hazards, retrieved our boats from the campsite, repacked them with a few days supplies, and, finally, at 11 am, with the wind still too strong for comfort but ourselves too nervous and anxious to wait, launched from Wineglass Bay and begun the 22 km exposed paddle to Crocketts Bay on Schouten Island. 

 Doug approaches Lemon Rock

Our progress slowed between Lemon Rock and Half Lemon Rock. It took 40 minutes of hard paddling to cover three kilometres. Our boats were riding the swells easily, but we were both taking some of the wind and current chop across our chests. Doug called out "we need to watch our time." I did not want to go back and began to paddle stronger. 

Sometimes, I should go back, but sometimes, that strong urge to "not do that again" is what has got me to the summit of the mountain, up, down or across the dodgy snow-slope, enabled me to lead the final pitch of the climb, and now, to paddle the wild east coast of Freycinet Peninsula. The trick is to know when to embrace "I don't want to go back" and when going back is the only real option.

 Near Cape Degerando

It was probably another hour to pass Gates Bluff and paddle by Gates Gulch where wave strewn rocks guarded the entrance to an exposed bay.
I felt small paddling this dark blue sea, the tiniest speck of matter on this great heaving ocean. Initially, as I pulled hard between Lemon Rock and Half Lemon Rock I thought "this paddle will not be enjoyable but it will be an achievement." The further south we paddled, the lighter the wind became, and even the seas began to reduce until, by the the time we reached Baldy Bluff, another giant orange granite cliff, the paddling was pure joy. We paddled past broad Slaughterhouse Bay, and, around Cape Degerando, we saw the sheltered waters of Schouten Passage and Schouten Island, with more huge orange granite cliffs and slabs to the south. We were three hours from Wineglass Bay and we had essentially paddled the east coast of Freycinet Peninsula. 

Passing Telegraph Point, another seal flipped in the water, some more Pacific Gulls soared past, low enough that I could clearly see their striking orange tipped peaks, we crossed Schouten Passage to Passage Point, and paddled on water the clearest green over swaying kelp forests into the tiny cove backed with white sand, tea trees and huge orange domes. 

 Beautiful Crockets Bay

We ate a late lunch on the beach, giddy with success, relief, accomplishment - all the ingredients of joy. Then, in the late afternoon, we climbed a steep track up orange and white streaked granite slabs to an amazing view point on Bare Hill. South was tiny Ile Des Phoques and Maria Island, north the convoluted Freycinet Peninsula with all its bays and coves, cliffs and islets, sheltered sandy beaches on the west and wave sculpted eastern slabs. As night fell, we cooked dinner on the beach, some small birds (perhaps little penguins) making noise in deep burrows behind our chairs. The possums, of course, came out at night, running about camp and fighting with each other over food scraps left by other campers. 

 Schouten Passage

Crocketts Bay to Richardsons Beach:

Northerly winds were forecast to increase over the day with another messy Tasmanian wind and rain event to arrive early the following morning. We would have loved to linger. Perhaps to paddle around the rugged wave swept southern cliffs of Schouten Island, or to walk to the top of Mount Freycinet from Cooks Corner, but, the weather door was fast closing, and, once again, we did not want our fingers caught when it slammed.

Accordingly, we got up early and paddled out of Crocketts Bay and back across to the mainland. A fishing boat was visiting the cray pots in Schouten Passage as a bright stream of silvery light shone down on the still grey early morning sea. South of Passage Beach, the current was running past the point and a seal was fishing in the spiky waters. We had a short sharp wind chop abeam as we paddled into the only sheltered landing site at Bryans Corner. 

 Part way up Bear Hill

From Bryans Corner we paddled north around low rocky headlands to Weatherhead Point where the current abruptly eased. We took 1.5 hours for breakfast on the sandy beach at Cooks Corner, wandering up the beach to an old stone hut set amongst gracious trees. The water became calm and smooth as we paddled north past more low rocky coves to long Hazards Beach. There is a popular loop walking track that crosses the isthmus here and returns to the trail head along the coast and there were many walkers on the beach. 

We had lunch in the smallest sandy cove at the north end of the beach and, just as we were ready to depart some hikers arrived and gave our boats a push out into the water saving us a bit of work. Around Fleurieu Point we got into the northerly wind but it was much lighter than forecast and we made reasonable time past the final few scattered rocks and coves to Richardsons Beach and the end of our trip. 

 Morning at Crocketts Bay

Style Points:

Friendly Beaches to Richardsons Beach is about 70 km, with over half that distance on the exposed east coast where landing sites are few. Without doubt, it is one of the most spectacular paddles I have done in Australia, the experience made more intense by cold water, rolling swells, confused seas, and the ever present wind. As long as wind and sea conditions do not deteriorate, the paddling is exhilarating, and, for reasonably competent paddlers, quite safe. But, always, at the back of your conscious mind is the notion that everything could change in an instant and you'd be in that situation, familiar to all alpinists and mountaineers when "everything was fine until it wasn't." 

Our trip felt strangely easy. By walking out to the road and our caravan during the two days of storms following our paddle from Friendly Beaches to Wineglass Bay we had avoided both the angst of being stuck in camp without an updated weather forecast fretting about conditions and the inevitable wet, cold and cramped camp as we huddled in our small tent. We walked back in when the forecast was favorable, paddled south in improving conditions and escaped again before the weather deteriorated. During the early morning hours of the day we paddled out, the forecast storm came in with wind, rain, lightening and thunder - we were snug in our beds. If I didn't know better, I might be inclined to think that adventure can be free. 

 Morning Friendly Beaches

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Beginning Of An Epic: Friendly Beaches To Wineglass Bay By Sea Kayak

After escaping the next trough, cold front, deep cyclonic low, whatever the f**k the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) was calling the next system of wind, rain and general shitty weather moving across Tasmania when we hustled our butts out of Pelion Plains, we drove east to the very popular (and scenic) Freycinet Peninsular about midway down the east coast of Tasmania. Apparently, this is the part of Tasmania that has the "good" weather. Less rain, warmer temperatures, and, could we hope for less wind? 

We arrived around midday on Thursday, in the middle of yet another northerly blow, and spent the afternoon getting maps organised for our next planned trip - a sea kayak circumnavigation (as much as one can circumnavigate a peninsular) down the exposed east coast of the Freycinet Peninsular and back up the more sheltered west side. Our obsessive weather forecast checking was somewhat hampered by lack of mobile telephone reception, but we did manage to get some sketchy forecasts and tentatively planned to begin paddling on Saturday. Friday would be spent hiking up Mount Amos, packing gear, and locating launch and landing sites. 

 Looking down on Wine Glass Bay

On Friday we packed gear and food for five days before heading out to hike to the top of Mount Amos, an easy 1.5 to 2 hour return trip, where we had a wonderful view of the gorgeous Wine Glass Bay. After that we began to check out details of the kayak trip. We could launch from the boat ramp in Coles Bay, but there was no where to park our car and caravan for multiple days, so we struck that off. Next, we checked out Muirs Beach where there is a nice sheltered sand beach to launch from but again scant parking. It could work, but was not ideal. Then we drove into Freycinet National Park and asked the Rangers where to park. They suggested the overflow parking, so we trundled down to check that out. It would work, but there was a disconcertingly longish carry to get all our boats and gear to the water - possible, but longer than ideal. 

Finally, over to Sleepy Bay where we anticipated pulling out at the end of the trip. From Sleepy Bay, we figured we could walk three kilometres back along the road to retrieve our car. Sleepy Bay, however, is not the nice little sand bay with easy access that you imagine. Instead, it is a half kilometre narrow windy track with many steep stairs to a tiny pebbly beach where the surge sucks in and out. Carrying our boats and gear back to the car park would be very unpleasant. 

 Cape Forestier and Lemon Rock

We were feeling the effects of decision fatigue as we sat on some boulders in Sandy Bay and looked at the map to find another pull-out spot from which we could retrieve the vehicle. The only possibility seemed to be either Bluestone Bay (which has a reputation for "ripping the guts" out of 2WD cars) or Friendly Beaches. Bluestone Bay was within (long) walking distance of the overflow parking, but Friendly Beaches was not (20 to 30 kilometres). One of my Canadian friends, has always said "you never know until you ask" so, we decided to drive back to Coles Bay (again) and ask the local sea kayak tour operator if he could shuttle us back to our vehicle at the end of the trip.

We found Nathan, who owns FreycinetAdventures, working on a new patio in his yard and he was so helpful giving us some local tips and agreeing to shuttle us and our boats out to Bluestone Bay in his 4WD. Our greatest difficulty was deciding which day to start paddling as, the usual Tasmanian weather scenario was prevailing. We had planned a four day trip, but had only a one day weather window. The next day was forecast to be sunny with light winds, but then there were three days with strong wind warnings forecast, a fourth day when the weather might be okay (BOM only forecasts three days), then another deterioration in the weather. 

For some reason, I suspect decision fatigue, we allowed ourselves to be convinced that Monday (when a 30 knot wind was forecast) was a good day to begin paddling down the exposed east coast from Bluestone Bay to Wine Glass Bay. We would then likely have to sit out Tuesday (strong winds from the south forecast) and might get a break on Wednesday to paddle the remaining 24 km along the east side of Freycinet Peninsular. Planning any trip on the ocean in Australia is hampered by the fact that the BOM never forecasts more than 72 hours in advance. 

 Getting ready to launch from Friendly Beaches

On Saturday, I got up early and wandered along the beach for an hour struck by how calm it was. For the first time in days the sun was shining and there was only a light wind. We had planned a day paddle around Bicheno, and, at 10 am, were up at Bicheno about to launch the boats when Doug came up with another seemingly audacious plan - drive back to Friendly Beaches, launch the kayaks with all our food and gear for 5 days, paddle from Friendly Beaches to Wineglass Bay and camp the night. Leave our kayaks and gear at the campsite, walk out the next day to Coles Bay and (hopefully) get Nathan to shuttle us back to our caravan (at Friendly Beaches), wait out the two days of strong winds on land, then walk back in to start the kayak trip on Monday or Tuesday (depending on the BOM forecast). 

It took us all of five minutes to decide that this strangely round about, but, possibly highly sensible solution to the problem of weather windows that are too short for planned trips, could work. By noon, we were on the water at Friendly Beaches after launching through a small swell. 

 Paddling past Boot Rock in ideal conditions

The 20 km paddle south down the east side of Freycinet National Park has to rank of one of my best days paddling ever. The first half hour, was along the white sand Friendly Beach on aquamarine water that is some of the clearest anywhere. At Friendly Point, the coastline becomes rocky and steep granite slabs, rocky islets, sea caves and wave washed slabs covered with waving forests of kelp provide a backdrop as you paddle south. A seal swam under Doug's boat near Boot Rock as we paddled between this tiny rocky islet and the cliff-lined shore. 

Just north of Cape Tourville, we paddled through the Nuggets, another cluster of rocky islets and into the currents racing past Carp Bay. We shot through a small passage between some tiny rocks off the prominent point south of Carp Bay on a tidal overfall, crossed the head of Sleepy Bay to the orange slabs of Mount Parsons, and, as the wind was rising behind us, paddled into Wine Glass Bay and a sheltered landing site tucked into the eastern corner of the bay. 

 Near Carp Bay

That evening, I wandered along the white sand beach where sea birds were resting for the night, and watched as a fishing boat bobbed at anchor waiting for morning. The northerly wind was blowing strongly again, and the ocean was full of white-caps and waves. A tenacious possum spent much of the night trying to gain entry to our tent (and ripped a hole in the mesh) and would not desist until Doug punched it between the eyes where upon it slunk off, but returned with a half dozen mates and assaulted our kayaks which were covered with black possum prints the next morning. 

On Sunday morning, we ate a sturdy breakfast anticipating a long day ahead which might (if we were lucky) include a lift out to our car at the Friendly Beaches with Nathan, but, could just as easily turn into a long tedious road walk. We wandered along the beach to the Wine Glass Bay track, and hiked over The Hazards and down to the car park. We were unable to raise Nathan on the telephone so began to walk out to Coles Bay. We had only gone about 10 minutes when a very kind lady gave us a ride into town where we found Nathan once again working on his patio and happy enough to shuttle us out to Friendly Beaches. By noon, we were drinking tea, scavenging lunch from our rather empty fridge and fighting decision fatigue as we pored over inadequate weather forecasts trying to either predict the future, or at least make a reasonable decision (or two, three, or dozen). 

Sunset at Wine Glass Bay

Note:  All pictures courtesy Doug

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ode To The Overland Walkers: Mounts Ossa, Oakleigh and Pelion East from the Arm River Track

There once were some Overland walkers
Who really were terrible squawkers
Whenever it rained
They grew very pained
Those squawking Overland walkers.

Preamble: Mount Ossa at 1617 metres is the highest peak in Tasmania. With the highest peaks in Queensland (Mount Bartle Frere), the Northern Territory (Mount Zeil), Victoria (Mount Bogong), and NSW (Mount Kosciuszko) under our proverbial peak bagging belts, climbing Mount Ossa was just a matter of waiting for a weather window. 

The great thing about Tasmania is there are so many things to do (climbing, walking, peak bagging, kayaking) in a small area. The terrible thing about Tasmania is the weather. It always seems as if you have a one day weather window for a three day trip, or perhaps a two day weather window for a six day trip, or any other similar ratio of good weather days to time required to do the trip. The exact ratio may vary but is virtually never one for one.

Mount Ossa from Mount Oakleigh

After hiking up Cradle Mountain on a gloriously sunny day, we had another wet and rainy day, and then the forecast was for one sunny day, one cloudy day, and followed by several days of rain. Our plan was to hike into Pelion Plains and camp near the new Pelion Hut on the sunny day, climb Mount Oakleigh in the afternoon, hike up Mounts Ossa and Pelion East on the cloudy day, and get up early in the morning on the third day to hike back out, hopefully before the weather window slammed shut and it began to rain - again. Amazingly, everything pretty much went to plan.

Day One: Arm River Track to New Pelion Hut, Mount Oakleigh:

There is a bridge out on the Arm River Road so the access to the Arm River Track is via Maggs Road about an hours drive south of Gowrie Park on windy minor roads. The only signage you will see is at the junction of the Arm River Road and Maggs Road. The last 18 (or so) kilometres is unsealed but well graded. 

The Arm River track is in excellent and improving shape thanks to a hard working track crew who are putting switchbacks up the only significant climb on the track to the February Plains. It was quite a surprise to encounter switchbacks here in Tasmania where we have quickly got used to tracks that go straight up. 

 Lake Ayr and Mount Oakleigh

In any case, the track climbs up on the north side of the Arm River to tiny Lake Price and a view of Mount Pillinger to the south, before ambling through low heath lands and descending gently to Lake Ayr. At Lake Ayr, Mount Pelion West and Mount Oakleigh come into view and we had a pleasant half hour lunch break on a big boulder overlooking Lake Ayr. A few black swans, with chicks, make an unlikely home at Lake Ayr. 

Lake Ayr is two kilometres long and a significant amount of the track is on boardwalk. Mount Ossa begins to come into view across Pelion Plains and, just before the new Pelion Hut, you pass the track to Mount Oakleigh and cross a suspension bridge. The hut and surrounding campsites were deserted when we arrived (3.5 hour walk in) which was a bit surprising as we were now on the Overland Track. We found a tent site, had tea, and then I set off up Mount Oakleigh. Doug read the signage in the hut which indicated the track to Mount Oakleigh was boggy (imagine that) and decided to stay behind. 

It was 3.15 pm when I set off so I was going as fast as I could which, actually turned out to be quite slow until I worked out how to deal with the submerged track. The first one kilometre of track is across flooded button grass plains and I was struggling to sink only ankle deep. After faffing around quite a bit, I simply decided to take my boots off and walk/wade barefoot along the "track."

This was all going swimmingly well (foreshadowing) until I got to a particularly deep looking flooded section. In fact, the path ahead seemed to go directly through a river. However, in one section, the bottom looked to be only about 30 cm deep (knee depth) so I confidently strode in expecting to touch down on the weedy bottom I could see below. 

 Cathedral Mountain from Pelion Gap

There was, however, no touchdown as my foot punched through a mat of weeds cleverly disguised as a river bed, I was crotch deep before my wits woke up enough for me to fling my self onto the submerged bank before I went any deeper (I still had not touched bottom). Now I was soaked almost to the waist and the most sensible course seemed to be to carry on so my body heat would dry my clothes out. 

After some scouting, I found a less deep channel, waded through and carried on. Eventually, I felt confident enough to put my boots back on but that does not mean the track is dry. There is, in fact, only about 100 metres of track that is not wet. The track climbs gradually at first through dark rainforest then starts up more steeply and pushes through thick pandani forest eventually emerging onto the Oakley plateau where the track is once more very wet. The plateau is a pretty place of dolerite boulders, tarns, streams and low heath lands. The actual summit is at the far northwestern end of the mountain and I did not have time to go that far so stopped atop some dolerite columns with a stunning view south to Pelion Gap, Mounts Ossa and Pelion East, and north to Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain.

I managed to avoid a dunking on the way back down but still made use of the barefoot walking technique which netted me some fairly muddy legs and a few new leech bites but, at least my clothing was dry. Back at the Pelion Hut, the days Overland walkers had arrived most looking quite weary after a 17 km day. 

 Mount Pelion East and Mount Ossa from Mount Oakleigh

Day Two: Mounts Ossa And Pelion East:

It was a quiet night as there were only about 13 Overland walkers and most slept in the hut. Doug and I slept out in our tent which was soaked with dew in the morning. I got up before dawn, as I usually do, and crept around the hut making a cup of tea. Soon after, Doug emerged, we had breakfast and wandered up the Overland track to Pelion Gap where the mud bog was somewhat improved from my recollection of it in the mid 1980's when I walked the track in winter. 

The Ossa track climbs steeply and wetly at first (there was a trail crew at work when we were coming down so no doubt this track will get better) until it is about 100 metres below the summit of Mount Doris when it sidles around Mount Doris on the south side. 

 The Ducane Range from Mount Ossa

There are lovely views of Pinestone Valley and the Ducane Range. Past Mount Doris the track climbs up a rocky hillside between two "gates of dolerite." There is a very short descent, then a final gradual climb to the summit plateau which is surprisingly expansive and even has a couple of pretty tarns. 

The real summit is the top of a dolerite column, easiest to ascend/descend from the moister west side. I'm not sure how many walkers tag the real top as it is a bit of an exposed scramble (class 4 YDS). Doug and I took it in turns to stand on the tiny summit and then retired to a more comfortable flat boulder for a break. 

 Doug on the summit of Mount Ossa

The first of the Overland walkers were coming up as we went down and, by the time we got back to Pelion Gap, we had seen all but two who staggered up looking somewhat fatigued while we were having a quick break at Pelion Gap. Ironically, the only packs that the Currawongs had managed to breech (these clever birds have learned to open zippers) were the packs of the guided group staying at the private huts. There were various things strewn about Pelion Gap when we arrived which we stuffed back into various pockets. When we came back after climbing Pelion East, the birds had pulled out a whole different selection of items. 

It is only 300 metres elevation up Pelion East on another boggy to start track. About a third of the way up the track enters talus fields and dries out as it gradually heads north around the dolerite gap and climbs steeply up the final somewhat loose gully to the top. This time, the views include Cathedral Mountain and Lees Paddocks. 

 Looking back at Mount Ossa as we head up Mount Pelion East

I was by this time dying for a cup of tea so after surveying the view we hurried down passing the last two Overland walkers who were on their way up Pelion East instead of Ossa. Doug ambled back but I fairly galloped and was shocked (horrified) to emerge at the new Pelion Hut where there were 17 tents (!) and a slew of people also in the hut. Our small tent felt fairly surrounded and we ended up deciding to sleep in the hut as it was quieter and seemed less embattled than our tent. 

All the Overland walkers were, however friendly, mostly quiet exhausted and also very sick of the rain (more of that to come). The hut was very quiet as people went to bed at 8.30 pm! So early, in fact, that I was not tired and lay on my bunk for a couple of hours before finally dozing off. 

Day Three: The Door Slams Shut:

I woke up at 5.30 am the next morning and got Doug up soon after. We brewed up, had a quick breakfast and were away at 7.15 am into misty cool wet weather. Off and on during our walk out it rained in a light desultory fashion but never enough to need a jacket (we were under dense trees much of the way). It took us just over three hours to get out to the car and we had no sooner got in and buckled up than the rain began and continued for the remainder of the day. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How To Be A Dirtbag

A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communally and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle [sic]. The Urban Dictionary.

I'm not sure that is exactly how I would describe a dirtbag (the living communally and unhygienically part is really not descriptive of dirtbags who are usually iconoclastic but not dirty), but, it probably comes close enough for the purposes of this post. The archetypal dirtbag - the cracker and ketchup scavenging hairy dude from Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley - likely no longer exists, at least in the Western world where even hippies and dirtbags have profoundly confabulated wants and needs. The latter are generally many, the former, surprisingly few. Nor would I describe myself as a true dirtbag (I do, after all, own both a car and a caravan), but, I probably live much closer to the prototypical ideal than most which must give my top five tips for being a dirtbag some legitimacy.

Dirtbag method of washing yourself
  1. Stop caring (if you ever did) what any body thinks of you, your clothing (best if you are comfortable in filthy rags), lifestyle, haircut (you should be happy to hack your own off when it gets too long), body odour (what smell?), car, living arrangements, or any other significant or trivial character trait/flaw/habit. This is really imperative. You cannot step outside of societal norms if you can't handle the discomfit that comes from not fitting in anywhere, ever.
  2. Know what you want. The dirtbag lifestyle appears romantically evocative to those not living it. In reality, it's neither romantic, nor evocative of anything other than growing accustomed to doing without many of the things considered "necessary" in the western world. If you don't really want to live without a shower, toilet, clean clothes, barrista made coffee, or any form of climate modification - other than sweating or shivering - being a dirtbag may not be for you.
  3. Frugality has to become an ingrained habit. Forget the Himalayan sea salt, the organically harvested, speciality roasted coffee beans from your favourite hipster cafe, the new running/climbing/hiking shoes, the high-tech ultra-lightweight, over-priced outdoor clothing, the four different tents, three different stoves, two different sleeping bags, and the endless list of GPS gadgetry, smart phones and/or any other piece of electronic gimmickry.
  4. Make all your own meals, drink water, buy a thermos to carry your own coffee/tea, pack your own lunch/breakfast/dinner/snacks, dry your own meals, make your own jerky. See Point #3 above.
  5. As much as possible while pursuing your lifestyle, travel as cheaply as possible. Walk, bicycle, take public transit, drive if you must (it's really hard to get to climbing areas without driving), but avoid gondolas, ski lifts, helicopters, or any boat you can't paddle yourself.

In the nature versus nurture debate, nature wins every time when it comes to dirtbags; they are definitely born, not made. Truthfully, if you have to learn how to be a dirtbag, you're not ready.

To Walk Is To Live

Apparently, the six kilometre circuit walk of Lake Dove in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is THE most popular walk in the entire park. I don't think this is because it is the most interesting, rewarding, or scenic walk. Rather, it is the walk that confronts the tourist the moment they step off the shuttle bus, there is a nice view of Cradle Mountain, Weindorfers Tower and The Horn from the shore line, and, it is well graded and almost completely flat (there may be a total elevation gain of 70 metres over the course of the entire six kilometre walk). 

Doug and I were striding along the west side of the track on our way to climb Cradle Mountain and, in our usual, alpine mode, were walking along at brisk pace. Years of alpine climbing seem to mean that we do just about everything at a brisk pace with few stops - kayaking, walking, climbing, even grocery shopping - it doesn't really seem to matter. We get up early, go out, get it done and come back. 

A couple of tourist types were grunting up a short (20 metres of elevation gain?) section of well built wooden stairs while I politely waited at the top for them to pass by. "How long have you been walking?" the woman in the lead gasped. For a moment, I was somewhat gob-smacked and stood there gawping like the proverbial village idiot. In rapid succession a series of thoughts flashed through my mind: how long ago had we started walking, I can't remember, WTF difference does it make, I walk five times faster than you so, if I say 30 minutes ago, and you aren't back at the start of the walk in 30 minutes you'll either (a) collapse in a puddle of helplessness, or (b) trigger your EPIRB for a rescue all the while raining curses on me, my childrens' children (of which there are none) and all or my relations (of which there are many). Finally, gathering all my hard-learned Canadian politeness I replied "I don't rightly know, Ma'am, and, I think I walk a little (I emphasised little but thought lot) faster than you so it likely is not relevant." Finally, hauling themselves to the top, with their last breath - or so it seemed - they gasped out "it's a terribly hard climb" and staggered on their way. 

 Looking out over Cradle Mountain

By now Doug was way ahead, so I jogged along the track to catch him up, but, the whole exchange got me thinking about walking, about how we judge how others walk by how we ourselves do, and how so many of us (the communal human species) have all but lost the ability to do something that is absolutely intrinsic to being human. 

A few weeks ago, when Doug and I walked into Frenchmans Cap, we met a couple of very friendly women on their way out. We were crossing the suspension bridge over the Loddon River on our way into Lake Vera and the two women were on their way out from Lake Vera. They also wanted to know how long we had been walking. This time we knew, just a wee bit shy (perhaps 10 minutes ) of two hours, so we said "two hours." "You'll want to know how long we've been going," one said quite confidently. I didn't really. As condemnatory as it sounds, I could tell by looking at the two women that I walked faster than them. And, in any case, I was going to walk until I got to Lake Vera so really what difference did their walking time make to me. But, again, Canadian politeness rescued me and I replied "Of course." 

"Three and a half hours," one said, "but, we've been going down-hill, you'll be going uphill so it will take you longer, at least four hours." Good grief I thought. Four more hours to walk six kilometres, I certainly hope not. In the end, it took us again, a bit shy of two hours, to walk the rest of the way into Lake Vera. I've often wondered how those women felt when two hours came and went and they were no where near the end of their days walk. Were they too raining curses upon us?

And, now my final story in this long preamble which will take us back to Cradle Mountain. Soon enough, Doug and I were on the final track to the top of Cradle Mountain which climbs 300 metres in about a kilometre. I've already written about how Doug was having a low gravity day and flew up this final section in 40 minutes with me chasing behind (600 metres an hour is a pretty standard rate of ascent in mountaineering terms on simple terrain such as this). As we went up, passing various folk along the way, one young lad came jogging down the track. One of the women climbing up the track stood aside for him (and me) to pass, each going our respective directions (me up, him down). The woman exclaimed over what a hurry the young man was in. She judged him by her standards, while I judged him by mine. To her, he was in a ridiculous hurry while I knew that he was running because he felt strong and fit, and running just felt natural. 

I'd like to say we all feel like that some times (hopefully most times). But, the truth is, most people, even the young, seem to have forgotten how to walk, which strikes me as both ludicrous and sad. Walking is one of the first activities we learn to do as children and it should be something we continue to do through out our lives. Walking is perhaps the most natural state for humans. We evolved walking. Walking to gather food, walking to trade with neighbouring tribes, walking for social gatherings, walking to meet a mate. Walking has given us, from our very first teetering steps as a toddler, the freedom to explore our environment, the ability to go somewhere different and see something new. Walking defines us. 

The more I travel, however, the more I see how people have forgotten how to walk. People drive ridiculously short distances - I mean, 100 metres to the toilet or the water tank, ridiculous. And, it's not just the older folks who drive instead of walk. The younger crowd too drives when they can walk or, more likely, sits hunched over a keyboard in a virtual world. This is no way to live. We must start to walk again. Slowly and perhaps not far at first, but steadily walking further and faster. At some point, if only a person would keep walking they would reach that nirvana like state where instead of simply walking one runs, bounding down the trail for sheer joy of being alive.

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain, quite rightly, is surely the most photographed mountain in the large Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and archetypal of the park itself. Back in the mid 1980's, when I was a young and spry 20 something, I hiked up Cradle Mountain one weekday and had the summit, in spectacular sunshine totally to myself. I can't actually remember seeing another person all day, but, Cradle Mountain area was not nearly so developed nor popular back then. 

 Cradle Mountain

Our walk today took us along the western shore of Lake Dove, through the Ballroom Forest (a section of Myrtle and King Billy Pine rainforest), then up steeply past Lake Wilks to meet the Face Track which traverses along the north side of Weindorfers Tower. In glorious sunshine on a very good, mostly dry track, it could not have been much different to yesterdays rather tenebrous walk through muddy button grass plains and leech infested heathlands. 

 Cold front on the horizon

As we approached the junction with the track that climbs Cradle Mountain, we could see a line of people slowly staggering upward. A sign at the junction said the round trip to the summit and back would take 2.5 hours. Doug, however, was having a light gravity day and flew up in 40 minutes while I gasped along behind. Together, we passed every other person going up the track. 

 Barn Bluff

The first half of the walk lures in the unwary as it is a good track with rock steps, but the last half is a scramble up large boulders. At the top, the view, of course, is glorious. Particularly on such a wonderful day. Many peaks are visible but Frenchmans Cap was hidden in cloud from the next approaching cold front. 

After lingering for an hour on top, we rambled down, overtaking all the people going down, and took the Overland Track along the open Cradle Plateau to Marions Lookout. This is a popular location and half a dozen people were milling about. I had never seen Crater Lake so we followed the steep track down to the shore-line, past an old boat house, down some more past Cradle Falls and eventually back onto the Overland Track to emerge on boardwalk for the last section, which, for some reason we decided to run, back to Ronny Creek shuttle bus stop. 

Crater Lake

Rocky Mountain To Pencil Pine On The Penguin Cradle Track

The Penguin Cradle Track is an 80 km track/marked route that runs, obviously, from Penguin on the north coast to Pencil Pine in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. The section from Loongana to Pencil Pine seems the most appealing as it traverses the Black Bluff Range and is above 800 metres most of the way in exposed alpine heathland. Perhaps not the best location for a walk on a windy, cold, showery day, but, it was the one we chose to do. 

We opted to do this as a through walk. I would start off the C132 near Rocky Mountain and walk through to Pencil Pine, while Doug would drive to Pencil Pine and walk up from the Speeler Plains. Unless we have thought ahead and printed a map, our only map is the topographical map we have on our mobile telephone so usually someone gets a map and someone does without. Doug took one look at the foggy weather and scanty track heading off towards Rocky Mountain and gave me the mobile telephone to take. This was great for me, but bad for him as it left him trying to navigate a maze of roads leading to various different accommodation options at Pencil Pine without a map and going by memory only. 

 Lake Lea

I started out about 9.30 am, completely kitted out in the usual Tasmanian walking gear - a beanie (toque for Canadians) and waterproof pants and jacket, gloves, long sleeve shirt etc. The wind was quite biting given it was only about 4 degrees Celsius. I actually had no trouble following the track along the heathlands past Rocky Mountain and Mount Beecroft although I could see neither of them in the fog. Descending Mount Beecroft I was surprised to find the track actually had switchbacks instead of going straight down. This was a very good thing as it would have been an awkwardly slippery descent otherwise. 

At the bottom of the descent, I got into thick brush and a fairly obscured track with few markers. I had to get out both the map (phone) and compass to find the route as it travelled southeast towards Four Ways. At the Four Ways camp, looking rather dismal in driving rain and a cold wind, I faffed around on all the little tracks that seemed to lead down to the somewhat swollen river which I was seriously hoping I did not have to ford. After a couple of dead-ends, I got the route description out (Google it) and found that the "substantial footbridge" was downstream from the camp on a "well marked track." The bridge is, indeed, substantial, but the track not that well marked although I found it finally. 

 On the plains heading towards Mount Beecroft

It seemed to take me a very long time to walk from Four Ways to Pandani Grove although I was chugging along at my best pace. I kept losing the track in chest high bush as it is really a marked route not a constructed track, and, despite being thirty years old, it does not seem to get enough traffic to keep the bush beaten back. I got well soaked walking through this section and had to back-track a number of times to re-find the track after I lost it. 

A sign marks Pandani Grove and the walking through this section would be enjoyable as the Pandani are very cool looking trees/plants, but I was fairly wet and cold by this point. The sturdy sign marking Pandani Grove did cheer me up as it seemed I was making some progress. Another creek is crossed on a log (chicken wire, cable) and then the track enters Myrtle and King Billy Pine rainforest and is much easier to follow mostly because there are lots of trees to hang markers on. I still had to back-track a few more times where trees had obscured the track or I just plain lost the way. 

Vale River

After three hours of walking I was pretty sure Doug had taken the more sensible course of waiting at the other end for me as he does not like bad tracks or poor weather singly, led along together. But, at 12.30 pm, I saw his bright blue waterproof coat coming through the forest towards me. Doug had a story to tell as well. He had difficulty without the map finding the track head, which is hidden down a road past a series of rental cabins with no signage until you are right there. It had taken him an hour of travelling about on various roads and making enquiries to find the track head. 

When I told him I had been going three hours, I was quite sure he would decide to turn back. Doug, very sensibly does not enjoy suffering like I do. But, he was not really sure he wanted to walk back the way he had come!
In the end, my report of the track (I generally tend to be a bit on the optimistic side) convinced him that he might prefer to end this sodden walk sooner rather than later, so we both walked to Pencil Pine together. The track continues through the same rainforest (the track does get much better) and climbs up onto the button grass of the Speeler Plains. If you weren't stumbling along trying not to fall face first into a mud puddle, this would be wonderful walking as the plains are open, and, given better weather, there would be mountain views to Cradle Mountain (in the clouds). Doug opted for the trying to avoid mud puddles and streams running on the "track" but I just splashed through. 

 Doug crossing the Speeler Plains

Descending off the Speeler Plains you get onto a series of tourist tracks that loop around this last section and the track gets better and better until you are on board-walk for the last 10 minutes.  Changing out of our wet pants in the parking lot, we both found blood running down our legs from leeches and Doug still had about four of the buggars still clinging to him. If I were to do this walk again, I probably wouldn't, although better weather would undoubtedly make it more enjoyable.

Blythe Heads to Ulverstone By Sea Kayak

A daily (Monday to Saturday) bus service runs along the north coast of Tasmania from Burnie to Devonport which opens up the possibility of a one way paddle (with a tail wind) along this section of coast. Burnie, with ports and industrial development is not so interesting as a starting point for a paddle so we began this trip from Blythe Heads near Heybridge instead. Doug dropped me and our two kayaks plus gear off at a small boat ramp at Blythe Heads and then drove into Ulverstone. After parking at the boat ramp in West Ulverstone and he hopped on the number 70 bus from Grove Street in Ulverstone, arriving about a half hour later, back at Blythe Heads. 

Doug passing "bird rock"

The tide was dropping and we had a little rapid run (grade 1+) out to the ocean via the Blythe River. The coast to Penguin is low rocky reefs with very few sand beaches, and it took us about 1.5 hours to reach Penguin where we pulled in at Penguin Beach, just inside Stubbs Point to stretch our legs. While pleasant, this is not particularly interesting coast-line to paddle, especially compared to Rocky Cape or Circular Head. 

Doug disappearing into a trough

It was 11 am when we left Penguin Beach and the usual westerly wind was blowing. I'm sure we had the current against us for this section as it took us almost an hour to reach Three Sisters, some small rocky islets just past Penguin Point despite the 15 knot tail wind blowing. We paddled around Three Sisters looking for seals (no luck) and then into Goat Island, a big conglomerate blob of rock near West Ulverstone. Immediately we passed Three Sisters we were sheltered from wind and sea and the paddling became much calmer. 

 Hello seal

Paddling out around Seagull Islet we came across large beds of huge seaweed waving about in the current and on a steep rocky islet near Ulverstone we found five or six large seals lounging on the rocks. They were not overly disturbed by us and we were able to paddle by quite close. The final section up the Leven River to the boat ramp was quick and easy with the tide helping us along. 
 Goodbye seal

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sea Kayaking The Nut and Rocky Cape National Park

The day after I wrote bemoaning theweather, the wind dropped to around 20 knots mostly from the southwest and we got out for what I called "paddlus interruptus" - a really nice paddle that was just too short. We launched the kayaks from Tatlows Beach (south side of The Nut) bumped our way past the large breakwater and then cruised calm water around the east side of The Nut under the large cliffs until on the north side we got into the full brunt of the wind and we battled into Godfreys Beach.

 Paddling out from Razors Beach in very calm conditions

We continued north up Godfreys Beach with mostly a beam wind and then got sheltered conditions again poking our way up to Highfield Point. This section of the coast is rocky with deep sea caves that you can paddle right into. Sea caves to kayakers are like pie shops to Australians, we just can't resist going in. There is a seal colony at Bull Rock just off-shore. We were getting blown out there and turned around and paddled back to Godfreys Beach. Rather than beating around The Nut into a headwind, I walked back to Tatlow Beach (about 15 minutes) and retrieved the car.

 Lots of rocky islets to paddle around

Next day, we woke to astonishingly calm winds (the forecast called for another 20 knot wind day with the winds shifting to the northwest from the west) and launched the kayaks from Razor Beach around 9 am. We wanted to paddle up to Rocky Cape (about 12 km northwest) along the National Park coastline. Conditions, apart from drizzly rain showers were really superb. We had calm winds the whole way to Rocky Cape and around to Mary Ann Cove. The paddling was super fun with lots of little islets, coves, and rocky passages to explore. At Rocky Cape you can weave in and out of little boulder gardens. 

 Approaching Rocky Cape

Paddling back past Burgess Cove, a big seal came up loudly near my kayak. We had lunch at a little pebbly beach just south of Cathedral Cove (at low tide there are scant places to land). The wind gradually increased as we paddled back to Razor Beach and by the time we were passing Anniversary Bay Doug was really flying along as he was getting his kayak up to surf on the waves. I, as usual, seemed to be lagging behind wallowing in the troughs, but, once I started paddling hard to get on the waves I sped up considerably. By the time we tucked into the shelter of Wet Cave Point the sea was whipped up again into a mass of waves and white-caps. 
 Paddling along Sisters Hills

Friday, March 6, 2015

Waiting On The Weather: Windy Days In Tasmania

Our first couple of weeks in Tasmania were marked by incredible weather - light to moderate winds and only occasional rainy days. We were out doing as many trips as possible, and then, the inevitable happened and the weather became, what I imagine, is much more "normal" for Tasmania. In other words, rainy days became frequent, not just one here and there but many days of continuous rain strung together, and the wind rose to (literally) a fever pitch. Although we had plans to climb many more mountains, staggering up mountains in rain, fog and wind seemed silly, futile, potentially hazardous, so we left the west (wet?) coast area and drove the windy roads to the north coast of the country with plans of great sea kayak trips along this beautiful coast. So far, the kayaks have been most useful as rain water collection devices. 

The last few days, we have had gale force (really, the winds at Cape Grim today reached 50 knots) so the kayaks have continued to sit on the roof of the car gathering rain. We don't do "waiting for weather" well, although we should as we have had over 30 years practice. Somehow, waiting for weather just does not get any easier. I still feel as if my life, still precious (maybe more precious) after 50 years is slipping away if I am not kayaking, climbing or walking. The enthusiasm of youth seems to have been scarcely mollified by age. I still feel, as Dylan Thomas wrote, that we should "rage, rage against the dying of the light." 

Stormy morning at The Nut, Stanley

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Coast To The Hills: Sisters Hills and the Coastal Route in Rocky Cape National Park

Rocky Cape National Park is a small coastal park halfway between Stanley and Wynyard with bare rolling hills, rocky islets, sheltered coves, and prominent peninsulas. One main inland track runs along Sisters Hills, and a series of other shorter tracks lead out to various beaches, bays and coves. You can combine the inland track with a coastal route and do a loop walk covering virtually the length of the park from Sisters Beach to Rocky Cape and back in a reasonable length day. 

 Doug on the coastal route

We started from the west end of Sisters Beach (at the boat ramp) and ambled along a pebbly beach to a track sign where you leave the beach to climb over a headland. The track climbs up about 50 metres through banksia trees to "wet cave" a deep cave with a big pool of water in it - the name seems appropriate.

Continuing on, there is a side trip to Leearcher Cave and we took this track down to the rather unimpressive slot in the cliffs. Instead of hiking back up to the track, we scrambled around the vertically tilted quartzite rocks along the shore to reach the next bay north (Anniversary Bay) where the main track also reaches the beach. 

 Anniversary Point and Rocky Cape

Anniversary Bay is a mix of pebbles, rocky quartzite sections and sandy beach and we walked along this to where a track cuts across the headland at Anniversary Point. This track was a little hard to find as the trail sign had fallen down and the beach in front was piled with sea-weed blown in during storms. There is an optional 3.5 km (return) side trip to Doone Falls which can't be too impressive as the creek is quite small and the surrounding topography quite mellow. 

On the far side of Anniversary Point the route continues along the beach with occasional (and largely unnecessary) pink flagging on faded posts. Basically, amble along the pebbly beach over various small quartzite shelves until you reach the head of the bay where the track moves away from the coast. We had a brief stop beside a sheltered little gulch in which I had a swim before we started walking up the track. 

 Looking back towards Table Cape and Sisters Beach

A short distance up the track there is another side trip down to Cathedral Bay, a beautiful little cove visible from the track. In another 200 metres we came to the junction with Blandfordia Spur. Our original plan was to follow the main track up to Postmans Pass and come back along the inland track, but Blandfordia Spur promised a more interesting route and so we followed this track up to the main inland track instead. This is a very scenic section of the walk up a spur ridge with views back along the coast to Sisters Beach and Table Cape, and even sheets of driving rain did not detract from our enjoyment of this section of the walk. The vegetation is low coastal heath and with the rolling green hills and misty weather it was all reminiscent of walking along the Scottish moors except that the beaches are way nicer. 

 The Sisters Hills from the Blandfordia Spur

At the top of Blandfordia Spur, the trig station on Tinkers Hill is visible and we backtracked along Sisters Hills to take in the view of Stanley and the Nut from the top. We were lucky as the rain and cloud cleared when we got to the trig station so, although it was frightfully windy, the view was wonderful. 

 Doug on Tinkers Lookout

The rest of the walk is an easy ramble along Sisters Hills passing over the top of Spicers Lookout along the way. The vegetation is all low coastal heath so it is very pleasant striding along the winding track, mostly down, but there are a few short climbs. About half an hour from Sisters Beach you pass the Doone Falls track junction that leads back down to Anniversary Bay. There is also another short side track up Broadview Hill, but the rain was moving in again so we carried on down to Sisters Beach after a very enjoyable days walk. 
 Wandering along the Sisters Hills on the Inland Track