Thursday, May 28, 2015

Motivation: It's Your Responsibility

I know, I know. This blog post is supposed to be about tangents, but, well, I thought I'd slide off into a tangent and deliver another rant about hubris, over-confidence and self-delusion instead of tackling the thorny issue of tangents. 
Last night I was reworking my blog, and, truthfully, trying to stumble through the technology required was as difficult for me as learning to read a map is for those embedded in seeking technological solutions like Google Earth to non-technological problems. I had to fight the urge to simply close the thing up and go do something I am good at – like stare at maps and dream up routes. 

 Sunrise above our house-sit this morning
No epic involved.
Anyway, that's all a bit tangential in itself. As I was fiddling with gadgets, profiles and headers, I was switching between my blog and some other, much more popular blogs by people with similar (outdoor basically) interests whose blogs are worlds away more popular than mine. Yes, I was seeing if there was anything I could copy to my blog to increase its popularity – which could – and probably will be – another blog post right there (i.e. why we are compelled to seek acclamation). 

Do I look good in this photo or what?
Start of a 7 day ski traverse in the Sierra Mountains
I could not help but notice that the really popular blogs all had a few things in common. Firstly, they pictured young, fit people who look good all the time. Well, that's clearly not something I can copy as I am neither young nor good looking. I am fit and not completely devoid of muscles but I lack the necessary instinct at blatant self-promotion to take random pictures of my guns and casually slip the photos into unrelated blog posts while pretending they are mostly the product of anything other than random inheritance. 
Secondly, popular blogs are all linked to various social media accounts (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter) that appear to be populated by people whose entire day revolves around following social media accounts and endorsing the most vacuous posts. I have neither the time nor the inclination to join that particular tribe. 

 If you could see my guns, you'd be totally impressed
Prophesy Wall, Utah
Thirdly, a necessary contingent to a successful blog seems to be some Pollyannaish view of the world where everything is sweetness, light, and you never post anything that isn't so full of positive rhetoric that it just about makes a regular person, living in the real world and struggling with the day to day issues of life, want to vomit. Sadly, yet another tribe which I could not, in all honesty, fathom joining. 
Fourthly, in order for your blog to be popular you have to be an “athlete.” Suddenly, it seems everyone is an athlete. The fact that 99.9% of these “athletes” actually make their living in an office, a shop, a factory possibly even outdoors (tree-planting, fire-fighting, etc.) and do what we've all been doing for the last forty years - train somewhere so we can go out and do our sport with some reasonable degree of fitness on our days off – without calling ourselves athletes. I'm not an athlete any more than my interest in star-gazing makes me an astronaut. 

Really, I love that Barney world view

Fifth, it seemed to me that in order to boost the readership of my blog I had to write up every trip as if it was a desperate epic from beginning to end, no matter how mundane it actually was. Social media has spawned a strange phenomena where we are more aware than ever before of what the real “badasses” are doing, but strangely unable to place our own puny adventures in an appropriate scale. Such is the nature of hubris.

 Cranking a boulder problem a foot off the ground,
 And, finally, but most importantly, the purpose of your blog has to be to “inspire,” “motivate,” “create”, “adventure,” “dream,” “experience”, insert any other high-falutin, Barney world view word here that actually disguises the true intention of your blog, my blog, everyone's blog, which is to spray about what we are doing in order to garner admiration, approbation, and, if we are really lucky and manage to generate a horde of gullible follows to whom we can pimp anything that costs money no matter how useless, free stuff. 
So, as you can probably tell, the big rebranding of the blog didn't actually go that well. In fact, if you are reading this blog, you can't have missed my new slogan “motivation, it's your responsibility.” It took a while, but I think I've finally found my tribe. Strangely, there aren't all that many members. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Real Tips For Navigating Off-Track

Recently, an article in an online magazine on navigating off-trail crossed my social media feeds. There were five tips, four of which were tangential at best, and completely useless at worst, the final was one of those trite platitudes that have some limited relevance. That article got me thinking about both navigation and tangents. This blog post is about off-trail navigation, the next will be about tangents. 

 Good navigation skills needed

  1. The first thing you have to do to become a solid off-trail navigator is learn to read a map, really, really well. Reading a map really, really well means that you can visualise a realistic three dimensional picture of the terrain from the two dimensional sketch in front of you. This takes a long time and a lot of practice in as many different situations and conditions as you can possibly manage. Learning to read a map is life-long and iterative. Each time you go out you imagine the terrain you will encounter based on the map then go out and test your theory. Use the feedback in front of you. Did the terrain look as you imagined it or was it steeper, flatter, was the valley broader, the ridge more narrow? Drive your companions mad by getting the map out at every possible opportunity and comparing it to the terrain around you. With the availability of cheap mapping software (raster maps are better than vector maps) you can easily print out the section of the map that you need for that days travels and keep it handy in a zip lock bag in your pocket (a tip I learnt many years ago from an ACMG guide). 

     Does the terrain look how you thought?

Now this all sounds deceptively simple, but proves difficult for anyone starting out since the advent of readily available GPS units as the temptation to “short-cut” - remember there are no real short-cuts – the process of learning to read a map is irresistible for most. Additionally, GPS units provide positive feedback to the user who turns it on (or more commonly leaves the unit on for the entire trip) and can then authoritatively point at the small map on the screen and say “we are here” thus getting the idea that they are fantastic navigators. There is a negative feedback mechanism in place too. The user can't really read a map so on the rare occasions when they get a map out all the squiggly lines seem incomprehensible and they are unable to draw a mental picture of the terrain from the map. Understandably frustrated and experiencing great cognitive dissonance (remember, their GPS is giving them the opposite feedback) they put the map away. Map reading is a practical skill, the more you practice the better you get. People who are good at reading maps get better and better because the map conveys a wealth of information so they constantly refer to it. Once you become proficient with a map, this takes only a few seconds and, if you keep your map handy, can be done without breaking stride. But, for the hapless, who turn the GPS on as a matter of course and seldom refer to the map, any minor skill acquired is quickly lost and the map is useful only if the emergency supply of toilet paper runs out.

 Working out where we go tomorrow

Unfortunately, Google Earth (GE), a semi-useful tool for navigating off-track, has not helped at all as the fuzzy and clearly imperfect three dimensional view that is produced acts much like a giant GPS unit propping up the egos of the self-deluded. A tangential word on Google Earth for those that believe technology can solve all our problems. The accuracy of the three dimensional image you see is influenced by the quality of the elevation data available and rarely gives an accurate representation of slope steepness and frequently even shape. Things that look terribly steep, possibly impassable on GE frequently turn out to be easy to traverse, while the converse can also be true. Smooth ridgelines can become saw-toothed nightmares in reality. The images are also influenced by cloud cover, snow cover, time of day etc. and the conditions you see on GE may have little relevance for your planned trip.

Was this visible on Google Earth?

Don't feel bad or take my criticism too harshly. The search for positive feedback is a universal human trait. A sense of competence enables us to push off into untracked terrain but overconfidence furthers neither the progression of your trip nor the development of your navigation skills. If you are really aren't sure (are you being completely honest?) which camp you are in, take your next trip without the GPS and use only the relevant map. If you don't know where you are at all times, your navigation skills need work. 

 Look away from the screen....

  1. This long tangential digression brings me to point number two, have a solid foundation in the basic navigation skills, that is, know how to orient your map with your compass, how to correct for declination (buy a compass where you can set declination and you'll never have to worry about this), how to take and walk a simple bearing, what your pace is on various types of terrain. Triangulation, long taught in navigation courses, is a handy skill, as is being able to shoot bearings, even if you only ever use these skills to identify that attractive looking peak in the distance. Don't feel bad about getting your compass out to check direction or orient your map, there is no shame in this (shame should be reserved for those that automatically use their GPS units instead of their brains). Trust your instruments, not your instinct. The backwoods are full of people wandering about half (or completely) lost after declaring “the compass must be wrong.” Perhaps they will eventually meet up with the people who “know a short-cut.”

Orient the map

  1. Before you head out on your trip, use the map to break your journey into legs or segments with defined start and end points. It's best if these segments make some kind of logical sense, such as, follow drainage A to Lake B. At Lake B follow the ridgeline C to intersecting ridgeline D. Between each start and end point include hand-rails, backstops, checkpoints, even compass bearings. Estimate how much time it will take to complete each leg. Write it all down and take it with you. Planning the trip in this way has the added advantage of helping you work out what time you need to start the trip in order to finish at a certain time. As your skills increase, you can often omit the writing down stage and simply do this in your head, but, on long complicated trips, you may still want to revert to this basic practice. 

     This was an 8 day trip,
     but it could still be broken into segments

  1. As you travel through the terrain mark off in your head each hand-rail, backstop, check point you pass. If something does not seem right, for example a lake does not appear where one should, stop and work out where you are. The sooner you can error correct the better. Backtracking (which all humans hate) may be necessary. Refer to point number two, trust your instruments, not your instinct.

This tarn makes a handy checkpoint

  1. Which, brings me finally, past many tangents to point number five, always debrief from your trips. Was your mental image of the terrain accurate? Did your handrails, backstops, checkpoints prove useful? Were you on pace for your planned times? Were you lost or misplaced and, if so, where did you make your navigational error? Just like learning to read a map, debriefing from trips is an iterative process where you identify your weaknesses, develop a plan to correct them, assess whether or not the plan is working, identify new weaknesses, in an endlessly repeating loop. Making mistakes is mandatory, sadly, learning from them proves optional.

     Sit around and debrief after the day
    Scott F. photo 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Ten Minute Rule: Mount Wellington

Mount Wellington is Hobart's signature park, the large summit pinnacle (a TV broadcast tower) is visible from much of Tasmania's southeast area, and, with a paved road to the 1271 metre summit, the mountain is Hobart's biggest tourist attraction.

The whole mountain is criss-crossed with tracks and is very popular with Hobart walkers. Many of the tracks, however, start low on the mountain and stay in the trees for all or much of their distance. Having no inclination to spend another sunny day like blind moles tunneling through dense forest, we chose a loop walk that would take us up onto the open summit plateau via one track, then back down another. 

  Doug at the top of the Ice House Track
overlooking the Tasman Peninsula

There are countless variations, ours went from The Springs picnic area (site of an hotel since burnt in bushfires) along the Milles Track to the Ice House Track. An hour or less from starting out, we were up on the summit plateau where the air was startlingly clear and we could see into the Southwest Wilderness – I think possibly the elusive Precipitous Bluff – and of course, over to the Tasman Peninsula, out to Bruny Island, and all over the suburbs of Hobart and the Derwent River. 

At a junction we detoured to Smith's Memorial having no idea who or what this was. Turns out, John Smith was a doctor with Derwent Water in the mid 1800's who got lost and died on the mountain in January 1858. The memorial is covered with a home-made canvas cover. Someone obviously remembers John Smith.

 John Smith Memorial

Back on the main track, the Ice House Track becomes the South Wellington track and leads over to all the development at the summit area. Various board-walked viewpoints, a trig station, the large TV broadcasting tower that looks eerily like a North Korean nuclear missile and, given the nature of most TV, is likely easily as dangerous. 

There was a biting west wind at the summit. We wandered about the various lookouts and then strolled down the Zig Zag Track passing many inept walkers to the Organ Pipes track. This seems to be a popular route up, at least as far as the junction with the Zig Zag Track, and I can only assume that the Chalet sells pies. We had another detour to look at the climbing areas on the Organ Pipes – shady, cold, burly – is my assessment at a glance. No-one was climbing. 

 Not a bad lunch spot

Back at the junction, the Zig Zag Track becomes the Pinnacle Track (Australians really like to have many different names for the same road or track) and leads back down to the Springs. Soon, we began passing small groups of walkers on the way up. I checked my watch 1.15 pm. I have a theory that the only time you ever meet other walkers on the track is within ten minutes of the parking lot. I arrived at the car at 1.23 pm. Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Old Girl Adventures

First there was the demonic “Thinspo” which glorified anorexia and encouraged (mostly young) women to starve themselves to unrealistic weights using pictures of anorexic women with no heads. Then came “Fitspo,” where every one who had ever laced on a pair of sneakers and staggered around the local park felt compelled to post pictures of only slightly less emaciated women – still with no heads – overlaid with obnoxious messages like “someone who is busier than you is running right now.” Personally, the only thing a message like that encourages me to do is say “Well, f**k them.” 

 WTF is a "thigh gap" and why would anyone care?

And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse along came “Adventurespo” where the same beautiful people who, by some freak of genetics, happen to have the constellation of outer characteristics that our society now considers “hot” - characteristics which, by definition, must be rare - post images of themselves out doing something “bad-ass” (read sarcasm here) and somehow, instead of looking all bedraggled like the rest of us, look as if they just stepped out of a photo-shoot, hair, smile, clothes, all unnaturally perfect. The image, of course, emblazoned with some asinine ditty like “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” At least the beautiful people have heads but the images still make me want to vomit. 

 No real improvement over Thinspo

We all know, life is not really like any of these images. Thinspo glorifies a potentially lethal mental illness, Fitspo is all about shaming people who might have other more important things to do (like raise a family, have a career, get an education) with their life than obsess over every calorie and exercise until they throw up, and Adventurespo peddles the idea that if you aren't young and beautiful you have no place in the outdoors. 

 And a desire to live the rest of your life in a wheelchair

Well, it's all bullshit and today, when the hashtag “earthgirladventures” flashed across one of my social media feeds accompanied by a series of pictures of the beautiful people doing SBA in the outdoors I knew I had finally found my mission in life. 

How Adventurespo portrays women climbers
Anyone who has climbed a chimney knows how unrealistic this photo is 

So, I bring you #oldgirladventures# devoted to real women doing real things in the real outdoors looking like real wrecks because, if you really are out doing some thing badass, you look, well bad. I will soon be launching several social media sites (I've just got to work out WTF a hashtag actually is) and looking for images of real women (and men) doing real things and looking real bad(ass). So send me your stories and your pictures but, please, no kitschy sayings about life beginning at the end of your comfort zone.

How climbing women really look


Monday, May 18, 2015

Dolphins and Seals, Caves, Sea Cliffs and Waterfalls: Pirates Bay to The Sisters By Sea Kayak

It was zero degrees when we left Campania and a heavy frost was on the ground, not the kind of weather where you immediately think about sea kayaking on the cold Tasman Sea, but, after spending one gloriously sunny day crawling about in the underbrush like blind moles, we were not going to waste this day. There was only Doug and I which immensely simplified things as we could leave early, paddle without stopping, and return at a reasonable hour. Lately, I've begun to understand why Jason paddled solo around Australia. When I asked him about it, his response was similar to my thinking – if you are on your own you can push on a bit further, leave a bit earlier, or conversely, stop when you are buggered. 

Heading into one of the sea caves,
Doug, B. photo 

We launched into a shore dump around the middle of Pirates Bay and began paddling north. There is some limited bus service on the Tasman Peninsula but not extensive enough to allow a one way paddling trip, so our plan was to paddle north for a few hours, then return. 

Deep inside a sea cave,
Doug B. photo 

On our last few kayak trips, we have had to cover distance and have been forced to paddle past many interesting caves, coves and islets. Not today. Today, we ambled, paddling along hugging the coast line as closely as we could. The sea cliffs along the east side of the Tasman Peninsula are the highest in Australia and soar one hundred metres straight up from the wonderfully clear Tasman Sea, and, they are riddled with caves, tunnels and crevices. The swell was light and well spaced and we paddled into many caves, some with huge over-arching roofs, others that were actually tunnels right through the rock, yet others with waterfalls dripping gently over the entrance. At the openings of the caves massive gardens of kelp swayed in the ground swell. 

 Sea cave with waterfall and two entrances
Doug B. photo

We passed two Australian fur seals, sleeping at sea. This behaviour is really quite amazing. The seals lie on their sides with one flipper raised and one flipper down which allows them to sense wind and water movement. They shut down half of their brain, yet remain alert with the other half. Just after we passed a fur seal sleeping, a huge pod of around 50 dolphins swam past. 

Sleepy Australian Fur Seal
Doug B. photo  

In Deep Glen Bay, I managed to make a rough landing on boulders in a sucking swell but this is not recommended as it is hard on the boat. When we paddled out of Deep Glen Bay, the Sisters Islands were only two kilometres north so we paddled up and around these craggy islets before turning back. My butt felt bruised when we got back, but what a day on the water!

Does sea kayaking get any better?
Doug B. photo  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wrong Thinking: Fazackerley Range Circuit

The Fazackerley Range Circuit – just the name, putting aside the write up which promised “beautiful scenery … the summit of MacGregor Peak … fabulous vistas” conjures up an image of a glorious walk along a scenic ridgeline with the Tasman Sea crashing onto the sea cliffs below. The reality, as we discovered, was something completely different. 

We had joined one of the local walking clubs on this circuit hike on the Tasman Peninsular. The day started out with the group sprinting up the fire road on which the hike started at a pace that was clearly not sustainable – at least for this group. This rush from the summit gates happens with all groups, young and old, world-wide (as far as I can tell) so Doug and I sauntered up at our usual pace knowing that we did not need to worry about keeping up. Sure enough, ten minutes up the track, red faced and panting the group had stopped for a rest. 


Continuing on, 45 minutes from the start of the walk, a stop for morning tea was called. I did yoga, Doug drank some tea, the rest consumed carbohydrate primarily in the form of gluten, which is undoubtedly why they all needed morning tea in the first place. Further along the track, we passed a fire tower, but even from one level below the top (as high as you could climb) we could only barely catch a glimpse of Pirates Bay. 

Beyond the fire tower, the track plunged in dark rainforest and the pace of our group slowed immensely. There were logs to climb over and under, slippery rocks, and many different varieties of fungi which seemed to fascinate the group. It was all very delightful in a dim, dark way, but it was one of those rare cloudless and calm days that seldom visit Tasmania and both Doug and I wanted to be out in the sun up high on a mountain range as we had – wrongly – imagined this walk would be. 

 View from the fire tower

Eventually we reached the trig station on 591 metre high MacGregor Peak. By slithering out onto a slimy rock, we could again glimpse Pirates Bay and Cape Hauy to the south. For some bizarre reason, it was apparently lunch time, although it felt as if we had just stopped for morning tea. There was nowhere with a view, dry ground, even a hint of sunshine to stop so we huddled in the dense bush in a very small clearing. Thankfully, the cold weather meant we did not stop for long. 

The track followed the Fazackerley Range – a name far too baronial for this forested ridge – northeast to a col and then descended a short distance to Schofields Road. The walking pace was so slow my legs began to twitch. We reached a muddy road and a sign pointing to the car park and, I had hopes that the group might speed up the pace now that the walking was clear and easy. 

Pirates Bay and Cape Hauy

But, people were now feeling tired, and so, although the pace did increase somewhat, it was still feeling fairly slow. I jockeyed back and forth across the track caught behind the two people in front of me, much the way that new puppy does when he wants to run and is not allowed. The leaders instructions for the walk were to turn left back to the parking lot, but somehow every one of us missed the junction where a half buried sign pointed up a road that turned sharply back on itself and led back to the parking area. 

At some point, I began to get the sense that this walk was going horribly wrong. We were, I was sure, getting further and further away from MacGregor Peak and the parked cars. A couple of times, I gently asked the leader if we should perhaps stop and consult the map (why had we, on this day of all days, forgotten our mobile phone which contained all the topographic maps for Tasmania?) but our leader was suffering from the optimism that Andy Kirkpatrick describes as “quickly turn[ing] to disillusion or delusion” and was clearly in the dangerous delusion category as the path we were following was leading steadily away from our objective. 

 Just the kind of dark, damp place you want to spend a rare sunny day

Finally, the map was extricated from the pack, and somehow, the leader convinced herself that we were on the right track and heading towards the cars. Although I buzzed around, much like an annoying mosquito, she would not relinquish the map and I had to be content with this clearly misguided belief. I wandered down the track and caught up with Doug and – sotto voice – said “we are lost and going the wrong way.” Doug laughed, thinking I was joking, I assured him I was not. His humour, however, was contagious. I laughed too, surely soon enough, the delusional bubble in which the leader was firmly floating would break and we would turn back. 

But, we continued on, time passed, another junction was reached, and finally the party did stop to consider our predicament. The leader eventually pulled out her mobile telephone on which she had a map showing the road we needed to take and our location. We had clearly been travelling in the wrong direction for the last couple of kilometres. Clear also, was the route to the cars. Back the way we had come to a junction and then a short walk of no more than two kilometres to the cars. 

 As much as we saw the sun all day

Just as it is universal for groups to sprint off at the start of the day at a pace that is unsustainable, so it is universal to never want to turn back, no matter how sensible turning back is.  Half the group, including the leader, argued to take the road to the left – a road which was not on the map and could be going anywhere. Doug and I, myself now determined that, after twenty years of mountaineering and not one unplanned night spent out, the first such event was not going to occur on a walk that I could do in under three hours a scant four kilometres from the car were arguing – stridently in my case – to walk back and take the correct turning to reach our starting point. The remainder of the party was, as is also universal, sitting on the fence to see which “leader” would prevail. 

The leader walked down the wrong track for a hundred metres, and, I like to think, had time to consider the implications of remaining under her delusion, and returned with the welcome decision that we would turn back. I asked Doug later what he would have done had the group kept walking further and further in the wrong direction and he answered that he would have gone with them. I like to think I would not. After all, at some point, group think, if it is clearly wrong think, needs to broken. Of course, the whole thing was made more difficult as we had left our car in Sorell and the couple we had car-pooled with were keen to keep going the wrong way. Although we might have easily returned to the vehicles, short of stealing a car, we would not actually be able to leave the parking lot.

Jelly fungi

Thankfully, those decisions remain academic. The encroaching darkness was finally the spur the group needed to walk faster and with the leader checking the map at each junction we walked back the way we had come to where the correct turning, direction sign half buried in regrowth, pointed back towards the car park. We reached the cars just as the battery on the mobile phone, and our only reliable navigation device (I had also forgotten the compass) died. 

There are two lessons to be learned from yesterdays fiasco. One is to always practice what Andy Kirkpatrick calls “nav paranoia” and never trust “100% in others judgement.” The second is to research trips much more carefully before you sign up for them. I might have previously written – not even that long ago – that I seldom wish I hadn't gone out but frequently wish I had – yesterday, however, was the exception. Had I known this would be a slow boring walk buried in dark forest away from the rare sunshine I would never have gone. And, that is entirely my fault for not looking more carefully at the map and relying instead on an overly optimistic (perhaps just a different viewpoint) description in trip schedule.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Wet Walk Around The Rodway Range

We were just skirting MacKenzie Tarn below the Rodway Range in rain and fog. Through the gloomy weather, we caught passing glimpses of the fagus on the far side of the tarn – the only winter deciduous tree in Australia – which had begun to turn golden yellow now that autumn had arrived. Doug was wet through having spent most of the day overheating in his waterproof pants and jacket and, in a brief clearing he had optimistically removed all his rain-wear thus ensuring that the rain began again in earnest. I had spent the day shivering with cold but wanted the psychological benefit of knowing there was still one more piece of clothing in my pack which I could put on should things get desperate. I, therefore, was dry but cold, while Doug was wet and hot. 

We were in the midst of one of those conversations that only people who have been cramped up too long in too small a space in dubious weather can have. “I don't understand how you can say you wouldn't have done this trip had you known what the weather would be like, and also say you are glad you did this trip” said Doug. Somehow this twisted logic made sense to me. Had I known it would rain all day I would have chosen a lower elevation walk where we were less exposed to wind and rain, but, I was still happy to be out walking. Perhaps it's corny, or smacks all too much of a Barney world-view, but I seldom regret the times I have gone out and frequently regret the times I haven't. 

 Tarn Shelf

The day had started with a somewhat unpleasant drive up the narrow, windy and muddy 16 km access road to Lake Dobson. Driving up this road simply to get out of the car for a couple of minutes, stare at Lake Dobson, then turn around and go back down, now with a mud splattered car is inexplicably popular with Hobartites. We left the tourists shivering and gazing at the lake, and trundled up a couple of hundred metres to the Mawson Plateau where all the “alpine” track start. 

 Horseshoe Falls

Weather permitting, we hoped to walk up Mount Field West and set off on the boardwalk that leads up to the Rodway Range. Although it was drizzling with rain, there was a hint of blue in the sky and we had some moderate hopes of clearing weather. We had, however, scarcely passed the junction with the track to Tarn Shelf when the drizzle intensified and we began the first in a series of clothing adaptations that would shortly see us fully outfitted in rain gear. 

There were brief glimpses of the several tarns along tarn shelf, but mostly we just saw white fog and slippery boulders. The track, which I am sure is very scenic in good weather, runs pretty much along the top of the Rodway Range and is slow walking in wet weather as it mostly involves negotiating a jumble of boulders. We had been walking for two or three hours when the track descended off the Rodway Range down to K Col. A tiny hut was just visible 20 metres above K Col and we decided to get in out of the weather for a while. 

 Looking down to K Col and the tiny hut

The drizzle by now was frank rain and I found it frightfully cold. It was an easy decision to forgo heading for Mount Field West and, frankly, we did not have enough time for the walk anyway given the speed of our progress. We could, however, continue to Newdegate Pass and come back along Tarn Shelf. 

We hiked back up onto the Rodway Range, turned to the east and crossed over Newdegate Pass and descended again to Newdegate Lake where another ramshackle hut provided a little shelter from the rain. Heading back towards Lake Dobson, we were swimming against the flow of most walkers who were coming the other way as we wandered past a series of small tarns on the appropriately named Tarn Shelf. Once we got back on the boardwalk, it was quick walking back to the road end and down to Lake Dobson. My hands and arms were so stiff with cold I could barely open the zipper on my pack to pull out my dry puff, but, I was still glad I went.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

An Audacious Climb of Coal River Sugarloaf

The day had finally arrived for our attempt on Coal River Sugarloaf, which, at 530 metres, had been looming above the house since we had arrived. We woke each morning to see the austere (all right treed) east face looming above us, and, went to bed at night as the mountain cast long shadows across the land. 

The first crux was undoubtedly crossing open farmers fields to reach the security of the eucalpytus forest that covers the lower slopes. I had scoped out a route the day before which took us across a narrow section of cleared land, empty of farm animals and covered with knee high grass. The one thing I had neglected to reconnoitre, however, was the fence, which turned out to be high and sturdy. Our only means of access onto the open field was slithering under a section of fence where a washout had eroded a channel. Once past this obstacle, we sprinted across the field to the shelter of some large eucalpytus trees. 

The first 50 metres of elevation gain went quickly and easily through paddock with a generous supply of large gum trees and many animal tracks to follow. At 200 metres (ASL) the slope steepened, the trees thickened and we began climbing in earnest. 250 metres, 300 metres, 400 metres and we reached slippery small boulders covered with moss and hidden beneath a blanket of detritus shed by the gum trees. Despite increasingly precarious footing, we continued upward. 

450 metres, 500 metres, finally we could see the sun glinting over the ridge top, the angle eased, flat ground was visible ahead, and then, we could go up no more. We were on the summit of Coal River Sugarloaf. 

 Doug on Coal River Sugarloaf summit plateau

To the east, 400 metres below us, the farms looked tiny. Toy farms with toy people going about their daily chores. On the west side, it was almost 500 metres down to the Coal River running placidly through farmland. We took a moment to savour our success and then turned our attention to the next task at hand – the descent. As Ed Viesturs famously said: “It's a round trip. Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.” 

We hoped to descend the south ridge of the mountain heading towards the town of Campania. Before reaching town, however, we would have to veer off to the east and descend more steeply towards Native Hut Rivulet. The first 50 metres was relatively gentle, the second steeper, a 10 metre sub-summit had to be surmounted, then another fence, and then the steep descent down partially cleared paddock towards farmland below. Footing was treacherous on slippery green moss. I slipped and fell, but managed to arrest my fall before gravity inexorably pulled me down. 

 Overlooking Campania

Out into open farmland, the grass mown low by sheep, we were able to progress more rapidly. We scrambled through another fence and then took animal tracks back to the north on the edge of the field where farmland met forest. We passed a small dam, and then, across the road, we could see the drainage that marked where the fence could be scrambled under. 

Quickly, across the open field, under the fence and we were back on Native Corners Road. Success was ours. We had climbed and, most importantly, returned from Coal River Sugarloaf.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Quick Visit (By Kayak) To Bruny Island

Planning The Trip:

Doug, who makes a habit (almost a vocation) of studying weather charts identified one more weather window approaching that would give us a few days to paddle out to Bruny Island, one of Tasmania's isthmus islands that lies off the far southeast coast if we were prepared to yet again cross the entire length of Tasmania to capitalise on a decreasing swell, light winds, and little chance of rain. Bruny Island is about 55 km long, but only 15 km wide, and, like all these east coast islands, the really interesting paddling is on the exposed eastern side not the protected western side. 

Southport Beach launch site

The best trip, which has been done in one push, is a complete circumnavigation launching from Tinderbox Bay on the mainland, a distance of roughly 200 km. As we are strictly average paddlers, we could expect such a trip to take us a week, providing we had conditions favourable to paddling every day. We had exactly one week until we were due at a house-sit north of Hobart, and, we were a full days drive from the launch site so a full circuit of the island was not really possible. 

We tossed around various other options, the most promising of which, at least initially, seemed to be launching from Middleton and paddling into Isthmus Bay, hauling our boats across the Isthmus, relaunching on the eastern side of the island and paddling down to a camp somewhere near Grass Point. We could then, our reasoning went, circumnavigate the southern half of the island, and, if we were lucky, we could get the whole trip done in four days. 

 Southport Island in the distance behind Doug

This all sounded fairly reasonable. We would have two long stretches (36 km and 26 km) around the exposed cliffs and headlands on the south and eastern sides of the island where landing would not be possible, but we had done similar days around both Maria Island and Freycinet Peninsula. The only problem was in order to paddle these exposed sections with light winds we would have to start paddling while the swell was running at a forecast four to six metres If we waited for the swell to decrease we would miss the period of calm winds; and herein lies one of the essential difficulties of sea kayaking, whether you are out for a day, a week or a year, you can almost never line up wind direction, local and tidal currents, your direction of travel, and available landing sites to have entirely favourable conditions. Up until the night before, we were still prepared to give our first plan a try, but then we realised that we would likely not be able to get off the beach at Adventure Bay with a four to six metre swell running. 

More studying of weather forecasts and charts, more plotting over our maps, and we finally came up with a new plan and, while not really our first choice (circling the island completely) we had concocted a trip that we had a very good chance of being able to complete, no matter what the weather conditions. 

Launching off Butlers Beach

Our first plan really suffered from too many unknowns, a couple of which were deal breakers - with large swells running would we be able to launch from the Isthmus and would we be able to land at Cloudy Bay? Finding out we couldn't do the former was a lot less committing than finding out we couldn't do the latter as we would have to turn around and paddle 36 km back north along the exposed coast a second time. I've never paddled 70 km in a day, and frankly, testing one self on the wild east coast of Tasmania in the chill of early autumn did not seem all that sensible. As usual, it was the uncertainty of the trip, rather than the technical difficulty which seemed hard to deal with. If we had more time in hand, I would have considered taking the vehicle ferry out to Bruny Island and driving around (very painful for someone who abhors driving) to check out all the key sticking points on our first plan, but, we just did not have the time for that. 

Our new plan was quite relaxed and, perhaps fitting as we were both beginning to feel somewhat weary from so many adventurous trips crammed into a short period of time. Launching from Southport, we would cross to Bruny Island and camp near the northern tip of Labillardiere Peninsula. One day, we would walk the Labillardiere Peninsula Circuit track and the next we would paddle down to Cape Bruny. On the fourth day, the last day with a solid weather forecast, we would paddle back to Southport. Wind and rain were forecast to begin the day after. 

 Calm morning in D'Entrecasteaux Channel

Southport to Butlers Beach (Bruny Island) And Around Partridge Island

Southport is virtually deserted outside of summer, most of the houses are second homes and only about one in ten seemed to be occupied. There is, however, a pleasant sheltered beach right at the end of Highway A6 and on a sunny but cold (4 degrees Celsius) morning we launched the kayaks and paddled out of Southport Harbour. We paddled east to Rossel Point and Stack of Bricks which was breaking in the rolling swell. There are short cliffs along the coast to Burnett Point where we left the shore-line and paddled across D'Entrecasteaux Channel towards the Labillardiere Peninsula. There was supposed to be a west wind but it felt quite northerly across the Channel. 

 Doug at the entrance to Southport Harbour near Stack of Bricks

Once through Partridge Channel the water was calm and we paddled along Butlers Beach looking for a campsite. Nothing really good presented itself so we paddled back to Partridge Island and had a look for a campsite on the southern end. There was a rough spot available, but we did not like that either and as we had plenty of time and would be staying at the same camp for three nights we felt justified in poking about to find the best site. Before heading back to the Peninsula to look further for a campsite we decided to paddle around Partridge Island. There is a dilapidated jetty at the northern end (east side) of the island and with some difficulty we went ashore. At some point in time there was an old building (likely an old farmhouse) but only a cement pad remains and blackberry bushes seem to have reclaimed most of the island. We gobbled up all the available ripe blackberries that were easily accessible and then finished our tour round the island. The northerly wind had switched to southerly and the seas were piling up on the west side of the island steeply enough to break a few waves over us and drench our torsos. 

 In D'Entrecasteaux Channel

Now that the wind had switched direction, Butlers Beach was fairly sheltered and we found a little site at the top of the beach that was sheltered from all but northerly winds and made camp. Later, I found what I consider (Doug disagrees) a better campsite (on grass not sand) at the far southern end of Hopwood Beach. It too was sheltered from all but true northerly winds.
We had been expecting very cold nights but the sky clouded up early and it was actually reasonably warm overnight. The only trouble we had was with a possum who came by and rustled around our water bottles. 

 Lighthouse Jetty Beach

Labillardiere Peninsula Circuit Track

All we had planned for the day was a walk along the track that traces the coastline of Labillardiere Peninsula so we were able to have a bit of a lazy morning (not packing up camp was a treat) before we wandered off. This circuit walk is around 16 km long and very easy as there are really no hills at all. There is a pretty little beach at the south end of Taylors Bay and a vehicle accessible campground. On the eastern side of the peninsula, where the coastline is more rugged, the track is mostly away from the coast so views are not as good as you might hope. It is possible, however to see down to Courts Island near Cape Bruny and near Hen and Chicken Rocks, the track runs very close to the rocky shore-line before climbing past the top of Mount Bleak. 

 Light show

I had thought about walking out to the lighthouse at Cape Bruny (in case we did not make it in the kayaks the next day) but I was so fatigued all day I could barely drag myself around the loop walk and adding a further eight kilometres, all of it on sealed road, was not appealing. I blamed my extreme lethargy on lack of salt as I eat a low carbohydrate (almost ketogenic) diet which requires a higher salt intake and I had neglected to bring salt on the trip. That night I poured a pile of salty stock granules on top of my dinner - it tasted awful, but I felt infinitely better the next day. 

 Coastline near Hen and Chicken Rocks

The early part of the night was fraught with possum attacks as one big fat old fellow with a heavily scarred visage decided he really wanted bacon, eggs and cheese (stored in a fridge bag in the front compartment of my kayak) and he spent considerable time standing on my hatch cover pounding away at the plastic. My attempts to dissuade him from destroying my front hatch were loud but largely ineffectual. Eventually, Doug, the real possum hunter (I am more of a possum whisperer) went out and chased him into the ocean. This seemed to be a sufficient deterrent and we did not see or hear him again that night. 

 Landing site near Courts Island

Courts Island

As predicted, the wind next day was light and the swell had fallen to less than 1.5 metres; apart from the somewhat gloomy skies, conditions were perfect for paddling the length of the Labillardiere Peninsula. The only issue I had on this 26 km return trip was the lack of landing sites for bladder breaks. But, characteristically, I was not worried enough to go without my morning half litre of coffee. 

Pineapple Rocks came into view as we rounded Hopwood Point. These scattered rocky islets and the jagged coastline nearby really do resemble pineapples as they are sharp, pointed and also home to many sea birds, including large sea eagles. We were able to paddle close by, weaving our way between the shore-line and the islets, in one case through a passage not much more than a paddle width wide. Further south, we passed Hen and Chicken Rocks (no resemblance as far as I could tell). Standaway Bay has a rocky rugged coastline with many sea caves in the dark cliffs. Just past Elephant Rock we passed Quiet Bay which did not seem all that quiet with the sucking surge. Courts Island at all but high tide is joined to the mainland by a rocky isthmus and ducking behind some small rocky islets we were able to land (plastic boats only) on the bouldery shoreline. 

 Courts Island and Cape Bruny

I admit I looked longingly towards Cape Bruny, less than half a kilometre away. A part of me was still wishing we had attempted to circle the island completely, or at least the southern half of the island. Sometimes, it can be so clear that you have made the right choice, but, more often than not, you can never tell even with hindsight. T. S. Elliot wrote "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." Which sounds very romantic but if the consequence is death or serious injury, how many of us truly want to find out how far we can go? 

Doug was convinced that his possum hazing the night before would keep the marauders at bay, while I was just a wee bit sceptical. Apart from one lanky possum I met while strolling down the beach after dark, we were unmolested by nocturnal visitors. 

 Partridge Island

Return to Southport Harbour

This was our last multi-day kayak trip before our house-sit and it was a bit sad to pack up the next day to head back to the real world. We stretched the paddle back out by sauntering up the west side of Partridge Island, followed by a traveling seal, then crossing over to the mainland near Tower Bay and slowly paddling down the coast, past short rocky cliffs, headlands and rocks to Southport Harbour. 

 Butlers Beach sunset