Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Shopping Bus Tour: Conjola Park to Ulladulla by Sea Kayak

On Sunday, we had an uneventful paddle from Moruya Heads to Mosquito Bay getting the requisite 30 kilometres done just moments before the Mosquito Bay cafe closed. There were good waves at Moruya Heads and even an outgoing tide to facilitate paddling back out for the next wave, but both lads were shy of getting wet at the beginning of the day. I had a lone dolphin swim beside my boat through the channel and caught one good wave before we started paddling north. 

The beach and kayak shot with Burrewarra Point behind

Mark wanted to catch a few waves off Tomakin Beach, the site of previous kayak disasters. It's not that many months since I had a long swim into the beach after capsizing in a wave and wet exiting here. The Dart managed to ride a few waves in but with a heavy less manoeuvrable boat - the Tug, perhaps - I found the waves a bit small to get on. Doug was resolutely staying dry. 

Leaving lunch beach

Burrewarra Point was probably as calm as I have seen it, possibly because we managed to round it at slack tide. We had lunch, or oranges, on a small south facing beach with a squirrelly wave near Jimmies Island, and on my urging went in to check out the wave on Mackenzies Beach which always looks so perfect whenever I drive past. The swell was certainly big enough but did seem to be dumping onto a steep beach so we passed by. After that it was a straight line for Mosquito Bay and the putative delights of the Mosquito Bay cafe. 

Doug and Mark at Burrewarra Point

Monday with light northerly winds forecast we drove up to Conjola Park north of Ulladulla to paddle from Conjola Lake back to Ulladulla. A "shoppers bus" runs up the coast from Ulladulla to Nowra and it is only 1.5 kilometres to walk from the bus stop on the Princes Highway out to the boat ramp at Conjola Park. After unloading the boats at a small dirt ramp in Conjola Par, Doug took the car back to Ulladulla and joined a handful of grey haired ladies taking the bus north while I hung out at a small jetty at the west end of the lake. 

East end of Conjola Lake

It's a straight forward paddle east along the lake which is pleasant enough in winter but must be horrific in summer as I doubt anyone sticks to the 4 knot speed limit. As you approach Conjola Beach you start to hear the roar of the surf on the beach and, of course, begin to hope the surf exit will be easy and dry. Conjola Bar is currently open but only to kayaks as the water is not near deep enough for a power boat. The channel snakes around in an oxbow before draining out through some rocks. 

Heading south down Conjola Beach 

We got out of the boats to take a look at the surf break-out and it looked easy enough to paddle north through the swash zone and ride a prominent rip out through the swells near Green Island. There was, however, quite a few white-caps and a 10 knot southeasterly blowing. I made it easily but Doug got bottomed out on some rocks in the channel and had to get out of the boat again. Paddling south down Conjola Beach felt like a bit of a slog into the wind as I was feeling sore from the day before. Long beaches are like long glacier approaches, the end seems to approach quite slowly. 

 Ulladulla Head
We pulled in at Narrawallee Inlet where the bar is also open for small craft to unravel our legs. South of this small nature reserve, the developed all the way to Ulladulla. Soon after we started paddling again Doug saw a green turtle which seems very far south from their normal range. Heading east along Bannister Point we got some shelter from the wind and there are big sandstone cliffs as you round Bannister Point, where we had a bit of bumpy water but the wind had slackened. 

 Herons in Ulladulla Harbour

A few pods of dolphins swam with us as we paddled south to Collers Beach where a group of surfers were riding a small break. Next is Ulladulla Head which has a big sandstone spit sticking into the ocean, and then, happily for me, round the headland and into Ulladulla Harbour. My shoulders, back and butt were tired and 22 km was far enough.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You Got This

There are two types of fear: survival and illusory. The former is healthy and helpful while the latter is not. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two fears. Arno Ilgner, The Rock Warriors Way.

Years ago, climbing at the mecca of long moderate routes, Red Rocks (near Las Vegas in Nevada) I was having a great time leading a long easy wandering crack, occasionally putting in a piece of gear and enjoying the solid holds and simple moves when I suddenly encountered a more difficult stretch of climbing and could not find any gear placements. At the same time, I looked down at my last piece, which now seemed kilometres away and watched as it gently rattled out of the crack and slid down the rope. The large jug holds my hands were on and the big buckets my feet were in abruptly shrank to the size of pennies loosely glued onto overhanging slab. If I fell now, it was conceivable I would actually hit the ground from 20 metres up. All the fun was gone, now I was simply afraid.

Feeling small at the belay ledge on Dark Shadows,
Red Rocks, NV 

Fast forward half a dozen years to just last week and we are climbing ring bolted sport climbs on the Southern Tablelands. I am poised below the crux sequence on a long red slab, my right foot on a sharp arête, the left toed into a small face hold. The next move is obvious and there is only one way to do it. Lift the left leg and smear onto a small hold, then stand up using the wall for balance only, there are no handholds. I hesitate for a long time, looking down the arête. I am a few metres above the last ring bolt, and wonder, if I fall, will I slide down the face or topple off the arête and slam back against the cliff as the rope comes tight. The former will result only in some abrasions, the latter might break a leg. I feel again that familiar frisson of fear.

Doug enjoying Fresh Baked Daily, 
El Portero Chico, Mexico 

Rock climbing is much more a mental game than a physical one. Inching your way up steep and overhanging rock faces is neither natural nor normal and there is a very real and imminent need to distinguish between "survival and illusory" fears and to act appropriately. If you really are in danger of severe injury or death, the best thing you can do is act quickly to get out of the situation. Place some gear, down-climb to a better stance, retreat altogether; these are all legitimate actions. If, however, the fear is merely illusory, you may fall, but a fall is safe, or so highly unlikely that the risk is negligible, it's time to commit and move forward with confidence. You cannot faff around endlessly in a cycle of fear and futility until your strength is wasted and you fall off. 

Dany styling at Smith Rocks, OR
The beauty of climbing as a metaphor for life is that the feedback is so immediate. A simple weight shift to the left or right might bring you back into balance and make that seemingly difficult move easy. You might feel as I did with one foot on the arête and one on the slab, that I had trained hard, I felt strong and confident, the crux move was balancey, but I am good at balancey moves, I simply needed to press down on my leg and move up with confidence. Two moves after that and I was latching a big jug and clipping the next ring bolt. 

Doug experiencing the incredible lightness of being
on Watchtower Chimney, Mt Arapiles, VIC 
Life is a lot like climbing. You need to recognize real danger and act appropriately. Change your mind, change your habits, fix whatever is broken, make the danger recede. If, however, you are afraid of something with no real power to hurt you, coil your legs under your body, tighten up your core, and spring up with all the power that you have to latch that big jug hold. You got this. 

Feeling small on the big slabs of 
Memorial Route, ID 
All those years ago in Red Rocks as my last piece rattled uselessly down the rope, I was afraid, but I also knew that the climb was well within my pay grade. A few more moves and I could place a bomber nut, my fear was wholly illusory, I grabbed the next jug, toed into the next bucket, moved up a few metres, fiddled in a tricam, finished the climb and whooped with joy. 

 Sunset over Mitre Rock,
Mt Arapiles, VIC 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Getting Lucky In The Slot Machines: Narooma to Mystery Bay By Sea Kayak

It is barely 13 kilometres from Narooma to Mystery Bay, so when we suggested it for a weekend paddle, the local sea kayakers could barely stifle their snorts of derision, 20 kilometres is really the minimum for any self respecting kayaker, and 30 or 40 is clearly better. 

 Doug enters the arch near Mystery Bay

Last time we paddled this section of coast we had a great time paddling around peering into sea caves and winding through clusters of rocky islets. All of these were great fun, but the real draw for a return trip was the two narrow slots just north of Mystery Bay barely a paddle width wide that separate off a small blocky island of rock from the rest of the coast. On that trip, neither of us was brave enough to paddle in as they were getting well washed by surging swell but we had thought frequently of going back.

Slightly blurry slot shot

If Peter weren't such a nice guy, I would suspect him of trying to make us all look weak like newborn kittens as he opted to paddle down to Narooma from Tuross and arrived early abruptly interrupting my scientific tests of the friction capabilities (poor) of $10 KMart water booties on a series of sit start boulder problems scattered around the beach. As soon as Mark had put the finishing touches on his GQ attire - friends should not let friends wear shorts and long socks, even if they are super-duper Goretex socks - we launched the kayaks and paddled out through the breakwater and turned south. 

When you are this famous, you have to travel incognito

The first section of caves and arches is directly under Narooma Golf Course and you can paddle right into a few of them. The water, which is almost always beautifully clear along this section of coast, was even more pristine than usual, a wonderful aquamarine green. We gradually worked our way south whoever was in front would lead the group through rock passages and past little islets. 

The water really is that colour

Somewhere along this section I narrowly missed getting scraped up on the rocks as I was paddling close in when what seemed like the biggest wave of the day rolled in and broke right where I was. I vaguely heard "look out for that wave" and just had time to brace before getting pushed much closer in that I was really happy about. I thought the second wave would surely mash me, but somehow I managed to claw myself out into deeper water, not, however, without a drenching.

 Paddle through arch

Shortly after this, I looked over and saw a paddler slowly tipping into the water on an incoming wave. There was a few seconds, perhaps even half a minute when a paddle pawed across the surface of the water in a valiant but ultimately failed attempt to remain upright, then a paddle jacket floated one way, a paddle another, body and boat together emerged in the swash zone. The sunglasses were not seen again and the replacement pair were only suited for Captain Hook with a patch on one eye. Two of us were now drenching wet.

Glassily calm in the second slot

We continued meandering south, now keeping a closer eye on rogue waves, until we reached the tiny pocket beach near Corunna Point where we stopped for lunch and a thermos of hot drinks. It was a chilly break despite a warm winter sun and some in the group were overly anxious to reach the fleshpots of Narooma (aka, the local cafe) now that the trip was nearly over. But, we still had the slots to paddle. As is frequently the case with these things, paddling through, turning around, and generally hanging out indefinitely was easy. At a higher tide, I think you might be able to paddle in one slot and out the other, but the tide was a bit too low when we were there. Very close to the slots there is also a big arch that you can paddle right through at high tide. 

Just another sea cave

And that was it, our leisurely exploration of the coast was over. Any further trips will undoubtedly have to meet the 20 km rule at a minimum.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Long Approach To Nowhere: The Corn Trail

This was another of my somewhat optimistic plans, walking - or at least attempting to - what turned out to be 30 km (not 24 km as widely quoted on the internet) down then back up the Corn Trail. The big east coast low of June 2016 had knocked down enough trees that the lower parking lot was closed and only the top parking lot at the Dasyurus Picnic Area was open. Now you might wonder why I wouldn't think that there could be the odd bit of blow-down on the walking trail as well, and, as I was climbing over, under and through giant blow-down on the lower section of the trail I had plenty of time to ponder this. 

History buffs wax lyric about about the Corn Trail which was an early trade route between the coast and the southern highlands. Indigenous people likely also used the route which follows a long ridge from near Murrengenberg Mountain down to the Buckenbowra River. By the 1920's, after the construction of an alternate route to the coast, the trail had been lost to overgrowth and it was only much later that it was reconstructed as a walking track. 

Mongarlowe River

On the topographic map, the trail starts at the end of a short dirt road south of Clyde Mountain off the Kings Highway but signs on the highway direct you to River Forest Road and a parking area near the Mongarlowe River. Immediately I had to take my shoes off to ford the Mongarlowe
River which felt almost Canadian cold in the early morning. Later in summer you can probably rock-hop across. 

A trail has been cut through dense coral fern heading generally east and around the northern side of Murrengenberg Mountain to join the Corn Trail coming in from the Kings Highway, which adds 3 to 3.5 km (one way) to the walk. This section is getting quite overgrown and the coral fern pulled my shoe laces undone at least half a dozen times as I walked through. 

Old wheel

I had expected a downhill walk, at least to start, but for the first hour or more, the trail gains elevation steadily until you reach a dry ridge north of the Buckenbowra River and begin a long steady descent to reach patches of rain forest along the Buckenbowra River. Among the patches of rain forest are patches of blow down, or, more accurately there are patches of clear trail among long stretches of blow down. 

One of the more minor blow-downs

The first kilometre along the Buckenbowra River is through pleasant rain forest, thereafter, the trail is above the river in somewhat scrappy forest, completely viewless and almost featureless. My enthusiasm to continue all the way to a non-descript parking lot in the middle of gum forest simply to turn around again and walk back was waning as quickly as the blow-down was becoming tedious. 

Beside a side creek, I managed to get a clear enough view of the sky to see where I was, still a depressing four kilometres to go which, if the blow-down did not miraculously blow away, would take me perhaps 1.5 hours, each way. There's a reason why (a) I am not an endurance athlete and (b) trail running and hiking has been called the long approach to nowhere. Hardier folk may have kept going, but I'd had enough, I turned around and walked back.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mystery Bay to Bermagui by Water

Apart from almost getting run down by the surf rescue boat within minutes of landing at Shelly Beach in Bermagui (how many Shelly Beaches does Australia have?) our sea kayak trip from Mystery Bay to Bermagui was uneventful. After an alpine start from Moruya, we arrived at Mystery Bay at sunrise and unloaded the kayaks. Any concern that the two metre swell would make launching from Mystery Bay difficult was rapidly dispelled, it looked not only dead easy but as if we could even stay dry, an added benefit on a cool winter morning. 

Sunrise Mystery Bay

I hung out at Mystery Bay while Doug drove to Bermagui, left the car, and took the bus back to the Mystery Bay turn-off. It was quiet on the beach until about 8.00 am when hordes of dogs, and owners, arrived. Dogs must only be allowed on the 400 metre stretch of beach in front of the campground as the owners went back and forth, back and forth over this short distance. Doug arrived back shortly before 9 am and after shooing off a couple of dogs that wanted to stow away to Bermagui, we were off. 

Doug approaches Morunna Point

The first four kilometres south of Mystery Bay is low, rotten cliffs and scattered reefs. With a two metre swell and bigger sets coming in at over three metres we did not venture too close in. Wallaga Beach comes next, a long sandy beach with a rather nasty looking shore dump. We only saw a few surfers at the far south end near Morunna Point. This is the only spot we thought it might be easy to land. With a smaller or more southerly swell you could land here without too much trouble. We could have picked our way in had we been patient enough to wait for a lull in the waves, but Bermagui was looking fairly close (about 7 kilometres more) so we decided to carry on.

Doug rides up a small swell near Morunna Point

Heading around Morunna Point, Pebbly Beach (there must be as many Pebbly Beaches in Australia as there are Shelly Beaches) and past the Camel (a rock outcrop that bears a passing resemblance to a camel) we got some bouncy rebound, about the only interesting paddling on the trip, and then began what seemed like a long plug into a mild headwind down Haywards Beach. 

Keating Headland

At Moorhead Beach, the surf rescue was going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth along a 60 metre strip of beach in a couple of Zodiacs. I assume it was supposed to be some kind of training but looked like "boys with toys." When they finally quit, the lead boat almost ran me over at the entrance to the harbour and I had to shout and wave my paddle before they saw me and veered off. 

Near Camel Rock

The remainder of the paddle into Shelly Beach I entertained myself, but not Doug judging by his response with advertising slogans the club could use in their next PR campaign: "XX Surf Club: we're an accident waiting to happen," "XX Surf Club, first we run you down, then we rescue you," "XX Surf Club, making accidents is our business,""XX Surf Club, just when you thought you were safe."

Monday, August 1, 2016

Short And Weak Takes On Steep And Powerful

I'm the one who packs an overnight bag for a visit to the grocery store, triple checks the car is locked before we leave on a bushwalk, and has not only the ten essentials but a couple of dozen other "just in case" items as well. So, it's odd that I did not read the fine print in the Nowra climbing guide carefully enough to notice that the climbing is described as "being steep and powerful," before we left. Especially given I am short and weak. Or perhaps it is what Doug describes as the "Sandra effect" wherein I feel positive that everything will turn out just fine despite the incipient cyclone on the horizon, the rogue wave bearing down on us, or the loud whumpf as the snowpack collapses preparatory to avalanching.

One of my old ski touring buddies, Maurice, who happened to be an engineer, developed an equation early on in our time skiing together which he called the “Sandra Factor," to explain the phenomenon whereby the actual elevation gain of the trip far exceeded the elevation gain quoted by me when I was looking for ski partners. The Sandra factor is equal to the actual elevation gain of the trip divided by the stated – alleged - elevation gain quoted by me prior to commencement of the trip. Maurice had an annoying habit of quoting the Sandra Factor to me at regular intervals during some of our longer ski trips together, and I admit, it was disturbing when we passed 2, 3, then 4 or 5 before we'd even stopped for lunch.

These days however, I'm older, slower, greyer, arguably wiser, but still keen on climbing. Our last climbing trip was way too short, and my numerous forays around the local area looking for solid bouldering have yielded only friable sandstone, and flaky granite, nothing you could really climb on without spending a month stripping off the loose holds with a pry-bar first, so I was once again keen to go clip some ring bolts in the winter sun.

It was too cold to go up to the Southern Tablelands so we headed for Nowra instead. Our first day we went to Thompsons Point where the bulk of Nowra climbing is located. As usual, you park your car and hope for the best while you are down at the crag. The parking area is littered with broken auto-glass and has a distinctly unsavoury feel. Heading down the descent gully was like stepping into a wind tunnel, the west wind almost blew us back up the rough stone stairs.

Immediately I got on some thuggish sandbagged Nowra route and got a bit of an arse kicking. I had to back-off the lead and frankly couldn't even climb the route clean on top-rope. The next route over, two grades harder, felt about the same, but then we lucked on a route that was more appropriate to the grade and started feeling a bit more competent and a little less bumbly. Half the problem was it was so cold you shivered on belay, started climbing while you were cold and stiff, got marginally warm in the mid-part of the climb, then reached the anchors and were immediately frozen again. We finished the day at the far right end of Descent Gully walls where there are a series of high quality routes.

Next day we went out to the Occupied Territories, west of North Nowra where you can almost do the "belay off your bumper" scene. There are a series of easy climbs all in a row here and the crag is a little sheltered from the wind. We came prepared with twice the amount of clothing we had the day before and managed to maintain our core temperatures within normal limits. 

The Occupied Territories

Our third day coincided with the weekend and we thought we might see some other climbers, but we spent the day at The Lair, off the Braidwood Road and didn't see any other climbers, or people. The grades at The Lair are fair, even easy by Nowra standards - maybe even Australian standards overall - and there are some really nice routes here. It's a quiet sort of place in a pretty gum forest and we had a calm day so by afternoon we were feeling comfortably warm. I took a few lead falls off one route, mostly because I was too timid to commit to the somewhat powerful, at least for a short, weak person like me, moves to surmount a steep bulge. Doug also popped off a rather balancy route when he barn-doored on a tenuous step up. Ironically, I cruised the route he found tricky, and he cruised the route I found tricky. I could say something about us perfectly complementing each others weaknesses but that would be too instagrammy cute (and frankly nauseous).

Our last day the wind was howling again and we went to Hospital Rocks where the routes tend to be steep and crimpy, in other words, a good place to thrash yourself completely on your last climbing day. Although the westerlies were sweeping down the Shoalhaven River, this crag seems a little more sheltered from the wind than Thompsons Point. The parking also is a little less fraught with fear of break-ins. We climbed until the early afternoon by which point our fingers were opening of their own accord and sliding off the holds. Clearly, it was time to head home.