Mar 02

An early morning walk is always good – however I must admit to a certain level of madness to be walking in the hills before dawn.  The rewards are quite stunning.

My watch started vibrating right on 6.00 a.m.  I was already awake, lying there waiting for it to go off.  It’s important never to get out of bed before the alarm goes off, it’s a universal rule and as I will show, universal rules are not to be toyed with.

I turn the light on, stumble around the room, find the suitable attire that I’d carefully laid out the night before, brush teeth, beard and hair, throw some items into the backpack and head out the door by 6.10 a.m.

It is dark.  The stars remain bright, overhead is Spica with Jupiter sitting next to it, well, at least in my sky, there’s really 550 light years between them.  There’s also Antares, I mistook it for Mars as it’s red, next to it is Saturn.  The sky to my east is starting to brighten as I head along the footpath through the middle of Halls Gap.   My only company is the kangaroos and wallabies who are enjoying nibbling the grass without hordes of tourist hanging around trying to get close enough for a photo.

In a couple of minutes I have crossed the little village, moved beyond the football oval and begun the climb upwards towards Chatauqua Peak.  It’s only a short walk, about 3½km.  The track is a sandy white, it stands out in the pre-dawn light, however it’s dark away from the village lights, and before long my toes are hitting every rock and tree root, causing me to stumble.  Last thing I need is to be rescued by the SES before I’m even out-of-town.   Luckily a thousand years in the Scouts taught me to be prepared and I whip out my headlamp, remove my cap, attach said light to my head, slap my cap back on,  turn on the light and continue upward.

As the blackness gives way to an eerie grey, the birds start to awaken, first kookaburras begin the morning with a solid round of laughter from all directions.  Like a real laugh it seems contagious and in a few seconds I’m surrounded by the calls of the early birds.  The currawongs aren’t far behind, their distinctive call bounces around the mountains.  The magpies join in with their early morning warbling, like the kookaburras it seems contagious and soon there seems to be hundreds all speaking to each other.  Throw in some ravens and lots of small wrens and we have an orchestra of morning song.   However, nothing compares to the awaking of great flocks of cockatoos who begin their morning by screeching to each other.  It’s like a 3 year olds birthday party, everyone wants to play with the new toys now and they’re all going to yell until they get their own way.  Now that’s a sound that really bounces off the mountains.

I can’t tell now if my headlamp is getting dimmer, batteries running down, or the encroaching daylight means it’s less effective.  As it’s now light enough to see, I turn it off and continue the trek and manage not to stumble so much.  Still to early to be rescued, I’m still in mobile phone range.

As I ascend the sky to the east has a bright orange bubble in the middle of a grey sky, the west is still black.  As far as I can see there are no clouds in the way.  The stars don’t fade away, they simply wink out of existence, all the background stars disappear as the sky changes from black to grey as the light extends from east to west.

If I’ve timed my walk right, I should get to the rock hopping stage of the walk in fairly good light.  I know I’ve been rushing a bit, sunrise waits for no person!  As I get to the fork in the track, I pause to look eastward.  The orange now extends across the eastern sky and I can pick where the sun is going to pop up.  I’m a little worried as I think it might be behind Boronia Peak and I’ll miss day break.

I’m now on the final stretch, it’s 6.50 a.m., I’ve made good time and can slow down a little.  This bit of the walk is along the ridgeline and there’s not a lot of space between me and the edge of the cliff.  The light is good and I hop along the rocks with ease.

I reach the summit of Chatauqua Peak just after 7.00 a.m., I’ve got about 15 minutes before the sun rises above the horizon.  I drag out my phone and fire up Sky Maps, I want to be sure I’ll have a clear view of the right point.  I can see that Mercury has just risen on the map, alas, the sky is already way to bright for me to see it.  I have a clear view of the horizon, a few low hills on the edge, but that won’t matter.

I eat an apple and wait.  I mean, what else can you do while you wait for the universe to spin around?

I snap a couple of photos.  The mountains to the west change colours from their nighttime muted tones to a soft orange colour, the trees that spill around their bases a dark green with spots of moving white as the cockatoos take flight.  The eastern sky is blue with an increasing orange bulge in the middle.  It’s 7.16 a.m. This is the time that has been allotted for our nearest star to put in an appearance.  I know this, because I asked Google.  It’s the only conversation I’ve had today.  I said “Sunrise” she said “The sun will rise at 7.16 a.m. in Halls Gap” and went quiet, not much for small talk, either of us.

And there is the proof of the final universal adoption of Google as the holder of all information.  A bright orange light appears on time and in the place that Google said it would.  The little bit of the sun quickly turns into  a huge ball of glowing orange, within moments it’s too bright to look at.  The world is suddenly bathed in a fantastical hue (I’m trying to avoid using orange again), the high peaks behind me are bathed in a warm glow and this shows off the brilliant whites and reds and all the colours in between.  Now with the sun fully risen I snap a few photos of the daily spectacular.

I have no idea what it is about sunsets and sunrises.  They happen on a continuous basis, as the earth spins there is always one of each happening somewhere on the globe.  Yet, every single one of them is unique.  It is its own moment.  This one feels richly deserved, I’ve climbed a mountain, well, a peak.  Risked life and limb to reach the summit in time to see this daily event on a beautifully clear night that is then pursued by a beautifully clear day with a brilliant blue sky and a now white star marching across it.  It is a moment of renewal, it reminds me of the daily grind of the world and how each day starts afresh with a world of possibilities.  Today is a day for me to renew, refresh and start again.

I sit for 30 minutes enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, I can feel the temperature rising already, heading towards a top of 34°

Below me I can see the long shadows of the trees in the brown paddocks, reminding me that the seasons are turning and it won’t be long before summer ends.  The sun is yet to reach the Fyans Valley in which Halls Gap sits, it’ll be another hour at least before it peaks over Boronia Peak.

I start my walk downward, within a couple of minutes I’ve dropped below the peak and into the shadow.  It’s still cool here and I meander down to Halls Gap where coffee and breakfast calls.

My second conversation is “Good morning, I’ll have 2 eggs and 2 long blacks please”

“Morning, how would you like the eggs?”

“Poached, please”

“No worries”

Not one for small talk.

Click all the images for a better look!

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Dec 22

I first donned a backpack and climbed the Major Mitchell Plateau in September 1985, I’ve climbed it a total of 4 maybe 5 times now, including the latest hike in 2016.

A lot has changed in our world since then, firstly the medium of recording the story.  I can’t find my log book for 1985 or I simply didn’t have one.  However, my second hike in 1986, dubbed the “Comet Hike” was written in my log book that was a foolscap Collins Minute book.  Written after the event.  Not long after that I started recording in a smaller log book that I carried with me and wrote every chance I had.  These days my rough notes become a word press blog and I share the story with lots of other people!  In the 80’s I would use my log books and diary to record daily life and then record letter tapes for my friends.

The invention of word processing on a typewriter and then computer also means that my spelling is checked.  I also have Michael who proof-reads for me!


Other changes.  Get a load of the car, it’s an HQ Belmont station wagon, not a Kingswood and the rear door has a roll down window and drop tray!  Click on the image, Marcelle and I both have mullets and we’re both wearing our scout uniform.  For whatever reason we thought these heavy cotton shirts were the go for hiking in.  In the other photo we’re dressed in special hiking gear, our shirts have special wicking abilities, we have decent boots and Goretex raincoats.  Marcelle’s backpack is the same one that Michael is carrying, however, check out my old one.  It has an external frame and you can see the aluminium hoop at the top.  That bloody thing use to snag on every low hanging branch I passed under.  You can still buy the sleeping mats, a single piece of pressed material, nowadays you wouldn’t use them as a yoga mat.  We travelled with lightweight self-inflating mattresses.  However, mine had a seam explosion so I would have been better off with nothing more than a sleeping mat.

We spent hours packing in the 80’s trying hard to get the packs as light as possible, these packs had about 16kg.  I carried 18kg this hike, so a little more but a lot less time to pack.

 

In the days before colour photo copiers we carried two A2 paper maps that were very detailed.  If we wanted to check where we were we needed to triangulate our position, so needed 3 landmarks within sight, and using a compass, rotate the map, draw 3 lines and basically have a guess.  The information on the maps was already 10 years old when we bought them.  In 2016 we downloaded an app onto our phones, paid $9 for 3 maps that has information that is regularly updated. The app even puts a little blue dot to show us where we were along with the full longitude and latitude.  There’s no need for wi-fi or mobile reception, just the trusty satellites overhead.  We could zoom-in for a closer look, or out for a wider look and drop a pin, here’s where we had lunch and where we camped.  We printed the maps out in colour to carry a paper copy and gave a copy to various people in case we got lost!

Cooking has changed too.  Here we are with a fire and a billy hanging over it on a structure we’ve fashioned out of sticks, compare that to our lightweight cooking pan sitting on a tripod above the flame.  No need to search for dry wood.  Still, once the matches got wet, even though they were waterproof, no fire was possible!  The menu in 1986 consisted of fresh hamburgers, dried peas and Deb potatoes, sandwiches and pikelets.  In 2016 we had fresh fruit, freeze-dried chicken and potatoes, along with packaged rice and salmon.  Luckily the taste of freeze-dried food is much better!

 

And then our sleeping accommodation.  In 1986 we wanted to go as lightweight as possible, so slept only under a tent fly.  In 2016 we carried a lightweight 2kg tent, including attached groundsheet and fly.  Lucky for us it didn’t rain back in the 80’s.  Ever.

In 1986 my log entry says:

As we descended we watched the mist blowing straight up from the bottom of the mountain.  About half way down the mountain we watched as the plateau revealed itself to us, the mist started to clear up before our eyes

This hike was the reverse, the weather was quite nice as we headed down Mt William, however, half-way up the other side we watched as the mist hid the mountains.

The significant event in 1986 was Halley’s comet, hence the black and white photos.  Marcelle lugged her big camera and tripod to the top of the mountain.  We took photos of the night sky.  I don’t have any of those images.  Michael and I took our phones and snapped many photos of the bush, the flowers and each other.  No need to have a film developed, instant delete, and much easier to manage.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years is my sheer delight and enjoyment with walking and hiking in the Grampians and sharing that with people who I love.


 

Read Part 1, Part 2 and look at the gallery of images

 

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Dec 22

Sunday 13 November 2016.

I woke up many times during the night to the wind, it was making so much noise.  There’s not much up here to stop it.  The driving rain came and went.  When it stopped the wind would continue to blow drops off the trees and so the fly of the tent was subjected to a steady stream of water falling.  In between all this I could hear the little creek burbling away.

I wanted to go pee.  How I wanted to.  The thought of gearing up to do so was way to scary.  So my bladder and I came to an understanding.

By 6.30 I had to get up.  I discovered that a lot of our gear in the tent was wet.

I climbed out to see the clouds whisking past me, every now and then a downpour would follow the clouds

It was quite magical.

The creek was up a lot.  Yesterday we could jump it to move around the campsite, that wasn’t so easy now.

I tramped through the wet undergrowth to get to the toilet.  The ‘flood waters’ had surrounded our little tent, and the tent itself was now in the middle of a huge puddle.

My hands are freezing.

I manage to make a cup of coffee, no easy task.  I enjoy sipping it, mostly because my fingers are wrapped around the hot plastic cup.  Subsequent attempts to light the stove fail.  The waterproof matches have gone to shit and even the cigarette lighter is so wet it won’t spark.

I spend the next hour and a half standing with my back to the wind, however, the rain continues to fall from all directions and there is no relief from it standing here in the clouds on top of the Major Mitchell Plateau.  Michael wakes and spends his time in the tent stowing our various gear into bags, stuffing bits into sacks.   I resort to running on the spot to keep warm.

We eat a carrot, apple and muesli bar for breakfast.

Somehow we manage to transfer our belongings from the tent to the backpacks, then we pull the tent down and shove it into its stuff-sack.

Ready to go by 9.00 a.m.

The clouds, mist, fog and rain are being pushed by a gale force wind.  With backpacks on we make a start.

Worm out for some sun

Parts of the tracks are on boardwalks, mostly however the tracks have become rivers of water.  I’m surprised at the amount of water about.  The worms have come out of the dirt for a swim too.  There are so many of them on the track, and they’re huge.

Still the wildflowers abound.

The reason for me being here is the view of the western plains from the eastern edge of the plateau.  Alas, I’m deprived of this.  Beyond the escarpment to my left is nothing but grey clouds.  A huge wall of what seems to be solid concrete all the way from the bottom of the mountain, up over our heads.    The rain turns to hail, hitting our faces and stinging.

We trudge along the boardwalk, the rocks and the sandy tracks with the water, gradually making our way towards the southern edge to begin our descent.

It’s very rocky and slippery in places, we take our time, being very careful about where we place our feet.  We arrive at a point where the path seems to stop, the drop to the next bit is quite steep and to big for us to navigate, so we go around.  This proves very difficult.  No track, big rocks, trees and undergrowth in the way.  We bash our way through to get back on the steep downward track.

Swamp wallaby.

Some two hours later we drop off the Major Mitchell Plateau and onto Stockyard Creek track.  The narrow mountain path in the closed bush opens into a grass plain with scattered trees.  The track broadens to a 4WD road.  We see a couple of swamp wallabies, the only wildlife we’d seen apart from insects and worms.

We arrive at a turning point, to the left Mafeking Picnic Ground, to the right Jimmy Creek.  6 kilometres to go.

The path now takes us up to a helipad, over the top and down into the bush.

Compared to the walk on the top this is fairly easy.  Still plenty of rain, down here, though the wind has died down.  I am now very wet.  Water has seeped into my boots and my toes squelch about in their socks.  My hands are in my gloves, keeping warm, but the gloves are soaking.  Every now and then I clench my fists and a stream of water falls onto the ground.  

 

 

 

 

 

In these mountains, away from the rest of the world, we see fields of wildflowers.  Carpets of woven colours in all their glory.  The visual of the track winding up the hill in front of us, the bush, flowers, mountains and the aroma of the flowers and the wet eucalyptus and wattle trees make this a magical experience.  The rain has somewhat abated and I’m happy to be out here in the Grampians.

 

It’s just on 2.30 p.m. we arrive at our rendezvous point and Merv and Naomi are there in the car, avoiding the weather.

I’m sore and wet and I’m very happy.


Read Part 1 of the story and Part 3 that looks at 30 years of change!

Be sure to check out Michael’s gallery of images.

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Dec 22

Friday, November 11, 2016

And so, here I find myself sitting in Halls Gap with my husband, Michael and our parents (in-laws).

Michael and I are about to embark upon a hike.  For the first time since 2002 I have opened my hike log and taken pen to paper.  This is the first overnight hike I’ve done in all those years.

We’re here to walk from the Mt William car park, down into Boundary Gap and then up the other side to the Major Mitchell Plateau.  We’ll camp at 1st Wannon Creek Camp and stop there the night.  Next morning we’ll head around the eastern edge of the plateau, drop off at Stockyard Track and down to Jimmy Creek.

I have my trusty backpack, my boots, food and water.

Ready to go.

I wanted to start at Kalymna Falls.  When I submitted the notification of intention to the National Parks, the ranger rang me and said I couldn’t.  It’d been washed out.

My heart sank.

Bomjima Picnic ground I suggested hopefully.  No, she said, it’s been closed for years.

More heart sinking.

I was a little worried that perhaps Boundary Gap was out of action.  Can I start from the Mt William car park?  Yes.

This is the launching place of so many adventures of my 20s.

Preparations have taken ages, new tent, water bottles, socks, pants, hats, stove.  My pack weighs 18kg.  Michael’s about the same.

Saturday.

Our morning started with the sound of a thousand cockatoos right outside our bedroom window.  Begging me to get out of my bed and ready to go!  There were so many other bird calls in there too, they were gently calling me to arise.  Unlike the cockatoos who seemed rather more insistent.

We all had breakfast in Halls Gap and by 9.30 a.m. we had made all the final adjustments to our back packs, including an emergency repair on Michael’s.

Dig that fancy footwork on the left 🙂

We drove to the Mt William car park.  I’m really quite excited as we drive up the windy road.  It wasn’t long before our bags are on our backs, kisses, handshakes and advice of taking care before we are heading off to start our adventure.

Slowly we start.  It’s just after 10.00 a.m., it’s overcast and a little windy.  On the top of the mountain it’s probably 10°c.  We take some time to get used to the back packs.  Pulling on the straps, make adjustments to the waist belts.  My calves are screaming at me, as they do, when I walk up here.  I remind myself that we have plenty of time and I slow down.  My legs thank me.

We got to the top of Mt William in good time, it’s only a 2km stroll on a made road.  We avoid the summit and turn off to the right before.  We’re now on a rocky 4WD road with plenty of low vegetation.   The flowers are magnificent.  Lots of small blooms, fantastic colours.

The walking was good and while being careful to put my feet in the right place, it was pretty easy.  Michael stopped to take photos along the way.  This first part of the walk is fairly short, so we had plenty of time to smell the roses, or the native flowers as it happens.  The road runs out and is replaced by the rocky path that will take us downwards.

 

By 12.15 p.m. we’d reached Boundary Gap.  It’s quite a steep walk down the side of Mt William to the gap.  I really love this little spot between the mountains.  As we walk off the top of the mountain the low shrubs give way to taller trees and less rocks.  Nestled between these two mountains, still high above sea-level, is this well-wooded area, tall thin trees, small ferns, flowers.  I’ve walked this track many times over the years, mostly with my hiking partner, Marcelle.  Michael has borrowed Marcelle’s Macpac backpack.  The same one that has travelled around the world and up and down hills.  I find myself in the same position that I’ve been in so many times with Marcelle.  Struggling along behind her, with a view of her pack.  I glance up and see the same view now, the blue backpack with the Macpac logo.  I’m transported back 25 years.  The vision is popped instantly when I see Michael’s furry face.

We stop for lunch on the valley floor.  Rice and salmon, both out of sealed foil bags.  I heat the rice on my new stove and then mixed in the salmon.  A little bland, but ok.

The next bit of our adventure beckons, from the floor of the valley, the only way out is up.  So up we went. I trace my eyes along the rocky track and can see the forest giving way again to more rocks and less trees.

Steep.

Then it began to blow a gale, followed by rain.  We stopped to put on our new over-pants and continued to head up.  The clouds hurled through the gap behind us, out past Mt William as if being ejected by a great force.  The rain set in with few breaks between squalls.

It was slow going now, the rocks are slippery as we scramble up and over them, before long though we are on the edge of the plateau.  We haul ourselves up and over huge boulders.  My memory is clearly faulty, I imagined this part of the walk to be much longer and harder.

Still, I love this.

Great wildflowers abound.  So delicate.

A howling wind is blowing the clouds that obscure my view of the world.  In what seems a blink of the eye we attain the top.  I can’t believe it was such a short distance.  The top is rocky, low trees and shrubs, plenty of grasses.  Still lots of colours from the wild flowers.

At around 2.00 p.m. we see the first sign of the camp ground, it’s the ventilation pipe from the loo!  The creek is flowing, so much water.  It’s the first time I’ve seen this.  Previously it was simply a trickle and I struggled to fill up drink bottles without a heap of silt.  Now we have an abundance of tannin stained water, and our water bottles are still full.  We need to jump the creek to get to the camping site that we’ve picked.  We quickly erect the tent and unroll our sleeping mats.  It’s difficult to keep everything dry. The mats are mostly in the tent, all they need is a couple of quick breaths to inflate them.  Michael is done in no time.  I grab the valve on mine and blow into it and there seems to be no inflation.  I keep blowing as if I’m filling the biggest balloon.  It takes a couple of minutes before I realise that I’m not having any impact and that there must be a hole.  An inspection of the mat reveals that the seam along the edge is no more and the innards exposed.  I may have muttered a bit.  There’s little else to do because of the rain so we climbed into the tent and slept for about 3 hours.

When we awoke, it was very very wet, still raining.  That didn’t stop us pulling our wet weather gear on and heading off for a walk in the rain, without our backpacks.  We saw lots of wildflowers with a rainbow of colours.

Back at camp half an hour later we had a cup of coffee and then prepared dinner.  Which wasn’t hard.  You cut the top off the foil bag and pour in boiling water to reconstitute our roast chicken, gravy and mashed potatoes.  Was pretty yummy, considering the freeze-dried nature of it.

It’s been raining the whole time since we arrived at the First Wannon Creek camping ground.  Nothing for it but to go to bed.

This is quite an elaborate dance that needs to be done.

The 2-person tent is only large enough for one person to sit up at a time .  The process begins by loosening your laces, then sitting with your bottom inside the tent, feet outside.  You take off shoes and socks, put shoes between the fly and the tent, put socks near sleeping bag to keep dry.  Slip off your coat, carefully, so as not to spray water around the tent.  Roll coat up and place at edge of tent, just on the inside.  Remove outer garments. pulling jumper over head without extending arms outside the tent, unbutton shirt and try to remove while keeping elbows bent, then slip into thermal top.  This will make your arms wave around in a confined space in a most unbecoming way.

Slip off your over-pants by raising hips slightly and trying to push them down your legs then roll up.  Try not to get water over anything.  Stow them near the raincoat.  Remove trousers by lying down, lifting hips and trying to get them over your knees without hitting the roof or having your legs protrude beyond the tent opening.  Then try and slip into your thermal pants by slipping both legs in and trying to stop the legs of the underwear from getting wet on the over-pants or coat.

Now you’re ready for bed.  Lie back on your sleeping back and search for the opening.  When found, bunch your knees up under your chin and attempt to slide your legs into the opening, work out you have to unzip the bag , do this by lying down on the bag again, locate the zip and undo.

Try to climb in again.  Twist your legs and body to make the bag straighten out.  Make sure you can get feet to appropriate corners.  Realise the bag is upside down as the hood now covers your face.

Lie down and spin the bag around to make sure the hood is on the sleeping mat.

Now, find the zip and try to pull it up.  It won’t work and will need you to contort your body to use your other hand to hold the bag material still while zipping up.  You body temperature will have risen, you’ll be puffing slightly and wishing this bag wasn’t quite so efficient in retaining body heat.

Oh, where’s my pillow?

Once settled lie really still as your partner commences the same dance.

I lay down on my flat sleeping mat that at least gave some protection from the cold wet ground underneath the tent, only to discover that my sleeping bag has a draft too!

It rained all night.  The wind rattled the tent and the rain pitter-pattered on the roof.


Read Part 2 of the story and Part 3 that looks at 30 years of change!

Be sure to check out Michael’s gallery of images.

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