Sunday, April 23, 2023

Letter to the AusCycling CEO

To whom it may concern. 

I have held a MTBA/Cycling Australia/AusCycling membership continuously since 2006 I believe. I have proudly represented my state and my country at cycling competitions worldwide. I recently declined to renew my membership primarily due to the UCI, and by governance, the AusCycling policy on biological men competing in women's competition.

In June 2022 the UCI claimed to be in the possession of new scientific evidence and reduced the testosterone threshold to 2.5 nmol/L and doubled the time that biological men must keep it at this level for international competition to 24 months. But no scientific study can compare the athletic performance of a man who has taken hormones for 2 years, to the fictional woman he 'would' have been had he been born with two X chromosomes. No study can do that with any accuracy, because one of those subjects has never existed. Women are not the sum total, nor should be defined by, their testosterone levels. Correspondingly, there is no testosterone level at which a man becomes a woman.

While I am not aware of specific transgender athletes currently competing, I believe continuing to make policy on the run when one presents, and performs 'too well', is cruel to the individual and needlessly makes questions of competition fairness personal. Until bodies such as the UCI and AusCycling stipulate a separate competition category for transgender athletes, I will not be forwarding any further funds in support of such bodies. I sincerely hope women's categories are afforded more respect in future, and that the UCI and its associates reconsider their position, as bodies such as FINA and the IAAF have done.


Jodie Willett.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Frenchman's Cap: Take 3

 Having poorly executed this hike twice before, we thought we'd nail it this time. It was also a good excuse to use up all the expired trail snacks which had accumulated over the years of missed adventures due to injury and COVID. It was forecast for sunny and 28 degrees and for once the BOM looked correct as we headed to Derwent Bridge on Thursday afternoon. After a delicious if slightly over priced Sri Lankan curry at the Derwent Wilderness Hotel (there's not exactly fierce competition for business out there) we slept in a carpark the back of the Subaru. If the Tesla station cameras were actually working I apologise to the reviewers who caught my 2am underwear run to the public toilets. 

Some would say 'out of date', I say 'vintage'. To be honest, this one tasted a little funky.

After a 5am wake up, short drive, coffee and breakfast at the trail head, we set off in the crisp morning. The thermal top only lasted until the first climb and it was t-shirt weather for the rest of the day. Although there are some exposed stretches, a good deal of the hike is under the forest canopy, surrounded by moss and tree ferns. It's one of the loveliest walks in Tasmania, especially along Lake Vera. 

Barron Pass

The one working-arm bandit and some scenery

From Tahune hut there was a lot of scrambling we didn't remember from our last rushed summer trip. It's not that extreme but was certainly complicated by the fact that John had surgery to repair his broken scaphoid only 7 days before and was still in a cast. It was pretty impressive him getting up and down with one arm. What a view from the summit! It couldn't have been a more perfect day with very little wind or cloud. 

Making friends at the top. Ollie left around the same time as us for his first Frenchman's.

What a view from the summit.

Obligatory couples selfie at the top.

The trip down reminded me that I'd had knee surgery 3 months ago and had done zero hiking since our Overland adventure in June. As a result, we can both barely walk 2 days afterwards. We got back to the car 11h 40m after we left which was faster than we thought and not too far off our run time. The track is quite technical so there's a lot of sections which are better fast-walked. We checked in to our room at the Tarraleah Estate and hobbled over to get a drink. Every step was an act of supreme will and I only saw the upstairs floor of our cute room once because walking back downstairs made me cry. The best thing about this hotel is they arrange a slow cooked meal for your room if you're going to be late getting in. Huge chunks of fall-apart beef Rendang, rice, and sticky date pudding for dessert. Just amazing. It also has Highland cows which we were told we could go in the paddock to see better. I wouldn't recommend it though as they are enormous and we had to back away calmly after they became a little too friendly (or aggressive, it's hard to tell with those horns). Is it an adventure if everything goes to plan? I don't know but this is such a fantastic hike so please check it out. There's a registration system to manage numbers but you only need to register if you're staying in the park overnight. If you're prepared to have a long day, you can certainly tick this off without camping.

A friend from the homeland?

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Overland Track - Tasmania June 2022

 My friends think the Overland Track is a bit easy. That's no reflection on people who do it as a personal challenge. I think it’s great people get out there, and push their own limits. But my friends do it as a day run. One has done it up, AND BACK, as a single push. I hang with a tough crowd which means usually needing an additional element of difficulty to an expedition. Being cold is my personal challenge. I am a tropics girl, 39 years, and 5 years in Tasmania has not changed that. I also have Raynaud’s which means my fingers stop working when they get cold. This is annoying when I’m at home, but is quite dangerous when I’m in the wilderness and can’t zip up a jacket or get food out of my pack. For me, this is a problem to be tackled and solved. It did not get solved on this trip, even with fleece-lined Bunnings gardening gloves and waterproof motorcycling over-mitts. I have some Gortex snow mitts on order. But for this trip John got to feed and dress me again. It’s good practice for when I get dementia, I guess. So here is a brief-ish account of our winter Overland Track.

Day 1 – Ronny Creek Carpark to Waterfall Valley Hut

After hitting the hot breakfast buffet at the Cradle Mountain Hotel, we took our bacon-lined stomachs on the bus to Ronny Creek, the official OT start. It was actively snowing and windy, but that did not deter the inappropriately attired day-trippers from their forays as far as Kitchen Hut. No wonder people die here. The snow got a little deep so we put on our snow shoes for about 3 minutes before realising there really wasn’t enough snow. We did not use them again for the rest of the trip. I declared that we must not pass Cradle Mountain without climbing to the top. Yes I know it’s snowing (hard) and the rocks are icy, and we eschewed snow spikes for useless snow shoes. Shoosh. Climb. We could barely see Cradle Mountain, there would be no view, but refer to the opening paragraph – it was the challenge. Well the challenge proved a little too death enticing so we aborted just short of the plateau. In my head the plateau was a field of soft snow, rainbows and unicorns. But it could have just been chasms of death so I guess I’ll find out on another trip.

The climb up Cradle Mountain

Cool snow patterns

I put my sunglasses on soon after, to keep the sideways hail from piercing my corneas. I did not use them again, due to lack of more hail, and because the winter sun is almost always at your back while traveling south on the OT. After 6 hours we fell into Waterfall Valley Hut, and a group of university students from the UTAS bush-walking club. I showed my age by saying something about how good it was to see ‘young people’ out enjoying the wilderness. We were introduced to a game called ‘Spoons’ which was played with a headtorch, battery, pot handle and a packet of Carbonara, due to the lack of spoons. It was quite physical, and required equal amounts of dexterity, lightning-fast reflexes, and aggression. So naturally John won. 

Wombat count: 1

Day 2 – Waterfall Valley to Pelion Hut

We rose to see the snow had stopped falling, it was completely still, and Barn Bluff was peeking through the cloud. Ten seconds after leaving the hut we saw our second wombat for the trip. With blue skies and the sun at our backs all we had to do was move forward and marvel at the scenery. Obviously, it is different to summer. But there’s a special thrill which comes with white-dusted peaks and squeaky snow underfoot.

Barn Bluff from Waterfall Valley hut

Some sun, finally!

This leg would normally be done over 2 days. But the going was good, despite the snow, and it’s achievable in one, for those who would like to do more side trips further along the track. We only stopped briefly at Windemere Hut so I could give John a shoulder massage as his pack was killing him. There were two revelations for me on this trip, in terms of equipment. The first was merino hiking underwear. Why did I not know about these? I bought two pairs of Macpac women’s merino boxers and they are literally the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn. I will only wear these for the rest of my life and they will bury me in them (hopefully this model, not this specific pair). The other revelation was walking poles. With my recalcitrant hands I could not be bothered with the faff of poles, but after a trip of using John’s nice carbon ones, I am sold. They prevented many expeditions to the ground on slippery terrain and came into their own while hopping between rocks and random bits of wood people have thrown into mud bogs. Less than 6 months after my knee exploded, they also took a lot of pressure off while descending and hopping down from things. But I still think I look a bit like a ‘Landstrider’ from The Dark Crystal while using them (old person reference). 

I fell in love with the north-west face of Mt Oakleigh, with the sun accentuating the dolerite columns and the curl of the south-west ridge. Unfortunately, all my photos are crap (cold hands, mobile phone quality) so I settled for the often-photographed southern aspect when we reached Pelion Hut. It was such a special track section surrounded by Mt Thetis, Pelion West and Mt Achilles, with Ossa just obscured by the cloud. The hut was surprisingly crowded with several groups walking the track south to north, which is not possible in summer. The hut has lots of rooms but only a small gas heater, which is temperamental to light and is only warm if you’re standing right beside it. The cage around it was full of people’s wet socks cooking away which gave the hut a special aroma. I had the worst night’s sleep with a chainsaw-snorer in the room beside us. Also, note: it is very antisocial to wear heavy hiking boots around the hut while everyone is still asleep. A pair of cheap slides could prevent a spork stabbing.

Wombat count: 3

Mt Oakleigh from Pelion Hut

Looking down the Forth Valley

Day 3 – Pelion Hut to Bert Nichols Hut

This was known as ‘the wet miserable day’. It was raining lightly, all the shrubs were wet and I was grateful for my head to toe waterproofs. Most of my dampness was generated on the climbs in said non-breathable waterproofs. The pit zips on my jacket worked somewhat, but it was essentially a choice of which direction I wanted to the moisture to come from. We decided to climb Mt Pelion East as it was an easier climb than most, even in the winter. Starting out on FRP grating it quickly turned to snow then to a river of ice on the track proper. A lot of off-track walking was required to not slide back down the mountain. Some sketchy scrambling at the top but we finally summited a peak! (No view). I am so pleased at how less afraid of heights I’ve become in Tasmania through sheer exposure and peer pressure. I could barely stand on a kitchen table without vertigo previously so scrambling exposed rock is some small progress.

I was feeling less pleased when we returned to our packs and found that the currawongs had stolen all my remaining trail mix and banana chips. These thieving birds have learned how to work zips so taking all your food with you in a day pack (or buried deep in your bag) is highly recommended. I hope they choked on a pecan. We did a side trip to see the waterfalls before the climb to Du Cane Gap. They were quite impressive, especially D’Alton Falls, and are well worth seeing if there has been decent rain.

D'Alton Falls

We descended from Du Cane Gap, past the site of our infamous scramble down Falling Mountain. Bert Nichols hut is enormous, with a heater that is even more difficult to operate (hot tip: you can’t actually see the pilot light, so just assume it’s lit and proceed with the instructions) but as there were only three of us there, it left ample room for socks and other garments to dry. A first year UTAS medical student, Wade, was part of the university walking group on Day 1 but was fast hiking to make it back to guide a rafting trip down the Picton River. We were at all the same huts during the trip so he got to hear many of our war stories, which were mostly lessons in what not to do and where not to go. I hope he took notes.

Day 4 – Bert Nichols Hut to Echo Point

Reasonably good weather in the morning meant a cracking photo of the Acropolis and Mt Geryon as we left the hut. The track lost some of its appeal from there as we left the spectacular mountains and entered less interesting track, with more mud bogs. On long stretches we fall into our regular routine. John points out relevant geographical features and historical landmarks, while I pepper him with burning questions like “When koalas fart, do you think it smells like eucalyptus?”. By now we were already planning the first thing we were going to eat when the hike was finished and were looking forward to our warm home and comfortable bed. As John was swearing at the difficulty of getting the coal fire going inside Echo Point hut (be very thankful we no longer have to use coal fires to stay warm – what a faff!), we worked out that neither of us actually wanted to stay in the hut. Both of us were just pretending to want to because we thought the other person wanted to stay there, and was taken with its ‘rustic charm’ (read: run down) or something. But the fire was finally kicking off, our shoes were drying for the first time in 4 days so we settled in. John started reading the walkers log while I tended the needy fire. Literally every story mentioned the hut rats and how they enjoyed nibbling food, sleeping mats, and the occasional face. We promptly set up our tent outside. It was the quaintest hut we never stayed in. 

The Acropolis above the trees

The Scotsman knows his way around a coal fire

Echo point hut has the best location

Love a mossy log

Day 5 – Echo Point to Lake St Clair

Best night’s sleep ever. Face, unnibbled. I’m so delighted with our new tent and that we got to use it, finally. It’s great to have my own side entry and annex to facilitate the inevitable 2am wee without climbing over John. It was only a 2 hour walk to Lake St Clair but it felt like an eon stood between me and a burger-with-the-lot at the Hungry Wombat. Most people don’t do this part of the track, opting to get the boat from Narcissus Hut. But John loves it for some reason, and I guess the Myrtle forest has it’s charms, although the multitude of huge fallen trees over the track detracted from them. Have you really done the OT if you don’t walk right to the end? Obligatory photos by the official sign done, we indulged in the complementary hot showers at the visitor centre and the fresh clothes from our car we’d parked there 6 days before. 

The end!

Burger inhaled it was a little jarring being back in ‘civilisation’. I feel confused about which world constitutes ‘real life’ after these types of adventures. It usually ends up in a compromise of gratitude for soft beds, hot showers and lattes, and a yearning to pare back the superfluous trappings of daily life, and to escape from the ‘noise’ of constant 'information'. On a recent podcast the interviewee used the difference between Western and Eastern art as a metaphor for different approaches to life. In Western art we start with a blank canvas and fill it with everything which constitutes the masterpiece. In Eastern art, we start with a block of jade, and carve away everything which is not the masterpiece. Some carving may be required.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Precipitous Bluff Circuit

 After running the track from Lune River to Mount La Perouse earlier this year with some mates, a wild plan was hatched to do the full circuit going over Pindar’s Peak, Precipitous Bluff, down New River Lagoon then along the South Coast track to Cockle Creek. Since the 100-mile race we'd been training for fell victim to COVID, the rest of the group decided to do it as a continuous run. That sounded batshit crazy to me, but John and I decided to do it as a fast hike instead. We parked one car at the end and drove the second to the rudimentary camp site at Lune River. We began walking at 6am the following day which turned out to be an absolute pearl. Trekking along Moonlight Ridge with Mt La Perouse and the Cockscomb framed by cloudless blue sky I thought "good choice" and was full of confidence in reaching at least the base, if not the summit, of PB by sundown. 

We haven't had many blue sky days on our adventures.

Despite being in absolute wilderness we managed to bump into a group of three consisting of John's old hospital work mate Mike Rose and two female companions. Mike is in his 60s but is somewhat of a legend of doing hard shit. They were doing the same circuit but taking 8 days instead of 2 and a bit. He's done the circuit about 10 times including twice with a side trip to Vanishing Falls which involves an extra 2 days of 'proper' scrub bashing. I thought I detected a hint of scepticism in his response when we told him of our target for the day but didn't pay it as much attention as I should have. 

The vastness of the landscape. PB in the background.

On many maps the trail ends at Pindar's Peak as this is most commonly done as a return walk. It was clear that the full circuit was the road less travelled as soon as we were head height in dense scoparia having the skin scraped from any exposed flesh. The track 'has several false leads' we read in Chapman's guidebook AFTER we had already taken several and started bashing through the impenetrable scrub. John climbed a dead tree and decided we needed to be about 10 metres to the right of where we were, it was just impossible to get there. After about half an hour of pushing, scratching, crawling, and swearing we finally found the trail again and returned to the moderate torture of following it. Making excruciatingly slow progress, it was getting dark much earlier than expected due to the gathering storm clouds. We were in a white out by the time we hit Wylly plateau, we'd been hiking for 12 hours, and it seemed prudent to stay put for the night. In freezing, howling wind we erected the tent, boiled some water and ate dinner wrapped in our sleeping bags. Being warm, dry, and exhausted, sleep came quickly. Until we felt water dripping on our faces.

We had a tent malfunction in the respect that, in my opinion, a tent's main role is to keep water out, and ours failed to do this. I slept with my waterproof jacket over my face and torso hoping to keep mostly dry. While our sleeping bags weren't totally saturated, we knew they would be after being rolled and stowed in our dry bags for the wet day ahead. The tent had pools of water on the floor and all we could do was shake it out before packing it in the middle of another squall at 4.30am the next morning. We put wet clothes back on and I was shivering violently for the first hour of walking. Eventually the rain and hail stopped, and the effort of continued scrub bashing warmed me. On the downside the scrub was now also wet, and while my jacket kept my upper body warm and mostly dry, my hiking shorts were cold, soaked and almost falling down with the weight. On day one we tried to avoid mud puddles altogether. On day two we tried to avoid stepping into mud deeper than our knee. We failed. My weakness is being cold, so I spent a tense day imagining another night in wet gear. We flirted with the idea of simply hiking non-stop to the end. But with even relatively light packs the going would be slow and we imagined we had at least another 24 hours in front of us. Finally making it to the base of PB, the skies, and track, cleared somewhat. The climb to the saddle was technical but has some interesting rock work and stairs which had been inserted by the trail builders. 

Chimney climbing. One of the few technical sections.

At the saddle we agreed that neither of us were interested in the 1.5-hour side trip to summit PB in average conditions, being already so far behind schedule. We opted to descend on the steep, exposed track, which involved a bit of down climbing but was relatively straightforward. The track became less clear traversing under the PB cliffs before turning sharply downhill toward New River Lagoon. From this point we followed irregularly spaced surveyors’ tape, many pieces of which had fallen or been obscured. It was more slow-going as tape was lost and route options carefully considered, since dropping the wrong way down the steep terrain would involve a quad burning climb back up. 

The descent from PB is exposed but absolutely spectacular.

There was a lot of climbing over and under trees and very steep descending, but we arrived at the lagoon just on low tide. This was fortunate as the next 2 hours were spent walking knee-deep in the lagoon water as the shoreline is far too thick with scrub to skirt around it. The water was warm, and the sun was at our backs, so we mostly enjoyed it except for the sunburned thighs after doing the wading in our underwear. We couldn't find the sand bar to cross two deeper creeks but found some fallen trees a short way upstream which could be crossed using some gymnastics moves. 

Doing my best beam routine to stay dry.

At the end of the lagoon, we reached Prion Beach and used the blazing sunshine to unpack all our gear and dry everything out. We made some tea and coffee and enjoyed our first actual toilet for a couple of days at the nearby campsite. It was at this point that I got that gratitude for the simple things that I put myself through these ordeals to find. Dry shorts are awesome. A dry sleeping bag is awesome. The sun is awesome. Toilets are awesome. 

Looking back at PB from New River Lagoon.

After a very pleasant hike from the lagoon, we arrived at Surprise Bay at 9pm as the sun set. The slippery rocks and high tide at Granite Beach beyond didn't sound like something we should do in the dark after 14 hours of hard walking. We enjoyed the dry weather while eating our freeze-dried meals outside in relative comfort. Things were looking up. Then the rain came again. Stowing as much of our gear undercover as the small tent annex would allow, we settled in for another damp night. I awoke at 4.50am and saw John holding the tent roof up with his finger so no water would drip on his beloved. That's devotion. I said our alarm didn't go off until 5am and went back to sleep leaving him to support the tent a little longer. 

Can hold up a tent.

The weather was awful most of the next day with hailstorms and bitterly cold wind. While the track was clearer, much of it was deep with mud with the potential to go in up to the thigh if a route wasn't carefully selected. It was mentally and physically taxing trying to join the dots and jump from log to rock to solid ground, taking a route that was as much sideways as it was forward towards the destination. The beaches in-between had a special quality to them. Not only for their rugged beauty, but, given the pounding surf, the knowledge that the only way to see them was through suffering on foot. Granite Beach had an extra treat as the track involves climbing the cliffs at the end beside a rushing waterfall. Between Granite Beach and South Cape Bay was especially horrific with mud and our tempers frayed. This wasn't helped by the frequency of which we hit our heads on low tree branches as we were too focussed on the ground to see them. On several occasions we both drove our skulls into thick tree limbs hard enough to be sporting some good-sized eggs and cuts. I thought John had given himself concussion after a heavy knock sent him sliding off the side of the track.

Once past South Cape Bay we started to see 'normal' people hiking in for the day. They were clean, smiling and they smelled good. It was an indicator that civilisation was very close. The sun came out again as if the track gods were trying to make amends for the ordeal we had been through. We will not forget though, and the phrase 'never again' was frequently uttered. We reached the car which was now in the middle of a pool of water after the heavy rains. One more muddy puddle to get through - of course. Cooking up some soup before we hit the road, we chatted to two guys who had finished hiking the full South Coast Track over 7 days. They had enjoyed it, despite the mud and hilly terrain. They had even taken books to read which is a classic sign that moving fast, and light is not a priority. Why had we had such different experiences? One traveller answered that the difference between a holiday and a 'mission' may be the time allotted. By compressing pleasant week-long walks into a couple of days, we had been continually doing 'missions'. At the same time, I wonder if the 'mission' aspect isn't the thing I crave about outdoor adventures. What does one do when the daily hike is finished by 1pm, it's raining, and you're confined to your tent? Maybe the walk-eat-sleep-repeat aspect is what I find character-building? Whatever the answer to these questions, one thing is certain - we need a new tent. Falling in the door at home, we still had a lot of unpacking and cleaning to do. I finally got in the shower and marvelled at the fact that hot water comes out of a hole in the wall. Hot showers are awesome. My bed is awesome.

This guy is pretty awesome too.


* A clear weather window would improve this track immensely. As would actual track marking. Some good navigation skills are a must. Australian Topographic Maps app can show your location on the track. Remember to download the maps to your phone before you head off, so you don’t have to rely on signal at the top of a mountain like we did.

* Pack rubber gardening gloves for the bush-bashing through the scoparia. And ensure your legs are completely covered by sturdy pants and gaiters. We’re sporting some very scratched knees. The long-sleeve Mountain Designs button up shirts performed very well in keeping us cool, warm and protecting arms from the bush.

* Progress through many sections is slow – about 1 km per hour through the thick scrub and about 3 kms per hour even on formed track. The track winds a lot so the distance covered can be greater than it appears on the map.

* Fill up with water at every opportunity. Fresh water is hard to find after Wylly plateau and the colour is questionable so sterilisation tabs are a must.

* Do not expect to have type 1 fun. This is definitely type 2 to 3 fun as in, not fun at all. But it will be a good reference point in future to rate just how bad things are in comparison.

Precipitous Bluff. Photo credit: Matt Glastonbury (with a helicopter and proper camera I assume).

Monday, February 15, 2021

Lake Rhona - Take 2

 The last time we attempted the Lake Rhona track, the log bridge, as described in all the blogs, was 2 feet under a raging torrent. After seriously considering jumping in upstream and swimming like hell, commonsense prevailed and we retreated back to the car. This year we obsessed over rainfall gauges, Tasmanian Hydro water flows and the BOM river level readings before heading out to try again. We took the Gittus Road detour to avoid Tiger Road, assuming the bridge was still down. However we need not have done this as we checked it out on the way home and they've installed a brand spanking new one. The trail head was rammed with cars and we counted 21 hikers would be sharing Lake Rhona with us on Saturday night. So much for seclusion.

The first 20 minutes of the walk is through pleasant forest before reaching the Gordon River. With the river at ankle deep upstream the large tree bridge was quite easy and dry. It would take a biblical rainfall to go under that weekend so my fears of being stuck on the other side were eased. Hiking on the Rasselas track isn't one of the most scenic of walks in Tasmania. The bush fires ripped through in 2019 leaving little cover, lots of button grass and plenty of mud underfoot. The Denison Range provides a nice handle to trek along with the destination hidden behind the foothills. My brand new Salmon S-Labs were well and truly christened with no option but the trek through mid-calf deep mud at times. I wonder how many extra miles we do trying to avoid water puddles, vainly attempting to keep dry feet. I'd be interested in some proper water-proof hiking boots to try a more direct route. Although I'd say waders wouldn't be out of place on some of our adventures. 

Finally reaching some interesting track we started the 400m climb to the lake. It's not particularly technical although the mud keeps things exciting. Signs urge walkers to stay on the track to prevent erosion. But it's difficult when the track has become a narrow crevasse in the ground, littered with rocks and the soft grass right BESIDE the track is so inviting. It must be a monumental effort to keep tracks maintained in this harsh landscape. Parks seem to be overwhelmed with the job so there's a lot of potential for private contractors so fill this void. Even the boot-wash was out of detergent which isn't great for the spread of pests like phytophthora. 

Old Farm equipment at Gordonvale where Ernie Bond lived for 17 years

I was a little disappointed up to this point. The route was ho-hum, the weather gloomy and at just over 3 hours it wasn't 'extreme' enough to be considered a challenge. But as we walked into the amphitheatre which surrounded the lake it all became clear. This was definitely a 'destination' hike. A pristine beach in the mountains surrounded by typical Tasmanian folded mountains, including two Abels, over 1200 metres high. Despite the crowd there was still plenty of room and privacy. The great thing about the remoteness, is that the people who make the effort to trek in have a true appreciation for their surroundings, and for other like-minded people. We thought about climbing up on the ridge and doing the traverse on the mountains above the lake. But the weather was supposed to be better on Sunday so we opted to 'chill'. Which was odd because we're normally setting up our tent in the dark, while exhausted after trekking for most of the day. 

We struck up a conversation with three lads in tents next to us. Two had finished year 12 last year and all were completing apprenticeships or TAFE. They had done this hike several times and it's become a bit of a tradition with them. It was so heartening to see young people enjoying the wilderness and having fun with challenges. They told us about the Anaspides - mountain shrimp - we'd seen in the lake. They remarked how small our packs were and how we must be able to move quite fast. We were amazed they managed to cart a  Big W Hinterland double air mattress up to lake Rhona! And while we were talking they pulled out zucchinis, mushrooms and capsicums to chop up for a gourmet dinner. Not the lightest of 'camping food' but it looked, and smelled really good! We spent 5 minutes preparing our couscous and beef jerky. I don't think we'll get any nutrient deficiencies from one night off the vegetables. 

With nothing to do I had a nap at 7.30. Woke up for a bit and then went to sleep at 9. I guess this is what my body clock is really like without screens to distract it. Sleeping at 900 metres was still quite cold, even in summer and a wind kicked up over night. By morning it was perfectly still though. Sticking our heads out of the tent before dawn we waited for sunrise. Unfortunately for those trying to capture the mountains, the fog rolled in shortly before. It was eerie and beautiful though and cleared enough to capture the first rays of sunlight on the surrounding peaks. Sunrise at Lake Rhona is something everyone should do once. It is absolutely magical. 

Eerily beautiful as the fog rolls into the lake

After breakfast we headed up for the traverse. The fog was still thick and we were in a white-out at the top. Navigation was tricky at one point but the track was reasonably clear after that. We didn't get a real view of the lake below until the final stretch before descending back to the beach. It took about 2 hours and was fairly easy walking after the initial hike up. Those who had started packing as we headed up were just leaving as we got back to camp. One advantage of traveling light is there is less 'stuff' to pack up. I did envy the small luxuries of the ones with oversized packs though. Apres hike footwear and warmer clothes would be worth the weight sacrifice. After taking our muddy shoes off and getting into clean socks for sleeping we were restricted to our tent unless we were willing to go barefoot on the cold pointy sand. I find some people's choice of 'essential equipment' puzzling though. You're hiking into a remote wilderness for one night and you absolutely have to have dry shampoo spray and a hair brush? Really? I don't even shower for 3 days so my hair is the least of my worries. 

Two knobs

Very lucky to get this shot. The lake from the surround mountains

We got a lot of questions about how much our packs weigh (we don't know, but we'll weigh them next time) and what gear we were using. We've saved a bit by spending money on good quality, light-weight tents, sleeping quilts and mats. But mostly we just figure out what we can live without and are prepared to be a bit more uncomfortable than most people. The reward is being able to squeeze a 3 to 4 day hike into a weekend, so we can have a lot more adventures over the year. 

The sun was shining over Lake Rhona as we left but the surrounds were shrouded in grey. It was very tempting to stay another night but it was work for both of us on Monday. The couple who'd had a swim the day before were at it again. I assumed they were Swedes or Russians who were into that sort of thing. The lake was freezing and this girl was in a bikini. Not just a quick in and out either. Loitering in the water. It just wasn't right. But three hours later, at the Gordon River crossing, the sun was out and we went for a dip to wash some of the camping smell off. John managed to pick up a couple of leeches which were very well fed by the time we drove home. Ah, the great outdoors. 

I think we're obliged to name it when it's this big??

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Du Cane Range traverse

 A couple head out into the Tasmania wilderness armed with nothing but a map and a sense of adventure. Then they leave the map in the car. Hilarity ensures. Wait, no, not hilarity…

We had this realisation 15 minutes after leaving the boat at the north end of Lake St Clair. John has a photographic memory for maps, and the directions for this route were quite sketchy at best so we thought it wouldn’t make much difference. In retrospect we imagined explaining this to the SES: 

“We didn’t think we’d need a map because we’d read this blog on the internet…”

View from the Labyrinth. 

Our mission was the Du Cane Range circuit, heading from Lake St Clair, up from Pine Valley, through the Labyrinth, up Mt. Massif, and along Falling Mountain. That sounds like a quest to throw a ring into the fires of Mordor and it felt like the Director’s cut. It went on, and on, and on. As usual, the BOM forecast was mis-timed and Friday night’s bad weather arrived on Saturday. Apart from some snow squalls the weather had been mostly good heading through the boggy Labyrinth. The climb along Big Gun pass was our first experience of the notorious boulder fields of this route. I’m not averse to some boulder hopping but rocks that move and leg breaking gaps take it to a whole new level. Some smaller rocks I was standing on started an avalanche and I fell forward, hitting my head on a rock. I was a bit shaken but everything seemed OK. It brought home how easily things can go very wrong out here. 

You have to earn this view

After a very physical 7.5 hours we reached the Mount Massif plateau. With the weather closing in and hours of boulder fields ahead of us, we quickly pitched the tent beside a puddle of water on the exposed moon-like surface. It was impossibly good timing as it started dumping with snow minutes later as we spent the next 15 hours inside sheltering. While we weren’t cold, with our -8 rated down quilts and sleeping mats, the 50kph+ wind gusts drove snow under the tent fly and ice crystals through the inner mesh. Every 5 minutes we heard the roar coming up the mountain and got an ‘ice facial’ as a wind blast came through. Sleep was scarce but eventually I ventured out to make some ‘yellow snow’. Melting snow for hot water was too fuel-intensive so I broke the ice on the nearby puddle with my spork and filled a bottle with some brackish fluid for porridge and beverages. 

This all fell about 5 minutes after we pitched the tent

Cozy and warm.

We gathered as much as we could before a warp speed tent packing operation to avoid freezing before we could get moving. The human body, on the move, generates an incredible amount of heat. While we kept moving, we were warm enough and the challenge was to remove layers to stop sweating and getting base layers wet. The route we were following (from the internet!) had groups taking a whole day to cover the next section to the Overland track. We couldn’t see how, as the distance was a fraction of the day before. We now know. The cairns became intermittent, were widely spaced and, in the snow, it was difficult to tell a cairn from a random pile of rocks. Luckily, the thick fog of the morning had lifted so we could see where we needed to get to. It was just less clear exactly how we could get there. Too many times we ended up on large, icy boulders, pulling some Alex Honnold ‘free solo’ moves to get across the top of the ridge, before realising we had to backtrack lower and skirt around the mountain. The distance between Mount Massif and Falling mountain is short but it is utter, utter shite, particularly in snow.  At times like this I think about our mate Domhnall. He’s a doctor on the rescue helicopter and experienced in being prepared for Tasmanian wilderness. What would Domhnall have right how? Crampons; an EPIRB; an ice axe; a spare ice axe in case he lost the first one. What do I have? I have plastic bags on my feet.

Who needs waterproof socks? Good for making yellow snow at 3am. Thanks Phil Exton for your brilliant idea!

The route description had us going to the southern most point of Falling Mountain, with a bit of down climbing to a faint track to Du Cane Pass. What we actually did was almost fall to our deaths several times before realising there were only cliffs at the point, and have several domestic arguments before both agreeing we had to get off the mountain using an alternative route into the scrub. This followed the reasoning that the scrub would suck, but people don’t generally die in scrub as much as they do on exposed mountain tops in the snow. Traversing along the east side of the mountain, the going got easier once we reached the line where the vegetation started. We owe our lives to the integrity of myrtle and pineapple grass which allowed us to down climb rock faces which would have been impossible otherwise. We’ve always wondered how hard it was for the first trail breakers in the Tasmanian scrub. Ridiculously hard, apparently. We fought our way through, while the scrub fought back. When we emerged, John only had one gaitor after the bush had literally unzipped it from his leg. 

'The crack'. Well one of many.

This guy looked friendly

Finally, back on the Overland Track, we were still a long way from the car. We had no food for a second night, wet sleeping bags and John’s airbed had sprung a leak. We didn’t have many options except to push on through the night and walk the 26km back to Lake St Clair. Part of our trip had been to support a mate who was running from Penguin to Lake St Clair. Unfortunately, he’d had to cancel the Overland Track leg due to heavy snow in the morning. But fortunately, for us, we had his post-run food bags in the car and what he’d packed was a lot more appealing that what we’d been eating for 2 days. 

Celebration Chorizo for making it to the top of Falling Mountain. We had popped our Spanish sausage prematurely.

What to say about this route? Yeah, wow. Approach with extreme caution. This falls between Type 2 and 3 fun depending on the day, conditions, company and veracity of one’s memory. Knowing the parts to avoid and taking a 4-season tent would have improved the experience. As would a more realistic time frame. Putting things in perspective, we’d do a hike in one day that others would take 3 days to do. But even given that, I’d allow 3 days for this route with an additional overnight at Bert Nichols Hut. Things like more food and heavier tents increase pack weight and slow progress. So work out exactly how much discomfort you’re willing to bear and pack accordingly. Me – I like the discomfort. And the fear. It lets me know I’m alive. One moment I'm thinking about someone being a jerk on Facebook. The nex,t I'm solely focused on where my feet and hands are, to keep me on a rock.  It centres me in the moment.  But I guess it's not for everyone. 

This is the 'money shot'

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The North East Highland Way - Mt Victoria to Pyengana, Tasmania

This route is not the 'road less travelled' it is almost never travelled if the directions and markings are any indication. We were armed with an 8 year old blog of instructions by a 'Friends of the Blue Tier' member, some additional notes from 2015 listing updates to the track and ListMap downloads of the area. Let's say that a few things have changed, trees fallen and bracken grown over in that time to make way-finding a challenge. And ListMap, despite being a government mapping authority (or perhaps because it was) failed to list many roads and tracks which were present, and listed some on the map clearly in the wrong place. Good navigation abilities are required and we used the compass more than once. That said, the many detours we took could be avoided with the tips towards the end of this blog. We're hoping to get back to the route soon and tape sections more clearly to increase accessibility. Even then - this ain't no Three Capes.

It's originally listed as a 7-day hike but we planned for 3 and ended up doing it within 48 hours despite getting lost a few times. In retrospect, 3 days allows better appreciation of the area as we did a lot of night hiking over some of the more highly rated areas such as the Crystal Hill and Big Trees sections. After camping the night on the South Esk river outside Mathinna, we parked the car in a 'dogging spot' off the road between Mathinna and Ringarooma at the start of the Mount Victoria walking track. A short way into the track the pink tape started which became the difference between being on 'the route' and being hopelessly lost. It was a big leap of faith but, considering we had no idea how we'd get back to the car from the finish point at Halls Falls at Pyengana, that became the theme of the adventure. Crossing the lower slopes of Mount Victoria we dropped into deep, green rainforest, moss carpets, mist and magical beams of sunlight. Popping out at the Ralphs Falls car-park we had a laugh at the sign above the current cemented in gas BBQ asking for information regarding the theft of the last BBQ. We were a little more worried about where we'd parked the car then. This section and the following one heading past the falls and into Cash's Gorge would make an excellent day walk in themselves. Anyone with half a moss-obsession (#mossboner) would be stunned at the sphagnum and white spongy moss carpets underneath them. The white moss is VERY slippery!

Traversing the Rattler Range we missed most of the perfect weather in the forest but popped out 15 minutes before sunset to boil up some tea and coffee. We decided to push on in the dark taking the descent from the Rattler Hill summit with the vague directions of 'head north'. This ended with a half hour of stumbling around in the thick scrub and piecing together a route of long forgotten fire trails. 8 hours of walking later we pitched the tent at Ma Mon Chin Lake at a 'picnic spot' that hasn't been used in about 20 years. I then experienced my second night freezing using my new sleeping quilt. The idea was sound, giving me flexibility to get my feet out for temperature control. However the sleep mats we used were not insulated enough for anything other than a full sleeping bag. Apparently the Thermarest Neoair XTherm is the business so I've ordered that for next time.

Ralph's Falls

It took a while to get going the next day. Warm porridge and hot coffee helped wash down the ibuprofen. Carrying a 15 kilogram pack while hiking up hills must be the ultimate glute strengthener. It had rained a little overnight and putting on wet shoes is no fun. I was grumpy. Heading up Weld Hill for stage 4 of the route we lost an hour after missing the turn. The fire road looked to be going the wrong direction, but ended up right despite the instructions and the map indicating something very different. After three pieces of pink tape there were no more hints so we navigated onto the fibre optic cable line and eventually dropped down to the road 5 ks from Weldborough. After a short walk along, more pink tape took us down to Harridge Falls, a hidden local gem easily accessed by car for people with more sense. Finding no sign of the alleged track beside the river we walked on the road back to Weldborough to the start of the next leg. We expected the Weldborough pub to still be closed but John needed to investigate the amenities and it would be a good place to put the feet up. It's generally on Day 2 of adventures I discover the 'why' of the suffering. Gratitude for simple things.

Forest porn

After a prolonged period of being cold, sleep deprived and having wet feet, the sun came out. Walking on the road to Weldborough with the warmth on my back it was as if I was feeling the sun for the first time. Everything was new and amazing again. Other amazing things were declared:

When I packed arm warmers by mistake but they turned out to be the best gloves ever
Dry socks
Urinating on moss to minimise splash back
A log to put a foot on to avoid bending over to tie shoes
Bowel movements
Sneezing without covering my mouth and nose

We were getting ready to leave the pub when suddenly Satan appeared to tempt us. He was disguised as John Brakey, proprietor of Weldborough and Branxholm Hotels, and he offered us a room and a warm fire as an alternative to the hours of trekking and, no doubt, sleepless night in a cold tent. A 'couples conference' ensued and we decided, despite the kind offer, that we'd continue with our foolishness. It was interesting, after reveling in the simplicity, suffering and new appreciation of things, how easily we could have given that up for some immediate comfort. It struck me how often we must do this every day in our 'normal lives'. How much more happiness and gratitude are we missing by being distracted by continuous comfort and avoiding discomfort? We did accept a second kind offer of a lift back to Branxholm from Pyengana at the end of our adventure. We now had a schedule and had to be finished by 12pm the following day.

After keeping dry socks all morning we were up to our knees in creek crossings on the Old Blue Tier climb. Well, John was up to his knees while I had to take my pants off. Reaching the top just after sunset we settled in to some more night time navigation with success equal to the previous night. After more vague instructions and over-shooting the track we found the old aerial haulage route and headed down. Old mine shafts were taped off on either side of us with plenty of 'Danger' signs and mining machinery relics littered the trail. The instructions said to head down then West but neglected to say at what point we turned. After following tape going in the right direction we were bush bashing through bracken and well off track. All the adventure books say, at this point, the best strategy is to make a brew and think. We cooked up some couscous in the forest on the steep slope, threw a bothy bag over us for warmth, and thought. We then almost set the bothy bag on fire while trying to boil water for our brews. Kicking back, quite warm, content and well fed we thought that staying here wouldn't be too bad if we had to wait until morning to get out. Then we saw the leeches climbing up the bothy bag. Exit, stage left.

Eventually we retraced our steps, ignored the directions and followed more tape straight down the mountain, miraculously popping out at the right spot on the fire trail. After those frustrating hours it felt like a small victory to still be on the route after seriously contemplating skipping the whole section via the road. Back into more tape on Crystal Hill down the Groom River which was quite well marked and looked like a regular tourist haunt. After crossing the river the tape dried up and we eventually elected to just head up-hill in southerly-ish direction and hoped to hit the Blue Tier Giant Walk, which passes the widest living tree in Australia. After reading some blogs, post-adventure, there is apparently a very clear path from the Giant Walk down to the Groom River that we were unable to find close to midnight. After 14 hours of hiking we finally pitched up on Lehner's Ridge Road under a perfectly clear sky and full moon. All leeches were left outside.

Here leechy, leechy...

The alarm was a rude awakening but we didn't want to miss our ride. After 5 ks of fireroad we bashed around in the scrub for a bit more trying to find the track along the Groom River to Halls Falls. Having lost most of our patience and running out of time we got back out on Anchor Road and walked the long way around to Halls Falls making the end of the route within 48 hours with 3 minutes to spare. Curiosity got the better of us and we looked for the trail along the river from the Falls end. There was pink tape waving defiantly at us. Argh! We know it's out there and we'll be back to find it! As we gathered our packs in the carpark John Brakey drove up the dirt road as promised.

After fouling his car with our unwashedness (even the dog was appalled), we savoured a hot shower at the Branxholm hotel. Real food got added to our list of amazing things - a burger with the lot at the General Store in Derby and the Sunday pork roast at the pub. All washed down with many beverages with the locals until the wee hours (OK, it was all over at 8pm but it FELT late). And then bed. Beds that are warm, and that you don't have to inflate are so amazing.

The rest of Sunday was spent checking out the Little Blue Lake at South Mount Cameron and strolling gently around Lake Derby. Sadly the new floating sauna is not yet operational. This hike is a cracker and we saw so many things we never would have known about. Next time you're headed to Derby and Weldborough, it's worth doing some digging on the local treasures and history.

Little Blue Lake. Old tin mine. Looks nice but very acidic and polluted. 

A massive thank you to John Brakey for literally being our knight in shining armour. You really made our adventure. We encourage everyone to support local business and people like John who are getting back on their feet after a rough few months. The Branxholm Hotel is open for business and the Weldborough Hotel is scheduled for a September opening and we hope to see the visitors flocking back then.

Finished!! A proper adventure
Route tips:

1. Aerial photos from Google Maps are better than ListMap alone. Particularly on the route from the Trig point on Rattler Hill. There MAY be a taped track through the Star of Peace forest, but if you follow the Ma Looey road down it will put you out at the right route to hit Mt Paris Dam Rd.

2. Take a hiking partner and a PLB. There is no phone signal and no one will ever find you if you get into trouble.

3. Trust the tape on Weld Hill. As you're climbing (well before the official summit) the first fireroad with tape looks wrong but keep following it down. Look out for the start of the optic fibre line on your right and hop on it ASAP. Follow the road and drop down to the falls when you see pink tape again.

4. Do not go to the summit of Australia Hill. Follow the Summit Mine sign, toward the aerial haulway. Once descending for some time, tape will lead you to the right. Follow it but KEEP LOOKING for tape which starts going down hill again soon after. If you're up to your armpits in ferns, you've gone too far.

5. We didn't find the official route from the Groom River to the Big Tree. Following the river along until just below the tree and head up. You can use ListMap with GPS without a phone signal.

6. No tips about the last leg along the Groom River to Hall's Falls. The track is definitely there. I'd stay as close to the river as possible after going around the hill.