Friday, April 13, 2018

Currarong To Bendalong By Sea Kayak

It was perhaps unsurprising that Rae suggested paddling home from the annual NSW Rock and Roll sea kayaking weekend. After all, Currarong to Ulladulla is only 70 km, an easy day out for Rae. In deference, however, to the weaker members of the party, we agreed to pack for a two to four day trip and for each person to choose how far they would paddle. In the end, there was a staggered series of drop-outs, starting with Jenny and Stephen, who dropped out before they even started, followed closely by Doug and I, who pulled out at Bendalong. Rae finished up at South Durras, which left only Greg to continue on to Batemans Bay.

Rae opened the bidding for an ambitious early morning departure from Currarong at 6 am, which, over beers and barbeque the night before somehow stretched out to 7 am; a time still early enough to cause Greg considerable consternation and some confusion as to how he could manage his two mandatory and leisurely cups of coffee before departure. Doug and I simply got up early, around 5 am, and scarfed back our usual half litre plastic jug of black gold while making breakfast.

In the end, it was 7.15 am when, waved off by Stephen and Jenny on the beach, we paddled hopefully down Currarong Creek and out into Crookhaven Bight. The circuit around Beecroft Peninsula, finishing up Carrama Creek, is one of best long day trips in NSW, and, at least one party had enjoyed an epic day out, ending with multiple capsizes in the surf off Warrain Beach at dusk during this year's Rock and Roll.

We weren't looking for any epics, just a good few days paddling a scenic part of the NSW coast, and, the Beecroft Peninsula which is riddled with caves, clefts, gauntlets and grottos is about as scenic as it gets.

Although there was little wind, a reasonably large swell was running which made for bumpy conditions along the sea cliffs, and more looking into caves than paddling into caves. Still, it was a spectacular paddle along the 80 metre high sea cliffs. Highlights were the seals resting at Drum and Drumsticks, the gorgeous Cathedral, and the steep, clean cliffs of Windjammer Wall.

From Point Perpendicular, we crossed south to Murray Island, and had a comfortable lunch stop at Murrays Beach before continuing south down the slightly lower, but no less spectacular cliffs that lead south to St Georges Head. We were getting more tired as the day wore on and the incessant rebound from the cliffs became somewhat trying. Steamers Beach, offers a possible landing spot but the swell was messy and landing looked difficult so we continued round St Georges Head into more sheltered waters to find a small landing site and camp spot.

After the sea cliffs, caves, seals and bouncy rebound, paddling southwest to Bendalong seemed somewhat tame. We had a late enough departure to allow Greg his requisite two coffees, and headed mostly west to Cudmirrah where a huge swell was breaking on a couple of off-shore reefs. Then it was a downwind run, for those of us with sails, to Washerwomans Beach at Bendalong.

Neil kindly drove up from Ulladulla to take Doug back to Currarong to pick up our car, while Rae and Greg, after a leisurely lunch headed south towards Ulladulla. That journey was uneventful apart from a capsize and successful roll off Narrawalle Bar. That episode was enough to convince both Rae and Greg that paddling an extra 8 km to Ulladulla was worth the sheltered landing. This had the added advantage of a night in a real bed, a hot shower, and a good meal, before Rae and Greg headed south again the next day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hardly A Promenade: Around Wilsons Promontory By Sea Kayak


It may be only 85 km from Tidal River to Yanakie, but paddling a sea kayak around the southern most point of the Australian mainland is not without challenge. Wilsons Promontory is, after all, in Windtoria, where the gales blow from the west, except when they blow from the east. In the two weeks leading up to our departure, true to form, gales blew from the west until they blew from the east, then switched back to the west again.

At some point, as we were all running out of time to fit the trip into our various schedules, a weather window, or more appropriately, a weather sliver, appeared in the steady forecast of east, west gales and the trip was on.

The drive to the Prom, from the south coast of NSW was way more grueling than the paddle. At one end we got caught in the insane traffic that marks the coincident beginning of school holidays and start of the long Australian Easter break – as if one or other by themselves isn't bad enough. At the other, we drove into a wild easterly gale that threatened to rip the doors off the car every time we opened them.

Finally, however the five of us met up in Tidal River at Parks Victoria's incredibly expensive basic campground ($60 night!). In the weeks leading up the trip, there had been endless surveys of various weather forecasts and discussions on where we should start, finish, and where we might hole up in the event of the guaranteed gale. None of us thought we would get all the way around the Prom without a gale or two. We had seven days of food, and three or four days of water, five single kayaks, one with a disturbing leak and a non-functioning electric pump, sails, tow ropes, and sundry other camping and kayaking equipment – and, we would use every bit of kit.

The currents running around the Prom are disturbingly strong. This is, after all, the southern most tip of the Australian mainland, and the massive semi-enclosed lake that is Bass Strait floods in and out four times a day. Rae, who has paddled across Bass Strait twice, once on the east side, and a second time solo on the western crossing, has by far the most experience with Bass Strait currents, and Doug and I looked to her for guidance in managing this added complication.

Day 1: Oberon Bay Attempt:

Easterly wind at 36 knots with gusts to 56 knots. 3 kilometres.

It was windy, really, really windy, blowing from the east, so, at Tidal River, on the west side of the Prom, we were facing a very strong off-shore wind. Our goal for the day was to shuttle cars, then paddle south to camp at Oberon Bay. Rae thought that leaving at 3.00 pm would minimize the distance we had to carry our fully loaded kayaks – Russell Beach is wide, flat, and the tide runs a long way out. We could float our boats part way down Tidal River, but, despite the name, the tide does not seem to come up into Tidal River with any real regularity.

We left two cars at Yanakie, where you could barely stand up in the wind, packed our boats, had lunch, and waded our kayaks down Tidal River to where the small creek fans out onto sand at the mouth. We will still a hundred meters or more from the surf, so the straps came out and we lugged all five boats down to the surf.

Was it a good idea to launch? I'm not really sure. The off-shore wind was so strong that there would be no chance of a rescue if someone got in trouble, and a not inconsiderable possibility that one or more of us would be blown out to sea. It was one of those times, all too common when kayaking on the ocean, where you can (semi) reliably only look after yourself. But, after a long day of driving, two weeks of weather checking and postponing the trip, inactivity was virtually impossible, so we launched.

I am the smallest paddler, in the biggest boat, so I always struggle a bit more than everyone else and I battled to paddle down to the south end of the beach. I was worried about getting dumped by a rogue wave, so hung off the beach a bit, but the further off the beach I was, the quicker I got blown off-shore and paddling back in was hard, slow work. By the time we fought our way to the south end of Norman Bay, I was already thinking we should turn back.

Conditions would be worse in Oberon Bay. Boulder Saddle, the low point between Oberon Bay on the west side of the Prom, and Waterloo Bay on the east, is only 80 metres high, with Mounts Boulder and Wilson lying to the south and north respectively. The easterly wind would be even stronger as it funnelled through the saddle from east to west and the possibility of us being unable to paddle east into Oberon Bay seemed very real.

In the shelter of some rocks at the south end of Norman Bay we grouped up and a quick and unanimous decision was made to turn around and paddle back to Tidal River. Paddling back was slightly easier, possibly I was less gripped on the way back, but I was still blown off-shore consistently and Rae kept calling me back closer in to the surf.

We landed and dragged ourselves (wet through, of course) and our boats up the beach out of reach of the tide. There really was nothing for it but to settle down at Tidal River for the night and hope for more favorable conditions the next day.

Day 2: Southeast Point.
Easterly wind with gusts to 41 knots backing to NE wind 14 knots. 25 km.

By morning, the easterly gale had declined to a mere 20 knots. We met on the beach ready to go at 8.30 am and the last minute weather check indicated the decreasing winds would continue to fall and would swing around to moderate northeasterlies by evening. By Rae's calculations, we would have favourable currents until early afternoon by which time we hoped to be reclining on the beach at Home Cove with all the tough paddling behind us.

Such are dreams. And, the first half of the day was mostly dreamy. Paddling south across the mouth of Oberon Bay, the off-shore winds were strong enough to convince us that yesterdays decision was correct. It would, however, have been nice to have that extra 7 kilometres taken off the agenda for this day, but again, such are dreams.

South of Oberon Bay we had easy and exceedingly pleasant paddling all the way to South Point, the appropriately named most southern point of the Australian mainland. There was little wind or swell on the west side and we paddled closely along the colourful granite slabs that define Wilsons Promontory. Stunted, windblown trees were bent over high up the cliffs.

After a few hours, we drew abreast of Wattle Island, and just ahead, a string of granite islets trailing out from South Point marked the southern tip of continental Australia. Beyond South Point, there is foaming water and rising waves, and I remark to Doug that “Things are about to get real.”

We pass South Point and our progress slows, eventually our forward pace will drop to only 2 to 3 km per hour. The current and swell is obvious here but things are not too hairy yet. We pass the big gouge in the coast that is Fenwick Bite and then the lighthouse, which stands starkly atop the cliffs of Southeast Point, comes into view.

I estimate that the next 3 kilometres took us one hour to complete although my watch is put away and I am merely focusing on keeping pace. As we approach the lighthouse, a big swell begins to develop and off Southeast Point there are 3 to 4 metre cresting waves and a mass of rebound and clapotis. Mark paddles way off shore as he usually does while Doug and I stay closer in. Neil and Rae have fallen behind.

Above the roar of wind (a headwind now) and waves as we bob about in this wild bit of ocean I faintly hear Rae blowing her whistle. Doug and I are about to head off-shore further to avoid breaking waves and I am not keen to go back to where Rae and Neil seem dangerously close to the cliffs. Stupidly, I don't even consider that they may be in real difficulty. I am more concerned with how hard won the distance has been and how I would rather not surrender any ground. Wisely, however, Doug insists we go back.

Neil is in some distress as his hips have cramped up and he really feels he must get out of the boat. Mark is now a speck off in a seething, white foamed ocean and we four agree that he is now on his own and travelling as a solo paddler. Rae, Neil and I paddle into the shelter of South East Point but there is nowhere for Neil to land so he gets out of his boat and floats in the water. Somewhat disturbingly, I notice that Rae is pumping a large amount of water out of his boat with a hand-pump. Apparently, Neil has a leaky boat and non-functioning electric pump.

After about 15 minutes, Doug paddles in from the lighthouse and reports that he can just see Mark, but he is far out from the cliffs, seemingly going nowhere fast. Although he does not want to, Neil gets back into his boat and we paddle out of the shelter of South East Point and into the turbulent ocean again. Out of nowhere, Mark appears again and we are back paddling as a pod of five.

Paddling past the lighthouse conditions are wild. The waves are easily 3 metres high and the entire length of a kayak seems to fit on the face of each wave as we paddle up and over the peaks and drop into the troughs. We are clearly against the current which is further churning up the ocean with bouncy rebound and exploding haystacks that shoot 2 metre high pyramids of water into the air. Although I feel stable, any capsize here will be dramatic and I have to keep saying to myself “It's just like GreenCape, it's just like Green Cape.”

Our progress is agonisingly slow. Although it is only 4 to 5 kilometres to Home Cove it will take us two hours unless conditions dramatically improve. And, just as I manage to crawl ahead of the pod again – surely a sign that the pod is in trouble – Rae's whistle blows, and this time I turn smartly back. When I reach the pod, Neil is being supported by Doug and Rae is towing both boats back around to the west side of South East Point. Neil looks desperately ill and I fleetingly wonder if we need to activate a PLB.

But, Rae has the matter well in hand, and, despite the surging swell, which actually stops her kayak dead and pulls her back up the face of the waves, she is gaining ground, and with relief we pull into the shelter of South East Point again.

It is just another day when little discussion is needed. Although Neil is no longer vomiting, he is in no condition to paddle 15 km back to Oberon Bay, and, frankly, I wonder who among us is. It is a difficult but not impossible spot to land. Some steps have been cut into granite boulders at the waters edge, and there is a vague and dilapidated old track up to the crest of the ridge where we can camp.

The only way to get the boats ashore is to manhandle them up slippery granite boulders for which Doug and Mark seem best suited. Accordingly, they both jump out of their boats and scramble ashore. Rae and I tend the kayaks, while the lads work out a way to get the boats up on to a rudimentary platform above high tide. Doug's plastic boat goes up first to work out the system which is enhanced by laying down scraps of wood from the fallen down stairway to use as rollers.

I swim ashore next, and while Doug and Mark haul boats up onto the slippery rocks, I unload gear and carry loads up the slope above. The lads have the brunt of the work and it is an awkward environment in which to be hauling laden boats, but eventually, we get all the boats and all the people ashore. Neil is wiped and lays down fully dressed, while Doug strings a hand-line consisting of two tow ropes tied together up the steep, loose slope to the ridge above.

It has been a long and challenging day. We cook dinner down on the rock slabs, which, if you are able to ignore worries about how we will get off next morning, is a spectacular dining location. By 8.00 pm, all the tents are set up on the ridge, and we have crawled into bed to sleep. Before dark, I walked down the walkway on the east side where the maintained landing area for the lighthouse is now situated. The ocean was wild, windy and big, with huge swells washing far up the rocks. Not a chance of landing a kayak.

Day 3 Refuge Cove:
N to NNW wind, 16 to 24 knots, gusts to 40 knots. 18 km.

I wake early the next morning to the deafening silence of light winds. Walking down to the east side landing area, the sea is almost unrecognisable from the previous day. I am immediately seized by a sense of urgency to launch while conditions are good. There are lowering clouds all around and a squall could blow in at any time.

Doug and I wake the others, then hustle down to the boats and get ready for the day. Had we been on our own, we would have launched immediately, paddled the 7 kilometres to Home Cove and had breakfast on the beach. But, we are with a crew of carbo-crashing junkies who must eat before we leave; although I am not sure that slurping down 60 weetbix pulverised into an unappetizing powder can actually be called eating.

In any case, it takes a frustrating long time to begin the arduous process of packing boats on the sloped granite slabs, sliding them into the water on wooden “rollers” and setting them adrift in the bay. Rae's boat goes in first and gets sent out into the bay a little too aggressively which leaves Rae with a longish swim. Next is Neil and his boat, then Mark's Dart, and finally the two plastic boats.

Only Doug and I are left on shore as the dark storm clouds to the west finally loose wind and rain. Instantly, a 15 knot wind blows the sea into a half metre chop and threatens to dash all the boats onto the rocks. The next 15 minutes is chaos. I get into my boat, but Mark has my paddle and is too afraid of smashing the Dart on the rocks to bring it over to me. Without a paddle, the wind quickly pushes me towards the rocks. Rae tries to tow me out but is herself in danger of breaking apart on the rocks and is forced to retreat. Inexorably and inevitably, my boat rides up sideways onto the boulders and tips me out. I get beaten around trying to get my boat off the rocks, while Doug and his boat are being similarly battered.

Somehow, we manage to get the boats off the rocks. Mine is full of water, the rudder cable has been dislodged and my sail ripped in half. Fibreglass boats would have been destroyed. Even after emptying my boat and reattaching the rudder cable, the rudder is sloppy, unresponsive, and the entire boat ponderous and heavy. I am worried that one or both of my hatches has been breached.

There is nothing we can do, however, until we reach Home Cove, so we head out around the lighthouse for the third time and paddle surprisingly easily north along the coast and into the sheltered waters of Home Cove.

Home Cove is delightful. A small sheltered beach backed by dense forest. A tourist boat is parked near the beach and some befuddled looking penguins are shifting bemusedly from foot to foot on the beach as if wondering why they have been abandoned so far from their natural habitat (the pie shop).

An inspection of my hatches reveals no leaks and I am able to fix my rudder and sponge the last water out of my cockpit. The weather, however, is cool and drizzly, not conducive to a long stop so we soon head back out. With another two days of westerly gales forecast (what a surprise) we are planning to camp at Refuge Cove where we will have access to fresh water over our enforced rest days.

While no less dramatic than the west side of the Prom, the east side does have the benefit of many sheltered bays and coves which offer easy landings and camp sites. We paddle up the length of Waterloo Bay and then around granite slabs on the shoreline past Bareback and Larkins Coves until we reach Refuge Cove.

There is another penguin boat sheltering in the bay, a huge boat with about five paying guests which certainly raises some questions about the economics of these tour boats. We land near the Boaties camp which is at the north end of South Refuge Cove and whose only real amenity is a new outhouse. It is drizzly and cool, so the tents go up quickly and Doug and I string our tarp up as a communal rain shelter.

Everyone seems a bit weary and glad to stop even though it is only midday. After lunch, the weather clears up and I wander up to Kersops Peak where there are tremendous views south to the lighthouse and north over Refuge Cove. It starts to seem more than a little odd to be onshore not paddling in the best weather we have had thus far.

Dinner is enlivened by strong debate about our plans for the next few days. Two days of westerly gales are forecast, before the wind switches to the north. Barring any more unforeseen weather changes, we should be able to make Yanakie in two days of paddling. The decision to stay at Refuge Cove for the next two days is as unanimous as any decision made among a group of five headstrong kayakers and we retire to our tents with thoughts of a sleep in next day.

Days 4 and 5: Refuge Cove
Westerly gales 40 knots gusting to 65 knots, heavy rain

Two days of gales, heavy rain, and the end of the weekend mean that Refuge Cove is very quiet. There are no more tourist boats, and the few yachts that are moored hunker down, most occupants don't even come ashore for a short time. We engage in the usual rest day activities, short walks between rain squalls, stretching, reading. Our tent, which holds up surprisingly well during 60 mm of rain gets inundated with fine brown dirt which blows through the mesh walls and coats all our gear in a grungy dark dust.

Day 6: Biddies Cove
NW winds to 11 knots. 35 km.

We have a long paddle day ahead of us but we are all well rested from our two enforced camp days and get away early the next morning. The wind has abated overnight, the yachts have fled, and the Prom feels gloriously empty.

As we paddle north, the terrain becomes less rugged. Granite headlands give way to long beaches backed by low lying scrub plains. There are a few small rocky headlands and we pass by Rabbit Rock and Rabbit Island and stop for lunch at pretty Johny Souey Cove.

There is an estuarine river at the back of Johny Souey Cove and some open level campites along the shore of the lagoon all inexplicably marked “No Camping” by Parks Victoria. I find the “official campsite” which is up a short steep hill, sloping, lumpy and covered with a forest of bracken fern and other foliage. It is a desperate campsite indeed. Again I wonder if anyone that works for National Parks has any idea what it is like to sleep outside in a tent.

After a long lunch break, we head north again with the currents helping our progress. The remainder of the paddle is along long low beaches and the water becomes even calmer as we are protected by Snake Island and long sandbar that runs parallel to shore.

Doug and I have camped at Biddies Cove before and it is just as we remember it. Sandy dunes scattered with salt tolerant vegetation and scattered granite slabs. Diminutive Mount Singapore, under 150 metres high, lies abuts camp on the west side.

Dusk is approaching and we have paddled 35 km and are happy to have our evening swims and set up camp with our last camp kitchen on a large granite slab behind the tents.

Day 7: Yanakie
Light westerly winds switching to strong NW winds

It seems appropriate to finish the final 18 km of the trip with some help from the rising tide and the morning sun radiantly piercing the clouds over Snake Island. It is impossible to see Yanakie on the low land to the west so we use a combination of Rae's GPS and compass to head west.

Arriving at Yanakie, I am sad and glad. Sad that the trip is over but happy that despite challenging conditions we have successfully paddled around Wilsons Promontory.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Canyon By Any Other Name: Bungonia Creek

Many Australian canyons are narrow dark slots, Bungonia is not one of those. More a deep creek than a canyon, it is a popular day out with a series of abseils, a jump or two, and some creek scrambling before the inevitable hot dusty walk out.

We met Tony and Anthony, definitely not Tony and Tony, at the Bungonia Visitor Centre where we registered out and then headed down to the campground and the tourist tracks. For some reason, which may have involved Tony being sold the wrong rope, we had many, many ropes. Four people, four ropes, all big, fat, heavy static lines. Had it been Doug and I, we would have taken one, but, I have always maintained that we are old, weak, and not given to carrying more stuff about than we need.

Yellow Track heads west then north to Jerrara Canyon lookout dropping into Bungonia Creek along the way. At this time of year, the creek started out dry, but as we walked down slabs and boulders following the creek, some muddy pools began to appear. Shortly, we were at the first abseil where we met another party of two just finishing up the first long abseil. This long abseil ends in a pool which we swum across buoyed by our packs.

Some more scrambling, and then a jump into a pool, followed by another swim and some more scrambling down rock slabs and shelves. At Bungonia Falls, we caught up to the two guys ahead of us again, not because they were unduly slow but because they had lost a rope in the pool below the jump. Arrantly, rope and pack separated when tossed into the pool following a jumper. Pack floated, rope did not. No amount of diving led to recovery of the rope, so they waited to join up with our group.

We did the next abseil on two ropes but a single rope abseil would work equally as well if you were confident scrambling down easy ledges to a last short drop into the pool below. Another swim, which now the day was heating up felt wonderfully cooling. I did not really want to get out.

More scrambling, this time down a big drop below the Jerrara Creek junction, and then over and around many big boulders in the creek bed. We stopped for lunch on a lovely big shady slab and hung the ropes out to dry.

The river makes a big northward bend and the further down stream you go, the easier the scrambling until, just before Red Track (what imaginative names!) leads out of the canyon, we were strolling along grassy river banks under the towering cliffs of Frome Hill.

Red Track is probably named for the colour of one's face after you have huffed up 300 metres in under a kilometre. Once again up on the plateau, the rest of the trip involves walking up and down gullies as Green Track contours back to the campground. Lucky there are a few nice lookouts along the way.

View a short video here, and, some of these photos are courtesy DB.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thwarted By The Wind: Boydtown to Bermagui By Boat

When the email came proposing a 4 to 5 day trip from Mosquito Bay on the south coast of NSW to Boydtown, near the Victorian border, Doug and I were in right away. Although we have paddled this section of coast before, on a series of different  trips, sea conditions make every trip different and we would be sharing the adventure with a great group of other paddlers.

In the days leading up to the trip, the interwebs buzzed with the usual emails sorting out trip details but mostly focused on the weather which predicted a switch from the more frequent northerly summer flows to a period of moderate southerlies. Accordingly, instead of starting at Mosquito Bay and paddling south, we decided to start at Boydtown and paddle north.

Day 1: Boydtown to Pambula River:

Due to some complicated calculations involving tidal flows, wind speeds, wave periods, and slow kayakers, we left Boydtown Beach early and paddled out as a rising sun cast low light across Twofold Bay. We neared the coast at Worang Point and paddled north along this lovely bit of coastline which is part of Ben Boyd National Park. At Haycock Point, the tide was too low to paddle inside of Haystack Rock so we paddled around the outside and into the Pambula River where, despite reports of long wave periods, we found the Pambula Bar easy to cross.

Day 2: Pambula River to Nelson Lagoon:

Another early morning departure as we were meeting another two kayakers at Kianinny Bay at noon. Perhaps it was the tide but Pambula Bar was more lively to cross and some took a wave or two across the chest, but Doug, Rae and I, with impeccable, but completely unscripted timing, paddled out totally dry during a long break between sets.

From the Pambula River to the north end of Wallagoot Beach the coast is a mix of sandy beaches separated by small headlands. Last time we paddled this section we landed near Bournda Island which does not provide much shelter from the swells. This time the swell and the group was bigger and we decided to push on to a more sheltered landing.

Between Wallagoot Lake and Tathra is the wonderful stretch of coast traversed by the Kangarutha Track. This 8 km section of coast is riddled with caves, clefts, grottos, gauntlets and small rocky islets, but, you need calm seas to explore them fully and the 1.5 metre easterly swell was not conducive to playing about in narrow rocky defiles. Even the entrance to Kianinny Bay looked a bit confronting with big waves smashing on the reef. Had I not paddled in before, I might have been more nervous as entering the sheltered bay requires making a dog leg turn around a breaking reef.

We arrived just as John and Gillian arrived with their double sea kayak, and we had a good long lunch break while they prepared to leave. The wind and sea picked up while we were having lunch and when we emerged from Kianinny Bay we found ourselves in a rather lively sea with rebound and clapotis bouncing the boats around. A couple of paddlers were brave enough to put their sails up, but most of us waited until we passed Tathra Head. Wajura Point provided enough shelter to land the kayaks without anyone taking a beating although there was one casualty to the surf.

Day 3: Nelson Beach to Barraga Bay:

This is another nice quiet section of coast that is mostly national park with a few small tourist settlements spaced apart. Landing can be tricky, but we got enough shelter from rock reef near Barraga Bay to get onto shore. The forecast had changed and the extra days of southerly wind we had been expecting were gone and we would see a return to the more usual northerlies the next day. There was a lot of discussion about what to do but no resolution.

Day 4: Barraga Bay to Bermagui:

The swell was smaller next morning and a handy rip beside some rocks made launching easy. More little headlands and small beaches and then we rounded Point Dickinson and paddled into Main Beach at Bermagui. John and Gillian were pulling out here while the rest of us, too optimistically it turns out, opted to carry on to Mystery Bay 16 km to the north.

We dallied way too long over lunch and when we started paddling again we were heading into a 10 knot northerly that rapidly became 15 knots. It was hard work paddling directly into the wind and, to shorten our distance, we were paddling far off-shore which made it seem as if we were not moving at all. Various GPS's indicated we were progressing, but at a slow and tiring 4 km per hour. At this rate, it would take another 4 hours to reach Mystery Bay. It's hard getting a group together in a brutish head wind, and there really is not much opportunity to mull over decisions as you rapidly lose hard won ground, but, we did manage to group up, and the decision to turn and run south with the wind seemed unanimous.

One kayaker capsized when his sail caught the wind, but, to his credit he self-rescued by doing a re-entry and roll and most of us were not aware until later than anything had gone wrong. With the sails up, we got back to Bermagui quickly and easily. The only difficulty was retrieving the cars which were now at Boydtown, finally a use for my encyclopaedic knowledge of bus schedules.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Training Goes On

It's the beginning of March and the end of my 8 week base training block which, for a variety of reasons, morphed into an 11 week training block. In addition to training for life, I started training for a sea kayak trip which added two more training days to the schedule and left me training 6 days a week. However you cut it, training 6 days a week eats up a lot of time and some weeks I felt like I did very little apart from move around a lot while shifting weight. Officially, I was supposed to peak at around 11 hours a week, but I blew well past that and topped out in week 6 at over 19 hours a week.

Bungonia Creek

The basic schedule was much like my transition phase with two endurance sessions per week (on my feet), and two strength training sessions per week. In addition, I climbed twice a week, and, from week 6 on I added two paddle days (typically 25 to 35 km each day).

My Tribe: Kayak pod

To my utmost surprise, I got faster and fitter on my endurance sessions. Not fast mind you, but faster. Somehow at week 6, I managed to run, actually run (Zone 3) for about 1.5 hours on a hilly course covering 13 kilometres! Shocker. On my longest Zone 1, I covered 20 km and 500 metres of elevation gain all before breakfast!

Forest wandering

No real injuries, but I did have one week where I had mild hip bursitis which resolved quickly with rest but I did miss almost a full week of training (hence the expansion from 8 weeks to 11 weeks). My feet and calves were getting pretty sore with all the volume on hard ground but a new pair of zero drop but padded (Altra) shoes have solved that problem.

Quality hill training terrain

I seem to be managing OK recovering from strength training sessions by spreading them as far apart in a one week period as I can although I am training essentially to failure as I'd like to put on some muscle. The gym I joined has a climbing wall as well as a great weight set up so I can now boulder twice a week if we don't manage to get away climbing.

Tianjara Falls

In the midst of all this training we got away on a couple of trips, paddling from Boydtown to Bermagui, and climbing and canyoning up on the southern tablelands. Hauling a heavy pack with a fat rope out of Bungonia Canyon, I was glad I had been training.

Roll up your sleeves and get to work

Week 8 is deload week, so we are away for three days climbing where I get to see whether all the training has made any difference at all.  Next week it all starts again as I ramp up the volume and load once again as I move into a power endurance phase.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It's A Grand Canyon

January has brought a bit of a heat wave to NSW, and, up in the Blue Mountains, the temperatures are sizzling. Rock climbing is OK in the early morning in the shade, but by 10 am, if you haven't sent your proj., you're not sending. On these days, canyoning is a good option.

Mid-afternoon, when even the cicadaswere feeling the heat, we walked down the tourist track to the Grand Canyon. The ground seemed to be radiating heat in waves and pulling on wetsuits at the abseil anchors felt a little silly.

The abseil into the canyon is a little overhung and you instantly drop in a deep, green cool amphitheater. Heading downstream, there is some swimming through deep pools, some scrambling over boulders and logs, and a little slithering down ledges into pools. Near the exit, a blind side canyon is worth a short detour. It's a beautiful place, cool on a hot day, and feels far removed from the regular world even though the tourist track runs along the top of the canyon.  Pretty quickly, the canyon ends, and you land on the tourist track with a choice of walking back via Evans Lookout, or back the way you came.

If you go:
  • The abseil anchors are about half an hour walk down the track behind a fence with the usual “you may die” verbiage.
  • The water is surprisingly cold. Even on a hot day a wetsuit seemed like a good idea.
  • Follow the canyon through until you reach a small green island in the middle of the canyon. You can go right or left of the island. Left is dry, right means a swim.
  • Ignore the track just downstream of the island and continue to follow the creek for a few minutes and you'll pop out on the tourist track.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Your Workout Is My Warmup: Evans Lookout To Govetts Leap

After a deload week when I, probably stupidly, did not deload all that much, I arrived – injury free - at week 5 of my base building hypertrophy phase where the easy zone 2 session becomes a sustained steep zone 3 workout. This handily coincided with us house-sitting up at the Blue Mountains where there are no shortage of steep climbs, somewhat unfortunately preceded by steep downhills, but, you take what you can get.

Enough said

I planned out a route that involved almost 800 metres of elevation gain with the biggest chunk of that coming in a 660 metre steady climb, perfect for strapping on the heart rate monitor and grinding out my first zone 3 workout. From Evans Lookout near Blackheath, we would take an old track (marked “horse track”) that is no longer promoted by NPWS down to Govetts Creek, saunter along the creek, and then come up the spectacular Govetts Leap track where the real training would take place.

The falls at the base of the cliff section of Govetts Leap track

I had forgotten how wonderful the view is from Evans Lookout with all the big orange sandstone cliffs above the gum forested valleys. We stood awhile, and pondered all the amazing rock climbing potential, and then started down the tourist track that descends to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A few hundred metres down this track, an old foot pad goes straight ahead while the main track is signed to the right. This is the start of the old “horse track” (it does not appear as if any horses have used the track for a long time) that runs steeply down to join Greaves Creek downstream of the Grand Canyon.

Carne Wall from Evans Lookout

There are a few fallen trees to climb over and the track is a bit steep and loose to start, but soon the angle kicks back and, just after crossing Haywards Creek, we joined the main track along Greaves Creek. The creek is pretty with very clear water and there are a few small deeper swimming holes and we soon arrived at Junction Rock. We had a short water break sitting on Junction Rock, remembering the last time we had been through this valley on a trip into the Blue Gum Forest, and then we started the climb.
Crossing Govetts Leap Brook

Doug, who was not specifically training started up before me while I dickered around with my heart rate monitor. Surely, however, as I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest, I would catch him, but no, the only time I saw him on the long climb up was when he stopped to see what was keeping me.

Govetts Leap track is probably one of the most spectacular walks in the Blue Mountains descending a series of ladders, stairs and ledges along cliff face with views of deep valleys, steep sandstone cliffs and tumbling waterfalls at every turn. 

Grose Valley from Evans Lookout

 At the escarpment top, where the lookouts were busy with tourists, we turned south and followed the Cliff Top track back past a couple more lookouts and across both Govetts Leap Brook and Hayward Creek to our starting point.