Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Across The Bogong High Plains

The first time I saw the Bogong High Plains, we were on top of Mount Bogong. All that rolling, open alpine country - rare in Australia - is obviously ideal bush-walking country. It seemed, from a distance, as if you could walk for days across those open meadows. In reality, unless you are an exceptionally slow walker, traversing the high plains won't take that long, but, the country is still very scenic and provides delightful walking.

The Bogong High Plains are part of the larger Alpine National Park which is criss-crossed with tracks so an almost endless number of trips are possible - through walks and loop walks, easy rambles and multi-day adventures. It's a real shame, but also characteristic of Australia, that a paved road has been built right across the high plains. There really needs to be some areas in the world where the infernal combustion engine, with all its attendant problems, just doesn't go. Unfortunately, the Bogong High Plains is not one of them, at least in summer (the road is closed in winter). 

 Doug on the Bogong High Plains

We planned a three day walk starting and finishing at Bogong which would take us in a big loop along a series of ridges and across the Bogong High Plains. This was one of those walks where I thought most people might consider us rather daft. After all, when you can drive to 1700 metres on a paved road, why would you start walking at 640 metres? I'm not sure if "because you can" is a good enough answer for most people, but, "because you can" is important. If you don't keep doing things, "because you can," pretty soon, you cannot. 

 Feathertop from Mount Jaimathang

Day One: Bogong Village to Salt Camp Creek

Our first day was all about going up - about 1400 metres in all. We parked right at the bottom of the village near Lake Guy and walked up through the town and south along the highway to the start of Spring Saddle Fire Track. Bogong's water treatment facilities are right at the start of this fire track so it is gated, but, when we arrived, a worker had left both the entrance and exit gates open and we simply walked through. Just outside the exit gate, we did notice a flagged track going down to the highway which you could use if the gates were locked - probably most of the time.

Once on the fire track, we just started plodding uphill. Luckily, the views start pretty quickly and we began to see the ridges we would walk along later in the trip. At The Springs Saddle, we had a quick break, but decided to walk on to Bogong Jack Saddle for lunch. Just before Bald Hill the track splits, we took the uphill (right) track, contoured past another couple of bumps along the ridge, and soon arrived at Bogong Jack Saddle. 



Bogong Jack Saddle

This is a lovely spot. An open meadow with a somewhat dilapidated hut on the west side of the saddle and fine views across to the high country of Spion Kopje Spur. You could camp here, but, be warned it is popular with the horse people (which means flies), and, we did not find any water close by. Better campsites abound if you continue on towards, or even past, the Fainters.

The walking got better and better as we ambled along a single track just below Mount Fainter North. This is all lovely open alpine country, perfect for rambling on a sunny day. We wandered up to the top of Mount Fainter South where we could see The Jaimathangs (Niggerheads) and the whole Bogong High Plains spreading across the vista. Mount Feathertop looks, and is, quite close by to the southwest. Descending easily off Mount Fainter South, we found a lovely campsite by a creek and stopped for the day. We were looking over Terrible Hollow and Mount McKay, past Falls Creek Village and across to the ridges that run north to Mount Bogong. 

Camp by Salt Pan Creek

Day Two: Salt Pan Creek to Langfords Gap via Mount Jaimathang

Next morning we strolled along the track as it contoured just below the Jaimathangs to Tawonga Huts where there are plenty of great campsites. This is another spot that is popular with the horse crowd, but, escaping the horsey people and their attendant flies would be fairly easily achieved by simply walking up the creek a short distance. We dropped our packs and followed the track up to Mount Jaimathang where we could see both Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong, in almost opposite directions. Apparently, it is also quite easy from Little Plain to walk off-track along the Jaimathangs to reach Tawonga Huts.

The flies were pretty intense around Tawonga Huts, so we walked up to the Bogong High Plains and found a shady spot under a lonely snow gum where we could have a break without being tortured by flies. Tracks branch off in all directions from the Bogong High Plains. You can walk out to Hotham, over to Mount Feathertop, down to Falls Creek, or, continue on around the high country as we did.


Doug approaching the top of Mount Jaimathang




We joined the Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT) which took us past Mount Bundara and down to the Cope Saddle Hut by Cope aqueduct. I had a dip in the creek before lunch which helped wash away the grimy sweat from the last two days. About an hour from the hut, the track meets the paved road. Again, there are a few options here, we took the track past Cope Hut and Rover Lodge and then followed the track along the aqueduct. This is the least scenic part of the walk but you still have views down Middle Creek towards the Mitta Mitta River.

Just past Langfords Gap, we got tired of walking and there was a big pool for swimming so we made camp, enjoyed a second peaceful night of camping and had a cool swim in the pool. 

 
The Jaimathangs from Mount Fainter South

Day Three: Langfords Gap to Bogong via Spion Kopje Spur and the Grey Hills

We only had one more kilometre along the aqueduct to walk before the AAWT heads north to The Park and Heathy Spur. Heathy Spur is a popular track to access these alpine plateaus as the track start is at 1600 metres. Ambling along on a good track we passed Mount Nelse and Mount Nelse North - really just rounded hills that rise 20 metres above the plateau.

At Warby Corner, where the AAWT heads north along Timms Spur, we turned west and followed Spion Kopje Spur to the headwaters of Big River where we had a break. There is more good camping here and it does not seem as if many people come this way. 

 
Pretty Valley from Warby Corner

Just before Spion Kopje, the Grey Hills "track" branches north. Actually, at the junction of the two tracks, there is only one track, the one that continues west along Spion Kopje. If there ever was a track along to The Crowsnest, it has long since disappeared. At this junction, Doug and I headed off in different directions. I took the longer route with more elevation gain and loss, out via the Grey Hills, while Doug returned to Bogong via the more direct route down Spion Kopje Fire Track.

I was actually a little nervous walking out over The Grey Hills as I would be traversing seven kilometres of ridge with potentially no track. It is not uncommon in Australia for tracks marked on topographic maps to simply not exist. After our Budawangs mini-epic a couple of years previously we had vowed not to plan walks on tracks for which we had no independent collaboration (i.e. some report other than the topographic map). Looking ahead along the Grey Hills, there was, however, a hint of track here and there, so I headed off down to The Crowsnest while Doug continued down Spion Kopje Fire Track. 

 
The Grey Hills and Spion Kopje

By the time I had wandered down to The Crownest I had picked up a scanty footpad which became much more obvious as I descended down to the first col on the ridge. Most of the snow gums along The Grey Hills have been burnt in a fire, and, in some places, the vegetation is growing back quite thickly. Without the unmarked track along this ridge, progress would be very slow. There is quite a bit of up and down (around 300 metres) along the ridge before you finally get to Mount Arthur but it is really good walking on a decent track. I had to look around for the track in a couple of places, but mostly it is easy to follow. There are a series of creeks that cascade off Timms Spur down into Big River that reminded me a lot of walking the moors in Scotland. Mount Bogong looks quite close from Mount Arthur and the track continues along to Bogong Creek Saddle and up Quartz Knob to Mount Bogong. 

 
Small creeks running off Timms Spur

At Mount Arthur, I turned and followed a track down the southwest ridge towards Black Possum Spur. On the map, this track drops off the ridge to the south to join Arthur Fire Track but the map is wrong. The track continues down the ridge and makes a T intersection with Black Possum Spur Fire Track. This section of track is steep and had been recently brushed out. There is no real footpad, just a slash cut through the undergrowth. If you are coming up Black Possum Spur, the track to Mount Arthur has a small hand made sign nailed to a tree.

Once on Black Possum Spur, it was a simple matter of plodding downhill until I reached the East Branch of the Kiewa River where I was happy to dive into the cool water as it was a hot day. 

 
 Doug pondering where we will go next

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Corner Inlet Sea Kayaking

Way, way back in 2013, soon after we had moved to Australia, we did a six day sea kayak trip around the eastern islands of Nooramunga Marine Park getting as far west as Snake Island. It was a grand trip, protected waters to paddle in, very little power boat traffic, amazing bird and ocean life, pleasant campsites and easy access to the wild 90 Mile Beach. Our memories of the trip were so good we wanted to go back again and paddle the area to the west of Snake Island, the Corner Inlet area. 

 Pied Oystercatcher Eggs

Day One: Port Welshpool to Biddies Cove

Without much of a plan in mind - every thing seemed to depend on the winds - we set off from Port Welshpool on a cloudy day with light winds blowing. There is a $10 per day fee to park at and use the boat ramp, but the beach to the east, near the old jetty is free to use and to park, so that is where we launched. At low tides, this could be a bit problematic as you might have a long carry, but we managed to pack up near high tide and, while we had breakfast in the caravan, we secured the boats to the old jetty. Although we thought they were in deep enough water, both were high and dry on rocks when we came to launch.

We were paddling against the tide which did not seem to slow us down too much. Then again, I might be just used to going very slow. Paddling out through Lewis Channel past Little Snake Island we had to stay a fair way off-shore due to low water, but, were able to pull in to Snake Island pretty easily where a channel comes close into shore. You could camp anywhere along this west side of Snake Island all the way down to Townsend Point without difficulty. There were a ton of powerboats of all sizes out fishing in Singapore Deep but luckily not driving around constantly as power boaters sometimes (frequently) seem to do.

Starfish

From Snake Island we crossed Singapore Deep - some small standing waves - using Mount Singapore on Wilsons Promontory as a reference point and landed at the lovely Biddies Cove. While we had lunch, we debated whether or not to camp where we were or carry on. It was a stellar camp. Some granite slabs to sit and cook on, a really long beach to walk - you can walk all the way to John Souey Cove - even bouldering slabs behind camp (wish I had brought my rock shoes). We weren't really tired, however, as we had only paddled about 16 km.

But, we really had no plan. The weather forecast was for a mix of strong easterlies and westerlies, so it was hard to plan a trip that did not involve a lot of slogging into headwinds. Any one way trip - the premier trip is a paddle right around Wilsons Promontory - requires two vehicles as there is no public transit available. In the end, we just decided to camp and walk down the beach for the afternoon. Hindsight always brings clarity and, were I in this situation again, I would probably paddle down to John Souey Cove for the night then return the next day, although I much prefer either a one way through trip or a circle route. Sunset from camp was spectacular, the most vibrant mix of reds and oranges I have ever seen, worth camping at Biddies Cove to see.

Now that's a sunset

Day Two: Biddies Cove to Tin Mine Cove to Swashway Jetty

Tin Mine Cove is supposed to be a really nice place to camp, at least all the sea kayak tours go there, so we wanted to paddle around and have a look. Once again, we were against the tide but it was a nice paddle and we had no where to go in a hurry. Even with virtually no wind, there were a lot of standing waves off the unnamed point to the north of Freshwater Cove where the deep water comes close in to shore. In windy conditions this spot could get bumpy fast.

You pass a couple of small beaches and coves before you reach Tin Mine Cove. I remember Freshwater Cove in particular as it has a prominent "no camping" sign. We had breakfast at Tin Mine Cove and noted that the track that heads south to Chinaman Long Beach had been freshly brushed out. The beach is nice, but I did not think as nice as Biddies Cove. At high tide there would be very little beach left and the camping area is a bit tight. Although there are a couple more spots hacked out of dense brush up the hill, those sites are sloping and not convenient for kayakers.


Tin Mine Cove

The forecast was for 20 knot westerlies in the afternoon followed by 20 knot easterlies the next day, so we decided to head east up Nooramunga, then come back west the following day. We paddled back across Singapore Deep and with the tide rising were able to paddle into the channel between Little Snake and Snake Islands. There is a channel marked all the way through but at low tide the water gets pretty shallow. Good for kayaks, not good for power boats.

We stopped on Little Snake Island for lunch as Victoria Parks shows a campsite on their Nooramunga brochure which we wanted to check out. After walking up and down the beach we finally found a little fairly overgrown spot in long grass behind the beach which is completely covered at high tide (the beach, not the camp). Not really a great camp. 

Camp at Biddies Cove

With the wind behind us we seemed to speed east along the channel to Swashway Jetty which has a nice campsite. The water in channel is pretty clear and it is a favourite spot with rays. I saw about a dozen, some quite large. We had covered about 25 km by now, enough for a couple of old out-of-shape paddlers, but, for some reason, we decided to go on to The Gulf campsite, about five kilometres away. We arrived quickly as we had both wind and current with us, but, as we rounded the point we saw a big bogan camp with a smoky campfire billowing toxic fumes out. I hate these camps where there are too many men - there are never any women - and too much beer. They make me very uncomfortable, fearful even, so, I persuaded Doug to turn around and paddle back to Swashway Jetty to camp.

It was going on for 3.30 pm and we were both feeling a wee bit tired as we had started paddling soon after 7.30 am so plugging back the way we had come into a headwind was a bit confronting, but, sea kayaking in Victoria seems to almost always mean paddling into the wind so we are, at least a little bit, inured to it. Paddling steadily, we made it back in just under an hour and were soon having some afternoon tea and enjoying a really nice campsite. I went for a wander on the tracks around camp and saw a couple of Hogg Deer and there was a Pied Oystercatcher nest on the jetty. At sunset, all the kangaroos came out and went down to the rapidly receding channel and drank sea water. It was pretty interesting as I have never seen kangaroos drink sea water before but perhaps that is how they get salt.


Apparently, kangaroos drink sea water

Day Three: Swashway Jetty to Port Welshpool

We had a lazy morning enjoying a couple of cups of coffee while our tent dried out from the previous nights heavy due. It was a gorgeous sunny day and it felt foolish to paddle back to Port Welshpool but the forecast was for a series of strong westerlies, and, the truth is, we had paddled to the east, and we'd paddled to the west. There really was not anywhere new to go and, as we are all about novelty, we packed up and lazily paddled back to Port Welshpool.

It was interesting to reflect on our previous trip when we just getting back into sea kayaking and the area to paddle in Nooramunga/Corner Inlet seemed huge. Three years later, I realised that a complete loop around Nooramunga/Corner Inlet is about 200 km and that is possible in five or six days. Still a beautiful place to paddle but suddenly not so large seeming anymore. 

 Doug leaving Biddies Cove

Friday, December 25, 2015

Silly Season

As usual, we are holed up indoors for the silly season in Australia's outdoors, which, has given us time to produce our annual Christmas letter.  If you've grown tired - already - of that latest Christmas consumer gadget and want to pass some time, give it a read here

Thursday, December 24, 2015

E Is For Unendurable: Flies On The George Bass Coastal Walk

Yowza, almost a month since my last blog post. What can I blame but some general busyness of late coupled with an even more generalized lack of inspiration. The busyness is declining, but I can't say much for the inspiration so the next few blog posts, catching up on recent trips may not be my most inspired.

The George Bass Coastal Walk is only a short jaunt - seven kilometres one way - from Shelley Beach near Kilcunda to Punchbowl Reserve to the west. It was a hot and fly blown day when I dropped Doug off at Punchbowl Reserve and drove down to Shelley Beach to park. As is usual on these "through" walks, I started from one end, Doug from the other and we would, hopefully, cross paths in the middle. In all the times we have done this, there has only been one time when we did not meet somewhere along the walk. 

 Views along the track

The first thing I noticed strolling west along a good track from Shelley Beach was just how many flies there were. The little blighters did not number in the hundreds, more like the thousands, possibly the millions. There was a plague of flies, crawling up your nose, into your ears, worming under your sun-glasses to soak in the wetness of your eye-balls, and settling in enormous numbers all over your body giving you that creepy crawly sensation associated with narcotic drug withdrawal. It's the sort of thing that could drive you crazy.

Perhaps it is my Aussie heritage, but, I actually find flies relatively easy to ignore. Maybe all the summer barbeques with my family where we ate charred sausages with towels over our heads to keep the buggars at bay developed some mediocre ability to disregard them unless they get in my eyes or ears. No-one can stand flies in their eyes or ears.

 
Deserted, apart from the flies

Anyway, I strolled along. It was quite windy, a hot wind, and somehow not strong enough to blow the flies away so I moved along the track with the drone of flies like a small but incessant motor accompanying me. The track is very pleasant, and, if you are in the area, I'd recommend it. You amble up and down small hills always looking out over the ocean. There are small cliffs, caves, arches, and tiny little deserted coves tucked away between headlands. The only vehicle access is to either end of the track (Shelley Beach or Punchbowl Road) and, as the average Australian can barely stagger from the couch to fridge to crack another tinny, you will undoubtedly be alone. 

 
All the flies must make good eating for stumpy
 the lizard seen on the track

About three kilometres from Punchbowl Road I met Doug, wide eyed and delirious from fly exposure. Doug grew up in Canada where flies are not so numerous and he has not developed the thick skin required to tolerate these creeping, crawling, flying instruments of torture. I'm not exaggerating when I say that his eyes were rolling back in his head. He looked like some kind of male, heavily aged version of Regan in The Exorcist. Unfortunately, I had no crosses and no garlic, in fact, nothing with which to offer relief from the flies. We passed, he stumbled off muttering and plucking at his skin while I ambled nonchalantly towards Punchbowl Road.

Before I close this blog post, I'll describe the walk in Doug's words: "The north winds to 20 knots were of no help, only blowing all the flies between here and Mildura into my eyes. I would rate this experience an E; truly unbearable." A walk best done, perhaps, when the flies are less numerous. 

 
 Arch along the coast

Monday, November 30, 2015

Five Days On The Great Ocean Walk

Day 1: Princetown to 12 Apostles and Marengo to Elliot Ridge camp.

In Princetown, the GOW follows the Old Coach Road across the Gellibrand River to a wetland reserve and then track resumes for the walk to the 12 Apostles. It is not very far along this track to the first views of some of the Apostles, and, after about five kilometres, the track meets the Great Ocean Road at Gibsons Steps. These steps go down to a small beach accessible only at low tide, but they are currently closed. Past Gibsons Steps, the track crosses under the Great Ocean Road and is paved for the remaining distance to the enormous 12 Apostles car park and cafe. Helicopter flights, which are continuous during daylight hours, leave from the back of the car park. We arrived in plenty of time to get the V Line bus east to the start of the walk, so we wandered around the tourist loop and admired the 12 Apostles. Although walking the site involves battling a forest of selfie-sticks carried by out of shape tourists, the rock formations and the coastal cliffs are beautiful. 

 Short scramble section

We started the walk at Marengo instead of the official start at Apollo Bay as the first three kilometres between the two towns is alongside the busy Great Ocean Road. Marengo is much quieter than Apollo Bay and the coastline has fantastic rock platforms at low tide. You can walk all the way to Elliot Creek and the track that climbs up to the first walkers campsite at Elliot Ridge on the rock platforms. Elliot Ridge campground is about 100 metres above the ocean and is set in a manna gum forest popular with koalas. As soon as we started hiking up hill to the camp we heard the distinctive grunting and growling of male koalas. If you have never heard this noise, a sort of cross between a chain saw and a dirt bike, you'll be very surprised that such a small animal can make such a large noise. The campsite turned out to be great for koala spotting as around a half dozen were scattered about in the manna gums around camp. 

 Doug on the rock platforms west of Marengo

We arrived at camp fairly early in the afternoon and wandered off to the Geary River along the track thinking that we could have a nice freshwater wash but water levels were really low and the river was all but inaccessible due to dense bush. I spent an hour in the evening puttering around the rock shelf to the southwest and, I could have taken a dunk in the ocean as the tiny bay where the Elliot River runs out is fairly calm, but, it was by then rather chilly.

 Parker Inlet

Day 2: Elliot Ridge camp to Cape Otway camp. 
 
We deliberated for a long time about trying to follow the coast to Blanket Bay as the track travels a long circuitous route first west then south on old forestry roads (closed to vehicles) and the distance via the coast is about half of that along the roads. In the end, as we could not tell from the map or peering along the coastline whether or not the coast was passable all the way to Blanket Bay so we took the inland route. If I were walking only to the next camp at Blanket Bay (12 km along the track, about 6 km along the coast), I would try the coastal route as time would not be problem. We, however, were walking on to Cape Otway and wanted to catch low tide for the section from Blanket Bay to Crayfish Bay so felt a bit time and distance pressured. 



Beach near Castle Cove

The inland route is not bad as the road bed is old and mossy and the forest quite pretty and we soon arrived at Blanket Bay. This is a lovely little sheltered bay with vehicle accessible camping and the walkers camp situated a short distance away. We had a break on the rocks by the beach trying to find the windiest spot where the flies might not be too bad and then set off to walk to Cape Otway.

It is 11 km from Blanket Bay to Cape Otway on the track but we followed rock platforms and small beaches as far as Crayfish Bay which I suspect is a bit shorter. There is a small sheltered beach at Parker Inlet and at Crayfish Bay a set of steps leads up to the main track. It is not possible to go any further along the coast than Crayfish Bay as the rock platforms disappear and the coast line is lined with tall cliffs. 

 Cape Otway from the west

We had a quick swim at Crayfish Bay to wash the days sweat off even though it was showery, windy and cool, and then ambled the final three kilometres or so to the walkers camp which is about 500 metres past the tourist parking lot at Cape Otway. There are essentially no views and you can only go out to the lighthouse if you take the $20 per person tour. About 300 metres beyond the campsite is the old cemetery which is worth a browse if only to realise how easy life is in modern times.

Forest walking

Day 3: Cape Otway to Johanna Beach.

We skipped Aire River camp which is close to the vehicle accessible camping and went on to Johanna Beach camp. From Cape Otway the track is along the coast with occasional good views to near the southeast end of Station Beach. I took the track down to the beach and followed the beach and rocks all the way to Aire River while Doug took the slightly longer inland track. Both require about the same amount of time as I arrived at the Aire River day use area only minutes behind Doug. Station Beach is soft sand so it is a bit hard going. I managed to stay on the beach all the way to the Aire River but this required a bit of gymnastic scrambling among big boulders below Escarpment Lookout before I reached Glenaire Beach and the last section would not be possible at high tide. 

 The view from Johanna Beach walkers camp

It is all very pleasant walking on to Johanna Beach. Lots of views and lookouts with conveniently placed benches and a nice track that winds through forest and coastal scrub. At Castle Cove, the track briefly meets the Great Ocean Road and the amount of discarded toilet paper increases. Just past Castle Cove there is a lovely view point with a bench good for an afternoon break and the vehicle tourists do not make it this far so it is very secluded.

Dramatic light over the ocean

This was our longest day walking and our third day out which I often find is the most tiring day and the 2.5 kilometres along the soft sand of Johanna Beach into a strong head wind felt like a bit of a struggle at the end of the day. You can avoid the short road section by staying on the beach and climbing directly up to the best campsite of the trip just before Slippery Point where the campsites overlook Johanna Beach. At this campsite we met a bevy of other walkers and discovered that we were the only people actually carrying a full pack along the walk. Everyone else was using the pack shuttle service.

Rock pool on Milanesia Beach

Day 4: Johanna Beach to Ryans Den.

For a change, we did not combine two days into one but had an easy day along to Ryans Den campsite. The day starts out well hiking up farm land with lovely views to the east but another section of road walking is ahead. The track becomes old road, the old road becomes gravel road and soon there is another big detour away from the coast and around private land. It's not all bad, however, as the locals are friendly.

Friendly locals

Past the last house, the road deteriorates again and quickly leads down to Milanesia Beach which is wonderfully remote feeling and enclosed between cliffs at east and west. As we had lots of time, I wandered right along the beach to the eastern end before following the beach back to the west and taking a rock platform around to another small beach and an overgrown set of steps that climbs up and meets the main track.

Isolated Milanesia Beach

Pleasant walking through coastal heath and melaluca forest leads to Ryans Den campsite where there is a wonderful lookout with benches and seats above the campsite. I followed an old track down to Ryans Den, a rocky little cove, but had trouble getting right to the water as the track became overgrown with stinging thistle. We hung out at the lookout until evening and were very surprised that most of the other walkers did not manage to stagger up from camp despite the fact that the lookout was only about 10 metres higher than camp! 

 Lookout at Ryans Den walkers camp

Day 5: Ryans Den to Princetown.

It is all good track from Ryans Den to Princetown starting out with a fair bit of climbing and descending into and out of drainages. Nothing too hard, but enough to get you sweaty on a humid day. The forest is quite lovely in the creeks and the coastal heath gives way to scenic views along the way. There is a short side trip to Gables Lookout - close to the road, toilet paper alert - and then a series of steps leads down to Wreck Beach where the remains of two ship wrecks, mostly just large anchors, lie on the rock platforms. The beach passes under a big scooped out cliff and, as you climb up to regain the track at the far western end of Wreck Beach, you can see the Devils Kitchen campsite above the scooped out cliff. 

 Rock platform strolling

The final half dozen kilometres is much flatter as you follow the heath covered dunes down to the Gellibrand River and, we were back at our caravan, which we left at Princetown, in time for a shower and a late lunch. 

 Morning sun above Ryans Den

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Great Ocean Walk or Southwest Walk?

I have no idea what makes one long distance walk very popular while another falls into obscurity, particularly when they seem strikingly similar. Perhaps some "'grammer/influencer" is posting dozens of bikini clad selfies along the former, while the latter features only the more traditional, and arguably more real, smelly walkers in dirty shorts. Or, maybe, as in the case of the Great Ocean Walk versus the Southwest Walk it is simply a matter of easy one way transport, a pack shuttling service, a shorter distance overall, and proximity to a large population centre.

Now that I have done both the Great Ocean Walk and the Southwest Walk (in the interests of truth in advertising I should note that the section of the Southwest Walk that follows the Glenelg River we did in a kayak, while we walked the 115 km coastal section from Nelson to Portland, and skipped entirely the less interesting section from Portland to the Glenelg River), I can say that the Southwest Walk is better for beach walking, remoteness, and coastal scenery, while the Great Ocean Walk has far better campsites, is logistically easier and features altogether too much toilet paper strewn along its length. 

 The sign says it all

Right at the start of this report I may as well address the differences between each walk. The Great Ocean Walk (herein after referred to as the GOW to save typing) is one of Victoria's new "icon" walks. I'm not really sure what an icon walk is but it does seem to allow you to charge more for a campsite than you can in other instances. Campsites (maximum of three people per site) are $30 per night on the GOW, which is more than we frequently pay for a caravan site with power, water, and amenities. However, I am a big proponent of walking and the track is well maintained, the campsites are thoughtfully laid out, and the shelters, benches, and toilets at each campsite make camping a much more comfortable (and cleaner) experience so I believe it to be money well spent. 

 A few less than 12 Apostles

The GOW is one of the few longer walks you can do on mainland Australia where you are not treated as a second class citizen and have a good campsite provided. Each site has individual camping bays so you get some space and privacy. There are two rain water tanks (it would be good if the backpackers didn't use them for showering!), some scattered benches, and a shelter with seats and tables in case of rain at each campsite. All of the sites are walk in only, and even the two or three that are close to vehicle accessible camping are somewhat removed from the drive in campground. There really is nothing worse than walking all day to arrive at a campground filled with bogans crushing beer cans on their heads, burning tires and blasting those old songs from the '80's. Certainly, the campsites are far better than the marginal, cramped and sloping sites found along the Southwest Walk (which frequently require you to walk a fair distance out of your way to camp right by the vehicle accessible camping). 

Marine life along the rock platforms

The track is well maintained and easy to follow, but, almost all the beach walking sections are heavily discouraged due, one can only presume by the signage, to fears of litigation should someone get their toes wet in a rock pool. Most of the time it is easy to work out where you can beach walk (tide dependent) and where you can't, but, we were able to beach walk quite a few sections that are not advertised on the official map or the signage along the track that other walkers may miss. In contrast, the Southwest Walk is almost all beach walking and, where there is an inland option, it is not encouraged over the coastal option.

Logistically, it is very easy to walk one way along the GOW as V Line has a thrice weekly bus service to the western end and a daily bus service to the eastern end (both very cheap). Conversely, if you only walk the coastal section of the Southwest Walk you'll have to find some other method (we rented a car) of retrieving your vehicle at the end of the walk. Most people, we discovered later, actually get their overnight gear carried along the GOW (at least some sections of it) by a local operator who transports overnight gear from one road access point to another allowing walkers to carry only a day pack. 

 Gellibrand River wetland

There are three problems with the GOW, however, one is that a couple of sections take long inland detours on old or current roads where there is no track along the coast. Apparently, these sections are gradually being re-routed and, in the future, one might be able to walk these sections on coastal track. The second is the amount of garbage, in particular toilet paper, that festoons the walk. While this is worse at areas close to the road, leading me to hypothesise that too much sitting in a car causes incontinence, not all the detritus can be blamed on vehicle based tourists as some tent sites have toilet paper around the margins, which really is inexplicable given it is, at most, a 50 metre walk to the outhouse. The third and final problem is that many of the walkers are not really walkers, just people doing this one walk, one time. That shouldn't be a problem except they really do not seem to know how to behave in the outdoors. They leave food behind in the shelters, they light fires (not allowed at all) right in the middle of the tent platforms so the next walker along has to put their tent into a pile of dirty ash, they shower with the drinking water when there is, literally, an ocean of water nearby, they stuff their garbage into little crevices (you carried a full package in you can carry a full package out) and they contribute to the toilet paper problem. 


 Track views between Princetown and 12 Apostles

Somehow I have managed to write almost 1,000 words without even coming close to reporting the start, let alone the finish of this walk, so, in the interests of not boring my few regular readers too long at any one stretch, move on to part two for the walk report.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beeripmo Walk

This was one of those walks that you don't have really high hopes for but which turns out to be really quite wonderful. The walk is a 20 km long loop (if you include the side trip to Mount Buangor) that starts and ends in Mount Cole State Forest but also meanders through adjoining Mount Buangor State Park and is well marked, well built, well maintained and just generally well conceived. That is a whole lot of wells, but, really this is a good walk. Half way along there is a secluded little campsite in a lovely gum forest with outhouses, tables, and water tanks. We did the walk as a day trip, but there are certainly worse places to spend a night than under the fragrant gum trees among kangaroos and echidnas listening to the panoply of bird song characteristic of the Australian bush. 

 View from Cave Hill

We were camped nearby at Smiths Bridge (a nice free campsite on a quiet road in Mount Cole State Forest) and had found a good track that runs west on the south side of Cave Hill Creek that allowed us to walk to the start of the walk at Richards Campground (another nice small free campsite) which added a further four kilometres to the walk. 

 Fragrant and beautiful eucalpyt forest

From Richards Campground, the track climbs up beside Cave Hill Creek to the diminutive Raglan Falls, a thin stream of water pouring over tall granite boulders. There is a very sturdy metal railing at the top of Raglan Falls and a bit of a view over the rest of the state forest. A bit more gradual climbing and the track gains a large plateau which stretches about 10 kilometres in a roughly north south direction before dropping down steeply on all sides to the surrounding plains. There are quite a few ups and downs, but generally, the track stays on this plateau for most of the remainder of the walk.

 These tiny flowers were everywhere

The forest is gorgeous open eucalpyt with an under-storey of ferns and, in spring, myriad wildflowers. Traversing over Cave Hill, there are good views from a big rock platform just off the track to the north which the track later contours below allowing more expansive views to nearby Mount Langi Ghiran and beyond to the Grampians. The track then follows the plateau north to Sugarloaf, another good viewpoint, then ambles along for a couple of kilometres to a track junction where you can take a side trip to another view point, probably the best, the lookout on Mount Buangor. 

 Doug among the tall trees

We detoured to Mugwamp Campground for lunch, and then I strolled up to the lookout on Mount Buangor (sadly my camera battery died before I could take any photos), while Doug continued along the track. This added an extra 40 minutes walking and is well worthwhile.  The final six kilometres is all downhill on a good track following an unnamed creek back to Richards Campground through stands of gums, ferns, and tree ferns.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Mix Of Arapiles Climbs

If you follow this blog, you've probably worked out we are back camping at Natimuk Lake and climbing at Mount Arapiles. Last year, I somehow managed to have time to walk an hour in the morning, an hour at night, and keep up a blog (of sorts) about our climbing experiences. This year, I am barely managing an hour at night walking and virtually no blogging. Something, apart from me being a year older, has obviously changed. 

I do have other priorities. When I got back into the gym in Tasmania, I discovered two things, one good, one not so good. While I had lost less strength than I might have imagined, I had also lost more mobility than I anticipated. So right now, my big focus, outside of staying alive while trad climbing, is mobility and this consumes more than an hour a day. On the plus side, my mobility is improving, on the negative side, I have noticed my strength is waning. 

Such is life on the road. You can't train strength when you are trying to perform, yet, especially when trad climbing, you tend to climb at a lower grade than you would when sport climbing so you get less training effect even if you put in the same number of hours on the rock. Trad climbing is more about fiddling in gear and assessing your relative safety than it is about pushing the limits of your climbing. 

The weather has, overall, been pretty good. We've had a few hot days and it is noticeably drier around the area than last year (Natimuk Lake is dry and overgrown with vegetation). Most days, with a little thought, starting early, climbing in the shade, it is possible to climb pretty comfortably, but, the flies are numerous, viscous and make being outdoors thoroughly unpleasant.
Today, however, is one of those days when you just don't climb - it's 35 Celsius, the Antipodean sun is beating down, and the hot north wind offers little relief. In other words, it's a rest day and a good day to catch up with the blog.

A chronicle of all the routes we have climbed would be tedious, and this blog post is likely tedious enough, so I am simply going to record some thoughts about some of the new routes (new to us) we have done this year. 

 Oops, cross loaded biner

First off, climbs I really did not like as much as I thought I would. Syrinx is a seven pitch route up Tiger Wall and, while it gets three stars, I liked it less than Siren. While, the first three pitches offer some good climbing, and the cruxy moves right off the ground on pitch one will wake you up, the last four pitches are not nearly as good. Pitch four rambles up juggy terrain, which I liked but Doug did not, and the remaining three pitches are kind of average. Pitch six traverses a huge terrace before climbing two metres up a steep little crack, and the final pitch is another traverse - although there is a certain novelty factor in this pitch as it is quite airy. Overall, Siren (a grade easier) offers better climbing in my opinion. 

Dunes is one of those unsatisfying climbs that combine easy terrain with a few brutish moves out of character with the rest of the route. The steep little crack on pitch one is really hard at the grade (I pulled on a cam) so five metres of hard, pumpy climbing follows 30 metres of rambling. Pitch two is a bit similar with some slick steep moves to start then much easier climbing above. Pitch three follows a similar format except in reverse. After pulling onto a wall, there is some easy rambling followed by a short steep crack. Pitch four seems more consistent at the grade but it is ledgey at the crux so you don't want to blow those moves and fall onto a ledge. 

Now onto more enjoyable routes. Keyboard and Conifer Crack at the Organ Pipes are all great fun and well protected. If you want to do Keyboard without continuing up pitch two of Conifer Crack you can walk over and rappel off the Horn Piece anchors. Pedro is pretty challenging at the grade and requires some technique and some strength, definitely daunting for a leader at the grade. Gecko and Chameleon Connection are on the smooth slabby wall to the right of Arachnus (must be Mount Arapiles most climbed route) and are balancey, technical and run-out in equal measures.

Kestrel is a full body experience up a giant crack/chimney which requires no chimneying but a lot of gymnastics. The climbing is never really hard but you have to work it out. It's a real corker. There is a rappel anchor, a rare treat at Arapiles which saves lugging up shoes for the walk off. 

The chimney on Harlequin Cracks defeated us again. Doug went up and tried for ages to climb it but found it slick, hard, and impossible to protect safely (that is not hitting ledges if you fall) so he climbed a - challenging for a few moves - variation out on the right wall then regained the chimney higher. The remainder of the pitches are fun, easy, well protected. If I did it again, I would just climb BA Mosquito to start. In the same area, Harlequin Cracks has a great first pitch up a corner crack with easier climbing above. 

Agamemnon is a fantastic chimney, which does require a bit of chimneying, has dizzying exposure and is just great fun with great positions. Doug led this and did manage to get adequate gear, although it isn't what you would call plentiful. In the same area, Tantalus is surprisingly steep, particularly the start of pitch two, and Clytemneastra Buttress is also very steep at the start of pitch two and a bit confronting at first. 

Eagle Cleft and The Eighth are just enjoyable climbs at the grade and it is fun to climb Trapeze - the traverse is exciting and exposed - on Castle Crag and we top-roped swinging which, at grade 17 is way easier than the crux moves of Dunes. Go figure. At Charity Buttress, all the climbs are good, difficulty wise, it is hard to see the difference between Loyalty/Faith and Charity/Hope. The buttress is certainly a nice place to spend a morning climbing all the routes on the buttress.
Bygone, despite the guidebook write up, does not seem particularly hard at the grade, and the protection is adequate and, in the same area, Debut is shady for much of the day so a good choice on a hot day, although, I had to break the first pitch into two as, even with only two pieces of gear in the first 20 metres and long runners on both pieces, I simply could not drag the rope up the crux moves. The second pitch has some loose blocks but is fun and easy to protect. Rope drag gets pretty burly at the end of that pitch as well. 

Those are the highlights. We'll probably be here for another week as a southerly change is forecast for this evening - I cannot wait - and the temperatures through the next week look good. We did manage, by luck not diligence, to be in town for the Natimuk Frinj Festival. The locals, all 500 of them, do go to a lot of trouble for the bi-yearly event and we saw a couple of funny films and I went to a yoga class. The next one won't be until 2017, so you have two years to prepare for the event.