ENGLAND Lake District 2019

I was completely taken by surprise by my strong emotional reaction to being in the Lake District this year. I gazed out my hire-car window at the usual quaint pastoral scenes: lush grass, gorgeous Herdwick sheep, stone walls, charming cottages, and huge spreading trees that always fill me with delight; I smelled the marvellous combination of roses and other early-summer flowers; and I heard the welcome call of blackbirds along with other twitters that I can’t identify. All these aspects of what I love filled me with an aching nostalgia and I burst into tears that shook my body.

Climbing Robinson

I have been travelling to the Lake District on and off since Bruce and I first completed undergraduate studies at university. We’d been there three times by the time we had children; of course, we took our girls there to walk the high fells; and we have been there many times since, but this was my first visit since my husband died late in 2017, and I realised here, standing in the lanes near Skelwith Bridge, how much all this beauty surrounding me was part of the very being of my husband. The Lakes were not just an area Bruce admired: they were actually part of who he was.

Climbing Robinson

The teenager Bruce imparted to his little teenager girl friend, later wife, his deep love of all things English. Bruce inhaled English literature. By the time he had finished his honours degree, he had read every great book written in the language before 1900, could burst into Old English at the drop of a hat, or chat about any of the characters that filled the books as if they were old friends. The Lakes were beloved as the padding ground of many of his favoured poets. He loved telling me stories of their experiences here. This area embodied much of what filled his being and sparked his enthusiasm, but now I was here without him. I was yanked back to younger days, but without the person who made them meaningful.

Elter Water

Together as recent graduates in our early twenties we had roamed its hills, with me photographing while he wrote poetry on the summits. Later we loved sharing what we loved with our girls. When we did post-graduate work at Oxford, back we came for more, and somewhere in there, I realised I could “get” all the Wainwrights, so then we came back each year to enable that. But by then, Bruce had developed Parkinson’s disease. Bit by bit he got slower and less coordinated, but still he came, and still he wandered up high, gathering fells with me, and delighted in being there. He died just over a year after his last trip there.

Herdwick sheep greeted me

I walked the lanes still crying. I don’t care. There’s nothing wrong with crying. As I climbed Loughrigg Fell, my first fell for this trip, and became distanced from the cottages and lanes, roses and blackbirds, and up into the zone of open spaces and expansive views, my spirit picked up. Up there on the ridges and summit, with the breeze in my face, I was able to tap into a different version of me, of us. I am probably at my most peaceful in life going up or down a mountain : moving freely in grand nature with space all around.

Borrowdale Gates Hotel: scene of our party

It’s good that I did recover my spirit, as I had a party to attend that night, and I didn’t want to ruin its mood. My dear friend, David Purchase, was celebrating his 30-year Monroaversary, as well as the completion that day of his second round of the Wainwright Outlying fells. I sure would have dampened his summit party had I arrived in time for that one, but by evening when we all met up, I was ready for a party, and could focus on celebration, and not my drowning wave of emotions.

Misty morning

What do you do when you come from Tasmania and have climbed all the Wainwrights, but still want to keep climbing? Why, you begin all over again, of course.

Climbing Lingmoor Fell

So, the day after the splendid party, along with party guests Stephen Moore and Michael Earnshaw – both mighty multiple completes of meaningful lists of mountains – I climbed five Wainwrights of my Round Two Collection. I have now, as of the end of this short stay, climbed thirty five fells on Round Two. It’s fun beginning again. I am every bit as haphazard and unsystematic as I was on the first round, just climbing what I feel like / what takes my fancy at the moment. I want to return next year and begin the task of photographing the ones Bruce and I climbed in the very early days, but which I failed to photograph, as photography was very expensive when you were still a student and each slide cost 1/6th of my weekly scholarship allowance, aimed to keep two of us alive. Other photos are just blurry prints from when I downgraded cameras to save money, and did a triple downgrade in quality.

Black Crag

You know, it’s not just being up high in the endless space with mist or breeze (or both) in my face. I also love the valley life in England. I love it that if you pop into a pub for soup at lunchtime, almost every single other person there is wearing walking boots, and there is a map on the table. Spontaneous conversations begin across tables as people compare where they’ve been that morning, and what conditions were like up the top before we all venture out for another round in the afternoon. I love the attitude to dogs, especially as I live in a ridiculous canine-ophobic society that seems to think dogs are the worst pestilence that has hit planet earth. How my little Tessie would love to come freely roaming the hills with me instead of being forced to walk suburban blocks with a lead around her neck. (Yes, she comes waterfall bagging with me, but I can’t think of a single real mountain she’s been allowed to summit, as they are all placed in National Parks).

Ivy Crags near Holme Fell summit

I just can’t wait to be back, reacquainting myself with long-neglected fells. Tessie will be babysat in Tasmania.

Climbing Black Crag

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Gower

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Gower

I really didn’t want to do the Mt Gower walk. Having to hire a guide to climb a mere 850 ms had no appeal, and spinning it out over eight long hours was similarly unattractive. I had the vision of a gang of snails waiting for permission to take each step. However, I did want to go to the top, so I found myself being grilled by the lady in charge as to my possible fitness for this venture, and then being taught how to climb and hike. I had trouble keeping calm. I told her a few of the things I’d climbed but she bowled on regardless. I later found out I was not the only one who received this treatment.

I cycled to the start in the relatively cool morning air, enjoying the breeze created by the bike, and, as always, delighting in the whole experience of cycling on the beautiful island. Who should be there waiting by the start gate but Nicole, a lovely person I’d met on day 1 out on a mountain slope. Hoorah. The bus containing the rest of the group arrived soon enough, and helmets in hand, off we set to begin our ‘epic’ before the day got too hot.

The first two kms are just a flat coastal walk, and I met four others of the group in this stretch, and was starting to really enjoy myself. It seemed to be a great bunch. First bit of fun for the day was a tiny climb (80 metres) to what is called Low Road – a photogenic stretch begging you to take photographs – and then a bit of an uphill slope to Erskine Creek where we’d stop and have a drink and snack before continuing. The day was heating up. I liked Dean’s way of operating, which was to set a pleasant pace for I’m not sure how long, and then to stop and wait for the rear enders to catch up. I don’t mind this method at all: it’s being forced to walk slowly that rankles. With Dean’s method, you can look at the forest and chat while you wait, so the time goes by pleasantly enough. It also meant we didn’t overheat or loose moisture with sweat. I do have a tendency to rush up mountains, and this discipline on a hot day was not a bad thing at all. His information was interesting, and presented in a manner that raised other issues to do with conservation and the island.

The ropes were not necessary on a dry day like today, but I can sure imagine they would be more than welcome in wet weather when everything would be slippery. I also noted at least one member of the party who had legs that had turned to jelly or wood or both on the way down, and the rope probably saved him from a nasty accident. Meanwhile, the rope sections were jolly good fun, for steep it was. I was reminded of Mt Bartle Frere and also Mt Sorrow, both in tropical far north QLD, where the gradient is somewhat similar. I love four-limbed ascents; they’re exhilarating. Maybe I have cat in my genes.

One aspect of this climb that I knew I was going to love was Moss Forest – a misty, moisty forest (under normal conditions) – at the top, where there are two species of palm tree that grow there and only there in the whole wide world. How exciting. This forest was magnificent, even in the current drought with some brown and curled leaves, and there was plenty of time for me to photograph while we waited. I was rather miffed, as I did have loads of time, and even though it was a sunny day out there in the real world below us, in the forest I was having to push my ISO up to 1200 and shoot with a fairly wide aperture in order to get enough light into the camera. There was easily enough time to have set up a tripod for better photos, but the lady who “taught me how to bushwalk” told me there would be absolutely no time for tripod photography, and, perhaps stupidly, I had been scared out of bringing it along. At least I hadn’t been talked out of my full frame camera, although midday glare hardly shows what it can do to advantage. I would love to see this forest in winter, with real mist hanging around, and to see the mosses and ferns less stressed out and shining. Even in a thirsty forest, it was a wonderful place to be. It was for the forest rather than the views that I was there, and I didn’t even bother with a photo from the top. Midday record shots aren’t my thing.

I did, however, enjoy imbibing the views there and elsewhere with my new companions at the top, and at our waiting spots on the way down. Even at Erskine Creek, where the noise of cicadas hit rock-concert volume, it seemed eerily still and quiet in a different way. It was refreshing.

On the way home, Nicole and I stopped our bikes at Blinky Beach and completed a perfect day with a swim. There was even a turtle in the water. At dinner that night, two other couples from the climb ate where we did. For the rest of the week, we found ourselves waving to our new friends at this and that location, or as we cycled by, or they did. On the final night, Yelena’s husband, Jonny, had been fishing and caught a King Fish that was almost 6-foot big, as well as a huge Trevally and I think the third fish was Snapper. We had way too much fish (even though he’d given heaps to the island supplies). At a nearby BBQ we spotted Laure and Vincent from the climb: “Hey, come and help us eat fish”. We had such a fun BBQ together. Next morning, Tim and Katrina from the hike were having coffee and muffin at the same time as I was, so we shared a table and had a final chat. Nicole was on the same plane out to Sydney. It was a lovely small island, and climbing Gower together brought us into contact with other like-minded people. I’m so glad I did it.

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Lidgbird Goathouse

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Lidgbird Goathouse Cave (420 ms asl)

At three and a quarter and seven, the children were a bit too young to take up Mt Gower, which we’d done the day before, so a climb to the Mt Lidgbird Goathouse Cave – only half the climb – was seen as an excellent consolation prize. The children always enjoy a good bushwalk, so off we set. While we climbed, Gussy discussed with me his birthday wish for when he turns eight (he’s not yet seven and a half), which is to have a family climb up a mountain in Tasmania. We aired a few suitable possibilities. There can still be snow in August.

I had sent the others on ahead, planning to catch them some time after the first saddle, allowing me to move at a faster pace for a while, which I enjoy. Once we’d reunited there, Gussy chose to go ahead with me, and he is getting delightfully fit so we had a great time together. Just before the roped section we waited for Abby and her patient parents to catch us and have a snack and drink together, and then it was full steam to the top. Abby did all the roped climbs by herself, and walked a very good portion of the whole. Many steps were shoulder high for that little poppet. Her little face was a picture of effort and concentration – and determination.

Up the top, we all adored the views and the masses of birds that circled us and popped in for a brief visit while we ate. You feel dramatically and suitably high.

I was interested to watch Gussy descending. I do remember the days when descending turned my legs to jelly – back last century, haha, before I became a mountain runner. You can be very fit for going up, but not have the musculature for a strong descent, and that was the case with our little seven year old. It had also been the case with a teenage boy on Gower the day before. Strength of that kind and cardio-vascular fitness are two separate items. Gussy did well to be cautious and use the ropes to help him, and to take a bit longer down than up. The route is very challenging yet not dangerous if you are sensible, thus making for a perfect adventure for those at an appropriate level of readiness. Gussy’s last mountain had been Hartz Mountain in Tasmania (1254 ms asl) so we knew he was well-able to do this one.

Tim Shea 2019 Jan

Mt Tim Shea: a sad substitute for the Denison Ranges 2019 Jan

It is really hard for me to get away these days, but I had booked my dog into a kennel for four days and was ready to climb onto the Denison Range, sleeping on Great Dome night one, climbing Bonds Craig and more day two, and maybe out or maybe more climbing for the remainder. I had Tessie booked in for the extra in case I was out late or felt like an extra day. The web said the Rhona track was open. Off I set.

It’s a long drive down south to the start beyond Maydena, and just as I neared my goal, keen to be underway at last, I got turned around. Fires had become reinvigorated near Lake Rhona, so I couldn’t proceed further. It was, by this time, about 3.30. So, I had driven all this way; what was I to do? I had never been up Mt Tim Shea (opposite The Needles) before, and it was nearby. I had had enough of driving: decision made. I repacked my bag, and up I went.

The map didn’t indicate that any water would be available, so I took plenty, and, as it wasn’t all that far, I lugged my heaviest tripod. Luckily I was on top in less than an hour. I was, nonetheless, very hot indeed, and glad to be finished.

Although the views were excellent, it was heartbreaking to see how very close the fires were to Bonds Craig and Lake Rhona. I could smell the smoke from where I was, and could see it billowing from the mountains all too close to the fragile area of my original destination.

 My darling second-born daughter phoned while I was in range on top to check up on me, and was most anxious as to my well-being, but I promised her the wind was not blowing in exactly my direction (I tested that one at regular intervals), and that if I felt in any danger at all, I would rush down (much faster than I’d ascended, as I’d throw the water out first).

Despite the fires, I had a fabulous time photographing, given that clouds of a delicate pink were floating all around. I pondered the next few nights: I still had two remaining after this one, so was wondering how to spend them. It has been a very long time since I have visited Mt Field West, and I have never slept actually on this mountain (only on nearby k-col), so I decided to check in at Mt Field NP next morning to find out the state of play for my new plan B. I was told there that almost everything I wanted to do was either out of bounds or “not advised”, as they feared, for example, that if I went to Mt Anne (Plan C) or the Western Arthurs (Plan D), I’d need to be evacuated. They’d prefer to save themselves the bother.

Plan E it was; I decided I had little choice but to drive the long haul to Lake St Clair, and sleep on the Mt Hugel shelf. As it turned out, I was so hot and bothered I just camped at Shadow Lake. A total fire ban meant I couldn’t cook dinner; the wind was unpleasantly strong, and temperatures were uncomfortable. Next morning I gave up and returned home a day early. Tessa was delighted.

Walls of Jerusalem 2019 Jan

Walls of Jerusalem in Summer. 2019


It has been a long, long while since I have visited my old playground – the Walls of Jerusalem – in summer. For the last few years, we’ve only gone there in winter, in glorious snow. However, I was in the mood for chasing scoparia, and, even though the season for this beautiful flower was nearly over, I hoped to catch some isolated specimens still in the flush of glowing youth.

I made this decision on Saturday. On Friday, I had been so busy I was still collecting peaches at 10 pm, and making jam until 11. Next morning, it rained more peaches on my head, so I made more jam, and then spat the dummy, asked my neighbour if he could mind Tessie (dog) for a night, packed my bag hurriedly and left. I was starting just a little late, but it’s not a long walk in. I’d be there before sunset. I was at Herod’s Gates in just a click over two hours’ walking, which was pleasing, so I could climb The Temple while waiting for sunset and generally roam about exploring various pools, deciding where I wanted to be when and if the sky gave me some colour.

I dumped my pack – I’d attend to matters of actual accommodation later – set up my tripod and rampaged to and fro and up and down. Bushbashing with a set-up tripod and camera sporting its fragile filters makes for an interesting diversion, but I managed. I nearly missed good views for sunset, having not quite timed myself to be in the very best spot for the best lighting, but I didn’t miss by much, and did get light that pleased anyway.

During the night, I didn’t get much sleep. The stars were so lovely, and just being alone in the wilderness so beautiful, that I didn’t want my tent fly to spoil the view of the stars. I woke at 1.30, too cold to sleep. I put on extra layers, but left the fly up. I just couldn’t bring myself to block off my beautiful view. At 3.30, I was so tired, I admitted defeat, and closed it down. I didn’t know another thing until my alarm went off at 4.45. Time to get up and get into position for sunrise. Yawn.

 With so little sleep, driving home was a very dangerous business. I could feel myself staring into space and losing focus – terrifying danger signals for me. I saw a sign that said “Coffee”, but I didn’t know this place. I was in the middle of nowhere. It couldn’t be good coffee. But then, I reasoned, this is my continued life we are thinking about here, so I did a U-turn and decided to inspect this building. What a find. It’s called Earthwater Cafe, and is 3 kms west of Mole Creek on the road leading to Marakoopa Caves and the Walls (and Lake Rowallan).

The owners only opened in December, yet already the place is very popular, and with good reason. The coffee was excellent, the vanilla slice right up there on a short list of best-ever v. slices, and the garden I sat in to relax and imbibe this much needed food (I have forgotten to mention I was so busy photographing last night I didn’t bother with any dinner) was shady, welcoming, and idyllic. I want to return to re-experience all three (coffee, food, garden), although I might try the prune and apricot tart next go, just to try more things out. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier. I loved it.

Thus fortified, I made it home alive. I was in much greater danger this week from fatigue than I was the week before from fire.