Philosopher Falls 2017 Oct

Philosopher Falls 2017 Oct

Can you feel the magic?
You would think that my trip to the base of Philosopher Falls would be totally marred by the fact that tripod number two (that is, the second tripod in two successive days) broke in my hands as I lined up for my first photo; however, Carrie and I had had such fun getting there, and the place was so magical, that it almost seemed as if photos didn’t matter. I felt as if I were in a holy spot, that I should use hushed whispers in a place that aroused such a spiritual feeling. It is a stunningly beautiful place, with its dramatic drop and white lines of flow, its mossy trees dripping with lichen and its shining rocks; this beauty is then further enhanced by the knowledge that not too many people manage to come that way; it is a kind of secret spot. Waterfalls of Tasmania says where we were standing is “inaccessible”. I like defying challenges like that.

The reason not too many people come that way is that it’s actually quite difficult getting there. The navigation, even if you own, and are competent at using, a gps is quite tricky, as the dense canopy interferes with the satellite signals. My gps, for example, said that we climbed half way up the side opposite the falls, which we did not. Because the ground is so dense, it is hard to see exactly what the contours are doing; your vision is obstructed by piles of giant fallen trees (which you have to clamber over, or under, or try somehow to get around). And then, there is the problem that this is an ancient and decaying forest, so it is possible (Carrie tried it a few times) for you to tread on a log that disintegrates under your weight, however diminutive that might be, so you can easily fall. I’ve seen a guy break his leg that way. This is not country to be in alone. One early explorer noted that if he trod on a log and it collapsed and he broke his leg, he would probably die, as no one would find him. One treats this land with respect.

And so, it took us far longer than we thought it would to reach a point where I excitedly announced to Carrie that we had done it, and we only had to climb up and over this spur in front of us and drop down the steep other side and we would be there. We were jubilant at the bottom. I didn’t look at my watch, as I didn’t want to feel guilty about my husband waiting wherever it was that he was waiting. I wanted to enjoy the moment. I only snuck a peak when we’d finished enjoying ourselves with our cameras and were ready to set out on our return journey.
Things were much faster on the way back, and we were at the car in time for lunch. I settled into a nook in the forest and devoured my salad roll with gusto. I had worked up quite an appetite. Even in the carpark, the forest has a wonderful feel to it. Viva Tarkanya.

Balfour 2017 Mar

Mt Balfour, Balfour Ghost town, and Frankland River Walk.  Tarkine day 3.

After breakfast overlooking the Pieman River with its beautiful reflections at Corinna, we continued on our way north, driving for about an hour and a quarter at moderate pace to reach the foot of Mt Balfour.
This mountain was short and very, very steep – so steep I was wondering how I was going to get my husband back down it. (He has Parkinson’s disease, if you are not used to reading this blog and find that an odd comment). Some sections you had to hang onto the grass to avoid rolling the whole way back down the hill. In fact, I watched a German girl girl doing precisely that as we neared the end on the rebound. She was wearing thongs, and had nothing to keep her foot attached to her shoe, so it slid out backwards. On the way up, I clutched grass and small bushes to avoid rolling backwards, and on the descent, I used the shrubbery rather than the ballbearinged 4WD track, as did my husband. He would have had a bad accident had he tried to stay on the track. The track just goes straight up, with no mucking around.

Steep it certainly was, but, as I said, it was also short, so I only took 27 minutes to the top – but 31 down. When you take longer to descend than to climb, you know this is a really steep slope. On top, we all enjoyed a snack just for the heck of it – because you snack on a mountain, even if it was only a tiny trip up – while some members girded their loins for the feared descent.

Next on our programme was a visit to the rather eerie ghost town of Balfour. Why eerie? For me it was, as apparently there are the graves of four hundred people who died in 1912 from typhoid. The “town” itself only has a few old tin shanties, but to think of such a large number of people living and working there, all quickly dead was rather horrifying. The doctor, whose grave remains, was only thirty when he died; Sylvia was fifteen. Most of the graves are no longer visible – perhaps there was just a mass grave at the height of the epidemic. I enjoyed the leafy tunnel that constituted the bulk of this walk, although the Frankland River, wild though it well may be, was not at its most attractive in midday glare. I didn’t bother photographing it, even though I did enjoy the leisurely stroll.

That night we slept on the West Coast, and that I DID photograph – with a vengeance. So many photos did I take that I’ll give the evening of Day 3 its very own blog (posted tomorrow).

Norold 2017 Jan

Mt Norold. There in my inbox was an email about a trip to Mt Norold. Mt What??? Never heard of it. Curious, I read further: plane to Melaleuca, boat up the inlet and across Bathurst Harbour, where I had never been, and then, the opportunity to explore a truly remote area of this island state. Yes please. I signed up.

Flight in
Day 1. The boat trip was very bouncy and rather wet; visibility was poor, and conditions were cool enough for me to wear both my padded and Goretex jackets. The wind was building, but, hey, we were underway, and I was happy. Progress upwards was easy, through low buttongrass, but we made slow advancement as a group, and so had failed to make our intended destination when a halt was called to the day. At this stage, we were only about 320ms above sea level, on a ridge which would, on the morrow, lead us to the top of Mt Wilson. We had nine-day packs, and some were finding the going to be tough. Three twenty metres asl is still high enough to offer fine views (if the clouds cleared); this was a pretty nice spot to stay in for the night, and offered us enough shelter from the quite strong wind. I sucked water out of a yabby hole and a small soak to fill my container, and settled down to cook my freeze-dried meal.

Day 2. The scenery remained lovely, with easy, ridgetop walking, although the outlines of surrounding mountains were murky in the slight haze. The summit of Mt Wilson was slow in the taking, and I could see we would not make our intended destination of Lake Eucryphia. (I later discovered this was no sad loss – the sides were steep and bosky). Mt Norold looked very imposing, and a long way off from the summit of Wilson.
Thus, when we were in lower-lying ground between Wilson and our goal,  our leader decided it would be best if we dropped our packs and climbed Norold without them, and return later to pitch tents somewhere in that area.

Oh the joy of climbing without a heavy pack. It took no time at all to summit Norold unburdened. On top, two guys said they’d like to explore more mountains to the north, and have a look at the lake we were no longer camping at. Who would like to come too? Only Louise, it seemed. Off we set while the others returned to collect their packs and set up home for the night. It was now very, very windy.
With a walk across the ridgeline to our goal that was only decked in ankle-high vegetation, this excursion was sheer pleasure. We climbed an unnamed mountain that we christened Mount Unloved. I don’t know why it is thus uncared for, as it offered grandstand views of the Western and Eastern Arthurs, and a whole lot more – the best vista of the whole trip – and is far superior to, say, Richea Peak. The wind even abated momentarily while we were there so we could enjoy sitting and staring at our takings.

That night, we got our only sunset of the trip. Next morning, the only sunrise. Several of us sat huddled in the freezing wind, armed with several coats, waiting for the sun to go down. The wind was so biting that only two of us remained for the pinking of the sky. Next day, I was a solo observer of sunrise.
Day 3. The hour surrounding sunrise on this day was one of my favourite hours in the whole trip. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

Full of joy, I returned to the tents (I had climbed back up the ridge to take these shots), worried that I might now be running late. Today, we would descend to the Old River, to only 40ms asl, thus losing the beautiful height we had laboured so hard to achieve.

From the ridge, this descent looked stunningly steep – and it proved to be every bit as scarped as it appeared from above.

It was a tough climb, sometimes using trees instead of ground to get ourselves down, sometimes sliding down several metres of almost vertical ground, letting ourselves drop off little cliff-faces, hoping the landing would be OK.

Karen, pondering the drop to the river below, which you can see snaking through the valley.
That night was memorable, and I don’t think anyone got much (any?) sleep. It was quite frightening for some of us, actually. The strong wind of bedtime, grew to be an uncontrolled monster by the early hours, and was gusting with such force that the tent fabric was thrashing around, and making piercing whip-cracking noises every few minutes. The poles bent over towards our faces and then snapped back up, untamed wild beasts that took on a life of their own. Meanwhile, it was raining heavily. I know what it is to have a tent snap in the middle of the night in rain, so lay staring at my pole, willing it to be strong. Others were doing the same.
At 4.15 a.m., a humongous gust snapped the poles of two tents (affecting the four inhabitants). The two near me got sopping wet coping with the breakage. All four had to do repair work in the dark with rain slashing down. It was not a joyous occasion. We were all exhausted next morning, as with or without a collapse of your temporary home, the noise was not something you could sleep through. Rain continued. Our leader, full of wisdom, called a rest day (Day 5) to try to recover, and to dry out, if possible.
Day 6. See for a blog on the climbing of Ripple Mountain.
Day 7. This was also a rest day. The rivers were swollen from all the rain, but the forecast indicated the waters may subside a bit. Our route was to take us over two rivers if we were to complete our circuit, so we needed to sit this mini flash-flood out if we wanted our other goals. Voting and discussion took place about whether to cross, how to do it safely, and what to do if we didn’t. (See photo of the swollen Old River in the blog link above). We listened to the light patter of rain on tent for much of the day.

Karen climbs
Day 8. Retracing our steps won out in the end. Several of us were unwilling to take the risks involved in a double crossing of unknown depths and strength, involving the possible (probable?) risk of hypothermia attached, especially if equipment got accidentally wet. We didn’t have appropriate gear for such a crossing.

Maureen the wonder woman, with 760 peak bagger’s points, and 155 Abels to her credit.
Up, up, up we climbed, some people hurting themselves trying to haul their bodies up the precipitous and slippery slopes. Then, down and up Mt Wilson once more, and part way down her ridge until some members of our group could just not take any more. We stopped in a spot that was pretty sheltered, considering the conditions, and had the last real meal of the trip. We had left a food stash on the other side of the river, but we would not reach it. Time to tighten the belts.

Dale, our noble leader
Day 9. On this day, we completed the descent, and chose spots for our tents on the banks of Bathurst Harbour to wait for the boat, which we hoped would rescue us early seeing’s we had no real food left. Meanwhile, this spot was so beautiful I thought paucity of food was inconsequential, and began to hope the ferry wouldn’t appear. I got my wish … and a beautiful sunset as well.

Day 10. One of the most hilarious nights of my life.
Now, this was primarily a group of pretty experienced and intelligent people, so it’s not as if we never considered the possibility that Bathurst Harbour would be tidal. It was partly tidal, we were told. We were also sensible enough to observe the water during the day. Low tide had been at 8pm that night, and we had arrived mid-morning. High tide should have been at around 1.30, just after lunch. It was nothing to worry about. We camped on magnificent grassy verges, replete with magic, crystal clear pools.

I had the most beautiful afternoon, lazing around my tent, watching the delightful private bath right outside my vestibule (it had been raining for days – of course the pools were full), and later, walking around the point for sunset, as above.
At 2.30ish, I got up to go to the toilet. My torch was on, so I saw nothing beyond its cone of glow. However, I love seeing the stars at night, so went back out without light to gaze at the Milky Way. Wow!!!! And there lay another wow: water was up to the edge of my vestibule (I could now see, seeing’s my vision was no longer reduced to a torch sector). I looked across to Maureen’s tent. Hm. It was half way up hers, but I knew she was awake, and she said nothing, so I assumed all was well. I did my maths: high tide would be 8 + 6.5 = 2.30 in the morning. OK. We were now exactly at high tide, so I’d stay awake to make sure everything (like, my maths) was correct, but all seemed to be in order.

Maureen’s island tent (at 4.15)
Shortly afterwards, Dale came along to tell us to evacuate. His tent was fully flooded, everything sopping, and he feared the worst for all of us. Maureen and I, however, elected to stay put, and “watch and wait”.
Twenty minutes later, the water was still rising, so we cleared our gear up into the trees, and sat on a rock together to watch the show.

Actual high tide came at 4.15, so we did a lot of waiting and chatting and laughing, as we thought this was terribly funny. When we realised from our little rock marker that the tide was at last on the wane, Maureen made us a hot chocolate, as neither of us wanted to return to our tents: Maureen, because hers was still inches deep in water (inside); I, because, although my inner was dry, the vestibule was still pretty sodden, and it was now so late, or early if you wish, that I wanted to hang around and photograph the dawn. We continued our vigil.

5.30. Pre-dawn glow
No one slept that night. I think Maureen and I got the most fun out of it. The boat didn’t rescue us until after 3pm, so there was plenty of time to dry out. We’ll have fodder for laughter together over that one for years to come.

Did I mention that the flight home was pretty good? (Federation Peak. That’s the one you don’t want to fall off!!)

Ripple Mountain 2017 Jan

“What’s your favourite trip?” I heard one of our party being asked. He gave a very similar answer to the one I would have given had I been asked: “Well, it depends on what aspect you’re thinking of. Scenery? Company? Weather? You can have great scenery, for example, but company that’s, well …. “, he gave a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Or, you can have great company, but miss out on the scenery.” I knew exactly what he was getting at. I have been in fabulous scenery, but have not been particularly happy due to the company I was keeping, or, as was the case on Ripple Mountain, I can climb a rotten beast of a hulk, but have great fun as I’ve done it with like-minded crazies who are also prepared to get out there and work hard, defy the elements, and somehow find enjoyment in the whole exercise. The very perversity of climbing something like Ripple Mountain has its own appeal, and when you do it with others, there is a complicit glee, like that had by kids at a midnight feast.

Just to get to the starting line of Ripple Mountain is no easy undertaking: first you have to fly to Melaleuca (South-west Tasmania) by light plane; next, there’s a boat ride through deep wilderness, up the Melaleuca Inlet and across Bathurst Harbour to a landing spot on its north eastern banks. By now, you are in a totally remote and wild area beyond the comprehension of most city dwellers. Finally, you have to walk over some mountains for two days and drop way back down to near sea level on the Old River. Now, you are ready to begin climbing. If it’s raining, what then? You climb anyway. And so, we set out in the mist and light rain, through ultra-thick scrub to climb Ripple Mountain because, well, what else do you do if it’s raining?

If I tell you we took six hours to cover 3.5 kms horizontal distance, with only 700ms vertical climb, that should give you a pretty good indication of the nature of Ripple Mountain, before I even begin to describe the day. Now, I have mentioned the light rain without indicating that the rivers and tributaries in the area were now somewhat flooded. Our first obstacle for the day was an integral part of these conditions: a fast-running creek of unknown depth and strength, which fed into the Old River, beside which we were camped. We found a narrow crossing point. The water looked strong, but not too deep. We took off our socks, put back on the boots and gaiters for protection, found ourselves each a nice long pole for balance, and tried our luck with the waters. They were strong; we inched slowly across (most of us) to make sure we didn’t slip or get bowled over, and were soon enough over the other side. Now began the real work.

We worked hard for 6 hours (up) to get this view
Ripple Mountain is a steep and scrubby affair: it’s a “dirt-in-your-face” kind of steep, where you use all four limbs to haul yourself up for hours … but that’s not all. It protects itself with an ingenious palisade of very thick scrub, the sort of scrub where, if a lightweight like me pushes at it, nothing happens. Even Dale, not a lightweight, could thrust his body energetically against it and have it move only a minute amount. Michael, our tallest member, was thus appointed to take on the worst of it. He did an amazing – an unbelievable – job of pushing away bauera and banksia to let the rest of us through in his wake. There is no way I would or could climb this mountain without the others – and no way I would want to. I was not here for points. On this occasion, given the weather, I was not even here for a summit view. I was here for “fun”, because I am so deficient in understanding that I think that getting myself covered in dirt and scratches, that hauling myself up for hours with friends who are doing the same, constitutes a good time.

We surmised that Ripple Mountain got its name from the seemingly endless waves of scrub that define the final ridge. As Matt pointed out: it did not get it from any ripple of applause.
We had lunch on a knob where the land flattened out a bit, thinking that, with only 1.2 kms to go, and negligible climb left, we’d be about another hour. Wrong. We were still a tad over two hours off our destination. I started to be very glad that we’d packed head torches, and was mentally prepared for a descent in the dark.

The Old River, beside which (nearly) we were camped, and across which we needed to go if we were to climb Harrys Bluff next day. The water, I should add, was very cold. Even on a hot day, no girl went swimming.
You will be thrilled to learn, if anticipating an ascent of this uncouth mongrel, that the final seven minutes are delightful walking, where you get to put one foot in front of the other in an upright stance, fighting nothing to gain the summit. I think from its position, geographically speaking, it must offer fantastic views. I saw a few blades of button grass from the top – and the friends with whom I climbed. The trip down was very speedy, done in only half the ascent time, not only due to the fact that we were no longer fighting gravity, but also to the excellent passage that Mike had made for us on his way up. We named our ridge “Mike’s Ridge”. All up, it was an 11.5 hour day, 8.75 hours of which were spent moiling forwards.

I didn’t track this one, but my friend did. When I get a picture of our route, I’ll post it here for those who love map-staring.

Eastern Arthurs 2016 ii Federation Peak attempt and East Portal

Eastern Arthurs II. Federation Peak attempt and East Portal.     A personal perspective.

The big one of the Eastern Arthurs, yea, of Tasmania: Federation Peak. Gulp. It’s not the highest, but it is the biggest in stature and in everyone’s minds. Summit day dawned: a white-out. Start time was put back for at least an hour … or more. Whatever it took to give visibility. The air was cold and damp and we appreciated the extra time in our cozy, warm sleeping bags, chatting across the tent space. We’d all eaten and were ready to pull down the tents in minimum time when it became appropriate. I wasn’t impatient. It was not suitable to climb in this.

Federation Peak, all close and personal.

The call to move came to me like a call for battle. So. This was it. Here was our destiny, which, in a worst case scenario, could be our death. You fall on a certain section of this rock face, and you die. Damit basta. This was, contrary to my original understanding, to be a ropeless climb. No one told me that the rope we were bringing was not for humans, and I had made assumptions. However, had I known, I would still be here, exactly where I was, waiting to see what could be seen; waiting to experience whatever it was that lay directly ahead.

Cautious movement along the Southern Traverse.

There is no intended blame here. If you don’t know how to tie the right knots, attach a rope properly to a fixture and belay with correct technique, then it is utterly inappropriate to have the responsibility of doing it in a situation such as this thrust upon you. I am merely saying that the absence of this safety net altered my attitude to the climb that lay ahead.

Cute, isn’t she.
On we pressed, negotiating our way along the famous (or, infamous, considering the recent death on it) Southern Traverse. In this section, I was actually enjoying the dramatic drops down to the lake several hundred metres below, as there was at least 30 cms of ledge, and that’s plenty for me to be comfy. I was wondering which was the section where the girl fell to her death, but didn’t like to ask.

Eventually, however, we reached a sloped section where a fall would break some minor bone (leg, arm, hip) if you landed badly. You’d be terribly unlucky for anything worse than that, so it was not shatteringly scary, but neither was it a breeze if you enjoy your bones being in one piece, as I do. I realised that for me, any mountain is a prelude to all the ones that will follow, and no one mountain is worth the sacrifice of even a season’s bushwalking, let alone anything worse. The others were being very tentative as they edged themselves down with nothing much to hold on to.

A beautiful sunset the night of our attempt. This trip only offered rare moments of joy, but this sunset was sure one of them!

My foot slipped on the wet rock here. I sized up the slope. I could get down without falling, I figured, but to get back up later, I could possibly need some help in the form of a hand from above or a shove from below. I didn’t like the idea of attempting it solo. I also knew in that single moment of slippage that there was no way I was going to trust the rock on the dangerous section that day. This bit was only an appetiser for the main meal. I considered my options. If I backed out now, I could easily return to other, interesting zones and have some fun while I waited for the others, but if I proceeded beyond this point, I’d be a prisoner, possibly bored and cold, playing what could be a very long waiting game. Snap decision. I announced my withdrawal. The leader nodded and on went the group. I perched there, watching for a short while, not particularly sad as I felt I had made the right decision on this day. I will try some other time, when the rock is dry, and when I am in the company of someone who knows how to use rope.

Dawn. Perfect.

I turned, and climbed the first high thing I came to. I had a fantastic view straight across to the face of Feder (where I searched in vain for my friends). My mountain even had a big summit cairn. Is this mountain ‘Consolation Feder’, I wondered. I tried to phone my family to tell them any danger was behind me. My youngest darling was the only one to answer. She whooped with delight when I told her I was safe and would remain so. Her joy made me happy.

How can you order a morning like this? Feder towering above her neighbours and a pink sky to grace her beauty.
I filled the remaining time climbing an assortment of lumps and bumps in the area, building tiny cairns for each. (Sorry, but not really, purists who don’t like unnatural things like cairns. I’m no engineer and the wind will probably destroy them over time. They’re quite cute, only three tiny stones high apiece).

The others didn’t get to the summit either. The water was flowing down the chute of the direct ascent and the rock was slippery and dangerous. The following day, the group going in as we came out, carrying ropes and harnesses, did get up, but the leader slipped and fell, landing – miraculously – on a ledge (not the normal scenario) and breaking his leg. The group was helicoptered off the mountain, lucky to all be alive

A storm is brewing. I thought of Catherine and her friends due to climb that day.

Back we went to Goon Moor, to a camping area I didn’t particularly like but which serves a purpose. Sunrise and sunset from this spot (well, nearby) were stunning. My camera had stopped working that afternoon, but gave one last fling that enabled the photos below before calling it quits. It has a fairly temperamental opening mechanism. I was more grateful than you can imagine to be given this little reprieve. Louise without her camera is in a far worse condition than a smoker without her fags. I relate to the beauty of the wilderness creatively through a lens, even when, as in an expedition such as this, it has to be a compact one. Anything longer than six days, I need to switch to this smaller, lighter camera. At least it shoots in RAW.

On the final climbing day before the walkout along the plains, we summitted East Portal. Only Angela had done any research on this climb, and she had Chapman’s “wise” words on her phone, viz, that we should follow the rocky ridge around to the summit. This advice is hilarious if you are on the mountain. Short of growing wings, it is useless. We tried left, then right, then left again, further left this second time, down into a chasm and then up, nearer to the ridgeline, but not on it (still to its left). Only at the second last summit of the many points did we get onto what would be the central line of the ridge.

Now. Ahem. How much do you pay to get THIS?? 

The final climb had a narrow-ledged section of hold-your-breath-and-hope (i.e., some exposure), fierce winds at times, and a very narrow summit area, from which being accidentally bumped off was a distinct possibility. We could see nasty weather coming in from the north. We were very businesslike on top: no groupie photos, no visible joy. It was touch the cairn, take a few shots and let’s get out of there before that rain makes the ledge worse. I thought of Catherine on Federation and wondered how the group was going. I thought the fact that I hadn’t seen or heard a helicopter was a good sign. I guess I was concentrating too hard on our own task, or buried deep in shrubbery at the relevant moment when the rescue was being carried out. Maybe the wind drowned out the noise.

Climbing East Portal
Soon after this ascent, we began the long trip down onto the plains, which marked the commencement of the less-than-thrilling, one-and-a-half days’ walk along the flatness to exit the area. My feet had been wet for a week, and had gone soft and tender and mushy. Big blisters were starting to form underneath. It was SO good to finish and take those wretched boots off.

I ate like Miss Piggy at the Possum Shed, delighting in food that had a recognisable taste, and revelling in cappuccino and home-made cake.

Over the next couple of days, I enjoyed our garden and the small things of life with greater intensity, as if I’d been given life anew. I hadn’t had a brush with death, but even its vague possibility makes you appreciative of all the countless fabulous things that make up life when all is going well. Federation will wait for me if and when I get back with some good weather and a rope.