Well, this is my 100th post, for my 222nd (peak bagging) mountain, and together you’ve viewed my blog 12,000 times. That’s kind of cool, and makes what I do seem worth it, so thanks :)!
This weekend was another Pandani outing, with a slightly different take on the usual theme: a relaxing weekend away in the northeast, warm fire at the end of the day and a proper bed to sleep in, and a little bit of walking. Much to our surprise and delight, the destination – Mt Cameron and it’s surrounds – would turn out to be a fantastic little (or maybe biggish) playground with so many more places to go exploring than we could actually fit in! Knowing the drive was a pretty decent one, I opted to stay up, and make the most of my extra day off climbing one, or two more mountains if time and weather permitted (it did). But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Off we headed on Saturday morning, a relatively speaking late start (7am, due to my work hours :/) given the long drive. It was probably a good thing. Though we got to enjoy the early morning light, and dozens of white cockatoos sitting on the top of three or four dead trees, almost like fairy floss on black sticks, the majority of the drive was through rain, and I remember remarking to Jess, who was good enough to accompany me and make sure I stayed awake, very grateful that I wasn’t out walking! Though the rain was forecast to clear later in the day, it didn’t seem too promising, and though there were hints of blue sky I was pretty certain we’d be getting wet at least some time during the day.
We arrived in Gladstone and at our (the) pub/hotel before midday, where we sorted out our rooms, our gear, managed to tear ourselves from the warmth of the fire, and head off to the start of the track to Cameron.
As an insert from the original post, on request from a fellow walker who had failed to find the start when there, I’ve added this little bit to try to give a bit more information as to how to get to the start. I did do this walk some time ago, so forgive me if my memory is a tad scratchy! From Gladstone we headed west along B82 (Waterhouse road) until we got to the intersection with Old Port Road, which we followed south. We took the left fork off Old Port Road before crossing Bonser Creek, and travelled along this road towards the Scottsdale High School Field Study Centre. However, there was a locked gate across the road near Vicary’s Creek before we got to the start of the track, so we had to park early and walk the next little bit along the road. Before arriving at the school, we found various signs and a nice looking pad to follow off to the right hand side of the road (see below). If anyone has anything to add that would make this description clearer, feel free to be in touch and I’ll add it in!
Still raining on the short drive, we all started out in wet weather gear, expecting the break in rain to be temporary. The short road walk soon had us a bit too warm and the air was quite humid, so some of us tentatively stripped off jackets, expecting the rain to punish our defiance with a timely downpour.. but we stayed dry.. somehow!
We arrived at the signed start of the Mt Cameron track (4-5 hours return, and we managed to take a full 5 with all our playing), and followed markers, tags and a pad through dry forest which became increasingly rocky (big rocky) as we gained height. By the time we got to the Douglas Lookout we were getting a bit of an idea of the kind of terrain we’d be walking on, and loving every bit of it! Great big lumps of granite, sculptured by nature into all sorts of shapes that just beckoned to be explored, climbed, and otherwise admired. This was complemented by beautiful gums, many burnt, a decent amount of which had somehow managed to stay alive anyway.
There was more than enough to cater for everyone’s tastes and preferences. Some continued to walk along the track, others took photos of rock, trees, the view (increasing as we gained height) etc, and a few of us went climbing. The first rock was just a random boulder that looked a decent enough climb and would make a good photo. I was ordered up. It wasn’t actually that easy – the boulders were rounder than you thought, and lacked holds. But a knee up from Jess and I was on top. I reckoned she’d enjoy being up there too, so after a bit of convincing (not a whole lot!), a hand from me and a knee up from Simon, she was up too.. and then Catherine followed suit! It’s always much more fun to share those things with others. A few photos, and back down we went.. climbing in reverse.. or just jumping ;).
Only a short distance along the track there was another sign post indicating the Church Spire was to the right. I’d been drawn by the name the first time I’d heard it (surprise surprise), and was keen to check it out. Two of us walked right by, but doubled back and found a few of the others, who hadn’t missed it. It was definitely spire like, and sadly not climbable (not for my amateur abilities anyway), but a holler had me turn around and find Jess sitting on top of a nearby ‘spire’. I couldn’t not join her. As it turned out, neither could Catherine ;)!
Aware we were well behind the rest of the group, we couldn’t stay too long, and I was feeling a tad guilty for making things take longer than they needed to. Somehow the summit seemed less significant, and the exploring and playing more important. Perhaps though that was because there was little doubt that we’d get there, and we all wanted to have as much fun on the way as possible.
As we climbed there were parts where we were out of the gum trees, and walking instead on great big slabs or ‘runways’ of gently sloping rock. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it just begged for a cartwheel. In some spots, a thin layer of moss provided enough soil (as little as a centimetre or two in some spots) to support waist high scrubby trees!
The entertainment stop was The Maze. The name says it all, and it was a perfect description. Granite ‘menhirs’ with weathered ‘faces’ for added character stood tall and solid, close enough to one another so as to give a maze-like feel, but still to allow passage between them. It was very very cool, and you could easily spend plenty of time exploring and climbing. We couldn’t resist a revisit on the way back, that’s how good it was ;)!
We did, however, still have a mountain to climb, and the day was getting on, so we left the playground and got a little more serious. More expansive sloping granite, surprise at some cutting grass, a route that clearly led walkers on the path of least resistant but went against my desire to clamber ‘straight up’… By now the summit was clear and my legs had a mind of their own. I didn’t think Simon, who was leading the walk, would mind me wandering off ahead, so I didn’t wait up to ask.. just kind of went…
The way the taped route went meant I ended up walking back towards the rest of the group at one point, but a few ‘terraces’ of rock higher, and I whistle to grab their attention, giving them a wave. Now that they knew where I was, off I went, clambering up the last little bit, and then a scramble up to the trig.
I looked down, couldn’t see anyone. The wind was nice and strong, not so strong you couldn’t stand, but strong enough that it would later blow Belinda’s pack cover off and down a decent distance – the recovery of which led to my discovery of a number of hats and other bits and pieces that the wind had stolen from unsuspecting climbers (who didn’t attempt a rescue). Clearly it wasn’t a rare occurrence! Anyway, me and the wind had a moment or two together, conversing in a language that needed no words, but I still couldn’t resist a bit of a shout, wondering how far it would carry my words (nearly to Hobart, apparently ;)!).
And then the others started to arrive, and we spent only a little bit of time on top – time and the wind driving us back down. We’d had a bit too much fun playing on the way up for us to complete the planned circuit out to Wedgetail peak and back down, which would have involved some off track walking, so a return the same way was settled on. That didn’t amount to a heads down and walk straight out attitude though.
Bec, Meredith and Jess were all keen on improving their aim with nuts, and I know I probably deserved a few of the shots they sent my way with deadly accuracy ;). Simon found a puddle of water to splash us with, and later became a pack thief – a low blow for someone trying to have a moment of peace and attend a call of nature. And then, of course, there was more climbing as we passed the Maze, where we were greeted with the late afternoon sun streaming through a break in the clouds – what we figured was about the closest to sunset we were going to get. As the light dimmed, we moved a little faster, but still, back in the forest, I was delighted as Chris, perhaps the oldest member of the group, decided she wanted to see if she could still cartwheel :). Sure enough, she could, with elegance too!
For me, this is a key part of what I love about walking with Pandani, in addition to the teamwork and genuine care and concern for one another. That the mood and company is conducive to allowing all sorts of people to feel comfortable to be free to try things they haven’t done for a while (or ever before), to be kids again, to play, explore, climb, and tease, wonder, delight in nature, learn and share and otherwise just have fun.. it’s become much more than just walking, or climbing mountains.. it’s a complete experience and adventure, and it’s very cool.
Back on the road before it was too dark, a bit of a jog with Jess, some more mucking around, and before we knew it we were back at the cars. The rain started again shortly after we left – timed to perfection. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying a pub meal; watching Jess cane Simon in a game of pool, only to pocket the white ball in the same shot as the black; amusing ourselves with the antics of the other patrons (the words bogan and hunter might have been voiced); and sitting back in comfy chairs by the fire, chatting away. Having been up about 24hrs by that stage, the sound of friendly voices and laughter was like a lullaby, and I was soon out to it. I awoke later to find Stuie had covered me in flowers. I was promptly ordered off to bed!
I might have had a bit of sleep, albeit broken, but I awoke a fair bit more subdued than the day before. While I waited for the locals to figure out how to turn on the petrol pump, I watched the others play frisbee, or take photos of the sheep that had wandered onto the road to see what all the early morning commotion was about. The day was looking to be a good one, mostly sunny, and once petrol was sorted, we headed south to check out Cube Rock, and, time and mood permitting, Endurance Bluff.
But first, there was Blue Lake, right next to where we parked our cars. And as the name suggests, it’s pretty blue.. well turquoise! The sign informed us that ‘The vivid turquoise colour of Little Blue Lake is caused when the white clay exposed in tin mining operations reflects the clear blue of the sky’.. scratched on the sign beside that was the word ‘MORON’, and beside that, a ‘YEAH’.. as much as I don’t agree with graffiti, the author/s had a point. Although we were promised a mostly sunny day, it was at the time overcast, with more white/grey than blue above us, and yet the lake was still very turquoise. I think there must be another explanation!
Anyway, photos done, and a little bit of cleaning up the trash that some idiots had thrown over the fence, we were off on our walk. The terrain was similar to the day before, though a bit more foresty and a little less rock to start with. Instead, we turned our attention to fungi, found a few quite revolting (but fascinating) ones that looked like they were melting into snot/phlegm-like puddles, and a couple of different kinds that were almost ‘hairy/furry’.
The highlight for me was the orchids. The first to be spotted were helmet orchids, small and low to the ground (I’ve since discovered that they might be one of the smallest orchids here), but quite numerous once you got ‘your eye in’. Later on, Chris spotted a horned greenhood, which was pretty cool. I loved the two thin flares back behind its head. The third orchid spotted on the trip was one I didn’t even know WAS an orchid. It looked like succulent grass almost, but was apparently a rock orchid, that flowers yellow butterflies in October and is found in the northeast.
The orchids and fungi disappeared as the terrain grew rockier, and again, Jess and I were ordered to go climb some rocks.. and so we did, taking our time but having plenty of fun. On top of one we looked over to find everyone else near Cube Rock, and decided we should probably go and join them. But not before I met and said hello to a line of rock guardians :).
Over we went, caught up to the others, and admired Cube Rock up close. Quite amazing really.. such a large (more rectangular on its flanks than square) chunk of rock, just sitting on the top of a long rock ridge, quite out of place when you thought about it. Our ponderings on the way down of just how it got there had Bec offering the only plausible explanation, involving a pluton or batholith (magma chamber), a volcanic pipe, and a plug (Cube Rock), and of course, plenty of erosion..
But it was big, and its sides vertical, so of course I had to check it out.. there was a crack that ran up near one end and I tested a foot hold, boosted up from there to grab a decent hand hold, and thought, maybe this is doable! The next hand hold I swung to came off as soon as I transferred weight to it and I fell off, landing in a shower of little bits of almost sandy rock. Ok, try again, with a different hand hold.. yep, that worked, another foot, hand and foot again.. then a hand.. then, hang on.. I’m a fair way up, and there’s a few more holds ahead, until the crack disappears.. but I’m not sure it’s going to be quite as easy climbing back down as it is going up.. and I’m already above comfortable jumping height.. so time to be a bit sensible and get back down.. Like I’d thought, climbing down wasn’t as easy, so with Catherine ready to catch me :), I hung off the rock with my hands and dropped. I looked back up, and thought it wasn’t a bad effort.
Some exploring along the end of the rock revealed giant eroded ‘holes’ that allowed plant life to thrive, much like mini gardens. Looking back towards Cube Rock, Mt Cameron stood out beyond it. Off to our side was Flinders Island, which was just a little bit special. It’s been the topic of a few conversations lately, and setting eyes on it for the first time brought a smile to my face. It was just a little bit more real now.
We had a bite to eat, where I discovered that carrying boiled eggs, avocado, cherry tomatoes, cheese and salami loose in a large lunchbox is all very well, if you’re prepared not to run or jump.. otherwise you can expect to be eating a premixed jumble of greeny brown stuff! Simon raised the question of whether or not we’d check out Endurance Bluff, but made the call not to. Everyone seemed more than satisfied with what we’d seen and where we’d walked, and the idea of a coffee in Bridport, and a burger in Campbell Town sounded pretty good.
Sadly, not for me. I’d have loved a hot drink, but I’d made other plans, and I was (as usual) pigheadedly determined to stick to them. So after accepting water from anyone who had spare (thanks to you all, it was much appreciated), off I drove, towards Poimena, and the mountain of my choice, Littlechild. My research on this peak had revealed that the points, for peak baggers, was once considered to be on Mt Poimena, but is now on Mt Littlechild, given that it is technically the highpoint of Blue Tier. A bit of a longer walk, but that wasn’t an issue for me. More of a concern was that I was aware that the summit was flat and in forest, and that the cairn could be interesting to find. Armed with a more accurate GPS coordinate than is listed on the HWC list, I was hopeful that I’d find it.
I parked my car at Poimena, and started along the MTB track which services three different walks (Australia Hill, Wellington Creek and Blue Tier descent track). I had no idea where any of them went, but took whichever path seemed to head in the right direction at the various branches. I walked past the turn off to Australia Hill, though I wondered why it was called that, and if there had been time I would have checked it out. I ended up on the Wellington Creek track, which got me within 7-800m of the summit. It also went past the site of the old Nichols Sawmill, which cut myrtle from 1948-1950 (mostly 9×3 inch beams for pubs in England). There were a few indications of its presence, though the mill itself was carted to Terryvale when it closed.
I didn’t dally for too long, aware that when I’d set out I only had about 2 hours of daylight, and I didn’t feel like walking in the dark this time. So at the appropriate point on the track, I headed into the bush. I was grateful that the point I’d chosen was actually almost scrub free, being instead fairly open forest (mostly myrtle). I wondered how long it would last, and I climbed upwards, trying to stick to the open sections.
As it was, I was lucky. Every time I thought I’d finally have to start bashing, what seemed like a very decent pad was evident, and so in that fashion I wove my way to the top. I arrived at the HWC coordinates for the summit, and couldn’t spot the rock I expected to be there, so off I headed for the coordinates I’d found on a friend’s FB photo of the summit cairn (thanks Rohan!). On the way I passed one random piece of pink tape, which made me chuckle!
I was very much aware that if I hadn’t had the coordinates I doubted I’d have found the rock.The top was that flat, and there were enough trees you couldn’t actually tell where higher ground might be. But my GPS got me there, I climbed onto a rock next to the big rock, and touched the top. Sent a message to the others, who sent me back a ‘cheers’ with hot drinks raised, then headed down. There was a bit of light spitting, and I didn’t want to get too wet, so I wasn’t hanging around.
Back at the car as the sun was casting its golden light over everything, I was pretty satisfied. I could have camped there the night, but I kind of wanted some much needed ocean time (the sound of waves crashing is a favourite of mine), and I had high hopes for a sunrise. I’d done no research for this bit, so I just drove to the coast, via St Mary’s, and pulled into the first signed camping spot, which happened to be Diana’s Basin. It was free, and the sign even said I could camp there for up to four weeks. Happy, I went and found a spot as close to the beach as I could.
I set up for the night, then decided I needed a walk on the beach under the stars. Because it was dark when I’d arrived, I had no idea where I was going, but it didn’t really matter. There was a little lagoon to my left, the kind of grass that grows on dunes to my right (inhabited by rabbits I discovered) and so I followed the sand I was on towards the sound of the sea. A hundred metres or so and there I was. I collected a few shells, then sat, and eventually lay, on my back, staring up at the star filled sky. I watched one, and a little while later another, flit across the sky, in one last burst of light before their death. Beautiful, sad, such a tiny part of a larger picture. I thought about a conversation I’d had earlier that day with Bec, about renting out my house, and going wherever I wanted – doing odd jobs, fruit picking, walking.. plenty of walking.. whatever and wherever took my fancy… Appealing.. Hmmm.. The cold sand on my back soon had me shivering, so I retired to my car to warm up, and catch a little bit of sleep.
The following morning I woke before the sun, and throwing on a few extra layers, grabbing a breakfast bar and banana, camera and phone, I headed off to see what the beach really looked like. I paused to take a photo of the first hint of an orangy-red glow on the horizon, reflected in the lagoon, with beach grasses silhouetted in the foreground, then continued on. On the beach there was what looked like some rocks to my left, a 5-10 minute walk away, and they beckoned.
Over I went, and spent the next half an hour or so (maybe more? I’m not sure, time was irrelevant) watching the colours change; the waves crash into rocks and splinter into a million shards of glass, which the sun painted pink and blue; the sun peak over the top of a rock a distance away, spreading instant warmth through its touch; and the rock come to life, its weathered and eroded cracks and crevasses telling a story. I took a fair few photos, in an attempt to record (and later share) a little bit of how the moment was. When it was over, I figured I should head back, but not without being distracted by patterns in the sand, the arrangement of shells on the shore, and the hilarity of three hooded plovers who insisted on walking along the water’s edge, but ran away each time a wave chased them!
Back at the car I had just a short drive to Mt Nicholas, which I’d chosen to climb before heading back to Hobart. Gravel roads took me to within a few hundred metres of the summit, directly north of it. I’d been told it was easy going, scree the whole way, a little hard on the knees. I soon realised what that meant. It was the small kind of scree that, when it gets a bit too steep, has a tendency to move under the weight of each footstep, sending you sliding backwards (if you’re heading up, or downwards a fair bit further and faster than anticipated if you’re heading down!).
I made a beeline for the top, aware that the summit looked like a collection of large rocks, which could be a fun little playground with the right cloud. I did happen to walk onto a line of cairns, which take you up the slightly less adventurous route, slightly to the east of the summit. Once up, it’s a short walk west to the white trig point. Ben Lomond stole my attention, frosted with freshly laid white snow. The other common northeast peaks were also visible to the north, but I barely gave them a glance!
A message or two, and back down I went. I didn’t really want to drive back, I could have happily stayed out there!
Cameron: 11.3km, 5hrs, 700m ascent
Cube Rock: 5.5km, 4hrs, 350m ascent
Littlechild: 6.8km, 1.50hrs, 186m ascent
Nicholas: 1.6km, 1.25hrs, 243m ascent.