It had been one of THOSE weeks: back after a week off work where I’d had the most awesome time traversing the Du Cane range with two friends (and really rather enjoying the solitariness of it) followed immediately by three different but equally special days meeting my new niece and playing with her sister (who seems to like climbing things as much as I do!).
I struggled to fit back into the work and translation routine, finding it hard to look at a computer screen for any length of time. I was so flat out that by the end of the week I hadn’t done all the work I had hoped to, was over wall to wall people, and really rather anxious about the start of uni and the lack of info I had received about it. I really needed a bit of me time. It wasn’t going to happen. Or maybe it was?
It was a long weekend, and I’d long ago told Bec I’d come along on whatever she was doing for her birthday, which ended up being a walk Simon had on the Pandani program: The Traveller Range, including Ida, Spurling and the Mountains of Jupiter. A few issues meant catching the ferry in to the bottom of Ida and walking in that way wasn’t going to work, and the 9am ferry was booked out (the Overland Track marathon was on, and officials were being ferried up), so everyone was down for the 11am ferry (they ran about 6 trips instead of the usual 3).
I needed a bit more time to get home from work, have a nap, get some translating done, and head up, so I asked about walking in later and catching the group some time the following day (that’d also save on the ferry). I got the go ahead, so that was the plan. But plans have a habit of changing!
Work, a nap, and then some very fluent translating (surprising how that happens when you have something to look forward to!). I was finished early. What to do…. It was hot.. I weighed up catching the ferry and camping on the lip of the Traveller Range, instead of walking in and staying at Narcissus. Much more attractive, and worth the $40. A call confirmed there were still spots on the ferry. I didn’t book, just in case I changed my mind when I got there.
A bit of rock balancing with my ‘stress relieving’ rocks just to get me centred, and I grabbed my gear and jumped in the car. I arrived and was ready to get going at about 2, and made the choice to grab the ferry. It was still hot, and I felt like a high camp over extra walking. With the ferry booked, I figured I’d sit on a rock in the water, and as I was heading over the first of the marathon runners ran over the finish line. 8 hours and 6 minutes, I later discovered, 7 minutes slower than the year before. I was to have a very small taste of what they might have gone through by the end of the walk, but I’ll come to that later!
As I sat on my rock in the water I thought back to the week before, when we’d been there last. It was hard to believe it had only been a week, it felt like so much longer. Figuring I’d have a few hours walking in in which to relax, I started typing some notes from the trip into my phone, chucking to myself as I remembered bits of conversation or things that happened. The time passed quickly and soon we were off, racing along the waves, and making a few more for the handful of kayakers who were enjoying the sun and water.
At Narcissus I left a pair of runners in the hut – I half wanted to see if I could run the whole way out, but knew realistically that by the end of the trip I’d probably favour only running to Echo Point, if that. And then the ‘trudge’ began. I know people describe the Overland Track as a nice walk, and sure, it is, but when you’re used to walking on ridges with 360 degree views (or close to), it’s not quite as nice ;).. and I was eager to have those views! But that was ok, I tuned out (mostly, I kept one eye open for the last 20 or so marathon runners so I didn’t get in their way) and enjoyed my longed for ‘me time’.
I thought about and reflected on a whole heap of stuff in between making mental calculations as to where I thought the others might be. The main ‘thought’ of the day seemed to be the interesting fact that while you can be entirely at peace with your own experience of and part in something, doubts over someone else’s experience of the same thing can change that quite dramatically. It’s amazing how much what goes on in your head can influence perception (funnily enough, this same subject was briefly touched on the following day with the rest of the group).
After two hours with no stops other than to drink from creeks or step off the track to let runners through (though many were walking by this stage – and I don’t blame them!) I was at the Bert Nichols hut. There was no reason to stop, and if there was a ranger around I didn’t want to be wasting time explaining why I was walking the wrong way (though technically it was no more than one section, and there was no other way to get in). So I kept moving and in 40 minutes I happened across some orange tape.
I’d asked Simon to mark the start of the track so I wouldn’t have to waste time looking for it, and it was most handy (in fact, I’d probably have walked past it if it wasn’t for that, and the fact that I ran into a walker at that precise spot and stopped for a chat, which made me slow down enough to notice it). I knew there was a track called the Gatepost Track, but I hadn’t known where it started or how obvious it was. A google search had produced a brief description from http://tastracks.webs.com which reads “This track is 400m long and climbs 200m-height difference. Expect to take 20 minutes. To find the pad starting at Du Cane Gap: Follow the Overland Track south from Du Cane Gap Signpost to the second opening in the vegetation. Follow the southern side of the opening to the bush edge and base of the ascent. The pad starts a few meters into the bush and ascends steeply. A rock cairn marks the start of the pad off the plateau.”
To avoid going past it to find the Du Cane Gap signpost if you’re coming from the south, it starts 10-20 metres after you happen across a tree on the left with a rock leaning against it (see photo). There’s a faint pad through pineapple grass and low scrub that starts right next to a short bushy green tree (can’t remember what it was, perhaps myrtle?) with a yellow plastic ‘cuff’ style marker at about shoulder height from memory (we removed our tapes on the way out, so don’t rely on them!).
I expected to find one or two tapes, but they kept on going, which was kind of cool, and meant I didn’t have to concentrate. That was, for part of it, to my detriment, as I did as the others had done, and walked straight off the track at one point, without even realising it! I kept following the orange, laughing out loud to discover that they’d written me notes on some bits. “Hugs” was the first one I found. Later on there was a series of “OMG there’s a track!”, “They made me climb up that scrub”… “And there’s a fucking track” followed by “Totes over this hill”. Each one made me smile, and I could just imagine it.
I certainly had things easier, by now the sun was much lower in the sky and the temperature was much more comfortable. When I’d gained enough height to have an uninterrupted view of Falling Mountain I found a rock to sit on and just be for a bit. It was time for some real ‘me time’, just as I needed and wanted it, made all the more better for being able to look back at the Du Cane range. Memories came back, and I typed a few more notes into my phone. And I sat and enjoyed… until the mozzies drove me onwards. This turned the expected 20 minutes ascent (which I imagine would be at a solid, no stops pace) into a very relaxed hour.
It was shortly after 7, with a bit over an hour till the sun set. I weighed up options and decided on camping on the rim to get a better view of the sunset and rise, rather than trying to make up more ground on the others (as it turned out, they were less than 500m away!). So I found a bit of flat pineapple grass positioned next to some water and a large rock, just off the edge of the plateau, and called it home. Though a tad exposed, I didn’t expect it to be dangerously windy (though it was fairly stiff).
The Du Cane range was at my back, Cathedral to the left, a very distant looking Mountains of Jupiter ahead, and what might just be the slight rise of Spurling further around. I wondered if they might prove too distant the next day. I suspected Ida would be.
Tent up and warm clothes on (more for the wind than anything else, it was still incredibly warm) I settled down to watch the day end. It was just lovely, and it was all mine, though I would have shared it if I could have. Some time after 9 I dozed off, but woke after 11 feeling slightly ill. The stars and moon were out and beautiful, so I pulled out my camera, wished I had a tripod, and set to work playing with settings. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but had a starting point this time (thanks Dan) and it was a bit of fun. I was also shooting in RAW for the first time (also on Dan’s advice) and was interested to see how it turned out (quite impressed, actually, in ways I didn’t expect to be – particularly as regards more accurate representation of colour!).
I dozed fitfully for the rest of the night and was awake for the sunrise. Nothing spectacular, it was still nice to watch while wondering what the day would hold. A looked over in the direction I thought I’d set out in, and reckoned I could see the orange of a Goondie (unmistakable) amongst the trees. It had to be the others, who clearly hadn’t made it in to Lake Payanna as planned. So I figured I’d go and give Bec a birthday surprise.
I hadn’t counted on the fact that the others would surely be up and watching the sunrise too, and as I was folding away my ground sheet I heard a holler. I’d been spotted, bugger. Oh well, sheet away I set off, and sure enough, found the others in no time. Apparently they’d seen my tent the night before, and thought it was one very orange looking rock. Bec had even commented that it looked rather like a tent!
It was only 7, and Simon had set a start time of 9, so I hung around and chatted, watched the mist come in, and took up Bec’s challenge with Jess to go and climb a rock which had a nice view, and waited while the others had breakfast and packed. As suspected, Ida had been scratched from the itinerary. The plan was to head to Spurling then the Mountains of Jupiter. No worries!
We set off at 9, tentatively at first as we figured out how to best read the landscape. It was an undulating series of rock and scrub, difficult to read because you couldn’t see what lay ahead until it was on you, and was dotted with tarns and lakes, some quite big that they required care to avoid or necessitated longish detours.
The mood was incredibly relaxed, particularly once the mist had burnt off and the sun was out and deliciously warm, and a little bit of height gave us back views towards Geryon, and out to Ida. No one seemed to mind too much, though when we stopped for another sit in the sun at 11.45 Simon was all to aware that we’d come less than half the distance to Spurling (4.5km in 3 hours). At that pace we weren’t going to make one mountain, let alone both. Not that that mattered, as was most evident when Simon suggested that anyone who wanted to do so, should head off.
Nobody but Michael, a new member with whom I hadn’t walked before, was keen. Had he not been, I’m not sure I’d have gone, not from lack of want, but in the interest of being “group minded” (if that’s a term). But he was, and when the first thing he asked as we set of was whether or not I minded the company, I knew we’d get on just fine. I assured him that in that kind of terrain in particular any company is always a good thing, especially good and competent company I might add .
Hesitant about my tendency to opt for rock over scrub, or to straight line when in scrub, and unsure of Michael’s preferences, I let him take the lead after a short while. It was immediately clear he had a similar affinity for rock, and tended to choose the same lines I liked. Though he clearly preferred being in the lead, he took the time to point out where he was planning on going, and was open to suggestions. There was no doubt he’d done his fair share of off track walking in the past.
It was just as well, because after leaving the others we hit a particularly scrubby section, with plenty of fagus between rocks, and the going slowed down. Though it gradually improved, the nature of the terrain meant that though we barely even stopped to drink regularly enough, it took us just shy of another 3 hours to get the remaining 6.9km to Spurling.
Just before the summit was a lovely large tarn, which if you had the energy, would be lovely to camp by! We spent a precious 10 minutes sitting on top discussing whether or not we’d have time to get to the Mountains of Jupiter and back before dark, while I prepared my lunch (I’d been expecting a sit down kind of lunch, not an eat on the run). Lunch sorted and now able to be eaten while we walked, we headed off at 3, with the tentative plan to walk up the western side of Lake Payanna, and reassess when we got to the northern end. If we had a spare hour we could give it a crack, if not, we’d just head back along the northern edge of the plateau, and hope for smoother terrain.
We were so pushed for time we didn’t get to enjoy the views quite as much as would have been nice, but that’s the nature of the thing sometimes. Ida looked lovely from this perspective, though the going looked rather rough and scrubby to get there, and I think the best approach is definitely from the lake. Olympus et al all looked lovely too.
We opted to return down Spurling the way we’d ascended, then stick close to the lake, rather than try our luck with higher ground. It proved a good decision, and the going was relatively smooth, until just before we reached the northern end, and had a stint of walking on scoparia bushes over holes in the ground. Never a fast or particularly enjoyable way to travel!
It was 4.45, and we estimated we’d need 3 hours to get back the 7km to camp from that point. The sun would set at about 8.30, and neither of us was too keen on trying to negotiate the terrain we’d had so far in the dark, particularly as it wasn’t the same route we’d come over on. But it was just there, and Michael was still keen, so Mountains of Jupiter was on (yay!).
Up we went, my knees a little bit over the scrub by now, and legs a tad tired. But again the views unfolded as we climbed, giving that little bit extra inspiration. Perhaps the downside of the terrain up there is that although you’re technically ‘on top’, you don’t actually get views most of the time, until you climb Spurling or Jupiter.
When we hit the rock on the top the tiredness dissipated (as it tends to) and all was good. Except my GPS said the real high point was a few hundred metres over, where there was another rocky summit that looked about the same height. Over we went, to find a small cairn suggesting that it was the summit. My GPS also said we were a few metres higher.
It was past 5.30, so we didn’t dally. Discussing the planned route back on the way down, we hoped for better terrain. We were lucky, very lucky. There were finally some sections of relatively open walking on coral ferns and flat rock. I just hoped it would last. And it did, mostly.
Again, we kept on pushing, stopping only briefly to fill water or wring out wet socks (Michael’s, not mine, I’d been lucky enough to keep my feet dry). If I took a photo I’d run to catch back up, glad that Michael kept moving and didn’t seem to mind. This became quite a juggle towards the end, as I’d found what I thought was a wombat skull (it is) and wanted to add it to my collection (which now consists of a wallaby and wombat skull). I was also regularly checking our heading on the gps, which meant I was trying to hold three things in two hands!
Slowly but surely we cut back the distance, the sun dipped below the horizon and then we were 200 metres from the campsite and we could finally see our tents!! YAY!! I don’t know about Michael, who’d done most of the leading, but I was plenty tired. It’d been a full day’s walking over some difficult terrain, though the return route was much much better (take note, if you’re planning on going in that way!).
We sat and ate dinner with the others, warmed first and afterwards by two most appreciated cups of tea (thanks!). The rest of the group had had a most relaxing day swimming in tarns. I was slightly envious (it would have been nice to have had time to fit that in as well ;)!).
It was dark, and I figured it was time for a bit of fun (not that we’d been skimping on that). I got out some LED light up balloons I’d found and blew them up in the tent, then with Jess’s help batted them out at Bec. They went down even better than expected, not only with Bec but with everyone! Only I hadn’t thought any further than that, and you can guess who they spent the night with (the pack says they stay alight for 15 hours, but they were still going the following evening, so I guess they last longer than that!). Jess suffered equally, because she had a two person tent and I’d been too lazy to pitch mine, so I’d gratefully taken up the offer to share hers (sorry Jess).
The cold started to get to us eventually, and we set about cleaning teeth, preparing for bed, and watching Simon take some photos of the stars. It was good to be sharing a tent, though no one else might have thought so, as they had to endure our chatter until Jess succeeded where I had failed in warming up my hands. Once warm, I was out like a light.
It was misty the next morning, and coupled with tiredness I wasn’t too keen to be getting up and going. But I’d said the night before I’d be ducking over to the Gatepost before breakfast if anyone wanted to come, so there wasn’t much choice. Jess and Michael were both up for it.
It was only 700m or so (as the crow flies, or 1.1km of actual walking), and took us 35 minutes of relatively easy walking. Though the mist was still low, we had a sense of the views you’d get on a clear day, and it was rather lovely to have gotten out and up regardless. Less than half an hour back, with a mountain (neo-point) under our belts, some of the others had barely stirred!
It was a good start to the day, and we relaxed into breakfast, sitting and chatting. Jess and I left ourselves 15 minutes to pack the tent, which was just as well because we got a bit sidetracked and ended up having a tent fight (think pillow fight, but with tent inner and ground sheet.. and I think a rain jacket got thrown in somewhere too!).
And then it was time to go.. and the chore or removing tapes on the way back got turned into a challenge of seeing how many people’s bags we could tie bits of orange tape to (everyone’s apparently, more easily that expected). We discovered on the way down that we’d only deviated the smallest amount from the track, and then we were back on the Overland Track and heading back to Bert Nichols.
We stopped for snacks and the loo, and felt rather scruffy looking when a young guy rocked up in top hat and funky elephant tie! With just the plod ahead, and feeling like stretching my legs and possibly running to Echo Point, I told Simon I was going ahead. As I approached Narcissus though I was hot and the thought of a swim was more appealing.
I realised though I’d have to check if there was a spot for me on the ferry, which I hadn’t thought about. There wasn’t. Bugger. Oh well, I figured that’d teach me for saying I wanted to see if I could run back without walking, then changing my mind. But I was still having my swim, even if it was brief!
And brief it was, partly because the water was refreshingly cold, partly because if I had to run back I didn’t want to be too late – I had to be up at 2am the next morning. Boots exchanged for runners, fuelled by a energy gell thingy from Jess, key attached to my wrist with Bec’s hairband, and my pack left for the others to take on the ferry, I set off.
I felt light footed and free, and I knew I was going to enjoy the first part of the run at least (until I got tired!). While running on footpaths can get tedious and hard, weaving through the forest, ducking and jumping under and over fallen trees, dodging mud puddles and feeling the breeze in your hair is quite the opposite. I stopped only to drink from creeks every 10 or so minutes, and in 40 minutes I’d covered the 7km to Echo Point.
I almost literally ran straight in to the ferry guy (Steve) and the tourists who had booked for the sightseeing tour. He confirmed that he was supposed to have a full boat (if everyone showed up) and despite a lady asking if couldn’t he just fit me on, he declined for safety reasons. I more than understood, and set off again, aware that I was quite a fair bit tired by now.
50 minutes later the ferry passed, and I sent Jess a message, then settled in for the long hall. Rises were becoming a challenge, and I started to doubt I’d be able to run the whole way. All my ‘mini way points’ were gone (Echo Point, the ferry passing) so I had nothing left to break up the rest of the run. Then Jess called, and asked if I could see any logs in the water. Yep, I can… Well we can give you a lift. But you’ve already passed..? We’ve turned around, the ferry guy says he can pick you up if you stand on the end of the log. Woohooo! I cut down to the water’s edge and saw the ferry a short distance away.
I selected a log that ran into the water at quite a shallow angle, next to two that went in much deeper, and walked out. I realised when I got down to the slippery bit that I had my phone, and it probably shouldn’t get wet, so I stayed just out of the water and waited. The ferry nosed in with precision, and after handing my phone to Jess who was standing on the bow, giving the ferry a bit of a push so it didn’t hit the log (at which everyone laughed, though it did work!), I jumped on the front, then climbed in.
What a way to end the day, and what just might be my last walk for a little bit (and hence last post too)! I will forever be grateful to the ferry guy (won’t mention him by name, but he’s very cool), and to those who counted heads and, realising there were only 22 people on board, asked if he’d pick me up. It was super fun ;), and I think everyone else on board also enjoyed the excitement too!
All up: 56.7km (total distance, excluding my run), 1603m ascent (from the Overland track only). The day trip to Spurling and Jupiter alone: 26.1km, 11:50hrs, 1140m ascent.