Well, I’m supposed to be filling in a funding proposal for a program to increase awareness about the need for tolerance and protection of minorities in a number of ‘hotspots’ in Indonesia, but I think I need a break.. so a little bit from the weekend just gone…
After a minor scheduling error, this weekend was set aside for a friend who was keen to go on a three day walk with me, but couldn’t quite believe that I could have all my weekends ‘booked’ until September. Having heard nothing for a few weeks, and then receiving a message on Thursday to say said friend was in NSW, I as much as figured the walk was off. That was quite fine, I’d learnt long ago that it’s not much fun being stood up on walks if you don’t have a back up plan, so I had one of them, and I was rather feeling like walking alone in any case.
The weather wasn’t so flash.. showery or snow showery in most places, with a bit of wind. The best spot seemed to be the northeast, but I only have three peak bagging peaks left there, and am saving them for a time when there’s really no alternative. So instead I chose north, and slightly west, and figured I’d explore some of the peaks south of Penguin.
Car camping (aka sleeping in my car) meant I didn’t have to worry so much about the weather, the cold, or trying to get gear (tent) dry for next Friday (when I have to be packed for another 3 dayer), which would have been interesting as I wouldn’t have got around to it till Thursday. I was a little bit disappointed I wouldn’t be sleeping on the top of anything, and as such unlikely to be seeing the sunsets and rises I love so much about camping, but that was the way things were going to be. I drew in rough plans of attack for about 10 mountains (I don’t like running out) and figured I’d do whatever I felt like and had time for.
The day started off a little differently from normal, in to work on Friday at 10pm to discover I’d set one machine to start doing it’s thing 24 hours late. That led to an interesting bit of rescheduling, some thinking on my feet, and ultimately a successfully met challenge that made the night a little less routine. We were already down one baker who’d called in sick the night before, but when I left at 6, there wasn’t too much left to do. I left under the reassurance that I wouldn’t be needed to fill in on the Sunday or Monday.
Driving the first bit in darkness is always hard, my eyes just wanted to close, but as it started to get light it got easier (and an energy drink might have helped). I had my fingers crossed for a view when the sun finally followed its light and popped over the horizon, and I couldn’t have timed it much better. Ben Lomond and Stacks Bluff had just appeared out to the right when it did just that. I figured I had time, so pulled over and grabbed the camera, saying hello to the cows on the other side of the fence. They watched as I played, but eventually grew tired and huffy. One decided it was time for me to leave and walked right up to the fence, huffing more purposefully.. the others followed and stood in a line, watching me. So I said goodbye, the sun was well up by now, and laughed as their heads swivelled in unison as they watched me walk down the road and back across to my car. A wave, a few messages as friends wished me well (the realisation that though I was alone, in some ways I wasn’t) and off I drove.
The sun had literally and figuratively brightened things a little, as did a hawk hovering over the fields. I never used to spot them, especially when driving. 4 hours after leaving Hobart I was at the Gnomon/Dial carpark, boots on and ready to go. The sign informed me it was an hour return to Gnomon, 2 to Mount Dial. I figured that could be a lot quicker…. or, as it turned out.. a lot slower if you have a new camera and are intent on figuring out how to use the macro setting!
The track itself is like a highway, so much so that the bits of tape are irrelevant. It heads through fairly average dry schlerophyll forest, with not much in the way of views until you get to the top, so you can see why I turned to macro photography! Even then, I had to search for things to photograph. At first it was ferns, then later a mushroom or two, and even (and I rarely do this) a flower (there was only one kind out, either in white or pink).
Somewhere between Gnomon and Mt Dial I finally (properly) discovered the macro zoom function. I’d known it was there, but on my point and shoot camera the macro zoom just seems to mean that I don’t have to bend down so low to get to something, so I don’t use it. I’d thought the same for this one, and was getting highly frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to get close ups of fungi that were in focus. That all changed in an instant, and suddenly I was loving my camera again (not that I didn’t before, it was just making me annoyed at my own apparent stupidity and ignorance).
Progress was naturally much slower than it should have been, and I had to keep telling myself to keep going and stop playing. And so, mostly, I tried to. The summit of Dial was much the same as Gnomon, bits of view out to the sea, or further south towards Roland and Duncan, the latter of which I was to climb next.
On the way back I stopped to rephotograph some fungi that I’d tried to capture before learning about the macro zoom. I was sprawled across the path, off in my own world, when an ‘Oh, OH!’ interrupted me. I got to my feet, turned around, and found I’d made a 51 yr old local think I’d fallen and knocked myself unconscious! Clearly I wasn’t, so we had a short chat about his backyard, and he told me about the circuit he does up around the back of Gnomon, then as fast as he can back down (7mins 20-something seconds is his record).
We went our separate ways, but seeing he’d mentioned it, a challenge had been set. I had my camera round my neck though, and didn’t fancy a twisted ankle on the slippery and a little bit steep path, so I didn’t quite go 100%, but thought I’d still make ok time. I didn’t time it properly, just looked at my phone at the top, which read 12:23, and figured I should be back at the car before 12:30. 12:28 and I was.
That gives an idea of just how short the walk is, and that I took 2.5 hours for both peaks return gives an idea of how much I stopped for photos! I realised that I’d chosen my mountains perfectly, they didn’t require any real route finding or challenge in that sense, which meant the day could be about getting to know my camera a little better, rather than about climbing mountains. That they happened to be there was a bonus.
The next mountain, Duncan, could be accessed from the same point, as a 4 hour return walk, but can also be accessed from further down the road, as a 1.5 hour return walk. I opted for the latter. The road, however, deteriorated a little, which at first I was ok with, then uncomfortable but ok as I drove through puddles across the road that I wasn’t sure how deep or boggy they might be. I’d seen two 4WDs come through the opposite direction, and was a little bit hesitant as a result, thinking that if they were travelling in pairs maybe this wasn’t a road for a lone AWD.
A little while later, a significantly eroded section, with evidence of the two 4WDs having slipped off the line you’d want your wheels on, saw me reversing a few hundred metres (and anyone who knows how much I like reversing knows I don’t do that lightly) until I got to a slightly wider section of road and could do an 8 point turn. I found a wider and less boggy spot further back and parked as far to one side as I could, hoping if anyone came through they’d get past.
And so I walked the road for a bit, grateful for the chance to photograph new fern shoots which I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, and some smaller than pin head sized mushrooms whose stems were dotted with water drops (which almost worked, but I didn’t quite hold the camera still enough). It wasn’t long before I was at the track, which was much like the tracks up Gnomon and Dial. Towards the top the forest became a little wetter, which I prefer, and once on top, there were two highish points to explore. I went to the eastern, non high point, first, to look back at the solar installation on top of the real high point, and spotted a wedge tailed eagle hovering perfectly in one spot, with no effort at all and barely a movement of wing.
A little bit more of an explore, and back down I went. I figured I’d have time to climb one more mountain, but as I walked I was increasingly entertaining the thought of a walk on the beach instead. By the time I was in my car and driving, I’d as good as decided on it. Unfortunately the two closest beaches I found weren’t quite as good as beaches can be, but it was still nice to hear the sound of the ocean, and walk on the sand. I sat and looked at some photos while waiting for the sun to set, and then went back to taking a few more (of the sun, a ship on the horizon, of birds).
When the last glow was gone, I thought I’d head off to somewhere near the next mountain I’d climb. Driving along the coast I rounded a corner and just had to stop again and take a photo of the moon sitting low on the horizon. Later, as it got a bit darker, the moonlight left a shimmering white path out across the water.
Parked near Riana, which I didn’t think had a track up it and looked rather scrubby, I fell asleep under bright moonlight. I woke (properly) at 5.30, to the sound of something howling, maybe at the moon? I guessed it was the dog at the property you pretty much drove straight through (literally, there’s all sorts of bits and pieces – junk – hard up against either side of the road). I was awake now, and not tired enough to get more sleep, so I got out the computer and started typing some notes, waiting for it to grow lighter.
As it did, and I took note of the thickish scrub and the fact that it was cold and everything was damp, I decided to be a chicken (I had 10 mountains to choose from after all) and not go with a wet scrub bash first thing on a chilly morning. I also wanted more of a chance to play with my camera, which is a bit harder to do in scrub.
So it was as simple as starting the car and driving 10 or 15 minutes to the start of a dirt bike/horse riding/bush walking track up to Mt Lorymer lookout, enjoying the pinks and blues sitting over green fields. To be honest, I’m not sure why they bother with the ‘lookout’ part of the Mt Lorymer track! Not once do you get uninterrupted views of anything..
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I parked the car at a gate, which wasn’t locked but did have a PRIVATE PROPERTY sign on it. That confused me, because the track was marked on the Dial Range map as a route, so I figured it was open to the public. For some reason I felt better about walking rather than driving somewhere maybe I shouldn’t be, but I did discover that the road is generally in good enough nick if you did want to drive. There’s just a tree high across it right near the high point.
Anyway, a short distance into the road walk I came across the same kind of signs that were at the Mt Dial end of things, advising that it was a track, for the three activities mentioned above, so I felt a little less like a trespasser. A few messages to the waking world in different parts of the state, then plenty of enjoying the soft yellow glow of early morning sun on glimpses of distant hills, and later more closely on the gums that lined the sides of the road. I did like those trees. I also liked the water drops on the ends of ferns, the breeze slight enough to move the ferns without dislodging their ‘tears’.
As I went to capture the moment I discovered my camera battery flashing low, which I wasn’t too happy with, but figured that just meant I had to be careful about what I took photos of. Back to the walking for a little bit and a slightly more open view south revealed what looked to be snow laden clouds over hidden mountains, and I was a little bit grateful to have made the choice to stay out of it. The sun and blue sky were rather nice, and my fingers were cold enough as it was. Funnily enough an email came through on my phone informing me of Peter Grant’s latest blog on snow (part 2), which I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and he’s right, I have favourable memories of some of those tougher challenging walks through snow), but again, on this weekend, was a little glad I wasn’t in it. It can be easy to forget what you have, and only want more.
As I approached the flatish summit of Lorymer I began looking out for a suitable spot to duck the short distance left to the high point, which was just off the road. I almost walked straight past it, but somehow something made me spot, and register, a cairn made of white rocks, tucked off the side of the road, under the shelter of ferns. I looked twice, it didn’t seem to be marking anything. Then a haunch, and I examined the base of the ferns lining the road, and there looked to be a slight gap to the right of the cairn. Sure enough, parting of the fronds revealed something akin to an animal pad. It was more than I expected, so I took it.
I followed it a short distance, was sure I must have lost it after scrambling over a collection of fallen trees that almost resembled a mass grave (I didn’t know so many trees could fall in the one spot, and I felt perhaps like an ant on two legs might if it was crawling over pick up sticks). But I was wrong, I discovered, when I found a piece of pink tape as I bashed my way through more ferns.. Funny place for that.. But several metres ahead there was another piece in a tree, even if I still couldn’t see much evidence of a pad!
In this manner, and following my gps I happened across some more tape, along side a decent sized cairn. Again I was puzzled, why put a cairn here? And then I realised that this must be the poor excuse of a summit, even if it seemed to be in a slight depression. It was within the few metres error on my GPS, though to make sure I wandered round in circles a little just to check none of the other possible rises nearby were it (the problem was, the rises were just piled up fallen trees with ferns covering them, and so they weren’t actually indicative of higher ground per se – rather of a longer way to fall if you slipped off the slippery branches you were trying to balance on and walk across!). This got me completely confused as to which direction I was facing by the end, everything looked the same, and I was most grateful to have the gps to set me back in the right direction.
Back on the road I pondered the next mountain to explore, as a blue (?fairy) wren caught my attention. I thought about going back to Riana, but decided the guy who owned the house might really start to wonder what I was up to, so made the choice to head to Loyetea instead. I had read that there was actually a nice view across Gunns Plains from this one, and I was ready for some of that!
So a little more driving, and another house in a similar state to pass through – all the bits and pieces that had been collected over time were rather fascinating: a life-size head sitting on a pile of gravel, a rooster weather vane not even in a position to be serving its true purpose, a score or more of rusted up cars, or car bodies… And plenty more. I wished I had the guts to take a photo, but I didn’t really want to invade someone’s privacy any more than I had, and by the time I came back down there was smoke coming out of the chimney of the shack-style house.
Immediately after passing this property the road forked, and I started to drive up the left hand branch, but at a widening followed instinct and pulled over to the side, deciding I’d walk this one instead. It wasn’t far, and I doubted the road would hold up. It proved to be a wise choice, as the road became quite eroded fairly quickly. A 4WD would do most of it, if you avoided the odd major crevasse that would leave even a high clearance vehicle stranded.
At the end of the road a rocky mass was apparent through the trees and I smiled, I always like a little scramble at the end, even if the rest of the walk is road. I followed a manmade pad, which took me up to the trig and concrete pillar thingy. Finally I had views! Of yesterday’s mountains, of mountains further to my west which I was likely to be climbing but still didn’t have a clue which was which, and of the rain in the south, being blown in my direction as I watched.
I hoped that Housetop, my next mountain of choice, was not so far south that it was going to be under by the time I got there! I figured there was no point wasting time waiting to see, so down I went, enjoying the sound of the wind doing more than just rustling the leaves on trees, which creaked and groaned in an attempt to make their complaints heard above it. It very much had the feel of a wintery day, that for the moment at least, had a little bit of cold sun to cheer it up. The threat of change was ever present though.
Back at the car, I headed off to Housetop, another exercise in hoping that the roads travelled on would hold up. I had directions from bushwalk.com, for which I was very glad! The road proved decent, then quite ok if a little soft and slushy, then a little rougher but not at all eroded and back to being firm.
I found the cairn and tape marking the start of the track up easily enough and had a lovely walk through much wetter, and therefore greener, forest than the other walks. Near the top the tapes led south to a cairn and nice views (of a rainbow in my case!). Of course, I had to be sure about the summit, and it did look higher further north, even if it’s hard to tell with so many trees around. So I retraced my steps and then went off track further north. Sure enough, I found a small cairn marking the true summit, 6m higher than the southern one, according to my GPS. The views left a little to be desired though, so a visit to both points was well worth it.
On the steep slippery climb back down, which I was careful to keep a climb, and not a slide (though I know a few people who would have had much fun doing so), I did pause to lie down in the middle of the path and take a few more fungi shots. But light drizzle kept me moving relatively fast, and I was back at the car before I got too wet (from the rain that is, I did discover that lying on wet, slushy ground for photos makes you quite a fair bit damp, and dirty!).
It was still early, not really lunch time yet, so I thought I had time for a shot at Everett, which was a short drive away. I had no info for this one, had just selected roads and a possible track from the map on my GPS that seemed to go close enough. I might have a short scrub bash near the top. 3-4 hrs should do it.
Right. Or not! Finding the road to turn down was easy enough. It was a little disconcerting that it was signed ‘Road Closed’ in exactly the same format as the name signs for the other roads. A little too permanent, a little too old. I thought I’d eat some lunch while I waited for the rain shower to pass, and decide what to do. I figured seeing I was here, I might as well see why the road was closed, and worst case scenario, I’d probably have time to walk a few extra road kilometres that I’d anticipated.
A short distance along what seemed an ok road, if a little muddy and cut up due to what looked like recentish logging activity, was followed by a backtrack as I realised I wasn’t actually on the road I wanted. Right, maybe that answered my question of why the road was closed. Parked in the turn off, which is why I’d walked straight by, was a vehicle. It turned out to be a mining exploration/driller thing of sorts (so I’d been wrong with my logging guess, I suppose).
No worries, I continued along the road on foot, and wondered if there was a good reason why the road was suspiciously green and grassy, though in good enough nick to drive down, had the machine thing not been parked there. But presently I discovered the real reason.. A big bridge, well and truly out. Any hint of what once must have been a road on the other side was gone, the trees were equally thick all the way up and down the bank.. I had no time for a scrub bash on what I had thought was road, so I figured I’d leave Everett for another time and go in from the other side. By now, I doubted I’d have the time for that. As I drove back out, four black and yellow cockatoos flew alongside me for a moment, as if to see me off (so I pretended).
Maybe St Valentines would do instead? A 1 hr easy walk, I vaguely remembered from a glance at the Abels a few days prior. But that would require driving to the right start point!! I followed a track I’d drawn into my GPS before checking the Abels, which came in from the north. I must have chosen it because it was a much shorter drive from where I was coming, which would make the return drive shorter too. I didn’t realise my mistake till I got there and read the sign which said 4 hrs return, and I hazily recalled seeing the map in the Abels as coming in from the south!! A quick check confirmed that. Pigheaded, I figured I’d do it anyway, now that I was here, and walk out in the dark.
So off I went at 2.30, moving at a decent speed. I ran into three youngish people who I think were putting on socks and shoes after crossing a flooded log across the river on their return from the peak, though I gave them little more than a hello and a glance. I didn’t stop to think and went straight across.. Completely missing the log book, which I later found in the shelter where they were sitting. They must have thought I was nuts, starting so late and not signing the book, especially in light of all the signed warnings… Little did they know..
Shortly afterwards I realised my head torch was back in the car, where I’d put it after using it the night before. Great! I really didn’t want to be crossing that log in the dark with no head torch.. Ideally. Though I figured.. if push came to shove… 🙂
So there began my little challenge.. Could I get up and back in 2.5ish hrs, which is about as much daylight as I reckoned I could count on? Yes, it was darker in the forest, but the moon would be out and full, but maybe it’d be too cloudy for much light to come through, and how long would it take for it to rise high enough to cast light on me? And how much should I take into consideration that the walk was most clearly (the clearest I’ve ever seen) signed difficult, exposed, for experienced walkers only, and not to be attempted alone (or how much was that Gunns covering their arses?). There was a sign to that effect part way through the walk, as well as one at the start of the walk, and I laughed as I read the second one, then promptly fell up the first step!! Idiot ;)!
Anyway, I arrogantly thought I’d give it a good crack. My pace increased, I was soon drenched, and not just from the overgrown scrub and, later, wind blown mist. But I was more focused, more aware, alert and in the moment than I had been any other time during the day. Up I went. In spots it was hard, and my legs wanted to stop or I couldn’t get enough air, whichever it was that took priority was interestingly related to the level of incline (and I wondered if you could mathematically model that.. the things you do to keep your mind busy!). But there was no slacking off to be had.
Finally, I was out of the myrtle forest and on top. I thought this meant less up, easier going. Though instead the slippery steepness had been exchanged for biting wind that cooled the sweat on my face just a bit too fast, and more false summits than I’ve ever had! But there was rock, one very fun ridge line, and eventually, after yet another misty bump climbed, a helipad on the next one, which because of the angle and elevation, I at first mistook for a shelter of some kind! The next bump over, the trig!! Over I went, took a photo of one of the many plaques, noticed a little bit of snow remaining on the ground, tucked my camera away for the run down, and back I went. It was 3:45.
With some of the pressure off (I’d made good time on the way up) I was free to enjoy. So I ran across the exposed ridge lines, throwing caution to the wind, arms out in an expression of the slightly crazed freedom and wildness I was feeling, matching the weather brilliantly, wet and weighted strands of hair that had escaped blowing across my face, laughing out loud, because that was how I felt. The best I’d felt all weekend. Slightly mad maybe.. Meh!
It was over too fast and then I was running down through the forest. Not at maximum speed, it was steep and rather slippery underfoot, but as fast as I could trust each step, preferring to aim for bits of jutting out rock over the mushy forest debris, jumping over fallen trees, ducking under branches, taking the most delight when there was a quick succession of obstacles: jump, duck, twist and a sharp turn :)! I got a bit bored as it flattened out and the track ‘improved’, and took more to walking than running. Instead I responded to a few messages, pondered driving back home that night, then made the wade back across the river. A stop for some fungi on the side of a tree was a must, and I was pleased my camera still had some life in it.
By the time I was back at the car (it wasn’t even 4:50) I’d settled on the decision to just drive home. I’d received some translation with a deadline to do, but knew I had only Thursday free to do it, and I had already climbed 7 mountains, so I figured I should be sensible. A long drive, with the moon to accompany me, and I was back where I started…
Gnomon and Mt Dial (apparently 2 hrs return): 5.9km, 2:36hrs, 400m ascent
Duncan: 4.8km, 1: 38hrs, 335m ascent
Lorymer: 6.2km, 1:45hrs, 282m ascent
Loyetea: 2.5km, 48min, 217m ascent
Housetop: 1.9km, 1:08hrs, 216m ascent
St Valentines: 8.8km, 2:18hrs, 711m ascent