Author Archives: rachel

Yarramun Canyoning (2016-12-26 to 31) – Part I

After a year off our ‘traditional’ Boxing Day canyoning trip last year it was good that Tom’s body appeared to be sufficiently healthy for us to get back into it this year. We garnered a bit of interest and so on Boxing Day five of us set off into the Wollemi Wilderness.

 

Tom had already had to do a repack after weighing his pack and deciding 20kg was out of the question – 2kg of gear left on the floor at home – hopefully nothing he would later regret!

 

Our first couple of hours were on familiar territory and we helped direct another party in the direction of Water Dragon – though after we left them Tom did admit he may have sent them in a bit early. Oops. We continued on, the going on the ridges was pretty easy as the regrowth from the fires was still relatively low. We dropped into a tributary of a tributary which was pretty unpleasant – and a bit of a theme for the trip – many creeks having a lot of fallen timber in them from the fires.

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Having a break in a side creek after some scrub bashing. At least the going along the tops was pretty good after fires in recent years.

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Scrambling in the main creek

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Negotiating a log jam

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Tom on a small hand-over-hand

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Sue at the bottom of another hand-over-hand

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Tom in the canyon

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Toni standing out in her new wetsuit

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On the second day we explored a side creek. On our way in I encountered some sawfly larvae.

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The tributary we explored was dark and cold. This was at the end of of a tunnel section – before I had to break the spiderweb and disturb the water!

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Toni exiting a narrow tunnel section

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Sue enjoying the frigid water

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Tom on a small downclimb

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Sue in a slighty eerie dark section (artificially lit)

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We base camped for two nights, Tom and I took the ‘annex’ around the corner from the main camp cave. We did a bit more excavating after the first night to even up the ground!

On the second afternoon the others opted for a bit of R&R while Tom and I headed back into the main creek. We were looking for passes and options for the coming days. Potentially we were going to have to reverse our route so we spent a fair bit of time assessing whether we could get back up everything (or leaving a rope in place as needed).

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Tom descending into the main creek

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Tom negotiating a further downclimb

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Further down the creek we explored a very narrow side creek from the bottom. With a bit of bridging and grunting we got a bit of a way up it.

On day 3 we decided to move camp so with full packs found a pass out onto the tops and headed over the ridge to descend an unknown creek.

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Abseil in our side creek

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Tom on another abseil in the side creek

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Lunch cave in the main creek. Complete with newspaper from 2014 that had (presumably) been left for kindling along with the large pile of firewood. The previous day I found an old torch in another overhang.

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There were lots of flannel flowers out

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After lunch we headed out a somewhat sketchy pass to descend the narrow canyon Tom and I had explored from the bottom on the previous day.

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Smiffy on the first impressive abseil

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Tom on the second narrow abseil

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Toni abseiling, while Tom enjoys the canyon ambience

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Bridging over a narrow section

Then we continued down the main creek. We were hoping to find a camp cave further downstream. The creek was slow going with full packs, and some major boulder block-ups which took some time to work out a way through.

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Toni negotiating a downclimb

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Magnificent gorge

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Tom on top of one of the boulder block-ups. Now where?

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More magnificent gorge

While the gorge was magnificent we were all pretty tired by the time we finally found a camp cave. Even better it wasn’t the camp cave we were looking for but a better one! (no hauling up a tree to get to it!)

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A very nice camp cave, which ended up being home for the 3 nights

Continue the adventure

Macquarie Pass Rivulet (2016-11-20)

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Tom at the top of the first short abseil

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Tom on the second abseil.

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The party behind us abseiling the third abseil.

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Clare on an optional abseil in the one of the bouldery sections

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Tom on a spectacular abseil into a amphitheatre where we had lunch

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The whole creek is pretty accessible…

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Clare abseiling while Tom looks on

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Tom belaying Clare on the next abseil

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Tom decides to take an (optional) slide

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Jumping for the paparazzi

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Another abseil, more photos!

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The party behind us abseiling into the most ‘slotty’ section of the day

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Stanley jumping

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Tom jumping

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The lower section is more horizontal and lovely walking. We spotted an eel in this pool.

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The party behind us scrambling a drop near the end.

 

Corang River Loop (2016-10-29 & 30)

Emmanuelle had a walk on the club program which was to an area I didn’t know anything about. It was great to get out to a different part of the world. It was a beautiful walk.

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Tom on the other side of Goodsell Creek

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Graham contemplating a magnificent waterhole

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Gorgeous section of creek. What a spot to be on a hot summer day.

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Anyone would think we were in Kakadu… except for the amount of clothes we’re wearing!

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More beautiful cascades. Corang River is a stunner.

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Heading up Canowie Brook. Evidence of recent fires is obvious.

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After dropping packs at camp a few us decided to head to Yurnga Lookout. The weather conditions almost made us turn back given our chances of views were slim…

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Fortunately we persisted as the cloud lifted to give us amazing views across to the Castle and Pigeon House Mountain

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There was also an interesting chasm to explore

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Wildflower season!

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Crossing Canowie Brook on Sunday morning

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On our way up to Corang Arch

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The party enjoying Corang Arch from many different vantage points

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Tom on Corang Arch

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Wildflowers

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Wildflowers

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Wildflowers

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Wildflowers

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Wildflowers

 

The Heads of Asgard Plateau (2016-10-08 and 2016-10-09)

After visiting the Four Heads of Asgard Plateau a couple of months earlier for Nicole’s fondue weekend I decided it would be a good walk to add to the SBW program. We had explored the various heads over a couple of days, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to work out where I was going on a day walk.

The walk proved a popular one on the program and I had to turn away quite a few people once I hit my (self-imposed) cap of 12. On the day we had 11 and despite the forecast predicting a cloudy, cool day it was pretty warm and humid.

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Head #1: Ikara

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Crossing the creek near Girraween Cave

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Lots of waratahs were out

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Head #2: Valhalla

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Views of Asgard Swamp

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on the way between Valhalla and Thor Head

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Awesome lookout on the way to Thor Head

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Catching up on some sleep at Head # 3 (Thor) after the early start

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Exploring MacKenzie Mine

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Views on the way to Asgard Head

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The magnificent Grose Valley from Head #4 (Asgard)

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rock formation on our way down

After deciding to put the Four Heads on the program I wanted to run another trip nearby on the Sunday. After scouring the map and having a look at some of the trips in Micheal Keats & Brian Fox’s Upper Grose Valley book I decided the weekend would only be complete with a visit to Odin Head (the fifth head) on the Sunday. Odin Head can be accessed by an easy, relatively flat walk along an old fire trail and would likely be less than an hour and a half return. I needed something more! Instead I decided to descend into Victoria Brook and follow that to Victoria Creek before ultimately ascending the cliffs below Odin Head. Perhaps unsurprisingly I had a lot less interest in my Sunday walk, perhaps because of the 3 for Terrain in the grade (for the non-SBW readers that means “Sections of rough track and/or off track and/or creek crossing and/or rock scrambling for long periods and/or thick scrub“).

In the end we had 6 starters for Sunday. After a brief jaunt along the road we soon plunged off track and down into Victoria Brook.

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Finding the easiest way through one of the scrubby sections in Victoria Brook

It wasn’t long before we gave up on keeping our feet dry. At one point Tom declared the water was only up to mid-thigh, unfortunately for most of the party this meant closer to waist deep. In a couple of places we elected to go up and around rather than go through where the water was deeper – sadly this meant missing the most canyon-like sections.

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A small canyon section which we went around as the next section involved a deep pool.

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An open section of Victoria Brook

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Victoria Brook

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Amazing overhang in Victoria Brook

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Adrian checking out the arch in Victoria Brook

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Adrian in a canyon-like section of Victoria Brook

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Petros checking out the best way down a very slippery waterfall

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Tom photographing ancient graffiti

Progress was fairly slow and we had a late lunch a few hundred metres before we hit the junction with Victoria Creek. The original plan had been to continue down Victoria Creek for another km or two but in the interests of time we decided to try our luck getting through the cliff line above the junction. The climb up to the cliff line was straightforward but the traverse along until we found a break was less pleasant. Fortunately we managed to make it up a steep muddy pass and soon were on the ridge having a mandatory shoe clean out.

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Lots of waratahs out on today’s walk as well

The party were suspicious about whether there was even going to be a lookout at Odin Head as I led them out on what was now an out and back instead of a glorious ascent at the head itself. I assured them that all information I had led me to believe there would be a lookout… but it was definitely a relief to get to the cliff edge and views of the Grose Valley. We spent a while enjoying the views before heading back along the old fire trails to the cars, getting back just after 5pm. A solid day in the bush.

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Tom at Odin Head

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At Odin Head looking down the Grose Valley

Bashed by the Blue Breaks (2016-09-30 to 2016-10-03)

A long weekend is always a highlight on a bushwalker’s calendar – the opportunity to get to places which are prohibitive for a normal weekend. Tom and I tossed up various options and finally settled on the Blue Breaks with an extra day of leave to make the long drive to Yerranderie worthwhile.

After my only other trip to Yerranderie I had no desire to do the drive again but the road was in good condition and nowhere near as bad as I remembered. The first major decision of the trip was whether to run it on pre or post daylight savings times. After considerable discussion we agreed to move to Daylight Savings Time as of Friday morning and so OTT (Official Trip Time) was set on all time-keeping pieces before we set off. This meant we had a very late start of 11am! The first couple of hours we followed an old fire trail down to the Tonalli River where we had morning tea around midday OTT. Time for those not familiar with Alex’s twig stove to have their first experience with it – much amusement for all along with the requisite plumes of smoke.

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The twig stove gets a workout

From the river we followed the remains of another fire trail, though this one was full of kangaroo thorn.

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On the way to Tonalli Pass

It was quite windy so we opted for lunch in the saddle between Tonalli Pass/Lacys Gap and the detached section on the end. During our post-lunch exploration of the detached section no one could be tempted to make the jump across to the final detached block.

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Tom not making the leap across to the final detached black

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Smiffy & views of Lacys Tableland

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Lots of wildflowers were out

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Scramble down off the end of Tonalli Pass

From there the walk to our camp was straight-forward and we were glad our camp cave was out of the howling wind. We visited Terni Head and enjoyed the views.

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Smiffy on the final scramble up to Terni Head

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Smiffy & Alex scrambling Terni Head

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Magnificent views

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Tom enjoying the solitude at Terni Head

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Fields of flowers to navigate back to camp

Somewhat optimistically we headed up to the cliffs for happy hour but once on them we concluded we’d enjoy the views for a few minutes and then retreat out of the wind to eat. Amusement was had throwing things into the wind and watching them sail back over our heads – until Alex started throwing large branches that didn’t go over us…

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Camp cave on night 1

After a relatively leisurely start the next morning we set off along Lacys Tableland. The topography of the plateau means that most of the walking is inland away from the cliff edge and views. The walking wasn’t particularly quick as it was quite scrubby though thankfully we had left the kangaroo thorn behind after ascending the pass. It was another overcast, windy day but the cloud cleared occasionally to give us a bit of sun.

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A rare moment on the cliff edge on Lacys Tableland

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Views

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Recognising features in the distance from an unfamiliar viewpoint

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Umm, do you know what you’re standing on?

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Tom came off second best with a flicking plant. Also note the singed eyelashes.

A squally shower came over as we were starting lunch so we retreated to an overhang. Alex was looking for a visitors book when he spotted an unusual pile of rocks stuck into a hole and behind them was a sealed glass bottle full of notes. It looked like some sort of time capsule project, it said the jar was placed in 2003, we left it as we found it.

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Alex with his buried treasure

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The sealed jar of messages

A small canyon on the plateau provided post-lunch exploration and we checked out quite a few overhangs in the creek before continuing north.

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Tom in his element

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Choose your own adventure!

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More cliff edges and views

A flat spot not far from our intended pass was camp for the night. Fortunately we found water in the nearest side creek – though I’m not sure that you would rely on it being there if winter hadn’t been so wet.

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Nicole happy to have running water tonight

We managed to survive happy hour on the cliff edge without getting blown away. The wind was still blowing strongly but Tom had, much to Alex’s disgust, checked the weather forecast on his phone and he assured us that the wind was scheduled to die down about 10pm (not OTT).

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Happy hour views out to Lake Burragarong

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Happy hour

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Happy hour!

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Happy hour

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Smiffy’s not happy with his hair length and has an impromptu haircut

The next morning dawned clear and still – a pleasant change from the overcast windy conditions of the previous two days. We almost made an 8am start – somewhat apprehensive of what was to come after some scouting of our intended pass by Toni, Smiffy and Alex the previous evening.

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Breakfast on Day 2

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Descending the well vegetated gully

The gully was healthily vegetated but we managed to follow some pig (?) tracks initially, and avoid the head-high nettles. The promised lawyer vine was fairly sparse but nonetheless we were glad for a break from the vegetation under a strangler fig. From there the vegetation changed to more traditional ridge scrub and we headed down. Our intention was to navigate across a number of ridges & gullies to avoid spending too much time in Green Wattle Creek. Our initial foray put us into fairly impenetrable scrub so we headed further down the ridge. This meant the gullies were deeper and more effort to cross; at our last one faced with a bluff we decided we’d take our chances with the creek. Relieved to reach the creek after 3 hours of fairly hard slog we sunk into the ground where we could… until Smiffy realised he’d put his pack on a jumping jack nest.

Moving again up the creek we wished we’d walked upstream a few hundred metres before taking morning tea as there were some pleasant rocky slabs but with still a lot of hard territory to get through there was no time to enjoy them. The merciless leader pressed the group on past pools that may have just been deep enough for a swim much to Alex’s disappointment. After what seemed like an age we reached the bend of Green Wattle Creek where we intended to leave it. Lunch was had and we guzzled water knowing we wouldn’t have easy access to it again for a few hours. We were so happy to find the ridge had normal levels of vegetation!

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Happy to finally be on an open ridge!

The climb seemed to go on forever – probably contributed to by some optimistic map reading and the warm, still day. Eventually we all made it to the top of Broken Rock Range. We had a break to recover and take in the views before we set off on our traverse. The walking was lovely and the views excellent. We enjoyed afternoon tea near the high point of the ridge. We debated whether the ‘broken rock’ marked on the map actually existed – once in the vicinity we couldn’t see anything resembling the map feature.

Then it was a steep descent and some tricky navigation to try and pick up the southern spur. Alex’s disappointment with the party continued when it was revealed one party member used a GPS for navigation!!! The GPS showed we were on the spur next to the one we had hoped for but it didn’t really matter so we continued to descend. Amazingly the tributary we descended into was flat and grassy and we made quick time down it to the junction with Green Wattle Creek.

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Easy walking in the side tributary

Toni & Alex had generously given the leader an extra 15 minutes before it was happy hour because we’d started 15 minutes after the designated departure time in the morning. The leader delivered deciding on a campsite just before 6:15pm (OTT). Though with firewood collection, setting up camp and general faffing it was closer to the 7pm before we settled down for some very well deserved happy hour around the fire. At this point Nicole pulled 4 oranges out of her bag – which we will all more than happy to eat though very glad we hadn’t been carrying them. Nicole’s happy hour part 2 was after dinner where she whipped up a cake batter (complete with an egg that she’d managed to carry without breaking for 3 days) that then was poured into the orange skins and baked in the fire. Amazing!

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Beautiful eucalypt looming over our campsite on night 3

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Tom happy (?) to be at camp after our hard slog 10-hour day.

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Tom looking slightly chirpier the next morning

Given we hadn’t made it to the planned campsite for the day we knew day 4 could be long. Just over a km of Green Wattle Creek took us more than an hour in very thick scrub. We were glad we hadn’t decided to push on the night before! We filled up water at the junction of Butchers Shop Creek and Green Wattle Creek, de-leeched and started up the ridge to Vengeance Peninsula. The sun was out though the wind was back – the views from Vengeance Peninsula were outstanding.

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Many excellent views from Vegeance Peninsula

Tom & I had been somewhat apprehensive about the “thin bit” especially given the wind – fortunately it was nowhere near as exposed/difficult as we’d been anticipating with only the one exposed downclimb. We stayed there a while taking lots of photos. Alex took the direct scrambling route up the nose with the rest of us opting for the easier route to the left.

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Tom spotting Nicole on the exposed downclimb

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The “thin bit” on Vengeance Peninsula

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Window under the “thin bit” on Vengeance Peninsula

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Nicole happy to be across

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Smiffy much more comfortable with exposure than I am!

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Looking down on the others on the “thin bit”

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Looking down at the others on the “thin bit”

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Views back to our walking from the previous 2 days

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More wildflowers

We had been aiming for lunch on Axehead Mountain but Alex’s protests on Bull Island were heeded given it was 1pm. The twig stove was in action again! Smiffy lost his hat over the edge in the wind, but fortunately was able to retrieve it.

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Lunch on Day 4

We were supposedly in familiar territory for most of the party now – with Smiffy & Toni having done this section on a trip in 2013 and Rachel & Tom had traversed the Axeheads from the north in 2011. Our collective memories were not particularly helpful as we had to do a bit of route finding.

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Scrambling off Bull Island

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Scrambling onto Axehead Mountain

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Scrambling on the Axehead Range

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A familiar position for Alex…

A brown snake was keenly photographed. The wind was continuing to pick up and by the time we got to Gander Head it was a struggle to stand up in it. Not a time to linger on the tops. We soon found the route down and had a short afternoon tea when we got to the fire trail. Then it was just a few km of along the fire trail. Despite most of the party’s aversion to fire trail walking it was quite pleasant after the amount of scrub bashing we’d done in the previous 4 days.

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Walking back to Yerranderie

Back at the cars just before 6pm, a quick change and then the start of a long drive home.

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Finally back at the cars

Six Foot Track in a day (2016-08-13)

I think anyone who is vaguely interested in bushwalking in NSW has heard of the Six Foot Track. It is an iconic walk and when I started bushwalking back in 2004 I wanted to walk it. Tom talked me out of the idea, telling me it was predominantly fire trail and I would find it boring.

Some time later I heard you could mountain bike it. “Perfect”, I thought. “That wouldn’t be boring”. Then we walked the section between Megalong Valley Rd and Coxs River – I couldn’t mountain bike that! I’d spend most of the time carrying my bike, so that was the end of that idea.

Then we joined Sydney Bush Walkers and I heard about the annual Six Foot Track in a day walk. Great! I could walk the track without getting bored.

In 2013 I was doing Oxfam Trailwalker. “Perfect”, I thought, “it’ll be a great training walk”. But they were scheduled for the same weekend so that was the end of that idea. In 2014 we were inconveniently swanning around the Dolomites. And in 2015 I had signed up but then had to withdraw as the try-outs for the Australian Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team were the same weekend. Drat.

Six Foot Track

Finally, we get to 2016, surely I can knock it off! Yet I had done very little walking in 2016 as I had been training for the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships that were held in June. Returning from the World Champs I threw myself into a few training walks to try and get some walking endurance fitness. I was filled with apprehension that the day approached.  I was pretty sure I’d make it but I didn’t think my body was going to be very happy with me by the end. I spent a lot of time thinking about nutrition and not really being sure if I had the right food plan. I photocopied the many sections of different maps so I had the route identified.

 

The day finally dawned… well actually I was up well before it dawned as we were meeting at the Explorers Tree at 6am. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was still going to be dark. I had my torch ready in case of a late finish, not because we were up before the sun! There were 25 walkers this year, along with 7 support crew. It was a little like herding cats with everyone milling about in the dark, trying to work out which car to put their bag in and what layers to have on to start walking. After a briefing by Robert and the traditional round of names (though I doubt anyone was going to remember 31 names, especially given it was dark!) we were off by 6:15am. The group spread out fairly quickly with the descent down Nellies Glen.

start of the day

It wasn’t long before we were all together again at our first support stop at the Megalong Valley Road enjoying a cup of tea or coffee.

first support stop at Megalong Valley Road

The next section through to our morning tea stop (unsupported) at the Coxs River Campground was one of the most picturesque.

beautiful walking conditions

It was a beautiful day, perfect walking weather and the time passed quickly until we got to Bowtells Bridge. As the Coxs River was flowing strongly from a lot of rain in the preceding weeks we were crossing using the bridge. Only one person can use the bridge at the time, so there was a small wait as we got everyone across.

crossing bowtells bridge

Leaving our morning tea (270m) spot at 9:55am we set off on the fire trail up to Mini Mini Saddle (730m), then down to Little River (550m), before another big ascent to the Pluviometer on the Black Range (980m).

on the way up to minimini saddle

I’d been vaguely thinking if this walk went well I would try K2K in a day so I used the ascent to push myself. This meant I was third to the top at 11:50am and soon tucking into more coffee from our wonderful support team and inhaling lunch.

support party at lunch

I’d not eaten (or drunk!) much so far on the walk so it was good to get some food in. It was not great to see there was only about 0.5litres of my 2l bladder gone. I made myself drink half a litre of water before I could start the next section. As I’d got to the Pluviometer earlier than many people I was ready to set off before most. I was hoping some others might join me but I was the keenest so off I went.

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The fire trail along the Black Range passed quickly. I enjoyed using my map and compass to work out which bend I was on and estimating the time it would take to get to various landmarks. The support crew drove past me just as I got to the 15km to go marker.

Two thirds of the way there

It was good to know I was two-thirds of the way there and my body was feeling good. I got a bit of shuffle on in some of the downhill sections and before I knew it I was at the Black Range Campground at 1:50pm. My fluid intake hadn’t improved so I gladly downed a couple of glasses of orange juice from the support crew. The temperature had plunged and it was quite chilly sitting round and stretching at the rest stop. I needed to either put a bunch more clothes on or get walking again. I decided on the latter.

refreshments

I’d been told it was all downhill in the final section so it was a rude surprise to find a couple of short, sharp uphill sections but at least I warmed up pretty quickly! I was also pleased to find that the 4km from the Black Range Campground didn’t parallel the main road – which is what the NPA notes had implied. I had a brief chat with a couple who had been playing the ukulele and singing at our rest stop before passing them. I was now on a mission to get to the end.

eucalypt forest

Apparently in previous years some of the group would run this section so I tried to jog where the terrain allowed. Not so fast that I didn’t see this lovely echidna on the side of the track.

echidna

The fire trail turned quite rocky near the turnoff to Mt George and I couldn’t safely run, but further on the foot track turned to smaller gravel and I was able to jog again. Not having done the route before I was surprised and impressed when I got to Carlotta Arch. I started meeting tourists walking up from Jenolan Caves. I must have looked like a bit of mad woman with my map around my neck, holding my walking poles, jogging down the hill. It was 3:40pm when I stepped into the reception at Caves House feeling pretty good… so that means I might have to contemplate K2K in three weeks time. The other walkers arrived over the next hour or so all pleased to have made it.

 

Having now done the Six Foot Track after so many years of contemplating it I can say it was far more enjoyable that I was expecting it to be. Yes, there is a lot of fire trail but it is pleasant surrounds and nice views. It was a great day, big thanks to Robert Carter for organising everything and to our support crew for making sure we were well looked after.

Kumano Kodo – Japan (March 2016) – Part 2

Continuing from Part 1… From Yunomine Onsen the next morning I caught the bus to Ukegawa to start the Kogumotori-goe section of the walk. I initially got on the wrong bus. Fortunately I realised my error and was able to get off while still on the same route as my intended bus so there was little harm done other than my embarrassment. I was fortunate that a couple who had stayed at the same minshuku as me the night before were able to communicate with the bus driver for me – many thanks to them.

Today was the easiest day of the trip, and also the best weather. It was blue skies and quite warm (18°C+).  There were so many people waiting at the bus stop in Yunomine Onsen I was sure there would be a few of us on the track but I was the only one who got off at my bus stop. Consistent with previous days I only saw 2 or 3 people all day.

The day started with a pleasant ascent of 400m on a very gradual incline, and then followed the ridge for most of the day. The track had less formed stairs/cobblestones then other days so it was pleasant underfoot. Additionally there appeared to more sections of natural forest rather than the frequent planted cedar forests in other sections.

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Beautiful ridge walking on Day 3

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In shorts & t-shirt for the first time of the trip!

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Morning tea views of the “3600 peaks of Kumano”

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Oooh, what’s for lunch today?

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Looks pretty good!

I had a leisurely morning tea break at the Hyakken-gura lookout, and an even more leisurely lunch at the rest stop at the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains. Even with that I got to Koguchi around 2pm.

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A vending machine for every need in Japan (yes, those are cigarettes in the right-hand one)

Of course there was a vending machine in this small village, so I had an ice coffee and sat in the sun until 3pm which I figured was an acceptable time to check-in. Most of the minshukus had published check-in times between 3-6pm on the Tanabe Tourism website, but I hadn’t been able to find a check-in time for Minshuku Momofuku – as it turned out it was 2pm.

Today’s section had reminded me of walking a section of the Great North Walk in Sydney – short and pleasant, with views somewhat like the Wild Dogs in the Blue Mountains. I was surprised it was rated a 4/5 in the difficulty stakes as the ascent and descent were both very gradual, and the section was reasonably short. I concluded a large weighting must be given to the inaccessibility of the track – as there were no facilities or easy opt-out options during this section.

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The closest I got to a topo map of the trip

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Most minshukus provided tea / or tea making facilities in your room

The last day was rated as a 5/5 in difficulty and I was intrigued to see what it was like. I’d been keeping a close eye on the forecast and my fine weather window was closing – rain was due that afternoon and I was keen to avoid descending cobble stone/rocky stairs in a downpour. With that in mind I headed off immediately after breakfast just after 7:30am.

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An early start on Day 4

The Ogumotori-goe route starts with an 800m ascent in 5km, going up continuously the entire time.

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Stairs

I’d guess over half of the ascent is on stairs, and there are a number of false summits which raise your hopes along the way.

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I was sure the pass was going to be at the top of this section of stairs. Wrong! Another 30 minutes later I made it to the top.

I had been a bit lazy with my stretching the previous night after such a cruisy day and my knees were paying for it.

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Marker at the top of the pass (870m)

After 2 hours of solid climbing I made it to the pass, from which there was an immediate 140m descent.

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More stairs.. just going down now

It was during this descent I encountered the only real wildlife I saw in the four days – two deer grazing.

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1 of 2 deer, and the only wildlife I saw besides a lone squirrel

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Lots of small shrines along the route – often with piles of coins (normally 1 yen = 1c)

The route then meandered up and down a number of 100-200m ascents/descents along the ridge before getting to a great lunch spot. There were fine views of the Eastern coastline though the weather had started to turn and by the end of lunch I was wrapped up in many layers.

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Views of the Pacific Ocean from lunch at Funami-Toge Pass

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Another mystery lunch box

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My favourite lunch of the trip

A final 500m descent (more stairs!) got me to Nachi around 1:30pm.

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There were 500m markers along the entire route.

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part of the 500m descent

My knees were stuffed. Little did I know how many more stairs still lay ahead in my day. Somewhat foolishly I wandered directly to see the three-tiered pagoda and Nachi-no-Otaki falls, not realising that the area is fairly vertical. I would have been much better to explore the top section where I had arrived first. By heading down immediately I was later compelled to walk back up the stairs to the top. Nachi-no-Otaki falls are the highest waterfall in Japan at 133m, it is also 13m wide but when I arrived it didn’t appear to have much volume.

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Early views of Nachi-no-Otaki falls and the 3-tiered pagoda

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Three-tiered pagoda, looking out towards the ocean

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At the tourist-trap area of Nachi-no-Otaki

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Sadly I didn’t try to extend my life…

The final (optional) section of the Nakahechi route was Daimon-Zaka which is a 600m cobblestone staircase at Nachi surrounded by some seriously big Cedar trees. After dropping my pack off at my accommodation for the night I set off to walk Daimon-Zaka for completion’s sake.

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Looking down Daimon-Zaka

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The start of Daimon-Zaka and the end of my Nakahechi Adventure!

The forecasters were spot on as the rain moved in just before 3pm. After walking stairs for another hour I decided that was enough and it was time to call the end of my Kumano Kodo adventure.

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Back up to Kumano Nachi Taisha grand shrine (in the rain)

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Another view of the 3-tiered pagoda and Nachi-no-Otaki falls

 

Bathing time didn’t start until 4:30pm so the moment it was 4:30pm I was down at the baths looking forward to a long soak to ease my body after the hardest day of walking of the trip. Unfortunately my soak was interrupted. When I went to bathe I see a sign saying “women” I was about to walk in but then noticed the blue curtain with a man on it, so I turn around and there’s another door which also says “women” but this one has a red curtain with a lady on it. Figure the red curtain is the one to go… Have my wash and I’m soaking in the bath when I hear someone else changing, always a bit nervous in case I’m doing something wrong. As the person is coming into the bath room I am slightly horrified that it is an elderly Japanese man. He doesn’t appear to immediately notice that I am not a man. He speaks no English and I speak no Japanese (or certainly none for this situation!). Eventually he retreats, presumably having just read the first women sign and not noticing the curtains. That would be well and good except it turns out we are the only two people staying at our lodging and we have to eat dinner together. I think he apologised a number of times…

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Another excellent dinner!

The only time I used my Goretex in the trip was walking to the bus stop the next morning. It had rained constantly all night and was still bucketing down when I left. I was really glad I wasn’t going walking that day. Nachi-no-Otaki falls looked far more impressive after a full night of rain.

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Nachi-san after a full night of rain

 

Key Stats

Day Section Distance Vertical Accommodation
0 Travel to Tanabe (train from Shin-Osaka) Hotel Altier
1 (bus Tanabe to Takajiri-oji)
Takajiri-oji to Chikatsuyu
14km +600m
-400m
Minshuku Chikatsuyu
2 Chikatsuyu to Hongu
Hongu to Yunomine Onsen (Dainichi-goe)
25km
3.5km
+850m
-1000m
Minshuku Teruteya
3 (bus Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa)Ukegawa to Koguchi  (Kogumotori-goe) 13km +400m
-390m
Minshuku Momofuku
4 Koguchi to Nachisan (Ogumotori-goe)
Daimon-zaka
14.5km
1km
+980m
-630m
Mitaki Sanso
5 Bus to Kii-Kaatsura, then train to Nagoya

Kumano Kodo – Japan (March 2016) – Part 1

March in Japan is early Spring and depending on location there is potentially still a lot of snow on higher peaks – not a time where there is a lot of choice for hiking sans crampons. I was going to be in Japan anyway and I’d already booked additional days to go hiking so I was searching for a snow-free hiking location.

Initially I’d considered doing day walks around the Tokyo / Fuji area but I struggled to come up with a cohesive plan that wasn’t going to involve negotiating public transport every day. I was thrilled when I discovered a multi-day hike option on the Kii Peninsula – along with the excellent English-language website of the Tanabe Tourist Board (http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/). The website allows you to pick accommodation, book a luggage shuttle (if desired), order lunch boxes and provides model itineraries alongside information on how to ride a local bus and Japanese bath etiquette. In short it makes the planning easy for an area where there’s not much English spoken.

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Signboard at the bus stop. Hikers are singers!

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The track is well-marked, with signs like this frequently.

I settled on the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route which is a 66-70km (depending on exactly which sections you walk) route normally done over 4 days (though fit people could condense to 3). The Kumano Kodo is a pilgrimage route – used since the 10th Century leading to several major shrines. It’s definitely not wilderness walking but it is a great way to experience Japanese culture and food while getting some walking in. The Kii Peninsula is a very wet area – with annual rainfall of 2,887mm (about twice Sydney’s average rainfall). The wettest time of the year is June – Sept but March still averages 157mm. I got a lucky weather window – no rain at all while I was walking.

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Beach in Tanabe

The day after Dream Cup I got the train to Kii-Tanabe and had a night there before taking a bus to the start of the route at Takijiri-oji.

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The start of the Nakahechi Route at Takijiri-Oji

My first day of walking was from Takijiri-Oji to Chikatsuyu – 14km, with 600m ascent and 400m descent. There was a steep ascent from the get-go.

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Ascent from the beginning of Day 1

I only saw 3 other people on the route all day. It was a beautiful blue sky day but bitterly cold despite the sun. My down jacket was out at morning tea to try and keep the chill wind out.

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Views from a lookout

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Colourful scarecrows lined the road into the small village of Takahara

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Views leading into Takahara

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The only pool I saw along the entire route

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Lovely spot for lunch at the Jujo-oji clearing

I had arranged to stay at minshukus, family run guesthouses, each night. My first night was spent at Minshuku Chikatsuyu. One of the great things about Japan is their bathing culture – and along this route there are several hot springs. The onsen at Minshuku Chikatsuyu was lovely and an excellent way to end a day of walking. The minshukus generally provide full board i.e. dinner and breakfast, and optionally a lunch box for the next day. The meals at every place I stayed were delicious and substantial.

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My room at Minshuku Chikatsuyu

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Lunchbox for Day 2

After dinner on the first night my host sat me down and talked me through the seriousness of my next day’s walk. It was a significantly longer day – 25km compared to the 14km, and he wanted to make sure I understood the timing I needed to hit in order to get to my next destination on time (being late for dinner which is normally served at 6pm is a big no, no). I was well aware of the route but I’m guessing a lot of people turn up without having done that much research and get in over their heads. Normally I wouldn’t be worried but I had a few niggles so I was concerned about how my body was going to hold up. An advantage of walking in this area is the bus network which allows you to skip sections / modify your route depending on weather/fitness/inclination. Given the fine weather forecast I was reluctant to use a bus so I just crossed my fingers and spent a lot of time with my lacrosse ball trying to loosen up my muscles that night!

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Leaving Chikatsuyu at 7:30am on Day 2

As it turned out Day 2 wasn’t that bad – yes, there was 25km to cover (850m ascent / 1000 descent), but the first 7km was largely flat and on rural (asphalt) roads, likewise the final 7km. This left 11km in the middle which was on bush tracks and went over 3 passes.

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Overnight frost along with some playful hedge trimming

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The gardens along the rural roads were entertaining

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The impressive cedars at Tsugizakura-oji

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Permanent detour due to “a major crack in the mountain”!

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About to cross the highest pass on Day 2 (Iwagami-Toge 671m)

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Beautiful clear streams are features of the area

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There were some fairly serious land stabilisation works along the way.

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Typical rural scene – on the approach into Hongu

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Along the route there were many oji (minor shrines)

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Looking towards Hongu

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Sadly (?) this was closest I got to seeing any snakes

I made it to Hongu by 2:30pm, having left Chikatsuyu at 7:40am. This left me a good amount of time for checking out the shrine in Hongu, and Oyunohara the largest Torii gate in Japan.

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Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine

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Some cherry blossoms had started to bloom

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Love the Japanese signs!

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Stairs leading up to the shrine

I had one of the best coffees of my trip at the café at the shrine entrance.

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Coffee at Cafe Alma at the shrine entrance

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Oyunohara, the largest Torii gate in Japan (33.9 tall / 42m wide)

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Lots of signs of spring

From Hongu I needed to get to Yunomine Onsen where I was booked to stay for the night. I could either get a bus for 10 minutes, or walk an additional 3.4km (including a 300m ascent and 200m descent!) to get there. I had been sure I would get the bus, but my coffee re-invigorated me and having walking to the Torii gate I realised I’d already covered 1 km of the 3.4km so I decided to do the Danichi-Goe section of the route.

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The start of the optional Danichi-Goe section (300m ascent/200m descent)

Yunomine Onsen is a small village famous for its hot springs. All of the accommodation in the village has hot spring fed baths. It was wonderful to soak in the batch at Minshuku Teruteya after almost 30km of walking.

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The main street of Yunomine Onsen village. The lady in the middle of the photo is cooking eggs in the communal cooking hot spring.

 

 Continue to Part 2

Mt Wilson Canyoning (2016-02-13 & 14)

So far this season has been a dud so it was good to be able to get out and do some, albeit pretty tame, canyons for a weekend. We were unsure how Tom’s, now hopefully not broken, toe would go so we went for a short day on Saturday. The only previous time I’d done Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? Canyon was also as a recovery canyon for one of Tom’s injuries back in March 2007. With almost 9 years between visits it was nothing like what I remembered!

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Despite only putting out the call for other participants late on Thursday night Jon joined us for the day. We started the canyon about midday, and caught another group at the start of the abseils in the canyon proper. Having lunch seemed a good option at that stage while we quizzed Jon on questions we didn’t know from the SMH Good Weekend quiz.

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We caught the group again at the second abseil just as their last person was finishing up, and then properly at the final abseil. They had a couple of kids who’d both grated their hands on the previous abseil and were not having a great time of it. We didn’t have to wait long and before we knew it were at the Wollangambe.

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Tom’s toe elected for the short exit. It was peak hour! We found a party of 17 (the group that we had caught up to in the canyon), plus a large commercial party. We squeezed into a spot to get changed and then set off keen not to be at the back on the walk out! On the way up we also bumped into another commercial party that had been down the Wollangambe who we chatted to briefly. We bumped into a couple of people that Tom knew in the various parties.

Cathedral Reserve was packed. We were pleasantly surprised to bump into a group of friends who we weren’t expecting. And also pleased that the group of friends we were expecting turned up after their day down Twister and Rocky. It was a convivial evening and lengthy breakfast. Not unsurprisingly despite not having a plan when we got up we left to do Horseshoe Canyon before our friends set off on their planned canyon!

Tom decided his toe was up for a 5-6 hour day and since I hadn’t done Horseshoe Canyon we set that as our target. It was a hot walk in, but despite the hordes at Cathedral Reserve we didn’t see anyone. We made it into the canyon efficiently and soon were enjoying the cool, deep chutes of Horseshoe.

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The canyon is quite impressive if also short. After exiting we headed down the Wollangambe before finding a shady spot for a leisurely lunch. It seemed incredible we could have this gorgeous spot to ourselves when not far downstream it was likely to be filled with people.

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We did see a few people on our walk out, heading down to the ‘Gambe for a swim. On our return we detoured via De Faurs Rocks. It was great to get out canyoning!

Bungleboori Canyoning (2016-01-09)

As much as I enjoy exploratory canyoning sometimes it’s nice just to go and do a canyon that you know is going to be good! Many canyons of the Bungleboori have that exploratory feel to them with no tracks once you get off the old firetrail/main ridge, and given it was 7 years since my only previous visit to Luna Park it was almost like doing a new canyon.

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Scatters Canyon

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Swim/jump in Scatters Canyon (though we climbed around it)

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Views from the ridge above Luna Park

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James on our first (probably unnecessary) abseil

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James about to jump

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James trying to get his descender over the lip of this tricky abseil

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There were some interesting patterns/currents in the water following a week of heavy rain.

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James checking if the ropes reach! Fortunately for Tom his 20m recommendation was adequate…

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Beautiful Dingo Creek

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