Category Archives: Bushwalking

Prince Regent NP, The Kimberley (June 2017) – Part I

Getting to The Kimberley region of Australia is a logistics challenge in itself. For Sydney-siders like us, it generally involves flying to Darwin (having to overnight there due to the flight schedules), flying to Kununurra (maybe having to overnight again) and then some other transport to wherever you’re walking. This year’s trip was in the Prince Regent National Park, west of Mitchell Plateau. Once we finally got to Kununurra the adventure started with a 1.5hr flight from Kununurra to the Mitchell Plateau Airstrip.

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Preparing to depart Kununurra

We got great views of the region on the way.

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Views from the plane

From the Mitchell Plateau Airstrip we were then transported by helicopter into the Roe River, via a food drop on Garimbu Creek. We were planning to be out for 12 days/11 nights with us due to get to the food drop on night 6.

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Arriving on the Roe River and our first camp site

We didn’t have far to walk on the first day! In fact we were camping where the chopper dropped us off, which was nice given our packs were full of 6 days of food.

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The other half of the party arriving

Day 2 we started walking down the Roe River.

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Walking down the Roe River

We didn’t get far before we hit these major falls which were a great spot for morning tea and a swim.

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Tom above the falls

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Tom on our way down. The rest of the party sidled down further round on the true right. Tom & I took a more direct route down (which had a couple of tricky sections).

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Tom getting his first (?) water jump of the trip in.

That afternoon we visited the original “Bradshaw” art works.

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Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) rock art

And then we settled down to camp on night 2. The weather was a lot cooler than we were expecting and most of us were cold on the first few nights.

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Night 2 campsite. Lots of almost flat rocks!

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Reflections

Day 3 saw us go cross-country to cut off a couple of loops on the Roe. Unfortunately we saw quite a few cows, including some herds. In theory DPAW does some culling but from the numbers we saw it’s not that effective.

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Cross-country walking day 3

Lunch was had at this lovely set of falls.

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Lunch spot day 3

There were lots of pot-holes around. This one fitted Tom in it!

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Tom in a pothole

That afternoon there was generally easy walking down the river.

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Easy rock slab walking down the Roe River

We found some lovely shady overhangs, which unsurprisingly had rock art in them.

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The party checking out the rock art

And we had a delightful spot to camp for night 3.

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Tom in the kitchen at night 3’s campsite.

Day 4 we continued down the Roe River. The rocky slabs gave way to more sandy country. It was fairly easy going but not particularly exciting. Tom & I went on a detour up Wyulda Creek where we found some lovely waterholes and had a swim.

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Tom on Wyulda Creek

Expecting to find the rest of the party at camp we were surprised when they flagged us down only a short distance from the Wyulda Ck/Roe River junction. Unfortunately one of our group had broken her wrist and the decision had been made to activate one of the PLBs. A chopper picked her up within 90 minutes of the PLB being activated. And so then there were 7…

Subsequently we got to our intended camp later than planned. We were a little surprised when the creek we intended to follow cross-country the next day was a very small, dry channel. Tom & I headed up it to see what was going on and found the larger creek (with some water in it) actually joined the Roe 500m downstream rather than what was shown on the map.

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Our depleted party at camp on night 4. Note the salami, cheese, crackers & olives for entrée.

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Night 4 – our only sandy camp. Not sure if it was due to the sand but it was a very cold night, with plenty of dew.

We had groups dinners on the trip. Each evening’s food was allocated to one person to prepare (everyone doing 1.5 nights over the trip). Night 4 was Melissah’s night and we had a delicious laksa, followed by damper which we filled with honey for dessert.

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Peter & Mike concentrating hard on their damper.

Day 5 we left the Roe to start our cross-country route to Garimbu Creek. DPAW had been burning in the park in May and when we encountered those sections the walking was a lot faster.

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Crossing burnt-out country made the going much easier

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Rock art

Where vegetation hadn’t been burnt then things were slower as you normally couldn’t see where you were putting your feet so a lot of concentration was required.

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An unburnt section

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Scrambling down a creek

We’d had an early start on day 5 as we were going across the tops on what could have been a long day. The going was reasonable, but we’d been looking for a campsite for a while with no options coming up. We were pinning our hopes on a permanent waterhole marked on the creek we were descending. When we arrived at the waterhole it wasn’t quite the picturesque camp we were hoping for. Having been walking for over 8 hours we weren’t keen to walk much further. It wasn’t too bad; there was some sand we could flatten out to sleep on and the water was ok if you cleared the scum off the surface….

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Potential camp on night 5

I had a bit more energy left then most of party so I decided to push on another hundred metres. To my joy and amazement what had been an exclusively bouldery/rocky creek, with little surface water, suddenly gave way to large rock slabs with running water and even some waterholes big enough to swim in! Amazing. Everyone was pretty happy.

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Tom at the lower waterhole which was deep enough for some water jumps

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Our amazingly comfortable campsite for night 5

Day 6 we didn’t have much distance to cover but we were expecting difficult terrain. The terrain didn’t disappoint, we spent 5 hours covering 5km (including breaks). The worst of it in ‘tiger country’ where we were going about 0.5km/hour through deep spinifex and boulders. We were pretty happy when we got to Garimbu Creek and our food drop. When the food drop had been hung in the trees at the start of the trip one of the bags had rolled off a boulder and got a couple of tears in it. We were a bit concerned that this may have made it vulnerable to animals, but while there had been some gnawing the animal seemed to have mainly had a penchant for plastic bags. The only food casualty was a twiggy stick (salami).

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Our food drops hanging in the trees as we had left them 6 days earlier.

go to part 2

Russells Needle & Rocky Waterholes Creek (2017-05-13/14)

I wanted to put a trip on our bushwalking club’s program and I was searching for inspiration when I stumbled across Tom’s list of ‘future walks he’d like to do’. Russells Needle was on it and from there I had the seed for my trip planning. I’d read a couple of trip reports about sketchy ascents of Russells Needle but I figured it was an out and back so if things got beyond people’s comfort level they could just stop! Planning a route out Rocky Waterholes Creek seemed the obvious choice to avoid backtracking. I found a few more sketchy trip reports of people trying to go up Rocky Waterholes Creek so it seemed like a great adventurous option. And thus it went on the program – all pretty unknown.

In the two weeks leading up to my trip I received quite a bit of information regarding the ascent of Russells Needle and also exits out of Rocky Waterholes Creek. While it is great to have information suddenly it didn’t seem like so much of an adventure!

Saturday morning arrived and 7 of us set out from the Wattle Ridge Carpark. With another bushwalking group also setting out at the same time we had to use overflow parking spaces. The weather was beautiful for walking and it wasn’t long before we were dropping packs at the track junction with Slott Way and the Ahearn Lookout track. We took the opportunity for a side trip to Ahearn Lookout so everyone could get expansive views of the Nattai Valley, and particularly our target for the day – Russells Needle. Russells Needle is an unusual sandstone spine which sticks out into the Nattai Valley, a knife-edge ridge separated from the main cliffline by a deep saddle.

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Tom & Jo looking out over the Nattai Valley

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Matthew enjoying morning tea

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Tom looking towards Russells Needle and Mt Jellore

Back to our packs we made quick time down Slott Way which was (too?) well marked with pink/yellow tape and blue metal markers on what felt like every second tree.

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Tom & Matthew at a lookout half way down Slott Way

The Nattai is still fairly easy going after the floods which scoured it out in mid-2016. Lunch and our campsite was a large sandy bank on the Nattai not far downstream from Needle Creek. After lunch we set off with day packs to ascend Russells Needle. Prickly bushes (blackthorn?) made the initial slopes unpleasant and of course the group were constantly advising the leader that ‘the ridge over there looks nice and clear’ (they were ignored). Once we’d broken through that we were soon skirting the upper cliff line. It took a while to reach a break in the cliffline, which looked easy, though turned out to be a little less so. The rope was deployed for those that wanted it. This brought us on to the knife-edge ridge.

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Gaining the spine of the ridge to Russells Needle

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Jo on her way up with spectacular views up the valley

Now we were almost at the real deal – we picked our way up the rocky spine until we got just below the summit. Soon the majority of the party were standing on the summit plateau.

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Alan & Tom on the last exposed scramble (later discovered the unexposed route to the right of this section)

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Trying to coax the rest of the party up the final scramble

Some were more comfortable with the considerable exposure – Matthew lounged on the true summit rock for quite some time. After a decent period taking in the views and giving everyone who wanted to the opportunity to get to the true summit we started heading down. It was only then that I discovered the easy (unexposed) route up to the summit rather than the more exposed route we’d taken up the boulder.

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Matthew absolutely fine with the exposure on the true summit!

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Jo & Matthew on the true summit

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Looking down the northern spine of the needle

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Looking back to Tom & Jo from the summit

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Tom on the true summit

On the descent we took the ‘clear ridge’ that everyone wanted to be on during the ascent. I’m pleased to report it was just as full of blackthorn… Back to camp around 4:30pm, after picking up water from Needle Creek, we settled in for a pleasant happy hour and evening around the camp fire.

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Our campsite complete with views of the Needle!

Sunday always had the most unknowns – not least what the weather was going to do. The forecast during the week had oscillated between 0-3mm to 5-10mm almost daily. The most recent forecast was fortunately back to 0-3mm and Sunday dawned clear which was a good sign.

Away from camp at 8:30am we walked down the Nattai a few hundred metres before crossing over to Rocky Waterholes Creek.

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Jo crossing the Nattai

Similar to the Nattai there was significant flooding impact so the going was reasonable – as reasonable as it can be when you’re boulder hopping and scrambling. The creek varied between large boulders which were a full body work out to get around, flatter sections with beautiful pools (though only Matthew was keen to swim!), and some delightful cascades over rocky slabs. The clouds started building but other than a few drops at lunch we were spared, which was fortunate as some sections of the creek were slippery enough without extra moisture from above.

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Relatively easy going in the early stages of Rocky Waterholes Creek

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Mucking around with an unusual rock we found

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Tom & Melinda in a very pretty section of creek

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Near the junction with Iron Creek there was a shale (?) band of rock which made for some interesting colours

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Tom & Glenn near the junction with Iron Creek

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Melinda and Jo making their way up Rocky Waterholes Creek

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Lovely lunch spot – even a cup of tea for those that were keen

Shortly after lunch we hit the side creek at 625986 that we hoped to ascend. Alan had kindly scouted it for us during lunch and was able to confirm we could get up. I’m always a bit concerned about whether Alan’s routes will work for the whole party but he assured me he did it with his “Melinda hat” on. We scrambled up the true-left of the creek around a number of waterfalls and then bashed up from the true right to one of the many fire-trails that exist on the ridges in the area.

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Glenn & Tom making their way up the canyoniferous side creek

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Jo might be a little tired…

Those that were keen headed down the firetrail to the skinny ridge which pokes out into Rocky Waterholes Creek, giving spectacular views of where we’d spent most of the day.

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Alan & Tom enjoying the views over Rocky Waterholes Creek

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Lunch was somewhere down there

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If you look very carefully you might be able to see Tom’s red shirt out on the point of the ridge on the right. An interesting finger which extends out into the creek.

From there it was just an easy walk following firetrails and a track skirting the Wattle Ridge property. We arrived back at the cars at 4:30pm – no sign of an epic! An excellent weekend of adventuring in a lesser visited part of the world.

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.

wattle

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

Tabletop Traverse, Deua NP – October 2015

 

Just 5 days after getting back from our Africa trip was the October long weekend. Of course I needed to get away bushwalking! The trip was in the Deua NP 4-5 hours south of Sydney. After some fairly ordinary traffic getting out of town on Friday afternoon Caro & I got to camp at Snowball around 9:30pm. We had an early start Saturday with a big day ahead of us. The morning was spent descending to Woila clearing – it was fairly slow going with lots of undergrowth.
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Lunch at the creek was most pleasant, if you ignored the evidence of cows. We hydrated as best we could, loaded up the water before starting on the ascent for the afternoon.

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The afternoon was a constant slog up – and we were unfortunate that summer had arrived early – temperatures were around 30C.

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We got some fantastic views of our route – Scout Hat (right) and Tabletop (left) shown here.

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We ended up making camp well-short of our original goal. Camping in a saddle, our party of 8 found flat-ish spots where we could lie down for the night. It was very windy during the night which led to a mostly sleepless night.

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Another early start – with the immediate challenge of ascending Scout Hat.

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There was exposed scrambling on narrow ridges. The wind hadn’t really let up so it all felt a little precarious!

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Still a long way to Tabletop.

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A particularly exposed section of the descent off Scout Hat.

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Once past Scout Hat it wasn’t completely straight-forward…

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Four hours after leaving camp we made it to Tabletop – the first flat ground we’d encountered in that time! We enjoyed a cup of tea and a long break here.

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Then we pushed onto Horseshoe Point, our camp for night 2 and where John had cached 18l of water. It was a lovely spot.

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Vivien and I collected some water from a nearby (40 mins walk) spring. We had split groups earlier in the day – with the advance party making an attempt on Mother Woila. They had collected water during dusk on their way back and clearly hadn’t managed to find the nice clear sump we filled up from.

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Day 3 was potentially going to be a boring fire-trail bash but our fearless leader decided on a cross-country short cut. It ended up being lovely walking. Good call.

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The final push back to the cars. A fantastic long weekend in rarely visited country.

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Kimberley exploring (June 2015) – Part II

In our second week we headed to Emma Gorge and the Cockburn ranges. Despite being only a couple of hundred kilometres apart the landscapes were quite different.

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We got an exciting preview of our week to come as we got a helicopter to drop us off at the other end of the range.

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We got very excited by the Boab trees.

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And had a most delightful morning tea stop swimming at this waterhole.

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But soon we were into the narrow gorges…

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and more packfloats!

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Our campsite on the first night was the worst of the trip. I don’t have any photos of the crocodile eyes gleaming out at us, the numerous cane toads hopping around us or the 2.5m python which decided Caro’s bed was pretty comfy. On the positive side there was this amazing bower (made by a bower bird to woo his lady).

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Relaxing in the close quarters of camp.

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First thing next morning we had a pack float (one of the reasons we’d stopped where we were the night before).

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There was a lot of water weed in the waterways in the Cockburns.

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Morning tea views.

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Camp night 2 was far more spacious – and also featured a bower (on right behind the tree). This one had little skulls in it (amongst other bones), as the bower birds in the north of Australia collect white objects rather than blue.

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We explored the amazing ‘bat cave’. This photo can not portray the sulphuric smell which encompassed us as we swam through guano-filled waters with our mouths firmly shut!

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Amazing slot canyon.

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Emerging from the sulphuric corridor.

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We had hoped to explore a little further afield but found some of the tributaries dry.

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So we continued up the main gorge where there was plenty of running water.

 

 

 

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Another amazing slot near our third campsite.

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The best campsite of the week.

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Dryfall – this creek system would have been amazing had there been flowing water.

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Many of the tops had been recently burnt which made for pleasant walking.

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We saw a lot of snakes in the creeks – we think they were mainly tree snakes.

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We tried to descend the ‘bat cave’ canyon from the top (as we’d got to a drop we couldn’t get up when ascending it). Unfortunately we were confronted with a 12m overhanging drop and we only had a 6mm handline.

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So had to be happy with a lunchtime swim instead.

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The top of the dryfall we’d visited earlier.

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Tom all tuckered out.

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Not many campsites come with existing washing lines (& carabiners)!

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Beautiful spot for our last campsite of the trip.

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Emma Gorge with the hoardes (out of shot).

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