Author Archives: rachel

Cycle Touring Part 1: Vietnam (23-26 Dec 23)

From Đồng Hới we returned to Saigon – with more time that expected due to our flight rearrangements. We visited the War Remnants Museum which was sobering, and also interesting to read from a Vietnam bias.

Hipster cafes along with the best of them in Saigon

More upbeat was a Street Food Tour on the back of scooters with local university students. We got some delicious food and it was also great (if slightly terrifying) to be part of the traffic chaos rather than just dodging it.

Street food tour

We survived the Saigon traffic

View from our room. This was a quiet traffic moment!

The next phase of the trip was a 13 day cycle tour (though day 1 & 13 were just arriving/leaving). The trip was marketed as Saigon to Bangkok which sounds pretty impressive. However, there was a lot of sitting on the bus as well as cycling, so maybe not as impressive as it sounds.

We met up with the group in Saigon. There were 16 paying clients on the cycle tour – many countries represented – Scotland, England (3 resident, 1 via Greece), Canada, New Zealand, Poland (via Switzerland), the remaining 8 living in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane). Probably a few too many Australians for some people! We had a consistent Group Leader across the 3 countries the tour went to, but local crews (& bikes) in each country. At minimum we had a bus driver, truck driver, mechanic in each country, and other cycle/tour leaders/photographers (!) depending on where we were.

Unsurprisingly, given the traffic in Saigon, we didn’t start riding straight out of Saigon but got a bus south to the Mekong Delta.

The Vietnam bus

Our first day was only 30km of cycling, followed by a boat trip to our homestay for the night. This happened to be Christmas Eve. Saigon had been in full Christmas mode – Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas decorations everywhere. But once we got into the more rural areas there was little to remind you of it.

I think the group had been a bit apprehensive of how basic the homestay was going to be – it was better than I was expecting. Segregated rooms (well walls) in a large building with en suite (outdoor) bathrooms.

Mekong Delta boating

Group on the boat

Christmas Eve dinner

In Vietnam we were on Trek mountain bikes as the surfaces weren’t consistent, particularly while we were riding through the delta on paths that were largely used by pedestrians or scooters. Christmas day was one of the longest cycling days of the trip. We had some lovely sections, including through a flower market, and some lovely shady paths through rice paddies.

Christmas day touches

Rachel cycling

Tom cycling

Delta cycling

Goose farm in the delta

Christmas day lunch

Ferry across somewhere in the delta

However the itinerary had set an expectation of 75km, and the day had been full of misinformation. “It’s 1km to lunch” 4kms later… etc. So when we were told at 70km we had another 15km to go, with another (optional) 29km to the hotel, I wasn’t too happy. In the end 4 of us pulled up stumps at 75km, 7 going on to 85km, and then 5 strong riders doing the optional 29km to finish with a 114km day. My ego was a bit deflated stopping at 75km but when I saw the state of my saddle sores later that evening I knew I’d made the right choice.

Going to the homestay on the first night we had to pack a small bag with our overnight gear, rather than take all our luggage. This essentially locked us into whatever we’d decided we needed for day 2 of riding as well. It wasn’t ideal as we had to make those decisions before we’d even seen the bikes. I’d made a poor choice of bike pants for day 1, and continued to suffer for that choice on day 2 as well.

Our third day of riding took us on a very straight road all the way to the Vietnam/Cambodia border.

Rice paddies en route to the border

Bye, bye Vietnam. At the border with the Thai crew

Riding in Vietnam was over just like that. Whether it was because it was Boxing Day, or just lucky, the border was very quiet and so we got through as fast as a group of 16+ foreigners could expect to… We were obviously an unusual sight as the border guards were taking photos of us queuing – of course we didn’t dare take any photos ourselves.

Continue to Part 2

Caving & Jungle Trekking in Central Vietnam (19-21 Dec 2023)

The start of a month-long SE Asia trip had us in Central Vietnam. As I now know the Province of Quảng Bình lays claim to the largest cave in the world, along with many other caves. I didn’t realise quite how famous the area was for caving when we booked the trip – I was just looking for things to do that aligned with our interests. We didn’t visit the largest cave – there’s a several year waiting list and it costs a lot – but the Hang Tien caves we visited were pretty big! When most people think of caving they think of squeezing through narrow passageways – there was none of that on this trip – it was more akin to underground canyoning.

To get to the start of the tour we flew to Saigon, then took a domestic flight to Đồng Hới. It was a bit of shock to arrive, after a steamy November/early-December in Sydney, we were rugged up for sub-20°C temperatures and rain. We were collected at Đồng Hới and had a night at the Phong Nha Lake House Resort. Despite a SMH article claiming Vietnam was the #1 place to avoid Christmas the Lake House had multiple Christmas trees and a single Christmas Album running on repeat for all hours. We managed to blow a bit of the jet lag away with a paddle around the lake the resort fronts on to.

Kayaking at Phong Nha Lake House Resort

Early the next morning, in the rain, we were the first in a lengthy collection process by bus of the 11 members of our caving tour and our head guide. Once everyone had been collected we had a long, windy bus trip through the hills to the Oxalis base at Tu Lan Lodge. During this time everyone introduced themselves and I of course was judging everyone based on what they said, and their appearance.

We’d had to go through an extensive vetting process to be accepted on this trip, supplying a full resume of activities for the last 12 months, providing photos, height and weight, as well as individual phone interviews. It was a diverse group; 3 Maltese, an Irish/English couple (en route to moving to Melbourne), 4 Vietnamese (though 2 based in Melbourne and 1 in Austria) plus me & Tom. Our head guide, Anetta, was the only Oxalis female guide, with 10 years experience and a slightly sardonic sense of humour. Assisting her was Quyen, along with 3 safety assistants, porters and a cook. I think we had almost a 1:1 staff to client ratio!

Pre-trip briefing/packing

We only had to carry our gear for the day, the rest was transported by porters who we never really saw. The rain hadn’t abated and I think we were all a bit morose with the conditions when we eventually started walking just after 11am (after a 7:30am pickup).

The initial paved road, led onto a muddy fire trail, where the guides laughed as we all sought to keep our feet from becoming too muddy. The Oxalis staff were all wearing plastic sandals and socks – so they weren’t too worried about shoes getting muddy. The plastic sandals are cheap and help prevent footroot apparently.

Easy walking to start (note lodges up to the right where we will stay on our final night)

It wasn’t long before we reached our first river crossing. We were shuttled across in a boat that had a fixed rope to assist with guiding across the river. Not long after that we wound our way up through muddy tracks to have lunch in a wonderful dry cave. As we well know, outdoor activities in wet conditions are made far more bearable if you can get out of the rain for breaks!

First river crossing – this one in a boat

Dry lunch spot

We entered the pretty, but short, Secret Cave after lunch. This was our first experience with queuing for photos – the best spots were well-known to the guides and bright lights were set up provide back-light while we all waited for our chance to pose in the same spot. Secret Cave, in retrospect, was probably the prettiest of the caves but I didn’t take many photos.

Tom in Secret Cave

Then it was back into the rain and mud to get to the entrance of Hung Ton Cave. This was our first technical section. We had to harness up before descending a 15m ladder. I ended up at the back of the group and by the time we were all down everyone had been shepherded along to the river. In warmer times (and maybe lower water) the group would swim the river, but given it was low-teens and flowing very swiftly we were taken across in a boat.

Descending into Hung Ton Cave

In warmer weather this river gets swum, but we got the boat

Anetta had been warning we were likely to get to camp late, and it seemed we were now on a deadline, so there wasn’t any time to linger in the cave or at the swimming area at the mouth of it.

Jungle trekking in the rain

I think many of us were probably dreading camp, the rain had continued all day, the tracks were muddy, and it really felt like the weather had settled in. It was such a good surprise to arrive to a very well set-up camp. The tents were all under cover, communal dining area under cover, the ground compacted so it was just wet rather than muddy. Amazing.

Well set-up camp!

We had an excellent time and were exceedingly well-fed that night. The camp mattresses were pretty hard and I had to sleep with the minuscule pillow under my hips. It wasn’t to be the last time on the trip I wished for my thermarest.

It had sounded like it had poured overnight, I was having visions of having to walk out the way we came because the rivers were too high. Turned out the roof over the tents made the rain sound much worse than it had been, so we continued on our way. The morning started on much flatter ground which was less muddy and we made much better time than the previous afternoon.

Not very jungle-like!

Even though it didn’t pour, there was still enough rain to bring the water levels up. We had lunch on the bank of this river and then needed to cross it. It looked pretty dodgy to me and I started a trend by stripping off my clothes and putting them in my drum rather than getting completely saturated. The crossing wasn’t too bad in the end only being waist deep.

Another river crossing – looked sketchy but ended up being about waist-deep

Later in the day crossing many small streams

We made it into camp mid-afternoon. The rain had eased to very light drizzle and it had warmed up enough that we were keen to swim. We had been promised a beautiful natural infinity pool – but with the water levels up it had a bit of a dangerous undertow near the outflow. Anetta would only let us swim with life jackets on, while she stood guard with a life ring near the outflow. It was still good to get the mud & sweat off.

Camp night 2 – it’s almost stopped raining

Swimming hole – flow was high out of the pool on the left so we had to wear life jackets and keep right

Our diverse group included some members who were keen for photos for the ‘Gram (which of course they did full make-up for). Quyen was a keen photographer and assisted with photo shoots and directing the best shots. Tom & I found this quite amusing and couldn’t resist some parody shots.

Tom the model. Water came up a fair bit overnight – the next morning the seat of the chair would have been underwater.

The highlight of the trip came on day 3 when we explored Hang Tien 1. An enormous opening was awe-inspiring, but even better was going through it.

Approaching Hang Tien 1

Looking back out of Hang Tien 1. Approx 100m vertical entrance.

Entering Hang Tien 1

Anetta knew Tom & I were keen to take photos, and I assume she’d decided we were competent enough to negotiate our way through the rocky banks of the underground river. We took up the rear and I proudly kept my feet dry the whole way through.

Underground canyoning 🙂

Team along side a raging underground river

In lower flows I think groups just walk across the river but it was raging when we came through so we got hauled across on a Tyrolean Traverse.

Using a Tyrolean Traverse to get across the river

Tom on the Tyrolean Traverse

Climbing out of Hang Tien 1

The top entrance

Hang Tien 2 was a very different cave. Unfortunately Tom didn’t get the best advice about whether to take his camera gear in (we left our bags as it was an out-and-back exploration). As it turned out there was one easy scramble and then it was flat walking, with lots of opportunities for tripod shots. The size of the cave and the formations were impressive. The shot below without a person in it doesn’t give a true sense of scale – I guess the height of the cave at that point is approx 20-25m?

Impressive formations in Hang Tien 2

Lunch in the cave

After our morning of caving we had to walk out to the road for a pick-up. This was quite enjoyable walking from my perspective – a much steeper ascent on mainly rock and then a similarly steep descent on rock before a flattish trail. Our group was pretty competent, everyone handling the conditions far better than I would have expected from my judging on the bus on day 1. So on that evidence the Oxalis screening process was effective.

Muddy trekking

Trekking over limestone

We got picked up on the road mid-afternoon and driven back to the lodge. We had a night in luxury at Tu Lan Lodges. That evening we were taken into the local village, by truck (no one was keen to cycle given it was still raining!). Dinner was at one of the Oxalis staff members houses. It was really interesting to see the houses, including the floating house which gets used when the valley floods a few times each year.

View from our lodge

Dinner in the local village

The group, with our host for dinner at the head of the table

Unfortunately for us our flight had been cancelled the following afternoon and we had to get a morning flight. This meant a pre-dawn departure so we didn’t get to fully enjoy the lodge.

Despite the unseasonable rain (it’s meant to stop raining late November) we had a great time. The Oxalis camp set-up meant the conditions were almost enjoyable. The highlight was Hang Tien 1 – not sure I really needed the day 2 of jungle trekking – we do enough rough walking of that nature in our own time without needing to pay for the experience of ‘jungle-trekking’. It was hard to tell how contrived the route was or whether a more cave-intensive itinerary was possible. It’s somewhat a moot point as Oxalis is the only company with permission to run trips in the area!

Katoomba abseiling (14-15 Oct 23)

The cold which I’d had at the Aus Rogaine Champs had lingered, to the point that I cancelled the club trip I was meant to be leading this weekend. I was starting to feel a bit better by Thursday and a house stay in Katoomba seemed a good option. If need be I could just curl up on the couch and read my book.

Saturday was sunny and very windy. “Where is the rope bag?” I asked Tom as we prepared – wind and loose 60m ropes sounded like a recipe for entanglement. Rope bag was at home in the garage, so we’d just have to deal with it.

Jon getting us started

I was a bit apprehensive about the high traverse – it was one of the few details I remembered from this trip. Not having done a lot of scrambling of late I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Having got there I declared we didn’t need to set a safety and then promptly ushered Jon through to set the ropes. The strong wind definitely added an extra level of mental challenge.

High bridging!

Glimpses of the view

Jon abseiling

For the final and longest abseil we turned my pack into a rope bag. While setting it all up took a bit of time it was definitely worth it – no rope issues and a very smooth abseil for me.

Jon on the final abseil

By the time we were down I was feeling a bit tired so didn’t have any enthusiasm for another abseil trip. We had a long lunch on the tops before heading back to the car. Later that afternoon Jon & Tom went off and did another trip and I curled up on the couch with my book.

Relaxed lunch spot

Having been pretty wiped out by Saturday’s easy trip I wasn’t sure that I had enough in me for Castle Head. But the last (only) time I’d done it was in 2008, which was a long time ago. It looked pretty spectacular so I figured I could at least walk out along Narrow Neck and see how I was feeling. Sunday was notable for its almost complete lack of wind – particularly contrasted with the day before.

On the way to Castle Head

Castle Cliff Trig looking to Mt Solitary

Getting to the top of the first abseil was a bit exposed in places and it was good to actually get on rope and start heading down. Jon and I had a long wait at the top of the first abseil as we didn’t hear Tom’s whistle.

Tom on the first abseil

Slowly picking our way down

Cunningham’s Skink??

Looking back at our route – we started at the top of that pinnacle

Beatific Tom

Once through the abseils we had lunch in an overhang out of the sun. With no wind it was a warm day. Then Tom insisted we visit Ruined Castle on “the way” back to the Golden Stairs.

Jon & Tom on the Ruined Castle

Having overtaken a group of tourists not long before the base of the Golden Stairs Jon was adamant they weren’t going to overtake us on the way up. Not relevant that we were carrying far more gear than them, so it was a quick march up back to Narrow Neck.

Racing tourists to the top of the Golden Stairs

A great weekend out in nature.

Aus Rogaining Champs – Goobang (30 Sep-1 Oct 23)

The 2023 Australian Rogaining Championships – the pinnacle of the sport in Australia. This year the Champs were held in Goobang National Park and surrounding private properties. Goobang National Park is near Parkes in Western NSW. It was set in the southern part of the National Park which is not normally accessible due to being surrounded by private property. It was only my third long (>12hr) Rogaine.

Lauren & I had done NavShield and the Lake Macquarie Rogaines together in the last few months and our low key approach to the Aus Champs started from this initial conversation:
“Just thought I’d check whether you had any interest in doing the National Champs in Goobang on the Oct long weekend? I have been umming and aahing over whether I want to spend my Oct long weekend doing that or not. Still not sure!”
“I do have some interest … yet to have made any other plans for the long weekend partly as I had been thinking about the opportunity to see Goobang NP.”
(2 days later..) “So does that mean we have agreed we’re doing it…. ?”
“I think it might mean that!”

Our relaxed approach meant we hadn’t discussed whether we were sleeping or any other strategy for the event. On the drive up we confirmed that we both expected to sleep at some point – but would need to see the map to decide if it was going to be on the course or back at the Hash House. It took all of 2 minutes looking at the very large A1 map to decide sleeping at the Hash House was the go.

All the trophies

A1 Map!

I think the heat may have already been affecting our thinking as we did our planning. With so many unknowns: vegetation, terrain, how the heat was going to affect us; the course plan seemed like a nebulous concept. We didn’t even bother planning how we would finish our initial loop back to the Hash House. And why we would we need to work out how many km we had planned!? This was going to come back to bite us many hours later, but blissfully unaware of this, we made our plans while hiding in the shade of the bus.

It was so unfortunate the weather had turned out as it did. Had the event been a couple of days earlier we would have had far more reasonable temperatures, but Saturday’s forecast high was 30°C, overnight low in the mid-teens and then Sunday’s high was to be 34°C. I said to Lauren just before we started “What are we doing here? If this was the forecast for a bushwalking weekend I would be in a canyon or creek, not ridge walking all day!”.

Looking clean and excited before we start

Nevertheless, we were here, and at 11am we were off. Just to add to complications the daylight savings change was mid-event, so we were starting at 11am AEST and finishing 24 hours later at 12pm AEDT*. Not that anyone needed to worry about auto-updating devices since the rules of rogaining ban those – just ‘dumb’ watches and compasses allowed.

Walking farm roads at the start [on way #45]

Our initial controls all went well. We were excited to get into the rocky gorge country, I was less excited with the climb up on to the ridge. The views were spectacular but I needed a rest. I had a cold. Between that and the heat, I wasn’t feeling the best on anything involving a climb. With some food and water into me I was feeling more human so we were off again.

Gorge country [approaching #60]

Views to Lake Endeavour (and Hash House) [near #100]

Vegetation change ahead!

If we’d been excited to get into the gorge near 60 it was nothing compared to the excitement of the walking up Gulf Creek. The organisers had warned us all water courses were going to be dry – but in reality we saw quite a bit of water on the course. This was great for keeping hats and shirts wet. This was a spot I’d happily come bushwalking again – perhaps evidenced by the number of photos in this section!

Lovely creek walking

More great creek walking

Spectacular #91

We enjoyed scrambling down the creek from 91 – ignoring the course setter notes that seemed to imply you had to climb around. No climbing around for us, thank you!

Downstream from #91

Climbing out of the creek

#87 and three teams resting!

At the base of the next dryfall at #87 I was a bit surprised to see 3 teams resting. In retrospect, we should have added to their number, as it was shady and relatively cool. But it was only once we’d finished the big climb out (with spectacular views of a couple of low-flying wedge-tailed eagles) and were looking at the map at the top that we realised there were better options to what we’d just done. (For anyone playing along with the map we should have gone to #101 from #87).

One of many wildflowers (only one I photographed though)

We had a bit of trouble with #99, but found it eventually. Lauren was out of water by this point (and had been conserving for some time). We elected to continue with our plan rather than go directly to the water drop. This paid off fairly well as the walking to #101 was straight-forward, and #62 was visible from a fair way off so easy to locate.

Late afternoon light. I mainly took this photo to remind me this was spinifex country

Expansive views from #101

Heading to #62

“The most visible from far away” control. You can’t see it at this resolution but blown up #62 is in the middle of the shot.

Last control before a blessed, blessed water drop

I was also out of water by the time we hit the water drop. I’d been thankful for the fruit I’d brought along – apple and mandarin both went down very well in the conditions. I heard later that (fortunately) the water refilling team had been at this control when 15 teams had arrived concurrently. Something like 120 litres had been doled out in short time.

WATER!!! (#14)

We did a bit of a replan here, but that only involved dropping off a couple of controls, not working out how long it would likely take us to get back to the Hash House. Our stated intention had been to bed around midnight so we could get 5-6 hours sleep before heading out for a decent loop the next morning.

I think the A1 map contributed to our difficulty in realising how far we still had to go in our loop. It was cumbersome to have the whole thing visible at any one point, so when you just focussed on any given folded section you couldn’t see the big picture. And as there were no horizontal gridlines, coupled with the (angled) magnetic north lines, I had more difficulty doing estimates of distance than usual.

Last of the light

So off we went. Our first 3 night controls were out and backs from the road and went very well. These 3 were all quite subtle control placements so I think we did well in locating them as efficiently as we did.

Full moon rise (yes, it’s blurry… but to remind me that we had a spectacular full moon)

I think it was around now that we started to realise how far we were from the Hash House and how the chances of being back by midnight were non-existent. However, we persisted, and the next 2 controls were also no issue.

Unfortunately our only real navigational blunder of the course came after this. We were meant to follow a creek north to a saddle and then drop over the other side and hit an indistinct trail. However we couldn’t locate the trail and the landscape didn’t match the map. Eventually we decided just to head west as we didn’t know what was going on (our team name “Strategically Bearing West” seemed somewhat apt at that point). Of course, shortly after that decision, we hit the trail. Looking at the trace afterwards we came up a side creek instead of the main creek (obviously not watching the compass), and hence were in completely the wrong place to find the trail.

From there we had no problems with the next 2 controls. A very long descent west brought us close to #102. By this stage Lauren declared she didn’t care – she just wanted to get to her tent (which was still a good 8km away). I convinced her we had to be pretty close, and 5 minutes later we had another hundred points – at exactly midnight (13 hours in).

It was evidence of our exhaustion that we didn’t get any points from there back to the Hash House. It wasn’t until 3:45am I was in my tent. 3h 45m seems a long time to do 8.5km – given we were predominantly on track. But that did include half an hour “sleeping” on the side of the track at from 1:45-2:15am. The next day looking at the map we walked past 44, 84, 54 that would have have been relatively straight-forward to get. But we weren’t thinking about points at that point, we just wanted sleep.

Given we were so late back we agreed on being ready to go again at 8am. I was awake before 7am, hearing other teams head out. I was a little jealous as the early morning light (and temperatures) are a wonderful time to be walking. I was thrilled to find a bacon and egg roll and a coffee; heard some war stories from other teams; before checking in on Lauren. Her feet were in similar shape to mine so it was a fairly gingerly-treading team which set out at 8am. With only 3 hours we didn’t have a lot of time, particularly given the state of our feet.

Walking the shores of Lake Endeavour

We had hoped to pick up some of the higher point controls in the south west but it became clear after taking 45 minutes on easy tracks to #41 that we weren’t moving quick enough.

Below the dam wall

One of many fence crossings

Last control of the event for us

We settled for being 45 minutes early as we both just happy to get our of our shoes.

We’ve finished!

With this being the Australian Championships, and also an reasonable effort to get to, the people who were at the event really wanted to be there. It wasn’t like a lot of rogaines were there are people just ‘giving it a go’. It was a highly competitive field, and made us realise just how much we could improve when we came in 39th out of 80-odd teams. Our score total (1560) was under half of what the overall winners got (3580)! Other than the one navigational blunder which I mentioned above our nav was pretty good – it was the planning that let us down.

Final course statistics
11am – 3:45am – 44.53km
8am – 11:15am – 8.09km
Overall ascent/descent 2,466m

Our course

*all times mentioned in this report are AEST

Russells Needle (23-24 Sep 2023)

Another weekend, another visit to the Nattai. After the hot weather a week earlier it was nice to be out in more normal Spring temperatures (around 20°C). I’d left it a bit late to advertise this walk so there were only 4 of us – Mikal & Barrett’s first visit to the Nattai.

Views from Ahearn Lookout

Examining a recent rock fall on Slott Way

Views down the Nattai Valley

One of many crossings of the Nattai River

Tom decided he wasn’t up for climbing Russells Needle, but he came with us to find water from the side creek. So conveniently I will blame him for our failure to realise we hadn’t turned into the side creek, but were just in a side channel of the Nattai River, where we all filled up water and had a drink. A few minutes further walking upstream showed up our mistake – the side creek we had intended to fill up from was flowing nicely so we were able to refill, but not much we could do about what we’d already drunk!

Mikal & Barrett enjoying some water from a side creek

Mikal, Barrett & I made quick work of the ascent to the needle. Popping out on top to the sudden vast exposure was a bit of a shock, but we quickly adjusted and enjoyed some time lounging about on top.

Mikal & Barrett on the summit of Russells Needle

Mikal & Barrett on Russells Needle

Looking in the other direction

The section of the Nattai between Slott Way and Russells Needle was a quite rocky without many sandy banks, so we were pleased when we found a nice flat one to call home for the night. We had a pleasant happy hour and evening around the camp fire.

Very pleasant campsite

The next morning we had an enjoyable amble down the Nattai. A lot more camping options as we headed downstream!

Beautiful section of the Nattai River

Tranquil spot near Emmetts Flat

We left Tom to take the easy way out up Starlights Trail, while the remaining 3 of us headed up Troys Creek Fire Trail. It was easy enough to locate at the bottom but some of the open slopes were well and truly covered with regrowth which made slow-going when we lost the beaten path occasionally. A layer of wattle flowers and dust had us all sneezing as we pushed through and stirred it up. The regrowth eased off as the track changed direction and before too long we were almost at the top of the climb. We found an acceptable shady spot with filtered views for lunch, before putting our heads down for the fire trail march back to the car park.

Lunch views from near the top of Troys Creek Fire Trail

Our march was temporarily interrupted as we waited for Tom to join us at the Starlight track/Nattai Road junction. He had been expected to be be ahead of us – but with grevilleas to photograph and lookouts to visit he’d somehow managed to end up behind us. But soon we were reunited and finished the final section of the walk to the car together. A lovely weekend in the bush.

a Capertee weekend (8-9 Sep 2023)

Day 1: Tayan Pic
John organised permission for us to access Tayan Pic through one of the private properties surrounding it’s base. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a 750 ascent & descent in one day (well, I probably did at Lake Macquarie Rogaine but that was over a series of ups and downs rather than one go).

A small amount of flat walking!

The start of 750m of ascent

The initial sections were pretty good from a scrub perspective. Tom picked his timing though – he elected to stop about half way up – almost as soon as he left us the scrub turned baaad. At least I could explain what Strongleg Ridge is like at the moment as sections were pretty comparable – high saplings… though this had the added bonus of a very healthy dose of hardenbergia. John did most of the hard work up the front – leaving the rest of us wondering what the issue was.

Views across the Capertee Valley

The steep section just below the summit

Since the scrub had slowed us considerably we had lunch on the summit. That meant there was plenty of time for reading the logbook and learning about some of the local families who frequently visit the top. Then we spent quite a while trying, and failing miserably, to get a group photo – though it was at least highly entertaining.

John on Tayan Peak

The final steep cone

The middle scrub

We took a different route down which at some stages was considerably scrubbier than the equivalent section we’d come up, but in exchange we got more pagodas, some hand stencils and great views.

Pagoda views on our way down

Boronia

Final descent

 

Day 2: Tramway Trail & Blacks Corner

After an exceedingly cold night (-4°C nearby) we woke to a sunny morning. The 8:30am start meant the ice covering the windscreen had time to melt before we had to go anywhere.

John checking out one of the historic dwellings

Tom and an old chimney

Alex and “the submarine”

As always the second day of a weekend trip is a bit harder to get motivated for, but the Tramway Trail was formed for a lot further than we were expecting. Which meant Tom was still with us by the time we got to the cliff edge for morning tea.

After morning tea we tried to follow the cliff edge but got stymied by a drop off the pagodas – but worth the scramble for the views!

Team ascent of a pagoda

Tom trying to find a way off the pagoda

Beautiful walking

The final approach ridge

We had lovely views from our lunch spot across to our lunch spot of the previous day (Tayan Pic). Not often you get to do that! Though it seems none of my photos of the view made the cull.

John above a big cliff

A few of us were keen to find the jutty out rock we’d seen on our way up so we left the others to have post-lunch snooze while we diced with exposure on the edge of it.

Rick and Tom on the “slide-rock”

A much quicker return as we knew the best way to go (most of the time) and didn’t need to stop and look at the historic artifacts on our way back.

Pagodas and rock arch on our way back

“Slide-rock” from the Tramway Trail

A set of excellent day walks to make for a great weekend!

Nattai River & Road (2-3 Sep 2023)

hardenbergia in full flower

Crossing a landslip on Starlights Trail

Spot the non-native at Emmetts Flat

Ahearn Lookout dominating the skyline

Working our way around the water

David looking ahead

Convenient lunch log

Paul taking the easy but wet route

Everyone’s conceded defeat and taken to the river

Rocky section

David admiring the sculpted sandstone

Easy sand walking

Campsite with a view

One of many flowers out

hardenbergia interspersed with a white flower

Making our way up a side creek

Climbing up to the road

Back on good firetrail at the end of the trip

Talaterang Mountain (5-6 Aug 2023)

It has been almost thirteen years since my only previous visit to this area. I had very little memory of the trip, and hadn’t taken many photos so couldn’t jog my memory that way either. It’s definitely worth doing before another 13 years are up! Unlike some walks where you pop out at the end and you get a view, this one has views for the majority of the time.

I was a bit surprised at how new, fancy and long the boardwalk was at the start of the walk. The walk out to Mt Bushwalker lookout is very straightforward and can be recommended to almost anyone who is in the area.

Fancy boardwalk and wattles

Once we left the boardwalk, and shiny metal direction arrows we followed the cliffs around to the top of Gadara Pass for morning tea. There’s some pretty straight-forward scrambling to get down Gadara Pass. This has been supplemented by copious amounts of cord. The top 3m would be a bit tricky without the fixed rope (though we managed without it in 2010), but the rest of the pass does not really need the cord.

The top of Gadara Pass

The lower section of Gadara Pass (and the start of the cord)

However someone obviously got a good deal on cord and wanted to put it to use in the bush, as there is a lot of it. Cord was anywhere there was a vague slope and in some places where there wasn’t any slope at all.

More cord. This time on a very horizontal section of track

Combined with the cord someone has gone to town with orange spray paint. In some sections every rock on the track was sprayed orange. Where the track turned corners there were spray painted lines or arrows. You would need to make a concerted effort to get lost – but it was very intrusive. Better or worse than pink tape? I guess it depends if it washes off over time. In places where the spray paint wasn’t enough (!) there was fluro yellow tape on the trees.

David ascending Pallin Pass (spot the orange)

The forecast for Saturday held a fair bit of rain. So it wasn’t that surprising that the blue skies were soon full of clouds and by the time we made it to the summit of Talaterang Mountain we were in the cloud.

Some of the team enjoying the “views” on the summit of Talaterang Mountain

The next hour we covered about 700m – probably everyone’s favourite section of the day (not). What’s not to love about 3m high sword grass to wade through, followed by head height ferns and then a banksia graveyard.

Looking back through the roughest section

But after that things got easier as we could pick our way along rocky platforms near the cliff edge.

Rock formation & low cloud

The team walking along the ridge

Easier rock platform walking

I was thrilled that the cloud cleared overnight and I got up at first light to watch the light slowly reveal the amazing views near our campsite.

Early morning light on Byangee Walls and The Castle

Moon over the cliffs

Pigeon House Mountain

Rick on the edge taking in the views

Sunday was mainly retracing our steps – though I took us around the worst of the sword grass and ferns on the return. According to the GPS we were only about 25m west of where we’d been the day before – what a difference 25m makes!

David taking in a different view of The Castle

The squeezy bit at the top of Pallin Pass

I don’t think we’d realised quite how jarring the orange spots were until we returned to them on Sunday afternoon. Wow, someone really had a lot of orange paint.

How many orange rocks can you spot?

Joy enjoying the views

Final rock platforms on the way back to Mt Bushwalker

It was definitely one of those weekends which proves you shouldn’t be put off by weather forecasts as we didn’t really get any rain while we were walking.

Pantoneys Crown (22-23 Jul 2023)

It had been quite a while since I’d been in on the Long Swamp Trail towards Baal Bone Gap/Point Cameron. I needed a road condition report to work out if I could plan my Pantoneys trip from that side – friends had been in a couple of months earlier and said the road was fine, they’d had a 4WD but hadn’t used the 4WD functions. (But maybe I misinterpreted). So when I asked the trip participants if the 4WD owners could drive us out to the start I was expecting it to be just a bit of insurance. It ended up being fortunate we had 2 4WDs and 2 safe and careful drivers as the road was a mess. Fortunately we made it out to where I wanted to park a bit slower than expected but with everything intact and no boggings.

Having left Lithgow at -2°C we were glad the temperatures had made it into positives by the time we started walking. It wasn’t long before most layers were off and we were walking in beautiful, still, sunny conditions.

Heading where cars can not

Ascending the boot

Some of the group on The Boot

We made it!

The ridge between Baal Bone Gap and Baal Bone Point had a fair bit of eucalypt and wattle regrowth. We tried to stick to the rocky sections to avoid the worst of it, but there were some slows bits as we pushed through the tightly packed trees. The closer we got to the point the less scrub we encountered. I was surprised to startle a wallaby at one point on the rocky cliff edge!

Pleasant walking when we could find the rocky sections along the ridge

Views and cliffs for miles

Some of the walking less pleasant as the post-fire regrowth takes over

Pagoda walking

More pagoda walking

Views from lunch – to our destination

The down climb off the point still has the same logs in place, and the trip report wouldn’t be complete without a couple of shots of people in the same position. (See the same position from previous trips in 2020, 2014, 2007)

The requisite photo (Tim) of the scramble off Baal Bone Point

And another one for good measure (Jonas)

The flatter section of ridge descending to the saddle was a delightful walk. It was what many ridges used to be like pre-fires – and a sad indictment on current conditions that this one seemed so extraordinary.

What a view

The lower sections of the ridge and the saddle seemed to contain every kind of spikey plant known to the area. But the human pin cushions soon made it on to the slopes and eventually found ourselves at the base of the Southern Pass onto the Crown. Rick and I were the only ones who’d been to Pantoneys previously so knew what was coming. The others said the warning photos I’d sent out in advance hadn’t quite translated to what they had to do – but with a fair bit of pack passing we all made it up with no issues.

Rick and Eckhardt on the upper section of the Southern Pass

The team skirting the ledge to get onto the top of the crown

The still conditions lasted all weekend so it was very pleasant camping near the cliff edge and having happy hour on the edge.

We do get to see Pantoneys even though we’re on it! (the shadow)

Happy hour 🙂

Campsite views

Early morning views

We popped into see how the water source was compared to our last visit in the height of the wet period. I was surprised to find a couple of small pools which would do if you were drying of thirst.

The gully which had a couple of small pools in it

Easy walking approaching the summit

The views from the summit were spectacular. I spent a fair bit of time at the summit cairn trying to find the logbook unsuccessfully. I had given up until Jonas spotted a plastic big inside the base of the cairn. He thought it was rubbish but when he said he could see the word Hercules I knew we were in luck.

The summit cairn and views

With some Jenga skills employed the logbook was retrieved and signed. It’s clearly not found by many parties as it has been going since 2001 and isn’t a very big notebook. There’s only 2 pages left – so maybe take a replacement if you’re heading in – though on current signage that will probably last 3 years! (we were the 4th entry in 12 months)

In 2020 I took a saturated logbook out with us as the container it was in no longer existed – but we’d managed to find this logbook on our trips in 2005, 2007 and 2014 as there’s written evidence in the book.

Logbook which we failed to locate last time (though I carried out a different one). Been going since 2001!

Eckhart at the Northern tip

Valerie and Tim getting down through the top cliff line

Above the third scramble of the Northern pass

On every other trip where we’ve descended to Crown Creek there’s stories of Tom failing to navigate us down as intended. I’ve never had to do the nav for that section before and I made a bit of a mess of it on my first attempt. The topo map is only 20m contours which is tricky, and despite Tom furnishing me with a 5m contour map on my phone it was so detailed I struggled to place where we were on that compared with the topo map. Anyway, eventually after crossing two gullies and then still ending up on the wrong ridge I decided we would take our luck in the creek. It turned out to be much easier going – thanks to the local wombats (or maybe pigs 🙁 ). We had lunch at a wider grassy section a few hundred metres before we hit the road.

Relatively easy walking in the creek

Cutting the corners in the final wiggles of the creek

Crown Creek was flowing fairly strongly – I was a little bemused as I wasn’t expecting to have water (we’d been carrying it for the whole weekend). Then decided it must not be good for drinking. But when I got the photos home and showed them to Tom he was surprised at the flow – so I guess it’s been dry when we’ve been there previously. We spotted a creature ahead on the road at one point – not sure if it was a pig or a wild dog (!!) – it was odd looking whatever it was.

We made it to the road, and Crown Creek was flowing

It had been 15 years since I’d walked up Crown Creek Trail to Baal Bone Point – it’s feels like more than 300m of ascent. The incline at times is brutal. But we had nice crisp temperatures for walking in and the views made for a nice distraction.

Views to Point Cameron to distract from the brutal ascent up to Baal Bone Gap

Back at the cars shortly after 4pm and quickly away to avoid driving the road in the dark. We came across some less careful drivers who’d been retrieved from one of the large boggy puddles – we were warned not to drive straight through (we weren’t planning too!).

An excellent weekend and we couldn’t have asked for better weather – just need that road to get graded. It’s hard to imagine it was once in a state where we took a 2WD in (admittedly getting bogged in the process).

NavShield 2023 (15-16 Jul 2023)

Every year Bush Search and Rescue NSW (BSAR) organises and runs the Australian Emergency Services Wilderness Navigation Shield or NavShield. While it’s intended as a training event for the emergency services, it’s essentially a 9 or 27 hour rogaine. NavShield has a reputation for being the hardest rogaine out there – often in non-ideal (read: scrubby) rogaine locations. While I enjoy 6 and 12 hour rogaines, I haven’t caught the bug for the longer form. That, with NavShield’s reputation for being a scrub-fest, had not made me rush to do it.

However back in early June I was informed I was the back-up team member for a team I didn’t even know existed, whose services were now needed 🙂 I’d been out of action for much of autumn so my fitness was going to be questionable – but despite that the team apparently wanted me. This was perhaps less because of the wonderful qualities I bring as a team member and more because I was a member of SBW and the team was entered in the Bushwalkers category and needed a minimum of 4…

Anyway, eventually NavShield rolled around and we had an SBW team of 4 (with another back-up team member recruited). The experienced NavShielders suggested we were better off staying away from Base on Friday night as it can be very noisy and cold. Once the location was revealed (this only happens a week before so no one can cheat by going walking in the area) I found a wonderful place to stay in Denman.

Luxurious planning location – hard at work marking up the map

We had another team staying with us, plus our Team Photographer/Cook/Driver/Hot Chocolate maker (Tom 🙂 ). The place turned out to be even better than expected, particularly with several large tables which we could use for planning. One big difference between NavShield and a normal rogaine is that the controls are not marked on the map – the first thing you have to do is mark them yourself. I found this quite difficult – with 8-digit grid references I kept mixing the numbers up. Plus the map was double-sided A2, with a considerable overlap, so we had to mark quite a few on both sides. By the time that was done I had very little mental energy for route planning. However we cobbled together a plan and headed for bed.

Far too early the next morning we were off to Base in Goulburn River National Park. The event started at 9am Saturday.

SBW Team (me, Lauren, Jonas, Vivien) just before the start – conspicuous by our lack of high-vis

And we’re off…

We made quick work of our first control, ascending through broken clifflines with no issues. Saturday morning was great – we traversed some spectacular narrow ridges and no navigational issues. Things were a bit slow and “sticky” (lots of dead trees/sticks to bash through) but in general quite enjoyable.

The other feature of Saturday morning was our ongoing leap-frogging of our arch-nemesis team SUBW (Sydney Uni Bush Walkers). We must have crossed over 4 times in the first 3 hours.

High sidling early on day 1

Looking back towards Base (the white specs in the valley)

Finally got everyone to stop moving for a photo! (Control 60)

Taking in the views from the speccy high route we chose between 60-50

Looking back on the narrow ridge

We can see the next control…

After a quick sit down for lunch (luxury!) we crossed over a larger valley and into a new section of the course. Saturday afternoon brought another spectacular narrow traverse, less views and more scrub. We also got our first experience of the waterways, which we had been told were generally easier going than the ridges. The Saturday afternoon water ways were the fastest we’d moved since we left the fire trail 10 minutes into the event!

Above a cliff edge

The team descending to another speccy narrow ridge

SUBW caught up with us again here. They said we were acing the nav, but I suspect we were just a little lazier and they’d gone to to a 40-point control we’d decided to omit. As it turned out we wouldn’t see them (or anyone else) again until after dark.

This one needed a bit of scrambling to get onto

Vivien & Lauren on the ridge between 72 – 61

Lauren looking delighted to be punching (58?)

The fastest we’d moved all day!

The most water we saw all day (until we dropped down to the Goulburn River after dark)

Our only navigational mistake during Saturday daylight hours was dropping off one knoll too early to get to Control 71. Fortunately we only detoured by a few hundred metres and it was easily corrected.

Pleased to be at 71 (our only daylight mistake?)

Descending yet again as we lose light

Final daylight control of day 1 (Control 81)

From 81 it was a battle with the light. We made it up onto the next ridge just as it was time to get torches out. We were all running low on water by then despite setting out with 3 litres. It had been an unseasonably warm day and the only water we’d seen in the watercourses we’d crossed were very small stagnant pools. So the team was excited that Radio Checkpoint Charlie was not too far away – where we’d be able to fill up.

Attaining the next ridge before dark

Our first control in the dark didn’t go successfully. We seemed to do all the right things but couldn’t find the control. We couldn’t work out what we could have done wrong – everything seemed to have been right until we couldn’t find it. In the end we conceded defeat and just headed on without the control. Looking at the trace* afterwards we were <100m from the grid reference and may well have been able to see it if it was daylight, but sadly that was 50 points that went begging. The SUBW team (we had yet again bumped into them just after abandoning the quest for 54) told us afterwards they initially also had trouble locating it, so maybe it was also slightly off in its description and/or placement.

The story of Control 52. Red line is where we went. Marker is the grid ref supplied on the control sheet. (1km grid)

Arriving at Checkpoint Charlie at 7pm was wonderful. There was quite a few bushrangers there and as there’d only been 1 other team there (SUBW of course) they were excited to see us. We filled up water, then with much appreciated boiling water from the bushrangers had some soups/dinner and a rethink about the rest of the course. We ended spending an hour there.

With a slight amended plan we set off again – taking a flat (but longer), easy navigation route following a big bend in the Goulburn River to control 73. It was a very pleasant change to just be walking through grass rather than sticks whacking you across your body every step. There were no issues with 73, so then we headed up a side creek to 53. Unfortunately that watercourse was narrow and fairly vegetated – not pleasant easy walking. But we found the control with no issues.

I was fading mentally by this point, to the extent that I hadn’t even realised we’d swung from walking NE to SW to get to our next control. Fortunately that’s where the value of a team comes in – and the hope that everyone doesn’t fade at the same time. The control description for our next control was The Spur (Rock House) – I was imaging a rock formation of some sort, but it turned out to be something resembling a Rock House. It was beautiful camping here but as it was only 10pm and we’d agreed to go till around midnight we pushed on… I needed to hit the caffeine-infused gel to get me through the next couple of hours.

Control description: The Spur (Rock House) (#90)

Unfortunately the next 2.5 hours gained us no points and just got us back to the same place we’d been at 10pm. Our next control (45) we couldn’t locate and the terrain (large cliffs) didn’t really seem to marry with what we were reading off the map. After almost an hour wasted on that we gave up and tried to move on to the next one (68) but then got bamboozled by creek junctions. Eventually deciding the only way to work out where we were was to go back a known location (the rock house) and start again.

We agreed we’d start again on first light and so at 12:30am I collapsed into my sleeping bag on a patch of grass and hoped for sleep to come swiftly and deeply. We were rudely awoken around 4:50am when it started raining. We hadn’t bothered putting up a shelter so we were getting wet. The rain was light enough and we were all sufficiently tired that not much was done and next thing I knew Lauren was yelling out that it was 5:50am and time to get up.

Wearily, and still largely in the dark, we headed back up the same watercourse as the previous night. By the time we got near 45 there was enough light we could make out the clifflines and saw we’d been in the right place, just had underestimated how far we had to go up. We decided to not bother trying a second time.

The junction, which we’d discarded the night before as too small to be the right one, was easily seen as large enough when you could see the break in the cliffs behind it. We didn’t have any further navigational issues – just running out of puff – particularly me. My feet were blistered and so I was trying to step carefully which slowed me down.

At 24 hours in we were at the stage where it was easy to sit down and then not really want to get going again. This is another time when team mates get you going when you haven’t got your own motivation.

Vivien directing from the ground

We had a quick visit to Radio Checkpoint Alpha (you have to visit at least one radio checkpoint each day) and then with a revised route and 2.5 hours left we were on the homeward stretch.

Some easy walking on day 2

We were somewhat surprised to find that the descent from one of the controls involved a fairly steep bridging exercise down a gully. I used my canyoning skills to ensure I didn’t slide down the final almost vertical section. I was surprised at how worn it was as I wouldn’t have expected most teams to be skilled enough to descend it safely – but found out later there had been a rope placed by one of the one-day teams for some of the previous day.

I didn’t know this course also involved canyoning

Interesting shute we descended from Control 63 – probably not suitable for most (many?) at NavShield

Final control (64) before heading back to Base

We ended up finishing after 26 hours 16 minutes. If I’d been fitter and had less sore feet maybe we could have pushed for another control, but the points penalties for being late are so severe it’s really not worth it if it’s touch and go time-wise!

Just about to finish – my distance behind everyone representative of the 2nd half!

Tom was still on support duty – he just happened to be at the finish as we were coming in so could capture the moment. Then retrieved a chair for me before I collapsed in a heap on the ground. What sweet relief to sit down and take my shoes off! That was all I could do for a while.

We ended up third across all divisions, and 2nd in the Bushwalkers Division, soundly beaten by SUBW (who didn’t sleep and went all night).

Score sheet

After the presentations we headed back to Sydney – Tom doing his best support work of the weekend by driving most of the way. A weekend full of mostly Type 2 fun – I’m sure it will be far more enjoyable in memory when I can’t feel my blisters any more!

 

*You might be wondering if we had a GPS going why we didn’t know where we were. The rules for rogaining only allow for navigation by map & compass so the GPS is off-limits during the event. But it’s always nice to look at it after the fact so you can work out what the hell happened at the time!

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