In the Wild Dog Mountains

It has been a long winter here for Australian standards, but at long last Inner Game laced up her hiking boots again and went out on an overnight walk, which was well overdue. My old bushwalking buddy D and I had planned this weekend for a while and explored different options in the Blue Mountains, close to where he lives. After much email to and fro we settled on a walk to Mt Dingo and Splendour Rock starting in the Megalong Valley near Blackheath. A map was bought, GPS maps were downloaded, local experts consulted (read: D’s mad geocaching friends) and water requirements meticulously calculated, water being unreliable in the area. Given we had to carry in all our water, our equipment and food was pared down to the bare minimum.

The weather was perfect with a forecast for 15C on the Saturday and 18C on Sunday and, most importantly, no rain. We drove into the Blue Mountains on Saturday morning and made it to Dunphys Camp Ground just on 11am, which was a bit behind our planned schedule. My pack held about 5 litres of water, while D carried a bit more: 8 litres. And the first thing we had to do after leaving the car was work our way up a very steep fire trail. It certainly got the circulation going.

After two hours we left the fire trail behind and started to see our objective, Mt Dingo. We started following a much smaller track, which had quite a bit of undergrowth and fallen trees to negotiate. At the junction where we were hoping to descend from Mt Warrigal the next day, we left some water hidden in a hollow tree to help us cover the distance back to the car on Sunday. I thought our progress was taking longer than anticipated, but D had expected us to take that long. We couldn’t find the turn off to Mt Merrimerrigal near Hobbs Swamp and so continued on to where D’s GPS indicated where the track went straight up Mt Dingo. Sure enough we found the cairn indicating the turn off just before 5pm and headed up the steep incline. Eventually the track got to some cliffs and after some exploration we realised there was only one way and that was clambering up the cliffs with our packs. Not being the most nimble on rocks, I was a bit nervous at first, but I was doing OK and before too long we hauled ourselves out of the rocks and picked up the track again.

If only we had known that the prettiest campsites were on the right! But we took the left turn, walked up Mt Dingo and found ourselves a spot there. It was also right on sunset, so we knew we didn’t have the luxury to scope the place out and quickly set up the tent and built ourselves a small fire to keep us warm while cooking dinner. Never did freeze dried food taste so good and we didn’t even have wine to wash it down with. The 14K walk had taken us 6.5 hours and so it was an early mark for two weary walkers.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, but it was cold and the crackers with Nutella, albeit tasty, were not as warming as good old porridge would have been, but anything that would have required us to carry more water had been ruled out in our planning. After breakfast we packed up camp and left our backpacks leaning against some trees while we went to explore Splendour Rock, the real objective of the walk. It was only five minutes from where we had camped and we soon came across some very nice campsites. I enjoyed the view from the rock, while D went in search of the cache hidden there. He looked mighty pleased with himself when he found it.

Just after eight we were on the move again, this time following the track across Mt Dingo before scrambling over rocks downhill to Dingo Gap, the saddle with Mt Merrimerrigal. Then the track moved uphill again and we crossed an open rocky expanse filled with scrub, which is known as Playground of the Dingoes, a delightful spot. Then came some very interesting scrambling over rocks and through a sort of tunnel to descend to the Warrigal Gap with Mt Warrigal, before taking a track that skirts it, known as the Wombat Parade. It was a bit of a tricky walk at times, it being sloping and a bit slippery due to she oak needles, so you had to keep your wits about you. I was certainly grateful for my trekking poles. From Blackhorse Gap, the descent down to the track junction wasn’t too bad and we found our water waiting for us in the hollow tree, nice and cool.

By this stage we were making pretty good time and we got back onto the fire trail about 40 minutes later. After a short drink stop we practically motored our way back along the fire trail (what a difference it makes to not carry all that water!) and got back to the car at 1pm, which meant we had taken only 4.5 hours for the return walk. At least for the last two hours of our walk we had been thinking about the massive burger we would soon have in Blackheath, but nothing could prepare us for the disappointment when we discovered the shop was closed up. However, a meat and mushroom pie and squashy rhubarb cake from the local baker soon soothed our hungry stomachs.

So how exact were our water calculations? Pretty good, I’m pleased to report! We had sufficient water to drink on our way in and in our campsite on Mt Dingo. We each had about a litre and a bit for getting down the mountain to our water drop on the second day, and after we picked that up had another 1.5 litres between us. I finished my water in the last 15 minutes, safe in the knowledge that we had another 2 litres in the car to quench any thirst once we got there. It was a bit heavy to carry it all in, but it was nice to be comfortable knowing that you have enough water with you, noting of course that we were lucky with the weather in that it wasn’t hot.

A final note on safety: the National Parks Service in the Blue Mountains offers a free service in loaning you an EPIRB (also known as Personal Locator Beacon). We picked one up on our way in, just in case one of us would become incapacitated, and dropped it back (obviously unused) on our way out.  A great service and I wouldn’t want to walk any other way.

Whales, dolphins and an elusive sea eagle

Rock wall between Merry and Pretty Beach

Last weekend I was invited to a friend’s house on the South Coast. The weather was ridiculously perfect and, as we found out later, a great contrast to cold rain in Canberra. As it was, we enjoyed multiple beach walks.

On the first walk we came across this imposing rock wall, located between Merry and Pretty Beach. When I first saw it, it was completely in the shade, but I figured if I got up early enough I should be able to have a go in the early sunlight hitting the rock. The next morning I just made it in time, and only because the tide was going out again. I love the colours and the strata in this rock. And it makes you feel so small when you stand in front of it.

On our way back from our first walk we stopped for a quick view from a friend’s deck. I was scanning the ocean with a pair of binoculars and bemoaning the fact I had missed out on whales yet again when I suddenly spotted a spout and a breaching whale. There were quite a few migrating north and it was wonderful to finally see them with my own eyes.

Later that afternoon, on another walk, we spotted a pair of dolphins riding the waves into the beach. I was to late to capture it as a photograph, but the vision is imprinted on my memory; they looked like a pair of delinquent teenagers playing in the surf.

But the first wildlife I spotted on Saturday morning was a sea eagle, who wasn’t too keen on my camera lens. As soon as I got near, he flew off and kept circling, but never coming near again. He did come around by the side of the house later on, teasing me with proximity, but never a chance to take his photograph. I’m sure he was giving me the ‘bird’ on his flybys. Little did he know that I actually did get him in the first shot, so I’m breaking my rule of only one photo per blog entry to show him off; after all he is such a beautiful bird!

That sea eagle

Booroomba Rocks

Ever since returning from holidays I’ve been terribly slack in getting back into walking. In fairness: the change from European summer weather to freezing temperatures back here has been a little tough. The other day it was -6C when I cycled to work!

So on Saturday the weather was looking good and I figured it was time to get the hiking boots out again. I was joined by a colleague, who was keen to get out in the Aussie bush as well. Given she is visiting here I gave C. the option to choose where we should walk and when I explained that from Booroomba Rocks there is a lovely view over Canberra, that was what she decided on. As my car has rather low clearance, we opted to go to the Honeysuckle Campground and walk to Booroomba from there. It adds about 50 minutes walking time to the 20 minutes it take to get to the top of the rocks, so it turns the whole thing into a good walk. On the way we spotted the snowy top of Bimberi Peak, which caused as much excitement as the first glimpse of the ocean when you go to the beach.

It was decidedly nippy when we got out of the car at the campground, so ears got covered and gloves came on and C. set a fast pace to warm up. The bush was beautifully frozen in places, which also made it slippery at times. Other bits were fairly muddy requiring some innovative detours through the bush. We made good time, although I did wonder where my fitness had gone from my walks in Italy. Surely that doesn’t evaporate in one month…

The view was wonderful, as always, and we shared some hot Lady Grey tea, homemade oat bars and a banana as we gazed out at Canberra. The descent was much easier, but with the ground so frosty it still required some concentration not to slip. All our talking made me forgot the innovative detour to avoid the very muddy part and I duly sank up to my ankle in squelching mud, before backtracking to some drier ground. When we got back to the car it felt even colder than it had when we started, due to the wind having picked up, turning the temperature in a mere 0C.

Now that I’ve braved it once, I should be ready to get back into winter walking.