I’m normally known as Macpac mad, but I indulged on the weekend and finally got around to buying an Aarn flowmo bodypack; something I’ve been eyeing off for a while. I saw these packs first in use during my trip to New Zealand, earlier this year and was interested at the concept of counterbalancing weight with front pockets. A few weeks later I saw it in action again, this time in the Snowy Mountains and got to try it on briefly and was astounded at how easily it sat on my back and how upright it made me stand. And the weight didn’t register as much as it would normally do. Since my back has its issues and I’ve found the going a bit tougher with my normal (but much loved and simply indestructible) Macpac Torre, I promised myself I’d invest in one of these packs to ease the strain on my back and keep walking for longer.

Backpacking Light in Melbourne sells the Aarn packs and the guys there use the packs themselves, so they know how to adjust them and what suits your style of walking. They also offer a fitting service using Skype if you’re having difficulty adjusting your pack once you’re home with it and filling it with your own stuff.

I settled on the Featherlite Freedom, a lightweight pack that will just fit sufficient gear for multiple days walking. The pack has an inbuilt liner bag to keep your gear dry and the front pockets have their individual liner bags as well. The idea is that you store the light to medium weight gear in the back and fill your front pockets with the heavy stuff, such as water and food, as well as any items you need to have quick access to when you’re on the track. When I tried it on in the shop, we filled it up with about 15kgs of weight and I swear it simply did not feel like that. I can’t wait to try it out on an overnight walk, but it’s doubtful I’ll get around to that in the next few weeks.

And in case you’re wondering: I’m not sponsored by Aarn, nor by Backpacking Light. Simply, when I find out about interesting equipment and experience great service, I like to pass the word on to others. That’s all there is to this post.

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.

My old boots

Last year, about four weeks before flying to New Zealand to go walking, my old, faithful and much loved boots breathed their last. I was devastated. These Meindl Makalu’s had served me well for nearly ten years and had been everywhere with me: all the way to Gokyo Ri and Macchapucchare in Nepal; Ladakh in winter; the Overland Track and too many walks to count in and around Canberra.

I wasn’t ready to let them go, but with their soles gaping, letting in water, and the leather looking decidedly worse for wear, I knew I had no choice but to get a new pair of boots for the New Zealand trip. With only a few weeks to go, leather boots would take too long to break in, so I got myself a new pair of Scarpa Mythos Lite on sale. They weigh about half of what the Meindls weighed and having hiked up and down the NZ mountains I can vouch they’re very comfortable and haven’t given me one blister. So from that perspective I’m not missing my old boots.

Yet with so many memories attached to them, I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them into the bin. And then I got the idea of using them as flower containers in the garden. At least they’d still get some use. On Saturday I finally got around to getting some plants. I settled for lavender and here they are. I think they look great and I smile every time I see them.