Featured

Peaks and troughs

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0331When friends and fellow walkers suggested an Easter ramble over the Bogong High Plains in Victoria, I immediately jumped at the idea. With a fair bit of driving to get there for each of us, the intended circuit was reconsidered and I thought I had come up with a clever car shuffle to make the final day a bit more palatable. At least that is what we thought…

From the start things didn’t quite go to plan, but sometimes the walking gods like to test our resolve and the only way is to persevere. After some trouble locating my share car, I eventually made it up to Bogong Village an hour later than our agreed rendezvous time. From there we drove up to Watchbed Creek outside Falls Creek and started our walk after we’d had a quick lunch.  We were striding out in our boots over the 4WD track and we made quick progress, until we reach Roper’s Hut. Our plan was to camp downhill after we crossed Big River and so we started out descent. The topo map did say steep in places, but there is obviously steep and steep. It was an exhausting descent that took us far longer than we expected and it was only when we had crossed the river that we could see how steep it had been. It was just on dusk as we made our way across the river and scrambled up the far side. Our camp site wasn’t far from there and we quickly put up our tents, so we could start to cook dinner. We rejoiced in a pasta dinner, lubricated by a shiraz from Cat Amongst the Pigeons, under the bright lights of the full moon. We were much surprised when we discovered we were still sitting yakking away well after 10pm that night and scuttled off to our tents for some shuteye and to recuperate for a tough second day.

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0293Apparently the climb out of Big River is described as an “ovary-smashing, ball-busting” climb and I have to somewhat agree that it was one of the tougher ones I’ve encountered. Very steep at the beginning the climb is relentless and took us close to three hours. Granted our progress was slow (probably thanks to all that pasta and red wine), but eventually we made it out onto the plateau and got our share of beautiful views. As we came onto the plateau we noticed a small cluster of tents, occupied by the Bayside Bushwalking Club, who provided invaluable information about our planned walk out. Although topo and satellite maps were showing a track, the prevailing wisdom was there wasn’t one where we wanted to walk out and that it would involve bushbashing down a steep spur that would be easy to get on the wrong side of. None of us were particularly keen on that scenario and after due consideration of all the alternatives, we decided on walking out via the Staircase Spur and putting our faith in humanity for securing a lift back to our cars.

Before we set up camp we walked down to have a look at Howman Falls, which were very pretty, seemingly perched in its steep environment. Although there was still 1.5K to go to Cleve Cole Hut, we decided to stay put where the other walkers were, because here there was easy access to water, which was not the case at the hut. Damir cooked up a fabulous Indian dinner with rice and naan bread and completely casually proceeded to pull a bottle of Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz out of the bottom of his pack, which was just about the best surprise anyone could have given us right there and then.

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0339After a good night’s rest for our sore muscles, we woke up to a slightly overcast morning which cleared up rapidly to more sunny skies. After breakfast and packing up the tents, we set out on the path to Cleve Cole Hut, which was reached after about 20 minutes walking. It is a pretty campsite, quite spread out under trees and well worth camping at (provided there is water). The hut is striking from the outside.

From the hut we started following the ridge line soaking in the views that stretched as far as the NSW Snowy Mountains, ridgeline after ridgeline of mountains fading into a blue/grey background. The views were truly 180 degrees and the wind was strong, sometimes almost knocking me off my feet, notwithstanding the heavy pack I was carrying.

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0346There is something special about walking the high plains, whether in New South Wales or in Victoria. You are high above everything else and you can see as far as the eye can reach. It feels like you are a million miles away from all the minute issues that clog our daily lives. We walked steadily and quietly, until we got to the junction with the Staircase Spur, where we left our packs to climb up the last little bit to the summit cairn of Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria. The wind blew, the views were spectacular and we felt smug simply being there… until the first runner came up. (I mean, seriously!)

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0352After a little time at the summit, enough for photos and a meander around, we returned to our packs and started our descent, which was initially very steep and then levelled out a bit before getting steep again; it’s clear why it is called the Staircase Spur. The total ascent from Mountain Creek to the top of Mt Bogong is 1400m and to descent is another 1400m. Most people do this as a day walk and some, well, as a training run. We also saw plenty of kids doing the walk and were very impressed by that. We were quite happy to rest our weary knees and quads when we got to Bivouac Hut and made it a short day, relaxing for most of the afternoon.

As we were finishing dinner, two Kiwi walkers came scoping out whether there was still space where we were camped to escape a bunch of noisy campers near the hut. We found them a spot that secured them a better night of sleep and they decided they could offer one of us a lift back to our car in Bogong Village. It was a win-win.

1803_AU_BogongWalk-0354The next morning we made quick tracks and followed in the footsteps of our new Kiwi friends, who were a tad more fleet-footed than we were. Two hours after setting out we arrived at the Mountain Creek camp site where they had just finished repacking their car, so I could fit into the backseat, as we drove up to Bogong Village – a drive that took longer than one would have thought. Once there, we said our goodbyes and expressed the hope to bump into each other in Melbourne at some point. I dashed off to pick up Karen and Damir, to drive all the way up to Falls Creek again to get their car and after another quick lunch, we went our separate ways again as we headed off to Canberra and Melbourne respectively.

It was another great long walking weekend – not without its challenges – but full of surprises and nice encounters.  And so as not to suffer again as much as we did this time, we’ll have to keep our walking up in between before we meet again for a walk up Mt Feathertop or the Three Capes Walk in Tasmania – whichever one comes first.

But before that, there are other adventures to be had. In just a little over a week I will be on my way to Tanzania and Zanzibar for a long anticipated trip to photograph the wonderful African wildlife on the Serengeti Plains. I can’t wait.

 

Last day in Bariloche

20131213-204202.jpg

The last few days have been a nice rest from all the previous exertions. Many Argentinian reds were consumed together with copious amounts of food. So much for that intended weight loss, but what can you do when you land in the chocolate capital of Argentina?!

We’ve taken the chairlift up to the Cerro Campanario, walked down from there (although we shall not speak of that again, as somehow we managed to get lost and turn it into a very long hike back), rented a car and drove to Villa L’Angostura, cruised around Llao Llao, Bahia Lopez and Colonia Suiza and topped it off with a chairlift ride up (and down) Cerro Catedral from where we had this stunning view.

Tomorrow I fly back to São Paulo and on Monday I will be back in the office. Not for long. Xmas family gathering awaits, but it will be a fairly manic five days before boarding that flight to Zurich.

Torres del Paine – the final stretch

20131209-132402.jpg

The wind blows strongly all night and still is in the morning when we are packing up to leave Paine Grande. The first part today is what is known as the easiest trail in the park, but it is torture for me, my feet hobbled by blisters and other unidentified pains. I feel like I have hooves and need to walk slowly as each step is hurting. By the time we get to Campamento Italiano I know there is no point in me trying to get up into Valle Frances and that I would do better to minimise the impact on my feet today, the better to walk tomorrow, when we have to walk all the way up to Campamento Torres. The rest of them leave their packs at Italiano and head up with sandwiches and water. I have a chat with the Canadians who are in the campsite and tell me about their horror crossing of the pass and are equally horrified at the enormous distance we did to backtrack and get to the W part.

20131209-132539.jpg

Soon I hobble on to Refugio Los Cuernos. Mauricio predicts it will take me two hours and he is spot on. It’s a pretty walk, with great views, even if the track is rough and difficult at times. When I reach Los Cuernos I am not particularly thrilled to see that all the campsites are on platforms, which makes it notoriously difficult to set up a tent. I wrestle with mine for close to an hour and even then I’m not all that impressed with the end result, but it will have to do. I treat myself to a soda and biscuits at the Refugio and relax in the sun, chatting to a lady from New Zealand who is at the end of a long trip through South America. Just after 4pm Alex hobbles in, followed shortly by Amanda, Colleen and Mauricio. They all skip the platforms and put their tents up in tiny spaces (doable as their tents are smaller) on the ground. We then pile into the cooking area for campers and start work on the vegetable wraps for dinner. More wine is bought and it turns into another happy evening. We bump into the usual suspects from earlier in the trip and share our war stories.

20131209-132650.jpg

The night is a horror with howling winds and a tent that threatens to take off with me in it. Even the enormous rocks with which I’ve secured it move during the night. I don’t sleep much and by 7am I’ve had enough and pack up all my stuff before that tent really flies away. At breakfast everyone admits they have all had a horrible night with semi-flattened tents and no sleep. Shortly after 9am we are on our way to Campamento Torres. And my skipping the valley walk has paid off as I have no aches in my feet and can set a cracking pace, probably my best day of all. We are powering on and reach the shortcut to Refugio Chileno well before lunchtime. From there we walk uphill until we reach the point where two tracks converge and we start descending towards Chileno. The Refugio is located in a beautiful spot in a gorgeous valley. We reach it just on 1pm and have our sandwiches there, before we head off again after 2pm, climbing up to Campamento Torres where we set up our tents. I soak my feet in icy water again in the hope to keep them as good as what they were today. Dinner is a spectacular pasta with tomato sauce and chicken, nicely spiced and half of which goes to the English family who have also made it there. The kids wolf down our leftovers. Then we set our alarms once more for 4am to make it up to the mirador for the sunrise on the Torres.

20131209-132745.jpg

When the alarm sounds I get up and ready and pull on the clothes, suspecting it will be cold high up at the glacial lake. The ascent is a torture for me, it is steep and my asthma is bothering me big time and the group easily leaves me for dust. I plod on methodically and slow and eventually make it up to the rim of the moraine below which lies the glacial lake where the rest of the group is waiting for me. We settle in with warm clothes and cameras and wait for the special light effect, but as the sky is cloudy, the effect is just not there. Still, it is a beautiful spot and the light behind the Torres is still nice. After a while we head down towards camp again where we have breakfast, pack up our stuff (last time dismantling the tent!) and by 7.45am we start heading down towards Chileno. My speed of the previous day is gone and the downhill is hard on the knees, so again I move slower than the others. After we reach the junction of tracks and take the left one towards Hotel Las Torres the descent becomes really steep and a complete torture, notwithstanding the beautiful view. Eventually the ground flattens out and by 10am we walk into the hotel for coffee, then beer and pizza to celebrate the completion of our trek. At 2pm our shuttle bus arrives and in Laguna Amarga we switch to the larger buses, which must be the rankest smelling things travelling on earth at that time, filled with stinky hikers. I was wondering how bad I was smelling compared to the smells around me for the next two and a half hours, but I think I prefer not to know. Once in Puerto Natales the shower was heaven and then we all got together for a final dinner at La Picada de Carlitos where we thanked Mauricio for looking after us so well.

20131209-132958.jpg

The next morning we all departed on our various buses and soon I will be taking a plane to San Carlos de Bariloche for the last part of my holiday, which is meant to be the relaxing part of the holiday, with perhaps a medium walk here and there. Summing up the circuit, what I did of it, was truly spectacular and I will probably come back to do what I didn’t see this time, Glaciar Grey and Valle Frances, but probably just as the W and using refugios. I’m not sure if I want to do the pass still. Part of me wants to and part of me isn’t sure. It’s one to mull over and ponder over time.