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Following the Wombat Poo Trail

Wombat poo and flower

Over the years I’ve developed a fascination for wombat poo. Nothing weird, more as a subject matter for my camera as opposed to collecting them for things like making paper with (which is apparently done commercially by some mob down in Tassie!) My native Victoria is home to many thousands of wombats and this amiable ambling marsupial is a common sight when visiting our parks and reserves. There are a few things about wombat poo that make it so interesting. Firstly, the poo is essentially square. That’s right, a fresh poo is pretty much cube-shaped. It boggles my mind that somehow a wombat’s intestine can knock out square-shaped poos. Also, wombats love to do their poos on top of things. On top of stones, logs, mounds and even low fence palings. Which is why they need to have their poos square-shaped – so they don’t roll away! Wombats pump out between 80 and 100 of these marvelous marshmellow-sized wonders each night. Not a bad effort. They place them in conspicuous positions to tell other wombats that this is my place so stay well away. Over time the poos melt back into the bush, back into the grass from whence they came. Here is a bunch of my wombat poo pics (linked to my SmugMug site) to browse through – if you are so inclined…

Wombat Poo

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Open Spaces Tree Change

Open Spaces and it's new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.
Open Spaces and it’s new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.

It’s been a tough ten years in print publishing as the internet revolution continues to change the way we create and distribute information. Traditional printers across Australia have been putting off large numbers of staff or closing their doors for good. Wholesale distributors and book shops have been similarly affected. The introduction of smart-phones and tablets using e-books cut further and further into the traditional book market.

It’s no secret that we at Open Spaces have not been immune to the tsunami which has raged around us. At times it felt that we were shoeing horses in a blacksmith’s shop, all the while watching automobiles speeding past on the road outside. We changed tack accordingly and provided our newest walking titles with comprehensive GPS coordinates, which were able to be downloaded directly from our website. As far as we know this was a world first. Open Spaces also joined up with iCrag to create Australia’s first interactive climbing apps for both Apple and Android. We were very proud of how our Arapiles Selected Climbs and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne turned out as apps. We even changed the concept of our books, creating smaller print runs of slimmer, less expensive editions (such as our Western Gorges and Victoria’s Goldfields), which gave us the ability to update quickly and regularly. These innovations helped us to stay in business but despite this we at Open Spaces are under no illusions as to what the future holds for many ‘less adaptable’ publishers in the traditional print industry. We don’t believe that the end of traditional books will occur any time soon but we feel that there will be a fundamental shift in how books will be printed. High-quality, fast, digitally printed books that will have very short print runs (usually under 500 copies) will start to make more business sense. Our latest book, Law Unto Himself is a good example of this print on demand style of publishing. In the end though we have to face up to certain truths. More and more people will use the internet as a prime source for much of their information and they will have less need to purchase traditional forms of print media.

Which is why we have made some rather large changes here at Open Spaces. One of our biggest decisions was to drop the publishing and distribution of all our cycling titles. Of all of our books it was our cycling titles which suffered the most. With few book shops able to sell our product (to the general public) and with almost no support from cycling shops we had no choice but to drop them. We have sold the remaining stock of our excellent Bike Rides Around Melbourne to a leading distributor (Woodslane) and we will no longer be stocking it ourselves. We have also dropped many of the smaller less popular titles in our range, simply because we couldn’t justify holding so much stock.

Perhaps the biggest change for Open Spaces was that we have sold our premises in Melbourne and moved ourselves to Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera region of Western Victoria. Natimuk is within spitting distance of the famous Mt Arapiles and the rugged Grampians mountains are nearby. This change in lifestyle will allow us to do more of the things we love. Tracey Skinner, our office administrator, has followed suit and moved up to near Natimuk with us. In fact, she and my partner, Karen, are now owners of the popular Natimuk Cafe, which is open on weekends for locals and visiting climbers and walkers.

Finally, Open Spaces would like to apologise to any of our customers that may have been inconvenienced by the inevitable chaos involving our move. Things should now be running smoothly again and we look forward to a bright future where we will continue selling and distributing walking and climbing books for many years to come.

 

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Healthy Parks – Wealthy People

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For many years the various organisations that have run Victorian Parks have had an objective of increasing visitor numbers. The most recent incarnation, Parks Victoria, has gained a new objective – a greater proportion of Parks expenditure is to be raised from users and less is to be provided through government budgets. Are the two objectives compatible? The recently released Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and its proposed increases in camping fees assumes the two objectives are compatible. I believe the RIS uses weak research and an avoidance of challenging questions to maintain this pretence. Here is why.

Horizontal equity – merely an excuse for regressive cost shifting:

The fundamental objective of the RIS is cost recovery for camping in parks. This objective is partially justified by the principle of horizontal equity. Stripped to its basics as used in the RIS, this is the principle that all users should pay the full costs of the camping services they use in Victorian Parks. No one group of campers should subsidise another. There are two problems with this simplistic principle.

  • Why should horizontal equity only be applied to campers. Why should it not be applied to day visitors or to those who derive benefit merely from knowing that Parks exist and are accessible? The answer is that campers are more easily regulated.
  • More importantly, the proposed fee structure will apply the same nominal costs to campers irrespective of income and so will discriminate against lower income campers who will be required to pay a greater proportion of their disposable income to camp. Its impact will be felt most strongly by those who choose camping as an affordable form of recreation. This is hardly horizontal equity. It is a form of regressive taxation. This regressivity will change camping behaviour in ways not anticipated in the RIS.

Most camping visitation is to low cost options – suggesting price influences camping choices

Three quarters of camping visits are to basic and very basic camp sites. Currently these sites have modest fees. The high useage suggests price is likely a factor in the choices of many of campers. This issue is dismissed by the RIS using short citations from a study by Deakin University. Too little detail is provided to determine if sample used in the study is representative of the high number of users of low-cost sites. But if the sample is representative, half of the respondents suggested they would choose another option if camping prices rose. This limited evidence of camping ‘price elasticity’ is dismissed in the RIS with no explanation. This is a fatal flaw in the RIS logic.

Price elasticity of camping demand – higher prices will divert campers

The charging of a $13 fee for a basic camp option may have little impact on the use of these facilities. However, most car-based camping sites that have till now been used as low-cost camping options are being re-classified as mid or high cost camping sites. The case of the Grampians is instructive. All eleven car-based camping sites in the Grampians have been classified as mid or high level service. Currently the majority are low cost options. After the new fees are applied, no low-cost options will remain. The daily fee per vehicle in any of these sites will be between $34 and $50 – a rise of between 170% and 300%. This is a very hefty rise. Despite the scale of proposed fee increases, the RIS makes no real attempt to assess the impact on visitation, other than to cite a poorly designed question in the Deakin survey which asked respondents if they were willing to pay a ‘reasonable’ fee. The concept of ‘reasonable’ is in the eye of the beholder. I imagine few respondents would have considered a 300 per cent rise to be reasonable. It appears the survey gave no indication of the potential scale of fee rises. This makes the survey useless as anything other than a tool for opportunistic citation. And this is how the RIS has used it. To paraphrase its argument- campers agree they would pay a reasonable charge. We define a 300 per cent increase is reasonable. Therefore campers will accept this fee increase. This is hardly credible analysis.

The survey should now be repeated and users asked whether the proposed fee increases are reasonable and whether they would be willing to pay them. We all know that the response to these questions would be very different to the repsonse in the Deakin survey. The outcome of the proposed fee increase can be predicted with reasonable confidence:

  • Fewer camping visit: A significant proportion of low income (and possibly other) campers will reduce their visitation to formal campsites. Some may convert to day visitation. Some may not visit.
  • Diversion to commercial facilities: Some current users will make an assessment that the price charged for basic Parks Vic camp sites is significantly more expensive than commercial campsites that offer services unavailable in Parks sites – hot showers, washing machines and camp kitchens etc. They will divert to commercial options. [This raises a suspicion that the fee rise is partly designed to increase the profits of private operators – particularly any future operators buying the new 99 year leases of park land]
  • Informal and illegal camping will increase. The RIS acknowledges that non-compliance with fees is already high (60 per cent). The fee rises proposed will provide a vastly increased incentive for non-compliance. Parks will need to either increase surveillance of informal camping areas, or accept lower revenue and the potential threat to park values.

Is the future will remote campsites be closed due to negative returns?

If maintaining park visitation was considered a real objective of Parks Victoria, much greater consideration would have been given to the price elasticity and cross-elasticity’s of camping. There would have been a serious attempt to estimate the level of fee increase that could be achieved without reducing visitation. The absence of such a consideration from the RIS suggests that revenue raising is now the over-riding objective of Parks Victoria. If the proposed fee increases do reduce visitation, divert campers to commercial facilities and increase informal camping, the revenue estimates in the RIS will be proved grossly optimistic. Little additional revenue will be raised, but visitation will have shrunk.

At the same time, increased illegal camping and non-compliance will require the diversion of Parks Victoria staff, if not to enforce revenue targets, at least to protect park values where these might be threatened by informal camping. This will either increase Parks Victoria’s costs, or more likely decrease the investment of Parks Victoria budget in the rest of the work needed to protect our Parks.

If these predictions become reality, Parks Victoria will face the realisation that many lower level service and remote camp sites will never be self-funding. Given the current climate, the next logical step would be to close these campsites as unviable. This future seems quite at odds with an objective of increasing park visitation. Park visitation will become a recreation only for the wealthy able to afford to stay in the higher level facilities (more than $200 a night) or in whatever up-market facilities are created on the 99 year leases. These will not provide low cost camping. Parks Victoria could then change the logo on its vehicles from “Healthy Parks – Healthy People” to “Healthy Parks – Wealthy People”. This would only require repainting one letter and should be affordable within the currently stretched Parks Victoria budget. At least then we would all know where we stood. Parks exist to serve those able to pay hefty visitor fees. The alternative is a fundamental rethink of Parks Victoria priorities and an investment in credible research.

[Open Spaces: This piece was provided by one of our regular readers and who wishes to remain anonymous. It follows on from Glenn Tempest’s short blog/response to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement (Healthy Parks, Wealthy People) from last week. ]

 

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Healthy Parks, Wealthy People

Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees – Regulatory Impact Statement
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) has released a proposal for a user-pays approach to charges for camping and roofed accommodation in parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.
Victorians are invited to provide comment on the regulatory impact statement by 22 November 2013.

I just emailed the following response to the Victorian Government/DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) in relation to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement. If you feel strongly about these fee increases then I suggest you provide comment by the above date.

……………………………………………

As a regular park user and author/publisher of some of Victoria’s most popular bushwalking and rockclimbing guides I would like to voice my strenuous objection to the proposed increases to camping fees within our parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.

Having read the proposal I cannot help but be impressed at the Victorian Government/DEPI in having created one of the most confusing, inconsistent and badly worded documents that I’ve ever read. Was this proposal rushed or is it deliberately obtuse?

There are so many issues regarding these proposals that it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, however, I have to say that I’m astounded at the size of the proposed increase in camping fees. A fee of almost $50 for an individual to stay one night at a campground designated as having a ‘high’ level of facility and service is simply outrageous. If these massive fee increases are intended to drastically lower the number of overnight visitors to our parks and reserves then you are definitely going about it the right way. Especially affected will be those in our society who are less well off. My suggestion is that instead of promoting ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’, Parks Victoria can change its message to, ‘Healthy Parks, Wealthy People’.

Many park users are travelers who don’t plan ahead but simply ‘roll-up’ to various campgrounds. So who thought it was a good idea to confine those park users to an online booking system upon arrival at the campground? A smart phone and a credit card appears to be the only solution but plenty of people still don’t own a smart phone (although if you confine our parks to wealthy users then this may not be such a problem!). Unfortunately even those with smart phones are not always going to get reception. I hope that Parks Victoria will take a lenient view of all of those (roll-ups, gray nomads, etc) that will end up breaking the law through no fault of their own.

One certain result of these proposed campground increases will be that many park users will turn to bush camping to reduce their costs. Unfortunately this will result in an increase in environmental damage. This proposal indicates that substantial bush camping fees will also be introduced. As a regular bush camper I cannot wait to hear exactly how this will be policed. It’s simply not fair that an already overworked and greatly diminished Parks Victoria staff be turned into a rural version of Melbourne’s ticket inspectors.

Cheers,

Glenn Tempest

………………………………………

Written submissions should be forwarded by 5:00pm Friday 22 November 2013 via either of the following:

Post
Camping and Accommodation Fees
Land Management Policy Division
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
Level 3, 8 Nicholson Street
EAST MELBOURNE VIC 3002

 

Online
Email: camping.RIS@depi.vic.gov.au

DEPI RIS Page link: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/forestry-and-land-use/visiting-parks-and-forests/national-parks-camping-and-accommodation-fees

Fact sheet: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/205971/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Fact-Sheet.pdf

RIS executive statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/205519/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Executive-Summary.pdf

RIS statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/205517/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013.pdf

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When Is The Best Time To Walk The Overland Track?

Warwick Sprawson is our guest blogger. He is the author of  Overland Track which is available for purchase in our bookshop. Here, he asks the question – “When is the best time to walk the Overland Track?”

The ‘best’ season for hiking Tasmania’s Overland Track is as personal as your scroggin mix. Some thrive on the cold and solitude of winter, others on the long days and bustling huts of summer. Each season has its pros and cons.

Summer
Summer is the most popular season to walk the track. Many wildflowers are in bloom, carpeting the plains in vivid colours. The days are long, providing more daylight hours in which to tackle the track’s interesting side routes – trails off the route’s main spine. The average maximum temperature is a relatively warm 16.3°C, with temperatures in the 30s not uncommon. Summer also has the least rain, about as half as much as winter.

Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff
Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff

The downside of hiking in summer is that the huts and campsites are often busy, although the booking system – which runs from 1 October to 31 May – ensures the track is never overrun. If you want to hike in summer make a reservation early; the track is often fully booked from December to late January. In peak season you have to walk the track from north to south (Cradle Valley to Lake St Clair).

Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer
Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer

Autumn
Autumn on the Overland is under-rated. Hikers can enjoy the spectacular golds and reds of the deciduous beech trees, usually at their best around Anzac Day. Apart from the Easter period, the track is less crowded than summer, and there can still be fairly good weather, especially in March. The first significant snow often falls in May (but snow can fall anytime on the Overland, even during the height of summer).

sign at Kia Ora Creek, April
sign at Kia Ora Creek, April
Deciduous beech
Deciduous beech
Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor
Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor

One of the best things about autumn hiking is the variety of fungi. You’ll see a huge range of shapes and sizes, the bright reds, oranges and yellows lighting up the dim rainforest.

Fungi near D'Alton falls
Fungi near D’Alton falls
Autumn fungi
Autumn fungi

Winter
Winter on the Overland is only for the hardcore. It snows frequently enough that the route can be hard to discern, especially in white-out conditions. Taking snow-shoes is advisable. The days get dark by 5pm, so there is less time to do sidetrips. Overnight temperatures can be as low as minus 9°C. Winter also has the most rain, making the track even wetter and muddier than usual.

Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.
Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.

On the other hand, in winter it’s likely that you’ll have the huts along the track to yourself, and be reasonably snug thanks to the coal or gas heater. You also have the freedom to walk the track in either direction and don’t have to pay the $200 Overland Track booking fee which is required during peak season. Winter also provides the occasional crisp, clear day which reveals the full majesty of the snowy landscape.

Spring
September and October are usually the windiest months, with the conditions becoming more stable in November.

Tasmanian Waratah
Tasmanian Waratah

Some flowers, such as the Tasmanian waratah, begin to flower in late spring. In September you can walk the track in either direction and save yourself the booking fee.

As you can see, every season has its advantages and disadvantages. So what’s your favourite season to hike? Why?

Warwick Sprawson’s Overland Track guide is available from the OSP bookshop for $19.95. The full-colour guidebook includes track notes, maps, flora, fauna, history and geology.

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Dog in the Mists

Back in 1964 my father wrote a short story for possible publication in England’s Popular Camping magazine. It was rejected by the editor and the original type-written manuscript was all but forgotten. It must have meant something to my dad since he carried it with him when he migrated to Australia a couple of years later. Dad died 11 months ago and as we approach the anniversary of his death I thought it would be fitting to finally publish his story, pretty much exactly as he had written it almost fifty years ago. I think he would have been pleased.

 

Dog in the Mists

by Brian Tempest

Lake District weather has always been a tricky forecasting area for the experts, and proved no exception for us, as we found out when we planned a winter camp on Scafell. The plan was to camp and climb Scafell and any other surrounding peaks we had time for, with snow and ice climbing thrown in as a secondary thought. The patron saint of good winter weather (whoever he is) was not looking our way and towards the weekend of late January the wind drifted to the west and a thaw set in.

Saturday morning saw the four of us leave Shipley in the van and a few hours later pull up at Dungeon Gill Hotel for lunch. The weather was undoubtedly gale force winds and would be “very dodgy” on the tops. We had chosen the Band to ascend from Langsdale but changed it to Rossett Gill which afforded more shelter. After taking photographs of the climbers on Gimmer Crag we made our way up the valley towards Rosset Gill on our left, and Stake Pass winding steeply up the fell to the right. We struck left across the rough wooden bridge and over the glacial deposits of the valley floor, towards the scree slopes and the rugged gorge of Rosset Gill. As the track became steeper so the wind became stronger, until at about five hundred feet above the valley floor we were forced into the gulley which we hoped would afford us better protection from the wind.

The excess amount of water flowing made progress slower and wetter until about three hundred feet higher we climbed out of the gully and onto the frozen shoulder, just away from the worst of the wind. Higher up we were again forced into the gully and after a lot of heavy slogging over ice covered rock we reached the top of the pass and lay down behind some boulders facing the valley. The broad expanse of the Langdale valley was spread out below us with the Pikes shrouded in heavy mist. To our right Bowfell climbed sharply upwards, the top lost in swirling mist and rain. The winter sun broke through above Dungeon Gill and traced a silver pencil-thin line of the stream on the valley floor some eighteen hundred feet below us.

The temperature was still falling (it had dropped twenty degrees on the way up and was already below freezing point) and if the high winds didnt ease soon, we would have difficulty with the tents later. A dark sky in the east made us realise the time and the necessity to pitch camp soon so wepressed on to Angle Tarn and with difficulty found the only piece of unwaterlogged ground in the area. In growing darkness and a howling wind we put up the two tents and crawled inside.

Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.

A long drawn out baying, blown across on dark wind and rain made us look outside. High on the crags above the tarn a large dog, like some spectral hound of the fells, came bounding down the steeprock slopes, the moon lighting its gleaming wet coat, giving it an uncanny and startling appearance. It was obviously lost and hungry so wecooked it a hot meal and gave it oatmeal biscuits, and later it curled up comfortably by my tent. At about 1am we were awakened by a scratching at the tent door, the weather outside was appalling, with driving rain and high winds threatening to blow us any minute into the tarn below.

Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.

The following morning was still windy but thankfully dry as I pushed the sleepy and somewhat smelly dog out of the tent. Before breakfast I climbed the steep fell to the flat plateau of Esk House. To the east, bright early morning sunshine flooded the valley below me, making the ice encrusted peaks flash like diamonds. Behind to the west and south dark clouds were piling behind Bowfell and scudding across the silver grey sky towards me. By the time we had finished a rather later breakfast than anticipated and broke camp, sleet and rain were driving down from the high crags of Hanging Knotts, creating miniature whirlwinds across the surface of Angle Tarn, before throwing itself in a lashing fury against the black wet crags.

After fifteen minutes walk we were in thick mist with visibility down to twenty yards, so we decided against Scafell and struck south east across the track from Ore Gap to Esk House towards the summit of Esk Pike. We had noted heavy snow and ice the day before and as we had brought axes along might as well put them to some use. We negotiated the ridge of Esk Pike and across patches of wet snow and thick ice to the boggy area of Ore Gap. The marker stones to the summit of Bowfell were a great help in the thick fog, and when the stones were hidden in mist the hound had an uncanny knowledge of our direction and plodded steadily forward to the next marker, and up to the steep summit of Bowfell. We huddled together under the summit rocks and munched our mint cake (I’ve heard that somewhere before?) before descending a thousand feet to the plateau below.

Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.
Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.

The area here, to where we were to descend The Band was difficult to find, but by checking the general wind direction and trusting to cannine intelligence made the top of The Band quite easily. By this time the rain had slowed to a mere drizzle, and as the mist cleared below us we could makeout the steep valley of Oxendale with picturesque waterfalls tumbling down its steep fells. Over to our left and across the Langdale valley Pike of Stickle pushed it rugged head into the wet mists above.

Below and along the fertile valley the chimneys of Dungeon Gill called a welcome return to the weary travellers. With the bad weather conditions the whole weekend had, in our minds, been somewhat of a failure, but this unexpected and rewarding view had more than compensated us all. With light hearts and a waggingtail we descended, past Stool End Farm and on to the hotel.

We had intended to take the beagle hound to Ambleside police station, but after changing into dry clothes in the car park at Dungeon Gill the dog had disappeared. After searching the immediate area and enquiring from climbers and hikers of the whereabouts of a stray dog we had brought in, reluctantly left. Although the car park was fairly full of people the funny thing was that no one said they had seen us arrive with a brown and white dog at all.

It seems strange that people so observant as country folk are, should miss a footsore and bedraggled dog. Or is it?

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Law Unto Himself

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Last Monday Open Spaces in conjunction with the Victorian Climbing Club saw the release of Michael Law’s autobiography (of sorts) at Thousand £ Bend at Little Lonsdale Street. It was a wild Melbourne night of heavy rain and hail, yet despite this almost 70 people turned out to listen to one of Australian climbing’s most colorful and notorious characters. Michael provided the audience with a staggering 300 or so historical images, which he dispensed with in just under 1.5 hours and – unlike many slideshows – left the audience wanting more. MC for the night was Simon Mentz who opened with the classic line; “This book launch was originally organised for last week but would have conflicted with the big Chris Sharma road show. The VCC kindly changed it since it was obvious that nobody would have gone to see Chris knowing that Mike was in town”.

As it was the night was a massive success. Michael signed loads of books and got a sore wrist, the Victorian Climbing Club sold a bunch of books and hopefully broke even (after paying the venue costs), and the audience had a great time. What was really interesting was the large number of climbing’s elder statesmen that obviously shunned their nightly rituals of comfy slippers, hot toddies and an early bed to brave the elements and see the show. It’s not often to see the likes of Michael Law, Robin Miller, Geoff Gledhill, Peter Watson, Glenn Robbins and John Chapman rubbing shoulders.

A big thank you to the Victorian Climbing Club who organised everything and to Tracey Skinner, Ben Wright, Dan Miller and Mike Poore who did all the behind the scenes work.

Michael Law’s book, Law Unto Himself ($27.95), is available at most climbing gear stores and through our online bookshop.

 

Michael Law entertaining the masses.
Michael Law entertaining the masses.

Michael Law signing books.

Michael Law signing books.
Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.
Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.
Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.
Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.
Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.
Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).
Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).
Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.
Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.
Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.
Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.
Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.
Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.
Michael Law & John Chapman.
Michael Law & John Chapman.
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The Art of Belay

So what sort of belayer are you? Are you a fashionable belayer? A safe belayer. Attentive or casual? Which belay devices do you use? Here are a few of my favorite belay scenarios, dug out of my dusty archives.

1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he's wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.
1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he’s wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.
2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.
2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.
3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.
3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.
4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!
4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!
5. Belay plate. Wilson's Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn't do anything silly – like fall off).
5. Belay plate. Wilson’s Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn’t do anything silly – like fall off).
6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!
6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!
7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. John (Rabbit) Rawlin proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.
7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. Jon (Rabbit) Rawlins proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.
8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.
8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.
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The Rust Bucket

This new Grampians sport-climbing cliff is located just near the Mount of Olives, a couple of minutes walk off the trail linking the Stapylton Campground with the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre (total walk-in time is about 20min). The cliff is very short (only 12m or so) but the climbing is steep on generally good pocketed rock. There should be enough to entertain most climbers here for at least an afternoon’s moderate cranking. At present there are just five routes (not counting variations) as well as a couple of projects.

Echo Beach (22) is probably the Rust Bucket's most popular climb. It doesn't look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.
Echo Beach (22) doesn’t look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.

 

There are probably another six or seven possible new routes waiting to be done. The Rust Bucket is most appealing as a summer destination as it faces west, which means that it is in the shade until about 4pm. It also conveniently catches any cool breezes and has an appealing high aspect overlooking the plains. In winter the Rust Bucket would be a very cold place indeed. A few of the routes require stick clips on the first bolts.

Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).
Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).

 

Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).
Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).

 

Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).
Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).

 

The following PDF topo provides approach and route details. It can be opened up in Google Docs Viewer.

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The Call of Marrakech

marrakech rooftop wide view day
Riad rooftop view

Travelling is made up, like most things, of lots of little moments. Some destined to fade and escape your memory forever whilst others reach that pinnacle of moments. That one moment that whenever you think about it, brings a smile to your face. It starts your head, and your heart, off on its travels again. You might not be there physically but in every other way you are experiencing it all again. That glazed over look in your eyes, as your companions click their fingers trying to make you snap out of it.

Scent stall
Scent stall

I had many moments on my trip to Spain and then Morocco that I know will be with me for a long time, but I think that one special moment where I truly felt the country and its culture in its purity was high on a riads rooftop in Marrakech, overlooking the medina on a breezy, balmy Moroccan evening. My eyes are glazing over as I type. It sounds all too romantic to be true but sometimes those unplanned moments are just like that. A long day visiting the museums and archeological sites around Marrakech had me about as tired as I could be and about as full of culture as I thought I could be.

Badi Palace
Badi Palace
Badi pallace detail
Badi palace detail

 

Marrakech souk
Marrakech souk

All that was needed to finish off the evening after our usual stroll through the Djemaa el-fna and our meal of chicken, potato and olive tajine was a sweet, sweet mint tea on the rooftop of the riad we were staying at. Like many of the riads in Marrakech there were many little corners where you could get just a little bit higher than the other riads in order to have an uninterrupted view of what lay below. And there I was. A sea of twinkling lights, faint distant music from the square and the knowledge that the crazy never ending movement of human bodies and lives, bustled and scurried through the maze of  souks and streets below.

Dusk at Djemaa el-Fna
Dusk at Djemaa el-Fna

Sipping on my tea, enjoying the breeze and overlooking Marrakech, I heard the beginning of the call to prayer. Nothing new there – it’s a constant every day and it pleased me as it always did. But as I stood there and let it waft over me, I heard the beginning of another call to prayer, and another and another. Each one starting within seconds of each other. From around Marrakech all of the mosques were starting their call to prayer. Usually I happened to be down below within the throng of people and streets and would hear only the call to prayer that was in my vicinity. This particular time, up above it all on that perfect evening, I heard them all. It was  a beautiful, spiritual musical moment of the call to prayer sung in rounds. Surrounded by it, the heart lifted and the goosebumps grew. And then one by one, each one ended before the next until the last few words of prayer were sung as it had begun. In singular.

Quietness amongst the bustle
Quietness amongst the bustle