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.
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.
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.
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.
I was hoping that upon my return from Spain I would have files full of the routes we climbed, posed mid sequence, with that steely look of determination in our eyes. As I noted – I was hoping. I have some bum shots. I also have a bum shot plus. A bum shot plus is so much more than the usual bumshot. There is a slight twist to the body so at least it looks like you are more than just a behind and more importantly, people know it is you. You were really there. After all, there probably aren’t that many people who would recognise you by your bum. Anyway, I digress. I was supposed to be telling you all about El Chorro and the fabulous climbing to be had. This would be highlighted by the myriad of spontaneous climbing shots! Lets just talk about the fabulous climbing to be had.
Like all the other places in Spain we had been travelling to, we were surrounded by rock. On our first day we climbed at Sector Castrojo at Frontales. With it being a bit of a suntrap, we needed to get our climbing in quick and then move out before the searing sun burnt us.
The following day we visited the Los Albercones area. A great little selection of climbs to keep you busy for a good part of the day. Gabi and Zulu express 6a and 6a+ respectively were great fun. Although our day would be shorter considering the sun factor. Still we did our best to tick as many as possible. Along with a young american guy who was on R & R from Germany, we gave our forearms a bit of a workout on the deceivably pumpy little routes. All the while chasing the shade along the cliff. Thank goodness for the shade below to belay in. If it wasn’t for that, we would have needed to leave a lot earlier. Early starts are best in this part of the world when climbing in the warmer seasons.
Tops for me though in the cliffs that we climbed in the El Chorro region, was Desplomandia. A good 20 minute drive from where we were staying, Desplomandia sits above a green hued lake, making for a fantastic view and dependant on which cliff you are at – that elusive requirement of warm day climbing. Shade. It was bliss. From the rock quality, the routes on offer, the view and the coolness to bask in. Saying that though, the first two warm up routes we jumped on at the Bueno Sombra sector were totally missable. Polished like you wouldn’t believe and the climbing awkward. Halfway through the second one, I thought – “Stuff that for a game of soldiers” and lowered off. Better things to do/climb with my time. A bit further up the cliff line we jumped on some great single pitches such as Alobeitor, a 6a with lots of lovely pockets.
We climbed again the next day at Desplomandia but at Poza de la Mona. Again in beautiful, beautiful shade. We had some friends with us this time. A young german couple (the very couple that had alerted and averted me from the Alhambra disaster!)
The drive throughout El Chorro and surrounding villages is stunning. Gorgeous rock, green fields, olive plantations and little villages perched on high points and winding down. The days were drawing to a close and our time in El Chorro was up. It had been great to settle for a week and develop our own el chorro rhythm.
The drive ahead to Madrid was long and it would be city life for another couple of days before we jetted off to Morocco. Spain was also drawing to a close. I felt like I had a good bash at it and was feeling content with my travel. But the desire to return was also there and still so much to see. So, a farewell with a bang. Sangria, flamenco dance, my beloved Picasso – it was all in Madrid, ready to bid me a fond farewell. Hola and Adios!
As they say – ‘Best laid plans’…..
I’m not going to go into too much detail. Just a bullet point of events. Nevertheless, apart from one really foul day, I had a good time. But also needless to say…..I will be needing to head back. I have a few unticked boxes on my trip list.
PLANNED EASTER JAUNT
Overnight drive to Point Perpendicular
Cruisy camping at Currarong Holiday Park
3 days climbing at the Point
Drive back to Melbourne
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Overnight drive to Point Perpendicular
Cruisy camping at Currarong Holiday Park
1st day climbing at the Point. Fab!
Early morning wake up with Gastro bug along with all attached symptoms. In tent bed until 4.30 pm next day.
Overnight rain flooded campsite and tent. All bedding wet. All clothes packed wet. Only dry item – bathers!
Rained continuously all the next morning. Road into Point Perp closed for the rest of the week.
Cut losses and decide to leave early taking 2 days to drive back along the Sapphire Coast to Melbourne.
Lovely weather and drive. Fish and Chips on the Eden pier.
A few nice pics of the trip. Some pretty speccy coastline along the way.
It’s been five years since Simon Mentz and I released our Arapiles Selected Climbs guide. Although well-received by the climbing community, the guide did have one major problem. Weighing in at a hefty 715g meant that this was not something you could easily carry up The Bard or Skink. Great for bench-pressing but not really practicable for hauling up multi-pitch climbs. So, about three years ago, Simon and I started work on a pocket-sized version. The idea was to create a guide covering all of the Mount’s multi-pitch classics, yet would slide easily into your Prana pants back pocket. As the guide took form we also decided to include a good selection of popular single-pitch cliffs. Suddenly we had a guide that would appeal not only to the Mount’s regulars, but also to visiting dirt-bag climbers on flying visits and tight budgets.
Initially we made quick progress, but unfortunately other projects got in the way. Simon was giving birth to the Natimuk Cafe and I was having to finish off a couple of ‘real’ projects to keep the wolf from the door (not easy as the GFC descended and, coincidentally, the world of printed media began to crash and burn). Recently, however, we managed to find some time to revisit our pocket companion concept and it’s with a certain amount of pride (and relief) that I can announce that we are now nearing completion.
The Arapiles Pocket Companion will be published in an A6, full-colour format and weigh a very svelte 115g. Its 96 pages will describe over 750 routes and have around 50 detailed topos. The Pocket Companion will also be stitch-bound for strength and have a clear plastic cover for durability. There will be NO advertising in this guide as we figured that pages dedicated to advertising could better be used for cramming in more routes and topos.
The Arapiles Pocket Companion will retail for $19.95 and be available in the shops (and on our online bookstore) before the end of June.
Granada is only two hours away from El Chorro so whilst it would have been lovely to stop at Granada and stay the night, doing so would have cut into more climbing days. I wasn’t going to miss visiting the Alhambra though. I have gazed lovingly and longingly at it for many years through the glossy pages of coffee table books, historical and architectural digests. Full of history and an absolute feast for the eyes!
So thank goodness then, for a chance conversation with a young german couple staying at La Finca La Campana. The young girl was studying in Granada so of course the discussion headed towards the Alhambra. Fancy my horror, when they said that you needed to book well in advance in order to buy a ticket. Some parts of the Alhambra are free, some parts are a general visit ticket which you can often buy on the day but the Nasrid Palace which is the jewel in the crown so to speak, had limited entry per day. And your ticket only allowed entry at a specific time. Get on the website they said. Aargh, I was planning to go in two days. When I logged onto the site, my disappointment was palpable. The next available day to visit the Alhambra with the Nasrid Palace included was another week and a half away. We would be in Madrid then and ready to fly out the following day to Marrakech. I kept rereading the page, refreshing it, hoping that miraculously it would present a vacancy available.No such luck. Then a little glimmer of hope – albeit a more expensive glimmer of hope. Missed out on a ticket? Click here for guided tour where there could be vacancies. And there it was – 3 spots left in the 4 pm Nasrid Palace visit. Total tour would be 2.5-3 hours, needing to be at the Palace entry by 4pm. Three times more expensive but basically, this was it. Don’t go (not an option) or pay the price. Who knew when I would be back in Spain and what my itinerary would be when I was. Being so close, I couldn’t just drop it and not go. So out came the credit card and in a blink of an eye, our plan was set. Thankyou Cam for actually not blinking an eye to my Alhambra despair and going along with it like it was always planned that way.
A glass or two of Sangria further cemented my happy feelings of the outcome and I could also tell that One Ear Malloy was truly pleased with my happiness. Just to share the love I gave him and his tagalongs an extra ear rub ( or what was left of it) and cracked open a tin of tuna for their celebratory enjoyment.
We headed off to Granada mid morning with a plan to arrive, find best parking and then have a nice civilized lunch, quick wander around the town itself before meeting the tour guide for the tour. I generally much prefer to visit places and wander around on my own steam but was heartened to hear from a number of people before our visit that the Alhambra was probably one of those places that could benefit from a guide. So extensive – the information a guide could present ,would help with the understanding of the site, its history and culture.
Granada’s history has an interesting mix of the Spanish, the Moors with their islamic culture and the Jewish community. Granada was long under the rule of the Moors, where the Jewish community also flourished. In 1492 this was to end though with the taking of Granada and other Moorish strongholds by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Enter the Spanish Inquisition.The Moors and Jews were given the option of conversion to Christianity or expulsion from Spain. Right. There you go. My one little foray into the history of Granada.You will of course need to fill in the huge amount of gapsThe old jewish quarter next to the Alhambra is a promoted area to vist. This older quarter of Granada certainly contains a charm to it and wandering about it’s small streets and alleys, one could get lost for a good part of the day.
After lunch, we joined the masses eager for a viewing of one of the most beautifully decorated historical places in the world. As I noted above, this is a history lesson that I won’t go into any detail here – far too much over such a long period of time to do it justice. There are numerous sites that can fill you in on the rich history that the Alhambra has. Instead some photos that hopefully show the beauty, that for me was breathtaking. The details in the carving – someone must have had some mighty big blisters from chiselling away at that with such control. Colours. Shapes. Viewpoints. Everything had been thought about for maximum effect. This was coupled with the beautiful light in this part of the world. The carved windows, glass work, arches and doorways that seemed to lead to another doorway and yet another all within view of each other, all vied for another photo on the camera card.
My brain had definitely reached overload by the end of the day and was screaming out for rest. Eyes were sore, feet were aching, tired of being around so, so many people. Having said that though, it was worth it. By the time we reached home late that night, there were no visits from One Ear and his cronies – and just as well. Cam and I stumbled into bed. I had a swirling mess of geometric patterns, fountains and arches trying hard to keep me awake. Cam just stumbled. The drive home had wiped out his remaining brain cells and it was all he could do to stay on the right side of the wrong side of the road for us. More rock tomorrow.
I bought my first copy of Mountain magazine at Bushgear in Hardware Lane. It was the January 1974 (no 31) edition which, due to a six month sea voyage, didn’t reach our shores until almost September. It cost 30 pence in the UK, $1.25 in the United States and $3.50 here in Australia. I remember pointing out to Reg Marron (who worked at Bushgear at the time), that as a 15 year-old school-boy there was no way I could afford such a high cover price (this in an era when Simond steel carabiners were regarded as expensive at $2 each). He took pity on me, gave me a 50% discount and a handful of tricounis*, which suited me very nicely.
On the train home I pulled the mag out and carefully studied the cover photo; Chris Vandiver leading Outer Limits (5.10) on the Cookie Area in Yosemite Valley. At that moment I knew that I would one day go to Yosemite and do that climb. I turned each page and read every single word. Interestingly there were only four major articles. Pondering the Improbable, a literary critique by Mike Pearson, was essentially a review on the literary style of some weird-ass book called D’haulagirideon by Michael Charles Tobias. Blowing in the Wind by Leo Dickinson described an adventurous ski across the South Patagonian ice-cap and an ascent of two active volcanoes. Joe Beige Meets Godzilla was an hilarious cartoon adaption of Joe Brown and Don Whillans’ recent ascent of a spider- and snake-infested sandstone prow in the jungle’s of South America’s Roriama. It had been written by Ian McNaught Davis and illustrated by an E. Lovejoy Wolfinger the third (!).
But the article that really captured my imagination was Jim Bridwell’s Brave New World. Seven awesome pages recounting in detail the hardest new climbs in Yosemite. It was packed with spectacular images, Californian skies, smooth granite walls and even a list of the Valley’s hardest routes. I was 15 and loved lists. The photos of Nabisco Wall’s test-pieces, Waverly Wafer, Wheat Thin, Butterballs and Butterfingers, were nothing short of inspiring. The American grades meant little to me, although I knew that 5.11 was nails hard. There were even a couple of photos of local rock star, Rick White, seconding Outer Limits. The magazine had, in essence, everything an impressionable boy required to change the course of his life.
Mountain magazine was born of the genius of Ken Wilson, a London architecture student and climber, who brought a whole new level of professional publishing design and layout to a market long accustomed to crappy standards. Mountain quickly became an international success, was published ten times a year and ran from 1969 to 1991. It really was the benchmark for all other climbing and mountaineering publications that followed.
A few years back I donated all of my Mountain magazines to Simon Mentz for public use in the Natimuk cafe. The only one I couldn’t part with was Mountain 31. I still occasionally pick it up and flick through its black and white pages. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at the outdated advertising and bad fashions, but the truth is Mountain was like no other magazine. And for me Mountain 31 started it all.
* Tricounis are steel nails, once used on the bottom of leather-soled boots to provide better grip on smooth rock or ice. The story goes that the then owner of Bushgear (who mistakenly believed they were still in vogue) bought tens of thousands of them at a ‘great’ price from a European distributor. Of course they never sold a single one and legend has it that there are still sacks of tricounies gathering dust in an attic somewhere.
I love travelling from place to place and it suits my propensity for boredom – doing one thing for too long. Having said that though, I am a homely creature in many ways and love to find a spot to settle in and call home even if for only a little while. It’s a constant fight in my head really. So the opportunity to stay still for a little longer was appealing and El Chorro in Malaga was it! El Chorro is a small village in Andalusia, southern Spain. Being located next to the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (“Gorge of the Gaitanes”) means that rockclimbing is pretty high on the things to do list in the area. No denying that we were there to sample that but there were other delights of the area and the the Camino del Rey (being a climber helps) was a definite for me. More on that later.
Granada, which houses the Alhambra (design obsession coming to the fore again) is two hours away so rather than stop and stay overnight there, we decided to do a day trip from El Chorro. Stay tuned for my Alhambra experience – look away if you don’t like architectural and archeological design! More of that in another blog post.
We had obviously timed it just right as the roads in the area had only just opened after being washed away from the floods over the past couple of days we were in the Costa Blanca. There were tell tale signs as we drove closer, of mud washed houses and deep ruttings in the olive plantations situated on the steep hillsides. People had been working diligently in order to get these narrow roads open. For many of the smaller villages in the area, these roads are vital. I am glad we drove in whilst in was still light. It allowed us to see the washed away and collapsed sides of the road. This meant that we were at least aware of them when driving along them in the dark for the following week. Always important to know when the road is really only wide enough for one car. My girly protestations of not playing chicken with the other oncoming car were thankfully taken on board by Cam.
We stayed at La Finca La Campana which I have to say was a great choice. A choice of accommodation options is on offer, camping, bunkhouse etc but we chose one of the great little bungalows. I am an interior and design obsessed climber so whilst I am more than happy to just camp wherever there is a bed, I do love to stay where my eyes can feast on interesting details. So indulge me here for a moment. A cute and quaint little bungalow with Spanish and Moorish little design details, painted white stone and shuttered windows to lock out the hot midday sun. A private courtyard with wrought iron doors. Nothing fancy mind you – just a rustic moorish feel to the residence. Perfect for whipping up a quick meal after a day at the cliff, sipping on a Spanish red and planning the next day by spreading guidebooks across the hand hewn table. A pool with slackline about 10 metres away, a number of shared community recreation areas, bar, kitchen, small shop and regular visits of resident cats that will either give you the attention you want or leave you alone. I’m a cat person so loved sitting down with my glass of wine whilst attending to the needs of the finca’s cat population.
First morning saw us waking up to a sunrise fighting it’s way through the low lying mist. There was a lovely calmness about it and I just knew that we were going to have a great week. We chose to start off our climbing adventures in a nearby area that was home to a variety of climbs from 4a up to about 7a. Once again, after a few quick warm-ups which were pretty unmemorable, we jumped on a couple of 5b+ and 6a’s. These were much more enjoyable but the sun was starting to develop it’s bite for the day so it was time to head off for less strenuous activity. When I say less strenuous, I don’t mean, chilling out on the lounger by the pool. I mean climbing and walking along the Caminito de Rey. (the Kings little path).
This was a path built along the gorge walls in 1905, that gave access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso X111 of Spain in 1921. In quite a dilapidated state, it was officially closed to the public in 2000 by removing some of the path access at the start. There are numerous reports that people have died on the walkway but from my research, whilst people have died, it hasn’t been because of the state of the walkway, or from it collapsing. More from human error such as a tyrolean traverse that went wrong.
Being a climber, and also someone who has no issue with heights, my experience would no doubt be different to someone who doesn’t climb much and who does feel nervous at heights. I am not going to go into too much detail about the complete access as that would be a complete blog in itself but basically, the first part is the sketchiest. You need to access it via a number of steel posts that stick out from the cliff. There is a thin cable that has been installed so you can use it as a via ferrata of sorts. This first section does require you to hug the cliff face and take steps of about a metre apart to reach each steel post. Once you have passed this section and up a number of stacked blocks you reach the walkway proper. As you can see by the photos, some sections of path are ‘solid’ whilst other bits are ‘holey’. Another missing section of path requires you to step long and reach long.
For long limbed ‘ape factor’ people like Cam, not a problem. For short limbed normal people like myself it was reachy. Still not an issue for me though – I loved it.
As the day was hot, walking the path was a cool adventure. Both in terms of temperature and of awesome rating. For me, I would recommend doing it if you had the chance. From reports, it appears that the pathway will be rebuilt to make it safe and accessible for all. Inevitable I suppose, considering the interest in it, but no doubt the element of fear or adrenaline that people may experience in its current condition will be lessened.
For those interested in the history of this kind of infrastructure, it really is a great spot to visit. Walking along it and seeing the various little caves and tunnels that were used by the workers throws your mind back to the goings on of the time. And might I say, there are a couple of cool looking climbs you can access from there. Just a couple of grades out of my current reach though. Next time……
Boy, was I tired at the end of that day. One glass of red, plate of rice, beans and chorizo, a pat of the brutish but friendly beaten up tomcat that I named One Ear Malloy and the bed was calling my name. I collapsed. And I think there was a smile on my face.
The drive from Siurana to the Costa Blanca was indeed a long one. Due to rain and some flooding, there were numerous closures along the various freeways and highways so a certain amount of backtracking was inevitable. Whilst driving along the coast on smaller roads was probably more scenic, this also added some extra time. Cam and I amused ourselves about alien stories on how the endless, endless, endless sea of plastic greenhouses in the Almeria coastline area came to be. Yes, these are the things you do on long roadtrips. There is a certain delirium to it when one starts to amuse themselves to while away the time. The reality of it though is not quite as amusing. It really is quite unbelievable. Hundreds of square kilometres of plastic structures. As far as the eye can see. It certainly doesn’t make for an attractive sight and the piles of disused plastic are everywhere. This is where the bulk of the fruit and vegetables for the UK and elsewhere come from. It has obviously brought some prosperity to the area but the stories of underpaid migrant workers living in slum conditions abound. Compared to some of the other areas of Spain we had driven through, this did look like people having a hard time living. There were little pockets of villages that looked pretty and were trying to look after themselves but for many of the people that live here, that is probably a low priority.
By the time we reached The Orange House at Finestrat on the Costa Blanca we were well and truly worn out. The Orange House is a great set up run by climbers pretty much for climbers. Or those interested in outdoor pursuits such as hiking, mountain biking canoeing etc.While they do run organized activities for groups and those wanting some training, we were there to do our own thing. They were really helpful in providing an overview of what was on offer and suitable climbing areas. Unfortunately the two and half days we were there were the only days that we experienced rain on our entire trip. They had been having some unpredictable weather and some flooding from there down to Malaga. This flooding was quite bad – made the news in Australia! This didn’t mean however that we didn’t get any climbing in. We just needed to make sure that we chose shorter routes reasonably close to where we were staying. Sella looked like it was the pick of the bunch and with drizzle and sun in equal quantities, we headed off that morning, fully prepared to climb as well as fully prepared to just do some scoping around whilst getting soaked. And we received equal quantities of both!
The first day we started off on a small contained section called Culo de Rino. Good selection of do-able grades once again. The grades seemed to feel a little harder than those we had previously climbed on. Granted they were quite polished and we had just come from the Siurana needles experience where the friction ground your fingertips off. Or possibly, it was just one of those days and I was climbing crap. Equal measures again, of enjoyment and frustration. A few routes under our belt and we were starting to get the hang, and slide of it. The skies above though had other plans and the drizzle started again. No problems, it’s only a bit of drizzle – keep climbing. By the time it came around to my turn though to lead the route, the drizzle wasn’t quite drizzle and the thought of polished rock coupled with added water wasn’t that appealing. So I wimped out. Call me a fair weather climber. As it was quite warm and we were already soaked, we decided to go for a nice stroll along the track and check out possible climbing options for the next day. On the other side, we came across just that. Endless options. Damm the weather, damm the weather. Having said that though, there was a group of about 6-8 english climbers there on their holiday for the week who were not fair weather climbers and were beating off the rain from their foreheads in between clipping the bolts. My justification for them climbing and myself not, was that as they are english and they would of course be used to climbing in crappy weather and the rain. Right? Ok, they were being hardcore and I…. well, I just wasn’t. So drenched as we were, we remained in our hardcore recce mode checking out the routes for the following day. We were hoping to get on a route called Marion which is a real area classic in the Sector Marian ( has it’s own sector name so it’s got to be a classic.) Only a 5a, it was a 3 pitch 70 metre climb with 2 abseils included to descend. Tomorrow’s weather would need to be suitable. Not too much rain(yes wussing out again) or not too much sun. The list was growing as we walked along the cliff base. What we would warm up on – when we would climb this one – then we can jump on these ones etc, etc. Excitement. The day was set and it was starting to near grazing time for us so we headed off back to The Orange House to eat, drink sangria and be merry about the next day ahead.
And……..we awoke to drizzle and thunder murmurings. Ever hopeful though and not wanting to wuss out over a little rain, we packed our racks. Well, our quickdraws, rope and harness anyway. It was a bolted climb after all. Off we drove to Sella, fingers and toes crossed and no backup plan in place. We were going to climb. Oh yes we were. The day appeared to be changing for the better. The sun was out, skies were blue and the way it was warming up, we thought that Marian might end up being too exposed to the sun(noted in the guide as a suntrap.) There were a number of lovely looking routes that were in the shade and after doing some of the easier warmup routes we planned to spend the rest of the day thrashing about on those. Hmmm….best laid plans hey? Happily climbing away on the last warmup I turned to look over my shoulder. Oh dear. Black skies. We had unfortunately climbed one warmup too many and our window of opportunity was gone. There were no more days to play with. We were booked into some accommodation in El Chorro the next day. The positive side of it was that it was another reason we would need to return to Spain again. In order to climb more on the Costa Blanca.
So, El Chorro? I hear you say. Yes, a little more climbing heaven in the famous El Chorro area in the Malaga region. A long drive ahead….
Much dreaming came to fruition when dad and I tackled the first 45km of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) over the last Melbourne Cup weekend. We met in the historic town of Walhalla and immediately organised a car shuffle with our two cars. It took us an hour to drive along the Thomson Valley Road to Stronachs Camp – the chosen endpoint of our walk. Luckily, I had pinpointed the camp on the GPS because it was innocuous and would have been easily missed. Leaving my car, we headed back to Walhalla in dad’s car. After just ten minutes our excitement was deflated when a sharp sound heralded the arrival of a flat tyre. The dirt road sloped away towards a gully and although it wasn’t ideal for changing a tyre, dad rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into it whilst I searched for the hub cap that had shot-off in the incident. Back in Walhalla we lunched and made final pack adjustments.
Climbing steeply up from the Walhalla Pavilion (and clutching a copy of John Chapman’s Australian Alps Walking Track guidebook), we followed the walking trail as it snaked away from the township and into the forest. Light cloud covered a warm sun, which provided ideal walking conditions as we slowly built up momentum in our pace. The flat gradient was extremely pleasant and we soon arrived at Poverty Point Bridge spanning the Thomson River.
We rested a while on the bridge, snacking and enjoying the view as the river meandered peacefully below. Afterwords we climbed high above the river, soaking up the views. Eventually the gradient increased and our heavy packs contributed to us puffing heavily as we willed ourselves upwards. After what seemed like an age, the trail arrived at a sealed road that we had driven along earlier. The AAWT crossed the road and headed straight back into the bush. We wandered downwards, still recovering from the ascent and shortly arrived at our camp for the night – O’Sheas Mill Site (East Tyers Campground). It was a lovely tranquil spot next to a rushing creek and provided an ideal place to rest for the night. Unfortunately, it was also accessible by car and we were dismayed when a group of ‘bush bogans’ arrived to party noisily into the night. A fellow walker, on his first day of hiking the entire track, had also set-up camp and seemed equally annoyed about their presence. Luckily we found a small camp pad next to a cascade of water, the noise of which helped to drown out the hooligans.
After setting up our tent we cooked a hot meal and discussed the task facing us in the morning. We were to embark upon the longest continual climb to be encountered along the entire 650km AAWT. Sufficiently tired from our days walking, we thankfully crawled into or sleeping bags and fell asleep.
Day 2: O’Sheas Mill Site to Talbot Hut Site (11.7km)
We emerged from our tent before 7am and to our surprise some of the ‘bush bogans’ were already up. They had stoked their campfire to bonfire proportions which led us to believe that they hadn’t gone to bed at all. Our friend attempting the whole track was still abed – a role reversal from what I’d expected. The night had been milder than anticipated, perhaps because we were still at low altitude. We pottered around camp, gradually disassembling our gear and arranging it into our packs like a jig-saw puzzle. To our surprise, the ‘through walker’ said his goodbyes and was underway well before us. No doubt, he’d packed up camp a few times in his walking life and developed an efficiency we clearly lacked. Eventually we got underway and immediately encountered our first major obstacle. The East Tyers River required us to remove our boots and brave the icy waters in bare feet. With thoughts of blood sucking leeches, we struggled over the creek grimacing at the freezing temperature of the water.
The trail now started its long climb towards the mountain tops. After an hour or so, and just as we were getting into an enjoyable walking rhythm, I had a dramatic revelation. I’d left my car keys in dad’s car. This would mean, at the end of the walk, we would arrive at my car and be locked out! Considering our options (or lack of), we decided I would walk back and get the keys whilst dad continued on alone. The plan wasn’t without its flaws – dad would be without a map and I would need to walk over 30km in a day. I hid my pack in the bush, knowing I’d be back for it, and headed back towards Walhalla. With adrenaline pumping and minus my pack, I made quick progress. A black snake languished across the path and thankfully I was alert because its lack of movement gave it a strong resemblance to a stick. Although aware of my presence as I crept close for a photo, the snake made no move to exit the scene. I attributed this to him being in the shade and having not yet gained the solar power required for fast movement. About 5min passed and he eventually stirred into action and casually slid into the undergrowth.
The day was heating up and having covered over 12km already, I slowed to a brisk walk as the initial excitement passed. About 2.5 hours after I turned back, I arrived back in Walhalla to find it filled with tourists. To my relief, my car keys were in dad’s car and my efforts hadn’t been in vain. Rather than walking the entire way back to my pack, I drove dad’s car 20 minutes back to O’Sheas Mill Site (East Tyers Campground) – one benefit of road access to the site. A couple of fellow walkers were lunching at the picnic table; I assumed they had come from the direction I was heading in. After recrossing the East Tyers River for a third time I arrived back at my pack. Here I took a much needed lunch break, rudely marred by mosquitoes and other stinging insects. I sighed at the injustice, lathered on the sunscreen and mentally prepared myself for the massive climb ahead of me. The trail gradient now quickly steepened and the foliage tightened around the track creating a suffocating feeling.
The humidity was high and sweat streamed off me. The climb was unrelenting, becoming an exercise in mental and physical endurance. I passed a family heading downhill who offered information on the walk ahead – I didn’t want to know. Eventually the trail spat me onto a dirt road and although the steepness lessened it was still all up. The occasional car zoomed past, lessening the wilderness feel. Finally I arrived at a small carpark, from where the the popular Mushroom Rocks Walking Track begun. I encountered some other hikers and asked whether they had seen dad. It was a relief that they had. The trail-head signs indicated that I had another 2.5 hours of walking, disheartening news as my energy levels had dwindled. The AAWT continued on towards Mushroom Rocks, winding ever upwards. Climbing over and under fallen trees sapped my strength even further. The trail eventually wove through Mushroom Rocks, large boulders scattered amongst trees like giant marbles.
I didn’t linger at the rocks as I wanted to tackle the steep climb up and over Mt Erica before it grew too late. The air temperature now grew noticeably cooler as the constant ascent continued. After what felt like an eternity I lifted my head to find the trail had finally flattened and a wooden sign beckoned me closer. My spirits soared. Surely this must be the top. No such luck, however. The sign tantalisingly pointed out that Mt Erica was still some way ahead of me.
I was now mentally and physically exhausted but I put my head down and kept trudging upwards through the snow-gums. Finally another sign came into view. It was Mt Erica. I had made it. The trail gently rolled into Talbot Hut Campsite where I found dad relaxing and enjoying a cup of tea. We recounted the day’s events. Dad had talked to walkers he had met during the day who helped keep him on the right trail. He’d found the ascent as tough as I did and we were both glad it was behind us. The campsite was situated next to a lovely trickling mountain stream and was protected from the wind by the snow-gums. We spent the rest of the night enjoying a well-earned meal and were in bed shortly after dark.
Day 3: Talbot Hut Site to Mt Whitelaw Hut Site (12.5km)
Despite our weariness, we both slept restlessly, still unaccustomed to sleeping on the ground. We made good time getting up and away, having become more efficient at packing our gear. The day’s walk began with slight rises and falls as we crossed the Baw Baw National Park. Our progress slowed considerably as we were forced to walk through ever larger pools of water. Thick scrub often prevented us from going around and soon our feet were drenched. Eventually the trail reached large patches of snow, a surprise as this was November. The increasing amount of snow did, however, explain why there was so much water on the lower trail. Luckily the yellow markers on the trees ensured that we didn’t lose our way.
Just past the Mt St Gwinear junction we encountered some other walkers making their way from Baw Baw Village to Mt St Gwinear. A gradual climb followed, which soon brought us to the highest point within the Baw Baw National Park – Mt St Phillack at 1556m. Unfortunately any views of the surrounding mountains were obscured by the snow-gums.
We sauntered downwards until dad called a halt for lunch on an outcrop of rocks. Whilst we enjoyed a food and rest break, an ultra-marathon runner appeared out of nowhere, geared up and running in the opposite direction. Dad yelled out to ask where he’d come from. ‘Red Jacket’, he shouted, as he was swallowed up by snow-gums. A quick look at the map confirmed that he’d already covered 37km and that he probably had many more to go. After lunch I became impatient and scouted ahead, sure that we couldn’t be far from our overnight stop – Mt Whitelaw Hut Site. Sure enough I came upon a crumbling chimney with flat campsites scattered around. Waiting for dad to arrive, I explored the water options and discovered it to be more swamp than stream. Definitely not the robust flows we’d been blessed with previously. I squelched through a soggy marsh to find a trickle of fresh, icy water – it was worth the effort. Dad soon arrived and we set up the tent. Being mid-afternoon we took our time savouring the serenity and reflecting on the journey thus far. Again we were in our sleeping bags just after nightfall, serenaded by the croaking of frogs calling to each other in the swamp below.
Day 4: Mt Whitelaw Hut Site to Stronachs Camp at Thomson Valley Road (9km)
We were up at sunrise, wanting an early start on the last day’s walking. The trail was now mainly downhill and soon we left the snow-gums behind. As we crossed a small hill we were treated to our first long-distance views since day one. Overlapping mountain ranges vanished into the horizon.
We continued steadily downwards, reaching a grassy gully surrounded by dense scrubby undergrowth. Inevitably the trail climbed again out of the trough and widened before climbing past a junction to the Upper Yarra trail, which I have to say looked overgrown and uninviting. Cresting the hill, we promptly rolled downwards again as the surrounding trees slowly transformed into tall mountain ash. We were making good time now as we descended rapidly. We came to a sign and a campsite just before Thomson Valley Road and knew the end was nigh. Reaching the road, we craned our necks to check the car was there and thankfully it was. Back-slappings and celebrations ensued – we had made it. Despite the hardship of the second day, the walk was a memorable experience that I will always treasure. It made me realise the act of walking and camping in remote wilderness is a pleasure in itself and spectacular scenery is an added luxury, not a necessity.
Great news. Our newest title, Victoria’s Goldfield Walks, arrived in our warehouse this morning and will be in the shops from tomorrow. Authored by Glenn Tempest, this is the second offering in a new A5 series of walking guides to regional areas around Victoria. Victoria’s Goldfield Walks covers 20 walks in the central Victorian Goldfields around Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine & Daylesford.
Produced in full colour with 96 pages it retails for just $19.95. As with our last two books, this guide also features free GPS downloads as well as regular online updates. Victoria’s Goldfield Walks is also available in our online bookshop.