Posted on

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

Posted on

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.

 

Posted on

Healthy Parks – Wealthy People

hpwp

 

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. ]

 

Posted on

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

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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?

popular-camping-letter

page-1page-2page-3

Posted on

El Chorro – Camino del Rey

El Chorro
El Chorro

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.

Gorge at El Chorro Camino del Rey
Gorge at El Chorro Camino del Rey

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.

Railway bridge at El Chorro
Railway bridge at El Chorro

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.

Cam being clever on the slackline
Cam being clever on the slackline

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).

Cam at the start of the Camino del Rey
Cam at the start of the Camino del Rey

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.

Tracey crossing the start of ca
Tracey crossing the start of the Camino del Rey

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.

Cam crossing the void
Cam crossing the void

 

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.

Tracey over the void
Tracey over the void

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.

Tracey on Camino del Rey
Tracey on Camino del Rey

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.

Sunset at El Chorro
Sunset at El Chorro
Posted on

Australian Alps Walking Track: 4 Days

Ben Spencer is our guest blogger.

Day 1: Walhalla to O’Sheas Mill Site (13km)

The Walhalla Pavilion – the starting line.
The Walhalla Pavilion – the starting line.

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.

The historic 1901 Poverty Point Bridge.
The historic 1901 Poverty Point Bridge.

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.

Ferns on the grassy banks of the East Tyers River.
Ferns on the grassy banks of the East Tyers River.

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.

Crossing the East Tyers River is a refreshing way to start the day.
Crossing the East Tyers River is a refreshing way to start the day.

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.

A black snake, not to be mistaken for a stick!
A black snake, not to be mistaken for a stick!

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 trail continued always upwards.
The trail continued always upwards.

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.

Moss-covered granite marbles at Mushroom Rocks.
Moss-covered granite marbles at Mushroom Rocks.

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.

The sign that mocked me.
The sign that mocked 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.

Maybe we should have brought the skis!
Maybe we should have brought the skis!

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.

Not much of a view from Mt St Phillack.
Not much of a view from Mt St Phillack.

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.

Our piece of paradise at the Mt Whitelaw Hut Site.
Our piece of paradise at the Mt Whitelaw Hut Site.

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.

Views, Glorious Views.
Views, glorious views.

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.

Posted on

Victoria’s Goldfield Walks On Sale Now!

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.

Posted on

Three Days Along the Great Ocean Walk

Ben Spencer is our guest blogger. Images by Grant Hawkins.

Day 1 – Milanesia Beach to Ryans Den

With much anticipation we were finally bound for the Great Ocean Walk – a 90km snaking trail along the Victorian coastline from Apollo Bay to The Twelve Apostles. Our crew comprised of my dad and three mates and we intended to tackle the last 40km stretch of this famous trail, linking Milanesia Beach to the Twelve Apostles. After about 3 hours driving from Melbourne, we turned off the Great Ocean Road onto a steep dirt track more suited to four wheel drive vehicles. Our two-wheeler managed okay, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it in the wet! The rough track abruptly ended with breathtaking views over imposing sea cliffs that dropped into an expansive blue ocean.

Eager to crack onwards, we shouldered our heavy packs and hit the trail, which almost immediately got really steep as it descended to secluded Milanesia beach. It was quickly obvious that the only way onwards was up and, once again it was very steep! A pattern was quickly forming and the lads pondered aloud what they’d got themselves into. The hot sun was beating down, the climb was arduous on untrained limbs, our packs were heavy and we’d only just started! After an extended and challenging ascent, we struggled to the crest of a hill and found the perfect vantage point for lunch. The outlook was spectacular and was everything I had envisaged when dreaming of the walk. Most definitely a ‘lunch with a view’. Note to self – stow food in an accessible place to avoid unpacking the whole rig whenever I got hungry.

With lunch done and plenty of sunscreen applied, we headed off again knowing it was only a short day of walking. The remainder of our hike through to camp was as steep as it had started and we were very pleased to drop our packs on arrival. We’d been told the camp was booked out but contrary to this we found it empty except for one other party. We chose a great campsite screened by shrubs and within a few steps of stunning outlooks over cliffs and ocean.

Having set-up camp without too much issue (I feared my tent looked a bit small for two lads) we went about the next order of business; dinner. Pizzas were on the menu and in no time at all we were enjoying our feast and soaking up the amazing vistas surrounding us. The remainder of the evening was spent boiling water from the tank to kill potential bacteria, waiting for it to cool and filling our drink bottles. This process took a considerable time because we needed a fair bit of water.

Day 2 – Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen

Sleep had been hard to come by, probably due to a few factors – the hard ground, the warmth of the night and the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a tent. Rain had swept through at 4am and we had to rescue some items that had been left outside, including my bag – another lesson learned. We were up at 6am and away by 8am. We needed to get away early so as to arrive at the beach section of the walk at low tide. The day’s walk started much the same as yesterday with lots of ups and downs but with amazing views as the reward for having gained the top of each climb. The notes listed this section as the hardest of the walk so we knew a big day was in store. Dad got his pack sitting better so that his hips were taking the weight, which he said felt much more comfortable than the previous day. Everyone was in good spirits and we made good time as the landscape varied from cliffs to paddocks to bush and back to cliffs again.

The trail was well worn and there was no chance of getting lost but it resulted in a lack of wildlife – animals seemingly knew to stay well away. Eventually we arrived at a set of stairs that lead to the beach segment of the walk – we had timed things perfectly as low tide was reported to be at 11:47am and we had arrived at 11:45am. The map listed the staircase as 364 steps but I didn’t let the lads know because a few were fading with at least 12km of territory already covered for the day. Arriving at the beach, we could see why it was necessary to traverse it at low tide – there was very little sand between the cliff and the water’s edge and high tide would leave no sand uncovered. Waves crashed over exposed reefs and we explored the rock pools as we ambled along the beach – losing our haste and enjoying the moment. Remains of two old ship wrecks, including an anchor, were a reminder of how devastating and unforgiving this wild coast could be.

We continued along the beach until spotting the trail heading back up the slopes. At this juncture, we stopped for lunch on the beach, satisfied that we’d broken the back of the days walking and had only a short section until camp. A liberal coating of repellant warded off the march flies and allowed us to soak up the serenity of this isolated beach. It was also an ideal place to tuck into a big lunch. The last tiring climb was a steep one and we were relieved to finally reach our campsite, a place we all agreed equaled the previous nights ‘wow’ factor.

We took our time setting up camp as we had arrived mid-afternoon and there was little else to do except relax, take pictures and get cricket updates – Clarke made over 300 runs against India. Dinner time came around and I happily cooked the grub I’d been carrying for two days. The meal was well received by the boys and all the food was polished off (next time I’ll bring more noodles!). With dinner done, we set about boiling more water for the following day, which fortunately didn’t take as long as the previous night. As the sun sank low in the sky we ventured down to the beach for a quick dip, though the ever-present reef stopped us from venturing too far out.

Day 3 – Devils Kitchen to The Twelve Apostles

We were up at 6am again and away by 7:30am. Faster this time and keen to walk in the coolest part of the day. The route was much flatter and the troops enjoyed this style of walking a lot more. We left the cliff-tops behind for a period as we moved into the typical Aussie bush that I’m more accustomed to. This change in vegetation necessitated the cleaning of our boots in a washing station to stop the passing of cinnamon fungus (phytophthora cinnamomi), a nasty pathogen that attacks tree roots. Soon afterwards we reached the exposed cliff-top again and encountered a person at one of the view points, which was the first sign we were nearing the end of the walk. At this point, foliage was growing over the track, making things difficult – for some reason the rangers had neglected to maintain this section. Long pants would have been beneficial but it was too hot to wear them so we endured. Eventually we pushed through into a clearing to be greeted by superb views of the Gellibrand River snaking past Princetown Recreation Reserve – our finishing point.

Before long we were back at the car with plenty of back-slapping and congratulations. It was a further 6km to the Twelve Apostles and we decided to complete it on foot – leaving the packs in the car of course! The views walking towards the Twelve apostles were memorable and provided a totally different perspective when compared to the usual driving approach.

Arriving at the first apostle we ventured down to the beach to look up at the massive rock tower. Strangely the track petered out at this point, despite the map saying it went for another kilometre to the Twelve Apostles Information Centre. Not to be deterred, we finished the last little bit along the road and made it to the end! It was an amazing trip where jaw-dropping views became the norm – I certainly recommend this walk to anyone considering it.