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The Mattress Backs of Taipan

We were walking down the trail from Taipan Wall when Michael abruptly stopped, dropped to his knee and pointed excitedly into the trees. I crouched down next to him and after a few moments I could make out something moving in the boulders. Two small faces, beanies pulled down over their tiny ears, large brown eyes scanning the rocks above them. My heart skipped a beat as I realised we were seeing a pair of elusive marsupial mattress backs (Matterbackious dynocranker).

Like most people I’d only ever seen mattress backs in the gym, playing with themselves in dark corners, swinging by their arms and waiting for feed time. Of course I’d heard their distinctive vocal calls and even stumbled upon their empty caves, but seeing them in the wild was a first for me. Here in the Australian bush mattress backs were once an endangered species, but are now thought to be increasing in numbers. Easily identifiable by the large mattress which they carry on their backs and the woolen beanies they wear on even the hottest of days, mattress backs are among our most elusive and secretive creatures.

What makes this species so unusual, however, is the elaborate rock dance that they periodically perform. Experts believe the rock dance is some form of complex mating ritual. The male, usually the shorter and stockier of the species, steps carefully onto the rock, twists his body into a variety of contorted positions and then, after just a few brief seconds, falls heavily onto the mattress below. These rock dances must require a great deal of effort as the male then rolls over and falls asleep.

Interestingly, if a female of the species is within sight, the male will immediately get up, shake his hands and step back on the rock. This process is repeated many times in a row. The female pretends not to notice the dancing male as she checks her Facebook account, applies her lip balm or changes the wallpaper on her iPhone for the umpteenth time that day. Her tactic appears to be designed to enrage the male mattress back who launches himself into ever more contorted positions accompanied by loud grunting. If there is still no reaction by the female (who may be playing Angry Birds by this stage) the almost exhausted male mattress back will resort to stripping to the waist in a final desperate bid for attention. Observers who have been lucky enough to have witnessed this part of the ritual have reported that after adjusting her Prana pants the female pulls on to the rock and imitates the same dance moves. This results in a sudden wave of interest among the nearby males who all stride forward with outstretched arms, the palms of their trembling hands just millimetres away from the female’s buttocks. As she dances her moves the males all yell in delight, crowding around her in a sort of group-sex rugby scrum. Eventually she collapses onto the mattress and the males all start wailing and pointing at the rock in apparent despair. This highly sex-charged atmosphere now triggers the males to pull on their beanies and launch themselves in a mad frenzy at the rock.

Occasionally a female will begin her rock dance and actually reach the top of the boulder, at which point all the males immediately lose interest in her, fall silent, put on their shirts and walk off in various directions to brood by themselves. The female then retires back to her mattress where she posts her ascent on Facebook.

Unlike other marsupials, mattress backs, both male and female, carry their pouches on their backs. These pouches are filled with a white substance, which they use to daub across the rock to mark their territory. Males also use urine to mark their territory, a habit that females rarely seem to do.

A sub species, the bearded mattress back (Matted dynocranker) can also be occasionally seen. This sub-species tends to be less energetic than their clean-shaven tribal brethren and are usually physically larger and more bombastic. Their rock dance ritual is also much less complex and only lasts for a second or two, after which they spend the rest of the day sitting on their mattresses, softly grunting to themselves.

Lone mattress backs are another enigma. Almost only ever spotted accompanied by a tripod and Go-Pro camera, it appears that lone mattress backs can only perform their complex rock dance routines when videoing themselves. Zoologists originally considered that lone mattress backs were a separate sub-species (lone mattress backs tend to be balding and wear glasses) but now believe that they are the result of a serious psychological impairment, having an inability to perform when observed by other members of their tribe.

And so it was that after a minute or so the two mattress backs noticed our presence and quickly vanished into the boulders. Michael and I walked over to where they had been sitting. All the tell-tale signs were there. A couple of old worn toothbrushes, bits of finger tape and some daubs of chalk on the rock. The acrid smell of urine indicated that we had just witnessed two young males at play with each other. We felt very lucky indeed to have seen these mattress backs in their natural habitat. I even stepped in a mattress back stool. Now how cool was that?


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Mt Tongariro Awakens after 100 Years

Last night New Zealand’s Mt Tongariro erupted for the first time in 115 years. The eruptions appear to have occurred at Te Mari Crater, which is not far from the Ketetahi Hot Springs on the northern side of the mountain. It will be interesting to see exactly what impact these eruptions will have the 19.4km-long Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and spectacular daywalks. For those unfamiliar with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing here are a few images to set the scene.


Mt Tongariro, along with Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu, form a chain of active volcanic peaks within the Mt Tongariro National Park. This world Heritage site is New Zealand’s oldest national park and one of its most visited.

A few years back Karen and I walked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as part of the longer Tongariro Northern Circuit. We spent six days on the trail and wrote a feature story for Outdoor Australia magazine.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was certainly the most exciting part of the walk as it allowed us to walk around smoking craters, see into their gaseous depths and even step over jets of hot steam.

The landscape is almost totally barren and very rocky. If it wasn’t for the large snow patches on nearby Mt Ngauruhoe you could easily imagine yourself walking on the surface of Mars.


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Southern Gothic Vol2: Acropolis & Geryon

February 1983 and Chris Baxter, Miles Martin (UK), Dave Moss, Russ Clune (USA) and I spent a couple of weeks climbing at Mt Geryon and the Acropolis in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. It was one of those rare trips where everything came together like clockwork. Even the weather – notoriously fickle in Tasmania – turned into two solid weeks of unrelenting sunshine with hardly a sparrow’s fart to blemish the sky. It was as if the weather Gods had gone on holiday and left the world in a fair-weather limbo. Every day we kept expecting rain and snow so we raced around, keen as cut snakes to get as much climbing done as possible.


Mt Gould

I took this photo from the top of the Acropolis looking south to Mt Gould and the Guardians. An amazing part of the world.

Black waters lap the towers of stone,
blood squeezed from forest and high moor.
For this is a place where giants roam,
The Acropolis, Geryon and the Minotaur.


Home Sweet Home

The bivvy cave at the foot of Mt Geryon. This wild spot has long been used as a climbing base for the big adventure routes on the 350 metre-high East Face of Mt Geryon. It is also conveniently situated not far from the Acropolis North Face, our main objective.


Things of Stone and Wood

The original wooden plaques inside the cave, apparently carved by climbing legend Roland Pauligk (inventor of the RP) in February 1967.


Man with a Mission

Chris Baxter, our intrepid leader. This photo was taken at the top of Old Wave Heroes (21), which Chris and I had climbed early in the trip.


Black Man’s Country

We did a handful of new routes on the Acropolis North Face, the best of which were two single-pitch climbs called Astro Boy (24) and Black Man’s Country (25). The top photo, taken by Chris Baxter, shows me approaching the final hard moves on Black Man’s Country (25) during the first ascent. Dave Moss looks on. It probably wouldn’t rate as grade 25 these days but Russ and I both agreed at the time that it would have been graded 5.12a in Yosemite Valley. These days small cams and improved shoe design really helps on these thin sustained crack problems.

The other two photos show Russ Clune repeating Black Man’s Country (25) immediately after I led it. I’m on the belay and Russ is powering through the technical final moves. The top of the corner crack really narrows down and the leader is confined to thin finger-jamming and tips lay-backing with feet on little more than smears.

Russ is wearing a pair of EBs (we called them bubble boots). These babies had all the stickyness of ice-cream lids and with more toe room than a pair of clown shoes. In one of the photos you can see a wooden wedge belonging to the Gates of Eden (18M1). The wild position on the upper reaches of this superb wall are absolutely breathtaking.


Astro Boy

Russ Clune seconding me up the first ascent of Astro Boy (24). This incredible long jamming corner was my personal highlight of the trip. The climbing was sustained, clean and technically perfect. It reminded me of some of those long crack pitches in Yosemite Valley and was named in recognition of the big stemming Enduro Corner on Astroman.


The Gates of Eden

Russ Clune seconding the last crack pitch of Gates of Eden (18M1). You can see a couple of wooden wedges that had probably been used as direct aid during its first ascent many years previously. I remember clipping the old tatty cord and keeping on jamming. I can’t remember the grade of this last pitch but I suspect it must have been fairly straightforward (maybe only 18 or so).


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Southern Gothic Vol1: Acropolis & Geryon

In February 1983, Chris Baxter, Miles Martin, Dave Moss, Russ Clune and I spent a couple of weeks climbing at Mt Geryon and the Acropolis in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. I was 24 years-old at the time and the campaign to save the Franklin blockade was at its height. Upon arrival in Hobart, and with my rucksack on my back, I walked out of the airport terminal to be immediately approached by tall heavy-set man. He placed his hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear “You wouldn’t be headin’ to the dam would ya?” I blinked. “I mean”, he continued, “you could get hurt down there and we wouldn’t want to see a young lad like you getting hurt now, would we?” It seemed that everyone arriving at the airport (and who vaguely looked like commo greenies) were getting a gentle reminder about what was best for their health when it came to fighting for the Franklin River. I concluded that a bunch of Hydro Electric Commission workers were earning a little overtime. Welcome to Tasmania.


Settling in

The bivvy cave at the foot of the East Face of Mt Geryon. Chris Baxter was the only one of our group who had visited this spot previously and made sure he arrived first to score the best spot. Unfortunately he was greeted by a wombat that had the audacity to have chosen his proposed bunk as its final resting place. Chris spent the next two hours tossing rotten wombat down the slopes while we did all the real work like collect drinking water and make dinner. Here Chris is firmly ensconced in his sleeping bag, the peace sign his way of forgiving us all for daring to covet his prized location. Russ Clune and Dave Moss look relaxed in the knowledge that despite the rough ground they at least had a roof of sorts over their heads. As for Miles and myself, well we didn’t fare so well, having to bivvy outside of the bivvy cave, directly below the 350m East Face of Mt Geryon and exposed to the constant threat of falling rocks.


Southern Gothic

The Acropolis North Face as seen from near the bivvy cave below the East Face of Geryon. It’s strange but over the years I always had, for some reason, thought of the Acropolis as much steeper and more impressive than it really was. Looking back now I realize that much of the central section of the wall is quite broken. Over the eight days we were at the bivvy cave I think we only managed five or six new climbs in the area. Two of them (Miles From Nowhere, 21 and Old Wave Heroes, 21) took full-length lines up the North Face.


Old Wave Heroes

Chris took this image of me leading one of the pitches about halfway up Old Wave Heroes (21). I remember getting a bit frustrated because Chris kept wanting to traverse out of the main line to easier ground. All I could see were these splitter cracks shooting skyward and nothing was going to tempt me away from them. Luckily I led most if not all of the pitches (my memory is a bit hazy). Overall the climbing was really good and much more interesting than I’d expected, especially the final few pitches which took a great line through the upper walls.


New Country For Old Men

I took this photo of Chris seconding one of the excellent middle pitches on Old Wave Heroes (21). It’s strange that Chris is not wearing his helmet as he normally wouldn’t climb without one. Considering the fairly serious nature of the Acropolis and its almost alpine nature I’m sure Chris must have forgotten it back at the bivvy cave.


Darkness Beckons

Just below the steep upper head-wall we reached a large belay ledge. I took this pic of Chris with the shadowed East Face of Mt Geryon lurking menacingly in the background. The whole place reminded me of the Dolomites in Italy, which I’d visited a couple of years earlier. By this stage Chris was climbing really well, the route was coming together nicely, the weather was perfect and we only had a single long pitch to go. One of the things I always loved about Chris was the enduring enthusiasm and excitement he had for climbing new routes. By the time we reached the top of the Acropolis the sun was low in the sky but Chris was a happy man indeed. But then again, he was going to be sleeping safely in the bivvy cave and I was going to be outside, wondering if I was going to live through the night.


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The Tipperary Track: Trail Update

Wombat Creek Foot-bridge
Karen on the Tipperary Track
Winter on the Tipperary Track, Daylesford. Hepburn Regional Park.

It was a miserable wet and cold mid-winter’s morning when Karen and I dragged ourselves out of the warmth of a Daylesford Cafe and started out along the Tipperary Track. For the first kilometre or so we debated as to whether this was such a good idea. Maybe we are getting soft but the thought of another round of tea and toast was almost too much to resist. Eventually the drizzle moved off elsewhere (probably to Trentham!) and small daubs of watery blue sky appeared between the low cloud. We had decided to brave the elements to GPS the Tipperary Track for our next Goldfields walking guidebook. I was also keen on updating some of the details, which have recently changed.

Wombat Creek Foot-bridge
Wombat Creek Foot-bridge still waiting to be built.

Since the floods in early 2011 some sections of the Tipperary Track have been closed. Almost all of the bridges had been damaged or washed away, which prevented walkers using the western side of Sailors Creek and therefore reducing any loop-walk opportunities. This has been a real shame as it’s one of the best and most popular walking areas within the Goldfields region. Recently Parks Victoria reopened The Blowhole area so that walkers can access the full length of the trail, which is also part of the now very popular Goldfields Track. Three foot-bridges are still to be either finished or built. The two foot-bridges spanning Wombat Creek and Sailors Creek at Twin Bridges have concrete foundations but still no steelwork. The third bridge is located at Tipperary Springs and although closed it looked very close to finished. Probably the most solid and flood-proof of all of the bridges is the massive new stepping stones across to Bryces Flat. To me this appears to be the best and cheapest way to build bridges, especially in country that regularly sees alternating periods of drought and flood.

The Blowhole
The Blowhole. The Tipperary Track, Daylesford. Hepburn Regional Park.

According to Parks Victoria the foot-bridges will be ready by this spring. Let’s hope so. If you are intending to walk the Tipperary Track right now though, you should be aware that without the bridge over Wombat Creek you will need to continue walking down the water-race on its southern side to cross the Midland Highway before entering the picnic area at Twin Bridges. It’s not a real hassle but just watch out for the traffic when you cross the bridge.

We arrived at The Blowhole just as the day was warming up (it must have been all of 8 degrees) and were now enjoying ourselves. The Blowhole was gushing with water and made for a fairly impressive sight. We continued on through Breakneck Gorge, which for me is the best part of the walk. The creek tumbled over it’s stony bed and the gorge’s narrow walls glistened with green moss. Every now and then a ray of sunshine penetrated the cloud and slid over a tree or a rock.

Isn't it about time Parks Victoria dragged this wreck from Breakneck Gorge?
Isn’t it about time Parks Victoria dragged this wreck from Breakneck Gorge?

Finally we left Sailors Creek behind and walked up along Spring Creek, again following a wide water-race overlooking the willow-infested creek. Somewhere down there was Liberty Spring, now no longer maintained. Not far along we reached Golden Spring, which is unfortunately still capped, although there are plans to repair it it some point. By the time we reached Jacksons Lookout it was getting late in the day. The steel and timber tower was very rundown and because of the surrounding trees there are no real views to enjoy. Jacksons Tower was something of a disappointing climax. Half an hour later and we were at Hepburn Springs Reserve. We had covered almost 17km in just over 4 hours. The cafe was shut and it was almost dark. A quick phone call and the taxi arrived a few minutes later. Soon we were back at the car at Daylesford Lake. We pulled out of the carpark just as it started to rain again.

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Hunting in our Parks: a Deal with the Devil?

Coming to a national park near you?

On June 20, 2012, the Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill is to be debated in the NSW Legislative Assembly. This Bill proposes to allow hunters largely unrestricted access to many of the best NSW national parks and reserves. A list of the proposed parks can be found here. If this Bill eventually passes it will directly effect how we as a nation are seen to manage and care for the future of our most precious natural landforms. But first, it’s worth looking at why NSW is considering such a backward step.

Despite what appeared to be a pre-election pledge to keep the state’s electricity assets in public hands, NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, announced in late November that his government was to sell off the state’s electricity generators. His comments that the state would retain ownership of the ‘poles and wires’ infrastructure couldn’t hide the fact that this was a major policy back-flip. The vast majority of the NSW public don’t want their electricity generators to be privatised, and who can blame them. There is plenty of evidence around the world that electricity privatisation almost always results in higher prices for the consumer and higher dividends for major shareholders (such as banks and pension funds). Here in Australia this has certainly been the case for both Victoria and South Australia where electricity prices have skyrocketed since privatisation, yet institutions have grown fat on the profits. There is also evidence that privatised electricity companies deliberately hinder the uptake of alternative green energy, which they see as potentially eroding future profit margins.

Unfortunately for Barry O’Farrell there was a fly in his ointment. The electricity privatisation bill had sailed through the NSW lower house in March but now sat gathering dust in the upper house. This is because the NSW Liberal/Nationals don’t have the numbers to pass it into legislation under their own steam. But all was not lost. The NSW Shooters and Fishers Party are represented in the NSW upper house by Robert Brown and Robert Borsak and it’s no secret that they want hunting access to NSW national parks. Of course the vast majority of park users are against the prospect of wholesale hunting in parks if only from a safety point of view. But the Shooters and Fishers Party quickly recognised this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. And so it was that the NSW Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party started negotiations. The fact that the NSW Government had already pledged that there would be no hunting in National Parks was not going to get in the way of the electricity privatisation Bill.

Just for the record, this is is an exchange made in the NSW Legislative Assembly in August of 2011 between Ryan Park, Labor member for Keira and Robyn Parker (NSW Minister for Environment).

Mr RYAN PARK: My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. ….. what assurances can the Minister give that hunting in national parks will not be reconsidered in return for the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party for her Government’s legislative agenda?

Ms ROBYN PARKER: How predictable. The policy of the New South Wales Government is clear: hunting in national parks is not permitted. I say that very slowly for the slow learner on the Opposition backbench. Parks receive over 35 million visits per year and we provide among other things facilities for visitors to our State, and I advise the member opposite that shooting is not compatible with visitations to our national parks. The member has wasted yet another question. For the benefit of those opposite I repeat that the policy of the New South Wales Government is clear: Hunting in national parks is not and will not be permitted.

Source: Hansard Transcript

But as we know, when it comes to politics truth is the first casualty. Barry O’Farrell needed a deal and if that meant going back on his assurances that there would be no hunting in national parks then so be it.

On May 30 the NSW Government suddenly announced that changes to the Game and Feral Animal Control Act would allow for hunting within 34 National Parks, 31 Nature Reserves and 14 State Conservation Areas. Apparently this equates to roughly 40% of the land area controlled by NSW National Parks and Wildlife. It was a victory for the state’s hunters and a shock to the vast majority of park users who had believed the government’s assurances that this would never happen. Then in late May the Shooters and Fishers Party introduced the Feral Animal Control Bill 2012. This bill proposes to:

  • Allow the minister to make National Parks available “for the hunting of game animals by persons who hold a game hunting license“.
  • Allow for “expanding the list of game animals” that can be hunted on public land.
  • Prevent anti-hunting protesting by making in an offence “to interfere with a person who is lawfully hunting game animals on public hunting land” (including national parks).

Having served as a member of the Victorian Government’s Alpine Advisory Committee during 2010-11 and as a long-time bushwalker, rockclimber and cross-country skier, I well understand the problems we face with feral animals in our parks and reserves. Hell, I even recognise the need for some parks and reserves to be closed for short periods during which strictly managed feral culling can occur (such as what happens periodically in the Gammon Ranges in South Australia). However, I also believe that feral animal control first requires monitoring, evaluation and research. To allow hunters into a national park without scientific scrutiny is not the way to address the feral animal problem. I also don’t believe that hunters are doing this simply because they are suddenly concerned about the environment. In truth they simply want to hunt and there are plenty of hunters out there who are not particularly concerned about what they shoot. And do we really want to have hunters wandering around with high-powered rifles in parks where we are meant to be enjoying ourselves with our families?

As Tim Vollmer (The Fat Canyoners) so eloquently phrased it on his controversial blog, “To put it bluntly, feral animals are a serious issue, but one best addressed by professionals relying on science, not red-necks relying on firepower”.

Should this Bill be passed I can’t help fearing that it may just be the tip of the iceberg and that other states (under pressure of the politically connected shooting lobby) may eventually open up their national parks to hunting. This is something that should concern us all.

Please visit the National Parks Association of NSW for further details.

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Silver Mine Walking Track

The Silver Mine Walking Track is located in the Snowy River National Park, one of Victoria’s most remote and least visited semi-alpine regions. By the time Karen and I parked our vehicle at the start of the walk at McKillops Bridge I had a fairly good idea as why so few people visit this place. The drive down McKillops Road is nothing short of frightening. Narrow, slippery and pot-holed, this veritable goat track winds down a seriously steep mountainside that was scarily reminiscent of the so-called roads I’ve too often encountered in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya. I for one was glad to have made it down to the Snowy River alive. I was still feeling wobbly-kneed as we set off along the Silver Mine Walking Track and I had to put in a big effort to keep up with Karen’s usual brisk pace.

Signpost at the start of the walk.
McKillops Bridge and the Snowy River.

After just a few hundred metres we joined Deddick Trail, which is actually a wide vehicle track. It was now becoming obvious to me that whoever named all of these roads and tracks definitely had a twisted sense of humor. Just as I was wondering how much more climbing we were going to have to do the signposted walk left Deddick Trail and plunged back down into the valley along Silver Mine Track.

Cliffs along the Deddick River Valley.
Wildflowers poke through the old tailings heaps.

Although the descent is very steep there are some wonderful views across the river towards Little River Gorge. A couple of old silver mines also help keep your mind off the relentless pounding of knees. By the time we reached the Snowy River we were getting very hungry. Anybody that knows Karen will also know that nothing is ever going to get in the way of a good lunch (or breakfast or dinner for that matter). We arrived at the Overnight Hikers Camp and made our way down to the river-bank where we spread out a feast of dips, ham, cheese, bread and fruit. We lazed on the warm rocks, dangled our feet in the cool water and watched a pair of eagles soaring high in the sky.

Up the steep Deddick Trail to the top of the range.
Cypress pine log cabin. Old silver mine relics.


After lunch we rejoined the walking trail, which now headed away from the river following a small heavily eroded gully and passing a few more long-abandoned silver mines. The remains of an old pine log cabin gave us some idea as to the hardships that these miners must have faced. The walking trail soon started climbing again and took us through stands of tall cypress pine via a long series of switchbacks. The unusual pine forest was reminiscent of walking through the valleys in Nepal. On top of the spur we made a short detour to the lookout. Here we could see the glittering Snowy River as it twisted and turned along the wide sandy flats. Today the river is but a shadow of its former self and I couldn’t help wondering what it must have looked like before we tore its heart out and redirected its once mighty flow into the Murray River, all in the name of progress.

The last section of the walk continues through more cypress pine forest and eventually we rejoined Derrick Trail at where we passed earlier in the day. We got back to the car at about 5pm.

Cypress pine forest.

The Silver Mine Walking Track is 16.8km, not 18km as the official signs indicate, nor 15.5km as the free park notes indicate. The walk takes about 5 hours but allow 6 hours to include lunch.

I’ve described the walk in detail in our recent Daywalks Around Victoria walking guide ($22.95), which is available from the Open Spaces online bookstore or from outdoor adventure stores and book shops.

You should also check out Parks Victoria Snowy River National Park page and download their Silver Mine Walking Track PDF.

The Snowy River, Snowy River National Park, Victoria.

The McKillops Day Visitor Centre is closed from 23 May to 15 June 2012 due to a goat control program. This almost certainly means that the walk will be closed also. McKillops Bridge is also closed for repair works until 22 June from 8am to 4pm. Check with Parks Victoria on 13 1963 for details.



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Falcons Lookout Trail Improvements

Last December Glenn Tempest wrote a blog (Problems with Falcons Lookout and Ironbark Gorge Carpark) commenting on the awful state of the walkers/climbers trail into Falcons Lookout at Werribee Gorge State Park. This trail is one of the most heavily used in Victoria and can see anything up to 60 people use it a day. Since then Parks Victoria have gone some way to fixing the issue. The works were not quite finished when we were there on Sunday but there is already a welcome improvement. However, despite these works, using pine boards in this manner is only really a temporary measure. In a couple of years time the boards will have almost certainly collapsed and we will again be faced with the same issues of erosion and user safety. Glenn pointed out in his original blog that “it may be simpler, cheaper and quicker to realign this section of the trail down the spur 20m or so to the west, then cut it back to the point at where the original trail reaches the bottom of the gully.”. In the long term this is probably true, but Parks Victoria is cash-strapped (see Glenn Tempest’s Parks Victoria: Death by a Thousand Cuts) and probably can’t afford the cost of these works. Looks like we will have to put up with band-aid measures for a long time to come.

Update May 2013
Looks like Parks Victoria have recently added more timber to the steps. Once again an improvement.


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Pincushion, Tremadog 1982

In 1982 Chris Baxter and I had been guests of the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) at the Buxton Conference. After all the excitement of the conference and long hours (spent mainly in the pub) it was something of a relief to load up our hire car and head off for a couple of weeks climbing in North Wales and the Lake District. Joining us was local resident Dennis Kemp and one of Chris’s old Plas y Brenin instructing buddies, Miles Martin. We arrived at the Tremadog carpark on a rare perfect Welsh summers day and we were pleased that Eric Jones (owner of the famous Eric’s Cafe) came out to meet us and point us towards a few of the crags great climbs. We climbed a bunch of classics that day that included Vector E2 5c (21), Falcon E2 5b (20), Silly Arete E3 5c (21) and Vulcan E4 6a (23). However, it was the first route we did that I remember most vividly, possibly because it was the only climb on which I took any photographs.

PincushionE2 5c (21) is one of Tremadog’s most popular outings. It follows a subtle line up through a series of smooth slabs and overlaps and offers an amazing variety of moves on close to perfect grey stone. In truth the only thing I remember about Pincushion was the warmth of the sun and me pulling through the overlap on the second pitch (photo below). Maybe this was the crux.

The other thing I remember was Dennis smiling at me when I took his photograph. It was a good day. Here is the Rockfax description of Pincushion.

*** Pincushion  E2 5c 58m (190 feet)
A route of contrasts – it has roofs, slabs and cracks, wide bits, thin bits and blank bits.
1) 4a, 12m. Climb up grooves and easy rock to a tree at the base of a wide chimney.
2) 6a (sic), 40m. Climb the chimney to the roof then make a testing move left across the slab. Pull up over the roof then climb a crack until a short distance below a roof. Move right to another crack and then right again at another roof to a final crack.
FA. P.Davies, M.Harris, R.Chorley (aid) 1956, FFA. H.Barber 1973

Looking at the photographs I can see that I led the second pitch using double ropes. When I look at the images of Dennis following that pitch he is on a single rope. This probably means that either Chris or Martin followed the pitch first (and carried my camera up). The cam just above Dennis is an original ‘Friend’, one of three that I purchased off its inventor, Ray Jardine, in 1979 from the back of his van in Yosemite Valley. I used these cams until the late 90s.

Dennis died at the age of 67 in an accident after climbing Birdman of Alcatraz (23) at Mt Arapiles in Australia. Chris died in 2010 after a long illness.

Click on these images for larger sizes. Most of these images appear in my Climbers Portraits & History collection on my SmugMug site here. These images cover my personal climbing experiences stretching from 1975 to the present and is an ongoing project.

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Yesterday Gully and Memories Lost

Arapiles, 1980. It was early summer and the days were growing hotter. A group of us headed into Yesterday Gully to search out some fingers of shade. We climbed Snow Blind (23, 5.11b), In Lemon Butter (22, 5.11a) and No Quarter (23, 5.11b). I still have a few blurry pics, but these are best left to the creeping fungus that is slowly destroying my old b/w negative collection. Later on we scrambled into the upper reaches of the gully. Jeff Lamb jumped onto Black Spasm (22, 5.11a) on the left side of Fever Pitch Wall. Mike Law put up this intimidating overhang in 1977 and it had probably not seen a second ascent until that day. Jon Muir and Mark Moorhead were repeating Grand Central (22, 5.11a) on the same wall and there was a party atmosphere.

This great photograph (top) by US climber Peter von Gaza shows Jeff Lamb having pulled over the overhang on Black Spasm (on the left) and Jon Muir on the crux of Grand Central (on the right). Mark Moorhead is belaying Jon but I can’t remember who it was belaying Jeff. I’m in the middle, perched on the ledge and shooting images with my Olympus OM1n. I must have been fairly comfortable as I’m not even tied in. This is an interesting photograph for a variety of reasons. Most of us are wearing home-made harnesses, mine having been made by Mike Law on his sewing machine. I think Jon is wearing a Whillans Harness, the only commercially available model available in Australia at the time. I also love the fact that while Mark is belaying with a Selewa sticht plate (which were becoming increasingly common by then), the guy belaying Jeff is using a waist belay. All of us are wearing EBs. The EB Super Gratton was the best climbing shoe of its era but within a few years of this photograph they would vanish forever and the Boreal Fire would become the shoe of choice. It’s interesting to compare the angle of Peter’s image with the following photographs that I took at the same time.

Jeff Lamb had recently emigrated from England having already pioneered a bunch of respected test-pieces in his beloved Lake District where he was fondly known as ‘The Jackal’.


Here’s Jeff monkeying around for the camera. In 1984 Jeff died tragically when he fell while soloing at Frog Buttress. It was a very sad loss to both the UK and Australian climbing community.



I love this image of Mark Moorhead. I feel it captures something of his whimsical nature but also the underlying seriousness with which he approached his climbing. Mark was one of the most impressive climbers of his generation and now something of a climbing legend. His premature death on Makalu in 1984 was a shock to us all. I’ve always believed that Australian climbing had been robbed of its greatest future talent.


Interestingly, I found two more images taken on the same day as all of the above photographs. When I looked closely I saw it was me leading a route called Yesterdays Rooster (21, 5.10d). This climb is just a few metres uphill of Fever Pitch Wall and according to the current Mt Arapiles guide Yesterdays Rooster was first climbed in January 1999 after two bolts were placed for protection. Looking at the photograph above it’s obvious that I lead it in 1980 (without the bolts), although I have absolutely no memory of doing the climb, who seconded me or who took the photographs. I suspect the images were taken by Peter von Gaza and it was probably him who seconded me but I really can’t be sure. Perhaps wearing a headband affected my long-term memory.



Most of these images appear in my Climbers Portraits collection on my SmugMug site here. These images cover Victorian climbing from 1975 to the present and is an ongoing project.