Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rolling on

Head space in a time of none.
A brief re-cap.
Came to Victoria to hike, visit family and friends and to defrag from work.
Hiked two full days of the GOW before needing to resign from the trail. Bad weather etc...
Did a few trips around Melbourne suburbs, via a combination of bike foot and public transport.
Caught up with a couple of old mates and a friend from Darwin, hung out with my brother a little bit and generally had a really nice time staying with mum and dad.
Mum's Vegie garden, Pineaple sage in the foreground silver beat in the raised beds
Mushroom on the trail
Legendary Chai tent at the St Andrews Market
Remembering the old days: British bikes have always been a common feature at St Andrews pub
Magpie at Quarry Hill South Morang - Now surrounded by housing development
Graffiti and paste ups in Melbourne lanes
Somehow seemed fitting
The view across Queen Victoria Market from just near the Drunken Poet

Mum with the awesome hand painted copy of Desiderata by Darwin artist Nathalie Qunitos Uhing
Difficult to walk up but beautiful to look at on the GOW
Self Self Selfie as usual... I put my 30kg pack down to take this photo of me

Friday, May 25, 2018

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 5)


There's no pretending this trip was a success. Not sure where my head is at to post 5 entries on a 2 and a bit day's walk but I was feeling typey... 

After resting on the lawn outside the Otway Light Station I needed to make a decision. Would I continue along the walk or quit now while I had the possibility of getting a lift back to town?

Up until now there had been a school group a couple of hours behind me for each section I had walked, they were camped close by each night. Close enough for me to know they were around and it was reassuring that if I had an accident they would likely find me. 
If I chose to continue I would be travelling through more remote parts of the park and from my discussion with the ranger, it was clear that there was absolutely no one else on the trail, either in front or behind me. You can only hike The Great Ocean Walk in one direction, East to West. I did not like the prospects of travelling alone in such bad weather.

Even at the Light Station there was no public phone, no mobile reception and no means of communicating with the ranger.  I was feeling less than positive about my prospects of completing the walk. 

One of the school leaders offered me a ride back to Apolo Bay in his ute but I was determined to keep going so I thanked him for the offer then proceeded 600 meters along the track to the Hikers camp ground. I found it difficult to get to the camp as there were a few busted tea tree limbs hanging across the path... not a good omen. When I got to the camp it was wet, my gear was wet too. 

I took off my leach bite shoe and sock, they squelched with the sound of thickly congealed blood sticking to leather and wool. I could smell the blood. The wound was small but my socks were disgusting! I looked down at my feet and could see bruises forming under the nails... 

I considered the potential for my feet giving out or the sleeping bag becoming ruined by water and decided there was too great a chance of me being stuck on that trail and not being able to get out until the ranger realized I hadn't reported finished in five more days.

It was then that I decided to quit the trail! 

I legged it back to the car park, had a quick word with one of the adult leaders of the school group, sured up a lift back to Apollo Bay and sat back on the grass and lolled in that terribly no man's land between relief and regret!

My trip home was quite fluky. We got to Apollo Bay Information Centre exactly 45 minutes before the bus to Geelong was due. I booked my tickets through to Melbourne and then sat at the bus shelter and watched rain clouds rolling over the hills and blasting Apollo bay with an icy cold spray of mountain rain while I waited for the bus.

The brisk refreshing delight of Otway coastal rain

Apollo Bay Bus shelter
Arrived at Geelong station with 10 minutes grace, enough time to hobble to the Melbourne bound platform and before I knew it I was on the train... At Southern Cross I switched tracks to the Hurstbridge line and my train arrived within 10 minutes. I can't remember exactly what time I got back to mum and dad's place but it was a dream run... From the time I arrived at the Light Station until the time I was was soaking in a hot bath was something like 7 hours. 

Geelong Station
The weather remained bad for hiking for the remainder of the week. I don't mind hiking in the rain, even if it's cold but I was not equipped to for wet nights. My down sleeping bag would have failed miserably and I would have been freezing. I am sure I made the right decision but can't help working through various scenarios that would have allowed me to complete the walk.
Today 7 days later did we have a beautiful cool and sunny day.

One major failing of this track is the fact that you must book your camp sites in advance and there aren't any options for altering your schedule while on the track. If I could have deferred for a couple of days I would have found a way to complete the track in sections or at least taken a day's rest while I replace my sleeping bag.

I will return to The Great Ocean walk and I WILL complete it!


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 4)

The Honeymoon is over
Friday morning I got up at first light, sorted out the wet from the dry, packed as much stuff as I could, ate some breakfast and some ABC instant mocha coffee (from Indonesia, very sweet) then attempted to dry and clean the mud off my tent.

Tent half collapsed... a somewhat messy affair
Dawn at Blanket Bay with rain on the horizon

Sunlight pressing though
A friendly farewell

Once everything was stowed away I set out on the 11km hike to the Lighthouse. Although I was now carrying quite a bit of excess weight in unwanted water, I was still able to enjoy the walk and found this part of the trail absolutely stunning! It wove through a series of landscapes, including a little bit of Ash Forest full of tree ferns and tall tall trees, then some beautiful stunted eucalypt groves with a ground cover of bracken and shrubs, and in the valleys were dense rain forest trees with ferns, mosses and lots of tiny birds. Between Blanket Bay and Point Franklin I saw 6 wallabies in the valleys and undergrowth. Also two deer on the open path.

Boot Cleaning Bay protection against spread of Phytophthora a parasitic fungas that kills plants

Wild views along the shipwreck coast (Point Lewis I think)

Bracken undergrowth

These forests are so special providing great protection from the wind, life beneath the canopy is far more comfortable than the bald hills we have created for agriculture.

Of course the New Moon is accompanied by Spring Tides so it was important to make river crossings and beach walks during the low tide. I arrived at Parker Inlet at a good time to cross the water was quite low and I could see the ocean bubbling and frothing at the creek mouth. I would not want to be there when the tide comes in. After crossing the creek I looked down and noticed blood on my boot. I felt no pain and knew straight away it must have been a leach. It must have been there a long time because it had gone of it's own accord and all that remained was a sock totally soaked in blood! 

Parker Inlet at low tide

Creek at Parker Inlet

The less gruesome view of leach meal time

Immediately after Parker Inlet was a very pretty but long stone stairway, it was a steady walk to the top but quite stable footing. Regardless of the quality of the track I still felt stuffed by the time I reached the top. My hips and toes were struggling under the weight of my pack. I had bruised toes from the downhill tramping and sore muscles in the hips and feet from unfamiliar exertion, but generally, I was able to keep the pace and continue. 

Hard slog up a pretty hill
Looking back

The next section was coastal heath and totally different from all the other sections I'd done. I was walking along the edge of a shear cliff face and the wind from the southern ocean was blowing hard against me. At some points there is a clear view along the coast and the lighthouse can be seen in the distance. Absolutely wild, raw power! It energized me but at my core I felt I was beginning to flag. By the time I reached the Light station I was knackered. I plonked on the grass and rested.

Windswept coastal heath

Board Walk and stairs

Cape Otway Lighthouse... Just over there... another 2 km to walk

(To be continued...)

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 3)

Great Ocean Walk - The Walk

OK Yes... What happened

I arrived in Melbourne, it was cold and dark.

Went to my folks place and prepared my gear, spent too much money on stuff I really would need if I were to survive this walk. 
Thermals, water containers (bladders that fit into my new pack... actually quite awesome and practical), the food, my boots etc...
(Mum had my boots repaired by one of Melbourne's last cobblers, a story in itself). 

Found out there's no bus on the day I intended to leave the trail so changed my bookings and shoved everything ahead by one day so I could catch the Wednesday bus. V/Line busses only run Mon, Wednesday and Friday. 
Got a ride with Mum and Dad out to Ballarat where we met my Uncle and Aunty who drove me all the way down to Apollo Bay. To the beginning of the trail and to help me search for a place to drop food. 
After all my searching I could not find a scrap of help when it came to finding acceptable places to drop food. It is mentioned in the FAQ but there appears to be no practical or official means of doing so.

We visited the Aire River camp site and were shocked to find it completely submerged in water, coots and ducks were swimming where I thought my tent was booked to be. not a great sign.

Aire River GOW camp (fire pit)
At about 4pm I was dropped at the Shelly Beach picnic area and walked about 1.5 km into the Eliot Ridge campsite. 
From the moment I got out of the car I could smell that sweetness of the Mountain Ash forest. The Otway Ranges are a blessing and a relic of Victoria's great forests. 

When I arrived at the camp I found a school group of about 10 students and three teachers were settling in to cook their dinner. I was the only independent hiker. 

The camp site was well equipped with a three walled shelter, fresh rain water tanks (full) and composting toilets (including toilet paper)

Elliot Ridge Shelter

Elliot Ridge composting toilets

I set my camp beneath the giant Ash, cooked my dinner, took a deep breath of the fresh sweet cool air around me and got into my cozy sleeping bag, it was 6:00pm and completely Dark. The night of the New Moon. 
First time use of tent. It's great!
Mountain Ash - Precious!

A great nights sleep as the wind blew across the canopy above me, with only a slight concern of falling limbs.  
At dawn I woke and ate my porridge, stowed my gear took down my tent and loaded my pack. At 7:35 I was on my way, while the other campers were organizing their activities for the day. 

The walk from Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay was about 12 km mostly following fairly wide access tracks through the Ash Forests inland away from the coast. The track made a loop around thick sections of forest before returning to the coast at Blanket Bay. An easy walk even with over 30kg on my back. In the cool weather I found I could just keep walking, so I did, I walked straight through with only a ten minute break. Arrived at camp within three and a half hours. 

Blanket Bay was a beautiful spot. I found a tent pad and by 12:00 pm I had set up my camp and eaten lunch. I did the 45 minute loop walk which joined the alternate inland rout with the coastal route. (The inland route is the high tide option to get to camp) Felt a bit dozy, collapsed into my tent and slept for two hours! Maybe the unfamiliar exertion and weight of my pack was a bit of a shock to the system.

Blanket Bay from GOW camp

Toes up time
When the drizzle slowed I got up and cooked my dinner then went straight back to bed. 

360 Furno doing dinner.
Then it rained... and rained... and the water did flow and eventually it did rise through the floor of the tent... and that changed everything.

I spent most of the night shuffling things around to keep them dry, packed away my down sleeping bag (they're useless when wet) and hoping the rain would stop. It wasn't a heavy rain but the damage was done.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 2)

Finding out about the walk

Prior to starting the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) I did my best to find accurate and current information online. 
Unfortunately a simple Google search can lead you up the garden path and chasing your tail. There are several fairly slick websites belonging to tour operators that look somewhat like official sites of the Great Ocean Walk, there are also marketing sites for Victorian tourism that will equally leave you feeling like you've been trapped in an automated phone survey loop! 

If you're just an ordinary walker and are looking for first hand information from other hikers I can't make any recommendations, I found a couple of blogs that describe people's experience but I failed to find anything like a current up to date forum for discussing track conditions or aspects of planning this 8 day hike.

Ultimately the best resource is the Official Parks Victoria Great Ocean Walk 
See Link (HERE)
Parks Victoria GOW webpage

In order to hike through I had to book all camp sites in advance. This can be done via the Parks Victoria Website (HERE) ($32.30 per night on the barrel head in advance!) But before you start booking you need to be sure that sites are available all the way through as people can join the track at various points along the way. 

You are not permitted to camp in the walk in camp sites without a permit. You must continue along the walk as scheduled. 

After reading all the conditions of the walk I presumed camp sites were in high demand and there was very little room for deviation from the scheduled, pre-booked plan. I booked in January to walk in May because I had the impression I'd miss out if I didn't book early. "PFFFFFT!"

The GOW web page has a FAQ document which I thought would answer my questions about food drops transport etc... Well the information was rudimentary and read more like a sales brochure than a document that considered the actual needs of real hikers. (Sorry Parks Vic but I was left a bit bewildered)

As a solo traveler away from my home state and relying on public transport I found it extremely difficult to find any information about Food drops or how I could get home after finishing the trail. Apparently food drops can be negotiated with local tour operators for a price... well that didn't really work out on my budget! It's also possible to get a ride back from the end of the trail for "$140"!!! FFS!
I prefer to use the public transport system anyway which meant one bus three times a week Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving from the 12 Apostles car park after 3pm. (bear that in mind when booking your tent sites or you may be hitching home)

This is not a comprehensive review of the booking process or the information that is available, just a warning. Be very discerning with your research check the sources, you may think you are looking at a community information message but discover you have been sucked into a commercial marketing trap. ;)

Even the official sites lack important information for low budget independent travellers. Once you are out there you're pretty much on your own.

(To be continued...)

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 1)

(GOW Prep)

Some time last year when I was not coping with the work/life balance, fed up with work and the the rut I had been sucked into I contemplated the fact that I would soon be reaching my 10 years employment mark. I would soon be eligible for long service leave. I considered my lifestyle and what would I like to add or subtract in the search for happiness... or at least not miserableness.

One thing I have always liked and wanted to do is bushwalking.  Until the age of 18 I was like a mountain goat, tracking through the local bushland for hours, camping, fishing rabbiting etc... I used to walk (and cycle) everywhere until I turned 18 and got my drivers license. After that I did manage a few actual hikes in places like Wilson's Prom, Cradle Mountain and a Kings Canyon but that was years ago. Since settling in Darwin over 20 years ago I have not done any serious hiking.

In this latest calling to the wilds while researching the Jatbula trail near Katherine I came across references to the Great Ocean Walk (GOW). I have been missing the forests of Victoria so much I decided I had to try and do that walk. I researched the walk and finally decided to book my camp sites and make travel arrangements for May 2018. May seemed a good choice, it was outside of bushfire and snake season and allowed enough time to improve my fitness by doing some preparatory hikes. I figured that over the next 6 moths in Darwin I would join the Darwin Bush Walking Club and build up my experience, strength and stamina...
This did not happen. Work commitments got crazy, I had a stupid study schedule and had already taken time away from family. In reality, with less than a week to go I hadn't even prepared a kit suitable for the walk. Just a few days before leaving Darwin I started preparing an inventory, checked my gear, read weather reports and began to realize that I'd missed Autumn and was headed straight into winter conditions! Temperatures ranging between 7 and 11 degrees C. 

$5 50L pack, $15 Ferrino 2man lightweight tent, hand-me-down sleeping pad, $2 ultra light sleeping bag, + $50 360 Furno cooker.

In the two days before leaving Darwin I sourced a more suitable backpack and sought out various other additional accessories to help cope with the cold wet weather I was about to head into. With the change in weather my cheap and light plan went out the window, I had to spend money! I managed to find a really nice second hand pack for $150, and swapped sleeping bags for my ultra warm down bag, the rest would have to be sorted out when I arrived in Melbourne.

Deuter Aircontact 65+10  (A very nice pack)
When the plane landed very early at Tullamarine, Melbourne was cloaked in a thick fog, the air was bitterly cold and I knew I would need to be better prepared than I was. Catching the 901 to Broadmeadows was like being on a ferry across the river Styx... Through the thick mist bodies disposed of their spirits would appear and then fade away as the 901 rolled on, their skin a deathly white pallor. I shivered at the sight of those dark and sunken eyes of commuters waiting for their passage to nothing better. 

The next two days were spent getting hold of gear that would be essential for the walk.

By the time I'd completed my inventory of necessary items and crammed it all into my pack I reckon I had over 30kg! This was not ideal, not for an experienced hiker and definitely not for me.
One of the big problems was that this is an 8 day (7 night) hike. I needed to carry enough food for over a week.

Some of the food for the trail... there was more. TOO MUCH MORE especially scroggin

To Be continued....