ISSUE 174 Wallaman Falls Highlining Traversing Greenland’s Icecap The Battle for the Daintreee Profile: Tim Cope Bikepacking the ‘Stans Paddling Peru’s Rio Marañón Walking NZ’s Toughest Track Fraser Island Hiking Destination: Mt Arapiles Track Notes: Australia’s Biggest Climb
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Contents The Battle for the Daintree (p 22)
Greenland (p 62)
Wallaman Falls (p 36)
Kazakhstan,Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan (p 40)
Fraser Island (p 70) Lady Northcotes Canyon (p 84)
Rio Maranon (p 48)
Mt Arapiles (p 76)
Dusky Track (p 56)
Regulars Editor’s Letter Readers’ Letters
62 In Nansen’s Footsteps
Conservation Tasmanian Land Conservancy
The Battle for the Daintree
None of the Above Nature Writing
40 Bikepacking the
Features Profile: Tim Cope
Highlining Wallaman Falls
Photo Essay: Bikepacking the ‘Stans
Canyoning expedition on the Rio Marañón 48 Hiking the Dusky Track
Ski-traverse of the Greenland Icecap
The K’Gari Great Walk
Wild Destinations Climbing at Mount Arapiles
Track Notes Hannels’ Spur and Lady Northcotes Canyon
What You Love 76 Destination:
56 Dusky Days
Gear Gear Talk
Test: Lowe Alpine Aeon 27
Test: Fjällräven Keb Shorts & Abisko Pants
Test: Petzl ACTIK Headlamp
Brand Heritage: SCARPA
Sep/Oct 2019 WILD
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ON THE COVER
Matthew Polvorosa Kline
Celebrate every season: Take a Hilleberg tent!
Tents for any conditions, any season.
Photo by Aidan Williams
What isn’t visible about this shot is that moments before and afterwards, Wallaman Falls were completely consumed by thick, blanketing fog. There was no way of communicating with Ben on the line, so getting the right timing and position was key to this image having the impact it does. And the lack of time available—we had just one day for the project, allowing just a few walks on the line— only added to the pressure.
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EDITOR James McCormack PRODUCTION CO-ORDINATOR Anja Fuechtbauer CONTRIBUTORS Craig Pearce, Matthew Crompton, Anja Fuechtbauer, Lachlan Fox, Aidan Williams, Megan Holbeck, Danielle Andreasen-Cocker, Keith Parsons, Alexis Buxton-Collins, Lachlan Gardiner, Jane Rawson DESIGN Sam Grimmer, Miljana Vukovic, Ivana Brkic FOUNDER Chris Baxter OAM
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FROM THE EDITOR
James in the Western Arthurs
’ve been thinking a lot about the Daintree lately. This is only partly because this issue of mag looks at— as the third in our year-long series on Australia’s great environmental battles—the campaign to save it. No, more importantly, I’m thinking of a road trip I once took there that changed my life. When I was four, my parents loaded up our car and took me on a six-week trip to Cape Tribulation, camping all the way. Cape Trib in the 70s was almost completely undeveloped. The road in was a goat track, barely passable in our 2WD. I have vivid memories of getting bogged in sand, of Dad knocking off the muffler and then tying it back on with some vine, and of him lying in water under the car after we broke down halfway across a creek. I still remember—as I watched him tinker with the stranded vehicle—the jungle’s thick greenery and the rounded creek boulders. And I remember beach camping in our canvas tent and then having the incoming tide forcing us to move it. I remember all this, but equally importantly, I remember nothing prior. This trip gave me my earliest memories in life. Cape Trib back then was the end of the road. We turned around and headed back south. But I was changed forever. While I didn’t, of course, consciously reflect on this trip’s transformative power, I understood that camping was fun, that natural beauty—of radiant blue waters and lush greenery—was powerful, and that freedom and adventure were intoxicating. As you’ll soon read in the profile on Tim Cope (this issue of Wild weaves many strands that seem pertinent to my
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
life), specific trips as kids and teenagers have the power to change us forever, and to set us on paths we follow for the rest of our lives (for him it was a school trekking trip in Nepal). But as powerful as trips are, so too can words and stories change our lives. For Tim, it was Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Nights. For me, two stories stand out. One was in National Geographic, a piece (years old when I read it) on hiking in the Canadian Rockies. The other was a story in Wild. Wild was—and still is, of course— important to me. It was, in short, my inspiration. My father died when I was young, and my mother was too busy working, feeding and clothing me and my brothers to take us out adventuring (although she did take us to the Warrumbungles multiple times on camping trips), so it was largely in the pages of Wild that I found outdoorsy inspiration. But there was one specific story that resonated. I can’t remember what issue it ran in or even what year (and of course, I could look it up*), but it was a piece on some guys who spent weeks backcountry skiing in California’s Sierras. Again, I don’t remember the specifics, but really, they’re not important. What’s important is the seed that story planted. Because although it would be years until I first went backcountry skiing, I remember being struck by the sheer of adventure of it all. Yes, Wild has always been full of adventure, but for some reason—perhaps it was the novelty of snow, perhaps the bitter cold, perhaps the seeing of no-one for weeks on end, perhaps the self-reliance—this
story in particular drew me in. That, I thought to myself, is what I want with my life, adventure like that. I believe that adventure has made me happier, not least of the reasons being that it makes you humble. Of course, it brings joy and beauty, too, and there is the—if I can be frank, partly egodriven—satisfaction that comes from rising to the adventurous challenges I’ve set for myself over the years. I also believe I’m not alone in finding this happiness. Yes, I’m sure somewhere out there an angry and bitter adventurer exists, but it’s hard to maintain fury when, if you are outdoors often enough, you’re consistently put in your place by weather, by mountains, by nature itself. Adventure teaches you to accept. And in acceptance, we find happiness. But it was that story in Wild that, as much as anything else, put me on that road. That’s why I was so happy recently when, at a party, the mother of a teenager mentioned that, although she’d not read Wild herself, she knew it must be special: Her penniless son had just spent ten bucks of what little money he had on the magazine. I’m hoping that the pages he reads, and the stories they tell, can inspire him the same way they inspired me. That they can conjure a life of adventure, a respect for nature. Great stories matter. And not just for inspiring young ‘uns, but for inspiring the old ‘uns too. James McCormack
Editor * It was Ian Brown’s Skiing the High Sierra, Autumn 1988
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2019 B I G A D V E NTU R E S • S M A LL F Nov/Dec O OTPR I NT
Wild Letters [ Letter of the Issue ] TAKE THE KIDS WITH YOU
I wanted to thank you for Issue #173 and the focus it drew to such an important issue. Although the Franklin River is an amazing place, it is not the important issue that I write about; it is instead the story of young Maya Bristow. I, too, have a seven year old daughter who loves the outdoors, and Maya’s story confirmed that I’m doing the right thing by taking her on wild adventures. On a recent trip to New Zealand, the few other hikers (or trampers) we met all stopped to comment on how great it was to see a “wee little one” out on the trail. All seemed surprised, but supportive, when they heard we were out for four days. I think it’s important to show others that it’s possible to take kids on wilderness adventures, that they don’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and that if you give them just a small chance they’ll often surprise you with their resilience and strength. I’d love to say that it was a glorious trip with perfect weather but it was the South Island of NZ, so I can’t. It was a glorious first day followed by three days of near non-stop rain and snow. But I’ve never been prouder of my daughter, or enjoyed the giggles more, than when her tiny freezing cold feet were shoved into my warm armpits whilst sitting on the side of a mountain in a damp bothy bag. That night we stayed in a hut and were joined by a group of women who’d hiked up for the night. After talking to my daughter, they decided they too would take their own daughters out on adventures after realising taking kids into the wilderness was possible. Instead of poring over Issue #173 and then relegating it to the ‘Wild basket’, next to the best seat in the house where all wild adventures are best planned, I sat down with my daughter and showed her the photos of young Maya’s adventures to prove that she isn’t the only seven year old going on crazy adventures with her family. Hopefully other Wild readers will do the same, and will introduce their own young ones to a life of adventure. Thank you, Maya, for your inspiration and for sharing your many awesome adventures. Where to from here? Well after seeing Issue #173’s front cover, I had to field many questions from my daughter about pack rafts. She is now set on hiking and pack rafting across Iceland for her next adventure. We’ll see......... Nick Roberts Ballarat, VIC
(Ed: You have no idea how happy this makes me. In fact, my Ed’s Letter in this issue discusses this very topic.)
RUNNING IN THE FAMILY
During Easter, my wife and I spent two weeks on Flinders Island, Bass Strait, where we met four sea kayakers doing the crossing. One, Rob Lans, turned out to be an old contact of mine when we both taught outdoor education in the ACT.
WILD Sep/Oct 2019
As I’ve done the crossing a couple of times myself, we were soon chatting about the various problems confronting sea kayakers doing the trip, not least being the logistics of organising the shuttle to the ferry in Devonport for a return to the mainland. Rob mentioned that his father lived in Stanley, Tasmania and was picking them up at the finish. On my return from Flinders Island, I found the Wild’s Issue #170 in my letter box and on opening it, read the excellent article on the Herbert River’s first descent by Ben Lans of Stanley, Tasmania. Like father, like son? John Wilde
Tuross Head, NSW
Dear James, Congratulations on your excellent editorial. The current Climate Movement is so critical to the health of our environment. I loved the previous Issue #172, and the current #173 is another standout. You’ve hit onto a good formula!
QUICK THOUGHTS (On: The phasing out of printed topographic maps by Spatial Services NSW. )
“I foresee a steady rise in rescues... The GPS failed.” GT
“Maybe when people start going missing on hikes and rescues double, they might go back on this decision.” AK
Coffs Harbour, NSW
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
To the editor, staff and Circulation Dept, My subscription to Wild has expired. I do not wish to renew my subscription. No, I’m not annoyed by anything in the magazine. To explain: I am now 70 years old. I started buying Wild in about 1983 and have subscribed since some time later in the 1980s. Also, I bought back copies so now I have almost every issue since 1981. I’ve loved reading the magazine and, when each issue arrived, I’ve absolutely devoured every article. When Chris Baxter passed away it came as quite an emotional shock to me; it felt like a friend or even a relative had passed away. That was when I realised how much the magazine meant to me. However, as mentioned, I’m 70, I’ve had two different cancers, I have angina and now can’t walk with a backpack. This saddens me, but I’m realistic enough to understand that life is, eventually, fatal. However, I can paddle a kayak without setting off the angina, so I still get outdoors occasionally. So I want to thank the writers for so many interesting reports that have inspired me. I want to thank those who’ve written the gear reports because of their usefulness. I want to thank people for their thoughtful articles that make one sit back and consider. I want to thank the specialists who have written educational articles about the flora and fauna. And please send a “thank you” to Quentin Chester because I liked reading his gentle musings. Especially, I want to thank everyone involved in the magazine for the many hours of pleasure I’ve had. Mark Shaw (One time ski tourer, bushwalker and kayaker. Now crusty old dude)
Westbourne Park, SA
Nick’s Letter of the Issue wins MSR’s tiny but awesome Trail Shot Water Filter, valued at $119.95. At just 142g, the Trail Shot gives you clean water all day— without the weight. It’s the ultimate filter for fast-paced, highmileage adventurers, like trail runners, hikers, fast-packers and mountain bikers.
SEND US YOUR LETTERS TO WIN! Each ‘Letter of the Issue’ wins a piece of quality outdoor kit. To be in the running, send your 50-500 word letters to: email@example.com
HILAREE NELSON, LHOTSE
DEFY THE PAST WEAR THE FUTURE
THE FUTURE OF EXPLORATION IS AT: THENORTHFACE.COM.AU/FUTURELIGHT
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
LEE CUJES ON TRAILS OF TEARS (28) PIERCES PASS, NSW by Kamil Sustiak Canon 5D MKIII, 16-35 f2.8L, f6.7, 1/1000, ISO 1600
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
MADDY DAWES DESCENDS INTO BUTTERBOX CANYON, NSW by Ryan Hansen Sony a7RII, FE 16-35mm f4, f4, 1/40, ISO 4000
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
DAVID BOWMAN IN THE GORDON GORGE, FRANKLIN-GORDON WILD RIVERS NP, TAS by Grant Dixon Sony a7M II, 16-35 mm f/4, f10, 1/50, ISO 200
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
KAI PANTANO AND STEF PALMER ON THE FIRST PYRAMID, GIRRAWEEN NP, QLD by Lachlan Gardiner DJI Mavic 2 Pro, Hasselblad 28mm, f4.5, 1/100, ISO 200
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
[ Megan Holbeck ]
Crafting Your Life As with any adventure, thought, planning, and preparation are important. But so are space and risk.
ome of my most memorable adventures have been the ones that have just happened with little planning or preparation. My husband and I spent three days exploring Mt Mulanji in Malawi, central Africa’s highest peak, in socks and hiking sandals, supplementing a shared sleeping bag with some old woollen blankets. We later sailed for four days up the coast of Mozambique in a traditional wooden dhow, sleeping on deck with rucksacks as pillows. The moon was so bright you could read the brands of the concrete bags from which the sail was made. The trips don’t have to be big, either. My husband and I recently got a very rare overnight leave pass so sailed our crappy yellow boat across the harbour to Watsons Bay. We followed the cliffs to Bondi and stayed the night there, stopping along the way to admire whales frolicking offshore. On Sunday we returned under heavy skies, the black clouds pierced by random fingers of sunlight and squalls of rain. (Yes, we got soaked, and no, we didn’t have waterproofs.) There’s a lot to be said for preparation, too. Having the right gear, experience and planning makes an adventure more likely to (a) happen, (b) be safe, and (c) be enjoyable. The more involved/hardcore the trip, the truer this is. Still, some of my favourite stories are of people who made it up along the way.
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Oskar Speck left Germany in a folding boat in 1932, heading for Cyprus to look for work. He ended up in Australia more than seven years later via Greece, Syria, Iran, India, Malaysia, PNG and Indonesia, arriving just in time to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of World War II. Sandy Mackinnon set off in a Mirror dinghy for a gentle week-long trip down to Bristol. He then
Over and over again, I heard the same message: Your life is something you create, yours to craft into what you want it to be."
kept going to London, then across the Channel, winding up at the Black Sea 14 months later. The Sequoias bought a catamaran in Mexico, taught themselves to sail, and sold it in Fiji two years later. Everyone knows someone like this, who shows the possibilities of life. In the last year I’ve chatted to some interesting people about their lives, their passions, the way they make their world work. People like adventurer Tim Cope whose profile is on page 30 of this issue, sea kayaker Sandy Robson (who retraced Oskar Speck’s journey), and runner and orienteering World
Champion Hanny Allston. Some of those I spoke with had huge profiles; others had goals that were only their own. And over and over again, I heard the same message: Your life is something you create, yours to craft into what you want it to be. This is self-evident, but also easy to overlook in the busyness of living. The scary thing is that most people put more time and effort into planning a bathroom renovation than they ever do into planning their life—that one unique, irreplaceable shot each of us ever gets. So, how do you craft a life that has meaning, for you if no one else? The first part is doing something, sooner rather than later: Taking one exploratory step which leads to the next, and then considering what those steps are and where you want them to go. Plan adventures, and leave space for spontaneous ones to arise. (The adventures don’t always have to be physical ones, although for anyone reading Wild, I’m guessing the outdoors will play a part.) Say yes. Do something that scares you and see what happens. If you have a weekend with nothing on but boring jobs, think of what you’d really like to do and do that instead. Think about what you want and how you can get it into your life, leave some space, try it, then repeat. Creating your own life can be as simple as that.
[ Dan Slater ]
OF MOUTHS & MONIES
The European Triple Crown Oh, the hardship! Choosing what gear to take on which trip can become an obsessive exercise.
was recently fortunate enough to fulfil a long-held ambition—walking Europe’s three best long-distance trails in succession: the UK Coast to Coast; the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt; and Corsica’s GR20. Much as my mouth (and legs) watered at this hike-fest, it was clear that prodigious planning was necessary to ensure I took the correct gear for three quite different scenarios. I was to walk the C2C with just a day pack, with most of my belongings being transported each day, and me staying in B&Bs. The HR would be a mix of camping, dormitories and mountain huts, so I’d need to carry a full pack. I’d be passing through small towns most days but cooking meals due to the high cost of dining out in Switzerland. In Corsica, I would be at my wildest—camping high in the mountains but with the benefit of refugios to provide evening meals and basic supplies. But beyond needing different equipment for each leg, between the hikes were rest days when I’d need altogether separate gear, like my laptop, charging cables, smart clothes, and recovery footwear. To complicate matters further, I wouldn’t have a central base. I’d be moving from one location to the next with no possibility of stashing gear in between. To make matters easier, though, my wife would be joining me for
the middle trek; she could bring items not needed for the UK and take some that wouldn’t be needed in Corsica. Now here comes my confession—I have far too much gear. Working in an outdoor store, with all its attendant temptations and discounts, has left me with an array of choice to rival the CEO of REI. Gear freaks want to take the perfect item for each scenario, not ‘make do’ with one piece for all three.
Here's my confession—I have far too much gear ... with an array of choice to rival the CEO of REI."
Thus, this wasn’t a case of “I’ll just take my pack/tent/sleeping bag,” which would have been simple, but “Which pack/tent/sleeping bag should I take for each trek?” What are the night-time temperatures at 2000m in the Mediterranean vs those in the Alps, anyway? Those of a planning disposition will rub their hands with glee at my predicament, while others may tear out their hair. Only one solution was obvious—a whopping great spreadsheet. Mine was a matrix of perfect gear choice against expected conditions in each place. Stove, headwear, first aid kit; I went as far as calculating which pair of gloves
I’d need in each country! And I struggled to choose between my 59 and 70 litre packs; in the end I used both. It was plainly ridiculous. I left for the UK with a groaning 95L duffel bag. In London (my entry and exit point), I left some clean clothes with a mate, posted a bunch of stuff to the end of the HR, and arranged with another friend—who was doing the GR20 a few days ahead of me—to take some gear home so I wouldn’t have to carry it across 180km of granite mountains. What could go wrong? Well, everything worked out … mostly. In between hikes I had to lug the colossal duffel across Europe. And while the UK leg was a breeze, the French postal service gave me a scare (quite apart from the €100 price tag). The baggage I posted from Chamonix still hadn’t arrived in Zermatt 12 days later. I was frantic. It finally turned up 15 minutes before we were due to leave town. Then my Corsican drop-off plan fell through, meaning I had to trust La Poste again. Anyway, it all somehow worked. I didn’t break my back or freeze to death, and my gear got a good old work out. I can’t help thinking, though, that it would have been so much simpler, and probably only slightly less comfortable, had I just had one of each piece of equipment from which to choose, instead of three. Tough life, eh? Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
[ Tim Macartney-Snape ]
OUTSIDE WITH TIM
Paths of Joy A well-made walking track is a thing of beauty.
he start of the track was hard to find and we had to study our topo map carefully. Having parked next to an old gateway, we shouldered our packs and headed across the grassy, sometimes boggy flat to where we hoped the track started at the edge of the forest. The fine weather seemed to be holding but streaks of high cloud streaming out of the north west were a reminder that tomorrow’s weather may not be so benign. For the moment we could enjoy the view. All around us steep, forest-coated slopes rose to meet the tendrils of snow coming down from the mountains still white from winter. The warm afternoon sun, a cooling breeze, and anticipation about what lay ahead gave us a spring in our step. As with any good adventure, our anticipation was spiced with uncertainties, finding the start of the track being just one. Others included where we’d spend the night, how far we’d have to walk before changing over to ski touring mode, whether once on snow we could find the right route up through the steep bluffs, if conditions on the mountain’s upper flanks would allow us to ski from the summit, and would the weather hold long enough for us to reach the summit and return to the refuge of the valley. Upon reaching the forest’s edge, a well-worn footpad curving around a grand old beech tree was immediately obvious. So was a modest national park sign attesting that this was the Kea Basin Track, a popular offshoot of the Rees Valley Track in New Zealand’s
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Mt Aspiring National Park. Despite the steep slope, the track was very pleasantly graded, zig zagging up through the forest, mostly softened underfoot with fallen leaves and blending in to look as if it had always been there. On occasion the dense canopy thinned to allow dappled shade onto the track. And now and then, the track wound its way over rocky knolls clear of trees, affording natural lookouts to the magnificent setting of the Rees valley and its surrounding mountains.
When new walking tracks are constructed today, many are wide, overengineered eyesores."
On these rocky sections and in the few places where the track surmounted rock steps, foot placements became irregular, breaking up the rhythm of the walk and briefly directing attention from internal reverie to performing fancy footwork. Boggy sections also required a little more focus as you had to balance along logs placed to keep your boots dry. It struck me at the time that this track, made over a hundred years ago, trodden by countless thousands of feet, was the epitome of what a walking track should be. A lot of thought had gone into planning its route to make the journey through the steep and difficult terrain easy but without the surroundings’ natural beauty being
compromised. It was also built in a way that minimised the damage from the relentless assault of weather and foot traffic. No ugly metal staircases or foreign decking marred the experience. No fence or barricade fettered the view. The only concession to possible incompetence on the part of walkers were small yellow triangles fixed to trees in places where the track blended in too well with the surroundings. Understated, natural looking, single file footpaths winding through the landscape are a joy to walk on. Yet it seems that when new walking tracks are constructed today, many are wide, over-engineered eyesores surfaced with imported materials, barricaded by steel and over-catered with safety and information signs. They are ugly, expensive and totally unnecessary. There’s a reason that walking along a narrow footpath is more far more pleasant than walking along a road, fire-trail or fourlane-highway type walking track. It’s more aesthetic, and the natural winding nature of a ‘single-track’ footpath feels wilder, generates anticipation, and brings you closer to the surroundings. There’s been a recent flurry of walking trail development in Australia but unfortunately most have fallen for the trap of ‘make it better, make it big’. Sadly, one such example is under construction in the Grampians/Gariwierd National Park in Victoria, where a heavy-handed approach is being inflicted upon a beautiful landscape. We should have more walking trails, but they should be kept as low key and natural as possible.
Bob.Brown.Foundation bobbrownfndn www.bobbrown.org.au
[ Bob Brown ]
BOB BROWN’S GREEN LIVING
Sumac Ridge Siege The brave fight to protect the Tarkine from voracious loggers continues.
Image courtesy of Bob Brown Foundation
here has been no reporting of You can see my little video (on the same the siege of the Sumac outside page and web address that you'll find Tasmania. Josh's video) from the forest floor as The Sumac Ridge runs south from the police and Sus. Timbers people move Arthur River in Tasmania’s takayna/ about getting ready for the onslaught. Tarkine wilderness and is clothed in It was spring in the rainforest and the most cathedral like, moss-covered, birds were calling, the last ever such open spaced rainforest one could ever calls in this ancient forest if the Federal find. It is an Earthian gem. and State environment ministers—who For three years our foundation kept the loggers at bay by occupying the point where they plan to bulldoze a logging road south from the Tarkine Tourist Highway near the Kannuna Bridge over the Arthur. Last week, however, officers of Sus. Timbers Tasmania, accompanied by police officers, arrived to begin arresting those in our camp. First to be taken off to Treesitting in the Smithton Police Station was Rapid River canopy 21yo marine science student Josh Nichols, who was sitting 25m high in a magnificent eucalypt which will be destroyed have licensed the logging—achieve when the chainsaws move in. Josh their goals. Like the Amazon, these are faces final exams in three weeks and some of the most carbon-dense fortook his studies up the tree with him. ests on Earth, and they contain many The evening before his arrest, Josh rare or endangered wildlife species. gave a heartfelt account of his decision But who—except Josh and the handful to make such a rare and courageous of others prepared to risk a day being defence of the forest. You can see this at confronted by the misused might of bobbrown.org.au/t_sumac_blockade. governments—cares? I went into the Sumac rainforest, Ta Ann does. This voracious Malaywith its sparely spread giant eucalypts, sian logging company was given milas police were gearing up to get Josh lions of dollars by a Labor state governdown. This required the Search and ment to set up its peeler mill in nearby Rescue squad to be brought up from Smithton. Now that mill needs Tarkine Hobart in the service of the loggers. trees to feed its unnecessary peeling
production to make the billionaire barons of the Sarawakian forest plunder even richer. Last year, according to independent economic analysis, Sus. Timbers (this is the old Forest Commission of Tasmania and its full new name is Sustainable Timbers Tasmania) ran at more than $70 million loss. That is, Tasmanian taxpayers actually forked out to ensure Ta Ann’s profit. There was horror around the world, and that clearly included Australia, when the Amazonian rainforest fires were at their worst a few months back. Those fires were due to maverick plunder and arson. In Tasmania, the Minister for Forests authorises the annual firebombing of our wild forests after they have been logged. Some of the biggest natural carbon banks on Earth are deliberately destroyed and the carbon spewed into the already overloaded global atmosphere. Nothing alive survives. That’s what’s in store for the Sumac. I am going back up to the Sumac because like Josh (but having been around half a century longer) I am compelled not to sit back as the Earth disintegrates due to foreseen circumstances including the myopic greed of our consumerist society. Like Josh, I object. He says he has cried about this. My lacrymal glands have withered as fast as my disgust at the travesty of human disregard for our natural planet’s finite cornucopia has grown. Would you come too? Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
[ Tasmanian Land Conservancy ]
Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s Vale of Belvoir Reserve
Monitoring Nature The Tasmanian Land Conservancy does more than just buy and protect land; by undertaking important monitoring of reserves, the group helps ensure the survival of threatened species. Words Jane Rawson
ON THE VALE OF BELVOIR RESERVE, near Tasmania’s iconic Cradle Mountain National Park, TLC
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
staff are monitoring the status of the threatened ptunarra brown butterfly (Oreixenica ptunarra). This delicately beautiful species is under threat because it is dependent on Poa grasslands, among the state’s most endangered vegetation types. By conserving the Vale of Belvoir, the TLC is protecting some of Tasmania’s best-condition native grasslands. The TLC began monitoring butterflies here in 2010, surveying every year since with the help of dedicated volunteers. This butterfly flies for only three weeks in mid-March, and only in temperatures of 18°C or above, with no rain, wind or too much cloud cover, between the hours of around 10am and 4pm—it makes for very civilised working conditions! Monitoring ensures the TLC’s management helps the persistence of the butterfly, as well as that of threatened grassland daisies for which the Vale is famous. Grassland ecosystems often require frequent, low-level disturbance (such as fire or grazing) to maintain species diversity and prevent encroachment by other vegetation
Guesswork isn’t enough to protect the land that Tasmania’s—and the world’s— species need to survive.” Image credit: Andy Townsend
abitat loss and fragmentation and the spread of invasive species are major threats to biodiversity in Australia. Conserving habitat on private land is an important response to this threat. When private lands are protected for conservation, it increases the overall amount of preserved habitat and also increases connectivity between state-owned reserves such as national parks. The Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC) buys land and places it in reserves; works with private landholders to identify, protect and manage important areas on their own properties; and purchases, protects (with conservation covenants) and re-sells land. But buying land is just the first step. For conservation to be successful, the TLC needs to track the status of the species on these lands and take steps to ensure their continued ecological health.
Image credit: Heath Holden
types. Before the TLC bought it, the Vale was managed as a summer grazing property for over 100 years; regular burns generated green pick for grazing cattle. Wanting to adopt the best management regime for native species diversity and persistence, the TLC has been reluctant to change this management program without a better understanding of the synergy between cattle grazing and burning. Monitoring ptunarra brown butterflies is part of a larger ecological monitoring program to ensure these changes don’t negatively affect the Vale of Belvoir Reserve’s unique natural values. IN JANUARY 2019, fire swept across Tasmania and the TLC’s beautiful Five Rivers Reserve in the Central Highlands wasn’t spared. Five Rivers is home to the cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii), an endemic eucalypt brilliantly adapted to living in the highlands’ cold, wet conditions. Its sap, which is very high in sugar, is a natural antifreeze that helps the tree survive where less-welladapted species cannot grow. Unfortunately, the tree’s specialisation for cold, wet conditions leaves it vulnerable to fire and increased heat and dryness, and its palatable leaves and sugary sap are tempting treats for animals. In January and February, more than 5000 hectares of the reserve were impacted by fire. Fences were damaged and some key natural assets, including an eagle nest, were destroyed. Many older, more-mature cider gums were killed. But the TLC’s post-fire assessments in April and May showed the younger trees had survived and were re-sprouting. It would have been great news, except that their foliage was attracting hungry native species such as wallabies and wombats, along with feral fallow deer, all eating the cider gums faster than they could grow. The TLC’s response has been two-pronged: First, keep the browsers out by installing wire mesh cages; and second, learn more about who’s eating what! University of Tasmania PhD student Tom Guy is measuring fallow deer browsing, while TLC staff and wonderful volunteers have been building exclusion cages around the new growth, numb fingers wiring fencing together in snow, drizzle and Antarctic winds. About 50 cages have been built in the protection program’s first phase. Five Rivers is also the site of a world-first environmental account. From data collected over the past six years, the TLC has developed an Environmental Account, using an asset condition methodology created by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. This is the first case study developed on a private reserve in Australia that has converted ecological monitoring data into a common unit of measurement—the Econd. Using Econds allows the TLC to record, present and interpret monitoring data in a consistent way, comparing the health and condition of all its reserves. The organisation can track the effectiveness of management actions, identify which reserves or species need more attention, and plan their management accordingly.
Installing a song meter TLC staff and volunteers working to protect Five Rivers’ cider gums
ON BRUNY ISLAND, TLC’s Lutregala Marsh Reserve protects nearly 42 hectares of saltmarsh and coastal forest at The Neck. It’s a hotspot for birds, especially raptors, but feral cats and fallow deer have spread across the island, threatening the reserve’s integrity. Deer damage fences that keep stock out, they spread weeds, and they eat the saltmarsh vegetation as well as native trees that TLC volunteers have planted to regenerate the area. Cats, of course, are a significant threat to the reserve’s birds, potoroos, and eastern quolls. Before 2016, monitoring on Lutregala found numerous feral cats. By 2016, cat activity had been reduced due to the Kingborough Council’s cat program, but deer had begun appearing and have been on the reserve ever since. While cats are being actively managed, ongoing monitoring suggests deer grazing is now affecting woodland health. Monitoring points towards two important management activities: Removal of fallow deer from Bruny Island to properly conserve the reserve; and supporting the Bruny Island Cat Management Plan’s efforts to remove cats from this important island ecosystem. SETTING UP CAMERA TRAPS, counting weeds, and more novel approaches—such as reviewing data from images of wombats and Tasmanian devils to evaluate prevalence of and increases in mange and facial tumours—are key to ensuring our reserves keep doing the job they’ve been set up to do. Guesswork isn’t enough to protect the land that Tasmania’s—and the world’s—species need to survive. Buying habitat and leaving it to its own devices won’t do the job either. Managing reserves, and monitoring the results of that management, are a vital part of conservation. W CONTRIBUTOR: Jane Rawson is the (Communications and Marketing Co-ordinator for the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC).
The TLC is a for-purpose, apolitical, science and community-based organisation that protects Tasmania’s rare ecosystems and the habitat of threatened plants and wildlife by working with landholders, and buying and managing private land in Tasmania. For more information about the TLC’s reserves, and to support the TLC’s work, visit www. tasland.org.au
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
[ Wild Battles ]
The Battle for the Daintree After the then-recent successes of the Terania Creek and Franklin River blockades, campaigners had high hopes that the Daintree, too, could be protected. It didn’t go as planned, in ways both good and bad. Words James McCormack
his battle we lost. It was a war, however, that we won. missing link. It was not until the 80s, however, that serious The fight in the 80s to protect the stretch of pristine attention was given to actually opening the road. rainforest north of Cape Tribulation and on up to the In the meantime, attitudes—at least for some people—had Bloomfield River is Queensland’s most famous environmenchanged. Globally, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, scientists tal campaign. It followed in close proximity to Terania Creek and ecologists were starting to recognise the significance of and Franklin blockades, but while the former had been fought rainforests, and the Daintree was no exception. In 1962, Len over logging, and the latter over a dam, this one was over a Webb and Geoff Tracey of CSIRO’s Plant Ecology Unit visited 30km stretch of road, a road that would slice through “a living the area, looking for undiscovered compounds and alkamuseum of plant and animal species in what is one of the few loids that might be useful scientifically or medically. Tracey remaining examples of undisturbed coastal rainforests in the recalled that every second plant he saw was hitherto undeworld”. This quote, however, does not come from an ecologist, scribed. Returning in 1970, in rainforests the pair realised or a blockader, or a ‘greenie’; it comes from an entirely more had been undisturbed for millions of years, they found other unexpected source: Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the conservative, rare plants; Webb described them as ‘green dinosaurs’. Perruthlessly authoritarian Queensland Premier from 1968haps the best example of this was the discovery in the 70s 1987. That Joh said this (in 1980) shows not only how special of a primitive plant, the idiospermum, a hitherto unknown this rainforest was, it demonstrates the egregious nature of bridge between the more ancient gymnosperms (ie conifers his involvement in wantonly destroying it. and cycads) and the angiosperms (flowering To some extent, that the area remained plants). And Geoff Tracey, when later asked pristine for so long was a matter of luck, says When asked which by local Bill Sokolich which species in the Bill Wilkie, writer of The Daintree Blockade: area were valuable—replied, “All of them.” species in the area The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests. Sokolich, originally from the States, had Everywhere south on the coast had already were valuable, CSIRO’s moved here in the mid-70s. He was, and still been logged or converted to cane or cattle Geoff Tracey replied, is, a keen amateur botanist, and he recognised country. “[But] the unique thing about the how special the rainforests here were. “When Daintree,’ says Wilkie, “was that, up until the “All of them.” you talk about the variation of size of plants,” 80s, or even now, it was inaccessible. You had says Sokolich, “from herbaceous [species] to to go over the Daintree River on a car ferry. And that inacshrubs and then on up to giant trees and epiphytes, I would say cessibility meant it was far less developed than a lot of other it’s the most significant botanical site in Australia, bar none.” areas on the coast.” The small population, the cost, and the Sokolich wasn’t the only newcomer to the area. Like Sokosheer difficulty of pushing a road through here meant this lich, many of these new settlers were conservation-minded; area stayed relatively untouched. many were, for want of a better term, hippies. But it wasn’t only The history of wanting a road through the area had been a new settlers who were concerned about developing the area long one. Back in the 1930s, after the Cook Highway between (although it’s fair to say they formed the bulk of them.) Paul Cairns to Mossman had opened, aerial surveyors looked for a Mason grew up in the area; his family raised cattle here. But route for a road north from the Daintree River. World War Two, he could see how special these rainforests here, and that they however, halted further progress, and the project was quietly were under threat. To address the mounting concerns, in 1977, put on the backburner. Not everyone forgot about it, however, Mason, together with Sokolich and others, formed the Cape and a group of pro-development locals pushed for its construcTribulation Community Council (CTCC). tion. In 1958, the local member for Cook famously got lost while The CTCC pushed for a Greater Daintree National Park. So, looking for the route north to Bloomfield. And in 1962, a road too did the newly formed (established in 1981) Cairns And Far was pushed through to Cape Tribulation, although the Daintree North Environment Centre (CAFNEC), established in 1981 by River remained unbridged; a car ferry remained instead. Ro Hill, Mike Graham and others. And there were some unlikely After a shire engineer stated the road could never be built, sources of support for a national park, including Russ Hinze— pro-development locals took matters into their own hands; Queensland’s Roads Minister, who along with his department, in 1967 the Baileys Creek And Cape Tribulation Developsaw creating a road through this difficult terrain as being probment League was formed. The following year, with money lematic. And even Joh, as his quote at the start of this piece testhey’d raised themselves, the Development League pushed tifies, recognised there were natural assets here worthy of proa couple of bulldozers through the jungle, followed by a contection. In 1981, Cape Tribulation National Park was gazetted, voy of 4WDs, to come tantalisingly close to finishing the protecting roughly 17000ha of rainforest.
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Gummy’s rainbow bus
Article by Greg Borschmann in WILD in 1984 Chained to a log
Image credits (clockwise from top left): Lesley Clarkre, Andrew Dennis, Unknown, Ron Dau
But in 1983, talk of the ‘missing link’ was revived. Well, it had Develop Port Douglas, and use that as a hub for restaurants and never really abated—the pro-development Douglas Shire Counaccommodation, and then keep this almost like an island descil had consistently pushed to create the road, and had negotitination. Why destroy it with a highway through its centre?” Dozer obstruction ated that a ‘road reserve’ be contained within the newly-created Pressure mounted, from both locals and conservationists. national park—but now something had changed. Australia’s This, however, shouldn’t give the impression all locals were bicentennial in 1988 was approaching; local councils were against the road. Many were for it. And some, who conservationencouraged to apply for grants. Realising the state wasn’t interists had hoped would support them, stayed on the sidelines in ested in the road, Douglas Shire Council asked for federal fundrelative silence. Most notably, many within the Aboriginal coming—under the auspices of the Australian Bicentennial Road munity at Wujal Wujal near the northern Bloomfield end of the Development Program—to construct the missing link. The road proposed road—a group many conservationists hoped would was, it was argued, regarded as necessary for ‘progress’. oppose it—stayed quiet. Some were even for it, especially those But a prime reason, was, of course, money; people had with family down south. Either way, however, most within that bought land hoping that roads and then services would follow, community said little publicly, perhaps in part because, says Bill after which the land could be sold for a considerable profit. Sokolich, “they’d learned a long time ago not to stick their head That wasn’t the only reason; driving the inland route between above the parapet.” It was better, especially under Bjelke-PeMossman and Cooktown took between five to seven hours, tersen, to not make enemies but instead to stay quiet. recalls Bill Sokolich. A direct route through the Daintree would Another group that had been hoped might step in was potentially halve that. There were also arguments that the Hawke’s federal Labor government. Earlier that year it had road would deter orchid thieves, illegal immigrants and mariintervened in the Franklin. But Joh was a far more formidajuana growers. And then there was Tony Mijo, the Douglas Shire ble opponent than Tasmania’s Robin Gray, and Queensland far Chairman who had his own (albeit unstated) reason for pushing more electorally powerful than the island state; Labor backed the road. According to Sue Wilkie, a Port Douglas area resident off, not willing to fight for a park. It did, however, withdraw the who fought to stop the road, “Mijo was just looking for a battle funding for the road. to prove he was tough enough for the Federal sphere of politics. Joh, like Mijo, sniffed a PR opportunity. If there was one thing He knew the environmental value was such that enough greehe hated as much as or more than greenies, (or homosexuals, nies would bite to get the desired publicity for his ambition.” atheists, communists, socialists, pot-smokers, protestors, Sokolich remembers that when he heard that $100,000 fundhippies, unions, dole-bludgers, pornography or reproductive ing would be approved under the bicentennial road scheme, rights), it was Canberra. Once the feds decided to pull funding his first thought was, “Oh my god.” He and others had long for the road, Joh—who’d hitherto ignored calls for its construcunderstood the increased traffic would increase development tion—figured that if the feds were against it, then he should be pressures. “We had an alternative version,” says Sokolich. They for it. He announced the state would provide the funds instead. proposed instead a world-class walking track instead of a road. Horrified locals prepared for a blockade. In October, Sue “Why not keep the whole area north of the Daintree as a gem. Wilkie, Ashley Holliday and others formed the Douglas Shire Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
The Daintree Wilderness Action Group, with the express aim of stopping media, after the Franklin battle earlier in the year, were on the the road. And on November 20, WAG and CAFNEC held a comhunt for similarly newsworthy environmental protests; they bined meeting during which they discussed tactics, building flocked to Cape Tribulation. Secondly, a key problem with this local support, training in non-violent action, and gaining being locally-driven was this: Blockaders simply didn’t have media attention. the numbers. At the Franklin, thousands had volunteered, with With the wet season approaching, it was clear that if work many hundreds blockading on any single day. At the Daintree, was to start on the road this year, it would have to be soon. however, where direct activists numbered in their dozens, once Locals opposed to the road began gathering at Cape Tribulation, the arrests began in earnest, “there were so few of them,” says ready to blockade its construction. And on November 30, when Bill Wilkie, “they thought, well that’s it, we’ve lost. If we just two dozers and a work crew rumbled up to commence construckeep getting arrested, there’ll be none of us left.” tion, 30 brave souls stood in their way. They held placards, and The mood was sombre at the camp at Hans’ place that night. they’d blocked the way forward with parked vehicles. Mike BerBut at the meeting was Johnno Williams, who’d been at the wick—who lived 15km south of Cape Trib and on the day was Franklin. He’d hitched up to Cape Trib, lugging steel wire along spontaneously designated as spokesman—announced, “We’re with him, and now he offered to put it use: He’d use it to haul staging a peaceful, non-violent protest to stop construction of himself and another volunteer, also named John, into the trees. this road.” It was successful; work didn’t commence that day. Over the following days, others joined in tree-sitting. Some The anti-road group met that evening at Hans Nieuwenhuiwere locals, but a group from Nimbin, who had experience at zen’s place. It was near the end of the existing road, and the Terania Creek and the Franklin, also showed up. “And,” says blockaders arranged to have nightly debriefings and tactical Bill Wilkie, “they said, ‘This is how you do it.’ They put their meetings there. (Hans, a CTCC member, also allowed a camp to bodies on the line. They tied themselves to trees. They had no be set up there.) At the meeting, eight people announced they fear of the police. And when these people came prepared, [it] were willing to be arrested to block construction. Only two peogave the locals confidence.” ple in attendance had any protesting experience. Tree sitting, and standing or lying in the way of dozers, Bill Wilkie says, “It’s really important to say this initial camweren’t the only methods the blockaders used to impede paign was a local event. They had connections to the people in construction. Trees were tied together, so that if you pushed Cairns who were starting a bigger campaign, one down, others were pulled down. And pits and they in turn had connections with the Auswere dug in the road; blockaders were then There was no tralian Conservation Foundation and other buried to their necks in them. To get the dozlarger organisations. But the original protests real planning to it. ers through, workers and police had to extract to stop the road were definitely a local thing.” They were just going the hole-sitters, who were promptly arrested. For the first two days after arriving, the bullThrough it all, the protesters adhered to the dozers sat idle, while police figured out how to send a bulldozer principles of non-violence. to deal with the protestors, and while discus- and find their way Meanwhile, despite most attention being sions continued over the road’s alignment. Mike focussed on Cape Tribulation, work had also Berwick tells of the workers having no idea of through the scrub commenced at the Bloomfield end of the road. boundaries or surveyed marks. “There was no and come out at CAFNEC had sought, unsuccessfully, an injuncreal planning to it. They were just going to send tion to get it stopped. When that failed, proBloomfield.” a bulldozer and find their way through the scrub testors stood in the way of dozers, and were and come out at Bloomfield. [But], if you’re going arrested. Many who were taken to Cooktown to build a road like that you need to plan it properly.” Tony Mijo were released with no food or money; when they tried to return and Council countered that with so little funds, they had no to Bloomfield, they were arrested for vagrancy. choice to skip surveying. Ultimately, however, it was not blockaders or politicians that There was also, in these first few days, some wrangling with caused work to cease after just three weeks; it was a far more the National Parks supervisor Peter Stanton, who’d been sent powerful force: Mother Nature. Douglas Shire Council, because up to authorise the road’s day-by-day construction. Rememof both ineptitude and miscalculating the resistance of the ber, the area had been declared a park two years prior. But blockaders, started work far too late in the year. When the wet within the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act is a clause season arrived just weeks after work commenced, the deluges allowing road construction for park management. Bill Wilkie and mud meant continued work was impossible. writes that Stanton thought it was a spurious argument, but But in August 1984, the work crews returned. Local envihe nonetheless complied. ronmental groups like WAG, CTCC and CAFNEC had conSo on December 2, dozers rumbled forward into the forest, tinued lobbying; so too had national organisations like the and the blockade and arrests began in earnest. In pairs, protesWilderness Society and the ACF. Bob Brown had visited, and tors lay down in front of the machines—they’d learned that this then lobbied Barry Cohen, the federal environment minister, would more effectively slow work, because arrests would take but to no avail. And because the ‘83 protest was successful, longer than if they simply all laid down at once. when construction workers returned, says Bill Wilkie, the It was, however, Mike Berwick has said, “a very civilised propolice were there in a big way. While the earlier blockade was, test. We made it quite clear to the police that our argument he says, “almost done as if by gentlemen’s agreements, [this wasn’t with them; it was a protest, it was a theatrical event … time] they bought in young officers from outside the region so designed to attract attention to the plight of the rainforests in they had no connection with the people.” north Queensland. And so we had quite a cordial relationship.” The blockaders’ composition had also changed in the interim. Part of the reason for that was this first protest in ’83 was localLocals were still there, but, compared with ’83, protestors from ly-driven. “It was the local people and the local cops and the across the country had poured in, many with experience in the local bulldozer driver, who all knew each other,” said Berwick. Franklin. Pro-road groups, as they had the year before, decried Besides this cordiality, two other elements here are notathe outsiders. Mike Berwick countered that this was an issue ble. Firstly, the blockaders succeeded in getting attention. The affecting all Australians. WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Image credits (L to R): Ron Dau, Marie Sorenson
Blockaders buried in the road
“There will be little damage from our road,” promised Douglas Shire Chairman Tony Mijo. This was the result
Col Gibson was one of the ‘outsiders’. A NSW bushwalker, he Just over a week later—and after fewer than hoped for blockcame up north to help in whatever way he could. After a couple aders arrived in support—organisers called off the direct of weeks camped at Cape Trib, he went north to Bloomfield in action. It was a contentious decision, and the resistance didn’t preparation for a blockade at that end. But once dozers rolled end entirely. In a notable first (and potential last), “Dutch” Bill into Cape Trib, he and others went south. It was a tough call. Groothedde chained his testicles to a large concrete block in the Some of those at Bloomfield felt they’d be deserting locals they’d middle of the road; he and the block were carted off to Cairns. made commitments to if they left. But after walking down to But in short, the battle had been lost; the road, known now as Cape Trib, what he saw, but first of all heard, was shocking. Even the Bloomfield Track, was soon complete. from the beach, the crack of trees and roar of dozers was audiEnvironmental groups could have easily become despondent. ble. “It was awful,” says Gibson. “A total disaster. People had to But for the next few years, the Daintree remained the locus for confront…the stark reality there was going to be a road. I don’t the Australian conservation movement, and it realised there think people were prepared for it; they were very idealistic.” was a bigger picture, one apparent prior to the blockade. From The blockaders, however, didn’t give up. As in ’83, they stood its foundation, CAFNEC, amongst other groups, had seen that in the way of dozers, were buried in holes, chained themselves the protests’ publicity—which had spread nationwide—would to logs, and they sat in trees. Some of them, for days on end. One help the push for world heritage nomination. “Although the tree-sitter, known as Gummy, who’d driven blockade didn’t work directly,” says Bill Wilkie, his rainbow bus full of other blockaders up “as a media event and gaining the attention of In a notable first to the Daintree, set an Australian record at politicians, it was successful.” the time by lasting six days. And a live inter- (and potential last), It wasn’t just PM Hawke who was influential view between a Sydney radio station and “Dutch” Bill Groothedde here; a new Minister for Environment had been another tree sitter-was set-up. installed—Graham Richardson. ‘Richo’, a Labor It was a masterpiece of technology, Mike chained his testicles to headkicker, may have his flaws (apparent to Berwick has said. Communications weren’t a large concrete block in anyone who watches his Sky News commeneasy; not only did mobile phones not exist, tary today), but, says Bill Wilkie, “he went to neither did landlines in this part of the the middle of the road.” bat for the environment.” It wasn’t easy, but he world. Ordinarily, the only communications convinced cabinet of the benefits of the creation were the public phone at Cape Trib and the twice-weekly mail of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, which would include service. Even the police struggled with radio comms; mounnot merely the Daintree, but a far, far broader area: ultimately tains blocked the path. But the protestors were well-organised. 894,420ha. “It was more,” says Bill Wilkie, “than any of them In preparation, they’d set up a radio repeater station on a yacht, imagined when they first got involved.” access to which was unimpeded by mountains. And then the Perhaps the last word on the Daintree should go to what was signal was transmitted to a base station at Mowbray. eventually protected. In a 2016 IUCN paper, 173,461 protected But it was tough going for the tree-sitters. Many were conareas around the planet were assessed for the irreplaceability vinced to come down when they saw the additional damage of their species; the Wet Tropics WHA ranked sixth overall, and council was prepared to do to divert the road around them. second of all World Heritage Areas. And Cape Tribulation, borSome were forced down when police cut the lines for the hamdering both the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef WHAs, mocks they were in. Others—guarded by the police—simply is the only place on the planet where two world heritage areas ran out of food and water. literally meet. The battle may have been lost; the war, ultiIn desperation, Ian Cohen, already a veteran campaigner of mately, was won. W the Terania Creek, Mt Nardi and Franklin campaigns, and who’d been here in ‘83, suggested a candlelight vigil be held on the James McCormack is the editor of Wild. beach, with the idea being to distract the police while tree-sitters could be resupplied. But the end result was a disaster; FURTHER READING: Bill Wilkie’s prize-winning The Daintree Blockpolice let their dogs loose on the vigil-holders. Many were bitade: the Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests is the definitive ten. Morale plummeted. campaign guide. It’s a great read, too. Go to: daintreeblockade.com.au Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
NONE OF THE ABOVE
Sunrise over the boab trees in the Kimberley
Ten Crucial Pieces of Nature Writing Before you die, these all-time classics are must-reads, says Craig Pearce.
My conscious journey into the realm of nature writing began relatively recently while swooning through Inga Simpson’s Understory, a heartbreaking and heart-fortifying memoir, viewed through the refracted incandescence of nature. In hindsight, however, the formative, and maybe most cataclysmic nature writing impact quaked into me many years ago, through the epic power of The Tree of Man and Voss. The Tree of Man (like Voss, written by Patrick White; both being perspective-tilting literary thunderbolts) and Understory are alike in addressing a tension between nature and its harnessing for commerce, as well as the social dynamic which then unavoidably comes into play (Exhibits One and Two: Family life and community). It’s a frequently apparent theme in this selection of nature writing. Having been brought up in country towns and, as [mis] fortune would have it, falling in with a farming crowd (by virtue of what-else-is-there-to-do-in-this-joint when we’re talking the pre-internet Golden Age of Growing Up and, well, a teenage boy can’t spend all his time playing sport, listening to punk and hunting girls can he), I inadvertently experienced first-hand the binary tropes of subjugating the land while simultaneously enjoying nature’s untamed dimensions through camping, wildlife encounters and Huck Finn livingby-the-river-type activities (Exhibit Three: Floating on tyre
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
tubes down Tumut River with a rope-secured onion bag of beers. Note the safety rigour when securing vital resources). Like any category of culture, nature writing’s borders are beautifully nebulous. Perhaps not everyone would include Voss, or Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline, as nature writing. For me, however, it’s instinctive, even though the control inherent within such categorisation is oppositional to nature’s amorphous sprawl. In this piece I call out nature literature that has not only profoundly moved me and opened my eyes to dendritic connections in the natural world, but is produced (I think!) by writers who passionately want what wilderness we have left—and even what semi-wilderness we have left—to be preserved, and if that means making it off-limits to all human beings, and/or significant chunks of us, so be it (Exhibits Four and Five: No helicopter landing pads in Tasmania’s Walls of Jerusalem National Park; and no huts or further duckboarding on its South Coast Track). Just like when allowing nature to cast its primal spell over you through an intimate embrace (occurring most profoundly for me through extended exposure through immersions such as multi-day bushwalks (Exhibit Six), nature writing such as that featured here almost assertively forces you to slow down and to smell the lemon myrtle.
Image credit: James McCormack
Words Craig N Pearce
Understory: A life with trees by Inga Simpson (2017)
Understory is a prime, pellucid and compelling example of being wrapped in a physically overwhelming undertow (yet so much kinder and forgiving than a ruthless riptide), and it is not long into its transfixing pages you recognise there’s something special occurring. This is one of those books (typical of excellent nature writing) where you meticulously savour each word, sentence and thought before reluctantly letting it go—like the view after a hard-claimed mountain ascent, wind chopping, everything in lurid focus. Simpson’s personal life is one of many strands woven into an intimate (sometimes achingly so) narrative that includes her professional career, her background from a farm in central west NSW, protecting and strengthening nature’s hold on Earth, and an exploration of nature writing itself. This latter leitmotif was for me an epiphanic explosion. Since languidly breaststroking my way through its pages, I have read many of Simpson’s totems, including A Million Wild Acres. It sent me off on an exploration—literary in this case—comparable to those I have undertaken in the wild (and often as exciting and satisfying). While Understory—like The Tree of Man, A Million Wild Acres and The Bush—is an unmistakably Australian work of art in character and milieu, it resonates with a booming, crystalline clarity across all cultures and the ways in which we contend with nature. To write a book like this, you can’t fake it – Simpson’s writing glows with compassion.
The Old Ways - A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (2013)
It’s hard to stay away from hyperbole—I seem constantly on the precipice of no-return-from-this-gaping-abyss with nature writing that affects me— when describing Old Ways and Macfarlane’s writing in general. Bottom line: get to this book quickly, then venture through it slowly. If you are an acolyte of luxurious narratives about being subsumed by the outdoors, of going on journeys—by foot, by boat—whether inland or on the littoral (all Macfarlane’s writing is on the edge of something, be it vocabulary, nature’s attenuation, the foregoing of lives and lifestyles), then Old Ways will be your tender friend. Entwined in this book’s narrative, and one of the engines providing its muscular propulsion, is a connectivity between the journeys and their cultural and social associations. The routes that Macfarlane takes sometimes seem to exist in barely more than folk tales and rumours. This romantic dimension is reinforced by the knowledge that in a land as worn (out?) as Britain, there are still sanctuaries of what we might call wild areas (if perhaps not quite wilderness), even if the distant roar of a jet engine sometimes intrudes on them. Macfarlane’s language is a signature attraction, or barrier, depending on your literary starting line. More than any other nature book I’ve read—perhaps with the exception of one of Macfarlane’s pivotal influences, The Peregrine—do the words and their conjugations offer a startling, takeyour-breath-away phenomena—a grammatical Aurora Borealis. They cut incisively to the quick while levitating with imaginative majesty.
by Don Watson (2016)
Watson lives large in my pantheon of Australian heroes because he was Prime Minister Keating’s longstanding speechwriter. He helped Keating galvanise sentiments and ambitions into executed outcomes (such is the power and influence of language on reality). The pair, along with others like PM Hawke, were the most recent Australian Federal Government cadre who executed achievements of substance as a habit, rather than as exceptions. Politics has not ebbed from Watson’s veins. Here, the bush reverberates with political power and ramifications. In erudite, elegant terms Watson explains how Australians, “would not be who they are—and would not know themselves—if they had not fought the war with nature.” Nature enslaved, then. And yet, despite this and despite most Australians living separate from the bush, it exerts a compulsion on our psyche that is culturally defining. The bush, writes Watson, is both “real and imaginary…in that the life it harbours is that of the Australian mind…it is the source of the nation’s idea of itself.” Beginning from Gippsland in eastern Victoria, where he was brought up, Watson goes semi-swagman fully peripatetic across Australia, recounting fact and anecdote in a dazzling, mellifluous constellation of observation and analysis. You can smell the rain coming; the freshly ploughed earth; the evocative stench of cattle bustling their way into a milking shed on a freezing morning; the dry hay in its bales as it is lifted and thrown onto the bed of a truck. You can just about drown in the book’s sensual surfeit. Watson is fiercely poetic and encyclopaedic. He presses the heart when describing the terrific power nature exerts when it is left virgin, unsullied by humanity’s soiled, avaricious grasp. A disquiet, a bitterness and, yes, a disgust that so little of it—comparatively—remains lies volcanic under the prose.
by J.A. Baker (1967)
Like a prehistoric wasp caught in amber, this adamantine, spiritual beacon for all nature writers and everything the genre aspires to is a perfect relic, carrying with it—however—a relevance and resonance for right here and right now and for aeons to come. Almost the only thing written by Baker—set in Essex, England in the early sixties over a putative winter—it pursues, investigates and, in an unfathomably empathetic way, lives what peregrines—falcons that kill without mercy and kill often—live. Applying language with diamond-edged precision, turning nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns and manifesting like a delirious swirl of hypnotic poetry, this book teleports you into the heart of a wildly wild creature—a brutal knight of nature (and at over 320km per hour, its fastest too). An early piece of environmental activism (though such is its modesty you barely notice), there is a positive piece of rare environmental serendipity as peregrines—which were dying out at the time of the book’s writing—have since made a startling comeback due to the chemicals then used in farming, which were impacting pregrine nmbers, being ‘retired’. Yet their struggle for security continues, as more recently pigeon fanciers and game shooters have become their persecutors. Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
NONE OF THE ABOVE
A Million Wild Acres by Eric Rolls (1981)
A Million Wild Acres is a storytelling flood of biblical proportion and significance. From the white man’s agrarian colonisation of Australia, encompassing its battle with the bush (and Aboriginals), to Rolls’ textured, empathetic approach to nature, underpinned by a social history of the land, the book draws blood from the masquerade that is humanity’s heart. Rolls was a farmer, environmentalist, academic and historian—and also quite the dry humourist. Australia, Rolls explains, is a country cultivated by crooks and built on outright thievery. Many would argue it’s a country that continues to be governed by crooks, and that nature’s value continues to be stolen from our grasp (Exhibits Seven, Eight and Nine: Adani/Galilee Basin; threats to the Great Australian Bight; prevarication over the Tarkine). Ironically, and obviously in many ways proudly, the country’s thieving background has led to laws and culture where nature comes off second-best. These days, however, surely no farmer or agricultural investor can be witless enough to think that the prioritising of short-term extraction of money from the land (supported by tactics like using fertilisers, cutting down trees, using all the river’s water for irrigation (Exhibits Ten, Eleven and Twelve) will not—from a profitability perspective—come back to bite them long-term? Actually, scratch that…
by Henry Thoreau (1854)
While including Walden on this list is perhaps predictable, this 1854 classic makes the cut for three key reasons: Firstly, it was pioneering in its recognition of the power and value of nature. Secondly, because of the quality of its storytelling, including the quirks which come, partly, as a result of its vintage but also from Thoreau’s humour and pernickety mindset. And thirdly, because of its propensity to provide such rich pleasure The virtual diary that is Walden overflows with such a bursting-bud-like love of being outdoors, of synchronicity with nature, that it seems curmudgeonly not to join in his joy and, like him, sip from the revitalising pleasures of living fully in nature—taking from it what is needed, but no more, and treading lightly on it. No one writing or reading about nature can consider themselves satisfactorily educated without taking a languorous stroll (bathing in its contemplations and homilies) through this glade.
by Matthew Higgins (2018)
Higgins excels in documenting and discussing people two of Australia’s great alpine national parks: the ACT’s Namadgi and NSW’s Kosciuszko. While the geography and its climate are leading lights in his books (Rugged Beyond Imagination is another excellent example), it’s the people of this wild country who live largest of all. Their spirit, adventurousness, tolerance of hardship and wry, warm wit thrives through Higgins’ enthralling narratives.
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He talks of nature, of man transforming nature into a different form of ‘cultivation’ and the social, commercial and historical constructs that eventuated from their efforts— roughly speaking from the mid-19th to late 20th century. It’s astonishing how much territory Higgins covers, especially given its assiduously captured detail. Yet he does so in an organic, flowing manner that, despite or because of its factual basis, is at its heart is simply great storytelling.
In Search of Space
by Ross Brownscombe (2017)
Brownescombe’s constant pursuit of space encompasses air, solitude, and nature’s raw, idiosyncratic beauty. He has a predilection towards colder climes (Exhibits Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen: Alaska, Tasmania, and Norway), yet while his prose is spare and stealthy like that of a big cat on the hunt, within it is a furnace of warmth. A self-confessed itinerant of the wilderness, Brownescombe’s journeys by foot and by vessel describe both the environment and his travels/travails/enlightenments in those environments in limpid, placid and patient prose. It is not complicated, but it is very, very real—a beautiful, haunting primeval grasping of life out of doors. He inspired me to take the Louisa Beach diversion on Tasmania’s South Coast Track (which I did not regret!).
H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald (2015)
All the titles included in this top ten are works of literature, but H is for Hawk is perhaps the greatest all-round work of literary art featured. Weaving together the strands of training a hawk and how doing so helps console McDonald as she grieves the loss of her father, it is innovative in structure and captivating in its leveraging of language. The hawk takes on human, and even God-like characteristics for McDonald. Of greater impact on her healing, however, is the hawk’s wildness. The book’s fiery, draining vortexes of nuclear emotions and typhoon cameos of descriptiveness pulse violently through its veins…elemental, coruscating and pure.
10. Uno’s Garden
by Graeme Base (2006)
You think I’m joking? When I was the parent of an under five, this was my favourite book of all-time to read (and believe me, when you read to underfive creatures you tend to do the same books time and time again, so they need to be good!). Synopsis: Nature; nature discovered; nature colonised by humans; humans poison / destroy nature; humans leave poisoned city (now formerly-nature); nature recovers, and humans return to live in harmony with nature. Uno’s features amazing creatures and flora, the lovely environmentalist Uno and the coolest illustrations ever. Pure genius.
CONTRIBUTOR: Sydney-based Craig Pearce began his writing trek at the trackhead of rock’n’roll, veered through the corporate world’s twisted trails, and now navigates the serene great outdoors.
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Three months into his three year journey from Mongolia to Hungary, Tim and his horse Rusty survey Khokh Nuur (Blue Lake) in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia
Words Andrew Findlay Photography Margus Riga
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[ Profile ]
Tim Cope Australian adventurer and author Tim Cope has created a life out of the things he loves: adventuring, slow explorations of countries and cultures, and sharing stories of his experiences Words Megan Holbeck
im Cope’s adventures sound more like biblical tests. He’s ridden a recumbent bicycle from Russia to China, spending 14 months living on a budget of $2 a day. Developed a taste for boiled goat’s head for breakfast. Spent four months crammed in a tiny boat with three other stinky blokes, 24 hours a day. Ridden horses from Mongolia to Hungary, surviving 40 days above 40 degrees while crossing the steppes and then survived the winter that followed, the summer that came after that, the next winter, on and on for nearly three and a half years. It’s this last challenge for which he’s best known. It earned him the ‘Adventurer of the Year’ award from the Australian Geographic Society, and ‘Adventure Honoree’ from National Geographic. But it wasn’t just the crossing of the entire Asian continent (and then some) that made this 10,000km journey epic; it’s that he’s been working on it in one way or another ever since he set off in 2004. It was a play in three acts—the preparation, the journey and the digesting—with the longest of these, according to Tim, being the last. His life can be divided similarly, with the hardest challenge being integrating his disparate worlds and adventures into one life that works. This journey doesn’t end: it’s a changing, shifting thing that alters with each year, each new interest and relationship. But the reward is that the life he’s crafted out of exploring and adventure allows for domesticity, for connections, for relationships and growth, as well as for the appreciation of different cultures, priorities and lifestyles. I spoke to Tim the day before he flew back to Mongolia for the third of four exploratory guiding trips. It was a mammoth interview, interrupted by phone calls, random blaring radios and lunchtime soup deliveries: a fitting analogy for the way he melds many roles—author, explorer, friend—into being resolutely himself. He talks slowly—his country roots show in his voice—with considered pauses and the odd stammer as he collects his thoughts and condenses them into words that evidence his life experiences and love of deep thinking. Our topics of conversation range from adventures to God to love, before he lets slip this nugget: “I do believe that you create
yourself, you don’t find yourself.” And with that he sums up his entire life’s work in one line: Tim Cope is in the process of creating the best possible version of himself.
Tim grew up in Gippsland, Victoria, the oldest of four kids who were always outside. His father, Andrew Cope, was an outdoors instructor at Monash University, and young Tim was fed a diet of skiing and sea kayaking, hiking and adventuring. “Some of my earliest memories are the experiences of going somewhere…that feeling of hitting the road. Suddenly it feels as if the slate is wiped clean and you’ve got these blank pages ahead and you can write the script of your own life without any of the constructs of living.” Through his dad he was introduced to a range of Australian adventurers, people like mountaineering legend Tim Macartney-Snape, polar explorer Eric Philips, and sea kayaker and documentary filmmaker Larry Gray. Another early inspiration was Wilfred Thesiger, who wrote about desert explorations and the nomadic Bedouin people in books such as Arabian Sands. Thesiger’s books didn’t start his fascination with nomadic life, only extend it. “As long back as I can remember, I was completely intrigued by Indigenous Australia.” He wished to travel back in time, and to live as an Aboriginal in pre-colonial Australia. “I used to climb up hills,” says Tim, “…and tried to imagine what our country may have looked like before Europeans settled and colonised.” At age 16, Tim went overseas for the first time on a school trip trekking in Nepal. “It completely extended my horizons, and triggered my interest in travel. It opened the mental door for me to start thinking beyond the conventional path…of finishing school, going to uni, getting a job.” This door kept opening. Tim spent the year after school travelling, then in 1998 deferred his law degree after one semester and travelled to Finland to study as a wilderness guide. He never returned to university, and only returned to Australia in late 2000. After finishing his studies in Finland, in 1999 Tim took off on the first of his big adventures: cycling 10,000 kilometres from Moscow to Beijing. Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
“I was starting to understand that happiness was not a just feeling, or something that happened when the stars aligned.”
Tim, Tigon, and his three horses in Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains. After three years, he couldn’t imagine life without his animals
Off the Rails (but on a Bike) The ride to Beijing on a recumbent bicycle with fellow Australian Chris Hatherly was a momentous initiation into epic adventuring. Tim had never ridden a recumbent before setting off, and over the next 14 months, he and Chris pushed through temperatures from -40°C to 40°C, with challenges ranging from frostbite (a fortnight in!), to arrest, to millions of hungry mosquitoes. They spent 23 days pushing their bikes through the Gobi Desert’s soft sands, navigating by compass and an atrocious map. They travelled 1000km along the world’s most remote rail line. Tim’s bike frame snapped on two occasions. Despite their tiny budget, they had big ideas. “We had a dream of making a film and writing a book,” says Tim. “But we were 20 years old and had no experience. But we did have a camera.” The pair made a documentary of the journey, Off the Rails, which—strangely enough, says Tim—was picked up and broadcast by the ABC in 2002. The pair collaborated to write their book, too, Tim’s first; of the same name as the (eventually award-winning) doco, it was published in 2003. “That established,” says Tim, “a bit of a model for my life: a combination of adventure and writing and films that led to speaking.”
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As well as increasing Tim’s adventure repertoire, this trip also introduced him to Mongolia and its nomadic culture. “I saw these proud, indigenous people still living by traditions that have gone by the wayside or been crushed elsewhere. It was almost like the opportunity of that childhood dream to return to a time when people were living outside the Monday to Friday and in tune with the rhythms of the land and the climate.”
Four Men in a Leaky Boat After Moscow to Beijing, Tim was now on the radar of other adventurers, just in time for a serendipitous connection. He’d cycled past massive rivers in Siberia and dreamt of canoeing down them to the Arctic. And when he got back to Australia, an email awaited him. It was from Australian Ben Kozel, who was preparing to travel from source to sea down one of those very rivers, the Yenisey, the fifth-longest river in the world. In June 2001, seven months after returning to Australia, Tim joined Kozel and two others—Canadians Colin Angus and Remy Quinter—at Siberia’s Lake Baikal. They found a boat, an abandoned five metre long wooden dory, and after spending three weeks making it seaworthy—sanding, patching, coating it in tar and building a simple plywood
Tim Cope Riding in winter, Kazakhstan. The snow, which let the horses hydrate, gave Tim the freedom to roam in this arid region
Tim filming on the banks of the Zhem River, western Kazakhstan
cabin—they set off, taking shifts on a 24-hour rowing schedule designed to get them to the Arctic before the river froze. Rowing the Yenisey not only increased Tim’s adventure skills and his fascination with the area and its people; it also gave him insight into how these journeys could become the basis of a life. Tim’s fellow adventurers were all aspiring writers and film-makers, each inspirational for different reasons: Kozel for his ability to write anywhere (between rowing shifts, he wrote Three Men in a Raft, a book about his previous trip with Angus rafting the length of the Amazon); Angus for the way he backed himself when taking big risks but worked hard for every inch. Both Angus and Kozel later wrote books about the Yenisey trip. On the Trail of Genghis Khan After spending 2002 writing his book Off the Rails, Tim spent most of the next year, and early the following year, preparing for his next challenge. It was to be one of the longest equine journeys ever made, a mostly solo trip of 10,000km from Mongolia to Hungary, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and Ukraine. The initial plan was for an 18-month expedition, but it ended up taking more than double that—three years and five months. It’s easy to skim over just how long this actually is. It’s time enough for a newborn to progress to preschool, or
for someone to complete a university degree. Comments from Tim put it in perspective: the girlfriend who joined him for a couple of months at the start was married to someone else by the time he finished; he was only terrified by the ever-present potential for disaster for the trip’s first 12-18 months—after that, he could take it in his stride. While Tim had extensive adventuring skills, his horse-riding experience was minimal. As a kid he’d been thrown from a horse and broken his arm and, despite some recent training, he was still scared of horses. Managing the logistics of riding, looking after the animals, and carrying and organising equipment was hard enough, but he also had to adapt to the challenges of a foreign land and culture, along with dealing with the inevitable injuries along the way. And then there was the climate: in winter, temperatures plummeted to -52°C; in summer, they pushed 50°C. “It was just so hot that it smelt of death,” says Tim. “There were 40 days in a row of above 40 degrees and no shade, so I travelled exclusively at night. The key was to find someone to take me in and give me shelter and shade and water before the sun was too high in the sky. When I couldn’t, I just set the tent up, draped it in all the horse blankets and sat in a pool of sweat feeling myself being boiled alive.” Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Tim Cope Tim stayed with around 90 families during his horseback journey
Tim and Ochirbat, elder of the Mongolian nomad family with whom he stayed while buying his first three horses
The weather wasn’t all he had to protect his horses from. There were wild stallions and packs of wolves, and there were horse thieves, too. In the first week, two of his three horses were stolen while he slept. “Lying in bed at night for months after that, acutely aware of any sounds outside, wondering whether someone might steal them. It was terrifying because they’re not just horses; they’re your means of survival. If someone steals them or a wolf attacks them or they run away, you’re stuck with nowhere to go.” Other challenges weren’t related to the trip itself, but to Tim’s ‘real’ life back home. He was 30 months into the trip when his brother called him with tragic news: Their father had been killed in a car accident. Tim had recently flown home to accept the Australian Geographic award, and had spent a week with his dad. It’s time he treasures for obvious reasons, as well as the chance to see his dad’s pride in his achievements. The rewards were equally numerous and unexpected, accompanied by insights into life as relevant in Melbourne as they are in Mongolia. “I was starting to understand,” he writes in his recent book Tim & Tigon, “that happiness was not a just feeling, or something that happened when the stars aligned. It was a decision to weather the hard times, and focus on the positives, even when all hell might be breaking loose.” This ability to be in the moment and focus on the positives not only allowed him to complete the trip, but also to enjoy it. Much of this pleasure sprang from simple, everyday things: The chance to travel over the natural paths of the land and appreciate its continuity; the way people would take him in, no questions asked, no matter his state of dishevelment; how nomadic families dropped everything to share a meal in a spontaneous celebration. “There would be incredible laughter. And we were all very present and just celebrating being together and celebrating the simplest things…I loved the way that nomads would recognise that this was an opportunity that wouldn’t happen again. And it happened everywhere.”
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Seryoga, a Russian from Staryi Krym, helping Tim in Crimea
He recognised early that travelling alone made him reliant on the help of others. “I had to make friends, even with people who I might ordinarily try to avoid at all costs. And in that process…I found a great generosity of heart. And I found that everyone had an interesting story to tell.” His books are littered with stories of non-ideal mates: drunks, self-promoters, people who steal everything from his saddles to his horses. But it was all part of the ride. Six months into Tim’s trip, a Kazakh nomad was so concerned that Tim was travelling alone, he gave him a dog: Tigon. Together, man, dog and horses became a family as they travelled, tuning into each other’s routines and moods. Tim says, “Every now and then I had to double-check myself because I realised that I’d forgotten that they were a horse or a dog, I just saw them as a personality, irrespective.” The relationship with Tigon developed into one of the most important of Tim’s life. They finished the trip together, and Tigon eventually moved to Australia, only dying at the start of 2019. The dedication at the start of Tim & Tigon captures how much he meant: “To Tigon, my dear companion who turned hostility into friendship, fear into love, danger into curiosity and faraway places into home.”
Tim returned to Australia in 2007 to awards, accolades and the joys of a stationary life. He was surrounded by family and friends. There were supermarkets, electricity and roads. Life was ‘easy’ once more. But he faced new, different challenges: loneliness, the feeling that the whole trip was a dream, and the separation from his animals and what had become his world. “I felt a sense of isolation...over those first few months especially, as I realised that no one could quite relate to me. I had no idea where these things I’d learnt fitted in—a lot of the skills and knowledge I had now seemed obsolete. And in a world with so much, the small things didn’t mean anything, whilst over there the small things always meant the world to me.”
Six months after returning home, a bag containing half of Tim’s trip diaries was stolen. This proved a turning point; he realised he needed to digest and share his experiences to make sense of them and create his new life. He began this process through storytelling—in film, in writing, and in person. First came the two-year process of producing On the Trail of Genghis Khan for ARTE in Europe and the ABC. Then he wrote his book of the same name, published in 2013. Most recently, he wrote Tim & Tigon. Aimed at a young adult audience, Tim penned it to inspire young people to explore the world beyond their doorstep. It was released just months ago, in September 2019. Tim has also began returning to Mongolia annually to guide trips through his second home. From three-week trekking and canoeing expeditions, to cultural journeys mixing festivals with adventure, he spends up to a quarter of every year sharing his love of the land, its culture and people. It’s a rewarding and challenging process. “Most of the trips are pretty out there. And you’re taking people who ordinarily wouldn’t go into those remote environments and you’re trying to make it a comfortable, enjoyable experience for them.” But he sees this role as similar to documentary storytelling—his stories and insights can help others interpret what they’re seeing. Tim has further adventures planned. He’d like to spend a year living with nomads in Mongolia. He’s long dreamt of following the route of the Roma from India to Europe. And he’s driven to run trips in Mongolia, and potentially in Australia. Then there are the more ‘normal’ ambitions: a family, a home. Whatever’s to come for Tim, some things seem certain. The route he takes will not be conventional. Nor will it be quick and easy. His experiences will be consciously chosen, then lived and processed, mined for insight and clarity, before being turned into something meaningful for others. And his life—and the lives of all those he touches—will be the better for it. W
Tim & Tigon: A man. A dog. An epic adventure in the land of the nomads is a young reader’s story about Tim Cope’s horseback journey, published by Pan MacMillan. It’s available on Audible, e-book, and, of course, in store. Visit www.timcopejourneys.com to learn more about Tim, and for information on getting Tim to visit your school. CONTRIBUTOR: Megan Holbeck has pitched her tent in the family adventure camp, revelling in the slow pace and low demands for both fitness and navigational ability. She will emerge a fitter, wiser, more patient person in a decade or so. Until then, she explores with words. Tigon, which means goshawk or fast wind in Kazakh, was given to Tim as a pup by a herder who told him he needed a friend
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An expedition to rig one of the highest ever lines in Australia ventures to Queensland’s Wallaman Falls, the tallest in the country. Words & Photography Aidan Williams
ow could the tallest single drop waterfall in Australia not have a highline on top of it? It was a simple question, posed by Ben Thegreywolf. Ben is a quiet-natured man, but when he speaks it is always time to listen. The problem was that he proposed resolving his question in just two weeks’ time. What’s more, when he asked it, I was sitting by a pool taking a very overdue holiday with my girlfriend, and this was not the most romantic thing to bring up. In a month, I was leaving the country for a project in Russia. But Ben hooked me. Waterfall highlines are one of the most prized forms of the art. And with me being a photographer by trade, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity for the world. Ben also spoke with Arthur Pera, an always smiling, always stoked Brazilian rope access worker based in Sydney. I would be—at 23 years old—the baby of the team. With no sponsorship or world records between us, we didn’t look like the most formidable team to take on the planet’s tenth highest waterfall. But in April 2019, the three of us, with huge ambitions and differing contributing skillsets, set out to pull off a piece of history. ------
Wallaman Falls—at 268m, Australia’s highest—is located in the majestic, beautiful but rugged Girringun National Park, 162km from Townsville. It was there, at Townsville Airport, two weeks after Ben first proposed the expedition, that the three of us met after flying in from various parts of NSW. It was, despite it being April and late in the afternoon, ferociously humid. We crammed into our rental Toyota Corolla like a full pack of Tim Tams melting in the sun, sweat pouring from our foreheads. We drove past cane fields and crocodile-infested waters, and dodged cane toads and cattle taking refuge in the centre of the road.
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Wallaman Falls, QUEENSL AND Look carefully, and you can see Ben Thegreywolf walking above Australiaâ€™s highest waterfall, 268m Wallaman Falls
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Wallaman Falls, QUEENSL AND
Arthur showing where the line will go
Setting the leash length allows you to walk comfortably without it being too short to touch your heel and too long to climb back up after falling
Wading through dense vegetation in high humidity made access challenging
Arriving in the darkness, all that could be made out was the faint outline of a waterfall. We stood as a team in silence, listening to the rhythm of the falls, thinking of what would take place the following morning. There was a lot of uncertainty going into this mission. At first, Ben had thought it wouldn’t even be possible. But after spending countless hours studying drone videos of the falls on Youtube, and taking measurements on Google maps, he became convinced a line could work. Nonetheless, we would be on the edge of a nearly 270m raging waterfall in the rainforest after one of the largest floods in Townsville on record. But we wanted to be here for the waterfall’s peak, when flow would be at its maximum. Any setback and we’d have to wait until next year to try again. But Arthur said it best: Getting nature’s permission, so to speak, made the experience feel real. But there was another element of uncertainty, this one mine alone. All I ever hoped to do at Wallaman Falls was simply to do justice to this project, the athletes and this magnificent
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location. I have such gratitude for being in special places such as these and as stupid as it sounds, I feel as if I owe something to the team when they are putting so much effort. However, a week prior I’d been offered a new camera; frankly, it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I felt uncomfortable and almost as if there was a chink in my armour. As I lay down to sleep on my thin and lightweight camping mat, I was tense. Normally, I ease my mind by listening to a photography podcast that I’ve replayed fifty times. This time, it didn’t work. I needed to fall asleep and wake up rejuvenated for the early start in the morning; instead, I would be sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy. It was not the way to go into a huge project. ------
The next morning, we stood at the nearby lookout. As the mist cleared, if we peered closely, we could make out Australia’s highest waterfall. It seemed like a scene from another world, perhaps even one from the movie Predator where Arnold Schwarzenegger is on a mission to save hostages in guerrilla-held jungle territory in Central America. Getting to the head of the falls required an uncomfortable bush-bash through dense rainforest. It was not a lack of fitness that made the push in arduous, however; it was the sheer
Focussing on the anchor point eliminates the distraction of fast-moving water
He left all unnecessary thoughts behind, stretched his arms wide to keep balance, and fixed his gaze at the far anchor point sixty steps away. He listened to the rhythm of the falls beneath his feet, and concentrated on his breath. Then he pushed off.”
humidity. We dripped with sweat and felt it on every part of our body. When we emerged from the wilderness, we were soaked from head to toe. But now we were treated to the beauty of the cascading falls. Our bird’s eye view into the surrounding valleys and tropical landscape was accompanied by the ongoing roaring sound of water punishing the rocks below. We had, however, a question to answer, a question that always emerges with highlining, a question with many answers depending on circumstances and location: ‘How do you get the line across?’ In our case, answering that question involved a 40m swim above Wallaman Falls. The waters were surprisingly chilly, given we were in the tropics. They were also raging, a result of recent flooding. To say it politely, this wasn’t ideal…
I was witnessing something so special still gives me tingles, ...honoured to be in a location so sacred and unique.”
We finally rigged a line 30m in length between two anchors either side of the falls. Soon Ben tied into a safety leash and raised his foot onto the line. Standing at the edge of these falls, with this plummeting water, Ben felt he was exploding with endorphins. His whole body was shaking. But then his training kicked in. He left all unnecessary thoughts behind, stretched his arms wide to keep balance, and fixed his gaze at the far anchor point sixty steps away. He listened to the rhythm of the falls beneath his feet, and concentrated on his breath. Then he pushed off. Just a single inch of line separated him from the 270m of falls below. Now his muscle memory of walking a line overrode the extreme mental and physical feelings he was experiencing. He felt the raw exposure through his toes. When Arthur had his turn, he, too, felt overwhelmed. But he was grateful also, simply for being there. He acknowledged the
power of the waterfall, the rushing waters, and after likewise concentrating on his breath, walked the line. He graced along it as if engaging in a choreographed dance 270m in the air. It may not have been a Swan Lake classic, but the act of elegant beauty on offer would have been undeniable to even fainthearted onlookers at Wallaman Falls Lookout. Would have been, had they paid attention. Instead, they barely noticed what was happening a few hundred metres from them. For me, however, I was witnessing something so special it still gives me tingles. I was privileged—as the team’s photographer—to be a part of the project, honoured to be in a location so sacred and unique. And the moment after down-climbing to the line, it all hit home how present I had to be in a moment like this. Normally while shooting, you have a camera between you and the moment, which makes it hard to experience things with your normal eyes. I reminded myself to put down the camera and to just enjoy friends walking and having fun on the line. Sometimes in a project you can go from feeling high to plummeting to the depths. This was one of those times; I just didn’t feel I had done it justice with my shots. I felt like I had let down the team down., and as the rain ran down my face and onto my camera, I couldn’t help but cry. It’s such an awful feeling when you feel like you haven’t done your part in the project, mine being documenting the experience. Maybe it was just me being too harsh on myself? But then, after quickly de-rigging—it was a ‘flash project’ where the line would barely have time to breathe—I stood with Ben and Arthur under the falls, getting drenched. I listened to them recount their experiences. We laughed and we smiled. And I realised that this is what a project like this is really about—the people you experience it with. That is the memory I will always have vividly in my mind. That we did it. W
CONTRIBUTOR: Aidan Williams is a professional adventure sports photographer, known for his ability to capture the biggest and most extreme slacklines around the world.
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[ Photo Essay ]
A three month bikepacking trip through the open steppes and barren mountains of three of Central Asia’s ‘Stans—Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan—gave Matt Crompton the opportunity to experience one of our planet’s most soulful landscapes, one where hooves and not wheels were the primary mode of transport. Words & photography Matthew Crompton
The Bartang Valley route is known as the toughest and least predictable way across Tajikistan’s legendary Pamir Mountains. While I got used to crossing countless swollen side streams, which often came to hip level, I was always glad that there were bridges like this spanning the river itself; withot them I’d be swept away in a heartbeat
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he ‘Stans—a region formally known as ‘Central Asia’—is one that most people think about very little, and know about even less. And while most people imagine them to be monolithic, these countries whose names share a common ending can be as different from each other as Bhutan is from Bangladesh. It was partly this cultural mix that drew me, but more than that it was simply the mountains—some of the world’s highest and most spectacular outside of the Himalaya, and empty of the crowds that mobbed better-known alpine destinations like Nepal. Over a two-and-a-half-month span, I cut a meandering clockwise half-circle on my 29+ titanium touring bike through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—exploring peaks and passes, river valleys and meadows, canyons and deserts—until my legs were jellied and my skin tanned deep brown. And though I experienced joy and terror and everything in between there on roads that ran the gamut from jeep track to goat track, it’s the incredible hospitality, generosity and kindness of the people I met that stands out for me the most.
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Bikepacking the ‘Stans
Clockwise from top left My route through Kazakhstan’s southeastern corner started in the spectacular Charyn Canyon, where the sunset light and scenery were so excellent I couldn’t resist setting up the tripod and remote shutter release. In the short summer grazing season, the high mountain pastures of Kazakhstan’s Assy Plateau are dotted with the felt tents of nomads and the thousands of horses they fatten there on the rich grass. Kazakhstan always being full of surprises, I woke one morning after pitching my tent The Assy-Turgen Observatory, high on the isolated Assy Plateau, offered ideal conditions for astronomical research,but fell into disuse after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The most famous of Charyn Canyon’s various canyons is the Valley of Castles. Having camped beside my field of wild cannabis, I was visited in the morning as I made coffee by this plucky local kid, who spotted me from the ridgeline opposite and rode over to say hi. I gave him my phone number as he left and, despite him having no English and me virtually no Russian, he still called a few days later to say hi in an admirable display of audacity.
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Bikepacking the â€˜Stans
Clockwise from left Kyrgyzstan in summer is all about yurt life. This lavishlydecorated yurt stood in the high pastures around Song-Kul Lake. Eyr-Kaeem, daughter of the family of the yurt mentioned above, fetches water from an artesian wellhead. An Islamic tomb below the Moldo-Ashuu Pass. A clear-flowing stream in the Ala-Too Range in northern Kyrgyzstan. A Kyrgyz teenager, with a hat to remind me of home, on muleback in the mountain pastures. Horses grazing at sunset in a dandelion field at Song-Kul. With 20% grades, the climb to Song-Kul via the Tuz-Ashuu PassPass was a killer, but it earned me this campsite.
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Clockwise from top left The Murghab Plateau in eastern Tajikistan could very well be the surface of the moon. Here a lone cyclists transits it on the famed M41 Pamir Highway. Majestic mountain peaks at sunset from a campsite on the Murghab Plateau in Tajik National Park. The scariest moment of my whole trip was the crossing of the very high, very notbikeable Jiptik Pass over the Alai Mountains in far southern Kyrgyzstan. Even here at the top, there were hours more fear ahead. When I finally got down from the Jiptik Pass, these kids on horseback greeted me, very surprised to see a wild-eyed person on a bicycle ride down out of the high mountains into their camp. The sharp descent from the Murghab Plateau into the Bartang River Valley (visible in the background) began here. By the time I reached the river an hour later, my brakes were so hot that they quenched with an audible ssst when I rode through a stream.
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Bikepacking the â€˜Stans
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For 28 days, Anja Fuechtbauer and a motley crew rode rapids, descended canyons and chased pirates on Peru’s threatened Rio Marañón. Words & Photography Anja Fuechtbauer
Finding a campsite was as simple as pulling up on a beach on the side of the river
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“Guys, where is the raft?”
We were roughly halfway into a month-long paddling and canyoning expedition down Peru’s wild and mighty Rio Marañón when we awoke to hear this alarming question. We’d slept heavily that evening. We’d run the crux rapid of the trip the day before, a long grade IV stretch that had my palms sweating and my heart beating, but we’d come out the other side unscathed and overjoyed. In celebration, we cracked open beers that had been brought in by donkey. Whether it was because of the drinking or because of sheer exhaustion, no-one had stirred through the night. And now, roused by that question, we gathered around, deep in this remote gorge, looking at the rope we’d used to secure the raft (along with all our helmets, PFDs and Ben’s camera). One end of the rope was still attached to the tree. And at the other end, to our horror, was nothing more than a frayed cut.
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Rio Marañón, PERU
Puerto Malleta Chagual
BUT LET’S START AT THE START. It had been a long journey already when the rattling bus that was taking us to our put-in point on the Marañón came to an abrupt halt, still hours shy of our destination. We were on the main gravel road crossing the Northern Peruvian Andes, and we woke from our altitude affected half snoozes to find ourselves stopped by a flat tyre. We’d already started to descend into the valley, and after wiping the condensation off the window, I could see the sediment-rich, coffee-coloured Rio Marañón far below us. It looked small from up here, but as it’s the Rio Amazon’s main tributary, I understood this may be a mere illusion created by the landscape’s magnitude. I pulled my gaze away and looked at the faces around me. After months of planning, fifteen of us—a well-ish skilled bunch of random outdoors people, cave dwellers, white-water chasers, and conservation nuts—had made it across the globe to come together for four weeks of adventure kayaking, rafting, and exploring canyons along the Marañón. The river itself flows south to north through the mountain chain, and over the millennia, heavy wet season water flows have gouged out what is known as “The Grand Canyon of the Amazon”. Downstream, the Marañón joins the Ucayali and then makes a slow eastward turn to become the mightiest river in the world: the Amazon. We had come to the Marañón seeking high-walled box canyons and waterfalls. Our journey started in the south in Chagual, a village of 30 houses with skinny chickens scraping at the sandy ground. It was late June, dry season, and even though the river was just a third full, it still had considerable volume. It was a gentle giant, flowing under high cliffs smeared in cacti and desert plants. Besides some exciting grade II-IV rapids, we would have a hell of a lot flatwater each day. Camped on the dusty and cracked riverbed, we set up tarps and shoved food supplies for the first 14 days into zip-lock
Nicole on the first abseil (60m) in lower Muro Poso Canyon
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bags. We worked away deep into the night—accounting for canyoning ropes and bolts, double-checking kitchen gear, testing water filtration systems, and finalising personal drybags. Occasionally, we peeked up to admire the glistening sky. We slept just a couple of hours. Then, calling on expert Tetris skills, everything was stashed into two rafts and six kayaks. Heavily laden, we pushed off. Nothing from the outside world could reach us for a whole glorious month. As only children during their summer holidays can be, we were worry and obligation-free, and the days ahead seemed to stretch out like a huge white canvas waiting to be filled with adventure. “IS THAT IT?” I ASKED. “Yup,” replied Ben, “it sure is.” Sunburnt after three days on the river, he steered our raft onto the beach. The kayakers and our gear raft captain soon joined us in squinting up at the orange sandstone cliff ahead. It was a good hundred metres tall. A black, vertical slot ran from the clifftop two-thirds of the way down the wall; from the slot’s base, the shimmering spray of a waterfall emerged, tumbling straight down the cliff before vanishing behind a low ridgeline. From our Google Earth research, we’d determined this canyon, Muro Poso (Hole in the Wall), was our most promising and most challenging objective—and it was our first. The decision was made to explore the lower canyon first. Then we’d move downriver, walk up the back of the mountain, establish a high-camp, and then find our way down the upper canyon, hopefully finding an exit before the stream exited on the cliff. A scouting team set out to find an entry point into the lower canyon. We—those that stayed on the beach—had radio contact with them, but given the abundant swearing we heard, we could only imagine what awaited us. Around the campfire that night, we found out. “If you trip and fall,” Richard told us, “at least you’ll be stopped by a cactus.” Richard, Matt, Nicole, and Evie took off the next morning with backpacks full of ropes, drills and bolts to attempt the first descent. If they were successful and the canyon was worth it, the whole team would descend Lower Muro Poso. They returned in the afternoon cold and wet, with smiles on their faces and the odd cactus spike in their hands. But it had gone smoothly. Maybe our skills actually measured up to the tasks we’d set ourselves for the next couple of weeks. Not just on paper, but for real. It went smoothly for my group of four, too, when our turn came. Smoothly enough, anyway. We did get lost once or twice getting up there, and I exchanged spiky pleasantries with the local plant life. But after a sweaty climb, we reached a set of hand-lines leading to the first abseil; now we could look up at the glistening blue-black walls and let the welcome cold spray of a tumbling waterfall drift across our faces. Ahead, the coolness of Muro Poso beckoned. The canyon commenced with an impressive 60m abseil straight into a waterfall, soaking us to the bone. Five straightforward 5-25m high abseils followed, between sandstone walls now smooth and
Feeling small on Day Two of our 28-day journey
The notorious afternoon wind howled, sandpapering our eyeballs, and despite the fact we were rafting downriver, we had to struggle with all our might.” orange. But while the low water flow made it easier, the last abseil’s rocky lip saw more than one of us flipped upside down. That wasn’t the painful bit, though. After the descent, the notorious afternoon wind howled, sandpapering our eyeballs, and despite the fact we were rafting downriver, we had to struggle with all our might. Two days later, while one team went exploring the Upper Muro Poso, some of us headed to a nearby village to restock. Locals told us it was only 45 minutes as the donkey trots, but after leaving at 9 am, and after never-ending switchbacks had led us high into the mountains, at midday we still hadn’t arrived. We were close to giving up when we squeezed past a handsized tarantula through a gate into a village perched on the mountainside. We were glad we continued. Unlike villages on the river, this one saw few outside visitors, and we were greeted by a woman with long silver hair, braided in the local fashion underneath her tall hat. She was at least a head shorter than me (and I’m 162cm) and she had gentle dark eyes and a big smile on her face. Shy kids took a break from their studies to say hello; other children trotted by on tall horses with no adult around to claim them. After returning to high camp, the following morning we descended—after getting positive reports from the exploratory team—the Upper Muro Poso. The abseils were longer than the lower section, with several 30m drops and another 60m abseil. Where house-sized boulders had tumbled into the canyon, we walked underneath them, through
Scouting Muro Poso Canyon
imaginatively named features like ‘the birth canal’ or ‘love tunnel’. A highlight, however, came at lunch, when a butterfly landed on Isabel. Its wings were grey and red on the outside; on the inside, black and fluorescent-blue. As it flew off it changed into a pulsating beacon of light, reflecting the sun with every beat of its wings. MORNINGS ON THE RIVER usually started like this: First came the sandflies. Like their New Zealand brethren, they were small. Unlike them, however, they were smart and on venom steroids; their bites had us scratching for days or even weeks. Next came the sun, crawling over the ridgeline into the canyon, hitting our camp while most of us were still curled up in sleeping bags. And last came our favourite morning Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Rio Marañón, PERU Llanten canyon with its scooped out flowy walls dipped in golden ight
Leaving for the rescue mission with the help of locals
Anti-dam graffiti Isabel’s butterfly
The locals were warm-hearted and welcoming
sight besides breakfast: dragonflies. Whole clusters in their hundreds would appear, and, like brilliant little squadrons of fighter jets, they’d race along devouring anything in their way, eating the bugs that had come to eat us. And then we’d start paddling. Rafting down the Marañón was a slow process; each day we shot a handful of rapids, but
Life is tough on the Marañón, but we found happiness and kindness everywhere.”
the hard ones were few and far between. As the river lost altitude, the canyon walls grew less imposing, and more vegetation appeared. We paddled past locals panning for gold, and past others transporting potatoes in their laps while floating down in blown-up tyre tubes. Life is tough on the Marañón, but we found happiness and kindness everywhere. That’s not to say all went smoothly. Within two days our raft flipped, followed by an unpleasant swim in a grade III rapid that shook our confidence. Approaching the long, grade IV crux rapid, our spirits weren’t high. Some of us decided to walk around it, but I scraped my guts off the rafts’ rubber floor and committed to paddling it. After an hour spent scouting the line, I was asked, “Ready?” No, not really, but we went anyway. The recent swim was vivid in my memory. “Well,” I told myself, “the best way to avoid that again is to paddle extra hard.” Waves crashed all around us and several high sides were needed to avoid flipping, but we survived, and broke out those beers to celebrate. The next morning, we were awoken by that question: Where is the raft? Manu’s kayak and gear had also vanished. Our trip, we figured, was over. But we searched anyway, and sent scouts to the nearby village. And when we hailed a riverman in his long, narrow, yellow-blue striped motorboat—with his
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family, chickens, dogs, and parrot all on board. He agreed to help, and took Evie (who had to catch a flight from the next town) and three others with him. Hours passed. Meanwhile, we searched in the shrubs and among the mango trees. Then we heard the tuk-tuk-tuk of a boat’s engine. Coming upriver was our crew plus a stern police officer. The thieves had been found! They were drunk and asleep in a house, having already deflated and half rolled-up our raft, and having tossed the life vests into the jungle. We eventually got all our gear back, bar only a pair of river shoes. THE HALFWAY POINT CAME AND WENT. We picked up provisions, picked up Marcus (who took Evie’s spot) and picked up a bug; the last of these had four of us vomiting for days. We are still grateful to Matt and Tomi (heroes both!) for keeping on digging new trenches for us. But we weren’t the only recipients of kindness. While I was out of action, Richard, Jack, and Taner explored Playa Cura Canyon, and had bivvied on a ridgeline just wide enough for the three of them. But farmers, who’d spotted them hiking from afar, prepared a meal for them. It spoke volumes for the locals’ hospitality. But locals weren’t welcoming everyone. In the villages Mendan and Tupén, we saw signs of protest and opposition to the 20 proposed mega dams on the Marañón. “No a Chadin II” and “Rio Vivo Marañón Sin Represas” were written in bold red lettering on the walls of houses. The dams threaten tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Villages would be flooded. Endemic plant and animal species would vanish. The river would turn into a series of still basins and choke to death, and the local microclimate would change so many crops for food and trade would no longer grow. But the villagers’ voices were being drowned out by the marketing
At Outdoor Research, we know it’s not about summits. It’s not about finish lines or sends, it’s the journey. Achievement is important; it helps keep our drive alive. But these moments are the fleeting exclamation marks on our experiences. We understand that it’s the hardship, the struggle and perseverance that makes us stronger. And we’re here for the FUN and for the journey ahead.
Rio Marañón, PERU
The kayakers walk upstream for an impromptu slalom race at Playa El Inca
This huge cavern would be inundated by the dams. Protect what you love
campaigns of developers, and by the government who said the country needed to be ‘developed’. The Serpiente de Oro— Serpent of Gold—it seemed, would be turned into a serpent of dollars for the benefit of a few. Since then, however, due to the efforts of concerned Peruvians and local indigenous people, and the support of the Marañón Waterkeeper and other environmental NGOs, the dam proposals have expired. It may, however, only be a matter of time until new dams are proposed. But not everything was sombre. The villagers in Mendan invited us to a party (whether it was specifically for us, or whether they were having one anyway, we’ll never know). Whichever, it was great fun. Mountain trout was fried, and impressive dance moves shown. As a thank you for the hospitality, we set off the fireworks we’d gone to great effort to organise as emergency signals in the canyons, but had decided weren’t so safe to use. Well, not in the canyons, anyway. ON OUR LAST DAY, we headed to Cascadas Libres. A waterfall plunged down an orange cliff the shape of an amphitheatre, with a pool at its bottom big enough to swim in. We saw handsized fluorescent blue butterflies, copper coloured snakes, scrabbling bugs and lizards. A place out of this world. On the
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way to Puerto Malleta, our final take-out, we surfed our raft in a hole which sent us flying out in all directions. It felt like the last big hooray of the river. But two days before that, after getting back on the river after Tupén, we pulled up at a beach at Las Cascadas. It was backed by subtropical forest, a shock given we’d only just seen grass for the first time in weeks. This was to be our last exploration base camp. A rafting group we met earlier on the trip was also here and they shared their last ice-cold beers with us. With several rafts you can live in luxury; we however, had been reduced to scraping the mould off cabbages these last few days. In the morning the rafters took us to a cable car and, as luck was with us, we piled into the tray of a local’s truck. Instead of slogging uphill for hours, we sped around corners ducking under branches and enjoying the views of the meandering river below and view of the hills above. The land was lush. The barren, red landscape was now vibrant green. From Lonya Grande, we hired tuk-tuks to take us to Las Cascadas Canyon. Utterly different to the canyons we’d explored thus far, Las Cascadas was wide open, with dry, low-angled slopes and wet slides. Abseils were few, and mostly walked or scrambled or swam—a welcome treat in the heat of the day. We found wild pineapples, too; still green but delicious. A five-metre jump (or abseil) into a deep pool was the day’s biggest challenge, but after some hesitation we all jumped down into the black water and our heads popped up laughing. We sat in the sun, had a second lunch, and let our wrinkled feet dry. I was all too aware it was one of the last days. The end was near, and there were memories that had to be etched— like the mosaic of sandfly scars on my skins—carefully into my mind. We had lost our raft guide several times, had had hummingbirds come to visit camp. We’d suffered dinner failures that made us more grateful for the successes, experienced the Milky Way looming bright over us every night, slept under the twinkling lights of fireflies, and ended up with coconuts coming out of our ears. We’d had the lows and highs of losing then finding our raft. We’d visited places nobody had ever seen before, and we’d truly experienced both untouched natural beauty and unreserved hospitality from humble and generous people. I sat there knowing I would be forever grateful. W CONTRIBUTORS: Anja is a recent MSc graduate in Environmental Management and Policy, and is convinced that experiencing and loving wild places is the first step to caring and protecting them.
[ Reader’s Adventure ]
Dusky Days On what is regarded as perhaps New Zealand’s toughest trek, Lachlan Fox experiences the highs and the lows of the epic Dusky Track. Words & Photography Lachlan Fox
Climbing above Lake Roe Hut
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Dusky Track, NEW ZEALAND
Christchurch Fiordland NP
ut the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Euan. And heard him, too. He was toppling over in a mess of tree roots, and there was an accompanying mumbled grunt of pain. We’d been soaking wet, cold and exhausted for hours, and it had finally caught up with us. A fair case could be made that we had mild hypothermia. And our bodies ached after wading through freezing rivers, clambering over fallen trees and negotiating deep mud for four days. Among the ferns, mud and tree roots, Euan lay grabbing his ankle, tentatively taking his ripped and soggy boot off a heavily-taped and bruised foot. “You good?” I called out. It was a phrase that was becoming all too familiar as we each took turns falling and slipping on the track. “I think it snapped the tape in half,” he said, looking down at a bloodied foot. “But I can probably walk.” In the hope that camp was close, we stumbled down the path—if you could quite call it that—with a limp in our step. We were on the Dusky Track. It’s an epic eight-to-ten-day trek through New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, deep in the South Island’s remote southwest. Revered by hikers—at least by those who want true adventure—it’s often described as New Zealand’s hardest walk. Fewer than 500 hikers attempt the Dusky each year, the hordes put off by its reputation for being wet, muddy and merciless. With an average annual rainfall of seven metres (most of which falls in summer) and frequent flooding, it’s safe to say it earned that reputation fairly. But then again, Euan and I had figured, how bad could eight days in the most beautiful part of New Zealand really be? Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Dusky Track, NEW ZEALAND
The afternoon sun over Lake Roe Hut
Euan crosses a threewire bridge
Scrambling down to Loch Maree Hut
A SERIOUS HIKING TRACK
“Oh, that’s not just some tourist hike,” our cab driver and ex-Milford Sound guide, Josh, told us as we drove from the airport into Queenstown. “That’s a serious hiking track. In the 14 years I’ve been driving here, you’re the first people I’ve
The track consisted of either wet tree roots nestled within deep mud, wet rocks embedded in deep mud, or, in some cases, just deep mud.”
ever driven who are doing the Dusky.” Whisking through the suburbs of Queenstown, he described the track: waist-deep mud, sand-flies, flooding, frequent helicopter rescues. But then he added, “Every person I’ve spoken to about the track has said it’s definitely worth the effort—the views are meant to be just incredible”.
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It was one of the few moments of encouragement we received prior to commencing the Dusky. It’s not sold as a particularly appealing trek; in our research, the scant articles we found mostly documented hikers’ struggles, and the Department of Conservation’s own brochure depicted generic mud and forest photos. In the book we found in the Te Anau Visitors Centre that illustrated beautiful hikes nearby—the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks—all it showed of the Dusky were some newspaper clippings of helicopter rescues. Even getting to the trailhead—a trip in itself—isn’t easy. We spent over an hour in a van, then switched to a 4WD to navigate the next hour and a half, and then had a final trip in a glorified dinghy across New Zealand’s deepest lake, Lake Hauroko. The boat was called Namu. “What’s that mean?” we asked our guide, Sally. “It’s Māori,” she said with a sly grin, “for sand-fly.” We crossed the lake in awe. Waterfalls crashed off rock faces and thundered into the cold, dark water around us. And the whole area seemed prehistoric and remote. And that isolation, and our distance from help, was only reinforced when—as we disembarked from the Namu in the marshes near Hauroko Burn Hut—Sally called out, “I’ll be back in three days if the track gets the better of anyone!” Already, sand-flies were crawling over our legs, and we hadn’t even reached the trailhead. Captain Cook once described the frustrating little critters as ‘the most mischievous animals’. This was gross understatement. Like mosquitoes, only smaller, they pack far meaner bites, bites that itch like crazy. We swatted them away at first, but with thick swarms on our legs, we quickly gave up and resigned ourselves to getting covered in bites.
A river crossing in the Fjordland valley
Thirty metres in, our feet were already soaked from a stream crossing, and we made slow progress on the muddy path. It quickly became apparent that the guidelines’ estimated crawling pace of 4-6 hours of trekking for 10km wasn’t an overestimate. Nothing like your ordinary hiking trail, the track consisted of either wet tree roots nestled within deep mud, wet rocks embedded in deep mud, or, in some cases, just deep mud. Although not scenery you’d deem to be ‘picturesque’ or post-card worthy, the forest’s remote and intensely wild feeling was overwhelming. Overgrown mosses, ferns and streams were in every direction, and we got the impression we were exploring a place few people have ever been. It was hard to imagine the environment here had changed much in the past few hundred years. As we trudged our way through the mud, I heard a loud snap. It was followed by the crashing of a tree Euan had been resting his hand on. It had broken clean in half, falling right at him, skirting his head by inches. “Missed it by that much!” Euan laughed after it had hit the ground with a heavy thud. Unfortunately, Euan was wrong. It hadn’t missed him at all. His leg was gashed and spewing blood. We bandaged the wounds and pushed on, with the sobering thought that we were in a remote forest, miles from civilisation or outside help.
ONE DOWN, 21 TO GO
“What the heck, we’re not actually meant to cross that are we?” Euan muttered, as he looked ahead and saw the track fall away into a river, with three wires strung above the water. With over seven metres of rain a year, the Dusky is surrounded by hundreds of thundering rivers and streams too dangerous to ford. To overcome this, the track includes 21 so-called ‘three-wire bridges’, which are comprised of one cable for walking across and two for holding onto. The crossings are wobbly—usually hovering metres in the air above
fast-moving rivers—and can be downright sketchy when carrying heavy packs on tired legs. Carefully inching our way across the first wire, we mentally prepared ourselves for the 20 more to come. Reaching Halfway Hut at the end of day one, we pulled off our sodden boots and clothes. Our legs were heavy, scraped and bruised. We set ourselves up for the night and contemplated the fact that we had seven days more to come.
DESCENDING ON WOBBLY LEGS
“Bloody hell,” Euan mumbled from his sleeping bag. After scoring two days of perfect weather, our run had come to an inevitable end; now the sound of rain grew on the hut’s roof.
It had broken clean in half, skirting his head by inches. “Missed it by that much!” Euan laughed. Unfortunately, Euan was wrong. It hadn’t missed him at all.”
Eventually finding the energy to get up and get organised, we headed off from Lake Roe climbing the painfully muddy and steep path. We’d spent the previous day climbing out of the mud and above the tree line into the mountains. It was a beautiful bluebird day, so good we’d even decided to drop our packs at the hut and clamber up further to explore Lake Roe, where small ponds and lakes dotted the immense landscape. Now it was time to climb more—before descending right back into the mud. Twenty metres in, we were soaked from the rain, slipping upwards over what was essentially a combination of mudslides and greasy tussock grass. Beyond this, however, the trail became relatively flat between Lakes Horizon and Ursula. And the 360-degree views of the surrounding Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
The open mudflats at Supper Cove
stopped dead. He was cramping. The wire swayed ferociously. And he was convinced he was going to come off. Eventually he recomposed himself and made it to the other side.
WET AND EXHAUSTED
From Loch Maree Hut, hikers have two options: Complete a two-day optional side-trip to Supper Cove; or push on to Kintail Hut, shortening the track to six days. The trail to Supper Cove partly follows a track cut by 50 miners in 1903, who lived in tent camps and suffered the brunt of sand flies. Some of their tools still sit trackside; the sheer weight of them makes their work seem all the more punishing. Climbing from Kintail to Upper Spey hut
mountains, lakes and valleys were breathtaking; we struggled to keep our eyes on the path as we took it all in. The descent to the valley hurt. Dropping more than 700m in just over two kilometres, we scrambled down tree roots and rocky faces, often turning around to face into the track and down-climbing on all fours. At times, where the track almost vertical, chains had been installed; we clung to them for dear life as we lowered ourselves down near-cliffs. Overhead, we could hear the musical sounds of the endangered kaka, huge native parrots. Reaching the valley floor on jellied legs, we celebrated our safe trip. And then we looked up. Ahead was the longest, highest and wobbliest three wire crossing yet. “I dunno if my legs have this in them,” I said to Euan, trying not to picture a scenario where my lower half gave way, sending me into the river. As it turned out, I barely hung on. But it was worse for Euan. I watched him come after me, but then, halfway across, he
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We yelled and danced like idiots, forgetting entirely about the pain, cold and exhaustion we’d endured to get here.”
Of the seven of us on the trail, four—ourselves, and Joe and Vida, a pair of Kiwi hikers—opted to struggle through an extra two days’ torment; the other three pressed on. Despite the heavy rain, it was surprisingly humid and warm, and our rain jackets were sweaty and hot. “Screw this,” Euan said. He ripped off his jacket and began hiking in just a T-shirt. I joined him, making the regretful decision to embrace the cool rain. As the stream levels rose in the rain, we pressed on, soaked completely. We struggled through ice-cold river crossings thigh depth or more, and inched our way over countless wire bridges. Fatigue set in. We verged on hypothermia, too. Meanwhile, the track itself was some of the most challenging we’d encounter, comprised solely of almost vertical, wet rocks covered in slippery algae. It was here that Euan had slipped, rolling his ankle in the mud. We stumbled into camp exhausted, sore and sodden, desperate to dry off.
Dusky Track, NEW ZEALAND In the hut, we found a fishing line and hooks. Given the hut was actually called Supper Cove Hut, we went to the water to see if we could catch some dinner. We couldn’t. But the fishing was worth it, anyway, because what we did catch, briefly, was a metre-long shark. We yelled and danced like idiots, forgetting entirely about the pain, cold and exhaustion we’d endured to get here. And then the shark bit the hook and line clean off, and swam away.
RETRACING OUR STEPS
A kea call rang out through the air, and then one landed just metres from where we sat. Keas are perhaps the world most intelligent bird, surpassing even primates such as gibbons on some intelligence testing. They’re also extremely curious and playful, often stealing from unsuspecting hikers. Knowing this, we waved around our coloured drink bottles and made noises to grab its attention. It hopped over to investigate. For the next half an hour, we were almost within touching distance of the stunning bird, of which fewer than 5000 are left in the wild. Although hikes such as the Milford Track frequently get curious kea investigating huts and hikers, many of them are accustomed to seeing hundreds of people per day. A kea here, however, would only see that many people in a year. To come across a truly wild bird like this was nothing short of spectacular. And when we eventually left to head down from Centre Pass, we looked up to see not one but six keas circling above, dancing through the mountains and clouds.
The directions didn’t seem quite right. Although we’d hiked here at high tide, at low tide—at least according to some roughly sketched map back in the hut—there’s a short-cut across the mudflats. It takes hours off the trip, supposedly. Now we were here, though, I had my doubts. The water, the map had said, was ‘ankle-deep’ at low tide. It was low tide now, and in every direction, water went above our waists. We were here with Joe and Vida—we’d decided our best chance to find the way across BACK TO REALITY was to do so as a team. But after wading in With our minds set on decent food and a hot every possible direction for the next hour, The curious kea shower, we left Upper Spey Hut in high spirits. and finding the water crept up to our stomWe trekked through misty forest and emerald achs, our spirits sank; we were going to have to return and beech trees, and then arrived at the last of the track markrepeat the tough high route. Deflated, we retraced our steps, ers and the concluding sign. Surprised we’d made it through stumbling over tree roots for the next half an hour. Then Joe (mostly) unscathed, we yelled and celebrated, momentarily saw it. “I think,” he yelled, “there’s an opening to the mudflats ignoring the fact we still had a three-kilometre walk along down there!” We bush bashed down to the water’s edge, where the road to the boat that would take us back to civilisation. we saw clear mudflats lit up in gold by the rising sun. It was a Boarding the boat, the crew had no trouble distinguishing us, moment of pure joy. We strode across the flats, laughing at how “the two trampers”, from the other well-kept travellers; our much faster and easier it was compared to the high tide path. legs were covered in mud, sand-fly bites and open cuts. “You must be keen for a shower!” they said not so subtly. ALONE ON THE TRACK Cruising through the cold waters of the Fiordlands, it was The section from Kintail to Upper Spey Hut had always stood hard not to think about the everyday luxuries we’d missed on out as particularly tough. It climbs and descends 600-700 the trail. But after eight days in total wilderness, the idea of vertical metres in just seven kilometres—a brutal walk on returning to the hustle and bustle of everyday life was also a tired legs. Despite this, it’s often singled out as the entire touch hard to stomach. Either way, the Dusky had been a bathike’s most spectacular day. The views across Centre Pass tle—both physically and mentally. A hike of epic proportions, are almost unimaginably beautiful, with the lush valley overwith overwhelming lows and highs, it seems fair to call it New shadowed by endless misty peaks. Zealand’s toughest. W Euan and I hauled ourselves up on tree roots and rock holds, feeling more like climbers than hikers. Our entire bodCONTRIBUTOR: Lachie is a science student whose parents dragged ies ached as we reached the peak. We set down for lunch and him around hiking as a kid. Now, his older brother drags him around began mentally preparing for the descent. hiking, while he takes photos and writes.
FOOTS T E P S A group of Aussie and Kiwi adventurers set out to recreate history by traversing Greenland’s icecap on skis, only to find that—after being hammered by foul weather and then running low on food—they have a gut-wrenching decision to make. Words Keith Parsons Photography Keith Parsons & Bengt Rotmo
or anyone in need of good calorific fare, (if you, for example, like us, are about to traverse Greenland’s icecap on skis), the Pilersuisoq supermarket in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, has what you need: Musk ox burgers. Whale steaks. Baby milk formula. Frozen meats. Dried fish. Chocolate. It’s all there, as we discover, all manner of tempting tidbits, and our Gore-Tex clad group wanders the aisles, bantering away about the relative caloric merits of whale vs ox in a poor attempt to mask our all-too-obvious nerves. The attendant, an Inuit, eyes us off from behind the store’s lone till. Amused by our child-like chit-chat, it’s unlikely we’re the first adventurous group he’s sized up. Kangerlussuaq, population 499, lies within the Arctic Circle, at the end of a 190km-fjord, and exists mainly for its airport, Greenland’s largest. It’s a well-trodden gateway for expeditions on the icecap and around Greenland’s western fjords. Although it’s May—spring in these parts—the fjord is still frozen solid from the winter. For a group from the southern hemisphere, however, it feels as though winter never left. The wind is swirling and picking up spindrift, smacking it against our fresh-offthe-plane faces, and the temperature hovers around minus 15. “I think I’ll grab an ice cream,” yells Brando ‘Wildboy’ Yelavich, the group’s resident joker. “Who wants one?” His gag is met with laughter, though he probably means it. Diagnosed with ADHD in his youth, and now a full-time adventurer, Brando—the youngest team member—brings a permanently switched on, overcharged boyishness. As the resident introvert, and soon to be month-long-tent-mate of Brando, I’m perhaps the most interested in how this will play out over the next 27 days. Our team consists of an unconventional group of Kiwis and Australians. Besides Brando and myself, there’s Nigel Watson (Director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust), Kiwi Hollie Woodhouse, and fellow Australian Bridget Kruger. And then there’s Norwegian Bengt Rotmo. A seasoned polar guide, Bengt has spent almost a year of his life guiding on the icecap, and has agreed to lead us across it. We are not merely crossing it, however. Under the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s banner, we’re here to honour the legacy of Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen.
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Icecap Traverse, GREENLAND
hackleton. Scott. Amundsen. Mawson. They are the names synonymous with the heroic age of polar exploration. Yet the era truly began two decades before the South Pole was reached, ignited by the lesser-known Fridtjof Nansen when, in 1888, at only 26 years of age, he decided to traverse Greenland’s still-unexplored interior. There’d been earlier attempts at exploration. In the decade prior, two missions had set out from the Danish colonies on Greenland’s western coast—each made it less than 150kms onto the ice before retreating. Nansen proposed crossing in the opposite direction: East to west. Heading from the unexplored eastern side towards the colonies, he reasoned that having only one way to go—forward—would ultimately achieve success. That wasn’t all that Nansen did differently. Unlike previous attempts, he used skis rather than dog sleds. And importantly, unlike most expeditions at the time, Nansen did not have the backing of a well-known benefactor or prestigious body, like London’s Royal Geographical Society; this allowed Nansen space to innovate. He borrowed heavily from the Sammi people of northern Norway. He chose reindeer skins for clothes and stuffed Senna grass in the expeditioners’ shoes to ward off frostbite. Their choice of food was crude, but calorie-dense. Pemmican (made from lean game meats, grease and berries) was the staple, and it was supplemented by whatever the party of skilful hunters could down from the sky. As close as it gets to specific training under the Australian sun
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To commence the crossing, Nansen and his party of five hitched a ride aboard a sealing ship to Greenland’s eastern coast. After battling ice flows and currents for a month—a epic in itself, as Nansen et al drifted up to 200km south before rowing back north—the expedition made it onto to land near Umivik Bay, where they began their traverse of the icecap. Forty-nine days after setting off, despite -45°C temperatures and despite being pinned down for days by raging winds, the team successfully reached the west coast. Notoriety and funding for future endeavours awaited Nansen. In hindsight, their undertaking was beyond audacious—it was reckless, especially when plotted on a timeline of the great polar journeys. Yet it revealed a formula for success at the extreme ends of the earth, and was a triumph that lit a beacon for others to follow. One hundred and thirty years later, that beacon would be followed by us as we set off to re-attempt his crossing, albeit—because of logistics—in reverse. “SO, HERE ARE YOUR SHELLS,” says Bengt Rotmo. “If we’re charged by a bear, I’ll need these.” We’re at dinner in Kangerlussuaq, stuffing down pizza in a desperate attempt to put a few final calories in, when Bengt tosses two shotgun cartridges over the table. We all exchange anxious looks. Raised in the city, I’ve never handled a shotgun shell or been around guns much. The shells’ plastic texture feels toy-like. Between the training, planning and packing, there wasn’t a lot of time to think about bears. Back in Australia, where a spider bite is more likely than anything, the thought of a 450kg hulk of muscle ripping through your thin nylon tent in the middle of the night is difficult to imagine. But here in Kangerlussuaq—as we drift off to sleep in one last night of comfort—it’s a very real thought. The next day—our stay in Kangerlussuaq is brief; with just a four-week window to complete the 560-kilometre crossing, we need to get onto the ice—Bengt gives the warcry of “Mot Isortoq” (Towards Isortoq) to set us underway. Three days of pulling, pushing, lifting, carrying and hauling later, we reach the icecap proper. We’ve taken a zigzagging route, forced to dodge a 20km web of crevasses to get here. And these early days have, at least for most of team, brought with them a series of rude shocks: thin powdery snow that our skis cut through to find slick blue glacial ice, usually resulting in hard falls; sleds (some weighing 75kg) that feel like immovable anchors up the smallest of rises; and frigid conditions that mean any exposed skin risks frostbite. And we have only just begun. Camped on the ice, Brando and I sit in our small tent, listening to the hiss of the stove as it melts another chunk of ice down to drinkable water. From their nearby tents, Hollie and Nigel let out violent dry coughs, a lurgy they’d picked up on the flight over. And then I hear Bengt getting weather updates in Norwegian via sat phone. They’re talking wind speed forecasts—I speak a little Norwegian myself—when I hear
The team is dwarfed by the scale of the icecap
Some days, with thick snow and wind pounding us headon from the east, I’m unable to see even a few metres ahead....it’s like being inside a ping pong ball that you can’t escape—white on all sides.
“…tretti meter i sekundet” (108 kilometres an hour). Before having time to process this, Brando brings me back. “Oi, how lucky are we to be out here on the Greenland ice cap.” His constant enthusiasm is both infectious and tiring. As sleep starts to take over, I find it easier to simply nod and reply, “How lucky are we indeed mate.” My dreams rise quickly and are filled with visions of two skis slicing forward and back across a vast and endless icecap. As we push further inland the days take on a familiar rhythm. Life’s stresses are replaced by the simple routines of adventure: ski, eat, sleep and repeat. With the icefall behind us, we find ourselves on long gentle hills, giving the sensation of being chained to a treadmill. The monotony of the white expanse begins to play on our minds. All perception of distance is lost with nothing on the horizon to gauge from. Some days there isn’t a horizon at all; white-outs replace the blue skies. At one point I look over to see Bridget stumble, falling onto the ice. An earlier dog sledding accident resulted in Bridget suffering a severe head injury and this trip was always going to push her limits. I feel similar at times. Some days, with thick snow and wind pounding us head-on from the east, I’m unable to see even a few metres ahead. The overall sensation is hard to describe to those who haven’t experienced it. Perhaps others who’ve crossed the icecap have said it best: it’s like being inside a ping pong ball that you can’t escape—white on all sides.
Each sled initially weighed around 70kg
However, that only describes the whiteouts. The sunny days are equally unique, as the sun doesn’t follow a linear trail. At this latitude, it moves on an elliptical path, only grazing the horizon for a brief moment after midnight. It throws light rays down at odd angles creating shadows, tones and moods unique to the polar region. And there isn’t simply a dawn and dusk to bookend each day. These nuances become a topic of their own, passing hours of conversation down the line. Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
As the wind begins to rise, Brando builds storm defences
IT IS DURING AN OTHERWISE CASUAL lunch break that Bengt delivers news of an impending storm. Looking up from his bowl of noodles—as though he’s just remembered something he should discuss—he tells us of a front moving fast out of Canada, bringing with it potential gusts of over 130km/hr. My Norwegian was accurate after all. Greenland is known for its distinctive winds. Notably, the meeting of two weather systems on the ice cap, one out of the North Atlantic and the other out of Canada, creates a unique condition suitable for the formation of a ‘piteraq’ (Inuit for “wind that attacks you”). It is a cold, katabatic, tornado-like wind, and Tasiilaq, a town on Greenland’s eastern coast once recorded a piteraq reaching 325km/h. Aware that lives had been lost at the hands of Greenland’s infamous winds, and aware of the stories of expeditions that have gone wrong on the ice cap, a thick mood of anxiety creeps over the team. “So, what happens if we’re stuck out here?” asks Brando. “We go into the tents,” replies Bengt calmly. “Has anyone ever died out here?” Brando probes further. “Well, not with me,” ends Bengt, before quickly turning the conversation to another tale. The following afternoon we halt the skiing and begin constructing defences—walls of ice. Late into the night, exhausted from digging into solid snow and ice for hours, we bunker down with the winds already rising outside. Despite the storm only just starting, and despite using double tent poles, the tent is listing heavily. Brando sleeps alongside the edge to prop it up. Meanwhile, I scoop fine snow out of the tent, trying to stop the walls from closing in. Soon the wind is gusting over 130km/hr. Despite being only meters from the other tents, it’s impossible to contact the others. The roar of the wind, violent and unrelenting, overpowers our voices. We are alone. When an almighty whooshing sound smacks the front of our tent, Brando and I open the zip to look at the vestibule;
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instead, we find ourselves looking straight out onto the icecap. The down-wind front half of our tent is loose, ripping around in the wind. Brando—half-dressed and risking serious frostbite or worse—leaps out into the storm. I grab at edges of the tent, anchoring it to the ground, while Brando piles on snow. Looking out at him fighting the wind, I’m both stunned and impressed by his brazen act. For 36 hours, in an experience we’ll never forget, we are bombarded by wind, ice and driving snow. At the mercy of the elements, the ice sheet holds our lives in its grip. As the wind tops out at 136kms/hr and its gusts rage on, I find my thoughts shifting from the situation outside to a distinct feeling of calmness inside. Eventually, the wind dies down, releasing us from its grip. Emerging from our tents into the sunshine, the storm’s scars are obvious. Metres of snow has piled against our defences and surrounded the tents, and sastrugi—great wave-like ridges of it—extends across the ice in all directions. MOVING AGAIN, IT FEELS GREAT, and we’re now treated to some of the trip’s best skiing—backdropped by an intensely orange sunset. Along the line, we discuss the storm’s events in detail, and there’s agreement that we’d found what we’d come here to test: our limits. Our real lives feel so far away. We spot the odd commercial jet 35,000 feet above, and we greet them with the same line: “I’ll have the chicken thanks.” The only other reminder of life outside comes at the halfway point, and it reveals an eerie glimpse into a world of secrets and fear, a world where the threat of nuclear war was always in the background: DYE-2, an abandoned American Cold War-era radar station. At five stories tall, plus a giant radar dome on top, its scale would be huge were it not the only thing around to gauge from. Instead, its gargantuan steel frame sits atop the icecap like a candle on a birthday cake.
Icecap Traverse, GREENLAND DYE-2’s radar dome doubles as an excellent a cappella venue
Weighing up options as food and gas reserves dwindle
DYE-2, a Cold War radar station, is the only structure seen for four weeks
Abandoned in 1988, the station itself is trashed inside. Glimpses of life, however, are still evident: food is frozen to galley shelves; Fortune magazines from the mid-’80s lie scattered; even some early PCs are strewn among the mess. Brando takes the opportunity to belt out a rendition of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life. The echoes fill the dome, and bring laughs all round. Later, standing outside on the dome’s balcony, 50m off the ground, I find the scale of the ice still incomprehensible. At roughly 1.7 million km2, were it all to melt, global sea levels would rise by 7.2m. Primed by newsreel footage, I’d prepared myself for visible signs of melting. Insignificance, however,
Our predicament becomes obvious. The equation is no longer how many kilometres extra each day it will take to complete the traverse, but whether we will have enough food to do it at all.”
is the only thing I’m left feeling. And although DYE-2 marks a milestone on the crossing, it’s one we’re happy to leave behind. With some 300+kms still to ski, time is quickly running out. And adding to our anxiety, there’s snow on the way. “I LOVE POWDER, BUT NOT LIKE THIS,” says Nigel. It hasn’t taken long for the snow to begin falling, and while fresh powder is normally a skier’s dream, here on the flat icecap, it’s the worst thing imaginable. After a three-week diet of dehydrated food, hauling 70kg sleds through knee-deep powder for a day is a tough ask; doing it for a week, near impossible. The team’s mood sours. And as the clouds roll in later in the day, it gets worse. The snow begins melting, turning to a quicksand-like texture.
Brando confirms it’s cold: -39 degrees
At one point, I lift my skis to find 30-40cm of snow stuck underneath. It’s like I’m standing on stilts. With our progress slowed to a crawl, we respond by pushing our days out to 14 hours of skiing to make up the kilometres. We’re also forced into sharing duties breaking trail. Navigating in often zero visibility, while also cutting a track in knee-deep snow, is exhausting, and with Hollie, Nigel and Bridget all suffering from chest infections Brando, Bengt and myself do double shifts. It leaves us beat, especially knowing we have to rise and do it all again a few hours later. Our predicament becomes obvious. The equation is no longer how many kilometres extra each day it will take to complete the traverse, but whether we will have enough food to do it at all. Our planned 27-day trip is already on track for 29 days, and that’s relying on a change in the weather. A chat we all know is coming materialises over lunch: Is finishing a realistic goal anymore? Going around the circle—the six of us huddled in a three-person tent—it’s clear there’s a will to finish, although the idea of being helicoptered off is briefly raised. But one does not simply call in a chopper in Greenland. In the whole country, there is just one helicopter with the range to reach anywhere on the entire icecap, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars (and as we would later find out, it was busy rescuing other teams attempting the crossing). The mind is the greatest barrier to endurance. When fed the seeds of an exit strategy, it will justify a path towards that outcome. From the tent meeting, it’s clear that, for some, doubt has already set in; the path of justification is already being trodden. But a frank discussion gives us fresh energy, and a redetermined push for the east coast is launched. We’ve come to Greenland to see this through; we may as well get as far as our food allows. In a matter of days, things begin improving. For the first time in three and a half weeks, we feel a tailwind. Then terrain Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Icecap Traverse, GREENLAND Travelling through the night on our final push
Compare Brando’s eyewear versus Nansen’s (right), which was essentially a pair of slitted masks
Above left: Nansen’s Box Brownie camera was only released in 1888. This image: Nansen’s Oslo home ‘Polhøgda’ has been untouched since his death in 1930.
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Brando lies face down, exhausted after a pushing through knee-deep snow
We’re within reach of the coast, but now down to our last supplies; covering the remaining 63km over a few days will leave us exposed without food.”
finally begins sloping down. Soon, faint outlines of nunataks (mountains poking through the ice) emerge on the horizon— the first signs of the coast. Then comes further motivation: A flock of sea birds fly past. Our goal feels reachable once more. But an ordeal ensues one morning when Brando sees a polar bear on the horizon. It is perched on an ice ridge maybe two kilometres away, not moving. We inch closer. But then Brando’s bear is revealed to be nothing but a bear-shaped lump of ice; we remind him of it for the rest of the morning. ON THE 27TH NIGHT, WE COME together over dinner to discuss our plan. We’re within reach of the coast, but now down to our last supplies; covering the remaining 63km over a few days will leave us exposed without food. The decision is made: We will go for it, in one epic final push. The following morning, we strap on our skis one last time. With the sun warming our faces, we push ahead, and despite our little food, and despite steep chutes and melting ice to contend with, we cover the 63km in 23 hours. Realising we’ve accomplished what we’d set out to—crossing an icecap so vast that only the Antarctic continent rivals it for size—a wave of emotion pours over us. There are tears and hugs all around. A chopper picks us up and flies us to Tasiilaq, population 2000, the east coast’s only major town. Our time on the ice
is over. With it comes the return to the realities of our regular lives. Sitting at breakfast the next day, eyeing off the self-serve cereal as though it’s the height of luxury, I steal glances of each team member feeling their protruding ribs underneath their now loose t-shirts. The crossing has left its mark on us all. But these imprints aren’t all physical. Beyond the symbolic meaning of following in the footsteps of Nansen—who, incidentally, gave up exploring in his early thirties and later excelled in other fields, eventually winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work—it’s the shared experience and exposure to true wilderness that stays with me off the ice. Our adventure let some on our team find their limits, others to find the space to work through the thoughts occupying their heads. The Arctic has a way of stripping you bare. It also rebuilds you more completely. W CONTRIBUTOR: Melbourne-based creative producer Keith Parsons uses his outdoor adventures as a cover for his ice-cream addiction. Hugs of joy as we reache the east coast and solid ground
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PARADISE Fraser Island sees perhaps half a million visitors annually, but Alexis Buxton-Collins decided to join the barely more than one-tenth of one percent of them that experience the joys of the week-long K’Gari Great Walk.
Words & photography Alexis Buxton-Collins
t’s gone up to three now”, Laura says, doing an excellent impression of the world’s least enthusiastic auctioneer. She’s giving me the weather forecast while we pack for a six-day hike on Fraser Island, and in an hour it’s gone from one mm of rain to three. Soon her phone will update the prognosis to five mills. Then ten. The groans grow louder. Laura is a far more accomplished hiker than me, and no stranger to adverse conditions. She’s a lean, determined woman who walked the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail. Her book Bewildered tells the story of that 3000km journey and the challenges she encountered along the way, but this trip was supposed to be a pleasant escape from winter in the southern states. She planned to do the hike last year, but it was closed due to fire danger and neither of us was anticipating a rain-soaked trip. Perhaps the fact that it’s the only place in the world where a rainforest grows from sand should have given us a hint. On the plus side, at least the track won’t turn to mud.
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Kâ€™Gari Great Walk, QLD Making a line in the sand at Lake Boomanjin
Fraser Island Brisbane
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
K’Gari Great Walk, QLD Rainforest near Wanggoolba Creek
Dingo safety is taken seriously on Fraser Island
The Valley of the Giants is well named
We weren’t the only ones making tracks
A short ferry ride takes us across the sheltered Sandy Strait, and then we’re off. We make excellent time, covering almost 25km in the first hour as a local named Steve drives us along the deeply rutted former logging tracks that crisscross the island’s interior on the way to its eastern edge. He’s taking us to start of the 90km K’Gari Great Walk, a track that carries the Butchulla name for the island. K’Gari (it sounds
We encounter perfectly circular pools bordered by wide ribbons of brilliant white sand, and broad, irregular lakes full of water so blue I actually gasp when I see them.”
like “gurry”) means “paradise” in the language of the traditional owners, and we’ve got almost a week to discover how it earned that name. After crossing a creek on a boardwalk the trail heads inland, following broad swales between sand dunes where the woodland is so thick that direct sun barely penetrates. Our path, which is hard-packed and easy to walk on, is covered in a bed of dead vegetation. Long, serrated banksia leaves lie next to the litter of scribbly gums extravagantly graffitied by tunnelling moth larvae. Dry brown pine needles dampen the sound of our footfalls so all we can hear is an occasional whistling from the treetops and a kookaburra sounding a lunch call as we approach Lake Boomanjin, a large circular pool so full of tannins that it looks like tea steeped too long. This is our first taste of Fraser Island’s famous lakes, and it contrasts vividly with brilliant white sand as fine as sugar. It’s a scene so lovely that even the track notes wax poetic, describing “honey-coloured streams” flowing across the soft sand between clumps of reed. It would be a lovely place to spend the night, but at just 6.3 km into the walk, it makes a better lunch stop. Besides, the next stop is also by a lake (and the next, and the next) so there’s no pressure to stay. There are seven campsites along the trail, but some are only six kilometres apart so we’ve chosen to combine several sections and do it over five nights. During the next few days,
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
we’ll encounter perfectly circular pools bordered by wide ribbons of brilliant white sand, and broad, irregular lakes full of water so blue I actually gasp when I see them. Many of them are ‘perched lakes’, so called because they sit above the water table and have no rivers draining into them. They’re fed only by rain, and the water is so pure I can make out individual leaves on the bottom at depths of up to ten metres. The fact they need rain to replenish them means I’m a little more sanguine about the forecast, but the expected drenching never eventuates. Instead, fat drops ping off my fly each night, and each morning the forest seems as refreshed by the rain as we’re by sleep. Greenery glistens in the morning sun, particularly the abundant foxtail sedge that looks like it belongs in a Christmas shop. The needles filling each springy branch are such a ludicrously bright shade of green that they shine like plastic in the sun. As we get further from the coast and climb up to the wetter central dunes, palm lilies and kauri pines draped in vines join the woodland species. Fallen trees on the forest floor also become steadily greener until each one has a glistening emerald cover of moss, robbing me of seats when we stop for water breaks. But Laura is entranced, stopping to touch every different type of moss she sees. And there are a lot. Fortunately, the days are short (even after combining some sections the longest leg is 16.2 km) and we’re in no rush. When we pause, the treetops sway gently in the wind while closer to ground level small birds whistle and chatter. It feels as if they’re telling us that we have the entire island to ourselves. Fallen trees and a small forest of gums sprouting up in the middle of the path confirm that not many people visit this section of the island. Only 3,242 camper nights were booked on the Great Walk last year. Assuming that many of those hikers skipped a few campsites as we did, and that many of those campers weren’t even doing the Great Walk, it means that, out of Fraser’s half a million annual visitors, just a few hundred people completed the track. It’s with a shock, then, that we emerge from the forest at Central Station. A bewildering profusion of sandy 4WD tracks radiate out alongside smaller spokes leading to day use areas, parking bays and old loggers’ huts. It’s a far cry from the Great Walk, which is so well-marked that we only pull the map out
There’s a lake in every direction
to read the lyrical track notes. Once we get our bearings and locate the boardwalk that follows Wanggoolba Creek as it trickles between broad fronds of piccadeen palms and vines loping down from the canopy, a greater shock follows: people. We meet three groups of walkers in just minutes, but that’s only a taste of what’s to come. At our second campsite—tucked into bushland thick with creamy white flowers and bright purple flags—a meandering path leads past 20-odd sites tucked into the vegetation. They’re all fenced off to protect us from dingoes (and them from us), but we never see more than a footprint. The tourists at Fraser Island’s most popular spot, however, are not so shy; we hear the crowds of day-trippers shouting and laughing long before we see them. To be fair, Lake Mackenzie is a spot worth getting excited about; the tiered blue waters change slowly from pale blue to turquoise to navy, accentuated by the beach’s white sand and overlooked by paperbarks sprouting pale yellow bottlebrush flowers. But while it’s possible the people at the lake when we arrive outnumber those tackling the Great Walk each year, we watch as they slink back to the carpark to board giant 4WD
The mountains creak. Shoulder your Cerro Torre Breathe in. Buckle up. Zip, clip, adjust. Listen for the horizon Silence beckons you forward. Brace yourself. This is The Carry Moment™ Breathe out, and go.
While my beauty regimen involves a quick swim and roll around in the fine sand, she uses a loofah mitt and massage bar to clean up each evening. It’s a system I decide I’ll have to adopt.”
buses that plunge into the forest with a loud bellow. By 4:30 there’s nobody left but us. The campsites are exclusively for hikers, and because there are no other groups on the trail, we have exclusive rights to one of Australia’s most picturesque locations. With no compelling reason to drag myself away from the scene, I stay until it’s dark and by the time I get back to camp Laura is already asleep. As a seasoned solo hiker, she has her routine down pat: During the day her strides are long and purposeful and her pack is perfectly organised, in stark contrast to mine. Her hair stays plaited in tight pigtails all hike long to keep it manageable. And while my beauty regimen involves a quick
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K’Gari Great Walk, QLD Native orchid
Laura never found a piece of moss she didn’t want to touch
Still smiling at trip’s end
swim and roll around in the fine sand, she uses a loofah mitt and massage bar to clean up and wind down each evening. It’s a system that leaves her so relaxed I decide I’ll have to adopt it on my next hike. Along with the lakes, Fraser Island’s defining features are rainforest and sand, which collide regularly when finger-shaped sandblows creep into the island’s interior. Inching forward and burying everything in their path over thousands of years, they continue until they lose impetus and are recolonised by vegetation. Several lie close to the track, and small detours lead us to steep walls of yellow, the colour (and almost consistency) of cornflour. Climbing these soft slopes poses by far the hike’s greatest challenge. Fine grains slip away beneath our feet and into our boots, and though it’s only 30m or so, Laura has to get on all fours when we climb Badjala Sandblow. By the time we reach the top, we’re both thoroughly out of breath. Fortunately, it’s worth the effort. The reward is a superlative view over a concave parabola of cascading sand dunes leading to a sea flecked with whitecaps. A few lifeless pillars show the fate of any trees caught in the sand’s path, and as clouds pass overhead and cast shadows on some of the dunes the scene resembles an abstract expressionist canvas. Back on the main trail, undulating dunes roll up and down the spine of the island until a broad valley opens on our left. “I think we’re going,” I say before pausing dramatically, “into the Valley of the Giants” and Laura obliges with an ominous “dun dun dunnnn”. It’s a long descent into the valley, and it gets wetter the lower we go. Upturned leaves and hollows hold pools of water and the path itself grows darker until the mounds of loamy soil thrown up by ants and burrowing marsupials resemble coffee grounds.
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
We soon became experts in identifying the satinay tree
Over five nights, the Valley of the Giants is our only campsite with no lake, but I’m happy to forego an afternoon swim as I walk past giant satinays swaddled in vines that are eight metres around and 40m tall. They stand like sentinels looking over the forest. Buttressed trunks of deeply furrowed bark shoot directly upwards before casting out a crown of branches, and they’re so old that they literally rise above the forest floor; gnarled roots like claws greedily hold onto hard-packed sand long after the topography around them has shifted and the floor has dropped. But in this awe-inspiring place they’re barely middle-aged. The titular giants after which the valley is so evocatively named are two of the largest trees on the island, veritable Methuselahs more than one thousand years old. One—a survivor bearing a giant scar along its length from an ancient
Snake,” she says simply. I look past her; there’s a two-metre long beauty sunbathing in the middle of our path.”
lightning strike—is a massive tallowwood that measures 11.5 metres around; it fills me with a sense of awe. Unfortunately, some of the valley’s more diminutive residents also demand my attention, and soon the persistent mosquitoes persuade me it’s time to return to camp. Fraser Island’s microclimates are largely defined by the distance from the coast, and the central part of the island is the wettest. That made it (slightly) less accessible to loggers and allowed these ancient behemoths to prosper. So when we cross an invisible line and emerge into more open woodland, it’s a sign that the hike is slowly drawing to a close. Soon we
An unexpected encounter Lake Mackenzie, minus the busloads of tourists
return to the open woodland of the first day, where scribbly gum and banksia stand next to blackbutts that slowly denude themselves as they grow. Strips of shed bark are piled in mounds around their bases under smooth, white branches stretching skyward. Further up, the forecast clouds have entirely disappeared from a bright blue sky and as the vegetation grows sparser I find myself contemplating whether I should apply sunscreen. I’m just about to ask Laura to stop when she turns around so quickly she almost bumps into me. It’s clear she’s not thinking about sunscreen. “Snake,” she says simply. I look past her; there’s a two-metre-long beauty sunbathing in the middle of our path. A quick ID confirms we don’t need to worry about this carpet python. It’s certainly not worried about us; we almost have to walk over the languid reptile to get past it because it’s as pleased as we are about the cloudless skies. Then the last stretch of our hike leads to the appropriately named Happy Valley, but what promises to be a triumphant stroll doesn’t quite eventuate. The track notes promise a descent for several kilometres to the seaside town; instead we find ourselves slogging up and down dunes just tall enough to be annoying. I’m soon perspiring freely as the sun grows hotter and the roar of the surf on 75 Mile Beach grows louder, and I decide that I’ve earned myself an ice cream and a quick swim before transferring to the Kingfisher Bay Resort to spend a few days. I don’t even need to check the forecast to know that tomorrow’s going to be another perfect day in paradise. W CONTRIBUTOR: Adelaide-based Alexis Buxton-Collins picked up his first Aiking pack at the age of 13 and he’s been unable to avoid hiking or terrible puns ever since.
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The sunset from atop D Minor Pinnacle, overlooking Bard Buttress
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
[ Destination ]
ARAPILES Mecca, Shangri-La, the Promised Land: The metaphors abound as Lachlan Gardiner makes the pilgrimage to this most hallowed of climbing areas. Words Lachlan Gardiner
Photography Lachlan Gardiner & Nathan McNeil
pon first sight—and yes, I feel guilty even typing this—it was somewhat unimpressive. Shimmering through the heat-haze rising from the long stretch of tarmac, the gentle bump upon the horizon was barely discernible. To be fair this was about 20km away from the monument in question, on a country highway, peering through the front windscreen of a moving vehicle. Beside me, my climbing buddy Rijan “100%!” Young was boiling-over with characteristic enthusiasm, pointing at this uninspiring lump as we zoomed across the panflat topography of southwest Victoria’s Wimmera Plains. Luckily, I knew better than to be fooled by the landscape so easily. Mecca, Shangri-La and the Promised Land of world-class rock climbing all rolled into one— that’s what awaited us out there. It just hadn’t revealed itself properly yet. Soon enough, the mountain grew to fill our vision. Unmistakable cliffs of amazingly featured rock spread forth before our lofty vantage point—the cockpit of Rijan’s big white Ford Transit dirtbag-chariot. Bathed in warm mid-afternoon sunlight, surrounded by surprisingly lush green fields and low scrub… It was magical. OK, Mount Arapiles is impressive. For years, ever since my very first forays into rock climbing, Mount Arapiles— known by most as Araps—has been mentioned in conversation. Mentioned? Actually, that’s too tame a term. No, instead imagine eyes lighting up, twinkling, dancing. Beards bristling with excitement. Passionate recollections recounted in explicit detail. Tales of transcendental leads, of rock so perfectly sculpted it could be the original mould for modern climbing gear. And, of course, bohemian festivities among the Pines. Naturally, I’d often wondered—but never aloud—what could make the place so darn good? I was about to find out. Well, as much as I could in just a week. There are over 3,000 routes at Araps; clearly I’d be ascending the most minuscule fraction of them. But it’s not merely the sheer number of climbs here that sets Arapiles apart from most other famous climbing areas; it’s that hundreds of them are bonafide classics. “Look in any guidebook around the world,” says Simon Mentz, an Araps climber since ‘86, “and you will find no shortage of three-star routes in the higher grades. The real gold is finding well-protected climbs in the lower grades which have solid rock and are interesting to climb.” Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Mt Arapiles, VICTORIA
Mt Arapiles Melbourne
But let’s start with some history. The geological story of Mount Arapiles stretches back eons. About 400-million earth laps around the sun ago, the vast sedimentary basin of an inland sea was subjected to some serious folding and compression, all the while being pushed ever so slowly upwards. At some stage in all this, an infant Arapiles was born, poking its quartzite head above water. Creatures and plants populated this anomaly of rock, eventually leaving a much-eroded island of hardened stone, not dissimilar to the Mount Arapiles we know today, although with fewer recorded climbs and no composting drop-toilets. Humans first wandered this land roughly 50,000 years ago. Indigenous people know the mountain as Djurite, and according to archaeologist Andrew Long, it was likely the focus of the Djurite Balug clan for several thousand years. Some of this legacy endures: stone tool quarry sites, scar trees and trace rock-art have been found around the mountain. The arrival of Europeans in the 1840s heralded huge loss of life, and indigenous culture here suffered greatly. Today, the Wotjobaluk people speak for this land. Modern rock climbing began at Mount Arapiles around the 1960s. In the following decades, it became a site of both national and international acclaim. Araps’ outstanding quality of rock, and its abundant protection pushed the sport of rock climbing forward, both domestically and globally. Most famously, in 1985, visiting German prodigy Wolfgang Güllich climbed Punks in the Gym (Grade 32)—the hardest single pitch of rock climbing in the world at that time. Even today, Punks remains a classic test-piece, well beyond the reach of most mortals.
As climbing at Arapiles evolved, so too did the quaint nearby town of Natimuk. It’s a unique community of roughly 500 people, a mix of artists, fourth-generation locals, and—of course—climbers. “Natimuk and Arapiles are like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris,” says guidebook author Lou Shepherd. “It’s hard to imagine one without the other.” It’s now likely that ‘Nati’—still small by any standards and with just one pub— has the highest percentage of climbers in the country.
Some of those climbers have been here for longer than many Wild readers have been alive. Keith Lockwood has been scrambling/climbing/walking here for more than 60 years. In that time, he’s watched climbing gear progress from “a bowline around the tummy” in the 60s to today’s shiny, lightweight, far safer equipment. “I know and love every inch of the place,” he says. “It’s our backyard, we see it from our kitchen window, it’s our weather gauge, magnificent sunrises and sunsets…: I asked Lockwood—who has done hundreds of first ascents here—what Arapiles means. His reply was simple: “Everything.” “Arapiles is a mountain of surprises,” says Lou Shepherd, Nati local for 40-plus years. “What appears to be a normal rounded hill from a distance [See! She agrees!] turns out to be a labyrinth of gullies and crannies, towering bluffs, teetering blocks and shallow gnammas. Arapiles inspires reverence and awe at the idea of perfection.” One legend that hasn’t aged is the Pines Campground. Still populated by tall pine trees and a few permanent resident dirtbags, life here has changed little over the decades. In the 80s, recalls Shepherd, “money was tight in the Pines. Climbers barely out of their teens subsisted on rice, lentils and a few veggies lobbed into the pot from a distance. Remnants of previous meals were not wasted, but re-boiled and consumed, unless the possums [who outnumbered climbers back then] got there first.” It was on my first afternoon camped in the Pines, when— beckoning through the trees—I saw rich orange stone illuminated by the late winter sun. “What route is that?” I asked. “Muldoon! Ryan exclaimed; the decision was easily made. Muldoon, as I soon discovered, could well be the archetypal Araps climb—a grade 13, three-star classic. After an easy start, it transitioned into real climbing with thought-provoking moves up an exposed arete. “What grade is this again? Thirteen? Are you sure?” And then the route opened up, becoming an exercise in sheer joy, with massive holds, bountiful exposure and gear placements abundant. Topping out, I was buzzing. The sky was ablaze, and panoramic views of the area were spread below. I’d already fallen in love with Arapiles.
QUICK FACTS Location: Central Victoria
Routes: 3000+, ranging from grades 1-33
Permits: Not required Nearest town: Natimuk
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Climbing Style: Trad (primarily), some sport
When to go: Best in autumn & spring
Before this trip, when I’d mentioned my upcoming Araps visit, many fellow climbers quipped along the lines of “Better check it out before they lock the place up”. I joked along at the time, but, in retrospect, a flippant attitude—or what could even be interpreted as defeat—isn’t what’s needed right now in climbing. For sure, the future of climbing access in Victoria, and indeed the rest of Australia, is uncertain. Our lifestyle has
Mt Arapiles, VICTORIA Nick Foster on British Beat (21)
Rappelling off D Minor Pinnacle Bard Buttress at sunset
Nick Foster leading Coming on Chris (16)
grown from a fringe activity for radicals and outcasts to one that has burst into the spotlight—we have climbers winning Oscars and gracing the New York Times front cover. Next year they’ll compete in the Olympics. Despite this increasing awareness, or perhaps because of it, much recent media coverage of Australian climbing has specifically surrounded the ongoing access issues in nearby Gariwerd/the Grampians. In March this year, Parks Victoria closed many hundreds of routes in the national park, including some of the area’s (and indeed Australia’s) finest, and no permanent solution has yet been found. But a silver lining to this crisis is that it’s served as a catalyst for climbers to get organised, and to unite. The Victorian climbing community has never been this impassioned, and in April 2019, the Australia Climbing Association of Victoria (ACAV) was formed. (Queensland—which had a head start—helped here, exporting quickly its climbing association ACAQ). At this stage, however, it remains to be seen what will eventuate when the dust settles. But I’m optimistic. With level heads, respect, open minds and a unified approach, I believe climbing in Australia can coexist peacefully alongside the interests of Traditional Owners, elected land managers, commercial enterprise and other recreational user groups. As for Arapiles, it’s not under the same jurisdiction as Gariwerd. For now, Mount Arapiles—resting low and magnificent among the plains—is well and truly open, and steps to work alongside the land managers and Traditional Owners are already well underway. Simon Mentz, who has been climbing at Araps since 1986, says he hopes to see, “the same opportunities for future climbers that I had when I learnt
to climb at Arapiles. That is unrestricted access to all the great climbs and inexpensive, long-term camping suitable for dirtbag climbers”. Looking at the bigger picture, Lou Shepherd describes Arapiles as “a marvel; a place that resonates for tens of thousands of people, many local and many far away, first nation people and newcomers. I’m hopeful that we can continue to share the park with each other, and other species, in a celebratory and appreciative way.” At the end of the day, it’s this holistic and respectful attitude that is needed. We must remember that these places are not ours. They are to be shared and treasured.
All too soon it came time to leave Arapiles. Sometimes you visit a place where inflated expectations far outweigh the sombre reality upon arrival. This was not true for Araps. This is a special place, where the kiss of a winter’s breeze lifts you upwards as impossibly featured rock soars overhead. Where the cracks, jugs, ledges and ripples of stone feel as though they were sculpted by nature with an intent to be climbed. It is also a mountain held in shared respect by everyone I encountered, both young and old. It’s easy to see why so many people are drawn to Araps, and why others have never left. The notion of cancelling my flight home to Brisbane began to appeal, but thankfully a dreary grey morning dawned on our final day. It made saying goodbye to a place I’d come to cherish just that little bit easier. As I rolled up the tent, I knew I’d be back to this land of rock and honey, of great memories and of perfect routes. Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Mt Arapiles, VICTORIA Camping at the Pines
The Watchtower Faces
NEED TO KNOW WHEN TO GO:
While climbing at Arapiles year-round is possible, spring and autumn are best. Winter can be excellent, too, and has fewer visitors. But although scoring a week of fair weather in the chilliest months is possible, expect single-digit and below lows, along with intermittent wind and rain. And if you do go in winter, pick a sunny campsite; the already short days can be cut shorter still if you’re in the Pines and find it hard to get moving in the shadows. Summer, in contrast, can be like an inferno; temps regularly soar over 40°C. In-season, on weekends, and during holidays, expect campgrounds to be jam-packed, and for clanging hexes each morning to serve as alarm clocks.
From Melbourne take the M8 and A8 highways to Horsham. From Horsham take the Wimmera Highway / B240 through Natimuk. As you leave Natimuk, turn right onto Frances Road / C213 and follow this for 8km. Turn left onto Centenary Park Road, following it for 1.7km until seeing signs for the campgrounds on the road’s right-hand side.
Camping is the cheapest and closest accommodation to Mount Arapiles. Several campgrounds are clustered right below the cliffs, with the infamous Pines being the pick of ‘em. The possums are still in residence, and campfires will—like moths to a bulb—attract friendly folk to share in a conversation, give you beta or a smile, or lend you that crucial No. #5 Camalot. In busy periods the Pines will be crammed full; you’ll likely end up at either the Upper or Lower Gums camping areas. Facilities include flushing or drop toilets, and communal designated fireplaces. Keep in mind that open fires aren’t permitted during fire-danger season (Nov 1-Apr 30). Fuel stoves are preferred. BYO firewood and drinking water, although there may be some untreated tank water. There are bins, but in busy periods please take your rubbish out. Camping fees are $2.70 per person per night; bookings can be made online: parkstay.vic.gov.au/mount-arapiles-tooan-state-park
The iconic Nati Pub offers hearty counter meals, cold beer and, in the chilly months, a warm hearth. It also features classic
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Natimuk’s main street
country-town-pub dated decor, stoic locals and climbing photos enshrined upon the walls. Further down the street, you’ll find the Climber’s Café, serving up tasty contemporary fare for when the campground lentils and one-pot meals sour.
While essentials can be purchased in Natimuk, the larger regional centre of Horsham (30mins drive away) is better suited for stocking up on the bulk of your food, booze, firewood and fuel supplies.
Despite its size, Natimuk has one of Australia’s best-stocked climbing shops—the Arapiles Mountain Shop. It sells everything you could need and then some. Outside of the busy season, opening hours are sporadic, but they’ll open if contacted.
With so many low-grade classic routes at Araps, inexperienced climbers—or those who haven’t done much trad—will be in for a romping good time. For local knowledge and/or guiding, visit the Climbing Company (climbco.com.au); the Natimukbased company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
GEAR TO BRING:
Mount Arapiles is a predominantly trad climbing area. At the very least, bring a single rack of your chosen cams, a set of nuts and some longer runners. Also, it’s wise to include a set of RPs or similar small brass wires. Ideally, bring your full rack; if something is missing, either borrow from your new friends in the campground or visit the climbing store in town. A single 60m rope is usually sufficient, but longer or multiple ropes may come in handy for some routes.
ETHICS & CODE OF CONDUCT:
Mount Arapiles is a mature crag. Bolting or new route development is rare, and only carried out by experienced climbers and after consultation with the local crag custodians. Keep to the established approach trails, pack out your rubbish. Please use the toilet facilities at the campgrounds and carparks before climbing, or if needed a human waste bag. Run by passionate volunteers, CliffCare Victoria has been working with land managers, Traditional Owners and other stakeholders for many years to protect, educate and maintain climbing areas across the state, including Arapiles: cliffcare.org.au
If it’s iconic you’re after, then one route stands apart from the rest: Kachoong.”
Getting the feel of our packrafts on the Upper Franklin
Jack Kilsby pulls through the iconic roof of Kachoong (21)
CLASSIC ROUTES HERE ARE FOUR “3-STAR CLASSIC” ROUTES. ANY WOULD MAKE A WORTHY INCLUSION WITHIN AN ARAPILES ITINERARY: K ACHOONG [Grade 21, Mixed, 1 pitch, 25m, FA: Glenn Tempest, Kevin Lindorff 1977]
Aesthetic, athletic and awesome, but not for the faint of heart. If it’s iconic you’re after, then one route stands apart from the rest: Kachoong. I can guarantee you’ll have seen a photo of it (and not just the one above). You’ve likely seen quite a few. Perched high on the wall, the route rises from a ledge with large chalked flakes up to a rest below the roof, which juts out and overhangs almost perfectly perpendicular to the vertical cliff. The route then turns another 90 degrees and continues straight up again. It’s an arresting climb, with vibrant orange rock and set again the picturesque backdrop of the Wimmera Plain. But how’s the climbing? Lou Shepherd ascended the route in 1980 and still remembers the event clearly. “I was terrified,” she says. “I expected it to be at my limit and maybe beyond. Back then, I carried the rack on a gear sling around my shoulder. On Kachoong, this meant the rack hung out of reach behind my back. I had to fling it onto my stomach to select the right piece for the roof flake. I got to the lip of the roof totally pumped, stretched my hand and fluked the jug.” Stories like this are common, it’s an intimidating line and has spat off many aspiring leaders over the decades. Descent: Top-out, and then—presuming like most people that you’ve accessed the climb from the top Telstra tower carpark—simply pick up the route you used to access the climb.
Jed Parks climbing Muldoon (13)
MULDOON [Grade 13, Trad, 1-2 pitches, 42m, FA: Peter Jackson, Reg Williams 1965]
An excellent low-grade route with some spice to keep you honest, worthy of all the stars it’s been awarded. After an easy start, up a crack and leftward along a ledge, Muldoon suddenly transitions into real climbing. The rusty piton is clipped along with setting two small wires, before popping out onto the exposed arete. After with several thought-provoking moves, you arrive to a comfortable stance where you’ll likely be thinking OK, that was exciting for a grade 13! The remainder of the route is an exercise in sheer joy, with massive holds, bountiful exposure and abundant gear placements. Top out to a spacious ledge compete with a massive boulder to lasso for an anchor. Descent is via rappel rings to the looker’s right. Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Run it out, go fast or go slow, hoot and holler so loud that anyone left in the Pines will look up to see you having about as much fun as you can muster on rock.” The final pitch of The Bard (12) as it begins to rain
THE BARD [Grade 12, Trad, 5 pitches, 120m, FA: B. Hocking, J. Newlands 1965]
A wonderful romp!
The infamous traverse pitch of The Bard (12)
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
The great Bard Buttress looms over campers in the Pines, taunting climbers with its beautiful lines and blistering exposure. Its crown jewel is The Bard, a 120m line up its right side. It’s a rowdy climb, starting with a slab pitch. Gear can be a bit tricky and not as solid as you might hope, but the climbing is excellent; the rock keeps giving if you know where to look. Topping out the slab, you can set up your first belay on a ledge, or you can continue right up a jug haul, around a corner and up to a shallow cave with a comfy belay. Once here, the volume turns to 11. This is what we all come up here for: A bottomless traverse above endless exposure and that keeps you guessing and laughing till the end. Stepping off the belay onto tiny footholds, the exposure is instant; you try to move across the shallow horizontal break with as much delicate precision as you can muster. The pitch is short, but it keeps you smiling for the rest of the day. Continue up the right-trending weakness. Filled with delicate feet and all the gear placements you could ask for, this continuously sustained pitch is full value the whole way until you reach the biggest belay ledge imaginable, so huge you wouldn’t bat an eyelash to find a full-on ledge dance party there. Once the music dies down and you’re ready to move on, look forward to one of Arapiles best jug hauls. This pitch is the icing on the cake; it’s all bomber, so give it everything you have. Sling the small chicken head, run it out, go fast or go slow, hoot and holler so loud that anyone left in the Pines will look up to see you having about as much fun as you can muster on rock. It doesn’t matter, the smiles are as big as the jugs and topping out the Bard is something to be proud of. Descent is by Ali’s—a grade 6, well-protected, via ferrata-style route. (Description courtesy of Rijan Young)
Mt Arapiles, VICTORIA WATCHTOWER CR ACK [Grade 17, Mixed, 4 pitches, 95m, FA: John Fahey et al 1965]
Myke McCormick on the third pitch of Watchtower Crack (17)
Total three-star, multi-pitch classic. The Watchtower is arresting. A giant flake-come-pinnacle, it rests against the main buttress proper, with a striking righthand seam where the tower meets the rest of the mountain. This seam opens rather wide in places before closing again, as the corner/crack bulges through several lofty roof features. To get off the desk, you begin with a slab/corner combination, followed by a complex-looking—yet beautiful to climb—blocky corner-chimney which lands you in a small cramped cave belay. The third pitch follows the widening crack feature, forcing you through an exposed roof corner crack—luckily the gear is bomber. Gulp down some courage, check your placements and step out from the security of the horizontal seam. An awkward or graceful manoeuvre— depending on your strategy—will deposit you between the two features in a stemming stance that, despite feeling precarious, is thankfully stable. Next, and provided you remembered to bring #5 and #6 cams, glide up the corner, past a carrot bolt and plug away up to a banger three-piton belay. Without some large cams, expect a spicy but secure runout. Pitch four is part-overhanging roof-crack and part-slab— another standout section of climbing. Descent: Rappel the face using anchors situated about 20m west of the top of the route. Two 60m ropes will get you to a ledge halfway down the main face. From the ledge, use the bolted rap station, again with two ropes to reach the ground. W CONTRIBUTOR: Lachlan is a Brisbane-based adventure photographer, writer and filmmaker. Like any good climber, he has a perverse masochistic streak and revels in altitude-induced hardship.
SUMMITCLIMB For seventeen years, Dan Mazur and SummitClimb have been leading treks and expeditions in the Himalaya, Africa and South America. Accomplishments include getting Australia's youngest climber up Ama Dablam, Australia's first climber up Baruntse, and Australia's oldest climber up Everest. SummitClimb were the ones who rescued Lincoln Hall on Everest. UPCOMING EXPEDITIONS:
Dec ‘19-Jan-Feb ’20 - Christmas Trek with Optional Island Peak, Aconcagua (7 Summit) April-May ‘20 - Everest Summit Nepal, Everest Summit Tibet, Everest Training Climbs Nepal & Tibet, Lhotse Jun-July-Aug '20 - Gasherbrum 2, K2, Broad Peak, K2 Base Camp Trek Sept-Oct '20 - Manaslu, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma Oct-Nov '20 - Ama Dablam, Baruntse, Mera Peak, Island Peak, Lobuche Everest Glacier School, Everest Trek We also run Charity Treks, Volunteer Projects, Free Glacier Schools Phone: 02 8091 1462 (message) SMS, Whatsapp, Viber, Wechat: +13602503407 Skype: dan.mazur8848 Facebook.com/danielleemazur
Descending to Lake Albina
[ Track Notes ]
HANNELS SPUR &
LADY NORTHCOTES CANYON Words Danielle Andreasen-Cocker Photography Danielle & Daniel Andreasen-Cocker
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Location: Kosciuszko NP, NSW Activity: Off-track bushwalking Total Distance: 43km, point to point Total estimated time: 5 days Difficulty: Strenuous When to go: Spring-Autumn Required Maps: 1:25,000 Youngal, Perisher Valley and Geehi Dam Cost/permits: Park entry is $17/day (during non-winter months)
Climate: Thredbo Top Station 150
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Get set for Australia’s biggest climb on this spectacular walk, followed by days of romping through alpine meadows and then a rock-hopping descent back down to the valley. Due to the dramatically changing altitude, it’s a walk of incredibly varied landscapes. There are waterfalls surrounded by tree ferns and lush vegetation, rocky creek beds which become steep canyons, and dense forests which fade into wide-open alpine meadows. Starting from the Geehi River and then ascending Hannels Spur, you’ll spend two days climbing nearly 1,800 vertical metres up to the very summit of Australia, Mt Kosciuszko, where you’ll definitely feel you’ve earned the breathtaking alpine views. A day is then spent high on the alpine plateau strolling among Australia’s highest peaks, and there’s an optional side trip to Blue Lake. The final two days are spent off-trail in almost childlike fun bouncing down Lady Northcote Canyon. Though the kilometre distance of this walk is small, the terrain is steep. It is very slow going, not that that matters as every moment spent in the beautiful wild area is magical. This walk is a great alternative to the Ten Peaks or similar walks around Kozzie, offering a much more remote, challenging and adventurous route.
Kosciuszko NP, NSW
Nothing beats a quick dip in a cold alpine stream. This is a small tributary of Wilkinsons Creek
WHEN TO GO
With the upper sections under snow during the winter months, this walk is only feasible between late spring to early autumn. Careful consideration of recent rainfall should be taken, as the descent down Lady Northcote Gorge can become dangerous after large rain events.
The walk starts at the Geehi Flat Rest Area on the Alpine Way and can be accessed either from Khancoban (if coming from Melbourne) or via Jindabyne (if coming from Sydney or Canberra). It’s roughly a 6-7 hour drive from both Melbourne (500km away) and Sydney (540km away). Public transport is not an option. It’s 14km between the walk’s start and finish; some form of shuffle is needed. We put a bike on the roof and left it at the endpoint (Olsen’s Lookout) before we began the walk, picking up the bike at the end. This was easy as the (primarily dirt) road from the lookout to Geehi Flat is mostly downhill.
Entrance fees for this section of Kosciuszko National Park are $17/day. (Note: the fees are higher during winter.) No permits are required for camping along this route.
In Australian terms, the elevation changes here are huge, so be ready for your thighs to burn on the initial climb. And for your knees to quiver on the final descent. Don’t expect to move quickly during these opening and closing stages; with a heavy pack, just 1km/h is realistic. There is no track for the hike’s final two days. Following Lady Northcote Canyon involves rock hopping, creek-side bush bashing, and walking in water. There is also no defined track around Upper Canyon Falls, nor for the final 400m climb from the Geehi River to Olsen’s Lookout. Both these sections are steep and densely vegetated; travel is extremely slow.
If using NSW’s 1:25K topos, you’ll need three maps: Youngal, Perisher Valley and Geehi Dam. Digital GeoPDFs of these maps are available at maps.six.nsw.gov.au for free (thank you, NSW!). If you want physical maps, there are single map alternatives, although they’re at 1:50K. Try SV Maps Kosciuszko Alpine Area or Rooftop’s Kosciuszko National Park Forest Activities Map Jindabyne-Khancoban. A GPS is also recommended as this walk is partly off-track.
ACCESS TO WATER
Except for the first climb to Moira’s Flat, and the final climb to Olsen’s Lookout, water is plentiful here. Just be aware that as clear and pure as the water looks, there are many visitors to the alpine area; treat it before drinking.
There are free campsites available at the Geehi Flat Rest Area. The closest accommodation can be found at Khancoban (40 minutes away), Thredbo (1 hour away) or at Jindabyne (1.5 hours away).
The Walk in Detail DAY 1
Geehi Flats to Moira’s Flat
6.4km, 5-6 hours, Elevation Gain: +1,100m This first day is best described as the tough work needed to appreciate the beauty to follow on subsequent days. It is basically a bloody big climb. Begin at the western side of the Geehi Bridge (400m elevation), following the Swampy Plain River upstream. After a few Descending to the hundred Aberfoyle metres River you veer left off the road and follow a 4WD track alongside the Swampy Plain River. Follow it for a couple Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
HANNELS SPUR & LADY NORTHCOTES CANYON
(Olsen’s Lookout 1000m asl)
(Geehi Flats 400m asl)
Camp 3 Camp 1
of hundred metres and then cross the river to reach Doctor Forbes Hut (note: it’s not marked on the Youngal topo). This is the last water available until Moira’s Flat, so make sure to fill up all water bottles. Now follow the track heading southeast through a grassy plain; from here the climb up Hannels Spur begins. The track can be hard to find at times, but strips of pink tape tied to trees guide the way, and there’s the occasional orange arrow on a tree trunk. In any case, getting lost isn’t really much of a problem. The track follows the spur up and up; just make sure you’re always going up and you’ll be fine. Though short in distance, the elevation gain makes the travel slow; allow 5-6 hours to reach Moira’s Flat. At 1,500m asl, Moira’s Flat is aLast largish area with light grassy across the wilderness a wooden sign (don’t be tricked by a small grassy path
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
about ten minutes before). There’s room here for maybe five tents, although all sites are on a slight angle. From the camp an impressive, if intimidating, view can be had of the next day’s journey. Water can be found 100m from camp. Keep following the track uphill; after 80m there’s a wooden sign with an arrow pointing left to a small spring. DAY 2
Moira’s Flat to Wilkinsons Creek + Mt Kosciuszko side trip
12.5km, 6-8 hours, Elevation Gain: +570m The walk’s second day has two distinct parts: The steep ascent below the tree line; followed by the easier walk high through alpine heath and meadows.
Kosciuszko NP, NSW
Crossing the Swampy Plain River on Day One
The initial section is a continuation of yesterday’s thigh-burning climb. However, soon the trees change to snow gums and then begin to thin out; views west become apparent, as well as glimpses of the high rocky peaks above. Just before Byatts Camp (a possible campsite though there’s no water here), the track pops out above the tree line; the views are magnificent, and the alpine breezes fresh. Note that ‘Hannels Spur Track’ as marked on SV Maps’ Kosciuszko Alpine Area doesn’t exactly match the track’s actual location from Byatts Camp onwards. From Byatts Camp there’s not a clear track; instead, follow the rock cairns across the magnificent alpine heathland. There is a small, beautiful (and cold) creek which is perfect for a swimming and/or lunch spot. Continue to follow the rock cairns until they hit the larger Willkinsons Creek. There are many campsite choices along Wilkinsons Creek; all beautiful and all flat. There are views in every direction—hazy mountains stretch as far as the eye can see to the west, and Mt Townsend looms in the north. After ditching the packs, continue on up to Mt Kosciuszko. It’s roughly a seven-kilometre round trip to the summit. Follow Wilkinsons Creek east, and when the creek turns north, continue east up to the saddle of Mueller’s Pass. Here you intersect the Main Range Track; head south and enjoy the well-made path up to Kozzie. After enjoying the summit views and gaining the bragging rights of reaching Oz’s highest point, return the same way. DAY 3
Wilkinsons Creek to Lake Albina + Blue Lake side trip 15km, 4-5 hours, Elevation Gain/Loss: +500m/-500m
This day is spent high on the roof of Australia. We walked to Blue Lake, but you could just as easily climb Mt Townsend, the Sentinels, the Ramsheads, or simply wander half-aimlessly through the magnificent peaks and alpine meadows in the area.
Camping at Wilkinsons Creek
Begin by returning to the saddle at Mueller’s Pass. This time, however, don’t turn south on Main Range Track; head north. Northcote Pass—which overlooks Lake Albina—is roughly two kilometres down the path. Somewhere around here, ditch your packs; you’ll be returning to Lake Albina (well, close to it anyway) to camp. From here, the track over Carruthers Peak and onto Blue Lake is well signposted. From Northcote Pass to the lake, it’s roughly five kilometres each way. Four kilometres into it, you’ll reach the Blue Lake Lookout, where there’s a junction. Head left, down one kilometre until the lake is reached. After returning to your Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
Heading down Lady Northcotes Canyon
Lake Albina to Opera House Hut
4.5km, 7-8 hours, Elevation Loss: -800m
Navigating large boulders down Lady Northcote Canyon
packs high above Lake Albina, choose any route which will take you down to the lake’s northern outlet. Roughly 100m downstream on Lady Northcotes Creek, a small campsite that can fit around three tents can be found. Note that camping in any of Kosciuszko NP’s alpine lakes, including Lake Albina, is strictly prohibited; the lakes have naturally low nutrient levels and can be easily contaminated by campers.
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
Although you’ll only cover 4.5km over the entire day, prepare to be stunned: this is the most spectacular day of the trip. Be aware, however, that it’s slow going; due to the nature of Lady Northcotes Canyon, don’t expect to move more than about 750m/hr, plus plenty of swimming stops. The canyon’s upper sections are above treeline. Grass covers the slopes and riverbanks, and the stream itself dodges many large boulders; there’s some great rock-hopping to be had. After roughly two kilometres (about three hours), trees begin appearing and the water flow increases. Continue to rock hop along, stopping for swims or snack breaks at the beautiful rockpools. After 3.5km (5-6ish hours), you’ll arrive at Upper Canyon Falls (marked as a blue dot on the map), around which a short but hard bush-bash is needed. Once you find yourselves above the falls, back-track a few meters until you can climb the eastern creek bank. From here, contour around and then drop into the joining creek. Follow this down until you come to the bottom of Upper Canyon Falls. Depending on the water level, these falls are magnificent. A swim in the deep pool below the falls is a must. Follow the canyon for 300m until a weir is reached. You’ve now arrived at your first of two camping options. You can stay here on the flat grassy area at the Lady Northcotes Canyon Weir (where the 4WD track begins). This option has water. But you can also exit the creek here to the east, and then follow a 4WD track for a few hundred metres to the Opera House Hut, which you can either sleep in or camp nearby. If staying here, you’ll need to fill up your water before leaving Lady Northcote Canyon or walk back later to re-fill.
Kosciuszko NP, NSW DAY 5
Opera House Hut to Olsens Lookout
4.5km, 7-8 hours, Elevation Gain/Loss: +400m/-500m Most of the day continues down Lady Northcotes Canyon, with the rich riparian vegetation closing in, and tree-ferns and mossy rocks surrounding the beautiful rockpools. The final section is a punishing climb. From Opera House Hut, continue 200m east along the 4WD track until it crosses Strzelecki Creek. Follow this until it joins with Lady Northcotes Creek. The creek is unlikely to have much water in it to begin with, but the amount increases further downstream. The vegetation is denser than the previous day; tree-ferns line the banks, and the occasional blackberry vine is likely to trip or scratch you. It’s approximately 3.5-4km down the canyon until the Geehi River is reached, and along the way there are many picturesque rockpools to swim in. There is no track for the final climb through dense scrub from the Geehi River to Olsens Lookout. When Lady Northcotes Creek meets the Geehi, cross the river and walk 100m downstream. Fill your water bottles here and then start climbing the spur heading northwest to Olsens Lookout. Your jaw will likely drop when you look at the spur; there’s nothing but a wall of vegetation ahead. The going is slow, very slow, up this 40-degree slope, but you’ll find the trees are helpful to pull yourself up with. After 1.5-2hrs, you will pop out at Olsens Lookout (whew!), where you can take a well-earned rest and soak in the view of the previous two days walk. W CONTRIBUTORS: Danielle doesn’t believe in “love at first sight”; “love on first hike” makes much more sense to her. She and her husband Daniel met during their time as part of the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club and have been hiking together ever since.
A well-deserved swim after the bush-bash around the falls Sunset serenity
The all-conditions, always comfortable backcountry trekker.
HOK AON EO N E.CO M .AU
@HOK AONEONE AUS T R ALIA
[ Gear Talk ] THE NORTH FACE
First ski descent of the Lhotse Couloir, done in Futurelight
e all know Gore-tex is awesome. It keeps water out. But it breathes, too. Stop and think for a moment at how amazing that is, and how it stops you from getting too hot and sweaty. But as awesome as goretex is—so amazing that it’s become the industry standard—we also all know it’s not perfect. Although it’s far better at keeping you not drenched in sweat than an impermeable layer, it can get pretty darn clammy inside. As a result, engineers at The North Face decided to have a crack at creating something better: Futurelight. By using a production method called nano-spinning—it’s primarily used in electronics and medical fields—they created nano-sized fibres that allow, to quote The North Face, “unmatched air permeability while maintaining total waterproofness.” And then they figured out how to bond those nano-spun fibres to a laminate. In the process, they created a whole new class of waterproof/breathable outerwear perfect for highly-aerobic adventure activities. Designers can tweak the membrane according to its intended use, adjusting for stretch, breathability, weight and durability. They’ve also been able to attach the fibres to fabrics far softer than usually associated with waterproof garments. It’s worthwhile noting that the fabrics are more sustainable, too. Up to 90% of the membrane and face layer is made from recycled fabrics, and no PFCs are used in the DWR finish. After creating the fabric, The North Face then put Futurelight to the test. Anyone who knows TNF is
aware they sponsor a host of world-class athletes: skiers; rock climbers; alpinists. To be sure, there’s a marketing component to this. But it also allows TNF to get unparalleled amounts of athlete feedback, and the chance to test the fabric in the most rigorous conditions possible. They had skiers Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison make the first descent of the Lhotse Couloir in Futurelight outerwear; had Andres Marin ascend the Trango Towers in it; had ski mountaineering guide Nate Rowland wear it through snow, sleet and rain for 100+ days. Nelson came back saying she’d never experienced a product that moved or performed as well. Of course, that’s a TNF-sponsored athlete saying that. It doesn’t mean it’s not true, but is Futurelight as good, and as exciting, as Nelson and The North Face say? Wild will be taking it into the field and reviewing it soon. Can’t wait that long? As of October, it became available to the Aussie public. For more info: thenorthface.com.au/futurelight
Futurelight’s nanospun material seems to be more holes than fabric
Vicmap Viewer Find your way.
eading to Victoria on your next adventure? Presuming you’re not keen on getting lost, you’re going to need up-to-date maps; the problem is that with more than 10,000 topographic maps across Victoria in four different scales, it’s not always easy figuring exactly what your cartographic needs are going to be. To help you find the right topo for your quest, Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has just released a new app—Vicmap Viewer. The app lets you—on your android or iOS mobile device—see which topos you’ll need for the area you’re heading, and then select and buy them. Maps can be chosen via a number of search parameters including map sheet name and number, locality/town, road name, address, the user’s geolocation and (soon to come) a Parks and Reserves search option. Then it’s a matter of deciding how much detail you’ll need—the app comes with available scales of 1:25 000, 1:30 000, 1:50 000 and 1;100 000—before you purchase
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
them and download them directly to your device. All the maps downloaded are geoPDFs, making them prefect for use with secondary apps like Avenza which let you use your phone’s GPS to geolocate your position on the map. (For anyone who hasn’t used a geoPDF on their phone before, it’s worthwhile stating you don’t need a connection to view your downloaded maps.) Maps purchased and downloaded by the Vicmaps Viewer can, of course, be printed as well, so you can head out bush armed with both digital and hard copies of the maps. While the app is available for free, indiVicmap Viewer vidual maps have the same pricing arrangements as the current DELWP online service. And as with the online service, maps available from the app are updated every 18 months from Vicmap, Victoria’s’ maintained spatial dataset. For more info: delwp.vic.gov.au/vicmapviewer
[ Gear Test ] LOWE ALPINE
A different approach. An external sleeve allows a water bladder to sit outside the pack’s main body, making bladder replacements and refills easy. An elastic-mesh front stuff pocket offers a convenient way to quickly pack or unpack an item of clothing without having to open the pack. Deep, elastic mesh side pockets are also great for water bottles. The pack has two side compression straps, hiking pole straps, and an ice-axe loop. It’s a roomy pack. It doesn’t taper down like many smaller packs, and the main pocket zips extend a way down the pack, allowing it to really open up. Aside from the mesh pockets, the entire pack fabric uses Lowe Alpine’s TriShield fabric, which they claim is up to six times more tear resistant than similar nylon fabrics. As a multi-functional day pack, the Aeon 27 performed well. Perhaps a legitimate gripe is that it doesn’t include a rain cover. Obviously, we didn’t need one in central Oz, but Lowe Alpine offer an after-market one that can be purchased separately. As for those unpadded shoulder straps? The pack was remarkably comfortable. Even after a full twelve hours of hiking, my shoulders were fine.
Need to Know Intended use: All-purpose day pack Capacity: 27L Weight: 854g (M/L), 930g (L/XL) RRP: $184.95 More info: lowealpine.com.au
BREAK THE LAW OF GRAVITY – BE
B R E A K T H BE R LE A W TOH FE LGARWA VO IFT Y E Y F– R BEEE F R E E AK G R–A VBI T BREAK THE LAW OF GRAVITY – BE FREE
knew the Aeon 27 was different the moment I looked at it. The shoulder straps had no padding. Is this unusual? Absolutely. Even on the smallest of daypacks, those designed to carry a single vegemite sandwich and no more, padding seems abundant on the shoulder straps. But here I was, about to head out for twelve hours in Central Australia with clothes, food, emergency kit, and loads of water, and it would all be carried in a pack with no shoulder strap padding. How would my shoulders cope? I’ll get on to how my shoulders fared soon, but first let’s look at some details. Lowe Alpine’s Aeon packs comes in four different sizes: 18, 22, 27 and 35L. There’s also a slighter smaller female range (the Aeon ND). There are also M-L and L-XL sizes, offering slight differences in the overall length and width of the pack. However, the Aeon also includes a size adjustment feature allowing lengths to be extended; even the M-L model I used was easily adjusted to fit my L-XL torso. The Aeon includes Lowe Alpine’s AirContour system. Although unlike like some other systems that pull the pack away from the back (which in itself has pros and cons), it performed well in the 38°C temps we walked in. The waist and shoulder straps have additional holes for added air circulation.
® D UD C U CAA N N MM I DI D G TG X ®T X
G O WILD. WILD. H I K E EEVE V E RRY Y DD A Y. GO HIKE AY. DUCAN MID GTX® ® ® Always MAMMUT G O one W I step L D .ahead: H I KDucan E E VMid E RGTX Y D. A Y.
® Always one step ahead: Ducan GTX . Flextron Technology™ ensures full controlMid and no foot
bending. Highest comfort and optimum for your ®step ahead: Always one Ducan Mid GTX .freedom MAMMUT MAMMUT Flextron Technology™ ensures full DUCAN MID GTX® ® ®
foot through Georganicensures 3D Technology™. Vibram Flextron Technology™ full control and no foot outer
control and no foot bending. Highest comfort bending. Highest comfort and for your G O extra W Isupport L D . optimum H I in K Efreedom E Vwater ER Y D A Y. sole for and sure-footedness. I cupped my sun-worn hands the foot through Georganic 3D Technology™. Vibram outer and optimum freedom for your foot through for extra support and ink sure-footedness. beside my packraft.sole We sat in ahead: an black pool, Always one step Ducan Mid GTX . MAMMUT Georganic 3D Technology™. Vibram® outer M A M M U T . C O M Flextron Technology™ ensures full control and no foot but when the water filled my hands, it was sole bending. for extra support andand sure-footedness. Highest comfort optimum freedom for your impossibly clear. foot through Georganic 3D Technology™. Vibram outer ®
M A M M U T. C O M
sole for extra support and sure-footedness.
M A M M U T. C O M
[ Gear Test ] FJÄLLR ÄVEN
Keb Shorts & Abisko-Lite Pants Top-of-the-line functionality
or some fortuitous outdoor brands— through a combination of innovative product design, good marketing, and other ‘mysterious’ forces (which sometimes includes just good’ ol luck)—a particular product transforms from being a product designed for the outdoors to being a genuine mainstream fashion accessory. When I was a kid it was Oakley Frogskins. If you didn’t own a pair, you just weren’t cool. For Swedish outdoor brand, Fjällräven, that product is the Kånken backpack. It’d be tough to wander through any hipster hangout without seeing that little Arctic fox staring back at you from the back of a brightly coloured Kånken pack. And while the millions of Kånkens sold worldwide are undoubtedly helping the company’s bottom line, the reality is Fjällräven is a serious and bona fide outdoor company. The few pieces of gear from them I’ve tested over recent years are right up there in terms of technical capability, durability and construction. During my most recent trip into Central Australia—for a couple of days of off trail hiking through unforgiving terrain—I tested two different pieces of Fjällräven kit: a pair of Keb shorts; and a pair of Abikso Lite Trekking trousers. Not content with offering just one style of long pants with different configurations, Fjällräven instead have a range of different styles of trousers, each designed for specific environments and specific activities. Many of these styles are designed to cater freezing and wet weather—not surprising given Fjällräven’s home in Scandinavia. But of course, those conditions aren’t frequently experienced in much of Australia. When I chatted to the folk at Fjällräven, and described where I was going as “hot, spinifex and rocky”, they suggested the lighter weight, well-ventilated Abikso trousers (also available as shorts) or the more durable Keb shorts (also available as trousers). Both share common design elements. These include Fjällräven’s proprietary polyester-cotton blend G-1000 fabric. G-1000 is the foundation of many of Fjällräven’s products, from packs to jackets to trousers. A hardwearing and ventilating fabric, the fabric is further enhanced (water resistance and durability) when coated with Fjällräven’s Greenland Wax. The Abikso uses the G-1000 for the entire front panels, around the calves and rear panels, whereas the Keb shorts just use G-1000 as front pocket panels and across the rear. The remainder of both pants are made from an elasticated and highly stretchable fabric. This makes the back of both pants not only
WILD Nov/Dec 2019
breathable but also comfortable. And for added breathability, Abisko trousers have zips down the upper thigh that can be opened up. A combo of zippered and buttoned pockets ensures security for some items and quick access to others. Neither pants have rear pockets, an intentional design feature to avoid sitting on stuff; I think it’s a good idea. Both pants also have hanging loops on the front belt straps. And while a belt can be worn, I found I didn’t need one for either pair. The Abiskos—which are reinforced and include a tightening strap—also have a design feature I’d never seen before: a hidden hook in the bottom hem with which to latch onto shoelaces holding down your pants. It’s clear Fjällräven’s design team have thought hard about the functionality of their garments. All this unsurprisingly, comes at a premium. Neither the Keb or the Abisko could be described as cheap. Or even light, for that matter. But are they functional? Yes. As good as it gets. You can’t ask for more of your clothing than to perform flawlessly in the conditions they are being worn in. And for me, in Central Australia, that meant withstanding constant rubbing against jagged and sharp rocks, protection from the spinifex, while all the time maintaining breathability in the near 40°C temperatures we found ourselves in. This is not easy to achieve. So yes, while the Keb shorts and Abisko trousers are on the pricier side, they’re also garments that are at the pinnacle of outerwear. If you’ve got the funds, it’s hard to do better. Roland Handel
Need to Know ---ABISKO LITE TROUSERS Intended use: Warm conditions Weight: 480g Material: G-1000 Lite & G-1000 Heavy Duty RRP: $319.95 ---KEB SHORTS Intended use: Warm conditions Weight: 400g Material: G-1000 Eco RRP: $199.95 ---More info: fjallraven.com.au
[ Gear Test ] PETZL
ACTIK Headlamp A bright all-rounder
irst released in 2017, 2019’s iteration of the Petzl ACTIK delivers a great all-round unit suitable for most conditions. Let’s get to the important stuff first: maximum brightness. The new model jumps to a whopping 350 lumens; for a lightweight headlamp, that’s bright. Although you won’t see much difference at the advertised maximum of 80m, at close range, it really lights up the dark. As well as the 350 lumens output, the ACTIK has two other ‘white’ light configurations (6 lumens and 100 lumens, which give six and 45 metres visibility respectively; a ‘red’ light mode of 2 lumens; and a strobe which is visible for 700m. But brightness isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to headlamps (and in any event, as with most headlamps, brightness isn’t a constant but instead diminishes with battery life), so let’s look at exactly that: battery life. For the various white light outputs, the numbers run as follows: six lumens - 120 hours; 100 lumens – 12 hours; 350 lumens – two hours. For red light, it’s two lumens – 60 hours. And for strobe, you’ll get 400 hours. For my liking, two hours at maximum output is a little low. But it depends what you’ll be using the headlamp for. Are you intending on walking at night? If so, you’ll likely use max brightness, and
thus need to carry spare batteries over any overnight trip. Or do you intend to reach camp before darkness and just need the headlamp for camp chores? In which case, one of the less power-hungry modes will be just fine. The ACTIK, BTW, uses alkaline, lithium or Ni-MH AAA batteries, as well as Petzl’s own CORE rechargeable battery pack. Switching between light modes is straightforward. You simply hold down the single button for a few seconds to switch modes or shorter presses to move between brightness. The latest ACTIK also has a lock mode to guard against accidentally turn on the light when not in use. An IPX4 rating means the ACTIK is intended for normal activity (aka splash resistant rather than waterproof). Finally, the ACTIK uses a no-frills but functional elasticated headstrap, available in three colours (black, blue and green). While I’m unlikely to nominate the ACTIK as being the best in any one category (brightness, battery life, robustness, features, weight etc), many of the other brighter options are either exorbitantly-priced or exorbitantly heavy, or both. The ACTIK is light, at just 85g, and solid in all respects. And at its price point, it’s one of the very brightest headlamps out there. Roland Handel
Need to Know Intended use: All-rounder Max brightness: 350 lumens Waterproofness rating): IPX4 Weight : 86g RRP: $85.00 More info: petzl .com.au
[ Book Reviews ]
MurrayDarling Journeys Angela & Mike Bremers Vivid Publishing, $32.95
ather and daughter duo, Angela and Mike Bremers have self-published what I have no doubt is the most comprehensive catalogue of human-powered journeys along the Murray-Darling River EVER written. If you (yes, I mean you) have paddled any significant portion of the Murray-Darling in the last 202 years—the book covers the first documented journey in 1817 to the last in 2016—and your exploits have been published somewhere, then you’re probably mentioned in this book. Murray-Darling Journeys provides a listing of over 430 published accounts, covering everything from early exploration and surveying to journeys during the Gold Rushes and Depression Eras, to recreational and fund raising trips and everything in between. Why would you need to catalogue all of this, you ask. Beats me. However,
the Bremers rightly point out that no such complete catalogue exists. Good enough reason, I guess. While most of the listings are no more than a paragraph in length (some just a line or two), a few of the longer described journeys are intriguing (an attempt to windsurf the river or SUP the river) or amusing (a kayaker capsizing five times in the first two days before succumbing to gastroenteritis). The book is only available online at vividpublishing.com.au Roland Handel
Mike, your next project), Islands does a good job showcasing some of the more remarkable islands. From our largest, Kangaroo Island, to our only active volcano on Heard Island, to islands rich in indigenous art and culture in the Tiwi Islands and Torres Strait. Thirty-nine islands all up are covered, each with a small map, brief description and images. And let’s face it, anything from Australian Geographic is going to have some pretty awesome pics. And Islands is no exception. Roland Handel
Australian Geographic, $64.99
was recently discussing with my dad as to whether Australia is the biggest island in the world or simply the smallest continent. I was arguing for island, he was telling me continent. I’d like to think we were both right, but we weren’t. I was wrong. We ain’t an island. But what we do have is a lot of islands. Eight-thousand-two-hundredand-twenty-two to be exact, spanning the tropics in the north to the Antarctic way, way south. While I’m not sure a catalogue exists of all of them (Angela and
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[ Brand Heritage ]
CamelBak A 1989 race held in the searing Texan summer inspired the creation of an entire category of outdoor product.
sock, an IV bag, and a day that was hotter than hell: that’s what gave birth to one of the outdoor industry’s most iconic products. Back in August 1989, a paramedic named Michael Eidson was set to compete in a road cycling race in Texas. The event was 100 miles long, and it was being held in the midst of the fiery furnace that is a Texan summer. Appropriately enough, the race was called the ‘Hotter ‘n Hell 100’. It doesn’t take someone with medical training to know that, in a sweltering race like this, hydration would be crucial. But Eidson, thanks to his paramedic background, had access to something few other competitors in that race would: an IV bag. He ‘procured’ one from an ambulances at work, filled the IV bag with water, put it inside a tube sock, put the sock into the back pocket of his jersey, ran a thin tube from the IV bag over his shoulder, and sealed the tube at the drinking end with a clothes peg. Hey presto! The category of hands-free hydration products was born. Other riders looked on with bemusement. When they asked him about the contraption on his back, it didn’t take long for many to ask where they, too, could get one. Eidson saw an opportunity. He worked on creating a version of his invention that could be produced commercially. In 1989 CamelBak the company was born; its first offering was the ThermoBak (see pictured). It was a simple product: A bladder in an insulated sleeve; a couple of thin, unpadded nylon straps; and a tube. At the end of the tube was a ‘Freedom Valve’, which let users drink from the bladders without using their hands to open or close the valve. Two years later, in 1991, CamelBak would update the Thermobak’s valve to its ‘Bite Valve’, which it patented, and which was an innovation so effective it has, save the addition of a locking flow valve, remained almost identical to this day. The ThermoBak’s graphics, however, proved not so enduring; the searing combo of fluoro pink, fluoro lime green, and fluoro sky blue never made it out of the 90s. There were no frills added to the ThermoBak. There were no pockets to stuff additional gear in. There wasn’t even a sternum strap to hold the pack in place (although one could be purchased separately; they called them ‘Powerstraps’). But when Eidson began selling CamelBaks, riders snapped them up. One of them was a competitive cyclist called Jeff Wemmer. He was so convinced of the awesomeness of the product, he began taking ThermoBaks to races and selling them. Soon he became CamelBak’s first salesperson.
Early ad for CamelBak. Dig the Speedos/CamelBak combo
He travelled the country for months at a time on his motorbike, visiting bike shops, taking people out on rides, convinced that if he could just get cyclists to ride with one, they’d be hooked. CamelBak’s funds back then were so tight that Wemmer was only given sufficient funds to spend three nights a week in a hotel; the rest of the week he’d have to camp. But at one point he received a call from his boss, ordering him back to the office. No, funds hadn’t run dry completely. No, he wasn’t sacked. So many orders had flooded in from his efforts, CamelBak needed every single employee back in the warehouse to help fulfil them. Originally, road cyclists were envisaged as the primary market. But it quickly became apparent roadies wouldn’t be the early key to CamelBak’s success; it would be mountain bikers. Bombing down singletrack was not the place to be fumbling around for a water bottle, let alone drinking from one. But the tube and bite valve meant MTB-ers could hydrate with both hands on the bars. Over the years, further innovations came. The mouths of bladders became far wider to accommodate easy filling and more ice. Bladder caps became easier to thread on. The packs housing the bladders became far more sophisticated. And as Camelbak moved to extend its markets beyond cyclists to runners, hikers, skiers, the military and more, pack designs became incredibly varied; they now include everything from tiny day packs to large day packs to running vests to bum bags to belts to hand-held carriers. Ironically enough, the company now even produces its own water bottles. It’s been a surprising journey, one that none of those riders who looked on in bemusement at Eidson with his IV Bag/sock setup back at the Hotter n’ Hell 100 would ever have envisaged.
So many orders flooded in, CamelBak needed every employee back in the warehouse to help fulfil them”
The original ThermoBak
Nov/Dec 2019 WILD
[ Wild Shot ]
Credit: West Oz Active
My husband and I are in our seventies, but on a recent ‘adventure’ tour from Perth to Darwin, we decided to act like we were in our thirties. When we arrived in Karajini National Park, we booked in—with some trepidation—to do a canyoning trip. It turned out to be the highlight of our journey. Sliding down the slot and dropping into the cold water of the plunge pool below, wearing a wetsuit and with a backpack, was exhilarating. I felt truly alive.” Merilyn House, Helensburgh, NSW
Merilyn wins an OSPREY TR ANSPORTER 65 DUFFEL, valued at $199.95. Designed to be tied to yaks on faint footpaths, organising your gear library at home, or packing for the biggest trip of your life, the double coated TPU Nylon Transporter Duffel will take you there, and bring your gear back safe.
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WILD Nov/Dec 2019
MY LIGHT MY NIGHT RUN
© Matt Charland
PIERRE-MICHEL ARCAND // Why run at night? Night running is the one constant of trail running. Much like the chicken and the egg, you don’t know which came first; wanting to run long distances without stopping or desiring to explore less travelled paths at night, far from the noise and crowds. #petzlnightrunning
Compact multi-beam headlamp, ultra-powerful and rechargeable, with REACTIVE LIGHTING technology. 900 lumens. www.petzl.com.au
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Wild is Australia’s longest running outdoor adventure magazine, with specialist content providing coverage and education for bushwalkers, ba...
Published on Nov 18, 2019
Wild is Australia’s longest running outdoor adventure magazine, with specialist content providing coverage and education for bushwalkers, ba...