Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Canyon By Any Other Name: Bungonia Creek

Many Australian canyons are narrow dark slots, Bungonia is not one of those. More a deep creek than a canyon, it is a popular day out with a series of abseils, a jump or two, and some creek scrambling before the inevitable hot dusty walk out.

We met Tony and Anthony, definitely not Tony and Tony, at the Bungonia Visitor Centre where we registered out and then headed down to the campground and the tourist tracks. For some reason, which may have involved Tony being sold the wrong rope, we had many, many ropes. Four people, four ropes, all big, fat, heavy static lines. Had it been Doug and I, we would have taken one, but, I have always maintained that we are old, weak, and not given to carrying more stuff about than we need.

Yellow Track heads west then north to Jerrara Canyon lookout dropping into Bungonia Creek along the way. At this time of year, the creek started out dry, but as we walked down slabs and boulders following the creek, some muddy pools began to appear. Shortly, we were at the first abseil where we met another party of two just finishing up the first long abseil. This long abseil ends in a pool which we swum across buoyed by our packs.

Some more scrambling, and then a jump into a pool, followed by another swim and some more scrambling down rock slabs and shelves. At Bungonia Falls, we caught up to the two guys ahead of us again, not because they were unduly slow but because they had lost a rope in the pool below the jump. Arrantly, rope and pack separated when tossed into the pool following a jumper. Pack floated, rope did not. No amount of diving led to recovery of the rope, so they waited to join up with our group.

We did the next abseil on two ropes but a single rope abseil would work equally as well if you were confident scrambling down easy ledges to a last short drop into the pool below. Another swim, which now the day was heating up felt wonderfully cooling. I did not really want to get out.

More scrambling, this time down a big drop below the Jerrara Creek junction, and then over and around many big boulders in the creek bed. We stopped for lunch on a lovely big shady slab and hung the ropes out to dry.

The river makes a big northward bend and the further down stream you go, the easier the scrambling until, just before Red Track (what imaginative names!) leads out of the canyon, we were strolling along grassy river banks under the towering cliffs of Frome Hill.

Red Track is probably named for the colour of one's face after you have huffed up 300 metres in under a kilometre. Once again up on the plateau, the rest of the trip involves walking up and down gullies as Green Track contours back to the campground. Lucky there are a few nice lookouts along the way.

View a short video here, and, some of these photos are courtesy DB.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thwarted By The Wind: Boydtown to Bermagui By Boat

When the email came proposing a 4 to 5 day trip from Mosquito Bay on the south coast of NSW to Boydtown, near the Victorian border, Doug and I were in right away. Although we have paddled this section of coast before, on a series of different  trips, sea conditions make every trip different and we would be sharing the adventure with a great group of other paddlers.

In the days leading up to the trip, the interwebs buzzed with the usual emails sorting out trip details but mostly focused on the weather which predicted a switch from the more frequent northerly summer flows to a period of moderate southerlies. Accordingly, instead of starting at Mosquito Bay and paddling south, we decided to start at Boydtown and paddle north.

Day 1: Boydtown to Pambula River:

Due to some complicated calculations involving tidal flows, wind speeds, wave periods, and slow kayakers, we left Boydtown Beach early and paddled out as a rising sun cast low light across Twofold Bay. We neared the coast at Worang Point and paddled north along this lovely bit of coastline which is part of Ben Boyd National Park. At Haycock Point, the tide was too low to paddle inside of Haystack Rock so we paddled around the outside and into the Pambula River where, despite reports of long wave periods, we found the Pambula Bar easy to cross.

Day 2: Pambula River to Nelson Lagoon:

Another early morning departure as we were meeting another two kayakers at Kianinny Bay at noon. Perhaps it was the tide but Pambula Bar was more lively to cross and some took a wave or two across the chest, but Doug, Rae and I, with impeccable, but completely unscripted timing, paddled out totally dry during a long break between sets.

From the Pambula River to the north end of Wallagoot Beach the coast is a mix of sandy beaches separated by small headlands. Last time we paddled this section we landed near Bournda Island which does not provide much shelter from the swells. This time the swell and the group was bigger and we decided to push on to a more sheltered landing.

Between Wallagoot Lake and Tathra is the wonderful stretch of coast traversed by the Kangarutha Track. This 8 km section of coast is riddled with caves, clefts, grottos, gauntlets and small rocky islets, but, you need calm seas to explore them fully and the 1.5 metre easterly swell was not conducive to playing about in narrow rocky defiles. Even the entrance to Kianinny Bay looked a bit confronting with big waves smashing on the reef. Had I not paddled in before, I might have been more nervous as entering the sheltered bay requires making a dog leg turn around a breaking reef.

We arrived just as John and Gillian arrived with their double sea kayak, and we had a good long lunch break while they prepared to leave. The wind and sea picked up while we were having lunch and when we emerged from Kianinny Bay we found ourselves in a rather lively sea with rebound and clapotis bouncing the boats around. A couple of paddlers were brave enough to put their sails up, but most of us waited until we passed Tathra Head. Wajura Point provided enough shelter to land the kayaks without anyone taking a beating although there was one casualty to the surf.

Day 3: Nelson Beach to Barraga Bay:

This is another nice quiet section of coast that is mostly national park with a few small tourist settlements spaced apart. Landing can be tricky, but we got enough shelter from rock reef near Barraga Bay to get onto shore. The forecast had changed and the extra days of southerly wind we had been expecting were gone and we would see a return to the more usual northerlies the next day. There was a lot of discussion about what to do but no resolution.

Day 4: Barraga Bay to Bermagui:

The swell was smaller next morning and a handy rip beside some rocks made launching easy. More little headlands and small beaches and then we rounded Point Dickinson and paddled into Main Beach at Bermagui. John and Gillian were pulling out here while the rest of us, too optimistically it turns out, opted to carry on to Mystery Bay 16 km to the north.

We dallied way too long over lunch and when we started paddling again we were heading into a 10 knot northerly that rapidly became 15 knots. It was hard work paddling directly into the wind and, to shorten our distance, we were paddling far off-shore which made it seem as if we were not moving at all. Various GPS's indicated we were progressing, but at a slow and tiring 4 km per hour. At this rate, it would take another 4 hours to reach Mystery Bay. It's hard getting a group together in a brutish head wind, and there really is not much opportunity to mull over decisions as you rapidly lose hard won ground, but, we did manage to group up, and the decision to turn and run south with the wind seemed unanimous.

One kayaker capsized when his sail caught the wind, but, to his credit he self-rescued by doing a re-entry and roll and most of us were not aware until later than anything had gone wrong. With the sails up, we got back to Bermagui quickly and easily. The only difficulty was retrieving the cars which were now at Boydtown, finally a use for my encyclopaedic knowledge of bus schedules.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Training Goes On

It's the beginning of March and the end of my 8 week base training block which, for a variety of reasons, morphed into an 11 week training block. In addition to training for life, I started training for a sea kayak trip which added two more training days to the schedule and left me training 6 days a week. However you cut it, training 6 days a week eats up a lot of time and some weeks I felt like I did very little apart from move around a lot while shifting weight. Officially, I was supposed to peak at around 11 hours a week, but I blew well past that and topped out in week 6 at over 19 hours a week.

Bungonia Creek

The basic schedule was much like my transition phase with two endurance sessions per week (on my feet), and two strength training sessions per week. In addition, I climbed twice a week, and, from week 6 on I added two paddle days (typically 25 to 35 km each day).

My Tribe: Kayak pod

To my utmost surprise, I got faster and fitter on my endurance sessions. Not fast mind you, but faster. Somehow at week 6, I managed to run, actually run (Zone 3) for about 1.5 hours on a hilly course covering 13 kilometres! Shocker. On my longest Zone 1, I covered 20 km and 500 metres of elevation gain all before breakfast!

Forest wandering

No real injuries, but I did have one week where I had mild hip bursitis which resolved quickly with rest but I did miss almost a full week of training (hence the expansion from 8 weeks to 11 weeks). My feet and calves were getting pretty sore with all the volume on hard ground but a new pair of zero drop but padded (Altra) shoes have solved that problem.

Quality hill training terrain

I seem to be managing OK recovering from strength training sessions by spreading them as far apart in a one week period as I can although I am training essentially to failure as I'd like to put on some muscle. The gym I joined has a climbing wall as well as a great weight set up so I can now boulder twice a week if we don't manage to get away climbing.

Tianjara Falls

In the midst of all this training we got away on a couple of trips, paddling from Boydtown to Bermagui, and climbing and canyoning up on the southern tablelands. Hauling a heavy pack with a fat rope out of Bungonia Canyon, I was glad I had been training.

Roll up your sleeves and get to work

Week 8 is deload week, so we are away for three days climbing where I get to see whether all the training has made any difference at all.  Next week it all starts again as I ramp up the volume and load once again as I move into a power endurance phase.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It's A Grand Canyon

January has brought a bit of a heat wave to NSW, and, up in the Blue Mountains, the temperatures are sizzling. Rock climbing is OK in the early morning in the shade, but by 10 am, if you haven't sent your proj., you're not sending. On these days, canyoning is a good option.

Mid-afternoon, when even the cicadaswere feeling the heat, we walked down the tourist track to the Grand Canyon. The ground seemed to be radiating heat in waves and pulling on wetsuits at the abseil anchors felt a little silly.

The abseil into the canyon is a little overhung and you instantly drop in a deep, green cool amphitheater. Heading downstream, there is some swimming through deep pools, some scrambling over boulders and logs, and a little slithering down ledges into pools. Near the exit, a blind side canyon is worth a short detour. It's a beautiful place, cool on a hot day, and feels far removed from the regular world even though the tourist track runs along the top of the canyon.  Pretty quickly, the canyon ends, and you land on the tourist track with a choice of walking back via Evans Lookout, or back the way you came.

If you go:
  • The abseil anchors are about half an hour walk down the track behind a fence with the usual “you may die” verbiage.
  • The water is surprisingly cold. Even on a hot day a wetsuit seemed like a good idea.
  • Follow the canyon through until you reach a small green island in the middle of the canyon. You can go right or left of the island. Left is dry, right means a swim.
  • Ignore the track just downstream of the island and continue to follow the creek for a few minutes and you'll pop out on the tourist track.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Your Workout Is My Warmup: Evans Lookout To Govetts Leap

After a deload week when I, probably stupidly, did not deload all that much, I arrived – injury free - at week 5 of my base building hypertrophy phase where the easy zone 2 session becomes a sustained steep zone 3 workout. This handily coincided with us house-sitting up at the Blue Mountains where there are no shortage of steep climbs, somewhat unfortunately preceded by steep downhills, but, you take what you can get.

Enough said

I planned out a route that involved almost 800 metres of elevation gain with the biggest chunk of that coming in a 660 metre steady climb, perfect for strapping on the heart rate monitor and grinding out my first zone 3 workout. From Evans Lookout near Blackheath, we would take an old track (marked “horse track”) that is no longer promoted by NPWS down to Govetts Creek, saunter along the creek, and then come up the spectacular Govetts Leap track where the real training would take place.

The falls at the base of the cliff section of Govetts Leap track

I had forgotten how wonderful the view is from Evans Lookout with all the big orange sandstone cliffs above the gum forested valleys. We stood awhile, and pondered all the amazing rock climbing potential, and then started down the tourist track that descends to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A few hundred metres down this track, an old foot pad goes straight ahead while the main track is signed to the right. This is the start of the old “horse track” (it does not appear as if any horses have used the track for a long time) that runs steeply down to join Greaves Creek downstream of the Grand Canyon.

Carne Wall from Evans Lookout

There are a few fallen trees to climb over and the track is a bit steep and loose to start, but soon the angle kicks back and, just after crossing Haywards Creek, we joined the main track along Greaves Creek. The creek is pretty with very clear water and there are a few small deeper swimming holes and we soon arrived at Junction Rock. We had a short water break sitting on Junction Rock, remembering the last time we had been through this valley on a trip into the Blue Gum Forest, and then we started the climb.
Crossing Govetts Leap Brook

Doug, who was not specifically training started up before me while I dickered around with my heart rate monitor. Surely, however, as I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest, I would catch him, but no, the only time I saw him on the long climb up was when he stopped to see what was keeping me.

Govetts Leap track is probably one of the most spectacular walks in the Blue Mountains descending a series of ladders, stairs and ledges along cliff face with views of deep valleys, steep sandstone cliffs and tumbling waterfalls at every turn. 

Grose Valley from Evans Lookout

 At the escarpment top, where the lookouts were busy with tourists, we turned south and followed the Cliff Top track back past a couple more lookouts and across both Govetts Leap Brook and Hayward Creek to our starting point.   

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Another Circuit of Mount Alexandra

I am somewhere along the Nattai River, head down, covered in cobwebs, burrowing through spiky regrowth, supposedly on THE circuit route of Mount Alexandra that is shown on the faded old map at Lake Alexandra, and, I've lost the track, again. I recross the creek, look upstream, nothing, then back downstream – my foot tracks in a bit of clear sand by the river bank but no other indicator of passage. The book I have access to - “Discovering the Southern Highlands on Foot” - did mention crossing to the south bank of the Nattai River, so I go back again and fight my way through scrub, and, there a few metres above me is a vague track heading east, found again.

This was supposed to be an easy jog around Mount Alexandra on tracks, following this route that is displayed at Lake Alexandra, but, reality is not much like the sketch map. It all looks so clear and straight forward on the map. On the ground, it's a little different. The track along the Nattai River is overgrown and tough to follow and there are confusing track junctions all along the way and scant track signs. Below is my best guess of how to navigate the circuit without getting too terribly lost. I did have to backtrack a couple of times to “refind” the track.

Gibbergunyah Creek

Starting from Lake Alexandra, follow the paved track around the west side of the lake and take any one of several bush tracks that all join the main fire track that heads northwest along the eastern branch of Gibbergunyah Creek. Look out for a cement post with the top painted red that marks a foot pad descending to the creek. Follow this track until it joins another fire trail, and turn right to follow Gibbergunyah Creek north under the Hume Highway.

The next junction is easy to miss so keep an eye out for steps descending down to the creek on your left only a few minutes after passing under the Hume Highway. There is a sign, but it is down the foot track and not easily seen from the fire road. Cross Gibbergunyah Creek on a narrow cement foot bridge and head downstream with the river bank on your right. It is not very far to another sign where you cross the Nattai River on slimy rocks. Immediately across the river, the track actually forks, although it is virtually impossible to distinguish either fork. There are two signs, one pointing steeply up out of the river bed to the left, the other fallen down and buried in bush directs the walker to the right along the Nattai River.

Crossing the Nattai River

The track is hard to follow here as it is overgrown with fern and fallen trees. Keep the Nattai River to your right and look out for another crossing of the river to the south bank. I had to scout around to find the track here, maybe you will have better luck than me. When you do find the track, you'll be on the south side of the river with the river on your left. If you are counting, you have now crossed creeks three times in total.

For the next kilometre, the track is very overgrown and you'll be pushing through scrubby bush, climbing over fallen trees and trying not to lose the foot pad again. Gradually, the track gets clearer and easier to follow and you come out near a scraping where coal has been dug out. A steep track climbs up here, but the circuit continues straight ahead and, if you are on the right track, you should find some track markers along the next section. The track heads north following the river around a big oxbow and you are actually going away from Mount Alexandra at this point.

These signs could be superfluous if the track were cleared

Eventually the track turns back to the south and starts heading towards the highway and Mount Alexandra again. Soon, you can see the big highway bridge and you might begin to think all the tricky navigation is over, but it's not.

Pass under the Hume Highway (about 2 km east of the first passage under the highway) but don't take any of the tracks that climb up to the highway (at least one is marked by flagging). Instead, stay low and cross the Nattai River again on rock slabs. With the river on your right, follow the track as it climbs up to a viewpoint of 60 Foot Falls (often dry).

Upper Nattai River

Soon, the track joins a fire track. You should be heading south now with Mount Alexandra on your right hand side. The fire tracks gradually merge with other fire tracks but keep heading south and you'll be on track to return to Mittagong. You can take the low route and contour (on fire roads) around the south side of Mount Alexandra back to Lake Alexandra or you can grab a bit more training and hike up the Coke Tunnel track (look for the track to your right just after a fire road junction) back to the upper parking lot, then up the lookout fire track to the Boulder Valley track and back that way.   

Thursday, December 28, 2017

An Alternate Circuit of Mount Alexandra

If you walk around the NW side of Lake Alexandra, you will find a mouldy map showing a circuit route of Mount Alexandra. You could do this loop, which is just under 8 km long but you'll only accumulate, at best, about 100 metres of elevation gain. Here is a better circuit that runs over Mount Alexandra and garners about 400 metres of elevation gain in just under 6 km.

Follow the track around Lake Alexandra until you meet the main fire track heading NW along Gibbergunyah Creek. Turn left and continue along the fire road until a cement post (faded red top) marks a foot track that descends down into the creek valley on the right. This section is really nice along side a verdant creek with scattered sand-stone outcrops above.

Soon, the foot-track rejoins a fire track where you turn right and travel north along the east bank of Gibbergunyah Creek. Just before the track passes under the big highway bridges, a steep track climbs out on the right hand side. Follow this up to the top of Mount Alexandra, detour to Katoomba Lookout if you have not been before, and then continue down hill to the upper parking lot on Mount Alexandra. Watch for a cairn on the right as you descend as you will be coming back here later.

Behind a mangled gate, a very steep fire road runs generally southeast down to the lower edge of the reserve. Follow this downhill until you meet another fire road, turn left and look for a small track to the right that runs downhill to meet the main fire-road in the Nattai Valley. Turn left (north) and follow the fire track until you encounter the coke tunnel track on your left. The junction is unmarked but if you reach the fire road to 60 Foot Falls you've gone slightly too far.

Hoof it up the steep coke tunnel track back to the upper car park and keep going until you are almost at the top of Mount Alexandra again and look for the cairn on the left that marks the uphill end of the Boulder Valley track. Turn left and saunter down this track until you cross the fire road you started on and wander back to Lake Alexandra.