Monday, September 24, 2012

Walking and Climbing

Today Doug and I went climbing at Bangor Crag. A pleasant one hour walk from Loftus leads to the crag, almost all of it through the bush with a bit of easy, but unavoidable bushwalking. A good trail leads down from Loftus – complete with steps cut into the sandstone – to the Forbe River, and from there out to the Wonorora River, where you can cross the River on a very sturdy footbridge. Bangor Crag is up above the river at the top of an escarpment, but we could find no trail going up through the bush, so wacked up through light bush. Easy wacking by Canadian standards, except that the piles of eucalpyt leaves everywhere are surprisingly slippery underfoot. At the top of the escarpment we picked up a track widening to a fire track and walked to the top of the crag. There are two ways to scramble down to the base, east and west, west is easiest and we went down east and up west. Both have a few moves of low 5th class.

We climbed a dozen routes or so, from grades (Australian scale) 13 to 19, which, could be roughly from 5.5 to 10b, but none of the routes felt like 5.5 to me. The easiest I would likely have graded 5.7. Unfortunately, mixed in with good new ring bolts are lots of dodgy old Australian carrot bolts. Carrot bolts are regular machine bolts hammered into a hole drilled into the sandstone that is slightly narrower than the bolt diameter. They have no hangars, and you need to carry a hangar plate to fit over the carrot. Bizarre, yes, dubious, incontrovertibly. For some strange reason, despite a lot of retro-bolting to replace old carrots – very scary looking – there were virtually no ring bolts for top anchors. All the top anchors were carrots, some looking very rusty. We used trees for anchors. I called up a climbing store when we got home and found out where to buy bolt plates for carrots ($5 each), but, I'm not altogether sure I want to start climbing on carrots. 

Carrots aside, we had a great day, although we both felt weak and stiff after not climbing for a long time.  It was awesome being able to walk to the crag, particularly as the entire walk is along really nice bush tracks.  

Pool along the Forbe River on the walk to Bangor Crag

Thursday, September 20, 2012

First hike, First Impressions

It's almost a week since we arrived in Australia and, in some ways much has happened and much hasn't. We've been in the 'burbs all week, laid low with viruses for a few days, but also running about the city on the excellent railway network doing essential chores like getting Medicare cards and drivers licenses. Although Australia is very much a developed nation, the city – and suburbs – have a much different feel to Canada or the USA. For starters, the country is highly multi-cultural with good representation of all kinds of nationalities. Secondly, small shops rule and big box stores are virtually unknown. There are some large department stores clustered together in a few big malls, but, otherwise, there is just a plethora of small shops selling a variety of items. It feels almost like a third world country walking down the main street of any suburb in Sydney because of the diversity of stores. Thirdly, there are so many workers – every small train station has half a dozen people working there, where in Canada there would be none. We are staying with my Mother who lives right by the cemetery (beautiful walking) and there has to be 50 people employed in the place.

Today we actually got out into the Australian bush and did a nice short walk from Heathcote train station to Waterfall train station through the Royal National Park. That's another thing that is nice about Sydney, you can access all kinds of National Parks and reserves via public transit. Our walk took us along the Karloo Track to Karloo Pool (a small waterhole on what I presume is the Karloo River) and on to Uloola Falls – which was a small and rather unimpressive (if you come from Canada) trickle over a 15 metre high sandstone cliff. From Uloola Falls we took Uloola Track out to Waterfall train station. This section of the walk was less enjoyable as it was all on a fire trail. Not too hot today but I imagine this section of the track would be baking in summer.

Our next major goal is to buy a vehicle and we start on that tomorrow. 

Doug on a small sandstone bluff overlooking 
the Royal National Park

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shell Shock, Culture Shock

Today was our first full day in Australia. A fairly prosaic day. We went shopping for groceries in the morning and, in the afternoon, I walked down to a bush reserve to check out a little climbing crag. Seems commonplace enough, but already I notice huge differences between Canada and Australia.

In Australia, you go to a bunch of different shops to buy your groceries. At the supermarket, you can get dry goods and dairy. Then you go to the butcher for meat and chicken, the fish shop for fish, and the green-grocer for fruit and vegetables. A lot of people have these super handy wheeled shopping carts so you can do what we did – walk to the stores, load your groceries in your cart and wheel it home (you drag it behind you). Very convenient and so awesome to be able to do everything without a vehicle.

After lunch, I walked a couple of kilometres through residential streets – amazing flowers in all the gardens – to where a fire road (looks like a BC logging road) led down into a bush reserve. Australians call anything remotely forest like “bush”. There was a small stream with some billabongs (small pools) running through the base of the reserve and the most incredible vegetation everywhere. Big tree ferns, huge eucalpyts, orange, pink, white, yellow flowering plants (none of which I know), and big Gymea Bay Lillies with their huge red flowers atop a 6 metre stalk. The air is full of the sound of bird-song – from the raucous cries of cockatoos to the delicate ringing of the bell-birds. Superb.

Looking forward to climbing some Sutherland Shire sandstone tomorrow. 

Gum tree reflection

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Last Time, Really

On Saturday, while Doug was enmeshed in the Brown garage sale - "50 years of stuff, everything must go" - I snuck out for what really must be my last time into the high alpine.  I know I keep saying that, but, as I write this, the day before we fly to Australia, I really think it was my last trip into the alpine - at least for a while.

There were four of us, and two dogs, two from Nelson (who invited me) and one super friendly guy from Surrey.  Predictably, I got lost getting to the meeting place - couldn't find a way onto Highway One - and was about 10 minutes late.  Luckily, we were meeting early - 6 am - so my lateness had no significant effect on our day.  We drove south across the Canada-USA border and up a short logging road to a trailhead that led into the Mount Baker Wilderness Area. 

A good hiking trail leads to some tarns to the west of the diminutive Yellow Aster Butte.  At this point, you have hiked about 8 km (or so) and Tomyhoi Peak, our destination for the day, is still a long way away.  In fact, the summit is only just visible peaking over the horizon to the north.  At the tarns, we left Will and the two dogs behind, one of which immediately began to bark, and bark, and bark, and bark...  Frightfully embarrassing as there were many people around the lake who I am sure did not appreciate the serenade.  Eva, Andrew and I carried on along a good trail that basically leads all the way to the top of Tomyhoi Peak

There are a few ups and downs along the route,  probably 60 metres or so, for the longest down, that I thought might feel annoying on the way up, but, generally  this is ridge line hiking at its finest.  There are peaks, meadows, valleys, glaciers, all around.  This is an area that I don't know very well, so really could only identify the Cheam group to the north, the Rexford Group to the northeast, and, of course, Mount Baker prominent to the south. 

When you get closer to Tomyhoi, the trail contours around the east side of the peak, then a short stretch of glacier must be crossed before a scramble up a rocky gully to the ridge.  The trail then switches to the west side of the ridge for a short distance and then onto the ridge proper and a false summit before the real short summit tower.  The summit tower is an easy scramble up shallow gullies on loose rock.  The way is very obvious beaten in by the boots of thousands of climbers. 

We had a short break at the top, then headed back to the more capacious false summit for our lunch, and then the long walk back.  Eva was having trouble with her feet, and I think was also feeling tired, so  Andrew and I ambled along ahead.  At the tarns, Will was waiting patiently with the two dogs.  We let Eva soak her sore feet for 10 minutes or so, and then began the long dusty walk back down to the trailhead. I took one of the dogs with me as I thought Eva was getting tired of dealing with two dogs.  Descending the trail I found quite slow and I was wishing Alanna was there as together we would have bombed down the trail in no time. 
Mount Baker

Thursday, September 6, 2012


After only four days in Vancouver – White Rock to be exact (although in my mind, the entire lower mainland is just one big built up area) – I was going rapidly crazy. Leaving Doug to sort through the mountains of stuff his parents have accumulated, I took off for a couple of hikes.

I drove out Highway 1 – what a nightmare – to the Skagit Range where I found a little bit of peace in the midst of the metropolis. I hiked up the Elk Mountain trail and carried on to Mount Thurston, surprising a black bear chewing on berries along the ridge top. The trail is steep to the top of Elk Mountain, then an easy ramble along a ridge line to Mount Thurston. After coming back and checking Bivouac, I realized that you could carry on and also hike up Mount Mercer. With some kind of car shuttle the three peaks would make a nice easy traverse.

After hiking down, I enjoyed big city anonymity and had a hamburger for dinner at a fast food place along Vedder Avenue – another wildly built up busy street, then drove out to Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park where I camped for the night.

Next morning, I was on the trail to Flora Lake, my original intention being to hike up Flora Peak from Flora Pass. Another typically steep trail which gains almost 4,000 feet in about 4 km. At Flora Pass, Flora Peak looked disappointingly bushy so, instead of turning left for Flora Peak, I went right and followed a beaten in trail to a 6,100 foot highpoint. Stunning views from this highpoint. I only had the segment of map I was on, so couldn't even hazard a guess as to all the peaks around me, but, they were beautiful, it was a peaceful and wild place and I was happy. Perhaps that's all you can hope for in life. In any case, that's enough for me. 

Mount Baker From Elk Mountain

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Mountain of Stuff

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. 
John Ruskin
A friend of mine sent me this quote a few months ago and I kept it thinking it would be great for a blog post sometime. Well, here we are in Vancouver where we are attempting to help Doug's parents move from their bungalow into a smaller apartment and every where we look there is stuff. Mountains of stuff. Six couches, six large living room chairs, twelve dining room chairs, at least 100 glasses and 100 plates. And, that's just a partial list of what is inside the house. Outside, in the yard, there must be 20 chairs and a half dozen tables.

There are things in this house that have not been used for 50 years, things that have been bought and never used, things that have no discernable purpose. The weight of all the things inside and outside this house is crushing.

After four solid days of work, we finally cleared out the garage enough that it could be used for a garage sale. But that, as you can imagine, is only a tiny section of what needs to be done. Every room in the house contains as much stuff as the garage and needs to be culled. Imagine my bemusement, astonishment, incredulity when I found them looking at sales flyers last night and earnestly discussing buying two new couches!

Gratuitous scenery shot to remind me of the real world

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Once More Into The Wild

2012 was the year of our endless summer, as, in late August, Doug and I prepared to move from the small mountain town of Nelson that had been our home for the last 10 years to Australia, where summer was soon to settle in.

Four days before we had to leave our house, we found we had time for one last mountain trip, and, after the usual studying of maps, we decided to hike into the Settlers Group on the east side of the Purcell Mountains. In March of the same year, we had skied up to Kootenay Joe Ridge from Johnsons Landing and looked over at the Settlers Group from the summit of Kootenay Joe Ridge. Draped in a blanket of snow, the mountains and extensive alplands were stunningly beautiful. That was part of the appeal of the Settlers Group, the other, equally important part was ease of access. A good trail leads from a landing in a cutblock at 5,500 feet to the tiny Heart Lake at 7,350 feet. Finally, Salisbury Creek FSR, where the trail starts, was reported to be in good shape, a rarity in 2012 when record monsoon rains washed out dozens of other roads in the Kootenay region.

Doug hiking up to the col

Hike In, Mount Willet Attempt

The trail, built by enthusiastic locals and not well (if at all) known outside the local area, starts at roads end and is relatively easy to find. Perhaps 20 metres before the absolute road end, look for an ATV track bashed into the cutblock. The trail starts at this ATV track, but heads north (climbers left) and is marked by a sketch of a hiker on a large tree at the edge of the cutblock. The trail climbs gently and contours north into the south fork of Bulmer Creek, travels due east, skirting the north end of a boulder field, and eventually climbs steeply to a narrow col northeast of Tooth Ridge.

After about two hours hiking we came out at Heart Lake, a pretty little tarn amidst alpine meadows marred only by a scattering of fire pits. We had a break by the lake, then wandered up alplands to an 8,000 foot ridgeline. Looking east, we could see Winter Peak and Mount Bulmer, while the bigger peaks of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy stretched away beyond Fry Creek to the southeast.

We descended about 200 feet wandering through delightful alpine meadows to a small tarn overlooking Fry Creek Canyon. Campsites were plentiful, but, as you often do when faced with a plethora of choice, it took us a half hour to settle on a tent site. Tent up, afternoon munchies ingested, we headed off to see if Mount Willet could be easily ascended from this direction. We were able to contour across rubble slopes and neve at about 7,800 feet, just under the steep loose cliffs of Beguin W3 (Bivouac nomenclature). After about an hour, we'd got to a spot about 180 feet below a steep headwall on the east side of the standard ascent route (SE ridge). The late hour, combined with the nasty looking headwall, turned us back and we hiked back to camp arriving in time to witness a glorious sunset.

Another spectacular Purcell sunset

Mount Beguin, Bacchus Ridge, Winter Peak

Next morning we laid in until the sun hit the tent, and, after some breakfast set off to scramble up which ever peaks of the Settlers Group took our fancy. Truthfully, we found it strange that so many small and incredibly loose bumps along a ridge should earn such lofty titles. In 1969, Curt Wagner, from Minnesota, climbed all these peaks and named them after local settlers. Given current strictures on naming it's doubtful such things would not happen today.

In any case, a friend of ours, who had scrambled many of these peaks, had told us that the best access to all these peaks was from the south side. The glaciers shown on the map have long since disappeared from the south side, while only remnant steep pocket glaciers remain on the north side.

Pleasant alpine rambling led us around the south shoulder of Winter Peak at about 8,100 feet where a great quantity of rubbly rock greeted us. We decided to head for Mount Beguin, half because it was the highest of the group and half because we could just see an easy ramp through the rubble. Maintaining our elevation as much as we could, we contoured across meadow, rubble and occasional patches of snow until we encountered a solid white rib of rock running south from Mount Bulmer.

Mount Bulmer itself looked frightfully loose, but an easy ramp of talus and meadow led from the base of Bulmer all the way up to the west ridge of Mount Beguin. This ramp was low angle enough that the loose rock was no problem and, in a half an hour, we were hiking along the final loose and somewhat narrow west ridge to the top.

It was still early and Bacchus Ridge, while incredibly loose, also offered easy ridge walking, so we continued northeast, skirting around a rubble tower on the ridge on the south side to the top of Bacchus Ridge where we surprised a large flock of small birds feeding on who knows what hidden among the rubble.

I toyed with continuing on to Mount Clark, but the "peak" is 300 feet lower than Bacchus Ridge and singularly unimpressive. Instead, we hiked back over the top of Beguin and headed west towards Winter Peak and camp. On the way back to camp, I scrambled up Winter Peak via steep grassy slopes on the south side and had a good view of camp from the grey rocky summit. Doug wandered back to camp ahead of me.

A moderate south wind had been blowing smoke in all day and by evening views were quite obscured by forest fire smoke from the USA.

Evening light on Mount Bulmer and Winter Peak

Tooth Ridge Attempt, GR125530

All good things must end, even a last alpine trip, and the next day we packed up and walked back towards Heart Lake. I wanted to try Tooth Ridge on the way out, Doug, who thought it looked steep, loose, and well - nasty - decided to hike up GR125530 as we passed by instead. At ridge top at GR125535 we parted ways arranging to meet at the col northeast of Tooth Ridge where the trail first climbs out of South Bulmer Creek valley.

Doug had a good goat track along the ridge and a little class 3 quartzite scrambling soon put him on top of GR125530. I had considerably less luck on Tooth Ridge. Initially, a good trail led around the west side of the first crumbling tower. The trail then deteriorated markedly, and, at some point along the ridge disappeared altogether. I managed to claw my way along very steep loose terrain to the top of the final tower before the summit tower, but the increasingly steep, loose exposed terrain caused me to rethink the whole endeavour and I turned back before the final summit. Meeting my demise or breaking both legs on my final trip into the Canadian mountains was not high on my bucket list.

Back at the col, Doug soon appeared somewhat relieved that I had turned back, and we hiked easily down the trail, nibbling on huckleberries and ending our last foray into the Canadian mountains - at least for now.

Doug looking north from Mount Bulmer

Saturday, September 1, 2012

So Long Doghouse

For many years, a decade in fact, we called our house in the woods outside of Nelson, the Doghouse for two reasons. One, when we first saw the house on a real estate listing a Border Collie was lying prominently in front of the house in the photo, and the second, because it was home to our beloved labrador, Kumo.

On Thursday, we pulled away from the Doghouse for the last time on our way to Australia. It was one of those bittersweet days that mix pleasure and pain. It is time for us to move on, but, we loved our 12 wooded acres, all the animals that inhabited the land, our community, the surrounding mountains, and our many friends. I took a last walk through the woods on our trails, Doug picked some blackberries from our burgeoning vine, and with a great deal of sadness we drove away.

"To everything there is a season." All the best in life to everyone we leave behind, I miss y'all already.

Leaving the Doghouse