Friday, April 26, 2013

It's Time

To distract ourselves from waiting for the mailman (mail person) to arrive, Doug and I went paddling around Botany Bay today.  This increased the time interval between wondering if the mailman (person) had arrived from every five minutes to every seven minutes.  Doesn't seem like much, but, over the course of a five hour paddle, those two minutes can really add up.

It certainly is starting to feel like time to head north.  I had to put my paddle jacket on when the wind came up as I almost shivered from the cold, and, for the first time on a paddle since we arrived in Australia last September, neither Doug nor I went swimming.  The ocean felt cold!  WTF!

Finally, about 2.30 pm, my Mum called to say the mailman (person) had arrived with our delivery.  We had some shopping to do, but then hurried home and have been packing up last minute items ever since.  

We have at last reached escape velocity to punch our way out of the gravitational pull of the Cave.

Doug paddling Botany Bay

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Still in Sydney, WTF!

Everything is done, the caravan is packed, the sun is shining, and yet, here we are, in Sydney still... WTF! There is one last thing we need which did not make yesterday's mail delivery and, with a public holiday in Australia today, we are now stuck waiting (and hoping) for it to arrive in Friday's mail. Australian mail is actually really awesome, fast, reliable, cheap, but, sadly, not instantaneous. 

We actually discovered one further minor glitch this morning which took us a few hours to sort out. Now, unless the wheels fall off the caravan or car, nothing further should delay us. 

Doug and I went down to the FishBoulders by the Woronora River to boulder this afternoon which was fun and I was lots braver with a spotter and a helmet! It felt good to be climbing again, even if we were never more than three metres off the ground. Height is over-rated. 

Doug at the Fish Boulders

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boxvale Walking Track

It's nice to be able to write a blog post about an activity, rather than whining about being stuck in the Cave – which was starting to feel like Hotel California (you can check-in any time you like but you can never leave). We left the Cave around 2.00 pm yesterday on a “test” trip to see how all our caravan systems are working and drove down to the Mittagong area and into Belanglo State Forest to Daly's Flat campground. We stayed one night at this little free clearing/camping area on a previous climbing trip late last year. By the time we arrived, we only had time for a brief walk along some tracks through the pine plantation before the sun set and it was cold and dark.

Our caravan was very comfortable particularly when it rained overnight! In the morning, it was about 5C and, being the weak-willed individuals that we are, we decided to go for a hike instead of standing shivering at the climbing crag at Mount Alexandra all day. 

Just off the Hume Highway near the small town of Welby, is the Boxvale Walking Track. There are a variety of walks you can do in this area as the Mount Alexandra reserve spans both sides of the Hume Highway. We did a circuit down to Forty Foot Falls, along the Nattai River and back along the old railway that used to haul coal up from the Nattai River and out to the main southern railway line at Mittagong. 

This is actually a pretty nice scenic little hike with some historical interest. The trail initially travels north and crosses Nattai Creek near a reservoir. Past the reservoir it is quite obvious you are on the old railway line although nothing remains to mark it except for old post holes, cuttings through sandstone bluffs and the raised railway bed. After you walk through Casuarina Cutting – these cuttings through the sandstone bluffs were undoubtedly hacked out by hand by convicts – you reach a trail junction. We took the right fork to Forty Foot Falls as I had read that the trail back up out of the Nattai River was quite steep and preferable to ascend rather than descend. 

Doug at Forty Foot Falls

You walk for a kilometre or so on a fire road, then the trail resumes and you descend some steps to the base of Forty Foot Falls which are on Nattai Creek near its confluence with the Nattai River. The falls are pretty and you can stand behind them. The trail then follows the Nattai River north (downstream) for 3.5 km (or so the sign says). There is a fair bit of blowdown on this section so it is a little slow going and the trail crosses the river four times in all. Near a big bend in the Nattai River, the trail passes under a sandstone arch that has beautiful colours and patterns etched in the ceiling of the arch. Shortly thereafter a handy log allows an easy crossing of the Nattai River and you must search around a bit to find the trail going back up to the top of the escarpment. If you go slightly to climbers left after crossing the log you will find the trail but it is buried in a thicket of stinging nettle.

Nattai River

The trail is basically just the bed of the old tramway that hauled the coal up from river bottom to join the railway on top of the escarpment. Apparently, the old adit and mine is just to climbers left of “the incline” as the old tramway cutting is called, but we didn't see any sign of it. At the height of production, in the mid 1800's, this mine produced 100 tonnes of coal a day all dug out by pick-ax and shovel! 

At the top of the incline, a side track leads down to a picnic area on a rock platform looking over Nattai Gorge. You are supposed to be able to see Mount Cloudmaker – which we almost hiked too when we were in Kanangra-Boyd National Park a few months back, but as Cloudmaker, despite it's auspicious name is merely a tree covered bump on a long ridge, it would be hard to positively identify it. We had lunch here, it was windy and cool, and we were dressed in full winter kit with toques and puffs on!

From the lookout it is perhaps another four kilometres (maximum, could be less) back to the car park, all of it along the old railway line. You pass a couple more cuttings and also through a 100 metre long tunnel, again hewn out by hand by convicts. The tunnel is actually pretty neat and now has some beautiful big gum trees growing outside either entrance. 

We got back to our caravan around 4.30 pm and it was very nice to climb inside and brew up some afternoon tea!

Doug at the sandstone arch

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me

Here is an interesting first person account of the March 10 avalanche near Kaslo in BC. 

I am of the opinion that most, if not all, accidents in the mountains (and perhaps elsewhere) are actually a factor of the interplay of various personalities and not the result of lack of skill, education or experience. Frequently, the main protagonist in the accident has overstepped the bounds of their expertise, not due to wilful ignorance or the Dunning-Kruger effect (the incompetent not recognising their own incompetence) but because of what appear to be modestly enduring personality factors. 

Certainly, my own history in the mountains is chequered with minor incidents, most of which, if I honestly apprise them have to do with certain of my own personality characteristics not a lack of skill or knowledge. I am not prone to overstepping the bounds of my expertise (my own faults lie in other areas), but I do know many people whose assessment of their ability is out of lock-step with any objective measure of their ability, and these are the people whose overconfidence can lead them into dangerous terrain. 

There are instances in the mountains where one person does make all the decisions for their entire group, but, this is a paradigm more suited to professional guiding situations than groups with mixed skill and experience levels such as this one. Certainly, if one person is going to move into the role of most “knowledgeable one” it behoves that person to honestly evaluate their motives for acting as group guide and to be very, very careful that they do not overreach the boundaries of their knowledge base. Taking a proverbial step back, and then one more would be wise. 

The best post accident analyses finish with a series of statements that describe what could have been done better (or perhaps left undone) in very concrete terms. Without this final step, days could be spent navel gazing without any progress towards substantive change. Past behaviour, after all, is the best predictor of future behaviour. New ways of being must be substituted for the old ways or we are doomed to continue wearing a deeper and deeper rut into our pysche.

In the final analysis however, the ancient Greeks said it all centuries ago when they coined the aphorism “Know thyself.”

On The Misty Icefield Traverse

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Half A Century

Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself. Tom Wilson. 

I turned 50 today. It's hard to believe I have been on this planet for half a century, and, that the bulk of my life (I don't think I'll live to 100, hell, I'm not even sure I want to live to that long) is over. Age is supposed to confer wisdom, but, truthfully the angst of youth never feels far away. 

With each passing year, some degree of acceptance comes, yet, like most of us, if we are truly honest, I still feel the need to prove myself, to compare favorably with others, to simply “be someone.” In many ways I have the same goals I had ten years ago, to climb harder grades, to lift more weight, to run faster. I still work towards these goals moving one step forward, two steps back, never seeming to get that much closer, yet never willing to give up. 

Sometimes I wonder if at 70 or 80 I will still be trying to push my climbing up one grade, or add another 5 kilograms to my deadlift. If I am, will that be a good thing or a bad thing? Should one accept declining ability gracefully with age, or is it better to go “not gently into that good night?”

Doug, paddling on the Woronora River today

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Sanity of Walking

Nothing stays the same, and some things never change.  Unknown.

I walked down the rock carved steps at the end of the street this morning and followed the track north to cross the Woronora River on the little footbridge.  The tide was running high in the river and schools of fish were flashing bright in the muddy water as they came together, flew apart, then came together again feeding on something along the river banks.  Occasionally, a loud splash would signify the presence of much bigger fish, but these I never saw. 

On the north bank, I followed the trail that climbs up through big bloodwoods and ferns, among crazily carved sandstones boulders and eventually gains the flat land at the top of the escarpment where you can look out over the Woronora River as it sluggishly winds its way to Heathcote.  Sulfur Crested Cockatoos were screeching over head and chewing branch ends off the gum trees and letting them fall to the forest floor. 

Bloodwoods and ferns

On my way back, as the morning moisture steamed out of the ground, great flocks of Lorikeets whirled in the trees, their brilliant colours flashing in the green of the forest.  I felt the calm and peace that walking in the forest inevitably induces in me.  We are still stuck in Sydney, still yearning to be out, but a walk in the woods is still a wonderful thing.  


Monday, April 8, 2013

Bouldering, Helmets, Chalk

So, yesterday, as I resolved or at least talked about resolving, I got out bouldering at the Fish Rocks down by the Woronora River. First up, I should come clean and admit I suck at bouldering. I don't own a crash pad (and have no desire to clutter my life with yet another piece of gear), and, have never really learnt the art of falling well, so falling off a boulder from a great height – or even a modest height – does not rank highly on my “bucket list” of goals to achieve. 

With that caveat aside, I spent about an hour happily playing around on different boulders. I did notice that, contrary to what you might think (or at least what I thought), chalk is a good idea even if you are only out for an hour. It was steamy like a tropical jungle down by the river when the sun came out and I was working up a slick sweat on my hands (all over really, but that is much less pleasant for other people to think about). 

Those rock shoes that seemed comfortable at the end of last season feel like lotus shoes at the start of this season. Additionally, almost all Australian sandstone has rounded, sloping micro holds and while diligent (if boring) training on rock rings helps, climbing on slopers (either bouldering or roped) is, not surprisingly, the best way to train finger strength. Conversely, all that core training (think standard ankles to bar exercise done on rock rings) really helps stay on bouldering routes. Sticking with a schedule of lock-offs and dead-hangs helps too. 

Finally, I started wondering why you never see anyone bouldering with a helmet on. Perhaps it was the nature of the boulders I was on – almost all Australian sandstone seems to be either overhung or at least undercut for the first metre – but I constantly felt that were I to peel off the rock, I wouldn't simply slither down feet first but would catapult backwards head-first, undoubtedly crushing my skull on either hard ground or a poorly placed boulder.

The Fish Boulders

Sunday, April 7, 2013

No Regrets

There's no regrets, no tears goodbye... The Walker Brothers.

My friend Kim Kratky wrote his own obituary, which, if you knew Kim, seems somehow fitting. Apparently, he wanted to make sure it was correct. Kim taught English for many years, was a prolific writer and one of the few people who can write a sensible route description in a climbing/hiking or skiing guidebook. 
What I really like about Kim's obituary is this paragraph: “Kim always said he had no regrets - there was no “bucket list” left for him. He imagined himself as like a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “We shall not soon see his like again. He was right.”

How many of us can say the same?

 Kim atop a mountain in the Purcell Range

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Outdoor People

I think that I can not preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more – sauntering through the woods... Henry David Thoreau.

Yesterday, while poor Doug worked away at wiring the caravan, I had the good fortune to spend about six hours sauntering, as Henry David Thoreau, opined “through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” Or sort of. Actually, I spent a lot of the time thinking. 

After much cogitation, during which I hope I wasn't, to quote William James “merely rearranging [my] prejudices,” I realized that my current distress (an unusual but wholly accurate adjective) is the result of cognitive dissonance. I think of myself as an “outdoor person.” I like to ski, climb, hike, kayak, preferably in wild places where people are scarce and adventure plentiful. Yet here I am going into week five of urban living, wherein the most exciting thing I have done for a month is kayak, on a perfect day, from Dolans Bay to Boat Harbour. Hardly the epitome of “an outdoor person.” 

Hence my dissonance, I want to believe I am “an outdoor person” yet my actions are not consistent with my beliefs. For a month I've been coddling myself with the idea that this experience represents some short term pain for long term gain; that this rather unsatisfactory period of my life will soon pass and I will be back out in the wild places again. And, some of that is true, but, not all of it. 

According to psychological literature, we resolve cognitive dissonance by either changing our beliefs or rationalizing away any evidence that does not support our cognition. Seen in this light, my “short term pain for long term gain” explanation starts to seem an awful lot like an excuse. While there are things that need to be done so that we can leave the Cave and travel freely for the next year or two, there are also things that I could be doing now that are congruent with my perception of myself as an “outdoor person.” The question is, of course, whether I'll actually do any of them. 

Exposed scrambling in the Selkirk Mountains

Friday, April 5, 2013

No Cup At All

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde.

For some people the cup is half full, for some half empty, and some folks don't seem to have a cup at all. These are the people who generally can't find anything good to say about any person or situation. If it's not too hot, it's too cold, or too dry, or too humid. Other people are too fat, too lazy, too eager, too smart. 

Seeing the worst in people or situations comes effortlessly and naturally to these folks, who will claim, if questioned, that they are only being honest. Ironically, that “honesty” does not seem to translate into a frank estimation of their own behaviour. 

Pessimistic people frequently seem misanthropic as well. How else does one explain the tendency to point out other people's faults and failings so rapidly, consistently and with such acerbity? Jean-Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people” to describe the characteristic lack of self-awareness of these people who will gleefully point out other people's faults whilst not recognising their own.

Research psychologists claim that there are some benefits to being a pessimist – providing, of course, that the pessimism is not so deep as to paralyse all action. Apparently, pessimists are less likely to continue gambling when they are losing money than optimists, and are more likely to avoid feeling disappointed when things did not turn out as well as they hoped. 

Research, however, is one thing, practicality is another. No-one wants to spend time with a pessimist. Pessimists drag you down to their level – where everything that can go wrong will, where everyone is a disappointment, where life is miserable, and the only thing that makes it less miserable is gloating over other people's mistakes. 

If I have to lay in the gutter, I'd sure as hell rather look up at the stars, than down at the rats even if I do risk some future disappointment.  

Woronora River view from my walk today

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


There are a few moments in life that, for whatever reason, we remember with absolute clarity. Or at least we think we do; studies show that our memories are much less accurate than we think. But, I am divagating; the essence of this post isn't about how well or poorly we remember but about how some memories are more alive than others.

Lately, I've had two such memories recurring to me with such pellucidity that I have felt myself transported back to that time and place. The first was in 2001 when we first moved to Nelson, BC from Calgary. We had just bought a 12 acre property in the woods, were newly retired at the young age of 38, and full of energy and enthusiasm to explore the local mountains. On a bright moonlit night with our faithful labrador, Kumo, along, we ski toured around our property and out to the neighbours property. The entire area where we lived was woodland and the full moon lit up the winter night as bright as day. We wandered in and out of the shadows through stretches of dark pine forest, across open fields, past frozen ponds. Life seemed magical and full of mystery. I felt almost giddy with the prospect of endless explorations into the surrounding mountains. 

Winter sunset at our property near Nelson, BC

The second memory is much more recent – 26 December, 2012. Doug and I, after a long and stressful time at the Cave, had just left Sydney on the first day of a 9 week road trip. We had driven a couple of hours south of Sydney and launched our new sea kayaks at Tallowa Dam and had paddled upstream along the Kangaroo River to Lake Yarrunga. Within minutes of leaving Tallowa Dam we had left behind all the screaming, half-drunk, semi-illiterate holiday makers attracted by free camping, and were alone. Around 5.00 pm, we found a sheltered little bay with a couple of campsites perched among the river rocks and set up camp. As the sun dipped below low hills opposite camp I realized we were finally alone, out in that magical solitude that only wild places can offer and the essence of which Henry David Thoreau captured so elegantly when he wrote “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Sunset Lake Yarrunga

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Fish Boulders

More stuff arrived at the Cave today – jumper cables and more pieces of sundry electrical equipment that mean nothing to me, but hopefully mean something to Doug. It is amazing how you can get rid of a bunch of stuff in one country and then find you need to accumulate much the same stuff again in a different country. It would be nice to be an absolute minimalist and own virtually nothing but we like to climb, hike, kayak and ski too much for that.

The storage modifications to the caravan, at least to my untutored eye appear almost complete, which, is undoubtedly a relief to Doug who has been working like a navvy on the railway.

Today I continued my search for good bouldering spots nearby and walked down the bush steps to Prince Edward Park where I found the Fish Boulders. These are the best I have found for an old lady – I turn 50 in a couple of weeks – who sucks at bouldering. Not too high, not too steep, lots of holds, safe landings. Next time I'll take my rock shoes down. I came back via a different set of bush steps and tracks and checked out another bouldering area on the way back but liked it a lot less. 

Fish Boulders by the Woronora River

Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain

Another week has passed with us stuck firmly in the city. Supplies to outfit the caravan for bush camping – solar panels, deep cycle batteries, transformers and converters – are arriving daily at the Cave. Doug spent today improving the access to the storage area under the two beds. While I spent the day measuring, planning, and buying various bins, baskets and storage solutions to outfit our storage space.

Some days, when being in the city is overwhelming me, I wonder if we are being neurotic and whether we should just throw everything into the caravan cupboards (my Mother's organizational strategy) and drive out into the bush. Other days, when I have had a good workout and can think more clearly, I realise that sometimes short term pain is necessary for long term gain. We plan to live in this caravan for the next year, two, maybe even three which makes being well organized and set up for bush camping all the more essential.

Everything a neurotic organizer needs

Truth is, I can be a neurotic organizer. In one house we lived in, much to the amusement of my friends, every shelf was labelled. Had Doug and Kumo not been moving around so much I would, undoubtedly, have stuck a label on them. On the converse side – isn't there always another angle – there is nothing as annoying to me as having to move ten things about to get the one thing you need every day, or having everything fall out of the cupboard on your head because it was stuffed in any old way.

I did find a good climbing/bouldering area about five minutes walk from the Cave yesterday afternoon. The area has great potential and people have clearly been climbing here in the past. There are a bunch of square white paint marks which the Australians use to mark their climbs, a fair few chalked up holds, but only two manky old carrot bolts. Now, I just need to get my arse down there and do some bouldering.

Climbing, five minutes away