Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mount Emerald, Smith's and Douglas Track, Double Island

On Sunday, Doug and I went up to the Atherton Tableland as part of a big group to walk to the top of Mount Emerald. We have actually walked up this little peak before when we were staying at Lake Tinaroo. It's a pleasant easy walk of perhaps 3 hours return with a nice view of the Atherton Tableland at the end. Given that driving up and back from the track head takes about three hours, this trip doesn't really fit very well with my walk:drive ratio rule where you should be walking at least 1.5 times the amount of time you spent driving. But, it is always good to be sociable, particularly when you are as generally anti-social as I am. 

Atherton Tableland view from Mount Emerald

Wednesday was forecast to be hot and calm, a perfect day for a paddle. After musing over the map/chart for a while and looking for some where new to paddle, we ended up launching at Palm Cove on the north side of Cairns, paddling out to Double Island and Scouts Hat, and wandering up the coast as far as Simpson Point before paddling back. I think we probably paddled somewhere between 28 and 30 kilometres, which made me feel better given I was getting a bit sore in the shoulders by the end – not much paddling lately but a lot of pull-ups. Double Island is only about a kilometre off-shore but has a lot of bird-life and a lot of turtles. I think we saw about 20 green turtles paddling around the two islands. I hope to convince my mother to come out in the kayak with me when she is visiting next week as it really is quite amazing to paddle with all these turtles. There's some nice coral off the islands too.

Glacier Rock from Smith's track

Today I went off for a walk in the woods, as I like to do, even though the temperature was again forecast to hit 32 Celsius. I rode my borrowed bicycle up to Stoney Creek track-head and then walked a kilometre back down the road to Smith's track-head. The trail climbs steadily for the first 3 km up a burnt spur ridge to about 500 metres ASL where you meet a trail junction at Toby's Lookout. There are actually better views from the track on the way up than at the lookout which is rapidly growing in. I stayed on Smith's track as it descends to cross Stoney Creek then climbs back up again.

Diamond python on the track

At the next track junction I took the Gandal Wandun track north to the Douglas track. A big diamond python was lying right across the track and did not move despite me lobbing sticks at it. I eventually gave up getting the snake to move on and bashed around it in the bush. Following the Douglas track back to Stoney Creek I detoured to Glacier Rock, at a sausage (good paleo snack), drank, admired the view, and then descended down to the track head and my waiting bike. I was liberally drenched in sweat by this time so I lay down in Stoney Creek to cool off before riding home and collecting a supply of mangos. Just another few days around Cairns.

View from Glacier Rock

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Running About In The Woods

Orienteers don't get lost. They just lose map contact. Unknown.

Today Doug and I did our first orienteering event. We have a couple of friends in Canada who are very accomplished orienteerers and they would always tell us how much we would enjoy the sport because we love reading maps. At the time, I was too busy busting up and down mountains to think of trying an event, but after trying out rogaining a few weeks ago and having a blast, Doug and I signed up for today's “sprint orienteering” event, although, at my advanced age, there was no sprinting.

It took me 68 minutes to finish the 2.8 km course – obviously no sprinting there. I definitely could have finished much earlier if you could pass the checkpoints in any order, but of course, orienteering doesn't work that way – you have to get the checkpoints in order. Some checkpoints I was lucky enough to pass multiple times!

I maybe a slow learner, but I did learn some things. A compass is helpful. At first I tried to follow trails to get to the checkpoints but this was slow as I ended up travelling a longer distance to the next checkpoint than I would have if I just went straight there. It also seemed to take me more time to work out where I was on a trail than it did just to take a bearing to the next checkpoint from the last and go straight there. This strategy wouldn't work in thicker bush or more difficult terrain but on this easy course it worked well.

You also have to really pay attention to the contour interval and map scale which was much larger than I expected. The map we were given had a 2 metre contour interval and a scale of 1:4,000. That's a lot of detail. I blew past a couple of checkpoints because I expected them to be further away than they were. When I was wandering around looking for checkpoint 7 I finally clued in to the scale on the map and realised I had gone way beyond the checkpoint.

Although the event is timed, the more you rush, the more mistakes you make. Round about checkpoint 6 – which took me a long time to find – I gave up trying to get a good time and focused instead on accuracy and saved myself time in the end as I wasn't rushing about not sure where I was going. Orienting the map with the compass when you have “lost map contact” is also really helpful.

A great way to improve map reading and navigation skills. All the idiots wandering about with GPS units tracking their every move should try it. But, then again, they'd likely still be out there.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Whirl Of Activity

For a misplaced Canuck, it is strange to get up at 5.30 in the morning and jump on a bicycle clothed only in a light pair of shorts and a tank top and ride for an hour without getting chilled. Forget chilled, in Canada you'd be snap frozen at that time of the morning, winter or summer, on a bicycle.

My hour long ride down to the Esplanade for the 6.30 am yoga class was uneventful except for running into the horizontal bar of a gate that I couldn't see because my glasses were fogged with humidity and the morning sun was shining right in my eyes. Luckily, I had some kind of inkling that something was blocking the track and had slowed down. Otherwise, I think I might have broken both my arms.

After yoga, I bouldered on the outdoor wall (also at the Esplanade), but my trunk muscles (core) were so sore and tired from the long work-out I did yesterday that I didn't feel at my best. Fourty five minutes later, it was time to ride home. I must have been somewhat spaced out - I was starting to feel tired - as I took a couple of wrong turns on the way home, which made the journey a bit longer.

In the early afternoon, we loaded the kayaks and drove to Lake Placid on the Barron River to kayak. Lake Placid is essentially a bulge in the Barron River which carves a deep gorge through the Lamb and Macalister Ranges and runs out to the ocean near Cairns airport. This is a very pretty place with deep rainforest lining the gorge, but Lake Placid is really a bit smaller than we imagined and we had paddled all around it in less than an hour. 

Doug Lake Placid

Veni, vidi, bici

Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race. H.G. Wells.

Since we arrived in Cairns we have been riding bicycles every where we need to go. Cairns, it turns out, is incredibly well set up for bicycle commuting – there are marked bike lanes on most roads, an enormous number of dedicated paved bicycling tracks, and, right now, ripe mangos are plentiful for the picking at multiple points along any route. All in all, it's pretty hard to have a bad time.

The beauty of riding a bicycle is the connection you get with the landscape that you just don't get while driving in a car. Sweating up a hill under a humid tropical sky, coasting along under big mango trees, riding through the smells and scents of flowering trees and freshly mulched cane fields and scaring up birds as you pass. Everything is so immediate and you feel so present in the environment. For sheer enjoyment of travel, not much can beat the bicycle.

So, “when the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 


Monday, October 21, 2013

Misty Mountains Walks

Our last day on the Atherton Tableland we drove down to the Misty Mountain area to do a couple of hikes. The Misty Mountains is in the Wet Tropics World Heritage area and, as far as I can make out, spans a few different national parks – Tully Falls, Tully Gorge and Wooroonooran. The tracks don't appear to be purpose built for walking, instead, they are on old logging tracks that are, at least in the case of the tracks we walked, sketchily recleared of vegetation.

Our plan was to walk the Koolmoon Creek trail from Rhyolite Pinnacle trailhead through to Dilgarrin trailhead. I left Doug at the north end (Rhyolite Pinnacle) and drove down to the south end (Dilgarrin). My track began as an old road and was reasonably open for walking. The vegetation either side, however is dense, and it definitely felt pretty steamy. After an hour or more, I came to a sign indicating Walter's Waterhole was 600 metres down a side track. A very narrow, overgrown side track. I gotta admit I was pretty nervous about stinging trees walking down this track as it was very narrow and overgrown and virtually impossible to avoid brushing against the vegetation. I am sure I saw one stinging tree right on the trail which I managed to duck around. 

Walters Waterhole

After some slow travel, I got to a series of pretty round pools separated by small waterfalls on what I presumed was Koolmoon Creek. It would have been nice to have a swim here, but I thought I was walking slowly and that Doug would be waiting for me, so I turned back after a short wander and few photos. Back out on the main track I was a little disappointed to see that the Koolmoon Creek trail plunged off the old road and into dense rainforest. It took me about an hour to cover the next 3 km as I had to wade across two creeks and search for the trail a time or two.

At the junction with the Walter's Waterhole track that leads out to the Tully Falls Road, I found Doug waiting for me. We both decided to walk out this shorter route as, much as I like walking, I was not enjoying this overgrown, no appeal track. I needed lunch so I while I ate, Doug walked out and retrieved the car.

Our next walk was along the Wabunga Wayemba track and was completely different. Again we walked through with one of us starting at the south end and one at the north. This track is broad and well cleared and a short side track leads down to a small pool on the creek where we had a quick swim.

Finally, as we were heading back to the Hobbit cottage we stopped at The Millstream. A beautiful set of falls into big deep pools with a short well graded access track. There is another access to The Millstream further down the river and it would be nice to walk/swim between the two along the route of the river. Perhaps another time.

The Millstream

Down The Hill

A couple of days ago we left the little Hobbit cottage on the Atherton Tableland and drove down the hill to Cairns to house-sit for the wet season and suddenly, we are no longer travellers. Although I was ready for this, and even in some ways looking forward to being in one place – larger than 13 feet – for a while, it feels weird to not be moving on to the next new thing. Maybe I fear that life will suddenly become normal.

Of course, there is lots to do around Cairns so I don't expect we will be bored. Yesterday, we rode bicycles down to The Esplanade – I had forgotten how fun it is to ride a bike – and climbed at the free bouldering area until we were sweaty and then went for a swim in the free pool. The Esplanade is a great public place, the kind you don't see in Canada. Lovely paths along the water, outdoor exercise equipment, playgrounds for the children, pools, climbing walls, even free fitness classes every day but Sunday. Today a gentle rain is falling, it's relatively cool and comfortable. There's a lot to like about this town.

Doug at the bouldering area

Friday, October 18, 2013

Last Days on the Atherton Tableland

Our stay on the Atherton Tableland in the little Hobbit cottage on Lake Tinaroo is sadly coming to an end. Today we went out and did a couple more local activities, a hike around Lake Eachem and a paddle around Lake Barrine. Last time we paddled around Lake Barrine the rain was pouring down. Today, there were about 8 other people paddling around on sit aboard (those kayaks look so uncomfortable) kayaks. Good to see people out, but equally amazing how many had to drive down the hill and park in the bus parking lot because walking 100 metres with a 20 metre elevation gain to the parking lot was too much for them.

I feel way fitter than when we arrived two weeks ago. A fortnight of eating well, sleeping well, and exercising outdoors each day will do that. The bouldering around the cottage walls has been one of the most awesome parts of staying here and I feel like I've got some climbing fitness back. There is an outdoor bouldering wall in Cairns so I may even be able to continue getting some climbing fitness back.

Big Fig tree at Lake Eachem

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night

Yesterday I managed to get stung by some kind of insect (probably a hornet) right about the time I also got stung by some kind of nasty Australian stinging plant. Normally, if I know I've been stung, I right away swallow a couple of antihistamines and then sit down, relax and wait to see if my breathing becomes impaired and I'll need my epi-pen. Sometimes I do need the adrenaline, sometimes I don't. As I didn't know I'd actually been stung yesterday I did not take any antihistamines, focusing instead on flushing the plant sting with water and searching the internet to see if there was some kind of treatment for stinging plants.

While doing this, I suddenly noticed that I was having trouble breathing. Well, no worries I have my epi-kit. Except, my epi-pen was expired (I knew it had expired) and the diabetic syringes I had to draw up my epinephrine (I also carry two or three vials of epinephrine) had all the marks rubbed off so I didn't know how much medication to draw up. You don't want to overdose yourself with epinephrine as it really drives up your blood pressure and heart rate. After madly scratching through all my available syringes, I gave up and used the expired epi-pen. I also had the presence of mind to swallow a couple of antihistamines and told Doug to get the car keys get me to the hospital. Long story shortened, the adrenaline hit me as we were approaching Atherton hospital and we met the ambulance I had telephoned for. I got the usual attack of the shakes, but was happy to see that my oxygen saturation was good, and, I felt very relieved to be where additional medical treatment was available should it be necessary.

Of course, in the clear (clearish, I still feel a bit stoned) light of morning I realize that it does not do to be complacent about these things. In Canada, I was rigorous about keeping all my medications up to date as wasps are exceptionally common and very aggressive. In Australia, I think I've seen one wasp, a few hornets, and, of course bees, but bees never seem very aggressive if unprovoked.

I've already got a new epi-pen, have refilled my antihistamine supply and have marked all my syringes with tape at the correct dose. And, I'll be wearing long pants in the bush next time. It turns out when you think your time might be up, you really do not want to go gently into that goodnight.

Trying to relax in the ambulance

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Two Walks Around The Atherton Tableland: Black Mountain and Widow Maker

Last time we were staying at Lake Tinaroo, I walked the Torpedo Bay circuit and noticed an awful lot of flagged trails, some in better, some in worse condition marked by faded old signs tied to trees, and, in a couple of locations, a laminated hand sketched trail map. I followed quite a few of these trails but I didn't have time to explore the area marked “to Black Mountain with connections to other trails.”

On Sunday, I went back to see what is out in this unsurveyed area of the sketch map. This time I took the “official” Torpedo Bay walking track up to the ridge top as this is the only trail I hadn't walked before. It starts about 100 metres before the Scout Camp (if you are driving from Tinaroo Falls). There is an initial steep and slippery section where the trail goes up hard dirt covered with ball bearing type granite crystals, but after that, it's just a steady climb until you intersect the short-cut trail that comes up from the information booth.

Pretty soon I got to Tackers Trail and followed this across undulating terrain to another ridge-line. I lost the trail here for a while and had to search all around not only to find it, but to find myself. Eventually, I found the track descending a short distance and then traversing to the left of another little peak to reach a pass between two little peaks. Once I found the trail again it was relatively easy to follow. A longish descent down the valley on the other side of the pass followed and then I came upon a campsite by a creek. 

Trail map

From here, the trail roughly follows the creek valley gently rising and falling about 80 metres above the creek. At a couple of points the trail descends to the creek and crosses to the other side at one point. Once across the creek I was on a very old road which never got any more distinct, in fact it faded out. I had only planned to be out a few hours so, after three hours of walking, I had to turn around, non the wise as to where this trail eventually leads. I was quicker on the way back as I didn't have to search for the trail as much and I took “Platypus Trail” down to Danbulla Forest Road which avoided some ups and downs. This comes out on the road just past the Scout Camp. I was hot and sweaty so I had a swim in the lake. 

Waterhole by the campsite

Next day, on a very hot morning, I set off to walk up Widow Maker near Mount Baldy in Atherton. Although I was walking by 8.30 am, it was way too late on such a hot day and I had to slow my walking pace right down or I felt a bit woozy in the sun. The trail to Widow Maker can be accessed from the same parking area as Mount Baldy – go straight where the trail sign points you uphill from the old road – or you can park at the 90 degree turn in the Rifle Range Road and walk down towards a property on a tarmaced road and then veer off to the left at the private property onto the track. I parked at the Mount Baldy trailhead and came back via the other parking lot (a little less elevation gain). 

Just what I need: A gentler alternative

I thought this was a nicer walk than Mount Baldy as it is all on track and not on hard steps or cement and, as a bonus, much fewer people seem to walk it. I didn't see anyone else on the walk, although there were 4 or 5 cars in the Mount Baldy parking lot. Basically, you walk uphill. At one point, a new trail has been constructed which switchbacks up to the top instead of going straight up. This is well signed. I took the “gentler” alternative on the way up and came down the steeper option. There is a nice bench at the overlook to sit on while you rest and enjoy the view, the only problem being that there is no shade at all.

So there you have it. A couple more walks on the Atherton Tableland. One longer and one relatively short. If this heat keeps up, best to get out early. 

Atherton From Widow Maker

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What Really Counts

I read this post on a blog I subscribe to about gear, and thought two things, one, I couldn't come up with ten pieces of outdoor gear that I just love unconditionally (is any piece of gear really that good) – although I am pretty damn fond of my sea kayak – and, two, the difference between mediocrity and greatness in the outdoors never comes down to gear. So, I came up with my own list of what's important in the outdoors whether you are hiking, climbing, ski touring or kayaking and it has nothing whatsoever to do with gear. In no particular order then:

  • The ability to see things as they are, not how you wish they were. This means not just conditions, but your group, your abilities and even why you failed last time. Will Gadd thinks this is the pretty important too. 
  • Know how to navigate. Not follow your GPS around, but really know how to read a map, plan a route, identify potential difficulties along the route and alternatives around those difficulties, how to route find (both on a macro and a micro level) and all the other myriad things that go along with planning and executing a new trip (what gear you'll need, how long it will take, etc.). Really tough for the new generation who have never gone out without the latest electronic gizmo in their hands and a stream of detailed trip instructions from the web.
  • Be imaginative. See new routes at your local crag, or up the nearby mountains and go make them happen. Visualize great traverse routes on maps, across mountain ranges or oceans, through valleys. Learn to forge your own route. 
  • Show commitment and perseverance. Be mentally tough and resilient. Follow your own path. You can never be great if you are always striking off to do the next hip thing (think, stand-up paddle boarding – how long will that last?). Succeeding requires hard focused work over a long period of time and has little to do with gear.
On a new traverse route through the Badshot Range
that turned out as good as it looked on the map.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Out Of Shape

Days on the road = 166, or 23.4 weeks, 5.9 months, my level of fitness = falling rapidly. I've written previously about how hard I find it to stretch and work-out regularly while travelling. Sometimes I think it reflects a lack of will, other times I think it is unrealistic to expect myself to do a WOD after I've been hiking or paddling all day. Whatever the cause, the result is short or non-existent stretching sessions and similar workouts. Nobody stays as fit as possible by simply hiking or paddling. A person needs to lift heavy weights, do some mobility work, and sometimes run all out.

So the painful process of getting back in shape begins. What to do? I'm not fit enough to do Crossfit, and the super scaled versions don't appeal to me, so I've been doing some old Alpine Center WOD's I have squirrelled away; but, I am not fit enough to do that whole work-out either so each day I do a segment of each work-out until I've completed a full WOD, and then move onto the next.

Each day I boulder on the hobbit cottage we are staying in. Already I think I am getting a bit stronger, and, finally daily stretching/yoga. Now that I have a whole series of podcasts to listen to, I find I can stretch for a solid hour each day. Being the regimented individual I am, I use a stopwatch to make sure I stay in each position for at least a minute. I could even be getting less stiff. When I feel fit enough, I'll add in sprints, right now, I just walk a lot.

Getting in back in shape, painful, but necessary.

Daily buildering

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Steep Trails of Australia: Mount Baldy

Actually, Mount Baldy, near Atherton in Far North Queensland isn't really that steep a trail, it's steep, but not crazy steep like some others. But, this blog post would have been way too short with one picture of the view from Mount Baldy today and description of the short trail (fast folks could go up and down in an hour) to the top.

Mistakenly, I did think that when we moved to Australia, steep trails (think of the trail from Henrietta Lake up towards Mt Sedgwick) would be a thing of the past, but, one of the first overnight bushwalks we did – the Kedumba Circuit in the Blue Mountains – featured an incredibly steep descent from Mount Solitary down to the Kedumba River. One of those descents that you are glad you are not going up, and have to lower yourself from tree to tree to avoid a long sliding fall all the way down.

Of course, the trail up Bartle Frere is steep, probably more so from the east than the west, but I've only been up from the west and have no intention of going up from the east. My theory is that these steep trails were never actually built, they just evolved from people walking that route, and, at some point, the National Parks took them on and wacked a few trail markers on trees but did nothing else.

Anyway, today we walked up Mount Baldy. I had been up before in a rain storm and seen nothing. This time it was pretty clear and there is a nice view of Atherton. You can do it in an easy 1.5 hours. Take the Herberton Road from Atherton and turn onto Rifle Range Road.

Atherton From Mount Baldy

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Different Choices

Our kayaking trip to Lizard Island was one of the best short kayaking trips I have done (short is anything under two weeks), but, thinking about it afterward, I realised I would do some things differently. Which doesn't mean the way our group did things was wrong; it was just, well, different.

On our first day we paddled from Cooktown to Cape Bedford and made camp in a shallow bay open to the easterly winds. Our paddling route, involved heading straight east from Cooktown boat ramp and then pointing our boats northeast and aiming off to the east of Cape Bedford to compensate for the easterly wind that would blow us west. Paddling this route we were out at sea and not close enough to shore to land for a break. This section took 5.5 hours and, most of us had trouble standing up when we got out of the boats at our campsite after sitting in the kayaks for such a long stretch of time.

That is not what I would have done. I would have paddled north from the boat ramp along the big shallow bay to Indian Head and Nob Point. There are plenty of landing sites along this section as it is all sandy beach. Then, I would have paddled directly from Nob Point to South Cape Bedford staying well out from the beach for the shortest distance.

When I discussed these two route choices with the group before hand, some people seemed to think it was shorter to paddle east then northeast. However, I am not really sure about that as it seems to me you are paddling two sides of a triangle and just paddling the long side of the triangle would be shorter. At home, later, I guesstimated the course of both routes and drew them on our nautical chart. As best I can draw them, they turn out to be virtually equidistant, but, my option lets you land half way for a break, whereas the option we took doesn't allow any landings.

We camped in a rocky bay open to the east wind on the east side of Cape Bedford. This was a moderately difficult place to land and launch in the conditions we had (light winds) and would have been a very difficult place to land or launch had the wind or waves been any bigger. I would have camped around the north side of Cape Bedford where the landing is on sand and protected from the east wind and waves. We camped where we did because it was the shortest route to Three Islands. But, again drawing the route on the chart, camping on the north side of Cape Bedford would add just slightly less than a kilometre to the straight line distance. Of course, we don't paddle a straight line distance, but, if you assume a similar error in both courses, having an easy launch and land location, would still add very little more paddling, yet would make life much simpler.

When you start paddling from Cape Bedford to Three Islands, your destination (Three Islands) is not visible at first, as both kayak and islands are low. We paddled off in what seemed to me a fairly easterly direction, and, after about 1.5 hours, when the tower on Three Islands came into view, we altered course. That kind of guess work in following a course doesn't really make sense to me as I am sure you paddle a longer route than you would if you took a compass bearing off the map, adjusted it for wind drift, and then paddled along that bearing. We had a fairly steady easterly wind blowing so we could have calculated a vector and adjusted our course appropriately. I think, but, of course, can't prove, that my course would have been shorter and more expedient.

I will admit I don't have that much experience paddling when the destination is not visible or adjusting bearings for wind and current, so I could be wrong about all this. Then again, I could be right.

Bartle Frere: Knee Replacement Anyone?

Mount Bartle Frere at 1622 metres is the highest peak in Queensland. The only conceivable reason I can think for anyone to hike to the summit (we went from the higher trailhead on the west) is to tag Queensland’s highest peak. Otherwise, the steep, twisty, turny, rocky, rooty, loggy, bouldery trail is only for those who enjoy a good knee-knackering ascent and descent with scant views.

From Junction Camp, a small cleared area without any facilities at the western trailhead, the trail descends – yes, as in goes down – for about 1.5 km where a short, steep, equally knee-knackering trail branches off to Bobbin Bobbin Falls. From this junction, the Bartle Frere trail begins an earnest climb, gaining almost 800 metres in 3.5 km to the North West Peak (a grandiose name for a minuscule clearing in thick timber) at 1476 metres. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to this point, progress of just over 2 km an hour, and surely the slowest I have ever gone on any trail. But this trail is really impossible to go fast on. While not continuously steep – there are some level sections and even some downhills before North West Peak – the wriggly nature of the trail (I'm not sure it goes straight for more than 5 metres at a time, and then only in a couple of short sections) combined with all the logs, roots, rocks and boulders that must be surmounted en-route slows even the most sure-footed hiker.

The only way you can tell you are at the North West Peak is to pass by it, as the trail notes indicate that there is a view of the Atherton Tableland from a cluster of boulders one kilometre past the North West Peak. When we got to this viewpoint, we realised that the small flat area with an old camp-fire scar where we had a five minute cold egg and bacon breakfast, was the North West Peak. We duly scrambled up the boulders for a view of the Atherton Tableland and the real summit of Bartle Frere (not overly impressive), that truly was not much better than the view from Lammins Lookout that you drive past on the way to the trailhead.

Continuing on we were dismayed to find that the trail descended for what seemed a long distance. Down, down, down we went, finally dipping into a creek where we hoped that the trail would go uphill so we could get this climb done with. But, alas, the trail climbs out of the creek and descends yet again to a deeper creek. By this second creek is the “Western Summit Camp” a slightly better equipped camp than Junction Camp as there is a clothesline and a nearby creek for water. At last, the trail went up, steeply, as in jungle gym kind of steeply. We swung off trees, scrambled up huge boulders, and generally got a full body workout on the last 750 metres of track to the top.

Luckily, a sign announces that you have reached the “Top of Mount Bartle Frere” and the “highest peak in Queensland.” Truthfully, apart from the fact that the track then plunges precipitously down the east side, you can barely tell you are on top of anything. There is a view to the east if you scramble out on to a boulder. We could see Cooper Point and the Frankland Islands that we had paddled past a few weeks before, and, also the Barnard Islands, another of our kayak locations. Innisfail and the Johnstone River were also visible.

Finally, no more up

After a half hour stop during which we ate cold sausages (that Paleo diet again), we began the descent, and what a knee-knackering descent it was. Of course, after the first steep downhill to the Western Summit Camp you have to climb back up again to the North West Summit. We did manage to creep our speed up over the two kilometre/hour rate on the descent but that was at the cost of a few falls on the steep slippery ground. Finally, just as I guzzled the last of my two litres of water, we reached the turn-off to Bobbin Bobbin Falls. Doug wanted to check the falls out as he thought the creek would be good for a swim, so down we went on another precipitous track. There really isn't much of a pool at the base of the falls for a swim, but, given that we had hobbled down, we weren't going back without getting wet, so we stripped off and, by lying full length as flat as we could and holding our breath, we managed to wet most of our bodies.

And then came the steep climb back up to join the main track, and the final 1.5 km uphill hike to the trailhead. Imagine that, a trail that takes you to the top of Queensland's highest peak and manages to be uphill in both directions!

 Atherton Tableland

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lessons From Lizard

Doug and I were not only thrilled, but somewhat honoured to be invited on the Lizard Island trip with Tim and his friends. Inviting two relative strangers on a nine day ocean kayak trip when you will be a long way from land for most of the trip is a significant commitment. As serious as asking relative strangers to join you on a mountaineering trip, and we all know how that ends sometimes.

With this in mind, we seriously considered every possible outcome before joining up. Our biggest fear was having to paddle in strong winds - 20 to 30, or even 40 knot winds are common in Far North Queensland - and not being up to the task. Our experience paddling in those strength of winds is fairly limited, and, unlike the other people on the trip with relatively stable kayaks, our Marlin sea kayaks are fairly tippy. And then, there was the series of long crossings between small islands to contend with, another area of sea kayaking with which we have limited experience. Add to that the fact that we would be using kayak sails, with which we were similarly inexperienced , and we approached the trip with as much trepidation as anticipation.

But, as departure day drew ever closer, and the study of weather maps, charts and forecasts became ever more frequent, it began to appear as if we would have favourable weather conditions for the trip. And we did. I don't think the winds ever tipped 15 knots except for one day when I paddled around Blue Lagoon at Lizard Island and the others went walking. Overall, conditions were strangely benign. We quickly got used to sailing with a beam wind, and an occasional tail or head wind. The long crossings were still long (four hours was our longest), but never scary, only tedious and somewhat cramped.

I had always approached this trip as a learning experience, as we would be paddling with people who had some serious ocean kayaking experience, and such opportunities are not to be wasted. Now that the trip is over, it is interesting to think about what I learnt.

I learnt a fair bit about sailing a kayak. Kayak sailing, at least with our Pacific Action sails, seems easiest with a straight tail wind, and more challenging with a cross-beam wind. With a straight tail wind, the hull seems to stay more or less flat in the water. Whereas, with a beam-wind, the kayak gets pushed way over to the down-wind side and a compensatory lean to the upwind side is necessary to avoid capsizing. Sailing with a beam wind one day when the wind was close to 20 knots (happily inside Blue Lagoon), I had to lean to the wind-ward side while using my paddle as an outrigger/brace on the down-wind side. With this technique I felt relatively stable and literally flew across the lagoon in minutes.

In light winds I felt more stable if I was paddling the kayak, not just sitting there, but this could be just me. Certainly, the rest of the group seemed happy just sitting. In stronger winds, I didn't paddle, just kept the paddle handy for a brace or used it as an outrigger. Initially, I was bracing on the wind-ward side, but the group corrected me and I started bracing on the down-wind side. This took a little getting used to as you have to lean up-wind and brace down-wind, but, once I got used to this strategy it seemed to work well.

Doug sailing towards Cape Bedford

I also learnt to aim off to compensate for being blown off-course by the wind. For most of our trip, the wind was coming out of our starboard front quarter (I'm not sure if those are the right nautical terms), and, while having the sail up definitely helped lighten up the kayaks and we moved faster than simply paddling, we also were continually blown cross-wise to our course. If we aimed off to the east of where we wanted to go, by the time we reached our destination (roughly north) we would have been blown a fair ways west and would generally be right on course. Apparently, this is like doing a giant ferry glide and is a shorter course than paddling towards your destination and then doing a huge curve to stay on course (something that happened to us on our PalmIslands trip).

Finally, I learnt the lesson that one always seems to have to learn and relearn, whether kayaking or mountaineering. In mountaineering, you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other hour after hour. In kayaking, you keep paddling. The next island may look so far away, or may not even be visible – as a couple of our destinations were on this trip – but, if you continue to move steadily forward, you will, in the end, arrive. 

Heading towards the Direction Islands, 
one of the shorter crossing on the trip

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Walking Turtle Rock

On Friday, we had promised to help our friend Tim cook dinner and breakfast for 65 bike riders on the 2013North Queensland Wilderness Bike Tour that raises money for the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. The riders were slated to arrive at Davies Creek in the afternoon so we drove in from our new base (two weeks at a beautiful cottage near Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands) and parked at campsite ¾ where the cyclists would be gathering.

It was only 11.30 am so we had time to walk Turtle Rock circuit before getting stuck into preparations. This 8 km trail leaves (or ends) from campsite ¾ (look behind the outhouse for the trail sign) and ends (or starts) at campsite 5/6, and climbs steeply to a ridge line in the Lamb Range and wanders through boulders to the distinctive Turtle Rock. Turtle Rock is a big chunk of granite with a “head” that vaguely resembles a turtle from some angles sitting on an even bigger slab of granite (some potential rock climbing here).

It was hot, the trail was steep, my hiking shoes were worn out, so I proceeded leisurely up the trail while Doug sprinted ahead. Near the ridge top, the trail winds through big granite boulders and I found Doug sitting under a big granite overhang catching the breeze. Five minutes further on we were on Turtle Rock admiring the view.

Continuing on the trail towards campsites 5/6, the trail descends steeply for a few minutes only and then is much more gentle as it winds through open eucalpyt forest and emerges by Davies Creek. It's an easy walk back down the road to the campsite ¾. I think if I did this walk again, I would do it in the reverse direction as it may be easier to descend the steeper trail and hike up the gentler one.

Back at campsite ¾, preparations were under way for the arrival of the cyclists, but that is another story

Doug catching the breeze

Friday, October 4, 2013

Across The Blue Ocean: Cooktown To Lizard Island By Sea Kayak

“There's crocs in that river, ya know” shouted a fisherman on the jetty by the Endeavour River in Cooktown “Saw a big one, just on the weekend” another fisherman added as our group of seven paddled past in our single sea kayaks. Tim, the main organiser of our trip, surreptitiously rolled his eyes and replied “We know.”

The Endeavour River, unlike many rivers in this part of Far North Queensland is clear, green and lapped by white sand beaches. Our boats were packed with six days food and around 40 litres of water and they felt heavy and sluggish as we paddled east out of the Endeavour River. Our destination for the night was a small rocky cove open to the easterly winds just north of Mount Stone on Cape Bedford. Instead of hugging the coast line, we would paddle east from Cooktown and then set a northerly course aiming somewhat east of Cape Bedford to allow for drift from the easterly winds.

Sunset Over The Endeavour River, Cooktown

A light east to southeasterly wind was blowing, not perfect for kayak sailing, but not terrible either. Once we turned to the north, sails on kayaks began popping up, starting with Pete and Smiddie, and finishing with Kev, whose homemade sail was not quite as easy to deploy as the Pacific Action sails the rest of us were using. Once the sails were up, our kayaks felt considerably lighter to paddle, but it still took us 5.5 hours to reach our campsite on Cape Bedford. Once we rounded south Cape Bedford the wind was a little more behind us and pushed us along to a shallow rocky cove where we pulled in to camp. After almost six hours in the kayaks, most of us had trouble standing up at first.

Sailing North

After unpacking, a late lunch, and some coconut gathering, we all walked up onto the open headland and wandered along to look north to the string of small cays which we would paddle past on our way to Lizard Island.

In the morning, the winds were still light as we launched – a slightly difficult enterprise with the tide out and more rocks exposed – and began paddling northeast on a steady course for Lizard Island. Over the next few days we island hopped, sometimes paddling as many as five hours a day, sometimes as few as two hours, steadily north along a string of deserted cays surrounded by clear teal water and fringed by white sandy beaches. We snorkelled with sharks, rays and turtles, marvelled at the amazing colour and variety of reef fish, floated over many coloured coral gardens in clear blue water, walked around tiny islands on white sand beaches, and watched as the sky darkened each evening as shearwaters returning to nest. 

The Amazing Eye Reef

On our fourth day out, we paddled past Eye Reef, a true sand cay, perhaps 30 metres around and lying amidst an exquisite fringing coral reef. We stopped and snorkelled over the reef watching rays, sharks and turtles skim across the coral gardens. We spent our fifth night at North Direction Island, a continental island with a tiny sand beach on the northwestern tip, surrounded by a fringing reef that was amazing to snorkel across. Reef sharks and mackerel patrolled the small sand beach, as we floated along the edge of a five metre coral wall on the southern side of the island.

Next day, the wind was blowing 12 knots from the southeast and we sailed northwest, only occasionally dipping a paddle in the water to Blue Lagoon, sliding into the lagoon between breaking waves through the small passage between Seabird Islets and Lizard Head. Sailing across the calm clear waters of Blue Lagoon, I watched as startled turtles swam under my bow and the bright colours of coral bombies flashed by and felt both gladdened by the wonderful adventures we had shared and saddened that our trip was almost over. It sure is a wonderful world. 

Coral Sea Sunset