Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Does Not Have To Suck

It's probably fair to say that skiing in Western Canada right now is pretty bad. Temperatures that are too warm (15C has been reported), precipitation that is too scanty, and Pineapple Express systems that are too frequent. It's hard to know exactly how bad it is because most people seem to mountain biking or climbing at indoor gyms, not skiing, but, maybe that says all that needs to be said. 

This chart of Whistler historical snowfalls popped up on my Crackbook feed a few days ago with the comment "be glad we're not back in 04/05" which was all the impetus I needed to see what exactly Doug and I got up during the winter of 2004/2005. Specifically, I wondered if bad snow necessarily means a bad ski season. 

I didn't tally up my actual ski days for 2004/2005 but I did discover that we climbed 39 different peaks, did two ski traverses, and went on four hut trips. Certainly these broad brush strokes don't imply a bad season. Looking closer at the data, we certainly had less than ideal conditions on many days. Various rain events, wind and warmth events are mentioned, there seems to have been lots of crusts and much wet snow, but there was also many sunny days with safe and fast travel conditions that we obviously made the most of. I can actually remember this year fairly well as we did many long ski trips and traverses going up and down many peaks and into many valleys that I had never visited before. 

Zig Ziglar said "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude" and that certainly seems to have been the case for us in the winter of 2004/2005. Enough said. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bald Hill - Luptons View Loop, Bunyip State Park

I went back to Bunyip State Park today for another loop walk. This isn't amazing walking terrain with sweeping vistas and interesting tracks, but, there is plenty of opportunity for solitude (the roads/tracks are all gated so only the self or horse-propelled can access them, which automatically rules out almost 99% of the population), the forest is beautiful and it is very close to where we are house-sitting. 

This time I did a loop (about 13 km/400 m gain) on the south side of Tonimbuk Road (one of the major east-west roads through the park) and saw no-one for the almost three hours I was out except for a family group of three on horses - it's surprisingly easy to walk as fast as horses. 

I parked at Mortimer Picnic Area again which seems like a good place to leave a car off the road (noted the half-empty soft-drink cans I would take home to dispose of, cursed "sugar burners"), and wandered off to the south along the Yarra Bubba Track. At a saddle, I intersected the Sandpit Ridge track which took me along a couple of low ridges to the park boundary at Pooley Road. I did have to suck up almost a kilometre of road walking (gravel and quiet) to complete this loop, but, at the junction with Tynon North Road I got off on Avards Track which ambles up a spur ridge to 300 metres and a junction with Lupton Track. Along Lupton Track heading west there is a viewpoint looking north over Diamond Creek valley before the track descends to cross Tynon North Road again. A short stretch on Cannibal Creek Track leads to Dawson Track and a nice forested walk out to the Tonimbuk Road. Although not shown on the Victoria Parks map, a track leads back to Mortimer Picnic area so you don't have to close this last section of the loop on the road. 

 Luptons View

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Four Brothers But No Bunyips

We are staying near Emerald for a couple of weeks, in a house (so nice to be in a house for a while) that happens to have a killer staircase for bouldering, as well as a plethora of parks in the immediate area where you can go walking. 

Never climb stairs the regular way again
I found some details about a loop walk from Mortimer Picnic Ground in Bunyip State Park which led up to Four Brothers Rocks. The Victoria Parks brochure describes the view from Four Brothers Rocks as "sweeping." I wouldn't actually go that far, but Four Brothers Rocks does make a convenient location to get to on a walk which is otherwise a desultory meander through the woods. 
Our loop was about 12 km with about 500 metres of total elevation gain (both guesses). There are a lot of old roads in Bunyip State Park but luckily most of them are gated and accessible only to walkers, cyclists or horse-riders which means they are quiet and peaceful. The forest is very pretty with lots of big old eucalpyts and many tree ferns. Leeches must be bad during winter as, despite only about a millimetre of rain having fallen overnight, I saw a lot of the buggers looking for blood on the Tree Fern track.

Starting out on Triangle Track
Anyway, from Mortimer Picnic Area, we strolled north on the Triangle Track to Windy Point Track (both gated so not accessible to bogans) which we followed (also north) to Tree Fern Track. The first section of Tree Fern Track seems to have been hastily hacked out of the surrounding tree fern forest but, after you cross Link Road, the track seems wider and better built and it is a pleasant stroll through stands of tree ferns to Nichols Hut Track. We never saw a hut, so I have no idea what the name of this track references but it climbs about 300 metres up a spur ridge to join Burgess Track (beyond the vehicle gate). It's about 1 km round-trip southeast along Burgess Track to detour to Four Brothers Rocks and a somewhat narrow view north across Black Snake Creek valley to Yarra State Forest. 
We followed Nichols Hut track back down hill to Link Road where a new bit of track not shown on the Victoria Parks map connects with Ferres Track and Silvertop Ridge track thus avoiding any road walking. Ferres Track is shown on the Parks map as following a Diamond Creek but it actually seemed to climb up and over a ridge line before wandering back down to join Triangle Track near Mortimer Picnic Area. 

 Four Brothers Boulders

Monday, January 19, 2015


Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need. Will Rogers.

For various reasons (being generally miserly, hating shopping, being an introvert and a control freak - no-one is going to mess with my mind), I consider myself fairly immune to advertising. Lately, however, I've started to notice more and more the proliferation of advertising, and not just the billboard, social media pop-up, product placement advertising that we are all accustomed to and can all, at least to some degree, ignore, but regular people pushing everything from travel services to nutritional supplements.

As if the whole "selfie" phenomena wasn't irritating enough, selfies now feature you wearing the latest brand of sneakers, jackets, shirts, whatever, while digesting the latest processed "nutritional supplement" (give your head a rub if you think maltodextrin is anything other than sugar), drinking branded coffee, ordering a branded meal, even as you tag the latest travel company/shuttle/gondola/whatever that got you where you are. 

Don't get me wrong, I can ignore this kind of advertising just as easily as I can ignore other kinds of advertising. Philosophically, I think there is no fool so stupid as the one that is convinced they need the latest consumer gimmick when in fact, they already have everything they need to do X/Y or Z that the latest gimmick is supposed to provide. But I do think regular people becoming mini-advertising machines is a disturbing trend, not least because most people (including the "advertisers" themselves) have probably failed to recognise that they are being manipulated by Big Pharma/Big Food/Big Whatever to not only buy the brand, but brand themselves. 

So, the next time you're tempted to post a selfie of yourself wearing your branded logo T-shirt, eating a branded nutrition bar, while wearing your branded sneakers, listening to your branded music device, and tagging the branded company that got you where-ever, ask yourself if you'd also be comfortable walking about town wearing a sandwich board advertising all those brands. If the answer is no, pause before posting. 

Dude is at least honest about advertising

Too Comfortable

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Jane Austen.

Seeking comfort seems to be an essential part of human nature, and, in the First World, we've got comfort down to not just an art form, but a science. Our houses, cars and places of business are climate controlled so we never have to experience excessive heat, cold, or humidity. We never walk when we could drive, never paddle when we could motor, never climb when we could ride a gondola. Even the food we eat is processed beyond recognition so that our pleasure centres are continually stimulated. 

The problem with comfort seeking is, if you let it rule your life, all growth - physical, mental, spiritual - stops, perhaps even regresses. Intuitively, we all understand that we need to move beyond our comfort zones to broaden our intellect, our ability, even our sense of self. But, moving outside your comfort zone is by its very nature, uncomfortable; and, the more First World we live, the harder and harder it is to experience any discomfit. Every hunger, thirst, desire is immediately quenched and, just as your legs atrophy if you don't walk anywhere, your ability to move outside your comfort zone shrinks until simply going without food long enough to feel real hunger becomes overwhelmingly difficult. 

Comfort is so relative. Doug and I live in a four metre space which can sometimes feel cramped but mostly seems to supply everything we really need and often feels like an oasis of comfort. We don't get wet when it rains, we can - to some degree - escape the bugs, we have lights, a fridge, a stove, a bed, some seats. Sometimes, when it is raining outside I sit inside our 4 metre box and marvel at how we can stay totally dry with such ease. Every year or so, we get sick of living in this small space, and move into a house for a spell. Living inside a house is great, for a while. In a house we can really escape the bugs (not watch them burrowing through the screens). If it's raining we can move about without knocking the other person over. We can download podcasts to listen to, and do yoga indoors instead of lying in the scratchy grass getting eaten by biting insects. We can shower every day instead of tipping a bucket of cold water from some scuzzy pond over our heads. Living in a house is just so incredibly comfortable.

After a while, however, living inside starts to pale. It starts to feel like its time to move out and move on. I begin to wonder if I'm getting too comfortable, if I've lost entirely the capacity to feel discomfit, even to suffer a little. That's the problem with comfort, it's so damn soothing that, after a while, all you want is more comfort and no challenge. But, as Neale Donald Walsch "life begins at the end of your comfort zone." 
Getting just a bit uncomfortable on
 an approach in the Coast Mountains, BC

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Solving The Fat Dilemna

I listen to a lot of podcasts, some climbing podcasts (go to The Dirtbag Diaries for an upscale climbing podcast, or The Enormocast - way more fun - for a grassroots climbing podcast), but mostly health and fitness podcasts, and, mostly (if not all) with an ancestral slant. After a while, you do hear the same thing over and over, but, sometimes there are some interesting nuggets. Listening to one such podcast recently I was struck by how humans are almost inevitably drawn to finding technical solutions to every problem that has ever arisen, despite the fact that some problems require non-technical solutions. Take the ever increasing levels of fatness in the Western world (and increasingly the developing world as more and more people take on a Western type diet) the solutions for which always seem to focus on various technologies. 

The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the air-plane in Mascot was how fat the average Australian is. Now I know that in these politically correct times we are not supposed to think of people as fat, overweight, or obese. Instead they are, I guess, "differently bodied", but, the truth is almost 70% or Australians are fat, and 25% of Australian children are fat. This is on par with Americans, frequently thought of as the fattest folk in the world, and only slightly ahead of Canadians (60%). Now you can argue that these overall figures are based on BMI which does not account well for muscularity, but, you've only got to walk down any suburban (or city) street, go to any shopping area, or, in fact, simply put your head out the door of your cave to see that the 66% of Australians who are overweight, are, in fact fat, not jacked. The classic Australian has a big protruding insulin resistant belly and a red face from chronic inflammation. Among women of child-bearing age it is, in fact, difficult to determine which are pregnant and which just insulin resistant ("just" is perhaps poorly applied when talking of insulin resistance). 

Many experts think being fat is a complex issue, not simply the calories in/calories out equation presented by conventional science. There is likely a complex interplay of hormones (insulin, ghrelin, leptin, cortisone, and others), the gut biome is implicated, reward centres in the brain are involved as are neurotransmitters such as dopamine, there are social pressures and individual psychology. Other experts (see Tim Noakes) think that being fat is relatively simple - eat more carbohydrates than your individual tolerance allows and you get a run-away appetite that leads you to eat too much (carbohydrate generally) and you get fat (note that people on Tim Noakes eating plan "Banting" are easily dropping substantial amounts of body fat). 

Standard nutritional and exercise advice generally makes people fatter rather than leaner, but, in the end, there must be some personal responsibility and there must be some personal impetus to be all that you can and not settle for being fat and ill. Traveling around Australia, I have been shocked by how much poor health Australians will tolerate. The average Australian is in such poor physical condition that simply walking is difficult (or impossible) and their ruby red faces glowing beacons of systemic inflammation could light up an entire city.

As Mulder famously said on the X Files, "the truth is out there!" Information is now readily and freely available on how to get lean and stay lean. Information availability alone, however, has never been a good motivator for behavioural change. Disseminating information is relatively easy, getting people to change their behaviours is notoriously hard. Perhaps that's why humans are always looking for a technological solution, like the "chemical gastric bypass" that is currently under research. 

I don't think any of these technological solutions will offer the answer. Somehow you have to get people to care more about their health, longevity and functional capacity and less about how good something tastes for the few seconds it is in their mouths. Because, from my observations, people don't really give a damn. Entire lives are ruled by instant gratification. In the end, getting and staying lean and healthy is all about delaying immediate short-term pleasure to gain longer term satisfaction. The day modern medicine can develop a pill for that, the fat problem will be solved. 

Against The Wind: Yowie Bay to Jibbon Bombora

We were supposed to be four today, heading out to paddle from Yowie Bay to Jibbon Heads, but two dropped out leaving just two of us to paddle from Yowie Bay to Jibbon Beach. If I were to do this trip again, I wouldn't! It's quite boring paddling through Port Hacking and there are a lot of various vessels all powered by infernal combustion engines roaring around. You only get to the interesting paddling when you round either Bass and Flinders Point on the north side of Port Hacking or Jibbon Point on the south side. By the time you get to either of those points from Yowie Bay, you've already paddled about eight kilometres and been run down by about 49 power boats. Launching somewhere in Gunnamatta Bay would be preferable as a short hop of only four kilometres gets you out on to the open ocean. 

By the time we found we were no longer four, but only two, it was too late to change destinations so we went with the previously agreed on plan and launched the kayaks at a defunct boat ramp in Yowie Bay. If you wanted an easy paddle up South West Arm or even right up the Port Hacking River this is a good launching site as there is plenty of on-street parking as the only thing here is a broken down boat ramp (good at all tides for kayaks). We had a falling tide and no wind so got some help paddling out to Jibbon Beach which was packed with motor boats and more continually arriving. It's amazing how many people have huge boats that go no further than the inside of Port Hacking, but, I guess that is preferable to the endless driving to and fro contributing to global warming that so many boat owners do. 

We had a spell at Jibbon Beach and chatted with a couple who had paddled their kayaks over from Gunnamatta Bay before paddling out around Jibbon Head and down to Jibbon Bombora. A west wind blew up out of nowhere while we were on the beach at Jibbon even though the forecast was for northerly winds. There was hardly any boats out on the open ocean even though the swell was only about a metre and the seas much less than that. That didn't stop us nearly being run over by three dullards driving a boat to and fro trolling for fish and not watching where they were going. I did wonder if they drove the same way - looking behind instead of in front - on the highway. Most power-vessel operators are complete idiots. 

Paddling around Jibbon Heads

We didn't go too far down the coast as we still had a long paddle back and all into the wind now. We tried hugging the north shore on the way in to get some shelter from the wind, and, close in to the headlands it did help, but mostly it was just plugging away, trying to avoid becoming a bow ornament of some massive over-powered ocean cruiser as we slowly pulled into the wind. At some point, the tide did switch over from ebb to flood and we got some help from the current, but overall, it was a bit of a slow paddle back. It reminded me of sea kayaking in Victoria, where it doesn't seem to matter which way you are paddling it will be into the wind.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tales From Shopping Hell or 58 Kilos of Raging Testosterone

A shopping cart flipped upside down forms a cage that I use to protect myself from consumerism.   Jarod Kintz

I love this blog post by Andy Kirkpatrick about hair, it describes absolutely the way I feel about shopping. I hate shopping, I've even blogged about how much I hate shopping before. The concept of shopping for fun, pleasure, entertainment, even therapy, leaves me completely bemused. Isn't going shopping for kicks kind of like going on vacation to Guantanamo Bay because you want to be water-boarded on your annual vacation? 

But, my trail runners, now with about 1,000 km on them, have blown out at the sides, and I needed a pair of boots (I haven't hiked in boots since I left Canada and wouldn't be hiking in boots at all if we weren't going to Tasmania for a year, land of the thigh deep mud bog). That's how I found myself trying to avoid inane conversation with about a dozen assorted shop assistants - even shoppers - while trying to negotiate the local shopping mall where the roar of shoppers, Muzak, and overly helpful, but ultimately useless shop assistants made the kind of noise you'd expect if you were in Baghdad in the middle of the American's "Shock and Awe" campaign. I should have worn ear-plugs.

Being on the small size has definite advantages. I can frequently shop in the kiddies section where clothes and shoes are half the price they are in the adult section. In one shop, I found a serviceable pair of running shoes at half price, but, the twittering of the shop attendant, who kept telling me how "fab" they looked drove me from the store before buying them, but not before I had finally, caustically replied "I don't care what they look like." If you saw me, you'd know this is true. I ascribe to the philosophy espoused by Mark Twight in "Twitching,"-"Cut your hair. Don't worry about the grey." 

In another shop, the attendant, who seemed to think we had a soulful bond because we were both from Canada told me "I used to be 58 kg of raging testosterone and now I'm 72 kg of flab." "Processed foods are unsuitable for native animals and are known to cause a range of health problems" I wanted to quote (from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service), but, I just bought the boots and got out. 
 Do I look like I care if the shoes are "fab?"

Monday, January 5, 2015

I'm In: Silver Beach, Kurnell to Boat Harbour

How many adventures have started with this pithy answer? Truthfully, I can't say I've used the phrase that much myself. I'm more an instigator than a follower, but I remember some great days and weeks out when my partners answered my phone call, email, or text with "I'm in!" Perhaps some days they wished they hadn't but mostly I think "I'm in" was said with gusto and not regretted.

So, when the marine forecast read: "Winds variable below 10 knots, seas below a metre, swell easterly below a metre" it was time to find some partners for a sea kayak trip around the Kurnell Peninsular to Boat Harbour.

Last time we paddled to Boat Harbour we came up from the south on a glassy calm day with even more favourable weather. This time we planned to launch at Kurnell and paddle around the cliffs and headlands to pull in at tiny, sheltered Boat Harbour. 

Heading out of Botany Bay

My brother was originally "in" but had to pull out the night before due to tendonitis, so it was just Doug and I who launched at 8 am from Silver Beach in Kurnell. Driving out, I had that queasy feeling in my stomach that I used to get before going alpine climbing in Canada. The "what if" queasiness where you wonder if you're going to fall and sustain severe injuries or even die. Sea kayaking my "what if" is always what if it gets super rough, I capsize and can't self-rescue or get caught in some ripping current. Uncontrolled "what if's" can kill any adventure before it even starts. 

 Cruising along in easy conditions

It's all sheltered water until you round Inscription Point where the swell and sea gradually picks up. I took a few photos paddling out, but, once we got around near Cape Solander the water was too bouncy for me to take my hands off the paddle and fish the camera out. That's always the way for me trying to take impressive sea kayaking photos. As soon as anything interesting happens the camera gets put away. All we have to show for two years of kayaking adventures are a few photos of us cruising along on flat water.

We bounced our way through haystacks down past the sandstone cliffs that line this section of coast. Past Point Long Nose, Cape Baily, Potter Point, Doughboy Head and Voodoo Point. 

We had a 10 knot headwind and were fighting the current so it took us just over two hours for the 9 km paddle to Boat Harbour. It was nice to get out of the kayaks at Boat Harbour and have a swim. Boat Harbour is a funny place. Geographically, it's a lovely little sheltered bay with some snorkelling on rocky reefs in the bay. But, it's also a shit-hole as it's the only location near Sydney where you can drive on the beach and people pay $25 a time just so they can drive a couple of hundred metres and sit right beside their vehicles on the sand pumping out music that was bad first time around in the 80's and sheer torture to listen to now. 

 Doug heading out of Boat Harbour

Anyway, we didn't stay long, but got back in the kayaks for the return journey. Doug wanted to get back before the afternoon winds picked up which seemed pretty reasonable to me as paddling down through all the haystacks was a bit like an amusement ride that went on too long and any increase in wind would only make them worse. We had a tail wind and the current with us on the way back and in only an hour we were near the northern end of the peninsular.

I was paddling along thinking about fear and trying not to stiffen up every time a haystack exploded under me. Nothing flips a kayak quicker than a rigid torso. 

Back in Canada, I used to think about the day when I would be too old to climb mountains or ski avalanche slopes. I'd think how great it would be not to feel this compulsion to go out and do things that scare me, even if I was just a little scared. I got older, I moved to Australia. I thought maybe in Australia I'd stop doing things that scared me, but, I haven't, and now, as I work my way slowly through my 50's I realize I don't want to stop doing things that scare me. When you stop pushing yourself you get old. If you keep pushing yourself, no matter how little, you might age, but you don't get old. Remember this the next time some one calls you up with some crazy plan and, before you can think better of it, say "I'm in." 

 Be "IN"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Seven Best In 2014

The title pretty much says it all. Although the 14 best in 2014 would have more alliterative effect, I've decided to limit the "best list" to seven. Since the saturation of social media we all pretty much have the attention span of a gnat, so the seven best trips (would it be hubris to call them adventures) seems more than ample. Truthfully, most folks won't make it past one, so the other six are probably wasted anyway. Within the seven best trips of 2014 there is no particular ranking. I found it hard enough to narrow a year's worth of adventures down to seven and ranking them would be very challenging for someone with attention span of a gnat. 

 Upper Gorges on the Katherine River
This trip didn't quite make the top seven

Rattlesnake and Herald Islands Sea Kayaking
We were shot at, escorted off the island by the Australian army, invaded by biting green ants, but, our trip out to Rattlesnake and Herald Islands 13 km offshore and north of Townsville was still pretty special. 

 Sunset Rattlesnake Island

Around Hook Island by Sea Kayak
It's hard to have a bad week sea kayaking around the Whitsundays and, like many before us, we didn't manage it either. 

 Sunset Dugong Beach

Umbrawarra Gorge
Traversing the full gorge took us two tries (we were surprisingly close the first time) but was well worth it. Turns out there is some decent rock climbing too. 

 Deep in Umbrawarra Gorge

Jatbula Track
The Grey Nomads floating around with pool noodles in the local caravan parks will try to convince you that you can "do" Nitmiluk National Park in day. Don't believe them. 

 17 Mile Falls, Jatbula Track

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu has it all (although the park could do with a few more longer maintained tracks), aboriginal art, crocodiles, remote sandstone gorges, open savannah grasslands, and diverse wetlands

 Doug high above Kurrindie Creek

Larapinta Track
This walk was on my list of "must do walks" before we even left Canada. Justly popular. 

 Ellery Saddle and the West Macdonnell Range

Mount Arapiles
Without a doubt the best climbing in Australia. Climb, rest, repeat

I'll leave you with one last picture of a big ocean and a small kayak.  Keep on adventuring.