Mountains of Australia

Know the wild, know yourself.

Month: March 2015

My tent

My tent is not merely a shelter; it is my home in the wilderness

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Tent amongst the snowgums, near the summit of Mt Speculation

Tent amongst the snowgums, near the summit of Mt Speculation

She is elegant, strong and perfectly designed.

Three ground to ground poles give my tent an oblong, asymmetrical shape. The poles sit on the outside of the tent, to allow for an integrated pitch.

Her strength comes from not only the three ground to ground poles, but also from 18 points of attachment to the ground, including 12 guy ropes.

A cold morning of packing up.

A cold morning of packing up.

Inside the vestibule, there is ample space to stow away my gear at the end of a long day, before climbing inside and getting comfortable in the inner tent.

Feeling warm, comfortable and safe, no matter my location or weather conditions, means I can rest well during the night and feel ready for the next day in the wilderness.

High Dome Beckons

High Dome Beckons

Further reading:

For advice on choosing the type of shelter best suited to your needs, Hiking Life has detailed the pros and cons of the different forms of shelters; tarps, bivvies and tents.

For choosing a particular product, Outdoor Gear Lab has some independent and reliable reviews.

There are also a number of outdoor forums containing a wealth of knowledge. Here are three of my favourites.

Australia: Bushwalk Australia

US: Backpacking Light

UK: Walking Forum

If you have any queries about choosing the right kind of shelter for your adventure, feel free to get in touch via the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

A taste of winter on the Baw Baw Plateau

I didn’t expect the snow to be this deep.

The AAWT underneath the snow, Baw Baw NP

The AAWT underneath the snow, Baw Baw NP

I was stepping, then sinking; stepping, then sinking again. My breath was laboured and I was sweating up a storm underneath my waterproof jacket. Despite the exertion, I wasn’t covering much ground at all. I hunched forward a bit more to counter the enormous weight resting on my back and continued to trudge through the wet snow.

I have reached the Baw Baw Plateau, marking the first alpine section of my 10 week Australian Alps Walk. Situated roughly 1400-1500m above sea level, the undulating plateau had its own climate, starkly different to the lush valleys where I’ve ascended from only the previous day. Down there, the weather was calm and warm; up here it was blowing a gale and half a metre of snow covered the ground.

I was doing my best to follow the track, hidden underneath the snow. The occasional track marker would let me know that I was still going the right way, but due to the uniformity of the terrain, I could have been walking around in circles and I wouldn’t have been the wiser.

A fine mist swirled around the army of snowgums whose twisted limbs I was walking underneath. The toughness of these trees (Eucalyptus Pauciflora) is nothing short of marvel. In winter, their home sits well above the snowline, while in summer, scorching bushfires ravage their habitat. Their limbs are eternally twisted by the elements into fantastic shapes that lie on the border of the beautiful and the grotesque.

Granite Boulder covered in moss, Baw Baw NP

Granite Boulder covered in moss, Baw Baw NP

Scattered across the plateau between the snowgums were enormous granite boulders on which a variety of mosses and lichens have taken up residence. What appeared to be a uniform green blanket from a distance however, turned out to be a thriving metropolis of a variety of different species; a miniature eco system growing on nothing but bare rock.

A miniature world growing on bare rock, Baw Baw NP

A miniature world growing on bare rock, Baw Baw NP

I eventually rolled in to my night’s campsite feeling every bit like an old and overweight tortoise. Due to the formidable weight of my pack, my hips were bruised and my shoulders were sore. The excessive weight was a result of carrying over a week’s worth of food and all the equipment required for the entire duration of my walk. While it was comforting to know that everything I could possibly need for the next two months was safely stowed away in my pack, the weight slowed me down. I was covering much less ground than I anticipated and I was worried about running out of food before getting to my first food drop.

A moody snowgum forest, Baw Baw NP

A moody snowgum forest, Baw Baw NP

The routine of setting up camp lifted my spirits a little. I pitched my tent, then quickly climbed inside, seeking refuge in the cocoon of my sleeping bag. Placing my lightweight stove just outside my vestibule’s door, I was able to cook dinner from inside the warm comfort of my tent. When my cup of miso soup was steaming hot and ready to drink, I cupped my hands around my mug and drank quickly. I felt the warmth spread through my tummy. I fell asleep shortly after dinner.

A magical fabric, confining water to the outside only.

A magical fabric, confining water to the outside only.

The thunderstorm woke me not long after. The rain was coming down hard and the wind was tearing through the canopies of the snowgums overhead with a fearsome howl. Periodically, a flash would light up my tent followed closely by the crack of thunder. Although I was sheltered from the lightning bolts by the trees standing overhead, I was momentarily terrified, like any animal should be terrified in the close presence of lightning.

Eventually, the storm subsided and the rain eased to a calm patter. As I drifted towards sleep again, I was content to be exactly where I was; sheltered, but deep in the wilderness.

The Governor, Victorian Alps

The Governor, Victorian Alps

The call of the Australian Alps Walking Track

It was only last year, in 2014 that I fully succumbed to the call of the mountains. I was 26 and the promise of the unknown was beckoning me towards discovery.

Through chance I learnt about a remote and rugged walking route, the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). The route is notoriously difficult and only attempted by about 100 people every year, roughly half of whom succeed in walking it end to end. Walkers need to be prepared to deal with extremes in weather, including bush fires as well as snow storms.

Mt McDonald, with twisted snowgum in foreground, Victorian Alps

Mt McDonald, with twisted snowgum in foreground, Victorian Alps

Upon reading about the AAWT, I was instantly hooked. Here was a challenge that I could really sink my teeth into. I began to research the walk more carefully, planning down to the last details.

I soon learnt that the key difficulty of the walk lies in its provisioning. Due to its remoteness, the AAWT does not pass by any towns where re-supply is possible. There are a few alpine ski villages encountered, but their shops are more suited to stocking up on sugary snacks than proper backpacking food.

The solution to the provisioning problem is to place food drops along the route prior to commencing the walk. This way, only about a week’s worth of food needs to be carried at any one time, which is manageable. However, considering the food portions needed to fuel a hungry hiker, even the weight of a single week’s worth of food becomes considerable. Preparing the correct food for my proposed 10 week walk was a major task that I will detail in later posts.

During my research I also discovered that most of the access roads to the AAWT are closed over the winter due to snowfall. Since I was to commence my walk in early spring, before these mountain roads are re-opened, I had to stash my food drops in autumn, prior to the seasonal road closures. Therefore, all my food had to be prepared and packaged about 4 months before I actually started the walk.

A typical 4WD track along the route of the AAWT

A typical 4WD track along the route of the AAWT

Acquiring the correct equipment needed to deal with the wild weather conditions in the Australian Alps was another element of the preparation. After much advice from fellow hikers and online forums, I purchased my shelter, sleeping bag, boots, backpack and all other gear required to be comfortable in the mountains for the duration of my walk. When my rucksack was finally packed, it was heavy but I was satisfied that it contained everything that I required to complete the walk safely and comfortably.

Physically, I felt ready for the AAWT.  Having spent the better part of the summer walking as a guide on Tasmania’s Overland Track, I felt strong and confident that my body was ready for the challenge of an extended walk with a heavy pack.

As my day of departure got closer and closer, there was no nervousness, only elation. I was about to trade my complex city comforts for a much simpler, nomadic lifestyle.
Instead of hot showers in a steaming bathroom I would enjoy swims in ice cold mountain streams; instead of a comfortable bed, I would sleep on the peaks of mountains, where I’d watch the birth and death of the sun, as it rose and as it set; instead of waking up to the sound of an alarm bell, I would let the birds wake me up with song; and instead of sinking into a couch, I would walk on lonely ridge tops and feel the solitude of a million years.

When the day finally came and I swung my pack on, I was answering the call of the mountains. I was finally going home.

Sunset on Mt Buller, Victorian Alps

Sunset on Mt Buller, Victorian Alps

The love of mountains

I was six years old when my spirit for mountaineering first revealed itself. It was an event that nearly ended my life.

Mt Geryon and the Pool of Memories

Surprisingly, when I return in my mind to the memory of that crisp winter morning, I encounter no pain, only a mechanical sequence of events. The emotion from that day has been drained over the course of the last 20 years, leaving only a dry visual reel.

It begins with my brother and I walking through the woods. It was cold, being the beginning of winter and we could see our breath in the air. Our hands were in our pockets, in an attempt to keep them warm.

I can no longer remember which one of us got the idea first. The cliff towered over us, sticking out high above the forest floor. Our feet kicked up the dry leaves as we strode through the trees, strangely attracted towards the sheer rock.

We both knew we were going to climb it, even before we agreed to it. Our sense of adventure was burning high and we were keen to pit our muscles against the cliff to see if we could conquer it. Our task was simple; we had to get to the top.

We commenced the climb strategically, me climbing first, my brother spotting from below. Being much stronger, he had no trouble supporting some of my weight as we began moving up. Soon we were hanging onto bare rock and the ground was far below.

I remember that it was difficult, and that I was scared. We were less than halfway up, yet my arms were tired and I was relying more and more on my brother to hold me up from below. With his help, we climbed on.

My brother slipped without a sound. Without his support underneath me, it was as if I was trying to cling onto thin air. I fell swiftly and tumbled to the ground in jolts.

My head hurt and my brother had a scared expression on his face. He picked me up but I screamed too loud about the pain in my head. There was blood on the rocks.

I spent five days in hospital after my head was stitched back together. I remember Mum sitting beside my bed. On the second day she brought me a plush puppy whose collar said ‘I love you’. I didn’t speak English at the time, but I knew what the words meant.

I was released the day before Christmas with an impressive scar on the top of my head that I will always carry around with me.

My scar is a personal reminder that venturing into the unknown always entails an element of risk. By acknowledging and assessing these risks, we are able to reduce the danger they pose to us. If we ignore them, the consequences may be serious. I was lucky enough to learn this lesson when I was six years old.
Although the risks associated with any mountaineering venture may be great, the reward is even greater; discovery. Through stepping outside our comfort zone, we not only discover new places, but also come to appreciate the inner workings of our own minds. Often, the greatest obstacles that need to be overcome are not physical, but hidden in our own heads.

The stories you will find here on Mountains of Australia speak not only of exploring mountainous wilderness, but also about the process of self discovery. I hope to share my belief that we have a lot to gain by pushing our own boundaries and stepping outside the world we are comfortable in.

Please, take a look around and welcome to the wilderness.

Snowgum at sunset, The Bluff, Victorian Alps

Snowgum at sunset, The Bluff, Victorian Alps