Space, the Final Frontier   Leave a comment

Sunday, 17 May, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve been out on a decent hike, so with fantastic looking weather forecast for this weekend, I planned to return to one of my favourite places in the ACT, the Orroral Valley in the Namadgi National Park located to the south of Canberra. Apart from the spectacular scenery in the valley and the wonderful mobs of kangaroos that populate the area, the main reason I love it so much is that it’s the site of the former Orroral Valley Space Tracking Station run by NASA in the 60’s and 70’s in support of the Apollo, Soyuz and Shuttle space programmes.

I mentioned this to Glenn during the week and he asked me if his wife, Ja and he could come along for the ride, as neither of them had been down that way before. So at 9:00am this morning we set off in two cars to drive the 45 minutes down to the Orroral Camping Ground, where we planned to leave one of the cars, before driving on to the old Tracking Station site itself. Sadly, all of the original buildings that were on the site have long been demolished, but the footprints of the various building and the foundations of the sites where the satellites were once located can still clearly been seen. Additionally, there are a number of panels dotted around the site which explain what exactly happening there all those years ago.

After a good look around , we set off out of the back of the site toward the old Orroral Homestead a little further down the valley. On the way we started to notice the large groups (mobs) of Roos grazing on the plains next to the path. Most of the time they just ignored us, but sometimes one or two of them took fright and this set off a chain reaction amongst the others resulting in the incredible sight of hundreds of Roos bouncing across valley floor, bloody hell the speed of some of them is amazing. At the Homestead it looked as though the heritage people have been busy, with renovations and cleaning having being done both inside and outside the old house.

Again, we moved on towards the bridge that crosses the river (which I somehow managed to miss!) and into the woods where we saw plenty of Roos lazing about in the warm afternoon sun. It seems strange to me that kangaroos are equally as happy in the confines of a wood/forest as they are out in the open. At the back end of the woods we found my car and after taking lunch at one of the benches dotted around the campsite, we drove back up to the Tracking Station to collect Glenn and Ja’s car.

Not a long hike, but it was good to show Glenn and Ja what’s available within a relevantly short drive of the centre of Canberra.

Posted May 18, 2015 by yermandownunder in Observations, Out and about

Big Hike 26   Leave a comment

Saturday, 11 April, 2015

The 26th in the edition of Phil’s Big Hike series saw a record number of hikers turn up for an attempt on the Main Range Trail from Charlottes Pass in the Koscuizco National Park. I love this hike (I’ve done it three times previously) and it never fails to impress me with both the scenery it offers from all around the route and the the improved level of fitness I seem to have every time I do it. The last time I was up here was only a few weeks ago, as the final part of my training for the CBR100, when I skipped around the 22km in a shade over six hours. 

There was a bit of confusion first thing this morning as to who was picking up who, but finally it was sorted that Glenn and I were driving up and meeting the James, Nick and Patrick at the breakfast stop in the alpine town of Jindabyne, then the five of us squeezing into one car to drive into the Koscuizco National Park ($16 charge per car, tight bastards I know, but every penny counts!). Also joining us today was Phil, who organises these Big Hikes, Tony, Sankalp (new to our little gang), and Simon with his son David.

Earlier in the week there had been a massive amount of snow fall in the region, but today’s forecast was for clear skies and little wind, with a maximum temperature of 9C. prefect for hiking. However, when we arrived at Charlotte Pass the wind was howling at around 45kpm and we started the hike wondering what we had let ourselves in for. Obviously with a circular route, there are two ways you can tackle it, clockwise and anti-clockwise and before we started there was a huge debate as to which was the best route to take. 

Finally after a vote was taken we were on our way on the clockwise route (not my choice!) and we made good time up to Seaman’s hut, in which we took a well-earned rest. By the time we emerged the wind had died down and the assault on the summit was done in very pleasure weather and at the top we were rewarded with some fantastic views of the surrounding NSW and Victoria countryside laid out below us. On the way around the ridge-line we bumped into an abandoned campsite where apparently earlier in the week, during the snowstorm, a group of hikers had to be rescued after a couple of their tents had failed in the wind. 

Lunch was taken a spot overlooking Lake Albina, one of the best views in NSW OMHO, before we tackled the climb up to Mt. Carruthers where young David began to feel the pace. From the summit you can trace the route all the way back down to the Snowy River, with the emphasise on the down and this meant a pleasurable hike down to Blue Lake, where we resisted the urge to take a dip in the icy looking water and onto the banks of the river.

Fortunately, the melting snows hadn’t caused the river to swell to much and we managed to cross it using the large rocks and boulders spanning its width without too much trouble. I would have been well pissed, if we were forced to turn back because the river was impassable! We took another rest on the far side, not wanting to look up at the fearsome climb up out of the valley back to Charlottes Pass that awaited us. The last time I took this route round, this climb took me 45 minutes to complete, but with a big push and no stops, I was done in under 15 minutes. By the time the last of the group made it back to the start point, I made it that the hike was completed in just over 6 hours 30 minutes.

Great day out with the boys, especially with Sankalp, Glenn and David completing their first Main Range Hike. Well done everybody!

Posted April 11, 2015 by yermandownunder in Observations, Out and about, Travels

What a Folly!   Leave a comment

Saturday, 04 April, 2015

After a lot of deliberation during the week, mainly down to the state of the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and hit the coast for a two night Easter camping trip down in Eden, NSW. My original plan was finish work at lunchtime on Thursday, drive down to Eden for a night or twos camping and then make my way up the coast to finish up at Narooma on the Sunday night before returning to Canberra on Easter Monday. However, at the start of the week the Easter weekend weather forecast for most of the South Coast was shocking, with heavy rain predicted from Sydney all the way down to just north of Eden. As the week progressed the forecast for Eden at least was looking favourable for Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday, so that how I found myself leaving home early of Good Friday morning and driving the 3 ½ hours to the South Coast Holiday Park, Eden into which I booked a two night un-powered site for my tent and I.

The campsite was pretty busy with most if not all the powered sites taken, but I as allocated an excellent site not too far away from one of the toilet blocks and camp kitchens. In fact I was surprised to see how big the site was, as I easily got my tent and car on the pitch with lots of room to spare. Once I had set up camp, something that is taking longer and longer as I seem to have accumulated quite a lot of gear these days, I went over to the lakeside and unpacked the SUP so that I could take it out for a spin. It was a beautiful evening, a bit grey, but little or no wind and quite warm and I was having a ball paddling across towards the other when I noticed what I thought was a plastic bag just below the surface. SHIT! Not a plastic bag, I fecking great big Jelly Fish! Then another and another, jesus there was hundreds of them. All of a sudden I lost my confidence and it seemed my ability to stand up on the board, something that is fundamental on a SUP, was gone as I froze not wanting to fall in. Somehow I managed to paddle through to the other side and all I had to do then was work out how I could get back without encountering them again!

This morning I woke up early, something to do with being in bed by ten and the sound of all those sodding birds at dawn. My plan was to go for a swim in the sea, have breakfast and then go for a hike in the Ben Boyd National Park just down the road. Being the lazy git that I am I decided to drive the few hundred metres to the beach and I was glad that I did, as I realised that the sea was dead calm and having the SUP in the boot I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this, so I unpacked the gear, set everything and dashed into the sea. The first time I stood up I fell off within a few seconds, mmmm I’ll have another go… same thing and again and again. Bloody hell, what’s going on, I had no problem last night on the lake, but today on flat, calm sea I can’t stay on the board for more than a few seconds. Finally after an half an hour or so I was able to stand up and paddle for a while before the very slight swell had me off. However, the longer I was out there, the better I got and although I wasn’t fully confident at the end, I felt that I had had a great work-out and had learnt a lot.

Back at the campsite I used the excellently equipped camp kitchen to cook up a full English for breakfast. Then it was off in the car to drive 30 minutes or so down the coast deep into the Ben Boyd National Park to Boyd’s Tower which is at the northern end of a 30km hike along the coastline known as the ‘Light to Light’ (the Green Cape Lighthouse is at the Southern end and Boyd’s Tower is at the other). Working out that I had around five hours of daylight left, I clearly couldn’t do the whole lot so decided to walk to Mowarry Point, which was around 7km away and then return to the tower. Just in case I was in a bit of a rush later, I took a quick look around the tower before I left. Turns out that Mr Ben Boyd was a bit of a dreamer back in the day, as he envisaged this area to be a major whaling and fishing region, which is why he had this massive tower which seemed to serve no purpose other than being a lookout point for spot the migrating whales as they passed up and down the coast on their bi-annual migration to and from their breeding grounds.

The start of the track was back at the car park and I was soon walking south along the coastline, stopping every now and then to take a picture or two. I was expecting to see a few other hikers along the way, especially as there were so many cars back at the car park, but the first people I came across were at Leather Jacket Bay, about 4.4km down the track. Now, let me paint you a picture! about a km from the bay I started to pick up some sort of beat, at first I thought it was the sea crashing against the rocks in one of the bays I was walking past, but then it became more distinct and I could tell it was defiantly music. As I got closer I could make out an Aboriginal groove to the beat and it was bloody loud. Gradually I could make out the shape of a few beat-up cars, min and camper vans with various bodies hanging out in or around them. Finally, as I came out of the tree to cross the creek into Leather Jacket Bay I was greeted by a group of three young men who offered me a beer and we were soon chatting away like old friends as they told me all about the three day camp they were having and all about the Light to Light hike I was on.

Upon leaving the camp, I continued along the track till I got to the beach at Mowarry Point where I had lunch sat on the rocks with only a couple of seagulls for company, fantastic! By this time I thought it best to head back to the car as the light was fading and I didn’t want to be caught out walking the last few Ks in the dark. All up I walk around 14kms in a little over 4 hours, I bit slower than normal, but I did stop quite a few times to take in the views and have a chat with a few people along the way. I can see why the guide says to give yourself two days to complete the full Light to Light hike.

Posted April 4, 2015 by yermandownunder in Observations, Out and about, Travels

CBR100 – That wasn’t so easy!   Leave a comment

Saturday, 21 March, 2015

Today, after three months of training, I and about 300 other people completed a 56km hike as part of the inaugural Canberra 100 Challenge (CBR100). It was supposed to be 50km, but I think the organisers cocked up on the route somewhere and we all ended up doing around 56km. Mind you it could have been worse, there were a few number of runners and walkers doing a 100km route! It’s the furthest I’m ever hiked (maybe I did more back in my scouting days!), but thanks to all the training and preparation work I felt pretty strong at the end, not that I couldn’t have gone any further!

The day started at 4am when the alarm went off and I dragged my arse out of bed to start the task of preparing myself and equipment for a long day. First up to make porridge with yogurt and honey throw in for good measure, next was to tape my toes and feet up with Fixamol, this stuff is great at preventing blisters and the like. Finally, recheck the contents of my pack and throw in the flapjack pieces I had made earlier in the week (thankyou Carole for the recipe, delicious!), nuts/raisins, Christmas cake, and a couple of tubes of Gu along with two water bottles.

Parked up at the venue without any problems and after rechecking that I had everything, made my way to the start line where I saw off the first wave of participants who were taking on the 100km solo run/walk, bloody idiots. The best of them would take around 9:30 Hours to cover the distance, but most of them were looking at least 20 hours out on the course, with some of them coming in at around the 28 hour mark. Then it was our turn to be sent off and at 06:10 we were off. Of course it was still dark at this time, but the first few kms were along the lake and up ANZAC Parade, which are both well lit.

Then bam! Just behind the War Memorial we hit Mt. Ainslie, the first (and biggest) hill on the course. At the top of this there was a water station and toilet both of which I used. Walking down the other side of the mountain, we could see Mt Majura in the distance, luckily the 50km course didn’t go over the top of this hill, instead taking us around it and on a broad sweep of the northern suburbs of Canberra. In the middle of this 20km stretch was the first of the two Transition Areas we were to pass through today, here the organisers had laid on fresh fruit, hot cross buns (well it is nearly Easter!), jellied snakes as well as the usual water containers and toilets. It was here that we said goodbye the 100km people, who headed north to edge of the ACT for a jaunt around One Tree Hill and Hall.

For most of the time on this section we could see the Telstra Tower in the distance sitting on the top of Black Mountain and it was with a sense of foreboding that we approached the foot of climb after entering the nature park that it sits in. Thankfully, there was a water station located at the top of the climb and most people took the opportunity to take a break here, although mine was a bit longer than expected, as I had to wait ages to use the single porta-loo set up there (Question, why do women take so long in the toilet?). The first part of the descent was a bit tricky as the path down had been closed off for some reason and we were sent down a steep embankment which had obviously been cut up a fair bit with those walker/runners who had got there first.

The next 10km or so were spent walking through the lower slopes of Black Mountain and then onto the National Arboretum (unscheduled break for coffee and flapjacks in the café, cheeky!), before heading down to lake Burley Griffin and a walk around its western loop that I know so well from my many rides around the lake. It was at around this stage that everybody started to realise that something was wrong with the distance we were supposed to be doing, as the GPS tracker on my iPhone was telling that we had already covered 45km and knowing this area so well, I knew that there was at least another 10km to walk over Red Hill and down the other side to the lake and the finish line.

Sure enough the 50km mark was passed near the summit of Red Hill and feeling a bit aggrieved, the final 6km or so felt like a punishment more than the triumphant push for the finishing line that it should have been. To compound my misery, it was getting dark when crossing Commonwealth Bridge (although I did get a great shot of the setting sun over the National Museum of Australia) and to top it all, there was hardly anybody there to witness the crossing of the line. I got the impression that those volunteers who were manning the finishing line overnight were settling in a long haul and everything that had been setup for the majority of people who were doing the 25km course (and had long finished) had been packed away.

Ah well, time for another pee (I don’t think I’ve been to the toilet so much in my life) and a stretch before heading home and nice long shower and bed.

Click here to follow link to see a Strava GSP Track of my 56km hike

VH-ACU   Leave a comment

Saturday, 14 March, 2015

As you know by now, every year Canberra host a week long international Ballooning Festival in which balloonist from all over Australia and beyond converge on the Parliamentary Triangle and weather permitting launch their balloons into the early morning air. I say weather permitting, as yesterday I got up at 5:30am to drive down to the launch area only to be told at 6am that it was too windy to launch the balloons safely. Mind you, every cloud and all that, this meant that I was in work extra early thus enabling me to leave extra early, bonus! Especially on a Friday afternoon.

Anyway, I was up again at the same time this morning and seeing that I was in the vicinity of the briefing tent when the decision was being made I got to hear first hand that it was a go for the day’s flying. Soon afterwards the lawns around control point were alive with activity as the pilots and their helpers were busily inflating the various balloons that were laid out on the lawns. Soon, as the light began to increase, I could make out the shape of dozens of balloons and the thousands of spectators who had descended to watch them. Then at a given signal, they were off and so was I, as this time I had brought my bike along and as soon as I could tell which way they were heading in the prevailing wind, I was racing around the lake to catch them coming over my head and towards the lake where I knew I would get some great shots of some of them dipping into the water and taking off again.

As the first balloons came over the trees, I could see quite a few SUPers/Kayakers on the water waiting for them as well. The first to arrive looked like he had done this sort of thing before, as he made a perfect ‘landing’ on the water, where he was immediately surrounded by the watercraft. The next one in, the RAAF balloon wasn’t as practiced as the first and he only got to within ten foot or so of the water’s surface. Soon there were many more balloons coming in to land and at one stage it got pretty crowded. It was obvious to me at this time that there was hardly any wind at all and this was confirmed by the sight of various balloons at different levels going nowhere fast. The call must have come over the radio to land, because soon enough they all started to loose altitude looking for somewhere to land.

The spot where four or five of them decided to head for was the area surrounding the Southern Cross Yacht Club just across lake from where I was standing. So jumping on my bike again I rode around to the peninsula that the club stands on. The first balloon to land only just made it onto the peninsula, but it looked to me that he had landed in the trees. The second and third made it onto the empty car park which left one more, VH-ACU floating above the trees just beyond the club itself. By the time I got where he was, he was shouting down to a number of us to grab I line he was about to throw down and drag him over to a small clearing between the trees and the waters edge. I tell you it’s not easy towing a hot air balloon to where you want it to go, especially when the wind wants to take it somewhere else. Eventually, we managed to pull the balloon into the middle of the clearing and the pilot dropped it down. The next problem was access for the backup vehicle to get to the balloon, so he hovered there for a few minutes while his father-in-law, as it turned out, raced up and down the road looking for a way into the clearing with his 4×4 and trailer.

This was a real family affair as soon enough the pilots wife and two kids turned up along with the mother-in-law! When the balloon envelope was dropped onto the ground, we all helped to fold it up into a its bag and load it up onto the trailer. That wasn’t too hard as surprisingly the whole thing only weighted around 100kg, what was awkward was the basket that hangs below the balloon, now that was heavy, as not only is there the basket, there’s also the gas tanks which were still quite full due the shortness of the flight. When everything was sorted I had time to chat to the pilot, Bob and his wife, Belinda who it turns out had come over from Western Australia to take part in the festival in their brand new balloon which they had only just picked up from the manufacturer in Sydney.

Again, as these things take part very early in the morning, I had plenty of time to return to the car and arrange to meet James and Grainne for breakfast in Deakin.

Main Range – That was Easy!   Leave a comment

Saturday, 07 March, 2015

This weekend I’m staying up in the winter Ski Resort of Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains. I have been invited to stay at the ski lodge of my work friend Katrina and her partner David, also with us are Katrina’s friends Bernadette and Carole and Bernadette’s partner Les. We all drove up from Canberra yesterday afternoon and spent the evening drinking champagne, red wine and beer whilst consuming large quantities of nibbles and pizzas purchased from the local pizzeria.

The main reason I’m here is to hike the anti-clockwise circuit of the Main Range trail from Charlottes Pass and this morning we all rose from bed at some ridiculous hour, had breakfast, made our lunches for the day and drove back down the valley that Thredbo is located and round into Perisher Valley where the ski resort of Perisher is located and onto the end of the road and Charlottes Pass. Those avid readers on my blog will note that I’ve already ‘done’ the Main Range trail twice before, with the first one being an absolute nightmare due to the fact that I was around 25kg heavier and was wearing brand new boots which hadn’t been broken in, thus resulting in me developing the biggest blisters ever. Today’s 22km hike is also my last long hike before I start tapering down my training for the 50km option of the Canberra 100 (CBR100) in a few weeks’ time. Carole and Bernadette are also doing the CBR100 (25km option) as a team of three with their friend Rosemary, who could Not make it this weekend.

So at around 9am, we started on our way down the steep slope that leads to the first of our two crossings of the Snowy River and the start of the nightmarish climb up to the Blue Lake and beyond that to Mt. Carruthers. At the lookout overlooking the Blue Lake, we all had a well earned rest and I took a few pictures of the others with the lake in the background. The rest of the way up to the summit of Mt. Carruthers was a breeze compared to the slog that we had just endured. Here we had another break whilst surveying the spectacular mountain ranges spread out below us. All to soon, it was time to move on and head for our planned lunch time stop on the ridge-line overlooking Lake Albina. This part of the day was pretty easy and we soon reached a great spot where we could stop,  eat and enjoy the view. And how we were rewarded, with some fantastic views of the lake and the clouds rushing in over it from the valley below.

At this time, we started to notice that there were quite a lot of people coming along the track from the direction that we were heading. We were speculating that these people had taken the ‘easy’ option of taking the chair lift up from Thredbo and hiking across the moorland and this was confirmed when we reached the junction of the Main Range Track and Rawson’s Pass that leads up to the top of Mt. Kosciuszko where we saw hordes of people heading up from the chair life. This couple of Ks that leads up to the top of the mountain isn’t officially part of the Main Range Trail, but the majority of us couldn’t pass up on the chance of stand on the highest point in Australia.

After meeting up with those of us who didn’t go for the top (Bernadette and Les) at the toilet block at the head of the Summit Road, we knew that we only had a 7.2km decent down the old road past Seamans Hut and the second Snowy River crossing, this time over a bridge back to Charlottes Pass. All up we travelled 22.4km in a tad over six hours and I must say that I felt pretty good at the end, although I did fall asleep on the drive back to base.

Posted March 7, 2015 by yermandownunder in Observations, Out and about, Travels

Just dodged a bullet   Leave a comment

Saturday, 10 January, 2015

Jez, I’ve just woken up from a nap after returning from my latest hike. I don’t normally sleep during the day, but I think I earned this one, let me explain…

Every three month a gang of us from work take part in a hike somewhere in the country around Canberra. The 25th ‘Bike Hike’ in this series was supposed to take place up on Mt. Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains about two hours’ drive from the ACT, but the expected 40mm of rain in the region forced us to re-arrange the venue to Mt Gingera in the Namadgi National Park just to the south of the capital.

So this morning six of us, James, Ronan, Patrick, Phil, Tony and myself found ourselves in a MacDonald’s restaurant (is that what they call then these days!) at 7am preparing ourselves for the drive into the national park and up to far end of the Corin dam where the hike would start.

Even though the skies were grey, it was still very humid morning and I think we all found it hard work scaling the steep climb out of the valley in which the dam is located. Four hours later we were at the highest point in the ACT looking down on some fantastic views of the ranges that surrounded us.

Coming down only took two hours, but in some ways it was harder than coming up. Near the end a couple of us were struggling to make it down in one piece and to make thing worst, we could hear the thunder rolling in over the hills. As it was, we just made it back to the cars in time to beat the torrential downpour that surely would have soaked us all if we’d been caught up in it further up the hill. The rain did put paid to our planned BBQ and beers to celebrate the 25th edition of the ‘Big Hike’ series, although we still had the beers! So we had to make do with a coffee and egg/bacon sandwich at the café halfway down the mountain on the way home.

Posted January 10, 2015 by yermandownunder in Observations, Out and about

yermandownunder

A Blog about Mario's life down under!

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