Mt. Feathertop (Oct 15-16, 2016)

Mt. Feathertop is not only Victoria’s second highest peak (1922m) but it’s also a great weekend trip (and our third such trip in Australia)!  There are a number of different approaches to Mt. Feathertop, however, we ended up taking the easy route (from Harrietsville, up Bungalow Spur).

There are a number of reasons for this.  Mainly, our mate brought his tinder date along.  I’m not even joking – a girl who had never met our friend (nor any of us), agreed to come along when he said he was going to “climb a mountain” that weekend.  Now, when we kiwis/appropriated kiwis say that we are going to “climb a mountain”, we mean that we are actually going to climb a mountain.…  not just go car camping of whatever it is other (normal?) people do.

Overall, she did great!  She was super fit and she essentially climbed most of Mt. Feathertop in heeled boots (not even kidding).  She only stopped at a point where the track was covered over with snow and it was actually quite wet, steep and slippery.  But seriously, points all around for going tramping in heeled boots.

For the rest of us, it was a great excuse to knock off one of the highest peaks around, see some snow, and remind our legs why we keep them around.

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Walking up through some lovely bush

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Amazing day to climb Feathertop

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Snow covered ridgeline

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No mate, no more tinder matches up here… (Just kidding, I think he was ringing his mum)

From Federation hut, it was maybe a 90 min return to summit Feathertop (even in snow).  We ended up returning back down the bungalow spur track to the car park, and helping out some fellow trampers by returning them to their vehicle (versus them plowing their way along the razorback to Mt. Hotham).  We’re always happy to help out fellow trampers because inevitably, we’ll be the ones needing a hitch someday.

Completing the rest of the razorback circuit is on our list of things to do.

Happy Bushwalking!

The Grampians (16-17 July 2016)

Hey readers – so I just found this post sitting in my “drafts” folder.  My apologies that I’m only getting around to posting it now.

So we’ve actually managed to get out and about here in OZ already. We’ve got some friends who are just as keen to get out amongst it as we are, so we’ve already started exploring our new corner of the world.

Given our new location, we decided to hit up the Grampians which is a classic Victoria trip, especially in winter (in summer it is apparently ridiculously hot and dry).

Day 1 consisted primarily of walking along what we would ordinarily consider a road, but was actually a track! This would be a great “intro to tramping” track. Nothing too technical or scary.  That also meant we were a teensy bit bored with the walk and scenery…  It’s possible that New Zealand has ruined us for all other scenery and we’ve become tramping snobs.

However, we still want to explore our new landscape, spend time with our friends here, and keep up our pack fitness.

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What Australia considers a track to be

I was very excited to spot some Australian fungus. This one I’ve identified as Tremella mesenterica or literally “Yellow Brain”.

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Tremella mesenterica

 

We also took in an absolutely incredible sunset from the top of Mt. Thackeray.  Definitely the highlight of the trip for me.  Mt. Thackeray is about a 1km 1 way trip which involved some actual navigation and rock scrambling (a welcome change at this point after road walking all day), and took us roughly an hour.  Well worth it.

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Sunset from Mt. Thackeray

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Can’t help but love this shot

Sunday we had a bit of a sleep in and late start.  The track was much more varied and interesting (more like a tramping track).  I enjoyed going past the fortress.  We also came across this fabulous campsite, literally called “bush oasis”.  It would be a very pleasant stay in autumn or spring, I think!

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Bush oasis campsite

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And finally, yes, we literally saw Kangaroos everywhere when we were walking.

Of course, one of the main differences between Australia and NZ tramping (apart from lack of Mountains and lack of water), is the wildlife.  There were literally kangaroos jumping through our campsite at night.  Yes, we continue to encounter wildlife wherever we go.

Happy tramping – er, or is it bushwalking now?

Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit (Xmas tramp #2) Jan 1-2, 2015

Hello readers!  Yes, we did manage to squeeze in a fair bit of tramping over Xmas.  Although our original plan of doing the Thunderbolt track in the Kaimanawas fell through due to slightly iffy weather (and a lack of confidence on our part to navigate along the tops in cloud), we decided to start our Tararuas trip on Jan 1.

We rang in the new year in our wee tent in the Holdsworth Lodge camping ground just outside of Masterton.  For several years now, I’ve wanted to ring in the new year somewhere in the backcountry (last year it was supposed to be Welcome Flat Hut.  Sadly, we were rained out and the track was closed by DOC).  This year it was supposed to be somewhere in the Kaimanawas and we were rained out again.  😦  But in our tent in a campground (accompanied by some Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Milk) wasn’t too shabby of a way to ring in the new year.  And there’s always next year, right?

The reason we chose the Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit is that in 2012, we did a modified version of the Southern Crossing which was pretty stunning.  That was my first foray into the Tararuas (though Dylan had been in with his Dad as a child) and I absolutely loved it – the old huts, the goblin forest, the steep knife edged ridgeline – honestly amazing.  Needless to say the Tararuas warranted further exploration.

Our original plan was to stay at Jumbo hut on Jan 1, then go along the tops via 3 kings or the Baldy track and descend into Mitre Flats hut.  But of course, Jan 2 dawned quite windy and admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of wind, especially seeing as how exposed we would be (Dylan, of course, being of sturdier build than I am, isn’t bothered in the slightest by wind).  So instead we had a leisurely descent out back to the Holdsworth Lodge campground, and then caught up with our friends in Wellington.  Such is tramping – being flexible and willing to alter your trip depending on conditions/abilities/level of comfort of other party members.

Trip map

Trip map

The track up to Powell hut is of a “great walk” standard meaning…  Stairs.  So.  Many.  Stairs.  Yes, it makes it easier.  But it also takes a bit of the excitement out of tramping.

Stairs.  Stairs.  Countless stairs.

Stairs. Stairs. Countless stairs.

It should also be noted that DOC has recently changed the booking system surrounding Powell, Jumbo and Atiwhakatu huts, so if you’re planning on heading to that area soon, make sure to do your research and determine if you need to pre-book your hut or not.  There was certainly a great deal of confusion about the new system among the trampers we met in the area.  At the time of writing this post, Powell and Atiwhakatu were booked huts and even provided gas, whereas Jumbo did not need to be booked and the gas was going to be removed (although luckily for us, there was still some there at the time!  Bonus!).

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

I think the highlight for me was coming across a fabulous swimming hole in the Atiwhakatu river on our way out – which was a very hot day.  It was clearly visible from the bridge (as seen in the photo below) and there was a little steep track off the side of the main track which led to it.  We weren’t the only ones there, so it was obviously a pretty popular swimming hole.

Swimming hole

Swimming hole

Anyways, Dylan and I hope to continue to explore more of the North Island’s tramps – we are definitely planning to do some in the Kaimanawas, Ruahines and Tararuas again as well.

Happy tramping!

The Copland Track – Oct 25-27 2014

Hello! I hope you all got out tramping a couple weeks back as it was a magical 3 day holiday weekend! 3 days is a nearly magical number of days for a tramping trip from Dunedin, since it allows a bit more flexibility for trips that are a little too far away for just a weekend. We decided to take full advantage and booked into the Copland track for the 25th and 26th. I actually did the Copland back in 2009, but Dylan hadn’t done it yet. And I had since heard about the amazing views up past Douglas rock hut of the Copland pass, so we were keen to check those out.

From Dunedin, we left Friday at 5 pm and camped at the Boundary creek car park (as the Haast pass is still closed from 6 pm-7:30 am). We got up early Saturday morning, heading through Makarora and getting to the Copland track car park (just south of Fox Glacier) around 9 am, and starting the track around 10 am.

The Copland is a popular track and Welcome Flat hut must be booked in advance. The first time I did it, in 2009, was prior to booking and there were something like 65+ people there. The hut sleeps 31, as an FYI. With roughly and additional 8 tent sites. In 2009, it was so packed we didn’t even get a proper tent site (oh, what a tramping newbie I was back then!).

You might be wondering why the Copland is so crazy popular. Welcome flat is built next to these:

hot pools

hot pools

Also, although the walk into welcome flat hut is quite long (18 km), the total elevation climb is only 400m and the track is more or less great walk standard. The river and bush in the area is lovely.

On Sunday, 3 of our party walked up to Douglas Rock Hut (8 bunks), another 9 km up the valley. We hoped the cloud would clear and we’d be rewarded with spectacular views of a beautiful basin, the Copland pass and the back of Mt. Cook but the weather did not cooperate. Instead, we racked up another 18 km total on a much rougher tramping track, and about halfway back to the hut started our usual shenangins. Fortunately, the hot pools were still waiting for us back at Welcome Flat hut.

the boys

the boys

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Mossbeard?

Monday was the nicest day of the lot, and we had some glorious sunshine. Our goal was to make it back to the carpark by 4 pm (as we needed to be to Haast by 6 pm). However, some of our party got a rather later start than anticipated. Dylan ended up going ahead and catching a ride back with 3 other guys from Dunedin that we had met on the track and had an extra space in their car. Although myself and one other member of our party made it to the carpark at 3:50, the rest of the party didn’t make it back until 5:10, meaning we could not drive back to Dunedin through Haast. Instead, we had to drive north through Athur’s Pass. I arrived back to my car in Dunedin at 3:30 am Tuesday morning.

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Beautiful sunny Monday – along the Copland river

An important lesson to be learned here is to make sure you leave adequate wiggle room on your trips! Especially in those cases where you have to make transport by a certain time (many of the great walks!), make sure to leave plenty of adequate time! Especially if you frequently tramp slower than the estimated track times, as the last day your feet/legs/body may be more tired than you expected, blisters or other injuries could play up, etc. You just never know, so it’s better to be on the safe side.

Fortunately for future Copland trampers, the Haast pass is scheduled to re-open 24/7 from the start of November 2014.

For more information on the Copland track and Welcome flat hut, check the DOC website.

Green lake hut (May 31-June 2, 2014)

June 2 was the Queen’s birthday holiday here in NZ, so a 3 day weekend means TRAMPING! Dylan and I hadn’t done a tramp with the tramping club since May last year which is totally shocking/depressing/abysmal. Anyways, we went on this trip after finally getting around to purchasing annual backcountry hut passes (so at least until May 2015, we’re committed to doing as much tramping as possible).

I won’t bore you with all the details of the trip, only that I’m glad we did it as a 3 day trip. Tramping into a hut and then straight back out the same route is never ideal (read: boring). And if you manage to get some alpine time in there, even better! Our middle day – day trip from Green Lake Hut up to Borland road and along the ridgeline past Mt. Burns (some superfit members of our group did climb Mt. Burns, even with diminishing daylight) was definitely the highlight of the trip.

However, I should note that tramping is always a learning experience. Especially when you go with experienced trampers. As I have mentioned in past tramping posts, tramping in NZ is not without risk. Especially in winter. Sometimes snow is easier to walk on, sometimes you need a ice axe and crampons. Coming down from the ridgeline, we were faced with a lot of very icy snow (on the southside of a peak identified only as 1476), where crampons and ice axe were really a must. We came down with another party who didn’t have all the required gear – 1 of them had an ice axe and cut steps for the others. Most of our crew had both ice axes and crampons (however, I am neither experienced nor confident with this gear – something I still need to remedy). If you had done the walk without any of the proper gear, and come across that icy rather perilous descent (at about 3:30 in the afternoon in winter – meaning you only have 1.5 hours of daylight left), what would you have done? I honestly don’t know.  Going down without the gear would be crazy dangerous.  But going back the way you came meant hours of tramping in the dark…

Anyways from now on, I shall always tramp in winter with crampons and a torch (headlamp)! [I accidentally left my headlamp behind with our cars lying on the ground… fortunately it was still there when we returned on Monday afternoon!]. Diminished daylight hours is really the only downside to winter tramping (fewer people, fewer bugs, huts are extra cozy…  Mountain peaks are especially beautiful covered in snow – what’s not to love?!). Therefore I also learned how important it is to get a super early start (get out of bed before it gets light out so that you can be moving as soon as the sun comes up!) to maximize daylight hours.

Other people in the group learned the value of plasters, blister blocks, athletic tape (honestly, this is one of the most useful things to carry as a tramper). Actually, it was excellent to help other trampers out for a change (can you say “group bonding”?). Inevitably, someone in the group has a spare something that they carry “just in case”. I also learned that you can get powdered coconut milk and make a really delicious thai green curry in the backcountry without carrying much weight at all!

Overall, the trip was really excellent. The hut was BUSY – Saturday night there were 25 people (4 slept outside on the porch, 2 slept outside in a tent and at least 4 slept on the floor), and on Sunday night, 23. The hut toilet was not coping. Despite it being a newer long drop… oh the smell. I almost threw up Monday morning before we left. Not. Even. Joking. Usually, I’m not really bothered by these things (it’s tramping, be as hygienic and clean as possible [frequent use of hand sanitizer!] but also accept that you will smell and be covered in mud at the end). But in all honestly, I was dry-heaving. Oh, the glamorous side of tramping!

So now, some photos:

The side of me that has rarely been seen on my blog these days...  (aka, proof)

The side of me that has rarely been seen on my blog these days… (aka, proof)

Early morning fog lifting over Lake Monowai

Early morning fog lifting over Lake Monowai

Views of the southwest, below Mt. Burns

Views of the southwest, below Mt. Burns

MMmm...  tussock flavoured ice.  Delicious!

Mmmm… tussock flavoured Popsicle. Delicious!

View of green lake from the ridge

View of green lake from the ridge

The super glamorous side (aka, the reality) of NZ tramping.  Mud, mud and more mud.  Plus some mud.  Followed by walking through mud.

The super glamorous side (aka, the reality) of NZ tramping. Mud, mud and more mud. Plus some mud. Followed by walking through mud.

I've never seen as many mushrooms and types of fungus as I have on this track, it was spectacular for anyone who is a fan of fungi (which I am)!

I’ve never seen as many mushrooms and types of fungus as I have on this track, it was spectacular for anyone who is a fan of fungi (which I am)!

Green Lake Hut was a brilliant trip with several opportunities for daywalks.  I would definitely recommend it as a 3 day trip, if at all possible.  Oh, and beware the south facing slopes.

Happy tramping!

Please do not copy, use or distribute these photos without permission. Copyright of the author.

Cameron hut (Makarora) (Aug 2014)

So it appears that I am going to do posts in reverse chronological order…  LOL.

We didn’t get a ton of winter tramping in this year, but we we made our trips count.  We did a really excellent trip with fantastic weather into a wee 4 bunk hut near Makarora known as Cameron Hut (not to be confused with the Cameron hut in Canterbury, which is a private hut but also well worth a visit!). We spent Friday night at Boundary Creek Campground just south of Makarora, and walked into Cameron hut on Saturday morning. Despite the mere 6 km into the hut, it took us a good 6 hours (so embarrassing as track time is 5 hours!) with birdwatching (3 kakas, riflemen, tomtits, tuis, etc.); stopping for photos; taking our time crossing a number of steep, fresh, slips; getting lost for a good 30+ minute after crossing the river; and stopping for lunch.  We decided upon arriving at the hut that it wasn’t really a “newbie” track (though to be fair, experienced trampers certainly wouldn’t find it terribly demanding).

Frosted spiderweb - Makarora

Frosted spiderweb at the start of the track – I think this is one of the most beautiful valley in New Zealand and here it earns its reputation over and over again – near Makarora

However, it was absolutely worth it, as Cameron was an absolutely immaculate wee hut, perfect size for 4 people, with extra room on the floor. It also had an excellent woodburning fire, and tons of available wood. The hut is also not hugely popular which is quite fun – we were the first visitors since June 1st!

We hung out in the hut in style, complete with wine and cheese. We also took a number of ridiculous photos with the random antlers we found at the hut, as you can imagine.

Cameron hut - complete with antlers

Cameron hut – complete with antlers

The valley, looking back up to Cameron hut

The valley, looking back up to Cameron hut

There wasn’t a ton of snow, as you can see.  But enough to be interesting.  Actually, the snow was very old and had managed to grow some pretty impressive ice crystals, the like of which I have never seen before.

Sunday was especially picturesque – not a cloud in the sky! We had a nice lunch by the Cameron creek, and made sure to add some more rock cairns at the point where we got lost the day before (you cross the creek at an angle from the true right, and the track doubles back on itself in the direction of the true left after the crossing – rather counter intuitive).

You would think at seeing this sign we would have realized the track was farther to the right...  alas, we instead tried to go the way we "thought" the track should go.

You would think at seeing this sign we would have realized the track was farther to the right… alas, we instead tried to go the way we “thought” the track should go.

The drive home was especially beautiful in Central. We stopped off and got a number of great photos near Lake Hawea and Wanaka.

Mountains reflected into Lake Hawea on our drive home

Mountains reflected into Lake Hawea on our drive home

This tramp seemed especially awesome as we hadn’t been out since June. Also, our friend Chris accompanied us, and although we had never tramped together before, was an excellent tramping companion (being a zoologist who studies NZ birds, he certainly scored all the points on exotic bird bingo!*).  Dylan and I are gearing up and getting pretty stoked for the summer season. Here’s hoping we can get all the tramping in that we’d like!

*Just kidding.  We didn’t actually play exotic bird bingo.  Now go watch “The emperor’s new groove” so you know what the heck that was in reference to.

All images are copyright of the author.  Please do not use without permission.

Extra extra! Read all about it! Walking outdoors in a group is good for your mental health!

If you’re a keen tramper/hiker/outdoor walker, this probably won’t come as a huge surprise, but hey, science has reinforced something we’ve known all along:  “group walks in nature environments decrease stress and improve mental well being.”

Maybe this is why we find tramping so addicting?  Either that, or it could be the mental and physical challenges, the beautiful scenery, spending time with good people, unplugging for a few days, getting away from it all, excitement and sense of satisfaction when you climb a peak or finish a track or finally get to that remote spot you’ve always wanted to go…  You get the idea.  As if we needed any more excuses to get out into the backcountry!

Happy tramping!