I haven’t written many posts lately have I? There’s a reason though and it’s due to the ultimate, outdoor blogging dilemma. Do you know what that is? Well, I’ve been doing too much walking lately which frankly is getting in the way of the blog. How can I write inspiring posts if I keep walking every weekend? Damn… I’ll work out this blogging caper one day.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ll get some entertainment from this trip. It consisted of a two day wander with the first climbing Mount Difficult, Grampians. Camping the night and then climbing Briggs Bluff the following day.
The observant reader would realise this walk has featured before in one of the more notable failures from the ‘fiasco vault’. Briefly, on a hot summers day, occasional hiking sidekick, ‘the Smuffin’, hit the wall physically during a steamy day of climbing and as a result we only completed half of the intended walk.
The incident on the Mount Difficult Range became known globally due to William Shakespeare, who whilst inspired by the story, penned what was quite frankly an abysmal play called, ‘The Taming of the Smuffin’.
In order to put this walk to bed, I’ve been wanting to get back to the Grampians for a while. A winter visit seemed to make sense, as at least I wouldn’t have to worry about lugging six litres of water due to the dry conditions like last time. Yeah okay, it’d be freezing, but I thought I’d have that in hand. Do you notice how I used the word ‘thought’? I wonder where this post is going?
On this occasion I’d be doing the hike on my own and I picked out the weekend to do it rather haphazardly. Calendar. Darts. That’s as technical a selection as I could come up with. The upcoming weather was of interest though and I noted the Saturday forecast of ‘showers’ and a maximum of 10 °C at the nearby town of Halls Gap. Mm… I’d be sleeping out at a higher altitude than the town…
If camping overnight, this particular walk has to be booked at the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre. When I phoned a few days before the weekend, I was told no other walkers were going.
Upon hearing this, I celebrated by tearing my trousers off, twirling them above my head and screaming, “I’d have the entire range to myself!”. Unfortunately I received this information whilst I was at the local library, so this celebration of ecstasy didn’t go down too well.
Well, the ‘no other walkers’ is a great theory, until I drove into the starting point at Troopers Creek Campground and observed multiple cars, plus the nemesis of the solo walker. Yes, the school group. Actually, has there ever been a group of about ten teenagers on a bush walk who don’t scream, yell and talk so loudly you’d think they’re trying to communicate to our neighbours on Abell 1835 IR1916?
This lot were no different and upon finding out they were intending to stay at my planned destination of the Briggs Bluff camp site, I contemplated an alternative overnight location. Anyway, I thought I’d give them a monster head start, so I didn’t set off for at least 40 minutes after they left.
There were another two blokes who were ahead of me as well and had apparently set off before I’d arrived. I told this by some elderly bloke called ‘Klaus’. He had been touring the area in a camper van and had stayed at the campground overnight. Klaus was fairly chatty and I noticed he’d perfected the ability to talk and not breathe as he did so.
He informed me he was going to knock off Mount Difficult as a day walk in the gear he was wearing. Fair enough, but I noted he was wearing a woollen jumper from the ‘Ötzi the Iceman Signature Series’ and a pair of slippers. I guess he had some more gear tucked away in his van, but one never knows.
So, that’s it. I was off and racing. My first observation was in winter the entire area had taken on a different look and feel. The range ahead was cloaked in low cloud and within minutes I was walking in a mist, which remained with me for the entire day.
Well, you can sit back now and relax, as the writing is going to dry up and I’ll head into ‘photo abuse’ time. There’s plenty of clambering on a rocky, tree strewn path to negotiate and I was moving gingerly to avoid falling over…
…as the area was soaking wet with the path like a small stream at times.
Remember the group who I’d given a massive head start to? Believe it or not, but I caught them within 30 minutes of walking. I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering my normal sloth-like speed, but whilst passing I did chat with one of the older blokes and asked him what the weather forecast was. His reply of ‘shower’s meant there hadn’t been any changes that I feared I might have missed out on. Looking ahead, the clouds were thickening…
…as I reached a fairly level section, which passes a towering wall of rock, covered in cloud.
The vistas were limited, but I was enjoying this misty walk in comparative silence, as I’d successfully left the screaming hordes behind. I then began a theme of this hike and that’s sections of weaving between huge slabs of rock.
On the last visit, reaching Tilwinda Falls seemed like a logical spot for a break. There are flat rocks to lounge on whilst taking in the vast views below, but in summer the falls were just a trickle. Again, it was a totally different scene with the water running.
This exposed area was where the first drama of the day began occurring. The conditions had been icy, but there was no wind or rain. That changed though, as suddenly the wind picked up and rain began to fall. Under completely grey skies I couldn’t work out what was in store, but I made sure to put on my ‘full wets’ of rain coat and overpants just in case.
Now it’s time for a video. Yes, you read that correctly. A video. I’ve taken the odd one here and there, but they’ve always being rough and ready, with a result they don’t interest me much. Also, I think I only take them when the weather is rubbish. They seem to make sense on those occasions, rather than footage of a nice, sunny day.
Before showing it, I suggest you turn down the volume or take off your headphones, otherwise the sound of the deafening wind may fry your eardrums. You don’t want to end up like me, who’s abused headphones for a lifetime listening to stuff like Young Man Blues by The Who at full throttle. My ears are officially cooked, but the music was great, which is the main thing, right?
Okay, I just crash-read the notes about uploading a video and I may have missed some details in the 17 seconds I took to read it, but here’s an experiment. It’s Tilwinda Falls just as the weather turned and I shot it in cinéma vérité style, which means any jerking of the camera was fully intentional and not due to me having no idea what I was doing.
That file was not exactly HD, but there you go. Now, the rain began to set in which meant the DSLR went away and I relied on a dodgy compact for the rest of the day. This wasn’t ideal either, as the forecast ‘showers’ appeared more like constant rain and only got heavier.
I continued to chip away at the climb until I reached the clearing of the Mount Difficult bush camp site, which is as far as we got on the last visit, On this occasion, it was only midday, so there was no point in stopping so soon. I figured I’d go back to my original planning and continue on to the Briggs Bluff camp and duke it out with the herd of kids who were intending to spend the night there.
I did want to look at the ‘view’ from the Mount Difficult summit though, so I dropped my backpack and headed up amongst the breezy weather. The summit trig point at 806 metres was looming in the clouds…
…and upon making it I made one fairly logical observation. It was BLOODY FREEZING. There was no view and I wasn’t sure why I was standing at the top, but it gave me a chance for another video didn’t it? Here you go, take in the sights.
I quickly hurried down and the plan now was to ‘get to the camp pronto’. The only bonus is the wind and rain was coming from behind me, so I didn’t have my crossover Joseph Merrick/Val Kilmer good looks being shredded.
I was also becoming aware of the length of this ‘shower’. As the rain had been pelting for hours, it felt like it may have been the longest ‘shower’ in the history of the world. Photos were now reaching farcical stage and I’d given up trying to keep water off the camera lens.
Do you think the lens is getting wet? Well, how about this then.
Just for a surprise though I made another video. Are you sick of them yet? There’s no half measures in the ‘fiasco world’, as I’ve adopted the all or nothing approach. This time the wind was getting stronger, but the walking was still doable. The only problem I had was the wet, tilted rock slabs were quite slippery to walk on. I was taking my time as I didn’t want to come a cropper in this exposed section.
I moved on dragging my soaking body along, until I reached the Briggs Bluff camp site, which was in quite a protected area than I’d been walking in. I found the two blokes who’d set off earlier in the day and asked them what the forecast was. They replied, “Showers”. So there you go, I wasn’t alone in thinking I might get the odd drenching, rather than the four hour constant rain that was showing no signs of letting up.
Now, you know what I did for this walk? I decided to take my bivy bag instead of a tent. My current tent is out of action and is in for repair and I discovered ‘the Smuffin’ has all of my others. Yes, for some reason he has three and all I had left was the bivy option.
Let’s say this here and now. Without some sort of tarp combo, the bivy bag sucks in wet weather. The rain was pelting down and I ended up cooking and eating outside, plus set up stuff which was creating some dampness in my gear. In fact, this is the first walk I’ve been on where all of my defences were breached. My feet were waterlogged and frozen, water had penetrated the backpack and the dry bags, which meant I was about to be acquainted with the ultimate hiking trauma. Yes, the sleeping bag was wet.
Not having a shelter meant there was nothing to do other than get into the bivy and sit it out, yet it was only 4 pm. This is what I did and I noted the sleeping bag was freezing cold and wet on the inside. Oh oh, where’s the story going to from here?
I’ll visit that in my next post and I suppose I should mention the herd of kids arrived yelling and screaming (why would it be any different?) and proceeded to set-up about six inches from me. Do people get lonely out bush? I ended up picking up all my crap and moving a further away, so the yelling was only mildly excruciating rather than suicide inducing.
To finish off, how about another video…