Now, where was I? Oh yeah, that’s right, I was having a miserable time! Before detailing my climb to Briggs Bluff, Grampians National Park on a freezing cold, wet winters day, I’ll bring you up to date. My last post detailed first day, where I was subjected to an eternally long ‘shower’. It seemed to persist for roughly six hours, as I hiked across the Mount Difficult Range down to the Briggs Bluff camp site, where I spent the night.
During a short break at Tilwinda Falls on the initial climb, the rain kicked in and I immediately went for ‘full wets’ of a Mont Austral jacket and some rain pants. The Mont jacket has been one of my few, decent hiking purchases, which does everything its advertising says (is this a world first?). In heavy rain I’ve never remotely got wet wearing this jacket. Oh yeah, to top it off it was half price as well, which is always a bonus.
So, I arrived at the camp site feeling pretty good, but there were a few small problems. The first is my hands were frozen and my boots had thrown the towel in. Gore-Tex lined is meant to keep the water stuff out, but alas not this time, so cold feet was also on the menu. Hey, that’s not too bad though is it? No, the major problem was the backpack. I noted quite early on in the unpacking that it was wet right through. Actually, I think you might have missed something there, so I’ll repeat it for you.
IT WAS WET RIGHT THROUGH.
Can you see it now?
All of my stuff was in two dry bags, but they’d been overwhelmed. The only bonus was, in wet weather fear I’d ‘double bagged’ my DSLR which was a successful ploy, as it was still dry.
I learnt this lesson on a Mount Bogong hike, when on a stupidly wet day, water got into the camera and it subsequently cost $400 to fix. Yes, you read that right. $400.
Anyway, so far you may have noticed there hasn’t been many photos? Well, due to my water fear, the DSLR was in bed and I was soldiering on with an old Panasonic Lumix. Mind you, there was a problem with the compact as well. Of course.
When switched off, I noted the small, lens covering shutters which cover the lens were no longer working. Deciding to investigate revealed water dripping out of the battery compartment. Mm… I don’t think that’s ideal?
Believe it or not, but it’s not the first time this camera has gone through this. Yes, on the same Mount Bogong hike, it filled with water and stopped working. On that occasion at Cleve Cole Hut, I took the battery and memory card out and left it near a fire at night. Come morning, voilà! It was working again. I was hoping that would be the case this time, but right now it was dead.
So, in the world’s most torturous, roundabout way, I’m telling you I stopped taking photos for the time being. Right now I’m relying on total writing skill (where’s that skill when I need it?) combined with the healthy use of smoke and mirrors to keep you entertained without photos. Egads! The pressure!!
I’d set up my bivy bag and was eating outside in the rain like a hobo, when the group of screaming kids I’d passed many hours earlier arrived. I spoke briefly to one of the teachers and in the conversation he suddenly stopped and incredulously pointed to my bivy and with no other comments by myself uttered,
“What’s that? (the penny drops) Huh? You’re going to sleep in that…? You’re keen…” Then he left.
The rain kept falling, it was still windy and as I’d long stopped walking I was starting to get cold. Oh yeah, but this is where my problem was. Due to the water which had gone through the pack, my sleeping bag was wet. By the way, with the lack of photos right now, I’m feeling concerned you might be dozing off, so I’ll repeat a few things to make sure you get the message. MY SLEEPING BAG WAS WET. Better?
It was only 4 pm, but I was freezing, so I thought it best to get into the sleeping bag in the bivy. What else was I going to do? So, I lay down and whilst feeling the inside of the wet sleeping bag noted I wasn’t actually any warmer. My only thought was, “Uh-oh. This isn’t very good”, although I did combine the phrase with the word FUCK! a number of times.
Twice in my life I’ve been so cold, the events are burnt into my memory. Once was when I was about 15 years old on a school camp at Falls Creek, where I wore a flimsy raincoat that really failed its job description. We all copped a biblical soaking, which had me fearing I’d see some old bloke with a beard running around collecting animals. In keeping with the theme, the rain was combined with strong wind and I of course was biblically freezing. This is getting to be a biblically long paragraph, but the end result is I still remember the ‘frozen to the bones’ feeling.
The second time was in the Army during basic training. We were on some half-baked exercise in winter and the rain came down hard at night. I discovered early on that being in the Australian Army meant you’d be issued with a vast array of gear and equipment with an overriding problem. All items followed this simple mathematical equation. Too big + Too small + Too old + Plain old dodgy = Completely useless.
Actually, I want to repeat myself for the sake of emphasis. EVERYTHING ISSUED TO ME WAS CRAP. I remember lying in a sleeping bag that must have been temperature rated for camping on the sun. “Right Private, it’s going to be 15 million degrees Celsius tonight. Here’s your sleeping bag!”. Oh yeah, I froze in my tissue-thin bag during the night and I remember shivering so hard, my eyeballs were bouncing in their sockets.
Remember the bit I wrote just before? ‘Twice in my life I’ve been so cold.’ Get a drum roll going please, as I have a new frozen moment seared into my memory. Oh yeah, I’ve got three occasions now!
I was shivering within my wet sleeping bag in the bivy and began a perverse count down. I’d look at my watch and say, “Okay, it’s 4.30 pm. I’ve only got 15 hours until daylight…” I’d curl up, continue shivering and after what seemed a while I’d look at my watch again,
“Okay, it’s 4.35 pm. I’ve only got about 14 hours 55 minutes until daylight…”
So, in the end that was that. I kept reminding myself I was only mega-uncomfortable and not actually freezing to death, as the long night dragged on with the odd 10 to 15 minutes of sleep here and there.
Not even the iPod could keep me entertained, although I did get some pain relief listening to ‘Issues (Think About It)’ by Flight of the Conchords from their HBO special. Always chuckle worthy, but the real laugh was looking outside the bivy at about 2 am to see stars above. It was nice to have the rain move on, but the clear skies now meant the air was just a little bit chillier.
I guess I got up an hour or so before dawn, had breakfast and packed up. Oh yeah, if you want to know, a FireSteel doesn’t work so well whilst soaking wet. I thought the whole idea of having one was its ability whilst wet? Anyway, I had a bit of trouble rustling up a spark until I thoroughly dried it. I still like it, although it infuriated Smuffin on our Great South West Walk. As I was striking away, he’d always come up with stuff like, “Hey, have you heard of that new invention? It’s called a cigarette lighter”.
I had eaten, packed and was walking out the door well before anyone else around me had moved. I even survived the other wondrous experience of putting wet feet into wet boots, but I was off under clear-ish skies with Briggs Bluff my target.
Now I can put you out of your misery and begin to post a few photos. No rain meant the DSLR was back in action, although the problems hadn’t ended. I snapped a few photos, but then noticed fogging on my zoom lens. I attempted to clear it, but after playing around with it, I realised the fog was on the inside. Moisture must have got in somehow the previous day. Not good, but I did have a back-up plan. A 35mm prime, which is not ideal for landscapes, but that’s all I had left.
My early start meant I was rewarded with the glow of the rising sun through passing clouds…
…and although the track was still wet in places, it didn’t make much difference, seeing how my feet were still soaked from the day before.
Actually, it’s only a short walk to Briggs Bluff and if I knew how easy it was to get there I would have contemplated heading up in the dark. Without a previous attendance I didn’t want to be exploring with a headlamp, but knowing what I know now, I think it would be a fantastic spot to watch sunrise. The Mount Difficult Range drops off abruptly and it looked fantastic with clouds passing by below me.
I’m not sure if there’s an official summit of Briggs Bluff, so I settled for the highest point I could find which gave me a fantastic view at the edge of a sheer drop. The wind was quite strong though and it was high on the ‘biting cold’ scale.
I took a few videos, but the wind was knocking me off balance a bit and they’re as jerky as a poor man’s Zapruder film, so I might give them a miss. I did wish I had a wider angle lens as well. Maybe a 20mm at least please?
I sat in the clouds for a while, before heading down. I’d liked to have stayed longer, but the chill factor was brutal.
The day would be straightforward from here on, as all I had to do was spend a day descending. In fact, there’s not a lot I can waffle on about, so I’ll move along with the odd photo along the way.
The descent off the Mount Difficult Range is quite steep in places and it certainly gave my knees a work out. Within minutes I’d come down a fair way, with the cloud covered wall of the range behind me.
Clouds also continued to drift across Briggs Bluff.
I hadn’t brought my trekking poles with me, so it was slow going, but I had the odd tree to hang onto on the way down. Actually, there were plenty that were well worn from other people having the same idea.
Oh yeah, the views were still pretty spectacular as well…
…complete with the odd waterfall.
Actually, some of those small waterfalls were a little too close for comfort, but I managed to sneak by without getting wet. A bit more dodgy descending continued (with only one fall. I think it’s my new descending record) before the last highlight of the day was in view. Beehive Falls sits just above a well made track and this would be the chance for my knees to get a rest.
This is going great isn’t it? Well, yes, until I lost a scratchy track about fifty metres from a small bridge at the bottom of Beehive Falls. How did this happen? I’ve no idea, but the entire area was littered with fallen trees and rocks, which I guess is a result of one of the numerous floods the Grampians has endured over the past year. Oh yeah, I could get to the bridge okay, but it meant a steep descent through thick bush.
I elected to go for the straight ahead/shortest route/manly method. Now, in all of my hiking I’ve learned enough to know none of those methods work. It pays to spend a bit more time probing and no doubt if I did, I would have found the proper track. Instead I went into a very steep, slipping and sliding descent in which I had no idea where my feet were going. I’m sure I was looking like this.
Oh yeah, I made it by ploughing on and eventually emerged from trees that I was bending and shaking like an enraged Yowie. I’ve no idea what happened, but suddenly I was on a pristine comfortable path. In a matter of seconds I’d gone from ‘Lord of the Flies’, to this.
Then it was short walk to the Beehive Falls carpark. Do you know what though? By walking on my own, I didn’t have the luxury of a car shuffle, which every one else who I’d seen the previous day had. That meant to get back to my car which was at Troopers Creek camp ground, I now had a 7 km road bash which didn’t really appeal and even more so when I suddenly realised the gradient was a slow rise all the way back.
I did figure some car might pass by and my depressed, slumped frame slogging along the road would make them feel so sorry for me, they’d offer me a lift. Guess what? One car passed at the half way mark and flew by me at land record speed without even so much as a wave. Then another one appeared, driven by one of the hikers I’d seen the previous day. They also didn’t stop, but the fact I was about 100 metres from my car probably had something to do with it (maybe).
Oh yeah, that steady uphill climb was not needed and to top it off the first rain of the day fell whilst I was trudging along. A steady drizzle was just an annoyance really, but finally the car was in sight and the hike was over.
Ah yes, that’s it right? No, this is the realm of the ‘Hiking Fiasco’ and there’s no way I was going to be let off so lightly, even though I’d finished. You know what? All of my walking was more or less incident free until I started this blog and I’m sure what happened next would not have occurred ‘pre-blog’.
I opened the boot and began tossing in soaking wet gear, when I noticed bits of paper in the boot. It all seemed a little weird until I saw two small UHT milk containers I’d emptied into a bottle the previous day. The containers were mildly…um…chewed. Let’s see.
A mouse/rat/Bunyip had at some point overnight got into my car and began munching on everything in the boot. Is this possible? The car was well and truly sealed up and I’ve no idea how they got in. The droppings were quite large though and I suddenly had this uneasy feeling of, “Hang on, what if it’s still in the car?!”
The drizzle continued as I began to empty the boot of all of its contents, whilst gingerly looking into all the nooks and crannies. The odd green shopping bag had also been eaten.
Just to make things even more bizarre a wallaby decided to come up close and inspect the boot clearing operation, by standing right next to me. I guess he was trying to help me out…?
I was enjoying the wallaby help until he began to push the friendship by clawing at my backpack on the ground. I assume he’d sniffed out some tasty treats. I didn’t want to, but I had to push him a bit to move him on. You know what I learned by doing this though? They may look like a large soft toy, but they’re a ball of muscle and a small nudge does nothing to move them. Those super-sized feet and lower centre of gravity really makes them sturdy! There was no pushing him over, but he decided to move a bit further away anyway. I continued on the boot searching and found a plastic container full of sugar sachets had been targeted.
You know what? I emptied the boot in the rain and found nothing, other than shredded paper and plastic. Oh yeah, a banana had also been half eaten. I do like to leave some fruit in the car to munch on when a hike is over, but the idea may need some adjustment. I guess whatever was in there had filled up and left, but the car was certainly explored. I even found droppings at the floor in the interior.
Well, I gave up and drove off, whilst hoping a rat wouldn’t fall from my sun visor. The walk was done.
The final wrap up? Well, it’s a fantastic walk, but a car shuffle would have been nice. There’s always the option of my friend, the lean and mean hiking machine MK did on this same hike. She parked the car at one carpark, rode a bike to the start and stealthily locked it up against a tree in the bush. That could work, although it’s only 7 km on the road, so walking it isn’t the end of the world.
Which is the best way up? I think walking up from Beehive Falls to the top would work alright. The uphill bits are sharp and would hurt, but there’s quite a few flatter sections to mellow out on. Oh yeah, one day I’d like to get to Briggs Bluff for a sunrise, as the sheer drop facing east would be a photographic boon. What else? Oh yeah, the Panasonic Lumix which featured earlier is still out of operation, even after two weeks of drying…