Mt Difficult, Grampians. Day One.
So here we are. Mt Difficult, Grampians. Day one. Before getting there though, it was a struggle escaping the heavy Melbourne traffic on a Friday night. The aim was to drive up to the Grampians after work, but it took quite a while to reach our ‘base camp’ in a caravan park at Halls Gap. The travel was a little stressful, but in the end it was worth it, as the caravan park was nice and quiet, plus it was an Australian wildlife bonanza. Besides the sulphur-crested Cockatoos, which featured in my last entry, there were kangaroos and emus galore, pottering around the place.
What about the walk you say? Don’t worry, I’m getting to it, but there was the ‘what to take?’ aspect, which was pretty important. Smuffin didn’t have a backpack, so I lent him one I’d used before on a few walks.
It’s a Lowe Alpine pack, which I’d always found quite comfortable. It’s long been superceded and I can’t even show you a photo of it, as it’s still in the hands of Smuffin.
Something like that isn’t going to deter a hardcore hiker (cough, cough) such as myself, so I’ve resorted to doing a technical drawing of the pack. I put a lot of work into the following sketch. Just so you know what it looks like.
There you go. Have you got the idea now? Do you remember all the talk about taking lightweight gear, so my dodgy neck doesn’t implode? Well, that had gone out the window with the amount of water I was intending to carry.
The thing is though, I skimped on just about everything else, so my pack weight wasn’t too bad. On the other hand Smuffin decided he wasn’t going to miss out on anything during this overnighter. He filled up the pack until it was so heavy, I was sure he’d slipped a sandbag in there somewhere. I did spot a fluffy looking towel going in also and I think the only thing he forgot to take was a Bamix.
What does one eat if there isn’t much water to rehydrate a meal? Well, we decided to go for a pre-made pasta approach with a reheat at camp. Smuffin and his side-kick, Lady Smuffin (Did you expect their names to be different?) came through with a ‘king pasta’ dish.
It seemed freakishly large and it was, as it weighed in at a lazy 900 grams. Per person! I like to have a large meal when walking, so I wasn’t complaining about the ‘big boss pasta’, even though I raised my eyebrows when I saw the readout on the scales.
Okay, enough of that. Time to get walking.
I was interested to see how hard the first day was going to be, as the Parks Victoria blurb suggests six hours are needed to cover… 7.1 km!
It seemed to be quite a long time for such a short distance, but with 500 metres of elevation to climb it was bound to be entertaining. I guess the sign at the start gives a hint about what’s to come?
The opening is very casual, as the track cruises through a forest, but I did notice I was puffing already. This is the easy bit which wasn’t ideal, but I managed to assure myself it was going to get a lot worse. Why think it’s going to get better?
My theory is to think it’s going to be biblically horrific and anything less is a nice bonus. I was interested in what was to come, because the ‘easy’ walking forest suddenly ends in what looks like a wall, which I assumed was the official start of the uphill part for the day.
I was aware how heavy my pack was when the vertical stuff started. A fairly steep section up rocks and I was feeling mildly perturbed my neck was hurting. Knowing the water was the main weight I went for the “drink lots like a bastard” approach to lighten the load. I felt like I was sloshing a little as I moved from side to side. There were plenty of nice sights to see along the way, including this lizard who was warming up in the sun.
Now, here’s a scenario which I’ve noticed quite a few times whilst hiking. If I meet someone coming from the opposite direction, the person without prompting will love to say how hard the track is ahead of me.
What do I mean? Well, the first candidate coming the other way indulged in some opening pleasantries and then said, “You’ve got some hard walking in front of you. Boulders and rocks to get through. It’s tough so good luck.” Um… I was only saying hello?
I’m not sure why people feel compelled to offer a précis of what I’ve got coming up? I do prefer the ‘no information’ approach. Smuffin took note of this conversation and on the following day went for a whole new method of discussing what the other person has ahead of them. That’s for the next post though, as I can’t fit it all in now!
Although it was not overly hot, the sunny day was beginning to bite a little. I carry a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS, which is complete mouthful of a name isn’t it? Hiking products love to have a random capital letter, offset by a random lower case one. Anyway, the GPS runs on a ‘bread crumb’ approach by recording my position as I walk along. Pretty simple huh?
Smuffin has no regard for the ‘namby pamby’ bread crumb approach in tracking a walk. He prefers a more manly method, which is not ideal, but it sort of worked. His method which should be patented is the ‘blood crumb’ track. I’m not sure why, but he started bleeding all over the place with solid drips marking our walk.
Crude, but effective for sure. Oh yeah, whilst talking about crude, I should mention this walk is rated ‘R’ for obscene graffiti, as some tool went on a rampage writing on rocks over about a 2 km section.
I’d be struggling over a rock and upon climbing down I’d be confronted with ‘BALLS’ written in huge letters on another boulder. It got even more weird when there were multiple scratchings of the word ‘POO’ appearing left, right and centre.
It finally had to get worse didn’t it? Yep, there was the ‘C’ (not coconut) word written everywhere I looked. I have a photo of this which I’ll show you below, but you don’t have to hide the young’uns as I’m not going to burn your retinas with obscenities. I’ve utilised Adobe Lightroom to remove the offending word.
The ‘C’ word is in enormous letters under the yellow trail marker, but I’ve made it disappear by duplicating the rock. In fact the centre of the rock is a clone of the sides. How easy is that? If only we could get this cloning stuff to work outside of the computer. I could get my clone to hike and climb all day whilst I get to relax at base camp drinking gin and tonics. Technically I’ve done the walk if my clone does it. Mm… I should look into this a little more.
The never-ending obscenities were a little tiresome and with every word I passed, I had time up my sleeve to ponder the fate of the rock scrawler.
We were going up a mountain, so the punishment was quite obvious. How about a little showdown on top of Mt Difficult, where the traditional vice like grip, twist and lift of his testicles, combined with a 7.5 shake on the Richter Scale is applied?
This could be done for as long as it takes for him to repent his graffiti sins. If he doesn’t, then I guess there’s no other option than to lift him up with both arms outstretched in true theatrical style, and then hurl his whining testicle crushed body over the cliff. It’s only about a 300 metre drop, so it’s not completely cruel. I think the cliff option is a clear winner and the variation below also has some potential, especially when it’s combined with the following line.
Anyway, back to the tedium of the real world. The walk was going okay after the initial climb. It levelled out for a section, with cliffs on one side and an expansive view on the other.
Okay, on the topic of grand views, lately I’ve been noticing a common style of outdoor picture and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Yep, it’s the photo taken from behind someone staring off into the distance, looking all moody and wistful like. I’m not sure what the go is with those pics, but I would feel pretty weird putting a camera on a tripod or rock and setting the timer to just stand there, as if it’s some intense outdoor moment.
It’s even zanier when the person is holding walking poles and they appear to be stepping forward, but they’re quite obviously standing still (whilst waiting for the camera timer). I think I need some training in this ‘Hiking 101: Cliché Photo Shot’.
Best of all though is the arms outstretched look, which I guess is some sort of submission to a stunning vista. I don’t mind doing that photo, but I’m afraid there’s no way I can do it, without adding a fiasco element.
We were making a slow, but steady pace with no real problems. Besides the constant ‘BALLS’ and blood crumb, things were going according to plan. How’s that line? You just know something’s going to go wrong.
Well, for a first, it wasn’t me, but Smuffin, who ran into some problems. It wasn’t anything too major, other than he began to have problems breathing.
With experience, I’ve realised inhaling air is a big part of hiking and I guess it’s also handy for plain old living. Maybe not on Monday mornings though, when I curse I’ve woken up alive and have to go to work.
Ben and Anon had vanished ahead long ago, leaving Smuffin and I chugging along when he suddenly gripped his chest and went a strange colour in the face. It was one of those expressions where he’d either just swallowed a bug or his heart had stopped beating. I couldn’t work out which though.
After a moment, he tottered, but didn’t tip over onto the ground like a falling tree, so I surmised he was still alive. What had happened is he’d hit the wall. As in speared into it at land speed record pace.
This was surprising, as he usually cruises along at a good pace. I think it was a combination of ‘a fluffy towel too far’ in an overloaded pack, combined with the constant heat which brought him undone.
He was short of breath and wheezing, as if he’d been a heavy smoker for 30 years. Hang on, he was! Anyway, to top it off he went a bit pale and began to look as if he’d been locked in a small room, and forced to listen to a Nickelback/Tiny Tim mashup on a permanent loop, combined with the constant showing of Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’ (or should that be titled ‘Cockup’?). That’s how bad he looked.
The trouble is we didn’t have many options, as we were three quarters up the mountain. Sure we were closer to the top than the bottom, but according to the contour lines on the GPS, there was another steep section coming up within the next kilometre.
The only choices he had was to continue going up with plenty of breaks, call it quits and head down or suicide. We were high enough with plenty of cliffs around for a jump to be fatal. It didn’t sound too bad a plan, but he was feeling fussy and ignored it whilst continuing climbing.
Everyone has a bad walking day at some stage and I think for every ten days hiking, I have trouble on about nine and a half of them. I suffer so much, I’m not actually sure why I do a hiking blog. I really should have started a blog about couches in which I can sit on them and write reviews. Mm…
Anyway, Ben and Anon had to be at least an hour ahead and I did wonder what time frame would cause for them to return if we didn’t appear. Two hours? When it got dark? Anyway, I imagined them up top, lying back relaxing, eating gelato whilst Smuffin was caught in the ‘Hades Happy Hour’ with sweat and blood pumping out of him. Hiking’s great isn’t it? Well, it is if you’re not the one dying.
Actually, the day was slipping away quite quickly and we still weren’t at the top. I moved on ahead at one stage and there were some lovely sights, although even I think the polariser was overdone. Then again, I think I can still live with the freak show contrast results.
It was around this time we met a bloke for the second time of the day. The first time he was on his way up and we couldn’t do much other than refer to him as ‘helmet-head’. Why that name? Well, it’s quite obvious really as he was hiking with a helmet on. Now, you might be imagining some nut strolling along wearing a motorcycle helmet, but it was a more acceptable rock climbing style helmet, complete with a floppy hat brim.
It did look kind of odd and between dying, Smuffin decided to get straight to the point. “What’s with the helmet?” he asked. The bloke replied whilst rapping it with closed knuckles, “I wear it whilst mountain climbing.” Okay, but that didn’t remotely answer the question, because as far as I could work out we weren’t climbing a mountain. Not unless he meant the Mt Difficult climb? We were on a track though and in the end it all got too complicated for me and we watched as ‘helmet-head’ continued on down.
Finally after a bit more slogging we reached level ground, which is an area named on the map as the ‘Mt Difficult hikers campsite’. Ben and Anon were already there, which was kind of obvious and Ben went for the, “What took you so long?” approach. I informed him we’d narrowly averted a hiking fatality, as Smuffin lay down on the ground and didn’t appear to move.
The summit of Mt Difficult itself was a short climb away and without packs Ben, Anon and myself walked up leaving the big fella lying in the dirt. A quick scramble on rocks ensued in which Ben made the mistake of peaking too early. What looked like the top wasn’t it at all, but it did make for a photo opportunity.
Finally a trig point was visible and we made straight for it and that was it. The climb was done for the day and there’s a great view as a reward.
It was getting late in the day now and the decision was made to pull up stumps for the evening and camp instead at the Mt Difficult site. I’m not a fan of walking too late and setting up in the evening. The spot we were in was comfortable enough, so we elected to go back up to Mt Difficult for the sunset and then decide in the morning if we were to continue on. Smuffin was now making a rapid recovery and even developed the ability to breathe again.
This is a pretty big entry isn’t it? Should I go on? I’ve got the evening entertainment to write about next, but instead I think I’ll put it in the next post otherwise I’ll never publish this one. The walking statistics for the day weren’t exactly massive with the grand total of 6.77 km covered!
What should be the final photo of the day? How about a mobile phone stand off on the Mt Difficult summit? Oh yeah, Anon is in the middle of the photo, but has been replaced due to privacy concerns with a rock, which gives me another opportunity to say how much I enjoy using Lightroom.