Welcome to the start of the Great South West Walk. Tilt No.1. I assure you, there was misery involved, but I guess that’ll provide you with some entertainment?
Before getting into it though, I haven’t posted for a while have I? Believe it or not, but I’ve actually been walking and frankly it’s interrupting the blogging. Since my mystery illness that lasted about six weeks, I’ve gone out and completed quite a few day walks. I’ll write them up at some stage, as there were a few which are worthy of a post or two. How about losing a polarizer on a day walk? Is it even possible? Well, yes, with me it is and one’s lying out in the bush somewhere near Castlemaine.
Before I post about those walks, I really have no option, but to briefly mention a hike that has pushed the ‘fiasco level’ to an all time high. This entry is just a ‘greatest hits package’ of the hike, but I better mention it now, otherwise the lack of blogging might have you wondering if I’ve carked it recently. Oh yeah, if I do die, my son Ben said he’ll continue the blog. I’m not sure if I believe him, but there you go.
Anyway, last week I started the Great South West Walk from Portland accompanied by occasional hiking sidekick the ‘Smuffin’. We were going for a bit of an easier method as we utilised ‘Lady Smuffin’ for food drops along the way, but even with that assistance we were cutting it a little fine as we had 12 days to complete the hike whereas my track notes suggest 14.
The bare bones of the walk are it’s a 250 km loop from Portland to Nelson and back. Oh yeah, there really could be a separate post regarding purchasing the dedicated map for the walk. How about ringing the hiking store ‘Paddy Pallin’ and having this conversation with a very polite, but infuriating staff member? After enquiring and specifying what I wanted, the reply was, “Portland? Is it in Victoria?”
“Yeah, western Victoria. The walk is a circuit from Portland, out to Nelson at the South Australian border and then back to Portland”
“Oh, so it’s not in Victoria then?”
“Yeah, it is. The map is called ‘Lower Glenelg and Discovery Bay'”
“Glenelg? That’s not in Victoria.”
I was then put on hold and unfortunately I could hear a conversation in the background which went along like this,
“Someone is enquiring about a map for a walk on the coast near Portland. The Great South West Walk”
“The coast at Portland? No, that’s from Apollo Bay. We have that map”.
I finally got back on the phone and informed the staff member the walk from Apollo Bay is the ‘Great Ocean Walk’ which is totally different from the ‘Great South West Walk’ (I guess too many walks with ‘great’ and ‘walk’ confuses people? Not to mention the hundreds of kilometres between the two?)
You know what? I gave up and elected to ring the Bogong hiking store instead and just ask directly for the map. Guess what? It didn’t go to plan.
“I’m enquiring if you have the map called ‘Lower Glenelg and Discovery Bay’ for the Great South West Walk from Portland.”
Have a guess what the answer was? Yep, it was,
“Portland? Glenelg is in South Australia. So the hike isn’t in Victoria?”
I really do have mild manners and at times I should just say, “Listen to what I am saying!” I abandoned the buying of the map from the dedicated hiking stores in the City and elected to go to the shop that knows all things maps. The ‘Melbourne Map Centre’ knew instantly what I was talking about and that’s where I ended up buying it from.
Oh yeah, I was in Paddy Pallin the other day and guess what? They had a huge pile of the map I was enquiring about. By the way, what’s going on when people have never heard of the town of Portland, which is the oldest European settlement in Victoria?
Anyway, enough huffing and puffing. How about some pictures that sum up how this hike went rapidly downhill? Firstly the choice of footwear. The walk is pretty much flat all the way and my John Chapman notes suggest, “…runners or very light boots are ideal footwear…”
Okay, I’ve moved away from my head cracking, full leather boots and instead tried out a few lightweight hiking shoes and settled on the most comfortable. A pair of Keen low-cut shoes. I’ve worn them on quite a few day hikes with the longest being 22 km and they’ve been great. So, with my John Chapman advice I thought I should head into the lighter shoe method, as my legs would appreciate lugging less shoe weight over 250 km.
It’s going great isn’t it? What could possible go wrong?! How about some pictures that sort of sum up how the the fiasco level ‘went to eleven’? It started with this.
No, I wasn’t attacked with a machete. This is a leech bite I picked up on the first day of walking. If you’re wondering why I didn’t notice I was bleeding to death, I was actually wearing long pants, which I’ve hitched up for gory photographic purposes.
My first beef with a lightweight shoe is this. An exposed ankle seemed to be a blood suckers dream. There’s no mention in my track notes that leeches on the forest section of the hike are thick on the ground. How thick? Well, at one point I stopped on the track for a photo, which took me only a few seconds to take. Upon completion I looked down and observed nine leeches on my shoes all racing for my exposed ankles as if it was the Indy 500. Okay, that’s my first ‘light shoe beef’.
Next up was the constant light rain and wet grass which caused my feet to get wet from the exposed sock down. The end result was this…
Yes, although I’d put in plenty of kilometres with these shoes on day walks (including with a back pack) I can’t say I’ve ever had them really wet. Yes, sweat and the odd dunking in water had left them damp, but a 20 km day in sections of wet grass had led them to be drenched, resulting in these worthy blisters.
You know what though? I wasn’t going to stop, but the aim was to now manage them for the rest of the hike. I taped my feet up like a Mummy and continued on, but there wasn’t a lot of fun at this stage. I was walking though, until guess what? Yes, you better believe it. What’s wrong with the next photo?
The Keen has straps that run across and behind the shoe which connect to the laces. Tighten the laces and the straps across the shoe constrict. Now, I might be fairly broad in the shoulders and reasonably strong, but I’m not ‘Haystacks Calhoun’.
I was gingerly walking along enjoying my blisters, when I felt as if the left shoe lace was coming undone. Looking down though, they seemed to be fine which was a little weird. I undid the lace and retied it to find the strap across the back of the left shoe in the photo above was broken. Not frayed or worn, but plain old snapped. Huh? How did that happen?
The result was I could no longer apply tension to the lace on this shoe, which effectively meant I was now wearing a slipper. Besides my foot being blistered, the shoe was flopping about creating a blister bonanza. Mind you, we were only 60 km into the hike at this stage, so struggling along with it for the next 150 km was not really an option. I did have one last trick up my sleeve though. In my car at Portland I had a pair of sandals in the boot and Lady Smuffin came to the rescue by delivering them to me one evening.
The only trouble is I was heading into areas of hiking looks, which I never thought I’d descend to. Firstly I wanted to keep my blisters bandaged and secondly we were still walking in leech heaven. Sandals and leeches weren’t exciting me too much, so Smuffin came up with a brainstorm of an idea.
Glancing at the socks frequently for leeches was annoying and all of my socks were dark, which meant I could never see the blood suckers properly anyway. So, it was white sock time. Yes, the plan was to wear long white socks with pants tucked in, so the leeches could be easily spotted and it actually worked great. Not so good in the fashion stakes though.
Smuffin was feeling left out, so he adopted the look as well.
You know what? I walked another 30 km like this, but as we approached the halfway mark of the walk at the sleepy coastal hamlet of Nelson a few things ran through my mind. The blisters were giving me grief and I was not getting much enjoyment with pain on every step. Yes, I could have continued, but what was the point. Besides being good for the blog?!
The ideal situation was to stop for a few days at Nelson and let the feet recuperate, but we didn’t have time up our sleeve. Not to mention, I was longing for my full leather hiking boots, which were sitting comfortably in a cupboard back home. Yeah, those ones that don’t cause blisters, keep my feet dry due to the Gore-Tex lining and the fact they’re so worn-in and supple they feel like a pair of runners. Yeah, those ones.
So, at 92 km I thought, “Stuff it” and decided to come back another day. Lady Smuffin arrived with the sag-wagon and the hike was over. I was feeling a little pissed off, as no other parts of my body were hurting. Usually my knees get sore, but I was flying and Smuffin hadn’t even raised a sweat.
No lightweight shoes for me and when I go for the ‘Great South West Walk Tilt No. 2’ I’ll do things differently. Actually, the writing was probably on the wall once I looked at the Keen website. Regarding my particular model, in the shoe description of the ‘Siskiyou’, they’ve spelt it ‘Skiskiyou’. If they can’t even spell their shoe with its particularly daft name, what hope did I have?
Until then I’ll write up the days we did which have even more entertainment than what I’ve mentioned so far. I’ve got my retro Overland Track hike from 2009 to finish, plus all of the day walks. Hey, I’ve got plenty of material, which means I can go back to sitting on the couch and write up lots of walks that give the appearance I’m out there every day getting it done.
What’s the bottom line to all of this? Remember, when it comes to hiking, I’ve got absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I didn’t even wear the right bloody shoes! Anyway, there were plenty of nice sights along the way and I’ll finish with a nice filtered sunrise through the trees at one of the great camps one morning. Until then I’m walking around in Winter with sandals on waiting for these blisters to heal and putting off scratching that leech bite that is possibly one of the ITCHIEST THINGS I’VE EVER HAD.
Postscript: 10/03/2013 – Hi again. I just noticed this post really doesn’t go anywhere, so I’m adding all the posts as links which detail the failure of this hike. You’ll find them below rather than looking on the sidebar where they’re also placed under the ‘other hikes’ column. Here they are…!
Day 1. Cubbys Camp to Cut-Out Camp.
Day 2. Cut-Out Camp to Fitzroy Camp.
Day 3. Fitzroy Camp to Moleside Camp.
Day 4. Moleside Camp to Battersbys.
There you go. All the posts for this particular failure. If you’re really bored then you can head to the post that kicks off ‘Tilt 2’, which is the re-attendance of the Great South West Walk, starting again from scratch and finishing it finally. Enjoy…
That is one gorgeous, though perhaps rather eerie, sunrise.
Did you know you can get anti leech socks? 🙂
I look forward to the rest of this saga! And the Overland Track!
Hi Oanh. It's a pity it went a little pear shaped as the walk itself is great! It was nice to put the brain in neutral as the track is well marked, there's water tanks, shelters etc. Very casual walking with some nice sights. A shame we missed the coastal section, but my opinion about the comfortable hiking might have changed after a few days on sand!
Thanks for the anti leech sock info. I just Googled it and they look interesting. I wasn't completely complacent as I sprayed a ton of Deet on my shoes and socks each day, but I think they like Deet the way they came running for me! I like to stop for photo opportunities, but that went out the window. I didn't take a lot of pictures, but that lovely sunrise through the trees was at a camp which was pretty leech safe!
Yes, I must get blog cracking. So many posts, so many walks and not enough time…
Dear Haystacks … er… Greg
Glad to know you are better and back on form. But I have to draw the line at the white socks and sandals – I think your citizenship may well be in question now. But, if it makes you feel any better, when I was walking the Overland Track in January, we passed two American walkers, one of whom had 'blown out' the sole of her (proper) walking boots, so her hubby had kindly inserted what remained of her boot into his crocs, taped it up with gaffa tape and she was good to go. Saw them again two days later, and she was going strong and thought the croc-sole was much more comfortable than her original boot anyway! By the way, I also have regular night terrors about leeches – so much so I had to write about it here: http://50wordsfor50countries.com/2011/10/26/26-malaysia/ Looking forward to the next instalment – have hear the GSWW is pretty spectacular. J.
Great report Greg, when I am in Paddy Pallin in late July I will pick up a copy of the map. As for leeches yeah I have had my experiences one thing nice about my part of the world no leeches no real snakes and no crocodiles but you can get crocs. White socks are sought of out here, but if you have red shoes then it is okay. Blisters, tape everything before you start oh and try Innov8 Terrocs if you can find them. I have also had success with compeed over blisters, others have had less success, YMMV
Love the last filtered sunrise photo and looking forward to the next report.
Beautifully done Greg! This trip sounded very similar to every hike I've been on lately. Hope you get back to finish the rest later. Good work!
I am terrible with shoes. Terrible at buying them, I seem to always make a bad decision!
I love your last photo at the end.
Hi Julie. I really think you're a little hasty in condemning the white socks and sandals! If it wasn't for the straps hitting the blisters, the whole set-up was quite comfortable. The freedom of a sandal, plus the warmth of shoe. I'm waiting for it to catch on in Melbourne and I'll be set!
That's an interesting Overland Track story and over the years I've read plenty like that with the shoes held together by duct tape. I'm not sure if tape could have tightened my broken shoe somehow, but anyway, it's over.
Leeches did turn into a much bigger pest than was warranted I guess, but there is something disconcerting to look down and see free flowing blood from a wound I couldn't even feel. Not to mention the enormous slug on my leg! I never worked out the best way to keep them at bay. I need some more leech experiments as Deet was absolutely useless!
GSWW really exceeded my expectations. Pity we missed the coastal section, but I have a few plans about tackling that section sooner rather than later.
Hi Roger. Yes, there's a huge pile of that map in Paddy Pallin! With winter here now I didn't really think about the leeches. Then again, it's not really written anywhere obvious that they're in abundance on this walk! Boots definitely would have been better as that was Smuffins set-up and he barely had any. When I re-tackle this walk I'll do a few things differently.
You're right about taping. I generally do a bit of tape with my leather boots even though I don't get any hot spots with them. With the Keen's though, I'd put in so many kms I naively thought that taping wasn't needed. I really stuffed up there, but anyway, it's another lesson!
I have read of your love of the Innov8 boots. I've looked at them on Amazon a few times and they're so cheap I've almost pulled the trigger a few times. I'll reassess over the next month, but my La Sportiva's will do for now.
Red shoes? The mind boggles, but in Europe one can get away with any footwear combo. Over here it's all a little too radical 🙂
Yes, I really do have to pick out my best pictures and get cracking on the next post…
Thanks Darren. What part of my trip sounded like your hikes? The sandals and white socks?! It would be nice to tick off a big hike with minimal problems. Looking back at my longer hikes a few years back and they went off fine. It's only since I started the blog that things go wrong!
The main thing though is that when problems happen I should be happy as at least the posts will write themselves 🙂
Hi Sonja. The shoes thing is so subjective isn't it? You can read a review where people rave and rave yet they don't work on your particular foot! That's what happens to me anyway. Such a trial and error thing (painful!) I can understand the benefits of a light shoe, but I don't enjoy having my feet soaking wet for the whole day. That wouldn't bother others, but it can be the only reason I blistered as the Keen's worked fine on all the lead-up walks. Oh well.
Yes, there are some nice sights on this walk, so hopefully I can post some more pictures sooner rather than later…
I had a minor confrontation with a leech this weekend, doing one of Glenn's walks near Warburton. Just letting you know I really enjoy your blog. You often write about a walk we have just done, or one we have plans to do. I'm going to wear gaiters when I enter leech territory from now on.
Great special effects in this post, Greg. I don't know which is worse, a blood-soaked sock or a white one in a sandal. I have only tried hiking in sandals once and it was such a disaster I have never gone back. Moreton Island, summer: sunburn on the tops of the feet and bleeding toes from sand abrasions under the straps! Yes: I had to resort to socks as well to complete my circuit of the island.
Anyway, the good news is you're walking again! And I applaud your decision to bail. It's always nice to do the occasional walk that isn't a death march!
Which walk near Warburton? I've been meaning to get over there for a while, but it's on the wrong side of town so I always pick something else 🙂 I have read that the walks over there are dripping with leeches though! At least I'd know, unlike this hike where I was a little surprised. Then again, am I meant to automatically know that damp forest = leech bonanza? Maybe it's just common knowledge and it doesn't have to be mentioned anywhere? It would help for hacks like me though to plan a bit.
If I go back to the GSWW I'd probably wear gaiters as well. Not just for the leeches, but there are a few short sections through grass that really soaked my shoes from the sock down. I reckon gaiters wouldn't stop leeches getting in underneath though? They're tiny for the most part and could easily sneak under which would be a bummer as you wouldn't know until taking the gaiter off at the end of the day and you're confronted with a slaughterhouse 🙂 Certainly a bit of a line of defence though. I'm putting in some 'leech thinking' this week.
Glad I can help on some walks I do, although I'm just riding off the Glenn Tempest slipstream 🙂
Hi Goat. I guess I should have put in a 'gory disclaimer' at the start of the post in case someone reads it over breakfast? Then again, it's a good test of the toughness of the reader. If they can get through this okay, I can 'up' it a bit. You know, like, "Look what happened on this hike! I fell over and tore my leg off!!" and then show a picture.
The footwear is so subjective isn't it? Sandals look so comfortable and with the Teva straps going everywhere it seemed to work, but in the end I was getting the straps whacking the blisters with every step so it kind of failed. No rubbing, but whacking was just as annoying!
Bloody hell, I can imagine getting sunburnt on the top of the foot would be absolutely crap! Sensitive part of the foot there! Oh yeah, sand under the straps as well. I can see the pain from that as well. I am impressed you went for the sock option as well! In my case the white was the early warning 'leech identification' method. It worked as a couple of times I looked down and immediately saw a few making haste across my foot. Totally blew their cover on the white. Maybe in the next million years we'll start seeing a few white leeches getting about?!
Yes, a was a bit worn out from being crook for so long and doctors just looking at me going, "You're sick with a virus or bug. Six weeks and you should be fine". WTF? I usually hear, "One week and you'll be fine" rather than a month and a half. What's annoying is that we were both flying on this walk and without blisters we'd be close to finishing today with 250 kms in the bank! I'm not sure how you ever did stuff like the AT. I'd be on the side of the track crying at the 200 km mark 🙂
Death march? Now, that's proper hiking!
We did the Upper Yarra Goldfields walk. I thought it was really interesting and there was a bit of climbing and bush bashing. The track is quite overgrown in places with fallen trees and ferns growing over the track. Hence the little critters. Maybe there's more leeches in Vic now after the rain for the past 3 years.
By the way, apologies for being anonymous. I'm not sure how to get a name.
Wow, such a high fiasco level! Maybe those euros in their socks and sandals are onto something. And the loss of a polarizer as well, quite the eventful few weeks!
Im so glad there are no leeches in my neck of the woods. The last photos is awesome!
Hi Pini. Yeah, it's being pretty mental down this way. Lucky I can get a polarizer for $51 on eBay with free postage from overseas rather than paying $139 in the shops here…
Socks and sandals? If you stroll with them they're fine until you look at them. Then it gets a little queasy 🙂
Lucky you with your leeches! I've seen them before, but this is the first walk I've been on when I've been under constant assault. Bloody hell, in some spots I stopped, looked at the path and the track was sea of movement. I kid you not, there were zillions!
Hi again. The obvious joke is that I can give you a name if you want? What do you want?! Actually, I've no idea how that comes about as I have the blog. If I go to any other blog and comment it hyperlinks my name to this blog. That's handy if I need to spread the word at any stage!
Well done with that walk. The Upper Yarra Goldfields Walk was the actual one I had pencilled in! I don't know, but I seem to notice lots of overgrown walks lately. It might have always been that way, but I've a hunch it's because Parks Vic are totally cash strapped. I'm still waiting to go on a couple of walks that have been closed for over 18 months. In fact I reckon they're never going to reopen, so I might as well grab a backpack of whoop-arse, ignore the 'track closed' signs and just hit the bush before they're totally inaccessible…
Another pisser! Got the huggies on though. Hey if you wants maps for bushwalking in Victoria just go to…
and you can print out pdf's of any area you want. When I hiked in the Cobberas wilderness I had trouble getting a map. So I went on a printing frenzy from that site and found the maps very accurate. Best of all its free!
Hey there. Thanks for dropping by again! I just went to that link you provided and all I can say is, "You magnificent bastard!!" Why hadn't I seen them before? I went to some other Govt website once and bought maps which I downloaded. That was pretty good as they were cheap, but also with the advantage that I keep the pdf and didn't have to worry about wrecking the ones I take out bush. Then again, the ones you're talking about have that 'free touch' that's always appealing!
I definitely have to check up on that website in future. Cobberas wilderness? See, that's real hiking. I should get out a bit more!