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Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – The Crosscut Saw and The Terrible Hollow – part III

Monday, March 27th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

See Part II for Mt Howitt in the clouds.

ps. click on images to see a larger view.

Friday morning, it was clear skies overhead with the valleys and The Terrible Hollow below filled with low cloud.

Although my sleeping bag discouraged me from waking for sunrise, I did manage to scramble up to the lookout area soon thereafter and enjoyed the magical views:


The Crosscut Saw

The Crosscut Saw and to far right, Mt Buggary, with the cloud hiding the depths of The Terrible Hollow.

After breakfast we decided to head up to The Crosscut Saw before we head home.


The Crosscut Saw

Cloud still hiding The Terrible Hollow with The Crosscut Saw on the left.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Yep, no back pack for this short trip, my light rain jacket had pockets large enough for a water bottle, and my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with 12mm lens, while I was also able to borrow my friend’s 75mm lens.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Hikers walking the start of the Crosscut Saw – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


The Crosscut Saw

Looking back eastwards towards The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Spec

East aspect of Mt Speculation with Mt Buffalo in the background – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Howitt

Looking south east to Mt Howitt on the left and Mt Buller on the right – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens.

What a difference a day makes with the sun out:

  • everlasting daisies and other flowers opened
  • insects buzzing around – including small butterflies and those flies
  • the aggressive alpine ants were active
  • it became hot walking even in tee shirt and shorts with sun hat on
  • eyes became sunburnt – so busy taking photos I forgot about my sunglasses – at end of the day my eyes were red!
  • you have to drink more – that means carry more water
  • the copperhead snakes are out – we almost stepped on two basking in the sun on the walking path near Mac Springs

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part II

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

We left our home in the Melbourne burbs around 10am to avoid peak hour traffic (in retrospect 1hr earlier may have been wiser!), reached Traralgon a little after noon and had a lovely gourmet lunch at Momos (highly recommend it!).

We then headed to Heyfield and up the Macalister River valley past Lake Glanmaggie and up and over the range to Licola, where we made a mistake from lack of concentration and kept driving through the little one shop town and up into the mountains on gravel roads until luckily we realised we were on the wrong road – the road to Jamieson is very long and winding one but doesn’t take you to Mt Howitt!! We back tracked to Licola and took the correct turn, but by then had wasted valuable daylight hours.

We arrived at the Mt Howitt carpark shrouded in thick cloud with misty rain at dusk around 6.30pm – the last half of our 5km 1.5hr walk to the Mac Springs camp area would be in complete darkness with fog and light rain, guided by our LED head lamps and aided by our walking poles to save us from the many uneven rocks and surfaces that characterize these tracks. Thankfully, navigation was not problematic.

There had been only one other car at the car park and so we were looking forward to a quiet time, and selection of a nice tent site, albeit in the dark.

Alas, as we arrived, we discovered a tent city – Geelong Grammar Timbertop students – all 60 of them and their 15 teachers had already set up camp after hiking up the Howitt Spur – thankfully we found a couple of vacant tent sites and the school group were quiet overnight and left after sunrise to head back across the Crosscut Saw to their return descent down Stanleys Name Spur.

Once our tents were up, we cooked up our pasta dinner on a Whisperlite stove, supplemented by some red wine and blue vein cheese before heading off to bed around 10pm.

That night there was the constant dripping of water onto our tents from the overhanging tree branches, but little wind to bother us, and the temperatures dropped to around 7degC – my compact, light, Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with silk liner kept me toasty all night.

We awoke to a foggy morning which persisted throughout the day, dampening any prospects of heading over the Crosscut Saw for nice views. The school kids had left and we made use of the hut to prepare breakfast and work out what we should do for the day.


MacSprings

Foggy morning amongst the snow gums at Mac Springs – Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 – a great combo to keep in your jacket pocket, and the lens filter thread is the same size as the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens and the Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 weathersealed very light macro lens – not a bad threesome to take on alpine hikes when weight and size are critical.

Having your head in the clouds has its pros and cons:

  • great for photography as you can take in the ambiance of the fog, while the low contrast lighting makes the forests, boulders and mosses easier to photograph in an aesthetic manner without the complexity of harsh shadows
  • you don’t get so hot and thus don’t need to carry as much drinking water
  • there are almost no active insects – no flies to annoy you
  • the probability of stepping on a potentially deadly snake is much reduced
  • BUT you do miss out on the amazing alpine views, the flowers (which only open in the sun),  and the summits are likely to be very cold and windy with no sun to warm you up

We decided on a walk to the summit of nearby Mt Howitt with option to proceed past Big Hill and onto Mt Magdala then return.

It was a lovely ascent to the Mt Howitt – Crosscut Saw junction along a rugged snowgum lined track with views to the north over The Terrible Hollow, The Devil’s Staircase and the CrossCut Saw – if you could see them through the ever changing fog. The sheltered microclimate of this region at 10-13degC with minimal wind meant that you just needed boots, gaiters, thin pants with waterproof overpants, teeshirt, long sleeved shirt and thin waterproof jacket for comfort. For someone lacking hiking fitness, this was the perfect amount of interval training that I needed – and carrying my water and lenses in my jacket pockets without need for a backpack made a big difference to my enjoyment levels. My colleague kindly brought his backpack to carry snacks and extra layers as well as the mandatory EPIRB radio beacon.


near the junction


snowgums in fog


snowgums in fog

Both the above were taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

 

From that junction, you are essentially above the treeline and the ascent to Mt Howitt is over meadows with fascinating lichen covered rocks and fields of flower buds.


lichen


lichen


lichen


lichen

 

The final ascent to Mt Howitt though was a very different climate – 25-40kph southerly winds on the exposed summit made the wind chill factor considerable and required additional layering up – feather down vest on, gloves on, beanie on (perhaps balaclava would have been better!)


Mt Howitt summit

The Mt Howitt summit and a short break for snacks and drink behind the shelter of a large rock – unfortunately we failed to layer up before snacking resulting in us feeling cold and not too keen to continue on in the fog and wind to Mt Magdala – so we layered up and headed back to the comfortable microclimate of Mac Springs.


the walk back to Mac Springs

Back down in Mac Springs, we decided to explore the area and get some more imagery:


the Devil's Staircase

The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens


the narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw

The narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw – not so much fun to hike in the cloud! Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens as a short telephoto lens

That night we were joined by 7 university students and their leader who camped near the hut, while we remained in our tents near the spring.

We cooked up a nice chicken noodle stir fry for dinner and finished off with a hot chocolate, marshmallows and a couple of shots of Bailey’s as a night cap.

The night was much colder than the first night, and despite pre-emptively replacing my silk sleeping bag liner with a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Plus liner and closing the foot end of the sleeping bag, the night felt less comfortable with the cooler conditions which were probably around 2-6 degC. Perhaps the alcohol was not a good idea!

See Part III for The Crosscut Saw and clear skies at last.

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part I

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

One of the favourite overnight hiking treks in the Victorian Alps is the hike across the narrow, steeply sided ridge line that is The Crosscut Saw which is a ridge 20km east of Mt Buller, with options of camping at Macalister Springs at the southern end or at Mt Speculation at the northern end.

The walk from Mac Springs to Mt Howitt is a 2km moderate grade ascent to 1742m at the very exposed and often windy bare peak well above the tree line, easily done with a day pack with water, snack, gloves, beanie, wet weather gear, and warm vest.

The optional hike across The Crosscut Saw (1705m elevation at its highest peak) to Mt Spec (1668m elevation) is not one for those afraid of heights, and does require a good degree of preparation and fitness – it is very exposed and requires some 600m of ascents and 600m of descents one way, plus if you wish to get up to Mt Spec, it does require a bit of heart stopping rock clambering which is best done with a small pack, or, if a big pack, then passing the pack up to your colleagues. The only reliable water source on this hike is at Camp Creek which is 45min return hike, 1.2km north-east, down from the Mt Spec camp areas which give a nice view but are very exposed – be warned! Mt Spec to Mt Howitt is 7.5km 2.5-3hrs with about 700m ascents and 700m descents.

There is also an optional 2.5hr 8km circuit walk of Bryce Gorge with waterfalls (in season) about 10-20min drive before the Mt Howitt car park.

Another optional hike from the Licola approach is from McFarlane Saddle 14km past the Arbuckle Junction which allows a 2 day 33.5km circuit walk down to the hidden Lake Tali Karng, although the descent and return steep ascent from the lake can be skipped.


map

Macalister Springs

Macalister Springs is a lovely camp site at around 1600m elevation surrounded by snow gums and relatively protected from prevailing winds, and it has a small water source that runs most of the year (although people do recommend boiling it to make it potable as there is potential risk of Giardia but the myth of the nematodes has been dispelled).

The site also features a “4 star” hut and pump out toilet which makes it that much more pleasant – the toilet even has an expansive window looking out over the valley to the south!

The Vallejo Gantner hut was built by volunteers in difficult access conditions over two year period 1970-71 by the Gantner family in memory of their 19 year old son Vallejo (grandson of wealthy Melbourne retailer Sidney Myer) who died in an accident. It boasts a central stone fireplace, although this, as well as the sleeping area should only be used in extreme circumstances – hikers are expected to be self-sufficient and bring their own tents, warm clothing and cooking gear. Outdoor wood fires are not permitted, especially within a 1km radius.

Fortunately, the hut, toilet and camp region were spared the alpine bushfires which devastated the region last decade.

Hut


Hut

Interior taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

The region does have potentially deadly although relatively good natured, highland copperhead snakes (Austrelaps ramsayi, colour can vary from brown form to black form, thankfully bites from this species are quite rare as they tend to avoid biting unless they are grumpy on a really hot day or you antagonise them severely – we did encounter 2 within 20m of the camp, basking in the midday sun on our walking path and neither seemed too keen to move out of our way! They become quiescent late April-Nov, mate in Spring,  and are mainly diurnal except for very warm nights, and tend to be active earlier in the day in Autumn compared to Spring and Summer, rest under fallen logs and amongst tussocks of grass,  prefer to be near water, feed mainly on the multitude of skinks in the area).

Bring a snake bite bandage, know the first aid for snake bites and bring an EPIRB radio beacon – otherwise you will need a companion to walk to top of Mt Howitt area to get mobile reception and call for help. Even then you may need to be carried 5km to the car park then either driven to the air strip or a 3hr drive to the hospital at Traralgon – I am guessing a chopper evacuation would be needed to save your life this far from medical support and anti-venom! Don’t play with snakes, don’t step on them, wear boots and gaiters on any tracks!

The camp is extremely popular with school and uni groups – the night we arrived there were 60 Geelong Grammar Timbertop high school students and 15 teachers camping there – having hiked up 1000m ascent to get there!


camp ground

Our tents in one of the several camp areas – this one is adjacent the spring itself – about 100m downhill from the hut and toilet. Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I Micro Four Thirds camera – makes a great compact combo to have handy in your jacket pocket!

Getting to Macalister Springs from Melbourne

It is a long way by car – allow 6-6.5hrs drive plus a 1.5hr 5km mildly downhill hike to the camp site – that is an all day proposition – hence one should aim for a two night camp rather than just overnight to make the long drive worthwhile.

The gravel access road is seasonally closed from Queen’s birthday in June to Melbourne Cup in November!

The drive from Melbourne to Traralgon will take about 2hrs depending upon traffic conditions – try a meal at Momos – it was delicious and great coffee to boot.

Traralgon to Licola will take around 90 minutes, the last half is through winding alpine roads, much of it along the Macalister river valley.

Take the right fork in the road BEFORE the bridge at Licola (there is a general store with petrol and diesel), and from there it will take around 20 minutes on bitumen, passing numerous river-side camp grounds to get to the bridge over the Wellington River and from their it is all uphill, winding, alpine gravel roads – 30 minutes to Arbuckle Junction, then a further 45 minutes to Mt Howitt Car park. That is a total of 3hrs drive from Traralgon to Mt Howitt car park then the 1.5hr walk.

From the car park, it is a 1.5hr, 5km mildly undulating walk to the camp (might take you 2hrs back up on a warm, sunny day!)

Getting to Macalister Springs from Mt Stirling or Mt Buller

Shorter drive from Mebourne with much less gravel roads, but a much harder hiking route – several options – all require > 1000m strenuous ascent with a heavy pack to the very exposed Mt Howitt or the Crosscut Saw – with only a few areas to collect water once you leave the Howqua River.

1 hr gravel road drive from TBJ at Mt Stirling (seasonally closed!) will get you to Upper Howqua Camping area (elevation 800m) which can be used as the start point for your hike. The Helicopter Spur hike departs the camp to the south-east, while the other 3 routes have a shared initial 3.5km hike criss-crossing the Howqua River in a easterly direction from the camp.

See my wiki page for hikes.

Hike maps  have been posted by someone on the net here.

Via Helicopter Spur:

  • Helicopter Spur is graded difficult -steep, often difficult, scrambling over rocks, total ascent ~800m to AAWT over 6km, then 150m descent before climbing 200m gain at Mt Magdala then descending 200m to Hellfire Creek campsite (creek may be dry!) for a total of 10km hike taking fit, experienced walkers 4-5hrs, this walk does take you past Picture Point and Hell’s Window.
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to Picture Point 5.5km, 2.5-3hrs, 700m ascent
  • Picture Point to  Hellfire Creek campsite 4.5km, 1.5-2hrs, 320m ascents plus 290m descents
  • Hellfire Creek campsite to Mt Howitt, 3km, 1hr, 260m ascents, 80m descents from Big Hill
  • “exhilarating but potentially dangerous”
  • seems you need knee protectors, march fly swat and perhaps climbing gloves to get you over the 3 rock bands intact, and one to avoid in wet windy conditions
  • next day hike to Mt Howitt (3km, 1hr ~200m total gain), then down to Mac Springs

Via Mt Howitt Spur:

  • perhaps the most popular spur to hike up
  • 8.5km, 900m ascent  to West Peak (1725m elevation) and then Mt Howitt (1742m elevation)
  • requires crossing the Howqua River a number of times, then crossing the South Branch of the Howqua River at the 3.5km mark from Upper Howqua Camping area
  • avoids The CrossCut Saw
  • descent takes 2.5-3hrs

Via Stanleys Name Spur (SNS)

  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS via the Queen Spur Road disused logging track  crossing the Howqua River a number of times, 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to The Crosscut Saw
  • you may need to battle some blackberry bushes on the way up
  • you get to walk a section of the Crosscut Saw but avoid the more difficult Mt Buggery and Mt Spec sections as well as the tallest peak of the Crosscut Saw

Via Queen Spur:

  • 7.5hr 15km ascent via Queens Spur to camp at Mt Spec
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS as above for SNS – 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to Mt Spec via Queen Spur and Mt Buggary (1605m) 8km, 2.5-3hrs with initial 100m descent to cross the headwater of the King River South Branch (last chance for water unlesss it is dry in summer or droughts) then 420m ascent requiring rock scrambling and following a faint track to Mt Buggery then 200m steep descent into Horrible Gap before the final 250m ascent to Mt Spec with rock scrambling
  • then need to walk across The CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs

Getting to Macalister Springs from Lake Cobbler

This is a rather long 5-5.5hr 330km+ drive from Melbourne via Whitfield  (either via Mansfield or via Milawa) and really needs a 4WD to get to Lake Cobbler where there is a camp ground and nearby waterfalls and option to climb Mt Cobbler.

The hike up to Mt Spec from Lake Cobbler is more gentle than the ascents from Upper Howqua camp site.

One then continues over the CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs.

See Part II – hike to Mt Howitt in the clouds.

 

One week in South Korea – Part 5 – Seoraksan National Park

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Seoraksan National Park is a beautiful mountainous park dominated by rugged granite peaks and maple gullies amongst cyprus forests only 15 minutes drive from the coastal resort town of Sokcho on the north-eastern coast of South Korea.

One should take care with mosquitoes as there apparently is a small risk of mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus and even malaria according to WHO, but the more dangerous animals such as tigers and bears are now extinct from most of South Korea including in this region.

Sokcho is a 3-4 hour bus ride from Seoul depending upon traffic conditions.

These images were taken with Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 and Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lenses.

We only had one day in our itinerary to hike in the park and that one day coincided with almost constant heavy rain which absolutely soaked not only my active wear but also my Olympus E-M1 with 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and its lovely rain protective lens hood which fortunately are highly water resistant and did not suffer any ill effect from the constant rain over a 5 hour period – unlike my friend’s “water-resistant” Garmin watch we failed permanently half way due to the rain.

The hike we chose was to the rugged granite peaks which was some 11km and 5hrs return in the rain with seemingly thousands of steps and a total ascent of over 600m to the ~1200m altitude peak which overlooked the Sokcho valley in the very brief intervals where the clouds parted and we could see what was below us.

The scenery so reminded me of Japanese ink sketches that I decided to post-process these images in that style.

The peaks which we were to climb up as seen from the Seoul-Sokcho bus.

At the start of the walk is a Buddhist Temple which provided for some very nice imagery:

Whilst at this temple we took pity on a very keen Canikon elderly Korean man who was trying in vain to get some shots of this temple with his camera on a tripod wrapped in towels to keep the camera dry as well as trying to hold an umbrella in the wind – unfortunately for him he did not choose a weatherproof camera and lens with image stabilisation such as we had with our Olympus gear, and so we helped him out by holding his umbrella so he could get his shot.

As we start our walk alongside a fast flowing stream, we walk over some nice old bridges:

and then perhaps half way up our ascent we arrive at a remote old Buddhist temple built into the mountain side:

a tourist wet and tired and its only a third of the ascent work down:

Perhaps at this point I should have said a few prayers because the ascent from here on became very steep indeed but gave very rewarding vignettes dominated by these beautiful trees amongst the peaks:

and now ascent into the clouds:



and finally to the peak – the hiker and his umbrella – as we found – no match for the strong up-draught winds hurtling upwards and playing havoc with the umbrellas:

The price to pay for these beautiful sights was 3 days of very painful calf muscles but thankfully, we did not trip and fall in the wet, slippery conditions.

After the hike, an incredibly kind young Korean lady who worked in a park cafe finally worked out what we were trying to ask her – “where is the local thermal spas?” and she offered to drive us there as the cafe had closed and so we made it to the thermal spa baths which were in another valley – but to our naive surprise they were authentic Oriental style baths which banned all forms of clothing – so when in Rome ….

Solo overnight hike to summit of Mt Stirling

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Following on from my overnight camping hike up Mt Feathertop, I decided it was time to do one solo.

I thus decided upon Mt Stirling as it was relatively close to Melbourne (some 3hrs drive via Mansfield) and the hike up the mountain is only half as long as the Mt Feathertop hike (4.5km at 500m altitude gain vs 10.5km at 1100m altitude gain), and with the extra weight of cooking gear and food, I felt this would be a good hike to start as a solo endeavour, given I did struggle with the ascent of Mt Feathertop given my lack of fitness.

I had considered extending the hike across The Monument saddle to camp near Craig’s Hut of The Man from Snowy River movie fame but wisely considered this might be a touch too much and perhaps best done another time as the walk from there back up Mt Stirling is on a very steep, severely eroded 4WD track and not much fun with a heavy backpack.

Mt Stirling is in the Victorian Alps and rises to 1749m which is similar to nearby alpine resort of Mt Buller.

Unlike commercialised Mt Buller, Mt Stirling offers camping and is a relatively “remote” camp site – I was the only person camping up there the night I went.

That said, as I soon discovered 2/3rds of my way up the mountain, you are not really isolated from people – I met 3 teams of commercial horse trail riders each with about a dozen horses, and leaving plenty of fresh presents for me to step in while attracting a multitude of flies, and then around 9.30am on a Monday morning, a 4WD enthusiast decided to pit his car and his skills against the treacherous 4WD ascent track to Mt Stirling, presumably not for the views nor to experience the ambience of Mt Stirling but just as a challenge to himself and his colleague, and to further erode the already severely eroded track.

Having left my car at the Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) and placed a note of intention of my trip in the ranger’s post slot, I again mounted my new Aarn Peak Aspiration Body Pack which weighed around 16-17kg with 1.5kg of water.

To reduce weight given that this trip I needed to carry cooking gear and food for dinner, I decided to leave my lovely Olympus mZD 40-140mm f/2.8 lens at home as this would save nearly 1kg, but given the forecast was for the clouds to clear by midnight, and there was hope of Geminid meteor shower being visible (I was 24hrs early for the peak of the shower), I decided to bring a small tripod and the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens as well as my only other lens for the trip – the small, light, Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens. Of course, I also brought along my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. I feel sorry for those hikers who have to cart big heavy dSLRs such as Canon or Nikon with their big, heavy lenses and big, heavy tripods to match.

Despite the weight of my backpack which again performed beautifully for me, the walk up Mt Stirling was pleasant amongst the tall eucalypts and the overcast skies kept the summer temperatures to a comfortable level for strenuous uphill hiking, made all the more enjoyable by knowing that it is only a 2.5hr walk and then I would be able to relax and take in the awesome ambience of being the only person on top of the mountain overnight.

The enjoyment was somewhat reduced with the horse manure and flies, and then, once at the top, by the small but aggressive Australian native alpine ants, Iridomyrmex alpinus, which insisted on swarming over my feet and giving me a few friendly nips whenever I had inadvertently encroached near their ground nests hidden amongst the low foliage on top of the mountain. I thus took some time to plan where I would pitch the tent, even though it was insect proof.

There are a number of emergency huts along the way to the top of Mt Stirling should the weather become extreme, and near the camp area at the base of the summit, there is the Geelong Grammar School hut with a rain tank which unlike at Mt Feathertop, this one had water, although not potable and required treating. To save weight I did not bring the Camelbak All Clear UV water sterilisation kit, but instead brought along a 10 micro water filter kit, which although slower to process the water is considerably lighter.

After pitching my Big Sky Revolution 2P tent and boiling water for tea and for my dehydrated beef pasta dinner, I became excited by a very unexpected sunset as the sun managed to find its way under the big blanket of cloud to light up Mt Speculation and the Cross Saw ridge:


Mt Speculation

I tried to get some sleep and wake up after midnight when the forecast for the cloud to disappear came to fruition and allow me access to the summer Milky Way and the Geminid meteors, but alas, sleep did not come easy, but I was rewarded with beautiful dark skies full of stars, but very few meteors (I was after all 24hrs too early for the peak meteor shower).

Looking south to the Southern Cross, Centaurus and the Magellanic Clouds whilst I boiled water at 2am for a hot chocolate and marshmallow – a meteor came shooting down from the Small Magellanic Cloud aiming straight for my tent (Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at f/1.8, 30secs):

Meteor

and at last a Geminid meteor sweeping from Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twin stars at lower right and across to the left upper between Orion and Taurus with the lights of the alpine tourist town of Bright in the distant north-east horizon:

Geminid

Next day, after earlier moving my tent into the shade of a tree, I was awoken at the unearthly hour of 11.30am by female voices warning me that there were women around and perhaps extracting myself from the tent naked would not be a good idea – I suspect they were secretly hoping for a Hugh Jackman pouring a bucket of water over himself, but instead, they got a bleary eyed George Clooney asking where the Nespresso machine was and discovering instead, a dozen women on horseback!

The heat of the midday sun meant it was well and truly time to eat the remains of my cheeses and “twiggy stick” salami before it went off, and then to go exploring the summit of Mt Stirling and the ridge across towards Stanley Bowl.

The summit (at left) from the east ridge looking towards the prominent Mt Cobbler:

summit

and another view along the more gentle parts of the 4WD track – the camp ground is the small clearing to the right of the base of the road:

Mt Cobbler

View of Mt Buller from the eastern ridge:

Mt Buller

The hike back down to the car was hot and sunny (it was 34degC at the base of the mountain, although I suspect it was only around 20-24deg air temperature for most of the hike but the direct summer sun made up for the difference!). I decided to go a different route down which was longer but supposedly more picturesque. I took the first of several possible short cuts, this one was to Wombat Drop but after some 400m the path which had been notable for the grass becoming longer and more difficult to see snakes in, suddenly was terminated by a sign indicated it was under revegetation and thus I returned back up the path to the gravel track and continued on my merry way.

Somehow, perhaps because of this experience, I missed the last of the shortcuts and ended up walking far further than I needed to, down to King Saddle Hut, and a very boring 4km or so walk along the Summit Circuit Road (had I bothered to put my reading glasses on and consult a map, I could have walked instead to Razorback Hut instead of along the circuit road) back to the TBJ where fortunately, my car still had all four wheels and the windows were even intact!

The drive back to Melbourne was broken by a hamburger in the township of Yea, but I did miss not being able to allow myself extra time to photograph the beautiful late afternoon light coming through onto the hillsides in this lovely region. I was concerned that the boring drive down the Hume Freeway would put me to sleep and to further delay my trip home would only create a greater risk. I thus regrettably gave up on enjoying the beauty of an uncommon light that was truly inspirational.

A review of the Big Sky Revolution 2P ultra-light 2 man hiking tent

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Despite me getting on in the years, I am a new comer to overnight hikes and bushwalks, so after much research and advice from the more experienced campers, I purchased the Big Sky Revolution 2P hiking tent as a 3 season tent for one person.

Given my advancing age, my main requirements were a light weight and compact tent which is fast and easy to pitch, capable of withstanding reasonable wind and rain while still being comfortable, weather-proof, come with a waterproof tub floor, and perhaps most important of all in Australia, insect proof with good ventilation.

In most parts of Australia, insects are a real annoyance, so a bug mesh is almost mandatory if one is to have any chance of a good night’s sleep – mosquitoes, flies, ants and midges are all very annoying in the warmer months in particular.

Be aware that no ultralight hiking tent will stop a persistent native rat or mouse gnawing through the tent to get to your food – so be careful how you manage your food to reduce attracting them into your tent.

But what about ultra-light shelters?

I had looked at the ultra-ultra-light shelter options, and whilst attractive in weight terms (300-850g), none seemed adequate to address all of the above requirements adequately for me:

  • most are single wall shelters which either lack space, lack 360deg protection, lack insect protection, and/or are not  likely to cope with prolonged rain and wind well.
  • the tarp style ones also tend to be more difficult to set up and keep the tarp pitched taut
  • to me, they would be great as emergency shelters when you are planning on a day hike but are forced to take shelter, or for some situations such as fair weather desert camping, but do risk leaving one without adequate shelter if the weather really turns sour for prolonged periods.
  • if you are using single wall shelters, check out this pdf on how to minimise condensation
  • excellent examples of these include:
    • poncho/cape – tarp – shelters such as Gatewood Cape Shelter which can be combined with the Six Moon Serenity Net Tent ($A229) but only sleeps 1 person and but combined weight is only 540g
    • trekking pole single wall tent shelters such as:
      • Big Sky Wisp 1 person tent
        • available in 300g-600g designs although the 300g version is $US300 more expensive as it uses lighter, stronger, more UV resistant, Let-It-Por Cuben fibre fabric
        • ventilation and condensation can be problematic
    • tarp with bug net such as:
      • Sea to Summit Escapist 15D large tarp with Ultra-mesh bug Tent
      • you do save perhaps 0.5kg at around 800-900g compared with the Rev 2P tent, but it costs much the same and you don’t get 360deg protection plus it is harder to pitch, less private and requires your trekking poles
      • some 300g heavier than the similarly priced Gatewood Cape solution but does provide room for 2 people and more versatile tarp but no 360deg protection or poncho
      • the tarp though does make for a very versatile accessory, and of course the bug tent could be used alone to better enjoy the outdoors in good weather, providing better visibility and connection with your surroundings
      • needs additional 12 stakes, 2 trek poles +/- groundsheet (if heavy rain) and lots of practice and space to pitch and preferably, 2 people to pitch – “with the various guyout points and the fact that the inner tent has to be setup separately, it can be quite a challenge”
      • best for the experienced tarpist or for expected mild weather conditions for those with patience to get the pitch reasonably weatherproof
    • 4 season tarp with bivvy

The search continued for a ultra-light 2 man tent:

I then went to camping stores and tried to pitch one or two double shell two-man tents, and found some where actually quite complex to pitch.

I did like the concept of the highly rated ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent which is made from expensive, ultra-light cuben fibre and weighs only 540g, but it is quite expensive and is only made to order from the US, and thus even if I was prepared to pay that much, I would not have had it delivered on time.

The Big Sky Soul tents are also very nice as an easy to set up, free-standing tent with full bug mesh, tub and a fly, and these tents are great as you can see the sky with the vestibule unzipped, and in the day time or on warm nights, the whole fly can be removed to use it as a bug tent. They are light (1.1kg and $US365 for 2P Ultrasil), come in 1P or 2P versions and even ultra-light (724g but expensive at $US780) cuben fibre versions and are reasonably roomy and the fly does have a top vent, but there is only one vestibule, and no porch so rain could be an issue when unzipping it. The 2P floor measures 215cm long x 119/135cm wide x 107cm in centre height making it comparable to the S2S Bug Tent but easier to set up and 360deg weather protection.

In the end, I settled upon the Big Sky Revolution 2P hiking tent with porch and bug screen inner as I was impressed with:

  • ease and speed of pitching thanks partly to its external frame
  • can be set up in the rain without getting the interior wet
  • excellent ventilation (inner mesh walls with two high top vents in outer wall which can be opened to allow warmer, humid air to exit while air can also enter under the outer nylon or cross-ventilation through unzipped vestibules combined with extra internal air volume of a 2 man tent for 1 person) to reduce condensation forming
  • condensation is on the inside of the fly, so the interior mesh shields you from the moisture
  • taut walls to reduce pooling of condensation and rain as well as reducing wind noise
  • excellent bug screen protection
  • vestibules and entrance on either side
  • plenty of space to store your backpack, etc inside the tent when used as a 1-man tent
  • silnylon waterproofing of the outer wall and tub floor
  • do not need to be seam sealed like other silnylon tents
  • relatively light and compact – said to be 1.3kg but measured was closer to 1.5kg
  • ability to easily move the fully pitched tent to a better site without taking it down

Why not buy the Big Sky Revolution 1P one man tent?

  • whilst this is also an excellent tent, weighing some 200g lighter and around $100 cheaper, I decided that the benefits of the extra space outweighed either of these concerns for me.

Road testing

I have now used it on two overnight camping trips, the 1st to Mt Feathertop in strong winds averaging 30-35 knots with some protection from small alpine gums, and minimal rain, and the 2nd on Mt Stirling in good weather conditions but with winds 10-20 knots.

Pitching in the dark was easy and fast, just remember to peg the outer shell down if it is windy while you are assembling the poles!

When pitched the outer walls are taut.

Like most small hiking tents it can be awkward extracting yourself through the door but that would be nit-picking.

It coped extremely well with the strong winds even though I had only used one storm guy rope.

Both nights were at altitude around 1700m and the minimal temperatures only fell to around 7degC (early December which is summer in Australia) with lowish humidity, so there was no moisture build up internally or externally, although, the excellent ventilation of this tent should work well to prevent internal condensation.

The very thin silnylon floor is very slippery, so if you are not on flat ground, your mattress is likely to slide down – this apparently can be reduced by applying dobs of silicone in strategic places on the floor – “paint stripes of silicone across the floor. Use McNett SilNet or DuPont Silicone II and dilute it with paint thinner to the consistency of pancake syrup, then paint it on”.

The Silnylon is also a dirt magnet!

Although I purchased a footprint to go under the floor to provide extra protection, I did not use it.

On the 2nd trip which was a solo trip, I had spent the early hours of the morning photographing the night sky so I decided to sleep in. The hot mid-morning sun soon made the tent uncomfortably warm, but it was a very simple matter to just remove the pegs and move the whole tent fully pitched to a shady position then re-peg it. (Remove heavy items from within the tent so it can be lifted without having to drag it along the ground as this may result in tears!).

I noted reviews online which indicate it is hard to roll up and return to its bag as it is so slippery, I decided to do what the retailer advised, keep the inner all attached with its buckle clips ready for pitching next time, and just push it into the bag as you would a down sleeping bag.

I slept in a Sea To Summit Micro II sleeping bag which is rated down to 2degC for comfort and found that this was perfect for these conditions without need for thermal leggings, just a thermal top.

Mt Stirling at 2am – meteor aiming straight for my tent from the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy while I was boiling water for a hot chocolate and marshmallow (Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens):

Mt Stirling at 2am

Conclusion:

Everyone will have their own preferences and requirements when it comes to tents, and like cameras and lenses, there is no perfect tent to suit every person or needs.

So far this tent has delivered for me and hopefully will be durable.

More information on my Wiki.

Disclaimer:

I have not been paid or subsidised by any of these companies, nor provided with any of these to test.

Photo hiking in the Australian bush – make sure you have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

If you are like me and love to go walking in the Australian bush and forests with your cameras, there is something else you need to take with you – a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) – a smaller, lightweight version of a marine EPIRB device.

If you get lost, injured or bitten by a snake in the bush, you may not be able to get to help in a timely manner and if you are like me and become spontaneously inspired to walk on some remote track, you may not have given your family exact details of where you will be walking so rescue teams may have no hope of finding you either.

After some research, I have just purchased a GME MT410G 406 MHZ PLB with GPS signalling.

MT410G
image from epirb.org

This model weighs 250g, measures 135mm x 71mm x 38mm, sends your GPS location to within 100m to ensure there is minimal search phase of your rescue, and has a strobing light to assist with the search. The signal will emit for at least 24 hours after activation which should be plenty of time given the GPS coordinates and can be deactivated within 60sec of activation without a distress being sent.

By law, these units must have their batteries changed by the manufacturer, and for this model that is after 7 years or after activation.

The main negatives are that whilst the unit does float, it does so horizontally and the antenna will not emit unless it is held out of the water, and like all GPS devices, it needs a clear view to satellites to determine your location – this may be an issue if you are inside a car, underground or at the bottom of a steep valley.

There is a good discussion forum thread here comparing the current Australian models – unfortunately, the KTI Mini-Sat-G model is still struggling to get certification from the authorities, and thus availability has again been pushed back, this time to May 2010 at the earliest.

Once you purchase your unit, this one costs ~$A549 online on Ebay, you MUST register it with your local country authority, for Australia, this is the Beacon Registration Section, AusSAR, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) which is based in Canberra. If you activate your beacon in another country, that country’s authority will contact your local authority.

As of Feb 2009, only 406 MHz beacons are detected by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system – you can’t use older 121.5/243 MHz beacons.

Better to be prepared – and I am guessing that your family may not appreciate you dying needlessly, let alone your life insurance not paying up because they couldn’t find your body!

And, of course, I would take a compressive bandage in case you were bitten by a snake, warm clothes, water bottle, sun protection, and if you are the allergic type, your EpiPen and asthma spray. You never know when a bee sting or ant bite might give you a life threatening reaction!

As mentioned in a previous post, hopefully all future Micro Four Thirds cameras will have a battery-efficient GPS built-in which may help you avoid getting totally lost in the first place, although it will not be a substitute for a full personal GPS map device such as a Garmin, etc.