Rambles of ambles and sagas of suburbia

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mt Difficult (Gar), Grampians National Park (Gariwerd). Day One. December 2011

lake wartook from mount difficult grampians
Lake Wartook from Mt Difficult
It was a bit of a struggle escaping the Melbourne traffic on a Friday night to get to our 'base camp' for the weekend walk in the Grampians National Park. Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park was the fancy sounding location, which we stayed at and this is the best of the caravan parks in the area according to Ianosivich, who has extensive caravan park knowledge. It didn't disappoint though, being 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. The rampaging Russian didn't have a backpack, so I lent him one I'd used before for quite a few walks. It's a Lowe Alpine TFX Summit pack which I'd always found quite comfortable. I was going to put a link of the pack from the Lowe Alpine website, but it's been superseded and with it still in the hands of Ianosivich I can't even take a photo of it. 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 Ianosivich 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 into it and I think the only thing he forgot to take was a Bamix.

Still doing laps...
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. Ianosivich came through with the 'king pasta' dish which seemed freakishly large and 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'. Is that it? Time to get walking.

Sunny start at Troopers Creek Campground
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?

It's a very casual start 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.

The way ahead...
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 punter I met coming the other way was a woman who after the opening pleasantries said, "You've got some hard walking in front of you. Boulders and rocks to get through. It's tough so good luck." Umm...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! Ianosivich 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? Ianosivich 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.

Random bleeding...

Tough guy trail markings...

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' 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 the Adobe Lightroom clone approach to the photo below.

Graffiti has vanished!
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.

Anyway, the graffiti continued until we came across an enormous 'Dave woz ere'. With his name now known we set out to ask everyone we met if their name was 'Dave'. Whilst huffing and puffing I came up with some quality scenarios for 'Dave'. How about this 'Dave' below?

dave bowman in room movie 2001 space odyssey

Is being made a prisoner of aliens a decent punishment? I guess it is, but I'm concerned the aliens have provided a pad that's way too plush for my liking.

I decided incorporating aliens was a little too off the grid when the answer was actually right in front of me. I was on a mountain, so that should be incorporated into the punishment shouldn't it? Yes, of course! How about greeting 'Dave' on top of Mt Difficult with the traditional vice like grip, twist and lift of his testicles combined with a 7.5 shake on the Richter scale? This could be applied 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...

arnold schwarzenegger commando

Anyway, back to the tedium of the real world. The walk was going okay after an initial climb before levelling out for a section hemmed in 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 the one. 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 more zany when the person is holding walking poles and they appear to be stepping forward, but they're quite obviously standing there (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 some sort of fiasco element.

pants down arms outstretched

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 is going to go wrong after you reading that, don't you? Well, for a first it wasn't me, but Ianosivich ran into some problems. It wasn't anything too major other than he started to have problems breathing. With experience I've realised breathing 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 the Russian and I chugging along when suddenly he yelled out, "яйца!" I didn't need to peruse my translation book as with one look at him it was obvious he'd suddenly hit the wall. 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'?). Actually, that mashup is quite a combo isn't it? I can imagine hearing an opening line, "I like your pants around your tulips" whilst being forced to watch Tom Cruise with a stupid grin juggling drinks whilst jumping up and down on the couch. Wow, where's some heroin when you need it? I think I need a fix.

malcolm mcdowell tied to chair in movie a clockwork orange
"More Nickelback? Are you kidding??"
The trouble is we didn't have many options at the time 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 day at some stage whilst hiking and I think for every ten days walking 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...

jet contrail in blue sky

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 Ianosivich 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 polarizer was overdone, but in saying that 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 Ianosivich 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 Ianosivich 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.

trig point mount difficult grampians

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 in the day 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. Ianosivich 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 kms 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 Adobe Lightroom!

using mobile phone mt difficult grampians


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