POLITICS – OUR FRAGILE EARTH
Well, the much vaunted Paris Climate Change Conference has been and gone. We are left with politicians and bureaucrats telling what wonders they have achieved. Well, in my mind what they have achieved is remarkable but is too late! Even if things get no worse than they are today (and remember, they will, for the intention is to hold temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees) we are still going to have catastrophic events, problems with food and water supplies, the disappearance of glaciers and also the disappearance of the Arctic and Antarctic ice with consequent sea level rises. Is this anything to be triumphant about?
Our pollies think they have successfully tackled climate change, but what are they doing about growth and development? Nothing. It is still believed that we must have an economic system based on development and growth and on population growth as well. As long as the world continues to do nothing about these then our fragile earth is doomed anyway. It is only a question of time before wild areas, wilderness, national parks, even agricultural land, is overwhelmed by people, and the living, fragile biosphere that keeps us alive will be gone. Where will we be then?
But to get back to hiking, bushwalking. This year has been frustrating for me as I have not done the multi day walks I would have liked. Winter, though, provided some good day walks. I believe that winter, despite the cold and the shorter days, offers the best walking conditions in the Canberra area. Mostly, the days are crisp and the air is clear. Often we start walking in heavy frost. It is wonderful not to be walking in the heat. We can walk harder and further. Often this is the time to do some of the higher and more distant peaks. Three walks this last winter stand out for different reasons.
Yaouk Peak is about a 90 minute drive from Canberra and lies just west of the Brindabella Range, across the the border in NSW. An old track takes one all the way to the summit, initially it is a good fire trail, but then degenerates into a foot track which one has to be careful not to lose. The final half km or so to the summit from a saddle is trackless. Finding a way through the rocks and scrub is easy on the way up, but care is needed on the way down to pick up the intermittent foot track from the saddle. The walk is about 14km return with a total climb of about 950 metres.
A friend and I took the opportunity of a glorious winter’s day to go up there. The temperature was perfect. The firetrail took us through beautiful tall forest, shining magically in the sunlight. The birds were singing and occasionally vivid coloured parrots flashed through the trees. It was very still. We made good time and at the first major saddle stopped for morning tea. From here the trail steepened, narrowed and became rougher. Then we were winding our way through tea tree scrub, beautiful snow gums and granite outcrops. The path swung around onto the southern slopes and suddenly we were walking in 3 inches of snow and over rocks which were iced up. The higher we got, the harder it became to find the track in the snow. Gradually we swung back into warmth and sunlight on the northern slopes where the track disappears and care has to be taken through the scrub. This is a very big mountain and a wrong move going up or down could find one in great difficulties trying to find the way down again. Here there was more snow.
Soon we arrived at the saddle just below the summit in glorious sunshine and a scattering of snow. The way to the summit was now clear ahead and the views are just superb. But on this last section there is no track. One picks ones way through the vegetation and the rocks To the south-west the line of the Snowy Mountains from Jagungal in the north to Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko in the south, was capped with snow. In the opposite direction, the peaks of the Brindabella Range along the ACT border.
This was an incredible mountain day with a great companion.
On another day I took the opportunity of going on a club walk to the summit of Mt Gudgenby in the far south of the Australian Capital Territory and right on the NSW border. This is a hard, 16 km return walk with some 700 metres of climb. One leaves from the Yankee Hat Car Park and there is a long trek along tedious fire trails of about an hour before one can even start moving up the mountain. There were 6 of us on this walk, three of whom had had little experience of off track walking in scrub or of rock scrambling and were not really known to the leader.
Mt Gudgenby is a serious mountain. It is high, and big. The summit is surrounded by a jumble of cliffs, huge boulders and rock slabs. In winter, the days are short and the weather conditions can be treacherous.
The usual route from the end of the end of the fire trails is to cross the tiny creek into grasslands and then turn south, up hill, to find a way to the vague foot track which takes one through rugged country to a saddle on the south side of the mountain from where one heads off track straight for the summit, climbing the steep slabs at the top and finding a way through the boulders to the summit.
Many mistakes seemed to compound on this walk. Firstly the walk started too late for a winter walk to this summit. The leader obviously had not studied the map prior to the walk or he would have known the direction he would have needed to take to find the foot track. He did not have a map, compass or gps or if he did I never saw them. In fact, when I spoke to him a couple of weeks afterwards, he said that one does not need a compass on Mt Gudgenby ( I suppose that is based on the premise that one just keeps going up!) .
Well, when we left the fire trails our leader , instead of turning south, took us more in a northerly direction , nearly 90 degrees off course, following what he thought was THE track and which were in fact animal tracks. Later on he told us that he was sorry but had had a mental image of the way and the image was wrong. And so we progressed, climbing diagonally across the slope, through ever worse scrub. One sometimes doesn’t want to challenge a leader , especially one who is very confident and perhaps knows an easier route through the scrub. My mistake, a very big mistake, was that I should have queried the leader when he went wrong at the beginning. I should have been more assertive.
Eventually, the leader realised he was totally off route. One of the others then hauled out his compass, gps and map. Our exact position was determined and a discussion followed as to whether to head for the saddle or directly for the summit. We agreed to go direct. The walk now became very difficult and therefore very slow. At least one person was tiring. We were in forest and dense scrub which was higher than us. The steep slope was covered in vegetation, holes, large rocks and rock outcrops, and bark, dead, fallen branches and trees. Slowly we forced our way upwards, weaving around, over and under obstacles. Frequent stops were made. Finally we made it to the steep, exposed, east facing granite slabs. Luckily these were neither iced up nor under snow, although some patches were slippery with water. Some were quite nervous negotiating these slabs From the top of the slabs it was not far to the summit ridge.
About 100 metres to the north of the summit is a huge granite tor on the summit ridge, which has an incredible split in it, forming a high, narrow corridor. As the others had not been through it I took took the party through it. Luckily everyone was slim as a large person would not be able to negotiate it. Coming into the crack from the north the corridor eventually reaches the end, at a t-junction where one can either exit left or right along another short crack.
After this we found our way to the summit which involved some more scrambling. It was now after 1.00 pm, the clouds were beginning to pile up, it was windy and very cold. Rain did not seem far away. However, the views from here are fantastic . The leader was thinking of lunch on the summit, but the rest of us preferred to descend just a little way to be out of the wind, in the shelter of some trees.
After a pleasant lunch break of about half an hour, it was time to head down the south facing slopes to the saddle and the foot track which we should have traversed on the way up. A couple of us were now carefully checking our compasses and maps, but first we had to get through the rock band. The way down now went very steeply through trees and some scrub, but mostly through and down huge boulders and slabs. One of the others decided to take over the lead to find a route down through this maze. The rocks were wet and slippery, and there was quite a lot of snow and also ice-glazed rocks. Often we found our way blocked by cliffs. This was very slow and careful walking (and sliding!). Eventually our way was blocked by cliffs and huge granite slabs. The slabs were wet and slippery and ice glazed. If we could only cross the highest part of the slabs to where they were dry we could probably find a way down. This seemed impossible. The walk leader started to talk about going back to the summit and returning along our outward route. I was appalled. The party was already tired and we would end up trying to walk down in the dark. Whilst we had torches they would have been next to useless in that terrain and vegetation and fallen trees and branches. I went exploring. I found a narrow, horizontal crack across the slab in which was growing some very dense scrub. I forced a way through, came out on a dry slab which could be safely crossed to where there was a very wide, downward-sloping crack filled with snow which would take us down the huge , steep slab to the bottom of the rock band. I shouted to the others to join me, and down we all went, kicking steps in the snow and using the sides of the crack as a handrail. From there, the leader took over. It was still a fair way through scrubby forest to the saddle from where we found the foot track.
Back at the foot of the mountain the sun had set and we set off along the fire trail in the gathering dusk. By the time we were back at the cars it was dark night.
A GOOD, BUT ABORTED, WINTER WALK
This was another club walk, also from the Yankee Hat Car Park, off track across the hills to Sams Creek, and then back over the Gudgenby Saddle. A long day, about 22 km,, and mostly off track. We were a small, but fit and competent party.
Philip, Jan, Peter , Leigh and I set off in cheerful spirits despite the weather. It was cold, in fact, the maximum that day was only 3°c, the cloud base was low, the mountains were shrouded in threatening clouds and the forecast was bad. As we progressed the drizzle commenced. Walking along the fire trail we made good time, but once we were off track and climbing we slowed down. Whilst the scrub was not too bad it was soaking wet. Wetter than the drizzle. As we moved through it we had to ease it aside and at times we were whipped by wet branches. The ground was the usual : vegetation, boulders, bark, dead twigs and branches, all of which were wet and slippery and needed great care.
I was wearing rain pants over my hiking trousers, a thermal base layer, a micro fibre “wind” shirt and my rain jacket as well as gloves. I soon found that I was far too hot as we were working hard up the long steep hill . I removed my base layer, but now I had only a shirt and the rain jacket between me and the icy rain. As long as we kept moving I was alright but as soon as we stopped I began to feel very cold.
The conditions had turned a fit, fairly fast, party into a slow one. Philip decided that we would not complete the walk as planned. Instead, we would continue to the summit of the high hill we were making for, but then change direction, cross the headwaters of Breakfast Creek, follow it down to the fire trail, divert to Hospital Creek Hut and then along the fire trail to the car. Whilst shorter, it was still a long walk, nearly 20 km, but much more was on fire trails and thus we would move more quickly and be back at the car well before dark.
We came to the summit of our hill and were amazed to find it covered in quite deep snow. As we were standing admiring the scene the drizzle eased off and the clouds opened up to give views of the mountains, splashed with snow, but dark and gloomy under the clouds. Carefully we traversed the granite ridge under snow and down off it, walking through snow and heavy vegetation to Breakfast Creek where we stopped for lunch. We were all feeling extremely cold and quickly put on our thermals and mid layers under our rain gear. We all needed food just to keep warm, but we did not linger. We were too cold. After 10 minutes we were on the way again. Philip, as usual, led us well through forest and avoiding the thicker scrub, descending along the southern ridge flanking Breakfast Creek to the fire trail, to the Hut and then the car. Despite the conditions we all enjoyed the walk very much. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t take any photos.