The Italian Dolomites from jasonmacqueen on Vimeo.
We had been climbing all day. From valley floor to ridge-line. Up switchbacks finally stepping onto the sheltered alpine meadow the other side of the ridge. The cows momentarily looked up from their grazing… It was surely one of the most picturesque paddocks anyone could imagine. The gentle sound of cow bells will forever be linked to memories of mountains in Italy.
The Via Ferrata systems through the Italian Dollarmites are well known by European tourists. A system of cables, ladders and anchors used during the first world war to move large groups of inexperienced troops. Essentially mountaineering for idiots.
We had arrived late at night in Italy with a small rental car and an unformed plan to head to the mountainy areas. Driving out of the lowlands of Italy we were soon in a fairy-tale of small mountain towns, churches cobblestones and mills. Italy is well setup for mountain travellers. In addition to the via ferrata and cows, the mountains are littered with refugios, a series of large dorm style buildings offering budget accommodations. Our Refugio even gave us a 50% discount for our Austrlaian ANU Mountaineering club cards.
Using the Refugio as a base we were able to finally get into some of the more serous via ferratas surrounding the Three Chimneys. Being peak tourist in Europe the mountains were crowded. Trails looking instead distant like distant ant paths. Marching dots occasionally dissapearing into the mountains emerging hundreds of meters away via interconnect systems of caves. These extensive tunnels more relics of the first world war. Together with foundations from barracks, barbed wire and artillery placements. The tunnels and sniper positions must have been horrendous in winter. While conditions for first world war soldiers were never the best. It must have been a particularly punishing theater for soldiers.
After three days of trekking in the area we had barley started scratching the surface. Like Canada and unlike Australia, the European mountain range was immense. We had completed a three day circuit finishing satisfyingly back at the car. The bittersweet feeling of finishing the exploration of a new area with the knowledge that we really didnt see much at all.
When it comes to recommending activities for visitors to Tasmania, the Three Capes walk has quickly risen to be in my top five list. Well, for affluent hikers anyway. At roughly $495 for a three night walk, it is out of the price range of most of my friends. Not that the experience is bad value for $495, its just that $495 is a lot of money.
It is worth pointing out that the creation of the track has led to some areas of the Tasman Peninsula, while not completely blocked, harder to get to. There is a possible argument that restrictions have been put in place to stop the spread of Phytophtora. If that’s the case, they are it is not made clear.
If you are willing to put up with the restrictions, there are upsides. Thanks to fee payers, the trail is now one of the most sculpted and well maintained tracks in Tasmania. Possibly Australia. The new huts also provide a reliable and conveniently spaced source of fresh water. While I was there, the hut staff were more than happy for us to fill our water bottles. Hopefully this stays true.
What budget campers can do:
One of the hardest parts of doing this hike was just finding information online. I really get the feeling that Parks have not gone out of their way to provide information on self directed walks, just plenty of links to the paid experience.
So where can you stay? There is one campsite on the peninsula, Wughalee Falls. You do not need to book, and can camp for the cost of a normal Parks Tasmania pass! Wughalee Falls campsite is roughly dead centre of the Peninsula and provides a great base for exploring. Sure, it could have done with a view, or a reliable water source, or not be 300m down a valley, but otherwise It’s pretty nice. Hikers can also stay at Fortescue bay, which is a small extra cost. But great if you need an extra night or have to camp for an early start in the morning.
There are two main restrictions. Hikers are not permitted to travel west to see the first hut, Surveyors. Hikers are also asked not to travel
South down the coast from Cape Hauy without a 22lr ammo for safety purpose. These are not over-restrictive restrictive and basically dictate that walkers head south to Cape
Pillar and then North to Cape Hauy.
I feel I should make special mention of the spectacular huts. While I was pleasantly surprised by my first sighting, I quickly realised that I was looking at the toilet block. The real hut was 50 meters away round a corner of the track.
The complete Package. Attempt at own risk!
It is also possible to do the complete walk while adhering to the one way traffic rule. After you take the turnoff for Fortescue Bay take a right toward Stinking Bay. The last hundred or so metres will be walking or 4WD only. From there you are free to continue to walk from the very start of the track as per paid walkers. Please note I have not done this myself. I’ve and come by this knowledge second hand. But let me know if it worked out for you!
Kayaking big water had not gone well for me three years ago. Loosing my kayak and paddle and barley managing to climb along the wall of the canyon to safety was still fresh in my mind. There was very little to consider around weather I should join a two week rafting trip. What was giving me serious pause was whether to raft or put my big boy trousers on and again, kayak big water. The trip already had two kayakers and three rafters. If I rafted i would be a passenger. A hard thing for a former raft guide to do. We tend to want to steer. So I decided to kayak but promised myself that I could walk around the big stuff.
Hells canyon is the deepest gorge in North America. Deeper than the grand canyon. Deeper at 2,436m than the Mt Kosioskio, Australia’s highest point. In fact it felt very much as if the river wound its way between two imposing mountain ranges. We rigged our rafts in the shadow its hydro dam and swapped stories with the commercial rafters preparing for their launch. It always pays to ask a local. Learning about the poison ivy, a common and nasty little plant was particularly useful. Still managed to walk through plenty, but it could have been worse.
We could see the first rapids from the put in. The longer you stare at a water feature the more you start to question yourself. So it was with some small relief that we set off. The three kayaks heading out ahead of the bulky rafts. Paddling out to the middle of the wide river so far beneath the canyon peaks we all felt quite small indeed. The trick we soon found was to stay in the middle of the main current and away from the edges where strong boils and eddy lines could cause smaller craft serious trouble. The rapids and whirlpools on the side looked intimidatingly large but The first few kilometers passed quickly and we became more comfortable in the larger water.
It was not long before we spotted the first of the larger rapids. Pulling the boats to the river side we walked up the banks to scout. Sure that I would be walking around. Looking down however I was struck by how easy it looked. To be sure there were plenty of places where you would just not want to be. But a clear line of untroubled current stretched through large standing waves. It was a matter of putting yourself in the right place and hanging on. Jeff and I were soon pulling away from the shore, me following Jeff into the large water rapid. I felt very small. The safety of the shore might as well have been light years away . The canyon walls towered over us. Everything looks bigger from your boat and the large rapids we scouted were monstrous now they were up close. Not that we got that much time to look, the current sped us through at a blurring pace. We held on enjoying the rush. The rafters described watching us like watching corks from a bottle. Afterwards I was told that that was the largest of the rapids. For the first time I was actually confident that I would be able to paddle the whole river without walking a single rapid.
I would not call the river busy but it was certainly more populated than our group was used to. Not just other rafters and families but with motor boats travelling up and down the rapids both private and tourist. The atmosphere was almost like a beach party. There were plenty of beach camp sites each day to choose from. Our rest day camp was particularly picturesque.
To my delight the rest of the rapids were much the same as the first. Imposing but with large channels through them. As long as you put yourself in the right place it was like being on a watery roller coaster. By the end of the trip I had kayaked all rapids and satisfyingly rolled once.
Three years ago my life on the other side of the world ended. A neat line was drawn under seven years of friendships, relationships and work. I got on a plane, left one life and started a new one on the other side of the world.
Three months ago I did the trip I promised myself since leaving. Heading back to see my friends by the fire pit. My spot was still there saved for me. I sat back down to hear how the people I once shared everything with had made out.
As my memory of everyone had been frozen since leaving the changes were sometimes a shock. Three years can bring a lot of change.
Couples broke up, friends drifted apart, businesses were on troubled waters. And one friend was no longer with us. His chair still left respectfully empty, an absence still keenly felt. Drinks were held high and his toast given “He wasn’t bad for a dickhead.”
Of course there were the ups as well. Marrages, new business ventures, childeren, homes completed and friends now in better health. There is a lot of life that can be lived in three years. Lots to miss out on. I was all the more touched that there was still a place by the campfire left for me.
It will be a long time until I am back and who knows what i’ll find then.
Some Highlights of the Trip.
The whole Going Down Crew after Dove Canyon.
“He’s been down there a long time…” Gab was staring at the rope stretched taut over the cliff. I have to admit I had been snoozing in the afternoon sun. I opened my eyes, the canyons shadow was now at my feet. Nick had been down there a long time.
We had been exploratory canyoning in Tasmania since boxing day and were well into our third week. We started with modest expectations. How many good things could there still be left to explore? Even in Tasmania. Haven’t humans gone everywhere? We all canyoned for different reason and for me, the attraction lay in this exploration. Mountains are obvious, rivers are easy to find. But canyons are the last to get explored. Normally skirted by walkers and explorers, there are so many still to be explored.
Our first stop was Dove canyon, the only commercially operated canyoning operation in Tasmania. The folks at Dove had provided us with whitewater canyon training. Dove was originally scouted via Helicopter as a potential kayak route and later taken up as a commercial canyoning route. It was fantastic, with features so like a water park it is hard to believe they were naturally occurring. Such A good omen for what we could expect from the area our collective expectatins lifted.
Unlike the folks at Dove, we didn’t have a helicopter. Nick hadn’t put it in the proposal. So what we had to find our canyons were maps. Of the thousands of creeks in the North West of Tasmania, we started focusing on those with marked waterfalls, decent gradient loss, steep canyon walls and easy access.
The three L’s of Exploratory canyoning.
LOTS of Bush Bashing
Exploration, it seems, is like opening Christmas presents. You can pick one up, shake it a little, look at the shape. But until you open it, you just don’t know. To open a canyon you need to get in and make your way down all of it. Only then do you find if it is a picturesque adventure or log choked bush bash. During our time in Tasmania, we got both.
As the first group to enter a place there is no book to tell you what equipment you need, how much water there will be nor even whether you can walk to the top of the canyon. Exploration required training, equipment and a lot of sweat for what was sometimes a very small return.
We were heading into the unknown. When Nick started his abseil on a 60 meter rope, he didn’t expect the cliff to be over 90 metres. He only found that out when he was, well, literally at the end of his rope. Due to the slope of the cliff wall and the water, he was out of sight and unable to signal to us. The first person to be where he was, dangling over an abyss, this was true exploration.
Whether Nick appreciated his fleeting moment of pure exploration or just sunk into hysteria (It should be mentioned that Nick is scared of heights), we will never know. Prusiking back up and penduluming over to a ledge, he was finally able to use the drill he had dutifully carried for weeks. Now all we needed to do was to make sure we could pull down the 60 meter rope he had used to get to the ledge so we could continue. Continue and not spend the night on a cramped, cold ledge.
The canyon, which we later dubbed “My special place” was the pick of Canyons for the trip. Its high flow through unusual rock in a dry area made it totally unique. It was an open canyon down a cliff-face overlooking tableland, presenting stunning views all the way down the canyon.
“My Special Place” Canyon
There were many beautiful moments and exciting abseils among the three weeks of exploration. In my opinion, there were three new canyons which I would deem to have been “discovered” and that I would be proud to suggest to people. While many others while sharing their beauty were not enough to justify the work to get to them. But our standards were pretty high.
On our final day, we geared up to explore one last canyon that Nick’s father had spotted from Google maps. We nicknamed it leviathan. A waterfall so large it could be seen from space. Packing all the things and leaving early, it seemed to be a perfect way to round off our Tasmanian Exploration adventure.
Leviathan from Google Maps
Unfortunately that was when the Tasmanian forest fires started. The fires almost surrounded us that day after 40 flared up overnight. They would eventually burn down as much as 11 000 Hectares of World Heritage Area., the majority of which will not grow back. One fire scoured through an area where we had explored two of our three new canyons, and the fate of their rainforests remains unknown. While we’d been excited to be the first to see some areas, we had never thought for a second that we might be the last.
Just another reason to get out there and explore.
A 3:00 am alpine start is hard. I really didn’t think anything would make that right. But sitting on top of The Sentinel for lunch did. While I didn’t ask, I’m pretty sure that it made all the work Alex put into organizing the trip alright as well.
What made skiing the Sentinel memorable was being able to ski such a well-defined stand alone peak literally top to bottom. From our lunch spot on the pinnacle we skied down past the tree level through increasingly thick shrubs finally stopping in the valley at a fast flowing creek.
A week of preparation and more than a day of touring used in two minutes of downhill exhilaration.