Trips can often descend into arguments and petty finger pointing. So it was refreshing that this years Cockails on the Castle started with the finger pointing. After driving down a dirt road that seemed to go on forever we finally emerged at a disturbingly familiar T junction. It was not the first time we had seen this intersection. We had driven in a complete circle. The finger pointing started.
While we had set out relatively early, our day was quickly evaporating in faff. We were in no particular hurry as surely-we thought-we would reach the top of the Castle by Sunset. We had all day, how could we not? I was particularly keen to get everyone to the top with plenty of time try a photo I had in the back of my mind. It did require that I bring excessive and heavy camera equipment.
The hike to the top of the Castle is not particularly hard, but the temperature, humidity and lack of wind took a toll. Sweat flowed, water supplies dwindled and progress slowed. We held hope for a waterfall halfway up but found it to be more of a frustrating joke. Water fell in drips that were cooling but not nearly enough to fill a water bottle.
Fortune was with us half an hour later when we found a stream with water cool enough to leave condensation on the outside of our water bottles. A glorious find!
All this was still costing us time, however. Not being up the top when the sunset happened was starting to be a possibility. Emerging at the scrambling section, we started along the ridge-line and finally spotted our final destination. The sun was entering the golden hour. Down the direction we came, the slower group who had split apart hours ago could be seen. And heard as it turns out. Mel’s voice carried with crystal clarity across the still humid air “CAN YOU SEND SOMEONE DOWN TO HELP WITH BAGS?”
No one in my group said anything.
Mel, concluding that we must not be able to hear them repeated.”CAN… YOU… SEND… SOMEONE… DOWN…TO… HELP… WITH… BAGS?”
It turned out that some were having a hard time with the humidity. In the end Ivan and I hustled down to help while the others shuttled our backpacks to the top. It was now getting to be a serious race against time to get this damn sunset shot. While there was talk about the slower group camping down on the track, everyone in the end made it up. And it would have been a shame to miss out anyone in the group shot.
Something to remember for those going on future Castle trips, however: Once you get to the top of the castle, you’re not finished. There was still some of the most serious bush bashing to go. There are few things harder to bear for a photographer than watching the light disappear. But it was happening.
There is goes.
The yellow light gave way to pink that lit the cliff-lines around the castle. But as this was happening, everyone seemed to stall. Exhaustion from the days hike, the need for a stiff drink, getting dressed in party cloths or just confusion combined to created the ultimate faff party. A faff party right on the finish line! By the time everyone was in front of the camera the sky had faded to a dirty blue. Failure!…
So why does the final photo have an orange sky? Do you really want to know? Sometimes its better not to know, so if you don’t then don’t scroll down!
Look away now, there is no going back!
Waiting for final Faffers
Faff over, but so is sunset
Photoshop to the rescue!
Castle top shenanigans.
The great think about camping out is that you are able to get two bites of the apple. Camping next to the cliff I was able to set up for a dawn time-lapse. The final results were less than professional but I guess I am a little out of practice.
Thanks to Ivan for taking my favorite photo of the trip of my camping site.
“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.
Its 1:00am in a small cabin in the Tasmanian wilderness. Nick lies on the floor covered in blood, a circle of black candles and runes form a perfect circle around him. Jess stands over him, smiling, casually playing with her cleaver. “Seriously” I think, “what the hell are we doing here?!”
Nick’s nervous face.
One of my favorite images
Redheads are souless, dont give them meat cleavers.
We are half way through the 2016 Tasploitation challenge. Our footage is almost collected; we are up to our final scenes revealing Jess for the flesh-eating succubus she really is. As she verbally unloads on her unfortunate victim ( also fiance) I wonder a little as to how she is so good at this. We certainly were not organised enough to have a script, she is not a horror fan and I only had time to give her the briefest description of what Lovecraft horror was. But there she was spouting a tirade on cannibals, Tasmanian history, old gods and scaring the crap out of us. More so Nick, who was lying under her casually held meat cleaver (we were also not organised enough to have a prop meat cleaver). I can only put it down to the fact that she was enjoying it on a lot of levels.
One of our most useful devices it turns out was a spray bottle for Nick’s face.
The Tasploitation Challenge is a 48 hour film comp where participants are given a sub genre of horror a line of script and a prop. Then its up to the team to make a six-minute film. We lucked out a bit getting Lovecraft as our subgenre. While I was the only one with film experience so to speak Nick and Jess came with some unexpected skills. Nick is a self-confessed rope nerd and was able to aid in several scenes including my hanging (which I am never doing again) and a long home-made slider which came in handy during our pivotal scene. And Jess, well-being a natural red-head is sole-less and therefore a convincing cannibalistic succubus (Oh man, I hope she doesn’t read this).
The source of the evil. The Pickled Frog hostel.
This bag smells terrible!
Our take away from this experience was that dialogue scenes are much harder than I thought. Sound is still as hard as I thought. Watch out for the wide-angle lenses for catching light stands in the shot. But most importantly, never let the cast put a hessian bag on your head and hang you from a rafter… Just don’t do it.
At the end of it all I was truly relieved when Jess and Nick said they had fun. I find often friends do not know what they had signed up for when they help me with projects and quickly regret their helpfulness.
The team has already decided to be back for the 2017 challenge. I said I would stay down in Tassie after the Christmas break. Jess has promised to watch more horror. And Nick promises not to be eaten until then.
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.
The 17th annual winter feast will be remembered as a ski trip. Because if it was not a ski trip I and a good portion of the participants walked 10km in ski boots and with skis strapped to their backpacks.
As we drove into the trailhead, none of the snow that fell the previous weekend was left on the ground. There was a fair amount of optimism over the predicted 40cm of new snow overnight. So, many of us optimistically carried our skies the 5km into the hut with the hope that we would wake up Sunday to a thick blanket fresh, white powdery snow to ski out on.
As well as being a ski trip the Midwinter Feast was a chance for everyone to breakout their favorite back-country dish to enjoy a pot luck style banquet. So at least the food and company was great.