The Italian Dollarmites

The Italian Dollarmites

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. 

 

 

 

Back at the Campfire

Back at the Campfire

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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.

Going Down in Tasmania

Going Down in Tasmania

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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.

 

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.

 

17th Annual Midwinter Feast

17th Annual Midwinter Feast

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.

Because the skiing on this ski trip sucked.

 

Canyoning Newnes

Canyoning Newnes

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Its been a while since I tried a completely new sport.  Not that I don’t love to do it from time to time.  But just keeping skill levels up on the sports that I have already committed to takes a lot of time.  Learning to canyon has some attractive incentives however. I am able to re use a lot of gear and skills already acquired through kayaking and rafting.  It also offers to teach me rope skills, something that I have been meaning to improve for quite a while.

The biggest carrot  dangled in front of me however has been the plans for exploratory canyoning in Tasmania.  Just the thought gives me goosebumps.  How often do you get the chance to go truly explore something new?

In preparation for this endeavor I have been signing up for as many trips as possible.  Over the Canberra day long weekend the ANU mountaineering club put on a three day canyoning extravaganza.  A crash course in canyoning.

A big benefit of canyoning is that it leaves plenty of time for photographers.  You do not need to stop the entire group in order to photograph the action.  There are plenty of bottlenecks created by the abseils that leave plenty of time. Perfect for photographers.  In fact the first day seemed like more of a  photography group than a canyoning group.  All but one of us carried a camera.  At one point we were in a photographer menage a trois, three photographers taking photos of each other taking photos.

Starlight

 

Nightmare seemed to be one long abseil.  Gab revelled in the rope work but it gave me plenty of time to scout photography angles.  I was also surprised to find that Nick admitted to being scared of heights.  Obviously he was not too scared as you can see in these photos.

 Nightmare:

Our last canyon was Devils Pinch and probably my favorite.  Being the wettest canyon it was the only day where putting on a wet-suit was actually worth while.  Some of the party decided to wait until the wetsuit was absolutely necessary leading to some amusing water dodging antics.

Devils Pinch:

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