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. 

 

 

 

Cocktails on the Castle

Cocktails on the Castle

 

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!

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.

 

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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Overland Track

Overland Track

Echo Point Hut Sunset

Echo Point Hut Sunset

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The Overland track, it turns out is a great track to do on your own.  Huts at the end of each day as well a constant stream of people passing you in case anything goes wrong. You are never really completely isolated, its kind of like a hikers highway. This is a good thing if like me you have been meaning to do the Overland for some time but could never line up trekking partners.

The huts are only one of the reasons that the Overland is easier than other walks. Just the knowledge that at the end of the day there would a roof and space to dry out was a huge comfort. The huts themselves were the best I have come across in Australia so far. But as the guide books tell you, they can fill up quickly and I was glad to have my bivy sack. Especially on the nights where there were snorers in hut. One particular night, after already moving outside I was forced to relocate again to a place closer to a river to get away from loud snoring.

While I am glad to be able to tick off the Overland I think if I were to come back to the track it would have to be in winter. There are too many other Tasmanian trails beckoning.

Sea Kayaking course Week #1

Sea Kayaking course Week #1

I love camping.  But some weekends, you don’t mind going without.  At times during last weekends ANUMC’s organised sea kayaking course the rain was so heavy it would have been drier upside down in the kayak.  Luckily, we had access to a cute little beach hut chock full of cakes, tea and warm showers.

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Sea Kayaking, a sport for all conditions.

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During heavy rain kayakers can shelter under their sea kayak

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Dave relates one of his shark stomping adventures.

But as they say in the army, “if it ain’t raining, you ain’t training”.  There was a lot of rain and we certainly did plenty of training.  Of course we covered the basics like rolling, rescues and sailing, but our instructor were keen to show us the lesser practiced skills of sea Kayaking.  Among these were Dave Winkowrths karate kid style shark stomp.  Andrew Collins explained the best ruder and braces to be used when being towed by a Walrus.  An incorrect brace could break your back, it pays to get this right.

Terry demonstrating the high brace.  Used when being towed by a Walrus

Terry demonstrating the high brace. Used when being towed by a Walrus

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Knowing the correct sea shanty during sailing is essential for morale.

I certainly had not realized that Walruses posed such a problem to sea kayakers.  luckily, we were able to practice non walrus related activities during the weekend.  While the seas were intimidating on the Sunday, Saturday provided the course with perfect beach conditions for working on our entering and exiting surf beaches.

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Terry shows how long Walrus teeth can grow.

Chris looks to catch a lift to shore

Chris looks to catch a ride to shore

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Course participants and instructors.

Despite the weathers determined effort to rain on our sea kayaking parade we were able to leave with some solid skills and look forward to part two of the course in two weeks time.  Part two will be camping for real, so less tea and coffee cake.  It is unclear how plentiful the Walrus and sharks will be.