International Mountain Day 2015

It’s bigger than Christmas, Easter, St Pat’s Day and birthdays (well, yours not mine, of course…).

Today is International Mountain Day, a celebration of those big pointy things that cover around 20% of the Earth’s land and, once loved, are never far from your heart. Here’s a little photographic ode to some of the mountains that I consider family…

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

 

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Possibly my favourite mountain range in the world, inhabited by the likes of gelada baboons and Ethiopian wolves and with escarpments that drop up to 2000 metres into the heat-hazed lowlands below. Spectacular at every step.

The Eiger, Switzerland

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It pretty much spawned the term ‘North Face’ for the epic wall that rises above the Grindelwald valley. I’ve told my kids that if we get a dog we should call it Eiger… they seem less sold on the idea than me.

Ngauruhoe, New Zealand

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I’m a sucker for a good volcano, and Ngauruhoe sure fits the bill. The central volcano of a trio across the Central Plateau of New Zealand’s North Island, it’s as classically volcanic as it gets… and a little bit Mordor, as the Lord of the Rings films proved.

Torres del Paine, Chile

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Pretty much the prototype for rugged mountains the world over. The trio of towers – the Torres – is just a taster of the greater massif and its cuernos (horns), glaciers and narrow valleys.

Frenchmans Cap, Australia

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One of Tasmania’s most prominent mountains, Frenchmans Cap really is like family, after I climbed it with my then 10-year-old daughter a couple of years back. There’s something very special about a shared time like that.

Ama Dablam, Nepal

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If I get to climb just one 6000-metre-plus peak in life, I want it to be Ama Dablam, the thumb-shaped mountain that you pass on the way to Everest. It actually makes Everest look a little passé, really.

Guangzi, China

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They’re not high and nobody is scrambling to attain epic first ascents here, but the limestone peaks that angle out from the banks of the Li River are really quite the lookers.

El Capitan & Half Dome, USA

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Rock stars in every sense, El Cap and Half Dome dominate everything around the Yosemite Valley and half the world’s climbing stories. If I had the climbing skills, I’d happily call Camp 4 home.

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Top 10 Cycle Tours: (#7) Camino de Santiago

If your idea of a pilgrim is someone in a robe and sandals carrying a staff and a Jesus beard, think again. The modern pilgrim might just as easily be wearing Lycra and SPD shoes.

For centuries, Christian pilgrims have been shuffling across Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago towards the supposed remains of St James, Christendom’s first martyr, beneath the cathedral in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. In recent years, they’re being overtaken – literally and figuratively – by bikes, with statistics suggesting suggest that up to 20% of all Camino pilgrimages are now made by cyclists. I’ve been one of them, and it’s a ride so good I’ve lost all desire to ever walk the Camino. Continue reading

Top 10 Cycle Tours: (#8) Central Vietnam

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A select few places in the world are synonymous with cycling. Vietnam is one of them. Think of this country and you might invariably picture a worker in a conical hat pedalling across rice levees, or girls in ao dan dress riding rigid old fixies to school.

The appeal of the place on a bike has spread across borders. Vietnam is one of the best-selling – if not the best-selling – cycling destinations for cycling tour operators in Australia. For many, bike travel in Vietnam is very much a when-in-Rome (or Hanoi) experience. Continue reading

Top 10 Cycle Tours: (#9) Luberon

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This post has been a while coming, but then it’s a long ride from the last entry in this list – New Zealand – to the foothills of the French Alps…

I came to the Luberon pretty much by accident. Partway through a five-month cycle trip across Europe, I was riding from France’s Mediterranean coast, angling towards Burgundy. But as I was crawling north, the mistral was blasting south. This great bastard of a wind is one of the most maddening in Europe – some suggest it was the nuisance of the mistral that caused Vincent van Gogh to lop off his own ear. Fittingly, as I reached the foot of the Luberon, after days of being lashed by the mistral, I was almost in spitting distance of the asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence where van Gogh was incarcerated. Continue reading

Top 10 Cycle Tours: (#10) Otago Rail Trail

Last year I posted my top 10 mountain treks across the world. Now there’s a sequel – my favourite 10 cycle journeys.

Over the past 15 years I’ve toured long distances on four continents, from the highest roads in the world to long stretches at sea level, from open highways to some of the roughest tracks in existence. It’s taken me across tens of thousands of kilometres of roads and tracks, which also means there are millions of roads still out there. It is inevitably, then, a limited and biased list. But hey, ain’t they all. Continue reading

The Caped Crusaders

South Cape2 You know a hike is going well when a nine-year-old boy turns to you in camp in the evening and announces, “I just realised, I haven’t complained once today.” Last weekend I took my two children for an overnight hike to South Cape Rivulet on Tasmania’s south coast. Near to the southernmost tip of Tasmania – and thus Australia – it’s part of the famed South Coast Track, though we were only walking the equivalent of the first or last day of that track. The longer version – a challenging 86-kilometre mud and beach slog – is something I’ve told them they might be ready for when they’re about 15 years of age. For now, we were just getting a taster. It was to be our first overnight hike together – the three of us – which is my way of saying, the first time I was prepared to carry two tents, and food for three, on my back. We drove to the southernmost road end in the country – Cockle Creek – and continued south on foot. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of the Eiger

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For rent: Private snow cave with Alpine views and running water.
I spent much of yesterday traversing the slopes of the mighty Eiger, walking its length along the base of the famed North Face. It was one of my mountain-groupie moments, where I got to touch a true rock star.
Even after a full summer, snow packs remained plastered against the Eiger’s cliffs, including this stunning bit of natural architecture. The snow had been eroded from within by the flow of a melt stream seeping down the walls of the North Face. Standing inside, the ‘window’ opened to a view across the Grindelwald valley to Schwarzhorn and Faulhorn.
The traverse was something of a side journey I made on my final day of a hike between Engelberg and Lauterbrunnen. Over four days I’ve walked about 80 kilometres and, with my pathological need to take the highest route, climbed and descended more than 5000 metres. My knees suddenly creak like rusty hinges.
The hike I’ve been doing is the self-guided Alpine Pass Route trip operated by UTracks (I get to walk alone, they get to cart my bag to the next hotel – win/win, as far as I’m concerned). It’s been a stunning walk in every regard – who couldn’t be happy with the Eiger, Wetterhorn and Jungfrau as hiking companions? Thoroughly recommend it.
Back in my snow pack on the Eiger, the melt continued. The stream rolled on through the cave, and water dripped from its ceiling, soaking me in minutes – this private bit of snow real estate even came with its own shower.

Friday Foto: Engstlensee, Switzerland

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As I write this, I’m in Switzerland, walking across a chunk of the country, beginning in Engelberg and ending several passes away in Lauterbrunnen.
So much of the walk is about mountains, and famed ones at that. Titlis is now behind me, the Wetterhorn has been my near-constant companion, and yesterday came my first view of the mighty Eiger and its north face. Monch and Jungfrau lie ahead.
As I savoured my first view of the Eiger yesterday afternoon I was also drawn to one of its adjacent mountains, Schwarzhorn. Only after a few minutes did I realise why my eyes and mind were so taken by this ramped summit – 16 years ago, on my last visit to Switzerland, I’d climbed this mountain. Memory isn’t always my strong suit.
But this hike hasn’t all been mountains. For a time out of Engelberg it was a walk connecting the dots – the high alpine lakes that offer such a gentle contrast to the glaciers and rocky summits. Trubsee led to Engstlensee, which led to Tannensee, each one as still as paintings.
This shot is of Engstlensee, just a few minutes’ walk from where I bedded down on the first night of the hike. Titlis rose high above its shores and a shaft of momentary light lit a small peninsula and its farmhouse.
Within minutes the mountains, the farmhouse and the lake were swallowed by cloud. I wandered back to my home for the night into a whiteout.

* Adventure before Avarice is hiking the self-guided option of the Alpine Pass Route with UTracks.

Friday Foto: Tiptoeing through the Speargrass

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The Northern Territory has been my second home this winter. I’ve just returned from my third visit to the Top End, including two walking trips into Kakadu, Australia’s largest terrestrial national park, covering an area just a tad smaller than Israel or Slovenia.

It’s a land that doesn’t run to typical timeframes. Here, the Aboriginal people recognise six seasons and you can’t tear a sheet from a calendar to find the changes of season. Instead, it’s nature that tells you when things are on the turn. Continue reading