A Trio of New Australian Walking Trails

Like a gift to the person who’s walked everywhere, Australia is on the cusp of launching three new long-distance hiking trails. Before the end of next year, bushwalkers will be able to hike not just the old faithfuls – the Overland Track, the Larapinta Trail, the Prom – but also the following new trails in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. 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

Long Walk, Little Legs

Andrew Bain with daughter Kiri on the Overland Track

For all the dozens of hiking trails and thousands of kilometres I’ve hiked, one experience stands high above all others. It was the week I spent walking Tasmania’s Overland Track in the company of my then nine-year-old daughter. It was probably the heaviest pack I’ve ever carried, and the slowest I’ve ever walked, but there was something entirely refreshing and revealing about seeing the world through young eyes again. Over the course of 65 kilometres and one week, I watched a child absorb the wilderness and come to feel at one with it. Continue reading

Friday Foto: 17 Mile Falls

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Another recent moment from the Jatbula Trail in the Northern Territory’s Nitmiluk National Park, where once again a hot day of walking ended with the welcome relief of water.

This is 17 Mile Falls, base camp for our third night on the 65-kilometre-long trail along the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment. In the heat, we’d pushed hard through the day and arrived into camp, which is at the head of this waterfall, by lunchtime. With an afternoon to play, I set out to find a way to the base of the falls, eventually following a couple of ledges down through the cliffs to the pool at the bottom. A quick and happily fruitless search for crocodile slides or other evidence of biting handbags told us we had the place to ourselves.

Towards sunset we returned again to the base of the falls in an effort to get this photograph with the sun gone from the cliffs. What appeared to be a thin stream of water at the top fell like a storm at the bottom. Water sprayed through the valley and slowly the last light of the day drained from the world.

I was reminded of more celebrated waterfalls in nearby Kakadu National Park, except that we shared this one with nobody and it took three days to walk here. It was worth every step.

* Adventure before Avarice travelled courtesy of Tourism NT and World Expeditions, which operates a six-day Jatbula Trail guided hike ($1895).

How Children Walk Differently to Adults

Those who’ve been following this blog until now will know the importance I place on introducing children to the outdoors, hopefully generating a love for the natural world and confidence in their own self-sufficiency.

Last week I spent four days hiking with my 10-year-old daughter, climbing to the summit of Frenchmans Cap, one of the most prominent mountains in Tasmania. I then took my eight-year-old son for a three-day hike around Freycinet Peninsula, circuiting its beaches and crossing the summit of Mt Graham. Continue reading

Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#1)

It seems suitable to wrap up the year with the final, and top, pick in my selection of the 10 finest mountain trails I’ve had the privilege to trek. My favourite trek over the many pairs of boots I’ve worn out is in Ethiopia, atop the mountain range known as the Roof of Africa.

The Simien Mountains aren’t the highest peaks in Africa, though at 4550m Ras Dashen is often claimed as the fourth-highest on the continent (which conveniently overlooks a few unnamed peaks in the Ruwenzori). But it’s not the head-spinning glory of altitude that elevates the Simiens to the head of my list. It’s the headiness of its escarpment, combined with the life – both human and animal – that’s scratched out on its plateau. Continue reading

Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#2) Monte FitzRoy

It’s a pretty short journey from No 3 in my list of mountain treks to No 2. From Torres del Paine National Park you need only skip across the border into Argentina to find yourself at the foot of Monte FitzRoy, less than 200km away. Perhaps the single-most impressive mountain I’ve had the pleasure to ogle, FitzRoy is an enormous bubble of rock – its summit escarpment is more than 1km in height – rising out of the fierce Patagonian Andes.

It’s been 10 years since I hiked here, and still the walk and the landscape live with me. It was a hike of both expectation and frustration, since I walked for almost a week in FitzRoy’s shadow before the clouds parted to grant a glimpse of the mountain I’d travelled half the world to see. Continue reading