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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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

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).

Friday Foto: Carnarvon Gorge

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In the vast yellow sweep that is western Queensland, grand natural features are few and far between. Cattle stations disappear across the horizon and black-soil plains struggle to hold trees, let alone mountains or other defining characteristics.

Among the few exceptions, Carnarvon Gorge is probably the most striking. A deep gash through sandstone hills, it’s a canvas of ancient Aboriginal art. Cycads and fan palms cover its banks, and white cliffs tower up to 200 metres above Carnarvon Creek. The gorge itself is stunning, but most of its key attractions – the Moss Garden, Amphitheatre, the Art Gallery and Ward’s Canyon – are squirrelled away in side gorges. Explore them all and it requires about 22 kilometres of walking. But even if you do explore them all, you won’t have seen everything. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Hidden Tongariro Valley

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Walking on a trail can be like threading a line between words in a book – you only see part of the story. Move off the line – read the entire page – and a place expands and changes, developing new shapes, angles and experiences as you step through untracked land.

In a forest or in heavily mountainous country, you quickly sense the possibility of this change if you were to step away from the trail. On my recent visit to New Zealand, however, I discovered there can be just as much shift in an open, barren landscape such as that around the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Blyde River Canyon

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How long is a piece of string? How large is a canyon?

Visit almost any great or grand canyon in the world and there’ll be some kind of chest-beating claim about its size. It’ll be the largest in the world, or on the continent, or its depth will be compared to the Grand Canyon since we’re all desperate to know how it measures up against the most famous slot of all. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Three Hummock Island

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Every adventure deserves a cosy cave in which to recuperate at the end, and few places stand more enticingly off the modern grid than Three Hummock Island.

Pinched between King Island and the northwest tip of Tasmania, in the wild waters of Bass Strait, it plays to the notion of the deserted island that sits deep in the travel psyche. Only its two managers, John and Beverley O’Brien, live on the 70-square-kilometre island, surrounded by dense mobs of kangaroos and squadrons of Cape Barren geese. One night I bumped – literally – into a little penguin wandering past my room. Planes land in a propeller-churned flurry of feathers and roo poo in a former paddock, and 30 empty beaches ring its edge, all lined with bouldery headlands.

It’s a place that inspired a rather famous Italian named Guiseppe Garibaldi to quixotically write: ‘O desert island of the Hunter Group – how many times have you pleasantly excited my imagination. When tired of this civilized society, so full of tyrants and gendarmes, I have often transported myself in my imagination into your gracious bosom.’

Last week I spent a few days on the island and, to me, you can keep the likes of Bermuda, Boracay or the Maldives. I’ll take the wildlife, vast night skies and utter solitude of Three Hummock Island any time.

Friday Foto: Mt Anne, a great Abel

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Far-reaching mountain quests – aka peak bagging – are universal. Scotland famously has its Munros (mountains above 3000 metres in height), Colorado has its 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet) and Japan has its 100 Famous Mountains. Even tiny Tasmania has a stake in this world of mountain missions, with its own list of chart-topping peaks known as the Abels. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Kopra Ridge, Nepal

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It’s hard to believe that commercial trekking has existed for less than 50 years in Nepal. Everest Base Camp has become a name that encompasses almost all trekking ambitions, and Kathmandu has ballooned into a city that barely fits its own clothes.

But even in just five decades the trekking landscape in Nepal has evolved enormously. In recent years wifi has sneaked into the mountains and valleys, and roads have all but devoured the famed Annapurna Circuit, which was once the most popular trek in Nepal.  If the Circuit is close to dead, however, the Annapurnas are not. Annapurna Base Camp has lost none of its lure, and new trekking routes are arising, including Kopra Ridge. Continue reading