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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The New Publishing Sensation…

My favourite young adventurer – aka my daughter – has made her first mark on the publishing world.

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Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service has just produced a walking guide for children on the Overland Track, titled ‘My Overland Track Journey! For Young Adventurers’. It’s filled with track facts (poo and paw type stuff), field-guide material, challenges, diary pages and quizzes. It’s designed for kids to carry on the track, filling it out as the days roll out through the Tasmanian mountains.

Part of the research for the booklet was done by my then-nine-year-old daughter when we hiked the Overland Track together last year. At the end of each walking day, she’d pull her notebook from her backpack – like father, like daughter – and jot down ideas and thoughts for the booklet. She’d sit quietly in the huts or in our tent – stopping only to count the number of leeches crawling over the tent fly – and scribble suggestions she thought might appeal to other young walkers.

Her favourite moment...

Her favourite moment…

She proudly now has her own copy of the booklet, her ideas solidified in print, and is part-horrified, part-chuffed that it’s filled with photos of her along the track. In her own way, she’s left her indelible mark on the outdoors experience along Tasmania’s most famous walking trail.

And in a neat twist, one of the first kids who’ll get to sample her work is her younger brother, when he and I hike the Overland Track together this coming summer. This booklet, and her work, may just have made my life easier for a week.

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: Crystal Falls

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After hours of walking through 36-degree heat, you can probably imagine the feeling when you get to drop backpacks at a spot like this.

I spent most of last week hiking on the Jatbula Trail, a 65-kilometre route along the Arnhem Land escarpment in the Northern Territory’s Nitmiluk National Park. Each day boiled with heat, but every one of them ended beside water. This particular stop was at a run of cascades just above the point where Crystal Falls tumble off the escarpment. It was the end of our second day of walking – a long stretch of open savannah woodland suddenly split by a rush of water.

We strung our mosquito nets – our homes for the week – a metre or two from the water and then cooled the afternoon away, swimming upstream, clambering through cascades just to see what lay beyond. The night air was colder than the water, and a near-full moon hovered in the sky like a reading lamp. By morning, when this photo was taken, the river was steaming through the chill like some sort of natural soup. The lilies that carpeted the water’s edge were still to yawn open and the citrusy light of dawn was slowly seeping through the valley.

The heat was coming fast behind, and we were setting off again along the escarpment in search of another waterfall and more cooling water.

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

Friday Foto: The Wombat that Crashed

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Narawntapu National Park is rather fancifully known as the ‘Serengeti of Tasmania’ for the profusion of its wildlife. The critters in this park on Tasmania’s north coast, once known less romantically as Asbestos Range National Park, aren’t lions or elephants, but most commonly wallabies and wombats that browse each dawn and dusk through its open, grassy plains.

A few days ago, approaching dusk, I lay in the grass and flowers observing this wombat, one of around half-a-dozen that were in sight. I lay still for so long that the wombat eventually forgot I was there. As it grazed, it moved to within a metre of where I lay, the sound of the tearing grass growing louder as it came. Something happened, something outside of the wombat and me – a twitch in the wind? the distant movement of a wallaby? – and the wombat bolted. It did so without looking up and, before I had a chance to move, it ran headlong into my camera and my shoulder.

I’d been attacked (of sorts) in the Serengeti and I lived to tell the tale…

Travel Writing Awards

Last weekend the Australian Society of Travel Writers held its annual awards, and I was honoured to pick up two gongs: one for the best story about Australia (over 1000 words), and the other for the best international story (under 1000 words). I was also a finalist in two other categories, including travel photographer of the year. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Mawson Mud

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When you’re on the road, things don’t always go to plan. A couple of winters ago I set out alone to cycle the Mawson Trail, a 900-kilometre mountain-bike route from the city of Adelaide deep into the Flinders Ranges. It’s arid country mostly – South Australia likes to call itself the driest state on the driest inhabited continent – and I left with the expectation that water might be my biggest issue. But I expected too little water, not too much. Continue reading