Sunday, 25 October 2015

Upping The Ante

Peer Pressure  Pushes Our Buttons

With the arrival of Deidre and James we have found ourselves inevitably increasing our efforts on the climbing front. (Those young folks sure are good for motivating us old codgers!) It's been great having them around as they've raised the energy level significantly. We actually got out on the rock four times in the past week and have started climbing a little harder than what we'd been doing for the previous couple of weeks.

We've tended to go together to a particular area and do some climbs adjacent to one another. The other day we finished up on top of the Left Watchtower Face and took a group photo ...

Still Climbing After All These Years!
Before anyone - including you, Tony! - gets all excited, yes I was wearing a helmet while climbing. It's in my left hand and I've taken it off because it was pretty warm and we are about to head down via a path. No problems.
(Aside time. The shirt I've got on has the logo of the old Canadian Air Force before it was subsumed into the new, amalgamated Canadian Armed Forces.) I got it as a nod to my dear old mom and dad who met in the Canadian Air Force about 65 years ago. So here's to you, Mom and Dad!)

Yesterday was our best day out so far. The four of us headed over to the Pharos area. Di started the two of us off on Oceanoid ... (if you look closely you can spot Di in the top third of the photo wearing her Darth Vader gear. Looking at the photo full size will give much more detail).

Di on Oceanoid
... while Deidre and James climbed the delightful Coming On Chris nearby.

We then swapped routes and I led my first 16 since I ruptured my Achilles tendon and smashed my ankle 10 months ago. It felt pretty good to start dealing with a bit more technicality again. 

From there we went round into the shade at Preludes Wall. Di was inspired to lead the wonderful Rosy Shy, which she did really well. She has now become my official Rope Gun for this trip. We then went over to re-acquaint ourselves with Frankenstein, a fun route and another 16 for me to run up. Deidre and James also did Rosy Shy and two more routes, making their total for the day one more than ours. I'd have been happy to do another pitch but Di reckoned she had had enough excitement for the day; she was probably right.

A Sequential Tasmanian Invasion

The fabled Mount Arapiles - one of our planet's best (if not the best) traditional climbing crags - seems to be a major drawcard for Tasmanians this spring, perhaps more than usual. Just before we arrived a couple of weeks ago a handful of our friends were over here climbing. The Natimuk Lake Cabin Fever Card-playing Brigade, mentioned in the previous post, have come and gone. During that time some other friends - grandparents and their recently minted grandchild, along with the parents of said child - spent a few days camping at the crag before retreating to the comforts of a hotel in Halls Gap. A few days ago on our way back to our little oasis we picked up a hitchhiker leaving the area who also happened to be from Tasmania - albeit via Minnesota. He informed us that there had been another dozen or so Tasmanians camped at the cliff for the past week or so. And yesterday, John Middendorf - also originally from the United States but now calling Tasmania home - wandered past on his way up to the cliff as Di and I were on our way down. I'm tempted to include Dave Gray and his partner Vanessa Wills in my tally of visiting Tasmanians, even though he doesn't currently reside on our fair island. Dave spent many years in Hobart and clearly that is where his heart is, especially with a daughter and grandchild there. He just needs to convert Vanessa to our unique way of life ...

Riding With Snakes

The day before yesterday Di and I did another great ride, which had a little sting in the tail so to speak. We needed to do another sprint training session as we missed out earlier in the week after our big ride last Sunday. We rolled out of the caravan park north along Lake Road towards the junction with Meyers Road and the point where we usually start the high intensity training  component (as inspired by Catalyst) of whatever ride we're doing. The conditions were very pleasant so we decided to continue into Horsham and back into Natimuk along the Wimmera Highway. We were both feeling pretty good by the time we got into town so we decided to have a short break at the café, refill our water bottles extend the pleasure. This is what our ride ended up looking like ...

Another Fine Ride on the Wimmera Plains
About 10 kilometres before we finished a brown snake decided to launch across the road in front of us. I managed to avoid it but Di - who was just behind and to my left - ran straight over it. I looked back over my shoulder to see it tangled up in her rear wheel, going round and round before finally falling free. We both thought it was about a metre long. It must have had some length to it as, Di was whiplashed on her lower back on one of the rotations it made whilst entangled in her wheel. Luckily it didn't get a chance to sink its fangs in! Anyway, after that excitement we realised that we could get 100 kilometres in if we rode past camp for 500 metres or so and then back. It's kinda nice to round things off, don't you think?

More Fun On The Rock

The other day we convinced James and Deidre they should shrug off their sport climbing hair shirts and get on some slabs, namely the Left Watchtower Face. We thought they'd enjoy the classic Creon-Tales of Brave Ulysses and we could take photos of them from a combination of Hot Flap & Siren. That didn't work out quite as well as we'd anticipated but we did get a few worthwhile images of Deidre.

Here is Deidre, feeling a little more at ease after getting a bit of protection in ...

Deidre after the crux on pitch 1
The route the two of them did is a wonderful combination of two pitches with quite different character, with the slab climbing to start giving way to steeper crack climbing. Here's James coming to grips with the crux on pitch 2 ...

James grapples with pitch 2
... and here's an image of Di pulling up to the belay at the top of pitch 2 on Hot Flap ...

The golden rule: climb the clean bits when you're on slabs!
Like many of the easy climbs at Mount Arapiles that have a bit of length to them, you can find yourself in spectacular positions.

Another pitch that James and Deidre hadn't done on that face was Argonauts, a fun little 19 high on the left end, so we set up a top rope and abseiled back to the belay station. Here are a couple of images of James leading that route ...

For me, one of the joys of climbing is being on a ledge enjoying the scenery - especially if it happens to work out that you're there with a friend or two. Tell me if you don't think I'm enjoying myself ...

Later that afternoon back at camp ...

Camping under the Pepper Trees
... we retreated to the annex of our Ultimate and celebrated a great day out in appropriate fashion ...

Say cheese!

Team D'n'D Take a Rest Day

Sadly for James and Deidre - and for us - they had to go back to work, and left early this morning. Di and I had thought that we might have a hike in the Grampians today, but the forecast hot and windy weather put us off. After four quality days of exercise and some pretty solid therapy for my ankle we decided that a cruisy day was in order. My foot could use a rest and Di had a few slightly sore muscles from her exertions yesterday. She had a bit of a nana nap mid morning while I played around with some images on the computer. Later on we went into Natimuk to have another look at an exhibition of bird paintings in the gallery. We had another great chat with the painter and her husband about various birds. Di then arranged to have a bespoke painting done, based on one of the pictures in the gallery.  Next it was on to the café for a cooling iced coffee. Happily for us we ran into our friend Esther, who has invited us to dinner on Tuesday night. Brilliant! We are just relaxing in the camper now out of the heat, plotting our amusements for tomorrow. It's meant to cool off significantly so it should be another good day for exercise. A fair bit of wind means that climbing is a better option than cycling, so we've started to toss over the merits of various options. We will probably do something a little easier and longer just to have a fun day and work out a few of the kinks accumulated over the past few days.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Connecting ...

A Rendezvous with Friends

Since my last post our friends Deidre and James have arrived from Sydney to spend a week with us climbing at Mount Arapiles and camping at the "lake". Today we all had a rest from physical exertions and went to Horsham for breakfast and to do some shopping. Here's a photo of Di, James and Deidre chilling out in one of the many cafés in the Wimmera's main city ...

James and Deidre are much more talented and serious than Di and I are about our climbing, although they haven't been spending much time on the rock in the past few years. This is good because they've been happy to keep the two of us company as we bumble our way around. 

On The Bikes

My ankle still isn't ready to climb more than two or three days a week so the day before yesterday Di and I set off to ride to Edenhope and back. Actually, we decided to go through the town and a little way further along the road so that we could get a full 150 kilometres in by the time we got back to camp. It was a superb day for it: almost no wind and nice cool conditions for most of the journey. I was a little surprised to find that my ankle was getting a little sore from the riding by about the 100 kilometre mark as it hasn't been bothering me on the bike. Perhaps the extra strain of climbing is causing the soreness as my the joint gets tired. Hopefully it will settle down again soon. 

At The Crag

We've had a couple of days climbing since the last post, including a couple of easy routes on Tiger Wall yesterday morning and, the other day,  a bunch of easy routes at Mitre Rock we hadn't done before. I've been pretty slack about taking photos but Deidre has been doing the right thing. She took this photo of Dianne and me at the bottom of the crag today ...

She also got this great photo of a skink showing us how easy it is to climb on this rock if you know what you're doing ...

We've been having lots of fun as shown in this photo Deidre took at the top of those routes we did the other day ...

Yes, the sun has been shining in the Wimmera!

Six other friends have also arrived from Hobart. They come in various combinations once or twice every year for a week or so, staying together in the two cabins here at the caravan park,  ticking as many climbs as they can during the day and playing cards at night.  This time it's Stu, Justin, Dave, John, Alex and Bob. It's just occurred to me that Di and I have known Stu, Dave and Justin for about thirty years, and Alex and Bob for about two-thirds of that time. John joined the climbing scene more recently - like about 10 years ago! Here they all are, briefly pausing the non-stop cards for me so I can take this photo ...

Justin, Bob, John, Alex, Stu and Dave

Out On The Land

Our friend Peter - who hails from Horsham - has been home visiting his parents for a few days and suggested we might like to spend a bit of time out at one of the farms and then have a meal with his folks. We met in Horsham and then drove south of Horsham out to one of their three properties. Pete's dad Ray and Pete's brother Andrew were just finishing off drafting up a bunch of ewes and lambs to separate them from each other and then dock the tails of the lambs.

It was great to get an experience of seeing first hand part of the process of managing sheep. These particular animals are bred and raised for their superfine Merino fleece. Here's a photo with the lambs all drafted up together, wondering where their mums have got to ...

Andrew and Ray jointly manage the three properties. Ray is a pretty amazing guy. He's 80 years old and still going to work pretty much every day. He introduced us to his dog Bill, who is about the same age in dog years. Ray reckons Bill is starting to slow up and that "it'll be a dead heat between the two of them" to see who drops off the pace first. Here's a little video of the two of them wandering over to where the ewes have been let go now that the lambs have been separated off ...

It was a real treat talking to Ray on the way back to Horsham for dinner. He told us a lot about the development of the district and the way they run their properties, significantly enriching our understanding of the place. It turns out that his forebears were the original settlers in the Natimuk district almost 150 years ago, selecting a property just on the outskirts of the current Natimuk township. Ray has erected a memorial on the spot to honour that fact ...

Unbeknown to us Noreen,  Pete's mum's, happened to be celebrating her 79th birthday. Lucky we brought flowers! We had a great meal with them and were very pleased to have the opportunity to share the occasion. Both of Pete's parents are still as sharp as razors. We were pretty amazed and will be very grateful if our faculties are still in such good nick when we're their ages. Here's a photo of Pete and his parents together ...

Of course at 55 Peter is still just a youngster but judging from the genetic material  he's working with he's got many good years ahead.

As I sit  here typing this the rain is falling on the canvas of our camper trailer. It sounds great, but unfortunately for the crop farmers it is too late to do any good. As Ray explained, with the dry conditions and unseasonably hot spring weather most of their crops will have dried off in the stalks and this means that the sap can't get to the heads to fill them out. 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Winging It in the Wimmera

A Walk in the Grampians

We've been hanging around Natimuk for almost a fortnight now, playing various games. It would be nice to be doing more climbing but my ankle gets pretty sore after a few easy pitches so it's a matter of gently, gently for the time being. The upside of this - particularly from Di's point of view - is that we are not getting jaded with climbing, and are mixing our activities up pretty well.

Yesterday we had a walk in the Grampians. Anyone who is very familiar with that area would know that it is a mecca for climbers and hikers, but that there have also been horrific fires through the park in the past few years. Much of the park infrastructure was obliterated in the fires that raged through the area in 2013 and 2014. Many areas around the fringes of the park were hit very hard, including the town of Wartook was devastated in 2013, and then again last year when 27 homes were destroyed.  (I have some photos of the aftermath of those fires in this post from my Of Cockatoos and Kangaroos blog).

Parks Victoria has been doing a great job of re-establishing trails and rebuilding various other bits of infrastructure, like picnic tables, toilet blocks and so forth. The facilities at Zumsteins, from where we commenced our walk, are just about back to where they were before the big burn that turned this beautiful area into a blackened wasteland. There is a lovely, short walk from here up to MacKenzie Falls along the MacKenzie River. We'd never done it before but thought we'd check it out this year. Here's a view of the falls themselves ...

MacKenzie Falls
Not a great photo, but the light was against me.

It's a very easy and pleasant stroll along the banks of the river and only about 4 kilometres each way. You can extend the effort significantly by walking up the steps beside the falls to the top, where a café stood before it was wiped out in the 2013 fires. There is also a side trip of 700 metres or so to a lookout.

Along the way to MacKenzie Falls one also passes a smaller waterfall called Fish Falls ...

Fish Falls
There are numerous places along the way where one can dip one's toes to cool them off if walking on a warmish day. However, I'd recommend strolling along this route either nice and early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Both would be better for walking conditions and photo opportunities. One would also be much more likely to see wildlife - perhaps even a platypus or two.


With the dry winter and spring and unusually hot conditions there doesn't seem to be so much wildlife out and about, although we've heard about a number of snake sightings. One beast that's in abundance around Mount Arapiles at the moment is the Stumpy Lizard, more officially known as the Shingleback Lizard. We saw quite a few of them the day we wandered around the gullies. Here's a photo I took on the way up Pharos Gully ...

Stumpy Lizard
It just occurred to me that we haven't seen any wallabies or kangaroos on any of our rides, walks or drives so far on this trip, so I guess they must be hiding out from the heat, or their numbers have simply retracted due to continued dry conditions.

Winging It

The bird life too is much diminished with the dry conditions. The swamp hens which were present in their hundreds at Natimuk Lake a couple years ago and in fewer but still relatively prolific numbers last year have completely disappeared. At the lake there are small numbers of Scarlet Rosellas, Galas, Red-rumped Parrots, Willy Wagtails, Superb Blue Wrens, Wattle Bitds and some small Thornbills.  Every morning and evening we hear Kookaburras. They like it when Di plays her whistle and usually join in. And there is a Southern Boobook nearby that starts calling once night falls and continues well through the night. There aren't many Magpies around camp but we see plenty when we are out on our bikes, but they haven't been dive bombing us the way the were in the latter part of our journey across Australia. Our impression so far is that there are fewer birds around, both at the Mount and here at the lake, than we've seen on pretty much all our previous visits.

Other Diversions

Our fortnight here so far has consisted of four walks, five bike rides, four days of climbing and one day of rest. Today could have also been a rest day, but Di insisted we must keep to our training regime and do our sprints on the bikes, so we had a short ride primarily for that reason. Tomorrow will be another climbing day, and we are looking forward in the evening to the arrival of our friends Deidre and James for a week of socialising and some climbing. We might even be able to inveigle them into a walk with us.

We are also looking forward to the Nati Frinj Biennale, which will transform Natimuk for the last weekend in October. The town will come alive with lots of weird and wonderful events. Di seems particularly fascinated by the Manly Man's Workshop, but it's secret men's business and she's not allowed in! Another thing that might provide an afternoon's diversion is the Wimmera German Fest.  Could be fun. Oompah, oompah oompah pay!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Going to Goroke

A Serendipitous Day

Dianne and I are spending a bit of time out in the Wimmera at Natimuk, mixing up some climbing, cycling and walking. We'd booked the ferry back in November to come out in March for our regular climbing pilgrimage to Mount Arapiles and the Grampians. But then I ruptured my Achilles and smashed up my ankle, so we ended up riding across the continent instead. Although we would like to be doing more climbing my ankle is still not up to much so a mixed regime seems like a good idea. Besides, we've been reinfected with the cycling bug and don't want to be away from our bikes!

Conditions looked favourable for a slightly longer ride yesterday so we decided to ride to Goroke and back.  From where we are at the Natimuk Lake Caravan Park to Goroke is just under 50 kilometres so our plan was to ride just past the town and then back in to refill our water, have a little pause and a small snack before returning to our base at Natimuk Lake. (The lake has dried up completely now after filling in 2011 following extensive rain and flooding throughout Central Australia in 2010.) Despite not being fully cognisant of the true direction of travel things worked out well as far as the wind went. Here's what our route looked like ...

Natimuk Lake Caravan Park to Goroke
As you can see from the image the landscape is almost completely turned over to agriculture - broad acre farming with lots of wheat, canola and bean crops. Sadly, this year is proving to be very dry (we heard that they haven't had any rain in Goroke since August) and many of the farmers are starting to bale up their crops. Otherwise much of it will just die off. This way they will at least get something for their investment of time and money.

The terrain is largely flat out this way  (from memory I think there was just over 400 metres of climbing over the 100 kilometres of the return journey), conditions were fairly still and we were able to spin along at a pleasant pace without too much heavy breathing, which was pretty much what we had in mind for our morning's outing. Actually, there is some lovely cycling to be had out here in the Wimmera on a network of quiet country roads. The only downside is that towns are few and far between so loops are more difficult to contemplate because of the scarcity of opportunities to refill water bottles.

The serendipitous aspect of yesterday's journey was that, unbeknown to us, there just happened to be a vintage and classic car rally on in Goroke, the centre of the magnificently wide main street was lined with perhaps a hundred old vehicles. The highlight for me was a 1929 Rugby coupé. It looked something like this ...

What really caught my eye were the wooden spokes. According to information posted on front of the vehicle it was found in a shed in 1936 and transported to another shed where it lay idle for another 39 years before being restored. There was also a Canadian flag sticker on the windscreen but the owner wasn't about so I couldn't ask him about the connection.

The ride back was very pleasant and we finished up averaging just on 26 kilometres per hour. I know that's not at all impressive but, considering that we didn't draft at all and were mostly cruising alongside one another chatting and finished the ride feeling pretty good, we are pleased with the overall pace. An iced coffee at the Natimuk Café followed by a swim in a newly-discovered waterhole just nearby the caravan park segued quite nicely into lunch and a relaxing afternoon of reading.