Sunday, 17 July 2011

Gear Mini Reviews

Here’s a few of my thoughts on some new or semi-new pieces of gear that I used on my latest trip.

I picked up this single person pyramid style shelter second hand on the bushwalking forums and this was my first outing with it. The shelter uses a single walking pole to support it and uses 6 pegs to hold it down. It is made of siliconised nylon with a no-see-um shaped perimeter net that tucks under the ground sheet to provide some bug protection. One advantage of a floorless shelter is its flexibility of set up, allowing you to pitch it close to the ground in bad weather and raised higher when more ventilation is needed. On this trip I was using 4 Vargo Titanium shephards hook pegs and 2 Easton Aluminium ones for the front and back points. The camp site was fairly well protected so winds weren’t much of a problem. There were a few gusts that came through but the shelter never seemed unstable.

Bugs and rain also weren’t a problem on this trip so unfortunately (or not) I can’t comment on these aspects. I was pleased with the amount of floor space available and I was able to really spread everything out inside the shelter. There was also enough headspace to sit up at the apex comfortably. My only gripe was with the amount of head and foot space available while I lay down. I’m 185cm tall, was using a Thermarest Neo Air mattress and my head only just cleared the roof. The sleeping bag at my foot end was brushing the roof as well, which wasn’t a problem in this case without any sign of condensation. However, if it was a wet or humid night this could have transferred a significant amount of moisture to the sleeping bag. Not good for down. In the future I will experiment with pitching it even higher to try and increase this room.

SMD - Wild Oasis
I’ve been using this frameless 36L pack as a day pack for quite some time but have only tried to use it overnight once before on our ill-fated Albert River Circuit walk earlier in the year. This time my total load was around 7.5KG and I was actually very impressed with the way the pack carried. I have added some better hip belts from a Backpacking Light pack which are much more comfortable than the ones the pack came with despite being a bit heavier. The key is definitely to try and pack out the whole pack so that it is fairly rigid and doesn’t slump too much. I have also found that using the provided water bladder pocket inside the pack makes it uncomfortable to carry as it creates a lump beside the back. I just sit the water on top of everything. I’m still annoyed with the lack of throat material around the top but this wasn’t so much of an issue this trip.

I also added a ZPacks shoulder pocket which is really handy to put the GPS receiver and weather meter.

Golite - Peak
Backpacking Light – Cocoon Pullover
I bought this jacket earlier in the year from BPL while they were having the gamblers sale and have been very happy with it overall. Weight for warmth it has been very impressive. I got the Large size and it weighs around 260 grams. Having the hood also means I don’t need an extra beanie and blocks more wind around the neck as well. The thumb holes around the sleeves are good to maintain no gaps between the jacket and gloves. The only thing that has annoyed me about the pullover is the elastic around the waist. It is too tight and because of the length of the parka it tends to ride up exposing fleshy bits underneath.

Favourite 3 Pieces of Gear from my latest trip
  • Innov8 Terroc 330 trail shoes: Really light, really comfy, great grip on both mud and rock.
  • Hip belt and shoulder strap pockets: I can’t imagine a world before these easy to access pockets now.
  • Merino long sleeve top: Can’t believe I’ve taken so long to get on the merino bandwagon. The amount that it doesn’t stink is amazing.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Cunningham's Gap to Hole in the Wall

Laidley Valley & Mt. Castle
Date: 9 July - 10 July 2011

Walkers: Myself

Day 1 
I wanted to get off track for a change after not having done anything like this since our Lost World walk last year. So after getting ideas from my trusty Take a Walk book I decided on Cunningham’s Gap on the Main Range as my starting point. I would follow the range North as far as I could in a day and at that stage the idea was to head back the way I’d come. As usual though, things didn’t all go according to plan.

The forecast for the weekend was COLD. BOM was predicting negative temperatures for Ipswich and that is what we awoke to on Saturday morning. The temperature gauge hanging from the car read just above -4 when I wiped the ice off it at 5AM. We set off soon after and after watching the sun rise on our way we arrived at Aratula for breakfast just after 6. Another 45 minutes and we were at the car park on top of the range and I managed to get going just before 7.

Sunrise over the Moogerah Peaks
The first section of the route was via the Mt. Cordeau and Bare Rock marked track and I covered this first 6KM within an hour and a half. From this point the pace slowed significantly as the track all but disappeared. The track notes were fairly vague and I found the small details they did give not very useful as it was hard to gauge distance covered or to find some of the landmarks mentioned.

Is there a track in there?
Climbing Vine
Large trees and crows nests were the highlight from this section
My general advice would be to keep track of the edge of the Eastern escarpment and not to stray too far from it in most cases. Sometimes foot pads could be found on the narrower ridges which was a godsend. However, as soon as you found one and got up some speed there would be a tree fall and it would disappear amongst the vines and foliage brought down from the tops.

The one feature that was hard to miss was the rocky spring fed creek. Despite earlier creek’s being dry this one still had a reasonable trickle so I filled up an extra litre of water here. There weren’t any obvious spots for lunch and in the end I left it too late to stop; I felt the effects of this throughout the afternoon. 

After slogging up the final two or three peaks of the ridge I eventually made it to Sylvesters lookout by about 3 in the afternoon. I collapsed here for about half an hour before convincing myself to get up otherwise I wasn’t going to make it to camp before dark. The track leading to Laidley Ck. Falls and Hole in the Wall left from just before the lookout platform and was a much more defined foot pad than the previous section.

After descending slightly to a rocky gully the track rose steeply until it came to an obvious junction where an off shoot headed off to the right to the old Sylvesters Lookout. Despite the track notes describing the views as poor I thought it was well worth the small detour. The views back down the range were spectacular.

Once I rejoined the main track there was some more uphill before finally reaching the top of the ridge and subsequently descending all the way down the other side. This section travelled through some less dense eucalypt forest with shoulder high ferns often hiding the track in front of me. Once again my advice here is to keep closer to the escarpment than not. There was a large tree fall that blocked what looked like it used to be the track heading more directly down the ridge. After one more knee crushing muddy down-hill section I finally reached the camp site just before 5 and just in time to set up camp before dark.

Large gum trees surviving on an exposed ridge
This section of the ridge was exposed to the strong Westerly
Day 2
My campsite at Laidley Ck. Falls
Overnight, the temperature didn’t reach the minimum’s that had been predicted by the bureau. Instead it only reached about 4 degrees. The wind did change direction at one point but overall the campsite was well protected from the 50km/h Westerly’s I’d experienced the day before (yes this was my first trip using my little Brunton weather station).

After my experiences of day 1 I decided that if possible I’d much rather not do the section from Bare Rock to Sylvesters lookout again. Luckily there was plenty of phone reception and I was able to organize my pickup to detour to Goomburra Valley instead of the gap and I would try to be back at the lookout by around 1PM.

I still hoped to get out to Hole in the Wall before heading back to the lookout so I followed the notes advice and headed North-West from the campsite on one of the obvious foot pads heading out of the campsite. I soon found Laidley Creek which had a very small trickle of water flowing. There were numerous foot pads in this area and it soon became quite confusing which one was the correct one. I eventually ended up at the cliff face at the top of the falls looking out towards the valley and Mt. Castle. It was obvious that this wasn’t the route described in the notes and I was running out of time so decided to just head for the main ridge and see what the not-so-recommended direct route was like.

I reached the tip of the main ridge quickly where I was greeted with amazing views down the Laidley Valley, across to Mt. Castle, out over the Moogerah Peaks and back along the Main Range. The track continued to the edge of a drop off which after closer inspection proved to be the way down. There was an indentation in the small cliff line with plenty of foot and hand holds. An obvious foot pad then continued through a small patch of trees before reaching another small drop off negotiated by down climbing a wide crack.

View back down the range and towards Moogerah Peaks & Mt. Barney
From here the ridge narrowed significantly and become a rocky razorback only a metre or two across and sometimes less. Before long I reached a very narrow section which after inspecting more closely turned out to be the top of Hole in the Wall. I carefully crossed this section and found a way down off the ridge top not too much further on. Hole in the Wall was just that, a picturesque hollowed out section of the ridge with amazing views in all directions.

Razorback ridge looking towards Boar's Head
Looking back the way I'd come. You can see the large crack mentioned above
A particularly narrow section of the ridge
More Ridge
Masses of spear lillies colonising the cliff faces
Hole in the Wall from above

It's a hole in the wall
Laidley Valley through HITW
After taking some photos and having a snack I shuffled off back the way I had come. In the end I had plenty of time to reach the lookout which allowed me time to take it easy on the up and down hill sections. I reached the road by about 11:40 and started heading down it towards the Goomburra camp ground. Half an hour later my ride appeared from around the bend and I was whisked back to civilization.

Self Portrait
Overall this was a great adventure with my favourite bits being the views and rock scrambling on the second day. I’m already planning another trip heading to Mt. Castle in the not too distant future so stay tuned.