Tuesday, 30 August 2011

McHale Goodness

This has been a long time coming. I started out on a quest for a new pack late last year after going through a few that I wasn't completely happy with. Eventually, after trying on a number of packs and doing extensive research on the internet I decided to contact Dan McHale in the USA to get a custom pack made.

I initially decided on a Little Big Pack 36 as the base for the pack. I wanted the volume to start at around 40L and extend up from there with various options to maybe 50L - 55L. I hoped for it to be useful for overnighters without having too much extra bulk but also be capable of carrying enough food and gear for possible climbing adventures and extended walks in the future. I made the decision from Dan's advice to increase the diameter to a 37 inch and I'm glad that I did because the pack that I've ended up with is spot on in this regard. I see myself using it for all but the most basic of fast overnighters.

Material wise I went all out. I figured that this sort of opportunity dosn't come along too often and I want something that will last a long time to come. Therefore almost the entire pack and accessories are constructed with 100% woven dyneema. The only exceptions being some select sections of the harness, the daisy chains and the water bladder pocket. The latter being constructed of cuben fiber.

The whole process from first contact took roughly 6 months. I had the demo pack for a couple of these months in the middle. This is a long time and I'd say this could be attributed to the materials and customisation that I wanted, the slow speed of email communications and that Dan is just very busy.

As far as the options go I wanted the pack to be very configurable. This has probably come at the cost of slightly increased weight but I think it was worth it. All options and loops can be removed from the pack to bring it down to its most basic form with a roll top closure bag with an awesome harness. The options that can be added are:
  • Front pocket with a draw string and flap closure. This is a sizeable compartment with its own compression straps and attaches to the front daisy chains using an adjustable shock cord system. This means that you can use the space behind it to store large items aswell.
  • 2-Layer Summit flap. This is a simple lid with a small zippered compartment in the top.
  • 2 x Standard hip belt pockets. Good sized hip belt pockets with zippered closure. Very handy.
  • "Triple Threat" pocket. This is the bladder pouch that can either be hung inside the pack, attached to the underside of the summit flap or attached to the side of the pack.
  • Removable ice axe/walking stick upper and lower loops.
  • Fully removable side compression straps
  • Plug & Go Bayonet frame extension system. This includes the bypass "load lifter" straps. This system allows the frame to be extended, significantly increasing the capacity and load carrying capability of the pack.
The weight of the pack has come out slightly higher than I was expecting. In its most basic form it is roughly 1.45kg. With all options added it gets up to around 2.05kg.

Edit: I've played around with it a bit more and am even more impressed with its configurability. It can be stripped down even more than my first attempts and still be usable. With the frame, back pad and hip belts removed the weight comes down to around 850g. In this configuration it is similar in features and not too much heavier than my Golite Peak but still larger in capacity, tougher and more comfortable.

Can't wait to get out and give it a go. Here are some pictures.

Stripped down side view

Stripped down using roll top closure
Stripped down harness side

P & G Bayonets inserted, bypass straps attached (in red)

All accessories attached
All accessories attached

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Sylvesters Lookout to Mt. Castle

Campsite on Mt. Castle
Date: 1 August - 2 August 2011

Walkers: Tom and Myself

Day 1
Well I promised in my previous post from Hole in the Wall that I'd be back to this area soon. Wasn't sure it would be this soon, but Tom was heading off overseas this weekend for 6 months so I thought this would be a great place to take him as a fairwell.

Using my experiences from the last trip I decided to concentrate on the best bits from that walk and add in the trip to Mt. Castle. This walk was also recommended to me by some posters from the Bushwalking Australia Forums and avoids any access issues. The only downside being that the car journey in to Goomburra and on to Sylvesters Lookout takes a bit longer.

We arrived at the lookout by about 10:30 in the morning and after doing a bit of repacking got on the trail by about 11. The steep section after Sylvesters lookout wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered. Probably due to it being at the start of the walk rather than after 8 hours of bush bashing. We once again detoured to the old Sylvesters Lookout, however this time ventured out to the tip of the rocky spur through a clump of massive spear lillies and was rewarded with a more expansive and unobstructed view.
View from Old Sylvesters Lookout
See the notes from the previous walk for more details about the track up till Laidly Creek Falls Campsite and on to Hole in the Wall. We took the direct ridge route to HITW again and having a second person this time meant we were able to get some action shots.
First Downclimb Section
Negotiating the Ledge above HITW

We reached HITW in around 2 hours and stopped there to enjoy the view and to eat lunch in the shade. The temperatures were surprisingly hot and reached 30 degrees in the middle of the day. From there we decided to follow the ridgeline as much as possible and between HITW and Boar's Head there was only one section where we had to deviate from the ridge line.
Ridge After HITW
Tricky Downclimb Before Boar's Head
Before long we arrived at the minor peak of Boar's Head where there were great views in all directions. From this point the track headed downhill again but still following the ridge which by this stage was wider and even had room for numerous cow pats from adventurous bovines making the trek from the paddocks below. I was once again amazed at the number of spear lillies that cover the cliffs in this area, some of which even had some huge flower stems seen below.
Spear Lilly Flower
Tom Vs Spear Lilly
The ridge soon narrowed to a razorback where we attempted to stick to the ridgeline. Once again there was only a single section that we had to bypass to the right because of a large step up in the ridge before we reached the base of the cliffs that line Mt. Castle. From here we traversed North under the cliffs until we reached a break where it was possible to start heading up-hill towards the peak. This was a steep grassy slope broken up by a couple more rock scrambles but before long we had reached the ridge and then the peak.

The campsite was located directly on the main peak of Mt. Castle and was padded with grass and broken up by some small gums and grass trees. It had an amazing view to the East however, care was taken not to venture too far in this direction because of the size and sheerness of the cliffs here.
Mt. Castle Campsite
After setting up camp we went for a wander down the ridge to the South of the campsite towards the cliffs that we had reached the base of previously. The ridge here extended out to a narrow pinnacle with amazing views back along the Eastern face of Mt. Castle. Great care needed to be taken along this section though as the drops on either side were significant.
Looking Along the Southern Ridge at Sunset
Tom En Route to the Pinnacle
Myself Negotiating the Narrowest Section of the Ridge
View Towards Mt. Castle from the Pinnacle
Overnight we were terrorised by some small critter and after apparently not learning from our Conondale walk that small critters enjoy nibbling on silicone we awoke to Tom's Sea to Summit collapsable bowl and cup completely torn to shreds and my water bladder drink tube with a hole through it. These annoyances were far outweighed however by the views we got to the East with the early morning fog sitting in the valleys below.
View to the East from the Campsite
View Towards Mt. Edwards with Fog
View North-East from the Campsite
Day 2
We were soon packed up and back on our way. We decided to follow the track notes and take what we thought would be a more gradual route down by heading North to the Mt. Castle saddle then skirting back around. In the end this route was harder to follow and if you weren't careful you could easily end up lower on the mountain than intended. In hindsight we should have just gone back the way we had come up.

From there we back tracked along our route to HITW where we once again took advantage of the shade. We then decided to take the waterfall route back to the Laidley Ck Campsite for a bit of a change. This was definitely worth a look with the large cliffs leading to the waterfall crossing. There was only a trickle of water here and we were careful about where we walked on the slippery rocks. Although, there was a large enough shelf for this to not be too dangerous.
Cliffs leading up to Laidly Ck. Falls
The scramble back up to the campsite was reasonably steep but easy to follow. From here we re-traced our route back to the carpark. One highlight along this section was spotting a massive wedge-tailed eagle soaring overhead. Overall the distance travelled was at the shorter end of the scale but the views and scrambling make this a very memorable walk.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

GPS Tracks

Just a quick note. I have GPS track files for all walks completed after October 2010. I haven't looked too much into the best way to host the files but if anyone is after a GPX file for a particular walk just let me know and I can email it to you.

Edit: From Tony's advice I've started uploading them to OpenStreetMap. Here is the link to my collection so far.