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Friday, June 12, 2009

Scribe's Notes : Southern Circuit

Another long weekend gave four intrepid hikers an opportunity to wander around Wilson’s Promontory, Southern Circuit. The previous hike was a great summer experience, so with the changing season came a change of challenge, as well as deep interest in finding out what was on the southern side of this wonderful park.

The weather prediction indicated a wet climb:

Friday :Partly cloudy. Patchy morning fog. The chance of showers from the late morning until late afternoon. Light winds. Temperatures between 11 and 16 during the day.

Saturday : Cloud increasing. Patches of light morning frost. Patchy rain during the evening. Light winds. Overnight temperatures falling to around 6 with daytime temperatures reaching between 11 and 16.

Sunday : Cloudy. The chance of thunderstorms until late afternoon. Isolated showers. Winds north to northwesterly averaging 10 to 20 km/h. Overnight temperatures falling to around 8 with daytime temperatures reaching around 12.

Monday : Cloud increasing. Isolated showers. Winds west to northwesterly averaging 20 to 30 km/h. Overnight temperatures falling to around 7 with daytime temperatures reaching around 13.

Perhaps it was one of the best ways to experience the Melbourne rain - out there with your bare essentials… well, for these crazy hikers at least!

The plans were put into place :

* The schedule plotted for a 3 day hike starting at Telegraph Saddle Carpark through to Halfway Hut, Roaring Meg, Little Waterloo Bay, Refuge Cove, Sealer’s Cove then back to the Carpark. It sounded easy until you compute for the distance which is at least 52km.
* Bookings were made to Wilson’s Prom for an arrival Friday evening to camp at Tidal River, and an early start on Saturday for a nice warm up hike just worth a couple of hours.
* Meal plans for lightweight, healthy but substantial food
* Gear : sufficient waterproofing (i.e. wrapping stuff in plastic bags or zip locks), thermals for the expected cold nights, raingear for the expected showers, gloves, beanies, the works
* Where to meet as there was no mobile phone coverage at Tidal River

And so, the scribe writes :

Friday night

So it is the long weekend, and avoiding holiday traffic was one of the main hurdles. Attempting to leave office early enough is a huge challenge in itself, so having been able to sneak out at 4pm was sheer luck. Unfortunately, traffic from Citylink up to Cranbourne was a gigantic mess and had taken up 2 hours of travel time. We arrived at Tidal River at around 8:30 pm.

The tent was pitched, and the car parked from a distance. The moon was out, the skies were clear, and wombats roam free while the birds glide shamelessly and perch on the car. A flask of brandy by the sea under the stars felt like a luxurious treat – its always great to be outdoors!

The other two trekkers arrived at around 10pm, having been caught in traffic as well. Tents were pitched side by side at the overnight hiker’s campsite. A bit more brandy for a quick night cap, and the lights were out by midnight.

Tidal River - Telegraph Saddle Carpark – Halfway Hut – Roaring Meg

Summary :
0932 – 1115hrs Telegraph Saddle to Halfway Hut : 7.4km
1130 – 1315hrs Halfway Hut to Roaring Meg: 4.8km
Total : approx 12.2 km

the birds who stole some breakfast

While there was no extreme rush to hike as the day’s plan was around 4 hours of walking time, the early birds had a heavy breakfast of packed rice and adobo (a meat stew flavored with garlic, onions, soy sauce and vinegar). The plan was to arrive in time for lunch at Roaring Meg, which is also the campsite for the day. The rucksacks were packed, and the cars were driven out of Tidal River and parked at Telegraph Saddle Carpark, about 7 minutes drive away from the overnight hiker campsite. From here, the hike eases into a steady track, nice and easy.

quite a gloomy day

The Halfway Hut was an interesting icon in the trail, as it had survived most bushfires around the area (and there have been plenty). It had been there for a long time – having been made of stones it provided the strength to last a lifetime. There were two logs that served as comfy seats for a quick snack.

the halfway hut

looking back at the trail (view from halfway hut)

the view from a distance

The dark clouds were out and already hinted rain, but as the group reached Roaring Meg at there was only one tent being pitched there, a mother and son tandem who we first met at the Halfway Hut. The rain started late afternoon, and the rest of the hikers arrived soaking wet at camp, while the early birds were lucky enough to be dry inside the tent – well, some at least – as the tent had been a disappointment and failed to deliver a quality expected of its caliber. When the rain didn’t stop, patches of plastic had to be laid on top of the tent to stop water from dripping in. It appears that the waterproofing of the tent had gone bad despite the delicate care everytime it was used. It meant that instead of the rainwater gliding and sliding all the way to the ground, the tent absorbs some of it and then drips inside, completely defeating the purpose of a fly sheet. Good thing we had spare plastic bags – these were meant for waterproofing the gear, really – just wasn’t keen on waterproofing the tent itself.

Anyway. Another excuse to get a new one.

Dinner was Sinigang (a sour Filipino soup, great for a rainy day) and rice. The pork was pre-cooked (boiled with onions, tomatoes and salt), drained and zip-locked (as part of the meal planning prep work on Thursday night at home), so at camp, water was boiled, the pork dumped into the water and the dried tamarind powder mixed in, plus some veggies (brussel sprouts in this instance – not a typical sinigang veggie but it would do anyway). Quick dinner, perfect for ‘indoor cooking’ (it was raining, so no choice but to cook at the vestibule area of the tent). A couple more swigs of the brandy for post dinner drinks completed the menu. Sleep was difficult, paranoid about the flood that could accumulate inside the tent (no it didn't happen). The rain didn’t seem to stop. So far the plastic bags did their work quite well. The new Denali self inflating camping mattress was pretty good and had so far excelled in its maiden voyage. Lightweight too. It came with a stuff sack that had a reversible fleece lining that can double as a pillow. Life’s little luxuries outdoors!

0745 – 0935hrs - Roaring Meg to Lighthouse : 7.2km
1000 – 1200hrs - Lighthouse to Little Waterloo Bay : 10.9 km
1300 – 1530hrs - Little Waterloo Bay to Refuge Cove : 7km
Total : approx 25.1km

The lighthouse from afar

Breakfast was oats with dried fruit, on an early day that started at 5:30am. This day was anticipated to be where bulk of the hard work was, considering the total length of the walk and the degree of difficulty in the terrain. Walking up the lighthouse via the walking track was not too bad, a good combination of uphill and downhill and great scenery, but the assault to the lighthouse was interesting, you can really see the steep grade from a distance.

this way up

up close and personal

this leads to a "viewing deck" below

this way to Little Waterloo Bay - walk the long stretch of white sand
LWB is that little curved area at the far end

the grains of sand, as big as rock salt

sea sights - this was not from one of us

The site was the day’s designated lunch area and had arrived on schedule. The kettle was put on, the smoked chicken sprinkled with chili flakes, soy sauce and cracked black pepper, with rice of course (cooked the night before and packed for convenience) - Basmati rice has a low GI for a steady burn so it was much appreciated during the rest of the hike.

creek water.
this was BEFORE the tea bag was put in :)

little waterloo bay

At Refuge Cove, the tents were pitched at an exotic location (“beachside villa” as we called it) as the group had arrived early. Despite the gray skies, it was not as cold as anticipated, and the group had a chance to have a proper ‘socials’ – cooking and eating together (‘dining out!’) and sharing bourbon and brandy under the full moon – what a sight. A game of Monopoly would have been in order if not for the long day that had transpired. It was early to bed. Unfortunately, the plastic bag band aids have dried and will not stick to a dry tent (so the quick-dry feature was still functional) – only when it rained by around 9pm were they taken out and plastered away. The rain did not stop until morning.

that was where we went

0820 – 1010hrs - Refuge Cove – Sealer’s Cove : 6.4km
1010 – 1315 hrs - Sealer’s Cove – Telegraph Saddle Carpark : 10.2 km
Total : approx 16.6 km

Refuge Cove

Morning was a bit of a slow start as it was still drizzling and made repacking quite a pain. However the motivation was just to complete the circuit and head home, back to dry land and clothes! And so the walk began. This trail was more familiar as it was also the last leg from the previous hike. It is expected to have some steep ascents but the rest would have been rolling terrain spanning quite a distance. The rain kept going and some parts of the trail had turned into mini waterfalls – it was quite nice to see that there was no water shortage at the Prom, at least. The Berghaus rainjacket was a great investment and had at least kept the upper body dry. I had no issues getting the trekking pants wet as waterproof pants tend to not give the legs room to breath.

Reaching Sealer’s Cove felt like a milestone and the group stopped for a quick water break. There was no other option but to seek shelter near the toilet area (preference was "stinky" over "wet"). At that point there was a girl with an umbrella and a (still) cheerful hello. (Lovely weather to walk around with an umbrella…ella…ella…eh…eh…eh…. )

And then there was the crossing that used to be easy last summer, just traipsing above the rocks and boulders - but the rain had increased the water so no other option but to wade across thigh-high waters. No point removing the shoes and socks at this point as it looks like the rain wasn’t going to stop anyway – so everyone pretty much just waded across. After that, everything else was easy to wade through (and because of the heavy rains, there were several water crossings).

The next target was Windy Saddle and from this point it was just around 45 minutes back to the carpark. It was a huge push, the rain still hasn’t stopped, and definitely made the hike more interesting. There were some fascinating flora rejuvenated by the rain, so the tree trunks that have been made black by the bush fires had some bright green shoots sprouting from different directions. It was beautiful in its own way. Some giant ferns splashed color against the black and brown backdrop of dried leaves and burnt branches.

where's the magic mushroom?

Reaching the finish line was just bliss – and it was interesting how to change into dry clothes with such stiff hands. Legs and shoulders were sore, but in the end, it was a successful hike, everyone survived and made stronger to do it again someday!

Things could have been worse (we could have been in office you know!) but who would not fall in love with this place where the trail is so different in each leg, it is never boring! In some tracks the leaves make the path soft as a carpet, some have marble pebbles, some have huge rock faces and some have sand that crunch under your shoes. The foliage keep changing, and this time around there was a generous sprinkling of mushrooms all over the place. At night when the gray skies get blown a bit away, the full moon stands out and keeps the campsite bright, there is no need for any other light.

In the silence of the forest where basic needs are compressed in a backpack, where the birds provide great company, the wind a refreshing treat, and the sea a reminder of a grand and great natural entity, life is simplified a hundred times over…sometimes I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Those Who Stopped By

Scribe's Notes

This pitstop is where incoherent ramblings seem to have meaning, where things or events are thought of and assessed, where great things are documented and perhaps any not-so-good happenings are written down in attempt to be forgotten!

So from the diversely abstract to the intensely specific, it's off to making tracks, and it is here where it stops for a thought or two.

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