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Other Adventures

Tales of personal trips and spectacular photographs from around the world:

Iceland ice toothIceland's Vatnajokull Icecap

Iceland's Vatnajokull provides a challenging alpine environment.  The southern fringes of this 8400km icecap are sculptured by a strange mix of volcanic and glacial activities.  The highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur, at 6200ft offers spectacular views over a confusion of ice as it tumbles down to sea level.  At any time of year the weather can be demanding.  The area not only seems to generate its own weather but also lies open to storms that race in from the North Atlantic.  During the first 19 days of one trip we experienced 14 days of white-out, blizzard and storm.  It was winter so I'm not sure we  expected anything else.  During one such battering visibility was so bad we couldn't see our feet because of the spin-drift (that was before we resorted to crawling).  Twelve hours later we were still hanging on to the tents after giving up on a snow-hole.  It was filling faster than we could dig.  Thirty-six hours after things had turned nasty we were holding the roof of the geodesic tent up with our knees.  But when the weather was good........... 

Greenland summitGreenland

The only difference between living in a fridge and camping in Greenland is that the light stays on when you close the door - such is the eternal brilliance of the Arctic summer. 

Our pilot lowered the skis and set us down on the ice at 72 degrees north.  Moments later we were abandoned on the edge of nowhere.  There were no place names, no map, just emptiness for as far as we could see.  We climbed throughout a notional night when the temperatures were at their lowest and the snow in best condition.  By day we relaxed and ate.  Towing all our equipment in fibreglass sledges we would move our base-camp every few days to allow us to explore a new area.

Western Arthurs - Tasmania

A Long Way To Go For A Walk – Into The Bush Tassie Style

Spoilt for choice our route ultimately depended on logistics.  There was a minibus service to take us the 150km from Hobart to Scott’s Peak, the trail-head for the 6-8 day Western Arthurs Traverse, the most spectacular ridge walk in Australia.  The Western Arthurs Traverse has also been described as one of Tasmania’s most difficult. 

Federation Peak

To many Australians Van Diemen’s Land, famous for its penal colonies could still be a place of punishment.  These remote mountains of the ‘Roaring Forties’ are both revered and respected for their violent storms, impenetrable bush and history of people lost and never found.  Nowadays many folk take emergency locator beacons, EPIRBs, into the area.  The National Park Office will even hire them.  It saves time on a search.  

Day two.  Mount Hayes provided grandstand views over the wilderness.  Both Andrea and myself have visited some pretty remote places before but this felt different.  In every direction layers of serrated ridge crest, more wild than the Cuillin, seemed perilous in their cloak of vertical bush.  The lie of the land was unpredictable.  Often we found ourselves looking up at overhanging crumples of frost-shattered quartzite rock.

Day three.  Rain banged off our tom-tom drum of a tent and muffled voices came out of the mist.  An iceberg lettuce had made it as far as Lake Oberon together with six starving Australians.  Their menu was sounding more lavish than ours but then I saw nothing wrong with Thai red curry couscous at the end of an enforced rest-day.

Day four.  The following morning after a period of ‘should we stay or should we go’ in a frenzy of packing the chief lettuce eater and quadruple Arthurs traverser stopped on his way back from the spaceship, an odd shaped fly-out toilet.  “Bob reckons you’re gonna try for Haven Lake in a one-a.  Have you done anything like this before ?”  His accent went up at the end at the same time his doubtful eyes went down, starting on our short rain-jackets, moving to our long trousers and finishing on our lack of gaiters.  With our non-antipodean dress sense we’d been rumbled.  “You know there’s a bush-walkers warning out.”  I asked rather dumbly what that meant.  We’d definitely been rumbled.  Tassie virgins.

Climbing from Lake OberonThe climb out of Lake Oberon was steep but an hour saw us on Mount Pegasus.  We squirmed into a caving manoeuvre trying not to let our packs fly down the cliffs as we lifted them and ourselves through a hole in some fallen blocks.  The Tassie bush proved both enemy and ally.  We went over it, under it and through it and could only tackle numerous exhilarating sections with its help.  Twelve hours saw us over the normal two day section that penetrated the roughest and most exciting part of the ridge.

Day five.  Haven Lake.  We woke to a gentle pitter patter.  Once again we went through the ‘will we wont we’ go for it debate.  It was for today that the bush-walkers' warning had been posted.  Then everything stopped.  The calm before the storm ?  We waited.  Nothing.  So we packed up, lifted our sacks and then it started.  Like it knew.

First the rain, lashing, penetrating, projectile, we climbed into the squall finding it hard to keep our feet.  Hail ricocheted off the rock.  Snow clung like paste.  Our faint trail disappeared entirely.  The ridge crest around Mount Scorpio curled away from us, intimidating and scale-less.  When faced with these route finding problems we had to keep reminding ourselves that this was supposed to be a walk.  It would have been easy to slip into trouble and difficult ground.  And so we meandered our convoluted way.  Occasionally we’d find a tiny orange marker.  In the blizzard we had missed the landmark of Lake Sirona completely.

At the bottom of another steep gully the cloud shifted.  A ridge dropped away to the Arthur Plains.  Was it Kappa Moraine, our way off ?  In front everything seemed rosy but behind a black sky surged and thunder boomed.  Our thoughts turned to the six Aussies’ weathering it out on the crest with hopefully more than a few greens to live off.

Sometimes it’s harder to know whether a pack is getting heavier or fatigue is setting in.  We hit the Button Grass plains at a steady plodge and disappeared into our first patch of temperate rainforest.  Dense and muddy we were grateful to have everything on the inside of our packs.  Streamlining makes for an easier passage.  Soaked to the skin we forded yet another creek, swollen and tannin black.

We pushed on, notching up the 17km to Junction Creek where the track heads back the final two and a half hours to Scotts Peak.  In a dark clearing we pitched the tent.  I pulled out my sleeping bag.  Fatigue had nothing to do with it.  My sack-liner had split and the down had acted like a giant sponge.  Shivering and chilled we spent the night in synchronised tossing and turning under a shared unzipped bag.

Think of your wildest bits of hill-walking, scrambling and backpacking, put them together and you have the Western Arthurs traverse.  Some might say that the reputation of Tasmania’s wilderness is as mythical as its place-names but I think it all adds to the atmosphere at the very edge of the Australian world.

It’s certainly a long way to go for a walk.  Does anyone know the calorific value of a lettuce ?