included transport out to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Two nights and three
very busy days. We camped in tents or you could do swags which was cheaper. All
meals and passes were included. Pick up and drop off from your hotel.
Knowledgeable and friendly guide and camp cook.
Kata Tjuta (a Pitjantjatjara word) is the name of one of the largest rock formations in the world. Ernest Giles arrived in the 1870s and named it the Olga’s. But it’s always been Kata Tjuka and now it has reverted back to its true name. It has 36 domes and is made from Conglomerate rock. It’s very different to Uluru and considered a sacred aboriginal men’s site and because of this visitors can only access two areas.
It’s 436m high (100m higher than Uluru). Around 550 million years ago the Peterman Orogeny occurred resulting in a big mountain range which came up 10kms high and was made from sandstone. There was an inland ocean at that time over the whole area because it was lower than sea level. So what we were walking on was originally the bottom of the ocean!
occurred and this left Uluru and Kata Tjuta standing. Kata Tjuta continues down
under the ground about 6kms in addition to the portion on top of the land. The sediment
layers (stripes in the rock) trend on a 15 degree slant, due to how it was
pushed up when the Peterman Orogeny occurred.
The first people have been in this area for 60,000 years and are called the Anangu people. I bought this wicked painting from a woman called Marlene Smith. There was an intense sadness about her but she was proud of her work and explained what it was to me. She seemed happy I bought it. I told her I would put it in my lounge room and think of her each time I looked at it. That made her smile.
The painting has the following in it- Bush tucker- tomatoes, quondons, and bush bananas and two women (semi-circles) with a bowl (piti) and digging stick. Women hunt goannas for their flesh and eggs. The middle piece is a water hole. The word for women is (minma) and water is (kuppi).
Monolith- one big rock that is 338m high and 9kms around the base. It is 1.4 kms across the top and 2.5kms of it hidden underground. The climb on Uluru will thankfully be closed on 26th October, 2019. The indigenous people have been requesting tourists not to climb it for a long time because 36 people have died doing it and it makes them very sad that their sacred site is a place people die. They call it ‘Sorry business’. So they are closing it because people are too selfish not to honour their wishes.
There are interesting caves and paintings around base of Uluru. The Aboriginal people attended Uluru during times of ceremony or during nomadic travels. There was a massacre there many many years ago, and they ask you not to take photos of some areas or of respect. All photos in this trip report are in sanctioned areas.
monolith in the area is Attila (Mt Connor) which is similar to Uluru but it
squares off and has a different feel I thought. It used to be passed off as Uluru
by guides as it’s much closer to town. (Uluru is 4 hours away from Alice Springs).
You can’t access Attila as it is on privately owned land.
A great 6km hike can be done that takes you over and around the canyon. There is also a 1-2 day 21km option. It’s worth taking yourself down to the Garden of Eden, so lovely and peaceful. The walk is steep and there are lots of cliff edges and stairs, so not for those who have a fear of heights!
The area is closed when the temp reaches over 36 degrees for safety and National Parks has a compulsory 3L water rule, as people have died there from dehydration.
Yes you can hire a car, and wander around yourself. But the distances are long, sometimes 4 hours between sites. Also, with a guide I felt I learnt so much more than just reading about it on the signs. The people who guide these areas have a unique sense of humour and resilience about them. And just for that it is worth being around them and learning about their passions.
Thanks to Audrey and Kristy, such an amazing experience. One I will always remember!
I could feel it tightening my neck muscles and loosening my character.
So I booked a trip with Women Want Adventure on the Larapinta Trail. I’d never heard of it before, but it looked remote and that was the hook for me. I’m not fit enough to do it on my own. While some of my friends are at the more extreme fit level, other friends are not as adventurous as I am. I didn’t feel fit enough to do it solo. So I found a company to make it achievable for me.
The Larapinta Trail is arduous and relentless. I’m rarely speechless but I was often on this trip! The views are spectacular. But also those bloody hills are also hard core! Also you are walking on rubble, which is often unstable. So every step requires consideration and concentration. But like anything, if its hard, its worth the reward.
We did 5 days of the trail- Sections 1, 10, and 12. There are a total of 12 sections, potentially taking 12-16 days to complete 223 kilometers.
You can find detailed information on a quality FB page called Larapinta Trail. There are loads of tips and tricks people share plus local information on the condition of the trail, water supplies and fire issues. Very helpful if you are planning to do an unsupported trip! You’d have to consider the following gear and its weight if you want to do it unguided:
Three season tent
Quality insulated sleeping mat
Thermal sleeping sheet
Cooking set up
Phone and power banks
Food (and food drops)
Hiking boots and spare sneakers
Water purification set
3-4L carrying capacity
Warm/cool/wet weather clothes
Emergency first aid equipment and training
Good quality walking poles
Adventurous, can-do attitude
Women Want Adventure
To be clear from the start, I have no affiliation with Women Want Adventure. But I do admire people with a solid philosophy and tenacity. WWA’s pioneer and owner Monique Farmer is creating such a great community for women to get among the harder stuff, but with an inclusive and positive vibe. She’s a peaceful and energetic leader, self-assured and authentic. You can find our more about WWA on their website.
We slept in swags, which we were responsible for setting up each night and getting back on the truck in the early morning. Surprisingly comfortable! Each night, the fat wichetty grub (me) would wiggle down in my leaf (the swag) and absorb the millions of stars and a crescent moon. Sometimes I would wake up and have no idea what was going on but good old Mr. Moon was looking over me. So I would drift back to sleep peacefully. Was a great way to re-balance myself and calm my fractured city spirit.
Each morning the guides were up before us to cook a hot breakfast. The first morning I woke up to the smell of toast and I thought “who the hell is making toast in the middle of the night! Crazy people”. Then I realised I had crashed out and it was 6am already! Each day one of the four WWA guides moved the 4WD truck and camp to the next location, where hot meals were ready and a fire blazing.
Hard core hiking means serious eating!
and plentiful meals were provided with plenty of vego options. Amazing desserts
were on offer, as was tea/coffee/juice several times a day.
Even in the middle of a hike a hot thermos was produced for a cuppa as we looked over the McDonald ranges. Cheese, biscuits, cakes, fruit and nuts; you name it, we ate it! And with the most incredible views. Wine was offered with dinner each night and as much laughter as you could handle!
These included 2-3L of water, medications, morning tea, lunch, protective equipment- such as a wind breaker, down jacket and fly net. The weather can change quickly from cold to rather warm even in winter. Most nights were 0-2 degrees and days 20-22 degrees.
It’s remote, so there’s plenty to be aware of:
All year round- exhaustion, blisters, rashes
In warmer weather, snakes and hyperthermia
Spinifex! Imagine spears imitating grass. Nasty stuff if you fall or sit on it
Hypothermia is real; you need to layer up with thermals and down jackets
The trail is closed during the hotter months. You would probably croak it if you tried it then
There are dingoes, but no issues with them as long as you protect your food supplies sensibly
Day One – Section 1
Telegraph station->Wallaby gap 14kms. A total of 790 meters elevation to Euroridge. Difficulty- medium. There were toilets at the end.
We saw lovely Wedge Tail Eagles and spirited Rock Wallabies. The key highlight for me was walking along an incredible ridge line with a deadly drop off.
Day Two – Section 10
Ormiston Gorge->Glen Helen 16 km with an elevation of 720 meters to the hilltop lookout for lunch. Difficulty- Medium.
The flies were feral- a net is a must! Toilets are available at Fink river. Swam in the gorge, which was very cold but amazing!
There’s a great bar at Glen Helen with food and some supplies. Flush toilets and showers. Camping/Caravans only. Water and electricity available.
Day Three – Section 10
Glen Helen->Davenport creek 19kms Elevation of 1000 meters to hilltop lookout. Difficulty- very hard.
Great views. Rocky and rubbly++ This is one part you definitely need hiking poles. Camping in the creek bed was very peaceful and remote. The creeks are just sand. The waterways are called “upside down” in this area. You can dig down only 15cm and find wet sand. No real chance of flooding according to the guides. Drop toilet 1 km away.
Day Four – Section 12
Davenport creek->Redbank creek. 13.6km and mostly flat and winding. Difficulty- easy.
Lovely gorge 1.2 km away at the end of the day- very rugged access but some great rock wallaby’s. Camp in river bed. Drop toilet and water tank.
Day Five – Section 12
Redbank creek to Mt Sonder 16kms with an elevation of 1390meters and an 8 hours return You can go half way for good sunrise views though. Difficulty-very hard! But equally rewarding!
A common thread
There are lots of different types of people on the trail, but we all seemed to have a common thread. Often we saw no one at all, except a solo hiker with a full pack! Some people do sections of it and come back finish it the following year. What I did notice is the happiness in our WWA group, particularly the support, laughing and kindness.
Also impressive was the organised nature and quite leadership of our guides. Nothing was ever a trouble. They were authentic, knowledgeable and relaxed. They genuinely loved being out there. They helped us be brave and feel safe in a very rugged environment. Their depth of knowledge about the area and a real respect for the earth and indigenous culture was brilliant.
Thanks to Monique, Sue, Claire and Liv for a life changing experience. Just what I needed!
Made so many awesome friends
Massive thank you to PJ for sharing this trip report.
“Do you really think sexism still exists Tess? Or are you just finding drama where there is none?”
I was asked this (or something to this effect) by a well-meaning friend a few years back.
I was taken aback by the question, and I didn’t really know how to respond. Having been brought up in a very equality-minded home, where my parents drilled into me at a young age that men and women should be equal, and having surrounded myself in my adult years by friends of both genders who took part in stereotypical male activities in the outdoors, I flailed trying to find a response.
The part of me that has had the “equality is key to progress” mantra stamped into my brain automatically fired off with “of course sexism still exists and is important to fight against!”.
It was very difficult to know how many clothes we would need, how much food we would use and which box we would need to put everything in to access at different parts of the race. Most teams in our section had support crews at most Transition Areas (TAs), people to make them food, transport their bikes and keep their spirits up. We were unsupported so had to wrangle lots of gear into 2 boxes and had to figure out where to buy/how to make waterproof bike boxes a few weeks out from the event.
was a nice drive up north, leaving at 5:30 from Newcastle to get to the
registration at about 1pm. The briefing was held at 3 where we got the rundown
of the course, course notes and maps. Then it was full speed ahead for the rest
of the night, sorting gear and planning our course and navigation choices. The
weather report held rain for Saturday with skies clearing on Sunday. The
coastal report told of 1.8m swells and advised coastal activities would be
While initially allowing the Geohalf teams the opportunity to
participate in Leg 1, a 20km ocean paddle, the race organisers decided to only
allow the Full course teams the option. They realised that if all of us are
crazy enough to participate in such an event, we would do everything it
entails, even if that meant ocean kayaking in dangerous water with little sea
kayaking experience. They realised that the life savers didn’t want to spend
the entire time fishing teams out of the water so made Leg 1 a mandatory trek
leg instead. We all breathed a sigh of relief and slept a little easier the
night before the event.
At 5:30am we were up again to hand our bikes and gear boxes in and get ready for the 8am start. The we were off! Doing a mixture of running/ walking (mostly walking :P) we headed down the coast to TA1. The rain started down on us a little but generally we were in good spirits. The coastal tracks around the area are beautiful, with interesting rock formations and coastal vegetation. Unfortunately during this leg Amy started to feel pain in her hip which didn’t see to improve as we went along. We were never caring about which position in the race we were, so it didn’t bother us to enter TA1 as one of the last teams.
After assembling our bikes and refuelling we were off again, heading further down the coast first of all on wet, slushy dirt road. With everyone looking like they’d just had a mud bath we reached the river crossing where a small ferry awaited to take us across the river. Soon after that, a slide down a muddy embankment and we found our first check point! The we were off again on our bikes down a 4WD sand track, heading to Minnie Waters. Unfortunately for Amy, her hip was getting worse and it was painful to continue on the difficult to ride sandy roads. After a lot of painful deliberation she decided at TA2 that she would hitch a ride and meet us further down the line for the paddle, to avoid doing another long trek leg.
After slight difficulties at TA2 due to a missing bike box, Laura, Melody and I left TA2 after dark on Leg 3, another trek leg. It was starting to seem like endless walking as most was on beach, stretching out forever into the distance. We found CP3 and 4 with not much difficulty but really had to push ourselves on the walk down Wooli Beach. It was starting to take its toll on our mental stamina but we pushed through. The amazing feeling of turning the lights off and being all alone on the vast stretches of sand and the bioluminescence in the sand kept us on our feet and moving till we limped into TA3 at about 11:30pm.
Amy was brilliant, she’d set up our kayaks and had hot water on the go, just what we needed! After a dinner break we managed to get our kayaks down a very steep embankment and start Leg 4, a river paddle. This was a beautiful paddle in the dark, relatively uneventful save the fish jumping into our boat. CP5 was easy to find and we found the exit point on the river without much difficulty. Then it was an absolutely awful 400m portage of heavy plastic kayaks up to TA4.
We reached TA4 at about 3am and it took till 4:20 before we were restocked and the bikes were set up ready to go. Then we were off again, just Melody, Laura and I. The first section of Leg 5 was fine, muddy, sloshy and puddly but mostly rideable. The first really low point of the night was us struggling to locate CP6, at 5am and 21 hours into racing nothing seemed like it was in the right place. We struggled to figure it out for about half an hour, until I was ready to give up on it and just try to make it to somewhere where I could figure out where we were. Just when I was really worried, we practically fell on top of it and I was so relieved we weren’t lost I cried.
After feeling heaps better about CP6, we headed north to CP7. Little did we know that we were entering over 2kms of washed out, slippery clay, deeply rutted 4WD tracks that were impossible to ride and incredibly difficult to push the bikes up and down. For me, this was the real low point of the race, the inevitable thoughts of “why did I sign up for this” invading my mind. But there was no option but continue and continue we did, making it off that track just as daylight was approaching. We were all very much in struggle street at this time, it had been a very long night and we had hoped to be much closer to TA5 by now.
Still, there was nothing to do but plod along. And plodding it
was, the coastal range road was constant gruelling ups, at least with many fun
downs. We didn’t manage to find CP7 to our disappointment but at this time we
were not the happiest of campers so we left it. The road continued up and down,
up and down. At about 8am something amazing clicked in my brain. I suddenly
felt fresh and awake, like I’d had a full nights rest and hadn’t already been
racing for 24 hours. Nothing hurt and everything seemed great. I had been
forcing myself to smile for the past 2 hours to try and get past the difficult
patch, it must have just started my adrenaline off.
and Melody were real troopers, they were hurting but continued on with grim
determination. I was forever saying “just one more hill” and they
didn’t grumble much when one hill turned into many.
It was well into the daylight hours when we were looking for CP8. After starting to look in the wrong place, I figured out my error and managed to find it fairly quickly. I also found a diamond python, thankfully asleep. I took a good look at him then took the long way round his sleeping spot.
get us off the many ups and downs and get onto a very nice road, we dropped off
the range and took the main forest road most of the way to TA5. It was so nice
to ride and actually feel like we were going somewhere for a change.
Unfortunately, the course organisers are sadists and TA5 was on top of the
range road on top of the largest hill in the area. The ladies were going pretty
strong but this last gigantic, steep, slippery hill was the last straw.
made it to TA5 at about noon. We had been racing for 28 hours by this stage and
it had been very tough going. Laura and Melody made the decision at this point
that they would pull out of the race. Melody called the race organiser but to
their dismay, due to the poor conditions of the road, they would have to
proceed to TA6 as they had no way of getting them out from TA5.
was out of the question, the girls had no desire to go down the massive hill we
had just climbed, only to have to come back up again later. It wasn’t a long
leg, our route would have been about a 8-9km trek. So resigned, we skipped Leg
6 and headed out on Leg 7 to get to TA6.
Several kilometres out of TA5 we ran into another group, group 44, the “Blister Sisters”. They had been wandering around for several hours, getting geographically embarrassed while looking for CP9. This seemed to have taken the wind out of their sails, they were out of food and low on water. I led the way to CP9 and it was at this point they decided they would be calling it a day. They had a support crew who would come and give them a lift back to the start. Laura and Melody had been resigned to the bike back to TA6 but they made the hard decision to pull out at this point. They were wanting to finish but knew the going would be slow and I feel they made the decision more for me than anything. I felt guilty but I was not sure if I would be able to continue being so strong if the race kept going into the early hours of the next morning. There was one lady, Allie, from the Blister Sisters who was keen to continue so she and I paired up for the rest of the race.
Now we were team 42/44, not sure if we were the “Wonder Sisters”, “Wonder Blisters” or the “Blister Women”! We rode quickly out to the main road and made good time along the dirt and tar roads. We turned off on trail towards CP10, generally the going was good with a few hills that Allie powered up and I hiked the bike. CP 10 was easy to find and we headed off to CP 11. The organiser had warned at the start of the race that the last 5kms was shit, and sure he was right! We turned off onto a dune trail, deep rutted sand, overgrown vegetation, slipping and sliding around everywhere. Allie tackled it with confidence, I tackled it with fear and just mentally crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t stack it. CP 11 was not a hard find, then we were on the last few kms of the biking leg. We got to TA6 just before dark, changed and was on the water as quick as we could before we lost too much daylight.
We started off well but soon realised we were in low tide – there were sand banks everywhere! After navigating through and around them to get to the mouth of the river we thought we were going well – we should have looked at the compass more because we managed to get ourselves temporarily lost. We were 35 hours into the race by this time and both of us got into a dark place at this point. We struggled through though and managed to point ourselves in the right direction to get to CP12. We found the area just fine and knew we were in the exact right place however, someone had nicked the check point flag. After 30 minutes of fruitless searching we gave up and got back in the boat for the final leg. With only a few mishaps, slightly losing ourselves and needing to pull the kayak off the sandbanks, we were on the final stretch!
The big glowing finish arch was lit up on the beach and we made it to the end, just on 8:45pm Sunday night. While we were excited and proud, we were also very tired and cold, having just raced for almost 37 hours. After many quick hugs and congratulations my wonderful team mates bundled me into the car and took me home for a hot shower and dinner. I barely made it through my delicious laksa without falling asleep with my face in the bowl.
It was finished! I couldn’t have asked more from my team who kept going through loads of pain and sleep deprivation. They all did an amazing effort and despite not finishing, it is definitely something to be proud of. And thanks to Allie, her speed and confidence made me finish a lot faster than I could’ve without her. I was and still am quite amazed I could finish it! The total statistics recorded on my GPS watch was 162.01kms total distance, 1736m elevation gain and 1683 elevation loss. I am very glad I could finish it as I am already signed up for and paid for the next AR, Wildside AR Southern Highlands Edition. Only this time, we are signed up for the 36 hour event. BRING IT ON!!!
Photo credits: Some are mine, some are courtesy of the Geoquest photographers and the rest are from Amy Robinson.
Apparently Aoraki is often visited but not seen. High mountains are often like this, clouded, shrouded and mysterious. After finally convincing the Husband to leave his beloved Australia, there was no way we could miss seeing the highest mountain of New Zealand, even if it meant glimpses as the snow laden clouds drew apart for a second.
That night we slept only after we became acclimated to the rumblings of glacial melt reverberating off rocky cliffs. When we woke from our restful sleep under the shadow of Mueller Glacier, we were greeted by Aoraki standing proudly in sunshine and blue sky.
Not content to view this omniscient mount from the relative comforts of camp, we decided to go higher to take a look, and more to the point, 2,200 steps higher.
When one lives many years in a small N.S.W rural village, one of the best things about doing-the-tourist-thing is the wonderful people you meet as you all congregate in unity sharing the warming experience of being awestruck at the grandeur of the world. Well walking up those stairs at my pace provided me with ample time to enjoy this diverse bunch of mountain viewers. Now as humans are typically hilarious with all their comings and goings, I had ample to chuckle about (mind you, this includes me!).
When faced with an overwhelming challenge, my dear husband and my year 10 art teacher (thanks Mrs. Jones) taught me to break it down, so 100 steps and then reflection time (well gasping and crying time mostly, interspersed with amusement).
So we started out, me counting my 100 steps, the others racing annoyingly ahead. Feeling a bit deflated that the hubby had got fitter, I determinedly plodded on. Then a slightly younger English couple came quickly up behind me, obviously wanting to get past me, I cramped aside at the next bigger step and nodded politely when they provided encouraging words of “you can do it”. This was extremely irksome as they had not even broken into a sweat and we were up to 150 steps already, and the lady’s lipstick was still as fresh as an English rose. They bunched their gym toned legs, leaped up the next 2 steps and said see you at the top! Deflated as ever, I took a humble pill and leaned on those walking sticks for the next 50 steps until rest time. By the time I had reached 450 steps, the English couple were well out of my head, I had moved on to much more interesting humans. However, at this time, the English couple appeared around the cliff corner, walking very slowly back down. Hi I said, (too jovially I thought!) and tried to congratulate them on going all that way and back before I was even half way up. They said they hadn’t gone much further and realised it was just too far. Then I really looked, the poor lady’s lipstick was smudged, her hair messed, and sweat dripped unabashedly onto her designer hike tea-shirt. Yeah, I said it is 2, 200 steps, we are only at 450. They hobbled past, leaning on each other. I swung my walking sticks into gear and positively pranced up the next 3 steps.
The next interesting tourists were a gaggle of young European women (couldn’t place the language). They ponytailed past me with a plastic bag filled with chips and beer, a couple of small sleeping bags, and with smiling accented English informed me that they were camping at Muellers Hut tonight. I was gobsmacked and could only pray they survived. We all had a chuckle back at the camp that night when we saw them slink back into camp, ponytails between their legs. For those, like me that are unaware of Mueller’s Hut, all good, there are warning signs everywhere about what type of equipment needed to stay at the mountaineers refuge. And by the pictures on the interpretive signs, “mountaineer” doesn’t include climbing up a hill and taking selfies for Instagram in your best shorts, shirt and fashion mountaineering boots!
Back to those stairs and after the half-way celebration, my enthusiasm was slackening when I met an old Dutch man. He was using a slower (yes, true) pace than I and his doting son was with him chatting happily away. I was told later by the husband and daughter that they had made it to Mueller Hut, had lunch and were on their way back down! Now that is the type of support that gets you through hard times, well done Dutch son.
My beginning career as a free photographer started about 3/4 the way up the stairs with the first of many Asians asking me to take the photo that the 2 meter selfie pole mustn’t have been able to get. I loved the way that these young Asian couples were still immaculately dressed and hair in place. I didn’t love the over use of the camera, especially because it involved me and interfered with my important work of counting. They gestured very politely for me to move up and down the steps to get just the right angle. This left me trying to add and minus the stairs that I went up and down, and with my oxygen deprived brain, I was sure I made mistakes. This was vindicated when I arrived at the top having counted 2,300 steps!
A young Aussie family of Mum, Dad, and two sons rushed past at about the 7/8th point. Wow, they were keen! Dad had nearly EVERYTHING on his back, Mum had everything else and boys had energy. I could see they were determined that no children were going to stop them from adventuring! Hey they said as they buzzed past. About 15 minutes later, one of he sons comes running full pace down the stairs. What the… oh, as he wafted past I realised, a toilet or perhaps shower, maybe even a hose was needed and no amount of tissues was going to help. About 10 minutes later, subdued flushed parents and other son came along, head down, gritting their teeth.
Finally, I made the top and sat with the family having the most picturesque picnic ever imagined, interrupted only intermittently by my unpaid employment as Asian photographer. I mean seriously, why did they only ask me?
It was exhilarating so worth the effort.
Back at camp, just on dusk, we watched 2 young couples with supermarket plastic bags (the thick ones!) and 1 tent that you open the bag and toss it and it sets up. We wondered where they could put that up before dark on the never ending stairs? What made it OK was that the clothes that the women had on would impede their journey and they would be forced back to camp safety. This satisfied our anxiety enough to enjoy the spectacle. The women had hijab on and you could see tiny beautiful slip on be-sparkled shoes under the black. These alone would force them back, and not too long after our musings of “what are they thinking?!?” we saw them safely back in their hired 4 W Drive and heading to their motel.
Four years ago a test came back positive. I was going to have a baby and I had no idea how this was going to change my transport (amongst other aspects of my life). I had been cycling around like a free spirit and I knew this wasn’t going to be able to continue without a hitch. But what was going to happen? Was I going to give up and buy a massive sports utility vehicle and live my life high behind a steering wheel? Or would I work out ways to stay free of this disastrous cliche.
Well, this week I’ve taken buses, trains, bikes and most importantly my two feet many miles with the two cutest children. My eldest son can hail a bus, mind the gap to the train, ride a balance bike to the park and he can spot a pantograph. It hasn’t been an easy…
A story from Morgan Laudine about a Search and Rescue Exercise in the Barringtons.
14th to the 16th of September 2018.
In 2017 my life changed for the better when I joined the State Emergency Services, City of Newcastle Unit. In 2018 I joined the Bush Search & Rescue Unit as well. BSAR specialises in locating missing persons and forensic evidence in remote areas statewide. Later that same year I also joined Fire & Rescue NSW. Warning emergency services can take over your life!
In September last year I signed myself up for a search and rescue training weekend with Bush Search & Rescue and off I went in the Barrington Tops National Park for three days of searching in steep and heavily forested terrain a long way from the nearest track.
Our search area was off the side of the Gloucester Tops plateau, above
the Chichester River. The exercise was designed to test our remote area skills
and equipment and also to continue the search for missing aircraft VH-MDX that disappeared
in the area in 1981.
On the first day our search team of four was driven down a bumpy seldom-used
fire trail and dropped at our starting point. We immediately left the trail and
made our way into the world heritage listed Antarctic Beech forest a silent,
dark and ancient place full of plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Our day was spent clambering over logs and brushing past tree fern
after tree fern. We went further and further into the forest listing to the
calls of lyrebirds and yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. When the
light started to fade we set up camp and fell asleep under a canopy of mighty Antarctic
On day two, things got more challenging. The terrain got steeper and the vegetation got thicker. We found ourselves neck deep in vines, negotiating scree slopes, crossing multiple gullies and hitting sheer cliffs. At one point it was taking an hour just to move 1km and I was introduced to a hiking technique known as ‘wombatting’.
Progress was slow and we were running out of daylight, so we camped on the flattest bit of ground we had seen for hours… a 45-degree slope. The map said it was flat!
I dug a bed and tied my pack to a nearby tree for the night. A couple of runaway packs had already tried to escape down the slope once. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I woke up many times as my feet started to slide away from my head . The large lump of dirt that fell into my mouth at 3am was a rather unpleasant. It was certainly an interesting place to spend to spend a night.
On the third day the going started to get easier again after a few hours we started heading up. Once we got back on to the plateau, we left the Antarctic Beech forest behind and made our way through sub-alpine woodlands full of snow gums and wombat holes. Then we crossed the Gloucester River and join the land of the path once again. We made our way along the path (a strange thing not covered in vines that could be walked along with great ease) and popped out just in time to meet our ride out and head for home.
Despite the many search efforts conducted over the years in this
remote and rugged part of NSW the aircraft VH-MDX and the five people on board
remain unaccounted for.
Maybe you have had those thoughts before? On the odd occasion when you make that desperate move well above your last piece of gear. Or that time when you are in a whirlwind of white-water and not sure if you’ll make it down in one piece.
We probably all had those thoughts. But what if those thoughts start to appear every single time you go outdoors? What if they define your whole experience? They make you clench your teeth and swallow hard? When you are driving out on a Friday night and instead of looking forward to your adventure you just wonder if you will fall, if you will swim and if you end up crying? Out of disappointment in yourself. In your own skills and abilities and in your lack of believing in yourself?
The above is the start to an article I wrote about four weeks ago. When my confidence in skills was basically non-existent. When I was desperate to understand why I turned from absolutely loving going outdoors and challenging myself to almost being afraid to go. I had very high expectations of myself.
Let me explain a bit more. Two years ago I was a confident lead-climber. Nudging on 20s on sport lead outdoors, competing in bouldering and generally being strong and fit. Then I injured my wrist and it’s been average ever since. Climbing was completely off limits, bike riding was gone too and I couldn’t even open a door knob without being in pain. Stand still.
Kayaking: somehow I could still do, so I threw myself into it. I went to NZ Kayak School in that year and again early this year. After returning from NZ in February I had an awesome day at the whitewater stadium in Penrith. I was stoked. I took so many rolls and did so much “cool” stuff. I taught others.
After that, no more kayaking really. A trip to Peru where I rafted the Marañon and beat myself up on the inside for not being a good enough kayaker for this trip of a lifetime.
Upon return to Australia in August I tried to go surf kayaking. It was small surf. I didn’t even get out to the waves, just got stuck in the whitewash. I tumbled. I got dragged around and I swam. And then walked along the beach crying. I had taught others how to roll a kayak – successfully. I went to kayak school – twice! What the hell was going on? I was so disappointed in myself.
On a trip to Penrith (the only other whitewater running this part of town this time of year) I tried to roll in the outwash of the last rapid before heading up to the top of the course. I swam again. And I beat myself up so much – mentally not physically. Tears coming down my cheeks and I paddled over to the lake to grimly practise my roll.
At the same time, I started to go back to climbing. On a trip to the Blue Mountains, I worked up the courage to say yes to an ‘easy’ lead climb. I made it to the last clip and then bailed before the anchor. And instead of being totally happy to have pushed for the last clip so much when I felt so awfully terrified, I felt like I had failed. I mean – it wouldn’t have been a ‘hard’ climb for two-years-ago-climber-me, a grade 16. But now I felt shattered. The things I used to be so proud of all seemed to have gone.
So, self-analysis here we go. Sitting down to ask ‘why’ and to get the fun back into the outdoors. Because instead of properly enjoying the beautiful afternoon on the rock with my friends, my brain and emotions just swirled out of control.
There was a rational reason for all the things that were going on. Namely, I haven’t climbed in two years – which means no physical strength training, no exposure to leading and particularly no training for my head game. And all climbers know that if you lose your head game you should probably call it a day and just go to the pub for a beer and come back another day. We all have those days when we are just not up for it. And that’s ok!
And kayaking is very similar. It’s mighty helpful to be confident. Daan from kayak school used to say “either you own your kayak or it owns you”. You need to actively drive your boat to get where you want. Confidently. The crux in kayaking, in my opinion, is a bomber roll. If you can roll up anytime then your kayaking improves by roughly a gazillion percent.
Surrounding yourself with super awesomely talented friends who make everything look easy and are more ballsy than you can be great. But it can also trigger feelings of inadequacy and make you feel like you are the one that holds others back. Or you head out with people who have started at the same time as you but they are further ‘ahead’ (hint: there’s no ‘ahead’ in having a good time or fun) because they kept at the sport or maybe didn’t get injured. The truth is though that these friends are actually just super stoked you go out with them after a time away and give it a go. And half the time they might just fake their braveness anyway.
And despite it all, you see, somehow, last weekend, I competed, well participated, in a whitewater kayaking race. On a grade III section of icy icy icy cold river. Happily. And I swam. And I had a fantastic time. Like – super-duper-awesome-making-me-smile-right-now time. And the weekend before the race I climbed in the Blue Mountains and lead two pitches on a climb called Sweet Dreams – a 10 and a 13. And it was great.
So why all this rambling? Injury, parenthood, change of interest or moving city / town and travelling can all be factors that get you away from your training routine. Maybe for quite a while. When you get lucky and re-discover your love for your sport again and go back, and you are on the competitive spectrum of personalities, something like this might happen. And hopefully you don’t beat yourself up on it.
So how did I get back to actually being a noob at things, ‘failing’ and having fun while doing so?
One – an article I read that said asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ is a way more positive way to look at things. “Why am I bad at kayaking?” Because I lack confidence and I haven’t paddled etc. You end up feeling like a failure. Rather ask: “What do I not like about my kayaking?” That I can’t roll. So fix that!
Two – back to basics. Step back and start easy. Do a multi-pitch but maybe let your partner lead the harder pitches. You still get to do the whole thing and can relax seconding the hard moves. And do ‘pretend-lead’ and/or lead in the gym. In kayaking, go back to video analysis of rolling in flat water. Get those chicken-wings sorted. Get your friends to push you over. Hold your breath for 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds before you roll. Take your goggles with you and your nose plug. You know, pretend you’re back at kayak school. And allow yourself to fail.
Three – choose things you are good at. For me this meant to go on a multi pitch climb in which I swapped the ‘hard’ pitches with someone else. And we took out someone who was completely new to outdoor climbing. I know how to setup systems safely and I got to explain a whole lot of (basic) outdoor climbing knowledge. It made me feel really confident and competent about an important aspect of climbing.
Four – take those friends on outings that are emotionally on the same wavelength. We all know people that are awesome at the sport they do but they might not be quite emotionally tuned in with you or just not a good teacher. Maybe go with them next time and choose someone that you can just ease in with and don’t feel like you need to proof anything. If you are a woman, an all-girls trip can be a good idea too. Sorry lads.
Five – all you need is 20 seconds courage. I read about a female adventurer who uses this method and I really like it. When you are at the crux, at the rapid or whatever it is – ask yourself – “Can I be brave for the next 20 seconds?” And be! 20 seconds is long enough to get you through whatever scares you. No need to be tough all the time. Just 20 seconds a time.
Six – line up those bootie beers. I mean it! When Anna and me had to join the line up at the Snowy River Extreme Race to please the river gods after our swim during the race, I was laughing seeing how many people had to get up there. All those good and not so good paddlers seemed to have been pummelled out of their boats throughout the day. We might have been ten or 15 people. It’s always nice to know we are all between swims (or falls).
And seriously, if the day just isn’t going well take your friends and have a beer. And come back next time. We all have those days, weeks or sometimes months. But hopefully you will be able to come back to whatever you want to do and have fun! See you out there!
You can find more of Anja’s writing and photography here.