The Beeripmo Track – 2 Days, 21kms, Victoria

Day 1 – Richards Carpark to Beeripmo Camp, 8kms

Hiking in winter can be challenging but we were lucky enough to have glorious sunshine for the whole weekend! It was still freezing at night though, which I (Quiz) remembered as I hopped off the train in Ballarat at 7.30 on Friday night. Freezing. Meg/Princess Layers/Crystals was was waiting for me and we drove back to her parents place in the surrounding hills. We were all leaving the next morning to hike the Beeripmo Track in Mt Cole State Forest in-between Ballarat and the Grampians. The name Beeripmo comes from the Beeripmo Balug clan of the Dwab Wurrung tribe, who occupy the area around the Mount Cole Ranges. The word Beeripmo means ‘wild mount’, which is believed to refer to Mount Cole.

The walk has been organised as a test run for a group of Meg’s family friends who are doing a 19 day hike in The Kimberly late this winter (keep an eye out for blog posts about that epic adventure). I am the only hiker not going on the Kimberly trip as sadly my dollars are all depleted after the PCT. There are 11 of us in all, Gib and Gayle (Meg’s folks) a bunch of their friends as well as Meg and her pal Joni. As we are walking such short distances we are treating this as a party hike (I have 1L of whiskey for camp in my pack).

Its only a short drive to Richard’s Carpark and the start of the walk. By the time everyone arrives it 11am by the time we set off. The bush is lush and full of tall mountain ash, there are mushrooms and tiny streams everywhere. After following a jeep track briefly we start climbing up a gully, jumping over rocks and tree ferns, and trying to dodge big grass clumps which i am sure are full of leeches. The track is reasonably steep and I am puffing and feeling my legs burn as i try and keep up with Meg and Joni. After a couple of kilometres we reach the top of a huge rock and look out into the tree tops and a steep enclosed valley, we really have been climbing! I looked this up later and it’s 1000m of climbing for the whole trail so I reckon that first push was probably 400-500m.

After a short break at the cliff the track climbs more gradually while we follow a small stream. Joni and Meg power on ahead but i meet them a short while later at jeep track crossing. We think about waiting for the older 3/4 of the group but we are too impatient and set out again deciding to meet them at lunch. We finish our climb to the top of Cave Hill and I spy a rocky ledge about 100m through the forest, the undergrowth has really thinned out as we have gained elevation. As we are way ahead we decide to go adventuring and discover the rocky ledge is really a huge gently descending rock face. We wander out and see the jagged peaks the Grampians in the distance. Meg and I immediately start discussing how there should be a track combining this walk, Langi Ghiran and the Grampians, as it was such an amazing looking bunch of mountains. We promptly settled in for lunch.

We heard voices in the woods and started calling Meg’s parents over to our rock shelf, only it wasn’t Meg’s parents but a bunch of teenagers, it was awkward but they were friendly and also thought the rock shelf was cool. After a really long break we thought we should go find the others so we returned to the track and kept hiking along a ridge that crossed a heap of other rock faces and we saw the beautiful majestic Grampians again and again and again. We reached another intersection and decided we had better wait for the rest of the gang.

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Just as we put our jumpers on we could hear the loud chats of the rest of our party. Everyone was pretty impressed with the views we had already seen. From the intersection we dropped onto a long ridge and followed it to the bottom of another steep climb. By now the forest was beautiful and open, teasing us with broken views of the surrounding farm land. The climb to the top of Sugarloaf was short, steep and sweet, the track was made beautifully utilising large boulders as steps. Sugarloaf was a wooded peak but offered a few good views to the Grampians in the west and unending farmland in the south. It was also our last climb for the day.

The gang reformed at the top of Sugarloaf and walked the final kilometre into camp together. We arrived at 5pm and had to race the clock to set up camp before it got dark at 6. As we were late and in a big group we had to find all the remaining camping spots and many were already full. Surprisingly Gib (Meg’s dad) knew one of the other people camped there. After all our chores were done we lit a huge fire and drank wine and whiskey while dinner cooked. Our destination was originally the Grampians but as they have a no fire policy, even in winter, we chose to do this trail instead. It gets dark so early so you really do need a fire to help pass some of the many dark hours. We all got a bit drunk and had silly chats. At about 8pm Meg, Joni and I went a joined a group of guys campfire to see if we could yogi some more wine from them as our group had drunk our supply dry! We were successful and the 4L bag of goon the 4 guys had carried up the mountain tasted excellent. We stated up chatting for a few more hours before going to bed. Cutely the next morning Gayle asked if we had heard the amazing joke she had told that had everyone laughing very loudly, apparently  she had made everyone laugh (no joke was told) to make us jealous of leaving their campfire.

Day 2 – Beeripmo Camp to Richards Carpark, 13kms

Mmmmm I slept so well and was so warm all night that I woke up feeling wonderful despite my suspicion that I was a bit drunk when I went to bed. Quiz/Phoebe is writing today and I should tone down my enthusiasm for last night as most of our 8 person strong group had terrible cold sleeps that involved wearing all of their clothes. Meg/Crystal’s neoair sleeping pad still squeaks with every movement and kept Joni up all night, its kind of a nostalgic sound for me now post PCT.

The sun doesn’t really start to rise till 7am now its winter, but as it shone its warm tendrils through the ridgeline trees I got up hungry, realised it was still pretty cold and quickly got my breakfast and book and went back to bed. 30 mins later Gib (Megs dad) came over to inspect Meg and Joni’s new UL Big Agnes tents and try and rouse Meg and Joni with tent compliments. It worked but we all knew that we were not in a rush, as this is a holiday kind of bushwalk and not a business hike. In fact everyone but me is using this hike as a gear test for a hike they are all doing in the Kimberly in the NT in August (blog posts to come)! After half packing up we wandered over to the fire and made coffee and chatted. Coffee made everyone happier and more functional. By the time we had packed up and hit the trail it was 9.30, leaving only a few other slow pokes behind in camp.

We followed jeep tracks along the top of the ridge, the light from the rising sun strobing through the trees. Meg told me about the forest and why this one was a prime example despite being regrowth because it has spacious leaving room for undergrowth. Climbing to the top of Mt Cole we passed an excellent tree that had two legs, it literally had a 2 meter high tunnel through its base! After thinking we were on the wrong path, backtracking and then backtracking again we met up with the parents part of the group who laughed at us and we all made our way to an excellent lookout. We could see Langi Ghran and then the Grampians in the distance. The Grampians is Harriet/Turkey D’s favourite mountain range ever and I missed her, so to cheer myself up I got everyone to do a butt photo.

From the lookout near to top of Mt Cole we had about 10 cruise kms down down down to the carpark. Descending gently is always fun as its kind on your knees and you walk fast without even trying. Meg and Joni sped out in front and I didn’t see them again till lunch. The path went from open forest into sleep gullies full of ferns and 50 million mushrooms, big ones, slimy ones, many tiny delicate ones with comically bent stems, others covered in red spots and obviously poisonous. They were probably all poisonous! I walked on my own and was busy climbing over a hug tree that had fallen across the path, butt in the air when Meg waved at me from some rocks high above the trail. ‘LUNCH’. I clambered up the steep loose slope to the rocks, filling my shoes with soil and losing my balance, once seated I got to watch  all those behind me do the same, except for Gayle who was up in a flash.

Joni, Meg and I had wraps again, full of fresh vegetables, post PCT I will only eat cheese stringers and salami when I really have too, I’m still so sick of so many foods. After we had eaten our lunch we picked at Gib and Gayle’s gourmet spread and ate their leftover fancy cheese (Meg what was it called?), olives and beef. After scraping all the avocado from its skin and licking the dregs of chocolate from the wrapper we resigned ourselves that we really were out of food and packed up our stuff for a slippery descent back to the track.

We actually didn’t have much longer left to go after lunch. The track shortly left the steep hillside and meandered through flat dry forest, epacris in white pinks and red popping up in-between trees. The wet gullies felt far behind us but occasionally we would pass a log covered with mushrooms in the shade. We were back at the car park by 1pm but I would have happily done the whole walk again. Im gonna miss the bush as I probably won’t make it out overnight till Spring.

 

Camel’s Hump to The Cross Return – Mt Macedon Day Hike, 10kms

I (Quiz) went on a day hike with 3 pals and it was magic. Ali, EJ and I have been in a nerdy witch gang for years, we have played in a band together and recently made bath bombs together combining the natural powers of baths, essential oils, crafts and good snacks in a self love cauldron. Today we wanted to to make the most of the last hot days of Autumn, we wanted to find some fairies and mushroom circles, we wanted to go hiking.

Mt Macedon is an hours drive from Melbourne and covered in lush mossy wet forest. Beki was recruited to the gang and we all drove excitedly out of town and wound down the windows as we started to drive up the mountain, soaking up the fresh earthen smelling air. It has been too long for all of us between sniffs.

We left from Camel’s Hump Carpark and headed west along a foot track. The sun was out and we all dumped half the clothes we had brought in the boot – it was such a beautiful day! The track undulated through well established forest just shy of the ridge line, there were heaps of other groups out and pups everywhere. We split into two groups of two chatting and sometimes walking in silence listening to the birds and other forest sounds. There were heaps of hollow trunked trees and we pointed some out that we thought would be good homes for each other, depending on personal attributes. Ali is very tall and wonky so her home was a long ‘S’ shaped hollow.

I was convinced the forest fairies were leaving us signs to the biggest magic mushroom field of all time. First they left bark perfectly bent into a triangle, a few minutes later three yellow flowers in a row, followed by a broken tree trunk that was shaped like an arrow pointing us towards a particularly dense strand of trees. Eventually we followed the fairy signs off the track a little way into the dappled shade of a wattle grove, their trunks were red from some form of lichen and the light seemed red as well. I love that picnics with adults means that everyone packs amazing food and we dined like queens on goats cheese, broccoli stalk pesto, chipotle hummus and fennel pretzels.

The sun went behind a big cloud and we all go cold, forcing us out of our post picnic fairy induced stupor and back to the trail. We hiked for another 30 minutes and the terrain gradually became far more rocky. The forest opened up and the trail catapulted us onto the top of a steep hillside with excellent views of farmland and the Wombat State Forest in the distance. We hung out here for quite some time.

We had now entered the super popular part of Mt Macedon near the Cross and the Tearooms. You can drive your car here and the area was swarming with international tourists and day trippers. The paved path to the cross was hectic after the bush path but had the best smelling bush of the whole trip, lemon eucalyptus! We wandered around the cross but it definitely wasn’t the highlight of the trip.

At the public toilets EJ tried to tell off a tourist who littered right in front of us! The toilets stunk and we decided to get outta there asap. As we wandered back to the car we came upon a huge old tree with such a big trunk we all had to go up and say hello. We also adventured off the track into a creepy pine grove at dusk, our footsteps muffled on the springy pine needle floor. What an excellent adventure!

Yarra Ranges National Park – 3 Day Hike

Day 1 – Cambraville to O’Shannassy River, 15kms

Dad and I, Quiz/Phoebe got up at 6 and were on the road at 7 to beat the traffic. We drove 2 hours out of town to Marysville , the houses dropping away replaced with towering tree ferns and Mountain Ash forest. We are definitely not in the city anymore, everything smells like earth.

We hiked out of Cambraville together, looking for traces of the long ruined woodchip town, all we saw were clearings and the stumps of huge trees with the tell tale foot holes cut out of them. Very shortly we can upon the Elephant Tree! A huge old old tree with a 13m trunk diameter and Sugar Gliders/Leadbeater Possums reportedly living in its trunk. It was a very grand sight. At the next huge tree, an 87m tall giant Dad turned around to go back to the car and I continued to hike on alone, for the first time in my whole life. I was a bit nervous!

My path crossed the road I had driven in on and I followed it for another 1/2 km detour to Cora Lynn Falls. The falls were beautiful and surrounded by lush rainforest and what I’m pretty sure was a lyrebird tail sighting, but I can’t be certain. I did find 3 leeches on me in this area and it was wet underfoot. Considering it hasn’t rained much in Melbourne for the past 3 months I was very surprised to find the falls flowing very well! In fact every stream i have crossed so far has been flowing.

I returned to the road and followed it towards Marysville for about a kilometre taking a quick side trip to see an old bluestone culvert which echoed the stream flowing through it in a very eerie way. I took my first left onto Observation Road, an dirt Jeep track to lead to a locked gate. The gate had an entry prohibited sign on it but also a gate for walkers to get through that wasn’t locked, so I assumed that message was for cars. About a kilometre further down the track I discovered I was wrong. A big blue sign informed me that entry was prohibited and an officer was patrolling the area and I would be fined. I sat and considered my options; I had no phone reception, Dad was well on his way back to Melbourne and there are no alternative routes that don’t involve hitching, so I decided that it was better to risk the ‘patrolling officers’ and a fine than a hitch and trying to find an alternative route. I’m pretty sure the area is restricted as it’s a water catchment area so I have taken extra care to follow Leave No Trace principals. I planned this route using the most current McMahons Creek VicMap which has highlighted restricted access areas which I am not walking through, but obviously since printing the map there have been changes.

I am not great at breaking rules and consequently spent the next 5kms thinking every gust of wind was an officer about to end my hike on my first day! But I saw no one, the only signs of civilisation was tyre tracks and and empty bulldozer parked in a clearing. I followed Observation Road over many small streams, a few good views and intermittent rain till the intersection of Road 12. After a short climb I stopped and had lunch and read my book. Hiking alone is so different, and I was unsure what to think about as I had been more on edge than planned.

In the afternoon I finish the climb to the top of a spur which road undulated along. I saw a pair of lyrebirds sitting on a branch together, tails fanned out. When they saw me the started skwarking and flew off. They are one of the most beautiful birds in the world but due to fright they didn’t give me a good chorus! Soon after I saw some kind of shaggy deer/lama creature. It was 1.5m tall, had a brown shaggy coat and a fawn belly and tail. It kinda barked at me as it ran off (I took a video and will put it on Instagram, do you know what it is?).

The Jeep track quality slowly deteriorated and by the time I started to descend towards the river there were many trees fallen over the track, some which huge trunks that were actually quite hard to navigate my way over or around. I only had to take my pack off once though so that pretty good going really. O’Shannassy River is full of tannin-y watery goodness and also very beautiful with lots of exposed rock and tree ferns everywhere! Also there is a bridge so I don’t even have to get my feel wet. I pitch my borrowed 2 person tent and make some soup as it’s already starting to get cold down here in the valley. As I’m cooking dinner and pulling 50 million grass seeds from my socks the sun starts to set turning the clouds pink. I’m beginning to relax back into the Bush more and more. It’s been over a year since I hiked in Australia and I’ve missed it, the Bush is like no other and for some reason it always feels wild.

Day 2 – O’Shannassy River to Smith’s Hill, 16kms

So who knew you could be such a bad boi and hike at the same time! Technically I am still breaking the law, when will this restricted water catchment zone end? I would leave if I could, but I don’t know where to go so I might as well stick to my original itinerary. I did get phone reception today and Dad advised me to get outta there, but so far I haven’t seen a sole so it appears I’m in no rush. I’m now just casually camped at an intersection, in full view of any official patrolling the area.

Today started with a long long climb, 600m gain over 6kms. With fresh legs I made it to the top way quicker than I thought I would. The bush seemed quiet this morning but then looking back at a video I took of trees loudly clapping in the wind to a full bird chorus I’m not sure where my head was at. As I approached the top of the ridge the Black Wednesday fire area finished and I was propelled into old forest full of huge mountain ash and an under story of Myrtle Beech (my fav tree of all time), fern trees and wattle. It was lush.

I stopped for a break hidden from the wind behind a water tank by Poley Road. This is where I got phone reception and spent a little bit it time and a lot of phone battery. My walk along Poley Road was lovely, the road was green and the surrounding forest occasionally broken by small swampy meadow clearings. In one of these clearings I disturbed a flock of red breasted robins, about 8 of them sat on the track looking at me, heads cocked, and as soon as I got too close fly off a short distance tweeting loudly to repeat the whole process again. I would very gladly be in your gang any day robins!

Poley Road ended at Mt Richie whose crown had just a touch of alpine to it. I was greeted by an open snow grassy meadow with a few scattered snow gums. It was very idilic and I immediately wanted to stop and have a nap in the sun under one of the huge gnarled old snow gums. But I had just had lunch about a kilometre back so I kept on tramping down the road. The track got even prettier if possible on the way down as maybe for fire reasons they had cleared and mown each side so I felt like I was walking in a park, there were great picnic spots everywhere!

At an intersection in a saddle I stopped dropped my pack and was prepared to walk 2km downhill to stock up on water. But luck was on my side, also this is some wet wet rainforest, and I found a small soak coming out of the hill 200m down the track. It was surrounded by 2m on deep bog but found some ‘U’ shaped bark and funnelled some into my bottles. I took 5L as I wouldn’t make it to water till lunchtime tomorrow. My final climb up to Smith Hill was slow and I felt like a donkey but I did get to see a solo lyrebird!

It was windy up the top and I made camp behind a huge water tank for protection. I pitched my tent very well as it is meant to rain overnight. My pasta side tuna and dehydrated veges was very underwhelming, I think I have lost my PCT knack or hunger for this food, I was really looking forward to it climbing the hill. Because it’s nearly winter I took a soup to have with dinner every night and it has been the best decision as the temperature drops very quickly after 4pm. Goodnight, I hope everyone is an snug as I am in my sleeping bag and woollen thermals and socks xx

Day 3 – Smith Hill to Warburton, 21kms

Last night it didn’t rain nearly as much as my imagination predicted, I probably didn’t need to peg out every guy line but I was paranoid about my fly blowing away in a storm and I would be left all alone wet and cold in the dark in the ominous forest. I listened to a podcast to get my racing brain to sleep and then actually slept very well only waking an hour before dawn from the sudden drop in temperature.

I felt an urgency to get hiking when I woke at 6 and quickly had breakfast in bed (muesli) and packed up and got hiking. The clouds were not down too low yet but it was cold and the wind was angry, it was making me feel slightly and i descended through more beautiful unburnt rainforest to Acheron Gap with purpose. On my way down I caught glimpses of The Knob, my next climb, under thick cloud. The mist was pouring in and I decided to stop early for coffee as I had been too impatient to make some at camp. Approaching the road I saw three lyrebirds in quick succession and they lifted my spirits, they were the first of nine lyrebirds I saw today, my light in the endless tunnel of rain, hail mist and wind that was to come.

Finally at Acheron Gap I left the restricted area, I was so relieved, I am a terrible rule breaker and it stresses me out. Again for those reading do not do this hike as 75% of it is illegal and in Melbourne’s water catchment areas. To quell all fears of water drinking Melbournians I practiced strict Leave No Trace principals and disposed of my waste responsibly. To celebrate I drank some coffee and got mauled by leaches in the process of trying to have a little sit on my raincoat in the grass. This was my last relaxing break of the day, while i was still drinking it started to rain and did not stop until I had finished the hike.

I continued along the trail climbing again to the top of the Knob, but a sign soon informed me that my desired path to Dom Dom Saddle was closed. The driving rain which was forecast to end tomorrow and my desire to be a hiking angel and not break any more rules led me to change my plans and get off this mountain today. Upon reaching the Knob the wind was howling, blowing rain and cloud sideways across my path and I had no choice but to walk on. It was beautiful and eerie and how rainforest is supposed to be experienced, but I had no desire to camp in it. None. So I marched a soggy march along the top of the great divide, too cold to stop and no views to admire. I listened to podcasts to keep me company and to take my mind of my tired legs and numb-ish fingers.

The climb up to Mt Boobyalla was incredibly steep. I left my trusty leech free, well graded, park like jeep tracks, swapping it for a typical Australian hiking track; rough and direct. It literally went straight up the spur, steeply, covered in regrowth and logs, long grass and a leech convention that I haven’t seen since hiking in South West Tasmania in winter. Leechy. I managed to flick most of them off before they caught hold, but when I next stopped for lunch I found 3 sneaky ones that had somehow gotten under my socks. The summit of Mt Boobyalla was very similar to the Knob, cold, and I pushed on to Mt Donna Buang where I knew there were toilets I could hide in.

Surprisingly there were cars at the Mt Donna Buang Summit and I must have looked a funny sight bursting sodden from the undergrowth. I made my way into the womens bathroom and made a little nest, put on all my warm clothes and ate some lunch, I was so hungry as I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. I played music on my phone and had a short vigorous dance to warm up, it was really miserably cold. I had service and checked the bus times, I was in luck! There was a 3.45 bus from Warburton to Lillydale Station and I was gonna be on it. I crammed a bunch of chocolate into my mouth, packed up and set out to speed my way into town.

The mountain was kinda against me, not only do you descent 1100m over 5kms which is hell on your knees, it hailed. It hailed for 30 minutes without stopping till a tick layer of ice covered the ground and made it very very slippery. The trees were running like waterfalls with a white froth that seemed to be created by the hail. I was very grateful for my trekking poles, without them I reckon I would have fallen on my butt a few times. It was on this trail that I ran into the first hikers I had seen all trip, three women battling their way too the top of the mountain, we all looked at each other with knowing admiration, we were all a little bit crazy. Towards the bottom I popped of the clouds the mountain was wearing like a bowl cut and found that Warburton valley was actually under patchy blue sky! I walked across a few paddocks before the trail ended at a road which I followed into town. It was 3.35 and walked straight to the bus stop, stripped out of my raincoat and into my puffy jacket and tried to act normal. I was sodden, muddy, probably stinky, in mens marino leggings complete with the opening at the front and had said in total 2 sentences to another human in the last 3 days. It was a funny ride back to town and I got a few strange looks but the bath I had when I got home was glorious!

Flat Iron hike in the Superstition Mountains, Arizona, 10km, October 2017

The adventure of a lifetime is over but I still have many unpublished hikes to put up. Here is one, it was great and it has been very enjoyable rereading it and looking through my photos. XxPCTGG

Turkey D, Mia and I (Quiz) have been in Phoenix all weekend staying with out PCT pals Bob/Goliath and Dave/Six Strings. Unfortunately Dave had to work but Goliath is retired and he is always up for some adventures. In true Goliath style (remember his off road diving over the dunes by Lake Isabella?) we knew we were in for something a little bit crazy. To quote Bob, “this is not a boring hike!”

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Turkey D and Goliath approaching the Flat Iron

Bob was right, it was a great hike, but the second half was more rock scramble and rock climbing than hiking. We drove to the outskirts of Phoenix and arrived at the trailhead by 7am. It was still cool and the sun was sitting low behind the Superstitions, so we were in shade for most of the hike. The flat desert valley that is full of the city and Sequaro cactus (literally the ones that look like this emoji 🌵) quickly fell behind us as we climbed directly into the foothills of this very imposing mountain range. Mia chose to stay in the valley and paint while Turkey D and I followed Bob into the mountains. We hiked towards and then up into a steep valley that fell away from between the Range’s tallest peaks, and Bob pointed out the valley (really more of a gully) that we were following to the top.


As the path got higher, it got steeper. The rocks and sand soon gave way to large boulders and exposed rock face, never ending in beautiful curving rock valleys. For some reason the unpunctuated rock face reminds me of bowling allies. We were all already sweaty when we reached the halfway point in the climb and the place where most hikers turn around, a saddle the revealed the final climb. We sat and ate delicious marzipan busicuts that Bob brought back from the recent trip to Switzerland, and contemplated the track, that literally went straight up an incredibly steep gully. This is gonna be tough!
We started hiking and it got steep immediately. We climbed up and over rocks, some of them loose and slippery some naturally carved into square steps. The trail was so steep that we could rarely see far in front, and we seemed to move so slowly up the valley even though I felt we were keeping a good speed. The cliffs around us were steep and red and sometimes the cacti were arranged so perfectly it felt like we were in a garden.
3/4 of the way up the valley we stopped all feeling the climb and ready to be at the top.

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Little did we know (Bob definitely knew!) that the steepest part was yet to come. The scrambling started to steepen into vague bouldering territory and soon we reached a 4m high vertical stone wall with a tree growing out of it. Bob delftly used the tree to heave himself up and over, Turkey D made short work of it and then I spent a good 5 minutes trying different leg combinations and manoeuvres as you had to hold yourself in some awkward positions, and finally made it to the top with some help from Bob. I was pretty fucking stoked with myself, a feeling the only increased as a short while later we were at the top of the Flat Iron looking at Phoenix from way way up in the air. What a great place, some smart people were camped up here in sheltered nooks in the cliff.


We sat and had more snacks and asked Bob many questions about all the surrounding landmarks and also the Arizona Trail that sounds flipping excellent! We then went exploring along the peaks hunting views to the east and the rest of the range. Such an ruggard jagged vista but breakfast was calling and we decided to make our way back to the car and a diner asap. The trip down was a lot faster but also a lot more painful on our knees. Turkey D and I are still sore 2 days later, especially in the upper body as to help our knees out we lowered ourselves down rocks with our arms. But we think it’s a great price to pay for such an exciting hike.


Thanks so much to Bob, Judi and Dave for having us stay, we are starting to dub our post PCT travels as the Lovely People Tour of America. Crystals later visited Phoenix and Bob took her on the same hike!

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Mia perhaps wisely stayed put on the desert floor and painted this mini masterpiece

Tongariro Circuit: Day 2 – 23 kms

Call to the mountains and they will answer. Bring out your dead, your creaky bones, a broken heart, wintered muscles, or a drifting spirit; any alignment you might be carrying look to the land for it will heal you. There is something in the majesty of mountains that returns you from the wilds hot blooded and spiritually renewed.

Finally, after so many months it’s wonderful to be back out walking through the land, living simply and syncing my body back into natures rhythm.

After a quiet night of calm the day broke clear. The sun rose in the distant ranges behind Tongariro, and the light tinted the barren peaks of the volcano an earthy pink. We watched in awe among the crowd of other hikers all enchanted by the bubbling cauldron. Tongariro is an active volcano. It is one member of a collection of other volcanos who, on average erupt every 10 years. It’s overdue but no one seems worried. The land is sacred to the Māori people who belong to this place. Ngāti Tuwharetoa spoke for the land. He advocated for the significance of the volcano and surrounding ranges which lead to Tongariro National Park. It’s was the 4th national park to be established in history and the first to be recognised by the World Heritage List. Albeit the many many many noob day hikers doing the crossing the park has managed to not allow tourism to chase away the spirit of this incredible place.

It took us a while to pack up, dry the condensation from the tent, make coffee, and eat breakfast. We didn’t leave the Hut until 9. The first section of the hike heading toward Waihohinu Hut is through dark grey sand dunes. It was like being on another planet as we rounded the backside of the Tongariro volcano. As the sun moved across the sky its soft morning tendrils of light turned to stark midday rays and the steep slopes morphed from doughy ridges to gleaming, harsh molten pathways. The rivets and gullies made by shale erosion and thousands of years of eruptions glistened like a newly waxed car in the sunlight. Cap clouds passed low beneath the peak and evaporated as the passed on into the blue sky.

We were walking toward Mount Ngauruhoe, which had, the day before been hidden beneath a layer of cloud thick like icing on a wedding cake. It was a treat to experience a new landscape with a wonderfully clear and uninterrupted view of these two vastly different ranges. One dark and looming, threatening to boil over (not exactly but it’s a possibility), the other rouge coloured like your grannies blush, longer, larger but less ominous.

After maybe an hour we hit some Beech forest, blanketed in soft lichen and ferns and climbed up to Waihohonu Hut.

I love New Zealand flora. It’s like some whacky, abstract artist came in and got funky with everything. Palms grow where the rational mind would think it impossible. Purple Heath cradles stunted trees covered in lichen which would make any Bonsai enthusiast drool. Don’t get me started on the ferns they are fantastical, and look as if they belong with Alice in Wonderland. It’s magical. We didn’t see too many birds unfortunately however.

Waihohonu Hut is pretty lux. It’s new, it’s big and has hot showers. It’s only about 8 kms on from Oturere Hut though so after filling up our water and having a quick snack we kept on walking.

From the Hut it’s just under 16 kms to Whakapapa (pronounced fukapapa……) Village. The trail undulates between the valley separating the Tongariro range and the other mountain. I stripped down and went for a dip in the river. The frigid rush of water washed away my breath and sweat. We met a number of hikers heading out for the 6 day trip that included the northern and souther Circuit. This part of the trail is very exposed with almost no shade. It’s a mixture of walking through heat or on boardwalks.

I waited for Kelsey at the Tama Lakes junction where we ate lunch and met a very chirpy trail runners who, beginning at 8.30 am that morning had run from Manganatapopo Hut, which means they pretty much did the whole trail minus 9 kms! After that the trail winds it’s way through a small gorge and heads you toward the Taranaki Falls. We took our last full view of the two mountains, giants of landscape and headed down to the plunging falls.

I forgot my glasses and had to dump my pack and run across up to grab them. Then we followed the river through a Beech forest until finally heading back into the Heath from which we came yesterday morning the sleepy Whakapapa Village. Our trusty steed stood valiantly in the parking lot awaiting our return. After fluffing around for a while, making hot chocolate and fireball whiskey we hit the road for Wellington.

Kelsey was a queen and drove the entire way. I played dj. We are currently in the ferry car park and will sleep here for the night. It’s been a great test drive to iron out all the creases for our time on the TA. Kelsey might need new shoes and I might need a sleeping bag warmer as it’s well below freezing at night.

Tongariro circuit: Day 1 – 23 km

When Meg wrote to me and suggested we go hiking in New Zealand for a month, my first thought was..…and like every other unapologetic Lord of the Rings dork out there, I was simply beside myself at the idea of exploring the mythical lands of Middle Earth. My initial confidence was bolstered by reflecting upon my time spent in the Canadian wilderness as a treeplanter. I felt my experience scaling mud bogs, and slayin’ mozis meant I could cut the proverbial mustard. However, I came to the rather immediate and crushing realization that, at a dignified 30 years of age, my dismally low standards of bush living in past would not translate into proficiency as a hiker. I had a sneaking suspicion I would no longer find a bag of loose bread + a jar of PB ( schmeared with a stick), a pair of $10 thrift store hiker boots, nor a 20 lbs tent held together by duct tape, as palatable as I did in my blindly optimistic 20s. Thankfully, Meg has been most obliging with my noobery, as not a chuckle could be heard when I took 3 hours to pack my bag, or when I thought a ‘pack nappy’ was a bag you poop in. What a gal. Moving on from that anecdotal aperitif, Meg and I decided that walking the 46km Tongarairo circuit in two days would be a sweet place to start ( aka Mt. Doom!). I should mention that checking in at the Tongariro DOC/ visitor centre before heading out is a must if you wish to avoid fines, as they give you your parking ticket and print out your reservation booking (which is checked at the campsite). We started the circuit in a clockwise direction, walking the Mt. Tongariro crossing on day 1. The climb up was a bit slippery and trepidous on account of the clay base and side wind,which was seemingly hell bent on pushing you over the cliffs edge if you didn’t keep your wits about you. On your way down the terrain was loose, gravely and peppered with a countercurrent of ill-prepared day hikers, armed solely with furrowed brows and tennis shoes. When the clouds bid each other adieu for a fleeting moment in time, a pair of emerald lakes offered a supreme compensatory spectacle ( and rather satisfactory lunching locale). Much to the relief of my aching appendages , we at last concluded the day at the Oturere hut, at which we were greeted by a most gregarious ranger and a delicious view. Nature doth provide 🙂

Road Trip with Mushy – North Carolina to Washington, 3000 miles.

Another vintage post. Mushy and I (Quiz) took an epic roadtrip across America after we spent Thanksgiving with Mushy’s family. We camped every almost every night, it was freezing and the scenery was stunning as we took the scenic route.

Day 1 – Charlotte to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, North Carolina

We woke up on Thanksgiving/holiday time at 9am so it was probably wishful thinking that we would have the car packed and ready to go by noon. Last night Mushy and I went out with his 2 best pals from school Lucy and Larkin, but Hattie’s one of the 3 gay bars in Charlotte had failed to live up to my Boston all night dancing experience. We didn’t even have a hangover as an excuse. I made sure I had my last shower in 9 days while Mushy did the last of his packing. We then loaded 5 boxes of all his worldly possessions into his car (including Lady the dog) and had a last supper lunch with his folks Jimmy and Vicki. Vicki cried and Jimmy gave me his blessings as we walked out the door; the beginning of our 9 day odessy diagonally across America from North Carolina to Washington.

According to Mushy we are in a densely populated part of the east coast, and the traffic was dense. But after an hour blue mountains appeared on the skyline through the thick continuous forest of birch. Our gps took us on a strange and winding route off the interstate and onto dirt roads as the sun set deep and red. Looking in on all the small houses on tiny farmed plots of land made me think of one of the most famous Appalachians i know, Jesco the Dancing Outlaw.

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The dirt road wound its way up the steep mountains and upon reaching the summit we joined the Blueridge Parkway which we had crossed 30 minutes before. It was not dark and we drove into the night,past shimmering white birch trunks till we made it to a Visitors Centre. We didn’t really have a plan. S____ Campground was only 2 miles away so we headed there.

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Great Smokey Mountains

We baggsed one of the last free camping spots in the whole place and set about setting up camp. Pitching tents happens quickly now after so many months practice. Sadly coming prepared for fires does not and there was slim pickings on the well picked through forest floor around the campground. We made a 30 minute fire and warmed tomato soup on Mushy’s jetboil, drank red wine and basked in the very cool glow of car camping; we had so many luxuries but it was still freezing.

Day 2 – Great Smokey Mountains National Park to T.O State Park Memphis outskirts Tennessee

It’s was really fucking cold overnight, frost covered the ground and our tents when we woke and we vowed to sleep all 3 of us (me Mushy and Lady) in Mushy’s 2 person tent tonight. We were both pretty spacey and sleepy when we got up at 7.30, but revived somewhat after coffee and the glorious drive out of the Smokies.

Immediately after we left the mountains we came to Pigeon Fort, home of Dollyland! But Dolly Partons hometown seems to have brought the carnival to the mountains, the antithesis of nature. Haunted houses, b-grade roller coasters, go carts and putt putt golf line the highway. It’s surreal, and the traffic is terrible. We finally make it to the I40, the westerly road that we will travel on for the next few days, and settle into a groove. But after only a little while the car starts making a strange noise, before we realise a tire has blown and we are making smoke and the car is driving all wonky. Mushy calmly manoeuvres it onto the side of the road and we come to a stinky rubbery stop. What now? We have a spare tire but no jack. We pull out our phone and start googling our options. The local gas stations don’t stock jacks, Mushy is not a member of AAA so we can’t get roadside assistance, finally Mushy discovers you can call the local police number and they will send out someone to help.

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Somewhere near Dollyland, maybe a rival land?

That someone was Karen, beautiful angel Karen in the disguise of an older lady with a shroud of white hair. Karen fixed our tire in about 5 minutes, gave us a fistful of candy and left us on the side of the interstate. Onwards and upwards, our next destination the tire shop. There was one right by the interstate in downtown Nashville. As we waited for them to change the spare we walked Lady in the empty parking lot next door. 3 homeless guys complimented her no end but never got closer than 5 meters, one did ask Lady to call him when she was next in town.

Jobs done, spare tire, jack and spanner in place we left town and continued along the I15 worrying about our slow pace. We pressed on to Memphis, Mushy pulling an epic 12 hour day as I cannot drive (unless!). We tried 2 RV parks, one right beside Gracelands which we got a sneak peek at and it was full to the brim with Christmas decorations. The RV parks either didn’t have camping or required us to prebook so at 8.30 we consulted trusty google who led us to a great free campsite in T.O State Park on the banks of the Missippi River (!!!) in a far out suburb of Memphis. We got in so late that the few other campers were already in bed so we didn’t have a fire and just drank a beer and went to bed. Lady did try and stalk our neighbours cat though, causing a bit of anrocous. The trails of the road.

Day 3 – T.O State Park in Memphis Outskirts to Foss State Park Oklahoma

We got up super early (5.30am) to try and make up some lost time from yesterday. Everyone was still fast asleep and we made coffee and hastily packed up the tent and slipped into the quiet Memphis backstreets. Our first big event was crossing the Mississippi! Such a famous act and we did it in about a minute with the sun rising and very few water views.

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Oh Lady, I love you!

The I40 continued west through the flat planes of Oklahoma. Oh Oklahoma land of classic musicals and lots of dust and tumbleweeds. I entertained myself for hours trying to capture them on film as they hurtled across the road. Unfortunately this is not the state for stunning scenery so we drove with purpose for hours and hours taking few breaks.

At 2pm Mushy called a halt and we happened to be in a tiny town (which looked more like a mall) that was home to a Cracker Barrel. For those of you who haven’t walked the PCT this is significant – the first town stop in Washington is at Whites Pass, a tiny town that hosted a hotel and a Kracker Barrel General Store. You are at your hungriest in Washington and think about food at length and when we found out a Cracker Barrel was at our destination we were all very excited! Sadly they do not exist in the north and the Kracker Barrel turned out to be a gas station. Oh the cruelty! So back to the present ever since I met Mushy in North Carolina I had seen numerous signs for real Cracker Barrels and I only thought it fair that we finally go to one. The Cracker Barrel called us inside and we sat down to some fine Southern cooking; I had grilled catfish with mac n cheese and collard mustard greens and Mushy had chicken busicuts with caramelised apple and hash brown casserole (just in case you were wondering). I really do with someone would open one at Whites Pass!

Feeling full and sleepy we prowled the ye olde gift shop and hopped back in the car. Mushy drove and drove across flat planes and through poor farmland for what felt like eternity. The sun set and still we drove watching natures excellent daily display light up the eternal flat planes. At 5.30pm we finally pulled off the interstate on our way to Black Kettle Grasslands, but only a few miles in we saw a turnoff for Foss State Park and followed the road to a deserted closed for winter camp aka free! We set up shop by a man made Lake and basked in comparatively warm weather. Sadly it was too windy for a fire which didn’t matter so much as we went to bed early in an attempt to make it to camp tomorrow before sunset. We did get to watch the cars drive along a road on the other side of the lake and it reminded me of the train scene from Spirited Away. It was beautiful after the barren planes.

Day 4 – Foss State Park Oklahoma to Alamosa Colorado through New Mexico and Texas

We rose with the sun today and our body clocks thanked us! We watch it rise over the lake which was far more magical in the darkness. Unfortunately upon getting out of the tent Lady stood on my mat and punctured it with 2 large holes. We rolled on into Texas pretty quickly but it was the north eastern panhandle end and so apart from the border sign not much had changed. Texas was misty and the fog clung to the gullies and open paddocks sometimes obscuring the road quite thickly. We drove slower than usual with our lights on eating damyana’s signature snack (PCT reference to the colourful characters we met at the Jackson Well Hot Springs near Ashland), which is a tortilla with sunflower seed butter and banana.

We moved from Texas into New Mexico and the landscape went through its most dramatic change of the trip. literally on the NM side of the state line small mesas rose out of the never ending dusty planes, and they gradually grew in size and number till we entered a big valley walled on either sides by towering cliffs. There were clouds ahead which were abbot worrying and soon we were climbing up to a high pass and thick snow flakes were falling. We got higher and higher and the red desert landscape looked fantastic under its thin white layer. I was getting excited about seeing the desert in snow but also a bit worried about my mat which I had mended with the last of my glue.

We entered Colorado in a swirl of now upon the high Pass we had been climbing to. Our first stop was in the town of Trinidad to buy some much needed and now legal supplies. It has stopped snowing by this stage and the locals in the weed shop told us that at this time of year it usually snowed or rained in the morning and heated up in the afternoon. Soon after we drove into a large beautiful valley leading us into the heart of the southern Rockies! Mushy said that you can see this valley from space and that it looks like a giant gash/vagina. Thankfully the Trinidad locals were right and the weather had cleared right up and the sky was blue, the tops of the mountains covered in snow.

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As we had crossed so many state lines today we also crossed two time zones and had gained 3 hours! This was really handy as we had an afternoon plan that we didn’t want to miss. We passed many huge mountain ranges, as we drove northwest towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Mushy spotted them first rising up out of the valley floor, rows upon rows of white dunes crowned with a dramatic glaciated snow capped mountain range, I could not believe my eyes. We parked the car, drank a heap of water, smoked a cheeky joint and headed out into the fray; the great sand dunes stood imposing and tall ready to meet us.

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Lady was so excited, she bounded around us tangling us up in her lead and making us run and leap about with happiness. If felt so good to be out of the car! We could see people on the highest dune and we aimed to meet them but first we had a lot of climbing to do. As always dunes make everything look close by but we knew it was actually 1.5 miles to the top. We slogged up and up in the sand, puffing, pulling off layers and struggling to believe we had been driving through snow only a few hours earlier. Lady had slowed only a little by the time we reached our first false summit, which did give us excellent views of the mountains and also excellent views of the summit still quite a way off. The sun was just starting to get low in the sky and the colours were at their bright best in contrast with the deep shadows. We pushed on to the top and sat on the very highest dune overlooking our grand kingdom.

Not wanting to be caught out after dark we moon walked our way back to the car passing people walking up for sunset (a really excellent idea). My mat which I had blown up before we left definitely still had holes in it. I didn’t want to sleep on the ground in the freezing cold so we booked a night in a cheap hotel in a nearby town Alamosa. The Rodeway in looked like it was going out of business/was a prop in B grade remake of The Shining. The lobby was huge, had a large rock wall with a smattering of potted plants, a footsall table, pool table, armchairs and about 20 mattresses which different people filtered in through the doorways collecting. The halls on the second floor were empty and never ending and had carpet banisters. Strange. We cooked pasta sides left over from Mushy’s resupplies and watch TV in bed, Lady curled up between us just like in the tent. It was so warm!

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Day 5 – Alamosa Colorado to Dinosaur Dimond Prehistoric Scenic Highway outside of Moab Utah

We get a free breakfast!!! So at 6.30 we trooped downstairs leaving Lady to guard the fort and had hotcakes and coffee, excellent. Today is only 5 hours of driving but we had a few errands to do so we hit the sceneic road and took the highway to Wolf Creek Pass. The Pass was in steep exposed granite mountains at the top of winding roads, the mountain sides covered in snow. We stopped and had a quick play in the snow at the Pass, Lady was very enthusiastic and we found a huge snowman.

The road was just as scenic down the other side through some very idillic farmland to the cute town of Durango. We stopped at a coffee shop and were overwhelmed by the amount of cuties in there. Lots of cuties on the street too! We though about lingering but yet another of Americas great National Park awaited us!

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The mountains slowly flattened out and we travelled through a patch of badlands. On the other side interesting rock formations started to appear, and they got bigger and clumped together and by the time we reached the town of Moab they were very impressive! I went to the hiking trading post and brought a cheap second hand sleeping mat, but we kept our time in town to a minimum because we were going to Arches National Park!

Even the drive into the park up a steep red rock slab under some towering hawk like monoliths was amazing. Upon reaching the plateau strange rock formations loomed from all angles. We drove in silence filled with awe at the amazingly beautiful and majestic landscape we were seeing. We started to notice small windows appearing in the rocks and then on the horizon, the arches the park has been named for.

We drove straight to the Garden Of Eden and the Window Arch. A short walk led to 3 huge arches, which were very impressive but what i found incredible was the colours of the desert in the afternoon light; the golden hour. Everything seemed particularly vivid and I could see for miles, miles upon miles of phallic strangely shaped red rock formations punctuated with canyons and shage brush, shadows crisp and dark. It was glorious! Unfortunately Lady wasn’t allowed on any of the trails so we took it in turns the other staying in the car park walking Lady in circles.

Next we visited Delicate Arch. It’s an 8 mile return hike to reach the base of it and we were running out of daylight so we opted for a lookout. The iconic Arch which appears on many signs and number plates around Utah looked great but was really far away. Next time, next time. I also told myself this when we had to choose between Arches and Canyonlands National Park. In the same area I quickly ran up a trail to see some Ute rock art depicting Ute’s on horses rounding up buffalo.

The sun was starting to set so we set our sights on camp and drove back out into the plateau sun lit purple rock garden. Again we drove in silence through this mystical landscape and we were both sad to leave. Upon reaching the highway in the real world we headed back towards Moab but took the first left at the Colorado River where it ran through a small canyon. The road that follows is known as the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Scenic Highway, and it is very scenic and feels old, like you could imagine dinosaurs walking there not long ago. The Colorado River ran right along the National Park boundary and on one side of the highway and a towering red rock wall on the other. Our BLM campground was squished in between the river and the highway, kinda exposed but with a great view. We made a fire and had soup and pasta sides for dinner, feeling the cold and eventually retreating to the tent. Today was excellent!

Day 6 – Dinosaur Dimond Prehistoric Scenic Highway outside of Moab to Antelope Island Utah

Last night was cold but we used the space blankets we brought in Moab to line the tent and make it a space dome! And also much warmer and like a disco when illuminated with head torches. We slept well. Mushy was not looking forward to driving though (fair enough) but thankfully we had a shorter day of only 5 hours to Antelope Island near Salt Lake City.

The beautiful rocks so prevalent near Moab quickly broke down into more badlands/desert. We drove through dry dusty and lumpy scenery for quite a while listening to podcasts before Mountains started to loom on the horizon. We climbed and climbed to a high desert pass and then descended into a huge valley that houses Salt Lake City, but you wouldn’t know it as the valley was full of smog, dirty brown smog that sometimes reduced our visibility down to 50 feet. The I15 continued north battering through the relentless smog, industry and housing estates that seemed to fill the valley to the bursting. SLC is one of the fastest growing cities in America and that growth seems to be out of control. Mushy has been considering moving here but his ultimate decision to move to Bellingham was enforced upon entering the valley.

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We did need some of the services that a big city provides, such as Trader Joes, but apart from that stop/deviation from the I15 we got outta there asap! Mushy was feeling it, the 2 hours + of driving on the congested roads was tiring him out, thankfully our destination Antelope island was not far away. We left the city and the interstate and set out along a causeway west into the middle of the Great Salt Lake! Antelope Island from a distance seems to float in the smog that never disappears from the horizon. Similarly all mountains viewed from the island float giving the whole place an otherworldly effect. It is one of the few benefits of smog!

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After going to the Visitors Centre to get firewood and fill up on water we drove to our perfect beachside camp. It was just us, Lady the beach and a floating mountain, so so beautiful. It was also freezing cold even though it was 2pm, and maybe it was this that delayed us seeing the other campers; 3 huge shaggy buffalo grazed just outside the campgrounds boarders. Thankfully Lady was oblivious.

We got to exploring and stretching our legs once we had set up camp. The rest of the blog post is just in photos because I got lazy about writing. Read the captions!

Day 7 – Antelope Island Utah to Craters of the Moon National Monument Idaho

Our morning drive through Utah and Idaho on our way to Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon lava fields

The weather turned cold and nasty, it got down to -6C overnight and everything froze solid, including us and maybe our sanity.

Day 8 – Craters of the Moon National Monument Idaho to Kennewick Washington

We drove through Snoqualamie Pass!!! Here are some very cold pictures, it looks a lot different to how it did in September. We also got pie at R&R diner in South Bend, aka diner from Twin Peaks.

Day 9 – Kennewick to Bellingham Washington

Bellingham, Mushy and Lady’s new home.

What an amazing adventure. Thanks for having me Mushy xxxxxxx