Tasmania 2 – Mount Wellington (kunanyi)

We love climbing mountains. You may have noticed. The first morning of our trip, as we drove into Hobart, I saw what is locally referred to as the Organ Pipes on top of Mount Wellington and told James: I want to climb that one. He told me not to get my hopes up, but turns out, yes, I was going to climb it.

I am not sure how to document the experience! We have hundreds of photos and it was such an incredible experience. How can I possibly simmer it down to a blog post? Basically I am going to take you along the hike with me… there’s going to be A LOT of photos (it was 18km after all!).

Start of the hike. I am full of glee because I got to choose the first mountain we are climbing.


Waterfall crossing. Look right…

Look left…

First of two echidnas we saw!

Normally I don’t bother to make my pictures clickable. But I’m going to try and remember for most of these because everything soooo beautiful.

We met these gorgeous spiders (update: they are Nicodamus peregrinus). They have these fascinating abdomens that are like black-turquoise opals, and bright red legs. James got some great macro shots of them, I must eventually get them off him and insert here, mine will have to make do in the interim:

My head, with the Organ Pipes right up in the top right hand corner:

Sphinx Rock Lookout (with James, who due to walking faster than me, is determined to photobomb everything I try to photograph).

I loved these plants, similar to broom?

The view from the lookout (Organ Pipes to the left! yes, I’m going to climb up on top of them!)

As we reached closer to the Pinnacle track, it got a lot colder and started to rain.

Then the sun would come out intermittently. I was taking my rain jacket off and on again every other minute.

The landscape changed constantly too.

Target up ahead! (this also makes me realise how long this post is going to be… we still aren’t even half way there).

This picture may look like it was taken on an angle, but it was not.

Hazy view, not quite Hallasan levels but making me think we won’t see much from the top!

I’m aware I probably need to post fewer photos of these craggy mountains ahead of me, but I just… I just love them!

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Selfie time

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First crystal of snow…
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Suddenly a lot more snow…
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The Pinnacle!
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At this point the wind was gusting over 110kmph and the snow was stinging every exposed part of me — my face, but also my calves! I watched great big men struggle to stay upright! I squealed as the wind whipped snow into my eyes, and I hugged the rocks as we clambered up to the highest point.

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Like a boss despite the howling wind!
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Leaning back against the wind – you can see my boots lifting off!

Then minutes later — this is the view!

We were following a loop which meant we didn’t have to walk the same way back — more landscape changes.

You can’t tell in this picture but it’s now starting to snow again, and the wind was still whipping around us, hence the stylish condom effect.

Getting well snowy!


Ok! That’s enough snow, let’s switch to flooded rainy paths! Definitely reminded me of Hallashan, this one…

The sun is out again…

and I’m obsessing over the lichens everywhere:




Another path presents itself just as the clouds go in.

Waterfall crossing again

Some time after this point I realised I hadn’t seen James in ages. He’s normally way up ahead and I don’t necessarily have him within sight, but generally he stops every now and then for me to catch up. I feel first faint annoyance, then mild anxiety, which prompts me to call out for him, because I am feeling quite isolated all of a sudden. Calling does nothing and my thin reedy voice seems to carry about as far as the next tree. I should pause and mention that my feelings about Tasmania’s landscapes are marked by a film called Van Diemen’s Land, which is famous for its bleak, untouched landscapes, surrounding desperate convicts who are completely lost, and who hack each other to pieces and eat each other as they desperately try to find… I don’t even remember what they were trying to find. ANYWAY. Rosie anxiety begins to evolve into actual panic that I’ve lost James and maybe he’s hurt himself somewhere or I took the wrong path, hah, hah, irrational anxiety is so amusing. I had started crying and wailing Jaaaaaaames, before I finally caught up enough for him to hear me and coming running back, convinced I must be in grave danger given my blubbering wails. Thereafter we held hands until I had regained my cool and my independence. Also we are almost done!

Second echidna sighting!

This one was less blasé and hid from us (in plain sight) under some bark.

And that’s it! Congratulations, you just blog-walked 18km up Mount Wellington and back down again, in rain, wind, sun, and snow. To come still: Mount Amos and Wineglass Bay.

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Preparing for a trek: Part 3 – What to bring

This is more of a list of the things that I find invaluable for hiking. Even though I don’t have many treks under my belt, I nearly always go on long hikes wherever I travel to, so I have a few tips and tricks. I haven’t covered off the backpack; to be honest I don’t feel I have enough experience to give advice on choosing a backpack and there are a lot of variables, but I’ll think about it and come back if I have any tips that spring to mind other than don’t get too big of a bag as you will be tempted to put more into it, and whilst 12kg seems acceptable on the first morning, even by the first night you’ll have thrown out anything you can because it will seem so ridiculously, unbearably heavy when you’re going up a mountain. Pack it, then unpack it, remove everything that you can survive 3 nights without, pack it again, wear it for a day-long hike, and then purge some more.

Clothes:

Merino everything.  No, seriously, just keep layering it until you’re warm. James taught me this and I was sceptical at first because I get rashes whenever I go near wool, but merino is different. It’s warm in cold weather, it’s breathable in hot weather, it doesn’t get stank, it washes (even in the machine) beautifully, it’s lightweight, it bundles down very small without crumpling, it’s soft, and it’s a beautiful natural fabric. I have so much Icebreaker in my wardrobe and I only wish I had more.  So ladies, find an Icebreaker outlet or shop around online, because even if you think it’s too expensive, in terms of cost per wear it is cheap (as you’ll be able to wear it daily, for years, even when you’re back home):

–       A merino travel dress: this may seem surprising as a “trekking” item, but actually it’s so wonderful to be able to crawl into it after a day of hiking, and it’s warm and soft and, dare-I-say-it, pretty, whilst generally being fairly modest when you are in more traditional parts of the world. You can also wear it to travel in as it doesn’t crumple, and you can wear it to go out of an evening without feeling frumpy, and you can sleep in it and hike in it and generally just never take it off. I have three. Expect pictures below, at a later date, of me frolicking in various environments in my Icebreaker dresses.

–       1 merino zipped hoodie

–       1 merino vest

–       1 merino long-sleeve t-shirt

–       1 wind-proof and water-proof hooded shell (I have a super lightweight one from Patagonia that zips down into its own pocket and I love it)

–       (if trekking in winter: 1 down jacket)

–       1 pair merino leggings

–       1 pair hiking trousers

–       1 pair shorts (some people go for the type of trousers that zip into shorts. I have never found a comfortable pair that looked decent but I’m sure they exist. My hiking trousers do have little snaps to turn them into capris though).

–       Underwear: unsurprisingly I have a merino sports bra that I love, which is simple and cheerful and doesn’t look sexy. It’s supportive yet comfortable enough to sleep in and it doesn’t get stinky… you’re unlikely to want to change bras much when you’re in a tent halfway up a mountain. I’m of the smaller-chested variety so I have no advice on bras for big boobs, sorry! But I’d imagine you also want something that is comfy and supportive but not crazily so – you’re not running, so you don’t need to strap them down too much. 2 bras is generally enough, one to wash and one to wear.

–       As for knickers – get something lightweight, that will breathe, won’t chafe (ohhhh the chafing… I’ll admit there have been hikes where I ditched underwear rather than chafe) and that will wash and dry quickly overnight. NO COTTON. Again, trust me.  2-3 pairs (and if camping, I don’t change them unless I need to, cos I’m gross/practical like that).

–       Socksalready covered in part one. To recap… merino! 2-3 pairs of hiking socks.

General:

–       A hat – preferably an actual hat and not a baseball cap, because the brim of the cap will not protect your ears or neck (or at least it can only protect one of these at a time, as I can testify).

–       A scarf – I am a redhead and I need a scarf no matter what time of year, but most of all in summer, to protect me from the sun. When it’s really hot, you can soak a scarf in cold water and wear it over your head and shoulders to keep cool. Other scarf functions: impromptu towel; tent for shade when you’re taking a break; extra sheet for bedding or rolled up as a pillow; folded into a handy carry bag; mask when walking through stinky, smoky or insect-infested areas; eyemask when napping; skirt or shawl when bare legs or shoulders are inappropriate; protection from burning hot pleather seats on a bus or tuk-tuk… and many more. Get a nice huge lightweight scarf and never let it go.

–       Sunglasses

–       Headband. This can be the type for warmth, or just to keep your hair out of your eyes/face/everything, especially if it’s windy and you don’t have the kind of hair that can just be tied back. Get one that’s adjustable (like this) so that it’s never too tight (headaches) or too loose (useless and easily lost).

–       Flip-flops – if you’ve ever travelled, you probably know this, but have a plastic pair of thongs stashed away. If you can bear it, Crocs are actually heaven after a day of trekking in boots. Full disclaimer: I cannot bear it, and have never fallen to the Crocs, but instead watched others enviously, and once borrowed my mother’s whilst on the Camino which is how I know just how amazing they feel.

Sleeping:

–       Silk sleeping bag liner. This is a MAJOR one. A MUST-HAVE. They are fairly inexpensive (I’ve seen them priced from 9 Euro to AUD $50 but I got mine for I think AUD $25) and they will revolutionise your experience. Their basic function is to make your sleeping bag up to 5º C warmer… which is nice… and they are much more easily washed than a sleeping-bag, so you can basically keep the sleeping bag cleaner and enjoy the “clean sheet” effect regularly. But I love them because:

  • They are soft and silky and nicer to lay in than most hostel or camping bedding
  • I find I get itchy skin from the detergent used on most sheets and the silk is a great (and hygienic!) barrier
  • When it’s hot, I can lay on the bed in just the silk liner rather than sheets (ideal when you don’t want to be naked cos of sharing a room with other people)
  • When it’s TROPICAL levels of hot I lay on top of it as it doesn’t hold sweat the way cotton does
  • I tend to get paranoid about mosquitos and bugs crawling on me (don’t judge! everyone’s been there at least once in their lives!) and I can relax when I know I’m safe in my silk bag
  • When there definitely are mosquitos around, I can hide inside my liner completely sealed off!
  • It also makes a great scarf (especially on sunburnt skin or when you’re drenched with rain) and you now know how much I love scarves
  • It can be wrapped around you under other layers for extra warmth, even when wet.

–       Earplugs. Never ever travel without earplugs. From bustling crazy cities, inconsiderate hostel room-mates, villages where the dogs bark.all.night.long, and even the startling silence of camping in complete isolation from the civilised world… you’ll never know when you’ll need them. I bulk buy them and then stash them in every pocket and bag for easy access in the middle of the night or on a long train-journey.

–       Eyemask if you’re a bit precious like me. I don’t always use it, but in my travels 80% of the places I have slept in, from tents in Bhutan to serviced apartments in Seoul, had nothing to shutter out the bright early morning light. This can be a good thing if you need to get up, but if you desperately need any sleep you can get, then I find eyemasks from Muji to be my favourite – reasonable price, soft to wear, don’t get sweaty, and block out the light quite effectively.

Toiletries:

–       Sunscreen – I love this affordable moisturiser from Nivea that’s SPF 30 and is instantly absorbed, soothing dry skin at the same time. Then bring any basic SPF 30 for arms, neck and legs, and a chapstick with SPF. If you’re in the mountains, you’ll get a lot of sun, and regardless, you’re outside all day long. This is obviously a guide for the ladies, so ladies – do it.

–       Bug spray – check online to see if strong insect repellent is available where you’re going (top tip: there’s none in Sri Lanka). Get something small and easy to apply; if it’s windy, spray into your hand and then smear it on.

–       Bite-eze or whatever it’s called – because despite everything you will get bitten by something. I have this Burt’s Bees one that I like; I think it’s mostly placebo with camphor and whatnot to distract from the bite, but it just makes such a difference when feeling assaulted by mozzies! And don’t scratch, but you knew that…

–       Body glide/ silicon anti-chafing gel. Great for ladies because bras, knickers, and thighs chafe very easily. As discussed in Part 1, also valuable for keeping your feet blister-free.

–       Wet wipes, and a ziplock baggie for disposing of them. Wet wipes are so useful but unlike toilet paper, not at all biodegradable, so make sure you have a dedicated “bin-bag” and don’t dump them in nature.

–       Travel size toothpaste and toothbrush. More ziplock bags. Lots of ziplock bags.

–       A small travel towel, mostly just as a gesture. Washing is unlikely to be a priority unless it’s really hot and you’re really sweaty and you have access to showers, and if it’s really hot you’ll dry off quickly anyway.

–       Haircare: Be prepared to have crazy hair. Maybe you’re luckier than me, but I have no idea how to avoid crazy hair when trekking. Sorry. However if you’re staying in hostels and have access to showers then it’s better to carry a little bottle of shampoo (in a ziplock, of course) and then use that to clean your underwear in the shower as well. Shampoo seems to be a superior surfactant, as it foams up quickly and rinses out easily without damaging your clothes.

Other stuff:

My friend asked me about travel guides, and whether to go for paper or ebooks. My advice is: download all the ebook guides you can find, but always travel with a paperback Lonely Planet. I find ebook guides can be frustrating and you can’t flip through them and randomly fall upon information the way you can with paper. I love ebooks but also sometimes you have no electricity and you need a book, either for guidance or for sheer sanity as something to read when you’re stranded at a remote train station for 7 hours; Lonely Planet guides are designed with this in mind and always have anecdotes, bits of history, and of course a phrasebook integrated.

If you are trekking with a smartphone (switched on sporadically, on airplane mode, so you can use it as a camera, ipod, map and perhaps even Runkeeper…) you will want to make sure you can top up the battery with a travel charger. I have an ANKER external battery, which can feed a power-hungry iPhone 5 multiple times over the course of a week.  I used my iPhone as a camera and took hundreds of photos daily during my trek in the Himalayas, as well as reading ebooks or listening to audiobooks during the long, cold, dark evenings, and even in the cold my ANKER was enough to last me for days. James used his iPhone and an ANKER and it was enough to track our trek through a GPS app.

Preparing for a trek: Part 2 – Training

As mentioned in my introduction, this is advice for people such as myself who are somewhat active but definitely don’t have the conditioning to walk 10-20km a day for several days and not suffer.

The podiatrist may have suggested this also, but it’s worth seeing a physio just to get a good understanding of any weaknesses you have. In my particular case, my deep glutes needed work, and my hip flexors were doing most of the heavy lifting. A physio will be able to give you a few exercises to help you build strength in the areas that matter, and you want to start doing them as regularly as you can, probably every other day.

Cost: a physio session is pretty affordable; around $70 in Melbourne, and then you can do the exercises alone at home. You might want to invest in a foam roller or a strength band, but they aren’t essentials by any means.

Physio exercises combined with some strength training and stretching (I find ashtanga yoga is great for both) will really help you along the way, but the real training of course comes through getting plenty of walks and hikes in. Don’t worry about speed, at least when you begin. What matters is distance and endurance, and it’s preferable to prioritise shorter walks back-to-back on consecutive days, than to worry about regularly hiking 20km. However, if you’re trekking at altitude (over 3,000m), get in as much cardio as you can, whether it’s walking at a brisk pace to keep your heartrate up, cycling, running or swimming,  because the stronger your cardiovascular system, the less you will struggle once you’re up there. Read up on how to acclimatise to the high altitude here, and visit your doctor for some Diamox (and any vaccines you may need) just in case.

Depending on how far you can currently walk without even noticing (as in you don’t feel sore the next day), you will want to ease into it. Before you build up a training plan, pull out the itinerary for your trek, and look at the distances you will be covering. A perfect example is my friend’s upcoming Peruvian trek:

–       Day 1 – 11km

–       Day 2 – 12km

–       Day 3 – 16 km

–       Day 4 – 4km

The longest day is 16km, so she’ll want to make sure she can walk 16km comfortably, but currently she doesn’t walk at all, and certainly not in hiking boots. So we want to start with gentle 4-5km walks on flat ground and gradually build up, peaking at 18km around 4 weeks before her trek, and gradually increasing back-to-back walks and hikes, so that by the time she flies out, she’ll think nothing of doing 10km several days in a row or 40km in a week. It will be a lot more challenging up in the Andes of course because of the altitude, but she’ll have a solid base.

For those of us who work full-time pretty much the only way to get more walks in on a daily basis is to walk to work. If you can plan a 4-5km path to work, this is a huge bonus. If you live closer than that to work, you may want to take public transport further away from home, or integrate a loop via a local park. Of course if you live further away, get off the train/tram/bus when you’re 5km from work. It’s perfect because you can walk in and commute home (5km a day) or both walk in and walk home (10km a day, with a nice break in between). You can walk home and then walk back in the next day – back to back walks. And if you’re too tired one day, you can make up for it the next. 5km shouldn’t take much more than an hour and so it’s generally not a huge impact on your commute. Of course, you’ll want a workplace with some facilities (showers = awesome, although hopefully you won’t work up too much of a sweat just walking) and you’ll probably want to stash work clothes at the office to change into.

On the weekends you’ll get to do the real deal: mountain hikes, huzzah. If you live somewhere with easy access to lots of mountains, lucky you! If you don’t drive (as is my case) then it can be a bit of a challenge to hunt down a mountain range with trails and public transport, but in Melbourne we have Mount Dandenong.  Make sure you scope one out and then make good friends with it, because you want to get in one big hike at least once a week. Again, start low with 5-7km and then increase slowly. You’ll probably feel you can do a lot more but the aim is to gradually build your strength, without injuring your body. Breaking boots in at the same time is a great way to slow you down. Get plenty of incline in wherever you can, if you’re going to be trekking in the mountains.

Whenever possible, carry a backpack on your hikes. When you first start, it will probably just hold your change of shoes and some water, but get used to carrying a decent amount of stuff (include fuel – I love packing a couple of sandwiches, fruit pouches and a cereal bar, as they all taste amazing on top of a mountain).  Even if you’re doing a trek where guides are carrying your gear, you will need a day pack, and it grows exponentially heavier as the day progresses.  So don’t overload your backpack but make a point of always having to lug one around on your walks. It’s lovely to walk without one, but you are unlikely to escape it on a trek, so get used to it and you won’t feel the pain so much. As for water, I personally love camelback-type water pouches as it means I don’t have to stop every time I want to grab water.

Once you start hitting the 10-15km length hikes, you’re facing a bare minimum of 3 hours out on trails. Some days it goes fast, some days it goes slow, so you may need some excitement to incentivise you. If so, I hope you have a smartphone, because that’s my secret:

1 – get an app like Runkeeper to track all your walks, whether your daily commute to and from work, to your beautiful hikes out in the mountains on the weekends. I love seeing all the kilometres add up, and checking out the maps. Seeing a bar graph and squiggly lines announcing that I hiked 16km in 4:12:55 hours and burnt 1077 kcal makes me happy, and it might well cheer you up to know that despite working 5 days a week you squeezed in 23km of walks between Monday and Friday.

2 – get some podcasts. Glorious nature is all well and fine, but when you’re trudging along the same city road for the 19th time that month… you need a little distraction. I find listening to music can affect my moods in strange ways, but listening to spoken word podcasts about travel, science, history or even just comedy makes a walking commute more entertaining. Also audiobooks work well; David Sedaris – get all of his oeuvre!

Don’t forget to taper as you approach your departure date. Once you’ve peaked in distance, slowly scale back and decrease distances a little, and concentrate on getting plenty of back-to-back walks in so you’re used to walking on tired legs. I find getting ready to go travelling means I’m too busy and stressed to get many hikes in and if you’re flying long haul you will probably be wiped out anyway. Relax and try to enjoy the excitement of what’s coming!