Friday, March 2, 2018

Preparing for the next walk

After a glorious 2 weeks of skiing powder, deep glorious powder, I returned to warm sunny Sydney and jumped straight on a bus down to Canberra. Waiting over half an hour for our ski bags to be produced at the oversize baggage pickup counter, a rush through customs and out the door, over to "Express Pickup" to retrieve my bag of camping gear that I'd left in Coledale - Kathy's partner Graham had brought it up with him - then back around to the bus bays to catch my 10:25am shuttle to Canberra..... needless to say I was a wreck! Luckily the bus was running late due to luggage issues, and so I didn't miss it. Then surprise surprise, the bus driver happens to be someone I'd been skiing with a week before in Niseko! Small world...

I hadn't actually told mum I was coming, and had only just told my brother, so he could come pick me up from the bus station. Doing the school pickup of my nieces also caused a little surprise! It's been a year since I've been back in Canberra and this time I had a little time on my hands. I needed it.

It's coming up to the anniversary of our first section walking the Australian Alps Walking Track. You can read about that here. We decided back then that we would do the next section this year, so the three of us have been communicating a little over email sharing maps and discussing the itinerary. This time we will be walking from Thredbo to Kiandra, officially a distance of 108 km.

The official route avoids the NSW main range, veering off it after visiting Mt Kosckiusko, and detouring along roadways. Why being in the NSW High Country would have unacceptable risks doesn't make sense, as the Victorian High Country walking is even more remote and just as inclement. Needless to say, we will be following the unofficial route across the tops, as detailed in the actual guidebook. And the weather forecasts are looking good....

We'll also be detouring off the fire trails further north through The Kerries and Jagungal Wilderness. Staying in the high country offers more views and the option to climb more summits as we head north, but it's also more exposed to high winds and other unpleasant meteorologic phenomena. We just have to hope the weather obliges.

Because I've been overseas I hadn't done any food preparation, and with a week to burn before we leave, I offered to prepare the lunches and dinners for Matt and myself, he's organising his own breakfasts. Mum has a food dehydrator lurking on a top cupboard (thanks Uncle Mel), so all I needed to do was purchase a vacuum sealing machine, buy some food, and cook up a storm. Poor mum lost the use of her kitchen for the week, got to smell awesome food being prepared, but then didn't get to try them out. Meany aren't I? I shall cook some of the meals for her when I get back.

This trip I tried something new, which was to prepare full meals beforehand, dehydrate them, then vacuum pack them. My mate Bill did this on his Bibbulmum Track walk, with great success, so I am emboldened to do it myself. I've also made a big stash of beef jerky. Yum!!

Our evening meals will be: Spaghetti Bolognese, Mongolian Chicken, Green Chicken Curry, Beef Stew, Palak Paneer and Creamy Salmon Pasta. Don't worry, there are lots of vegetables amongst the protein!

For lunch there's beef jerky, dried tomatoes, hummus, cheese, salami, tuna, and pesto. Any combination of above on crackers or wraps. A girl has to eat well on the trail! Aside from salami and cheese, all the others are dehydrated for reconstitution on the trail. We will be taking 10 days worth of meals, so reducing our carrying weight is essential. And in case you didn't realise, I've done this before!

I'm taking pretty well the same things as my last trip, with a couple of new additions: the you beaut dunny-roll holder, and down trousers. I shall be toasty, and so will my toilet tissue!

Even though Matt and I will be sharing meals I'll still be bringing along my stove and pot, because neither takes up much space or room, and the extra pot actually comes in handy. Plus I don't fancy waiting around for hot water for my morning coffee! Grumpy morning me: not nice...

Getting 10 days worth of food into my 44L backpack has been an accomplishment. Matt has a 55L bag so he has a little more room, but he also has a few more bulky items of camping gear than me.

So I'm all packed and ready to go. We are off to Thredbo tonight, and begin walking in the morning. You can follow our walk here.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ski Goddess re-surfaces in Japan

Poor old ski goddess had her NZ ski season rudely terminated by a minor fall, a head injury and a retinal detachment. Following surgery and the insertion of gas into the eye I was no longer able to ascend to altitude, so no more skiing until the gas dissipated.

As you may be aware, I required 2 further bouts of surgery and lost my central vision after developing a macular hole, so it was not until the second week of January that I was at last gas free. Although I flew home to Australia in late October for 10 days, there was still a small amount of residual gas present. But I was yet to have any meaningful sight in the eye as the treatment caused a thick cataract to develop, which then had to be removed to allow for the third surgery in November.

With such a prolonged period with restrictions on my movements, I was pretty keen to get back skiing this northern hemisphere winter with a trip to Japan. When I told Harry in December that I wanted to go skiing in February, he was extremely supportive, but was unable to schedule the final surgery to replace my lens before then. Instead he suggested I see an optometrist and get a contact lens, go skiing, and then get the final lens replacement on my return.

So that is exactly what I did. My eyesight in the left eye is far from perfect, with considerable distortion of my central vision, but the peripheral vision is pretty good, meaning I can see the trees on both sides when I'm skiing between them!!

An intensive 8 days of tramping was my only real preparation for 2 weeks in the Japanese powder, I just had to hope it was enough.

I flew from Dunedin to Sydney, stayed at Kathy's place in Coledale, then we headed up to Sydney again the following evening for our overnight flight to Tokyo and on to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. First stop the spa at the airport, for our first of many onsen experiences. Hair shampooed and conditioned, a warm soak in the baths, and a few refreshing cups of tea later we were ready to hit Sapporo city.

We'd arrived at the start of the annual snow and ice festival, so we had lots to see. Last time I had visited the festival on its final day and it had been a warm winter so the sculptures were past their best, but this time they were just being finished. In fact we were too early to see the finished sculptures from the international competition, but we still managed to pick what ended up being the winner.

Odori Park hosted the large snow and ice sculptures, and at night they were lit up, which was quite spectacular.

In nearby Susukino were the ice sculptures. Much more intricate.

We also did a little shopping, sampled some sake and dined at some cute izakaya restaurants. We revisited Ramen Alley, but really enjoyed our meal in a small place where they spoke no English besides "are you hungry?" and just kept offering more dishes until we answered no!

Then it was on to Kutchan via subway and train, where we picked up our trusty steed "Crumpet" for getting around in. It's got rusty panels, some of the doors don't open, there's no sound system, it smells, but it starts every time and gets us where we want to go. And it was cheap!

We are staying in an ex-elementary school run by a middle aged couple which runs back to nature adventure programs for kids and adults, mostly in summer. It's pretty cold everywhere but in our room, where we keep the heater cranked up. It's made bearable if we go find an onsen to bathe in each day rather than use the showers in the freezing bathroom! And we have been trying lots of different onsens, a different one every day. My skin is as soft as a baby's bottom!!

We came to Japan to ski, and since we arrived we haven't seen the sun at all. We've had tiny windows of sunshine for a few minutes maximum, but mostly it has been dumping down at a spectacular rate and consistency. Needless to say the skiing has been sensational!

My previous trips to Japan had been marred by injury and less than average snow conditions, but this year the weather gods have delivered in spades. We have to dig our car out every morning, but that's a small price to pay for the joy of fresh pow in the trees.

We have friends who live in Kutchan and the usual procedure is to meet up for coffee at one of the mountain huts at Niseko mid morning, compare notes then do a bit more skiing. Its been great to get shown the off piste tree runs as it takes time to work out the contours of what is a huge mountain made up of multiple interlinking resorts. We mostly skied at Hirafu and Hanazono, because the snow has been so good and when you can still find nice fresh snow to ride, why go elsewhere?

We've also visited Rusutsu, which is quieter and more cruisy with well spaced trees for charging down. It's also given us the opportunity to visit some more onsens!

We have taken some down time, driving to Otaru one day through a blizzard, to visit the lantern festival and gorge on a massive feed of seafood and noodles.

But mostly we have skied and bathed in a different onsen every day. Nothing quite like hard physical exercise in the cold smashing pow for a few hours followed by immersing oneself in a warm mineral bath and relaxing... The best two things about Japan, every day. What's not to love about it?

Our final day we bought an all mountain pass and headed over to Annupuri from Hanazono. We got the most awesome powder runs on our way across as we jagged the lifts well to get first tracks. However, the decision to stop for a very mediocre coffee in Annupuri cost us dearly, as the wind picked up and closed the top lifts required for us to ski back. Instead we had to take the bus of shame back to Hirafu Gondola, where we could ski the final leg back to Hanazono. One more onsen later and our trip was over.

The trip to Japan has been a great success. It's been such a wonderful experience to be back on skis again and to have such superb conditions as well. It's been well worth the wait.

Just one more onsen at the airport before we leave....

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Four days in Siberia: Gillespie Pass circuit

This was the tramp I was working up to. A river crossing that was potentially treacherous, a long walk up a valley to an overnight hut, a gruelling climb over an alpine pass, a side trip up to a glacial lake at the head of a hanging valley, and a walk down river to a leisurely exit by jet boat.

It was a hard walk, but not out of the realm of anyone with a fair level of fitness and the right equipment. By the latter I mean proper footwear, the means to stay warm and dry, and enough food to sustain your body for 8-9 hour tramping days. If there's one thing I've learnt about myself, I'm never going to be fast!!

First stop was the Wilkin Riverjets office to book my jet boat ride down the Wilkin River on the final day. For $110 it's possible to avoid a 6-7 hour walk through farmland and a potentially difficult river crossing, in exchange for 20 minutes speeding down a braided river back to civilisation. I'm not poor enough to consider this anything but a bargain!

I stayed overnight in Makarora, where I met Leah and Steve, an American couple also doing the circuit, so I asked to tag along with them for the crossing of the Makarora. My other option was to cross over via the bridge at Blue Pools, and walk an extra 6km back down to the confluence of the Young and Makarora rivers. Instead, I walked with them across the paddocks and joined them crossing the river just above the confluence. It was fairly fast flowing, and up to waist deep in one section, so it was just a tad frightening, but I never felt I would lose my footing. Any deeper and it may have been a different story.

Just as we finished crossing a jet boat with six people turned up. It's possible to pay $25 for the privilege of a jet boat transfer across the river, but I thought that was just too easy. We saved no time, or much money, walking it ourselves, but we couldn't be considered softies!!

After drying my feet and putting my boots on, it was time to start tramping up the Young Valley. This is a narrower valley than the Wilkin, and soon I was walking beside a raging torrent as it cascaded over huge boulders on its way from glacial melt higher up the valley. The track alternates between grassy meadow and tracking through beech forest, with portions of the track being quite technical climbing up and down over tree roots. The north branch of the Young River is crossed by swing bridge, and then the going gets tougher and steeper as the valley narrows. After about 6 hours of walking I arrive at Young Hut. There's a fair crowd staying the night and it's a pleasant evening enjoying a cup of red wine, good conversation, and some beautiful views of the rock walls opposite the hut.

The next morning it's raining, but I'll take cool weather over blazing sunshine when contemplating climbing an alpine pass with no shade. Even so it was hot hard going. The Young Valley closes in on all sides to sheer rock faces with waterfalls, but for the one exit via a ridge up to Gillespie Pass. It's fairly windy at altitude, and a bit cold, but my rain jacket gives me protection whilst I grab a much needed fuel replenish, then head over into the moonscape on the other side.

The glacier below Mt Awful can be seen at times through the cloud cover, but mostly it's desolate and very Mordor like. It's pretty hard to not throw around Lord of the Rings references, this really looks and feels like Middle Earth.

The wind abates on the other side of the pass and it's an easier grade walking back down to the treeline. Then it's a rather unpleasant scramble/climb down the beech tree roots and a few more ups and downs which seem to go on just a bit too long, until finally arriving on the grasslands high up in Siberia Valley. I stop for second lunch.

The final walk along the valley floor to Siberia Hut takes about an hour, and is a pleasant way to stretch out the legs after the difficult climb over the pass. I contemplate whether I will go to Crucible Lake the next day, or take a day off. The hut is full, but it's a nice crowd, and another pleasant evening is had.

After a leisurely breakfast I head off on the Crucible Lake walk. My pack only contains water, lunch, and wet weather gear, so it's considerably lighter a load. Initially I backtrack up the valley, before crossing Siberia Stream and then beginning the climb up alongside a waterfall to the hanging valley above. Yes, it is steep clambering over tree roots again. Hard going, regardless of the lightness of my pack.

A hanging valley is created when the valley below it erodes at a faster rate than the upper valley, making a valley that hangs in midair so to speak, usually with a sheer drop that a waterfall goes over. The climb up isn't sheer, but it's no walk in the park...

After crossing Crucible Stream high up, the valley opens up, and is covered in flowers. It ends in a cirque with a lake formed by rockfall. This is Crucible Lake. Whilst I was walking up to the lake I could hear thunderous rockfalls occurring, luckily nowhere near me!

A quick lunch in the rain by the lake was all I could manage. It was too cold for a swim. A bit of sunshine would have been magic. It's still pretty spectacular in the rain....

The walk back down was much easier. My legs are definitely getting used to the downhill walking at a faster pace than the uphill climbs. It took me a good hour less to get back to the Hut, which was less than half full for the night. The sun had come out and I had a fantastic swim and wash in the nearby waterfall and pool.

Day four began overcast, but soon cleared. The track downriver to the Wilkin has been maintained at a much higher level than any of the trails I had been on over the previous 7 days. That's because tourists fly in to Siberia Hut by plane and helicopter, walk the 2 hours down to Kerin Forks, and take the jet boat back. Even the grass has been mowed!

It was an absolute joy to walk down a benched switchback to the Wilkin River below. To find a nice piece of shade by the river and enjoy a leisurely lunch, reading my book and waiting for my transport to arrive. And right on time our jet boat arrived.

Wilkin jetboat from Naomi Brooks on Vimeo.

Twenty minutes later we were back at Makarora. And a couple of hours more and I was enjoying a long hot shower in Wanaka.

Bootcamp completed!