trekking

Hiking the Three Capes Track

tct2_munroellenSo, I went hiking a couple of weeks ago. (Yep.) And, despite apprehension about my general fitness, I survived four days of schlepping around the Tasman Peninsula with only a few blisters and a mild case of sunburn.

(I did wonder a few times — muscles burning, lungs wheezing — what the hell I was doing, but that’s enough said about that.)

The Three Capes Track in Tasmania is one of those new hiking ‘experiences’, where you pay some money for the privilege of using a well-constructed track and staying in beautiful new eco huts with kitchen facilities, dorm beds, and other, er, facilities. (Let’s just say, this was a far cry from toileting Mongolian style… They might have been long drop toilets, but there were stalls with doors and everything.)

It had been a while since I’d gone hiking. The last time I carried a full pack was January 1999 for Tasmania’s Overland Track. Then in around 2005 I spent eight days trekking in Nepal — but that time I had porters to carry my gear (thank the stars).

For the Three Capes Track we didn’t need to carry tents or stoves, but we did need to carry other gear and food — and we ate (and drank) extremely well — so it was kind of a halfway deal. I just gritted my teeth and told myself it was yet more research and, as I went up and down more steps than I cared to count, realised that Zillah (my kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons character) I am most definitely not…


Three Capes Track – Day 1

The first day is just 4km, starting from Denmans Cove near the historic Port Arthur site. We took the later scenic boat ride (sea eagles perched in the trees!) from Port Arthur, to arrive at the cove at around 3pm. We then took our time and climbed up through coastal forests to arrive at Surveyors Hut in time for a pre-dinner cup of tea.

The walk is somewhat up and down (and up) to the top of the cliff, but not difficult. It was a good length just to get me into the mood of carrying my pack. And the first sight of Surveyors Hut, as we came around a bend out of the bush, took my breath away. That thing is so huge! It’s beautifully designed, with broad decks and lots of space — not to mention a gorgeous view.

tct1_surveyors-hut

Surveyors Hut

That night we dined in impressive style, thanks to one of my hiking companions: chicken curry with rice, steamed greens and poppadoms. And red wine (decanted into a bladder for carrying). And brownies for dessert. As I said, we ate well!

Day 2

We began the second day in leisurely fashion, taking our breakfast (instant oats with dried blueberries and sweetened condensed milk) and coffee (one of my companions carried a stove-top espresso maker!) with easy conversation. It was so nice to hang out with fellow hikers. We headed off walking at about 10am.

The second day’s walk is 11km, undulating along clifftops towards Cape Pillar, including up and over Arthur’s Peak and Crescent Mountain. The views are staggering — back towards Cape Raoul and Crescent Bay, where dune-surfing takes place, and to Cape Pillar in the other direction.

We again took our time, stopping at each of the marked “Encounters” to read from the guide book about some aspect of history, or geology, or vegetation, or wildlife etc of the place we had stopped at. These encounters are one of the great aspects of the hike — and they are the thing that makes it an “experience”, rather than a simple hike. They are marked most often by some form of creatively designed bench seat, offering a good excuse to rest for a few moments.

More than that, though, the encounters really made us stop and look and think about where we were. They made me notice the changing vegetation and look out for things I might not have noticed otherwise. The little book containing all the information is a really fabulous initiative.

We arrived at Munro Hut late afternoon, and spent the hours leading up to dinner relaxing on the deck and admiring the view (see photo with me at the top). More wine that night, and some whisky I’d been carrying. Plus a Thai vegetable curry with tofu. And Lindor balls. Yum.

Day 3

Lots of good things about day 3 (17km) — including the fact that most of it involved leaving our packs at Munro Hut and taking day packs out to the tip of Cape Pillar, where there is a rocky feature known as The Blade.

You can see from the above photos that we had glorious weather — in fact, it was hot hot hot. Again, it’s not a difficult walk, although there is plenty of up and down (and steps). We clambered up to the tip of the Blade, which overlooks Tasman Island, just to say we’d done it, but the views are better from elsewhere. There’s a lighthouse on Tasman Island and a weather station. And seals frolic in the rockpools at its feet.

The Blade and Tasman Island

The Blade and Tasman Island

After the return trip from Cape Pillar, it took less than an hour carrying our packs to reach Retakunna Hut, which sprawls and nestles in a bushland setting. It’s serene and beautiful there. Finally it was time to eat the dinner food in my pack, and I was glad to get rid of the potato, carrots, snow peas and half a dozen fresh eggs I’d been carrying! This was combined with tuna and couscous and other bits and pieces to form a hiking version of nicoise salad.

Day 4

We rose early on Day 4 (dawn! I swear it’s true!), because although only 14km it’s actually the longest day from a time point of view and walkers need to be finished by a certain time to catch a bus back to Port Arthur at the end. We were on our way by 8am and reached the top of Mount Fortescue by 9am, once the morning drizzle cleared and before the clouds had burnt off.

Once the clouds did burn off, the day turned scorching hot. Day 4 is only 14km, but I admit to being generally fatigued by the final day (unfit, remember?) and this was the hardest day for me without doubt. It’s a gorgeous walk, though. The first climb of Mount Fortescue and its descent is through beautiful rainforest. Then we came out onto the clifftops on the other side, where the views are again stupendous. The geology of this part of the world is certainly striking.

tct4_cliffs

Towards the end of the walk, we all downed packs for a side trip to the tip of Cape Hauy. This was not really too far, but it was hot, I was tired, and there were steps. Steps up and steps down. More steps.

Steps.

And hot.

This was definitely the hardest section of the entire walk for me, most likely a combination of the heat and fatigue. But it was all over in a couple of hours, and then it was time for the final descent to Fortescue Bay, where the bus was picking us up at 4pm. We arrived by about 3pm, which gave us time to relax before getting transported back to Port Arthur.

3CT Map


Overall, the Three Capes Track was a fabulous experience and it was a privilege to see such a beautiful and remote part of the world. We did have some discussions about the model for the hike — the section from the start to Munro Hut can now only be done as part of the Three Capes Track Experience, meaning independent hikers are excluded. However, they can still get to the tip of Cape Pillar, and Cape Hauy is a day hike from Fortescue Bay.

I’m not sure I’m on board with excluding independent hikers, but I do feel that these facilities make it possible for a greater breadth of people to participate. It certainly suited me at this stage of my life. I absolutely love trekking and adventure, but I do not absolutely love carrying a full pack. Moreover, sleeping on memory foam mattresses certainly beats my old and very thin thermorest. (Interestingly, the most popular demographics for the Three Capes Track are 1) over 50s, 2) women, 3) families.)

It was fabulous to explore another corner of my country, but there are still many many walks around the world I want to do. Some of them wilderness hikes, others through more civilised areas. On my radar at the moment are: the Mont Blanc circuit in Europe, the Appalachian Trail in the USA, the South West Coast path in the UK (plus many others), and the pilgrims way through southern Europe.

Which one shall I do next?

Contemplating Wild China

I’m starting to think about my next adventure. And it’s exciting. Where in the world (literally) shall I go next?

I was originally intending to trek around Mont Blanc in central Europe. It’s a 180km Alpine route through France, Switzerland and Italy, taking about 11 days. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now (I absolutely love trekking holidays) and when I couldn’t make it fit with my travel plans last year, earmarked it for next year instead.

As recently as yesterday, I stated I was probably going to trek the Mont Blanc circuit next year.

But I just watched a documentary called Wild China and remembered that I’ve also always wanted to go to Mongolia.

mongolia

Image from Mongolia Tourism

 

The doco basically covered the people and wildlife and geography in the areas north of the Great Wall, following the wall from east to west and then panning further west to follow the silk road to Kashgar (including a camel trek¬† across an enormous sandy desert, where I’m fairly sure they don’t take tourists). Then the doco took us north over a second lot of mountains into the Junggar Basin.

Stunning scenery. Wild landscapes. Interesting people.

Within 10 minutes of the doco starting I had my enormous Times Atlas out. I can’t remember the last time I looked at it, but — with its various world maps showing vegetation, climate and terrain — it was far more useful than Google would have been.

It’s amazing how it isn’t until you examine a particular section of the world closely on a map that you understand how it’s put together. And that part of China is complex! There are steppes, mountains, deserts all interleaved. Fascinating.

So now I need to go there. A good part of my fascination is due to an intense desire to go hang out on some steppes. See the wild horses.

Writing fantasy as I do, a good chunk of my secondary world involves grassland/plains. They’re not specifically modelled on Mongolia, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go check them out for myself.

Breathe the air. Smell the grass. Listen to the wind. Embrace the wildlife.

It’s been a while since I travelled anywhere mildly challenging. My last few trips have been to England, Europe and the USA. But I have been to China before (mainly Shanghai and Beijing) and Nepal, where it was harder to communicate and (in Nepal particularly) amenities were basic.

So I think it’s time to stretch myself a bit. Get really adventurous. Northern China and Mongolia would be a fascinating and exciting option. And the opportunity for some experiential writing research is always a plus.

Don’t suppose I’d be travel blogging via my phone in the wilds of Northern China though ~ heh.

Of course, there are plenty of other places in the world I’d like to go as well… Once I start looking at options I may well get diverted.

Oooh, look, shiny!

I’m also open to recommendations, while I’m at it. I’d love to hear about the most exciting place you’ve visited in the comments.

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Anywhere I like? In the world?

It’s definitely travel week here on ye olde blog. Completely unplanned, I assure you! But, upon reflection, considering the tagline of ‘To beyond and back’, it’s actually rather fitting.

Today we’re not peering into the past, however, but embracing the future according to this week’s WANAFriday blog prompt: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

Ooooooh.

Anywhere? Really?

This is a really hard question, because there are so many places I want to go: South America (especially Peru… and Patagonia), North Africa (especially Morocco), Mongolia, the area around the Caspian Sea, Everest Base Camp, Antarctica…

The list is literally endless.

My current most immediate hankering, however, is to walk the Mont Blanc circuit in central Europe. The mountain lies on the border between France and Italy and is the highest peak in the European Union. I have no desire to climb the mountain itself, but there’s a walk you can do that circumnavigates the peak in about two weeks. Here’s a link to the Intrepid Travel guided walk — and it’s taking extreme self-control not to book myself on a trip here and now…

Mont_Blanc

The description on the Intrepid web site: Undertake one of the most dramatic walks in Europe. No amount of training can prepare you for the staggering beauty and degree of diversity that is contained within the Mont Blanc Circuit. Postcard perfect villages, cerulean glaciers, striking alpine vistas, challenging passes and rewarding days await on this walking adventure through France, Italy and Switzerland.

  • Follow the Grand Balcon trail
  • Walk through fields of wildflowers
  • Traverse alpine pastures to Champex
  • Pass through France, Italy and Switzerland
  • Get up close to breathtaking glaciers
  • Follow ancient Roman roads

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

I am desperate to do this walk. Not only do I absolutely love mountains, but don’t you think it sounds like a fabulous research trip for a fantasy writer? Might even be tax deductible…

So, right now, that’s where I’d go, if I could go anywhere. Where would you go? Does anyone else like walking/trekking holidays?

***

And now it’s just occurred to me that I took this prompt to mean “anywhere in this world“… Because, if out of this world was an option, then just imagine the places one could go: the moon… Middle Earth… Al-Rassan… [head explodes]

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Other participants in this week’s WANAFriday blogfest include:

  • Kim Griffin — who tells us why she wants to visit Paris, Australia and Hawaii
  • Siri Paulson — whose destination of choice is a little out of this world…
  • Janice Heck — who reveals why she’d go back to Paris
  • Cora Ramos — who shares her favourite mode of travel: the wandering road trip
  • Liv Rancourt — who reveals her yearning to revisit Hawaii
  • Nikki McCormack — who shares a bunch of recent photos from Ireland
  • Tami Clayton — who says she wants to go to Hawaii too (that’s three votes for Hawaii!)

Further posts¬†will be updated when they’re live.

To participate, simply write a post to the prompt and tweet to #wanafriday, then hop around and visit all the other posts (and link to them if you wish).

Image credit: Wikimedia commons