Monday, April 09, 2012

Just Did It

After several failed attempts at getting back to some fitness *touching wood* this time I seemed to have cracked it.

On 12 March I weighed in at 112.7kgs, time to get cracking....

Low carb diet combined with a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise (but up to 2 hours) each day has seen me drop just over 9kgs.

Mostly just walking and running, but I also dug out Dad's old crowbar and have done some light weights sessions and a few gut workouts (crunchers and such)

I've only had 1 rest day and that was Good Friday - because...... Saturday I was off on a solo overnight pack walk from Kanangra Walls to Mt Cloudmaker - well Dex Creek actually.

On a whim I had purchased an Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy and was aching to try it out - now I'm just aching.

It has been over 15 years since I've ventured into the Gangerang Ranges - funny how time dulls the memory on the degree of difficulty of some things. I even packed a novel naively thinking I'd have time to read :)

Speaking of packing - I carried too much - I've grown conservative over the years and am nowhere near as brave (or silly) as I used to be. Things I wouldn't have looked at twice 15 years ago and deemed as unnecessary, were now thrown into my ever expanding pack with gay abandon - I mean, you never know when you might need it - right? Because I'm low carb, my food was also heavier than usual as most of it was fresh - I even had a small frying pan for when I fired up the barbie to cook my steak for dinner. In the end, with a full load of water I was toting 19kgs.

Some things I took I was very glad I did:

My old Garmin e-Trex pre-programed with waypoints from Mem-map functioned brilliantly (side note - in the old days with best battery technology available I could at best get a full day of navigation from a set of batteries - with lithiums I made both full days and the battery indicator was still on full). I also found my old Highgear altimeter watch and with a new battery it was as good as spankers - it also functioned perfectly and is a great tool for not getting fooled by false peaks on the climbs.

I had been planning on just wearing joggers - but digging through a cupboard to find something else, I re-discovered an old pair of walking boots I forgot I even had - boots meant I could also take my battered and extremely well worn gaiters - man, am I glad I did - I lost count of the times I praised those boots and gaiters. Note to self - never leave home without them when heading into the Kanangra-Boyd NP.

With new bivy I was going to go hard core - but the weather prediction had me packing my faithful hootchie (for the uninitiated - it's kind of a tarp thingee that the army issue the troops as a token gesture they care for their welfare) - with a Crux Torpedo waterproof sleeping bag, a bivy and hootchie - there was no way I was sleeping wet - good thing too - it rained all night long on Saturday night.

The Walk.

It was Hellgate Saturday, so I kept an eye out for runners as I drove by to no avail. Arrived at the Walls a bit after 9:00AM and was walking by 9:20. I was confident i'd be at Dex Creek by 3:00PM.

As I was walking down the stairs from the carpark I was passed by none other than Jan the Hermanator Hermans and his lovely wife Gabby out for a day walk to Mt Stormbreaker, what are the odds of that? Jan was one of the people who helped pioneer the Coast to Kosiuszko (248km) ultra marathon and has such scalps under his belt as the Death Valley ultra. He once also threw up in the back of my car after a Six Foot Track race :)

Anyhoo after pleasantries - they surged ahead.

The views of the Kanangra Gorge and the waterfalls as you walk along the tops is always sensational - it is big country and it is fantastic to feel the old rock under the feet. Gazing out at Thurat Spires, I conjured up memories of an epic walk I did with my best bushwalking buddy Simon, when we spectacularly failed to cross the spires and had to exit down the steepest slope I've ever descended, only to have to climb the steepest slope I've ever ascended up to the base of Crafts Wall - and then our walk started in earnest - those were the days! I happily spent the next couple of kilometers reminiscing about walks in these parts and further afield.

I had completely forgotten the little canyon/slot you have to down-climb to get off the tops and onto the Gangerang Range proper. I used to have an eidetic memory for such details - I still kind of do as I certainly remembered it when I saw it. With no climbing tape or rope there was no option to lower my pack (and with eggs packed I wasn't going to drop it). Getting down the crux requires a small leap of faith for the vertically challenged and bum first, I slid off the wet rock, lost my footing and collected my first owie - a graze on my left thigh - I felt all warm inside - I knew this walk was going to hurt and things were already going to plan :)

Morning tea at the cave just at the start of Crafts Wall and I just enjoyed the magnificence of the view on this crystal clear gorgeous day. Life doesn't get much better :)

Getting around Mt Berry proved a real chore - somehow I let myself get lured into dropping too far off the edge and ended up trackless and slipping and sliding my way on a contour that in a relative sense increasingly lost height from the ridge - a rookie mistake that I should never have made - eventually I bit the bullet and climbed the 3 peaks-esq slope back to the base of the cliffs - but it cost me time (that I only just had) and cost me a lot of energy (that I didn't have to spare). Catching up with Jan & Gabby on their return, they described a similar experience - there is some comfort that I wasn't alone in making this error - I pondered that it is funny how we take solace from others misfortune and I castigated myself for such thoughts.

Another thing time had dulled the memory on was just how bloody steep the drop off from Mt Berry was and how vertical the climb up to the final approach ridge to Mt High and Mighty is. My poor office bound toes were a mess by the time I hit the saddle - and my carb starved body was shot by the time I hit the top - that warm feeling inside expanded - things were now going even better than planned.

I had lunch and contemplated my horoscope for the immediate future - I had started off with 4.2L of water but with my level of unfitness and the heat I had churned through nearly 3L at an alarming rate, my toes were a mess and told me so on even the slightest descent and I was struggling on anything remotely uphill, my only hope of water resupply was making it to Dex Creek - I could do this, I just needed to care for myself in the process. Note to self - not a great idea to do a walk like this off only 4 weeks of exercise from couch-potato mode and still grossly overweight!

I headed up the moderate slope to Mt High & Mighty, passing Jan & Gabby on their return. After a short chat we headed our respective ways. Jan adhering to the bush walkers code and asking me if I was right for water. My stupid ego overrode my good sense and I said yes.

Passing over H & M I slogged my way through the saddle and up onto Mt Stormbreaker - some afternoon tea and I poured my last 600mls of water into my Camelbak.

What can I say? With my lack of fitness the four successive knolls of Rip, Rack, Roar, and Rumble are just bastards going North. The dragons-back style ridge makes for constant uneven and shifting footing. When you are unfit, each lung busting ascent is followed by a depressing drop - but the trend is up.

I had my dead-mans suck on the Camelbak halfway up the contour bypass of Roar (I think I have the order right). It had been a hot day in full sunshine, but as the old adage goes, better the water in your belly than in your bottle - and as I hadn't had a wee since I left the car I knew I wasn't drinking too much. I was still sweating freely, so push on 2P.

Getting over the last knoll and up the approach to Cloudmaker which really aren't that steep was a real struggle as I had to stop every 20 meters or so. Literally it was a case of Dex Creek or bust! Suffering is a state of mind that I generally don't ascribe to, but I certainly came close a couple of times.

By the time I hit Cloudmaker I was experiencing bouts of lightheadedness and my legs did not have the strength to counter-balance on the uneven rock so I had many a stumble, but luckily no complete falls. I still had sweat leaking out of me and as I had just over a kilometer of downhill to go to water my confidence started to rise - night time was fast approaching, and whilst I had a headlamp with me, my strong preference was to get to water while I could still see it.

With my concentration waning, I lost the footpad a couple of times and wasted precious minutes casting around for it again. Eventually, and I swear this is true, I could smell water, a few minutes later and I could hear it - oh frabjuous joy caloo calay.

There were two other groups of 3 already in situ at the creek - so I took the last remaining spot, filled my bottles and Camelbak, met the locals just as it was getting dark. It had taken me 8 hours and 10 minutes to cover 11kms!

I set up my hootchie & bivy in the gloom and then it was dark. With the night the fog rolled in and anything exposed soon became wet. In these conditions I cooked my porterhouse steak, sliced up some cucumber, tomato, and celery - garnished the steak with tabasco sauce and looked at it dumbly. As is so often the case with dehydration, I felt nauseous and I wasn't hungry at all. Knowing I had to get something down so I could recover for tomorrows labours, I started chewing oh so slowly and by degrees my appetite returned and I enjoyed what turned out to be a sumptuous meal. Finished off with 2 sweet Atkins Bars and a cup of green tea.

At 8:15PM the fog turned into rain and I wriggled into my bivy - very glad the hootchie was over the top of me as it rained lightly all night. I managed a few pages of my book that I lugged with me, threw down some nurofen and slept fitfully with aches and pains till midnight - I took another couple of nurofen and then slept soundly till 6:10AM. Awoke feeling much refreshed.

With daylight the rain abated, but I found myself in a world of white - the fog was a real pea-souper - it would be foggy pretty much all day with just a brief appearance of the sun around midday.

The normal chores of breakfasting, filling water containers and breaking camp all took forever, I guess I'm a bit rusty, I was also fairly stiff and sore. What would have taken about half an hour way back when, stretched out to 2 hours as I fluffed about. Eventually, at about 8:40AM, I was ready to rock and roll.

Mercifully the weather was much cooler than the day before and whilst I was slow, I never really struggled anywhere on the return trip.

In the damp I'd already had a couple of slips when coming over one of the knolls I had a real oh dear moment when I slipped on wet rock and fell, I bounced towards a 20m drop, I saw myself going over the edge in my mind - and then my hands found something solid to grab. I stopped about 1.5m from the edge - not really that close, but my pulse was ticking over a tad quicker than it had been.

I gave myself a good bollocking for being so bloody stupid, took a drink of water and tried to really tune in. It seemed to work because I stayed upright for the rest of the day.

As I said before, I was slow but I kept ticking off the landmarks marveling at how hard it had been the day before and how manageable it was today. Even climbing Mount Berry was not the big deal I thought it would be - and whilst I didn't make the same mistake I did the day before, I still wasted time dicking around a few times to find the trail. In the fog I almost headed off East as I rounded the cliff line, but a quick glance at the e-Trex soon set me right back on my way South - easy to see how people can get discombooblerated in conditions like these.

Convinced I was back at Crafts Wall I could not find the point where the track goes off to the right to contour under the walls. So certain was I, I back-tracked a 150m or so and tried again. No dice. In the end I elected to follow the base of the cliff and just push through on what seemed like a feint footpad. Before long I noticed the lie of the land was pushing me down till common sense kicked in to regain the high ground and I climbed the 50 vertical meters or so back to the ridge line. In the fog I had mistaken a rocky outcrop for the beginning of Crafts Wall which was still 200m or so away. Another rookie-style mistake that cost me about 45 minutes all up.

Back on track, I had no further nav problems and as I came off Crafts Wall it started to rain - not hard, but just enough to make all the bushes I was pushing through (the track is very over-grown through here) wet and the rock slippery underfoot. I was a bit anxious about the exit slot with wet rock, but I needn't have worried as I was up and over the crux in a jiffy. I was well in tune now and the old skills had made a welcome return.

The rain stopped as I hit the plateaux that is the Tops but then an even thicker more chill fog rolled in completely obscuring everything - it was like being on the inside of a cloud - the only thing missing was the howl of a werewolf! The memories of trips gone by flooded in again and I put myself on auto-pilot - even though it has been 15 years or so, I reckon I could get myself across the Tops blindfolded. I was really in my happy place now. The joy of carrying everything I needed on my back, making my way with only my mind for company, overcoming the occasional navigation challenge and walking 22 of some of the less forgiving kilometers around, left me with a deep sense of satisfaction.

Sure - this isn't a tough walk for experienced and fit walkers, but I only meet half of that criteria at the moment. It was really only hard for me as I'm so unfit and heavy. But it certainly whetted an appetite that has only partially been sated by trail running over recent years. Bushwalking has always been my first love, but with family and work commitments, it had to take a back seat for a long time - I'm so glad I now find the opportunity arising again - I just need to continue to get fitter and lighter.

Happy days :)