Introduction to New Zealand Tramping

Adventure Stories

Earlier this year I finally made it across the sea to our friendly NZ neighbours.
I flew over with my friend Bede, and we planned to spend a few weeks hiking around the South Island before meeting up with the Loverboy in Queenstown.

It had been a horrendously hot March, which had followed a standard furnacey summer, and I hadn’t really been putting much effort into training for hiking.
So, naturally, when Bede and I sat down a fortnight before we left to plan our hiking, I agreed to an epic wandering route that linked up 4 hikes in the Routeburn area.
Our initial plan was to hike from Rob Roy Glacier, into the Matukituki Valley, up over Cascade Saddle, join with the Rees/Dart Track, hitch into Glenorchy to resupply, and continue over to the Routeburn, linking it up to the Greenstone/Cables track.
Of course, like with all adventures I undertake, nothing really went to plan.

First of all, I was dismally under-prepared physically.
I was also willfully ignorant about the precipitation situation in NZ.
And finally, I forgot that for effective hitch-hiking, you need a fairly decent sized population.

Normally, I wouldn’t dish the dirt on hitchiking in NZ. In fact, for the majority of my trip it was an awesome and effective way of travelling the South Island. The only problem with hitching in NZ is when the road is a no-through road, and at the end of the road is not much more than a few farms and a Glacier.
Our adventure started with many hours of standing on the side of a road, looking pleadingly with big innocent eyes into the windscreens of cars zooming by, discreetly turning our thumbs into middle fingers behind our backs as each car passed us.
This was Bede’s first experience of hitch-hiking, and he began to grow more and more concerned as the day passed us by with each unfriendly car.
Eventually, a young Italian guy picked us up on his way out to a climbing area. I sat in the front seat, and watched with horror as my gratitude rapidly disappeared while the driver sped his way through the windy NZ roads faster than his texting fingers.

My horror was short lived, because he pulled up outside the climbing area, let us out and wished us luck. Our destination was still a long way away, and there was not a car in sight.

Bede and I resigned to try to walk to the glacier car park before nightfall, daring to hope that maybe a car would come our way and pick us up.

We were trudging along the pretty roads, not even uplifted by the waterfalls everywhere, when a car pulled up behind us. A woman told us to get in, and we excitedly scrambled over one another to get into the tiny shoe-box car. She took us to the Glacier carpark, and we were soon on our merry way into the Matukituki valley.

That night we camped in a small clearing in the valley with a few other hikers. I went to sleep listening to the quiet night, completely unaware that the 1300m elevation gain in the morning might be more terrible than it sounded.

It was more terrible than it sounded.
The day was picture perfect – warm sunshine, cool air, not a cloud in the sky.
The birds were singing, the sunlight glittered through the canopy of moss and trees.
It was warm and cool in all the right ways.
The views were jaw-dropping-off-the-chain-amazeballs.
And I hated every minute of it.

I hadn’t done any pack training, and lugging 6 days worth of food and camping gear up a slope so steep I had to crawl and climb up most parts was the exact opposite of my idea of fun. I was slowing Bede down trying to scramble up the slippery tree roots and rocks, while his long legs easily strode up over obstacles.
But finally, finally, we made it above the tree line. I caught up with Bede at a rest stop overlooking the valley below, and if I hadn’t already been spluttering and puffing, it would have taken my breath away.

Then we looked up.
And up.

And up.

It just kept on going up.
Getting steeper and steeper.

I decided to look back down to the valley floor for a while, and forget about the up part. Couldn’t I just stay here forever?

But Bede said no (laaamme), and so I got back up to keep on trudging up and up and up.

We began scrambling up grass and rocks, using fistfulls of vegetation to haul ourselves up.
The muddy ruts of tracks turned into rocks, and we soon found ourselves balanced on sections of rock-face, with nothing below us but a few slippery rocks and grass clumps.
My rockclimbing knowledge helped immensely here, and I slowly and steadily made my way up the rock.
Eventually, exhausted, we made it to the top, and flopped out under a rock shelter, drinking in the views.

As we ate a lazy lunch in the sun, looking out of Mt Aspiring National Park, a group of people popped over the rise. A white head of hair appeared first, followed by another, and then another. Soon we were surrounded by a large group of white haired trampers, walking sticks in hand, large packs on stooped backs. There was one elderly lady in the group, and she wobbled over to the flat lunch rock and took in a satisfying yawn before sitting down.

“Hello dear!” She smiled at me, not unlike my own grandmother – minus the hilarious NZ accent.”Bit of a big walk isn’t it?”

Gobsmacked, I smiled in reply.
“Are you all heading out to the Rees/Dart today?” I asked eventually, once my awe-struck awkwardness had faded.

“We certainly are!” Interrupted one of the old men. “I haven’t done this hike since 1969, so I am excited to see what has changed.”

Not wanting to be shown-up by a tough old group of grandparents, Bede and I finished lunch and got moving. We wanted to get to the hut by nightfall, and we had just found out we weren’t even halfway there yet.

As we wandered along the flat plateau above the valley, staring out over the mountains and glaciers, drinking from the fresh cold streams, I decided that when I was in my 70s I still wanted to be able to climb mountains to drink from streams. That old hiking lady was officially my hero, and I want to be her.


Soon we dropped down into another valley below a glacier. We walked along barren scree slopes for hours, as the light faded and the shadows lengthened.
Eventually, after many hours of weary trudging, rock-hopping and river crossings, we arrived at the hut for the night just as night fell.

Once our bunks were claimed, dinner was cooked and eaten, and we were considering going to bed, Bede and I realised that the group of oldies hadn’t arrived yet.
We voiced our concerns to a few other hikers, and started to form a plan to go out and look for them. I feared that maybe one of them had turned an ankle or knee of the uneven rocky screen.

Just as we were about to send out a search party, 3 old men stumble inside. They were supporting one of the group, who had blood dried all over his face.
A few hikers immediately jumped to the rescue and went out to find the rest of the group and help bring back the injured man’s pack.
Once the initial kerfuffle had subsided, I approached the injured man and offered some first aid. He was wary at first, and refused my help. I offered to just help clean up the blood off his head and face instead, to which he agreed. I used the opportunity to surreptitiously inspect the head wound, get a brief history of the injury, and try and asses his consciousness and memory. Eventually, after speaking with him for a while and cleaning his face and head, he gruffly agreed to let me do a proper examination on him.
Not entirely convinced he didn’t have a concussion, I spoke with the old lady in the group. The injured man was friendlier than before, but was still a little confused. I told her that if anything happens or changes in the night they should wake me up, and showed her which bed I was staying in.

Thankfully, the night passed without any more medical dramas, and I was much more satisfied with my patient when I re-checked him in the morning.
He was much happier in the morning too, and allowed me to examine him without even the smallest of protests.
As Bede and I hiked off into the morning fog, the whole group – who were staying behind an extra day to recover – cheered us off with friendly waves and big smiles.

Leaving behind the valley, and heading towards the pass, Bede and I tramped in a dreaded upwards direction again. The morning fog turned into clouds and mist and eventual rain. We trudged through the misty valley, all the while Bede singing Lord of the Rings songs to fit the mood.

Eventually we crossed the pass, and down into a wide, foggy valley. We made quick pace through the cold, and were greeted with the welcoming views of smoke swirling out of the top of a chimney. The hut!

Warmed by the fire, and filled with tea, I settled into a window bench seat with my kindle, to watch the rain beat down and rivers and waterfalls pop up all over the mountain side.

The next day brought torrential rain, and we, along with everyone else that was staying in the hut, decided to wait the rain out in the hut for another day. We played cards, read, drank tea, nursed our sore muscles, and made friends.

It was here we met two NZ blokes from the North Island – Graham and Basil – who taught us some funky new card games.
We hatched a plan all together to hike out tomorrow together, as our food was dwindling, and catch a lift into Glenorchy.

Reluctantly, the next morning, we packed quietly in the hut, and headed out into the relentless NZ rain. Within minutes water was pouring down my raincoat hood and sleeves, soaking me underneath.
Our first obstacle was a raging torrent of water. We cross carefully, two at a time, holding on to each other to stop us slipping over. Our boots were now waterlogged, our pants wet up to our thighs. I stop caring about the rain. Let it soak me. See what I care NZ rain!

The day was long, and we cross many streams and rivers, and eventually end up wading through flooded watercourses. I continue to make terrible Lord of the Rings jokes, and Bede continues to groan and shake his head at them.
We arrived at the end of the trail, and eventually, into the little town of Glenorchy, where we begged and pleaded tp get a overpriced, tiny backpackers bed for the night.

All our clothes were soaking, so Bede and I changed into garbage bags fashioned into skirts (or a large 60’s style dress for myself) and sat in the laundry waiting for our clothes to dry in the driers, snacking on dates and canned soup, hatching plans for the next leg of our journey.

Strangely, sitting on the cold wet concrete floor of the mouldy laundry room in a garbage bag, waiting for my clothes to wash and dry, eating overpriced canned soups, lifted my mood and remains one of my fondest memories shared with Bede.



Surprise Birthday Snow

Adventure Stories

Late September, 2016. I head out on what I believed was my last backcountry ski trip of the year. The snow is melting, there are rocks and patches of grass. I say my goodbyes until next year.


Late October, 2016. My birthday is approaching. The weather gods get their memos mixed up with the birthday gods, and a freak storm/snow event occurs.



I am visiting my Loverboy in Canberra, planning on doing some mountain biking while he works. I see a facebook post about the snow, and how its such a shame all the resorts are now closed and no one can use the chairlifts.
A bright idea occurs to me. I DON’T NEED CHAIRLIFTS!
A plan hatches, I am nervous – can I really head out on my own for some backcountry fun? I am reminded of my almost failed attempts at leading a trip a few weeks prior, and waver.

I am laying in bed, sleeping in like the unemployed bum I am, while Kirren works. I look at another picture of the beautiful blanket of fresh snow that fell again that night.
“Fuck it” I say, throwing the doona off me, and putting on some fresh socks.

I pack a beannie, a backpack, some warm sleeping stuff and a torch. I buy a maccas coffee and start driving into the green hills and blue sky towards the snow.

I arrive mid-morning at Rhythm Snow Sports. I wasn’t even sure if they would be open now that the snow season is officially over.
They were, and the worker cracks an envious smile as he helps me kit myself out in some telemark skis. Then he delivers the best birthday news to date: Charlotte Pass road is open, and they’ve been clearing the snow. I can literally drive all the way to Charlotte pass, skipping 8-10kms or boring, aweful skiing.

I drive up into the mountains, along the cutout road. I park amongst a handful of other lucky non-working skibums who have driven in their adventure-mobiles to have unlimited access to the backcountry and its fields of fresh powder.


In true Mowgli-style, and the loosest definition of trip planning, I have forgotten several key ingredients. Like ski clothes. And gloves. And sunscreen. And real food.

I don my singlet, cargo pants, beannie and sunglasses. I get the litre of iced coffee out of the back and hide it under a pile of snow. I find an old squished musili bar under the seat of the car, and shove it in my pocket.
Then I ski off into the blinding white sunshine, heading towards Seaman’s hut.
I make fast progress, skiing solidly along the flat until I get near Seaman’s hut some 8kms from the car. I decide that the looming clouds on the other side of the Mainrange aren’t actually getting any closer, so its probably ok for me to do some off trail exploring. I ski wobbly telemark turns down to the Snowy River, zigzagging my way back up the hill before turning around again and practising in the fresh snow.
I slowly make my way back this way – up the hill, then back down, each time getting a little closer back to the car.


Just on sunset, I arrive back at the carpark. I open the boot, lay the matress down, relax in the fading light and drink my now icy cold iced coffee. I save the musili bar for tomorrow.
After a solid sleep snuggled in the back of the car, I get up for some breakfast of iced coffee and fresh snow.

The overnight temperatures, combined with the melting sun the day before, have frozen the crust of the snow into an icy mess.
Ice doesn’t mesh well with telemark skis.
So I decide to spend the morning practising on the sheltered soft snowy slopes of the closed Charlotte Pass resort. I meet an old crusty skiier, heading out from his old crusty van.
We get chatting. I try angling for some telemark skiing advice. He pointedly ignores me. Then we find out we both were born and grew up in the same tiny village of Bulga. He knows my grandfather. I try angling for some skiing advice again, thinking now we have a connection it might help. Clearly, he wants to be a cranky old man alone out in the snow. I don’t blame him. We go our separate ways.


Around midday, once the sun has slushed up the snow well enough, I crack open my musili bar, and then start making my way out to Mt Stillwell.
I follow the tracks of some snowshoers, and meet them on top of Mt Stillwell. We have a clear view of the entire main range, and of Mt Kosi. They are impressed by me skiing, especially me skiing alone. I feel badass.


After they leave, I try skiing down Mt Stillwell. I pointedly waited until they left, lest they find out I am actually not badass and can’t telemark for shit.
The afternoon is then spent getting very sunburnt, and mastering my telemark turns. Up and down, up and down I go on the back of Mt Stillwell. There isn’t a soul in sight, and I enjoy the pressure free environment to practice over and over again.



The clouds start rolling in as the weather change hits, and I pack up and start heading back to the car.



Emboldened by my afternoon of practice, I try my hand at skiing down the untouched steeper slopes at the resort. I smoothly curve my way down the slope, and secretly hope that the caretaker down at the resort was watching and thinks I am as badass as I feel in that moment.



Having survived a whole 2 days in the backcountry alone, without sunscreen and minimal food, I reward myself with a giant meal from Maccas on the way home.


Another Australian Alpine Epic

Adventure Stories

A few months back in Autumn, I mountain biked a track called the Australian Alpine Epic. It was filled with hard work, difficulty, madness and fun, but it fell a little short of the true meaning of an adventure Epic.



Australian Alpine Epic – MTB edition

This weekend, I underwent something a little closer to an Australian Alpine Epic, complete with snot, tears and blood.
To set the scene, back-country skiing is something I’ve only had limited experience in. This year I’ve had a little more practice with it, and was feeling confident enough to take my dad, my teenage cousin, and a family friend’s teenage son for a few days of back-country skiing.


For me, being a leader of a group on an outdoor adventure is something I’ve rarely done. I am usually going out with a bunch of much more experienced people, and unfortunately, the way that usually goes is they lead, or if I try and lead, I know there is always someone else more experienced to fall back on if shit hits the fan. This trip though, I made some important discoveries about leading – some I suspected, some I knew already, and some that surprised me.


I had been planning this trip for a little while – I was going to take my dad, my 15 year old cousin Ethan, and a family friend’s 16 year old son, Nathaniel. We were going to ski out to White’s River Hut in the Snowy Mountains, and spend a few days exploring on skis out there.
Global warming had other ideas, and I watched as the snow started to melt and get washed away by heavy rain with horror.


Vanishing Snow

After consulting with Kirren, I decided to do an alternate trip – hike/ski up from Dead Horse Gap, over across to Thredbo and then on to Seaman’s Hut to stay for 2 nights before heading back the same way.
I’d never attempted this route before – usually I ski up from Perisher, along past Charlotte Pass and to the hut from that side. But fear of getting a ticket for leaving that car at Perisher, and glowing reviews on the internet, made me go with Kirren’s recommendation of Dead Horse Gap.


Friday afternoon found dad and me driving from Bulga, picking Ethan and Nathaniel up from school, and making our long drive down to the Snow.
We arrived very late at night to the Diggers campground just outside of Thredbo village, and set up camp in the miserable, freezing rain.
Saturday morning rolled around, and the relentless rain paid no attention to the partly cloudy day that was forecast for Saturday. We packed up in the rain, packed our packs in the rain, and were cold and soaking even before we started our hike.
We left Kirren warm and dry in the back of his car, and made our way to Dead Horse Gap. The plan was to meet him at the top of the Thredbo chair lift, and head out all together to Seaman’s Hut.
We began trudging up a spur in the rain, our shivering slowly subsiding as we got warmer from the exercise. The mud turned to wet snow, and we started trudging through that, until it got too deep and cold. We put on our skis, and started to slip and slide our way steadily up the mountain.
I was trying to navigate our way through the thick trees using a GPS borrowed from Kirren. I soon found that although the waypoints marked in the GPS were correct, the GPS didn’t have an internal compass, and I started to suspect the way it was pointing North was not actually North. I eventually dug my compass out of my pack, and found that the GPS was pointing in almost the opposite direction to the compass. I put the GPS away and started using the compass, knowing that the chairlift was generally NE from the spur we were taking up.
We were making very slow progress. Our packs were heavy, we were very wet, and neither of the two boys had ever skied before, so they kept falling over and having to get help getting back up because of the heavy packs. The hours were ticking by, and I started to worry about getting to our destination on time, and meeting Kirren before he started to worry about us.

Nathaniel had started to lag behind, and was having a bit of trouble keeping upright. So I told Dad to stay with him and help him out, while Ethan and I powered up the hill to try and find the way. We left them behind fairly quickly, as we moved determinedly up the hill.
Eventually we made it to a pass, where we came across a track marked with poles. The track went either West or South East. Neither of these directions were the ones I was supposed to take, so I decided to wait with Ethan for Dad and Nathaniel to catch up.
The wind picked up, the rain turned to sleet, then on to snow. We were beginning to get cold. I found a boulder with a wide split in it, and Ethan and I hid inside it out of the wind.
We waited.
And Waited.
And waited.
I began to get really worried. Where were Dad and Nathaniel?
In order to keep warm, Ethan decided to follow the tracks for a little way in either direction, to see if they eventually swung around to the North East. I watched anxiously as he disappeared into the clouds and snow, trying to keep an eye on his dark shape through the flurries, lest I lose him too.
He came back, without much luck, and only slightly warmed up.
By this stage, I was beginning to recognise some of the early signs of hypothermia in myself, and started to get anxious.
Did Ethan and I pick a direction, leave an arrow or marker for the other two, and continue on to keep warm and moving, risking leaving the others behind/lost/hurt?
Or did we go searching for them, heading back the way we came, and risk missing them and getting lost in the trees?
Or did we simply stay put, wait for them and get even more hypothermic?
With desperate fumbling numb fingers, Ethan found a bar of reception on his phone. I called Kirren, on the verge of tears. I felt like a failure, and admitted I didn’t know what to do.
He asked me where I was, and I had to admit I didn’t know that either.
He then reminded me that although the GPS might not be working for directions, it would still have our coordinates on it. I fumbled with the GPS until I found the coordinates and repeated them back to Kirren, feeling stupider and stupider.
Ethan had gone really quiet and still, and was sitting hunched in the crack. His lips were blue. Tears leaked out of my eyes, and I whispered in to the phone “Can you come and find us? I don’t know what to do.”
At the time, I felt like pathetic. I felt that this should have been easy – that I should have been able to know the way, that I should have been able to know what to do, that I should never has separated from Dad and Nathaniel in the first place, and that it was all my own stupid fault.

Kirren came to the rescue though.
It turned out that neither of the two directions the path went were the right one, and that I wouldn’t really have been able to navigate the way properly because the pre-loaded way points in the GPS lead through areas now not covered in snow with exposed rocks.
As for Nathaniel and Dad – they were plodding along slowly. They had been following our fresh tracks up the hill, but were slow because Dad was towing Nathaniel’s pack behind him to help Nathaniel get up the hill.
I learnt a very valuable lesson about leading trips: you don’t need to be the only leader in a group. Dad was perfectly capable of leading Nathaniel through the tough terrain, helping him out and logically following our fresh tracks in the snow, in a general North East direction. And asking for help meant we were able to go in the right direction and not get lost.

We made our way through the horrendous weather, finally all together as a group, to the cafe at the top station at Thredbo.
It was late – much much later than I had hoped. We sat quietly in the cafe, eating a late lunch, and warming ourselves up.
Our plan had been to make it the Seaman’s Hut. But with the group being incredibly slow moving, and being already incredibly exhausted and wet, we had to make a decision then and there about what to do next. Did we continue on? Did we turn back? Did we push for the hut? Did we continue on and set up a camp in a sheltered area along the way?
In the end we decided to attempt to push on, and see how we were moving in an hour. That would give us enough time to either find a camp before dark, or head back if we needed.
The rain had finally relented, but the wind had picked up outside. I hadn’t quite warmed up after my dose of hypothermia, and was feeling cold to the bones as we headed out into it.

The movement was only slightly warming, but the wind cut through my jacket and kept me cold. I wanted to power up the hill to keep warm, but noticed Nathaniel was lagging behind again. I kept back with him, trying to keep him motivated.
We skied on for a long while up a hill, following snow shoe and snow-mobile tracks. The visibility was poor, and clouds swirled around us in the wind.
I tried to keep Nathaniel motivated, tried to keep him moving up the hill. He couldn’t match the pace of everyone, so I stayed with him at the back at his pace, while Kirren tried to stay in between us and the other two as a visual connection. Eventually, the light faded, and we decided it was best to stay together as a group.
With the poor visibility and the fading light, we somehow missed a ridge or a gap, and found ourselves on the wrong side of a mountain. Instead of turning around, however, Kirren recognized vaguely where we were, and started navigating us through the dark around to the Hut from the other side. We traversed along the side of the ridge for a long time through the darkness. The groups energy started to fade, and motivation was dropping fast. We passed through a fairly protected valley, and the idea of setting up camp then and there was toyed with. I decided that we should keep pushing on, because we were all soaking wet, and we were most of the way there, and shelter, with a fire, would be the best way to get warm again. Most people weren’t feeling too cold at this point, and liked the idea of setting up camp now. I insisted we push on.
And so push on we did.
And on.
And on.
We paused for a moment, sitting in a narrow valley. I noticed some weird patterns in the snow under the weak moonlight. On close examination, I realized it was avalanche debris. I cut the rest break short, and forced everyone to continue on, quickly moving away from the steep and narrow valley.
It was not long after this, that Nathaniel, exhausted, sat down again. He took of his skis for a break, and not watching properly, let go of them. They slid off down the hill into the darkness. Kirren rushed on down the hill to try and find them. He found one, and stuck it up like a pole in the snow. We decided to leave it, and come back in the morning to search for the other.
We were nearly at the hut, and around the next bend we could see it on the ridge in the distance. Exhaustion and hunger and cold crept up on me, and now that I could see our goal, all my strength evaporated.
I had already told Kirren I was feeling a little hypothermic, so when he saw me stumble a few times and have difficulty getting up, he came up behind me and prodded me onward. I began to fret about everyone behind us, and wanted to wait, forgetting my dad was at the back making sure the boys were ok. Kirren prodded me up the final hill, and got me indoors. Ethan was right on our tails.
Eventually we all made it inside the hut, out of the wind, and very, very thankful we had made it.


Pretty happy to be inside the hut

I started bossing everyone around, ordering them all out of their wet clothes, into dry ones, and to hang their wet ones up by the fire. I made sure the fire was started by dad, and that lollies and chocolate were being eaten, along with water. I had quite forgotten that I was the hypothermic one, and that I was still in my wet clothes, and not eating, when Kirren sat me down and made me eat some rice crackers.

It was 9.30pm by the time we were all settled around the fire, and thinking about dinner.
We decided to sleep in the hut, all camped by the fire and cozy.


Seamans Hut

The next morning, Kirren, Dad and I left the boys in charge of tidying up the hut while we went out into the beautiful sunny day in search of the missing ski. By the light of day, and in the sunshine, the horrible world outside transformed from its nightmare the previous night into a glorious white playground. We found the ski with ease – it had slipped down to the valley floor and landed near a patch of grass. The other one was still standing up as a marker.
Taking advantage of the sunshine, and the moderate winds, Kirren decided to practice some kite skiing on his 11m kite.


The rest of the day was passed by as a mix of playing in the snow, practicing our telemarks on the hill behind the hut, and eating lots of food.
Kirren bid us goodbye that afternoon, and began his journey back to Thredbo, and eventually on back to Canberra and work the next day.
We spent a second night in the hut, which we shared with two split-boarders, who were happy to have company and some of our excess biscuits.
The next morning broke bright and sunny, and extremely icy. We packed up our bags, said goodbye to the hut, and began the icy ski back to Thredbo.


So icy


As the day wore on, the sun slushed up the iciness and the snow became quite enjoyable. With lighter packs, the boys were making great progress on their skiing. We were making excellent time, and decided to stop for a play on some slopes near the Kosciusko look out.


After a long play, we had lunch, and then made our way to the chair lift.
Some friendly skiiers the day before had mentioned that you could get on the chairlift down to the bottom of thredbo without needing a ski pass.
So, instead of navigating back down to Dead Horse Gap, and its patchy snow, steep hills and trees, we decided to try and snake a lift down the chairlift.
According to logic, anyone about to get on a chairlift back DOWN to the Thredbo would have had to have bought a ticket. So, no one asked for a ticket as we lined up to catch the lift back down, and rather than realizing how crazy we truly were, we all felt rather chuffed. Because, who is insane enough to head out on a wild woolly weekend, ski UP to the top of a mountain, and then catch the chairlift back DOWN?

Other than don’t be crazy – fork out the $40 for a chairlift to get up past the patchy snow – what did I learn this trip?
I learnt that I can make decisions, that I can be a leader, and that being a leader doesn’t mean being the only leader.


Album of all the photos:



3 Days, 3 Flat tyres and 3 storms

Adventure Stories

It’s nearly week 3 of PrincessLua and my SE Asia whirlwind tour, and we’ve been having a wonderful and adequately chaotic time. There have been many a mishaps, serendipitous adventures and general terribly planned Mowgli-ness. There have also been plenty of lazy days hiding out under fans, reading books and doing absolutely nothing too.


Hanging out on balconies.

Like today, where I’ve taken a day off being the responsible adult and carer for my 16year old sister and have decided to spend the day inside our guesthouse room being totally antisocial, eating mango chips and writing.

But no one wants to hear about that (or about the hour of washing I just completed using soap and a spare toothbrush for scrubbing accumulated monsoonal season sweat stains from my clothing).

So let’s hear about our time so far in Siem Reap.

After catching a long bus from the smelly capital Phnom Penh, we arrived at the much smaller, much nicer Siem Reap, and to a cheap but awesome guesthouse tucked away in some quiet backstreet. After waking up early the next morning, nomming on some awesome banana pancakes and iced coffee, we hired out the guesthouse bikes and explored the streets of Siem Reap, enjoying our newfound sport of AsianTrafficDodging™. But before we could get 10m down the road, the ancient rusty  skeletons of Hipster Bikes Past coughed and spluttered and Lua’s tyre went flat.

That was flat tyre number 1. The rest of the day we pedalled along the river, out of town and to the shady jungle road that leads out to Angkor Wat. We visited museums, had our souls and energy sapped from us in the way all museums do – even if there is airconditioning – then pedalled home through a storm.

Day 2: we woke early, breakfasted early and left early, only to find out the ticket office for Angkor Archaeological Park had moved 4kms away from its original place, and so after a long hot and sweaty detour – we arrived late.

The riding itself is brilliant. Flat roads, the wind of cars and tuk tuks passing  2cm away cooling you down, and the pressure of having to pedal your heart out taken away by the simple fact youre on an ancient rusty Fixie.



So eeezzzieeeeee

We chained our bikes up and entered the tourist mecca of Angkor Wat. I’ll write about our day in this awesome temple complex later, and skip straight to the cycle home.

A storm was rolling in and around us, teasing us with sprinkles. We decided it wasn’t going to get any better so we left the temple to ride home through the refreshing rain. At our bikes we immediately saw a problem. Lua’s front tyre was completely flat, sagging all over the place like old lady boobies.

I started walking around, looking for other cyclists who might have a pump or anything useful.

A tuk tuk driver approached us, asking if we needed a tuk tuk.

“No, but we need a bike pump.”

He grinned, licked his lips. “No bike pumps here. Have to go back to siem reap. Tuk tuk?”

I replied that there MUST be a bike pump somewhere here, with all these hundreds of stalls and vendors with their bicycles.

He insisted there wasn’t and argued we would have to take a tuk tuk instead.

I moved on, with a worried Lua tailing me, quietly wondering whether we should take the tuk tuk.

I found a banana stand lady. No English beyond “banana?”. I pointed to luas flat tyre. She pointed up the road.

We smiled, waved and left. Banana stand ladies were to become my favourite Cambodians.

Sure enough, down the road, was a tiny little shed with bike tyres pinned to the trees, plastic chairs, Coca-Cola umbrellas and chickens.

We arrived just as the rain started pelting down, and stood all together with 2 young guys, our bikes, us and a few scraggly chickens under the faded Coca-Cola umbrella.  The young guys started disassembling the tyre, and replacing the torn-beyond- repair inner tube.

The rain had not subsided when we paid $3 for the tube, and the boys laughed and wished us luck as we rode out from the safety of the umbrella and it’s plastic chairs.



Within 2.5seconds we were soaked through. It was difficult to see where we were going, so with hands shielding our eyes we wobbled down the drowning road. Tuk tuks, with their shielded up windows, drove past at alarming speeds. The tourist occupants inside glanced out the windows on the back, staring at us with pitying eyes as we slopped down the road.

A lone motorbike came up beside us. On it, a mother, a child, a toddler and a grandma – all in soaking clothes – were laughing as they, too, shielded their eyes to try and see. They all waved enthusiastically at us, laughing with their faces turned to the sky, sharing in our refreshing misery. Even the grandma got in on the waving action. We laughed and waved back, sharing for a few moments the universal hilarity that is finding yourself absolutely drenched in a warm summer storm.

We slopped on home, through streets that were now rivers, and up our muddy little road.



Day 3 found us heading out again, tempting fate, on our rusty hipster bikes. We thought, surely after replacing the tubes and having 2 days of bad luck, we would be spared a third day of trial.


We hadnt even ridden 1km past Angkor Wat , when Lua’s back tyre started deflating. I could have quickly stopped at the same tyre place as the day before, as we had just passed it, but being me – I said it’ll last the trip.

It didn’t.

At Bayon Temple, I went looking for a banana lady. I found one. I pointed at Lua’s tyre. She pointed back down the road we had just come along.

It seemed we would have to go all the way back to the same place.

Trudging, sweaty and thirsty, and extremely hot and annoyed, we wheeled the bikes in the direction we had just come. But not 5mins later, we stumbled on another chicken overrun, bike repair shed. Thank-you banana ladies of Cambodia!

After a small hole was fixed in Lua’s tube, I warned her that if she were to pop another tyre again this trip I would leave her to walk home.

Surprisingly (Praise be to Buddha and all of the Hindu Gods of the temples) the rest of the day went without anymore tyre incidents, and only a mild storm related incident.


Our clothes are now drying, and I’m doing research to find out if there are any tyre repair places out near the temples we are visiting tomorrow.






Australian Alpine Epic

Adventure Stories

Purpose-built single track.

Over 2,000m cumulative descent.




These words stood out on the glossy pamphlet of the Mt Buller mountain biking trails map, as Kirren drove us back down the steep and winding road from Mt Buller over a year ago. We had just finished a day of mountain biking around the Mt Buller trails – my first real day of mountain biking – and I’d grabbed the pamphlet while returning my hired bike to the shop.

I grinned into the blinding sunset over the Victorian snowy mountains and made kirren promise we would come back here one day.

Fast forward a year and a bit later, past all the tantrums and struggles of actually learning how to mountain bike, and Kirren and I are making our way down to Mt Buller again. This time to tackle the Australian Alpine Epic.

I had just returned from 6 glorious weeks of hiking through New Zealand, and was fit as a fiddle – ready to tackle the 40kms and 1000+m of elevation gain.

Kirren, on the other hand, was still recovering from a rather terrible bout of pneumonia.

Like the wonderful girlfriend I am, I made him go anyway.

As a present, kirren and his wallet* hire me out a shiny dual suspension bike that fits me like a glove, instead of the crappy hard tail $200 too big bike I’ve been wrestling around the smooth ACT trails.

After a delay in the getting out of bed, and a kerfuffle with petrol, we are off on the trail for a bright and early start at the crack of mid-morning.


Things are going well. Life is good. Julie (my new name for the dual suspension wonder beast below me) is good. Sun is good. Tralallalaa.

Kirrens lungs are even behaving reasonably, and it doesn’t cause excruciating amounts of pain for him to breath in.

Then, about, oh, 5kms in to the 40km ordeal, my medically trained eyes zero in on the greatest hernia I’ve seen in 6 months.

Except its on the side of a bike tyre.

And that bike tyre is kirrens.

We stop.

We sit.

We hummmm and ermmmm and uhhmmm for a few precious time wasting minutes.

The inner tube is intact, but it won’t stay that way long. Should we go back?

Just like with Kirrens pneumonia, I refuse to let smell medical speedhumps ruin my dream.

We end up risking it, and with the help of my 8 weeks of standing bored around the operating theatre at Armidale Hospital watching hernia repair after hernia repair, I get to work.

I scrub in, put my surgical gloves, mask and gown on, and begin the delicate operation I have seen a thousand times.

Except I use medical tape, a $5 note and some super glue instead of sutures and hernia mesh.

And my patient didn’t get time to recover, because we are off pedaling hard to try and make up for lost time.



If you’ve ever done the Epic you’ll know you get to this certain point in the ride, where you’re not even 1/4 of the way through and its already taking way longer than you thought and your lungs are about to explode and you actually just want to die and nothing can be worth this absolutely shitty grovel.

Kirren and I were literally ready to give up. His lungs were aching and he was coughing and spluttering and looked rather ill (good work dr Mowgli) and I just hate uphill mountain biking. Then, suddenly, we were at the top.


Suddenly (finally) at the top and loving it

It’s amazing how quickly you forget the sufferfest when you start going downhill. Then there was just a little more uphill to go, but by that stage I’d forgotten all about how much I hate uphill because the best part of the Epic was coming up.

10+km of sweet single track whipped me down the mountain and I was flying.

I flew past alpine bush, past subalpine ferns, past rocky bits in between. I Flew past burms and over jumps and down drops and along logs and just kept flying.

My knees were weak, my quads screamed, but I kept flying.

Then all too soon (not soon enough! My thighs yelled) we were at the bottom, and racing the clock up the river to the last shuttle bus of the day.



As we retraced our footsteps from a year before, I grinned into the blinding sunset over the Victorian snowy mountains. I made kirren promise to take me back (and his wallet to buy me a dual suspension bike).





What Weather Forecast?

Adventure Stories

I am sensationally terrible at planning things.
I love to dream about, write lists about, and even checklists about future adventures.
But actual nitty-gritty well-thought out plans?  Nope.

Even though this method of living my life rarely pays out, and it is always a lot more trouble than it is worth, do you think I ever learn? Noope.

So, when I woke up one morning in the boot-turned-Mowgli-sized-bed of my tiny maroon car to the first cloudy grey sky I had seen on my multi-week trip, do you think I stopped for a moment and thought “huh, that’s odd. Maybe the weather is changing. I should check a forecast…”?
Of course I thought that.
Do you think I actually checked the forecast?
I just packed up my little camp, drove to the base of Mt Tibrogargan in the Glasshouse Mountains, and said “she’ll be right.”

Mt Tibrogargan is one of the more adventurous ‘hikes’ in the Glasshouse mountains area, with the majority of its 364m being more rock scrambling and climbing than hiking. There are plenty of opportunities to pretend you are really climbing while scrambling up the rocks just by holding on to some slopey polished handholds and turning to view the vertigo below.


Mt Tibrogargan and the scar that is the rock-scramble track/river when it rains.

I was the only one on the top of the mountain when I arrived, and I took a few minutes to enjoy the silence and the view down the way I had come, not noticing the rainstorm bulleting towards me from the coast on the other side of the mountain.


Enjoying the view from the top, and spending precious rain-avoiding moments getting all artistical

It was too late by the time I walked over to view the other side, and the rainstorm was touching the edges of the mountain.

I wasn’t looking forward to the down-climb from the mountain – I hate down-climbing at the best of times. Even in dry weather with ropes on and friends all around you to yell encouraging things at you and, in the event of your death, go home and tell your loved ones what befell you.


Wasting precious running away moments by hastily snapping pics because it looks so pretty in the rainy mist right?

As I tried to move as quickly as I could down the rock scrambling surface – but not too quickly that I might slip and plummet to my death – I became acutely aware of my predicament. If my increasingly numb and wet fingers slipped on the polished slimy rock, there would be no rope to catch me and no friends to put a plaque up in my honor at the bottom of the mountain reading “Here lies the body of Tess, who died doing what she loved to hate the most: down-climbing slippery rocks in the rain.”
I then spent the rest of the slippery, cold and deceptively easy down-scramble verbally abusing myself out loud for not checking the weather, for never checking the weather, and for any future times that I don’t check the weather.

Needless to say, I made it back to the car, made myself a cup of tea out of my boot and vowed to always check the weather forecast.

That promise lasted nearly 24 hours.



winter in australia – guest starring global warming

Adventure Stories

I don’t actually know what snow is.
I can talk for days about ice, about mud coloured slush and about this strange sticky wet cold stuff that you can sometimes find when you dig far enough below a layer of ice.

I can tell you all about sliding down icy moguls, and pretending to ski on man-made snow that gets blown out of big machines. I can describe exactly what skiing on 3 cm of snow on top of a gravel road feels like, and what skiing in the rain is like.

But I cannot tell you anything about snow.

That all sounds pretty awful right? Welcome to Winter in Australia.
Yet, each and every year thousands and thousands of us make the pilgrimage from whatever tropical sun-scorched part of the country we are in to “The Snow”. People deck themselves out in wonderful skiing brand clothing that the manufacturers would probably die to know is only going to be used to roll around in some slush, and cram themselves into their specially packed snow-chain-bearing cars and drive towards the expansive car park wastelands at one of Australia’s few ski resorts.
After a few years of doing this with friends, joining the hordes to weave our way down a few of the simultaneously mushy and icy runs, The Loverboy and I decided we had had enough of the zombie hordes and were going to try our hand at some backcountry lovin’. It worked, and last year, we were on our way back to the back country.


No Zombies here

I was in this horrible position called “In-the-middle-of-my-university-degree.” I was battling my way through some God-awful 22 week semesters, and was gifted by the oh-so-gracious Medical-Faculty-Gods a single week off between semesters. How generous and benevolent are they?
So, rain-hail-or-shine I was driving all the way from Armidale to ‘the snow’ and I was skiing whether my post-22-week-semester-and-exam body liked it or not. (Pro-tip: It did not like it. Not one bit).

Because of how enthusiastically the Loverboy and I had talked about the backcountry, both his parents and my Dad decided to join us in this magical zombie-less place full of snow and sunshine and unicorns.

The start of the ski season came and went. There was no snow.
My exams came and went. There was no snow.
The day we were leaving came and went. There was still no snow.

We prayed and wished and hoped and made deals with the devil and told ourselves that just because there was no snow on the resorts lower down didn’t mean there wasn’t fields of white-goodness in the backcountry.

We arrived on a cold, windy and wet-in-all-the-wrong-ways morning at the mega-carpark at Perisher. The black ribbony road that extended from Perisher to Charlottes Pass greeted us without even a speck of white on it.
Contrary to weather reports and the dismal evidence in front of us, we decided there would be snow at Charlotte pass, about 8kms up the hill, and strapped our skis and our boots to the outside of our packs and wandered like strange horned animals into the fog.

8km later, after a miserable trod along a road through the rain, we arrived at Charlotte Pass. Because I didn’t pack very efficiently, and because I had spent the last 20 or so weeks studying and getting soft, I was pretty much ready to die under the weight of my heavy pack and the even heavier weight of disappointing amounts of snow.

Then came the hard slog up to Seaman’s Hut. I think most of the difficulty came not from my lack of fitness, but from the fact that every step we took brought us closer and closer to…no snow.


Fields of snow!

Storm clouds were gathering as the evening drew in, which lifted all our spirits. There would be a nice blanket of snow for us to frolic around in in the morning!

We arrived after dark at Seaman’s hut, and set up camp in the soft downy snow button grass outside the hut.

In the morning, the winds had subsided and the storm clouds run away to reveal….no snow.
A quick wander on the trail towards Kosciusko found us a more than we could have hoped at this stage – a tiny ribbon of mushy slushy white stuff that wormed its way up to the Main Range.
Cheering, we scoffed down some breakfast and strapped ourselves into a boots and skis and set out for a day in the sunshine and the slush.


At least you don’t have to dig below the snow to go….


About half way up the summit of Kosciusko, we ran into a hiker. He was slushing his way up the warm day, and stared at us clumsily for a minute or two. Maybe we should have been embarrassed. It was definitely quicker to walk up the summit, but we were stubbornly sliding our way up the icy wind whipped slush. After a moment or two, the guy snaps his head and gives us a huge grin “Aw man! Now I wish I had brought up my skis too!” Maybe I am cool after all…

Speaking of cool, we convinced my dad – who has never skied in his life – that the best and most coolest way to learn to ski was to ski down the Southern side of Mt Kosi, with its almost definite slick layer of ice.
It was pretty cool.
If you count cool as him sliding down out of control until it came time to turn when he would plough himself into the ice, lie on his back and swivel around with his skis in the air until he was pointing back in the opposite direction.
Somehow, he loved it.

That evening, Kirren, Dad and I climbed up the rocky Etheridge Ridge, usually hidden under a blanket of snow, and watched the sunset and silently prayed for some actual snow.




Etheridge Ridge, without snow. Climbing instead?

It didn’t snow.

So, without any snow, we all decided it was school holidays and the parents were obviously going to have to take us to go and play.
We packed a picnic, walked down to the frozen Snowy River and played ice hockey with sticks and rocks, a bizarre game of penguins, followed by an afternoon of pretending to be lost mountaineers following the footsteps of Jon Snow climbing the Wall.


Geriatrically slow Ice-Hockey




The Wall – where we escaped the wildlings by ice-climbing it

I tried to play Star Wars too – but my Mark-Hamill look-a-like of a boyfriend didn’t want to be shoved inside a dead tauntaun. And no one wanted to play the dead Tauntaun either for that matter. Lame.


Get in the Tauntaun Kirren. I said get in the Tauntaun!!



Our last morning, we woke again to a bright and sunny day (WITH NO SNOW), packed up and after delaying as much as possible, strapped our antlers to our packs and trudged on home.
When we did get back to the land of man-made snow and cars, Kirren and I decided to take Dad down his first ever resort run. We spend a good half an hour walking up the side of a man-made-snow run underneath a chairlift. Despite the zombies calling out that we were doing it all wrong from above us in the chairlifts, we actually found out it’s probably the right way to go. We found multiple pairs of gloves, some sunglasses, some ski poles, a jacket, a beanie, a drink bottle and even – tragically – someone’s ski lift pass. I know where I am going for my next ski shopping spree.

Needless to say, dad didn’t like skiing down the resort run. In between trying to cross a highway of tiny children mixed in with zooming teens and falling over adults, and then turn without taking out the small children, he decided he didn’t like resorts.

He much preferred the slush and lack of snow of the back country, and even if it doesn’t snow next year I think he will be back.




how to bail on the himalayas

Adventure Stories

Everyone knows that Mother Nature is brilliant, fiery, untameable and unpredictable. Sometimes, when out in Her, staring up at some formidable Jaw-Dropping-Off-The-Chain-Amazeballs mountain, She gets angry or shy and shrouds Herself in storm clouds and we are forced to go home.

 “Better luck next timewe sigh, content in our hearts that we got to experience the raw beauty of Her, keeping the bailing out stories to be practiced and embellished to near-perfection for around the campfire.

 What doesnt feature in most of our epic adventure camp-fire stories is Mother Natures evil, ugly, unwanted twin Life.

 So let me just give Life centre-stage for this story Shes been dying to get out of the dressing room and into a campfire adventure story for a while now.



“Do you want to see my snake?” Said the seedy husky voice, about 3cm from my ear.

I whip my head around to come face to face with a leathery middle aged man, cigarette smoke curling out of the sides of his mouth. He waggles his eyebrows. I try to sink back into the threadbare faded red material of the rickety old seat on the rickety old bus, closing my eyes and doing my best to put on my once-perfected “no, go away and leave me alone” look.

Bek, sitting next to me and nursing her food poisoned belly, leans forward and groans/dry retches.

This was it. This is what the mighty Himalayas boiled down to: this pathetic, dirty bus ride.

How did we come to be on a bus blasting bollywood tunes, bumping down a dusty road in the exact opposite direction of the Himalayan sanctuary?


The Mountains were incredible.

No, not incredible. They were Jaw-dropping-off-the-chain-amazeballs.

They were so amazing that after day 3 of the trek, we had to invent a new scale of assessing how good the view was. A scale of 1-to-Jaw-Dropping-off-the-Chain-Amazeballs just didn’t cut it anymore. So we had to add a few curse words in there, just to get it even close to accurate.

The trek went along as you would expect your garden variety of once-in-a-life-time Off-the-Chain-Amazeballs trek to go.

Just your garden variety off-the-chain-amazeballs trek

Then I did the thing.

You know how there is always that one person that sighs contently whilst stretched out in front of some incredible vista, saying “man, it’s so good to get away from technology, emails and all that cyber crap for a while.”

And everyone nods sombrely in agreement.

And then there is always that one person that just can’t even deal with not knowing what is happening in the #outsideworld, and they turn on their phone and climb up a tree and search for signal and then disturb the peace with a near constant stream of dings and pings and buzzes?

I was that guy, wielding my phone on top of the teahouse roof. Trusted Disturber of Peace.

And in the process found out I had failed my semester at uni because of some bureaucratic bullshit and had, oh – roughly15minutestolodgeanappealbeforethededicatedappealstimeclosedbackinAustralia. Yep, great. No problems.

In a series of headless chook running’s around, frustrated (expensive) international phone calls, and multiple tear-and-snot-stained T-shirts later (thanks Kirren’s left shoulder), I was on my long and complicated way back to Pokhara to sort out my appeal and plead for its late acceptance.

14 days in to our trek around Annapurna (14 days of walking around corners screaming “Oh My God this view is OFF THE CHAIN AMAZEBALLS!!”), Life – the hashtagrealworldoutside  – the one I had been escaping for a few blissful weeks – chased me through the mountains and grabbed by my smelly-not-washed-in-14-days underwear and hoisted me up by them, giving me the wedgie from hell.

I whined, I whinged, I had a tantrum and stomped my feet. The Mountains just looked at me unblinkingly and shrugged “Not our problem”. Life grinned and curled Her silly manicured fingers at me.

I turned my back on the mountains, with my tail between my legs, and legged it out of there.

Everyone knows this feeling. You’ve been defeated, and are dragging yourself out of an adventure that you don’t want to leave, and so all you want is for the process to be over and to be back at home already, with a new set of underwear, a shower and maybe a stupidly bright and colourful pair of knitted knobbly socks on. But this is Nepal.


We had 7 hours of hiking through a blizzard; 36 hours being cooped up in a teahouse with a fire and no chimney during the blizzard; several attempts at politely sipping Tibetan Rancid Yaks Butter Tea; 8 people* (3 of which were giants) crammed into a 5 person Jeep; 1 smoking spluttering engine; 2 passengers with gastro who were vomiting; 1 teenaged Jeep driver (whose idolization of Bob Marley extended a little further than the half dozen posters of him on the dash); and 8 hours of slipping down roads dug into landslides covered in ice.

Running away from the mountains (and the blizzard)

Which brings us to the dusty, bumpy bus ride; the near-vomiting Bek and the man who desperately wanted to show us his snake.


What do you say to a man who persistently insists on you seeing his ‘snake’?

I contemplate this question almost as much as I contemplate the nearest working window to vomit out of for when my stomach does succumb to its grumblings.

I actually didn’t have to figure it out in the end, because the man – getting more insistent with each ignored request – grabs my forearm and thrusts a hessian sack into my steadfast gaze.

“Do you want to see my snake!” he insists.

I turn to look at the hessian sack and find that there is something writhing away in the bottom of it.

That kind of snake.


 I nearly leap out of my seat as the snake starts to wriggle its way to the open end of the hessian sack.
The lady in front of me, with 2 chickens locked under her arms, turns to start yelling at the man.
The snake smells the chickens.
The chickens smell the snake.
The snake starts thrashing, trying to escape.
The chickens go berserk.
The lady goes berserk.
The man goes berserk.
The Bollywood soundtrack continues loudly behind them.

Can you hear the Bollywood music?

We eventually (finally) arrive at some large dusty village well after nightfall, and we stumble off the bus into the night.

Almost immediately we are flagged as the white tourists we are, and 700 men are trying to get us on to their bus, because THEIR bus DEFINITELY takes us to wherever we are going.
When we ask them does it go to Pokhara, they reply with emphatic affirmations “yes! Yes Pokhara! Yes!”

“How long will it take?”
“1 hour, no problems.” One asserts.
“1, maybe 4 hours. No problems.” Another yells out, grabbing our packs to try and put on his bus roof.
It goes on.

Somehow, and I honestly can’t remember how, we end up on a minibus. There are no seats left and I sit on Kirren’s knees trying not to vomit all over the crammed in passengers as the bus hurtles into the darkness towards what we hope is Pokhara.
When we do finally arrive in our destination, after what was definitely not “1, maybe 4 hours”, we stumble into the warmly lit home, to the smiling faces of our hosts and some much needed cups of tea.

After a proper sleep not at altitude, and seven hundred showers – I sat down on my laptop and began the mother of all appeals to crankily send to my university. I guess a little bailing-from-the-himalayan anger helped with the appeal, because I eventually won.


Two days later our friends, who had decided to continue with the trek, called us. There had been some big winter storms up in the mountains and now the Pass was un-passable, so they had to turn around and come back.

Mother Nature had sided with Her sister, Life, and holding hands they had smiled down on us all and said “Not this time.”