Send a St Bernard to the rescue (If you haven’t heard from me in a week)

It seems like a long time has passed since I booked my trip to climb in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. 

But the time has arrived.

St Bernard Rescue DogI head off early Saturday morning, flying across “The Ditch” into Queenstown in the South Island, before making my way by bus to Wanaka, about an hour’s drive away.

On Sunday I will be flying into the mountains by either helicopter or ski-plane with Richard Raynes, from Adventure Consultants.

Richard has a first class climbing pedigree and has previously worked for the Mt Cook Search and Rescue team. We will spend a couple of hours walking across the Bonar Glacier to Colin Todd Hut, although we may elect to camp out on Bevan Col, depending on the Hut availability and weather conditions at the time.

Mt Aspiring

On or around day five, which should be Thursday 10 January, we will make our summit attempt on Mt Aspiring.  The day will be long, starting around 3am in the morning and finishing as late as 7pm.

And there are no guarantees on making it to the summit, but of course that is our goal and we will be giving it our best shot!

After a hike out from Mt Aspiring I will be returning to Wanaka to spend a few days resting with Janet and TomO, by the shores of Lake Wanaka, before heading back into the mountains for another week of climbing, this time with Steve Moffatt, Adventure Consultant’s program co-ordinator.

Steve has climbed all around the world, has summitted Mt Everest, and lead many mountaineering trips, including Lobuche East in Nepal. I will be travelling to Nepal in November this year to climb Lobuche East, Island Peak, and Pokalde. The first two are in excess of 6,000 metres, and Pokalde is just under 6,000 metres.

Baz - Fox Glacier, New Zealand

My second week will be less structured and we will look to climb a variety of peaks focussing on different aspects of mountaineering.

I am in good hands and I have a great opportunity to learn from these two very experienced climbers.

Grey's Peak, Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Grey’s Peak, Fox Glacier, New Zealand

And although the peaks in the Southern Alps of New Zealand are only just over 3,000 metres in height, they are similar in ruggedness and valley to summit altitude gains to the higher peaks of the Himalaya’s, and for this reason it is a great training ground for my rather audacious plan to climb Mt Everest…

Mind you, it is also a wonderful place to visit and the people are friendly and welcoming.

And at the end of two weeks of climbing, Janet, TomO, and I will be spending a few days in Wanaka taking in the local sights and resting by the lake, before heading to Queenstown for a few days.

Janet and TomO

Janet and TomO won’t be sitting around whilst I’m climbing and their activities include a helicopter flight onto Fox Glacier, giving them a first hand view of where I was climbing last September, before heading down to Milford Sound for a couple of days.

They will also be retracing the Coast to Coast Adventure Race route. Janet and TomO assisted me in getting through this event across New Zealand last February…and will no doubt be there to support me in 2014’s race!

Anyway, there will be no communication access, other than satellite phone for emergencies, so I’ll let you know how it goes, along with some pictures, when I get back to Wanaka.

Hopefully I will be able to report a successful summit of Mt Aspiring, but even if I don’t there is little doubt in my mind that I will be reporting two weeks of fantastic climbing and fun…

Janet will be updating The Landy on Facebook and hopefully with news on Mt Aspiring so be sure to click on the link and follow our adventures!

And importantly, remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops…

Strewth – Who put the sandbag in my backpack (Heaton’s Gap)

Sunset over Bimbadgen Estate
Sunset over Bimbadgen Estate

After spending a wonderful Saturday evening at a Day on the Green which was held at Bimbadgen Wine Estate in the Hunter Valley, the alarm was ringing out that Sunday morning had arrived.

 I don’t normally wake to an alarm as my body is well regulated to getting up early to exercise, however after a late night I didn’t want to miss the Sunday morning action.

My usual partner in all things adventure, brother-in-law, Ray, and I were heading to a favourite training haunt of ours, Heaton’s Gap.

The Boys
The Boys

Heaton’s Gap is located half way between his home in Newcastle, and the Hunter Valley wine-growing region. There is a power line track running up a rather steep hill and we regularly train up and down the hill. Sometimes we run as much as we can, and storm the rest, other times we wear heavy packs laden with a sandbag.

Heaton's Gap
Heaton’s Gap

Usually halfway up we are cursing the hill, but when we get to the top and take in the view, the cursing stops, the heart rate slows, and we’re sure happy it is downhill on the way back.

The view from the top
The view from the top

 Today, Ray’s nephew, Daniel, joined us, and along with Ray, the pair ran to the top as fast as they could go…

I elected to wear a 25-kilogram backpack, and headed off to further break-in a new pair of Alpine hiking boots, the ones I will be wearing on my ascent of Mt Aspiring in New Zealand just after Christmas.

Crikey, it was not much past 7am in the morning, but the sun already had a sting in it, and the humidity was high.

The boys were heading back down as I was approaching the steeper section of the hill, and Daniel even came back up for “seconds” after completing his first lap.

And Ray, well he was suffering from the flu like symptoms I had only a week ago, but still posted a very healthy time.

Ray
Ray
Daniel
Daniel

And me?

In true alpine mountaineering style I just put one foot after the other all the way up, and all the way back down, just taking in the scenery and letting the world float by…

Talk about floating by; Strewth, I was perspiring so much, I could have literally floated away!

Baz - heading up "The Hill"
Baz – heading up “The Hill”

It was a great morning, but what of the rest of the day?

…Well, that was spent lazing about with family and friends!

And how good is living and lazy afternoons in a hammock, hey…

Vertigo Alert (Where’s Baz?)

Baz - Climbing Sweet Dream, Blue Mountains, Australia
Baz – Climbing Sweet Dream, Blue Mountains, Australia

Crikey Baz, what are you doing down there?

 Strewth, having fun, what else what I be doing down there…!

Geez, can’t wait to get back to the mountains for a climb.  The virus has kept me away for a couple of weeks, but another week to go and we are going to have a go at climbing “Tom Thumb”…

Hey, check out the countdown to New Zealand – 29 days to go. Hell, talk about getting excited!

And remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops…

Baz - Climbing Sweet Dream, Blue Mountains, Australia
Baz – Climbing Sweet Dream, Blue Mountains, Australia

DSCN1435

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DSCN1443DSCN1448
Baz on final pitch - Sweet Dreams, Blue Mountains, AustraliaDCIM100GOPRO

Sweet Dreams (I’m going to climb all over you)

Baz – Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

I am heading to the Blue Mountains tomorrow to climb at Sublime Point, not too far from the picturesque village of Leura.

The Blue Mountains is a World Heritage listed area where you can participate in many types of outdoor recreational pursuits, and it is a pleasant 90-minute drive from Sydney.

Baz – Climbing at Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

 And if you don’t feel like driving, the train trip will have you at the village of Katoomba, the gateway to the area, within two-hours of leaving Sydney.

We are so lucky to have this outdoor playground right on our doorstep where abseiling, canyoning, and climbing are popular recreational activities.

The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia

Tomorrow, my climbing partner, Rachael, and I will climb, Sweet Dreams, situated at Sublime Point.

Sublime Point is a west-facing cliff standing about 200 metres above the valley floor and is very spectacular looking.

And the weather is forecast to be fairly warm, with bright blue skies, as we nudge closer towards the start of summer…

 More Dope on a Rope, strewth, you bet!

Baz – Dope on a Rope?

 And remember, if all else fails,  just remain out of control and see what develops…

No Ordinary Moments; No Ordinary People; No Ordinary Lives

There are no ordinary moments, no ordinary people, no ordinary lives; no matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing…

 I just thought I would put this out there today!

 And talking about no ordinary people, this is a photo of me with a village elder from the village of Menari, in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

He is one of only a few remaining “fuzzy-wuzzy angels” who helped Australian and American troops in the fierce jungle battles along the Kokoda Track and other places along the Papuan Coast during the second world war.

 We have much to thank them for…

 Yes, no ordinary moments, no ordinary people, no ordinary lives!

Ps: And remember, if all else fails – just stay out of control and see what develops…!

A Death Trap in the Mountains (A tale of human frailty)

As a financial markets professional in the fast paced world of foreign exchange trading I must say one of the most enduring lessons I have learnt is an old adage that has served me well – “plan the trade and trade the plan.”

 Mind you, a career in financial markets was not always goal my and as a young school boy growing up in Townsville, Australia, I frequently looked out the school window to watch the military aircraft landing at Garbutt airbase.

Townsville is a military town and home to a large contingent of air-force and army personnel.

My heart was set on a career in the air force flying aeroplanes.

Of course, in reality, very few people get to achieve that dream. Mine was cut short when I discovered at the air force medical that I shared an impairment common in males, colour deficiency.

Over the years it has been graded as moderate to severe, seemingly dependent on what test was being given, and who was interpreting the result.

Naturally it was hard to accept that something totally outside of my control had cut short a potential military flying career. 

As the years passed, I decided that it was time to look back at my goal of flying aircraft and in 1994 I gained my Private Pilot’s licence and purchased an aircraft.

Being a methodical planner and risk manager, I relished the task of planning trips; although many didn’t come to pass because of my conservative approach.

In fact, many people both within the flying fraternity, and outside of it, congratulated me on this approach, but of course hidden within this seemingly good trait was a dangerous flaw.

 Eventually it bubbled to the surface, with almost tragic consequences.

Many years ago I planned a flight from Sydney to Melbourne to visit a family member who had just given birth to their first child.  The flight was planned under the Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which requires you to stay clear of cloud at all times.

The flight path was programmed in the aircraft’s global positioning system (GPS), and on auto-pilot this would guide the aircraft.

The weather was to be fine for the first stage of the flight, with some showers developing along the mountain ranges closer to Melbourne.

As I was approaching the half-way point of the flight I made the required radio calls for clearance through a particular control area.

The air traffic controller gave me the necessary clearance with a word of caution. There were showers on the western side of the ranges and I would most likely encounter these along my route.

Would I like to consider diverting around the weather as the skies were clear not too far to the west of my planned route?

I took the time to process this suggestion, after all the weather ahead still looked okay, despite what I was being told, and I would always have the option to backtrack, or divert should conditions become unacceptable for VFR flight.

Of course, what really was happening was a reversion to the “plan the trade, and trade the plan” lesson learned all those years ago.

I had planned this flight immaculately, it was in my GPS, it would be a hassle to change, and besides sticking with a well thought out plan had always served me well, I rationalised in my mind.

Perhaps that might have been a reasonable decision to make if experience was on my side, and if I had the capacity to not only realise when the flight along the planned route was no longer acceptable, and only if I was capable of acting immediately once realised.

I informed the controller I would be continuing as planned, to which he put the question one more time – would I like to divert to where the weather was fine.

He’d now asked twice, he was covered in the event this all went wrong!

The cloud base was lowering as I got closer to Melbourne and I had to continually descend to the aircraft, dangerously low, to remain clear of cloud.

In an instant the weather deteriorated significantly and not surprisingly in the most mountainous region of the flight.

I was now confronted with the possibility of doing a precautionary landing, which was not without its risks, and I was looking fervently out the window for a place to do this. There wasn’t one, I was in the mountains!

In any case, I don’t believe I was fully committed to this action.

The second flaw was now kicking in, a failure to act.

Seemingly I was delaying any action in the hope luck would be on my side.

I could almost touch the tops of the mountains; I was only moments from a disaster, from being a statistic.

I contacted the air traffic controller handling arrivals into Melbourne, and was given clearance to track towards the airport.  The weather had improved slightly and as I tracked west it cleared into a fine day, highlighting that had I amended the flight as suggested earlier it would have been much safer and certainly less stressful.

I have frequently looked back at this flight as a defining moment on many levels.

It encouraged me to go on and obtain an instrument rating to enable flight in cloud, providing a higher level of safety in these situations.

But importantly, it demonstrated to me that I was very inflexible once I had planned something.

It may have saved me and my employer a lot of money over the years, a product of “planning the trade, and trading the plan”, but this inflexibility has no place in an aircraft cockpit, and of course it almost cost me my life on this particular day.

An invaluable lesson was learned, one that I’ve thought about each and every day since…

The flaw is still there as it is a personality trait; I just need to keep it in check…

And as I head to the mountains it is forefront of mind and as part of my mountaineering training I am focussing heavily on my “human frailty”.

What traits do you have that work in some situations, but could have dire consequences in others?

Footnote: I have logged in excess of 1,000 hours as a pilot…and jumped out of them frequently! The aircraft pictured and the cockpit shot is of the aircraft we purchased. 

I’m Excited, Very Excited – More tales of a dope on a rope

Baz – Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

I spent today spent in the wonderful Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, doing a multi-pitch abseil and hike out. And what a wonderful playground to develop a high level of rope handling proficiency.

 Over the past two weekends I have concentrated on multi-pitch abseils of at least 250 metres done in sections (pitches) of around 40-50 metres each. And I’ve had my fair share of self-rescues thrown in without warning to ensure I have the necessary skills to do just that, rescue myself, or someone else, with confidence!

Boar’s Head, Multi-Pitch Abseil

I want to achieve an extremely high standard to ensure that when I am in Nepal next year, and eventually on an 8,000 peak, that my rope handling skills are completely second nature and can be done, quickly, safely, and confidently…

Under the watchful eye of the Shane and the fantastic team from the Australian School of Mountaineering I am well on my way to achieving this standard.

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

In less then two months I will be back in New Zealand for an attempt on the summit of Mt Aspiring, and without wanting to wish my life away – I can’t wait! But the journey can only be made one day at a time, and what a day it was.

There is nothing better than putting yourself in a position where you must simply trust the set-up you have built and locked yourself onto it…

The confidence to do this comes from practice, and the rewards are great. Simply lying back “into thin air”  and going over the edge is exhilarating.

Shane, Boar's Head, Blue Mountains, Australia
Shane, Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

The Blue Mountains provides such a wonderful natural backdrop to pursue this activity.

 Boar’s Head, a natural rock formation was our abseiling destination of choice today.  It is a short walk-in from the main cliff-drive not too far from downtown Katoomba. And the vista at the start of it is spectacular, overlooking Narrow Neck, a prominent plateau that stretches to the south…

The total abseil is around 250 metres and we used two 60 metre ropes to drop to the valley floor in five pitches. The walk-out required some “scrub bashing” to join up with the main Devil’s Hole track, that took us back up to our transport.

Multi-pitch Abseil, Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

The thick undergrowth made for a humid traverse of the gullies, before we started our climb up through Devil’s Hole.

I’ve tried to capture the beauty of the day in photos…hopefully it gives you a glimpse of our wonderful backyard and the fun we had, just being “Out and About”

We’ve been cloned – Cookie Cut-outs (Fair Dinkum)

Baz & Ray

One of the wonderful things about participating in outdoor activities with your mates, whether it is recreational or in competition, is the camaraderie it engenders. The struggle, the hardship, the good, and the bad, it is there to be shared, enjoyed as a team.

I am fortunate to have spent many years pursuing outdoor pursuits and activities with brother-in-law, Ray Tong.

Let’s just call him my partner in crime.

And just so there isn’t any misunderstanding, we aren’t fugitives from the law, it’s just a figurative saying us “down under” tend to use to describe a good mate…

Okay, Ray is a Kiwi, but hey, he’s still a good mate none-the-less…

Now we’ve participated in many things together, mostly recreational,  with a smattering of competitive events here and there.  And yes, there is always an underlying competitive streak between us, but that’s just good old fashioned Aussie versus Kiwi rivalry

You couldn’t expect anything less!

Ray overlooking Hunter Valley, Australia

Anyway, we tend to spend a lot of time out in the bush, walking and trekking and many of these have taken on mammoth proportions.  We’ve walked from Sydney to Newcastle together, bush-whacking it 240 kilometres through the “scrub” – mind you if you drive, it is only 140-kilometres along the freeway.

We’ve spent countless hours on the water together…

Baz & Ray, Terrigal Beach, Australia

I chased him from the West Coast of New Zealand to the East Coast, a journey that saw us cycling, running, and white-water kayaking the 240 kilometres over two-days.

We’ve run rapids in our kayaks together, and even struggled through the mud in Tough Mudder helping each other to the finish.

We’ve pursued paragliding and skydiving…

Baz and friends over Picton

And then there is the most dangerous of them all, the notorious Newcastle Bike Ride.

The “NBR” as it is known colloquially…

It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

This is an invitation only event open to those who can demonstrate superior time-trial qualities on a bike.

It covers a two kilometre sprint on a racing bike from Ray’s home in Newcastle to the Albion Hotel, followed by an endurance test of being able to drink at least half-a-dozen schooners of beer with lots of bellowing laughter, the city and back home.

The ride home is always used as a warm-down and should be done at a leisurely pace, unless of course you’ve stayed for one too many had a few flat tyres out on the road and your arrival is long overdue. In which case, the every man man for himself rule applies.

The Sprint

Many have tried, few ever rise to the occasion…

On the many trips to the pub time-trials we’ve done in Newcastle we’ve had plenty of time to solve the problems of the world.

 As one does!

Nothing is sacred, all topics covered.

Okay, we don’t touch Rugby ‘cause it always upsets the Kiwi’s when they lose the Bledisloe Cup, and there was one time when Ray wanted to discuss a problem he had after a “real” bike ride where we spent a long time in the saddle – haemorrhoids.

I told him I couldn’t touch that one and best to take it up with Leah, his partner, the sister of my partner, Janet.

Did I get that right?

 Confused myself there for a ‘sec.

What I tried to say is we married two sisters, Leah & Janet…The “Fawthrop Girls”.

Yes, “The Fawthrop Girls”…

So anyway, perched atop the bar-stools down at the fountain of all knowledge; The Albion Hotel, our bikes during these training sessions we’ve covered many time favoured topics.

Albion Hotel, Newcastle
The Boozer

On our last NBR only a week ago sometime back we started comparing notes on what we share in common.

As you could imagine there was plenty of back-slapping and congratulations going on as we reviewed the impressive list, after all we were on our 3rd 6th schooner of beer each…

  • Good looking – tick
  • A physique many would give a left-arm for – tick
  • Modest – TICK
  • Have a sister named Debbie – tick
  • Adventurous – tick
  • Competed in the Coast to Coast Race in New Zealand – tick
  • Kayakers – tick
  • Extreme endurance hikers and adventure racers– tick
  • Almost fallen off the same ledge on a mountain – tick (True story! Mt Tibrogargan in Queensland before we even met each other)
  • Climb Mountains – tick and half-tick (Ray was too traumatised to climb again sissy)
  • Both have flown under skydiving canopies – tick
  • We’re both cookie cut-outs – WHAT?

Strewth, we’ve been cloned, we chorused together in unison as we considered the similarities. 

Kneaded expertly and pressed with a cookie cutter; a cutter passed sister-to-sister, a cutter revered like one’s very first training bra.

Okay, yes, somehow I came out the better looking of the two of us, you know, a bit like pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven, some are perfect, others possibly a little overdone and a touch rough around the edges...

Anyway here we were, seemingly virtual twins…

To be honest, I took some comfort in this as I was a little worried that Ray might have been thinking he should have married me given we had so much in common.

I mean, he gazed looked at me just a bit too longingly for my liking as we waited for our next beer to be poured. But I just put it down to the beer haze fogging his mind a tad…yeah, that’s what it was, a beer haze, yeah…

And as we rode sprinted home on our bikes, the wind gusting so hard that it’d blow your dog off its chain, the most favourite Fawthrop Family saying resonated loudly…

You don’t know how lucky you are!

Yep, there is no doubting it, we are both partnered to Angels, and we’ll put that to the top of the list,  for sure…

And while you’re here hang around and take a squiz at this You tube video…a little bit of that “cookie cut-out” adventure!

It is some footage of Ray flying a sky-diving canopy on the East-Coast of New Zealand in the early 1990s. It was quite out there at the time, for a Kiwi anyway!

And following is what us Aussies do, jump first, then fly…

Just pulling Ray’s leg…what they were doing was ground breaking at the time. He is wearing the white helmet!

Adventure, comes in many forms, and you’ve just gotta love it!

Dope on a Rope (An ongoing saga of a mountaineering journey)

Jamison Valley & the Three Sisters, Katoomba
Jamison Valley and The Three Sisters, Katoomba, Australia

Yesterday promised so much and I can happily say, it delivered.

 I have been itching to get out and about in the mountains since returning from my climb in New Zealand about one month ago and there is little that will beat a beautiful spring day in the mountains.

 I packed The Landy and was on the road by 7am heading to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, about a 90 minute drive to the west of Sydney.

And the Blue Mountains is a great adventure playground. The area is an internationally recognised World Heritage Area where you can bush walk, mountain bike, abseil, climb and canyon in any number of spectacular locations.

As part of my mountaineering training I want to do plenty of multi-pitch abseiling to ensure I can do it quickly, safely, and with a high level of proficiency.

Malatia Wall, Katoomba
Malatia Wall, Katoomba

Our choice was Malatia Wall, which is not too far from the main street of Katoomba and close to the scenic railway, a very popular tourist destination.

The plan was to abseil into the Jamison Valley and walk back out via the Furber Stairs, a short, but very spectacular bush-walk which starts at the base of the scenic railway.

Bushwalking Katoomba
Katoomba Falls, Blue Mountains

The descent is around 230 metres in total requiring five abseils on two 60-metre ropes. On average each abseil was around 40-50 metres. On the first pitch I just had to stop on the wall and take in the view over the Jamison Valley and The Three Sisters. In the valley below cockatoos and lorikeets flew amongst the tall standing trees.

Overlooking the Three Sisters, Katomba
Malatia Wall, Multi-pitch Abseil
Three Sisters
Malatia Wall over looking the Jamison Valley

I marveled at the view as I hung in my harness.

 And if everything goes to plan I’ll be back up in the mountains next weekend to multi-pitch off of Boar’s Head, with a climb back out…

 And speaking of a Dope on a Rope, if the hat fits wear it I say – I forgot to charge my Go-Pro battery, so I had limited footage!

Security is mostly a superstition (Isn’t it?)

Living life to the fullest, taking risks, knowing your limitations, these are questions I frequently ponder. It isn’t something I dwell on, it is more of a musing from time to time.

And I have always been encouraged by the words penned by Helen Keller

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in name, nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Janet, my partner, thinks along the same lines and is always very supportive of the adventures I have undertaken. The only questions she usually asks are have you thought through the risks, prepared as best you could, and are you ready?

I’m fortunate to have someone so supportive. Mind you, Janet is no wall-flower when it comes to adventure and applies the same principles of risk assessment herself. Whether when she jumps from a plane, or abseils down a building!

My mountaineering goals are as high as the largest mountains that can be found. I want to experience the joy and satisfaction, the freedom and beauty that mountains can bring into our lives.

It is a personal thing, shared by many and what better place to do it than the majestic Himalayan Mountains

And rest assured, I have no morbid fascination of pushing to the limits of flirting with death, I’ll be happy to slowly slide away peacefully when my time comes!

And I have been cogniscant of the impact it has on those around me,both negative and positive, and especially our son, TomO.

We want to bring him up in an environment where he is encouraged to pursue his dreams and to believe that anything is possible. We feel that this is possibly one of life’s most important lessons.

He is showing signs that he is heading down this path of thinking…willing to throw himself at life!

He has been keen to play tennis and took his first lessons the other day.  I was fortunate to be able to go and watch him, taking an early mark from work and I could see the enjoyment on his face.  Now it is fair to say he wasn’t the best out there, in fact his tennis skills are quite limited. He knew that, but wasn’t concerned.

Coming off the court he said, “Dad, I loved it and I had a lot of fun, even if I’m not very good. I just need to work on it.”

And that attitude pleases both Janet and me…

He isn’t concerned that someone is better, that his skills are lacking.

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...

I have a stated goal to climb Cho Oyu in 2014, which seems a long way off, but as we all know, time seems to fly-by so fast.  But in all honesty, Cho Oyu is part of a bigger journey and TomO casually asked me a few months ago whether I intend to attempt a climb of Mt Everest.

I wanted to be measured in my answer, but truthfully the answer is yes, so I just told him that.

Highlighting that it is a journey that may take me there, but it isn’t my real focus just at the moment. In fact, the journey isn’t about climbing Mt Everest either, but it hopefully will form part of the dream, the journey, to see what I am capable of…

One step at a time is what I told him and if it goes the way I would like, and I retain good health, then it might be a chance sometime in the next 2-3 years, maybe sooner.

Before climbing in New Zealand recently, TomO left me a note to say that one day he might be standing on top of Mt Everest with me.

He had obviously given it some thought…

I’ve spent some time reading that note over.

Perhaps it is a dream, a child’s feeling of wanting to follow in the footsteps of those close to them, to emulate them.

The other day I casually asked him was that truly a goal he would like to pursue? Asking what was his motivation to do it?

“Yes”, he said.  “How great it would be to experience that feeling of the mountains you have described to me, and doing it together makes it even better.”

He shows maturity beyond his age sometimes. Mind you, he is a 12-year old, so rest assured, not all the time!

Janet was there and we both told him there is plenty of time to think it through, although we highlighted that he will need to prepare for it if that is his dream, his desire…

Maybe the enormity of the task is lost on him presently and we will see how it unfolds. There is no pressure from us and we are ever so careful to ensure he understands that, no matter what it is he is pursuing. We are placing no expectations on him whatsoever, but endeavouring to help him understand it is important to develop and set your own expectations.

But it puts to the test our resolve to support him in any endeavour he wants to undertake.

Later, I asked Janet what she thought of “her boys” heading off to Mt Everest together?

Her reply was simple and uncomplicated.

“It scares me”, she said

“But if that time comes I will walk every step of the way to base camp with you, after all life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

High Altitude Climbing and Acute Mountain Sickness

I have been researching the impact that high altitude climbing will have on my body, what I can expect, what I can do to assist my body’s ability to cope, and importantly, to be able to recognise the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness in its more serious forms.

Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS as it is often referred to, is the effect the declining number of molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere has on our body as we ascend in altitude. It can range from a mild illness, to the more severe life-threatening forms of the illness, such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

The latter two conditions require immediate attention and descent from altitude otherwise death is the most likely outcome.

I’m not intending to go into a great discussion on either, nor am I qualified to do so, but as part of my “journey to the mountains” and extreme  altitude climbing I want to gain a better understanding of both conditions.

High altitude is defined as 5,000 to 11,500 feet, very high altitude 11,500 to 18,000, and extreme altitude as 18,000 feet and above.  At extreme altitudes physiologic function will outstrip  acclimatisation eventually.

My reading has taken me across a wide variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention was the connection between muscle and the requirement to fuel our muscles with oxygen when under exertion.

Over the years I have trained as a power-lifter for strength purposes and I have achieved results I am happy with.  As a consequence I have grown muscularly and currently weigh-in around the 95 kilogram mark.  This has given me a good power-for-weight ratio and has enhanced my speed on the kayak, and rowing machine over the short to mid sprint distances.

Power-lifting has helped me develop strong legs, especially my quads through the nature of the exercise; squatting, and dead-lifting.  I can squat around 180 kilograms (400lbs) and dead-lift 220 kilograms (460 lbs).

Will this muscle help, or hinder me on the mountain as I trudge up the side of an 8,000 metre peak??

When exercising, the body, or more specifically the contracting muscles, have an increased need for oxygen, and this is usually achieved by a higher blood flow to these muscles.  And herein lies the dilemma as I see it.  Due to the less dense air at altitude the number of oxygen molecules for any given mass of air will drop. Consequently, mental and physical performance will decline. The larger the muscles, the larger the requirement for oxygen to prevent muscular fatigue…

So what can I do?

There is not a lot that you can do to prepare for the effect of AMS, some people will adapt and perform better at altitude than others, and this is hard to predict from one individual to another.

What I can do is decrease my muscle mass. Whilst that will mean a decrease in overall strength I can try and maintain the power for weight ratio balance.

The upshot of all this is that ahead of my climb in New Zealand in January, and later next year in Nepal where I will be climbing three 6,000 metre peaks, including Lobuche East, I will deliberately take around 12-15 kilograms out of my frame…

The climbs in Nepal will be done without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

Essentially, I will not change my training routine at all, I will maintain my same level of weight training, kayaking, rowing, and other activities. I have found the best way to control weight change, either gaining, or losing, is via the kitchen, and diet. In fact I won’t even modify my diet to any great extent, simply quantity control.

Narrabeen Lake, Sydney, Australia

If you have any thoughts on the topic I’d welcome your insight!

Put away the beer glasses (The holiday’s are over)

It is fair to say I have just had a great break by any measure. Climbing in New Zealand, holidaying on a South Pacific Island. Oh to be shipwrecked!

And the last few days have been spent kayaking with a bit of running thrown in for good measure.

 My usual exercise routine has been thrown out slightly, and exercise in Fiji was limited to walking to the dining area, and cocktail hour! And we loved it…for a change. I sat back and relaxed in Fiji, on that near deserted island, and must say I have enjoyed a few beers here and there. Okay most days since Fiji!

But the whistle has been blown and it is time to knuckle back down into training for my next climbing expedition to New Zealand in January. I have a good feel for what I need to focus on over the next three months and with summer time and longer days ahead I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

Lots of high intensity cardio, and hill climbs with a 30-kilogram backpack.  And the kettle bells will get a solid workout along with the C2 rowing machine.  I’ve just finished a 10,000-metre row and must say it was refreshing after a three-week hiatus!

And January seems a long way off, but the weeks will speed by and Mt Aspiring beckons!

Cheers, Um with a mineral water today!

The Good Old Aussie Dunny

The Australian Dunny is kinda legendary. An icon standing tall in the backyard, proudly. A place of contemplation, a place where you can hold court and solve the problems of the world, maybe even escape the mundane.

 There’s the smell of sawdust scintillating your nostrils as you check to make sure there are no redback spiders hiding under the seat, lest you get a painful bite on the bum.

And for sure they’ll be a copy of last weeks Sunday paper to read and if you’re lucky maybe even a ten year old copy of Reader’s Digest, if you didn’t bring your own reading material. Crikey, you might even hear a gecko calling its mate and they’ll be a couple of hens scratching around the back, cackling as you go about your business. There’s something comforting about that. And fair dinkum, the flies, you can bet there’ll be a couple of thousand of those things buzzing in unison, hanging around like a morning fart under the sheets.  And don’t tell your Aunt, but if Uncle Ted’s been up there before you, he’s bound to have forgotten his copy of last month’s Playboy magazine, but mum’s the word. Let’s face it, no one’s goin’ to admit to it, but we’ve all been curious enough to have a bit of a squiz at it while sitting around on the throne… And at the risk of getting a little off track, have you ever-watched one of those American sitcoms? I do, occasionally.  Everyone must be constipated or something ‘cause you never see anyone going about their daily business. And I don’t mean we need a full account, but when was the last time you saw someone head for the dunny in one of those shows? Has anyone else ever noticed that, or is it just me? But I’m digressing yet again… Anyway, there is a reason to this talk about outback dunnies. You see when I was climbing in New Zealand last week we had an outdoor dunny up at Pioneer Hut on the Fox Glacier and it was situated right on the edge of a cliff… Seriously, it looked like one of those old-fashioned phone boxes. A ridgey didge example of the sort that Doctor Who hangs out in. It even had a view out over the glacier, nice one I must say, if you were lingering, but crikey this was the coldest place on earth and the term brass monkey’s comes to mind. The only thing worth contemplating was getting out of there as fast as you could and back to the warmth of the hut. And there was little chance that a red back would be biting you on the bum, the little blighters would be frozen to death before they could get their fangs into ya butt. Strewth, it was so cold I didn’t even bother checking for them… But here’s the thing… Last time I headed for the outdoor dunny I reckon I had a pair of thongs on and the most dangerous thing I had to contend with was a bit of chicken poo on the ground, or maybe a dunny door that swung open at the most inopportune time. They seem to have a habit of swinging open just as you stand-up with your pants still around ya ankles… Geez, up on that glacier as I tripped down to Doctor Who’s pill box I had to wear my $1,000 buck pair of boots and even then I thought I was going to slide over the edge and into oblivion… For crying out loud, every time I stepped foot on that glacier I was tied into my climbing partner with 60 metres of rope and a dozen different knots. And that was in broad daylight. But here I was heading down that icy track to the dunny in the middle of the night, possibly never to be seen again, while everyone was tucked-up in a down-sleeping bag snoring away in la la land… Did I miss something or is climbing safe at nighttime? Okay, the climbing in New Zealand was serious fun and I’ll be back again in a couple of month’s to further develop my skills and to climb Mount Aspiring. And I can’t wait to catch up with the friendly mob at Adventure Consultant’s in Wanaka. The Kiwi’s are a fun bunch with a great sense of humour, even if they are still are a little bit dirty over that under-arm bowling incident all those years ago.

 But hand on my heart, give me the good old Aussie Dunny any day, the most I’ll ever have to contend with is a couple of red back’s and last month’s centre-fold girl…if you’d be so lucky!

Send a Saint Bernard (If you haven’t heard from me in a week)

These last few weeks since I booked an impromptu trip to climb in the Southern Alps of New Zealand seemed to have flown by, literally.  There has been so much to organise and gear to be updated that I hardly noticed time passing…

I head off early Friday morning, flying across “The Ditch” into Queenstown in the South Island, before making my way by bus to Wanaka, about an hour’s drive away.

On Saturday I will be flying into the back-country by either helicopter or ski-plane with Dean Staples, Adventure Consultants Chief Guide for New Zealand. He has a first class climbing and mountaineering pedigree with 8 trips to the top of Mt Everest under his belt, and numerous other 8,000 metre peaks, including Cho Oyu, which is my goal for 2014.

Anyway, there will be no communication access, other than satellite phone for emergencies, so I’ll let you know how it goes, along with some pictures, when I return.

And, strewth, at the moment there is plenty of snow falling and the wind is so strong it would “blow ya dog off its chain”

Incidentally, the day after I get back I am participating in Tough Mudder, which is billed as the “Premier Obstacle Course Series in the World”. I will be lining up with  my partner in crime and brother-in-law, dare I say, fellow adventurer, Ray Tong.

He’s a bit soft, a typical Kiwi, but I’ll get him through the day…and to the beer queue!

It is fair to say there is an unstated, vigorous, but friendly rivalry between us so it should be interesting. Ray will blow me away in the running, but I’ll have it all over him in the strength department…

Mind you, that is the beauty of these events, it requires teamwork to get you through.

And when I say return, what I really mean is that I will be updating from a near deserted island in the South Pacific. Yasawa Island in the Fijian Island Group.

Janet, TomO, and I fly out the day after Tough Mudder. So we’ll be lazing back on a coconut fringed beach for a week…

Okay, well TomO and I aren’t really known for just “lazing around” so we might find some adventure.

I’m sure we will…

And Janet, well we’ll make sure she is pampered in a manner deserving of such a loving partner, and mother, like royalty!

Strewth, she deserves it for putting up with all the day to day antics of “her boys” …talk about a Saint!

Neighbour’s – Love them or hate them (Just don’t mess with this one)

Ever had a next door neighbour that you wish would just go away? You’ll know the ones I’m talking about, loud, unruly, parties until all hours, beer bottles chiming to the sounds of another cheers! Mind you, it almost sounds fun when put it that way, but it does wear thin after a while.

 And then there are the silent ones, no noise, no parties, pretty much keep to themselves, but shikes, they sure can give you the creeps.

Strewth, we’ve had our fair share of them over the years, but we are lucky to have great neighbours all around us these days!

But I’ll share a yarn about one neighbour that we had not so long ago.

We were out touring in Far North-Queensland, FNQ (pronounced ef-fen-Q), up in the Gulf Savannah Country where Janet, my partner, has her roots.  Mott’s are still grazing sheep and cattle in that region to this day, and for me, growing up in Townsville, this region was my backyard.

Over the past few years we have made the 7,000 kilometre round-trip to one of our most favourite spots in the Australian bush, Lawn Hill Gorge.

Now let me tell you, this is one heck of a beautiful spot that we first visited back in the 1990s. It was literally a flying visit in an aircraft we owned, a Piper Arrow, call sign Foxtrot-Tango-Hotel. This was before the little tacka, TomO  came along, and we flew it extensively over the Australian outback before selling it some years back.

These days we enjoy the drive north through the outback in The Landy just as much as we did flying over it.

The Aussie Outback, it’s a great place to just stand still and take it all in, a place where the barren land and ochre red soil meets the deep blue of the never-ending sky…

Anyway…

Last year when we were up there we had no problem securing a great spot beside the creek, which surprised us as there were a few others around at Adel’s Grove, a small tourist resort that caters for travellers just nearby to the main gorge.

It was our neighbour, a magnificent Olive Python that measured about 5 metres in length.  A beautiful specimen it was. Apparently, only known to eat small children…

Just kiddin’…

It had taken up residence just on the bank where we had set up camp.  These are not an aggressive snake, despite their size, and not venomous. And we have our fair share of those venomous ones.

Crikey, we’ve got a bagful of the world’s most deadly snakes, and none of those “rattling” things that they have elsewhere, just hard-core mean and downright dangerous ones!

Okay, fair’s fair, the North American rattle snake does make it into the top ten…I don’t want to turn this into a “mine’s bigger than your’s thing”

Most passing by our camp were totally oblivious to it being there, many who saw it thought they were about to be eaten alive, others were curious at a seemingly chance encounter with something so wonderful.

Late in the day, as the sun drifted low into the western horizon and shadows started to cast long, it would move on, returning first thing the next morning to take up its position once again.

Yep, neighbours, they come in all shapes and sizes, some you love to bits, others you’d be happy to see the back of, but for sure, we’d be happy to have this bloke as our neighbour anytime – best “guard dog” we’ve ever had…

Ps. For those who might be wondering, Janet loved it, she was the photographer. Um, I must’ve been busy with something…

Get this – Climbed Mt Everest (Eight times)

Well I was excited a few weeks ago when I booked a mountaineering and climbing trip to the Southern Alps in New Zealand south island…

 Now I’m bloody excited, you know, like when you can barely control yourself, excited like when you still thought Santa came down the chimney!

 After an early morning paddle down at Narrabeen Lakes this morning, which I almost had to myself along with a few pelicans, I headed home for a final gear check and pack as I depart this coming Friday.

Whilst in New Zealand I’ll be climbing under the instruction of Dean Staples who is Adventure Consultants Chief Guide for New Zealand.

Dean is a highly skilled IFMA Guide and has guided many expeditions around the world for the company.  These include three ascents of Cho Oyu, two times to Ama Dablam, and the Vinson Massif.

He’s also travelled to the Antarctic Peninsular.

If that all sounds very impressive, get this, this year Dean summited Mount Everest for the eighth time, yes that’s right eight times.

My current goal is to summit Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth largest mountain peak, which measures in at 8,201 metres (26,906 feet).  But there is plenty of preparation and training to be done before I head off on that expedition, hopefully in 2014.

Under Dean’s guidance I’m hoping to learn some very valuable skills during my week in New Zealand, or N-Zed, as us Aussies affectionately call it…

We will spend the week in either Westland National Park, Mt Cook National Park, or Aspiring National Park, depending on where conditions are best suited. And as it is still very cold we will be staying in mountain huts rather than camping on the glaciers.

We will fly into the glaciers by helicopter or ski plane and at this stage we are planning to fly out at the end of the week, but that will depend on the weather and aircraft availability at the time, otherwise it will be a hike out.

Our focus over the week will be on crampon and ice axe skills, and crevasse rescues, with a few other mountain skills thrown in for good measure. So there should be a fair amount of ice-climbing.

This is designed to prepare mountaineers for climbing the “seven summits” the highest peaks on each of the world’s continents.

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

I’m also going back to N-Zed in January for a summit attempt on Mt Aspiring.

What makes this a real challenge for me is that I grew up in tropical Northern Australia, my playground was the Australian outback, and the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

 I was almost thirty years of age before I even set foot on snow, and I’ve never snow skied in my life.

And as I confessed in an earlier musing, I can’t even tie my shoe-laces! But I can tie quite a few mountaineering knots, lucky that!

 And what of Everest you ask?

Well let’s see if I can get to the top of Cho Oyu first…but Janet, my partner, has penciled it in the diary already, saying she knows me too well.

For me, I will be very happy to get to a position of where I could reasonably contemplate having a go for it…

 And thanks for the vote of confidence Janet…I’m taking it as tacit approval for the funding of that trip if it ever eventuates…

If you’re inclined, I’ll be updating Facebook when I can, check out The Landy there, just click ‘like’…

Freshly Pressed, Crikey – you’ve got to be kidding me?

The Landy – Out and About had many emails of support this morning. I was a little surprised to find the inbox filled with messages… 

I was even more surprised that one was from the good people at WordPress.com informing me that I had been Freshly Pressed!

I felt humbled…

There are so many wonderful stories on WordPress, many inspirational, plenty that are motivational, and of course there are those that give you a chuckle just when you need it.

It would seem unfair that anyone of these stories is singled out…

In fact, I have spent so much time reading them recently that I have a pile of books that I have put off reading, gathering dust in the study…

So to all, I simply say thank you!

In part, my blog is about my journey to climb an 8,000 mountain peak, the trials and tribulations, the warts and all account, but it is also an opportunity for me to provide a window into an average Aussie bloke’s day-to-day life.

The commas may not always be in the right place, or the grammar might be left wanting at times, but hopefully the story shines through…

I chose to share my story because the dream I have, my goal of high altitude climbing frightens me a little.

 Who am I that I should dream of such an undertaking?

And there is nothing wrong with being a little bit frightened, but I am determined to give it my best shot, approaching the challenge in a logical way and seeking the assistance of those who have been there, who have the skills, to learn those skills, but above all else to have fun trying…

Since putting my story out there I have received many words of encouragement. This encouragement is the energy, the fuel that powers me on…

Many people are on a journey, pursuing their dreams and it has given me great comfort to know that others are scaling their own peaks, whatever they might be. It is the collective sharing of these stories that demonstrates loudly that ordinary people are achieving great things each and every day.

The legendary mountaineer, Walt Unsworth summed up many of us when he opined…

But there are men for whom the unattainable has a special attraction. Usually they are not experts: their ambitions and fantasies are strong enough to brush aside the doubts which more cautious men might have. Determination and faith are their strongest weapons.  At best such men are regarded as eccentric; at worst, mad…”

That first kilogram of weight loss, or a new personal best in a running race, overcoming adversity, or baking the best cake you have ever made, these are the dreams of others, and they are no less or more significant than others, but the one thing these dreams have in common is they provide a starting point for us all to start our journey…

And for many of us the greatest support we receive is from our families, encouraging us to find the greatness that lies within us all.

TomO – Welford National Park

In the words of someone who inspires me, TomO, our 12 year old son. On taking my place on the start line in the Coast-to-Coast adventure race across New Zealand earlier this year, he took my hand and simply said – Dad, just embrace it!

I say to all who dream, “Just embrace it…”

Crank up the music – and pump me up brother!

Exercise, you have to love it, otherwise you end up hating it. I make it part of my daily routine and it is a lifestyle choice for our family…

 I find it provides a great escape, a release valve to the daily grind and pressures we all face, and for me there is little better than cranking up the music in the shed and getting stuck into a workout session!

Most days I rise at 4.30am to row on my C2 rowing machine and I do some sort of resistance exercises using either body weight, or free weights later in the day. Usually I spend around two hours a day on exercise, depending on the program for any given week.

For strength I train as a power-lifter as I believe it strengthens not only the body, but also the mind.

My personal bests are listed here, and I am lifting not too far from those levels presently.

Squat – 175 kg (385 lbs.)

Bench Press – 152.5 kg (335 lbs.)

Dead-lift – 215 kg (475 lbs.)

But I might also grab a backpack, usually weighted at around 30 kilograms and go for a 10 kilometre walk up and down the hills near where I live. I have been increasing this in recent weeks to assist in the mountain climbing I will be doing over the next few months in New Zealand and later next year in Nepal.

In recent times I have been doing 50 & 100 kilometre walks, starting in the early hours of the morning and walking until I get to the finish, taking as little rest time as I can manage. Great for the mind, body, and soul…

And on the weekend I can usually be found kayaking on Narrabeen Lake located on Sydney’s northern beaches with my family.  It is a great place to paddle, and nothing beats watching the sunset over the lake after a lazy summers day on the water.

This all fits perfectly with my pursuit of long distance adventure racing, and mountaineering goals I have set myself.

Earlier this year I competed in the Coast-to-Coast race in New Zealand. A 243 kilometre traverse across New Zealand’s South Island, and Southern Alps, running, cycling, and kayaking. A tough, but rewarding race.

 On nutrition…

I think we over complicate it too much these days. For me it is meat and three vegies a couple of times a day, in addition to eggs, oats, and good quality milk.  It is a simple formula really, eat more than you burn and you put weight on, eat less and it comes off…just stick to a good quality diet, it usually works well…

 And the shed?

Well I gave away gyms many years ago, preferring to workout at home to my own music!

 TomO, our 12-year-old son, popped up with a camera this morning during my session, which I did to a great Australian rock band, The Angels, and he started shooting some pictures for something to do, so here they are!

Smothered in Cocky’s Joy

Camp Oven Scones

It doesn’t matter where in the world you travel you will always find someone baking bread. And there is nothing better than eating freshly baked bread…

It could be a baguette in a back street bakery not too far from Avenue des Champs-Élysées, or a Grissini expertly baked in the shadows of the Colosseum, it could even be one of the many Indian flatbreads, a Naan maybe, baking in a tandoori oven, or even an Injera in Ethiopia.

Freshly baked damper

In the Australian Outback where a never-ending blue sky meets the parched red soil it will be the drovers’ staple, a golden brown damper, kneaded and expertly worked before being baked in a camp oven, or maybe just over hot glowing coals…

A freshly cooked damper, still warm, is best eaten smothered in cocky’s joy, the residue running down your hands, waiting to be licked from your fingers…

Camp food… bonza mate!

I’m excited today (very excited)

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

Well to be honest, most days excite me, perhaps some more than others, but today I booked a week of mountaineering in the Southern Alps of New Zealand leaving in two weeks time, and I’m really excited about the prospect of getting out and about…

Hinchinbrook Island, Australia

I was intending to walk the Thornsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, in North Queensland as it has been on my list of walks to do for as long as I can remember. However, each time I have planned to walk it something else has come along to interrupt the plan. Usually something that I have had no control over.

I’ve often joked that there is an unknown force at work that prevents me from going. Perhaps it is saving me from the jaws of one of those pre-historic reptiles, the crocodile, that inhabit the region, but I digress…

 I already have a trip booked to climb Mt Aspiring located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand this coming January. But January seems so far away, so I thought, why not give those hand-crafted mountaineering boots I just purchased a run for their money instead of walking the Thornsborne Trail?

Yep, I had no trouble rationalising that one in my own mind.

A quick call to our travel agent, was followed up with a call to the wonderful team at Adventure Consultants, located at Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, to confirm I was on my way.

New Zealand is recognised around the world as a great training ground for mountaineering, and although most peaks are only around 3,000 metres in height, they are similar in ruggedness and valley to summit altitude gains as the higher peaks in the Himalayas.

English: Southern Alps from Mt Hutt, New Zealand
Southern Alps, New Zealand

The week of guiding and instruction, the Seven Summits Course, is designed for people like me who are looking to progress to high altitude climbing, to gain exposure to snow camping, improve on crampon and ice axe skills, master ladder crossings over crevasses, along with other general mountaineering skills.

In Australia, it is more difficult to gain this type of exposure.

I have elected to undertake as much tuition as I possibly can, especially in the earlier stages of my journey to Cho Oyu, and Beyond, as this will hopefully make me safer on the mountain, and give me a strong base to build from and to assist in achieving my goals.

One area I will be focussing heavily on is my decision making skills, and I’ll be getting the team at Adventure Consultants to put me to the test on this aspect…

And I still need to break the news to Janet, my partner, that there is plenty more gear I need to buy before I go.

Mind you, Janet has not been watching the bank balance, but has asked only one thing of me, and that is to be safe at all times, reminding me there is always another day.

Her words of wisdom constantly echo in my mind, “summiting is optional, getting down is mandatory.”

 Who has a mountaineering story they can share?