Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Seawah Sortie (sort of)

Things don’t always go according to plan. Some days I’m well enough to get up a small mountain, some days I can’t get out of bed. So this post is actually about a trip where I didn’t get to climb a mountain, well, only a metaphoric one. And they’re much harder.

It was my birthday and I’d arranged to take a four day weekend. I was desperate for some real trail time, my big plan was to hit the 45km Cooloola Wilderness Trail. I should have known I was kidding myself. I won't bore you with details but let's just say I wasn't ready to walk until the third day.

I decided an in-and-out walk to Mt Seawah on the Cooloola Great Walk might be do-able instead. It involved a longish approach of about 12 kilometres, but was almost entirely flat, and the “mountain” itself was a mere sandhill, 120m above sea level. And I had two whole days to do it. I could lie down and nap along the way any time I felt like it…

I had that wonderfully familiar wild and free, backpack-on-and-ready-for-adventure feeling when I hit the trail. The first stage of the walk is through eucalypt, melaleuca and callitris forest, with smatterings of bloodwoods, a few cabbage palms and wildflowers to boot. Old man’s beard hangs eerily from the old cypress pines in places, and the rusty hue of peeling angophoras punctuates the scene of creamy paperbark trunks beautifully.

I was still sulking a bit from having to change my plans, and I dawdled along hardly even bothering much with photos. Until I reached the open wallum section. Vast open fields of boronias, grass trees, goodenias, sprengelias, acacias and other low heath species in all directions. My attention was suddenly drawn back to my surrounds by a ground parrot fluttering up from the ground (funnily enough) amongst the heath right beside the trail. This species is endangered and rarely sighted, and I watched in utter delight as it flew 20 metres or so then ducked back down into the vegetation. That little green bird had just made my day, and saved me from myself.

Shortly after the wallum the trail reaches the long sand crescent that is Noosa north shore, followed by several kilometres of trail that runs roughly parallel to the shoreline. How very pleasant; beautiful dappled-shade single track, fringed by midyim berry shrubs that were all just about to burst into flower. Several goannas along the way were my company, and one obligingly posed for me and my camera.

After quite a while on this section, I was starting to get tired and achy, and was hoping the beginning of the ascent, and therefore camp, was close. For some reason I had in my head that the mountain was ten k’s in. So when I arrived at a small sign that said Seawah 3km, my bottom lip quivered. That meant I had only walked seven k. Seven k!! I must be completely weak and sick if it took that long to walk only seven k!!! God, ten k was nothing in the old days, NOTHING. Why couldn’t I be normal? Not tired and broken and slow.

Oh dear. I sat down and cried. And cried. Loudly, and for a long time, like a baby. No one could hear me. I didn’t care. I sobbed for my old life that I desperately missed, for my health, my old racing days, for past lovers I had shared trails with, for all the things I would have achieved in the last four years. I was desperate to walk, to run, to ride. To be free of the restrictions that CFS had placed over my life. The tears came from deep down and only when it felt like I had squeezed out every drop of moisture in my entire body out through my tear ducts did I stop.

When I was finally still again, I began to listen to the sounds of the forest around me, soft rustlings, occasional birdsong, and further away, the ocean. I breathed. I regrouped. I let go. I reminded myself how lucky I was to live in a free country, to have two arms and legs, to always have food on my table, and to be right there in the wilderness, where I wanted to be. I pondered this interesting practice I had developed over the last several years of being able to suddenly wail as if the world was ending, to cry like there was no meaning to be found in anything ever again; and then bounce back, serene and smiling once again. With more calm, more determination, more resilience, and more sense of self each time.
Have I mentioned that chronic illness can really mess with you?

It would have been hard to walk that last 3 k to Seawah. And it probably wouldn’t have been sensible either. But it was much, much harder to stop and go no further, to admit defeat, to let the illness win again (violins please). In actual fact, I had walked at least ten k, more actually, and I had to laugh when I pulled the map out later and realised that fact. One thing I’ve definitely learned in recent years, is that if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re fu*ked. If you can, you’ll make it through just about anything.

I backtracked a little and found a perfectly cute campsite under a pandanus atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It was a pretty sweet little spot. My disappointment and self pity faded with the afternoon light. All was well in my world.

After a chat with an interesting local Teewah resident who wandered past on his regular rounds, I settled in for the night. I hadn’t bothered putting the fly on the tent, so awoke next morn to the sight of pandanus above and all around me. After a suitable amount of time spent lying there gazing up at the fronds, I emerged and began bouncing around with the camera. The morning light was perfect, but hmmmm, I couldn’t really see much to the west. No matter, I found a climbable banksia, scooted up and enjoyed the view across the wallum landscape to the hinterland and Mt Cooroora in the distance. The day was rapidly warming up but I was too relaxed and happy to rush off. When I was good and ready – it was my birthday after all - I packed up and set off, barefoot this time (I had just watched that film Ten Canoes so was feeling like being more authentically in touch with the earth, if you know what I mean).

I was trying to reflect on turning 35 but my thoughts kept returning to the flora and fauna around me, trying to memory-bank the birds I’d seen so I could jot them down later. So I reflected on what a nature geek I’ve become instead. I could name most of the birds I’d seen, and much of the flora too; but am still only scratching the surface when it comes to the biodiversity here on the Coast. Delightful shining bronze cuckoos, showy rufous fantails, circling white bellied sea eagles, courting eastern whipbirds, squealing yellow tailed black cockatoos, and many more I didn’t remember later (CFS affects your brain too);my feathered friends engaged my senses and inspired me once again to learn much more.

But I will climb Mt Seawah.
Apparently the views are magnificent, even though it is not a high mountain (actually it’s a hillock). Next time, I could paddle across Lake Cootharaba and walk from there. Or who knows, maybe I’ll start at Rainbow Beach and do the whole Great Walk.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sunset on Mt Peregian

Emu Mountain from Point Perry, Coolum Beach
 Last Sunday afternoon, after napping on and off most of the day, I suddenly felt a desperate need to get out and about for some action before the working week started all over again. Hm, what was close by and wouldn’t mess with my energy too much…..Mount Peregian! I needed to justify my decision to exert myself after a fatigue-ish weekend.. The peak is only a few kms from my home, and at 97 metres above sea level it’s not even a real mountain anyway, wandering up with my camera would be quite do-able. I threw water, said camera, coconut choc muffins (priorities!) and thermos in my pack and charged off for a quick and easy mini-adventure.

Tiny yellow goodenias greeted me at the National Parks gate, and I hoped there would be more wildflowers along the way. The late afternoon sunlight bathed the heath, the dark grey rock, and me in comforting golden warmth. I couldn’t help myself, I immediately started skipping uphill, snapping off pictures of flowering hakeas, philothecas and phebaliums. I got a little excited over the melaleuca blossoms that were backlit and glowing crimson, like beacons above the more subdued low heath species.

The main Mt Peregian trail is such a gentle incline, you hardly even realise you are going uphill. And there’s much to distract you along the way - the ocean to the east, the mountains and ranges to the west, views north all the way to Noosa and beyond, and the delicate wildflowers alongside the track. Also dotting the slopes is the endangered Mt Emu sheoak (Allocasuarina emuina), found nowhere else but here on the hill and a handful of other small pockets nearby.

When you reach the summit (which doesn’t take long), Mt Coolum suddenly looms close by in the south, and I could easily make out the top half of Mt Crookneck/Coonowrin much further afield in the Glasshouse Mountains. Mt Ninderry is the obvious bump to the south west and the ever present triangle of Mt Cooroy is easily spotted in the north west. To the east, it's ocean, ocean, ocean!

Since I found out that Peregian is an Indigenous word for emu, I’ve often imagined what it would be like to spot them in these parts. Apparently they once roamed in abundance on the Coast, but we humans pushed them out long ago with roads, developments and farms. The summit views tell the story; you can see across areas of national park surrounding the mountain to the harsh edges where the housing estates cut into the wallum landscape.  I shuddered as I looked west to the expanding Peregian Springs development, and thought of the people who fought tirelessly to have so much of the surrounding land gazetted for conservation. I wondered if Emu Mountain would have a house on top of it today if it weren’t for them.

I had chosen my timing well. A group of whale monitoring scientists were making their way down the mountain as I was nearing the summit. This meant that I had the peak to myself for the sunset. Hot chai, a homemade muffin and a summit sunset; it doesn't take much to make me glad. It's a little different to the old days of adventure racing and marathons, but gratitude goes a long way to keeping my physical and mental health on track (mountain track, that is...)

I snapped away as the horizon glowed with silvery-gold rimmed clouds, and then stopped to watch as the sky behind them turned pink, then lilac. The close-to-full moon had already risen in the east and was high up above the sea.

But getting back to the whales, I happened to turn and glance north at the exact moment that one breached, what a bonus! Emu Mountain is another local gem really, super easy, super accessible (just off David Low Way), and with many added extras like wildflowers and whale watching. And a rather nice and rather extensive sea view. There's more than one trail to the summit, the other starting from the Emu Mountain estate on the southern side; and a few other trails around the base.

 I've not seen a great number of fauna species up there yet, but I was on the mountain for the lunar eclipse earlier this year and happened to see a fox come down the trail right by me. As feral and destructive as they are, it was still pretty special to see one slink past me at 4am as I sat in the darkness watching the moon disappear. I've heard but not quite seen wallabies, and if you were to sit still for a bit you'd definitely spot birds, skinks and probably snakes.

But anyway, it was getting darker and darker so I skipped on down back to the car. When I'm better I'm planning to run from home to the mountain, up and down it, around it, and back home again via the beach.
Watch this space.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Un-tourist Coolum

I couldn’t wait to get off the suburban streets and into the bush, because really, what’s better than a summit on a sunshiney July morning on the Sunshine Coast?

I locked the car and started out on the dirt road. For about 2 seconds I considered whether or not I was safe, being an urban area and all, but instantly shrugged off the uneasiness with “it’s broad daylight….whatever”. It was a big blue sky day, crisp and clear and the mountains were calling me, and nothing would have kept me from skipping up something big and stoney with sloping sides that day.

I almost missed the turn off to the summit track as I was expecting the ubiquitous brown timber National Parks sign; instead there is a street sign, you know, the ones that indicate that there’s something touristy down a particular road. I stepped over the log that marks the (uninspiring, power-poled) trailhead to the summit and into the contrasting and welcoming world of Mount Coolum. Goodbye houses, bitumen and weedy dirt road.

Almost immediately the trail began to gently climb, through wet sclerophyll at first, brush box, casuarinas, and stately old bloodwoods. Beautiful. Thick lovely bracken fern created a cool lush feeling, and brushed my knees and thighs as I dawdled along. Some days I’m a regular little rock wallaby, itching to get to the summit; but if I have my camera in hand, well my pace is unhurried (shall we say), and it’s best to take a packed lunch.

I immediately liked this ‘anti-tourist’ track. What a gem, I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to get around to doing it. It was interesting, wonderfully varied and quiet. It doesn’t take long for me to get withdrawal symptoms when I’ve been away from the natural world, so the silence and dappled sunlight of the forest were deeply satisfying. The heart shaped leaves of macarangas were aglow above me and casuarina needles shimmered under the thin rays of sunlight filtering through.  I felt at home. My soul sings when I’m on a trail. And I was solo, I could run all the way to the top (hypothetically that is) or take it slow, it didn’t matter to anyone but me.

I would recommend stopping, as I did, at the overhanging buttress not far in, for a look at the brushbox tree that has grown in an arc around the rock. And to appreciate the pretty cabbage palm at the other end. What a special little spot, it felt sacred, quiet....and was a good excuse to pause and ‘enjoy the journey’.

As the trail ascended the vegetation became drier and more open and the understorey on the rocky slopes became dominated by hops bushes, with their distinct blunted leaves and “cluster of cherries” winged flowers. Fallen casuarina needles blanketed the ground along the track in some spots, while higher up bright green lomandras and straw coloured grasses offset the dark volcanic boulders.
When the trail gained the ridge I ducked off right to an outcrop with impressive views to the west – Mt Ninderry, Mt Eerwah and Mt Cooroy; and the checkerboard of farmland across the floodplains.

If you’re paying attention you won’t have any difficulty staying on the trail. Even if you stop off regularly, like me, at the fantastic open rocky viewing points along the way, to soak up the sun and capture the scenery via digital images. North, south and west, the views became better and better as I gained altitude. The sun lit up a stunning scribbly gum so I skipped over for a hug and to shoot some macros of their squiggles.

Just prior to the last leg, there is a lovely sort of saddle, where banksias, philothecas and acacias were already blooming, to my delight. I’m a bit of a plant nerd in training, and I was disappointed to have forgotten my reference books to i.d. them properly. Good thing I had my camera that day. I actually have no idea how long it took me to walk the trail as I spent so long photographing everything around me on the way. But I wasn’t wearing a watch anyway.
Reminiscent of the trails of the Glasshouse Mountains, the final section to the summit was rocky and surrounded by a tunnel-forest of casuarinas – I felt like a hobbit (ok, I always do, I’m 5 foot not-much) - then all too soon I was emerging at the fence that surrounds the summit tower….I was almost disappointed that there was no more trail, no more up.

I explored several of the paths leading off the summit but found some privacy on the southern end, away from the tourists, mums and dads, and teenagers wearing “I don’t discriminate, I hate everyone” and “Go away” t-shirts (funny yet annoying at the same time). I had only passed one other party on the ascent! I knew from previous hikes that the eastern side gets a lot of traffic, and was glad that the western trail is little-known even to locals.

At this point, enjoying sitting on a small bum-sized boulder amongst the banksias and leptospermums, I congratulated myself for taking the time to make chai that morning and to have brought it along in my old red thermos. A sunny summit, an ocean view, blossoming wildflowers and a hot cup of tea. What more could a nanna-hiker want? I lapped it all up with gratitude and peace in my (lil ole) heart. I thanked gaia again when a red-backed fairy wren showed himself off to me as I sat sipping my tea. Thanks little mate, because you know what, there aren’t any other males showing interest just at the moment..

The top of Coolum mountain (Mountain? Really? It’s only 200 metres high) is actually a plateau, long and wide and mostly covered in the wonderful wallum heath that flanks much of the mountain. The ocean vistas are truly spectacular, particularly on a Queensland winter’s day, so I captured a nice panorama of the view east and south, all the way to Mooloolaba and Point Cartwright. As I wandered I snapped a few more images of the peaks to the west, and the distant but distinct Glasshouse Mountains. Around about then I noticed, thanks to the angle of the winter sun, that p.m. must have crept up on me, it was well past nap-time. I wandered back to the tourists and disappeared behind the tower, grinning as I heard someone say “where’s she going?”, and started to descend.