Tag Archives: Navigation

England Creek (Right Branch) hike

Our route is in yellow highlighter

Our route is in yellow highlighter (map courtesy of Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane)

Yesterday, I led my first ever off-track hike. I haven’t done any off-track walking since I was a member of the Brisbane Bushwalkers Club about a decade ago but since being involved in adventure racing and rogaining, I’ve gained quite a bit of confidence in navigation. I put it to the test at England Creek (Right Branch) yesterday in a low risk navigational exercise. I invited my fellow Scout leaders along on the hike and one said ‘yes’.

Morning views from Joyners Ridge Road

Morning views from Joyners Ridge Road

We started out walk at the top of Mt Glorious. The skies were overcast and a light drizzle fell, but the views to the north as we dropped down off Joyners Ridge Road were fantastic. Clouds hung low in the valleys and the mountain peaks were almost like drifting islands.

England Creek (Right Branch)

England Creek (Right Branch)

The walk down to England Creek follows the first 7.5km of the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane route so it will be familiar to many local walkers. It follows Joyners Ridge Road and then turns left onto England Creek Road at a major intersection. Once down at the creek, my friend and I stopped for a brief picnic on a rock before leaving the track to head upstream into the jungle.

We were still trying to keep our feet dry here

We were still trying to keep our feet dry here

At first we rock hopped carefully, trying to keep our feet dry. I never know why I always do this on trips or events when I know that there’s no chance of staying dry. It’s like I’m putting off the inevitable. But it must waste so much energy.

Trying not to fall into the water

Trying not to fall into the water

By the time we got to this deep pool bordered by dangerously slippery rocks, I had given up keeping my feet wet.

I need to get to the other side so might as well jump in after all

I need to get to the other side so might as well jump in after all

That was fun

That was fun

And then when I realised I needed to get to the other side, I just jumped straight in.

There were lots of little gorge sections

There were lots of little gorge sections

The creek runs relatively low at this time of year after all the summer rains have finished and washed through the catchment area. But through each of the little gorges it was obvious that water often rushes through here much more quickly and at a higher level: just check out all the wear on those rocks.

What a beautiful part of the world

What a beautiful part of the world

As we trekked upstream I couldn’t help but think about how beautiful this part of the world is and how lucky I am to have it on my doorstep.

Impossibly tall palm trees along the creek

Impossibly tall palm trees along the creek

Dwarfed by the palm trees

Dwarfed by the palm trees

While rock hopping, it can be tempting to focus all your attention on your footing and on the creek itself. But when you look up and around, you can see what a complex ecosystem places like this are. Check out the impossibly tall palm trees that looked over us as we tiny humans meandered our way upstream.

One of the many swimming holes that would be amazing in summer

One of the many swimming holes that would be amazing in summer

England Creek (Right Branch) would be an even more amazing walk in late spring or early summer when the weather is warm (but not yet oppressively humid or wet). It’s dotted with these beautiful swimming holes and rock slabs that would make perfect places to have a picnic and swim.

A pretty series of cascades

A pretty series of cascades

It also contains many pretty cascades. I am sure that in late summer when we’re in the middle of our wet season, these would be imposing and scary. But yesterday they were just plain pretty. That’s not to say they weren’t treacherous.

Scrambling up some slippery rocks

Scrambling up some slippery rocks

My mate just walked across the log

My mate just walked across the log

Even the rock slabs that look dry were perilously slippery and required careful negotiation.In many of these cascades, we scrambled up the actual falls where the flowing water stopped moss from growing.

As it climbed, the trees closed in around the creek

As it climbed, the trees closed in around the creek

We knew we were starting to get into the upper reaches of the creek when the forest closed in more tightly around us and the light grew dimmer. The water volume reduced, the creek bed turned to stones and the going was more slippery than lower down where we had the option of walking on gravel. But by now we’d been in the creek for about three hours and it had become our entire existence, making the change in terrain feel natural.

The rocks in the upper reaches are slippery and seem constantly wetI can imagine the water rushing through here in the wet season; it must be spectacular. Now, in the dry, it’s just plain beautiful.

At these cascades we decided to exit the creek

At these cascades we decided to exit the creek

After following the creek for almost four hours, we reached our critical decision point. We had to decide whether to swim across a water hole and climb through the flowing water or whether to make our escape out of the creek back to the ridge 600 vertical metres above us to finish the hike along Joyners Ridge Road. We could see from the map and terrain that from this point there would be many more cascades than there is flat creek. We also knew from our descent and map that the forest would close in more densely the higher we traveled. It was also between 1:30pm – 2:00pm, which was the time at which we agreed we would start looking for an escape route so that we could be sure to get out of the bush by dark.

Bashing our way uphill through the jungle

Bashing our way uphill through the jungle

So we turned north-west and started to climb through the thick jungle and lawyer vine.

My mate is only about 20m behind me but is barely visible

My mate is only about 20m behind me but is barely visible

We climbed until we could see patches of grass starting to dot the ground, knowing this meant we were nearing a ridge or spur.

We have to go that way

We have to go that way

We just kept traveling uphill until we came to a clear spur and then we climbed some more. Occasionally we saw evidence that other humans had been here: a mug half-buried in the ground, some lantana that had been hacked with a machete months ago and was starting to grow back, and the odd section of small landslide where a group of people had obviously all slid the same way. The evidence of humans was subtle and could have been made months ago by a single group. But it was still a good sign for us as we climbed the seemingly endless spur.

For those unfamiliar with lantana ... it has prickles

For those unfamiliar with lantana … it has prickles

At the top of the spur we reached a ridge that was totally infested by lantana. The horrible weed rose like a two metre high wall in front of us and it was at least ten metres deep. We knew that the track should have been at the top of the ridge so it took us by surprise that the terrain dropped off again. But instead of panicking or second guessing myself, I told my mate to stop for a minute so we could get our bearings. I tracked a few metres north on the ridge until I could see further west and there it was, the big wide track meandering it’s way up to Mt Glorious. We were on precisely the ridge I had thought we were on as we climbed and, as I suspected, this was the only place where the track ran just off the ridge line. The reading and mental practice I’ve been doing paid off in real life.

Back out on the track for the final few kilometres

Back out on the track for the final few kilometres

We followed Joyners Ridge Road the final few kilometres back to the car, having thoroughly enjoyed a day out in the bush. I have plans to do some more local off-track hikes to continue to develop my navigation skills, both for my own enjoyment and for the adventure races / rogains team Whoops Witch Way are going to tackle later in the year.

Total: 15km off-track hike

Multicaching in Brisbane

A clever geocache

A clever geocache

I was in Brisbane City today for the Variety Santa Fun Run and Walk so decided to do some geocaching and walking while I was there. I’ve found most of the regular caches in the city but haven’t attempted any of the multi- or puzzle caches so decided to do them today. A multi- or puzzle cache is one in which the coordinates listed on geocaching.com are not the coordinates of the final cache. You have to collect information from one or more waypoints to find the final cache coordinates. I have only done one each of the multi- and puzzle caches so today’s six was a big step.

I started the day with a simple regular cache outside the Gallery of Modern Art (photo above). This cache was located at the listed coordinates and was disguised as a magnetic bolt.

The Commonwealth Law Courts, Brisbane

The Commonwealth Law Courts, Brisbane

The first multicache I attempted started at The Commonwealth Law Courts at the northern end of the Kurilpa Bridge. The cache required me to note details from two plaques and to count certain statues. I then had to add the numbers I obtained using a certain formula to locate the final cache location. My GPS was affected by the surrounding buildings but I was eventually successful.

John Oxley plaque

John Oxley plaque

My second multicache started at the John Oxley plaque. John Oxley was the founder of Brisbane. As a city, Brisbane is still very young, having only been established in 1824. It became the capital of the State of Queensland after Federation in 1901. This cache required me to count the number of words in certain elements of the plaque before walking about 400m to find the cache. The coin I’m holding in the photo is a Geocoin. This trackable item has traveled over 31,000km from Germany to Australia and I’m currently holding it until I find a suitable cache to drop it in (todays were all too small).

Firefighter's memorial

Firefighter’s memorial

Firefighter's Prayer

Firefighter’s Prayer

The next cache started at the Firefighter Memorial where a plaque containing the Firefighter’s Prayer holds pride of place. Take a moment to read the prayer and perhaps think about the sacrifice firefighters make.

Cool sculpture

Cool sculpture

Centenary Park

Centenary Park

The Bard: Robert Burns

The Bard, Robert Burns

Former Premier Byrnes (do you see his bottle?)

Former Premier Byrnes (do you see his bottle?)

This multicache then took me on a 1km walk past some of Brisbane’s sculptures where I had to collect more clues. It took me past a really cool hand sculpture. And then on to Centenary Park, which is a small inner city park where I used to train with my high school track and cross-country teams because our school was across the road and didn’t have track facilities. Do you see the bottle someone gave to former Premier Byrnes? You might need to enlarge the photo. I don’t know whether Byrnes liked wine but someone decided to offer him a bottle.

Brisbane Dental School

Brisbane Dental School

My next puzzle cache was located up in Spring Hill near the St Johns Ambulance HQ but there was nothing worth photographing up there. On my way back towards my motorbike and final cache, I passed the imposing Brisbane Dental School, with it’s steep staircase and old facade (complete with old school street lamps).

Leichardt: One of my favourite explorers

Leichardt: One of my favourite explorers

The foundation of the Queensland Rugby Football League

The foundation of the Queensland Rugby Football League

My final cache of the day was a complex multi that required me to collect clues from three different locations and then to complete two stages of calculations to find the cache location. I enjoyed the history in this cache, which included my favourite explorer, Leichardt and the birth of the Queensland Rugby Football League (QRL). Leichardt was famous for exploring Queensland’s Darling Downs and Outback before he mysteriously disappeared. I’ve always liked to think that he escaped the hustle and bustle of colony life by living with Indigenous Australians he met on his travels. As for the QRL, rugby league is like a religion in Queensland. This tough full contact sport is almost exclusively a male domain. Unlike American football, Australian players don’t wear helmets and body armour. They just get out there and smash each other to try to prevent the scoring of tries (similar to American touchdowns but the ball actually has to be grounded).

Calculating the cache location

Calculating the cache location

I did a lot of maths today. This is an example of the process I had to use to find each cache.

I think this process of multi- and puzzle caching is great practice for adventure racing. While it’s not performed at the same high stress level as adventure racing navigation, it does still require me to concentrate while walking around in the hot sun. For example, I found my final cache at 12:45pm and had been on my feet since 5:30am when I parked my motorbike to go to the Santa Fun Run.

Total: 11km and 7 geocaches  found (6 multi- or puzzle caches)

One final run and packet pick up

Perth Royal Yacht Club, Fremantle Annex

My body woke me again at 2:30am and then at 3am. But I manage to go back to sleep until just before 5am, when I decided to step outside and head off for one final pre-marathon run.

Stars shone in the sky as I ran down to Fremantle’s fishing boat harbour. The town was quiet but for cleaners and street sweepers tidying up after last night’s Friday night excesses. It’s a scene that I’ve seen repeated in cities around the world where I’ve run or walked in the early hours of Saturday mornings; something that binds us all together.

I ran to the end of the Mew Street harbour wall and found the ‘Evans Above geocache (GC2KZZV). While there, I marvelled at the expensive boats moored in the Perth Royal Yacht Club, Fremantle Annex marina under lights. I took a cute little travel bug from the geocache, which has traveled from the US through the Middle East and SubContinent; I’ll move it along throughout my travels here in Western Australia.

From Mew Street I ran to the Round House and down to the Fremantle Passenger Ferry Terminal where I found two more geocaches. My run was very light today. I just ran slowly from cache to cache, not wanting to overdo it on the day before my first marathon (and second 12-in-12 Challenge event).As I ran back down South Terrace I had a giggle at the cyclists sitting at one of the many cafes. They were all wearing their lycra outfits but had clearly not yet been out cycling because none of their bikes had lights on them (the sun was not yet up).

Breakfast of champions

I have recently started eating salads for breakfast. I was inspired to try this dietary change after reading Born to Run. Despite being away on holidays, I am still eating my salads because without them I actually feel pretty ordinary. The other bonus (as mentioned in Born to Run) is that I know I am getting my five serves of vegetables a day. Today’s salad is mesculin lettuce mix, spinach, carrots, beetroot, broccoli stems, macadamias, slivered almonds and a creamy garlic dressing.

Packet pick up … I’m number 550

I wrote a sign for my partner to hold up

After breakfast my partner and I made our way to Perth where I am running the City to Surf Marathon tomorrow. I collected my race packet, which is just a race number and clothes transfer bag. I also picked up a sign provided by the sponsors. The sign is for my partner to hold when I run past her. I wrote my name and a silly message on it. She’ll only see me at about the 500m mark and then the finish but that’s okay. I like the sign.

Total: 4.2km in unknown time. 3 geocaches found.

Stockyard Creek Orienteer

Found the control

After starting my day with the club run, I went home for a few hours to relax before heading off to the Stockyard Creek Orienteer event, hosted by the Toohey Forest Orienteering club. I’ve decided to give orienteering and rogaining a go because I want to advance my navigation skills and confidence.

I arrived early for the 1pm start. After a chat with some experienced orienteers I decided to attempt the most difficult and furthest course on offer: a 5km ‘red’ course. The controls on this course were all away from the trails that criss-cross the Stockyard Creek area and they were flung all over the field of play.

I set off at 1pm to try to find my way around the eleven controls. I underestimated the challenge of orienteering a fully off-track course and had a bit of a panic on my way to the first control. While I wouldn’t have had any difficulty navigating to the location under recreational circumstances, I felt pressure under ‘race’ conditions; not because I wanted to win but because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

Once I relaxed and trusted my navigation skills I found the first control easily and ran cross-country through the scrub to the second control. Then I got overconfident. I checked the map but not my compass and ran off in the wrong direction. It didn’t take me long to realise my mistake but the only way to correct it was to backtrack to the second control. Then I made the mistake of not trusting my compass because I was frazzled. It probably took me twenty minutes to get from the second to third control.

Once I found the third control I regained my confidence and found the fourth and fifth controls easily before again making a mistake on my way to the sixth control. I got three-quarters of the way to the control when I made an error. Instead of trusting my compass, I made an incorrect assumption about where I thought the control would be and went off in the wrong direction. I was tired and hadn’t drunk enough water. While that’s not an excuse it does put my confusion into context.

I might have been last but I finished

Once I found the sixth control, the final five controls fell into place easily. It took me 84:44 to complete the course, which was 60 minutes slower than the winner and 20 minutes slower than the next orienteer. But I am pretty happy with my effort. It was my first orienteer and instead of playing safe I went out on a limb by entering the most difficult event. I found all the controls, didn’t get lost and learned a lot.

Next time I enter an event, I’m going to take 5 minutes at the start to plan my routes, note the compass directions I need to take off each control, and identify attack and catching features so that I don’t have to stop and route-find as much at each control.

I can’t see myself taking up orienteering as a sport because I don’t get the same heart thumping excitement about it as I do about trail running. But it will be a good training tool to help me keep improving my off-track navigation skills and confidence. And it is a nice way to develop leg strength and concentration skills through cross-country running (which, believe me, is really tough).

Total:

  • 6.85km club run in bare feet @ 5:34 pace. Average temperature: 14.7’C. Elevation gain: 2 m.
  • 5km long course orienteer (I probably ran closer to 7km with all the geographical embarrassment I endured).

Trail running by night

My breath billows before me like a cloud as it hits the cold night air. I swap my motorbike jacket and boots for a light jumper and running shoes. Then I turn off the motorbike light and stand in total darkness for a few moments. The sky is filled with stars and the bush is silent. I breath in the serenity before turning on my headlight and hitting the trail.

I’ve set up a route that will take me past the five geocaches hidden in Venman National Park. I don’t know it yet but the trail will be over 11km long and will take me over two hours to complete, allowing for time spent searching for caches and signing logs. It’s still about 22’C but by the time I return to my bike it will be a chilly 12’C.

My headlight bobs up and down on my head as I run creating a bouncing light effect on the ground. It’s only 45 lumens but still cuts through the pitch black night. On at least a dozen occasions my light reflects off the orange eyes of tawny frogmouths; a large funny looking bird that hunts insects at night. One of them was only an arm-length away from me when I noticed it and we stood still staring at each other for at least 30 seconds before it flew away. I always think these encounters are such a privilege. I also saw a ring-tail possum, a black snake and an owl.

All I can hear as I run are my soft footfalls and the sloshing of water in my camel back. There’s not many singing birds out tonight; just quiet hunters. Occasionally I hear wallabies bounding away into the trees; clearly startled by my presence in their night-time domain. The serenity is divine, particularly in a world where we are almost always plugged into music, television, mobile phones and other intrusive devices. I wonder why I don’t come out at night more often.

The geocaches are all fairly easy to find. Only one causes me any trouble and that’s not because it was a difficult ind but because I found myself spooked by the hiding spot. The cache was hidden under a huge fallen tree. The base of the tree was at least a metre in diameter and the fallen tree was huge. The way it was splayed all over the ground felt creepy in the darkness; a bit like walking through a graveyard. It seems silly to have been freaked out but I was. Though I did just suck it up and look for the cache, clambering all over the tree’s carcass.

Total: 11.60km @ 7:57 pace and 74% maximum heart rate. Found 5 geocaches. Average temperature 18.4’C.

A big day out on foot in Brisbane

I had an energetic and cheerful day

I got off the bus at Royal Parade, Ashgrove in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. Last night I had loaded an 10km trail of geocaches into my Garmin 800. The trail would take me along the Enoggera Creek Bicycle Trail from Ashgrove to the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital just north of the city centre. I decided to run the trail on foot.

Enoggera Creek Bikeway

The bikeway itself is mostly a smooth and flat concrete path that is flanked by trees and gardens. There are  a few brief sections where the path moves onto quiet suburban streets and wanders through sports fields. But the path is mostly a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

The bikeway is well-signed

The bikeway is well-signed so it made navigation a breeze.

Cache of the day is hidden in here

Cache of the day

I had a fantastic time running from one geocache location to the next, stopping only to search for the caches. The cache hiding places varied from tree stumps to magnetic caches attached to signs and everything in between. I found twelve caches in total along the 11km trail, which isn’t a bad hit rate. I was unable to find one and was muggled for two (being muggled is when you are unable to search for a cache due to the presence of non-cachers).

The cache of the day was Bikeway Spencer. I think I was a bit lucky to find it because my GPS said I was still 10m from the cache location when I stopped to lean on the metal pole to think. The cap moved and my brain switched straight to ‘here’s the cache’ mode.

Brisbane Town Hall

After my successful morning geo-run along the Enoggera Creek Bike Way I met my partner for lunch then went into the Brisbane CBD to continue my geocaching adventures. This time I walked instead of running because I had plenty of time and only 6.5km to travel.

The Old Mill

Parliament House

Botanic Gardens

My geowalk took me to many iconic Brisbane locations, such as the Old Mill, Parliament House and the Botanic Gardens. I love my home city and feel proud to be a local. I love the way the sandstone heritage buildings contrast against our bright blue skies. I love the open green spaces. And I love that my city feels like home.

Brisbane River

Like many Australian capitals, Brisbane has a proud maritime heritage and we embrace our river as the focal point of our city. Yachts  are moored on almost every bend and our bridges form the solid foundation to the flowing water and bobbing, turning yachts.

This is a typical nano cache

During my CBD geowalk I found all eight geocaches that I had loaded into my Garmin 800. One of them was a nano so I decided to photograph it to show you just how small these can be. This nano is typical of the style currently favoured in the Australian cities where I have cached. They are my favourite caches because they are so tiny that they can be magnetised to some creative locations, such as statues and street signs. Eclipse mint containers are currently the most popular micro-sized containers and I found many of them today.

As an off-season training activity, I am thoroughly enjoying geocaching. The activity is giving me solid time on my feet. It also helps me keep my pace down. This is important because I have a history of leg injuries, particularly shin splints and ITB syndrome. Finding the balance between building a base and staying injury free has historically been a challenge for me. During my georuns, I tend to run 150m – 1.5km between caches, walk as I search for the cache, and stand / sit still while logging the cache and identifying the next cache. This keeps the pressure on my legs down.

Geocaching is probably a good help for adventure racing too because I have to plan the most efficient route between caches and navigate to specific locations. It also helps me ‘dial in’ my eye so that I can find the cache, which is more difficult than finding checkpoints because caches tend to be well hidden. So today counts as a big solid training day.

Total:

  • 10.38km run with 12 geocaches found
  • 6.32km walk with 8 geocaches found

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore

Well, it finally happened. I went running in strange places in the dark and found myself in a place where men meet for things other than a chat. I didn’t mean to. I was just following a geocaching trail I had set for myself. But it seems that local knowledge might have been helpful on this occasion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no particular political, social or moral issue with consenting adults doing things together. But I personally am not all that interested in men, nor in engaging in particular acts with strangers. So when I was cruised, I decided it was probably a good time to leave the park.

It’s more amusing to me than anything else. Here I was, on my hands and knees innocently searching under a pontoon when I realised there were an unusually high number of condom wrappers. That was the first warning that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The next one was definitely the guy who greeted me with a cautiously cheerful ‘hello mate’. No one in Perth ever greets me when I’m out running so either he was also not a local or he actually wanted me to stop.

Whatever the case, it made this morning’s run a little more interesting and gave me something to write about other than to tell you that I went running and geocaching in the dark.

Total: 8km run. 1 geocache found.