Welcome to Elwyn's blog!
This contains a selection of my writing and photos from a number of trips I've made around the world.
The Rottnest Swim is a 20km open water swim which starts at Cottesloe Beach and finishes at Rottnest Island. It has now grown to be so popular that there's a ballot to enter a team in the race. Our sailing crew managed to win the ballot to enter the race so we all helped out as support crew.
The standard Perth summer weather conditions are an offshore easterly wind overnight and into the morning before an onshore seabreeze later in the day. Therefore, it's best to start swimming west to Rottnest Island with the offshore breeze as a tailwind and get as far west to Rottnest as possible before the seabreeze comes in. The start time for our swim team was 7.15am but we needed to be on the boat at 4am to motor up to the start line and get organised.
The support team needs a boat to provide safety and recovery for the swimmer(s) and navigate the course over to Rottnest Island. A kayaker paddles very close to the swimmer to guide the swimmer along the correct course as it's very difficult to see any distance when swimming.
My support crew role was kayaking so I stepped off the back of the yacht into the kayak to meet our swimmer at Cottesloe for the start. Our swimmer was Scottish so naturally I was given a Scottish flag to help identify me amongst hundreds of other kayakers and support boats.
Our swimmer started and we found each other relatively quickly thanks to the Scottish flag! The first 1km of the swim was relatively straightforward as no support boats were allowed in the swim channel. But after that it was chaos with boats, kayaks and swimmers everywhere. So I did my best to protect our swim team. Even at the start, it was a steady southeasterly wind that soon became a southerly crosswind so we knew we were in for a difficult crossing.
The swim team of four swimmers took turns to swim 10 minutes each at a time and rotated through resting and recovering on the support boat. We continued west, before the wind died out. But it wasn't long before the seabreeze started and we were battling to make the cutoff time for the 10km mark. We just made the mark, but with choppy seas and a headwind the writing was on the wall that we'd need to retire. It was unfortunate, but there wasn't much we could do about it.
We decided to retire from the race and pull the swimmers and support craft into the yacht. Then it was time for the Rottnest pub! It's easily one of the busiest days of the year at Rottnest so we soaked up the atmosphere and had a good chat over a few beers. Perhaps we'll enter a team again and hopefully have better conditions next time.
Lake Ballard is a 50km long salt lake 200km up the road from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
Lake Ballard has Antony Gormley’s 51 Carbonised Steel Figures which were initially installed as a temporary art exhibition but proved so popular they are now a permanent fixture.
A real sense of the expanse of the outback. Flies and dust are mandatory!
I spent a week in Sydney. I was fortunate to see a good friend of mine and we arranged an overnight walk in the Blue Mountains. I last visited the Blue Mountains when I was a teenager (ie. a long time ago!) so it was time for another visit.
The weather was dicey earlier in the week with snow falling in the area but fortunately it cleared up on the weekend. I'd had a 6 hour delay arriving into Sydney due to severe thunderstorms!
We drove up to Blackheath which was about 2 hours from the middle of Sydney and commenced our walk at Evans Lookout. As it was an overnight walk we needed to carry everything so we had a fair weight in our packs. Walks in the Blue Mountains start high from the car park, and then descent down to the valley floor to spend the night before climbing out of the valley to finish.
Evans Lookout offered a great view to the north of Blackheath and we could clearly see our planned route.
From Evans Lookout we descended down to the base of Grand Canyon, a side valley leading down to Junction Rock. The terrain and the flora changed quickly as we descended through various ecosystems. We descended past of a number of waterfalls as the terrain became steeper near the valley floor.
We then walked through Eucalyptus forest along the river to Junction Rock, where we turned north to head towards the blue gum forest. We had glimpses to the distinctive cliffs lining the top of the valleys around us.
We set up camp at Acacia Flat and then had a short walk to the Blue Gum Forest in the evening light.
We enjoyed a cool night before packing up camp and heading back up the valley the next morning. We remembered that we had to climb back out of the valley after the relatively easy descent the day before! We turned right at Junction Rock and climbed up towards Bridal Veil Falls. As the temperature was around 30 degrees it was a warm climb but fortunately there was plenty of shade. It was an impressive path that became steeper until we were climbing stairs up the cliff face.
The view across the valley and Bridal Veil Falls made the climb worthwhile!
We finished the climb up to Govetts Leap and then crossed the top of Bridal Veil Falls before the finish back at Evans Lookout. Then a well-earned ice cream.
It was a great weekend and a reminder that I should visit the Blue Mountains more often!
We anchored our yacht at Rockingham Beach, south of Fremantle. As we took the dinghy to shore, we had this close encounter with a dolphin!
Pune is a city of over 5 million people which is makes it the 8th most populous city in India, behind Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. It's in the same state of Maharashtra as Mumbai on the central western coast. As Pune is on a less travelled route to India from Australia, it took 3 flights and over 20 hours in transit to get there from our home in Perth. The newly built airport in Delhi made the transit much easier than the old airport that I went through on previous visits to India in 2007 and 2004.
It's no surprise how crowded it is on Indian streets. There are literally people everywhere. It's now quite visible that some of the population are better off since the Indian economic boom as there's more cars on the road. That said, there are also lots of "two wheelers" or motorbikes on the roads there who battle for the front at red traffic lights. Fortunately we had drivers assigned to take us everywhere for our stay so we didn't have to deal with driving on India roads. A different style of driving means that's generally friendly to use your car horn to let other drivers know you're there. Many trucks have "Please use horn" painted on their back bumper bars. That makes the streets of India very noisy. Not to mention the frequent cows and other animals frequently seen on the roads!
Most of our week was spent at the office which only offered evenings to look around the city. The Osho International Meditation Resort is based in Koregaon Park. It was started by Acharya Rajneesh in the 1970s which attracted many Westerners to visit India and many have stayed in the meditation resort for a number of years.
Not far from Osho is the German Bakery. As we had several Germans in our group, we had to visit the bakery. Unfortunately, this bakery was bombed in 2010. Since this bombing, there is increased security around Pune. Upon entering any shopping centre, reasonable hotel, office or tourist site visitors must go through security, get frisked and have bags x-rayed. As I'm about a foot taller than most Indian ladies, my head was often sticking out above the security screen as I was frisked by female security staff.
India has become much more westernised in the past decade. There are plenty more shopping malls and recognisable western brands (and rip-offs) available for sale. But there's also millions of people living in extreme poverty on the streets. The "Land of Contrasts" label is obvious everywhere. Besides flashy cars are children begging at traffic lights hoping to buy their next meal.
We made a day trip to Lavasa, a hill station built between Mumbai and Pune in 2010. It was nice to get out of the big city of Pune and see some of the surrounding country. We passed through a couple of valleys of the "Western Ghats", a hill range which extends along the west coast of India. Lavasa is planned as a totally self-sufficient town but it's still under construction. It surrounds a dam which offers views across the valley. Fortunately there was a reasonable restaurant for a suitable lunch stop.
As it was August, it was monsoon season. Most days had a huge rain downpour in the afternoon and we drove back from the office through some deep, muddy puddles. This made the surrounding land look very lush and green. Our hotel overlooked the river which ranged in height from barely trickling to a large torrent following downpours in Pune and the hills upstream.
Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu "Festival of Ganesh" was celebrated after we left. It's a week-long festival where statues of Ganesh are erected around India and worshipped. The celebrations are particularly long in Maharashtra. We didn't want to get stuck in the impending traffic jams for the festival so we departed back to Perth the day before the festival started. I'm sure we'll be back to visit Pune soon.
The Avon Descent is a two day kayak and powerboat whitewater event on the Avon River and Swan River near Perth in Western Australia. It starts in Northam and finishes just east of the city of Perth. The most spectacular day of the event is on the second day when most of the rapids are tackled.
We went to Bells Rapids to watch the action. Bells Rapids are the last whitewater obstacle before 30km of flatwater before the finish line in Bayswater. Our timing was perfect as the leading kayakers came through the rapids around 15 minutes after we arrived and around three hours after their early morning start. The leading paddlers made the rapids look easy.
As more paddlers attempted the rapids, there were more capsizes. The Avon Descent support crew did a great job of helping people out when required and everyone we saw made it on to the flatwater and the long paddle to the finish.
One pair of kayaks managed to get their rudders tangled across the rapids which blocked the river for other competitors. Fortunately the rescue crew managed to untangle their rudders and both competitors continued down the river.
The powercraft started to come down the rapids but fortunately most of the paddlers had finished the rapids.
We then drove down to the finish at Bayswater to see the finish line. The competitors enjoyed perfect weather and the high river level.
Plenty more photos are in the photo gallery at http://elly.net.au/avon-descent-2014 and in the slideshow below. Enjoy!
I spent most of June in Melbourne for my new job. Fortunately there was time for some sightseeing too. I'd travelled through Melbourne airport on a number of occasions before but hadn't actually seen much of Melbourne itself.
As Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, naturally I had to attend some sports events.
The National Sports Museum is part of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I had enough time before the football game at the MCG to have a look in the museum. It has a large number of significant sports memorabilia which I was amazed to see in such a small area. The Australian Cricket Hall of Fame is also held here.
The Fremantle Dockers had travelled from Western Australia to play the Richmond Tigers at the MCG. If you don't recognise those names, you probably aren't familiar with Australian Rules Football. The Australian Football League originated in Victoria so there are many suburbs of Melbourne with their own AFL clubs. For example, Richmond, Carlton, Essendon, Footscray and Collingwood.
The Fremantle vs Richmond game was a good one since the Dockers managed a win. By a fluke my ticket was at the right end of the ground amongst the Dockers supporters which made it easier. The MCG can hold almost 100,000 people so it seemed relatively empty with a crowd of about 25,000.
Etihad Stadium was next on my sports agenda to watch the Wallabies vs France rugby game. Etihad Stadium is much newer than the MCG and has a well designed layout so all spectators have a good view of the whole ground. There were a surprising number of French supporters. The game itself was quite boring, only a 6-0 scoreline and no tries. Still, it was good to visit the ground.
We visited a rooftop bar to have a view across the city after the rugby and soak up some Saturday night atmosphere.
Melbourne is also famous for its art. I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see the "Italian Masterpieces" exhibition. Many pieces on display hadn't been seen outside of Europe before.
I had a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens. These are well-kept gardens have some relatively fresh air and peace in the middle of the city.
I had a look at the South Wharf, past the Crown Casino. There were plenty of factory outlet shops but I restrained myself and didn't buy too much :-)
More photos of Melbourne are available in the photo gallery.
We went for a sail on the Swan River in Perth today. This photo was taken from King's Park.
A cold front passed over Perth only an hour after we finished, including a water spout over the South Mole in Fremantle. It was definitely worthwhile starting sailing at 8am!
The Bernese Oberland in Switzerland is the home of Europe's largest glaciers. I signed up for a week-long high altitude trek across these mountains. The Bernese Oberland is part of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site and therefore includes some stunning scenery.
I managed to catch measles during June 2013, right in the middle of my pre-trip fitness training. This laid me low for a few weeks to the point where I struggled even to walk up a flight of stairs. I was determined to keep my booking and get fit for the challenging trek. I was nervous that I hadn't done enough training prior to the trip when I departed the UK.
After a short flight from London, the ever efficient Swiss trains provided great views across the Alps during the journey from Zurich. I met my trip companions in Kandersteg, a small mountain town near Interlaken. We met our guide and prepared for the week-long trek departing early the next morning. All our climbing equipment and clothing was to fit in a small backpack for the duration of the trek.
Our first day was a climb up to the Kanderfirn Glacier. We traversed across the glacier to Mutthorn Hut. The clear skies provided good views across the mountains as we climbed higher. Some bad weather closed in as we approached the hut. There was hardly anyone there which was unusual for the height of summer holidays as it was late August.
The weather continued to close in the next day. We crossed the Petersgrat which was supposed to have a nice view across the mountains but the clouds, sleet and rain didn't provide much visibility. We didn't hang around in the cold conditions and descended into Falferalp via the Talgletscher. A sharp descent took us to our hotel for the night and we had the luxury of drying out our clothes before a well earned dinner.
Fortunately the next morning was cold and clear for our climb up to Hollandia Hut. We crossed farmland before having coffee and cake at the refurbished Anenhutte. We continued along the valley until we reached the Langgletscher and put our crampons on for traversing the glacier. The air was very still and the sun was warm which made for a sweaty climb up the glacial bowl. We couldn't rest too much as the warming sun was melting ice holding rocks up high which occasionally fell nearby. We made it up to the Lotschenlucke pass and roped up for the steep remainder of the climb into Hollandia Hut. The drop to the left was significant where even a small slip could mean a major fall. Hollandia Hut had a great view down the valley to Mont Blanc and we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
The next morning was a 4am alpine start to allow a summit attempt. We climbed steadily from the Hollandia hut before traversing a large glacial bowl. We didn't stop as it was quite cold. There was a steep climb around the back of the peak with a few large crevasses which we were careful to avoid. A few crevasses required jumping over but our ropes kept us safe. I remembered from my mountaineering training: don't fall down a crevasse! We reached the summit of Abeni Flue around 7am. It was perfectly still so we were lucky to spend some time up there admiring the view across the mountains. Mont Blanc, Jangfrau and the Eiger were all visible amongst others. A great summit feeling!
We descended as the sun got higher and it was very warm as we crossed the glacier. We still had all our warm clothes on for the early morning start so we were soon overheating. It was a relief to get back to Hollandia Hut and cool down and have a well earned brunch. Our route took us down to Konkordia which is a junction of several large glaciers at the top of the Aletsch Glacier. This presented a maze of huge crevasses and rocks. We were roped up initially but soon the Aletschfirn Glacier became dry so we unroped and kept our crampons on so we could jump across the countless crevasses. I avoided looking down the crevasses as they were so deep that I couldn't even see the bottom of many of them. The glacier is around 900m deep in some parts.
After crossing Konkordia, our final task of the day was to climb about 780 steps up a cliff to our hut for the night, Konkordiahutte. My legs were telling me otherwise. Apparently these metal stairs were much safer than the older wooden stairs which we could see strewn over the rockface. They didn't hide the fall below which was a few hundred meters. It's a common problem in the Alps these days. With the retreating glaciers, many huts are now high above the glaciers which makes for a difficult climb to reach the hut which is unwelcome at the end of a long day.
My mountain boots were very stiff which were great for vertical ice climbing but not so great for traversing glacial terrains. At the end of a 12 hour day, it was a relief to peel off my boots and air my feet. This also revealed some huge blisters on the back of each of my heals. I had taped up my heals as a precaution earlier in the day but the boots had worn through the tape to my skin. Our guide drained each blister and we were careful to apply disinfectant to prevent any infection. We doubled up on the dressing by using blistex and trusty gaffer tape. A beer helped numb the pain!
We slept in until 6am when we descended the 780 steps and crossed into a nearby valley for a steep climb up to the pass at Grunhornluke. It was very cold in the morning light but at least the sun was slowly becoming warmer. It was hard ice so we roped up and dug in with our crampons. We saw some other climbers for the first time in a week crossing over the pass. We couldn't understand why there weren't many other climbers around in the peak of the climbing season.
Another descent to Fieschergletscher yielded more crevasse crossings. These were some of the larger crevasses and we had to change our course on a number of occasions as we came to dead ends in our route. As it was another dry glacier we only had our crampons and no ropes.
As we descended we could see across to Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn to the south. We had another climb to the Oberaarjoch and our final mountain hut of the trip. As it was midday, the sun was very warm for our climb. Some jet fighters came out of nowhere to give us an awesome display right above the Studergletscher. The air display lasted for a good 15 minutes and was a welcome distraction from the hot climb we were facing. We continued on towards the hut. The steepest part of the climb was at the end of the day. Then there was the scramble up to the Oberaarjoch Hut itself over a rock crag. Fortunately there was a ladder to assist but again there was no room for any mistakes with the large drop below us.
The Oberaarjoch hut had a terrific view across the glacier we had just climbed and we enjoyed some very refreshing beer as we watched other climbers. This was probably the busiest hut we'd stayed in.
There was mist coming up the valley for our last day which provided very atmospheric views across the mountains as we prepared for our final descent down the Oberaargletscher. It was a straightforward walk down the glacier. We took our ropes off partway down and enjoyed the view which opened up across the valley.
We reached Oberaarsee Lake and saw some day walkers who were the first "normal" people we had seen in a week. A miscommunication with our taxi company meant we had to walk an extra 10km down the road past the carpark to Grimselpass. My feet were very sore in the mountain boots but fortunately they survived. We were at Grimselpass by lunchtime and had shared some beer to celebrate completing our trip. Motorbikes and cars were everywhere which was quite a change from the quiet of the mountains we'd enjoyed for the past week.
A bus and train from Grimselpass took us into Interlaken where our kit bags of clean clothes allowed us to have a shower and look respectable again. We had a good meal that night and sleep well with the satisfaction of successfully completing a challenging trek through the Swiss Alps.
The next morning we had a brief tour around the stunning Interlaken and the Harder Kulm lookout in sunny skies. The pouring rain settled in for our train trip back to Zurich. We were very lucky with the weather!
It was a great trek to complete. We had some amazing mountain landscapes to ourselves for much of the trek and it's always a privilege to experience an alpine environment.
More photos from our trip are in my photo gallery: http://elly.net.au/bernese-oberland
Today is Anzac Day. It's the day the nation remembers those who sacrificed their lives during the war.
We went to the 5pm memorial service at King's Park. My great uncle Lindsey died during World War II in a Lancaster bomber which was shot down over Germany. We always remember him on Anzac Day.
The Ode is read during the memorial service:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Lest We Forget