Wartook Valley sheep ranch
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Monday June 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm)

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Dot, the tame deer, on Mark and Helen’s sheep ranch

Mark ranched sheep, but also raised European deer. He sold the meat to local butcher shops. He explained that the deer antlers are a very popular item with Chinese medicine stores and that he raised deer largely for this market.

Wartook Valley, Grampians
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Sunday June 21, 2009 at 10:11 am)

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An emu at Norm’s house, with Grampians in back

Visiting the Grampians
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Saturday June 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm)

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Wartook Valley Sunset

A friend, Norm, invited us to stay at his house in the Wartook Valley and climb with him in the Grampians. Dave Goldstein, who has climbed in Australia numerous times, had told us to be sure to visit the “Gramps”, so we jumped at the chance to see another mountain range.

Both Norm and Noddy (Keith Lockwood) assured us we’d see many kangaroos and some emus in the Grampians. They soon figured out that both Tristan and myself were big animal fans.

What I hadn’t realized is how incredibly beautiful it would be in Wartook Valley and everywhere in the Grampians. Norm lives on 40 acres of land with a splendid view of cliffs from his porch. In a quick half hour, he can climb at Summer Day Valley, Mount Bundaleer, Hollow Mountain, or any of a number of fabulous crags.

Norm picked us up at our campsite at Yellow Gum and we drove to his house in Wartook Valley, perhaps 45 minutes away. AS we drew closer, we passed a field with countless emus – the first I’d seen in the wild.
“Emus!” I shouted. “Oh, stop, I want to take a photo!”
Norm patiently explained that on this narrow curvy road, with a car behind him, he couldn’t stop.
After another mile, he turned left down a narrow dirt road.
“Where does this go?” I asked.
“My house.”

Oh. Down this country lane, leading to a grove of trees behind which hid a low Frank Lloyd Wright-type house, I saw only meadows with grazing kangaroos, trees, and mountains at the horizon.
When he stopped, I grabbed my camera and started shooting the sunset. Next morning, we headed for Mt. Bundaleer and excellent climbs on coarser sandstone, less polished that the Arapiles.

Stumpy-tail lizard at Arapiles
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Wednesday June 17, 2009 at 10:45 am)

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Stumpy-tail lizard

We’d heard about the stumpy-tailed lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), referred to as “Stumpies” in Australia, but hadn’t yet seen one. Dave Goldstein, who’d visited Arapiles many times to climb, warned us that they might try to hide under our tarps in the campground, but we never saw them near our tent.

Finally, one day after climbing another of the top 50 climbs in Australia at – you guessed it – the Organ Pipes, we were descending the trail down the back side.
“”A lizard! A stumpy!” Tristan cried.
And there it was: sunning itself right on the stone steps snaking down alongside the rock wall. I leaped forward and grabbed it by the back of the neck, figuring it couldn’t bite me then.

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As usual, our camera was in the pack at the base. Tristan ran down the stairs and panted back up while I admired my catch. I could see that the lizard’s name, stumpy-tail, and also Shingleback were appropriate.

Stumpies belong to the blue-tongue lizard family, as is obvious from the photo. Their tail resembles their head, which scientists think works as a decoy for predators. They can also detach the tail and leave it to distract predators.

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You can see its blue tongue

Female Stumpy lizards struggle even more when reproducing than humans. They give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. During the last four weeks of pregnancy they eat almost nothing, are unable to breathe properly and move very little. The babies are approximately 35% of the mother’s weight. If a woman was to give birth to a baby that was 35% of her body weight, it would be the size of a six-year-old.”

They make good pets, and I bet that if we lived in Australia, this little guy would have come home to live with us!

Organ Pipes - Didgeridoo and Horn Piece
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Sunday June 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm)

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Climber on Didgeridoo / Horn Piece

Another thing we liked about climbing at the Organ Pipes (in addition to the five-minute approach, perfect rock, and easy descent) is that I could lead the first pitch of many routes, which was generally an easy warm up. The top pitches were steeper and harder, which challenged Tristan (and I struggled).

Not only did we find a variety of pitches at the Organ Pipes, but many of the climbs rate three stars, and a number count among the top 50 climbs in Australia.

39 of the Top 50 climbs are at Arapiles, and nine of them at the Organ Pipes; namely:
#1 - D-Minor (15)
#6 - Piccolo (11)
#8 – Tannin (19)
#21 – Conifer Crack
#23 – Libretto
#24 – Horn Piece
#30 – D-Major
#41 – Diapason
#45 – Didgeridoo

On one day, we arrived at the Organ Pipes early and climbed two pitches of Diapason, two of Conifer Crack, and then went on to Didgeridoo, which shares the start with Horn Piece. Both climbs go up the same initial crack and weakness. Near the top, Didgeridoo veers left to continue up a crack left of the arête, while Horn Piece continues straight up the arête.
I was leading this pitch, and running low on wired nuts by this junction, and thus chose the left-hand finish of didgeridoo.
After that, we walked along the top of the cliff to Lemmington, a much harder one-pitch route that Tristan led.
We’d hoped to also climb Horn Piece, but were both too tired for more pitches after Lemmington.
Not surprising with such popular climbs, each time we were back in the area we found other climbers on Horn Piece and never did the right-hand finish.
We’ve got one more reason to come back to the Arapiles!

Echidnas in Australia
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Wednesday June 10, 2009 at 3:45 pm)

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Tristan inspects our first echidna

As we hiked down the Central Gully trail, after climbing to the top, Tristan shouted, “An echidna!”

And there, behind some bushes at he side of the trail, we saw our first wild echidna. We’d seen them in the Melbourne zoo, so we knew what to look for, but this was our first glimpse of one in the wild.

I immediately jumped off the trail and scrambled up behind the bush. While I was doing this, the echidna scrambled from the bush toward a very large boulder with what looked like a set of holes that could be its den. I interspersed myself between the echidna and the rocks and asked Tristan to go fetch our camera.

The echidna didn’t seem to want to stay put until Tristan could return with the camera, so I crawled into the bush and put my hand on the echidna, which immediately started to burrow into the ground below it and curled itself up into a ball, with no appendages exposed and only some very stiff and prickly spines.

Nonetheless, so long as I held my hand on top of it, the echidna gave up trying to run away and stayed put. After an amazingly short time, Tristan returned with the camera.
“I ran the whole way there and back,” he panted.
“Want to touch it?” I asked.
Tristan did want to feel the spines of our novel find, and I grabbed the camera to take photos.
It wasn’t particularly cooperative, and either tried to run away, or if we touched it, burrowed most of itself deeper into the ground. I wanted a photo from the side, of it walking, but it immediately headed for the rock pile as soon as one of us wasn’t holding it.

Our second echidna was in the bushes beside the trail by the Organ Pipes, and Tristan also spied that one. Again, I grabbed for the animal while Tristan ran for our camera (we generally had it in the pack at the base of the cliff we climbed). When he returned, I’d lured it a little more into the open. I tried to pick it up, but it’s too spiny and it can control the spines to point at whatever spot we touch it.

They run amazingly quickly considering their very short legs. I’d never have expected them to move as fast as they do. They also blend well with the native vegetation and dirt. Only Tristan’s eagle eye caught them out – I spoke to many other climbers, none of whom saw a single echidna during their entire trip.

Echidnas at Arapiles
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Monday June 8, 2009 at 3:10 pm)

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An echidna, or spiny anteater

I showed my son Tristan photos of an echidna when he was quite young. He particularly liked that the babies were called “puggles” (rhymes with ‘muggles’).
“Goodnight echidna,” he’d say at night, going to bed.
“What’s a kidney?” asked his Dad.
“It’s a really cool animal,” Tristan replied. “It’s half mammal, half marsupial, half reptile and it looks like a hedgehog”.
Aside from three halves, he got it right. An echidna resembles a hedgehog and lays eggs like a lizard. While carrying the tiny babies in a pouch for about 50 days the mother feeds them milk.

And that’s not the end of bizarre features. Echidnas survived 120 million years – the only mammal to survive without change since the time of dinosaurs.  Only three mammals lay eggs: the short-beaked echidna, the long-beaked echidna (now restricted to Papua New Guinea) and the duck bill platypus, all in the monotreme group.

An echidna can decrease its active body temperature lower than any other mammal (31-33 C).  This may explain both their survival and phenomenal adaptability. As Australia’s most widely distributed native mammal, echidnas range from hot dry deserts to snowy mountains, from dense rain forests to the coast. Some people view the echidna as an indicator species, like the proverbial canary in a mineshaft.

Echidnas live extremely long, particularly considering their size. About as big as a cat (six to eleven pounds, with the biggest yet found weighing 14 pounds), echidnas live an astonishing 50 years. In mammals, life span generally relates to body size. Large mammals live longer than small ones. In marsupials, the same relationship holds true – large marsupials live longer than small marsupials. Except for the echidna. The related platypus lives about 15 – 18 years, with a few reaching over 20 years old. No other mammal the same size lives anywhere near as long as an echidna, and most don’t even live one half as long.

Despite their phenomenal adaptability and survival for the past 120 million years, echidna numbers are decreasing. A female matures at about five to seven years old and produces a young about every three to five years. No one knows how many of the young survive or how far they disperse.

It may be that man, in a few hundred years, could destroy what 120 million years of evolution preserved.
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We saw three echidnas while climbing at Arapiles, two near Central gully and one on top of the Watchtower.

arapiles - Organ Pipes
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Friday June 5, 2009 at 1:54 pm)

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Organ Pipes at sunrise

At the Organ Pipes, we found a selection of easy and hard climbs from one to two pitches. In the morning, I’d lead the easy ones that faced toward the campground and were on the lower angle face. After a few easy routes, and as the sun-baked rock became hotter, we headed to the back side to climb much steeper routes that were in the shade.

I led the very thin fin called Piccolo, from the top of which Tristan could climb the much harder classics like Tannin.  We both still found the climbs at Arapiles that were supposed to correspond to grades that we climbed easily in the United States to be much harder than expected.

At some point, I decided to ignore the supposed American ratings of the routes and just climb what looked reasonable. The rock still made me nervous, with its look of bubbles stuck to the side of a candle and allowed to drip down.

Coming back from climbing at the Organ Pipes, we saw an echidna (a spiny anteater). I’d never seen one in the wild, and only seen them for the first time in the Melbourne zoo. Every day still brought its new exciting moment – either a kangaroo, jumping across the trail in front of us, or an echidna waddling out of the bushes, or a stumpy tail lizard sunning itself on the rock steps that formed the descent trail.

Arapiles is so incredibly beautiful; I definitely want to go back!

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D-Minor at left, then Piccolo (the thin one), Conifer Crack,  etc.

Preludes Wall and Pillars of Hercules
Posted by sibylle in Australia (Tuesday June 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm)

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Pillars of Hercules. doesn’t this hook like a dinosaur paw?

After climbing D-Minor on the Organ Pipes the undiluted Australian sun (with diminished UV protection because of the ozone hole about the south pole) chased us into the shade. We headed across the Central Gully to its right side where we climbed Dracula, a pleasant route on the Preludes Wall. Tristan led the second pitch, which I followed to the most amazing place I’ve belayed at in my life.

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He sat on a large ledge, about 20 feet deep and close to 100 feet long and had the rope tied around what looked like a huge stalagmite. He sat on the part that resembled a large dinosaur paw, and at the waist thinned to about two feet in diameter. More amazing rock formations, like stalactites and stalagmites, surrounded him. The entire ledge looked like a jaw fool of large teeth, ready to eat unwary climbers.

These amazing rock formations, called the Pillars of Hercules, served as a great belay anchor.
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There are more of the pillars behind Tristan!

As I climbed over the edge, Tristan grinned at me “I tied the rope around the whole pillar. I figured it wasn’t going anywhere!”

Even though the climb up to here wasn’t the best route we did while in Arapiles, it’s definitely worth climbing some climb on the Preludes Wall to get to this ledge. In over 30 years of climbing all over Europe, parts of Asia and North America, I’ve never seen anything else like this place.

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And more pillars in front of him.

If this place were more accessible, I’d bet lots of tourists would come here to admire the pillars. But you have to climb up two pitches to get here, so it’ll remain an attraction for rock climbers.

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