Hiking (Subscribe)

I love hiking, because it gives me the chance to get out and explore nature at my own pace. It also gives time to think, and it makes a change from staring at a computer all day. Here I describe a few of the more unusual walks I have taken.

Four years ago, I was considering thru-hiking the Pennine Way. There was just one snag - the Pennine Way was supposed to be one of the toughest long distance walks around, and, though I’d done 30+ km day hikes, I’d never done a single overnight hike.

I decided I needed a trial run, and did a 60km, 4 day hike in Wilson’s Prom. This is the story of how a fairly disastrous first foray unexpectedly laid the groundwork for a successful Pennine Way trek.

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I’ve written several posts on my experiences with the Pennine Way. This time, I wanted to talk about the technical details: Where I stayed, the equipment I used, the trade-offs I made, what worked and what didn’t. I’ve also made a few suggestions for shorter routes if thru-hiking isn’t an option.

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It’s now three years since I successfully completed the Pennine Way, and two years since I wrote about the first half my trek and how it ended in injury. After a week in the north of England I made it into Scotland, and in Edinburgh I planned a return.

And so it happened: After visiting the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, and the Isle of Man, I was ready for another shot at completing the Way.

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When I was younger, a hike was a major endeavour. Usually, we were somewhere far away from Melbourne, exploring a place that was different from our usual environment.

While I appreciate long and difficult hikes in different parts of the world, I’ve also come to appreciate the beauty in everyday walks and in places closer to home. And I’m sure that there are many who could likewise benefit from short breaks spent walking.

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On the surface, hiking and blogging seem like complete opposites: one involves wandering the big outdoors, while the other involves sitting in front of a computer for far too many hours trying to wrangle my thoughts into a form others might understand. However, while I do far more hiking than I ever write about here, it is a fundamental part of my blogging process.

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In the last year, I have seen a large number of Australian birds and animals in the wild while walking, and have had people ask me how to get that to happen. Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic solutions, but here’s my experience with a little advice, some stories, and lots of photos.

Colourful Dandenong Ranges birdlife

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This time last year I was in the middle of walking the Pennine Way. I’ve already written an overview of the experience, but in this post I want to give a feel of some of the many experiences on a long and varied trail.

This post covers the first half of the walk, from Edale to Middleton-in-Teesdale, where I left the trail for an unscheduled injury break. The second installment can wait until mid-August when I resumed the trail.

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Two months ago, full moon found me up Mount Buffalo, camping near Lake Catani. Last month it found me at the top of my street, out to admire the street lights of nearby suburbs stretched out below me. Tonight, it found me walking in the Dandenong Ranges, admiring the ghostly tree ferns and gums.

Walking at night, whether in moonlight, starlight, or complete dark, is probably not something our modern urban life-style encourages (even the simple street lights in my outer suburb outshine the full moon). But it’s something I’ve been trying to do more of, since it provides peace and solitude in a very different way from daylight hiking. And writing about it also provides a slight break from a stream of religious posts (though it’s not entirely free from them: stick round for the religious conclusions).

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When I have been on walks with small children, I have often felt that they are seeing things that I don’t see. Sometimes it’s the little details that I’ve seen thousands of times but never really observed. Other times, it’s the things I don’t see because they’re not there. But the child has a confidence that goes beyond “I’d like to imagine I’m seeing something”. It appears to me they are actually seeing and responding to whatever it is. No matter whether it is there or not.

Here are a few examples I’ve seen while out hiking.

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In my last post, I limited myself to peaks I had scaled that were the highest in their country. This time, I’d like to look at a few more peaks that I conquered this year: some still tall, others slightly less so.

It includes a walk in Switzerland that was probably my favourite walk for the year (though it has some stiff competition). And a walk that was so local that it literally started and ended at my house.

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This year, I climbed to the highest point of five different nations for the first time: Australia, England, Wales, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. I also climbed the highest point of my home state of Victoria for a second time.

Climbing the tallest mountain in my home country has been on my list for years, so I made sure I did it before exhausting my leave going to the UK. Doing the UK Three Peaks was a key part of my planning for exploring the UK. I was already planning on spending a lot of time in England, but this gave me a goal to target: I wanted to make sure that I spent at least a week in Wales and Scotland, rather than just dashing in, climbing a peak, and dashing out again. The Isle of Man felt too small to spend more than a few days on it, though I found I could have easily spent longer (it doesn’t seem as well known as it should be).

One of the things my list shows is the importance of choosing your countries carefully. The highest point I reached during the year was in Switzerland, at least a kilometre higher than I got in Australia. And yet it still wasn’t enough: to reach the highest mountain in Switzerland I would have had to go another kilometre up and used specialised equipment. I only spent about six hours in France, and still ended up climbing higher than England and Wales. I seriously considered visiting the Netherlands and trying to reach its highest point (a mere 322.7m high), but decided (wisely) that I’d prefer to spend my time exploring the Swiss Alps.

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This year, I was in the UK for 2.5 months, and one of the things I wanted to do was lots of walking in English countryside. Walking the Pennine Way offered one good way to do it.

What’s the Pennine Way? National Trails UK explains:

Steeped in history, this National Trail chases along the mountain tops along the rugged backbone of England and offers 268 miles of the finest upland walking in England. A once in a lifetime experience.

It also gives you magnificent scenery, follows the best section of the historic Hadrian’s Wall, and even takes you into Scotland.

Not everything went to plan, but in the end I completed it, and that’s the main thing.

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