Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
March 2018
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Cape Pillar revisited and 12 of 12, February 2018

Due to an unexpected twist in my life (which may get explained here when I have decided how I want to do it), a Scout hike that had been a bit up in the air very suddenly had to become real for southern Tasmania’s February long weekend. A frantic planning meeting was held with the two Scouts responsible for organising the trip, and the documentation was submitted and approved in record time.

The Scouts planned to visit Cape Pillar, but the track and campsites had changed since my last visit, necessitating a shorter first day (with hardly any photos), a very long but lightly loaded second day (captured in a few photos), and a new outbound route on the third day which coincided with the 12th of February (and thus is represented here with 12 photos).

Day 1 was just a pretty stroll in very warm conditions while carrying a big pack, concluding with an unexpectedly long and very steep 1km downhill off the main track to our campsite. Miraculously, I then managed probably my best night’s sleep in months, and probably the best ever slumber on the “first night of camp” ever (I find it notoriously difficult to sleep well on first nights). On the morning of day 2, we left our camp set up and took only the essentials for a big 20km day walk out to the end of Cape Pillar.

It was a very windy and overcast day but the views were still amazing.

We weren’t sure if it would be safe enough to go out onto “The Blade” (the highest point of the distant narrow ridge in the photo below); the wind was hitting the cliffs below us and channeling up over the top with such force that when one of the kids tossed a pebble over the edge into the wind it just slowly wobble-fell, like an open sheet of paper.

We met a few “hut walkers” (people doing the Three Capes Track but staying in fancy-schmancy huts (I say, with the superior air of one who carried tent, stove, and sleep-mat)), and they reassured us that the wind was not too bad out on The Blade. So, with caution, we proceeded to the summit to enjoy its airy views.

On our return journey we were starting to feel a bit footsore, as the track has been “hardened” to cope with the greater number of tourists and includes what, at 2km, must be one of Tasmania’s longest board walks, amusingly decorated with a stone snake’s tail at its start and a stone snake’s head at the other end. We also saw an echidna, blithely foraging for ants on the side of the path. We were glad to get back to camp, rest our weary feet and have some dinner.

Day 3, the 12th, dawned sunnily through the trees. The first photo below shows my tent pitched on the wooden camping platforms that reduce the impact on the environment, while the second shows my trusty 30-year-old Trangia, complete with its original yellow plastic accessories bag (which has disintegrated enough that I am probably justified in throwing it out).

Having packed up we set off, and some 500m later finally reached the actual Wugharee Falls for which the campsite is named. The lack of water flow is rather evident here, as it had also been back at camp, where the creek—though trickling enough that we were confident enough to drink the water—wasn’t full enough to make a continuous above-ground flow.

From here the track winds up through a lovely mix of gum/eucalyptus trees and cutting grass. This particular part of the track tends to be used only by the camping walkers, and so is a softer-on-the-feet narrow winding path that is sometimes almost invisible in the landscape. In the second photo below you may be able to see the orange arrow of a track-marker, with the track a gentle indentation winding up to it in the foreground.

Eventually the track climbs very steeply through some leech-ridden rainforest, before rejoining the main track on the upper slopes of Mt Fortescue. I had anticipated that Mt Fortescue was going to provide an unpleasant experience—a long steady uphill—but what I hadn’t expected was how beautiful the bush would be. I hadn’t realised that there was such a big and beautiful tract of genuine temperate rainforest at this location.

At the summit of Mt Fortescue and as we descended again there were great views back down to Cape Pillar …

… and north to Cape Hauy and Hippolyte Rock.

The kids decided not to head out to Cape Hauy; they were already heading towards the 40km mark all up and, despite the incoming cloud, they were more enthusiastic about the idea of finishing up with a swim at Fortescue Bay.

Of course, it was slightly colder than they anticipated, but I can assure you, from experience, that once you got in it was really very refreshing and a nice way to finish the trip.

Note: Although the photos suggest that the Scouts were with us, they did most of the walk on their own and looked after themselves, with myself and the other adult (one of the parents) catching up with them from time to time. The only time we were together for any extended time was at the end of Cape Pillar and on The Blade where some extra supervision near the massive cliffs was just a sensible precaution.

Adamsons Falls

A different niece; a different destination.

The Australia Day holiday gave me an opportunity for a day walk with my eldest well-and-truly adult niece. We’d originally thought about climbing Adamsons Peak (apostrophe in “Adamsons” not included due to official nomenclature board policy), but timing, weather and some other factors, such as a strong disdain for extended upwardnesses, meant that we/I changed our minds and we went to Adamsons Falls instead, where there were upwardnesses, but not of the extended type.

The early part of the track appears to follow an old logging haulage way: it is wide, gently sloping, and bordered by massive tree-stumps with the tell-tale traditional loggers’ notches where they’d embed planks to make a platform for sawing from (photographs unhelpfully not included, sorry). There were also a couple of massive fallen trees, with exposed and rotted root systems that were abstract and gothic (photographs helpfully included, so you can see what I mean by “abstract and gothic”).

The track then climbs gradually and then more steeply and awkwardly, passing just about all of my favourite rainforest species: celery top pines, mosses, lichens, blechnum ferns, leatherwood, and sassafras, with its characteristic sarsaparilla aroma (aroma not included here due to technical difficulties, and I didn’t include a photo either … so have a cute tree stump instead).

Eventually we reached the gully where we could hear tell-tale sounds of a waterfall, and, after some more awkward and slightly precarious scrambling, we arrived at the main level of the falls … to discover that the “tell-tale sounds” had rather exaggerated the amount of water actually tumbling down the face of the 50m high cliff (“tell-tale sounds” and actual water also not included here, the latter in the interests of keeping your keyboard dry).

For the geologists out there, note that the top of the falls appear to be sandstone (with fossils, judging from rocks at the base), with Tasmania’s famous Jurassic dolerite dyke comprising the lower half of the falls (no, rock samples have not been included here; don’t be ridiculous).

There is a pool at the bottom of the main drop, and we had lunch here (lunch not included, as we ate it all), before exploring and taking a few photos and time exposures.

From the main drop, another series of cascades continue downwards, and I took a few more photos (which turned out not quite so well as I had hoped, but I have included them anyway since I have failed to include so many other things).

While we were at the falls, a breeze came up and blew through the leatherwood trees, causing them to drop the petals from their flowers in a gentle snow-like shower. The white petals drifted in the amphitheatre of the falls, and fell on the ground and in the pools like a natural confetti (too much description included in the absence of any movie footage of the phenomena). It was quite beautiful.

And on the way back, this lizard stayed still enough for a photo … only I didn’t and so he is slightly blurry. Sorry. Apology included.

It was a very enjoyable trip, with our time at the falls being very peaceful. Although the water flow was disappointing, I suspect if there had been more water the track might have been more slippery. On my last visit, over 30 years ago, it was very muddy indeed (a representative sample of mud from that time has not been included, because keeping mud this long would be totally weird).


A niece’s first overnight hike

The summer holidays seemed like a good time to introduce my 14-year-old niece, B, to overnight hiking. There’s an ideal spot down on the Tasman Peninsula which we sometimes use with Scouts: great scenery, mostly level track with enough hilly bits to help you learn to cope with them, not too long, and with fresh water at the camping site. Thus it was that the invitation was issued and we set off from Fortescue Bay to head around the coastline to Bivouac Bay.

After walking the length of the beach and around a headland — with B starting to learn what it means to carry a loaded backpack — we dropped into Canoe Bay where we stopped for lunch. Here we had great views of Cape Hauy and the impressive dolerite rock stacks and cliffs that make it so famous.

After we’d had lunch we explored the shore, and I made a little rock cairn. I’ve seen photos of other people’s precariously balanced stone structures, and decided to try for one that was a little top-heavy without being too ambitious.

Having had a good break, we then made our way around the sheltered bay, watching the vegetation change as we passed through the damper shady forest and into the more open, dry forest as we headed up and over the final hill, stopping for a rest or two along the way.

Around mid-afternoon — and after encountering three one-metre-long snakes along the way (as eager to get out of our way as we were to avoid them) — we arrived at Bivouac Bay, with its sheltered campsite (which I failed to photograph) and its narrow rocky bay. Some recent marine and/or weather circumstances meant that a whole bunch of big platter-sized jelly-mould jellyfish had washed up on the rocks, which was rather interesting.

It was nice to cool our feet, and watch a small flock of seagulls come in close to us for a bathing frenzy, dipping their whole bodies from side to side in an enthusiastic quest for cleanliness.

After exploring the beach, we returned to the campsite just back from the shore to set up the tent, only to find that a pair of cunning crows (well, ravens, technically, I believe) had opened the zip at the top of B’s pack, and broken into some of her supplies. Fortunately we arrived before too much damage was done, and nothing was lost. I’ve experienced thieving possums and birdlife before in other places, but hadn’t realised there were criminal animals (crinimal aminals?) at this particular location. [Actually, that’s not entirely true. Over 30 years ago, on a trip with a long-time friend, some possums stole a wooden spoon that we’d left out. We never did find it.]

Before dinner we left our gear (safely hidden from cunning crows), and headed further along the track and up onto the cliffs near Dolomieu Point.

The views to the north were fantastic in the afternoon summer sun, showing the 100m high cliffs, and we also had good views south to Cape Hauy.

We found the cache which had been one of my reasons for wanting to head up there (the scenery was, of course, the main reason), and then returned to camp for dinner, some more exploring, and some games of Yahtzee before bed.

The next day we walked out, finishing the journey with a swim in the clear water at Fortescue Bay (the jellyfish of yesterday had disappeared overnight). Unfortunately, I failed to take any photos of any of day 2, but the good news is that B had a good time, as did I, and she now knows she can carry a pack on a hike, and may have picked up a few other Aunty Helen bushwalking tricks.

Bruny Island Lighthouse

A friend of mine and her family had been holidaying on Bruny Island and I went across on their last day. We went to the rugged south end of the island, and visited the famous 180-year-old lighthouse.

During summer, tours are conducted and we joined a small group to head up the slightly vertiginous spiral stairs to the top. 

It had been blowing a gale at ground level, almost capable of knocking you off your feet, but it seemed calmer when we went out onto the platform at the top and took in the views of the lighthouse keepers’ houses and the wild coastline. 

When the lighthouse was decommissioned (it has been superseded by a nearby much less-imposing station, which can just be seen on the ridge in the photo above), most of its fittings were actually able to be retained, and it’s really cool to be able to look up into the set of Fresnel lenses that were used to intensify the beam and ensure it could shine so far out to sea.

The glass on one of the stairway windows, however, is in rather worse repair.

12 of 12, January 2018

Today was a bits and pieces-y sort of day. As a consequence you will end up with a quirky/boring mix of fairly ordinary photos, accompanied by too much information, a bad pun, and banal commentary.

I’d had a tiring day yesterday, and so my rising this morning was leisurely, and my morning ablutions included some reading in the tub as an extra indulgence (Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, which is the book about African American women mathematicians who worked in the early days of the US space program, upon which the film of the same name is based).

One of the things I did when I got to work was to set up my new 2018 desk calendar so that I would know what day it is. If truth be told, however, I basically use the calendar as a source of note paper!

At lunchtime, I went for a walk. I came across this x and I wondered what it was doing there. It’s still unknown.

A friend rang me while on my walk, so I proved I can walk, talk and take a (bad) selfie at the same time (normally I use hands-free earphones when I’m on the phone, but I didn’t have them with me today).

Towards the end of the walk I passed the old maths building where I used to work 20 years ago. Since I wasn’t sure whether or not I had a digital photo of it, I decided to take one. For most of my time, I was in the office behind the just visible third set of windows on the ground floor, but I think the place has been refurbished since then.

The afternoon’s work intentions didn’t go to plan. My computer is playing up, and every so often it gives me a black screen when I try to restart it. There are a few things that are supposed to work to make it behave … but they don’t; the only solution is to wait for an hour and start it somewhere else (yes, it seems to get sick of my office, and won’t start until I take it home).

So, I abandoned the computer work, and did some work on a thesis chapter from one of my PhD students. I hope she can read my handwriting.

Just before I left the office, the first drops of the promised much-needed rain started to fall on the window.

Shortly after I arrived at my parents’ place, it became much heavier. This is what it looked like pouring onto the bonnet of my car in front of the fence.

My parents made rude remarks about photographing my food, but what I was really trying to do was photographically capture the recent tradition of having Friday night dinner with my parents. Often it’s take-away baked potatoes (“Praties”) that I pick up after work, but tonight it was home-cooked — and home-made/grown — hamburgers and vegies (the hamburgers and relish are home-made, and, of the vegies, all but the corn were home-grown). Nom.

Later in the evening I did another short walk to get my 10000 steps for the day. Some friends had suggested I carry a weight to build arm and core strength, and so that’s what I did. 

And, to finish the day, I tried to take a slightly artier shot, a half-second exposure in the fading light, braced on a large rock on the foreshore.

Photographing waterfalls

It was a lovely afternoon, and I decided to take my camera and tripod to visit a couple of waterfalls on Mt Wellington. Getting to the first — O’Grady’s Falls — involves a gentle stroll along a wide and easy track, and then has the potential for producing slightly damp feet if taking photos from within the rivulet.

The drop here is about 7 metres, I guess, and the recent lack of rain means it is flowing far less than it does in winter (or, even, on Christmas day three years ago).

I had forgotten that there is sassafras on Mt Wellington and its distinctive serrated leaves were caught in the sunlight filtering into the gully.

The other waterfall that I visited — the approximately 3m high Strickland Falls — involves only a very short walk, but a bit of a rock scramble. Apparently there are some more cascades further upstream, but I didn’t have time to visit this time, so I guess I’ll just have to revisit (what a shame!).

Just for your information, the first photo of the final two shots above was a 10 second exposure, whereas the second photo was only 0.5 seconds.

Moods of the Mountain #95

After a rather warm but mostly overcast day, the clouds broke up enough to produce a spectacular sunset.

The full “Moods of the Mountain” collection is here.

A hidden waterfall

As I was tidying my house this week, I came across a map of part of Mt Wellington that had been given to me, upon which was marked the route to a waterfall I’d never visited. I am a sucker for a waterfall and an obscure track, so I called up Dad to see if he would like to come for a little expedition.

The track in was faint but discernible; not exactly overgrown, but rarely used and probably, in part at least, evidence of timber retrieval methods used during logging 150 or so years ago. Small fallen trees and branches were hindrances and, since I was leading the way, I ended up with a face full of spiders’ webs, despite my best stick-waving efforts. The GPS, which I had programmed with rough coordinates estimated from the map, indicated that we were getting closer, and eventually the sound of water confirmed our arrival.

The falls are only 3m-4m high, but very pretty tumbling down over the darkened rocks among the mossy greenness. I found a vantage point for the tripod and took a few time exposures, which turned out reasonably well. I’m not as happy with the “silhouetted” mossy green branch, however, because although I thought my longer exposure (and resultant smaller aperture) would improve the depth of field, I should have realised that, at 200mm, it is pretty much the case that there is no depth of field, and so there are parts of the shot that are out of focus.

We decided to take a “short-cut” to head out, choosing to go cross-country to a nearby track about 250m away. Let’s just say that it took a surprisingly long time — about half an hour — to traverse this terrain, with the bush not quite impenetrably dense, but certainly thickly forested with thin trees criss-crossed at every angle from horizontal to vertical, making the going slow. Fortuitously, however, another set of estimated GPS coordinates to assist our navigation saw us meet the sought-after track right at a footbridge across another creek, which was very convenient, and from here the return to the car was nice and straightforward.


Crafty Christmas elephants and penguins

A very dear friend of mine is fond of elephants and last year I thought I would do a wood carving for her for Christmas. I had a small flat slab of Huon pine — a lovely softwood which is easy to carve — and, having done a couple of bas relief plaques to celebrate some friends’ Wood Badges (here and here), I thought I’d use the same approach for attempting a couple of elephants. I found a picture on the internet, and the end product — after chiselling, cutting, engraving (drilling and carving with a Dremel-like tool), sanding, oiling, and occasional frustrated muttering when things didn’t quite go as planned — is shown below. It’s not quite as good as I wanted it to be, but in the time and with the tools I had, it turned out not too badly.

This year I decided to be a little more adventurous. During the year I’d acquired a bigger block of Huon pine and I felt game enough to try something properly three-dimensional. With the aid of some reference photos (particularly necessary for the profile) I drilled out the big gaps and then chipped away at the outline.

Gradually things took shape and I could start adding light details. For this particular sculpture, in addition to my wood carving tools, I had a proper Dremel with decent attachments which made some of the work much easier.

The finishing touches involved some sanding and an oil treatment to bring out the beautiful grain of the Huon pine. There are still a few tiny blemishes that annoy me, but let’s just say they give it character and a slightly distressed patina (which makes it sound purposeful and artsy!).

My friend really liked it.

And speaking of “really liked it”, check out the photo below. My Hobart brother and his family like to give me a penguin gift at Christmas time but couldn’t find anything that suited. So, he took one of my photos (from this page, if you want to see his reference image) from my Antarctic trip, and made me a gentoo penguin with an egg out of Sculpy stuff. It’s about 5cm and gorgeous, and now sits next to Adele on a shelf in my loungeroom.

Happy Christmas 2017

For this year’s Christmas card design I wanted to try to produce a “stained glass window effect”. I have done this on at least two occasions in the past, if you take a squizz at the full collection of previous years’ cards, starting here. This time I used Procreate on the iPad again, taking advantage of the layers to make up for the fact that I failed “colouring in” in kindergarten, and using the different brushes and pens to get the leadlight and glass effect. I think I am now becoming a bit more fluent with this app, and may try something a bit more ambitious next year (although, in all likelihood, I’ll probably (a) forget this intention, (b) be pushed for time and be wanting to produce something in a screaming hurry as usual, and (c) come up with a design idea that needs some other approach entirely!). Oh, and in case no one notices the subtle symbolism, the lamb and Jesus’ swaddling clothes are the same colour. And, for the pedants out there, yes, I know the wise men are likely to get lost since the star in the picture is really not being much help as a navigation aid for the stable … even though it is generally agreed that the wise men probably came a year or so later, and thus did not visit the stable, and the shepherds were following the angel’s instructions on the GPS (“at the next roundabout, take the third exit”!) instead of relying on astronavigation (it’s the end of a long year, and my sense of humour has lost the plot!).

Even though Christmas card sending is a tradition in decline I still enjoy designing and sending cards each year, even if it adds a little to the end-of-year demands. It is nice to take some time to do something creative, and it is particularly enjoyable to reflect upon my friends and the blessings they are in my life. May you be blessed with happiness and surrounded by love this Christmas, and may 2018 be a totally awesome year, with an abundance of peace and blessings.

As mentioned earlier, the full collection of previous years’ cards can be observed by clicking here.