Monday, July 9, 2012

Mt Zeil, NT, Australia


2012 July: Climb Mt Zeil (highest mountain in NT, Australia)

Prologue of Prologue:
All the hiking and running have taken their toll on my feet.  In November 2011, the bottom of the heel at one foot was sore.  I thought it was just a temporary set back to my hiking career.  Two weeks and I should be back on my feet ... I said to myself.

A month later, the heel was still in pain.  Looked up Google; found it was Plantar Fasciitis ... love learning big words like this; and it sounded serious! Straight away, consulted a podiatrist.  She asked me to take off my pants and asked me to walk here and there and all over the room.  But she must have had blinkers on, because she couldn't see a potential star stripper in me!  Soon afterwards she sent me packing out the door and said it was a mild case, just rest the foot would do.  Didn't even give me a medical certificate for a few weeks of sick leave.
 
By January 2012, the foot was still not healing, so off to see another podiatrist.  Given my prior experience, you can understand I picked a guy this time.  But he must have graduated from a business school, major in out-sourcing, because he didn't bothered to treat me.  Instead, he sent me to an acupuncture specialist.  And this was the first time I was treated with a needle.  Wow, what a baptism!  When the needle pierced into the middle tender itchy part at the bottom of the foot, it was painful.  I prefer sore heel anytime!

After many acupuncture sessions, the foot still refused to heal.  Gggrrrr!!!

So, off to see a 3rd podiatrist, and also visited another massage and acupuncture practitioner.  The 3rd podiatrist taped up my foot as a cure.  By that time, I had already tried various self-helps:
  - Rolled freezing cold water bottle at the bottom of the foot.
  - Immersed foot in hot water with epsom salt.
  - Rolled a tennis ball at the bottom of the foot.
  - Various foot stretching exercises.
But none of them had any effect in curing the foot.  And as expected, taping the foot was also ineffective.

By March, panic set in.  Am I going to be grounded forever???  Went Googling on the Internet for a cure, any cure.  Saw a Strassburg Sock advertisement:
  http://thesock.com/
Bought the Sock without much of a second thought ... try anything is better than being grounded.

Here is my leg wearing the sock:
Don't you just love my sexy leg !!!

I wore the Sock to sleep every night.  It worked wonders!!!  The guy who invented it deserves a Nobel Prize!  In a matter of days, the heel pain subsided a lot.  A month later, the pain completely disappeared.  Phew!!!  What a relief!

Prologue:
Time to plan another mountain climb ... Mt Zeil, highest mountain in NT.

While not high, at 1531 meters only, Mt Zeil is rarely climbed, being remote in a semi-desert area far from civilization.  There is no road to its base and no trail to the summit.

On July 8, I teamed up with Ricky and Jeremy, met them at Alice Springs airport, hired a 4-wheel-drive, picked up groceries from a supermarket, then proceeded to drive to the base of Mt Zeil for the adventure ... All 3 of us are on a mission to conquer the highest mountains in every Australian States/Territories, Mt Zeil is one of these mountains to be ticked off.

By the way, Jeremy is a very experience hiker.  He has a hiking blog:
http://jez-hiking.blogspot.com.au/
I am most glad to have him coming to this trip.  His account of our climb is in:
http://jez-hiking.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/mt-zeil-nts-highest-peak-state-8.html

Maps:
  - NATMAP series: 1:250,000 scale, SF53-13 Hermannsburg (Northern Territories)

  - There is a 1:50,000 scale contour map showing the Mt Zeil area and a dotted line suggesting a possible route to the summit.  At the time of writing, the map is not for distribution.  You will have to ask the ranger for it.  ( Post Script: In June 2013, I notice the map is posted at http://www.nigel-roberts.info/Zeil-web-album/images/Zeil-044_jpg.jpg )

To get to the base of Mt Zeil:
  - From Alice Springs, drive north along Stuart Highway (Highway 87).
  - Shortly afterwards, turn west to Tanami Rd (Route 5).
  - Just a bit over an hour later, turn west into Gary Junction Rd (an unsealed road).

1:250,000 scale map of Mt Zeil:

Now, 2 options:

1. Drive on Gary Junction Rd (refer to above map) until you are almost directly north of Mt Zeil.  Get off road by turning south towards Dam 23, then keep going southward to Bore 15; and keep going as far as the car can go.  As the land there belongs to Narwietooma property, you should get permission from the property owner to drive there.

2. We take the 2nd option ... On Gary Junction Rd, not far west from Dam 23, turn south-west into an unseal road towards Glen Helen property.  Shortly after the turn, there is fork.  Keep right.  (The left fork goes into Mbunghara aboriginese community.)  Soon, the road encounters a fence running east-west, and a gate which is the entry to Glen Helen property.

The gate is not locked.  Maybe because weeks earlier, I rang the owner for permission to enter his land.  If you want to climb Mt Zeil from Glen Helen property too, you should also seek the owner's permission.  He is quite an amicable chap.

After the gate, the road leads to Dashwood Crossing Bore.  At the Bore, get off the road, cross Dashwood Creek which should be dry during the Winter months.

After crossing the creek, there is a faint 4-wheel-drive track.  Follow it as best as you can.  If you lost the track, just drive in a south-east direction to as close as possible to the base of Mt Zeil. 

We left Alice Springs just a bit before 3pm.  Reached the base of Mt Zeil around 5:30pm.  So it was a 2 and a half hour drive.  We set up camp for the night.  Jeremy got a fire going which kept us warm while we ate our dinner.

Hiking Route:
There is no trail to the summit.  You need to find your own way, or follow the dotted line in the 1:50,000 contour map.

For what it is worth, you can download our GPS route from:
- GPX file to the summit: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B877-h5SCJaSNDNvWjgwZjZWTjQ
- KML file to the summit: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B877-h5SCJaSVVhlLS1idzhldE0

But probably best is to get onto a ridge and just follow the ridge top all the way to the summit.  On the return trip, we stick more closely to this principle:
- GPX file return from summit: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B877-h5SCJaSLWFwUjRRQnBoOUE
- KML file return from summit: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B877-h5SCJaSYU1pOG81SEVBVGM

It is hard to walk on this mountain.  The entire area is covered with loose stones ... I've never encountered anything like it.  In every step, you can't avoid not stepping on a stone.  And when you step on one, your foot rolls and you feel you are tripping.  Luckily we all have hiking poles which definitely help with the walking.

Also, spinifex grass are everywhere.  Their ends are sharp spikes which pierce, break and lodge the spiny tips in your skin.  We all wear gaiters.  But in my case, the spikes still manage to penetrate the gaiter and pierce into my skin, very unpleasant.

Hiking time:
The return walk is 9 hrs, including 50 minutes lunch at the summit.

Water:
There is no water on the way to the summit.  All creeks are dry.

I carry 4.5 litres of water and gulp down 4 litres in 9 hrs.  As the air is dry, the sun is warm, I could have drunk more if I had more water.  If you are likely to take longer than 9 hrs for the hike, carry more water.

Description:
We are up early and started walking at 6:15am.  It is still dark then as the sun won't be up till 7:15am.  But with the GPS, this is not a problem.  (It is cooler to start early in morning.  Once the sun is up, it becomes quite hot.)

I had already pre-plotted a route in the GPS by using the dotted line (the suggested route to the summit) in the 1:50,000 scale map from the ranger.  So now it is just a matter of following what is displayed on the GPS screen.  The suggested route tends to be half-way between the ridge top and the valley.  We soon discover it is easier to walk along the ridge top instead ... there the terrain is flatter and less spinifex grass.

Once we have climbed high enough, the scenery down at the plain below is fantastic.  I've not seen anything like it, at least not around Sydney where I live.

4 hrs 45 mins later, we reach the summit.  We can see the other major mountains around Mt Zeil.  To the west is Haast Bluff, Mt William and Mt Edward.  Mt Edward is the 2nd highest mountain in NT.  It is in aborigines land (native Australians).  Since I'm in this area, I had sought permission to climb it earlier on.  But it was denied.

To the south, is Mt Razorback, 5th highest mountain in NT.  We'll be climbing it 3 days later.  Photos and report of our trip are in http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/razorback-nt-australia.html .

To the south-east is Mt Sonder, 4th highest mountain in NT.  We intend to climb it 2 days later.  Unfortunately both my feet had blisters on the day and I had to cancel the climb. (PS: Climbed Mt Sonder 3 years later in July 2015. Photos and report of the trip are in http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/mt-sonder-nt-australia.html .

Of the highest peaks in all 8 Australian States/Territories, I have now climbed 6 of them.  Only Mt Meharry in WA (planned in early 2012 August) and Mt Woodroffe in SA (planned in 2013 May) to complete.

Apart from Tasmania's Mt Ossa which requires a 2-day hike, all the other "State-8" highest peaks are 1-day hikes.  Mt Zeil is probably the more difficult one because of the aforementioned loose stones all over the mountain.

Timeline:
06:15  Start walking from our camp site.
11:00  10.5 km later, reach the summit

-----  50 min lunch

11:50  Leave summit
15:15  10.5 km later, reach our camp site

-----  Total 9 hrs, 21 km

Photos:

1)  We landed at Alice Springs airport at mid-day, hired a 4-wheel-drive car, picked up groceries from a supermarket, then off on our climbing adventure. This photo is taken at Dashwood Crossing Bore where we leave the 4-wheel-drive trail and drive off-road towards the dry Dashwood Creek.  The mountain range in front is where Mt Zeil is.  The bore is in the fence structure on the right side of the photo.


2)  After crossing the Dashwood Creek, we follow a faint 4-wheel-drive track in a general south-east direction until we reach a line of scrubs which can be seen in the following photo.  This is where we set up camp for the night.  It takes about two and a half hours to reach here from Alice Springs.  By the way, there is no water anywhere around.  If you intend to camp around here as well, make sure you bring all the water you need with you from Alice Springs.


3)  At night, temperature in the semi-desert environment is 0 celsius. Glad that Jeremy gets the fire going for the dinner.  (I'm on the left.  Jeremy is on the right.)


4)  Early morning of the next day ~~~
The next 3 photos illustrate the effect of the sun on the colour of the landscape. Here the sun is not yet up.  (The distant mountain in the centre of this photo is Mt Heuglin.)


5)  Almost the same scene as the previous pic ... The sun just poked its head above the horizon.


6)  Again, almost the same scene ... the sun is still on the horizon, but slightly higher now.


7)  There is no trail to the summit. The ubiquitous spinifex grass look benign enough, but they are really atrocious. They have sharp spikes at the end which pierce my gaiter, break off and lodge the needle-like spines on the legs.


8)  Gingerly negotiating my way through the spinifex grass


9)  Typical terrain and the spinifex grass


10)  Ricky finds the shed skin of a snake.


11)  The higher you climb, the scenery gets better.


12)  Same scene as before ... but we are now further up the slope.


13)  In the middle of this pic and on the horizon is Mt Edward, 2nd highest mountain in NT. It is in Aboriginese land (native Australians). I had sought permission to climb it and was denied without any reason. When I pressed for a review of the decision, a curt reply was that the mountain is sacred. One gets a feeling they made up the "sacred" business to deny us from climbing it.


14)  Lovely scenery.  Mt Heuglin is the mountain in the top right quadrant.


15)  We are further up the slope now. Mt Edward is the distant mountain in the horizon.


16)  For a long time we couldn't see Mt Zeil's peak. Now it is in sight - the highest peak in this pic.


17)  Traversing a rock face - make sure you don't slip!!!


18)  Strange looking plant with a black chubby trunk.  Are they Macdonnell Ranges Cycads (Macrozamia macdonnellii)???  A fire swept through Mt Zeil 9 months ago.  Wonder whether the black trunk is a result of the fire?


19)  We do not notice any flower on the mountain, except this one - flower of an acacia sapling.


20)  Click on the following photo to enlarge it and you'll see a faint straight line down the middle of the pic.  It is a fence and a service dirt road along side.  A guy climbed Mt Zeil by cycling as far as he can along the fence, then start hiking from there.  An article about his adventure was in http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2009/08/26/93491_indepth-8in8in8.html  Unfortunately that page can no longer be found  :-(
We climb up the mountain from the north-west side.  From what I can gathered from the internet, ours is an easier route.


21)  Almost there ... Mt Zeil is the higher peak on the left.


22)  Almost there


23)  The last steep climb after almost 4 hrs 45 mins of climbing


24)  Made it !!! What an exhilarating feeling !!!
6 down, 2 to go !!!
Of the highest mountains in each of the 8 Australian States/Territories, Ricky and I only have Mt Woodroff in SA and Mt Meharry in WA to conquer.


25)  Group photo of the 3 of us - Jeremy, Paul, Ricky


26)  At the summit, there is a red log book in a green steel box ... Jeremy is looking at it.


27)  We added our entry to the log book. Jeremy is also "6 down 2 to go".  He only has Woodroffe (SA) and Bartle Frere (Qld) to bag.


28)   (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
Entries in the previous 2 pages ... hardly anyone comes here. Note the first entry on the right-hand page ... a guy called Edward Connellan helicoptered in. Now, why didn't we think of this???
" 2012-01-15 Edward Connellan proposed to Sonya Lokhanova on top of Mt Zeil today - brought her in a helicopter to better my odds  :-)  "
That is sweet !


29)  Scenery from the summit. Mt Sonder is the distant mountain in the middle of this pic.


30)  The large mountain range in the top-right quadrant is Mt Razorback. Ricky and I will be climbing it a few days later ( see my report in http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/razorback-nt-australia.html ). It will be one the most interesting trip I've ever done.  Also, as far as I can find, there is hardly any information on Razorback on the Web. When I write an account of it later on, I intend to claim it as the first detailed recorded ascent !


31)  Wonderful scene of the folding of mountains from the summit!



360 panoramic view:

A video of 360 panoramic view from the summit of Mt Zeil is in:


State-8 Peaks:
I've now climbed 6 of the highest peaks in the 8 Australian States/Territories ... called State-8 peaks. Links to the other 5 mountains are::

- 2010 Oct, Qld - Mt Bartle Frere
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/bartle-frere-queensland-australia.html

- 2011 Jan, ACT - Bimberi Peak
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/bimberi-act-australia-east-approach.html

- 2011 Feb, Tas - Mt Ossa
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/ossa-tas-australia.html

- 2011 Mar, Vic - Mt Bogong
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/bogong-vic-australia-west-peak.html

- 2011 Apr, NSW - Mt Kosciuszko
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/kosciuszo-muellers-peak-townsend-nsw.html

Post script !!!:
- 2012 August, climbed Mt Meharry in WA
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/meharry-wa-australia.html

- 2013 May, climbed Mt Woodroffe in SA
    http://mntviews.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/woodroffe-sa-australia.html

This completes my mission of climbing the State-8 peaks !!!

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