03 October 2010

Eve and Sunshine come back for a spot of snow camping

Despite Eve showing some signs of a cold brewing, we headed off for an over night on the snow. I packed and humped a serious load of bedding, and we made it through a pretty warm but sleepless night as Eve's cold set in. We hiked a little way up the Trig Ridge from Guthega, and camped on the second knoll looking South West over the Guthega River, and the dam with the Snowy feeding it. It was lovely to be out there with all the little family, and I even got some late afternoon and early morning turns in. Lovely spring conditions all over with plenty of snow around.

Photos start from here.

25 September 2010

Watsons Crag

Thor and I took a trip out to Guthega for an afternoon climb of Twynam, sunset ski on Watsons Crag, and full moon ski down through Blue Lake and back to Guthega. The spring corn was a delight to ski, and the weather was perfect. The white out right twilight was a worry, but the moon came out just as we skied down to Blue Lake. On the traverse back along the Snowy, one small but persistent cloud obscured the moon almost all the way back. Finding our way back on snow was a challenge in the bush, ending in us humping our gear on foot. It was an exhausting but great day/night out.

Photos start from here

16 August 2010

Powder Day

Robbie and Clint drove up to Guthega last week, camped at Island Bend, and sent me a picture text the next morning of perfect looking powder! Thor and I arrived the next day and we all enjoyed turns down off Tate East Ridge, down the more Southerly aspects, especially the slopes down to the dam. What a great day!

05 August 2010

Mount Twynam

Robbie, Thor and I head out to Guthega together to climb Mount Twynam, and ski down to Blue Lake. We were expecting fresh powder from the days before, but found nasty ice sheets and variable wind blow. It wasn't until we were half way down the fantastic Blue Lake Creek above Blue Lake itself, that we finally found our powder.

After the mammoth traverse back, and having climbed a total of 800m, and skied and traversed some 20km, we were all totally shagged. It was another wonderful day in the backcountry though.. :)


Map with embedded panoramas

View Track 5 in a larger map

26 July 2010

Leather Barrel

Another day trip for back country. This time meeting Richard at Thredbo for a day out past Ram's Head, down into Leather Barrel, across Swampy Plains River and up Mt Kosciusco and back over Ram's Head and home through Thredbo.



View leather barrel in a larger map

19 July 2010

Out back Guthega

I had the most outstanding day in the back country skiing yesterday. Thanks to Sunshine for letting me escape baby duty for the day :)

Here's the video on Youtube (and on Blip)

The video is pretty long and indulgent on my part sorry (8.46min). It captures a memory for me, so I don't mind so much... a had-to-be-there thing. Hope you all get through at least one sitting. The music should see you through at least, 2 tracks from CCMixter:
  1. "Just so Picky" by Speck
  2. "Through the Edge" by PorchCat
I watched the weather all week, with a large low pressure front chock full of moisture coming down to dump a bunch of snow on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a dry high pressure Southerly to keep the conditions cold and dry, but letting the sun shine through to soften off any crust. I was skinning my way out back bright and early on Saturday morning :)

Here's the photos on Picasa (and Flickr).

Eve woke at 5am - quick nappy change and pass to mummy in bed, and I was out the door for a 3 hour drive to Guthega. Skipped Cooma for a more reasonably priced breakfast at Berridale, then on past Jindabyne and up the range. Was on skis and crossing the Guthega dam wall at 9am.  

Here's the map.

View Mount Tate and Mount Anderson in a larger map

From Guthega Village (the lift station) drop down the road to the Dam. Cross the Dam and follow the track to the upper reaches of the North arm about 1km until you see a foot bridge crossing the Guthega River. Either continue on the east bank of the river to access the pass, or cross the bridge and continue on the river bank up to access Mount Tate. Others seem to head straight up the East face of Tate East Ridge and follow the ridge line from there.

12 July 2010

Down to Earth

Back in 1996, I tried my hand at designing and making tents and packs and things. I had access to an industrial sewing machine then, and with a little help from my dad, I managed to make 3 packs, and a few accessories. I designed a hell of a lot more though, some day I'd love to make this tent for example.. I just need to meet the right people with the right motivation.

I made this pack for my Dad 14 years ago! 12 ounce canvas, YKK spiral zips, 1 inch webbing, internal frame.. all double stitched, seam sealed, and designed for simplicity, to last, and be easily repaired.

The over sized shoulder straps and lumber pad where requested by my Dad.. the ultra delux padded version :) He's taken it all sorts of places over the years.

I hadn't seen this pack for some time. Seeing it today was like opening an old diary. Discovering old ideas that were new and not on the market at the time. Made me want to start making more, and use all those ideas I've drawn since, that are still yet to go to market mind you.

I like the modest tones and simplicity compared to the glow in the dark, lunar landing gear in the shops today. I'd refine this design a little, but over all I think its a good solid bag, that functions well.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

08 July 2010

First ski Australian slopes

Pretty disappointing first ski in Australia. Love the backcountry atmosphere, hate the massive fees and over done resorts.

Got up early, easy driving to Cooma for breakfast and take away lunch (will stop at Berridale next time), lovely sunrise coming into Jindabyne. Stopped at Paddy Palin's for a map, then onto the Park gates for the nasty surprise of a $27 fee for a 1 day pass! Then a few ks up the road, a random chains check!!!? No warning signs back at Jindabyne, no snow anywhere near the road, no forecast of snow for days, if not weeks. They wouldn't hear it, and turned me back to Jindabyne to get chains! Another $25 hire, so I bought a set for $160. There went my early start, budget well blown.

Finally arrived at Perisher to find the road to Charlottes Pass closed with no snow on it! $48 for a 15min bus ride.. forget it! Perisher was crowded out with only man made snow runs open, yet they were charging full fee lift passes at $110 for a day! I just wanted to get out back, but their $28 single lift pass is not available for people with skis!

So skinned up Back Perisher Mountain for good views out to Main Range. Looked like good cover out over Carruthers Peak and Blue Lake, probably a strong crust on it though, and having not gone through to Charlottes, the walk was huge! Very patchy cover on the ridges Mnt Perisher to Blue Cow - fun for cross country. I dropped down to Blue Calf, and up Blue Cow for one run down a crowded Kamikaze.

Tired and broke, I walked back to the car and drove home. Studying the map for less expensive access alternatives. Fuel from Canberra return is about $60, park entry is $24 per day. This cost would be less if the Snowpool website works out, leaving a little for a lift pass, or a bus to Charlottes to access the backcountry for a day trip.. otherwise it's a long walk and a sleep out.. but then the park fees build up!

I hear Victorian parks are all free entry...

Some photos of this trip.. forecast says a dump to come late next week!

11 June 2010

Our container house

For a few years now, Sunshine and I have been researching shipping container houses as an alternative means to affordable housing. The key to a container based house is the portability. Our 60m2 free standing design retains that portability, with all external elements such as roofing, doors and walls, fitting inside a container ready for transport, quick setup and quick break down.

The reason we want a portable house is so we can move it temporarily onto rented land, save up for our own land, and relocate it to settle and extend. Our plan is a two stage approach to home and land ownership, attempting to keep our weekly payments as low as possible while we go.

If you have a small section of land you could rent us, we can offer you between $50-100 rent per week. We'd then secure a loan of $40 000 for the prefabrication, additions and delivery of our container house. The weekly repayments on such a loan would be $250 over 5 years. The land rent and house repayments together would total $350 per week. We think we could save between $100-200 per week, or $5-10,000 per year, $15-30,000 over 3. That's a deposit for our own land, and once we had our own land, we'd move off yours, leaving behind a little fruit orchard, a herb garden, and a small rammed earth pad, where we once stayed.

Costing breakdown - new, recycled and 2nd hand materials:
  1. 2 modified 20foot high cube containers delivered: $10000
  2. Roof and trusses: $7000
  3. Insulation and linings: $3000
  4. 4x (1.2x3m) sliding, timber framed, double glase walls: $5000
  5. 1x (4.8x3m) back wall with window and door: $3000
  6. 6x5m rammed earth floor: $3000
  7. Kitchen: $2000
  8. Waterless toilet: $2000
  9. Shower: $1000
  10. Plumbing, storage, pump, outlets: $3000
  11. Power generator, storage, cable, points, lights: $5000
  12. Rocket fire, thermal mass heater: $500
  13. 2x doors: $1200
$45900 for stage one

If you think you can offer us a small section of land, let's talk.

06 June 2010

The local paper heats my water

The Canberra Times ran a story on our compost hot water system today, after a local radio station rang up for a quick live interview a few days ago.

Patrick Blampied is doing a great job with the media and PR for the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, and sent out a press release about me after we met through Youtube. I'm more than happy to help build their profile in Canberra, although between the journalist, Pat's press release, and me seeing the story in print, some minor corrections and clarifications are needed:

  • I don't start each day with a warm feeling about environmental sustainability. I get that feeling working towards conviviality.
  • The correct order for being inspired to try this started with a Youtube video by Permascience, leading to information about Jean Pain, eventually seeing a video by Patrick that the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia were using the method too.
  • My pile (version 3 that is) is made of horse manure, straw and woodchip, not paper. Paper is a good suggestion - but slightly harder to come by around here.
  • I don't think or imply this system is for everyone, and I don't think it would reasonably replace existing systems.. not before a bit more research and development was done. I have concerns about the HDPE pipe possibly putting a chemical into the water for a start, and I think the biomass needs to be semi sealed to keep flies away. Patrick and I reckon something like a wheelie bin would probably be good, hooked up to a storage tank, with a replacement bin at the ready each week or so. Either that, or use the V3 system for room heating instead of shower water.
Apart from those minor points, it was great to get some interest from the local paper, and I hope it helps lead me to good local connections for progressing this and other projects. Thanks Patrick.

22 May 2010

Starting a rocket stove thermal mass heater

Its getting cold in Canberra. The fire place in our house is smokey and cold. The gas heating is too easy and expensive. Its time we learned how to build a rocket fire!

I discovered rocket fires last year when Permaculture Keith blogged about them. That lead to a couple of Youtube videos, which lead to meeting Erica and Ernie in Portland Oregon to see one in action.

Since that visit, Sunshine and I have been busy selling our house in NZ, moving to Australia, and having a baby. Now in a rental, its difficult to commit to a full build, but I've found a bit of time to study the method.

Basically, a rocket stove thermal mass heater is a super efficient wood fuel heater that can be built by just about anyone, using waste and/or easily collectible materials. To give you an idea, in Dunedin we used an efficient and certified wood burner that used about 4-6 cubic metres of wood per year. Erica and Ernie told us they use about 1-2 cubic metres in their rocket heater, and their house was less insulated than ours!

If you want to get a sense of what a full rocket stove thermal mass heater is, this is a great introductory video:

Here's the book that the video refers to.

And here's a really good illustration by Erica, of the critical design of the rocket stove. At that link are a series of photos documenting a full build, including the thermal mass heater.

Here's another photo documented installation with some adaptations to the standard design, by Michael Blaha.

And I started the Wikipedia article to see where it might go.

My attempts so far
So begins my attempts to study and learn this technique for heating. After the usual terrible time trying to source materials in Canberra, here's a series of videos of my first mock up.

Canberra is an incredibly difficult find out about anything online. The websites are crappy and the search results are worse. As a result, sourcing materials is frustrating. All we needed was some short lengths of steal pipe at varying diameters, a few steal drums of varying sizes, about 10 fire bricks, and 10 normal bricks. So I baled the family into the care and drove around looking for word of mouth. The main waste recycle facility was useless. We found private waste recycle yards that looked promising, but were all locked up with no one around. Everyone we spoke to directed us out to Fyshwick, the industrial hub of Canberra. There we found some materials, but all set at exorbitant prices :( It seems what useful materials is recycled, is pretty well stitched up by business. But we did manage to scrape together a few bricks and some guttering just to get this first mock up made.

The hunt for better materials continues...

Our compost hot water system

Here's a video playlist outlining my compost hot water system so far:

This all stems from a Frenchman named Jean Pain. I discovered Jean Pain's composting method back in 2008 while browsing for info on composting toilet systems. All that existed then was a single article in the Readers Digest from 1982. So I started a Wikipedia article, defended the notability challenges, negotiated copyrights for images of Jean Pain, and watched it grow from there. A few months later, Youtube user TaranikiFarm copied and uploaded the 1980s documentary, The Power of Compost, focusing on Jean Pain's method, made back in the early 80s as well. Jean Pain drew 18 months of energy from his large compost pile. Heating and gas, 100% of his energy needs, including his truck and machines!

Now, clearly such a method is not for everyone, but it is for me. Energy rates in parts of Australia are expected to rise over 60% in the next 3 years, and I don't intend to be left out in the cold as energy poor either. My outspokeness and impatience with work always gives me a sense of precarity in regards to income, so I think its a good idea to skill up on alternative living. Besides that, its just good fun :)

Next step, getting methane gas from it for cooking...

02 May 2010

Australian backcountry skiing

Sunshine, Eve and I took a drive up to Guthega on the weekend, to scope out a ski trip for when the snow falls. Inspired!

Lots of people scoff at the idea of Australian skiing. Personally I like it more than anywhere.

Wikipedia has a great article on skiing in Australia, and check out my little map with videos:

View Australian Back Country Skiing in a larger map

10 February 2010


Sunshine's waters broke at the local movie rental. I was called from work at 1230. We arrived at the hospital at 2. Eve Leyson Blackall (working title) was born at 4:39pm 8 Feb 2010! 3.2kg, 50cm long. Dark hair, eyes wide open, feeding and sleeping well.
Sunshine, "6th fastest baby deliverer in Australia", is well but under observation after some complications delivering the placenta, expected home on the 10th.


On this day the world has come closer. enemies are now friends, friends are now family, family is now one.