Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I bought a drone


Late last year I decided to try and jump on the bandwagon before it even existed.

I bought a drone, UAV, RPAS, quadcopter...whatever you want to call it.  This is the first of a couple of posts where I'll document my experiences buying...and trying to fly and film with a drone.  

I work in the media and over the past few years have noticed these 'drone' things have been garnering more and more attention. The event that really sold me was the bush fires in the Blue Mountains last October. I contacted a few YouTube users who posted amazing footage, in particular this footage from Cividrones which showed the devastation wrought on the town of Lithgow. By the end of that terrible week, this footage had almost 200,000 hits over at news.com.au.


In journalism, the news gathering implications are obvious: smaller and cheaper than a fleet of helicopters, now you can get killer aerial footage (photos & video) for a fraction of the cost...and they'll need people to fly them. The margins are getting smaller and smaller and in a media space where bean counters have more clout than ever, the ability to offer a service that can save significant $$$ will be highly regarded.

Of course, I'm not the first person to look at drones as a powerful filming tool. Trials of in-house drones have already begun in some organisations and video producers are already developing networks of sources from freelance operators with choice vision to sell.

Only last week I did some editing work on this sick new media article for the Weekend Australian about surfing Snapper Rocks.


How did we get this amazing footage? A bloody drone.

Surf photographer Craig Parry absolutely nailed the shots in this piece, tagging behind surfer Kai Otton as he weaves his way in and out of traffic. Only a drone can get that close with that much agility.
Eh...not the golfer.
The first wave (aha) of drones has already hit the mainstream, I just hope that in getting in now I can squeeze onto the tail end of that wave.

The other big draw of aerial videography with a drones for me is CLIMBING FOOTAGE.

Dear God, think of the possibilities! Anyone who's taken a camera climbing with the dream of making it onto the next Reel Rock Tour knows the limitations I'm talking about.

You have a GoPro or two, and maybe even a flash DSLR or camcorder...but there's really only a few shots you can get when you're busy climbing.

Butt Shot:
Johnny Boots ably demonstrates the 'butt shot'
 Top down:
Laurie Mock does 'top down shot'




Belay shenanigans:
Safely anchored in, free to film.
POV shots:
WARNING: GoPro footage frequently causes nausea!

Camera on tripod:
Static shot, great perspective, but no movement (Diamond Bay)

Basically any shot with  a GoPro will be shaky as all hell, and most importantly, won't provide adequate context for the viewer.  When has GoPro footage, as awesome as it is, ever fully conveyed the grand scale of climbing a 150m monster in the Blueys?  It cant, or at least, I can't.  You might be able to set a camera up on a tripod at smaller scale crags (like Diamond Bay) and get some pretty decent shots, but the tripod lacks dynamic movement of any kind, and forget it if you're out somewhere bigger.  Unless you've got a telescopic lens and a mate that can film you from a couple of kms away, there's no achieving the kind of pull back shot that would truly convey the scale and sheer adventure of outdoor climbing.


This video is shitty, but as a first attempt at taking my drone out to the bush, it works well enough...if only to show the potential of such a combination.

If you want to see some truly incredible footage that really illustrates what drones can do for climbing films, check out David Lama on Trango Tower:




Next post I'll get into the nitty gritty stuff - what drone I bought and why.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Droning in the Blue Mountains

Dramatic drone at Pierce's Pass from Fantrails on Vimeo.

Pierce's Pass is a pretty epic climbing area, epic enough for some 'Inception' horns*

Busted my back which means no climbing for awhile. We had plans for Bunny Buckets (18) or Hotel California (21) this weekend but it wasn't meant to be. Thought I'd take the drone out, instead.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Diamond Bay, NSW


The problem with making climbing videos is that once you get to the crag, no-one wants to actually film.

This is something I pieced together from the rag-tag footage we ended up with once we put the cameras down and started climbing.

Crag: Diamond Bay, Vaucluse

Gloucester Buckets (20). This is a chipped climb, the holds are just 'perfectly' spaced out. Very...strange.

Acute What (21). Rebolted in 2012, could use a stick clip for the start and then some long slings. Atmos!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Magellan eXplorist 310: Review

The Magellan eXplorist 310


Buying a handlheld GPS unit can be overwhelming, which one is the best? Technology is moving along rapidly and the latest models can do so many cool things. For the uniniated, assessing satellite reception, ergonomics, speed, display quality, and mapping software against all the competing units can just about make your head explode.





You've gotta choose between the industry duopoly of Garmin and Magellan and their pricing scales are almost identical to each other. For instance, the eTrex 10 is Garmin's entry-level unit which retails for around $110 AUS, while the Magellan 110 is equally bulky and unattractive and costs about the same. Like Coles and Woolworths, they monitor each other and price their gear accordingly.

After spending a week doing some due diligence and not being able to separate the two, I decided to go with Megellan for purely aesthetic reasons. My selection method was the same I employ when picking a bottle of wine at a restaruant...second cheapest, please (falling for advertising psychology's oldest trick in the process).

That's how I ended up with the Magellan 310 eXplorist.

A picture is supposed to speak a thousand words. How about three?

Piece of shit.

In fairness to Magellan, my unit had a significant default....it stopped turning on.  A month after buying it brand new I was driving to the start of a 7-day hike and the bastard thing wouldn't turn on.  This greatly limited its usefullness to me.

However, before it died, I made the following notes. Hope they help anyone considering the unit.


  • The 'Vantage Point' mapping software isn't Mac compatible.  Seriously? It was 2013 the last time I checked, Mac penetration into the home computer market stands at between 15-20% so why the hell doesn't Magellan do something about this? The types who buy GPS units are  gadget-loving folk, which probably means the percentage of Mac users who own GPS units is even higher. The point is this - Magellan is saying a big 'Eff You' to a good percentage of its customers.

  • The interface is looks awful...truly awful. The screen is small at 2.2" and the resolution of QVGA, 240 x 320 reminded me of playing old DOS games on my PC as a spotty teenager.
  • The buttons are cramped and the choady little joystick is unresponsive making it hard to navigate with from screen to screen or across the map.
  • Speaking of the map, it looks like a dog's breakfast. I was disappointed with the NSW topographic 'Summit Series' map after spending an additional $50 beans on it.  The colour scheme is such that you can barely distinguish contour lines which are brown from the rest of the green. Oh, and map draw is painfully s-l-o-w.

I figured out too late the most important step when purchasing a GPS unit, and that is to realistically assess what you need the device for.  I still enjoy the whole process of navigating by paper map & compass and would only need a GPS to record trip data for later use at home and to provide UTM coordinates if I got lost (likely).

So, did I really need a colour screen? Did I really need the digital NSW topographic map?

Nope. I should have saved myself a couple hundred bucks and bought the bargain-basement Garmin eTrex 10. It's basic monochrome display would mean quick map draw and better battery life than my 310, and I would still be able to check UTM coordinates while in the bush and upload the trip data onto my (mac) computer when I got home.

Magellan replaced my busted unit with a brand new one, no probs. I suppose now I can sell it on eBay and trade down to the eTrex 10!





Friday, May 10, 2013

Katoomba to Mittagong, NSW






The big-time classic spanning the Blue Mountains and Nattai National Parks, walking from Katoomba to Mittagong is one of NSW's great hiking challenges.

Below is a suggested itinerary to take, across six days.  In reality, there are many different ways and paths you can take on this walk and this is only one of many. I would warn off in-experienced hikers from attempting this, the majority of it can be walked on fairly well defined paths, but 15-20% is on barely discernible 'paths' where extreme bush bashing and navigating is a must.  The caretaker at Yerranderie told us that the hike used to be quite popular in the 80s & 90s, but these days he only sees a handful of people doing it a year. I found that quite surprising.

We didn't use a GPS (it broke on the drive out to Katoomba), but taking one would be a good idea. Also a good idea is to hire an emergency beacon from the NSW National Parks office in Blackheath before you set out. It's free, how amazing is that?!?

We had all the available topo maps and a section from Bushwalks in the Sydney Region: Volume 2 by Lord, S & Daniel G to guide us.



Katoomba to Mittagong - Track guide

Day 1 - Narrow Neck – Medlow Gap (17.5km)
Day 2 - Medlow Gap – New Yards (34.6km) – 17.1km walked
Day 3 - New Yards – Mt Feld (51.7km) – 17.1km walked
Day 4 - Mt Feld – Nice Camp Site (73.4km) – 21.7km walked
Day 5 - Nice Camp Site – Colleys Flat (90.6km) – 17.2km walked
Day 6 - Colleys Flat – Wattle Ridge (111km) – 20.4km walked

Day 1 – TAROS LADDER

After being dropped off close to the Golden Stairs just south of Katoomba, walk along Narrow Neck until Taros Ladder (15km). Bring 10m rope/cord to lower heavy packs down Taros Ladder if you're not feeling too confident. We managed it fine despite being as top-heavy as a pair of tortoises, taking our time and making sure of each hand and foot placement before committing. 

Descending Taros Ladder with 30kg packs


Follow track approx 2.5km over Mount Derbert and then down to the cleared campsite of Medlow Gap (17.5km) to spend the first night.

Day 2 – COX RIVER/MT COOKEM

Head off past a locked gate (west), follow service road until you reach a track on the left-hand side which winds down to Kelpie Point on the Cox River. (Beware of red-belly black snakes in the long grass.) Use your judgement on conditions once at the river. It is possible to call Sydney Water ahead of time to find out the depth.

The clear, cold waters of the Cox River


For us, the water depth at the crossing point was about 1.5m, we ferried our stuff across in waterproof stuff sacks then had a long lunch on the south bank of the river. Bring a pair of thongs or sandals for river crossings. Smooth river rocks hurt dainty city feet!





Our guide book wrote “look for a track that starts behind a tree”...however, there are a lot of trees. Using your topo map, walk along the river bank until it makes a sharp turn east. From this point, start traversing up the ridge of Mt Cookem...you'll eventually come across the track. After an hour or so of hard slog, you reach the top of Mt Cookem, hurrah!

Take a right on the service road at the top, enjoy the ease and openness of open track walking because you'll be doing it for the next day and a half! You are now on Scotts Main Range. If it is getting late, an adequate campsite can be erected at an intersection with a service road (28.km), however I would recommend pushing on to the Church-owned property of New Yards at 34.6km (turn off to the right). Those kind folk offer hikers the use of their cabin to stay overnight – for free. The cabin has running water complete with shower and flushing toilets, a roaring fireplace...and even an orange tree out the front! Letting hikers stay here for free is one of the last kind acts you'll see these days, so treat the place with care. We re-stocked the cabin with firewood before we left.


Photo from: http://www.mitupela.net/gnw/mittagongtokatoomba.html


Day 3 - SCOTTS MAIN RANGE

Long day walking along the Scotts Main Range. It's a fire trail so there's not much to say. There are plenty of waterholes on both sides of the trail which are utilised by the RFS. The water is pretty brackish and nasty so I wouldn't recommend people drink it. I drank it though, after putting some purification tablets, and it was fine enough. Make camp in a small clearing next to the road at the turn-off to Mt Feld (51.7km).

There's a lot of this on Day 3.


Day 4 – YERRANDERIE

At 56.6km we came to a sharp bend east in the track. At 58km we crossed Butchers Creek (centimetres deep), refilling our water bottles as we went. At 60km there is a RFS fire base. The facilities aren't as welcoming as those at New Yards, with signs reading “No Trespassing” written on the doors, but there is water and a nice camping area available here if you're desperate. (If you do feel the need to trespass, not all the doors are locked ;).

RFS fire base


Mt Yerranderie in the distance


Continue on and you'll soon be greeted with sights of Mt Yerranderie, an impressive looking hunk of rock with vertical walls on three of its sides. I would love to know if anyone has developed routes there.







At around the 65km mark, you've reached the 'ghost town' of Yerranderie. Don't be spooked though, it is a lovely little spot to have lunch and have and poke around into a by-gone era. Don't expect any crowds. We arrived the day before Anzac Day and there were three families spread across a camping ground the size of a couple of football fields...this was the peak period! There are 10 abandoned silver mines within 2km of the town centre if you not too tired to check them out. The Old Post Office was closed for refurbishments when we were there, but there are plenty of other old buildings to check out.

Try and find the caretaker and have a chat. Watch for leeches!






Pass the airstrip and Old Court House on the way out of town, get into a staring contest with some of the 100s of kangaroos if you want.

Head east across Basin Creek at 68.7km. At Old Twin Peaks (69.6km) note a turn off to the south which would take you to Oberon. Keep heading east. A Sydney Water locked gate blocks the path at 73.4km, however, 200m before this there is an obvious clearing on the left hand side of the road (GR Nattai 48750E, 19400N). Walk down this clearing and you will be greeted with perhaps the prettiest campsite of the entire walk.

Glorious sunrise enjoyed in our own special ways...




Day 5 – BELOON PASS

Leave Nice Camp Site, wind your way up and down along Sheepwalk Drive for about 6km. You will have to jump from stone to stone to cross the Jooriland River. The land begins to clear and you are eventually treated to spectacular views of the Wangaderry Tableland. It is both impressive and intimidating, thinking you'll be up there somehow in a couple of hours. Look for the obvious weakness in the clifftop walls, that is Beloon Pass.

Beloon Pass in the distance


About 2km after crossing the Jooriland River, you will reach the mighty Wollondilly River. The crossing has been built up with rocks is quite wide and shallow. The water didn't reach passed our knees. Grab a stick for balance and pop on those thongs/sandals if you brought them. Look out for black swans on the water.

Crossing the Wollondilly River



Also, note the rock buttress jutting out of the water to the right as you're crossing...has anyone climbed there? The eastern shore is a lovely place for an early lunch which you may as well take as you'll be needing the extra energy soon enough.






Follow the trail leading away from the river for 2.5km until you come across a minor vehicle track signposted 'Beloon Pass'. Hard to miss.



The climb up Beloon Pass is a longer version of what you've already accomplished with Mt Cookem. The trail becomes fairly indistinct at times, but keep an eye out for blue tape in the trees and rock cairns to find your way. The last section before reaching the top of Beloon Pass is a legitimate scramble, made interesting by the weight of your packs. Be wary of grabbing hold of loose rock and investigate any foot or hand placement in this last push. Spot each other if you're feeling uncomfortable.

The views of the upper Wollondilly from the top of Beloon Pass are breathtaking. 



Why does Rozza look cool here...

..while I look like I'm taking a poop?
Savour the moment, write an entry in the log book and prepare for a pretty un-enjoyable couple of hours following a damp and overgrown gully...

I just vomited in my mouth a little bit remembering this.


From the pass, a track heads east into the gloom. Follow it ENE into until it intersects with another dry watercourse coming in from the north.

** This next part is pulled directly from Bushwalks in the Sydney Region: Volume 2, because we got lost here and ended up setting camp on an uncomfortable hillside to wait for the morning. **

Day 5 Camp - Getting lost means pitching your tent on a scrubby hill.


..just across the junction locate and take a track which follows the N side of Travis Gully for about 50m. It then veers away and winds down ENE to join with a 4WD road. This will take you to the Nattai Road [sign-boarded] – Vineyard Flat at 89.8km”

Camp at Colleys Flat.

Day 6 – NATTAI ROAD

** We also got incredibly lost this day by following the Allum River for 5km thinking it was the Nattai...don't do that. We ended up having to climb quite high to take some bearings using natural landmarks.  Accordingly, take these directions with a grain of salt as they're based on conjecture. **



Head off down the Nattai Road in a SW direction. You will need to cross the Nattai River five times by a variety of different methods.

We had ran out of tape for blisters at this point, so not wanting to get our feet wet, we found garbage bags over the feet worked quite well. There is plenty of rotten wood next to some of the crossings which is light enough to be man-handled into position as a makeshift bridge.





It was really interesting to see the wheels of time grinding down on the Nattai 'Road'. Once upon a time it would have been used by 4WD, but now it is completely overgrown and impassable to anything and everyone who isn't hiking. 

At Allum Flat continue on the Nattai Road, ignoring a private access road on the right hand side. From here until the carpark at Wattle Ridge is approx 10km, and included in that is a vicious series of swtichbacks which see a gain in altitude of almost 500m...it's a long and sweaty end to a long and sweaty hike, but well worth it!

Mission accomplished. About to tuck into celebratory burgers at Bowral...mmm.

ON FIRE TRAILS:

Walking on fire trails probably puts a lot of people off this hike and is a likely reason for such low numbers of people taking part. Yes, plodding along like a pack mule along a dirt road can be mindless and boring at times...but we found it a great mix of mindless plod, route-finding, 'activities' (ie. river crossings & mountain climbings). The Katoomba to Mittagong is good hike to ease your way into proper route finding by splitting up the tricky bits.

Also, there's something to be said about slipping into a hypnotic rhythmn of a multi-day hike and the length of the Katoomba to Mittagong seemed to mitigate the time we spent on fire trails. You get into a zen-like state, discuss outrageous hypotheticals and generally enjoy the feeling of turning your brain off and let your legs carry you on.

For some reason I also found it immensely satisfactory to be able to stop wherever the hell we wanted, pitch the tent, start a fire and then cook up some grub as the stars came out. In my mind's eye we resembled a couple of itinerant drifters from 'Down and Out in Paris and London'...except freeze-dried meals taste better than boiled cabbage or whatever those poor guys we eating!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sydney Climbers and the cheeky day trip



Good mate L. Mock made this GIF out of footage from last Friday's climbing effort at Heathcliff in Blue Mountains. It's a pretty accurate distillation.

We're so lucky to live as Sydney-siders, to have such magnificently epic multi-pitch climbing only 100km as the crow flies from our doorstep. Just don't expect to get home anytime before nightfall.

WHAT THE GIF DOESN'T SHOW:

-Wake up early (but 30 mins later than planned)
- 2.5 hours driving to Blue Mountains in peak hour traffic
- Coffee stop at Katoomba
- 45 min bush whack to base of Heathcliff
- Three-legged break dance behind a rock to get rid of coffee gut (optional)
- Climbing....climbing...climbing
- 1 hour heavy bush bash after getting lost on the way back to car
- 2 hours driving home in more traffic


Also, Google Maps have totally created a false economy with their ridiculous travel time estimates (1h 25m from Central Station to Katoomba...are you freakin' kidding me??).

But despite all that, the biggest reason for coming home late every time you go to the Blueys is that you were just having too much damn fun climbing.

"My name is Laurie Mock, I like rock climbing!"






Wednesday, December 19, 2012