My biggest walk ever. Young and foolish, we set off for 26 days in the wilderness...
In late 2002/early 2003, having successfully conquered the likes of Federation Peak, Mt Anne and various other Tasmanian icons; and about to embark on a post Uni professional life, my lifelong mate and walking buddy Woolza and I decided over a few beers that it would be a good idea to 'spend a month doing an epic bushwalk'. 'Lets do this before we get tied down' Woolza had said. I had read some recent reports of people doing epic 1 month missions in the Tassie wilderness. I told Woolza and from this possibly drunken conversation an idea was hatched and 'South West Epic' was born.
YOU'RE SHITTING ME?
I don't think Woolza took it too serious at first but I had some time on my hands so, being the planner that I am, I started to write an outline of a 'South West Epic' bushwalk that I had in mind. I'd seen some similar itineraries in magazine articles (internet was still young at this stage - no blogs or facebook to speak of) and I gradually pieced together an itinerary. The initial plan was to commence at Farmhouse Creek (my 3rd trip into the south west from this start point), travel through Federation Peak and the Eastern Arthurs, followed by the Western Arthur Range, Port Davey Track, Melaleuca to resupply with an airdrop, do South West Cape Circuit, back to Melaleuca, then out along the South Coast Track with Precipitous Bluff as a sidetrip on the way out and finish at Cockle Creek some 30 days later. To say this plan was fairly ambitious would be an understatement. I was at this stage a full time guide on the overland track (and would be bookending this trip with Overland trips) and did wonder whether the South West Cape part of the trip was pushing it. But, what the hell, we'd plan for the biggest walk and only do what we were capable of. The number of permutations for this itinerary were endless, which in part, is one of the wonderful things about spending a month in the wilderness. You don't necessarily have to stick to a plan. We had put this rough itinerary together about 8 months out so it gave us time to think about it and get ready.
IT WILL HAPPEN
Come November we were locked in and getting ready. I'd done the rounds to hiking buddies asking if they wanted to join us but with little response. I don't think people thought we'd go through with it. So it would be Woolza and myself there for the whole ride, while our mate Jeff would join us for the first half of the walk, exiting at Junction creek on the Arthur plains.
The lead up from here was fairly chaotic. I was the only Tasmanian based walker with the others flying in a day or two before the start. I was also walking the Overland Track each week as a guide but found time to fill two trolley loads of groceries at the local Woolworths and start packing for the trip. Weighing everything out, I was a little concerned about the weights we'd be carrying for the trip, but I was young and fit so what's to worry about.
The next couple of months passed quickly and before we knew it January was upon us. Still getting over New Years Eve hangovers my buddies Tom and Jeff arrived the day before departure to my rental house in Hobart. The scene was fairly messy. A months worth of hiking food is a lot of food but after a few hours (and a newspaper interview and a shaving of our heads) we were ready to go. Packs packed, airdrop packed, hair cut, ready to go. After that it was a pleasant final home cooked meal and some shut eye before show time...
Next day, early in the morning on January 6th 2004, three blokes with 3 x 30+kg packs (we were young and foolish) got into a red Nissan Pintara sedan. They had a hiking guide known only as 'Bairdy' to drive them the two hours from Hobart to the trailhead at Farmhouse Creek in Southern Tasmania. From here farewells were said and as we started walking we watched the Pintara drive back up the logging road from which it came. As the sound of its weak, four cylinder engine faded into the distance it hit us. We were doing this!
DAY 1 - Farmhouse Creek to Cracroft River
So, off we trot. Back along a familiar track besides Farmhouse creek. The weather was fine and mild but our progress was slow to say the least. Personally, my pack was 36kg! After a few hours walking we found ourselves having lunch just past the Mt. Bobs turnoff (not that far in). The plan for today was to make it to Crest Camp on the flanks of the Crest range. This had been a good campsite to us in the past. However this was not to be as by around 5pm we had arrived at the South Cracroft river campsite and didn't think it would be wise to plod the 3 or so hours on to Crest Camp. The heavy packs had taken their toll and it was time to pull up stumps for the night. We had a pleasant evening and got to bed early for another big day. Hopefully the next night, we'd be on Bechervaise plateau.
DAY 2 - Cracroft to Cutting Camp
Today started well. We knew what we were in for and decided to take our time. We had a month after all! The first gauge of our progress was the time it would take to Crest Camp. We arrived here after about 3 hours (slow going) and started thinking we'd only make it to the base of Moss ridge today. Sure enough after another 2.5 hrs (which took us 1.5hrs last trip) we arrived at Cutting Camp at the base of Moss Ridge absolultely knackered! Time to call it a day and tackle the gymnasium course that was Moss Ridge tomorrow. We spent the afternoon sitting beside the small, pleasant Cherry creek watching the water trickle past. Later that evening, as we were nodding off to sleep, we thought that we heard a few drops of rain start to fall...
DAY 3 - Tentbound
Well, it rained overnight and it didn't stop. Day 3 was spent tent bound. We spent the day playing cards, reading and watching Cherry creek grow from a small trickle into a small river. Some of the campsite began to flood so we packed a tent up and all crammed into the roomier 3 man tent. We hoped to head up to Bechervaise plateau on day 4.
DAY 4 - Cutting Camp to Bechervaise Plateau
We awoke again to rain and wind. As we woke fairly early, we cooked some porridge and decided to wait for a break in the weather. By 9am the decision was made to pack up and head off. We were getting intermittent showers with clear patches but the rain didn't look like giving up. But, we knew that Bechervaise plateau with its newish tent platforms would be much nicer than another day at Cutting Camp. By about 10.15am we were off and the short bit of flat soon gave way to the jungle of the much loathed Moss Ridge. This was my 5th trip up/down the ridge and I was just looking forward to getting out of the forest and onto the ridge line proper for some misty views. The gymnasium jungle was negotiated fairly quickly and after a couple of hours we were at the little rocky overhang just below the first lookout knoll where we stopped for some shelter and a bite to eat. Then it was back into it and following the ridge slowly up to its terminus at Bechervaise plateau. We arrived here at around 3.30pm which was much quicker than we were expecting. Each time I do Moss Ridge I tell myself 'never again' but it's funny how you soon forget about it. The afternoon was spent relaxing and eating, hoping the weather would ease for a trip around the Southern Traverse to Hanging Lake on Day 5.
Day 5 - Tentbound
Well, overnight, things had not got better. The weather had worsened and the wind had increased. This was not ideal as the Southern Traverse is hair raising at the best of times. With the way the wind was howling, we decided to sit tight on a very nice tent platform and wait for it to clear. As it turned out the weather got worse during the morning with the rain unrelenting and the tents copping a thumping from the strong gusts we were receiving. We caught some weather reports on the radio and they weren't good. It was yet another day tent bound with cards and books. After lunch there was a very brief interlude in the rain before it started up again. In my mind, the Western Arthur Range was beginning to look doubtful ('you couldn't do the two ranges in weather like this' I thought; A few years later I did exactly that but in worse weather) but like i'd thought before, we had plenty of time. Now, to this point in the trip we had only seen one other group a few days previously. Later that evening on day 5, while we were cooking dinner, it was fairly dark and the wind was howling when I thought I heard raised voices. Thought I must be hearing things. Then I heard them again. When I popped my head out of the tent, sure enough there were three blokes coming down from the top of the plateau (it is a steep plateau). Where on earth had they come from ?! Surely not the southern traverse in this weather?
Shortly after they were down on the platforms with us regaling us of there trip from Stuart Saddle that day. What a mission! In that weather, from Stuart Saddle to Bechervaise Plateau was quiet an achievement. I was surprised they had attempted the southern traverse. 'we had to climb up a waterfall at the end' one of them told me 'yes, that would be Geeves gully' was my response. Crazy.
Day 6 - Bechervaise Plateau to Hanging Lake
Yet again, today we were presented with a morning of drizzle and wind, ableit a bit lighter than the day before. Today was not looking promising either. Day 6 and we were currently where I would liked to have been at the end of day 2. Oh well. The decision was made to watch and wait but in our heads we were desperate to get around to Hanging Lake today. The main thing preventing us was the Southern Traverse. One of Tasmania's more exposed section of bushwalking, with cliffs 400-600m high, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours depending upon the conditions. Tom and I had dealt with it previously but Jeff hadn't and we didn't want to particularly give him a baptism by fire. We'd wait..
The morning showed promise. Clear patches of weather kept coming through and later in the morning we thought after lunch we'd head off, allowing a minimum of 3 hours for the traverse. We packed up, swallowed some food and were on our way. From the campsite there's a fairly steep climb to the upper ramparts of Bechervaise Plateau before descending into the notorious Geeves Gully. We followed the climb up and as we neared the entrance to the gully something we weren't expecting happened. Snow. I looked across to Tom and we both had looks of 'oh shit' on our face but both nodded and soldiered on. We'd both rather get through this section and walk out along the Eastern Arthurs than head back down Moss Ridge. We'd just take things very, very easy.
THE SOUTHERN TRAVERSE
It was quiet daunting heading into this section of the walk in the misty conditions. The snow didn't last long at all and as we descended the gully the mist started to clear. Things were looking up. We approached the bottom of the Gully and one of the more exposed sections before taking a right hand turn and heading back up and around the base of Federation Peak towards the well known Chockstone that you pass under. At this stage I was leading and as I reached the chockstone I stopped underneath to watch the progress of Jeff and Tom. They were about 50meters back and negotiating some of the wet boulders. Now remember, that our packs are wet and still weigh around 30kg so it's slow going. As I watched Jeff negotiating a larger rock, all of his weight went onto one leg and then his knee simply gave way. I watched in horror as he fell backwards down the gulley and began to roll ..... only to be stopped by Tom five metres behind him. Tom had the forethought to wedge himself in the gully the moment he saw Jeff fall. This was a close one and years later we still relive that moment today. We took a few minutes to compose ourselves and see where we were all at. Systems check and we were mostly ok, Jeff's knee however wasn't real good but would get him to hanging lake.
So, from here we took things fairly easy. And as we did the weather improved to the point where we started getting some classic Southern Traverse views. As we made our way past the chockstone, we climbed a little and rounded to the junction point with the track that climbs to the summit of Federation Peak. We wouldn't be venturing up there today. We had plenty of time. After a brief stop for some photos we moved on to the second half of the Traverse and took in some views of Precipitous Bluff (PB) and Hanging Lake. It was good to get a view of PB as Tom and I were hoping to climb it in a couple of weeks time in the second half of the walk. We progressed well from here and it wasn't long before we were on the final ridgeline to the top of Thwaites Plateau and the stroll down to Hanging Lake. We arrived at Hanging lake after about two and a half hours walking. Pretty good time really given the circumstances. Once we arrived at what I rate as possibly the best campsite in Australia, we met some fellow hikers and settled in for some dinner and some great views.
DAY 7 - Tentbound at Hanging Lake
We awoke on day 7 to a thick mist that had rolled in overnight along with the odd patch of drizzle. We had already planned on a two night stop at Hanging Lake in order to give us every chance of a climb up Federation Peak, so we weren't too disappointed. There were a good bunch of fellow hikers about the camp, some of which we knew, so we had a very social day chatting in between showers and mist. One of the hikers, Andrew Hughes, had written an article in Wild magazine that partly inspired this Epic walk we were on! So it was great to see him and chat as he had done a few epics in his time (check out his website here). We also took a chance to get some great photos and re-plan the trip ahead. Jeff's knee was not real good and he would not be climbing Fedders. Given our delays thus far we decided at this point that the Western Arthur range would not be an option and would have to wait for another day. We'd bypass the range and walk the Arthur plains instead in order to meet our half way support crew (and Jeff's ride out of here) on time at Junction creek on day 12.
DAY 8 - Hanging Lake to Goon Moor via Federation Peak
Today we would be on the move again regardless of the weather. We had heard reports on the radio of a front coming through but as we nibbled on breakfast it was fairly clear with some mist shrouding Federation. Tom and I were still undecided as to whether or not we'd be climbing the peak today. As I sat beside Hanging Lake filling my drink bottle, staring up at the peak (which had just appeared from the mist), Tom made the decision for me. 'Let's do it, lets go climb that peak again'. My reservations disappeared and all of a sudden I was pumped to go. We quickly shot back to the tent, did the final pack up and left Jeff to relax while we headed off. The plan was to rejoin with Jeff on Thwaites Plateau after we had climbed the peak. We said goodbye to our camping companions and wished them well. It was time to go.
Tom and I were up on the upper ramparts of Thwaites plateau in no time where we dumped our packs and headed back along the Southern Traverse to climb the mountain. This section of walking from Thwaites plateau to the base of the direct ascent would have to rate as one of the most spectacular walks in Australia, if not the world. It feels like something out of Lord of the Rings and I never tire of it. Without packs on we were quick along to the base of the ascent. The mist had come back and we were in fog most of the way. Once on the direct ascent we headed straight up. This was our second time on this climb and it was just as enjoyable as the first. The direct ascent is not for the faint of heart and several people have fallen to their deaths from it. Three points of contact at all times. We powered on up through the mist and before long we were back on the summit of Federation Peak. What a feeling! We had arrived here after about an hours walking from Hanging Lake, much quicker than expected, so we took some time to wait for the mist to lift and take in some spectacular views. We could clearly see some of our camp buddies making their way along the Southern Traverse below. Long way down. The views were spectacular. To our south we could again see Prion Beach and PB which we would summit sometime over the next few weeks. We did our customary nude shot on the summit before we carefully descended back down the peak, passing a couple of others on our way. After about 45 minutes we were back on Thwaites Plateau just in time to see Jeff arriving. From here we were on our way to the next campsite at Goon Moor.
Jeff's knee was sore and he was hobbling. It would be a long day. After the easy walking of Thwaites Plateau, it wasn't long before we arrived at the track around the Four Peaks. The going became slow. Traversing around the sides of Four peaks involves some fairly steep rock sections we were very slow through this section. After finally coming out the other side, we had a break for lunch before heading off again. The weather had cooled and clouded over. It felt like that front was coming. With outer shells on, we negotiated the final few hills and as evening arrived, we trudged across Goon Moor to the campsites at the forested end of the moor. By the time we arrived at the tent platforms, we were absolutely spent. It was getting dark and the weather getting colder. We quickly set up the tent and were in it with dinner on the go shortly after. We planned on a shorter day tomorrow with a few hours over to Stuart Saddle. Despite the shelter of the trees that night, we again heard the sound of wind .... and rain.
DAY 9 - Goon Moor to Stuart Saddle
We awoke cold. It had been a cold night but I didn't realise how cold until I opened the tent door and saw the snow. We had a decent dusting overnight and we weren't that excited by it. It was January, middle of summer in Australia. But, the worst was behind us so we cooked some porridge, packed up and were on our way to Stuart Saddle. Only a short distance, it took us about 3 hours in the wind and mist. We arrived at Stuart Saddle to see the weather clear and give us some views of where we'd been thus far. We were appreciative to get some good views of Federation Peak. A relaxing afternoon was had by all. The slow march to Junction Creek would continue.
DAY 10 - Stuart Saddle to Pass Creek
We had a great sleep overnight but were all pretty spent after the last few days. We were away by mid morning after sleeping in. We were now in very familiar territory and slowly made our way down Luckman's lead to Pass creek. A short day but necessary. We setup tents at Pass creek as some sun finally showed itself. It became so warm that we hung clothes out to dry. Joyous times!
DAY 11 - Pass Creek to Seven Mile Creek
A fairly monotonous day along the Arthur plains. I had walked this section a few times and it still doesn't excite me too much. We made our way towards the Cracroft crossing before heading west towards 7 mile creek. We arrived at the creek in late afternoon and set up camp on the rocky creek bed.
DAY 12 - Seven Mile Creek to Junction Creek
Arthur plains boredom had set in. We took today easy and made our way towards Junction Creek. There was no rush so we all just wandered off at our own pace along the plains for the next few hours. By early afternoon we were at Junction Creek awaiting our support team! The weather cracked up again and it began to rain. We setup a tarp for shelter and waited. Finally, at about 5pm our team of Mel, Tess and Graham arrived with plentiful supplies and fresh bread! Awesome. We regaled them with our adventure so far and had a celebratory wine to farewell Jeff who would leave us tomorrow.
DAY 13 - Junction Creek to Watershed Camp
We awoke to our second sunny day of the trip. Things were looking up! After some more bread and breakfast it was time for farewells. Tom and I both gave Jeff, Mel, Tess and Graham a hug and best wishes before parting ways; Tom and I heading south along the Port Davey Track and the support team returning to the comfort of home via Scotts Peak Dam. The weather was now overcast but nice enough so Tom and I let it rip and set a cracking pace down the Port Davey track. it wasn't too long before we were rounding the side of the Western Arthurs and heading south. We were feeling good and I think we both had our eyes now set on the south coast. How long it would take to get there would be anyones guess. We had no real finish date for the walk and would just arrive when we decided to. It would basically be determined by food supplies of which we had not much left until our food drop at Melaleuca. The plan for now was to head south and walk the Port Davey Track as quickly as possible. The track looked good and well trodden.
By lunch time we reached the Crossing River. It was bigger than we expected and fairly fast flowing. We took our time to cross, with the water been about thigh high but the current fairly strong. After the crossing, we sat by the riverside for lunch - fresh rolls with Brie! Yummo.
The sun was now shining and it was heating up. We continued on after lunch and really started putting on the kilometers. We had decided at lunch to go for Watershed camp tonight and by late afternoon we were there. It had been a long day and watershed camp didn't fill us with enthusiasm. This was merely a place to sleep. And sleep we did - today had been a 21km day. Tomorrow we wanted to try and get near the Bathurst narrows.
DAY 14 - Watershed Camp to Forest Camp on Border Hill
We both woke up with the objective of getting away from the Port Davey Track. One day in and we weren't enjoying it. 'There's just not much to see, it's all the same and it just keeps going' Woolza commented to me. I nodded in agreement as we packed up. We were back on the track early. We had a lot of ground to cover and it was all pretty monotonous. we followed the track south through the Lost World Plateau (nothing to see here) and had lunch by a small creek. Just after lunch, as we walked along the track, a wild looking man came belting out of the scrub onto the track in front of us saying 'G'day, how's it going?'. He had just been on an off track mission for a few days out to Mt Berry and was now returning north to Scott's Peak. Solo mission. Crazy dude!
We continued on and by mid afternoon were at Spring River. We crossed this and then made our way up Border hill where we eventually found a suitable campsite (known as Forest Camp). We'd had enough for today and it would be a stretch too far to get to Melaleuca. Might as well rest. The only issue was water - it was about a 10 minute walk each way. We set up and settled in for the night hoping that tomorrow we would have a food drop to indulge in! 16km covered today.
DAY 15 - Forest Camp to Melaleuca via Bathurst Narrows
Day 15 saw us both rise early with the excitement of the harbour crossing both on our minds. We were away quickly and it wasn't long before we could see Port Davey and then the Narrows. By mid morning we were at the boat on the northern side of the Narrows at Farrell Point. Now the process of ferrying boats began. Tom pulled out his old school rowing jumpsuit for the occasion and took the oars as we set sail for the southern side. The weather was ok but midway across the narrows we could see a front. We tried to speed up a bit, taking turns at the oars of the big, wooden, heavy boat. We arrived at the southern side, dumped our gear, pulled the second boat down to the water, then proceeded to take both boats back north. Each crossing was taking about 20 mins by the time we returned back to the northern side. For the final paddle, we had just set out when the front hit. This crossing took some 45 minutes as we were getting blown about by the strong wind. When we finally arrived back with our gear, we were exhausted but exhilarated at the same time. We stopped for lunch.
After a decent rest, we got our stuff together then started the final 5 hour slog to Melaleuca. It was an ok walk but fairly muddy and monotonous. We were just in a good mood to be seeing some form of civilisation soon. We finally arrived at Melaleuca at about 5pm and headed straight to the shed by the airstrip. Upon arriving I was most pleased to see our box full of food that I had dispatached from Hobart 3 weeks ago. What excitement! The day ended with a feast and taking inventory of our supplies in the comfort of the Charles King Hut at Melaleuca. The next day would be one of rest.
DAY 16 - Melaleuca
It was good to have a rest day. After a quick Port Davey track, we were feeling it. There were a few people about at Melaleuca, so chatted to others and ran down to the air strip each time a plane landed. Such excitement! We did a complete repack and prepared for the last half of the walk. Dinner down on the jetty was bliss.
DAY 17 - On the South Coast Track, Melaleuca to Point Eric
After a great rest day, we felt we deserved a sleep in. It was only a short walk to Point Eric, so we left late farewelling our new friends around 11am. We headed south to the coast! After about an hour and a half we found ourselves stepping foot on the beach and boy were we happy! What a milestone! We then strolled along the beach of Cox Bight to the lovely spit of land known as Point Eric. We set up camp and had a fairly relaxed afternoon on the beach. I tried to read a bit more of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy I had been carrying the entire trip but it was slow going. There were quite a few people camped at this lovely spot so we enjoyed chatting to them as we whiled away the afternoon.
DAY 18 - Point Eric to Louisa River
Today we would plod on to Louisa River, leaving the coast for a couple of days. We strolled along the beach near Point Eric before heading inland and almost instantly in to mud. This didn't last long and we gradually started a gentle climb. We had some great views towards today's destination and tomorrows trip up and over the Ironbounds (we'd be glad to get that out of the way). It was a pretty slow day really and we arrived into Louisa River late in the afternoon. We crossed the river, setup camp and relaxed with dinner by the river. Tomorrow would be a big day over the infamous Ironbound Range.
DAY 19 - Louisa River to Little Deadmans Bay
We awoke to overcast, slightly cool conditions. We had a lot of climbing to do today so we packed up and headed off as soon as we were ready. It wasn't long before we were well above the Louisa River looking back down at where we had been. Not long after this we entered the low lying cloud over the peaks and spent the next couple of hours walking up over the range in the mist and rain. After a brief snack on top we started our descent and had lunch about half way down on a muddy section of the track. The final section into camp seemed to take an eternity but I think we were just really feeling the toll of 19 days on the track. We arrived into camp and setup quickly. We were wrecked and decided that the next day would be another rest day here. We still had Precipitous Bluff in our sites but felt we needed a decent rest on the beach!
DAY 20 - Little Deadmans Bay
Today was one of leisure. We made some friends at the campsite and spent the day chatting to them while also getting a chance to do some snorkelling and exploring around the area of Little Deadmans Bay. A really great day and gave us some well needed down time to recharge the batteries for the big push to come over the next few days.
DAY 21- Little Deadmans Bay to Cavern Camp
The plan for today's activities did daunt us a little. We were heading along Prion beach before heading inland. We departed early, again in overcast conditions. The first section before Prion was a little muddy but not too long after leaving, we were on the long stretch of Prion Beach. We cruised along here and arrived at the second boat crossing of our odyssey. These boats were a bit lighter than the ones at the Bathurst Narrows and the water much calmer so it wasn't long before we had crossed, leaving a boat on either side.
From here we put our sandals on and turned our heads north and started the slow wade up New River Lagoon to the base of Precipitous Bluff. We made good ground following the lagoon edge, with it being ankle to knee deep most of the way with a couple of deeper sections. There were plenty of creek crossings but only one of these early on required us to head into the thick bush to find a log crossing. After about 3hours of wading we saw an old buoy hanging from a tree signifying our arrival at Cavern Camp. We were pretty stoked to be here! We settled in to our home for the next two nights and had dinner beside the lagoon on an idyllic evening. It was like a millpond and the weather had cleared for a beautiful sunset. All was looking good for a climb up Precipitous Bluff (PB) tomorrow.
DAY 22 - Precipitous Bluff (PB)
Today we awoke both apprehensive and excited. We woke early as we thought the return trip to the top of PB would take us a long time. We packed a daypack and headed off first thing almost immediately commencing our climb through a big forest towards PB. We remained in this forest for quite some time following the occasional tape along the way. We would occasionally stop to check the GPS and ensure we were on the right route. The forest was really nice - huge old trees with not much in the way of scrub and relatively easy walking albeit for the constantly steep climb. After a few hours we emerged from the forest at the base of the massive PB cliffs. Here we found a small creek flowing and quenched our thirsts. The route then followed the base of the cliffs before gradually winding its way up and around to the plateau of the peak. Some amazing track work had been done on the upper reaches with a magnificent rocky staircase the feature. We arrived at the sloped plateau to find a track workers hut unattended and then dashed up the final 10 minutes to the PB summit. The weather was perfect - we had 360 degree views and Federation Peak caught our eyes to the north (it had been 2 weeks to the day since we were atop of it). This was a special moment in each of our bushwalking careers. We had just knocked off Federation Peak and PB in the one walk - pretty happy with that! We took the scenery in for a while, posing for photos and filling in the last page of the logbook that had been in place since 1979! After a bit of time reflecting on our journey to here, we knew it was time to leave. We made our way back down the staircase, along the cliffs and into the forest returning to camp some 9 hours after departing. A hell of a day that would forever be etched in our memories. Now, all that remained was exiting the walk via the south coast.
DAY 23 - Cavern Camp to Surprise Bay
From now on it was just a matter of making it out to Cockle Creek. After yesterdays feat of climbing PB we just wanted to get out. The weather wasn't helping matters either. It was on and off drizzle when we awoke, so we packed up and headed back off down the lagoon to return to the south coast. The return trip down the lagoon was a bit quicker and we arrived at the Prion Boat crossing about 2.5 hours after departing. Getting back on the track was a little confusing with tracks going everywhere but we were eventually back on it and after another 3 hours of really nice coastal walking we arrived at Surprise Bay in the rain. We had camped here before but today it wasn't as pleasant. In addition to the rain the wind was now getting up and we retired to the comfort of our tent early knowing that tomorrow we would need to walk through one of least favourite sections of track - The South Coast Range.
DAY 24 - Surprise Bay to SCR
The sounds of rain and wind when we awoke immediately unenthused us for what lay ahead today. But, there was nothing we could do about it. We packed early for a large day and somewhere in the chaos of the ever increasing wind, as we packed, we heard our tent pole snap! Hmmm. Not ideal but luckily we hopefully only had one night left. We'd deal with this later.
We hit the track and quickly made our way up and over to Granite Beach. The weather was woeful and we headed off this beach inland to the campsite. Here we found a younger man with his father. It felt like they were waiting for us. They immediately took us aside and asked if we had any medical experience. As a guide and pharmacy student I had a little. They took me to their tent to reveal their mother/wife to me who was in the tent wide awake but complaining of a numb left arm. My immediate thought was stroke but cognitively she said she felt fine, just really tired. They had done a large walk yesterday and the mother had awoken like this today. The son and father had done everything they could given the circumstances so we told them there was only one thing to do. Hit their EPIRB - better to be safe than sorry. I instructed them to take it to a clear area overlooking the beach and activate it. With everything we could do done, we continued on and into the South Coast Range.
We plodded up and over the range over many hours. The range at the time was extremely muddy and some very unpleasant walking but we knew we were making good progress. We had lunch on the only really good campsite along the way and took some time to set up the tent to see if we could repair it. Not really. A temporary patch up job would do.
After lunch we traversed along the final section of the range before descending into South Cape Rivulet (SCR). It was around this point we heard the chopper fly in over head heading west towards the people we met earlier. Half an hour later it was on its way back. It gave us satisfaction knowing that hopefully the lady would be ok now.
We arrived at SCR to find it much wider and faster flowing than usual. We didn't really feel like this right now but it was our only barrier to completing this walk. We re-enacted a Gandalf (of Lord of the Rings) scene with Woolza yelling at me (will stamping a large wooden stick into the ground) 'YOU SHALL NOT PASS'! while he stood in the river. Funny. After half an hour or so we found heading out to the mouth of the river and walking across the beach at its mouth to be the best option. It was now about 5pm and we were wrecked. We setup camp with the broken tent, it was not very good. One night in this would be plenty. We then had a very rudimentary dinner and had an early night. We were pretty emotional knowing that after 24 days we were nearing the end. We had made no form of electronic communication with the outside world so knew it would be a bit of a shock returning. Right now though all we wanted was a nice warm bed.
DAY 25 - South Cape Rivulet to Cockle Creek
Final day and we were up early! The weather was worsening more so with little regard for the way we packed, we stuffed all of our gear in our packs and headed out along the final section towards Cockle Creek. We were like men possessed with one thing in mind - civilisation! We made very good time and with the weather the way it was, we didn't stop.
We were at Cockle Creek in about 3 hours, arriving by 11am. Upon arrival we had to call our ride to come and get us from Hobart. It would be a few hours of waiting before they arrived. While we waited, we had a chat with the ranger (let him know the log book on PB needed replacing) as well as met up with the two gents we had seen at Granite Beach the day before - it turned out the lady had severe exhaustion and was going to make a full recovery. Phew!
We then sat for the next couple of hours at the information booth and laughed at the deplorable weather from the comfort of our sleeping bags, while we ate the remaining food we had. In the early afternoon our lift arrived and we returned to Hobart. With our Epic complete, I waved goodbye to woolza at his dad's house and returned to life.... until the next adventure.
Just wanted to quickly point out that most of the photos in this post are from Tom Woolza Woolley. He had the wisdom to purchase a digital camera prior to this trip (it was the very early days of digital) and without it we couldn't have recorded the images we did. Thanks Woolza.
I found it pretty hard reintegrating the first few days after returning to civilisation. It was really emotional having to deal with the rigours of day to day life after just under a month in the wilderness but eventually I got back into the swing of things. I did an Overland Track trip for work a week later and it was nice to have another brief stint on the track. This epic walk will be with me forever and I think of it often. To any young and experienced adventurer I strongly recommend doing an epic at some stage in your life - taking all relevant precautions and research of course! I hope to do something for this length of time again some day. I guess we'll have to wait and see.....