Tuesday, January 31, 2006

South Coast Track - Day 3

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Day 3, Fri Dec 30, 2005
It is a rare occasion indeed that I make it through a night's sleep in a small 2-man hiking tent and not wake up at least 5 or 6 times. It is an even rarer event that I manage to sleep right through. It was therefore quite an uplifting start to day 3 of the hike, that I woke up for the first time to the sight of day light streaming through the tent as I opened the tent fly. I lay there for a few minutes, contemplating the day ahead, and my general well being. I did this by running through a few self-checks:

Nausea: negative
Tiredness: minimal
Appetite: increasing
General Health (as a percentage): 75%
Assessment: Good to go.

It was great to wake up feeling (relatively) healthy. In fact, it felt so fantastic that when I emerged from my tent, I appeared to be the first at the camp site to do so. This is actually not so unusual for me. One of my simplest pleasures when hiking (or even just camping), is getting out of bed early (preferably first) to catch the early morning sun, and to just enjoy the tranquil and calming atmosphere before the masses awake, particularly when the location is beautiful. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, this camp site was nothing to write home about, but fortunately a short two minute walk out of the shrubbery deposited you at the mouth of the river we crossed the previous day. While the river itself was quite nice, the majestic view down the beach we had spent the last two days walking on (and in my case, vomiting on), was the real highlight.

The weather was still looking dubious, though it had stopped raining sometime earlier. What struck me when looking down the 6 or 7km stretch of beach, and at the surrounding hills around the bay, was that it was clear that the weather in the South West of Tasmania can vary significantly, not only from one moment to the next, but also from one mountain to the next. Of course, the track notes did mention something about it raining two out of every three days, but I guess you never really take these things in until you see it for yourself. While I could see some regions of the national park still receiving rain, others appeared to be basking in the warm morning sun. As I looked to the west, where the weather seemed to be coming from, it was encouraging to see that large patches of blue sky were prevailing.

As I turned my attention to the east, along the shorter stretch of sand that completed the Cox Bight coast line as I continued my weather watching, I was somewhat surprised to see that I was in fact, not the only person out of bed afterall. Claire and Alec had not only beaten me, but had clearly been up for sometime, given the distance they had walked down the beach on what appeared to be a most romantic morning stroll. I resisted the urge to run up behind them and scare the crap out them, as I thought that might spoil the moment, so instead, I decided to walk back to our camp site. Just as I turned to do this, I was surprised again to find someone else had emerged. Affrica appeared to be bush bashing through some beach side shrubbery, in search of a suitable location to call her own (i.e. a toilet). This camp site had no designated toilet, and so each hiker was left to find their own "place of contemplation". This is quite alarming when you consider the popularity of the walk, and the many years for which it has existed. I advise future South Coast hikers to refrain from exploring too thoroughly, the surrounding bushland of this campsite, for one may find more than one expects.

After an hour or so of beach side wandering, we all returned to the camp site to have breakfast, (muesli with powdered milk), and to discuss the days plan. The plan was uncertain because of the advice given to us from those who returned from attempting the walk the day before. They (or at least the old bloke I now name "wallaby Jack"), had suggested the river crossing would not be achievable until at least a day of no rain had passed. Alec, however, who is a very experienced mountaineer, argued that we should probably walk to the river and see for ourselves. We all agreed that this was a good idea, if only to ensure we had something physical to keep ourselves busy for the day. If we were by the off chance, successful in crossing the river, then the total walk time would be about 8 hours to the next camp site, if we were not successful, well, it would be about a 6 hour return journey to our current campsite. In the back of our minds was the fact that if we were to remain on schedule (we had always planned on taking a rest day, though not quite so soon as we did), we had to make it to the next camp site that day. So the choice, in the end, was an easy one. We would pack up our tents, and attempt to cross Faraway creek.

It didn't take long after this decision was made, to pack our back-packs, and say our goodbyes to the other inhabitants of the camp site. Many of those who had walked to the river the previous day, only to return, had decided to stay put, believing it was unlikely we would get across. This was of course, not very encouraging, but our keenness to get away from this dingy, over crowded campsite was motivation enough. Just as we were leaving, Cecil shouted some parting words: "Enjoy the mud!".

"Mud?", I thought, "excellent, that should make this a real adventure".

Memories of these thoughts now are quite amusing, given how little I understood of what "mud" really meant. It almost sounded like fun when I heard Cecil mention it. Sure, you're boots might get a bit dirty, and your socks a bit wet, but it was a sunny day (by the time we left, it was clear blue skies), and not particularly cold, so why not! Of course, what I had not really factored into my considerations was: 1. The extent to which the mud slowed you down, 2. The unknown depths to which you may sink in any given bog, 3. The effort required to avoid such patches, and perhaps the most under-estimated aspect of it all, 4. The relentlessness of the mud.

Hours of "mud dodging" lay ahead of us on this hike, and it all began on this day. Of course, one might think that the best strategy for dealing with mud is just to walk through the mud, rather than expending physical and mental energy on avoiding it. After all, you're gonna get dirty regardless (even if you are trying to avoid it, you inevitably end up having to trample through it). However, my personal reasons for trying to avoid the mud were not really motivated by any feeble attempt to stay clean (with perhaps the exception of the first half a hour, which began almost immediately after leaving the camp site). A far more important motivation was to avoid any ankle and knee injuries, for which I was particularly susceptible to due to a rather bad ankle injury incurred three weeks earlier. It is very hard to walk with any confidence whatsoever when you don't know, from one step to the next, where your feet will come to rest as they sink into the murky depths of a muddy bog. It only took about thirty minutes of negotiating the mud before Claire plunged almost waste deep into a particularly well disguised, swampy section of track. It was inevitable that who ever took the point position in the group, became the adviser for everyone else. Where ever they walked, you walked, except, of course, when they sank waste deep into the track surface. Claire was the shortest member of the group, and so waste deep for her translated to about knee deep on me, which was about the worst I experienced on this first stint of mud walking.

It is interesting to note that the mud itself was only on the track, and so, if one wished to, one could walk off the track to avoid the mud. The vegetation by this stage, had changed from the beach side shrubbery we camped amongst, to open plains of button grass, with no trees or shrubs to hinder your path should you choose to walk off the path. The problem with doing this is that you effectively create a new path through vegetation which is regarded as highly unique to this area of the world. Indeed, let us not forget that this national park is World Heritage listed, and therefore considered of international importance. The effect of people walking off the track, as is often the case, is made evident by the many muddy paths trodden through the marshlands. However, at the time, I was not particularly critical of peoples decision to walk off the track. The fact is, it was near impossible to avoid walking off the path, because of the risking nature of some sections of the muddy track.

As we walked through the button grass, and away from the beach, we also began to gently ascend up a slope. We were now heading North-East, and due to the lack of trees, now had a impressively clear view of the path ahead. Apart from the mud, our next major challenge of the day was to pass over the Red Hill peaks, a 200m climb over a treeless range. After this, we would then descend into the Louisa river valley, where our uncertain river crossing awaited us.

It took us just over an hour to reach the Red Hills, and so began our first significant climb of the hike. I was particularly interested to see how I fared, given my illness over the previous two days. To my (pleasant) surprise, I managed with no problems at all. The climb was a steep one, but assisted by what appeared to a relatively recent installation of wooden steps. This was in stark contrast to the mostly unboarded sections of muddy track that had precluded this little luxury. Climbing a hill with stairs is much easier than scrambling on all fours, up a slippery slope.

We all made the climb comfortably, and upon reaching the highest point of the climb, located in a saddle between two peaks, we stopped to enjoy a well earned drink, and panoramic view of where we had walked from, and where were walking to. While the view back was satisfying, and quite picturesque, the view forward was what grabbed my attention. You could see the track winding its way through the valley for kilometres. While the distance was somewhat intimidating, it was the sight of the track at the further-most point, climbing its way up a 900 metre mountain range known as "the Ironbounds", that really made an impression on me. Thankfully, the task of climbing the Ironbounds was not on today's agenda, that was tomorrow's problem, assuming we made the Faraway creek river crossing today! The Louisa river camp site, which was hopefully our rest point that night, sat at the foot of the ironbounds.

After a few token photographs, and my increasingly used motivational slogan, the Lewton Hewitt "C'mon!", we embarked on our decent into the Louisa river valley. The downhill section brought us back to near sea level, with some of the steeper sections again assisted by wooden steps, and less useful gravel. For the next hour or two, we again walked through button grass fields, and of course, mud, though it was not as bad as it had been before the Red Hills.

After traversing a number of small hills and troughs, we finally arrived at the infamous Faraway creek. As we drew near, my heart sank as it became clear that a number of walkers who had started before us, were lying around in the sun, and clearly not going anywhere soon. The group of five females who we had briefly shared our first camp site with (before we moved on to the second) were there. They did not stay at the camp site we stayed at that night, but instead, walked through earlier that morning. Also sitting by Faraway creek was a father and son, who had arrived at the river the day before. On the advice of wallaby Jack, they had decided not to attempt the crossing when the water was waste deep, but rather than walk back to the previous camp site, they instead camped on the river bank. Being an open plain, this must not have been a particularly nice spot to camp when the wind and rain was pelting down the day before.

After we put our bags down, we all went to inspect the river. It was clearly flowing quite rapidly, and the water was significantly higher than it normally would be. While this at first seemed like bad news, the father and son, who were now the resident experts on the situation, explained that the water was in fact falling dramatically. I thought to myself, "great, another self proclaimed guru of the land", but as it turned out, they had put considerable effort into formulating this advice. From about 6am that morning, they had been putting sticks in the ground every hour to indicate the water level at that time. Given it was now about 3pm, a long trail of sticks lay before us, and it was indeed apparent that water levels were dropping fast. We estimated that another hour was probably all that was needed for us to cross the river. And so we waited, in the warm afternoon sun, content in the knowledge that our hike was back on schedule, and things were looking up.

It wasn't long before others arrived. A girl from Brisbane, and her partner, a rather large, tattooed bloke with a thick Scottish accent were the next to arrive. I was quite intrigued by their arrival, as I had not seen them at our previous camp site. I asked them where they had come from, and the girl answered rather smuggly, "Malaeuca". This was very impressive, and I quickly had to qualify our own lack of progress by telling the story of my illness. I quickly realised that conversation was not really their forte`. They appeared agitated at having to wait for the river to come down, and it didn't take long. It wasn't long before the big burly Scottish bloke decided enough is enough, and so without hesitation, walked down to the river, almost pushing those of us gathered at the rivers edge aside, and grabbed hold of the rope that was strung across the river to assist with the river crossing, and he walked to the other side. It was, admittedly, quite impressive, and he did appear to complete the crossing with relative ease. The group of 5 girls, who like me, had obviously had a less than satisfactory opening conversation with this pair, gave him the rather sarcastic title of "captain hiker", which I found rather amusing given this was exactly the persona both he and his (I assume) girlfriend were clearly trying to convey. After they crossed, and waiting a little while longer to make sure all of us could cross without being swept away by the current, we all made it to the other side, and continued on our way.

We had all opted for keeping our boots on during the crossing, due to the unsure footing at the bottom of the river, so we now all had rather water logged boots, which made for more difficult walking conditions. While I managed to get a considerable amount of water out of my boots by bending my knee, and holding my ankle behind my thigh to let gravity work its magic, this effort was largely futile when I commenced walking again, and still felt the water sloshing around in my boots.

After about an hour of walking (or possibly more, or less), we came to another river crossing, Louisa creek. This time we had the option of climbing across a dead tree trunk that had clearly been placed here for precisely this purpose. The trunk, however, was not wide enough to simply walk across, and so had to be negotiated by dangling ones legs on either side of it, and dragging ones arse along the length of the dead wood. This, as I found out, was not an entirely pleasant experience, particularly when little knobby bits broke what was otherwise, a reasonably smooth surface. The greatest challenge of all, however, lay about three quarters of the way along the trunk, where a number of branches extended out, thereby forcing your dangling legs to somehow rise up, and over these branches. For those of us not so skilled in arts such as yoga, this posed an interesting, and quite nerve racking challenge. I spent considerable time, sitting on this log, considering just how I was to achieve this. Just as I was about to execute my plan, the group of 5 females appeared on the other side, adding further pressure to my predicament. Fortunately, I manage to lean forward and lean against some branches ahead of me, thus allowing my legs to pass over the branches causing all the problems. Soon after, I was safely on the other side of the river, and with all of us successfully across, we continued walking.

The rest of the days walking went without incident. For the most part, the track was boarded, and so the mud was largely avoided. It was, however, getting quite late in the afternoon (due to time spent at the river crossings), and so our desire to reach the next camp site was growing with each step. Adding to this was a growing sense of feeling slightly overwhelmed by the whole experience. While it perhaps seems a little strange now, at the time, I remember thinking "my God, this is only day three, and I am already over this!" The accumulation of having been sick, and then the uncertainty of the days proceedings, and of what lay ahead all combined to make me feel quite uneasy. This was not helped by the fact that I had started to feel slightly queasy again, and quite lethargic. I walked, as I most often do, in silence, trying my best to snap out of it, but ultimately just wanting to reach the next camp site, and go to bed.

After what seemed like many hours later, we finally arrived at Louisa river. Louisa river has camping options on both sides of the river, however, given the uncertainty of the weather, it is always best to cross the river and camp on the other side if you can. The river, by this stage, was easily passable, and so we forded the river with relative ease, again assisted by a rope. The camp site on the other side was quite beautiful, nestled among rather tall trees. Unfortunately, because we had arrived quite late, the sun was just setting, and we had little time to admire the location.

We quickly pitched our tents, and went about cooking dinner, which was pasta with tuna (or in my case, salami, because I hate tuna). Unfortunately, due to the return of my stomach problems, I did not particularly feel like eating. I did, however, force myself to eat, knowing that the next days hiking was to be the most difficult days walking of the entire hike, as we passed over the infamous Ironbound ranges. Soon after dinner, we all went to bed to get some much needed rest.

Previous post: Day 2 South Coast Track | Next post: Day 4


Anonymous breminator said...

yay! first comment! we (my old man and I) finished the south coast track in dec 06, and let me tell you, there were no girls then! groups of five females... you had it lucky! still , i guess if i wanted to meet girls the middle of nowhere probably isn't the best spot to start. The Red Point hills were a bit of a bugger weren't they? mind you, the ironbounds really made them look small. hardest part of the trip - coming down the east side of the ironbounds. "hell on a stick" you're right about the mud - there are some points where it is actually physically impossible to walk through it, and detouring ('track widening', I know) is the only option. in to Louisa River that last part really had me on a massive blood sugar low...incredible how lethargic i felt. nice camp tho, ay?

3/31/2007 09:39:00 AM


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