Given the bad reputation that the southwest weather upholds, I thought it prudent to contact a high ranking BOM employee. I had decided to request a week of fine weather. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the employees at the bureau distribute weather in accordance with population density and a number of other complicated factors. But surely for just one week in a whole year they could grant me some fine weather at the expense of some inner-city slackers who would be sitting in an office drinking coffee all day anyway. Unfortunately my attempts at contact go unanswered. I will just have to hope that the senior officials at the bureau are in a good mood in the early days of November.
…man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck around in the water and have a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons. 2
There’s no better feeling after a year of studying than to be out in the bush with contact cut from the civilised world. Thoughts are simplified to food, water and shelter; and the natural beauty offered by the landscape is a far cry from the concrete jungle we have left behind. Our journey begins at Scotts Peak Dam where we commence our trek with a deep sense of optimism. Our deep sense of optimism soon becomes replaced by a deep sense of mud.
Fortunately I am a strong swimmer and dad has brought a life jacket as we spend several hours swimming through the mud in and around junction creek. As a gentleman, I allow dad to lead the way (my respectable manners allow me to avoid the deepest patches of mud). First nights camp is at Cracroft Crossing. We find a questionable looking pool of what is assumed to be water nearby and after dad confirms he is not dying, I agree to join him in drinking the dubious liquid.
Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. 2
We cross several small creeks on our way to Pass Creek, where we stop for lunch. I am not adverse to a substantial feed after a considerable mornings trudge with a heavy pack. Vigorously I begin to prepare my meal consisting of a wrap with salad and tuna. Vigorously I cut deeply into my little finger in an awkward attempt to slice a carrot. Vigorously my finger begins to bleed. At this point dad becomes hysterical and advises me that this is “not good” (dad’s version of hysteria). I understand that it is not an ideal scenario in which we find ourselves; however I would prefer him to get on with bandaging my wound, as I am rather hungry and feel that my enjoyment would be somewhat diminished if I was required to eat whilst blood was gushing out of my finger. I make him aware of my concerns. He obliges whilst muttering something about preventing my wound from becoming infected. Perhaps he is concerned that the infection may spread up my arm, along my shoulder and into my brain. If he is not careful with his treatment, I will become a great big, hairy, dribbling monster who roams the southwest and is sustained by human flesh. He therefore has two choices: He can apply careful treatment and monitor the spread of the infection over the coming days. Or he can put me down here and now if he considers my survival too great a risk. I can see the conflict in his eyes as he reaches into the first aid kit and his hand pauses between the antiseptic cream and the sharp scissors. Thankfully he chooses the former.
The next section of our walk involves a relentless uphill hike. I allow momentum to propel me up Luckmans Lead as dad falls behind. Once the terrain levels out I am rewarded with several minutes absorbing the stunning view as I wait for dad to drag himself up over the crest of the slope. Once he gets enough wind to allow him to regain his voice, he complains about the pain in various parts of his body and states that he should have done more physical preparation in the preceding months. I don’t think anyone has told him yet that fitness is quite dissimilar to knowledge: It is not acquired with age and does require regular exercise to maintain. Dad offers me a large sum of money for some of my fitness, which I gratefully accept. We decide to camp at Stuarts Saddle rather than push on to Goon Moor: camping conditions are much better than expected and at least half the party is in no physical condition to go any further despite money changing hands.
Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now? 2
An interesting section of track through the four peaks sees us walking, scrambling, and at times doing something resembling climbing along varying terrain. Upon reaching camp, I find myself swimming in the pristine waters of Hanging Lake after quite a hot day by Tasmanian standards. Just as I’m beginning to think that the relevant people at BOM must have acted upon my request, I notice storm clouds rolling in the distance. I am less than impressed. Dad is not prepared to take the plunge and (I’m later informed) his high pitched squeals can be heard as far away as Gippsland in Victoria, as he splashes a small volume of water to wash his muddy legs (though his cries may have been mistaken for the sound of a pig being slaughtered).
A better view from a toilet, I am yet to experience. The scene in front of me whilst performing a somewhat inconvenient, yet entirely necessary task is nothing short of delightful. If all toilets had a view to rival the Hanging Lake contraption, I fear the health of the world economy would be significantly reduced in correlation with the significantly increased time spent in bathrooms around the world.
Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was ‘Oh no, not again.’ Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that, we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now. 2
We wake up to a blanket of mist. Mid-morning and the clouds are still stubbornly refusing to lift. Even a series of threatening rants involving shameful emissions of harmful gases seem to be ignored by the resolutely clouded skies. We surrender to our reading material and are just beginning to accept the unfortunate situation as early afternoon approaches, when the cloud begins to thin. A short time later we are preparing for an assault on the distinctive point of the Eastern Arthur range.
As we approach the final climb, the clouds continue to dissipate. A short time later, we find ourselves on top of Federation Peak gaping at a 360 degree panorama. This is undoubtedly the high point of the trip (according to both the map and our emotional state). We have brought a modern communications device with us, which is rendered useable at the altitude afforded to us on the high point of the range. To our dismay, our call home goes unanswered. What could possibly be more important than taking a phone call from a family member on top of Federation Peak? Perhaps the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. I suppose it would be understandable if my mother was on another line, negotiating the possibility of a reprieve for our planet. Given the predicament, the only honourable thing I can really do is thank her graciously for not taking our phone call.
We wake up to another misty morning and after one last use of the esteemed toilet (though now lacking the sublime view of previous visits); begin to retrace our steps back along the mountain range. It is only a matter of minutes before we come to a relatively small incline. As I wait impatiently at the top of the slope, there is no view to keep me occupied, as the mist has visibility limited to only a few metres. Several minutes later I am beginning to wonder what is taking my father so long. I turn around and make my way back down the slope for a significant distance. I find it odd that I have still not run into dad. My whistle is extracted from my pack and I blow it furiously and listen attentively for an answer. Silence. Given the time spent waiting and the distance in which I have retraced my steps, it seems impossible that we have not met each other. The most likely event to have occurred is that he has bypassed me on a track running parallel to the trail I was following. Given the fact that several parallel routes have formed from walkers along the range and the current weather, this hypothesis seems entirely plausible. And so, I resolve to turn around and continue onwards until I catch him again. I walk at a rapid pace, a speed at which I am well aware my father would not be able to match. As time passes, my hypothesis seems less and less likely. After a couple of hours I am certain that he cannot be ahead of me. I make a decision to get to Goon Moor (the next allocated campsite) and consider my situation from there.
As far as I am concerned there are three possibilities to consider. One: Dad has fallen badly and broken his leg, rendering him immobile. Two: Dad has hit his head and lost consciousness. Or three: Dad has become hopelessly lost and is wandering around somewhere looking for the track. The possibility of death is considered for only a fleeting moment. I feel like the possibilities are in order of most probable to least probable, though I am hoping it is the third. If he has a broken leg, I will have to walk out alone and alert the appropriate emergency services, if he has lost consciousness I will have to ensure he is nursed back to a state of consciousness. Unfortunately I don’t see how he could possibly have gotten lost on the stretch of track I was following up the hill. It seemed remarkably straightforward to follow. He has the map and compass, although much less useful in this weather.
After dropping my pack at Goon Moor I head back towards our previous campsite at Hanging Lake with nothing but a whistle. There is plenty of water along the track to keep me hydrated and I know that my adrenalin will provide me with sufficient energy to traverse the range. I am virtually running along sections that are not comprised of slippery rocks. The mist is unrelenting and drizzle lingers in the air. The longer I walk, the more worrying the situation becomes. As I continue to blow the whistle loudly I often hear the echoes chasing each other around the rocky slopes, sometimes giving the illusion of an answered call. I think to myself that if I don’t find him by the time I get back to Hanging Lake I will have no choice but to head back to Goon Moor and set up camp. I seriously wonder if I will be able to bring myself to do this whilst he is still out here somewhere.
After several hours of separation an answer to my whistle is distinctly heard. I am flooded with relief. We continue to whistle for several minutes until we eventually catch up with each other. As it turns out, dad somehow managed to turn around and follow the track in the wrong direction, even walking part-way up Federation Peak with his full pack, before realising where he was. I can see that he is quite exhausted and have to inform him that we are a significant distance from camp at Goon Moor. The only way for us to make reasonable progress now is for me to carry his pack. And so with darkness fast approaching, we find ourselves stumbling along the range through cover of mist. As our campsite is within reach the sun manages to penetrate the cloud cover a matter of minutes before it sets on the horizon. Around 21:00 we stagger into the sheltered campsite illuminated by a headtorch. This is the most exhausted I’ve ever felt after a day’s walk. I eat dinner and follow it up with my intended lunch, followed by a not insignificant portion of chocolate. This is the most satisfying meal I have ever consumed.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. 2
Today the weather has cleared and I make sure that dad is aware that if he is ascending a steep mountain range then he is going the wrong way. If he comes across a colony of zebras then he is headed in the wrong direction. If he finds himself face to face with a Vogon, then he should avoid a rendition of its poetry at all costs. If he finds himself in a tropical paradise, then he should stay there, adopt a dog, practice yoga on the beach, and lie about in the sun sipping the milk of fresh coconuts until his dying days. I think I’ve covered all bases.
To our relief, the day turns out to be quite uneventful. After walking around in circles a couple of times, we make our way out of Goon Moor, past Stuarts Saddle and back down Luckmans Lead. Subsequent to setting up camp at Cracroft Crossing we go on a mission to find the Huon River and fill our water containers. With camp set up and our stomachs satisfied, the weather takes another turn and we are treated to the southwest sound and light show as thunder rumbles in the distance and lightning strikes overhead.
I never could get the hang of Thursdays2
Our final day is punctuated by showers as we walk along the Arthur Plains and then wade back through the mud associated with Junction Creek. By the time we arrive at the car, my feet have lost a significant amount of skin from inadequate taping to prevent rubbing against my boots. I am left with a number of scratches and scars along my arms and down my legs. And yet, though I haven’t loved every moment of this walk, I can’t stop myself from thinking it is the best thing I have ever done. Go figure.
Have we gone mad? Most likely. Dad and I are so enraptured after our adventure, we can hardly contain ourselves. One of the first things I say once we are on the road is: ‘dad, we have to do the Western Arthurs’ (and so we do – but that’s another story!). We arrive home to a hot shower and a home cooked meal of coq au vin and steam pudding washed down by Bundaberg ginger beer (Mum has redeemed herself for the missed phone call).
My torn shirt is gifted to a bemused uncle. I explain that he should frame it, as very few pieces of cloth have been subjected to the sacred air at the summit of Federation Peak. He is unlikely to discover a more priceless piece of memorabilia.
Our adventure has been one of extreme emotional contrasts. From the elation associated with the summit of Federation Peak down to the lows experienced on a miserable day five. What would I change about our trip in hindsight? Nothing. To really gain an appreciation for the wilderness, I feel that experiencing the emotional lows is an entirely necessary education. Yes, that’s correct: I recommend that everyone goes out into the wilderness and gets himself/herself lost once in a while.
On that note; so long, and thanks for all the fish.
2 From Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy