74 / Part Two - Will they make it over the Iron Bound Range?
DAY FIVE FRIDAY APRIL 13 – LOUISA RIVER, CROSSING THE IRON BOUND RANGE TO LITTLE DEADMAN’S BAY
The day that has loomed so large was finally upon us. The day that is described in all the blogs and books and articles I have read was finally here. And it was as huge as anticipated. It was amazing. Today I tackled the demons of imagination and won. And this in itself makes, had made, the whole trip worthwhile.
Mark is awake and moving and making tea and nervous preparations an hour before daylight. I can’t exactly say I leapt out of the tent but I did my famous crouch to standing move supported by sound effects, and I was up. The day had begun. A wash by the river, a meagre bowl of muesli with warm milk and sweet tea. Must be said this trip, breakfast has not been conquered. No biggie.
However, when it comes to packing we are nearing a 10/10 – quick efficient, clean and distributed. Our whole lives shakes down into what can be readily(?), easily (?) borne on two backs.
We headed off. I am now becoming quite comfortable with diminishing rations. It will be ok. Today is a scroggin day and scroggin days are always good.
7.30am Across duckboards we leave the forest. The wind of yesterday is exhausted, depleted, now just a gentle breeze. The light is coming up, though not yet sun. Turning we can see her gold hitting hills in the distance, back towards Melaleuca. A small climb, our first, of around 300m throws the view into radical perspective. This land is so very ancient. I take a photo of Mark with the path snaking behind us with Teatrees denoting the rivers.
We climb more. One step. The next step. Another step. I am reminded of trekking in Tibet, the landscape – ancient granite stone, not dissimilar. The views are breathtaking. The clarity of the air, arguably the cleanest on the planet, finds the world feeling like a diorama, vast sweeps, enormous tracts of land, tectonic plates in the making, cut out mountains layered one in front of the other, hardly real.
We climb. Songs begin to repeat in my head. We are surprised by our speed, by our consistent effort, which has benefited from a rest day. We climb upwards until we spot the 10am Par Avion flight into Melaleuca, as she flies, hugging the coastline below and we are now, just above, cloud.
Reaching the summit and the breeze turns to freezing blasts. Knock-you-off-your-feet-able. The top of the climb is marked by duckboards but their welcome is marked with ice and trusting them is a disaster waiting to happen – each step must be considered. It’s at this stage I give thanks to the God of Walking Sticks. I love them.
We turn to the East and begin our descent. A miso soup stop in a small cluster of trees sitting surrounded by a gentle sweep of virulent acid green moss. Apt. The whole setting is remarkably Japanese. As an Easter gift, Hattie gave me a bag of chocolate coated liquorice which I’ve been keeping to mark this moment – the Crossing of the Iron Bound. Miso and Liquorice – an unusual yet brilliant combination!
And now the down. And the down and the DOWN. And Mud. Our first real introduction to mud, unctuous earth in all it’s glory. Mud and roots and water and trunks and creeks and major steps down where you find yourself sitting in a pool of water with your feet dangling trying to work out the next best step. Hard work and incredibly slow. We cross a river and have lunch on a bank. And then more down. And down. More tangles of roots and more mud.
And today, I didn’t think of anything more than the walk. I didn’t watch a movie in my head. It was trance like. One foot following the other.
What I have noticed is that suddenly my body becomes fatigued and I need to stop for ten. I’m fine and then I begin to stumble. What’s hard about the mud and the roots is that you never really get into a rhythm, you can never really switch off – you’re on – observant – the whole time. And so it was that I went for a sixer and was feeling a little frustrated and was telling Mark I need a break. WHEN…..Mark’s feet went completely out from under him. On a particularly difficult part of the path, with the a major drop to his right, he literally did a 360 – pack in the air, legs over his head, flat on his back. There he laid a turtle off the path, in the bush. A moment of bewildered stare followed by a body scan to determine he was ok and then a mad scramble, back onto the path.
Once again, short distances prove incredibly challenging. 3.5km feels like 10. The learning is that unlike other walks, the task here is not completeling or evening thinking about km’s in the tank, it’s managing the logistics of the track that really matters. This is a walk of mind games – mind over matter, juggling rising frustrating and being in the moment.
And what a moment it was to make camp at Little Deadman’s Bay. There is a cray boat at anchor just meters off the beach, he too we suspect, has been riding out the gale. As the boat, a substantial vessel, a heavy and determined workhorse, lugs and lolls and rocks from side to side, I am very grateful to be on land.
We fill our water. Eat. Teeth and sleep.
Mark’s knee throbs.
Today includes a leech tally – Mark 3 – Sal 0
I’m rather jealous of Mark’s leech status. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Mark actually has exposed skin, where as a leech would be dead lucky (and dead anyway when I found him!) to find any part of me exposed. Even my bush wees would require super leech powers to jump on board mid squat.
DAY SIX SATURDAY APRIL 14 – LITTLE DEADMAN’S BAY TO PRION BOAT CROSSING
Distance // 10 kms
Time // 6 hours
This is the day we walked through mud and up and down hills and more mud and more hills and creeks a long a very long beach towards a place where there were three boats. One on the bank with us and two opposite.
Now you would think that Little Deadman’s Bay would be a place filled with unnevering vibes. But it was not. Nor was the larger Deadman’s Bay around the corner. Clearly the chaps of 1850 enjoyed some incredibly creative powers of Bay naming; that or perhaps the mutilated body of the sailor who washed up on the shores caused quite a stir.
So we walk and the beach is staggering long and hard cos it’s high tide and the sand is wet and thick and our legs feel like lead. Every now and then we rest our packs against dead trees, driftwood propped in the sand. Finally we reach an end point, The Prion River.
Now back at Melaleuca we’d asked the question, what do you do if all three boats are on one side? The answer was a flat – well you swim. Considering it takes about five minutes to row across, a swim would be quite something – but we are in luck – there’s a boat waiting for us, and oars. We pull her down the bank and into the water and begin to row.
Once across we take the backpacks and head up the path, looking for the campsite. In general there are very few signs to be found on the Track. There’s generally an arrow every couple of kms, but nothing more substantial. The path is well worn – in places – and in others, where it disappears for a couple of meters you soon learn to look out for signs of man – the print of a boot, a cleanly polished branch, basically anything that looks a little flattened.
However the camp sites are noted by flotsam. Buoys and ropes clustered together on a stump or tied into branches, indicating the place of a camp. Occassionaly there were clear signs that a working group had recently been through – rough hewn chairs made out of duckboard cut offs, a piece of grating, the remains of a fire. Clearly the same rules regarding fire to not apply to the workers!
But Prion River had a certain X-factor of gloom. I didn’t like it at all. The place spoke of sinister deeds. A collection of whale bones had been placed in a row. The trees were low and someone had hung ropes between trees – perhaps for tarps, perhaps to dry clothes in the non-existant sunshine. On the ropes were plastic bottles and in the plastic bottles sticks to weigh the plastic bottles down. All swung in spooky slowness.
A rather dramatic thing happened later the same night, at some stage the temperature dropped dramatically, heralding the start of our next major weather system.
Winner, winner Chicken Dinner – Good ol’ Tikka Marsala 8/10
Official Rummy Challenge – Sal is two up - 2:0
Leech Tally is going through the roof – Mark – 9 Sal – 0
Salt works well. Matches crap. Antiseptic Handwash – outstanding.
DAY SEVEN SUNDAY APRIL 15 – PRION BOAT CROSSING TO SURPRISE BAY TO GRANITE BEACH
Mark just farted, out the flap of the tent.
It’s freezing. Literally freezing. Hail. Great big round chunks of ice. And it’s 6.15am. Honey tea appears at the flap of my tent. I am incredibly appreciative, it’s rained all night. And thunder. And lightning. And a bird or an animal or a creature or a monster who says AWHAARRR AWHAARRR – (irrespective, he is an animal needing to clear his throat).
“I think we’re almost back to blue sky, Sal”. Always the optimist, Mark’s words are followed by a rather pounding delivery of Hail #2.
Now while the tent is a dishy piece of design thinking camping kit, from inside through the gap between waterproof skin and fly, I can see a growing sea of white. Pure white hail. If I could parcel it, I’d sell it in New York for thousands. World’s freshest face crystals. A sure winner.
Today we have a sizeable walk. In fact we’re undertaking two – tacked together.
But first, back to the hail which is now pounding so loudly on the tent, bouncing off it like a drum – that we can’t hear each other speak.
It’s cold. Very, very bloody cold. I’m now wearing all three of my thermals, a fleecy, Hat’s Northface puffer, a beanie and my wet weather jacket. On my legs – thermals and wet weather pants – which also happen to keep me incredibly warm. No face washing. Haven’t washed my hair in 8 days. I am now officially a Super Woman. And the hail on the ground, now has the effect of snow. The bush is white.
It’s now the other end of the day. I’m writing this back in the tent.
We arrived Granite Beach Waterfall – strike that – Water-rise – renamed due to the effect of a slab of water being blown, 50m into the air before coming down as a solid slab of water, completely, totally soaking every inch of Mark as he collected and filled our water supplies. It was 4.30pm - a long night ahead of being utterly drenched. Mark took to his sleeping bag, while I cooked dinner on the burner inside the tent – inside as it’s impossible to get water to boil on a flame out there in the wind.
Today has proved, quite unexpectedly to be the hardest day yet and here’s why:
The Weather - a cold south-westerly wind lashing across the Southern Ocean carrying with her half hourly bullets of hail intersperse by 30 secs of pathetic sunshine;
Constant rain, beating winds driving more hail, more rain, more wind. At one stage today, as we near the river we must cross – Mark carrying me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes – I am blown sideways – completely off my feet, unable to stand. It’s only when Mark throws his pack into a sand dune and comes back to help me, am I able to find my feet. Later we will discover our ears thick with sand, blasted by this day of wind on a beach.
Mud – collecting in pools, giving no space or place to traverse, it’s either a bush bash or risk slipping into sludge of unknown depths;
Leeches – fascinating creatures, you look down – mouth latched, tail waggling and if you don’t happen to notice them, they become engorged and writhe, thick with blood.
So the question begs, why are we here? Here’s why. Here’s the stuff we’d never see or experience if we didn’t put in the hard yards:
Walking through rainforests where hail paints the darkness of the forest stark white as it banks up on either side of the track;
Lichen – colours, designs, sizes, shapes you’re yet to witness; the most delicate fungi porcelain sitting, poised and beautiful where few eyes will ever see;
Massive ocean waves pounding, bashing islands, their spray rising hundreds of feet in the air;
Finding our feet through knee deep piles of tannin tainted sea-foam as the boulders clunk together rocked by the waves;
Smooth round stones cracked open to reveal the most incredible, the most perfect fossils;
Marsupial Rat – forced to make use of left over feet, ridiculously small for his frame, that and a cumbersome, stupidly too long tail. Mr Rat enjoys no fear of humans;
Our climb, our scaling a rock face moment, beside a waterfall complete with pack. This was a serious WTF moment….’If you’re mother could see you now…’
Climbing into our tent. Physically spent, with a quite, quite wonderful sense of achievement.
Dinner – Way too tired to think. Eat. Feel full. Sleep.
Official Rummy Challenge – Too tired for cards. Sal remains - Two up - 2:0
Leech Tally is going through the roof – Mark – 11 Sal – 0
Antiseptic Handwash – remains the stand out fix.
Terrain Covered Today – Button Grass - Beach – Beech Forest – Ancient Gums – Teatree – A slow, single km of emu egg sized Granite Boulders – Sand – Waterfall Rock Terrace – Teatree forest.
READ ABOUT OUT DRAMATIC RESCUE
CLICK ARROW ON SIDE FOR PART THREE