Monday, March 9, 2009

These boots are made for walkin'

I’ve never really understood the lure of mountaineering. Oh, I know it’s lovely to immerse yourself in nature and to breathe in fresh mountain air. Yes, of course I understand all that.

What I’ve never understood is why you would voluntarily strap 15kg to your back and haul yourself up a steep, slippery, rocky slope to sleep on the top of a windy mountain. Nor have I ever understood the attraction of wrapping a sweaty, sticky, smelly body in a synthetic sleeping bag for days on end. No, I’ve never really understood the attraction of that.

What is it about mountains that tempt, inspire and challenge the human soul? What makes a person decide to put a little house on their back and haul themselves up the side of one? What primeval force makes you want to sleep out in the wind and rain on the top of one?

These very questions were at the forefront of my mind as we set out on another great hike, this time into the wilds of the Freycinet Peninsula. You might know Freycinet from its most famous feature, Wineglass Bay, that long sweeping arc of sand edging the picture perfect turquoise waters of a secluded bay. It’s been voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It inspires romance and longing and the desire to quit your job so you can laze about on its soft white sands. Yes, you know the one I’m talking about.

Well my friends let me tell you about Wineglass Bay, the not-for-advertising version, the Kris and Sarah version; the version that starts with large-scale fatalities and finishes with a helicopter evacuation…(you honestly didn't think we'd do it the easy way did you?)

I knew I was in for a long 4 days as soon as I lifted the pack onto my back and felt my spinal column compress a few centimetres. Clothing, tent, sleeping bag, Thermorest, food, water, it was all there like an old friend ready to accompany my every step (well, the kind of friend you’ve ‘forgotten’ to invite over for dinner for the past 10 years anyway). Kris was also loaded up like Simpson’s donkey but the lure of a mountain and a Kodak-moment view had ignited a fire in him that couldn’t be extinguished by the overcast skies and a 3-tonne bag.

So off we set, fighting our way past a gaggle of instamatic-wielding grey nomads, and eventually we stumbled out onto Wineglass Bay beach. And what a sight to behold…white sands, turquoise waters…and a few hundred large dead fish, some still in the process of beaching themselves. It was mass carnage on a devastating scale and you’d have forgiven us for thinking we’d stepped onto the set of a Mad Max film.

Donning our
best Steve Irwin impressions, we tried in vain to rescue the few that were still alive but crikey, every time we hurled one back into the ocean it would determinedly beach itself again. Apparently gasping for breath on the sands of a top 10 beach was more appealing than living.

Maybe it had something to do with their anatomy and a peculiar anomaly that saw their main swimming fin stuck on their back rather than using their tail fin like most regular fish. OK for your everyday swimming down to the shops or to the local fish hangout maybe, but not particularly useful if you ever find yourself in 2 inches of water and your main swimming apparatus is caught flapping about in the breeze.

We can only assume it was an oversight on the part of their creator; maybe the blue print went missing and he couldn’t work out where to put the fins? Whatever the case, we can safely say that a beach strewn with dead marine life certainly wasn’t doing Conde Nast’s credibility any favours.


After a night in the ‘Wineglass Bay of Death’, we set off for the summit of Mt Graham and then Mt Freycinet (as Kris would say, "Why climb one mountain when you can climb two"). Instantly the track rose sharply and wound its way through steep, rocky bush. The incline was relentless and I trudged along with all the grace of a sumo wrestler while Kris strolled along in front listening to the 12th Man on his iPod, laughing out loud at seemingly random moments like a crazed lunatic. [Note to self: take iPod on next hike]

After 6 hours and a particularly punishing summit climb we gratefully arrived at our final destination, the top of Mt Freycinet. As I’m coming to realise with all our little hiking escapades, the best rewards come when you've worked the hardest for them. Our reward that day came in the form of breath-taking views of Wineglass Bay from the summit. As we watched the sun slip down over the horizon that night, we cooked up a 2-minute noodle feast perched right on the edge of the summit and another life-long memory was created.

The next day we awoke to rain and fog and started making our way back over the mountains on the long walk home. Four hours from base camp we passed a group of hikers who were also slowly making their way out, cautious of the rocky track that the rain had made into a slip-and-slide bonanza. Moments later, we heard a scream and turned to wait while a member of the group went back to investigate. When he returned, we were vehemently assured that the hiker was OK (“she has a dodgy knee, she’s fine) so we proceeded on our way.

About an hour later, that same person caught up to us on the track and casually mentioned that rather than the dodgy knee we’d been led to believe, the hiker actually had a badly broken ankle and was stuck on the mountain with no way out. A call to the emergency services was made from my phone and a helicopter rescue was proposed as the only way out. Only problem was the inclement weather and fog surrounding the mountain that would possibly put a halt to any air evacuation. We handed over all our remaining rations to the hiker and he returned to the group while we continued on out to the ranger’s station.

By the time we reached Wineglass Bay we looked up to see a helicopter circling over the mountain and we settled down on the sand to watch a full-scale helicopter rescue in progress, pleased with the outcome and glad that we could play a small part in the rescue.

I’m still not convinced that lugging 15kg up a mountain on your back to sleep in a sticky smelly sleeping bag is my idea of a cracking good time, but what I do know is this:

* When you walk a wet rocky path be careful where you put your feet.
* Don’t swim in shallow water if you don’t have the anatomy to get you out again.
* The very best rewards are saved for those that w
ork the hardest to achieve them.

So sadly that’s about it for our Tassie adventure. Our last great hiking hurrah planned for Cradle Mountain was unfortunately hijacked by rain and fog and snow. But we did manage a walk through spectacular ancient Pencil Pine forests and we did manage an adventure of sorts, getting momentarily lost and thinking we were going to be the subjects of our very own full-scale search and rescue.

Tasmania has far exceeded our expectations and it was with great regret that we boarded the ferry back to Australia(!) just in time to literally feel the earth move under our feet as an earthquake struck Melbourne. Ah, the travellin' life for us...


6 comments:

Madhu Dube said...

as always amazing....kris you are giving a hard time to sarah....make sure you don't break her back before you get married...a lawyer will wait.

Guys....amazing and awesome...me n shweta are planning to visit greece in may'09 but seeing the tasmanian nature....i may change my plans...you both take care and have fun....take care of back

The Nutty Farmers said...

Really enjoying your amazing prose Miss Sarah. So glad you're getting alot of exercise!!! The photos are truly awe inspiring.....one day we will have to visit Tassie.
We are about to start harvesting and Sarah I'll miss you on the nut line!!!
Miss yo and take care
xx Kim & Chris

Anonymous said...

G'day Trekkers, was good to catch up with you both at Al's on Friday night. Glad Tassie was all you expected and more.

I reckon you'll have to do a book on this trip Sarah , you have a way with words and Kris sure knows his way artound the cameras, awesome shots.

Hope the rest of your trip is filled with awe inspiring moments and I'll catch you somewhere sometime.. Gaz

Anonymous said...

It's great to read about your adventures - never a dull moment in your lives!
I hope the hiker was ok... I have it on good authority that both Launceston and Hobart hospitals are great!
Keep those blogs coming.
Fi

ro said...

you 2 are dead set fruit cakes!love it.

Ian said...

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in actually logging on and checking out where the Big Red Truck is..... now it seems that we are very sorry!!! It is amazing, the photos are stunning, and the commentary, i just want to keep reading! Great work, hope all is well. We have now moved to Lismore! Look forward to hearing from you soon!! Lots of Luv Browny & Haylz xoxox