Wednesday, 6 January 2021
Planning the food for such a long hike is hard work. It wasn't quite as epic as when we did the overland track in 2015 and planned for 7 nights for 6 people. This time I planned breakfast, lunch and snacks for just the three of us while Clare planned for her and her dad. Paul and Rob plundered Clare's supplies once she dropped out as Rob was only roped into the whole thing on Christmas Day and Paul hadn't got around to doing anything yet.
For the main meals I did the planning for all 7 of us (before we became 5 of us) so I did a tonne of dehydrating of vegies and a curry in the week before we went. I think I dehydrated 4 onions, 4 capsicums, 1 eggplant, 2 tins of kidney beans, 3 zuchinnis. I used them for my marakesh curry and also to add a bit of volume to the other days. I also dehydrated the mushrooms that we forgot to eat on Christmas day. We bought our Strive meals here
Anyway - for my own reference, this is what we took:
In hindsight I'd stick to porridge for every breakfast. It's nice and warm and lighter and less bulky than cereal.
Before we left we removed all the extra packaging and combined things in containers where we could. Once again having a tougher container was the only thing that saved our salami and capsicum from being taken by the quoll. For the rest we used a truckload of ziplock bags which didn't feel great but it seems to be the best way of minimising the packaging that actually goes out on the trail.
I had also purchased some Strive Herb Risotto meals but we voted to leave them behind when we dropped in numbers as they looked the least yummy of the Strive options.
Marrakech curried stew
In one bag
1 x vegetable stock cube
1 Tbsp madras curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp raisins
1 Tbsp dried shredded coconut
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup coconut milk powder (available from indian food shops)
1/2 tsp dried garlic
In separate bag
Add dehydrated red kidney beans (400gms can). Other options include chickpeas or cannelloni beans.
Dehydrated vegetables – suggested options include eggplant, sweet potato, red capsicum,
Add boiling water to red kidney beans and vegetables and soak for 20-30mins
Add sufficient water to spices to create sauce and add to vegetables when rehydrated.
Bring to boil
Serve with rice or couscous.
Saturday, 2 January 2021
So we'd had rain, endless mud, gastro and quoll criminality, what else could possibly go wrong?
Nothing as it turns out. On the final day we even had sunshine (we realised we hadn't seen the sun since day 2!). We had a pleasant and quick hike out along the coast then across the flat boardwalked valley to Cockle Creek.
Reading our minds, after a half hour wait Clare turned up with lashings of sandwiches, chips, diet coke and sprite!!! What a legend. Shortly afterwards Denny turned up too, so after a debrief at one of the picnic tables, we threw our sticky bags and stinky selves into the cars and headed home.
So that's that. I don't regret doing it, but it would take a lot to have me do it again without some major track upgrades! The campsites were certainly beautiful and I loved the beach walking. I think the track was muddier than usual which made the going particularly hard. It was really good that we all were about the same pace - we never really had to wait very long for each other (even when Rob had gastro), and we generally did less than the advertised times for each section. In a few days I'll do a final post about some of the gear we had - the useful and the not-so-useful stuff we had with us.
If you didn't look too closely at the map, day 5 looked easy. Just 13 or so kms with a nice finish at South Cape Rivulet. Unfortunately Paul had looked closely at the map and counted that we had nearly the same amount of climb to do as on the crossing of the Ironbounds. Oh Dear.
We started off with a short and sharp 200m ascent of the ridge behind our campsite. A bit of a heart starter but we were at the top after about 20 sweaty minutes and had an easy descent to Granite Beach to follow.
The tide was in, so after we stopped to collect water about 2/3 of the way down the beach, we had to walk on the huge round rocks the rest of the way, hoping a rogue wave didn't catch us.
Granite beach has a cool waterfall dropping over the cliffs to the rocky beach below:
But with the crashing waves we weren't too keen to hang around and admire it, so we followed our path up the rocks, passing the source of the falls on the way
We passed through the large and nice looking Granite Beach Campsite (where we would have camped if we were taking an extra day), then started on our second and highest climb of the day - another 470 metres up and over South Cape Range.
Again it was steep and exhausting but we were making good progress until about a kilometre from the top, where we hit the mud. Endless, deep, energy sapping mud. And it didn't stop at the top.
I did notice the colour of the mud changed from time to time. From the peaty black mud, the to the clayish brown mud (which we had experienced a lot of on the Ironbounds descent), to the sandy coloured mud of actual streams.
An hour later we'd made it a single kilometre further and we sat exhausted in a creek waiting for satan to come and greet us as we were clearly in hell.
It was around this point we asked each other how much we would need to be paid to turn around and walk the 5 days back to Melaleuca. The agreed fee was $20000 each, which, at this point, was quite reasonable.
Thankfully, just 10 minutes after this point we climbed up a little and out of the rainforest (which was actually really really pretty but hard to enjoy!) to a spot where we could stop for lunch without sinking into the depths of the quagmire. We agreed that we would forego lunch on the final day (and cross our fingers that Clare would come in with food), so we could have extra rations and it was fantastic. Probably the only thing that gave us strength to complete the rest of that days hike!
It wasn't all peachy from there as we still had more climb and more mud to contend with, but we had some bursts of pleasure with as section of boardwalk through a flowery open section (see how happy I look),
and some descents which didn't involve mud. The last ridge was a real killer, with our energy completely sapped we were down to resting about every 10 minutes. Check out Rob's face:
It was hard to stop ourselves from grabbing the hikers we passed on their way IN and begging them not to go further! Instead we just wished them well and let them through - they had their own adventures to live!
..and then finally. FINALLY, we made it to South Cape Rivulet. Never had a rivulet looked so good.
We waded across the river, dumped our stuff, washed our gear, and set up camp in the trees beside the rivulet.
Jett and Paul looking pleased with themselves as they have nabbed Jon and my chairs.
Everything was so lovely and peaceful.
It was so good to be done. Not just done for the day, but almost done for the hike. We had a peaceful evening with the last of the Strive dehydrated meals and dry 2 minute noodles. We were pretty much down to 1 breakfast and a few snacks left for the final day but nothing was going to stop us now.
Day 4 started out with the very bad news that Rob had picked up gastro somewhere and had been up all night suffering from it. Fortunately all the campsites have good toilets (by hiking standards anyway) which keeps the sites free from grossness and would have been much appreciated by Rob during his multiple visits during the night I'm sure (and everyone who comes after us). Unfortunately there wasn't anything we could really do except press on and hope to hell the rest of us didn't get it.
Our Port Douglas friend had advised us that our day would start with a big bog traverse, so I suited up with gaiters and rain trousers in preparation for that. I was quite irritated as the morning wore on with no sign of it though, while I sweated away inside my rain trousers. Instead we started with an easy river crossing and some nice new grating crossing of what would have been quite a bog a few years ago - this was proabably another section of the recent upgrades.
From there we skirted around a headland and crossed a small beach, before a bit more headland and then onto Prion Beach - a beautiful long beach which after the hardships of the previous day was a delight to traverse. We caught up with our Port Douglas friend here who agreed she'd mis-placed our bog but assured us it was still ahead of us. Yay.
At the end of the beach we crossed the short flat dune section to get to the boat crossing
There are 3 boats there and you have to make sure that there is at least one boat on either side when you are finished. For us this meant Jon rowing back to get Jett and I, while towing an extra boat to leave for the next people.
On the map the next 2 kilometres looked super easy - the route didn't cross any of the (admittedly 40metre) contours and seemed to simply trace the edge of the lagoon. In reality it was really really difficult. This was another of the sections where our kilometre rate was laughably low. It was an endless series of steep ups and downs with a lot of clambering over things and multiple crawling sections. After an arduous hour or so we stopped at a river crossing (I think this is the only significant bridge we encountered on the trip) to work out if we would ever make it to the end.
Eventually we convinced ourselves to go another kilometre before stopping for lunch - luckily we came across a great place to stop in 500 or so metres (15 minutes later) so we sat down to enjoy the views and recover a little. Rob was doing really well to cope with all of this after an energy sapping night.
From there the track turned inland and was much easier going for a kilometre..
..before hitting the actual bog (the one I was expecting in the morning). We were used to ankle high mud at this stage but a few times our feet just continued sinking and we found ourselves past our knees in mud. It was really hard to pull ourselves out each time this happened. Thankfully this section only lasted for 20 minutes, by which time we had climbed up for a bit more of a view.
Once again the vegetation changed and we had some relatively easy (and only occasionally muddy) undulating walking down the beautiful Surprise Bay, my favourite beach of the trip.
After a break and a bit of a wash we made our way to the other end and the campsite. To this point we had been lucky with the tides, so we didn't have to wade through that gap in the rocks.
It had been another long day of hiking. We left at 8.15 and made it to camp after 4. We all agreed that this had been our favourite day though - the (relatively!) easy walking and changes in scenery, together with the rowboat crossing made for a pretty challenging but fun day (less fun for Rob of course). We made our dinner and then cooked up one of the emergency meals for Rob (as we didn't think he could stomach the rehydrated Strive laksa we had), and once again put ourselves to bed early. We had the campsite all to ourselves as there are other campsites along the coast to choose from. We had actually gone an extra 5k than I had originally planned, so we covered about 16km which meant we didn't have to do the 18k which was lined up for day 5. This turned out to be an excellent decision.
Day 3 started at 12:20am when Jon heard some suspicious rustling outside the tents. Luckily for the rest of us, he got up to investigate and discovered that what he first thought was a tassie devil, but turned out to be a quoll, was munching on one of our bags of snacks. This was odd, given all the food was packed away in tents for the night. What was even odder was that our entire lunch bag, held in Jett's tent, was strewn about the campsite. A bit more of a look around and the situation became clearer - the bastard quoll had sliced through the side of Jett's tent while he slept, dragged the lunch bag out through the hole, then proceeded to consume what it could. Luckily our cheese, salami and other lunch items were contained in hardier plastics than the zip-lock bags, so our only real loss was the damage to Jett's tent, and some nuts.
Jon woke us all to let us know of the situation so we could defend our food for the rest of the night. Rob claimed he spent the rest of the night hugging his food to his body, while Jon and I made sure to pack all our remaining food into his pack which we put between us in our (luckily spacious) tent. It looked like a disaster had been averted.
In the morning I got up to go to the toilet at 6.30, and I met Rob who was standing on the trail holding a packet of pasta in his hand and looking confused. My first thought that he was still traumatised by the thought of losing his food so he was perhaps reluctant to let go of it, but then I realised that this looked a lot like Paul's emergency pasta packet and Rob had found it on the trail.
A quick scan of the area and I started to see more of Paul's food spread around the forest behind the tents, including his whole food bag and the very scarce remains of a 400g bag of nuts and m&ms (carefully prepared by Clare) and a few other emptied ziplock bags. At about this time, Paul woke up and discovered the huge slash in the side of his tent. He'd clearly slept through another raid (in all likelyhood this happened before Jett's). All in all he lost most of his lunch stuff, all his snacks & meusli bars and half his breakfast oats. He was left with the single main meal he carried for all of us (phew), some of his back heat packs which I'd found in the forest, half a packet of lunch wraps, and that emergency packet of pasta that Rob had found. I think Paul hadn't really registered what had happened at midnight so he was completely shocked and outraged at this discovery in the morning. Later we had visions of a quoll with such a distended stomach that it lounged around on Paul's heat packs recovering for the rest of the day. After yesterdays rain soaking and tent incompetencies and today's food crisis we really were starting to feel like complete hiking chumps - which was a weird scenario given how much hiking experience we actually have between us.
Before we set off some other hikers who were on their second last day gave us some more porrige oats which was nice. Once Paul was placated, and the tents were repaired with ankle strapping tape, we packed up and headed off. We had the hardest day ahead of us - the crossing of the Ironbound ranges.
With 900 or so metres of climb in around 5km of hiking, it was a pretty steep ascent, but the track was good - there were lots of steps and it was generally dry. We took it steadily with a few rest breaks and we were pretty much up on the plateau after 3 hours. We'd heard many stories of huge winds forcing people to crawl the final 1.5k across the plateau before descending but we were pretty lucky with the weather, the clouds were low and while there were certainly strong gusts, they weren't enough to bother us really. It was cold at the top but we were prepared with all our warm and rain clothes handy.
It was nice to traverse the alpine plateau and have the ascent behind us, but we still had the descent - which was even more notorious. It's hard to imagine how hard a 900m descent in about 7km could be but it really was a battle. The track went straight down through muddy tree-rooty rain forest. Every step was hard and we had to climb over a million branches and tree roots, crawl under other branches, battle through the mud and often do all three things at once. It was absolutely grueling and took us what seemed like hours. When the track finally stopped going straight down and turned to skirt around the headland the going got even harder with steep muddy descents into gullies followed by equally steep muddy ascents. With exhausted legs and minds this was a real test of resolve!
After about 4 hours it finally got easier and the last km or so was easy. We were delighted to arrive in Little Deadmans Bay after a solid 7 hours of walking.
The campsite was really nice and we set about washing our gear and settling in for a well deserved rest. The sea was calm so Paul had a swim in the bay while the rest of us just washed our legs.
We had one of my prepared dinners for our evening meal - Marakesh Curry which was a big improvement on Day 1's attempt (although it was barely evening when we ate it but we were all exhausted and keen to get to bed immediately). I'd say we were in bed well before 8. Just before we tucked ourselves in, the companion of a hiker from Port Douglas who was on her way back out (having walked all the way into Melaluca and beyond in the previous 10 days) arrived. He'd just walked 27kms for the day to catch up to her - all the way from our first night's camping spot. I said - 'gosh that's a big day' and he said 'not compared to the previous two'! It turned out he'd been doing some pretty serious bush bashing near Bathurst Harbour while his companion rested her blistered feet. By this time we were also still together with LightPackers but the HeavyPackers and FamilyOfFive had diverted to a beach campsite the previous day. Anyway it turned out this guy had lost his phone during his adventures which included the number of the people he was staying with in Hobart. He didn't know their surnames, or have a clue about their address so he was going to have to drive around looking for familiar land marks when he returned! We quizzed him and decided that he was likely staying in South Hobart given his description of a chemist, IGA, and cricket ground cut into the side of a hill, but we couldn't help him more than that! They had massive plans to walk up Precipitous Bluff (almost as high as Mt Wellington) via a taped (but not tracked) trail, and that's after a 5km lagoon wade just to get to the bottom. After that they were going to traverse Moonlight Ridge (somewhere I'd never heard of) and pop out on the Cockle creek road with just a pleasant 20kms stroll back to their car. Good Grief! It was so nice to lie in bed and know that we had the Ironbounds behind us (and that we didn't have Precipitous Bluff ahead of us!).
Oh - and if you are wondering how Paul went without any lunch or snacks - we were able to re-ration our own supplies so it was easy enough to provide enough stuff for all of us. It's a good thing we weren't miserly with our provisioning.
Friday, 1 January 2021
It rained all night but just as we got up in the morning it stopped and the sun actually came out. Us and everyone else at the campsite (which was a mix of people like us on their first day, people going in the other direction on their last day, and at least one crazy person who had walked all the way in and was on their way out again) raced to get our stuff out in the sun to dry.
I was really relieved to get my coat dry on the inside as it had leaked badly the day before and the lining was still really damp. We sat on the beach to eat breakfast in the sun. With all this drying and absorbing of the sunshine we weren't fully packed until 9.30, which was unfortunately half an hour AFTER the rain came pouring down again - re-soaking our almost dry tent, and everything else that lay strewn about waiting to packed - AARGH! So we set off as the last party from the campsite, wet and cold and feeling a bit like chumps. A family with 3 primary aged kids, the HeavyPackers and the LightPackers had all managed to get going before us. I was a bit frustrated as we had a long day ahead of us (17kms), so starting out wet and late, certainly wasn't ideal. Still there wasn't much we could do about it but get going.
Happily by the end of the second beach the rain had pretty much stopped.
We caught up to the family of 5 by the end of the final beach section. Relieved to have asserted our hiking dominance over that family with those three small children we turned inland and towards the first big hill of our trip.
By the time we got to the top we had almost caught the heavy packers, but we stopped to have a break instead. We could now see the fabled Ironbound Range that we would have to cross the next day.
Heading down the other side we finally did overtake the HeavyPackers. I'd learnt the previous day that one of the HeavyPackers was actually pregnant as well - so we really showed those people carrying significantly heavier packs and unborn children how to eat our hiking dust.
Just as we were planning to stop for lunch another rain squall came but it was all over in 10 minutes leaving us free to settle down on one of the tarps for a longer break in the sun.
We still had a fair way to go so we restarted at a fairly decent pace - held up by the next three river crossings where we chose to de-shoe before crossing.
The first time we did all the shoe-offing, crossing, feet drying and re-shoeing only to go 5 minutes further and face another one! At which point the Pregnant HeavyPackers showed us what we were really made of (something soft) by simply tromping straight across and leaving us behind.
After the three crossings we had a long uneventful section across some gently undulating terrain. We were relieved to have duckboards for long stretches so mud wasn't really an issue at all for the first two days - I suspect the duckboards were part of the recent upgrades to this end of the track.
By about 4pm we finally reached our final crossing of the Louisa River, just before the campsite. It was pretty deep (up to my thighs), and flowing pretty fast so we didn't dare to cross in bare feet over the slippery rocks.
The campsite by the river was really nice and we quickly (compared to the day before anyway) set up our tent sites and tarp and settled in for the evening. The LightPackers had arrived just before us and the Pregnant HeavyPackers just after us.
After our long day it was really nice to enjoy a hot chocolate by the river before bed.
The forecast for our first day was for a warm morning, followed by a possible thunderstorm with plenty of rain in the afternoon. With afternoon flights now impossible, the Par Avion guys cancelled their usual day-trippers trip into Melaluca, which allowed us and 5 other hikers to fly from Cambridge at 9:30am - a much better time for us than our original 2:30 booking. As we gathered in the waiting lounge on the blustery morning we noticed two hikers with tiny packs weighing 10 & 12kg respectively, and wearing running shoes and muscly legs (hereafter to be known as the LightPackers). We assumed they were going to run the track (they wouldn't be the first, in fact they wouldn't even be the tenth to try it), but they claimed they were planning on taking 7 or 8 days, they had just packed light. We would have felt bad about our packs ranging from 14 (Paul) to 20 kilos (Jon & Rob), except that the packs of the other 3 hikers weighed 66kg total, so they each had at least 20kg. From that point we decided that we were The MediumPackers, and they were The HeavyPackers.
The others flew off in two smaller planes while we got to go in the 'big' plane all together - with Jon up front with the pilot (with strict instructions to keep his feet away from the pedals), and Jett and I were the back-seat kids. As the wind seemed quite strong by takeoff time I was afraid we'd have a washing machine of a trip, and Jett and I would be wearing Paul's breakfast by the end of it, but as it turned out it couldn't have been smoother.
We flew right over our house:
and right past Federation Peak:
and had a perfect landing at Melaleuca
After visiting the toilet and the small museum, we took a team photo (from left - Jon, brother-in-law Rob, brother Paul, Jett, me):
and set off towards Cox's Bight.
As we expected the going was very easy. We had a 12km walk to the campsite, so with a stop for lunch, both us, and that storm, hit the coast at about 2:30pm. Unfortunately we still had a half an hour to go while the rain wasn't going anywhere.
We arrived at the delightful but sodden campsite at around 3pm and tried to set our tents up in the pouring rain.
Unfortunately none of us had ever set up our own tents under pressure before - both Jett and Paul had new 1-person tents which were unfortunately a bit tricky and slow to put up, while Jon and I had a new tent and although I had tested it briefly Clare's back yard before giving it back to Santa to give to me for being a very good girl, I hadn't done it quickly before and issuing understandable instructions to Jon in the pouring rain was hard. Rob had my old trusty Macpac Minaret which is actually a breeze to put up, but he had no idea how to do it - so five minutes later we were in a state. By the time we had the three brand new tents up they all had significant puddles on the inside. I then raced over to Rob's pile of tent material and got it up in a flash - sure enough his was the only one which was properly dry by the end of all that. Paul and I both had towels so we dried the inside of the tents and from then on they stayed pretty watertight which was a relief. We pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon sheltering inside our tents before deciding to take our lead from many of the other campers and use our lightweight sitting-on tarp, for a rain shelter. I didn't have any rope for it so we used the tents' surplus guyropes and pretty soon we had a workable shelter we could at least make dinner under without becoming completely soaked.
After a disappointing dinner of rehydrated curry (since voted Worst Meal of the trip) Jon and Jett went off to get more water while the rest of us returned to our tents to try to stay dryish.
The waterbottles formed a gang and attempted to escape together, but they were foiled by the stream
By about 8pm we were all in bed surrounded by our damp clothes and packs. What a start!