April 7, 2006

Federation Peak

Kate Englund 

Day 1 - Road to South Cracroft River, 6 hours
It was a nice sunny day, just right for our long awaited walk. The start of the walk led us up a nice track beside a river. The bush was beautiful with very pretty trees and easy walking. Some logs had fallen over the track, but they had been cut so you could easily step through them.
How lovely.. We came across a snake getting some sun. He was sprawled across the track. We took a quick photo of him. He wasn't keen on giving up his sunning spot so that we could get past, but eventually he moved.
After walking for six hours we arrived at South Cracroft River camping ground. Great spot with fresh running water. While Athol organised our dinner, I was wondering what the next few days had in store for us. We hadn't seen any views of mountains all day, just walking through the bush.

Day 2 - Moss Ridge
Rested and feeling refreshed, we were up bright and chirpy for day two of our little adventure. This part of the track included "Moss Ridge'. Sounds nice enough, but don't be fooled. It is the most horrendous walking track I have set foot upon! Athol's pack was 30 kg, mine was 16 kg.
Finally after one and a half days of walking through the bush, we were going to get some views. We arrived on a hilltop out of the trees, for our first view of the mountains. The mountain views were compensation for the yucky walking along the button grass plains.
After quite a while we came to another hilltop, and what's that over there? That mountain looks much more like Federation Peak than the one we saw earlier.. Oh no, It is Federation Peak. But it's so far away. How are we ever going to get there? The feeling of dismay came over me. We had walked so far and still we had so far to go. We had a quick rest and a can of Woodstock bourbon which picked up the mood and gave us a boost of energy. After the button grass plains we reached another river, stopped for a drink of water and something to eat before heading up Moss Ridge.
Going along Moss Ridge, my pack snagged on every branch. You couldn't take two steps without an obstacle of some sort, a huge fallen tree to clamber over, another log too high to go over crawl under it in a puddle of mud. Swing on branches to keep your feet out of the mud, shoulders are hurting from all the swinging around, can't do anything about it though! Onward and upward we slowly climbed.
I felt like this was punishment. I must have done something really bad to deserve this! I expected the walk to be hard, but this was never ending - gruelling. This walk forced every last tiny bit of energy from my body, and them some I didn't know existed.
There was moss everywhere, covering the fallen trees, live trees, the ground, better stop and check for those cheeky leeches. There's one, I'll just pull him off. While walking I was thinking about the soldiers in the war. If I thought this was bad, what did they go through? I had good gear, boots, waterproof jacket, I should consider myself lucky. At least we weren't being shot at (although I remember wishing that we were).
Can't stop; have to get to the top, no time for negative thoughts. Trying to think of happy times to get me through, but I'm hurting  no cant think that, keep walking - over, under, through.
The people who first set out to reach Federation Peak must have been incredible! At least we had some kind of track to follow – they had no such luxury. I tried to keep that in mind, so that I felt grateful!
The track is marked by little bits of coloured tape tied on the trees. When you have walked for a while without seeing one, you get a little nervous (actually VERY nervous). These little "tags' (as I called them) make you feel safe, happy, excited even. When you see one you are assured that you are still on the right track  for now... The last thing you want to do is backtrack to find the right way to go. That was on our minds more than once on the trip, it is enough to make you cry. The thought of having walked pointlessly through this nightmare using valuable time and energy, ohhh please don't let that happen!!! Athol would ask if I had seen a tag lately, I would reply that I hadn't, and then had to fight the feeling of dread from my imagination. Every time I saw a tag I would yell excitedly to Athol "TAG' to which he would reply "WAHOO"?. With a sigh of relief a warm, safe feeling came over me every time I saw one. That was something to keep our spirits up. Anything will do.
At the top end of Moss Ridge we came across some sections that required us to climb. There was some rock, but it was mostly mud. It was wet mud, with indentations from where people had climbed before us. I couldn't believe that I was climbing on mud and with my pack on. Then we came to a corner of two rock walls. Yep, we have to climb up that muddy corner. I didn't even think of the danger, no time to be scared. I took a look, then a deep breath, and up I went with Athol close behind. Half way up I met a little froggie, said hello to him, then carefully placed him off the climb so Athol didn't trample him. He was a cutie.

Camp day 2
After walking for 12 hours we arrived at a little spot that was good enough for the tent. We were aiming to get to Bechervaise Plateau but the weather was clouding over and I was stuffed to say the least. We didn't know how much further it might be. Federation Peak was now looming over us, I imagined it was laughing at my attempt to reach it.
That was our Christmas Day. We set up the tent and I collapsed exhausted into my warm, safe sleeping bag. Athol got the Billy ready while I cut up the food. After dinner I fell asleep to the sound of rain and hail falling on the tent. During the night I awoke to Athol dabbing my face with a tea towel. "What are you doing?' I asked. He told me the water was leaking through the tent and dripping straight on my head. I kinda laughed, I was fast asleep and didn't even know. I told him not to worry about it and to get some sleep, but I don't think he did!
A bit later Athol woke me up. There was something outside the tent going through our rubbish. I was kinda scared so we both made some silly noises like "RAAAH' & "GRRRGRRR' to shoo this thing away, but it kept coming back. Nervously we poked our heads out the tent door to see a mischievous Spotted Quoll. It was interested in our empty fish can. I quickly got the camera out and snapped three photos of the little critter. That scared the poor little thing away. We put a whole can of fish out on the track for him, waited and watched for a while. Realising that he wasn't coming back any time soon, we fell asleep. When we woke up in the morning the fish was still sitting right where we had put it, and Athol's theory was that the Quoll had been blinded by the camera flash and fallen off a cliff! I hope not!!

Day 3
Friday now and it had rained all night and was hailing on and off. We decided the only thing to do was stay in the tent for the day. So, we played cards, slept, played cards, slept.
In the afternoon Athol decided to go for a wonder to the base of Federation Peak just for a little look. I stayed where it was warm and dry. Off he went.
I was having a nice sleep and woke to what I thought was Athol's voice. Instantly I was wide awake and alert. Surely Athol wouldn't call out unless something bad had happened. I quickly started putting on my wet, dirty, cold clothes and boots that felt like putting my feet into pools of cold muddy water. ssshhh. There it is again. That is Athol's voice. What am I going to do?? I raced off to find him. My mind was flooded with all the possibilities of what might have happened to him and what I was going to do about it. A broken leg?? Fallen and got stuck?? Paralysed?? Would I pack up camp and take it to where he was. How would I keep him warm? What would I use to wrap around his injury? No-one would know we were in trouble until Wednesday, that's when I had told Mum and Dad to send a search party if they hadn't heard from us. Hesitantly I walked along the track. I didn't go too fast. I was so scared of what I might be faced with..
What's that? Footsteps. I stopped and listened. Then Athol appeared in front of me. I calmly asked him if he had yelled out to me. He cheerfully replied "Yes – I yelled out Hello. I was standing on that rock way up there and hoped you would see me and maybe take a photo'. "Hello, help'. Athol! What were you thinking??? I yelled. Really, I should have been so excited that he was ok and given him a big hug, but I was just too upset! I then continued to irately explain what he had just put me through. He apologised. I turned around and headed back to camp. (He told me later that once I had turned around he gave me the finger – gee I'm glad I didn't catch him!) Athol could have climbed Federation Peak that day. He didn't though, he insisted that it was a team effort and he refused to do it alone. I wish he had of climbed it.
We decided that on Saturday we would get up nice and early and head to the base of Federation Peak , wait for some clear weather and climb to the top. Feeling a bit stiff and sore but kind of rested, we got up, put on our wet, cold clothes, and headed towards the huge mass of inhospitable rock. About 10 minutes up the track we got hailed on.
Athol proclaimed that we were in dangerous territory and best cut our losses and head back to camp, pack up and get out of the place. I took a little convincing, after everything we had been through I didn't want to give up that easy. Soon we were back at camp packing up our saturated gear.
Walking back down the track I felt a little defeated. But for the first time in my life, I wasn't concerned about not getting the "icing on the cake'. I didn't care. We didn't make it up Federation Peak and I just couldn't care less. We were heading out, we were alive, and that's all that mattered. Had the weather allowed us, we would have been up it, piece of cake. Just a bit of a climb. I felt that we had done the hard work, just a rock climb to the top. Yes, it's exposed, it's in the middle of nowhere, it would have been scary, but no doubt achievable. I'll never know the feeling – I am never going back to find out. (If you ever hear me say that I am, lock me up in the funny farm!).
We decided to walk out in one day, which meant we would be walking in the dark, but that was ok. I just wanted to get out.
The muddy parts that we had climbed a couple of days earlier were descended by abseiling. There had been so much rain, I have no idea how we would have got down without the rope. Athol made harnesses out of climbing tape stuff, it was uncomfortable, but worked a treat! Moss Ridge was no better on the way down. The only thing that made it bearable was the thought that we were getting out. Up, down, over, under, pack snagging, branches poking you in the eyes, hitting your shins every 10th step, oh, doesn't get any better than this. My knees were getting really sore, so at one branch that was at head height I decided to grab it and swing under it. If I swung hard enough it would give me the momentum to get back up on the other side. That will be better than crawling under it. With a heave I was off, going well, BANG! Severe pain shot through my knee. There was a sharp branch pointing towards it and I had just heaved myself into it. Hands on my knee, howling and screaming like a stuck pig, I cried and cried. Poor Athol. To see me in this much pain wasn't easy. After sobbing for a while, the rain washed away my tears and I pulled myself back together and hobbled off once again.
We came to the river at the bottom of Moss Ridge to find it very swollen. I stopped dead in my tracks. I'm sure I could cross it, but if I slipped I would be washed away. Ok, don't stress out, Athol will make it all better. And he did. He crossed the river and roped it up so I could cross safely. Man, was I thankful.. I couldn't think of anyone I would rather be in this situation with. I know that no matter what, Athol will make things ok, safe, or at least give me the strength to get through.
The next few hours were frustratingly slow, with many rivers and creeks to cross - somehow. Athol threw a log over one part for us to walk over. The track was under water so often, there were heaps of detours to get around the water, which we took, but had to be really careful that we got back on the track after the detour.
There was heaps of cutting grass along this section of the track. No matter how careful you are, you tend to tread on it with one foot, trapping your other foot underneath it and tripping yourself up. When you start to fall, you instinctively put your hand out to grab the nearest object for balance, that object being the cutting grass you are tripping on, cutting your hands. Oh how wonderful. Towards the end of this section of track Athol started just walking straight through the deep water. Ooohhhh, that meant I had to. Up to my chest in water, feet slipping on the mud at the bottom – will I fall over??? Ahhh, who cares?
We kept telling each other that it will be ok, we are getting out today. It doesn't matter what we go through, soon enough it will all be over. But would it? Will this track ever end? It didn't seem like a reality anymore. It just seemed like we had died and gone to some sort of hell.
The rain kept falling, we were absolutely saturated, my body was so sore. Our gear was heavier due to the rain. And our minds, well they were just mush. Keep thinking positive. Happy thoughts. What are we going to do first when we get out? I just want a smoke. (I gave up 3 weeks before the walk). I would give my right arm for a smoke, a drink and to be in the lounge room back at home. Oh, do I have a home. Do I have something other than this tent to live in? Something that I don't have to pack up in the morning? Home seemed like a distant memory. (Don't get me wrong, the tent is fantastic!)
Eventually we reached South Cracroft River where we camped on the first night. There were six people setting up camp. Night was approaching and we were still keen on walking until we got to the car. We had a quick chat to the people. The river was really swollen and not a convincing place to set up camp, but they had just walked six hours and camping grounds are limited, so I guess they had no option. We said goodbye and carried on.

Six hours to go?
I remembered the next part of the track being kind to us on the way in. Not swampy, no boggy mud. Well, that nice track had been transformed into deep, sloppy, muddy bog holes. My thoughts of having an easier walk out were shattered. By this stage we didn't bother going around the mud, we just walked straight through it. In parts it was up to you knees & hard to get your foot back out of. There were branches crossing over the track and joining up with branches of trees from the other side. You couldn't just walk through, you had to force you way through, getting scratched all the way!
Two hours from South Cracroft River we came to a little dodgy but bearable camping ground. I looked at Athol and said "are you thinking what I'm thinking'. He said "yes'. So, we set up camp. Our gear was so wet, I was hammered. Athol told me to get out of my wet gear and get into bed, he would fix me a coffee. I was grateful as it stopped my uncontrollable shivers. I was disappointed that we hadn't kept going, but after another 12 ½ hours of hard yakka I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a rest. The track was harder to follow due to all the mud and detours, so it was the safest bet.
At about 11 pm that night, torches appeared at our campsite. Then voices. My God! It was the six people we had seen earlier setting up camp at South Cracroft River . We didn't venture out to talk to them, but they must have got flooded out. I wanted to cry for them. What a horrible place! The poor buggers had walked for six hours, set up all their tents and got into bed, only to have to pack up their wet gear and walk for hours to get to where we were. All in the dark. Who would want to come here??

Day 4 - Wet and tired
In the morning I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I didn't have a comfortable sleep, every part of my body hurt. The feeling of excitement I had the day before about getting out was gone. I felt like there really was no getting out. I felt like we were trapped on a merry-go-round that would never end. Were we going to walk around in this nightmare forever?
We packed up for what I hoped to be the last time. I clenched my teeth as I pulled on my cold wet thermals. My feet were sore from being continually wet. We had in our minds that it would only be a two hour walk out. We were wrong. As we walked through the boggy track, beside the river, we kept thinking that it wasn't this far on the way up. Every time we went around a corner we thought it was the last one. But no. It wasn't.
Then!!!!!! all of a sudden!!!!!!!.. I came across the registration box. Wahoo! I quickly got the book out and signed it. The car is two minutes away. There's the good old Ute I wanted to hug it! We got changed into some dry clothes and started driving home.
Once home we celebrated with take-aways and a bottle of Champagne , followed by a bottle of Red Wine. We had a shower and a bath, then collapsed into bed. Exhausted but wide awake we gave up the idea of sleep, got back up and wash out our gear. I found some more leeches and watched them moving around for a while. They are the coolest little parasites!
Why did we do it?
Two weeks later, I still can't quite believe what we went through. I won't ever go to Federation Peak again, but I have this inkling that Athol will. Not one to be defeated and a lover of anything that is physically challenging. Yes He'll be back

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