light-packed walk in 47 hours
Start 7pm - 7/12/97
Finish 6pm - 9/12/97
This walk was a 'training' walk for Tasmania Police Search and Rescue - Land Squad. Usually S&R walks are done at a brisk pace and it isn't unheard of for people to be almost running with their packs on. I expected that this trip would be at a fairly brisk pace.
I arrived at the office at 4pm and we waited for Damien to get back from his helicopter jobs. We eventually left from S & R office at 5.30pm.
On the way down to Farmhouse Creek we collected Gerard from his house. We arrived at Farmhouse Creek and start walking at approximately 7pm on Sunday 7 December 1997.
I was using a Macpac 'day and a half' pack and had it totally full. Things that I left out that I should have taken were:
Gas and cooker
Polar fleece top
More food. (scroggin, snacks, meals, tea bags etc)
To fit this gear in I would have needed to take a multi-day pack and tightened up the side straps as much as possible to compress the size.
Farmhouse Creek - South Picton Saddle - 2 hrs - start 7pm
The track follows next to Farmhouse Creek in a westerly direction then crosses the creek and winds through the sloppy mud and cutting grass and past the turn off to Lake Sydney. The track then continues up to the South Picton Saddle. By this time it had been dark for quite a time as we were walking under a thick tree canopy - and it was about 9pm when we arrived at South Picton Saddle at about 9pm.
We stopped at the junction where the new track turns south west and the old track continues straight ahead downhill towards Judd's Cavern. We all slept in sleeping bags and bivvy bags as we were travelling light. We slept on the dirt/moss and I had a bad nights sleep because I think I was dehydrated. The sound and feeling of my heart pounding and a throbbing headache kept me awake for most of the night.
Next morning we all got up at approximately 6am with clear skies - just visible above the tree canopy. We all had some breakfast and lots of water and headed off at 6.30am. The track headed south west then west, and gently down hill until we reached the knee-deep bog of the Cracroft Valley.
This walking is fairly flat and Damien and Gerard had a good pace up as Justin and I chased along behind. There was only occasional water along this section and I didn't drink anywhere near enough. In hindsight I should have used a bladder system with a tube to my mouth to have a ready access to water because I never had time to stop and get my drink bottle out as we were rushing to keep up.
Along the track we had clear views of Mt Hopetoun, which could be initially mistaken for Federation (to someone not familiar with the area) as it is quite impressive also. The track across the plain was interrupted by a ridge that is 350m asl approx, that we crossed. At the top of this we first saw Federation Peak to the west. It was free of cloud and looked awesome - and far off into the distance. It was here that a discussion took place - that maybe we were setting our sights too high by trying to climb Federation that day. I agreed but didn't say it because I desperately wanted to get to the top, but it was a hell of a long way off.
We kept walking and I started to drop back a bit from the group - partly due to dehydration and lack of food due to my aim of a light pack. We reached an area of many creeks leading to the Cracroft River (or one creek that we crossed a lot). I stopped to fill up with water again - drinking as much as I could. It was in this area where I reminded myself why Cutting Grass received its name - as I accidentally grabbed at it while tripping in a bog patch. You don't immediately realise that you have cut yourself with Cutting Grass, but after a few seconds you start to feel some pain as you see the cut dripping with blood.
After a few small breaks to get drinks and wash the blood off my hand, I reached the Cutting Camp which is at the base of Moss Ridge and is the point where the old track (that went past Judds Cavern) meets back with the new one. I was feeling totally buggered and staggered into the camp area to find the rest of the group sitting eating their lunch in attractive surroundings next to a creek. We had a break for around half an hour and 'fuelled up' in anticipation for the hard climb up Moss Ridge which rises from 360m to about 800m asl in 1.5km of horizontal distance.
Cutting Camp to upper Bechervaise Plateau
This is probably the hardest section of the trip. As we left Cutting Camp I headed off first as I had been slowest coming along the last section. After the break I felt quite good again so the climb up through the thick scrub of Moss Ridge went quite quickly. Moss Ridge is comprised of a climb up through lots of twisted vegetation. Our light packs made this section a lot easier than it would normally be. The 'Chapman' guide book suggests that this section can take 4-6 hours but we got up in about 1.5 hours due to fast travel and light packs.
At the top of the first section of Moss Ridge you are confronted by a series of very steep hills in front of you. When you look at them you think "We must just walk around the side of these", but the track heads up and down over all of the 4 or 5 steep hills. The climb up each hill was a combination of rock, roots and peat. We would have had to 'pack haul' if we had packed for an extended trip, but we managed to get up and down each hill with no major dramas.
The climb up and down each of these hills was very draining because of the heat of the day (still hot and sunny) and the speed that we were trying to keep up. By the end of the last of the hills there was another flat-ish section with lots more bog and a slope up to lower Bechervaise Plateau. I started to fall back again behind the others. I was probably getting dehydrated again. As we walked across Lower Bechervaise Plateau we were greeted by a welcoming committee of thousands of little flies who swarmed around our stinking bodies - that we had grown accustomed to.
Next was a short but steep section leading to upper Bechervaise Plateau. As we started to climb up this section Damien and Gerard were in front. Justin was just in front of me and I was struggling and slowing down even more. It was as though my body knew that we were almost there and it was shutting down hoping to coast to the end. However the next stop was still uphill another few hundred metres.
I eventually hobbled over to the other guys who were sitting down next to a small creek, eating and fuelling up for the climb ahead. Upper Bechervaise Plateau is at the base of Federation Peak and with the clear skies that we had there was an incredible view looking up at the impressive Peak.
I could barely stand and to even contemplating eating or drinking was far too energetic. Damien kept telling me to get some food and water into me so I could start to recover. Everything was such an effort and by this time it was about 2.30 - 3pm and we had been walking for around 8 hours already. In about 15 mins I drank a litre of water and had some food bars. I still felt exhausted and told the others that I thought that if I tried to climb the Peak, that I was too tired to concentrate properly or hold on. I was scared of making a mistake in an area where mistakes could be fatal ones.
Damien and Gerard suggested that we wait for another half hour and I drink as much as I could to rehydrate, saying what a shame it would be to get this close and not to climb to the summit or at least try to. Looking above upper Bechervaise Plateau there was a very steep section that led to the sheer cliffs of the north face. It looked awesome and scary.
Upper Bechervaise Plateau to Summit and return
|Federation Peak to Lake Geeves|
After I had eaten and drunk as much as I could in 30 mins we set off, with Justin carrying a light daypack and I had a bum-bag. The first steep section wasn't too bad. This consisted of a steep zig-zag scramble uphill. I was feeling a lot better physically now and glad that I was there. At the top of the first section we were at the base of the cliffs of the peak. At this section my gaiters were annoying me as the cords under my feet were loose. I took my gaiters off and left them at the gully which heads down very steeply down to superb views of Lake Geeves. The views were inspirational and no camera shot could do them justice.
Once we got down the gully about 50m you reach the Southern Traverse that crosses along the southern side of Federation. We headed west along the Southern Traverse for a short distance and then started the climb back up again - following the cairns. This climb wasn't too scary initially, as it was steep but dry and there were good hand holds. As we got higher we reached a section where you had to head across to the right on a narrow ledge and then climb up. If this was near ground level you wouldn't think twice about doing it, but below there was nothing much stopping you on the way down to Lake Geeves - hundreds of metres below.
We kept heading up and as long as you focused on the task in front of you there were no dramas as the dry quartz provided very good hand holds. Before I knew it I looked up and saw that Gerard who was in front of me had reached the cairn at the Peak. I was elated although the thought of having to climb back down was scary as you would be looking down the very steep rock faces.
At the summit all of us were excited and relieved to be there - with clear skies and 360 views. Lots of photos were taken and we were in awe of scenery. By 6pm looking to the west and we could see that there was some big black clouds approaching. I started to head towards a gully to climb back down from the summit but the others yelled out that it was the wrong gully. I looked down and could only see sheer cliffs. It made me worry about how I would have coped if I was there without people who had climbed the peak before.
We headed back down and took the most dangerous bits very cautiously. As we were scrambling down the final slope to upper Bechervaise Plateau we could see that there was another group that had set up tents near where we had set up our packs. When we got down there we sat down and cooked up a meal and relaxed while talking to the group from Monash Uni that were camping there.
After our meal we headed down hill past lower Bechervaise Plateau and arrived at a camp spot just big enough for one tent (or 4 bivvy bags). We unpacked our gear and lay on our bivvy bags talking about the big day. The summit of the peak was just covered in light mist and the rest of the sky was clear. We got into our sleeping bags and I slept fairly well until I was woken by the sound of Damien's voice complaining about the rain. It was then that I realised that it had been raining for a while. My sleeping bag was a bit wet but I just got into the waterproof section of the bivvy bag and velcroed it up.
Tuesday 9/12/97 Moss Ridge to Farmhouse Creek
We got up and started walking again at 6.30am. We reached the steep hills at the top of Moss Ridge and once again headed up and down the peat slopes. At the top of the final peak I was walking in front of the others - with Gerard close behind me. Just as I was about to climb down a 5 metre drop, the root I was hanging onto snapped sending me falling down to the bottom - landing on a log across the back of my right leg. I felt really dizzy and clutched at my leg in agony and yelled.
Gerard called out to me asking if I was ok and I have no idea what I said but I rolled off the log that I was on and lay onto the ground and stayed there. I waited until the others climbed down and Damien told me to take my pack off. I really didn't know how I would be able to walk out considering we still had another 10+ hours to go.
Damien sent me off down the horizontal scrub section of Moss Ridge and every step off my right leg I felt a very sharp pain up the back of my right thigh. Halfway down Moss Ridge, Justin caught up to me and gave me some pain killers. I think they helped a bit. When I arrived at the Cutting Camp I filled up with water again and assessed my injuries. I thought that I could keep walking but Damien insisted that he would continue to carry my pack for a bit longer so we weren't slowed down too much. He strapped my pack to the back of his pack and powered along like a machine with the extra 15kg on his back.
The walk from Cutting Camp was in 4 seasons of weather - making it hard to regulate my temperature. I was forever taking my coat on and off. The rest of the day was a long hard continuous slog. I made sure that I kept the fluids up better than the previous day. Mostly I walked with Justin with Gerard and Damien following along behind letting me set the pace because of my injury.
We only stopped a couple of times on the way back for drinks because we were trying to get back before dark. The last section from the Farmhouse Creek crossing down to the car was really hard even though the terrain wasn't hard and my injury had settled a bit. I carried my pack back from the South Picton Saddle and by this time my legs and feet were very sore and tired. Every step was a major effort and as I climbed over fallen trees I really just wanted to lie down and rest. I knew that if I did it would be really hard to start again.
Damien and Gerard bolted off out in front in this last section and when we eventually got back to the car we found out that they had been there for 45 mins. After a quick change I crawled into the car and had a few muesli bars that I had left there. On the trip back we picked up a pizza at Huonville and got to the S&R office at approximately 9pm.
I struggled to drive my car home (it is far easier to drive and automatic car than a manual when your legs are stuffed!) and then spent the rest of the night soaking in the bath.
In August 1998 I returned to Federation Peak - via Farmhouse Creek. I walked the same route as the previous trip but with my father this time. These conditions were very different. Being winter the track was very wet, the days were short and cold. We spent 4 days walking there and back but weren't able to climb it because of the heavy snow cover but we did reach the area of the final rock climb to the summit of Federation Peak.