El Camino Loco – Terres d'ici, Terres d'ailleurs

Precipitous Bluff Trek – December 2012

Sunset on and the New River Lagoon

I had to go. Being by myself, confronted to my thoughts, walking, thinking, walking over and over again. The end of the last year has been insanely hard for me, I was more than shattered. Something I never expected to feel in my life, ever. And something I wish to never feel again.

I had 2 weeks off work, and initially planned to go on a climbing trip around Tasmania with my friends. The first two days of this trip were too hard to handle. We went to the Peninsula rock climbing some hard sport routes, but I was actually not ready to push myself vertically, nor to be around people all the time. I wanted to re-focus on myself, understand what was currently going on in my life and feeling free.

Recently a friend told me “climbing can kill you, but women can destroy you”. I was close, but not completely destroyed … yet. This would come later.

Realising this, I decided to go by myself on an adventure, in the remote South West of Tasmania, to climb the massive and impressive mountain, famous amongst hikers as PB, or Precipitous Bluff. Going there is serious undertaking. Most parties need around 5-6 days to get there (plus another couple of days on the South Coast Track to go back to Crockle Creek), with many difficulties: scrub, mud, scramble up and down, wading rivers for 10 kms, quicksand (scary especially when you don’t know about them), and coldness. The track is not really known as being well-defined, but is actually not that bad, and is therefore pretty lonely. Just exactly what I was looking for.

I spent my entire Christmas day getting ready for the hike. Chopping bananas, peaches, zucchinis, cooking 1kg of wallaby mince in order to dehydrate everything. The food was amazing, and I can tell I was really excited about it. I had lost many kgs before the hike, and since I was already pretty lin before, I could not really afford to lose much more. I had enough food for 8 or 10 days in case I would get lost in the bush. It turned out that I had far too much food and it took me much less time than expected. A friend let me borrow a push bike I could hide in the bush in order to get back to my car quicker once arrived. And a much wiser friend than I told me to take his EPIRB (a tracking and rescue device). I would have never taken it otherwise.

Boxing day morning … gorgeous and warm day. The Pajero is packed, I let Zach (my flatmate and friend) known of the places I was going to visit in case I would get lost, and here we go. My friends were a bit worried to see me going by myself on a tough hike, especially knowing what I was going through. And I completely understand. I was far from being in the best headspace for this kind of mission. But I had to and knew I will be fine. The drive in was emotionally quite charged, and I wasn’t sure why I was doing this anymore. But as soon as I started the hike, I was committed, with the feeling of no return point possible. I had to walk, and fast. I could not let myself perish, or being miserable. I guess I was driven by hope the all time. Well I was …

This introduction is probably not relevant. This is really personal. But I had to put it in context, mainly for myself (when I’ll be old and grumpy !) and I have nothing to hide. Now Lets focus on the hike, and trust me, this was no joke!

The fun part – DAY 1

Precipitous Bluff

Click here for a detailed map

The hike in itself starts from Ida Bay, 20kms north of Crockle Creek, the Southern road in Tasmania. I already got lost driving to find which gravel road to turn on. This was a good start !

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Mount La Perouse

This first day was just amazing. I decided to camp on the plateau above Pigsty pond. I took out my mp3 player, my small speaker, listened to some music remembering memories, ebook and solar panel ! The geek is hiking, watch out peeps ! Seriously speaking, the spot was just ideal, with stunning views on La Perouse which I wanted to climb early the next day. But I unfortunately never heard my alarm, I slept through and woke up pretty late past 830am.

The intense bit – Day 2 – 3

The next day turned to what the hike was suppose to be like. Scrub, scrub and scrub; and a tiger snake, or two ! From a distance, it always looks like some parts of the ridges or mountains would be easy to walk through, but this is usually just an illusion. The bush is incredibly dense. So dense that you can’t see the track you’re walking on, it is only possible to feel it while walking. It is not even possible to reach the ground when falling forward. This scrub can be at knee height, being very spiky and painful when you’re a ‘stupid french man’ like me and decide to wear shorts (but with gaiters though). Well that’s part of the fun. It can also be really tall, which makes orientation way harder and therefore it becomes pretty easy to get off route by following a wallaby track. But once past all these obstacles, the hiker is rewarded with the most amazing sceneries it is possible to get on the I guess. From the top of Pindars Peak, a 360 panorama is offered: the New River Lagoon guarded by Precipitous bluff, waves further south breaking on the sea cliffs and on pure white beaches, and all the mountain range up north for the dreamers. This is truly a spectacular place to be. All the rest of the hike can be pretty much seen from the top of the peak.

 

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Panorama from Pindars Peak – From L to R : New River Lagoon, PB …

This was the last good weather I had. Since the half of the second day, everything started to be miserable, windy, foggy, cold and rainy. I was soaking wet from my feet to my buttock, as well as my upper arms, even despite of my brand new rain jacket. The scrub is so dense that all the water sitting on the spikes, wood or leaves just bounce back and spray on the face to finally slide into the raincoat, pretty nice isn’t it. The worst happened on the third day when I actually climbed up to the top of PB. This hike is the kind of one where the hands and arms are almost as important as the legs, using branches to climb up boulders, then scrambling down, pushing the bush on the sides to get through (especially on the Moraine) … The actual problem is that the hands are facing up most of the time, and the rainwater would just drip from the hands into the sleeves of the rainjacket. I got cold, really cold. My polar jumper was wet, my feet were in constant mud and water, my shorts and undies were soaking wet, my hands skin looked like I had a 2 hours long bath. It got really concerning at some stage, I got so cold I could not unclip the clip of my hiking bag, and when eventually I managed to do so, I just could not open the damn wrap paper of my muesli bar. My fingers were just too frozen, and my body unresponsive. Keep walking was the best way not get seriously in trouble.

I know from now that wearing some gardening or washing gloves would have helped so much because they cover the sleeves.

But despite all this, the fog, the mist, the coldness, I have fond memories of this part of the hike and great pictures. The difficulties were many, but they were worth the challenge. I was going really fast, walking around 10 hours a day or more, driven by hope mainly. I just wanted to be fast, (reach the top of the mountain to see if I had service on my phone and any news), to go back home, and do what I thought would be right. At the end of the third day, I was already past PB.

Unfortunately, I could not see anything from the top. The weather was just insane. I was excited to check out the western side of the mountain with its steep dolerite columns to see any rock climbing potential. A good friend of mine, Lachy, went last year with his brother Ross to PB. They both rock climbed a new route on this face up to 300m tall. But the cliff appeared to me not to be much taller than 80m … the fog hid the majestic columns of dolorite. The only thing which really surprised me on the way down was all this limestone on the bottom bed of the mountain. I  wondered how many millions years I would have to wait until I could climb this limestone I was walking on (freak you  may say !)

The New River Lagoon Wading – Day 4

Joking apart, because the next part of the hike was definitely still not one. The 4th day was by far another big adventurous one. I woke up in better shape than when I went to bed. My arms were as tired as if I would have rock climbed most of the day; just to tell how much scramble there is to do.

All my clothes were pretty much dried, and even if the first thing I had to do in the morning was to wade in the river for 10kms, starting the hike being dry makes a huge difference. There is no track for this part, the only way out is to follow the river bank and to wade in. Because of the heavy rainfalls from the previous days, I had water quite deep, always at knee height. It slows down progression drastically, but there are couple of ways to save time:

  • crossing straight little bays to save couple of meters you will not ! A bad idea this is
  • using the shore and walking on it as much as possible to save time you can
  • wood poles you will look for and use
  • when quicksand you feel, panic you shall avoid, and swimming you could

Well regarding the last point, I have to say I didn’t fully experiment. I only felt once some quicksand, which I didn’t know they were until I was back to . It happened quite suddenly while I was wading. Within 5 meters, I had water from knee height to my waist, because of an affluent creek I had to across. I thought at the beginning I could just go straight, but the bottom of my bag started to get wet, and nothing inside was in dry bags. When I decided to turn back, my feet were completely stuck in the ground underwater. I just could not move, and the more I would try the deeper I’d sink. I didn’t panic at all, I was just confused and tried to figure out what was happening, so I stopped moving. And managed to unstuck myself with the help of my poles. Just a tiny bit scary alone by myself. But I didn’t expect this at all, since my friend Lachy told me he always acrossed those creeks by wading through without having to go back in land. I guess these quicksands are very localised and must drift over time.

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River Crossing on Logs

 

The only way to across those kind of affluent rivers was to go inland, usually for 50m or so, and try to find some logs to across on. There was every now and then some color tap to find the way. But when I finally found some logs, I seriously thought this had to be a joke. Imagine a 15cm wide log, floating on a 8m wide creek, as dark as the water of your dish wash, no upper branches to help for balance … nothing but you, the log and the creek. Exciting, isn’t it? Especially with my SLR which didn’t have a drybag to be protected in. The only solution, quite funny to watch I’m sure, ( and for this I would have loved to be with someone)  is to sit on the crotch, and to shuffle along using what you can.

Memories, they really are awesome ones. The price I had to pay this day was the lost of my water bottle. And although I was walking in a river, this latter was brackish. How funny is that. I knew I would be fine without; I only had another day and a half to go, it wasn’t going to be really dangerous, just annoying and not practical. I would just have to find water on the way. I always thought I had a good guard angel with me, and he/she showed up again ! When I arrived at Prion Beach, the boat crossing section for the South Coast Track, I finally met some people. A person told me there were some spare empty water bottles left in a pile of rubbish in the bush. Debris from the sea, fishermen and hikers. This was so improbable, but I found one !

Before a good shower – Day 5

One more day ahead to go. PB was still insight, majestuous, but sadly getting further and further away. Would I go back ? Who knows, but this was an amazing hike. My achilles tendons felt pretty sore for the first time in my life. I must have pushed it a bit, and the last day, I was literally walking like a zombie. My only goal was to arrive on sunday afternoon around 4pm to hitchhike back. I didn’t want to arrive the next day on the 31st at Crockle Creek with all the bogans there. I made it, got a lift by 2 fishermen from Dover, who live in Dover, drink in Dover, would do everything in Dover, and had an amazing shower back home.

 

I came back home with hope and clear ideas about how to fix things. As a person who always wants to fix everything* I guess. But how to fix something you don’t have any control on. After the hike I was feeling better … gave everything until I got fully destroyed … so I could climb again.


*cf man come from Mars, women from Venus

 

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