Friday, 31 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 15

[part 15 of a 15 part series decribing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

15) Returning

Paperbark Camp to Farmhouse Creek, Saturday February 9th, 1991

For our final day, the weather is benign again. After a clear night the morning is chilly and the tents damp from dew and condensation. Breakfast is accompanied by the sound of honeyeaters in the treetops. The call of the local crescent honeyeaters differs slightly from those at home. Here they seem to have dropped the “ee” prefix I’m familiar with, and say simply “gypt”. I suppose bird languages can have dialects too. I begin to wonder whether Cracroft honeyeaters would fully comprehend Mt Wellington ones, and this jags my mind towards home. To be honest it’s been turning that way for some time. I’ve been trying to enter into the world of my family. What have they been doing for the last 5 days; how will Lynne be coping; how will they all take to having me back again; what will they make of my “achievement”? While I’ll be full of that they’ll be getting ready for the new school year. Re-entry into the atmosphere of planet family is not necessarily smooth and simple. Yet Lynne has always encouraged me to go on bushwalks like this, claiming that I come back all-the-better for it. Certainly on this occasion I get the feeling she’ll be right.

As we finish breakfast I tell Jim about an oddly affecting conversation I’d had with a stranger a few months back. An older man, working as a cook at a church campsite, he’d got talking with me about fatherhood over potato peeling. It had been all generalities and cordial agreement until I’d idly mentioned that I was thinking of building a treehouse for my children. Suddenly the man had gripped my arm and transfixed me with a pleading look. “You MUST do it. You must do it NOW! They’ll be grown and gone before you know it.” With the three of them aged 10, 7 and 4 that seems a long way off. Jim, whose got four, strongly seconds my thoughts on that. Nonetheless I had taken note of the stranger’s warning. In the intervening weeks I’ve scored a huge old CSIRO equipment box - just right for the treehouse floor and walls - and some second-hand wooden beams. I plan to hoist the wooden box into a cleft in a massive stringy bark tree. Then I just have to work out how to secure it there, add a roof and a ladder and it’ll be done. Regardless of my self-confessed lack of handyman skills – I laugh ironically at the “easy to install” blurb inevitably adorning DIY bundles – I reckon I’ve got my next challenge lined up.

It turns out everyone else is keen to get home too, and the “horse-headed-for-home” syndrome soon takes over. That gets us off early, and our greater walking fitness and the generally downhill trend keep us going at a reasonable speed. We’re over the Cracroft and climbing towards the next saddle by the middle of the day. With Burgess Bluff looming on our left, and the Arthur Range diminishing behind us, it’s a good place to stop for lunch. Fitter or not, I slump onto a buttongrass pad, sore-backed and glad of the break. I lean heavily against my pack, sucking in the air, and thinking that only a jack-jumper bite could shift me right now. I need a drink and a few moments’ rest before I can think about lunch. After five days in the bush I know there are no food surprises left, not even in Jim’s wine bladder. But I’m pleased with how well my rye bread has stood up, and I top it with my customary schmeer of peanut butter and home-made raspberry jam. We’d picked the raspberries at Peacehaven Farm as a family a few weeks before, and I’d made around twenty jars. Here and now it is both culinary bliss and the smell of home.

After lunch the climb out of the Cracroft watershed and into the Farmhouse Creek watershed seems to take an age. Long stretches of scrubby buttongrass and tea-tree yield to scrubby forest. The sun is strong and the tree cover doesn’t seem to shield us much. For the first time on the walk we are bothered by a hot sun, and perspiration flows freely. But finally we reach Rainforest Camp – a glorified name for a few small tentsites – where a stand of enormous King Billy pines signifies the beginning of our descent. It also takes us over the west-facing brow of the hill and brings both shadier walking and a comfortably cooler temperature. Now, as we start the gentle descent, there are frequent moments of light-heartedness. The frequency of horribly twisted Irish accents is a good indicator of our levity. Still we’re all very weary over this last section, and each of us trips, slips or falls at some stage. Thankfully there’s nothing worse than embarrassment and bruises to show for it.

As so often seems the case at the end of a walk, I’m convinced that each corner or creek crossing is our last. But reality makes a mess of memory, and we plod on for what feels an interminable time. I decide to put my head down and just keep walking, so when we suddenly come across the walker registration booth, it’s a pleasant surprise. A few minutes later we break out of forest into the bull-dozer turning circle that’s become the Farmhouse Creek carpark. I shed the pack and flop on the ground for a few minutes, swigging a few final draughts of wilderness water, before turning to the others. Like me they seem more relieved than ecstatic. We agree that somehow this place is a suitably low-key spot to finish such an amazing walk, its banality making it easier for us to come down from our summit.

We still exchange a few words of exaggerated self-congratulation. If we don’t say them who else will? But soon enough we’re packing our gear into the cars and getting ready to drive home. As I swing the pack into the back of Jim’s van, I’m happy to see the back of it. There will be plenty of time to hoist it on and get back out here. But right now I’ve got a treehouse – and a career – to get busy with.
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