Sunday 19 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 6

[part 6 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

6) To Cutting Camp

Cracroft Valley to Cutting Camp, Tuesday February 5th, 1991

After crossing the South Cracroft River, we climb over a spur and head towards the West Cracroft. When lifting cloud and obstructing vegetation allow, we see views of the Eastern Arthur Range, and even of Federation. We are slowly drawing closer. The going is relatively easy, but we have first-day aches all over our bodies, and our rate of stumbling is increasing. Bill falls yet again, managing to add another cut to his already impressive array of bleeds. The leeches like him too, and we’re soon dubbing him “the little Aussie Bleeder”. He just grins and says “to be sure!”

Track notes and reports of previous trips tell us there are a couple of campsites along the West Cracroft. But on the ground it’s not always easy to tell. Somewhere we pass what’s grandly called the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) campsite. Perhaps we are too tired to notice it; perhaps scrub regrowth has begun to disguise it; or possibly our map has it marked inaccurately. Later we realise that it’s beside the old track, which our new route only rejoins just west of the VMTC camp. But that afternoon we are befuddled, and finding the Paperbark Camp only compounds our confusion. We think it’s the VMTC camp, and that Paperbark Camp – which some of us favour as a potential stop before Cutting Camp – is still ahead. So we push through our fatigue and walk on.

After around 11 hours on the track, we stumble at last into the next obvious campsite. It’s cut out of deep forest at the foot of a ridge, and if it’s Paperbark Camp it’s strangely named, as there’s not a paperbark in sight. It takes the appearance of another walker from his tent to confirm that we’ve actually reached Cutting Camp. This is a hard-won kilometre further on than we thought we’d come. It’s undoubtedly good news, but we’re too tired to even feign celebration.

The walker turns out to be a strange and eccentric character: an obvious novice who still manages to be highly opinionated. He swarms all over us, as far as it’s possible for one individual to swarm, volunteering that he’s from Victoria, is travelling alone, and is on his way back from an unsuccessful attempt to climb Federation. We swiftly come to understand why he walks alone as he blurts out every unfortunate detail of his terrible adventure so far. We’re far too weary to hear this now, but also too tired to fend him off. Dressed in cotton army surplus gear unsuited to the conditions, bedraggled and only semi-lucid, he’s like a ship-wrecked sailor who’s seen a ghost. He has nought but tales of woe from the heights above; how his tent blew down, how he almost blew down, and how “mate … you don’t want to go up there. It’ll rain an’ hail an’ sleet an’ snow an’ blow a gale, and yer all gunna die” or words to that effect.

We eventually make our excuses and withdraw to put up our tents; not all of them are as far from our strange comanion as we’d like. Thankfully he disappears as we get together over a hastily-prepared meal. In soft-voiced conversations we can barely stifle incredulous laughter. We agree we’ll have to call him “Hanrahan”, after the pessimistic character in John O’Brien’s poem who keeps proclaiming “we’ll all be rooned”. Just before we retire for the night he returns for an encore, bearing a hard-cover reference book to show us where we shouldn’t be going “if yer value yer lives!” The book is Ken Collins’ lovely “South West Tasmania” book. But “Hanrahan” hasn’t been kind to it, and the sodden book has swelled to the size of the “Lord of the Rings”. It must weigh a kilogram!

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