Tuesday 21 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 7

[part 7 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

7) Moss Ridge Real

Moss Ridge, Wednesday February 6th, 1991

Does the weather matter today? We’ll be slogging uphill all day on the south-west’s equivalent of the Kokoda Trail. Can it be any more challenging even if it rains, hails or snows? We’ve heard no tales of death on Moss Ridge, but every other kind of bushwalking horror story seems to have been attached to this steep ridge of clay, mud, rock and roots. “Hanrahan” is only the latest to add a tincture of doom to this place and this day.

But the weather is clear and mainly sunny, and we wave an early farewell to “Hanrahan”, who can’t resist a few final words of woe. They’re rather addled, something about the weather being fine now, “but a crocodile smiles before he eats you!” Thus comforted we shrug our packs back into the grooves they’ve made and immediately enter the jungle gym that is Moss Ridge.

To be honest this is the day I have feared the most. We have carried a rope as insurance following stories of crumbling mud cliffs, and steep four-limbed scrambling. We’ve been advised that we may need to climb some sections without packs, and use the rope to hoist the packs. Some of us have pack-hauled on a previous trip in the south-west’s Anne Range. On that occasion one or two of us had climbed up the notorious “slot” on Mt Lot without packs. Those below had then tied packs to the rope and we’d hauled the gear up the cliff one piece at a time. Finally we’d helped the other climbers up, with the rope as a safety line. Here on Moss Ridge our progress feels slow enough without the added bother of pack-hauling, so I stubbornly climb with my pack on. The snag with this ploy is that I reach the tops first, and for a time I become the chief pack-hauler. It is exhausting work. As well as hauling we are sometimes crawling uphill, scraping beneath stubborn branches of horizontal scrub, bauera and ti-tree; unhitching our packs, our limbs, our very heads from the ensnaring scrub through sheer brute force. “Do that for a few hours and a quiet death in the snow starts to look appealing” one advisor had cheerily opined.

In the midst of these trials, Jim suddenly slips on a mud-slimed rock and falls heavily. He lands chest-first on a protruding tree root, the full weight of his pack on top of him. Grunting with pain, he rolls over, and lies there stunned and winded. We help him get his pack off and sit him up to assess the injury. With the wind knocked out of him, Jim initially can’t speak. As he begins to recover we can’t help noting what an unusual phenomenon that is. Jim laughs, and grabs his chest in fresh pain. He’s fallen on his ribs, one of which is particularly agonising to the touch. The Doc – actually a gynaecologist – checks him out, and simply suggests a rest and a bit of water. He quietly adds that he’d probably be a bit more help if it was a breach presentation. After another painful laugh and several minutes of rest Jim starts to feel slightly better. We discuss his state with him, and he reckons he’ll be okay to go on. Only after the trip does Jim confirm that he’s cracked a rib. But by then it is a war wound to brag about rather than a trip-threatening injury. At the time the only alternative to going on is going back. Given that it’ll hurt either way, Jim opts to go on, and we acquiesce. In hindsight it was a brave call, but at the time we’d never have told Jim that! Instead we struggle on, keeping half an eye on Jim. We also look out for some small tent-sites that are supposedly hacked into the thick scrub part way up the ridge, in case we need to stop early for Jim.

Between these distractions and those of the on-going obstacle course, we’re surprised to find Moss Ridge beginning to level out. We’re almost at Bechervaise Plateau, our destination for the day. Despite the terrain and the mishap, we’ve only taken 6 hours, and it is still just mid afternoon.

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