Sunday 10th Sep 2023
South Coast Track, Tasmania
It is quite reasonable to edit ones track notes when publishing. I’ve refrained from doing so in this entry in an effort to retain the immediacy of the thinking. It all looks and feels different a day or so later, especially from the comfort and safety of Hobart. It is also easy to shape the narrative by what we now know. It continues what we discovered the day before last – our track blocked by high tides.
I visited the creek mouth at midnight. ‘The Saucepan’ (Orion) hung over the horizon in a dark sky. Water still washed into the mouth of the creek but it was now crossable. I walked out into the wash a little with with my torch on high beam and could discern nothing about what the water was doing. The wind was down.
We woke to an overcast sky and the breeze up. The surf coming in over Prion Bay still tells me a midnight crossing at the other end is going to be dangerous. (Note: I understand it is more exposed than Grotto) So I have found out a little more and feel the decision remains right. Nonetheless I am sick with worry about what this might look like and how it will be interpreted and can barely eat. I push breakfast down and we break camp to birdsong. We hear them but cannot see them. We will go with ‘safe’. Do we call an emergency or do we wait for an emergency to occur? We walk back to Turua Beach.
It’s 1054 and the PLB is triggered. I so do not want to be the guy who does that. It’s an emotional moment and push back the feeling of failure and remind myself it is about good decisions and bad ones. All the bad ones involve midnight tidal crossings. Or a trek back to Melaleuca by which time we would be way overdue and someone would be forced to look for us in conditions none can control. It’s a bugger of a thing. This is no Tony Bullimore of Southern Ocean rescue fame. But I need to keep this party safe and this is what it comes to.
We have walked back to Turua Beach which has better topography for pickup. I was a 5SQN strop mannequin a few decades ago so have small insight into how ornery it can be getting people in and out of tree canopy. Mind you some of those [training] pilots used to enjoy trying to drop me into ponds, thickets and goodness knows what. They would instruct you to keep an eye on the crewman and while doing do drop you into something.
I’m very conscious of what has now been set in train. International registration. Rescue centre in Canberra. Hamish and Rod called. TASPOL notified and a crew activated. This is no trivial thing and the knowledge of it has plagued my decision making too. Again, good decision? Bad decision? Call an emergency or create one?
We are close to the beach. In quite a sheltered campsite on the Deadman’s Creek mouth. It’s a brilliant day for walking. Overcast and light rain. Blustery weather. The camp site is good if we are forced to stay here for any reason. Fresh water. Good ground. Out of the worst of the wind. No deadfall.
The PLB sits on a tree trunk and blinks away. It can only indicate we need help and where we are. I can’t convey we are physically well so I imagine any response will be anticipating full medical response. It’s hard not to feel bad about that.
We discussed at length the going back option. It we launched out of Deadman’s Bay tomorrow and went up to Low Camp, then to high camp that would be the only option. Somewhere in there we would be called overdue. Another day into Louisa River. If by then the search had been called , finding us in Ironbound Range would be problematic (unless IR is used). If we got back to Melaleuca we still wouldn’t have anyway to notify the situation.
1323. The weather has deteriorated and we have been forced into additional layers. Ironically it is the very weather that attracts us to being out here. ‘Wild and wooly’ with driving rain showers. The surf is up and boiling. The sun hasn’t broken through for a while. We have put up the tarp just to help keep the worst of the water off us. Entertained ourselves with a net bouy and created a version of ‘Wilson’ though have called her Willamina.
We will give it a few more hours before setting up a permanent camp. I would imagine a crew would appreciate not having to wait for us to pull things down and pack up. It’s hard to know if this wx would get in the way of any pickup but I have seen them flying in worse. Sorry for messing up your Sunday. It’s a sheltered site but nothing like what we had the last two nights. The problem there was that there was no clear space for a pickup. This is a lesser site but a better pick up spot.
The tarp is getting a good work out by the wind. It’s been quite a bonus this week. The tarp that is.
We have no idea about the sort of response time is in play here. So we are imagining rotor chop all the time. Something out there is making a convincing replication of it. We think it is the surf in the boulders. Both of us can hear it. A resonance fuelled by our imagination as well. The PLB blinks its message away. Scroggin for lunch.
1555. Half a cup of hot soup, shared, has gone down well. We have shifted the tarp from being a temporary protection from the rain, which still hangs about the range behind us but seems to have eased on the beach, to a position anticipating an overnight stay. We won’t put up the tent until the last possible minute but out of the wind and in a down bag sounds like bliss at the moment.
Sitting out on the boulders anticipating a helicopter makes for chilly sitting. But the terns wheeling about the surf keep my attention as they move in my peripheral vision. Three currawongs cruise past with the wind in their tail. A single silver gull glides in the opposite direction. Earlier in the day Hooded Plovers, tiny things, scampered about the surf line. I need to double check their name. Do we have Skua’s down here? Something like a Skua cruised in and out, swooping close then allowing himself to be whisked away 100m in an instant.
Self doubts niggle. I did update the PLB rego earlier in the year? Yes I did. Did it save? I have no idea. I contacted Rod and Hamish and they confirmed their willingness to be points of contact [for the PLB]. Did Hamish and I cover off enough when we spoke before we departed last Sunday? He certainly knows we are down here. It’s Sunday – does he have his phone on? Sorry Hamish. How sensible was it to suggest he leave it a couple of days after Tuesday before alerting anyone of a no show? Probably not the most clever. But Hamish has a good sense of what we are capable of and that is some assurance.
We sit on the boulders, watch the tanin stained surf foam and fleck and reflect that it’s hardly likely we are the only folk needing help across the state today. Patience. We are mentally preparing for being here for a few days yet. We just have to keep dry, watered and fed. On the first two we are good. Feed will be a matter of stretching out our supplies. Half a cup of hot soup is a good start.
1700. We set up the tent since we need to get out of the wind. It makes a huge difference. But we remain basically packed since the sun sets in an hour and there is half an hour of light thereafter. We don’t need to be deflating and packing up any more gear than we need. But we can’t freeze either. The afternoon throws some spectacular light over the ridges as the sun goes down and I catch a couple of photos.
After all my anxiety about triggering the PLB I am wondering if it is working.[insert smiley face]. I’m sure it is. But we discuss options and the worst case is that we here for 5 or 6 days. That is, until folk report us missing (assuming the PLB has not been working as it should).
1922 We have played some cards. The PLB sits on a makeshift seat outside blinking away and secured by a stone from having the aerial catch the wind and topple over. Lights out to conserve batteries. I’ll check the PLB during my midnight pit stop runs. The surf is only 50m away and roars. The wind seems to have dropped though.