11 September 2008

Hinchinbrook Death March Pt II

OK. So I've now slept on the occurrances of the last few days, spent some quality time scratching numerous mosquito, sandfly, and other miscellaneous insect bites, and I can now hopefully put it all in some type of perspective.

The mission: Hike Hinchinbrook Island "Thorsborne Trail" north to south over 4 days, preferably without dying or incurring serious injury.

We caught the ferry out to Ramsay Bay on Sunday morning. This is about a 2 hour trip, the ferry making a couple of detours and stops along the way. The ferry is the primary transport for the Hinchinbrook Eco-Resort, and just happens to make a bit of a side business in transporting smelly hikers and backpackers to and from the mainland at the same time.

Landed on the Island about 11am, and set off south, destination Little Ramsay Bay - approx 4 1/2 hours hiking, including 3 headland crossings, about a kilometre of beach bouldering, plenty of scrambling up steep, sheer, slippery rock faces, plus a bit of climbing to boot.

Weather was looking grey but not threatening. We were feeling confident - the BOM had predicted 5 days of 17-28C, mostly sunny weather. The synoptic chart showed a large, stable, high pressure system located across the majority of northern Australia. Things were looking good.

Started to get a little spitting rain about 3 hours into the hike. No probs - we are outdoors after all - need to take the bad with the good. Nothing a bit of GoreTex couldn't remedy. Made camp in one piece, set up, and settled in. Rain slowly got heavier, but spirits were high.

The first sign of trouble was not putting the guy ropes out on our tent. Combined with rain and some breeze, the fly ended up sitting on the tent inner for most of the night, unbeknown to us. End result - waking up in a large, tent-shaped, puddle of water, with wet down sleeping bag (translated - now very heavy), wet Therma-rests, and wet clothes. Everything from the previous day was still wet. Packs were wet - even though they had been left hanging in a tree, with pack covers on. My pack cover was holding about 10 litres of water in the bottom. And it was still raining.

No issues, we thought. We'll just watch the rain, it will clear, surely the BOM can't be wrong? After about an hour, there was a decent break in the weather, enough for us to pack up and hit the trail. This was to be our biggest day of the hike, expected walk about 6 1/2 hours to Zoe Bay. Lots of climbing, rocky descents, couple of river crossings, and some swamp work thrown in for good measure. We needed to get rolling, and fast.

And the rain actually held off for a couple of hours. We made some good headway. Alarm bells started ringing when a few of the normally dry creeks started to run. Concern level went up a notch or two, but we kept rolling. The rain steadily got heavier, and heavier. All our boots soaked through. We hit a section of tea tree forest that is flat, and dry, to find it about 12 inches underwater, and rapidly turning into swamp. The concern-o-meter continued to climb.

And then we hit North Zoe Creek. This is one of the biggest crossings of the entire hike. A shallow, rocky creekbed, with a small island in the middle, total traverse a good 60 to 70 metres. Creek filled with slippery, smooth, baby head boulders. Difficult enough when not running hard. And we found it absolutely roaring.

No way we were crossing this. Combine fast moving water, with heavy backpacks, slippery rocks, and a creek known for its population of large crocodiles, this was clearly a no-go option. And we were 4 hours into a 6 1/2 hr hike.

Only thing for it. Turn around. And it was still raining - we had gone from showers, to all out torrential rain. We had all reached saturation point, spirits were low, energy levels were lower, and we were facing the prospect of hiking back over the country we had just come through. And the creeks were still rising, if we didn't move fast, we were facing the very real prospect of being stuck on a flooded swamp plain, with no way to get off until the water subsided.

So we hoofed it. And it was not easy. The entry (and then exit) to the swamp plain was via a (once) dry creek bed, fairly steep, and boulder-filled. I say once dry, because in the hour that had elapsed between us coming down it, dry, and us having to climb back up it, it had gone from dry, to running hard. Oh, the joy. I was not looking forward to having to carry out anyone that injured themselves, so great care was taken.

Other dry creeks were running hard as well, some borderline impassable. Two creeks ended up with me crossing them first, dumping my pack, then standing in the middle of the creek, shuttling other hikers packs from one side to the other, then helping the others across.

Another memorable section involved edging around a very large boulder, perched precariously on the edge of a slope, along a small horizontal fissure in the supporting rock legde. Once again, dry on the way out, but after 4 hours of rain, by the time we got back to it, said boulder had turned into a waterfall.

Running out of time and daylight, we opted to camp the second night at Banskia Bay, which was about a 1 1/2 hour hike from our original camp. My God, weren't we glad to get there. To it's credit, the weather eased a little, allowing us to get fed and watered, and get camp set up for the night. After nearly 9 hours of hiking in the rain, we were very happy to say the least!

By this point, the plan was firm. We would return to the northern ferry pickup point, and return to the mainland. We busted out the next morning for Nina Bay, further north, and only about 2 hours from the ferry pickup.

Another wet day spent hiking, thankfully without incident. We met up with two other groups of hikers, intending to head south. With tales of our misadventures, they were dissuaded from heading any further, and both decided to return to the northen point with us.

The power of torrential rain is scary. The ability of dry creekbeds to flood without warning, we saw coastal creeks break their banks, eroding tonnes of beach sand in the blink of an eye, landlocked lagoons break out to the ocean. Don't mess with water, especially if it's running.

We passed a few more groups heading south, including a PCYC group with 2 police officers and 7 teenagers, determined to make it south. After giving them the summary version of our adventures, they opted to continue. They were however more geared up than we were, and had radio contact with the mainland, plus enough supplies to hole up for a day or two if necessary.

On returning to the ferry point, there were 13 hikers total who all gave up due to the weather. Luckily I had found a saddle with some limited mobile coverage, and managed to call the mainland and the ferry depot to make sure they were coming out that day, and we made it home.

So an interesting trip to say the least. You are slave to the weather with these types of trips, and I'm sure we made the right decision in turning around and coming back a day earlier.

Some valuable lessons were learned - especially about guying out the tent, and taking more dry bags.

All in all, I'm glad we're home safe, and dry now. A full day will be spent drying our gear, and de-sanding everything.

Physically, we're all a little worse for wear. 4 days in wet clothes has left us with a variety of chafing and rashes. The rain dampened insect activity somewhat, but not completely. I am still covered in welts and sores from various flying and crawling things. Have been taking the 24 hour blend Telfast twice a day, plus Vitamin B, plus "Soov" blend topical bite cream, plus Tea Tree Oil, and I have beaten most of them into a state of unhappy submission - being that I am not compulsively scratching myself to pieces, but just have an underlying level of discomfort.

Oh, the things we do for fun eh?

1 comment:

Frank and Sue said...

great trip report.
Sorry to tell you but we were there this time last year and got great weather....
When we were there we were always wondering what it would be like if it rained heaps and the rivers were in flood. You have answered our questions big time.

Wise decision to retreat.

Keep up the great blogging