Clearly it is no longer a question whether it was to be or not to be, but now becomes about how it was. It was a lot of things, more than fits appropriately into a usual ‘great little walk’ kind of descriptor. While the Fedder trip went, in the broad scheme of things, according to what was planned (we left on the Friday, returned on the Monday, and walked each day as planned), the experience itself was more ‘intense’ perhaps than one could imagine (perhaps that was partly psychological too). The good bits were far better than expected, and the bad seemed more hellish. What started off as a very disappointed ‘this is not the way I wanted to end my summer walking’ kind of feeling, turned into a ‘actually, no, the hard work paid off and the reward was amazing’. Certainly more complex, and fittingly so, than any of the ‘awesome walks’ I’ve been lucky enough to go on over the summer.
Climbing Fedder is not something that just happens out of the blue, and although for us it was a rather short few months waiting from deciding to go and actually going, those months were none the less filled with lots of nervous excitement and a touch of anxiety about weather, health, fitness and ability. The short story behind the seed for, and planning of, our trip can be found on the Acropolis, Parthenon entry, or is as copied below. Skip if you’ve already read it!
Standing on Wylly Plateau in early December, having just experienced a magnificent and magical day climbing PB and watching the colours of the setting sun light up the sky behind Fedder, something clicked, and it was suddenly time. No more ‘one days’.. no more toying with the idea of running in and out solo. Graham, by virtue of chance (wrong, or right, place and time perhaps? Or some greater engineering outside either of our control), was the victim of this particular moment and set of circumstances, and was asked (or perhaps told.. and in no uncertain terms ;)!) that I wanted to climb THAT mountain, and he was coming..
Nothing more was organised then and there, but I knew I had a willing conspirator to court this mountain with me when once we were back home, settling in to the routine of normal life again, I was asked about dates. We pencilled in two weekends, 4 days, in and out. Fingers crossed for the weather. This weekend just gone, as I said, was the first. It wasn’t to be. Pity, because although it wasn’t planned, I’d realised a few weeks ago that if I successfully climbed all the mountains between then and Fedder, that Fedder would be my 200th peak.
But doubts rose at the beginning of the week leading up to the weekend, Graham was down with a nasty cold, I was over worked (deadlines and translation aren’t fun) and under-rested, and the weather wasn’t looking flash. It wasn’t a fun week of waiting. The mood turned from slightly hopeful, to dreading that neither of us would be going anywhere (and that is ALWAYS worse). Fedder was called off on Thursday.
Obviously, this week was our last chance for an attempt this summer, as the days would be shorter, the weather less stable, and the chance of success would be reduced. We waited with more nervous anticipation, then with a hint of excitement, as the weather shaped up to be workable, although not necessarily perfect. Rain on the Friday walk in to Cutting Camp, possible rain on the Saturday for the walk up Moss Ridge to Bechervaise Plateau and a possible summit attempt, sunny on Sunday for a second possible attempt and retreat back to Cutting Camp, and fine for the walk out on Monday. Wind was negligible, slightly increasing on the Sunday night when we’d be back in the forest. We accordingly set our sights on a Sunday summit attempt.
We had a quick turn around from the weekend before, filled with washing, restocking food, batteries, loo paper etc, and repacking. I worked an early shift on Thursday night, raced out the door armed with two apricot danishes at 5am, drove home, showered and was good to go when Graham arrived shortly after 5.30. It was nice to finally have something to do, rather than just waiting for the moment to arrive. The nerves disappeared, and the excitement, slightly surreal, remained.
We chatted a little, and were then quite quiet, left to our own thoughts. Presently though, the wondering about what the next four days might bring was forgotten, with an invaluable, if embarrassing, lesson on the need to check (when parked on a flat surface mind), and top up, engine oil. I’m supposed to be a semi intelligent person, but sometimes I feel quite the opposite! A stop at Huonville had that (and coffee) temporarily sorted, and we were off, negotiating our way along the long, and quite poorly maintained, forestry roads. When I’d been in last year to do Bobs and the Boomerang, there was just one major pothole, from which a stick sporting pink tape protruded to warn drivers of the danger. This time there were 3, highlighting the relevance of the concern many bushwalkers have over the recent handing over of roads from Forestry to Parks.
It was shortly after 8 by the time we were ready to go, and we took in the humid, overcast and rather wet-looking (but not actually raining (YET)) conditions, and decided to go ahead in shorts and shirts. We were drenched in no time, Graham particularly so as he took the lead and therefore the full brunt of wet scrub, that, because wet, hung lower and more claustrophobically over the path as we attempted to push through it. Intermittently we unsuspectingly shook cold showers down on our heads, as we reached out for a branch or trunk to steady ourselves, or bumped our packs against something we hadn’t seen.
The going was slow and tiring, requiring all concentration to stay upright and moving forwards. Eyes were rivet to the forest floor, scanning for a spot to put each foot that avoided the super slippery tree roots, mossy rocks, or at times unsuspectingly deep patches of bog. Any opportunity to look elsewhere had you scanning for ‘head hunters’ (branches at head height that really HURT when you walked into them), or trunks/branches to hold on to on either side as you ducked uncomfortably low under a fallen tree, or tried to raise a leg over shoulder height to get over another one. There was very minimal time spent admiring surroundings, though the sheer masses and variety of fungi did not escape our attention, even though we didn’t stop to photograph any. Instead, it was the auditory delight of olive whistlers and lyre birds (and yes, a sighting or two too) that we were able to enjoy more as we walked.
A little way into the walk, completely drenched, not much conversation happening, I had the cheek to ask Graham if he was having fun. The reply was a none too convincing yeeeees, which in a few hours had more honestly turned into a NO. Like I couldn’t have figured that out from the occasional expletive that he let rip after banging his head for the 8th time, or slipping on an invisible root, or just at the sheer continual bombardment of it all. It didn’t let up. Nearing and after the turn off to Lake Sydney the bog got more fun (NOT), and the bauera and cutting grass made a timely appearance as if we didn’t already have enough trip hazards to avoid, or a patch of skin that wasn’t already soaked through and muddy.
Jackets went on at the Picton saddle, not to keep us dry, but to make things more comfortable. And then we were onto the ridiculous bush dance that comes with so many obstacles that it’s hard to call a path a path! We seemed to slow right down, but it’s impossible to go fast when you can’t take two connected strides, and we were actually on the faster side of Chapman’s times. It was a great pity that walking took so much concentration that we couldn’t enjoy the rainforest, which actually was quite beautiful: luscious and green, with happy little pink elongated bell-shaped flowers to brighten it further.
As we walked in silence (there’s a saying, if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it, and I think we were both feeling pretty over the walking by this stage) I couldn’t help reflecting on what I’d expected of the trip. It wasn’t this! I was all for another amazing walk into a very special, very significant place, that while demanding, was going to be lots of fun. But I wasn’t having fun. Oh no.
Short of a full on scrub bash, this was some of the worst, least enjoyable walking I’d done, and I even had company, and good company at that, which usually makes a walk in horrid conditions alright. It wasn’t cutting the mustard. I discovered as we chatted later that evening that Graham was thinking and feeling the same thing. This wasn’t the end to a summer’s worth of very awesome walking either of us wanted. And I just hoped like hell that we got to the top and that that made it ok. The effort to get in and out could only be justified by an amazing climb and time on top.
But it was hard to be optimistic about even that. The day was so grey, the cloud low, the mood oppressive and dark, and though we saw glimpses of Hopetoun under the swirling mist, we saw no evidence of our mountain. Would the weather do as forecast? Would we get a window of opportunity? It’s amazing how hard it is to stay positive and have a little faith when you’re in those conditions.
There was nothing for it, but to trudge on. Even this, we both admitted, we did because the other was there. Had either of us been walking alone, we’d most likely have called it off and walked out then and there. We got through the tangled forest, across the boggy button grass sprinkled with more bauera and cutting grass (lethal trip-hazard, eye-poking, harm-inducing, pride-damaging combination that it is), and then along the enclosed riverside walk through each of the various camps, finally arriving at Cutting Camp, just over 8 hours after having started out. What a relief!
Exhausted, wet clothes were stripped off, a tick and a few leeches removed, and I stood in the freezing cold water of the river, trying to get the worst of the ingrained mud off me. It’s surprising how warm it seems after emerging from a river so cold it’s pain inducing, and putting on warm DRY clothes. I gave in very quickly to a loosing battle against the mozzies, and I’m paying for it now! No energy to cook dinner, I got straight into my sleeping bag to warm back up after cooling down, and fell asleep before even getting out my lunch (we hadn’t even stopped for that). Graham woke me after having cooked some dinner of his own and forced me to eat something, which he probably knows I did only to get him off my back ;). I don’t know that I was particularly sociable or agreeable, I was certainly more than half asleep!
The next morning was cold, and the sun was still stuck behind light grey cloud, that gave no hint of if or when it might lift. Our excitement for the morning came when Graham discovered one very fat leech who must have sucked his blood all night. We ate and then packed as much as we could, before gingerly struggling into cold wet clothes. The start of the track was in the same condition as the walking of the day before, but as we started to gain height as we headed up Moss Ridge, things improved. There was a lot more climbing over, under and around more trees than you could possibly imagine on a TRACK, but it started to get a bit more fun, and was less suffocating and claustrophobic.
We had hints of sun, which slowly thawed out the grey mood hanging over our heads, and it wasn’t too long before I realised yes, I was actually having fun! Graham was also finding the ducking and weaving easier now that I was carrying the tent inner and fly (nice to finally be pulling a bit of weight and not feeling so guilty for slacking off), as it made his pack that little bit lower. One of the super fast bushwalking friends I’d asked for info on route finding before leaving had told me I’d love the climb up Moss Ridge, and I agreed he was right.
The first part of the climb is straight up, but it’s not so tiring because the going is slow given the nature of the climbing and so you don’t actually get short of breath. For someone like me who likes using my arms from time to time, it was great, and a good little challenge in spots. In one, no hand holds meant Graham got a bum boost, and I got an arm pull up, only once we were up we found an alternative and much easier route round the other side. But we’d had fun, so no matter. In another spot we got to climb a skinny tree, balance precariously on a plank that ran from a fork in said tree to the top of a rock part way up a vertical wall, work out footing, before climbing up the remaining, less vertical, part of the wall. Lots of fun :)! I remember being grateful too, that I was walking with Graham. He seemed to know exactly when to keep walking after a climby section so as not to be patronising, but also when to pause to make sure I got up ok, even though I didn’t actually need a hand.
After passing the bivvy cave, we gained the ridge and had our first views. It was perfectly timed, and as we took a snack break we watched Fedder poke out of swirling mist. We wondered if what we could see was the summit, or if it hid round the back. We later ascertained it was indeed the summit. Spirits were now high, the hell of yesterday forgotten for the moment, and smiles covered our faces.
This made the subsequent ups and downs and ups and downs actually quite easy, so much so I don’t even remember thinking ‘is THIS the last one?!’. And then a chuckle of incredulity as Graham spotted the first bit of track work on the whole trip, one of those seemingly irrelevant planks of wood put in at an angle across the track to make the water run off in a certain direction. But it gave hint of what was to come, and very soon we were walking on duckboard!! Oh the beauty of taking long strides!!! We were laughing, Fedder was right there, and we passed low camp (where signs ask you not to camp if possible to aid the regeneration process) and made our way on to the tent platforms at high camp on Bechervaise Plateau.
I couldn’t believe it.. nestled in right under the watchful eye/protection of Fedder itself. I checked my GPS, 342m!!! I couldn’t believe how close we were.. and about the same distance in elevation too.. EEEEK!!
So we set up the tent, ate some lunch, and decided to set out on a recce mission. The weather was changing fast, mist would blow in one minute and everything would be white, or Fedder would be obscured, but five minutes later the sky would be clear. As a result, and after spotting some dark clouds forming over the Eastern Arthurs (from which direction the wind was blowing), we thought we wouldn’t be summiting, just checking out the route to make the going faster for the following morning (when the weather was supposed to be nice and sunny).
So a quick pack and off we set. I wasn’t feeling great, I had the inklings of symptoms I’ve had before when down with vestibulitis (an inner ear infection). I didn’t realise this was what it was until the following morning, I thought it was just tiredness. But it meant looking up made me feel dizzy and a tad nauseous, but I wasn’t going to say anything, or miss out on the chance to climb Fedder now that I was here. Instead, I was a bit more careful with how many photos I took looking up (down wasn’t an issue) and with how much I moved my head around.
When I was a bit too naughty (I couldn’t help enjoying the views after all) I had to pause, find a reason to take a photo or two until the nausea settled, and I could catch back up to Graham. He’d asked to lead, it gives him confidence in situations where he might not otherwise have it (and he’s a confident person in general), so that worked out just fine. It meant I didn’t have to look up to spot the route, I just had to keep his feet in view.
The initial bit is straight up, up stairs worn into the soil, then on slightly less vertical rock, and eventually to a flattish area about 150m above camp (which you look down on). At the edge of this you come to a narrow and steep gully that descends towards Lake Geeves. Checking that it was the right way forward, down we went, into the mist. It was very atmospheric, and changing constantly. We picked the right bit to start sidling across and climbed the the gully with the chockstone. The further we went up, the lighter the mist seemed to get, though it still came and went.
It was part way up the climb that both of us realised at about the same time that I’d left the rope back in my pack. Whoops. Oh well.. we were just going on a recce after all (not that we thought we’d actually need it, and we hadn’t needed to pack haul on Moss Ridge). So up we continued.. stopping to check track notes when a cairn wasn’t immediately obvious, heading up and climbing left, then right, left again, up some more, right across a ledge, up a section of steeper rock, oh wait, check that out.. it’s a rock with a bit of tape to fix a belaying line.. Hang on.. we’ve just climbed the ‘hard bit’.. ooops again! Oh well.. let’s keep on going..and hang on, maybe take a few more photos, because we might actually be climbing this thing!!
So a tad more up, less ‘up-ish’ too, and more across by now.. and wait… there’s that feeling like there’s not going to be any more up in a few metres. Graham paused for me to step up beside him, and we walked the last few metres to the summit together, smiling and laughing at the incredulity of it all, that we’d climbed Fedder without even intending to, and somehow we’d beaten the odds of weather and all the rest!!
As if on cue, one of the Melaleuca planes flew by and we both waved.. then shortly a second did the same.. Graham kept on waving, and wait, what’s that?! The pilot must have seen him, and turned the plane around for a circle around, saying hello. We were exhilarated by the timing and the contact, despite brief and at a distance, with the outside world. It was pretty special. I hope the passengers on the plane felt a similar thing.
It was just awesome being up there, and Graham had extra reason to celebrate – 250 points (congratulations!!). Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time, so short and sweet it was to be. It was 4.30 or so when we got up, and after posting a photo on FB to let everyone know we were ok, sending a message or three, and taking a few photos, enjoying the mist and clouds, laughing some more and writing our names with a great big smiley face in the log book, we figured we had to head back down at about 5 before it got too dark.
So down we went. Now that I was primarily looking down the dizziness and nausea weren’t an issue and I really REALLY enjoyed the climbing. I think Graham did too mostly, judging from the smiles. We mucked around taking a few photos, posing with the chockstone, but were still down in an hour. This was handy to know, as the times quoted by Chapman range from 2-5 hours return from the camp site. We were definitely closer to the 2, but it clearly depends on group size, whether a rope is being used, etc etc.
Spag bol for dinner, interrupted by an amazing light show on the horizon as the sun set, out of view, but casting a bright orange glow on mist that sat around some of the peaks on the Eastern Arthurs. When the light was gone, we returned to dinner, which was followed by a celebratory dessert of custard, fresh strawberries, chocolate and port. Topped off with a bit of stargazing, and admiring just how fast the misty cloud came and went, hiding and revealing the night sky. I struggled not to doze off, perfectly content as I was.
A bit of a wake up call when I got up, the dizziness was back and bad, I couldn’t walk straight along the boardwalk (no, I hadn’t had THAT much port!), and I was feeling sick and now rather shaky and cold. I put it down to being tired and run down, and vowed I’d take better care of myself once I got back (I am trying). For now, into bed with me. I was again most grateful for Graham’s company. Usually when sick I prefer to be alone, but it was nice to be reassured that there was someone else there, someone I trusted, and that things would be ok, one way or another. I shook for a fair bit of the night, but managed to get some sleep.
I was still feeling very average the next morning, and resorted to some drugs. We hung around, waiting to see if the Sunday would be the clear sunny day that was forecast, but it wasn’t too promising. We climbed up the first 150 metres to the flattish section, and waited there for a bit, as it rained, then cleared, then fogged up again. It didn’t seem to be able to make its mind up, and we couldn’t make ours up as to whether another climb up to the summit would be worth it (only if we were guaranteed views). Had I been 100% I’d have been pushing to go again, but I wasn’t and I sat on the fence. In the end we headed back down, and decided to eat an early lunch before departing for Cutting camp.
As we’d cynically predicted, as we were eating the sun came out, though the summit was still in and out of mist. If we’d have gone we’d have had a few minutes with views, but not the hour or two we’d ideally wanted. Oh well, we reasoned it was a perfectly good reason to come back with others on an Eastern Arthurs traverse! It also reinforced the sense that Fedder could choose the who and when of a successful summit attempt would be granted, and it was kind of fitting.
Just over 4 hours after having left Bechervaise, we arrived back at Cutting Camp, and went about the routine of pitching tent, washing and cooking. While I’d been ok during the day, after dinner the lack of balance, dizziness and nausea returned, had me wet my one pair of dry socks as I overbalanced over nothing while washing my dishes (grrrrr) and sent me reeling after a trip to the loo.. I was rather concerned, as it was worse than the night before, and I dreaded what I might wake up to. Again, it was nice to have a calm voice telling me all would be ok, and if it wasn’t then there would be other options. I hated to think of them.
I was immensely relieved to find my head somewhat within my skull, and not spinning too much when I woke. We were given glimpses of what looked to be the sunrise we’d wanted the day before, and then enjoyed the company of an inquisitive and quite trusting scrubtit as we ate breakfast.
An hour later than we wanted to be heading off (due to me forgetting to set the alarm, ehm), we spent the day plodding. We had the views we wanted on the way in, and the experience was so very different. It wasn’t as claustrophobic or depressing/confining, and neither of us found it quite as bad. By the time we got to the Lake Sydney turn off the track was surprisingly easy going, and we put it down to the fact that it was much drier, and the scrub wasn’t hanging across the track.
While I’d vowed on the first day that I’d never take a group in that way to climb Fedder, I had myself sitting on the fence, weighing up the time verses crappy walking. I think, in the end, it’s probably better to take more days and do the Eastern Arthurs, though for those who are time poor, the Farmhouse Creek track is a handy alternative, if you’re willing to put up with some of the worst walking you’ll do on a track.
So in all, a somewhat expected but equally unexpected end to a very special summer. The sad part, is the sense of a coming to an end of it all, and I’m not ready to let go just yet…Perhaps I just need to uitwaaien, as the Dutch would say (take a break to clear my head, lit. to walk in the wind 😉 )..?
In any case, on Fedder, I know I’ll be back, and more than once. And I know if I ever need to escape and be alone, it’s one I could now do solo too.
47.4km, 2562m ascent.