Mount Berry: 29-30 May 2022

A walk for 100 Women2: Women helping Women to fundraise for Women’s Health Tasmania.

GPS route of the walk from Huon Campground to Mount Berry

For those of you who read my last blog, you’ll know what this is about. It is the first time I’ve ever broadcast my intentions to walk to so many people, and this was new and slightly nerve-wracking, especially given the ambitious nature of my plans. Fortunately there was a good two-day weather window amongst the days I’d set aside. Even more fortunately as the weekend drew closer Em’s plans were cancelled and suddenly she was free to come. Initially she was going to walk me in part way, camp and then walk me out. As time went on and we chatted more her plans were clearly quite flexible and at one point, with the beginnings of a shy and cheeky grin, she admitted she might try for the whole 100km. She made it pretty clear that would be a big maybe. I didn’t care – I was just excited that I’d have company for at least some of it, and maybe most of it!

A friend to walk through the rough times and celebrate the awesome with always makes the journey so much easier and all the more rich. As the day and reality of what I had set out to do drew closer I became more acutely aware of just how lonely it might get out there, cold, wet, tired and sore and a long way from anywhere. I was arrogant enough to have thought I could do it solo, but lucky enough to have like-minded and equally crazy friends that I didn’t actually need to. Looking back, I don’t know whether or not I could have done this one solo and I certainly know Em played a hugely significant role in its success. 

On the Saturday I left home at midday and drive to Em’s, where we jumped in her van and made our way to the Huon Campground. We arrived to find blue skies had chased off the rain clouds. We were the sole inhabitants of the empty campground, save for a nosey currawong who watched us closely with his beady yellow eyes as we ate pasta for dinner, followed by yummy cinnamon scrolls Em had whipped up the day before. And then it was time for a quick go with the massage gun before taking a hot water bottle and an audiobook to bed, to warm up the tent before dusk turned to night and it was time to squeeze in a few precious hours of sleep. 

If you could sleep. I certainly couldn’t. I lay there. I fought with the resident possum for a bit, who was completely unfazed by any of my attempts to remove him from my vestibule. Then I just lay there a whole heap more, letting my thoughts wander where they wanted to. They started off with an abnormal amount of doubt and a little bit of fear about the realities of what could happen out there. I found this interesting in and of itself as I do not usually ponder all the adverse events that can occur on a walk, and I have a healthy amount of self-confidence when in the bush.

But this wasn’t a normal walk either, and if something happened to me it wouldn’t just affect me. There was a whole community of women out there and a brilliant initiative that could be tarred by my ambitious plan to push the boundaries if it all went pear-shaped. That was what scared me the most, and that was the part I struggled to come to a sense of peace over. In time I heard Em moving, and realised it was time to put my thoughts aside and take action, however arrogant or self-centred that made me.

I fuelled myself with an (almost) midnight snack of yoghurt, passionfruit and some of Tracey’s delicious homemade granola and then we set off into the cool night air in trail runners and day packs. One step at a time. 

And we’re off, full of energy at this stage. The scrub, as you can see, is laden with water drops.

It was a pretty night, mist hanging in the air and surrounding our head torches with golden halos. Everything glittered gold as the light bounced off water droplets. It was pretty, but also the source of the greatest discomfort for the walk. The scrub was laden with water and the track was overgrown. In no time I was soaked through to the undies and my feet would remain waterlogged for the rest of the trip.

The mushrooms were out in full force and quite pretty!

This didn’t dampen our spirits and we chatted away as we strode out, making excellent time to Junction Creek and then Crossing River. We slipped into silent meditation, in line with our circadian rhythm. By dawn we’d travelled just shy of 30km and the sun, helped by one of Em’s caffeinated gels, lifted our spirits, revived our conversation and eventually started to dry us out.

Now it was as if the night’s activities had been forgotten and we were just out for a walk in the bush. It didn’t really seem that abnormal. We were feeling good, despite having walked more than we normally would. Em, clearly, was coming for quite a long part of the walk. As we got closer and closer to the 50km mark we were still discussing options. But when Mount Berry finally came into view there was no hesitation. Em was not going up that thing. I didn’t blame her. It looked an awfully long way away still.

We settled on a plan. Em was going to walk a little further then turn around and start heading back. She would decide whether she walked through the night and met me at the car, of if she set up camp part way back and had a snooze. If she did the latter didn’t imagine I’d catch her, but it would at least give me incentive. We said our goodbyes and good lucks and thanks and I ducked off ahead.

Mt Berry GPS route for the off track part

At 47.5km I was at the end of my tracked walk in. I felt great and wasn’t concerned about the walk out, though I wondered if I should just be sensible and walk 50km, then turn around. Would it matter? Of course it would… I’m too proud and stubborn for taking what I perceive to be the easy way out. But there was no denying I was unusually nervous about the next part and what surprises it might hold!

I left the track and headed up onto a ridge that would trace its way south and a little bit west to the summit of Mount Berry. It was steep and slippery underfoot and I caught myself going too hard and too fast, worried that if I was late back I’d give Em, and a whole heap of other people cause for concern. But even with the knowledge that going slowly here would actually make me faster overall I was no good at settling into a slow and steady pace. And while I felt fine and actually quite strong at the time, it turns out this was where I started cooking myself.

The ridge was prettily undulating, with largely avoidable patches of scratchy scrub. I resolved to bail early on the way back and cut down to the track early. This would cut out all the undulations, though it would add a steep and slippery descent and a bit of extra distance in walking on the Port Davey Track.

I lost my left ankle gaiter somewhere in the scrub and realised there wasn’t time to go back and look for it. Each time I felt I was making good progress I’d come to a knob and find another challenge to navigate. My mood fluctuated unnecessarily and I wondered if it was the fatigue or the fact that everyone was ‘watching’ me and wondering how I was going that made me more attached to ‘success’ but also less confident in my ability to achieve it than is usually the case.

Eventually the last few knobs leading to the summit came into sight. These were the ones I was concerned about. Satellite imagery showed they may be a bit more scrubby than the ridge up. They were. But not too bad to start with. I sidled round the southern side of one – the contour lines were less steep that side. My bare knees protested as they scraped and pushed past the tea-tree, melaleuca, banksias and cutting grass.

In the saddle before the summit block I found a massive and cool bivy ‘cave’. I thought it was wonderful. Would have made a good spot to spend the night. It should have been a warning. But I was not listening. I was possessed with summit suction. It was late in the afternoon and I was racing the sun to the top of the mountain, only stopping to enjoy the views across the ocean or back inland towards the mountains.

When I stood before the final summit block, less than 150 metres from the summit, I thought arrogantly ‘nothing’s going to stop me now’. Literally those words. Boy was I wrong. It looked like I had a whole heap of scrub in between conglomerate rock to navigate. Nothing too horrible. I quickly learned this was not the case.

There was scrub and rock. But the rocks were massive, bigger than house sized. I finally found one to scramble somewhat dodgily onto. Then another awkward move to get onto another one. But now I was stranded. There were drops of several metres and more on all other sides. Back track and try again. But each time only one or two of these rocks connected in such a way you could move across them before coming to a literal dead end.

At one point I saw some button grass and stepped onto it, using it as a vantage point to check out a route about 5 or so metres away that looked appealing. I thought ‘if I could just get over there…’. The next step I plummeted down a few metres. The button grass had been growing out sideways over a crevasse that had been obscured by the tops of the greenery growing out of it. A bit of bauera had caught me, but it wasn’t very secure, and it was slowly letting gravity do its work.

Fortunately the gap I’d fallen down was narrow between two rocks so that I could stick my leg out to one and wedge my back against the other while I cleared the rest of the bauera from in front of my face to check out where I was. There was another 6 or so metres below me before a sloping rock bottom, although even then I wasn’t sure it was the bottom as I couldn’t see where the slope ended. I decided continuing on down that way may not be ideal because I wasn’t sure I would be able to climb back out.

Further ahead there was a massive chasm filled with rainforest trees. I shook my head, certain I wasn’t hallucinating from fatigue but still not quite believing the combination of flora on this summit block. I decided this was a better spot to head for and chimney-ed myself out of my precarious situation and made my way more carefully down into the chasm. The trees here were largely rotten and I nearly went for a few more falls before I had the sense to start checking every wooden foot hold before using it. I couldn’t find a convincing way forward, but did find that the rocks on the edge of the chasm were so massive that under them there was a ‘cave’ like system.

It filled me with awe, despite the increasing swell of panic within me. I was deep enough for the GPS to lose signal. I had scrambled, climbed and fallen backwards, forwards, left and right so much that I realised no longer knew which way I had to go to retrace my steps out of the middle of this mountain. It was now dark and a light rain shower passed by, re-wetting everything that had dried in the afternoon sun. I had tried to find a route across the boulders and failed, falling part way down a crevasse. I had checked out the rainforest chasm but had no luck there either.

I figured I’d have one more crack, this time going under the rock. I scrambled around, in some spots needing to take off my pack to fit through tight squeezes. In the middle of one contortion my head torch came off my head and I managed to catch it without thinking. Afterwards the dreaded realisation that if it had hit the rock way below and broken, I was really going to be in a pickle. I hit a dead end. That was it. I was 90m horizontally from the mapped high point, and at much the same elevation as it, but I’d had my three strikes and was now out. Or at least, I wished I was. I still had to get there.

For the first time I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do that. GPSs are great for retracing steps on normal terrain, but not so on this kind. They also can’t differentiate between altitude, so my position standing on a rock looked the same on the screen as my position standing 10 metres below at it’s bottom. I put it away and followed my nose. Trying to override my sense of urgency to get the f*** out with a little bit of commonsense and care.

I got there, eventually, and let out a huge sigh of relief, not even caring that the mist was back and visibility was down to a few metres. I gave myself a ‘nice one Becca’, without even the slightest hint of sarcasm. I resolved that I had climbed Mt Berry and completed the walk I had committed to for 100 Women2: Women helping Women, but that I would come back for the peak-baggers point. I would take my time, camp out (maybe a high camp even) and spend all day exploring the cave system till I found the route that would lead me to the high point. Having checked with one of the few people to have climbed the mountain on my return, I know there is one!

The rest is all a bit of a blur, with moments of sharp clarity. Time, which earlier in the day had raced by as the kilometres ticked over and our feet struck the ground again and again now seemed to hang, as if suspended, as the adrenaline wore off and I grew tired and less coordinated. I retraced my steps through newly sodden scrub, lost my other gaiter somewhere without noticing till well after the fact.

I discovered blood all over the handle of my walking pole and GPS and took time to find the source, a deep cut on the pad of my little finger. It didn’t even hurt. I must have cut it on the rock and hadn’t even noticed. A closer inspection revealed a surprising number. Trying to put pressure on it to get it to clot while holding my pole and my GPS was just another small challenge. I got back to my bail point and swapped GPS for phone, which has a mapping app with satelite imagery on it. I used it to get me down the steep slope to track while avoiding all the pockets of scrub. Turns out you don’t have to be completely blind in the dark. It was brilliant and I felt a little smile creep across my face in celebration of the small win.

Fffooomph… my feet slipped out from under me and I landed on my butt again. I lost track of how many times that happened. Oh well, no harm done.. or so I thought. Presently I popped out onto the track and would have done a happy dance, if I didn’t think it was wiser to conserve the energy. Oh the glorious track – and no more thinking to do or uncertainty over terrain to face. Time for a celebration. Or not. Talk about salt and wounds. The large packet of salted potato chips I’d saved precisely for this moment, tucked safely in the stretchy outer pocket of my pack, was not so safe. Somewhere in my falling or scraping between rocks I’d popped the bag and put a hole in my pack, and had left a trail of potato chips for the currawongs. I had half a handful of crushed and sodden chips. Boy they tasted good though.

There was nothing good to come from dwelling on the disappointment of a summit eluded, gaiters lost and chips scattered along the ridge top. I had to be careful here. It was just after 9pm, dark, cold and I was back to being sodden through. My butt cheeks were sore from all the walking in wet undies and shorts, making every step that little bit harder. I snorted – I’d been worried about my feet being wet for so long, not my bum! You’d be surprised how debilitating it was, even if I knew it wouldn’t be dangerous. I stripped off undies and shorts and put on my thermal pants and my warm jacket instead. I was now using almost all my warm gear – something I don’t like doing and hadn’t expected to need to do. I’d underestimated the effect of fatigue on my ability to regulate my temperature.

I was acutely aware of how close to the edge I was walking. I had a long way to walk out, I was sore, tired and physically fatigued from the unexpected scrub bashing and clambering and I was feeling very alone. I didn’t even have the sense of achievement of standing on top of the high point to boost my spirits. I wondered how Em was going and where she was, hoping like crazy she’d decided to set up her tent and sleep rather than just walk out. If only I could catch back up to her. Gosh I felt very alone. I am not one to feel lonely, and very rarely is being alone a negative thing for me. But out there, with all the other little challenges adding their weight, I had an unusual sense of isolation. No one could help me. Only I could walk myself out of the mess I’d got myself into. Mum had always told me from a very young age as I scrambled up yet another a tree that it was fine for me to do so, but I needed to be able to get myself back down, because she wasn’t going to be able to come up and get me if I got stuck. I smiled at the thought.

Guess I didn’t have much choice. One foot in front of the other it was. To the next bend, the next river, the next camp site. Maybe, just maybe, other people could help me out too. Someone had recommended podcasts or audiobooks. I had one of them and put it on. I don’t usually do this when walking in the bush, but it helped quieten my fears and settle me into a trudge. Another had recommended flat coke. I couldn’t quite bring myself to drink the stuff, but had purchased some caffeine strips from the chemist. No time like the present to test them out. Woah, quite a difference there!

My walking was more of a hobble as I tried to hold one butt cheek off the other, and my average pace closer to 2.5km/h than the 4-5 it had been when we set off. I had more than enough time to think. I thought about all my special people and their ongoing support and encouragement. I thought about the women who both instigated the 100 Women2: Women helping Women initiative and those who were participating in it as walkers. I felt strongly connected to them and their footsteps, even though I’ve not yet met any of them personally.

I thought a LOT about the women who will be affected by the money we have raised. Every time I felt like stopping for a snooze I thought of them. I was, in effect, committed to raising $10 for every kilometre I walked. That seemed like good motivation to take another step. Especially when the challenges they face endure far longer and are far more demanding than me taking another step. Ignore the wet, the cold, the pain, the doubt and the fact that 50km seemed a very long way now. When it came down to it, after each step I took I knew I could take another.

I don’t know if I could have kept up that mentality if I hadn’t run into Em in her tent at the 40km to go mark. She seemed to make all the difference. She not only brought excellent company, lots of encouragement and a solid belief that I could do the walk, but she also doesn’t sugar coat or shy away from real conversation. She was the only friend to question me properly and express a couple of well-founded doubts when I mentioned the adventure to her. As a result, she brought both a perceived and very real safety net. As soon as I saw her tent and heard her voice, I knew I’d be fine, if a bit uncomfortable for the rest of the walk. I was intrigued at the effect and once again in awe of the power of human connection. After all, I’d still be entirely responsible for walking myself out and her presence didn’t change this, but at the same time it made it feel a whole heap easier. She also had a single skin tent and sleeping bag with her, which meant the possibility of sleeping out if I needed it. My safety gear had been an emergency bag that I could crawl into and warm dry clothes that I had now soaked by wearing them. On reflection, however, I had no idea if the bag would reflect enough of my own heat back at me to actually keep the very real threat of hypothermia at bay. I had foolishly underestimated this aspect, and while I’d not needed the extra safety gear on this walk, I was as close as I’ve ever been to crossing that very fine line. It was a sobering thought.

On we walked and Em excelled herself. She recounted Banff Film Festival clips and told me stories of her life growing up while I followed her feet home. She offered me pawpaw ointment and led the way through the sodden bush hanging over the track, copping the brunt of the icy cold water, while I tried to hold my butt cheeks apart. In the dead of the night, when even she was tired, she put music on her phone. She checked I was drinking enough, offered me extra snacks and a gel and set the pace to match my ridiculously slow crawl across the landscape.

Her excitement as I approached and stepped over the 100km mark was real and infectious, and once again I was glad she was there to celebrate with. It had only taken 33 hours and 150,458 steps. She took a cracker of a photo of me laughing and grimacing at what my ambitious and adventurous stupidity had led me to do. After that point everything started to whinge. My feet developed an ache, my knees felt stiff and I realised they were becoming quite swollen, my neck was sore from walking so far with a pole and I was discovering bruises in all the random places. It made the walking much less enjoyable. I was fascinated by the timing, entertained a few thoughts concerning the power of the mind, popped some panadol and struggled along.

By the time we popped out of the forest and onto the road I had walked 115.28km in 37 hours and 47 minutes, with 3592m ascent and a total of 175,997 steps. And I was knackered. We changed, ate some wraps, made hot drinks for the road and set off home. I tried my hardest to stay awake for Em but failed spectacularly. When it came time to get into my own car I discovered I had wonderfully stiff knees. Shuffling in to buy milk from the shops on the way home must have looked as hilarious as it was painful. I will never take my ability to skip into a run to cross the road for granted again!

So far Amy (another woman walking for Women’s Health Tasmania) and I have raised $2750 from a whole heap of (your) kind donations for the not-for-profit organisation. We cannot thank you enough for your generosity. When I was out there and desperately wanting to stop and sit down, just for a bit, you and your support for me and this cause kept me going. I cannot speak for the women who will be most affected by your donations, but thank you so much from me.

Anyone who would like to make a donation, you can do so here. Thank you also.

For those who don’t know, Women’s Health Tasmania is a statewide service run by women for women. Their vision is for women to be informed and active decision-makers in their health and well being. They understand the broader impact of society on women’s health and notably support disadvantaged and minority groups.

9 Replies to “Mount Berry: 29-30 May 2022”

  1. Oh my goodness Becca. I am crying as I write this. What an amazing hunter and so beautifully shared. I am so proud of you. The Port Davey track is a favourite because of its remoteness and last time I walked it i took 5 days and that is not walking back like you did.
    Absolutely epic. Thank for the sharing. 100 Women 2: Women helping Women is weaving its magic. Weaving us together as a community. One step at a time.

    I have just recovered a text from Amy. You have achieved your Go Fund Me $ target. We bless you. With love Mary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mary, and thank you for starting all of this. I still have your phrase, walking for peace, flitting around in my mind. It intrigues me, and I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but it’s pretty keen to stay. We shall wait and see!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As usual, just lurking.
    You have some amazing pictures; please could you share with us on your equipment and practice

    Like

    1. Hi Farense! Thank you 😊. Do you mean in regards to photography or walking? For the former these were all taken with my iPhone 12 mini. I used to use an entry level Olympus mirrorless camera, but it isn’t waterproof or light or small. So all my recent walks have just been with my phone. I’m far from a professional photographer and don’t really know what I’m doing, and the phone lets me point and shoot without having to think!

      Like

      1. Olà,
        My question concerned photography
        You write that you do not really know what you are doing, but indeed you capture some excellent pictures.
        Congratulations on your endeavour on your project and looking forward to your next post

        Like

  3. You set yourself a hell of a goal Becca, clearly you pursue scrapes ,cuts, sore butt and sleep deprivation .Don’t know how you managed to drive home. But what an adventure with the rock crevasses and those long lonely hours in the dark! Congratulations on this glorious achievement.

    Like

  4. Am so very glad you got through this one Bec … am sure there are very few walks, climbs etc etc that you’ve done that have taken you so close to the edge. Am glad you’re back safe and sound. Thanks Em for your substantial part in this.

    Like

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