My friends Alex and Nitya had one Abel to go – The Needles – and were kind enough to invite me along to share the journey and, hopefully, the joy. I hoped to be a help should an extra pair of hands be needed, for they now had the additional challenge of bringing a 9-month old baby to complete their task. Off we set, me with high intentions of being useful at some stage, even though we are talking about two extremely fit, strong and capable bushwalkers (and parents).
The creek crossings between the carpark and Junction Crossing were all significantly higher than usual. They were not impossible to cross, but they did cause us to wonder whether we would ever get beyond the first significant body of water (JC), which, with a baby and deep mud, was just under three hours in.
Alas, Junction Creek involved a compulsory baptism as the tree block only helped for part of the way, and a goodly part of it was submerged anyway. The steps were underwater, and the rope for stability was down around the ankles, which offered help only to those with excellent imaginations. Sigh. In we go. Not tooo deep. Having now nicely filled our boots with a swimming pool of water (which wasn’t too chilly, actually), we sat on the other side and had some food.
We thought our next major hurdle would be Seven Mile Creek, and were not completely confident, but you have to get there to be sure. However, Two Mile creek proved to be the scariest crossing of the day. The way across (and the only possibility in waters this high) was to use a wide but excessively slippery, slimy log which had nothing much nearby to cling to for safety or balance. Going uphill in straddle position with a heavy pack wasn’t an option. It was a very long way to fall – and into deep water.
Alex offered himself up as our sacrificial anchor point, thoroughly saturating himself in the dark, bottomless waters, and reaching up to us to provide a hand. He would, of course, catch the baby should Nitya overbalance but the thought of that scenario was utterly horrifying. Little Adi (Aditya) is just the cutest bundle of joy imaginable, and of course, no one wanted a single hair of his head to be ruffled. Alex is as solid as a rock, and they completed the task without mishap. Then it was my turn. Once over the other side, having twice now needed Alex’s help, I knew I had burned my bridges. Whatever happened, I could not dare attempt a crossing in reverse without Alex being there.
Wullyawa Ck offered only one rather messy way across, but one is all we needed, and there was enough to cling to for us to be able to do it unassisted. Alex, with his pack higher than the Empire State, probably had the hardest job of all of us. And thus we came to our Reckoner: Seven Mile Creek. Not today, Josephine,. She looked high and mean, but tomorrow’s crossing was over twelve hours away. Maybe the river would go down a bit overnight. It didn’t rain heavily or for overly long today.
We only needed to get to Pass Ck today, so were in no particular hurry, and a relaxed start would give Adi some nice crawl time, and let the creek drop some more. For the first time, Alex was the one who took Adi across for safety. He had already taken his monster rucksack across (trip 1) and helped me across (trip 2). Adi’s turn was trip 3 and then I could mind him while Nitya became trip 4. Safety was always our primary objective, and none of this would have been possible without Alex and Nitya’s massive skills. It is not something that an average person could or should even dream about. This was not about heroics or being fancy. It was about carefully executing what was definitely within the capabilities of the crew.
The next most adventurous part of the day was getting over our final hurdle, Pass Creek. Again we needed Alex’s strength. There is a rope there, but when the water is that high, it just rushes your feet out from under you and makes losing balance a very likely possibility. If you lose your contact with the bottom and are not strong enough, you can’t get your feet to go against the current to go vertical again. As a teenager and a champion swimmer, I was humbled to learn that water is far more powerful than I was. I have never forgotten my lesson.
At last we could take off our wretched boots, tip the 300 mls water out of each, wring the same out of each sock, and dry our poor wrinkled feet. Joy. My feet had not been cold, but ‘wet all day’ is not a pleasant feeling. This was my first fight with damned platforms, which are not made for non-freestanding tents. Nothing works; nothing quite fits; the tent sags ridiculously as you can’t apply correct tensions. Grrr, but at last, after much quiet swearing I kind of had it up. We ate dinner and I said : “Goodnight”.
Now, a totally ridiculous thing happened. I felt 100% fine, but as I lay down, a continuous, hysterical and fruity cough began. And it didn’t let up all night. I got very little sleep. I had flown in from Sydney immediately before this trip, and it seems I must have picked up a bug and brought it along for the ride. Unbeknown to me, my daughter had gone into major production as a snot manufacturer up there.
I felt totally washed out this morning, but blamed the lack of sleep. I didn’t have a temperature, so was only under the influence of URTI. Up we climbed to the Stuart Saddle. During the first hour, the weather was not friendly, and rain and a biting wind from the south made life unpleasant. We found some shelter from the extremities after an hour and waited for the weather to improve, using the time to eat and give Adi some more play. The steep part going around the Boiler Plates was two hours of playground fun that reminded me of Moss Ridge, but I knew I was not well, and was glad to know I had managed to arrive at our destination before things got any worse. It took about an hour to pitch on these awful platforms, and I was obviously losing it, as I required a second person to help me set up any tension at all. Tent up, I fell inside. I no longer cared about anything much – not even the scenery.
I felt really weak, and disappointed at letting the others down when I was most needed, but I barely had the energy to get to their tent to tell them, let alone to climb with them. They didn’t need me. All three made the summit, and Alex and Nitya became the first ‘parent couple’ to have done all the Abels together. It is so fabulous that little Adi could also be on the summit with them. He had climbed one other Abel as a baby, and several, including Federation, in utero. Visibility was about five metres. Louise slept. I don’t think I was running a fever, but I felt really weak, and that I was really treading a fine line.
But down is easier than up. And it was fun. We made it to Pass Ck after lunch and my insides let me know they were displeased. There’s a toilet there. Weee.
I had now suffered three nights of what felt like incessant coughing. Days were somewhat easier to take, however, as exercise cleared the passageways a bit. Off we set, over Pass Ck, over Strike Ck (we even made good time to there), over Razorback Saddle the Smaller, then Saddle the Bigger. By the time we neared the top, I wanted to spew. I had overdone it, but then I heard little Adi singing, and he cheered me up and I made it. He had long conversations with his mum in the papoose, with her moving the conversations along with questions like “Really?”, or “Tell me more about it”, and Adi would gurgle happily along, answering her.
At lunch I mentally scanned the foods I’d brought. Suddenly everything I had made me feel sick to even think about. I rejected the lot. I wasn’t hungry anyway. I was offered vegan salami and flatbread with gherkin. Scrumptious . I could eat that. The other two enjoyed in exchange my beetroot dip with Dr Karg 5-seed crackerbread. This felt like a party.
Down we went, over Nine Mile Ck, over Seven Mile Ck and on, to just a bit short of Wullyawa. When you point out a magnificent view of the Arthur Range with pinking sunset to Louise and she just grunts disinterestedly, you know something is wrong. It was.
I woke knowing I just couldn’t do it. I don’t think I was running a temperature, but I was no longer quite so sure. If I continued as per yesterday, I would grind my body into a very deep hole out of which I might never climb. I hated the idea of going on, but calling for a helicopter was equally, if not more, abhorrent. We were too far out for me to easily come back and collect all my gear, and my car was in the carpark here. How on earth would I retrieve it? And I hate hospitals, and my purse and phone were in my car. I would be where I didn’t want to be with no means of communication and no money. And my dog was in a kennel waiting for me and I needed her hugs.
Then I thought of a solution: if I lightened my pack by ditching my tent, I reckoned I could make it. I could come back in two or three weeks and get it. I stumbled my way across to where Nitya and Adi were playing to tell her what I thought. Little Adi crawled up to me and gave me a hug. I had trouble not bursting into tears. Alex then said he was taking my tent. I said ”No way”, but he insisted. His pack was already 30 kgs and now all the nappies were wet, yet he was insisting on adding my 1.6 kgs – well, a bit less. I did’t give him the poles and hoped he didn’t notice. I pointed out that even if he only took the thing 100ms, that was further than I could do, and he was NOT to carry it any further than was bearable. I could come back to get it later, as planned.
We sent me on ahead so I could get out to help as quickly as I could. I made it to the end. Two days later I was diagnosed with community induced pneumonia. The wilderness is not to be blamed for my condition. I was never even cold enough to get my gloves out. The whole business is just really bad timing.
And if Alex hadn’t taken that tent, it would have been sitting there a very long time. The doctor says I’m not going anywhere for quite a while yet. We’ll see about that, but it is sure good to know my next trip, whenever it is, doesn’t have to be trudging along the Arthur Plains hoping my tent is at the end of my journey. No real bushwalker would take it, but there are a lot of tourists these days.