Solace in the south-west
Standing at the start of the South Coast Track I’m unaware of what is ahead of me. I’m nervous, apprehensive, and energised by a bubbling excitement that threatens to burst out of my chest at any moment. My three friends and I grin at each other like giddy preschoolers and start down the track, each knowing that while this could be gruelling and perhaps despair-inducing, it will undoubtedly be an adventure to remember.
The wildness of the track appeals to a part of me that despises the modern comforts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love these comforts, yet every now and then a part of me yearns to live an adventure and experience nature the way humans have for thousands of years. Of course you can’t escape modern comforts completely – our smartphones are in our bags and I’ve got a portable charger in case they run out of battery. Pulling out my phone I take some photos of the boys trudging ahead of me. I almost unconsciously look to check my messages or emails, or skim quickly through Instagram, but of course I can’t. The mountains, like some giant technological wall, block any reception from coming through. Slowly, dreamlike, I lock my phone and put it back into my bag.
After two days we settle into a routine. Waking up at roughly the same time we wash our faces before heading to the long drop toilets. We pack up our tents, carefully refilling our backpacks so the 20-plus kilos of weight falls evenly on our backs. Breakfast consists of powdered milk and oats accompanied by jokes and laughter. After we fill our bottles with tannin-brown water we set off, subconsciously organising ourselves into a line of bopping backpacks.
Before long we settle into the rhythm of the walk and we fall silent as we focus on where our feet are rising and falling, like some kind of enforced meditation.
Lunch is a treat. Falafel mix, muesli bars, cheese, chorizo, crackers, vegemite, and if we’re doing good time a cup of tea. The afternoon hiking is the hardest. The mountains grow taller and the mud sinks deeper and all I want is a shower and a lie down. We stumble into camp and in a fog of fatigue and hunger set up our tents and change into fresh thermals. The sky darkens as we huddle around the trangia, cooking and catching up on the day’s events, even though we’ve been right next to each other all day.
Yet the evening isn’t just all talking and laughing. It’s also the silence of the wild as we sit together, punctuated by the lack of screens and distractions, a silence that very quickly speaks more of comradeship and comfort than it does of awkwardness.
Halfway through day three I’m almost done. My legs burn and scream at me as I heave myself up another rocky step, swirling wind and my own furiously beating heart all I hear. The close packed line of backpacks has most definitely dispersed as each of us attempts to propel ourselves upwards across the Ironbound Ranges. The ridge we are following continuously teases us with false summit after summit, and I’m desperately trying to not look up in case the Ironbounds view it as a challenge.
A hundred metres or so behind me I hear a watery high pitched wheeze as one of the boys vomits onto the track – the Ranges have been harder on some of us than others. At the (final) summit we divide our sick friend’s pack between us before we start the long treacherous descent off of the mountains. After five hours of crashing through slicing ferns, falling over roots and slipping down marble slabs I’m emotionally and physically exhausted. Lagging behind I start to question why on Earth I thought it would be a good idea to come on this trek.
Walks in Tasmania don’t have to be this hard. Indeed many of the state’s greatest walks offer comfort alongside nature. Foot rubs, red wine and rare steaks with guides to carry most of your gear. You can essentially get the best of both worlds – amazing scenery with all the mod cons. These luxury packages are assuredly a good thing, enabling a range of people to experience Tasmania’s wilderness.
Yet, on the other hand, isn’t the struggle what the adventure is all about?