Time for some Drama: Day 3 of the Three Capes Track in Tasmania.
There are some serious hikers waking the Three Capes Track in Tasmania. I got up at 4.50am to go to the toilet and saw two people powering along the walking track in the pitch dark, with head torches on, heading out towards Cape Pillar, our destination on Day 3 of this 4 day walking adventure with my son Jeremy. I learn later that getting out there to watch the sunrise is a “thing”. Not a thing that I’m going to experience any time soon.
I went back to bed and slept in to a more “civilised” 7am. Some of our walking cohort of 35 people were packed and heading off down the track by 7.30, but Jeremy got up briefly and went back to bed. I roused him for breakfast at 8.50 as the rest of the walking crew were washing up their breakfast things and heading off. It doesn’t feel comfortable for me to be the one being “left behind” or “last” even though it’s definitely not a race and there is ample time in the day to get where we need to go. It must be the dregs of that competitive program in my mind kicking in again. Or the thought that I should be “keeping up” with the group. Jeremy clearly doesn’t have those thoughts running in his head and is not bothered. He’s always done everything in his own way and his own time – that’s the unschooler in him – no need to stick with the pack or confirm to someone else’s timetable. No changing that, and if I make too many suggestions about the time, I get told not to “put pressure on him”. So I drink another cup of tea, write a bit and wait, sitting with my mild discomfort as the camp empties out.
We have to walk 19.5km on Day 3, which seems like an awful lot and I know it’s going to take a while. The guide book for the walk says that this day involves 5 – 7 hours walking. Jeremy and I have taken well over the maximum suggested time on every day so far. I admit to feeling pretty tired before we’d even started walking for today. We’ve also started checking on our food reserves for the remaining two days, as our appetites have really spiked. Jeremy is wondering if we’ve brought enough food along to keep him going, but I think we’ll be alright. I weighed out all our breakfast, lunch and snack food before we started the walk and divided it equally between us, but now it’s clear that he needs more than I do. We make some small adjustments and I hand over some of my chocolate ration and the beef jerky.
We eventually got going at 10.45am, heading in the direction of Cape Pillar. We both had a bit of a spring in our steps for the first few kilometres, as we are only carrying day packs for this first 16km section of the walk. We’ll be picking up our big packs again after we return from Cape Pillar and then walking another hour to our lodge for the night. Not something I want to think about at the beginning of the walk.
Once we get about 4km out towards Cape Pillar the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic. Wildly dramatic. Epic. All of a sudden we’re walking along the edge of the most massive dolomite cliffs and peering tentatively over the edge to catch a glimpse of the kelp-fringed shoreline hundreds of metres below.
The blue of the sea here is more wildly blue than seems possible. Liquid azurite-crystal-blue as far as the eye can see. I’m reduced to a humble “wow” as each new view opens up before us. The gothic grandeur of this coastline elevates me to a thought-free state of constant awe. This is as close to a natural, ancient stone cathedral as you can imagine. Jeremy is delighting in his photography, inching on his stomach towards the edges of cliffs and making my knees go wobbly. We stop often to take it all in.
The vegetation along the path continues to fascinate me too. Once we’re out here on the exposed Cape, we’re walking through a wind-flattened heath of casuarinas and banksias, with occasional native orchids sprouting beside the track. Each of these species is unique to this part of Tasmania and it’s a delight to observe them.
By the time we get towards the very pointy end of Cape Pillar it’s sometime after 2pm. We stop and have lunch and I start to get worried about how far we’ve still got to go to finish our walking for today. As we set off to do the last 20 minute section to get to the tip of the Cape I have my first flow of tears for the trip. I’m very tired and I want to sit down for a while instead of reaching this landmark. So that’s what I do. I lie down on one of the beautiful sculptures that pass for seats at a rest stop and let Jeremy do this bit without me. My view is of the astounding Tasman Island with its sheer cliffs and lighthouse. How three families and hundreds of sheep managed to live up there for many years in the 19th and 20th centuries without falling off the abrupt edges is beyond me.
It’s quiet out here in the mid afternoon as most of the walkers have headed back up the path towards lodge number 3. There are a few super-keen day walkers, independent campers and the odd runner bounding past. Most of these amazing individuals that bound lightly down the trail past my slightly collapsed body are women. Young, old, some smiling, some determined. All of the lodge hosts along the walk are women too. They carry all their food in for an 8 day shift. It’s amazing how diverse humans are – physically and mentally. I remember one of my favourite mantras; “comparisons lead to suffering”. I smile at the passing walkers and enjoy my brief rest.
Once Jeremy returns from the Cape we start our walk back. We don’t make so many stops now and I’m looking at the time a bit. I’m very glad we still decide to stop a few times. At one point we sit at the cliff edge and a Peregrine Falcon flies past us just a few metres away. It loops back and comes past again, as if to get a better look at us. This rare bird is the essence of power and speed and I’ve certainly never seen one this close before. A surge of the falcon’s power rushes into us as it flies past and we walk off feeling energised. Not long after this encounter we also see a very large black snake at the side of the path. Another surge of awe-filled nature-power and up the track we go.
We stop for a brief refuel at the 16km mark and pick up our full packs for the last hour of the day’s walk. We’re getting pretty sick of the trail mix I prepared for this walk. I grew up calling the stuff “scroggin”, which Jeremy thinks is a very odd and funny name. Ours is peanuts, almonds and dried fruit. I’m eating it for energy only at this point – not enjoyment.
We finally get to lodge 3 at around 7.30pm. The other walkers have been looking out for us and congratulate us for finally making it to the lodge. One of our roommates puts a kettle on to boil for us. By this stage they’ve all had dinner and are sitting around relaxing playing cards and Scrabble. I’m exhausted and I’m happy that we only have to pour water on our freeze dried food to make a meal.
After meal (tonight it’s Mexican Chicken) Jeremy gets a burst of energy and insists that I play a game of chess with him before bed. The common eating and lounge area of each lodge is equipped with some games and books. I’m sagging with fatigue but I give it a go. We make a deal. I play chess tonight and he agrees to get up early the next day. Very early. We have a deadline on our last day of walking as there is a bus waiting to pick us up at the end and take us back to Port Arthur. This is a worry. We have 14.5km to walk tomorrow to meet this bus and we’ve been warned that there is a steep climb at the start. The book estimates it will take 5 – 7 hours to walk. All of that sounds wildly ambitious, if not downright impossible in my current state of exhaustion.
Jeremy wins the chess game and agrees to get up at 6pm the next day. We retire for the night, me with the bluest blue sea and towering cliffs still calming and humbling my mind.