Day 11 - Bechervaise Plateau to South Cracroft River
In theory our timing could have still allowed a sniff at the Federation Peak summit. If conditions had been perfect we could have spent the morning slipping around the eastern end of the Southern Traverse, up the Direct Ascent and back to Bechervaise by lunchtime. An afternoon slogging down Moss Ridge would then need to be followed by an evening getting to at least Paperbark or Forest Camp to allow time to get all the way out on Day 12.
As well as the epic walking needed to achieve the summit and on-time return home we needed a few miracles to greet us as we opened the tent door. The early sun would have to be zapping snow and ice at an amazing rate. It would need to be accompanied by a hot, dry northerly wind swirling around to the back of the mountain and drying the south-facing Direct Ascent where the sun don't shine.
As such impossible dreams were drifting through my head I opened the tent door to look at what should have been sunrise and found us surrounded by thick, damp swirling fog. The terraces above our campsite were not out of the cloud, let alone Fedder itself. No sunshine or miraculous hot northerly wind either. Just the constant sound of water running off the cliffs above us indicating the peak would be snow free in a day or three, not an hour or two.
|Between the teeth of Moss Ridge. This is typical of Moss Ridge and the Beggary Bumps. In several places you clamber down tens of metres vertical height, take two steps forwards then clamber up the next knoll.|
I'm not sure either of us gave voice to the fanciful thoughts in the paragraphs above. Instead we set about matter-of-factly doing breakfast, and packing up the tent and setting out for the penultimate time this trip.
At the top of each prominent knob forming the 'teeth' of Moss Ridge we looked back half expecting a snow-clad Fedder to come out of the cloud and jeer at us. It did not. The cloud did not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
|Kylie clambering up one of several knolls (or 'teeth') on Moss Ridge|
The jungle-gym fun of Moss Ridge was almost over when near disaster struck. I opted to walk along a huge fallen tree-trunk instead of following Kylie's sensible lead. Just as Kylie was about to compliment my acrobatic ability I succumbed to the sleek bark-free surface and found myself propelled by the weight of my pack head first towards the ground below. The head-first landing hurt but... I survived. At the next log crossing a smart move would have been to adopt the straddle method but no - I'm a slow learner! Thankfully this time my head was not the first thing to hit terra firma. A short, groggy 10 minute wander delivered a much needed sit-down beside Cherry Creek at Cutting Camp.
|Typical Moss Ridge where the track squeezes between pack-grabbing horizontal trunks|
After lunch the kilometres beside the Cracroft River melted away slowly but surely. We were both suffering quietly in our own ways as we steadily plodded along. At Crest Range we looked back one more time to see cloud denying our last clear view of Federation Peak. Eventually we were safely esconsed in the warmth of our Hilleberg Alak beside a peaceful South Cracroft River. After setting off Millie (our PLB) one last time we quickly dozed off.
|Tea tree shelter at South Cracroft campsite|
Day 12 - South Cracroft River to Farmhouse Creek
Although it's only a half-day walk from South Cracroft to Farmhouse, this is a walk that does not let you go easily. Deep bogs between towering button grass clumps surrounded by bauera, tea tree and cutting grass feature soon after leaving the campsite and again around the Mount Bobs turn-off. Many tree-falls make hard work of the steady climb to South Picton Saddle. Even the last dry section of track through relatively open eucalypt forest nearing the end seemed to drag on and on. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? A proliferation of fungi provided some distraction on the final descent.
|Ancient myrtles at South Picton Saddle|
That's where the story should end but little did we know...
|Farmhouse Creek car park. The end of our adventure... Or was it?|
Right on cue my sister called. She was in a car with my dad and they had passed us earlier back on Arve Road. Apparently our final PLB message had not gone through. After receiving "Ok" messages from every campsite except the last one my wonderful family had gone into rescue mode. After my brother in Victoria had mixed results dealing with the SPOT helpline in the US the next logical step was to check the Farmhouse Creek car park. They saw us 3.5 hours into their 4.5 hour drive from Launie!
I'm fairly sure I saw Millie's confirmation light to say the message sent successfully from beneath the tea tree canopy at South Cracroft. However, with tiredness and a hit on the head, perhaps I was seeing what I wanted to see before switching the unit off so I could doze off to sleep. Either way, it was heartwarming to see a family of would-be rescuers looking out for us.
...and after all that, school pickups went beautifully to plan.