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Precipitous Bluff - kayak & walk March 2005

Cockle Creek to PB Summit & Return in 3 days

The aim of this trip was to paddle from Cockle Creek to Prion Beach and paddle up into New River Lagoon to the camp next to the lagoon - at the base of Precipitous Bluff.  On day two I planned to walk up to the summit of Precipitous Bluff and stay the night in my bivvy bag on the summit.  On day three I planned to walk back down and explore the lagoon as I paddled back to Prion Beach and get back out through the surf and possibly stay at Rocky Boat Inlet (because it is more sheltered than Prion Beach.  On day four paddle back to Cockle Creek

10/3/05 - I drove to Cockle Creek, arriving at 6pm.  I packed my kayak (which was a Mirage 580 - expedition layup).  I chose this boat to paddle on this trip for its strength and stability while still being fast in choppy conditions.  The Mirage 580 that I had made in October 2004 is kevlar.  It isn't light, but it is very strong.

I loaded the kayak with my camping gear, food, water, bushwalking gear (including Macpac Cascade pack), and safety gear - including satellite phone, EPIRB, gps, maps, compass, camera gear, solar panel (to charge all phones & camera batteries) and a few other gadgets. 

I then slept in the back of my station wagon to save time in the morning when I was heading off. 

11/3/05 - I got up (out of my car) at 6.15am.  I was still dark and started paddling at 7am after having some food and water.  As I paddled out of Recherche Bay I noticed that I had a moderate westerly tailwind.  This is good for the first kilometre of the trip but bad for the last 49km as you head to the west along the south coast of Tasmania.

There was a 2-3 metre swell from the south-west as I paddled along the south coast.  I was feeling very nervous about the surf at Prion Beach because on all 8 previous occasions that I have seen Prion Beach from either the sea or land or air - the surf was always huge.  On the occasion that I was walking the south coast track with my father in 2002, we stopped at the eastern end of the beach to appreciate the beautiful scenery.  There were about 10 lines of broken waves at all times.  I was heading to Prion Beach on this occasion because the swell was supposed to be dropping and the conditions were supposed to be settled for a couple of days.  That is as good as it gets on the south coast.

When I reached Rocky Boat Inlet I looked into the bay and could see waves breaking in the bay.  It is hard to judge the size of waves from behind as they break.  Unless it is totally calm it can be hard to tell the difference between small and medium OR between medium and big but you can always tell huge.  You can pick huge because there is a very big swell and it is far too scary to get any where near the breaking area.

As I passed Rocky Boat Inlet and finally turned towards Prion Beach the adrenaline was making me look back over my shoulder every 2 seconds to check for the big set to come through.  I cautiously headed in towards the beach following as close to the Point at the eastern end of the beach.  I had to dodge a few reefs that caused 2-3 metre waves to break.

I cautiously paddled in to just outside the break - about 10 metres away.  I looked back to see a big wave coming up behind me.  I 'back paddled'  and just got over it as it broke.  I continued to creep forward again and another wave rolled past and almost broke on me.  I had already got inside the break area and realised that I had to put in a sprint to avoid going down the front of a big one but it caught up with me and speared me down the face of a 2m wave.

The bow of the kayak dug in and I thought the kayak was about to cartwheel but it popped out again and the kayak was turned to the left.  I did a really big support stroke on my left side - onto the wave so my body was in the whitewater.  I stayed there for about 5-10 seconds as the kayak surfed sideways.  It started to straighten up and I thought that I had it under control but the wave was still steep and there was about 1.5 metres of whitewater that turned me to the other side.  I then surfed the kayak on the right side - bracing on the wave again.  After another few seconds the wave was down to about a metre and I managed to straighten it up again.  I was feeling incredibly alive and I looked ahead and saw a calmer patch of water ahead.  This was a rip area of water that was flowing out of the lagoon.

I let out a huge scream of "woo hoo".  I stopped on the edge of the inlet.  There was a lot of water surging in and out of the river mouth.  It was the best feeling.  I immediately got my satellite phone out and called my father and a couple of other people to tell them I had made it to the beach.  This was the most tricky part of the trip because if I had come out of the boat in the surf - out from the river mouth I could have been stuck there in the break - getting pushed in by the surf and out by the rip - until I managed to get to the side of the river mouth enough to get washed to the beach.

I took a few photos and then paddled up the river along the meandering waterway.  I stopped again at the south-coast track boat crossing.  No-one was around but I could see the recent drag marks from the last walking party who completed the three boat crossings required to cross and leave a boat on either side.  In the lagoon the water was only 1-2 feet deep in most places but the water was dark due to the tannin stain from the button grass plains.

I plodded slowly up the lagoon - gazing in amazement at Precipitous Bluff.  I had been dreaming about getting to the top for years but I didn't know how I would do it after finding the prickly Scoparia really unpleasant on a walk to Pindars Peak.

There was no point paddling hard up the lagoon as the bottom drag in the shallow water made it impossible to paddle faster than 5 or 6 km/h no matter how hard you tried.

I had my gps marked with a waypoint for the start of the walk and I headed over to the eastern shore of the lagoon.  I found the camp & walk start easily as there was a fishing buoy hanging from the branch of a tree that leaned over the water.  There was a good campsite in the trees.  I always worry about the old trees that creak in the wind when I am lying in a tent.

I spent the afternoon exploring to find fresh water and the start of the track.  I packed as much of my walking pack as I could without the sleeping bag that I would use that night.  I looked over the map and track notes again and tied up my kayak in case the water rose.

I planned to start walking at 7am the next day and bivvy on the top and return on the 13/3/05.  I hoped that it would be a clear night to wake up to a spectacular sunrise on the summit.

12/3/05 - I set my alarm for 6am, packed my sleeping bag, put on my walking clothes and had some food & water.  I started walking at 7am and entered some notes in the logbook near the campsite.  It was still quite dark under the thick tree canopy and I had to really concentrate to spot the tapes on the trees.  If I hadn't walked to the base of the hill the previous afternoon I would have taken a lot longer as the track snakes through the bush and there were a lot of tapes on branches that were broken and were on the ground.

Just before the base of the hill I filled up two water bottles from the creek.  I started plodding up the hill, losing the track a few times where large trees had fallen.  It probably took an extra 30 mins on the way up the hill (before reaching the base of the cliff) to stay on the track due to the lack of tapes.

Upon reaching the base of the cliff I stopped for a few photos and then headed along the base - to the north.  Within a couple of minutes I reached the base of a very steep gully that ran up and to the right.  I checked the 'Chapman' notes and found

when reaching the base of the cliffs ... "The track turns north following the cliff base to a major gully. 
A very difficult route does lead up this gully but the preferable route is to continue following the cliff base north. 
After an hour cross a narrow gully by climbing up into it and down again and shortly after enter the ascent gully. 
This is easily climbed until it ends then exit left into the next gully which leads to the top."
This detail is from John Chapman's 'South West Tasmania - Third Edition.  This is the best guide for anyone walking in s/w Tasmania.  There is a newer edition now but there is some extra information in the older edition with details of tracks that have now been re-routed or some tracks that Tas Parks & Wildlife (sparks & wildfire) are discouraging people from using anymore.

I looked up the steep gully and considered heading up - as a possible shortcut to the top.  I decided against it because I was by myself and I had plenty of time (assuming that I was going to stay on the summit).  I topped up my drink bottles from a trickle of water that was coming down the gully and continued along at the base of the cliffs.  This track was mostly in scrub and trees at the base of the cliff and you should pay VERY close attention to the times that you have been walking along the base because it is very easy to head up a gully too early and find yourself in a tricky situation.

This was exactly what I did.  Because there were so few tapes on trees I was mainly following the faint track marks on the ground.  At the base of one large gully I missed seeing a tape on the left that crossed below some boulders.  Instead I went to the right and headed up a gully.  I was on a very clear track where lots of misguided walkers had gone before me.  I ended up reaching the top of a very steep slope of scrub and rock and the gully ended with a cliff at the top that dropped down to an even larger gully to the left.  The correct track was back down at the base of this second gully and crossed it safely.

THE MIDDLE ARROW WAS WHERE I WENT UP THE WRONG GULLY AND FOUND MYSELF AT THE TOP OF A SHEER DROP OFF - as you start up this section you can't tell that it is a false lead - the most useful guide is to take close attention to the times in the 'Chapman book' for walking along the base of the cliffs before heading up.

I must have wasted about 45 minutes as I retraced my steps until I found some tapes again and found the spot that the track turned left - slightly away from the cliffs.  I continued along, struggling through the scrub, occasionally looking up to find that the sheer cliff was overhanging above me.  It was an awesome sight.  Eventually the track turned up to the right and there were some well made stone steps that led up onto the plateau.

As soon as I reached the plateau I turned on my gps to mark the point that I needed to reach to head back down - just in case it was hard to find the way back.  I kept the gps on to mark my path as I walked on top of pb.  I headed to the north and found a track maintenance hut that had blown over onto it's side and was secured by wires to stop it going further.  Near this temporary hut (facing south) there was a track that led to the s/e and one that headed south.  The s/e track headed down off PB - eventually east towards Mt Wylly.  The track to the south crossed the creek and then headed diagonally up the hill towards the summit.

The track to the south headed briefly across a small gully that had a creek gurgling below some thick scrub.  I could probably have got water from it if I had followed it down the hill.

I crossed the gully and headed diagonally across and up the hill.  I saw two people coming down the hill.  The man and woman from S.A. & Vic were on the way back down from the summit.  They said that they had found the metal box under rocks at the summit but it didn't have a logbook inside so they had written some details on the back of some used track notes.

I continued up the hill towards the summit, following the small cairns and let out a cheer when I finally reached the top and saw the awesome view over New River Lagoon and the south coast.  I got out my sat phone and called a few people to brag about being on the top and then wandered around exploring and taking photos.  I was intending to stay in my bivvy bag somewhere on the summit, so I wasn't rushing anything.  I just felt great to be up there.

After being on top for about 2 hours I started feeling a bit ill in my stomach.  I drank some water again to try and keep myself hydrated but I was running low on water.  I realised that if I camped there that night I would quickly run out of water.  At approximately 3.30pm I decided to leave the top to start heading down again.  I wanted to at least get to a water supply again before I stopped.  The wind had also started to pick up and was quite cold.

I started heading down quickly.  As I got to the top of the track down again I could see the man and woman that I had spoken to earlier.  They were further down the track on the stone steps off the plateau.  I eventually caught up to them and had a chat as I passed them.  They were carrying full packs for a 2 week trip and I was only carrying an overnight supply (bivvy bag, sleeping bag, food, water, warm clothes, sat phone, epirb, gps, compass, maps, Chapman notes, camera, spare batteries ... basically everything I take on a long trip except tent, cooker and fuel.

On the way along the base of the cliffs I was able to go a lot faster because it was more familiar.  I stopped at every water trickly that ran down the gullys to drink as much as I could and keep my bottles filled.  I regularly checked my watch and made sure that I drank every 30 minutes.

The on ly mistake that I made was I continued following the base of the cliffs and followed a false lead - missing the right turn down the ridge line.  A lot of walkers must have done the same thing before me by the look of the ground.  I realised that I had missed the real track when the path ahead became very hard to continue to follow along the base of the cliff.  I retraced my steps for 5 minutes and saw my mistake.

After leaving the cliff base I continued quickly down the ridge, still stopping regularly to drink.  It started to rain at 5pm.  This kept me cool but caused me to slip a lot more as I quickly shuffled down the hill.  I reached the base of the slope at 7.15pm and it was quite dark under the tree canopy.  I filled up my drink bottles again in the creek.  It was almost dark as I reached the camp site on the lagoon at 7.45pm.  It was still raining and I waded into the lagoon to wash off before getting into the tent.  It felt beautiful to wash of the sweat in the warm lagoon water.

As I crawled into the tent with my water bottles and food bag my legs were cramping up and my back was very stiff.  It wasn't easy to stretch in my Macpac Microlight tent.

After an uncomfortable night's sleep I awoke expecting a dull day with the rain continuing.  As I lay in the tent it was hard to tell what the weather was like due to the tent being under the tree canopy but as I climbed out I found that there was a perfectly clear sky.  I immediately regretted coming down from the plateau the previous afternoon because it would have been superb to wake up on top of PB with perfectly clear skies and fairly calm weather.

As I packed, feeling very relaxed and pleased with myself, I noticed that the edge of the water in the lagoon was about 10 metres further away than when I landed 1 1/2 days ago.  As I paddled up the lagoon I regularly touched the sandy bottom and suffered from 'bottom drag', slowing me to 5-6 km/h.  As a result of this I took off the extended rudder from my Mirage 580 and put it under the bungy cord on the front deck.

I left the sheltered camp site on the edge of the lagoon and paddled across to a small beach on the western side.  It was a beautiful site looking back at the summit.  I stopped for a couple of hours at the bushwalkers boat crossing and at the mouth of the lagoon/Prion Beach to take more photos.  The surf at Prion Beach was now only 2-4 feet after three days of settled weather.

As I paddled out of the river mouth with the assistance of the flow I only had to punch through a couple of small waves to get clear.  It was a warm, sunny day and the water was very calm.  I paddled out towards Hen Island because I could see something floating in the water.  It looked like a big cube-shaped white object.  I started paddling to the south towards the object and eventually realised that it was the cabin of a boat.  As I looked at the horizon to the south there was a shimmering appearance past the glassy, calm surface.

Looking at the horizon there seemed to be a section with a breaking wave on it.  I knew that there wasn't an island in this area and I was totally confused.  As I scanned along the horizon I could see some other sections with giant breaking waves.  I was filled with a sudden panic feeling and immediately had flashbacks to the footage of the December 26 tsunamis off Indonesia.  I thought "do I paddle out to hopefully get over the huge waves before they break on the shore or try and paddle in to get to shore before the waves do".  I thought that I was in deep trouble either way but I said to myself that "if there are some breaking waves out there where the water is a lot deeper then if I paddle towards it - the waves are only going to get a lot bigger as they get closer to shore in shallow water."  As a result I turned for the shore and paddled as hard as I could for 1.5km - heading into Rocky Boat Inlet.  I kept glancing over my shoulder and I could still see what appeared to be the giant white caps of massive waves heading to the shore.

I just hoped that if I got closer to the shore I would at least get washed up onto the land and I may have some chance of survival.  As I paddled into the bay of Rocky Boat Inlet the water was still glassy and I got to shore and pulled the kayak up onto the kelp that lay across the rocks and I grabbed my 'emergency bag' with my sat phone, epirb, water and chocolate and I ran up the hill on the n/w corner of the bay.  I could still see the giant white caps on the horizon and I was bewildered why they weren't getting closer.  I walked further up the hill and looked out through my binoculars.  Even with the binoculars the horizon appeared to have great big breaking waves on the horizon.  After 15 minutes of watching I started to feel more comfortable that it must just be like a desert mirage where the heat over the shimmering sand warps the view.  I could only guess that the same was happening with the glassy water and a still, clear, warm day.

I wandered back down through the bracken ferns to the rocky cove and unloaded my kayak with the intention to camp there for the night.  I cooked up some pasta for lunch because I had missed out on a cooked meal the previous night when I returned late from the summit.  After lunch I had a swim in the bay to cool off.  Even though it was 11th of March and the water was probably at it's warmest, it was still very cool.

By 3pm I had relaxed for a couple of hours and was starting to get a bit bored.  The weather was still very calm so I decided to pack up again and continue along the coast.  The next sheltered option to stop was South Cape Rivulet about 20km away to the east.  I wasn't too worried about finding places to stop because the sea was so calm I could stop on any beach or rocky cove.

The trip to the east was just beautiful.  I followed the shore closer than I had ever been before.  Between Osmiridium Beach and Surprise Bay I was able to paddle within a few metres of the shore.  After paddling around to Granite Beach I headed closely along next to the Fluted cliffs of South Cape.  As I reached South Cape I looked back to the south and there was still a strange line of cloud very low down along the horizon.  I wasn't too concerned as it was a long way away and I had plenty of time.

I checked the map and established that from South Cape it was roughly the same distance to either South Cape Rivulet or straight across to South East Cape.  I decided that once I got to South East Cape the conditions would be more sheltered and I could paddle that section in the dark if I had to.

I kept plodding away to South East Cape and as I reached the cape a sudden gale force wind hit from the south west.  The sky was still clear so it was a surprise when the wind hit.  In hindsight I think that the light northerly wind had been holding of a cold front and it had finally reached the coast ... or something like that?

I was cold and tired but I continued along the coast with a light tail wind that produced small wind swells to get a lift from.  As I reached the entrance to Recherche Bay the light was fading and there was a beautiful sunset with the silhouette of the Mt La Perouse and Pindars Peak.  I was relieved to land on the beach at Cockle Creek.  My legs were very stiff and sore from the walk and then sitting in the kayak so I struggled to walk to my car.  After unloading the kayak I almost fainted with the effort as I lifted the kayak onto my head to put it on the roof of my station wagon.

When I finally drove away from Cockle Creek heading for the closest source of Coke I felt a great sense of achievement.  I had dreamed of climbing PB for years and it was great to complete the return trip from Cockle Creek in 3 days.  The weather was as close to perfect as you can get on the south coast and I look forward to taking other people back on the same trip.  My main thought at the end of the trip is that I would like to replace the tapes on the track up PB from the lagoon to stop people wandering off the track like I did.  I know that a few people have been lost in that area but I am aware that Tas Parks and Wildlife discourage people putting their own tapes or track markings on tracks but there were a lot of old tapes on the ground and some missing where large trees had fallen across the track.

This was a superb trip and a great adventure.