Quicken: a wilderness journey

Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: QUICKEN.

I HAD TO QUICKEN my pace, I knew. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I had injured my knee, injured it back there, back there on the mountain that, when I looked back, appeared as a big, quartzy monolith shining in the afternoon sun.

We were near the end of day three of our walk into Frenchmans Cap, a big, pointed peak standing above the canyon of the Franklin River in South West Tasmania. Our plan was walk in to Tahune Hut on day one, climb the peak on day two, walk out day three. Simple. But somethere on that mountain, up there above the treeline beyond Artichoke Valley, around Lake Tahune, I had injured my leg and my knee was letting me know about it. I could still walk okay though at a slower pace than my companions. There were no spasms of great pain, just a constant ache that told me I had better adopt a steady pace and try to avoid slipping and damaging it further.

Avoiding slipping out here on the Loddon Plains was something of a challenge. These were not called the Sodden Loddons for nothing. The trail, it was nothing like a well made and maintained track. It could best be described as a route traversing the flat, button grass plains between Frenchmans and the flying fox across the Franklin. Years of bushwalkers boots tramping a path across a soil that never dries out had turned the trail into a mudbath into which our legs would sink knee deep at times. Let’s just say that the trail was a long, linear bog along which slipping was more than a vague possibility.

 

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How it was done. The flying fox was our way across the Franklin River.

There is only this single route into Frenchmans. Moving out from the carpark we traversed moist eucalypt forest then crossed the Franklin on a flying fox. That’s a shallow wooden box hanging from a cable strung between pulleys on high platforms at both ends. Our means of movement was pulling ourselves across in this contraption, hand over hand, along the cable.

After this we ascended a minor slope that deposited us on the edge of the Lodden Plains. Then there was the long boggy walk across the plains, a matter of step after step, the pace becoming monotonous and the mind drifting to other, drier places. Eventually we noticed how the land was rising. We were now in the foothills of Frenchmans Cap. After that, it was up and up until we came to this wonderful little alpine lake with this welcoming little hut on its shore. Tahune Hut.

Tomorrow, we ascend. That was the plan. Tomorrow, though, I don’t ascend because somewhere up here in the mountains my knee has started to hurt with this dull but persistent pain that accompanied me through the next day like some nagging insect, all the way out.

 

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The suspension footbridge offers an easier and perhaps safer crossing of the Franklin than the flying fox of previous decdes. The white flowers at the end of the bridge  are those of the leatherwood tree, a species occurring only in the rainforest of western and south western Tasmania.

Down we go through the eucalypt forest until we stand on the banks above the Franklin. Now, there is no flying fox on which to pull ourselves, two at a time, across the river. There is, instead, a suspension bridge. Across we go to the far side where a leatherwood tree is in full summer flower, its blooms throwing it into high contrast with the dark greens of the surrounding rainforest.

Leatherwood grows only in Tasmania’s western rainforest and is prized for the distinctive taste of what is a unique honey that starts its production when the pollinators come by to fertilise those bright white flowers. The leatherwood trees and the rainforest they grow in are the basis of a food industry found only on this island.

Decades have passsed since I had first walked this track and as we pass through the tea tree scrub I recall that long day traversing that sodden plain and crossing the Franklin on that flying fox, all the while my knee kept reminding me not to slip, not to fall.

We are on our way to the West Coast and I had earlier suggested we stop and walk down to the Franklin. My partner had agreed and so here we were. We lingered by the river’s tannin-brown waters awhile, enjoying the ambience of the forest and the sound of flowing water. This time, I hadn’t felt the urge to quicken my pace.

The little car purrs to life with a turn of the key and we pull out of the carpark and head west, towards the coast. Through a gap in the trees I look southwards and there, on the far horizon, the peak of Frenchmans shines in the afternoon light like some siren calling me once again.

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