Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wrong Thinking: Fazackerley Range Circuit

The Fazackerley Range Circuit – just the name, putting aside the write up which promised “beautiful scenery … the summit of MacGregor Peak … fabulous vistas” conjures up an image of a glorious walk along a scenic ridgeline with the Tasman Sea crashing onto the sea cliffs below. The reality, as we discovered, was something completely different. 

We had joined one of the local walking clubs on this circuit hike on the Tasman Peninsular. The day started out with the group sprinting up the fire road on which the hike started at a pace that was clearly not sustainable – at least for this group. This rush from the summit gates happens with all groups, young and old, world-wide (as far as I can tell) so Doug and I sauntered up at our usual pace knowing that we did not need to worry about keeping up. Sure enough, ten minutes up the track, red faced and panting the group had stopped for a rest. 


Continuing on, 45 minutes from the start of the walk, a stop for morning tea was called. I did yoga, Doug drank some tea, the rest consumed carbohydrate primarily in the form of gluten, which is undoubtedly why they all needed morning tea in the first place. Further along the track, we passed a fire tower, but even from one level below the top (as high as you could climb) we could only barely catch a glimpse of Pirates Bay. 

Beyond the fire tower, the track plunged in dark rainforest and the pace of our group slowed immensely. There were logs to climb over and under, slippery rocks, and many different varieties of fungi which seemed to fascinate the group. It was all very delightful in a dim, dark way, but it was one of those rare cloudless and calm days that seldom visit Tasmania and both Doug and I wanted to be out in the sun up high on a mountain range as we had – wrongly – imagined this walk would be. 

 View from the fire tower

Eventually we reached the trig station on 591 metre high MacGregor Peak. By slithering out onto a slimy rock, we could again glimpse Pirates Bay and Cape Hauy to the south. For some bizarre reason, it was apparently lunch time, although it felt as if we had just stopped for morning tea. There was nowhere with a view, dry ground, even a hint of sunshine to stop so we huddled in the dense bush in a very small clearing. Thankfully, the cold weather meant we did not stop for long. 

The track followed the Fazackerley Range – a name far too baronial for this forested ridge – northeast to a col and then descended a short distance to Schofields Road. The walking pace was so slow my legs began to twitch. We reached a muddy road and a sign pointing to the car park and, I had hopes that the group might speed up the pace now that the walking was clear and easy. 

Pirates Bay and Cape Hauy

But, people were now feeling tired, and so, although the pace did increase somewhat, it was still feeling fairly slow. I jockeyed back and forth across the track caught behind the two people in front of me, much the way that new puppy does when he wants to run and is not allowed. The leaders instructions for the walk were to turn left back to the parking lot, but somehow every one of us missed the junction where a half buried sign pointed up a road that turned sharply back on itself and led back to the parking area. 

At some point, I began to get the sense that this walk was going horribly wrong. We were, I was sure, getting further and further away from MacGregor Peak and the parked cars. A couple of times, I gently asked the leader if we should perhaps stop and consult the map (why had we, on this day of all days, forgotten our mobile phone which contained all the topographic maps for Tasmania?) but our leader was suffering from the optimism that Andy Kirkpatrick describes as “quickly turn[ing] to disillusion or delusion” and was clearly in the dangerous delusion category as the path we were following was leading steadily away from our objective. 

 Just the kind of dark, damp place you want to spend a rare sunny day

Finally, the map was extricated from the pack, and somehow, the leader convinced herself that we were on the right track and heading towards the cars. Although I buzzed around, much like an annoying mosquito, she would not relinquish the map and I had to be content with this clearly misguided belief. I wandered down the track and caught up with Doug and – sotto voice – said “we are lost and going the wrong way.” Doug laughed, thinking I was joking, I assured him I was not. His humour, however, was contagious. I laughed too, surely soon enough, the delusional bubble in which the leader was firmly floating would break and we would turn back. 

But, we continued on, time passed, another junction was reached, and finally the party did stop to consider our predicament. The leader eventually pulled out her mobile telephone on which she had a map showing the road we needed to take and our location. We had clearly been travelling in the wrong direction for the last couple of kilometres. Clear also, was the route to the cars. Back the way we had come to a junction and then a short walk of no more than two kilometres to the cars. 

 As much as we saw the sun all day

Just as it is universal for groups to sprint off at the start of the day at a pace that is unsustainable, so it is universal to never want to turn back, no matter how sensible turning back is.  Half the group, including the leader, argued to take the road to the left – a road which was not on the map and could be going anywhere. Doug and I, myself now determined that, after twenty years of mountaineering and not one unplanned night spent out, the first such event was not going to occur on a walk that I could do in under three hours a scant four kilometres from the car were arguing – stridently in my case – to walk back and take the correct turning to reach our starting point. The remainder of the party was, as is also universal, sitting on the fence to see which “leader” would prevail. 

The leader walked down the wrong track for a hundred metres, and, I like to think, had time to consider the implications of remaining under her delusion, and returned with the welcome decision that we would turn back. I asked Doug later what he would have done had the group kept walking further and further in the wrong direction and he answered that he would have gone with them. I like to think I would not. After all, at some point, group think, if it is clearly wrong think, needs to broken. Of course, the whole thing was made more difficult as we had left our car in Sorell and the couple we had car-pooled with were keen to keep going the wrong way. Although we might have easily returned to the vehicles, short of stealing a car, we would not actually be able to leave the parking lot.

Jelly fungi

Thankfully, those decisions remain academic. The encroaching darkness was finally the spur the group needed to walk faster and with the leader checking the map at each junction we walked back the way we had come to where the correct turning, direction sign half buried in regrowth, pointed back towards the car park. We reached the cars just as the battery on the mobile phone, and our only reliable navigation device (I had also forgotten the compass) died. 

There are two lessons to be learned from yesterdays fiasco. One is to always practice what Andy Kirkpatrick calls “nav paranoia” and never trust “100% in others judgement.” The second is to research trips much more carefully before you sign up for them. I might have previously written – not even that long ago – that I seldom wish I hadn't gone out but frequently wish I had – yesterday, however, was the exception. Had I known this would be a slow boring walk buried in dark forest away from the rare sunshine I would never have gone. And, that is entirely my fault for not looking more carefully at the map and relying instead on an overly optimistic (perhaps just a different viewpoint) description in trip schedule.

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