“I have a brain tumour.”
Not the words you’d expect to hear from your 24 year old mate, a young guy who was fit, healthy and didn’t have any detrimental vices that may impact his health.
Yet that’s what Josh told me on that brisk winters morning back in 2015. I was left in a state of mild disbelief, a million questions running through my head simultaneously… how was he feeling? How was he coping with the news and the future? What would I do in a similar situation? I knew I had to do whatever I could to help.
The next time I saw Josh was at my place a few weeks later, he was undergoing chemo and was starting to really feel (and show) the effects. I’d been pondering over the best way for me to help him through this ordeal, something to really show my support and make his life a little more enjoyable. I quickly came to the conclusion that providing Josh with a longer-term focus was perhaps the best way to go about this. And what better to anchor that focus than a massive physical challenge? I asked him if he wanted to cycle across Australia once he was given the all clear. It didn’t take him long to agree to the idea. I hadn’t of course, considered the fact that this meant I had to do it too…
Here we are, over 2 years later having completed a successful journey across Australia. 7 riders cycled every metre of the route from Melbourne to Perth and 5 unfortunate souls drove either the whole or part of the way behind and in front of us. What an expedition it was. Along the way we managed to raise over $83,000 for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, an organization helping to find a cure for the terrible disease that struck Josh at such an early age.
How hard was it? Well, the physical side wasn’t incredibly difficult. We averaged 140km per day, not unreasonable, though we often had headwinds to contend with which meant a lot of time on the saddle. Still, it was a fairly casual pace with enough rest along the way to keep us relatively fresh. The mental side was the bigger challenge.
Having to wake up at 5am each morning knowing you’d be spending most of the day on the bike got a little tiresome. We had to be constantly alert with regards to traffic hazards; what trucks were doing as they overtook, making sure we maintained our line and stayed right on the back wheel of the bike in front. There was also a fairly wide-ranging level of fitness between the group, meaning it wasn’t possible to get into your own rhythm and get into the ‘zone’. Add to that, the scenery throughout most of the middle part of Australia is fairly consistent: absolutely nothing. So it was a bit of a mental drain, particularly as we got into the middle part of the ride.
Despite this, everyone maintained a positive attitude for most of it. Not much complaining and no real arguments despite 7 males of varying character spending every waking moment together for 25 days straight. I’d consider this one of the biggest achievements of the whole journey. That’s pretty damn impressive looking back.
We set out from the Yarra River in Melbourne and rose into Fiona Stanley hospital 25 days later, the place where Josh received his cancer treatment. It was an incredible reception, greeted by a crowd of friends, family, the deputy premier and a news crew. We were joined on the last 30km leg by over 60 other riders, causing havoc to the local traffic as we blocked up a lane of major highways. What an experience!
I’m particularly proud of Josh. When I proposed the idea of cycling across Australia, I wanted to give him a focus and vision to help get through those long days of treatment, where only his imagination could take him away. When we made the final ride into Fiona Stanley hospital, I was obviously pretty excited to have completed this challenge on a personal level. That paled in comparison to the excitement I had for Josh and what he must have been feeling after 2 years of preparation in not only getting ready for this event, but doing so with all the other hurdles he had to face. I was incredibly grateful to have been able to share that moment with him.
One of the true beauties of endurance pursuits is the tangible goal they can provide us; a definitive focus which is lacking from many of our lives. This is what I’d learned from the last few years of my own pursuits and this is what I was looking to provide to Josh.
I’m proud to say, it seemed to have worked.
Yep, I’m calling it. Having finished the Cape to Cape earlier this year, as well as large swathes of the Bibbulmun, I can say this one tops it. No other hike in Western Australia offers the experience as provided along the Stirling Ridge walk. It had been on the list for a while but to be honest, low expectations had put me off. I’d been up Bluff Knoll and a few other peaks in the area and while providing a pleasant outing, weren’t really worth the long drive from Perth. I’m happy to eat my words on this one.
I was joined on the trek by a mate of mine, a welcome change from the usual solo endeavors. Early June was our time frame, perhaps not the best choice from a weather perspective but we decided to rough it. From a few of the reviews we read you’d assume this hike was equivalent to a venture into the Alaskan wilderness. Exposed ridges, arduous slopes, shit, even cyclonic winds were mentioned. I also read somewhere that 2 out of 3 treks that started didn’t complete it. Either someone was having a laugh or we were leaving Western Australia. We decided to risk our lives and do it anyway.
Embarking from Perth at 6am, we reached the Bluff Knoll campsite after 6 or so hours of looong, tedious driving. Parking the car up and grabbing our gear, we got a lift out to the East end of the track by an old gentleman from the camp. The long ride was made enjoyable after the driver mistakenly thought my friend, a female, was actually a man. I was in hysterics for quite some time. Small minds are easily amused as they say..
We’d heard traversing the ridge from East to West is the way to go, it provides a clear landmark in Bluff Knoll at to work towards and is a little closer to civilisation at the finish. Here’s a map of the whole thing. There’s a 5km walk along a firebreak to get to the start of the trek. While not generally amusing, my friend had a good laugh (& got one back) when I fell over in some mud. I immediately regretted wearing old, worn down running shoes..
At last we reached the base of the ridge. From here there’s a rather steep section up to the little knob of Ellens Peak (far left in the photo above). From there you can either go up the peak and back down the other side, or scramble around either side of it. We went around the northern side which involved a bit of a dip, then scrambling back up to get onto the ridge (just to the right of the peak).
We continued along the trail for another couple of hours, by which time the daylight was starting to fade. Time to look for one of the fabled ‘sleeping caves’ we’d read about. We tried to find the cave which was supposedly on the North side of the ridge. A GPS we’d brought along showed it was in our immediate vicinity but after a good hour of searching, we were out of luck and out of light.
We resorted to sleeping outside on the sloping ridge. That was an interesting one. Thank god we’d chosen a period of clear weather. Finding a spot free of vegetation, we laid out the sleeping bags and after a hearty feed, attempted sleep. We’d doze for a little while, wake up and find ourselves a meter down in the tussock, having to crawl back up the slope again. I don’t recommend it. Find a cave.
One perk of sleeping on the northern slope was the view it afforded us of the sunrise. All the sunrises and sunsets were pretty special along the ridge. Following an extended bout of admiration fro the glories of nature, we packed up the kit, had a quick bite and were on our way again.
Pushing on for a couple of hours, we came across an awesome cave that should’ve been our shelter for the night. The spot was incredible. It would’ve taken a big first day but should be quite doable. I don’t actually know the name of the spot but I’m sure you’ll find it on any Stirling Ridge Walk guide or map.
The terrain on this trek was a great deal more interesting and often challenging than I first suspected. For the majority of the first 2 days, you’re contending with brush and scrub that covers the track. When applied to the Stirling Ridge Walk, ‘track’ can be a fairly ambiguous term. Although there is often a fairly well defined trail, much of the route is open for interpretation as far as the best course to proceed. Cairns; piled rock markers are generally the only form of navigation you’ll find.
Once again, we timed things badly and were left without a cave to sleep in by the time the darkness began to take hold. At this point we were actually up on top of one of the ‘arrows’ (what they call 3 of the peaks in this range) so we decided to make our camp there. Not the best choice.. there was a little more wind up here and I shivered through a rather chilly night. Again, the views well and truly made up for it.
We kicked off the third and final day with our sights set on the big dog the range, Bluff Knoll. I really can’t remember the times we hiked each day, I’d hazard a guess and say roughly 6 hours for the first and 7 or 8 for the last two. The last one in particularly took a little longer then expected.
There was far less scrub on this section of the Route, rather mud and steep banks were our biggest challenge. I landed on my ass quite a few times, much to the amusement of my companion. Once again, please don’t use old runners on this trek..
When we were dropped off at the East end by the camp manager, he warned us several times not to take car keys up there; apparently several sets had been lost over the years. By the third day I had lost a shirt and the end of my trekking pole (which I never even used..) and my friend had lost her camera. It’s quite easy to drop things and have them torn away by the brush. Keep your gear tucked up inside your pack.
Another thing, the wind.. holy hell. I made a mock comment on a review that referred to the wind as ‘cyclonic’. Well, while that may be a slight exaggeration, it is damn strong. It was present on the first days along sections but it wasn’t until day 3 that we felt its full force. It’s legit!
Sauntering on, we finally approached the last climb up to the top of Bluff Knoll. Upon reaching the summit plateau, we were greeted by a complete white-out. Yep, we got lost as all hell. Thankfully the GPS finally did it’s job and we found our way to the summit marker and the well marked path back down the other side.
The Cape to Cape track is a 135km hiking trail located in Western Australia’s south-west region. It extends from the lighthouse at Cape Naturalist (near the town of Dunsborough) to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin (near Augusta). The trail passes through dense coastal shrub, across pristine white and golden sanded beaches, canopied forest paths and over ocean-side cliff and rock formations. It’s considered perhaps Western Australia’s premiere long-distance trail and up there among the best in Australia. It had been on my to-do list for a long time and last week, I finally got around to completing it.
I think if I’m being honest, the reason I had put it off so long, was that I really didn’t expect it to be that amazing. I’ve been on hikes all around the world now, on 6 continents and I didn’t think something in my own backyard would compare.. turns out I was way off the mark. It is truly a spectacular hike, the views are incredible and the diversity of scenery and environments keep things fresh as you walk.
Friends of the Cape to Cape, the organisation that maintains the track, recommend taking 6/7 days to complete the whole thing. Being a somewhat cocky-smart-ass, I decided to try and do it in 3. I manged it in 4. Some sort of virus on day 1 and an over-heavy pack slowed me down, really though I’d just underestimated the track. There is a LOT of sand-walking. I’d estimate 25% is either along the beach or through sandy trails a few steps off the coast. This is really hard going. It’s slow-paced and causes havoc on your calves and Achilles tendons. Keep this in mind if you’re preparing to do it yourself.
What to Bring..
Water, water, water. The one thing the cape to cape track is really lacking is adequate water supply. The only options really available are the 4 campsites (rainwater tanks) or to buy it from small towns along the way. There are also a couple of small streams you can use, as long as you have iodine tablets or boil the water prior to drinking it. Ensure you can carry at least 3 litres at a time and refill these every time you get the chance. Food shouldn’t really be a problem.
Otherwise just standing camping/hiking fare; tent, sleeping bag, headlight, hiking shoes (be prepared to take them off regularly to get the sand out), adequate food & suitable utensils, bug spray and appropriate clothing. Rain gear is a necessity, for yourself and your pack. Warm clothes are only necessary through the colder months, probably May-August/September. I didn’t wear a jumper once on my trip.
You can probably get away without a tent even if you choose to stay in the towns along the way. There should be accommodation options at least every 20km or so. If you do decide to camp, I believe there are 4 or 5 official campsites with very basic amenities you can take advantage of. Otherwise you can do as I did and camp along the beach.. Technically this isn’t allowed but you won’t get to experience too much adventure in life if you stick to the rules.. If you don’t leave rubbish behind and don’t destroy any vegetation there is really know harm in camping on the sand.
Plus you get to experience the incredible sunrises and sunsets on display, such as this one..
Another pleasant surprise was the diversity of fauna and flora. Lizards by the hundred, birds, bandicoots, kangaroos, feral cats, schools of salmon, shark warnings, a pod of dolphins 10m off-shore and 2 snakes, both of which I nearly stepped on. As I was walking through the thick coastal shrub on day 3, I was rounding a corner and nearly put my foot down on top of a yellow-bellied Tiger Snake. I was about 10km from the nearest town.. so needless to say if it bit me, I would’ve been in a little bit of trouble.
There were shark warnings at practically every beach along the way and the constant buzz of a helicopter could be heard overhead, keeping an eye out for them. The driver who gave me a lift to my car on the way back was telling me a story of a close-encounter a week earlier.
He had been with some friends at the beach, the friend and her daughter were swimming in waist deep water about 10 metres out. They eventually came in and were promptly passed a pair of binoculars to look at the area they were just swimming in. They saw a large grey shadow slowly moving through the waist deep water and were a little confused as to what it was.. The guy told them it was in fact a great white shark, at least 3.5m in length and they were very lucky to have come in when they did.. The coast guard was alerted and the beach promptly cleared. I doubt they’ll be going out in the water for a while..
Caught me completely off guard.. I really wasn’t expecting the scenery I was confronted with over the 4 days. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves..
Check out my Instagram: @7summitsproject for more..
Now, there is a lot of debate amongst certain circles as to what really constitutes the ‘7 Summits’, a label given to climbing the highest peak on each of the 7 continents.
The original 7, first achieved by Dick Bass back in 1985, includes Mt Kosciuszko, on the presumption that Australia was a continent in its own right. Since I was largely inspired by the book written about Bass and his pursuit of the summits (see right), I opted to go with Kosciuszko as well. Being an Australian probably played a part as well, we like to think of ourselves as a continent (only country/continent around, we’ll take that one).
Having now ‘climbed’ Kosciuszko, I can see why the debate came about. It’s not really in the same league as the other 6 on the list. It’s a bit of a push to even call it a mountain.. Not to bash Kozi too much but its practically one quarter the height of Mt Everest, the highest on the list. That being said, it’s on the list and was still an enjoyable excursion for me. I think it would be a completely different experience (in a good way) in winter when some serious snow can fall.
We flew over to Sydney airport, rented a car and made the 6 hour drive out to Thredbo, a ski town at the base of the snowy mountains and our destination, Mt Kosciuszko. Car hire is really the only option outside of winter months, as the regular bus service is cancelled. The drive from Sydney is long and tedious, I would recommend flying into Canberra if you are inclined to make the journey to Thredbo. I’ve heard it can be absolutely packed during ski season, however we went in March and it was pretty much dead.
We got into town a little late so checked straight into our hostel and made haste to get started. It was a pretty uneventful walk up, a solid hike on a beautiful autumn day. Blue, my mate from Deadat30 fame joined me for this one, as did Patty, future chairman of the Reserve Bank. Blue decided to buy a 6-pack as we were stocking essentials for the trek and that is all he talk with him.. He walked up one of the 7 Summits with a beer in one hand, his other carrying the other 5 (gives you an idea as to the level of exertion required). I’m sure he originally had the intention of sharing around a few once we got the top. By the time we made it, there was 1 left..
When hiking, it’s important to bring a friend that can act as a stable surface when you need to put your beer down.This friend has the perfect head and zen-like concentration. No, he’s not available for hire.
We reached the top just before dusk and spent about an hour buggering round, waiting for the sunset. It was well worth the wait, the colours and cloud cover created a pretty spectacular scene.
The mountain god reveals himself..
We made our way in the dark which was a bit more interesting. Since the mountain god has a sense of direction equivalent to a Malaysian airlines flight, he ended up getting lost on the way down. We considered leaving him there but figured he may summon a storm or avalanche to take us out.
The cloud cover that created such a beautiful sunset meant there was no moonlight to guide us, so it was practically pitch black. Luckily, I had a head torch and a torch app installed on my phone so we managed to find our way. We sprinted the last section back to town, hoping to catch the pub open for a quick parmie and beer. We were in luck.