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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tasmania (not Tanzania)

Setting off to an island on the other side of the planet that most people cannot even locate on a map comes with it's own set of expectations. I knew very little about Tasmania other than that it had a wealth of natural beauty, rocks and beaches. I decided not to research the history or find detailed information and rather arrive without such expectations; open armed and explorative. This turned out to be the right way to travel there.

A flight just shy of fifteen hours took me to New Zealand where I popped in and out of the metal flying shells, which continued on to Australia, where I finally caught my small connection flight to Hobart, the biggest city on the Tasmanian island. Though weary and jetlagged, I was awake as the plane flew low into the bay surrounding the city, and the sun peeked through the low hanging clouds shining divinely on the water, illuminating the hills that rolled in shades of green all around the conjoining bays.  It was immediately clear I was landing in a place of great beauty. I have a certain amount of anxiety writing about my experience of the island as it feels impossible to encompass it's beauty into black and white type on a digital white page. The best I can offer is a trip report and snippets about the nature lover's paradise.

The crew was five, Jerry, Preston, Max, Ben and myself. The first night we stayed in Hobart, a clean city that wraps around the bay, which cuts into the southern part of the island and resembles a small Geneva without the mountains. Our contact Simon had a large map of Tasmania on the wall and we spent a good deal of time poking at it, googling the different locations we wanted to explore. After a day of shopping and waiting for my lost luggage, we loaded our ridiculously big rental van full of food, our multitude of bags and set out towards Ben Lomond national park.

Jerry became designated left-side driver, and he did a great job, only nearly killing us once. Four hours of driving lead us through a landscape resembling the central coast of California; rolling hills covered in Eucalyptus forests, some trees reaching far higher than any of the same species in the States. Green prairies lined the road, often full of happy gray sheep grazing or lounging.

Small farm houses appeared, pastel yellows and green, picket fences, white decorative edging around the porches and occasionally a stoic horse standing in the back garden. The small towns always had old tractors, vintage gas stations and at least one cafe and bakery. I had been advised early on to eat as many savory pies as possible, and judging from the free roaming sheep my choice of lamb and rosemary pie had been right. It was delicious. The pies are flaky, golden brown crusts with chunks of meat and thick sauce inside. At about $4 American it was hard to resist.
Thanks to GPS we knew we had arrived, as there was no kiosk or border to the national park. We had taken several dirt roads and watched as the Eucalyptus gave way to pine and rocky, red soil. We turned down another dirt road and drove as far as the van would, sliding a bit on the rocky two-track. We sorted gear, most of which was lightweight amsteel slings, soft shackles, rope protection, and of course tri-cams and the slackline itself. We could see the towering cliffs just above the tree line and we suspected there would be a lot of highline potential, but it was still difficult to determine exactly what we might need. A special aspect of the trip was that there was no drilling involved; all anchors would be natural and removable. It is a great ethic albeit time consuming. We had the lightest gear possible thanks to Ben, and I couldn't imagine doing the same thing with heavy spanset's and steel shackles.

The trail wound through a sparse forest, with massive gray, smooth trees standing like grandmothers of the wild. On the trail, thick bushes overgrew the path and a certain amount of force was necessary to navigate them. The path steadily lead upwards, eventually opening up to a lichen covered scree field that ran along the base of the cliffs as far as we could see. Water was a necessity, and though we knew there was a tarn nearby, we weren't sure where we could access the cliff top. During the hike the clouds had silently glided in, surrounding the rocks and pregnant with water. Rain was coming. There appeared to be a scree covered gully leading up to the top, and Preston ran ahead to scout it, and eventually we were all following up the boulder field. We ascended into the clouds, eventually reaching a plateau that stretched as far as we could see. There were a few clearings in the bushes where we set up our tents, Jerry off in his one person, me with my Big Agnes two person (for my backpack and I) and the rest of the boys in Max's dyneema teepee. The sun was nowhere in sight and we were in a gray fog, our clothes immediately wet. It was how I imagined Ireland or Scotland; vast plateaus of dense green brush and a magical mist hanging over everything. We all gathered in Max's teepee where Preston suggested a percussion party. Collecting all pots and pans within the vicinity, we spent the remaining hours banging on orange juice bottles, pans, stoves and the like, and catching whatever giant spiders wandered in.

My first mistake was leaving my rain pants back home. The second mistake was wearing my approach shoes and leaving my mountaineering boots in the van. My feet and pants were soaked from the get-go, and without sun I had no chance to dry them. Despite the poor weather conditions we hiked up to the edge of the cliff and began searching for gaps. The cloud ruined our chances of seeing the exposure, however we knew the cliffs were sheer and the highest points were around 200 meters from the scree field below. Near camp we found two possible gaps, small distances but aesthetic. We spent another several hours traversing the cliff edge as it went up, then down, then up again. Most of the way I could walk along the rock slabs, but at times I found climbing up the easy class five was quicker. The rock in Ben Lomond is Dolerite, a type of basalt almost like granite but with super friction. Even when wet I didn't slip a single time. After spending almost the entire day looking around, we chose the first gap we'd seen and slowly made our way back.

Jerry was able to gain service and check the weather, and it looked bad for another day. We discussed leaving and returning, but the boys touted their love of suffering, so we rigged in the rain and wind. Max and Preston rappelled on the far side to reach the pillar that would be our anchor. They used the 100-meter static rope to wrap several pillars and eventually we had an anchor and a backup. On the tensioning side, Ben, Jerry and I searched for natural anchors for a long time. The way the rock slabs angled towards the cliff edge made it difficult to sling them, as they had no edges to hold the Amsteel against. Some hours later we managed to sling a free standing boulder and a big pillar quite far back from the edge, and then we ran Amsteel all the way to the drop off, using tri-cams for a directional. It was not simple rigging and entailed a number of rope protectors to prevent rock abrasion. The weather remained heinous and it was a constant sideways thin spray of water, so we finished the rigging and retreated to camp.

The next day was even worse. We walked up to the line and tried to finish the last touches of rigging, but eventually all agreed it was time to bail until the conditions improved. We packed up our wet tents and hiked back down to the van. After descending several hundred meters the weather improved vastly, and by the time we were in the forest near the car it was barely sprinkling. The top of the cliff was so lost in the cloud we were just experiencing something entirely different up there. So, we spread out our stuff to dry, battled land leeches, and waited for the sun.

Our last day was blue skies and sun. We took daypacks and hiked up to the line, and though the wind was brutal, the line was so loose that once it was weighted the walker couldn't feel the wind whipping over the plateau. After three days we were able to officially establish our first highline in Tasmania. We each took our turns, enjoying the short but beautifully exposed line. Around 100 ft long, it sloped up to a pillar on one side and the step off was a challenge but possible. In a small alcove, the walker feels completely exposed on one side as the whole valley stretches out for miles. From the far side the beautiful tarn is visible, a blue-green circle of shallow, crystal clear water.

We detoured to the Bay of Fires for one night, hearing it was a must see destination. We ate pizza on the beach whilst being eaten by sand fleas. We drove up and down in the dark searching for a place to sleep, finally finding a turnoff. I walked along a sandy trail and pitched my tent sans rainfly just behind a grassy dune, keen to sleep to the sound of waves crashing against the sandy shore. My tent has a really neat feature of LED lights inside, and usb or batteries
can power them, so I plugged in my GoalZero Venture battery pack and immediately found myself illuminated. I read late into the night listening to the ocean. At sunrise I heard Max pattering by and I awoke, joining the boys on the beach as the sun crested the horizon. From the wet, soggy Alpine environment to the white sand, turquoise water of Bay of Fires was a small taste of the diversity Tasmania offers.

The following day we headed south towards the Tasman Peninsula. Along the way the map was repeatedly taken out and our group discussed where to go. There were too many options and imposing weather, so we expected only brief windows of time. It was agreed upon to go to Cape Raoul since no highlines had been established there. The landscape gradually changed; the colors became more what I imagined in Australia; dryer beige grasses and auburn fauna, still met by dense Eucalyptus forest. We passed small, quiet towns with unusual names like Eagle-Hawk Neck and Nubeena, finally arriving at the end of the road.

The cliffs were out of sight, we were on the peninsula itself but it was wide and encompassed farmlands and villages. It was growing dark, and next to the trail there stood a beautiful two-story house on a hill, surrounded by a large green open field. Signs along the fence invited respectful hikers to use the composting toilet, and we soon figured out that it was a privately run campground. The owner came to the fence and told us the fee; $5 AUD per night, and twice that if we wanted to use the sauna. We drove our van in and pitched our tents in the field amongst the wild hens that roamed and screeched all around us. They look quite like a chicken only thinner and more athletic. The many geese added to the choir making quite a racket all around us, it sounded like a jungle of poultry.

Andy, the owner of the campground was friendly and inquired about our plans. He had seen our highliner friend printed in the newspaper prior to our arrival and had an inclination as to what we were planning. He offered to hike water out for us. These unexpected kindnesses are part of why I love traveling so much. Once our bags were packed with one night of food and all potentially necessary highline equipment, we started up the trail that started at the dead end of the road and quickly lead us into another forest. We crossed logs, wound through mossy eucalyptus trees, and eventually landed at a cliff edge exposing the endless dark blue of the ocean. I was reminded of the Calanque in Southern France.
On we trekked, now moving downward through stubby old dead trees and thin trunked new ones. Soon we opened up onto the plateau of the peninsula, and the bush bashing began. No trees dotted this landscape, just endless shoulder or head high bushes, thick and rugged. Once we reached the end of the trail we split off and dumped our packs and searched for our gap. Separately we found several options; a big hundred meter projects in an alcove on one side, a sixty-meter gap with sheer two-hundred-plus drops below it, and we all eyed the towers below us in a formation called the wedding cake, named for the candle like spires dotting the small finger of the peninsula. There appeared to be a lot of potential down there so Max and I rappelled in to scout while the rest of the crew rigged the sixty meter gap.

We spent the next several hours scrambling along a slippery traversing climbers trail, dirt sliding, off-width down-climbing, repeatedly looking at Max's iPhone picture of the Wedding Cake attempting to gain bearing. He used my Tendon Lowe 8.9 rope to lead an unknown crack on an unknown tower so we could gain a vantage point, and upon reaching the top we found a lack of rap rings and we were no closer to the gap we had seen from above. The greatest difficulty was how off level all the spires turned out to be. We finally found a second trail that lead to the base of a small tower, which involved a short solo traverse, one that I was happy to have climbing shoes for.

The rock was some of the most friction I'd touched, ever. My skin was raw after one hand jam. Eventually we talked logistics and it was clear getting everyone down there with all the equipment would be a feat, and we still didn't know how to get a connection between one tower and another with sheer drops straight the ocean below the gap. Though we bailed without a new project it was a fun scouting mission.
Several hours later we rejoined the group and found a beautiful new line rigged and almost ready for walking. It went from edge to edge with quite creative rigging. 

When I asked them what they had slung on the other side, Ben answered "Everything." The alcove it was rigged in was a V shape, gradually opening up to a wide mouth exposing waves crashing against rocks far below. The cliffs on the peninsula are long hexagonal pillars, rising out of the ocean in short heights and eventually reaching up three hundred meters. The drop below the highline was impressive. I scrambled to a freestanding pillar some hundred feet back to watch Jerry cross. He slowly and steadily stepped his way across the loose line. The weather was the opposite of Ben Lomond; the sun beat down and caused lethargy and sunburns all around. When I finally scooted out on the line the wind was gusting sideways and making the highline buck and kick like a wild snake. I gingerly made my way to the middle and fell, then repeated my mistake. The scouting mission had used quite a lot of my energy bank and I retreated to the rock to lie down and bask. Later after the wind subsided a bit I got on the highline again and managed to cross it. The exposure was breathtaking. Though far below, the movement of the water was a present distraction.

Before dark we returned to our bivy spot, and I utilized the strong sun to charge my dying electronics. With direct sun my phone was charged in less than half an hour, and I wondered why I had waited so many years to utilize the suns energy! That evening we camped on the peninsula, nestled in the bush and blanketed by a million stars. The following day we de-rigged the line and hiked back through the bush, the sweeping branches of coastal pine, the mossy forest, and finally found ourselves back at the campground for a night. The owner Andy let us look at his maps of Tasmania as we plotted our next destination. We learned more about his plans for the beautiful house; that it would be a bed and breakfast and small farm. They were already producing organic garlic and jams. The house was an incredible work of art; all wood and sustainably built, with a wood burning stove that heated the water while heating the house. Tasmania is famous for it's wood and the house was a perfect exhibit of that.

The next day we drove to the Devils Kitchen, a popular tourist destination where a large arch has been eroded by the saltwater of the ocean slapping against the cliff. Next we drove to the blowhole, a stinky and unimpressive spot where water smashes against a natural tunnel spraying brown rotting-kelp water into the air. The best part about the blowhole is a nearby food-trailer, serving fish and chips, pies, and fresh berry ice cream. Following the map and assuming where the cliffs would be, we drove up a dirt road into the Tasman Peninsula National Park and parked at the end. We walked about a hundred feet to the edge of the viewpoint and found ourselves staring at a perfect alcove. Jerry's laser told us the gap was over ninety meters. We ran around the edge of the cliffs searching for any other coves that could offer other possibilities, but ultimately agreed on the ninety-meter gap. After our last highline missions, rigging a line a short walk from the van was a luxury! We divided to conquer and I began helping weave a tag line through the bushes and trees inside the cove. The anchor on one side was a tree with the edge of the rock slung as a directional.

The stinky ants we had encountered all around the island were in this area also, and quickly invaded our rigging process. On the other side the sturdy railing of the viewpoint became the tensioning side. Not long after we were pulling our slackline across the gap, and true to the style of the trip it remained loose and droopy.

A tourist woman asked Preston about our activities and presumed that we would pull rocks off the cliff and destroy the natural surroundings, and it can be assumed she is the same person who called the police on us. While Jerry smoothly crossed the line the local police officer slash ranger showed up and took a gander. He was friendly and didn't care in the least that we were highlining.

The line was easy for Jerry and Ben, however the rest of us fought on it. Though the length is well within my abilities, transitioning to loose lines is still a mental battle and physically perplexing as I try to let go of my old technique of controlling every shake, and rather learn to sway as the line sways, and take a step when it calms down. This line was no less frustrating, particularly knowing that some tension would make it far easier for me. I accepted my plight and took several turns walking, falling, standing up, walking, falling, repeat. A couple of the guys fetched fish and chips from the food trailer and we happily gobbled them up sitting on the edge of the cliff, staring at our highline and the beautiful endless ocean.

We stayed the following day enjoying the sunshine, explaining to tourists what we were doing, watching the tourist boats pull up below us and point as someone slowly crossed the line. The overall alcove was huge, and across from our little gap was at least four hundred meters in distance. The rock cliffs were different from the hexagonal pillars of Cape Raoul; rather they were horizontal layers upon each other, as if a cardboard architecture model of the coast had been blown up to life size. Atop the cliffs was a vast Eucalyptus forest, and had we followed the Waterfall bay trail no doubt we would have found more alcoves to highline in. It felt endless. Potentially the only thing Tasmania is missing other than Mexican food is a solid highline community.

Jerry was leaving a week earlier than the rest of the group so we drove back to Hobart for a night to regroup and decide what the rest of us wanted to do with our time. There are some impressive alpine environments in Tassie, however access is long and we were unsure if we had enough time left to get anything done. I was dreaming of Federation Peak, however the seven-day access sounded touch with a backpack full of highline equipment, and yet it was difficult to leave without seeing the islands most impressive environment. 

A session of google and showing each other photos of the options lead us to Lake St. Claire National Park. Previous to our arrival parts of Tasmania has been through some terrible fires, and not everything was reopened. We drove for several hours, and for the first time passed landscapes that were not lush. The hills looked barren, with an occasional singular white, dead tree clinging loosely to the hillside. A half dry cattle pond, a barbwire fence and a small white farmhouse with peeling paint were at times the only sign of habitation. Gradually the landscape became greener, and the trees became thicker, and soon we were in a dense forest of tall trees, seemingly impenetrable other than our two-lane road passing through. It was the first time we drove at night, and as the sun set the animals began crossing; wallabies, wombats, devils, possums, it was a miracle we didn't hit one. It was the most wildlife we had seen on the entire trip. The wombat looked like a small, furry VW bus, and the devil was much smaller than I imagined.

We slept on a fire road off the main. The next morning we headed to the park, the sky was gray and rain seemed imminent. We had to take a ferry across the long stretch of the Lake St. Claire. It was expensive, however the six-hour hiking alternative would add quite a bit of time to our trip. We bought our tickets, and then packed our bags for a three-days in the bush. There was no way to make them light; we had lost one of our companions and we had to take food, camping equipment, climbing equipment and highlining gear. We boarded a small boat with a few hikers and puttered across the lake. It was a landscape from the Pacific northwest; dark water surrounded on all sides by dense forest. Classified as sub-alpine, not only eucalyptus trees live here but beech and a number of ancient pine variations.  The peaks were hidden in heavy, wet clouds but we knew they were there. We stopped at one of the huts on the Overland Track, a popular eighty-kilometer hiking trail, and stepped off the boat to have a look. We continued on until we reached the Cessiphus hut near the ferry dock, where a crew of wet and forlorn looking hikers awaited their boat back to civilization. No doubt we would look the same in a few days.

Our packs were upwards of sixty pounds, and we hoisted them onto our backs and set off down the well-marked trail. The forest was less dense and it quickly opened up into button grass plains. A well-built boardwalk wound through these grasses, allowing us to hike above the marshy, wet ground beneath. I was impressed that such a rural and hard to reach park was so well maintained. After seven years of hiking my butt off for highline excursions, it finally dawned on me to listen to an audiobook while walking. I am kicking myself for taking so long to reach this conclusion. With a story in my ears, time flew by. My surroundings transitioned from grassy open marsh to a mossy forest, magical neon red lichens growing up the green fuzzy trees, and the mossy boardwalk appearing as if it had always been there. The forest was darker and darker, and soon there were strange prehistoric-palm-tree-looking plants that gave the impression of dinosaurs about. This was the lost world. We arrived at Pine Valley Hut, our stopping point that night. I slept in the hut on a wooden platform, my Big Agnes Sleeping pad and sleeping bag keeping me warm and cozy but not protecting me from the snoring bear inside. The hut was a common stopping point on the overland track and it had four other hikers sharing the space. Due to aggressive mice, I hung my aircontact pro from the rafters to protect my food. The boys stayed in the teepee outside, where they were visited from a number of creatures in the night.

The following day we set out to hike towards Mount Geryon, our highline destination. Some Russian highliners had established a beautiful line there already, and we planned to either repeat their line or establish a new, bigger line above it. The hike from the hut quickly became steep and bushy, and I grunted up the slope until I reached a small plateau. From there I could see the deep valley we had just hiked out of. We had to skirt around the entire valley to reach Geryon, and it looked far and impassable. The path led down the other side of the plateau, where a number of twisting lakes were visible. I walked along the shallow lakes, beautiful alpine bodies of water not more than a few feet deep. Then I entered the Labyrinth; a confusing collection of rocky mounds sprinkled with skeletal eucalyptus trees. In the distance a giant set of cliffs with obvious highline potential beckoned, while across the valley the gap of Geryon looked more and more appealing. Though rugged, wild and hard to navigate, this park was full of potential.

Eventually we all reached the saddle between the Geryon side of the valley and the Labyrinth, where the guidebook had mentioned a climber's camp. Water was of no issue; tons of small pools were scattered across the rocky slope. There were so many types of mosses, some firm and spiky, unflinching after stepping on them. Others were soft and lush, harboring water. We scrambled across the area searching for a flat spot without water trickling across it.

The boys found a teepee spot with a beautiful front porch overlooking the entire valley, the twisting lakes, the Labyrinth, Lake St. Claire and the endless peaks and cliffs in the distance. A level above I found a flat rock, and set up my FlyCreek tent. Though the tent is for two, it is so light I would happily pack it for myself on another trip, and having space for my pack and still plenty of room for myself was a luxury as well.

There is something so poignant about being in these undisturbed natural environments; the Cradle Mountain area of Tassie is famous for being inhospitable, a title arrogant humans would give a landscape that doesn't bend to their will. Besides the well-groomed path and a peppering of huts, the landscape seems greatly untouched. There are cliffs as far as the eye can see, with no paths to them. The adventurous and ambitious highliner, climber or BASE jumper could open many a route or exit, and yet, it is unlikely to be repeated. Once humans find a landscape that bends to their will, a road goes in, a parking lot, a trail, a signpost, a view never ends, and some years later impact becomes an issue. I stood on the precipice of my short-term home and imagined aboriginals passing through the landscape; hunting, sleeping by the stars, bathing and drinking from the lake, and doubtfully did they ever think about how to make the land yield.

We followed the trail from our bivy as it gradually inclined and passed through another plateau, this one carpeted in the most beautiful moss I'd ever seen. Oval blankets of green, firm speckled peat lay scattered across the steppe, and I had to touch it. Upon closer inspection each type of moss was it's own beautiful geometric work of art.

Cairns marked the path but they seemed to disappear and reappear unexpectedly. We were on our own, for the most part. We couldn't see the gap and it was a wild guess as to where we could summit. Scattered, our group followed the many trails through bushes, over scree, and up gullies, occasionally doing easy climbing moves with our heavy packs to reach what appeared to be the easiest ascent. We huffed and hauled ourselves up dihedrals, grabbing at roots and cracks. It was easy, but adding forty or more pounds of gear complicates easy scrambles, to say the least. Once on top we ventured around the boulder field to the edge, and found ourselves staring at a perfect gap. It appeared level, and the exposure of both valleys dropping to the sides of Mount Geryon and the impressive cliffs of the Acropolis in the background were breathtaking.

It was late in the day, and a discussion of what was feasible took place. Our climbing team felt uneasy about some recent rock fall on the route they needed to ascend to reach the other summit, and our uncertainty about weather the following day left lingering doubt. The reality of going on trips with a group is hearing and respecting each person's opinions, concerns, desires and needs. Despite all sharing the same passion, it is unrealistic to think that four people would always be in agreement. The big gap was beautiful, and desirable, but pressuring those responsible for climbing to that side didn't feel right, and I was concerned about leaving the line up in case we had to de-rig the following day in bad weather, especially considering the approach was slippery and involved some climbing moves. Our alternative was to repeat a beautiful and aesthetic line established by some Russians earlier that year. It wasn't quite what we came to do, however it was beautiful and worth a walk.  While Preston rappelled he carried a thin cord, our tagline for making the connection over the gap. He then climbed up the small middle tower, flicking the tagline over edges so that it hung free. Attached above my ledge, Ben had to walk the static rope along the edge, trying to keep it from hooking on any cracks or ledges, and then rappel holding the tagline until I could reach into the void and grab it. Once the boys on the other side were situated, I passed the slackline and backup rope, pre-taped together, across the gap. We tensioned a bit with a line slider. The weather had shifted since our arrival, and big, fast moving clouds sped up the gulley from the valley below and lingered in the gap we were about to walk across. For long moments visibility was lost and we were in the gray and white no mans land of the mountains.  

When the clouds cleared enough to see across the valley, the twisting lakes of the Labyrinth reflected the patches of perfect blue sky. It looked as if the world was indeed flat and the lakes were windows through the crust to the sky below.

With limited day light we delegated tasks quickly. Our climbing team rappelled to climb a small tower in the gap that acted as one anchor of the line. I scrambled down to a small ledge covered in scree and boulders to sling a large rock that would be the other anchor. The rock was huge, and I had to wiggle up a wet chimney to get the sling around one side, then climb up the other side to finish circling the rock. Protection for the sling was very important in this scenario, as the boulder had sharp edges.

Ben walked the line first, slowly and steadily crossing it in his usual fashion; effortless but as slow as a snail, wearing his little leather shoes. I took my turn and struggled, finding my legs fatigued and my mind distracted by the swirling fog. It had been at least six years since I had fought on a line so short, and though I aimed to attempt it with no expectation, the crushing fear of failure hung heavy upon my shoulders. It is so easy to become attached to our performance levels, and when circumstances lead to us performing worse than we did in the past, it is a tough part of our ego's to battle. I crossed almost to the half and fell, repeatedly. The loose type-18 highline with dynamic rope backup wobbled under my feet and I seemingly couldn't calm it down. At some point I scooted off of the line for the other boys to give it a shot, in disbelief at my own inability to cross it.

The day was drawing to a close and the sun, though invisible behind the overcast sky, was dipping low behind the blue hills. We didn't have much time left. I scooted out for one last attempt. I fell in the same place as every other time, just before the half. I attached my line slider and glided to the far side, the tower, and moved my body into the chongo position. The clouds were a bit less thick, I could see the other side, and I stood up focusing on the technique that was key to crossing successfully. I remained with straight posture, hips equalized over the line, trying to slow all movements down and transfer those movements to the line so it remained calm as well. Halfway across the tiredness set in and my mind was screaming at me to give up. I screamed back, verbally shouting, "Come on!" the phrase so often mentioned in my trip reports.

Near the end of the line I was trying to remain calm and collected while also envisioning how I should step off onto the uneven rock surface. It was a slab and my depth perception was skewed from focusing so hard on the anchor. I tried to step off, losing my balance and almost face planting to the shocked faces of the boys watching. I managed to block my face with my elbow, forunately. My swollen elbow became a lovely reminder of the fight, and I laughed out loud, ecstatic to have sent the line.

We de-rigged as quickly as possible, losing light fast. We fashioned a tyrol for Max to get off the tower without ascending, then carried all gear to the summit to pack our bags. By the time the whole group was ready to depart, it was headlamp hour. The fog has resumed its position in full force, swallowing us and allowing only ten to fifteen feet of visibility. According to the first Cairn, we tied our static rope to some routes and rappelled the down-climb section, now soaked and slippery. We continued on the small trails, Max quickly outpacing us, his lamp just as quickly disappearing into the dark mist. The path seemed much longer than we remembered, and it became a game of "find the Cairn," which started us off confidently until we lost the trail and found ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff peering into the black. It took hours before we arrived wet and tired at our campsites, wearily flopping down on the stone porch by the teepee and cooking a late dinner. My beet, carrot and quinoa stir fry, though heavy to carry tasted well worth the effort.

The following morning we slept in, eventually rising to a crisp blue sky. Alas, it would have been fine to leave the line up. A group of ten or more hikers passed our camp, and an eager woman quickly ventured towards us to ask how many times we had walked the line. Camping by the lake, they had witnessed our entire highline fiasco, from set-up, walk, to the late night shenanigans of finding our way back. The sound had apparently traveled across the valley, and I wondered how many hikers we had kept awake shouting, "Max! Where are you?!" We mentioned our epic return, said farewell and they continued on. The hiking group was a mix of older folks, no one younger than fifty and some looking easily seventy or more. We all felt hardcore by our own rights, and yet an hour later I peered up to see the entirety of the hiking group standing a top Mount Geryon. A hiker I repeated this story to later would say, "Sounds like the Hobart Bush Walkers, they are pretty hardcore."

I was keen for a rest day, but the rest of the group was eager for another highline, so we walked to the top of the plateau we were camped upon and agreed upon a sixty-seven meter long gap. With little expectation, I enjoyed walking on the line, but enjoyed sleeping on the mossy tufts far more. I was saddened later to discovered that the moss is extremely sensitive and dies after being touched. There is now possible a Faith-shaped dead moss outline on one of the beds. We enjoyed one last sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth; a fiery display of neon orange fading out from the peaks, wispy clouds circling them.

The following day I rolled up my Big Agnes tent, mostly dry, and stuffed the Ethel sleeping bag deep into my pack. Somehow, despite eating most of my food (which I had had to ration an extra day) my pack was the same weight as the hike in. We trekked back to the dock where we had arrived a few days prior, jumped in the lake to reinvigorate our weary bones, and watched as platypuses swam by the banks. The next morning the ferry arrived to carry us back to our van, full of food. Rationing three days of food into four had left me with not even a cashew to my name, and I was famished.

Our trip was nearing an end, but we had time for one more project. Uncertain if the time frame would allow an explorative mission, it was decided to repeat a beautiful seventy-meter highline that our friend had established on the Moai, a classic tower off the coast of the Tasman Peninsula. The weather did us no favors, the clouds hung low and pregnant with rain, and the wind whipped around the coast, gusty and unpredictable. Nevertheless, we packed our gear and hiked the hour and a half in, than rappelled to a ledge to rig. I climbed the tower with Preston, enjoying a fun and easy single pitch route up varying cracks on the backside of the Moai. Impressed with the friction, I was immediately sad that I hadn't climbed more during the trip.

The line was not high, but it was aesthetic. There is something special about walking towards a tower, as if the Creators left such stone figures just for highliners and climbers to enjoy. The waters of the Pacific swelled up around the base, crashing against the kelp-covered rocks, spraying white sea foam into the air. Despite the overcast skies and wind, we all enjoyed our time walking on the line, trying to adapt as unexpected gusts hit from every direction.

Hiking back, I went ahead of the group and resisted using a headlamp until I saw nothing. No moon was visible behind the clouds and no stars guided my way. I allowed my eyes to adjust, making out shapes of fallen trees or switchbacks through the Eucalyptus forest enough to stay on track. I heard rustling all around me, certain that wallabies were hopping around the perimeters of the trail. Finally it was too dark to see, and I succumbed, pulling my lamp out and turning the bright LEDs on. Immediately animals scurried off into the grass and trees, a wallaby hopped away, a lizard slithered under a rock, and there in front of me the cutest possum I've seen clung to a small tree, blinded by the light. I stood still, and the little guy crawled down to the path, and walked right up to me, lightly scuttled over my feet, and continued on his way.         

When I finally reached the beach and the path curved down into the soft white sand, I yanked off my approach shoes and socks, rolled up my pants and immediately immersed my feet in the lapping waves. As the water coated the sand then retracted to where from it came, it seemed the stars were being reflected in the wet sand; bioluminescent organisms glowed all along the border of wet and dry sand, it was one of the most beautiful things I've witnessed.

My last two days were spent being hosted by a wonderful couple, the parents of a gal I'd met while Climbing in Mexico a month prior. They lived in a beautiful, handmade wooden house, overlooking a small bay with occasional surf. I went out for a paddle with Jill, wishing I had more time to explore all the surf Tasmania has to offer. It is clear to me, that to live in Tasmania is to be close to nature, to have good coffee and savory pies whenever you may choose, incredible seafood, and the ability to disappear into true wilderness. 

With only a few weeks I barely scratched the surface of this incredible piece of land, and I hope to return in the near future. Highlining was the point of the trip, and yet it was far from the meat and bones of the adventure. Easily eighty percent of my travel on the island was spent hiking through an array of landscapes, microclimates changing from one turn to the next. The wildlife is everywhere you turn, a wombat crossing the road, a wallaby hopping off the trail or a possum peering down at your camp from a tree branch. The entire landscape evoked memories of Central California, where I called home for three years, but with huge cliffs and mountains thrown in. The small towns and pastel farmhouses with sheep roaming free feel like a scene from an idyllic European summer, and the bakeries and coffee houses are a reminder of the inhabitant’s British origins. If you don't mind bush bashing, long approaches, traditional climbing, creative rigging and unpredictable weather, than I cannot recommend Tasmania more. I look forward to my return.

This trip was made possible by the sponsorship of my own bank account and Deuter. Additional and wonderful gear support from Balance Community, Big Agnes, Goal Zero, Rock Empire and Tendon was much appreciated. A recommended packing list will be coming soon!