Sarah and Tony were part of our Hiking Group in 2017 who headed to Kokoda to walk the track in November 2017. Sarah updates us on her trip below.
Day 2 – Good Water Camp (Dump 66) to Ioribaiwa Village
Day two was my hardest day physically, emotionally and mentally. We were trekking for around 8 hours.
After basically no sleep overnight from the deafening sounds of jungle insects (I even had earplugs!) we were woken up around 5am to pack our gear and have breakfast. Before this morning I hadn’t had to use the ‘amenities’ at camp so I decided to give the she-wee a go. Any seasoned trekker will know what that is, if you don’t give it a google. So off I go with my headlamp into the port-a-loo size box with a tarp as a door that smells like death died inside. Now, I have a little girl so potty training was relatively easy, sit – do you bizz – wipe – get off – wash hands. Boom done. After the she-wee attempt I understand why aim is so important and little boys are harder to potty train. It didn’t go to plan and the device was retired forever.
After breakfast we started our first first full day of the Kokoda Trail with an ascent up Imita Ridge. Although this is not the steepest or the highest of the mountains along the trail, it gives you an indication of things to come. During the first few days the porters give you a hint…don’t look up! When your on the ascent all the peaks are false peaks so if you look up and think “I’m almost there”, in reality your not and it really plays with your head. Once at the top we soaked in the atmosphere of the place. We were on a grassy knoll about 5 metres wide and 30 metres long. The tall canopy was shadowing either side and a rock bluff to the east The significance of Imita Ridge was that it was the Australian’s last line of defence, the line was drawn in the sand here, there was to be no withdrawal south of this point.
Dad looked pooped at the top. He’s a tough nut but he looked shattered. He said he felt fine so off we descended down Imita Ridge. Most of us had not found our feet yet and the decent was difficult to negotiate with the slippery roots, clay and mud. Our porters came in super handy either walking behind us holding our backpacks or in front with a hand out to steady us. 3/4 of the way down Bob and I stopped (I needed the break) and waited for Torch, his porter (Eddie) and Max to come on through. I could hear them but couldn’t see them so after a few minutes we decided to keep going. We got the bottom and it was morning tea time so we pulled up a pew and had a rest. A few minutes later Dad’s porter Eddie comes running (yes running) down the decent of roots and mud to drop Dad’s pack and runs back up! My heart jumps in my throat and I think ‘don’t panic, he’s all good, we’ve done the training, he’s as tough as an ox. Maybe Eddie was getting bored and ran the bag down for some more exercise! Ha’
No, that wasn’t the case. Dad get’s to the bottom and he is pale as and not to confident on his feet. Max calls a spade a spade and is worries as well as a few of the PNG guys have a concerned look on their face. Dad says he felt like he was losing control of his bodily functions and Max says at one point he passed out. Uh oh, no good. After taking a few layers off, having a bit of food and water Max wants to see how Dad travels over the next half hour over the first of the creek crossings then he will make a call about Medivac-ing out. Over the creek crossing’s Dad is shuffling like an 86 year old Hugh Hefner which is unlike him and at this point I start to panic. As a parent you learn to panic on the inside so while my head is losing the plot worrying about Dad I need to keep moving myself through the now creepy jungle under the thick canopy.
We reach the campsites of Ua-Ule Creek and Dad is no good. Max is on the satellite phone straight away to make plans to Medivac him out. This was late morning and by 1.30ish each day the rain starts, an hour before that the dark clouds move in and the chopper cannot fly, so all decisions are time sensitive. The girls in the Kokoda Spirit office fielded the call from Max and liaised with Dad’s insurance company to get the thumbs up. The thumbs up comes through but the chopper is on another job (we later found out there have been 70 medivacs on the Kokoda Trail in 2017) so we wait. Word comes in that the chopper is on it’s way so we make our way up the hill to the small clearing. The chopper arrives and Dad gets in then I lose it and the tears start. I say to Dad i’ll come and he says no. Instead a young girl (around 5 i’d say) and her Dad share Torch’s Medivac with our permission. We later find out that the little girl was suffering severely from Malaria and has been so ill she is losing consciousness. Within minutes the chopper is off and headed back to Port Moresby to take Dad to hospital.
Because of the severely bad weather over the next 48 hours Max couldn’t make contact with his satellite phone for an update. I didn’t know if Dad was dead or alive (yeah yeah dramatic I know)
The rest of the group had already made their way to our lunch stop and were 15 minutes ahead of us so Bob, Max, Jeffery and I continued with our river crossings as the rain and storm set in. My little tree stump legs have never moved so fast through water, over rocks and roots. After the creek crossings and a quick lunch of soggy Sao’s and cheese in the rain we put our boots back on and make our final ascent for the day up the gruelling Ioribaiwa Ridge. This was the first time that I knew all that training we did was now worthwhile. Remember when I mentioned before you walk where the water runs? Yeah well the water from the top of the hill (about 2 hours up) was pouring down the orange clay and we were walking up hill through a chocolate milkshake waterfall. We were saturated, my gators were doing nothing and it was at this time the lightening and thunder was right overhead, CRACK! The sound was deafening and it was so scary. I was always told as a kid, don’t stand under a tree during thunder and lightening LOL I was surrounded by trees under this canopy and I thought ‘yeah this is where I die…’
After what seamed like a lifetime of walking, the Village of Ioribaiwa popped out over a peak. We arrived around 5pm and the boys made a decision we were home for the night. Originally we were supposed to make it to Ofi Creek but with the eventful day and the time we lost we stopped here for the night. A warm fire was lit, clothes were changed and it did not stop raining.
The last blow for the day was Bob emerging to set up my tent in his Melbourne Storm jersey. This kid really needs a new colour scheme of jersey. Blue perhaps?
Day 3 – Ioribaiwa Village to Agulogo
I will always remember Day 3 as the day I felt like I was in a the game show Wipeout, Kokoda style. We were trekking for 11 hours – our longest day by far.
Woke up at the Ioribaiwa Village around 4am and it was raining. Got out of my tent, had brekkie and put on my wet clothes from the day before that now stank of smoke from sitting near the fire. By this time the rain had cleared and we all took in the view looking the valley we had conquered the day before (photo below), it was magnificent. The mist was breathtaking and it was the first time in 2 days I fully appreciated where I was.
So off we went up to Ioribaiwa Ridge, it took about an hour. This is the furthest spot that the Japanese made across the Kokoda Track, before being ordered to advance to the rear back to Buna. From this point on the ridge the Japanese could see the lights of Port Moresby. Ioribaiwa Ridge was also the spot where our artillery was pounding the Japanese and the scene of bloody fighting. There is also a series of both Australian and Japanese trenches in this area which Max pointed out to me on our way up. At the top we had a break and Max read the poem that Sapper Bert Beros wrote at that spot called WX-UNKNOWN. They eyes started to well up. To be in that location hearing those words written in that exact spot is overwhelming. John Scott, one of the general porters (soon to be Trek Leader but i’ll get to that later) scurrys into the tall bushes and comes out with some rusty Japanese artillery. I got to touch it and hold it. Being who I am I also scurry into the tall bushes but retreat quite quickly due to fear.
Onward we head down towards Ofi Creek, the dark clouds are looming, The decent was roots and clay, loose rocks and generally quite difficult to navigate. I was quite happy that we stopped early the previous day as we would of been descending this part of the trail in the dark.
We then climb one of the most difficult and tiresome sections of the track up and over the Maguli Range, this is a long climb up that appears to never end. On the way up there is a concealed Japanese trench system at the Japanese camp where the Japanese mountain gun was being used to pound the Australians on Ioribaiwa Ridge. We continue on and stop for a late lunch at around 2pm at Naoro and here comes the heavy rain and storms, again. The boys want us to stop and set up camp here for the night but Max is adamant that we keep on going. It’s been a super hot day and we’ve had to make up the ground we lost the day before so we are behind schedule. For the next 2 hours we are going to be trekking through the swamp. Max wanted us here before the rain because if the Naoro River (Brown River) is up…we can’t cross and will need to turn back.
Here is where the game show begins. I’m tired, in fact so tired that I am now delirious. Lunch is done and off we go to the swamp. It’s pouring with rain, thunder and darkness as we’re back under the canopy, we’re in a real hurry to get to Brown River. Through the marsh land we are in knee deep water and mud and do our best to negotiate the log bridges, causeways all whilst trying not to impale ourselves on trees that have fallen. Another thing I was also told not to do growing up, don’t step in puddles because you don’t know how deep they are. Again, out the window as we are hilariously making our way to Brown River. The log bridges that have been laid across sections of the track are now submerged in the high waters, the logs move making the game show is on again. I am laughing hysterically at this point and Bob thinks I’m nuts. After an hour we get to the Brown River and wouldn’t you know it, it’s flowing like mad. A friend of ours did the Track in July and he mentioned to me that the Brown River was ankle deep when he crossed, it is now waist deep with a strong current and rising. The river is about 30 metres wide and a tree sits a third of the way out, should we get to the tree we can then get to the other side. To get to the tree we hold onto a rope and pull ourselves out through the muddy water then climb on the tree and get to the other side of the bank. After we get to the other side we negotiate a ridge line along the bank and because of all the rain there is a small landslide which we narrowly avoid.
We then set off for the last half hour walk to camp and have to climb stairs cut into the last ascent of the day. These were not any stairs, they were stairs that seems to have been cut out to accommodate a person 7 foot tall. Cue the game show finale!
Unfortunately because of all the rain and running through the swamp a lot of our belongings not in wet packs have gotten wet. My sleeping bag was damp and inner sheet saturated. Oh well! Tents are pitched, camp fire started and dinner is being prepared.
What an experience! I was really starting to find my groove and couldn’t wait for the next day.
Day 4 – Agulogo to Efogi 1
Again we were woken around 5am, had brekkie and packed our belongings. One thing that should be mentioned is the water situation throughout the trek. Our water is filled up from the creeks and if we are lucky some of the villages have a tap. We still need to use water purification tabs but the water is generally cold and refreshing. Unfortunately because of all the rain the river was very muddy and we were not able to replenish our water. Our next opportunity for water was in another two hours so rationing the water was very important, sip not skull!
There is a steep climb shortly after leaving camp known as the wall, this climb certainly tested our fitness. It’s called the wall for a reason, this section of the track went straight up, almost a vertical climb. The wall was so tiring and it took us more than an hour to reach the top. One thing that I had learnt from the previous days ascents was that if you take lots of smaller steps rather than less larger steps you conserve a lot more energy.
This climb brings you to a crest with views down to Menari Village. A steep descent and a walk through the tidy village and we stopped for morning tea and gave out some gifts of frizbees and soccer balls to the local kids. Menari was quite a large village and there was construction happening when we cruised on through. The villages that have an airfield or chopper access are far more established that the ones that don’t. Menari is also the site of one of the most famous speeches made regarding the Kokoda Track campaign by LT COL Ralph Honner. It was his inspirational thank you address to the heroic men of the 39th battalion, those “ragged bloody heroes”.
From Menari the next major climb is up Brigade Hill, the estimated time up was 4 hours. The whole group was feeling super motivated from conquering the previous day and we got to the top in just over 3 hours. That’t not to say that there were struggles along the way. There was a small landslide that had bought trees down and we had to climb through the fallen trees whilst still negotiating the ascent. A few of the group did struggle with the climb and the heat but soon enough our 1.30pm rains came and was a welcome change. We got to the top of Brigade Hill and stop for a long lunch and Max tells us all about the 101 Australian Soldiers who lost their lives between the 6-8 September 1942 during the battles of Brigade Hill and Mission Ridge. The mood was somber and we all reflect on our journey so far, some of us let our emotions get the better of us so we go for a walk individually to dust ourselves off. Usually groups have a small ceremony on the knoll to reflect of the battles and lives lost but the inclement weather prevented us from doing this so we paid our respects to the Diggers that lost their lives in our own way with out own thoughts.
After a delicious lunch of homemade giant spring rolls (mountain bread filled with braised steak and onions then fried) and hot tea we headed down the last decent for the day. It took us a good two hours but we made and it spirits were high as we walking into Efogi 1 Village – we had reached the half way mark! The boys made us all feel very welcome on arrival and we had arrived before the rain which was an amazing feeling so we could have a wash in the creek. The water was absolutely freezing but it didn’t matter. Dinner was delicious and heavy on the carbs as always. My fitbit told me that I was burning between 4000 and 5000 calories each day so there was no guilt over the extra energy I was consuming.
The best news of the day was Max could get through on the satellite phone and we got an update on Dad. He had spent 48 hours in ICU and was now in the general wing. No word as to what illness he was suffering but good news that he was on the mend!
The rain started before bed at around 7pm but it didn’t matter, we were all snug in our tents reflecting on the days walk and excited for the days ahead. The group was really forming a bond from our experience so far and we would only get closer in the days to come.