I didn't know what to expect when he returned home. After hiking the Kokoda Trail - 132km over 10 days in the mud and humidity, climbing 7,430m and descending 7,627 (almost the equivalent of to the top of Everest and back) - would he be exhausted? In pain? Nursing an injury? Maybe a bit sick?
Actually, if I didn't know better I'd think he'd skipped the hike and spent 10 days lying on a beach. (Except that I know he finds hiking more relaxing than having to sit quietly.) He came back from one of the world's toughest hikes looking tanned, relaxed, fit and healthy - at a whole new level, that is, because he's always tanned, relaxed, fit and healthy. There’s this little something else there in him.
It's the look that comes from the surrealism of having achieved a lifelong dream.
He kept a notebook along the Track. The day he came home I sat down and read his scribblings from each evening, and felt like I was right beside him the whole way. He wrote the big things, the little things and all the quirky bits he'd have told me if we were chatting on the phone every night.
This is (excerpts of) the Kokoda Trail, in my amazing husband's words and pictures:
The night before
"There are 26 hikers and 47 porters. There are 5 women, 5 Daves, 3 Steves and a bloke called Angry. Finished sorting out the pack, weighed it (11kg dry) and now getting ready for bed."
Day 1 (7km, easy)
"0600 wake up call. Briefing at lodge about what happened here in 1942, looked at some of the weapons from both sides and how these armies formed up. I tried to take in what it must have been like for a young digger to look at this enormous mountain range in front of him and fathom what was ahead.
At 1115 we loaded up the packs and began trekking on the Kokoda Trail. Along the way we climbed through our first part of rainforest that in my mind was what Kokoda was going to be: lots of entwined tree roots and tons of mud."
|"26 hikers... 5 women, 5 Daves, 3 Steves and a bloke called Angry."|
Day 2 (12km, hard)
"0500 wake up call. Briefing at 0630 before heading up Imita Ridge, a very steep climb straight up. Walking along the ridge with 100m drop down each escarpment was very impressive. After a briefing we started the downhill 'slide' - luckily so far I haven't slipped and ended up on my arse.
We followed the creek for about a kilometre before we started the climb to the Ioribaiwa Ridge: a big, long, very steep climb that saw a few people really struggling as the heat took its toll. (I don't think I've sweated so much, but there are still a few tough climbs to go, particularly tomorrow.)
After lunch we head off up hill again, but this time in the pissing rain that just started. The rain continued making the climb difficult until we got to the top of the hill where we viewed both Australian and Japanese defensive pits."
|Camp for the night: Ofi Creek|
Day 3 (14.6km - first half hard, second half easy)
"Long climb starts the day today after the usual 0500 wake up and 0630 briefing. We leave camp and cross the river on rocks with the help of the boys, and from there it was straight into the 2km climb to the top. I was rapt to find a local selling bananas - I've been missing fruit.
We then continued to the top of 'Japs Ladder' - a very steep climb (we rose about 650m). After lunch we continued on down to the Nauro swamp. We walked through the swamp for about 2 hours through stinky, big, wide mud holes and onto the Brown River - that was boots off to walk through which felt fantastic on tired feet.”
|Many of the porters do the trek barefoot|
Day 4 (16.8km, very hard and hot)
"Woke up at 0300 so didn't bother getting back to sleep - I got up to look at the stars. Everyone else was woken at 0400 and with bags packed we headed off at 0430 to climb the Iadavi Saddle, with the first part known as 'The Wall'. Even in the dark the description is quite appropriate, as you could stand with two feet on the ground and reach with your hand to touch the path as it zigzagged its way up. Got to the top in time to see the sun rise from the top of the Menari Gap.
After brekky we headed off to Brigade Hill, the site of the biggest battle of the campaign. We had a talk and a bit of a memorial at the wartime cemetery - very moving. 72 Australians were killed at Brigade Hill, and another 29 killed 2km further up. It was very eerie as the mist rolled in just before our memorial and rolled away as we finished.
We continued up to Mission Ridge, where you walk right along the cliff edge with about 100m drop. From here we saw the view across the valley to Laumumu Village, where the Japanese had the 'Parade of Lanterns', where they assembled with burning telephone wire as lanterns prior to attacking the Australians.
At camp we got to have a great swim in a nice deep swimming hole. We've been able to do this every night and I must say the water can only be described as 'fresh'."
Day 5 (13.5km - very hard)
"Woken at 0500 this morning and we got to meet one of the two remaining Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Havala Luala. A very moving moment as he spoke via a translator that he would like more money spent on the Track to help the villagers. He was only 14 when he was used as a carrier along the track, bringing supplies to the troops and then the wounded back down.
From there we left the camp and went downhill - ridiculously steep in parts - to Efogi Creek, and then we began another steep climb uphill to Kagi. When we got to Kagi - where the 6,000 Japanese prepared their attack against 1,000 Aussies - we stopped for morning tea. Then we climbed onward and upward towards the Kagi Gap, where we could see back to where we'd been over the last few days.
After lunch we entered the Moss Forest area, where there are giant pandanus trees, moss growing off everything and heaps of fungi. We emerged from the forest into Bombers Campsite, named so because a fully loaded American P52 crashed here. A 500lb bomb on site here was only disarmed last year.
The temperature here at night will get cold - we are at over 2,000m - so the sleeping bag might actually get used as more than a mattress tonight.
They talk about hitting a mental wall around day 4 but I think I walked past it without stopping."
Day 6 (23.7km, not too hard except for the rain)
"All I can say is, what a day. We started at 0430 so that we could hit the track at first light at 0600. We headed off towards Lake Myola 1 to have a look at an abandoned weapons pit only discovered about eight years ago. After checking out all the unused grenades and mortars, we entered the lake, a dry lake in an extinct volcano. We crossed through the field, the grass with thousands of spider webs in the tops of the blades and glistening with dew in the morning sun.
We entered the rainforest again for short while to climb the rim of Lake Myola 1 and get to Myola 2, which was amazing - a big deep, dry-looking lake (or so we thought), it was also a volcano once. Used for a very short period as an airfield (the airforce deemed it too dangerous as three planes crashed in short succession) for airdrops to supply the depot at Myola 1. The lake is actually not dry but more like a swamp, with tall reeds, water and mud sometimes up to your shins.
This rain made the climb up the hill, then down, then up, and down another steep one, extremely difficult as it was ridiculously muddy. (Abbey would have been in muddy heaven!)"
Day 7 (13.1km, medium to hard)
"Due to all the rain from the night before, the climb out of Ofi Creek was pretty muddy, steep and slippery. We followed the ridgeline for about two hours through the now familiar rainforest, before we began the hour-long trek down to Eora Creek, viewing Australian weapon pits along the way.
The abandoned village of Eora was a temporary hospital, getting many casualties from the battle of Isurava and the Australian withdrawal from there. Because of the rapid advance of the Japanese the hospital had to be evacuated in a hurry, with any wounded diggers having to walk back to Myola. Some with leg wounds crawled or hopped with the help of mates, as stretcher bearers were few and far between.
We climbed the ridge on the other side of the creek (whoever called this a creek and not a river had rocks in their head!) and viewed the Japanese positions that the Australians had to try to breach when we were back on the attack. With near-vertical rises and 100m drops it's understandable that it took seven days before they could breach the Japanese lines. At the top of the ridge we viewed some Japanese ammunition that has only been found in the last few years, including 75mm mountain gun rounds, grenades and woodpecker machine gun belts and helmets. From here you could see how the Japs killed so many Aussies here (99 died in this battle), as it was impossible for them to cross the river with the hail of gunfire raining down.
We descended back to the village again, only stopping to clap the runners that passed us on the Kokoda Running Trail challenge, with the record being 17 hours.
As we approach the Aburauri Village we pass heaps of citrus and banana trees, and then I stumbled across a crop of coffee shrubs. If only I could dry, roast and grind them here now. Stupid instant coffee."
|Entrance to the Aburauri village - the archway of flowers brings good luck|
Day 8 (Only 6.35km, mostly a fairly easy walk)
"Woken this morning at 0400 by the village rooster - the bloody thing was standing next to my tent and scared the shit out of me.
We trekked to the Myolo waterfall, arriving after a large downhill, very steep climb/slide, and I must say it was impressive. At least 100 feet high, the roar from the water, the spray, the movement made it one of the best waterfalls I've ever seen.
After crossing through the knee deep water at the base we had a very steep climb back up the ridgeline, before another steep descent back down to Eora Creek. After crossing the creek on yet another log bridge we began a near vertical climb for about 45 minutes to our destination for the night: Aolola Village.
Then we took a 45 minute walk to Surgeon's Rock, a big flat rock that was used as an emergency operating table during the evacuation of Isurava. Then it was back to look at the local 'museum' - all the rusted guns, bombs, helmets, etc. the locals have found and put in one room. You get the chance to pick up and get a good look at everything."
Day 9 (14.1km, fairly easy)
"We were up at 0330 this morning and on the track at 0400, arriving at Isurava at 0530.
We all stood in a circle around the memorial while the boys sang and we sang the Australian national anthem. After a few poems fitting to the occasion we held a minute's silence as the sun started coming up - very moving.
|Steve and one of his best mates, Dave|
We then began our downhill trek to Deniki. The walk was fairly similar to a lot of the earlier part of the trek, with closed-in forest, long steep drops down the side of the track, creek crossings and lots of mud. At the Denaki Plateau we overlooked our final destination: Kokoda. We spoke of the battle that occurred at Denaki and we could see from our hilltop view where the Japanese invaded into Kokoda.”
Day 10 (A lazy, flat 11km)
"Woken at 0400 this morning. We all donned our head torches and began the (flat) final trek from Kovelo to Kokoda. I think we'd all forgotten how to walk on flat ground as there were a few spills on the way. (Not me - I didn't fall on my arse at all the whole trek!)
We walked the last part into the Kokoda Plateau, the scene of the battle of Kokoda, as dawn was breaking. It was here that the Japanese charged against the near-vertical slope that the Australians occupied. Even though the Aussies were outnumbered six to one the men of the 39th battalion inflicted four to one more deaths.
After looking at the memorial we declared our trek to be over and everyone cheered and congratulated one another.
We then walked to the Kokoda airport (or carport, as we called it) and waited for the fog to clear so our planes could land. While waiting, some locals turned up with some fresh local-style donuts they were planning to fly to Port Moresby to sell. The donuts never made it onto the plane.
We flew back to Port Moresby in 30 minutes, something that took us 10 days to hike.
Then we went straight to the Bomana war cemetery. It is here that all the recovered bodies from the Kokoda campaign are buried. It was very somber walking around the cemetery and looking at the graves of the fallen diggers, with the majority of them much younger than me.
|Bomana war cemetery|