Kokoda Trail: Day Four
Templeton's Crossing No. 2 - Efogi
This day will forever be remembered as “the long day”.
Reveille was at 4.30 a.m. but I was already awake. Yet again I could only manage half a night’s sleep. What is wrong with me? I’m beginning to think that maybe the anti-malarial drugs are screwing with my sleep cycles. Surprisingly, I still have plenty of energy during the day and don’t feel tired at all. Or maybe my body is running on adrenaline.
I dressed in my damp clothes that reeked of smoke from the drying hut, stuffed down a gigantic breakfast of double cereal, fruit and biscuits with peanut butter, then listened as Reg described the story of the battle at Templeton’s 2. By 6.30 a.m. we were off.
For a change (*eye roll*) we headed uphill, which somehow felt even muddier than yesterday’s mudfest. It was slow going. I’m sure a sloth could have moved faster than us. Coming down the other side was just as much fun, with all of us sliding uncontrollably in the slickest pockets. There were several casualties. Somehow I managed to change my dead camera battery mid-descent, while staying upright. There’s not much that will stop me from taking photos.
Traversing a river we found ourselves in Templeton’s Crossing No. 1, a cute village surrounded by a layer of mist. Through the haze we could see patches of blue sky, and hoped that meant there would be no rain today. We really shouldn’t have such high expectations.
From Templeton’s 1 it was up the big one, Mount Bellamy, reaching the highest point on the track despite not actually hitting the summit. This climb wasn’t any less forgiving, the mud doing it’s best to break us. Our leg muscles were screaming but there was no easy way through the sludge. Sometimes the mud changed properties, transforming from a sticky mud, to a thick mud, to a squelchy mud. Clearly these terms are subjective, but that was the only way I could describe it. Do the local villagers have dozens of different words for mud, in the same way that the Inuits have numerous terms for snow?
At one rest point I had to use “nature’s toilet”, and scrambled through the bush to find a secluded spot. Within seconds I was entangled in a thorn-filled vine, attaching itself to my shirt and not letting go. I twisted, yanked, performed contemporary dance moves to try to release myself but nothing worked. My calls for help fell as deaf ears, too far away from the others to be heard. In the end I had to painstakingly pull the thorns out one at a time before I was released from its clutches. My shirt and skin were torn, but I was free. I would be checking the vegetation a little closer in future.
Another misty morning.
Straight into the jungle.
Scenes from day four.
Templeton's Crossing No. 1.
Climbing Mount Bellamy.
The path eventually flattened out, right before we turned off down Kienzle’s Track. This section was not an official part of the Kokoda Trail, but instead it was a detour we were making to visit a viewpoint over Myola. Myola was of strategic importance to the Australians during the war, as this was where planes dropped tonnes of cargo daily to resupply the soldiers. Much of it was damaged on impact or became lost to the jungle, but without this drop point the Allies wouldn’t have survived.
The detour was magnificent. Not because Myola was anything to write home about (it was a large patch of bare, flat ground) but because the walk to Myola and out the other side was through the Moss Forest. The Moss Forest had no mud (no mud!), no steep inclines or declines, and it was incredibly beautiful. The spongy floor was littered with leaves, crazy-looking mushrooms popped up along tree logs, the projections extending out from the pandanus trees were reminiscent of sci-fi movies, lush palms and ferns abounded and, like the name suggests, there was an abundance of moss. I felt like I had been transported to an entirely different country, far removed from what we had experienced so far. There was a unanimous consensus that this was the highlight of the day.
A late lunch was held at Digger’s Rest, an unassuming campsite beside a river (all villages seem to be beside rivers). The sun suddenly appeared, inviting us to lie down on the grass and soak up the rays. Another meal of rice, beans, Mountain Bread and peanut butter - it was repetitive, but I was enjoying simplicity of it. As it had been over eight hours since I had eaten breakfast, naturally I consumed my weight in food. The regret kicked in as soon as the bag went on my back. I don’t think I’ll ever learn to restrain myself in front of a buffet.
After a brief trek through the last of the Moss Forest, we returned to the Kokoda Trail and that meant one thing: mud. A long, never-ending downhill commenced, full of the slippery mud that dramatically decreased our pace. The tree roots I use as natural barriers were missing here, meaning each step required a mathematical equation to help me descend safely. And to add to the torture, it rained the entire way down. As others were using poles, they were able to navigate much of this section much more steadily than me. My poles were within easy reach, but it felt like effort to get them out, and I was sure the hill would end soon. It didn't. In fact, this part was so demanding and energy-depleting that I didn’t take a single photo on the way. I was glad not to remember it anyway.
As soon as we reached the bottom the rain ceased (of course), the jungle was left behind, and we passed by vegetable farms and leafless blackened trees. Through the gaps we could see the villages of Naduri and Kagi, places we were heading for. They seemed so far away. Grassland appeared before us and followed us all the way to Naduri, which was one of the more modern villages we had visited (modern = a couple of the buildings were made of metal rather than timber). A stand with bananas for sale had us reaching for our wallets, keen to restock the energy stores after the torture of the descent.
Through the Moss Forest.
Underwhelming but strategically critical Myola.
Crazy fungi and pandanus trees.
Heading towards Naduri.
Spade Man informed us that we needed to wait for the rest of the group to catch up, which had us slightly worried. It was only an hour or two until dark, and there was at least two hours of hiking to go. We had no desire to trek at night, but we couldn’t teleport everyone down to our location. We waited.
Fifteen minutes later Spade Man relented to our requests and said we could carry on. There was only five of us there, but we were keen to get through as much of the hike in daylight as possible. Another long downhill followed, part of it open and bright, part of it through dense jungle and mud. At the bottom a river crossing was waiting for us, where again we were told we would stop until the others came. We had no idea how far back everyone was, and we pleaded with Spade Man to let us continue on. He refused, and ran (literally, ran) back up the track to check on the group. Daylight was fading fast, and we still had one massive hill to conquer.
Half an hour passed before Spade Man returned. The verdict: we could keep moving. By that stage we were seven; we had no idea how far behind the others were. We crept across another hair-raising creek crossing before starting our ascent up sharp, waist-high rocks. Hands and arms were used to drag my body up many of the boulders in the fading light - I was glad we weren’t going the other way. Waterfalls were running down alongside and over the path, adding another layer of difficulty. Also, it was so dark at the bottom of the valley I was sure night had fallen. With the minimal light I did have it looked like the scenery was breathtaking, different what we had trekked so far and definitely photo-worthy. But the lack of illumination, the complexity of navigating through running water as well as racing the clock meant there were no photos here.
As we emerged from the waterfall section we discovered that there was still a small amount of brightness left in the sky. Straining our eyes we pushed on up to Efogi 2, a small village on the peak. Dropping our bags we immediately grabbed our head torches, followed quickly by pulling the bag covers out as the rain started to fall again. This time Spade Man was adamant: we were waiting for everyone before walking the last 15 minutes downhill into Efogi, together as a group.
A fruit stall distracted us briefly, where I bought a bowl of what I was told were tamarillos. I had never eaten the fruit before, but they were supposedly a type of tomato and were similar in appearance to Roma tomatoes. I opened one up and took a bite - it was nothing like a tomato, being far sweeter and more “fruit-like” than typical tomatoes. It was fantastic. Another group member was kind enough to buy me an avocado, knowing that I love them but being allergic herself. I'm actually looking forward to lunch tomorrow.
Twenty minutes later I was informed that there was a central electricity post nearby that had USB chargers. Immediately I ran over to plug in my camera, hoping to fill up my dwindling battery. While I waited I handed out more crayons to the nearby kids. I still have no idea if they have paper to draw on.
End of the Moss Forest.
On the way to Naduri.
Forty minutes after arriving in Efogi 2, the whole group had reassembled and we were free to make the final descent into Efogi. I think the 15 minutes quoted to us was overly optimistic. It was pitch black except for our head torches (distorting all sense of depth), the path was composed entirely of slick mud and, as most people had no experience of trekking at night, we were progressing at a snail’s pace.
It was a good half hour before we reached the bottom, covering no more than a few hundred metres. Here we found yet another creek crossing, a final obstacle before the short climb to the campsite. As I had no personal carrier I took off by myself, eager to finish for the day. I followed the path illuminated by my torch, steadily making my way up a steep climb. Suddenly I found myself in the centre of Efogi village, with no sign of a campsite. I rotated a full 360 degrees, hoping to find signs of life. In the distance, back the way I had come, I saw head torches bobbing around. Immediately I flashed back to all the trail races where I had become lost and I knew I had nothing to worry about. I had recovered from all of those situations, I could recover from this one.
Retracing my steps down the hill, I made a beeline towards the lights. I ended up arriving at the campsite from a back entrance, much to the surprise of several carriers. They directed me to my tent, where I could finally unload my baggage. I grabbed a change of clothes and soap and headed straight to the water point, scrubbing my hiking clothes and mud-covered legs. Feeling somewhat cleaner I unpacked the essentials (bedding, eating utensils), filled up my water bottle and joined the others in the dining hut. I gazed around at shattered faces and prone bodies, all incredulous at what we had just achieved. Many were unhappy to be walking at night, especially when we were informed we would reach camp around 4.30 p.m. It was almost 8 p.m. by the time we arrived, making it a 13.5 hour day. Exhaustion didn't begin to explain the sentiment. Several people sat motionless for over an hour, not even bothering to locate their tent. Drugs (the legal kind) were traded around enthusiastically in an attempt to buffer the pain. Blisters were patched up, Dencorub was smothered on. The group of three boys seemed to be suffering more than most, and a carrier was arranged to ease their load for the rest of the trek. We had no idea where it all went wrong, but the end of the day did not match our expectations. As stated in the beginning, it would be here on out referred to as “the long day”.
The one shining light was the arrival of our drop bags. I didn’t have one, but watching the faces of the others as they opened their packages to find forgotten goods was entertaining. The boys couldn’t get rid of their supplies fast enough, desperate not to add any more weight to their packs. Several packets of lollies and energy gels were consumed or given away freely. There was suddenly a profusion of clean clothes, snacks, hand gel and toilet paper, much of which was distributed among the group.
I think I was still full from lunch, as I ate far less for dinner than usual. Soup, pasta, a hearty bean and onion stew and cold slices of fried sweet potato. Most of us were in a trance, focusing only on moving our jaws up and down, with the sole aim of making it through dinner so we could crawl into bed.
It was a day filled with highs and lows. The Moss Forest was easily the most spectacular scenery we had walked through, I had managed not to fall over, and my practically new boots were keeping my feet blister- and pain-free. But the late finish had put a dampener on the day and brought the overall morale of the group down. For me, the positives far outweighed the negatives, and I would still much prefer to have days like today than to go through the motions of a regular work day. Lying in bed I found it difficult to quiet my mind, instead replaying the day’s events over and over in my head. It was after 11 p.m. before I even turned my torch out. That 4.30 a.m. wake up call wasn’t sounding so great right now.