Before this day, I never thought I’d be winched into a chopper

20 February 2018

The view from Bungalow Spur
The view from Bungalow Spur

For those of you who don’t like or have patience for my long reports, here is the ‘trailer’ version:

  • Started around 6.30 in Harrietville on minimal sleep
  • Went up Mt Feathertop, did a 360° video and posted on fb
  • Ran down to the creek towards the MUMMC Hut (not much water, don’t count on it)
  • Diamantina Spur was a bit overgrown, but otherwise ok
  • Turned left at the Blairs Hut sign in the Kiewa Valley—that is the right way to go
  • There is no Westons Spur sign once passed the toilet, just turn left
  • Westons is so overgrown in places – not fun, lots of scratches on my legs and arms
  • The creek after Westons is hard to reach and hardly pissing
  • Was able to actually shuffle along more poles on the High Plains—thanks again Dan Beard
  • This is where I stuffed up my nutrition—didn’t eat in time
  • Going down towards Cobungra Gap hurt (dunno why)
  • Forced a gel down at Cobungra, nearly came back—this is where I knew things are definitely not going to plan
  • Went up Swindlers in full sun (again), had to stop occasionally—my heart seemed to pop out of my chest and my head was about to explode
  • Started to dream about that beer…
  • From Derricks Hut I could not shuffle, but fast walk
  • Didn’t go up to Mt Hotham summit, but took the road, stopping two cars and asking if they had anything fizzy with them – 3 cars didn’t stop, 2 cars stopped but didn’t have anything fizzy only warm water
  • Decided to cut it short and go down Bon Accord Spur – bloody sign says 12 km, giving people a very false hope
  • Sun was setting down as I headed down the spur, ended on my bum once and tripped many others
  • Lost phone reception
  • Bon Accord is overgrown in places, lots of trees and branches fallen down and across the track

    Wild flowers on Mt Feathertop
    Wild flowers on Mt Feathertop
  • Pulled my headtorch out when it started to get dark, had to change the batteries (Led Lenser) after a few steps—glad I did that while I could still see
  • Got startled by a deer
  • Arrived to Washington Ck at 7.18, it was pitch dark
  • Couldn’t find the track on the other side, the place is so overgrown with bushes and blackberry
  • Went bushbashing, got scratched all over my arms and legs and lost my phone
  • Decided to spend the night near the creek, but was worried about Otto being worried, so after about half an hour of arguing with myself, I decided to activate the PLB, this way Otto at least knows where I am
  • Tried to spot the flashing light of my phone in the dark, unsuccessfully
  • Waited for the rescue to arrive, while trying to get some sleep on the rocks
  • First time I heard the chopper – 0:21
  • Chopper flew away, then back then away again a few times
  • Lit my head torch every time it was above
  • Second attempt to approach the scene, I was blown away by the winds, then saw someone descending on a rope…
  • Jimmy (the police officer) put the harness on me, clipped us together and got winched while a possum walked by casually
  • The chopper took me to Wangaratta airfield
  • Got handed over to Wangaratta Police and taken to the station
  • Called Otto who already knew most of it, because he was in contact with the police—PLB is a great thing!!
  • Cameron from Wangaratta Police helped me find accommodation and made sure I got there safely
  • At this point I didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Once in the room, I had a beer
  • Otto and Suzie arrived in the afternoon. Otto flew back from Sydney in the morning, Suzie picked him up at the airport and they drove straight to Wangaratta
  • Stopped for lunch and beer in Bright
  • Went to pick the car up in Harrietville, didn’t go to search for the phone (“fuck the phone!” is what Otto said)
  • Drove home

Out of the mandatory safety gear list there were two pieces I didn’t have on me during the run: the thermal long johns and the beanie/hat. Out of the gear I carried with me I’ve use every single piece except the safety matches.

Now here comes the full version. Grab some wine, beer or whatever you fancy – it’s a very long story.

As I said it in the “trailer”, I started this thing on minimal sleep. Did that not only for practical reasons, but also to get accustomed to push on tired at the Alpine Challenge miler in November. Started my watch at 6.40 as I left the car park in Harrietville. Signed into the book, checking who else is out there (thanks Tay for telling me this). I’ve noticed a bunch of 6 people signed in, going to “Bogon” – I was wondering… did they have a look at the map, at all?! In spite of the 10ish°C I didn’t need the gloves and took the Bonatti off before I started the climb.

Bungalow Spur
Bungalow Spur

While going up Bungalow Spur, I was thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do this. Get out during the week and just simply go for it. I was experimenting with food I haven’t had on a run before, like using rice wrap instead of bread and trialling the pre-packaged baby food; not packing chocolate and ginger this time. As usual, the climb seemed like it was going on forever, Otto called and said “I knew you were going to do this!! If I could win Tattslotto this sure!…anyway, just take care of yourself.” I promised I will and went on. Saw a parasailer, a red one appearing from behind the mountain. It was so sudden, I didn’t get the chance to take a shot.

I reached Federation Hut eventually. I could hear voices as I was getting closer, then saw two boys, walking to the water tank with bottles. I said hi, they reluctantly said hi back (what’s wrong with today’s youth??!! Absolutely no manners for some). I took my pack off at the hut and put on the Bonatti, it’s always windy up at Mt Feathertop. Took a few pics, then carried on tossing the idea of going down to the creek towards the MUMMC Hut. If I don’t go down today, I probably won’t get another chance for a very long time. I wanted to check it out, just in case I’ll ever needed water from there. I postponed the decision for the way back from the summit. It was a stunning day, wind wasn’t that bad going up.

On Mt Feathertop
On Mt Feathertop

Ani, my sister called as I was nearing the summit. Wanted to know how the weekend was… we had a chat, and by the time we hung up, I was up on the top. Took that 360° video, posted it on fb, then headed down. The views were amazing. I saw some clouds further and imagined going through them – how cool (literally) that would be?! I decided to go down to the creek, nearly finished a soft flask of water, would be nice to have a great tasting refill. As I was approaching the spring, hopped over some mud and finally saw the little trickle. Climbed up and filled the flask, had some of it, then refilled. It tasted great, indeed, but I think I won’t make this detour again.
As I was heading out of the muddy part, I lost my balance and stepped straight into ankle deep black mud which was hidden under the bright green grass. I swore a little, then headed up, when Otto called asking what happened, why am I off the track? Did you get lost? Told him what was happening – he didn’t like the idea but was relieved all is good. When I got to the The Cross, I decided to change the socks, it’s a long way to go and I didn’t want blisters. Taking off the Bonatti at this point was too early, wind was still chilly.

On the Razorback, I bumped into a couple, they were heading up to Mt Feathertop, then back along the ridge. We wished each other a great day and kept going. Looking back towards Mt Feathertop from Diamantina Spur was a beautiful sight – I did that a few times while I could see it. Took the Bonatti off, it started to get quite warm. I ran this ridge as much as I could, the bushes scratching my legs along the way. On one of the tops, I saw a bunch of guys – asked them where they are heading. They said “to Bogong Village” – aaaahhhh… the “Bogon bunch”!!!! – should’ve counted them, there should be 6. Told them about the Razorback Run in March, but they said they’ll be in NSW in a camp then. Wished each other a great day and I took off.

Diamantina Spur - one of the three drops
Diamantina Spur – one of the three drops

At the rock scrambling parts I took photos for George [Alexandropoulos] so he knows which are the “scary” parts of the Alpine Challenge miler. The poles here are a pain in the butt. Threw them down, then followed holding onto the rocks. When I was there last time with Tay, it seemed much easier – I was probably extra careful now because I was on my own. It was a warm day, I was really looking at the track – didn’t want to step on a snake or something… that was happening a lot today. Getting down to Kiewa Valley seemed much faster this time.

I filled the soft flask in the cold running water, then soaked the triangle bandage and cooled off my face, neck, arms. Felt good. I was hoping I find that turnoff, so I won’t need to go around as we did with Tay in December. Saw the “Blairs Hut” sign, pointing to the left in front of the trunk of a big tree. Since there were lots of pieces of big trees around, I guess the course description is somewhat confusing. Turned left at the sign and immediately recognised the track, then passed the hut after I took a few photos. Remembered the very first time I’ve been here – this is where I have met Helen [MacDonald].

Passed the toilet on the left, then turned left onto Westons Spur. There is no sign that says Westons Spur at this point. I turned left and up and started the climb. Had the plan to try something new – play some up beat music when it gets tough, so soon I had Mas Que Nada (Black Eyed Peas) coming from my right thigh pocket as I was pushing up Westons, looking out for snakes and glimpsing to the left every now and then – Mt Feathertop was still a stunning sight. I discovered some bright red berries. They were sweet and really nice, so every time I saw them, I had some. When (and if) I get my phone back I’ll post the pics.

One of the rare views from Westons
A rare view from Westons

Just as I was thinking that Westons Hut is never going to come, there I was. Quick glimpse at the sign, didn’t even bother checking out the hut now, I was looking forward to some nice cold water from the spring further up. Saw the black and blue pipe, hopped over the mud… and the spring was hardly pissing. Worked hard to get a flask full of water, had some of it, then re-filled and got going. The ants were active again didn’t want to have anything to do with them. What followed after this was even more painful than the climb itself – scratchy bushes covering the track up to my forehead in places. The sweaty skin on my arms has suffered the most.

I could hear a chopper in the Bogong Village direction and thought if someone would ask me if I wanted a lift in a helicopter, I’d say “not necessarily, but since I’ve never flew in a chopper, I’d give it a go”….

Glorious Pole 333
Glorious Pole 333

It was hot with a light breeze on the high plains. I was looking forward to see some brumbies – they’ve left their mark on the track… should be somewhere… the view was amazing from there. I managed to shuffle some more here, nearly to Pole 333. The flies appeared, but they weren’t half as bad as when we were there with Tay. At Pole 333 I stopped, took a few shots, then turned right towards Cobungra Gap, keeping up the shuffle. Otto called, told him I was going well. I concentrated so much on keeping up the shuffle, that I put off eating until I reach the top and start descending. I think this was a big mistake. I did have something on the way down but probably missed the timing. I was still vary of snakes… treading carefully especially in the grassy parts. Saw the mountain ahead, the one I’ll need to go up next. Wasn’t looking forward to that.

At Cobungra Gap I saw a couple, they were probably setting up their tent on one of those elevated camp sites.

Cobungra Gap
Cobungra Gap

Said hello, then turned right straight away as we did last time with Dan. I usually go around… dunno why. At the point where we met Douglas (the B2H checkpoint minder) I stopped to have a gel. First sip went down great, but after the next one I gagged. Pushed it down with some water anyway, then carefully ziplocked the packaging and headed down to the creek to wash my sticky hands, soak the bandage and fill up the soft flask with cold water. It felt great, especially since it started to really feel hot.

Swindlers Spur
Swindlers Spur

Going up Swindlers Spur was exactly how it always feels at Razorback 64. Had to stop a few times to recollect myself – my heart was about to pop out of my chest and my head to explode… I imagined listening to music going up here, but I couldn’t be bothered with switching it on. Might have helped though. The lack of food and only small sips of water made it hard to move faster even when up on the flattish part. So far I think this was the best I did on this course and only hit the hard wall at the 36 km mark. Usually when this happens, I start to dream about a beer – that is what keeps me going. But on this occasion I knew Harrietville is a bloody long way to go. I couldn’t even shuffle, because as soon as I picked up some speed, I felt sick, ready to throw up.

Got an email asking me to get something done… replied with “I am in the mountains, will do it as soon as I get to the car”. Then Otto called, asking how it is going and letting me know he’s going for a beer… I thought that’s exactly what I need right now.

So I started to make some plans while walking as fast as I could. I thought I’ll ask whoever is at Derricks Hut if they have anything fizzy. There was no one there, so I hoped someone parked at Loch Car park would. Well… Loch Car park was full of earth moving machinery. Had to step over some dirt to get over to the road. I decided long ago, that I’ll give Mt Hotham summit a miss this time and walk along the road trying to stop cars and ask if they had anything fizzy…

The drivers of the first two cars l hauled looked away as they drove by. They probably thought I wanted a lift and they didn’t want a dirty hiker in their prissy car. It was quite disappointing. I thought that rule of the Universe, when you do something good and someone else might do something good to you in return works… very bitter. A week ago I gave my thermal top to a hiker at Federation Hut, because he wasn’t well prepared for the hike. I would’ve stopped if someone lifts their hand for help. I even stopped for others when they were out there in the middle of nowhere on a bike and asked them if they were ok, or if they needed something.

Fourth car was a ute, towing a boat. The guy stopped (big click as the boat followed), and asked if I was ok or needed a lift. Firstly I thanked him for stopping, then I asked him if he had anything fizzy with him. He looked around in the car and said he only has warm water, I can have that if I wanted. I told him I do have warm water and I do have food, but can’t eat or drink it – need something fizzy. He was very sorry, I could tell. He really wanted to help. Thanked him again and said good bye. The next car I hauled was carrying a family. They didn’t have anything fizzy, either but the woman asked me if I was OK, or if I was diabetic. She had some lollies and offered me one. I took it, because she really wanted to do something good. Thanked her and said good bye.

There were two cars parked at Diamantina, no one in them. I stood hunched over the rail guard at Diamantina for a minute or two, figuring out what to do, then looked at the signs and thought that Harrietville via Bon Accord Track 12 km looks much more appealing than getting a lift or going along the Razorback and down Bungalow Spur (the sign said 23 km). I started walking along the Razorback, looking back every now and then at the road. I’ve noticed a ute, which might have been the one with the boat that stopped. I thought if that’s the one, the guy is extremely decent. I was sucking on the lolly, but I noticed that it was making me sick, so I spit it out.

The sun was setting as I turned onto Bon Accord. The sign said 5.5 km to Washington Ck. I started to calculate… something is off here. Pulled out the map to check the distances again and reassured myself that I have way more to go than 12 kms. The descent was as painful as I remembered it from the two previous times I’ve been here. I stepped onto rocks and branches that rolled, landing on my bum hard once. Hit my right elbow and saw stars (like in the cartoons) circling around my head. I’ve lost reception and knew I had to step on it to make it back as soon as possible to Harrietville – Otto was already worried…

I tried a Blok shot, just kept it in my mouth to trick the senses… it worked for a while, but then I felt sick again and had to spit that out, too. I felt like vomiting, but nothing came out of me, since I didn’t eat or drink anything. I wasn’t worried about dying of hunger – there is a lot of fat stored in my body (all in the wrong places) that could be used for fuel. So many trees and branches to step over or duck under… I scored many scratches on this descend. When it started to get darker, I stopped and took the head torch out of the pack. I heard something falling into the grass there, but I couldn’t see anything.

I had a feeling that the batteries might be low (didn’t check them before I left, because I was hoping to only use it for maybe a half an hour today), so after a while I turned the torch on… sure enough it died within 30 seconds. Stopped, looked for the spare batteries… I usually put them in the same spot, but this time I must have moved them when I shuffled other things. At this point I thought “now I am f…d!!” took everything out of the pack and put it on the ground, finally found the damn batteries and luckily there was enough light to change them. As I started to put the stuff back into the pack, I’ve noticed those big ants are crawling on my feet, on the gear, everywhere. Quickly shook them off, packed up and kept going.

I could hear the creek, but I thought that I’ll never reach it, when suddenly I could see a fluoro tape on the left (thank you good soul for putting it there). Turned left, passed the bridge, filled my flask and crossed the creek, heading towards where I remembered the track was… I took a few steps, but it was so overgrown. I looked around, went to the right. Again, the trail ended in scratchy bushes. Went back and a bit to the left, couldn’t see any entry there… no log, either. Came back again and climbed up on the steep, dusty track-like part, again to hit the bushes. Got scratched by the blackberry thorns so much, it really hurt. I took my phone out, thought I’d check where we joined the track with Tay – no reception. Tried in a different direction – the spider webs got stuck on my face… grrrr! Did a few more tries and none of them seemed right.

It looked like I’m not going to find the damn track, so I decided to spend the night next to the creek and will surely see better in the morning. I just need to SMS Otto and let him know. Reached for the phone again, and realised in a shock, that it’s not in the pocket!! I must have lost it when I fell one of the several times into the bush. I was really angry with myself at that point. Went back to the rocky part and switched off my head torch, hoping I could see the flashing red or blue light… nada!!! I sat down, took off my wet shoes and socks. My feet started to get cold, so I put the gloves on my toes to keep them warm. The air wasn’t cold, but I was wet from sweat and knew it won’t take long until I start cooling down and shaking…

Pulled out all my gear from the pack, put on the thermal top, the overpants, the Bonatti… then I started to feel cold again. I pulled out the safety blanket and covered myself with it, lying down on the rocks, using my pack as pillow and scanning the other side for any tiny red flash. I thought of pushing the red button on the PLB – at least they’ll know I am there. What if I just wait it out?! I am sure Otto will tell me off for not using it… so I did this for about a half an hour, I am not sure. Then I thought I’ll just do it. Pulled out the PLB from the pack, extended the antenna and pushed the red button. It started flashing. I put it on a flat rock in front of me with the antenna pointing up. It must have been 9.30ish.

I laid down, covered myself with the safety blanket and tried to get some sleep until the help comes. I thought if they see the location, there will be someone coming from Harrietville – that would’ve been simple and easy… the time was passing, I was half awake-half asleep, when I felt something at my toes… switched the head torch on and saw a rat running away, towards the water. WTF?! From there on I looked around more often. Fell asleep a bit, when I could hear the chopper. It was 0.21. I switched on my head torch and started packing frantically. Looked up, moved around a bit so they can see me better – then the chopper flew away. They did this a few times at different intervals, then it came back at some point, came really close. I thought this is it! But then it went away again.

I still didn’t give up on looking at the opposite side, scanning the bushes for any light, but whatever it was, must have been a vision. I didn’t eat anything or had any water for many hours now… and the food I had with me wasn’t appealing, either. The tomatoes became sauce when I fall on my bum further up, soaking the bread – looked yuck. I tried a sip of water every now and then, it was OK. Otto must be very worried by now, I thought; he must be thinking the worse… whereas I felt safe there, on the banks of Washington Ck, much safer than walking down Church St in Parramatta in the middle of the day.

The chopper came back, then away, then back again, now getting closer and lower. I had no idea what to do. First I tried to get out of its radius, the wind it was making was very powerful. Small rocks and chips were flying everywhere. Then it got a bit close to the tree I was standing under, chopping off small branches. I thought I’d better get out of there, a limb might fall on me and they’d have a casualty. Then it lowered itself and I saw someone descending from it. The guy landed on the slope, but quickly came up on the flatter part. I went there, fell a few times from the powerful air movement. First thing I did, was to thank him for coming. He presented himself as Jimmy and asked if I am Rozsa and if I was OK. I told him, yes I am and he started to get the harness ready for me.

Made a ball of the safety blanket and stuffed it in my pants. Packed up the poles and had them hanging off my wrist. As he was fixing the harness, a possum has walked by about half a meter from us, casually like “oh, someone’s being picked up this Wednesday, let’s have a closer look”. Pointed it out to Jimmy – he laughed. I noticed my right pinky was bleeding… where did I do this?! He asked me to kneel and hold him, then signalled to his colleague to pull us up. I imagined being scared in such a situation every time I saw this happening to others, but I felt safe, really safe. When we were up at the chopper, I thought “now what?!” the other officer – Nick – has pulled us in, I was on my knees, then Jimmy tapped the chair signalling for me to sit on it. It was a bit awkward in that small space, with all the harnesses clipped to everything, then the poles…

They’ve reorganised themselves, then gave me a headphone and microphone and asked me what happened. Told them briefly, then they said they are taking me to Wangaratta, because they need to refuel, and the local police will look after me. I thought, wouldn’t it be simpler to drop me off in Harrietville?! Anywhere?! I went with the flow, had no choice at that point. We soon arrived to Wangaratta, got out of the chopper and had a lovely conversation once they’ve taken my details. Jimmy said he’s got the same kind of PLB and it had great signal. Asked him to help me deactivate it (couldn’t read the small writing on the back), which he did.
I promised them a beer, then they wished me all the best and handed me over to Simon, the local police officer.

Simon took me to the station and told me they have a domestic, can’t look after me, someone will help me, just wait here. Cameron came and has shown me where the toilet is and asked me if I was OK. Told him I was ok, but I would love to call my husband if it’s possible. He pointed out a phone to me and asked me where my car was, how am I going to get there. Told him the car is in Harrietville and he suggested I stayed in Wangaratta at a motel until someone would come and pick me up. I called Otto, who already knew what happened and asked me if I was OK. Told him all is good, I just need to get back to Harrietville for the car and to look for my phone. I asked Cameron if a taxi to Harrietville is a possibility. He gave me the options: taxi centre number (called them, the guy said it would be $200+, so I tossed this idea, although looking back it would’ve been the cheapest option); and suggested the Rayley Motel (they had a truck accident the other week and this was the only place where they’ve answered the phone in the middle of the night).

Called the Rayley and I must have awaken a lady called Gloria, but she said as long as I have the credit card number, they can accommodate me… I thanked Cameron for his help (he asked what happened and was genuinely interested in it), another officer drove me to the motel and didn’t leave until I was inside the building. Hats off to Victoria Police!!
Once in the room, I called Otto, had a beer, a shower and went to bed. Only washed the socks, as I was sure the clothes wouldn’t dry over a few hours. Had a couple of hours sleep, woke up like clockwork at 5.59. Had two juices from the minibar, a shower, dressed up and checked out

Otto and Suzie called a few times and told me they are on their way, but there are roadworks on the freeway, so I sat on a bench in front of the hotel, watching the traffic, waiting for the black BMW to arrive.
Otto flew back from Sydney (had all his travel changed overnight, I guess his bosses weren’t delighted), Suzie picked him up at the airport and they drove straight to Wangaratta. None of them slept much (if anything at all). On the way to Bright they told me their side of the story… gosh!!! They had it so much worse then I did!!! If I knew this is going to happen I wouldn’t have pushed that stupid button. It’s a long story, lots of phone calls with Victoria Police and the emergency. Otto has surely ended up with more gray hair and was still stiff and angry-anxious-worried for another day.

We stopped for lunch at the brewery, then drove to Harrietville to pick up the car. Otto said “fuck the phone, you’ll pick it up another day” – I was totally ok with this. Then we drove home.

This whole two days were a huge experience for me and for my family. And Paul and Carole, because Otto has contacted them, too. Everyone was worried at some point.

The things that I took away from this:

Only activate the PLB in life-death-serious situation – it’s not worth shaking up this many people otherwise; although if I was bitten by a highly poisonous snake, I’d be kaput by the time help arrived
My family really loves me and cares about me
My family doesn’t know that I am not the kind of person who goes close to the edge of a cliff to have a better look
I’ll be taking the spare phone with me (as I used to before I had the PLB) if I am going alone, so remote and so far
Carrying the mandatory gear makes the difference, you never know when you get stuck
My training needs so much fine tuning, it’s not funny
I’ll be carrying a sip of beer with me (even if it’s ginger beer) on long runs/hikes

Gear

  • Lululemon top (very old) and the fast and free crop, socks (two pair very high speed)
  • Bonatti jacket, cheap pack-in-the-pocket overpants, poly thermal top, gloves
  • LED Lenser 5 with spare batteries – thought the Ay Up was overkill
  • Snake bandage and small first aid kit (swipes, Panadol, bandaid, Opsite Flexigrid dressings – ended up using two of the latter)
  • poles
  • PLB

Nutrition

  • One toasted bread with butter, Jamon and cheese with tomatoes (brought it back)
  • 3 pockets of trout paste packed into a piece of lettuce then into a square of rye flat bread with tomatoes – I think I had 1.5 the rest got smashed when I fell on my bum
  • 3 pockets of rye flat bread with vegemite – first two went down well at different times, but I could only have the half of the third one
  • 3 pockets of rye flat bread with butter and apricot jam – first one was a delight, had the half of the second one and the third one got smashed when I fell
  • Pre-packaged baby food x 2: Just Vegies Sweet Potato, Corn, Spinach and Carrot – this was a disaster, made me gag but the Smooth Sweet Potato Carrot Apple was really well received by my tummy
  • 1 Salted Caramel Apple VFuel gel, 1 Cool Mint Endura gel, Mountain Berry Blok Shots, not sure how many
  • Water about 1.5 l, 250 ml sour cherry juice, about 125 ml coffee with sugar (carried all these in soft flasks); I also had about 1 l of tap water in the bladder for emergency