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Author Topic: Highway to Hell - Patonga to Rocky Ponds and Woy Woy  (Read 2413 times)

Offline Matt Emery

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Highway to Hell - Patonga to Rocky Ponds and Woy Woy
« on: February 08, 2008, 05:42:37 AM »
This was an unexpected survival situation, we climbed out of the bush exhausted and beaten at 3am after 13 hours of climbing and walking. Read on...

We took on the Highway Ridge Trail, which (supposedly) goes from Broken Bay Recreation Centre to Rocky Ponds. Well... it ends up that this track is very dangerous, as it has not been maintained, and for most parts it just ends in unexpected places. This is particularity concerning because the track is advertised on NPWS brochures and other places. My advice to you is this; don't go there!

Things seem to be going fine until approximately one hour before dusk, we came to a dead end just opposite Dangar Island, which effectively left us trapped in the middle of the bush. Not long after that it started raining, and became dark, windy and cold. We all knew that turning back the way we came was far too dangerous, because of the rough terrain we had crossed to get here during daylight. So we decided to push on through to Rocky Ponds and then to Woy Woy tip, and try (in vain) to get onto the Highway Ridge Trail.

We had to fight our way through sharp thick scrub, and avoid plummeting over the treacherous sandstone ridges. We had head lamps, compasses, a GPS device and had studied maps of the area before taking this track on, but the tracks had simply disappeared due to lack of maintenance and so all we had to guide us was a basic knowledge of the direction we had to go (North). Battling through the scrub slowed our progress down to a crawl, but there was nothing we could do about that except grin and bare it.

We struggled through the pain of getting cut and grazed on sharp scrub, and endured the bitter cold for many hours. I took leadership of the party, navigating by way of compass, map, and GPS. Being the guy at the front, it was my duty to make a trail for us to get through, so I gave Daniel a crash course in navigation so he could relieve me during the more extreme parts of the trail making. Making a trail through the scrub was quite painful, it felt like I was pushing through barb wire.

The journey was also frustrating because according to the maps and GPS; we were supposed to be right on top of the track, but it was nowhere to be found. So we continued on, relying solely on our compasses and the limited vision of the head lamps. Then at around midnight, I heard the sound of a flowing creek, and I recommended that we use this is as a means to cover ground a little quicker than we we had been, which had been at the rate of 3 metres per minute, thanks to the painfully harsh scrub and dangerous ridges.

We climbed down into the creek and scaled our way down the mountain through the rocky waterfalls and cold water. All of us were completely saturated from head to toe, the rain had been bucketing down on us for hours, and even when it stopped the trees would shower us with huge amounts of water as we brushed up against them. We eventually climbed down to a place in the creek where there was just enough room for the five of us to sit down and rest. We were utterly exhausted, cold, and in pain. But thankfully our moral was high, due to the fact that we kept a sense of humour and worked well as a team. We were quite cool headed given the situation we were in, which (I believe) was one of the most important factors for our survival. Not once did we panic or make rash decisions - a potentially deadly thing to do.

Being in a survival situation is a mental game. It doesn't matter how fit or physically tough you are, if you can't keep a level head you're likely to wind up in deeper trouble. Me and a couple of others guys in the team had been in similar situations before, so we knew the mental and emotional aspects to look out for. The biggest thing is; don't be impulsive... stop, think, plan and then move on. Racing off towards something that looks like a track is dangerous, because quite often it's just a water or animal trail, or worse; the mind playing tricks on you, convincing you that the little clearing ahead is a trail, when in fact it's not.

After our brief rest we mentally prepared for the dreadful journey ahead, and made our move. But after only 20 metres, I spotted a side track on the side of the creek, and quickly explored it before yelling out to the others "we've got a track!!". I can't tell you how relieved and joyous this moment was, we were all literally yelling for joy.

We carefully followed this track, and ran into numerous dead ends (not surprisingly). At these dead ends we would pan out and explore a radius of 20-30 metres in all directions looking for the rest of the track, whilst being careful not to be decoyed by water trails and animal trails. Upon finding the rest of the track we would mark the coordinates of our current position (incase we had to double back) and then move on. These tactics proved successful, and we eventually reached some large waterfalls which we suspected to be Tank Creek. At this point the track was incredibly hard to find because everything was rock and there was water was rushing everywhere. Then somebody spotted an arrow that had been painted on a rock, which indicated that were were on a proper track! We followed these faint arrows as they were consistent with our map readings and compass directions, and eventually the track widened to become a 4WD track... we were going to be okay!

It was now 2am and our spirits were high because we had made it out of the thick scrub, but one our team started to show signs of serious exhaustion (we had been walking and climbing for 13 hours straight). And not long later, he came close to collapse, at which point we laid him down, covered him with a thermal blanket, and huddled around to keep him warm. Thankfully his condition improved rapidly, and although I was only moments way from using my EPERB to call a rescue helicopter, his improved condition convinced him (and us) to walk the remaining 2 kilometres to Woy Woy tip, and to safety. We stayed very close to him for the rest of the trip, keeping him warm and providing moral support.

I called for a taxi just before we reached Woy Woy tip, and it arrived quickly to take us home so we could all get hot showers and warm clothes. We had survived.

UPDATE: I spoke to the National Parks and Wildlife Service the following day and and I recommended to them the immediate closure of the track and it's removal from their brochure. They informed me that they no longer maintain the track (no surprise there), but as far as removing it from the brochure... we'll have to wait and see... so for now, I recommend that everybody stays right away from it.

View the photos
View a Google Map of our trip

"Be true to your biology"