If you’re considering doing the Kokoda Track, be under no illusion, that you’re ever going to get a good night’s sleep….unless you’re the type to sleep through natural disasters. Just accept the fact, right from the get go, you’re going to have the shittiest sleep for 10 days and get over worrying about it. I read several blogs before coming to Kokoda, and they all mentioned this…so I was prepared to accept this fact, without question even though I brought earplugs. They didn’t help much, but sometimes I imagined they did.
So we had a little sleep in this morning. A 5.30am wake up call, but as usual, I’m trekking to the long drop well before then, after being woken by other groups moving through the camp and our trusty porters chatting amongst themselves as they start to prepare breakfast. I won’t even talk about the roosters….I’ve now come to the conclusion that they have no fecking idea what they’re supposed to do, let alone work out when they’re supposed to crow! Enough said.
I’ve come to love our breakfast of champions, porridge and No 1 Tea! Our diet of mostly carbs has certainly served us well throughout the trek. I was sceptical at first, as to how I would cope eating pretty much nothing but 2 minute noodles, pasta, veggies and tuna but I was amazed at how my body adapted to this diet and actually thrived on it, together with protein snacks and hydralyte drinks. That whole year of training and healthy eating all went out the window, the minute we stepped on the track!
We set off after breakfast and begin the descent down the mountain and reach another creek crossing where we need to use our waterproof shoes again, so out come the pink crocs! Little did we know that we would be walking through about 8 or 9 crossings of the same river wearing these shoes. This went on for about an hour or so but I was pretty happy ambling along through the cool water as I knew after we had made it though this section we were about to walk up one of the toughest mountains of all time…. the Imita Ridge. Yeah it even sounded scary. Just under a kilometre of straight up.
So we reach our final creek crossing and our lead porter Terry instructs us to put our boots back on. I decide to scoff down one of those protein gel snacks for good measure. This actually became routine for me, I found that eating one of these about 15 minutes before a significant ascent was quite beneficial, or at least I thought it was. Maybe it was mind over matter, but it worked for me.
And off we go. I’m at the back of the pack as usual, and it’s one step at a time. Slowly but surely. All I’m doing is concentrating on each step, one at a time… and breathing. We make it to the top in about 45 minutes. Now that probably sounds easy to you reading this, but just remember we’re virtually climbing, not walking, in 30 degree heat in the jungle. We were pretty proud of our efforts and the comeraderie was in full swing, with lots of back slapping and high fives at the top.
As we all take a break with a drink and a snack, John, our trek leader enlightens us on the history of Imita Ridge.
During 17 September 1942 Brigadier Ken Eather’s 25th Brigade at Ioribaiwa withdrew to Imita Ridge and its 3rd, 2/25th, 2/31st, 2/33rd and 2/1st Pioneer Battalions were deployed to meet the final Japanese attack. It was this withdrawal which caused intense consternation at the Allied headquarters in Brisbane. Lieutenant-General Sydney Rowell in Port Moresby told the 7th Division commander, Major-General Arthur (Tubby) Allen, that any further withdrawal was out of the question, “Eather must fight at all costs”.
The Australians did not know that on 18 September the Japanese had been ordered to withdraw. Nevertheless, when the Australians began patrolling forward from Imita they struck Japanese defences, which were still in force on 25 September. On 28 September the Australians at Imita launched a major attack on the Japanese at Ioribaiwa, but found that the Japanese had abandoned the position. At last the Australians could begin their counter-offensive.
Imita Ridge was reached by the “golden stairs” which consisted of some 2,000 timber steps cut into the mountain side by the engineers. It was an exhausting climb. After leaving the Uberi track it rose 400 metres in the first 2 kilometres, dropped some 500 metres and then rose about 700metres in the last 2.5 kilometres.
After busting our guts getting to the top of this ridge we’re all feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves, John proceeds to tell us how the Aussie soldiers dragged a 25 pounder gun (weighing 1.8 ton!) all the way up the mountain…on foot. We were all speechless.
We’ve really gained a small appreciation of what these soldiers endured.. Understanding the strength required to get ourselves up that mountain, let alone dragging a gun, and more than likely in poor health AND dodging the Japanese at the same time was just mind blowing.
We sat at the top of the ridge for some time, thinking about this… and to add to this story, there is a headstone close to where we sat, marking the spot where a young trekker lost their life in recent years. It was a tough gig, no doubt about it, but we also celebrated our progress with a group photo. I think this image speaks volumes of the wonderful friendships made along this unforgiving jungle track. Friendships that will last a very long time indeed.
So as they say ye again, what goes up…must come down, and down we went again for another hour to Camp Goodwater for the night. It was strange as we were due to arrive in this camp about lunch time with the rest of the afternoon to just lay around and do whatever we want. Our final day tomorrow would only be a short walk to Owers Corner and we could actually see it from Goodwater. We weren’t used to all this free time but we were going to make the most of it!
We jumped into the creek as soon as we reached camp, and just sat there for ages, talking, relaxing, catching tadpoles and reflecting on our unique experience coming to an end. We couldn’t quite believe it.
After scoffing down some lunch, some of us went exploring, others decided a game of UNO was in order. Me? An afternoon nap was DEFINITELY the go! I took my blow up mattress down by the river under a tree and that’s where I stayed for most of the afternoon. It didn’t take long for others to follow…
The porters were all pretty happy that we’d got into camp early and were laughing and joking amongst themselves as they took some time out to relax. A lot of them spent the afternoon carving their little gifts for us, always careful not to let us see! We sit around some more, almost on the verge of boredom! It’s just not right, after walking constantly for 9 days, to be sitting around doing nothing. But we persist….
As the sun sets on another day in this amazing jungle, I retire to my chaotic, messy tent for what’s to be the very last time. I’m kinda sad, yet excited about crossing that finish line tomorrow. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for. A successful finish.
Steps taken: 17,770