Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Argh. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Mongrel piece of s#*t! Ow. Ow. These were my all consuming thoughts as I walked the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia. There was no space or energy to observe the stunning scenery or appreciate the solitude. There was just the pain.
The Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia is a hiking track that hugs the coast for 135kms along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin.
When I decided to do this walk back in June 2011 I hadn’t done a lot of research on it. I mean, how hard could it be to start at one lighthouse and walk south along the coast for 100kms until I reached another lighthouse? There were no mountains in the way and so long as the ocean was always on my right I would never get lost so I treated my preparation for it like the beach stroll I mistakenly expected and paid the price.
My preparation for this trip consisted of 2 weeks walking for 3kms a day with a 12kg backpack and trying to break in a new pair of hiking boots. It wasn’t enough. I like to be completely self sufficient for my hiking trips as anything less I consider cheating so loaded my backpack with camping equipment and 6 days worth of food and left the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse with a backpack closer to 20kgs in weight. After walking 10kms to the closest campsite I was ready to call it a day. It was going to be a long week at that pace but I felt pretty smug with myself the next morning when I didn’t feel sore.
June is technically winter in Australia and the winter weather definitely hit on this hike. The days were wet and windy and with the track following the coast line it meant there was little to no shelter from the fronts that rolled in off the ocean. The nights were stormy and I would lie in my tent alone listening to the wind and rain lash my tent fly as I snuggled in a sleeping bag and hoped my tent would withstand the forces of nature. Luckily I would always wake dry and not crushed by a falling branch but some nights I wondered….
Maybe it was the wet boots from the rain or the amount of beach walking in soft sand or the heavy backpack or because my boots hadn’t been broken in properly but pretty soon I was consumed by the pain of blisters. I am an experienced hiker so recognised the early signs of them and stopped to address it but no amount of mole skin bandages and tightening of shoe laces was going to fix these determined suckers. After a few hours I was reduced to shuffling forward at a painful 2km/hr which was going to get me nowhere fast and mean I would take 3 weeks to finish the walk instead of the intended 1.
So, after a little cry on the side of the track and a few deep breaths trying to pull myself together it was decision time. Do I keep going forward and completely destroy my feet? Do I try and find a way out to the main road and quit by hitchhiking back to town? Do I just sit here until someone comes to help me? None of these seemed like good options or any that I was prepared to take so I did what anyone would do who was determined to finish the hike and continued bare foot.
It was actually a liberating experience walking in bare feet. I had soft pink feet from working in steel cap boots the majority of my life so there was a few choice swear words whenever I stepped on something sharp but for the most part it felt great. I could feel the sand between my toes on the beach, the mud squishing on the path and really only had to worry about making it across limestone cliffs without shredding my feet (I forced myself back into shoes for these short sections).
By the end of the day I could feel different muscles being worked in my legs and knew I was destined for rock hard buns and Romanian weightlifter legs by the end of the hike. My toe nails were a midnight shade of blue from being cold but I didn’t care, cold toes hurt less than rubbing blisters.
Despite the weather, the blisters and the lack of conditioning before I left my one and only concern before starting and during this hike was the river. I knew that on day 4 I would have to cross the mouth of Margaret River and that if it was flowing I would have to backtrack 7kms and find another way or try hitch a ride to the other side. I know it is only 7kms but for some reason the thought of backtracking really bothered me. And I mean really bothered me. Fortunately when I arrived there was a sand bar blocking the river mouth and I could walk across and continue my hike worry free. Yip Yar!
After 7 days hiking I finished at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse wet, cold, sore, blistered and barefooted, feeling completely knackered and loving every minute of it (or maybe the time between walking and writing this has altered my memory?). I had made a rookie mistake like a lot of people and underestimated the Cape to Cape Hike. Yes it is only a 135kms along the coast and while it is not a technical walk the environment is unpredictable and the amount of beach walking should be accounted for (or at least trained for). But, in the end, there’s nothing more satisfying than completing what you start, especially when the odds are against you.
Tips for the Cape to Cape Hike
- Always carry a map. They can be bought from http://www.capetocapetrack.com.au The Cape to Cape hike could be considered a tour of the best surf spots in Western Australia so there is a confusing mess of unofficial 4wd tracks as surfers try to find secrete spots. Unfortunately this can make finding the right track to walk confusing especially when they run over the trail markers however watching them surf the big storm swells did break up the monotony of walking and there was some very talented surfers out there.
- Break in your hiking boots before attempting to walk the beach or wear trainers like normal people. Hiking boots are not really necessary given the terrain.
- There are several free Cape to Cape camping sites. They are basic with no shelters however there are toilets and water which will need to be boiled or otherwise treated before consuming. Unless you are super fit and carrying an ultralight backpack you probably won’t be able to complete the hike just using these sites so wild camping will be necessary. If sleeping in a soggy tent isn’t your idea of fun there are plenty of opportunities to sleep in Caravan Parks or hotels/B&Bs along the way however these will require detours off the official path in order to reach them not to mention the extra costs.
All in all this was one of my more memorable hikes and I can’t wait to do it again. Who’s with me?