Sunday, 7 April 2019

Incident on Windang Island

Warning: Contains Graphic Content

So after work on a Friday afternoon, I called my Dad and asked him if we wanted to go for a swim at the beach. So we headed over to our usual spot in the waters right by Windang Island at Warilla Beach. As I had recently being getting really into rock climbing when we were done I told him I wanted to head to the side of the island to see if I could climb up the cliff. I was sure I would be able to, having climbed up the rock wall at Bombo Beach in High School, which was twice the height and at the time I was way less experienced (though I've always been climbing things my whole life).

As we walked around I looked at a few different points to climb. I soon realised the rock was really awful for climbing as it literally just broke apart in your hands. It was also awkward because as your progressed up the rock face began to poke out further, which required and awkward strategy on how to climb it without using arm strength to simply pull and climb up, but involved more leaning in close to the wall and using your ability to balance while choosing particular footing spots and simply softly using your hands as mere stability to relocate or twist your footing. I eventually chose my location and climbed. It took a while and was very slow paced as I knew any wrong steps could be disastrous. I eventually made it to a flat and safe location where I could progress the rest of the way up with ease. I called down to Dad to meet me around the front of the Island where you walk up.
As I proceeded to the top I walked face first through a spider web, making me very keen to get back down so I could jump back in the water to wash off. As I got across the spiky plants barefoot and made it to the path I jogged down to the front of the Island to beat Dad there.

When I arrived Dad wasn't there so I began walking around to the side. As I looked around he was no where in sight. I was wondering where the hell he was. As I progressed further around I could see his stuff still laying on a rock where I had climbed up, I thought he might have went around to the other side to maybe come up as you can come up the back way. As I came around further, I saw him up on the cliff wall, about 5 metres up. I barely had time to think 'what the hell is he doing', and then so fast, in a blurry haze I saw him fall sideways off the edge of the cliff and smash into the rocks below. The shock hit me like a crazy electrical impact and I screamed "Dad!"
I began running over to him in a crazed panic feeling extreme terror and shock. At a fall like that into rocks below I believed I had just watched him fall to his death.

As I arrived at him there was blood everywhere and he wasn't conscious. I knew absolutely no medically helpful skills and quickly turned and raced toward the beach as fast as I could screaming help, over and over again as loud as I could in an extreme state of panic. There was a man walking right by the island and I ran towards him screaming help again and again as loud as I could.
He stopped and was looking at me very confused.
"Do you have a phone?" I asked, barely breathing in my panic. "My Dad fell off the cliff and I need to call an ambulance."
The man unlocked his phone and headed it to me looking stunned while I called triple 0. I tried to remain calm as I explained what had happened and where I was but I felt like I had taken the fall myself, life I'd taken a very big hit to my brain I felt sick and kept thinking I had seen my Dad die.
I stayed on the phone with the lady who told me to keep on the line until the ambulance arrived. It felt like it was taking a lifetime as she kept asking questions. Eventually I saw an arm go up, over where my Dad was laying.
'He's fucking alive!" I thought and a bit of hope and joy sparked in me. I told the woman on the phone and the man and I went over. By the time we reached my Dad he was standing up.
The lady on the phone told me to keep him seated and apply pressure to a massive cut on the side of his head. My Dad seemed very dazed and kept asking what had happened. I told him I had no idea what he was doing and that he must have tried to climb and fell. He asked me why he was trying to climb it. I told him I had no idea. He kept asking me the same questions over and over and I began to think to myself that he had damaged his brain and I felt sick in my stomach. Eventually the ambulance and police arrived and began asking me questions while the ambulance assessed my Dad. The man who's phone I used decided to leave and I kept thanking him profusely for letting me use his phone. I answered about what had happened to the police and asked if they could contact my Dads wife (my step mum)  because it had been hours and she would have no idea what had happened. The police went to the house but unfortunately she was not home. It began getting dark and they said they didn't want to move my Dad in case and he would be getting airlifted in to hospital in Sydney. A man came from the surf-life-saving club with a beach buggy and was going to take one of the ambulance drivers back for supplies, as the ambulance was in the car park a fair way from the island. The man from the surf living club eventually recognised my Dad from his voice, saying that they knew each other as my Dad used to be part of the surf-life-saving club and was the mans Plumber.
I asked if I could go on the buggy with them, as I just lived nearby, and my own wife would be worrying about me. He agreed and I got to the car park and the ambulance driver told me he would drive to mine and wait and told me to also get changed into dry clothes as I must be freezing, although in the fear of it all I hadn't noticed.
As I got in I told my wife, quickly got changed and took my phone (as neither Dad or myself had taken them to the beach).
I called my Step mum and she instantly went into panic mode, crying and being hysterical. She said she was going to drive over right away. The ambulance driver told me to tell her not to come in a panic as he could hear her over the phone, and said my Dad would likely be gone by the time she arrived. I called her back and tried to explain, eventually the ambulance driver got on the phone with her and calmly explained. By the time we got back the buggy had already taken supplies back and was at the island to I had to run along the sand to get to the island while people on the beach looked on. As I arrived I was stopped by one of the police officers. I tried to explain that I was the mans son and he told me he was told to keep everyone back as the helicopter was going to take off soon and he didn't want to violate any order. He also gave me a heads up, nodding to his left and saying that the man to his left who was taking photos was from the Illawarra Mercury. He said that he wasn't legally allowed to talk to him so it was up to me if I did or what I told him. I joked that because I now had to pay to read Illawarra Mercury articles I wouldn't tell him anything because I wouldn't be able to read it anyway.

Eventually the helicopter took off and I began walking back knowing I was going to drive up to St George Hospital in Sydney. As I arrived near the buggy my step mum arrived in a panic driven by her next door neighbour. They began talking and my step mum was in a panic, one of the police officers quipped that my Dad had been watching too much Spiderman, my step mum replied "Oh no he doesn't even really watch sports" We continued walking back to the car park, with my step mum calling her daughter (my step sister) who was out in a party in Sydney drinking. My step mum's neighbour told me not to let her drive to Sydney as she was in a panic and I told him that I would drive her. My step mum insisted she was fine, eventually handing the phone with my step sister on it, her again asking me to make sure her mother didn't drive.
I told her I would drive her up in her car and that my wife would follow behind in mine so that she could stay up in Sydney with her daughter (with a car after she had calmed down) and we would have a way back home.

So she went home with the neighbours and I stopped home for a shower and dinner while I waited for my step mum to be ready. I, stupidly decided to check facebook while I waited to read people posting about it in community pages and that the Illawarra Mercury had already posted about it, albeit with incorrect details. Such as my Dads age, and saying I came around and saw him on the ground. While some people on facebook where caring and just hoped whoever it was (my Dad) was ok, others made jokes with contempt about climbing the island and his age. Someone else posted a fishing photo with everything happening on the island in the distance behind it with uncaring comments simply asking if any fish where biting. It just reminded me of the uncaring asshole nature of some people.

Eventually my step mum rang and we headed to Sydney.

As we arrived the Doctor told us that it was like my Dad had won the lottery and had he fallen any other way he would be dead. They had done brain scans and there had been no brain injuries and at the time the doctors believed he hadn't broken a bone (this turned out to be false as he had broke a bones in his hand and wrist). My Dad was in pretty good spirits (probably the drugs) and made a lot of jokes about the whole thing. With his memory back he told me he had watched me climb, and thought I had done it the hard way and he thought there was an easier way....
Because that worked out well for him. My step mum told him he was banned from adventures with me and that there was "no more going down to Gerringong Falls or anything like that".
I told my Dad he was an idiot and that I was traumatized, he joked that it was character building experience for me (gee thanks Dad).
Because he was joking so much I decided to take photos of his head to show for later.

Later when the Doctor was stitching this up my Dad asked him what  he could see. The Doctor replied "Your skull".

He also required stitches in his arm and leg and had a heap of skin torn from all over his body.

My step mum stayed up there, and kept me updated on how my Dad was going sending a photo a few days later showing he was feeling a bit better.

I took one day off from work to get my brain around what had happened, my head still sore from the events that transpired. I continued to have visions of watching my Dad fall from the cliff face for weeks after the event, but I knew I just had to reconcile the image of it with the fact that my Dad was alive and well.

A bit over a week later when he was released from hospital he showed me all the bruising all down and over his body and it was pretty bad. It had now been a month since it occurred, my Dad is still moving slowly and very sore. I ended up getting full time in the position I was working in and am waiting to try to get back into my adventures again. I have struggled thinking about going with Dad, as doing something like 'the Castle' was dodgy even when we did it, but now with something like this I question whether I would feel safe letting Dad do such adventures again or whether I should just go with my friends. I do like spending quality time with my Dad but only time will tell if we can do those sorts of adventures together again.

Yesterday on the 6th of April I did try to do the Mt Kembla walk with my wife. But once she started getting leeches crawling up her legs she got in a complete panic and we came home. But hopefully soon I can get back into what I love most.

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Thanks for reading! - Steven

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Gerringong Falls - Reaching the Bottom

Part 1- Finding the Trail - 19/10/18

So last year on New Years Eve, Dad and I rode our bikes to Gerringong Falls. A few days ago he called me up saying he had seen on "the YouTubes" as he calls it, a track down to the bottom of the falls, which I had just assumed was a whole different track to the one we had taken to the top of the falls, knowing I would get around to going one day. So we made a day of it, and set of on our bikes along the trail riding to the top of the falls, this time in hot and sunny weather, with the path very wet from a weekend of heavy rain.
As we road I told him on the rock climbing documentary (The Dawn Wall) I had recently been to see up at the Uni Movies at University of Wollongong, and he filled me in on the video he'd watched showing a group of men wandering through a path after the falls and going down through a bit he claimed they called "The Chimney".

We soon reached the top of the falls and enjoyed a sandwich and the breathtaking views.

We continued around past the waterfall, following the water up until we found a small track through the bush to the left which we began to follow. The path was very overgrown, so we knew not many people had been down this way. We continued through until it opened up to a wider clearer section shooting off to the left or going right, back to the water. We followed it left believing it must take off down to a section of the cliff that you can descend down.

Random flower I saw on it's own walking through, I saw no other flowers like it.
Soon we saw a sight that confirmed to us we were on the right trail.

A national parks sign, going along the back of a property, for sure this had to mean we were headed the right way. Dad was unclear exactly, saying the video he saw was cut so he couldn't identify the way exactly. The walk along this path along the property reminded us both of the path to Missingham Steps at Carrington Falls.

The trees on our left broke away into a large expanse of marshland, while the trail up ahead was incredibly wet that we couldn't get along it without our feet and shoes sinking in and soaking our socks. I commented to Dad about how absolutely picturesque the farm to our right was and he agreed.

We soon came to the end and found that there was no clear path. There was no track at all in sight, and so we set off to our left hoping to find one as we crossed the swampy marshland.
We set of following two separate animal tracks. A rustling began at the bush in front of me. "Fuck a snake!" I thought before a swamp Wallaby quickly hopped out and away from me.
"I don't think this is the right way!" I told Dad.
"No, neither." He said and we set back. "Maybe it was one of those turns before we reach the waterfall? We can have a look down those?" He said.

Soon we were back at Gerringong Falls. I sat having a drink of water, watching a rainbow form off the top of the falls. Dad followed the edge around and disappeared for a short while. While I sat waiting I noticed a tick crawling up my shoe and promptly flicked it away.

This Lizard kept me company while I wondered where Dad had gone
Soon he returned believing he'd found a little gully around the side were it wasn't so vertical and we could perhaps make our way down to the bottom. We started pushing through the scrub until we found the bit me meant. "Maybe this is the way". I said, unsure as I had seen many photos of people on Instagram at the base of the falls, none of whom looked like this was a path they would be able to take. We crawled our way down the muddy cliff face holding on to whatever we could to stop us from sliding.

This continued going down and also around and we thought we just might be able to get down, until again we came to a sharp drop of, making us retreat up a bit and continue going around.

Dad pondered how many people if any had been down into this bush and seen the beautiful rainforest we were seeing. "Not many, if any at all" I thought.

We began the exhausting climb back up, digging our hands into the mud as we tried to return to the top.
As we finally hit the top and pushed our way through the bush I told Dad that we'd have to just find it another day as it was supposed to be a long way, and I was already out of water. At the top of the falls we looked and realised we had made it a third of the way down. Hot and tired we decided we'd jump in for a swim. Sitting and taking off our shoes we both found ticks buried in our socks, I had one in each sock while Dad had just one in his sock.
I told him about how I had been to Jump Rock that Monday with a guy from work (as we both had the day off) and about how we'd both had leeches, but that I had found a tick on the bottom of my foot on the Wednesday, that I'd had to dig out with a knife.

We jumped in and after a couple of unmanly squeals due to the cold we soon relaxed and enjoyed cooling off.

As we walked through to another section, just where this tree is:

Taken from older Gerringong Falls Post
We began jumping of a rock into a deep section. I told Dad about my phone camera being able to film in slow motion and we got some slow motion shots of us jumping into the water.

Upon watching the video back I saw how much weight I had gained since doing The Refugee Challenge in June, which was just another thing to make me feel down, as I was already feeling a bit depressed from Jump Rock on Monday, as I found it difficult to jump from Jump Rock, which I had done many times in my life. I couldn't figure out what it was, was the fear there because I was older? Was it because I had stopped doing so much adventurous stuff? While I did end up jumping, I still felt bad that it took so long for me to do. So having gained so much weight on top of this further lowered my mood, but also inspired me to get back into doing some exercise.

As we reached out bikes and started back along the fire trail, we stopped and turned in at the first path to our right, which ended up just being a lookout of the falls. We continued riding again, stopping and entering to our right into the next one. We found a few trails that looked like paths all reaching a dead end until we saw this.

"This look promising!" Dad exclaimed with glee in his voice. We followed it down until we found this.

"I think this is the chimney!" Dad was saying. We agreed that we would return to climb down and make it to the bottom of Gerringong Falls.

"Oh look" I said, pointing out an arrow we'd missed as we were heading back to our bikes.

When we reached our bikes we noticed another thing we had missed. The tree right by had been marked to show us the trail.

We rode back to the van, talking to an elder couple from Kiama we had rode past in the morning talking a little we found out they had missed Hersey Trail and ended up just walking to some farm and had never ended up getting to the waterfall. They did tell us however that they had been to the Falls before so at least they had the adventure of exploring a new path.

We along passed two Echnida's on separate points returning to the car.

Upon returning home I tried to do my own research into reaching the bottom, finding that no one would give a clear indication of the way there not wanting it to be spoiled. This made me think about writing this blog, or whether it was the right thing or not. However, although I agree with not oversharing these sorts of places, I also don't think it's fair that people who do the right thing, leave no trace and respect nature cannot find our way. So I can only hope that the sort of people who'll travel the distance there, the sort who would read a blog instead of a facebook page or Illawarra Mercury article would be the sort of person who deserves to go, and will leave it as a beautiful untouched and beautiful place that inspires people to keep it hidden.

I then relaxed and played some Old School Runescape (in which my username is Steventure if you play) and then played some Pokemon Go while my Wife went for a jog as I was too exhausted from the day to do any jogging. I'm only mentioning this because if you haven't read or got any references in my other blog posts, you needed to know that I am a gamer and a geek as well as a lover of the outdoors and adventure. Later I headed to a friends birthday party, wondering when it would be that Dad and I would go again, and complete our trip to the bottom of Gerringong Falls.

Part 2 - Reaching the Bottom - 23/2/19

So after deciding that we would return as soon as possible to make our way to the bottom of the falls an opportunity came up at my work place, leading me into a new role indoors that ended up being 5 days a week. Not wanting to have to go on a weekend we delayed (as my role was just a relief position) going back, wanting to wait for a day off midweek to avoid any excess people as we often do with our hikes. However the position I was meant to fill for just 2 week kept being extended. While in the role I began getting quite fit, walking up and down stairs all day, but then it began getting closer to Christmas, excess drinking outside of work happened, including a beer advent calendar. Although I had some days off over this time we decided to wait until the school holidays were over. I began getting slightly lazy and taking elevators instead, and created 'Savtember'.
Needless to say 2019 came, then January passed and I decided I needed to get back into my adventures. After a fun climbing session at Hangdog Climbing Gym in Wollongong (or technically Coniston?) I called my Dad and said we'd get up at 5am that Saturday and just do it on the weekend.
And so with 5 hours sleep I woke up, and we set off. It was a quiet and misty drive up Jamberoo Pass, with not a car on the road, we passed 2 Lyrebirds on the side of the road before one ran out in front of the car, crossing the road. We soon passed another before having a Wallaby jump out in front of us crossing the road, had Dad been going any faster we would have collided with it.

Arriving we were the only ones there, and it was a cold and overcast day, we began the ride along Budderoo Fire Trail to the start of the track down and my arms were red and sore from the cold air hitting against me as we flew down the trail. We talked as we road, Dad telling me about his call to a lady from 'A Current Affair' doing a piece on tradies doing jobs and people not paying them and saying that he might be on the show. I told him about hangdog and how I wouldn't need the rope he was bringing to get down 'The Chimney', and that I would be able to free climb it. Finally we reached the location and left our bikes and proceeded through the bush. Every branch brushing against me splashing a cup of water onto me. As we finally made it into a bit more of open area I admired the mist rising from the valley below.

As we proceeded down through the little channel in the rocks, we started following a path straight down.
We followed this for a little bit unsure if we were heading the right way because the path looked so overgrown and in our memories we thought we headed left. So we worked our way back to the channel and then took the left and right turns both leading nowhere till we decided we were on the right track to begin with and proceeded down.

After a short while I saw 'The Phantom Knotter' as Dad had described when we had hiked 'The Castle'.

Finally we reached The Chimney, and there was already ropes tied and left there. I told Dad I wasn't going to use it, but we would use it to hand each other our backpacks down. So I descended.

Upon reaching the bottom Dad lowered the bags, before climbing himself with the rope to hold onto just in case. He agreed it wasn't too hard and he would try without a rope on the way back up.
So we continued down along the path, in new territory for the both of us after making the trip 2 times before.

The beautiful walk alongside the cliff-face heading down into the bush reminded us both of doing Missingham Steps.

Soon whatever path there was disappeared and we found ourselves scrambling through the bush. We soon noticed danger tap wrapped around trees, and assumed they were marking the way, so we began following them. We eventually came to a point where there seemed to be a clear path downwards, but the danger tape led away to our right. I followed the path down a bit and it stayed pretty clear. We ended up following the danger tape, along the way Dad saying that he thought the other way was the way most people came and this was someone marking their own path. He stopped to look at the danger tape which was RFS (Royal Fire Service) and we both mentioned that some trees on top of the other side of the valley looked like there had been a fire and if it was the RFS who had marked the path. Dad also said it might have been a rescue operation saying he heard something about people being stuck on a ledge, but he was unsure if that was here or not.

I proceeded taking pictures occasionally at one point walking through, at one point almost losing my footing on some leaves covering loose topsoil, I moved away, and not a second later my Dad had stood in the same spot he saw me almost fall and instead took the fall himself.

Besides being covered in dirt he had cut up his leg, arm and hand.

Soon we started getting glimpses of the stream through the trees, and finally made it down to the pristine flowing waters.

We soon began the walk along the stream, slipping, sliding and scrambling along rocks and boulders making our way towards the falls.

We could have stopped and swam at any spot along here, all areas were beautiful and untouched wilderness. Behind me I heard Dad slip and fall on the dark moss, sliding and soaking his shoes and I made a joke about how he kept falling on this hike. Not five minutes later I myself took a huge fall, reaching out with my right arm to brace my fall and half landing in the water, only to develop a huge bruise on my upper leg just next to my butt.

A lot of this was swapping and changing between virtually climbing along like monkeys on our hands and feet until we reached a wall leading up and we could see the base of the falls. The danger tape led around but we headed straight towards the rocky walls, climbing our way up.

As we began getting closer, I actually felt a tinge of sadness. We first came to Gerringong Falls in 2017, before returning in 2018, now it was 2019. 3 different years to reach this point. It was bittersweet as I loved the drive and enthusiasm of wanting to reach a destination, and wondered what would be next.

We soon came into the open from under the tress and had our first clear view of the waterfall.

We climbed over the rocks in front of us and got our first view of the beautiful pool below. A really breathtaking location.

Truly like something out of a fantasy, and in our own backyard. We made our way around noticing a giant cairn made up behind the waterfall. We both took turns standing under the majestic falls, feeling the absolutely freezing water splash over us.

As Dad walked over he, of course slipped and fell. We sat and began to eat our lunches, with Dad trying to coerce me into jumping in, and although I wanted to, it was absolutely freezing cold, and told him I would have on a hot day. As we sat eating I noticed a cigarette butt at my feet.

This absolutely infuriated me. We were in an pristine, unspoiled, beautiful, natural area, and someone who made the effort to come here didn't care enough to even take their rubbish with them. I was annoyed, and again had second thoughts about writing this location. But then I thought I can use this to highlight and call out THESE sorts of people. If you can take it in with you, FUCKING TAKE IT OUT. If you're with friends and you see them do this call out their behaviour. People need to learn empathy and value our natural areas, because this is a complete disregard.
I finished my wrap and picked the cigarette butt up and put it in my wrap packet and into my bag. As I sat appreciating the view and trying not to let anger sour what was a remarkable place, I looked up an noticed this:

"Maybe someone tried to make it down that way?" I said to Dad.
"Maybe it was the RFS, or from a rescue?" Dad replied. Either way we don't know and might never know.

Dad finished eating before convincing me to go in. He had brought spare pants to swim in and decided he wasn't going in, so I put them on and jumped under the icy cold falls.

After my stint under the waterfall I decided it was far too cold to be swimming and dried off and got changed again.

Soon Dad, in an effort to convince me to go in stripped down and took a dive in himself. The peer pressure worked and I got changed back into his swimmers and took the leap into the water. He said the water tasted funny and I told him that the water at jump rock tastes the same.

After our swim we dried off and I decided to walk around the back of the falls and down to the left to just see what was there before we headed off.

It was just a little rocky opening surrounded by the bush, that looked like it couldn't been the filming location for a Dinosaur documentary. I sat and watched some Tadpoles in a pond before going back and meeting Dad to begin the trek back. As we headed back we began climbing the rocks before realising we'd have to go down and climb some different ones as the ones we had climbed had nothing but a big drop down.

We climbed back down to the fall before ducking and going through a little tunnel, where I took my final shot of the falls, before we climbed back down to the stream and started our way back.

I had entertained the possibility that the cigarette I found at the pool had maybe been from someone at the top, but on scrambling our way along the rocks I found another one.

I opened my backpack and again took someone else's filthy rubbish home with me.

We soon reached RFS tags heading up in the scrub and Dad decided to follow that while I said I would continue to follow the stream. This went on for a while and I began to suspect I had went past the spot we had initially came out. I soon noticed small cairns and began heading up through the scrub calling out to Dad (who couldn't hear me because he had water in his ears). He eventually heard me and called out and I climbed my way straight up and we eventually met up and followed the marked path out. Eventually we made it back to 'The Chimney' and I climbed up.

After seeing me do it, Dad agreed it didn't look too hard, and managed to climb up himself with no rope, pretty good for a 65 year old with a dodgy shoulder.
We made it back to the bikes and began the ride back to the car, the way back uphill and taking longer, I found this more difficult than the entire walk as I hadn't ridden a bike since the last time we came and it was using unused muscles. Dad commented on how long it would take if you walked the entire section of the fire trail, I wondered too then figured I'd find out when I came back to do the whole thing on foot, which I would do, just because I'm a completionist.

If you have enjoyed this post, or my blog in general, please follow it, or like my page on facebook or follow me on Instagram.
Thanks for reading! - Steven