My night on the mountain

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 17 Maret 2013 | 19.55

Sydney bushwalker Richard Boele found himself in serious trouble in Tasmania's Southwest National Park but got through the ordeal with the help of committed Tasmanian emergency services personnel. Picture: RICHARD BOELE

I AM the "mainlander" the Westpac Rescue Helicopter winched out of the Western Arthurs on March 11 after breaking my ankle there the previous day.

I want Tasmanians to know how grateful I am for the professionalism, generosity and humour shown by the dozens of people who helped me.

Despite my shorter-than-expected stay in your state and the dramatic change of plans, it was a humbling, and still amazing experience.

I particularly thank Richard Bugg, the Ambulance Tasmania paramedic who dropped onto the track with two police officers late on Sunday when weather prevented getting me out.

I was there with five friends after months of planning and preparation for what is well known in hiking circles as one of the toughest, but most rewarding, bushwalks in Australia.

At the age of 47, I felt the clock was ticking to complete a full traverse of the Western Arthurs.

A few extra things in my life made preparing for the walk that more challenging. I live on the North Shore of Sydney with my wife, three children, a retired guide dog, chooks and a variety of rescued wildlife. Two of our three children have cerebral palsy, which makes our lives as parents a little busier and more complicated than usual.

Work as a sustainability consultant has brought me to Tasmania many times over the years. The work we've done for Hydro Tasmania mainly took me to Hobart, but a couple of years ago it took me to Lake Margaret, near Queenstown. The drive from Hobart and the walk to the dam along the restored wooden stovepipe were stunning.

I'd finally tasted more than Hobart and wanted to experience Tasmania.

That is why I said yes when my friend David asked me to join a team he was pulling together to do the Western Arthurs. Our wives introduced us years ago, and they'd connected through a network of parents of children with disabilities.

Two years ago, David introduced me to Craig, who was to be the leader of our Western Arthurs walk.

The Western Arthurs, Craig was clear, required serious preparation. Our first walk introduced me to Lisa, Janine and Tim, two of whom are doctors -- which proved very fortunate.

By March this year, I was walking four times a week with 18kg on my back. The team had met a few times, discussed the route, risks, mitigation and contingencies. I was with a serious, experienced group of walkers -- good company in which to break and badly dislocate my ankle.

It's an accident that I still don't get.

I knew it was a high-risk time for me -- we'd been on the track from Huon campground near Lake Pedder to Lake Cygnus for eight hours.

There had been almost four hours serious climbing and we were on the descent to the camp near Lake Cygnus.

I stepped, slipped, and when I heard bones snapping I knew I was deep trouble.

Our team hoped this wouldn't happen, but we had prepared for such an emergency.

The two doctors in our group did a great job splinting my ankle with sticks -- now that hurt.

The guys in my team were fantastic in their response and the tears roll as I write this. Richard, the paramedic, arrived after dark, having been dropped by the helicopter. Amazingly this was only three hours since I'd broken my ankle.

I was in terrible pain, and it was a great comfort to have Richard's calm care and attention. The morphine also helped. He spent hours with me and when I was ready, set up his tent. On the hour, through the night, his alarm went off and he checked on me, giving me a morphine jab as pain intensified.

Richard's management meant I did sleep for short periods and after a long night I looked out at first light and saw one of the absolutely stunning views the Western Arthurs offer: the view over Lake Cygnus with the rescue helicopter flying in.

They got me on to a stretcher and slid me down the mountain to a safe winch spot. That, and the winch up into the helicopter, left me feeling a little anxious.

The helicopter landed nearby so we could load Richard and the police officers back on board and say farewell to my friends.

It was a short stop for fuel in Strathgordon, then to Royal Hobart Hospital, where all sorts of medical people worked hard and fast to reset my foot, which had now been dislocated for almost 20 hours.

The friendliness and attention I received at the Royal is another credit to Tasmania. I flew back to Sydney on March 13 so I could be with family.

Surgery was Thursday and the surgeon says it will be six months before I can plan my next hike.

You guys live in a beautiful state with fantastic people, I'll be letting everyone I know to visit often and travel safely.


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