22/03/2006 at 11:45 pm #96520
Email received from Andrew 22nd March, 2006:
Hi, my name is Andrew Grierson. I walked the trail with a group of Emirates pilots in May 2004 with Barry as our guide/boss. I wrote a diary which I intended to send to you guys but completely forgot to do so I thought I would send it now. It is sort of a rough guide crossed with potted history of our walk and the track. As well as this after the research I put in for my walk I told my brother, a young film director, that he should make a movie about the story of fighting on the track. He's done that and it will be showing all around Oz on the 20th of April. I understand that they intend screening it at Isurava around ANZAC day. Anyway all the best to the crew who helped us.
Kokoda Track May 04 – K O K O D A – Diary by Andrew Grierson – the man who inspired the movie commencing 20th April in a theatre near you:
On the suggestion of Mum and Dad, I thought I?d put my thoughts down relating our trek along the Kokoda Track during May of 2004. A long time dream of mine has been to complete a walk along the native trail that connects the country North of the Owen Stanley Mountains with the South and the capital Port Moresby. The track was significant to me both as a way of learning more about and commemorating the significant battle that Australian and PNG soldiers had with their Japanese counterparts during late 1942 and as a physical test.
Fuzzy_Wuzzy_Angel.jpg22/03/2006 at 11:51 pm #96519
Kokoda ? Isurava 20 May
Our flight on the Milne Bay Airways Twin Otter is scheduled to leave at 08:30, but as the local boys say the only real certainty is that it will leave sometime this month. Our group is made up mainly of Emirates Airline pilots. Granger and Tim Narara are brothers from Milne Bay; their relatives Hans and Ole Petersen are from Bougainville. Hans is an F28 captain with Air Niugini and Ole works for the National Gaming Board in Moresby. All the other guys are Australians; Garrie Don, Tim Mayman, Mike O?Byrne, Ian Yu and myself Andrew Grierson complete the group. At the airport we meet Barry our guide, he?s from Sogeri, a village just outside Moresby, not far from Ower?s Corner. Waiting for the Otter to arrive the lads look outside at the rich green Owen Stanleys in the distance. Even though it?s early, large, towering cuneiform clouds are already starting to build. Tico (Tim Narara) has told everyone the walk will be OK because it?s the dry season, but dry is particularly subjective when talking about PNG weather. I find it very reassuring looking at the hills because it reminds me of so many trips to PNG in the Army and the Air Force, a bit like being home again. I imagine everyone has some butterflies wondering whether they will be up to the next few days.
The Twin Otter leaves the runway at Jackson Field in a left turn climbing toward the gap. The aircraft climbs till 9,000? to keep clear of the cloud, the actual elevation of the gap is about 7,000?. It won?t be long until the gap closes and light aircraft will have to keep out of the highlands. As we climb we pass many of the places we will walk through. We can see the Goldie River, Menari, Kagi, Efogi and Myolla, all of them part of the track. The locals, sitting at the rear of the aeroplane, view the group with some amusement. Mum and Dad with the bright red buai stains on their mouths and the picaninnies, barefoot and eating lollies.
The aeroplane passes within a 100? or so of the southern side of the valley as it descends into Kokoda, even though we?re probably still at five or six thousand feet. The valley on the northern side of the Owen Stanleys in which Kokoda sits is shrouded in high cloud and fog patches. We can see Kokoda at the northern end of the little valley that the Mambare River passes through. As we land, the escarpment that the village rests on to the north is really obvious. Here the young Victorian militia men of the 39th Battalion had their first contact with the advancing Japanese, also their first experience of war.
Photograph: Trekkers seen here shortly before their flight to Kokoda:
P1010026.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:02 am #96521
The Twin Otter shuts down the left engine and all the passengers scramble out onto the grassy airfield. A crowd watches the daily entertainment. Our porters are waiting for us, Davidson, a veteran of 40 plus treks, Gerry, Berry, Michael, Kennedy and Tony. Barry has completed more than 60 walks and he and Davidson have some proper gear either supplied by their company or donated by previous walkers. Some of this is benevolence but a lot is also load shedding when the vertical climbs of the track begin to take their toll. A pilot we met at the hotel in Moresby recounted that when he walked the track he was throwing away anything unnecessary, including his boots, after the first climb out of Hoi. For most of the boys this is their first walk from Kokoda as well, though they are all natives of the village. They are dressed in shorts and t-shirts and that prince of all hiking boots, the KT26 runner, although many times on the trail they prefer to walk in bare feet with the runners tied to their packs.
<span style='color:darkred'>On arrival at the airstrip in Kokoda:</span>[attachment=1748:P1010030.jpg]
P1010030.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:07 am #96522
We grab our packs and start walking into Kokoda village for a bit of reorganization. At the edge of the village next to the escarpment is a memorial to the Australians, Japanese and Papua New Guineans. Once the food and gear is spread amongst the porters we take a snap next to the Kokoda village sign and we begin the relatively flat walk toward Hoi village. It?s hot and humid and the pace is quick, a sub-conscious attempt to get as many klicks as possible behind us. Had we known what was coming we would probably have ambled along quite sociably preserving ourselves for the truly hard sections. We rest at Hoi; everyone?s a little flat probably feeling the effects of the heat and humidity. The boys boil some water in a little rest house and we eat biscuits and drink tea. The rest has invigorated the group and we begin our first climb toward Isurava village. Apparently people have turned back on the first climb, unwilling or unable to gather the physical and mental strength to complete the trip. I think of Sam Templeton running backward and forward to his troops helping them with their gear as they moved along the track. He was killed east of Kokoda, near Oivi, trying to contact his reserve troops prior to the Japanese attack.
We start to learn about steep climbs and false crests now. In retrospect these first ascents are quite mild, the real slog of the Kokoda Track is yet to come. Most people reckon that starting at Kokoda is the best way of working into the track. A start at Ower?s Corner gives the walker a view of the rugged terrain to come and begins with the biggest water crossing of the trip, over the Goldie River, and one of the most significant climbs up the Golden Stairs and on to Imita ridge. The young soldiers, average age 18, had none of these luxuries. They walked north from Ower?s Corner to Kokoda and then fought their way back almost every step of the way. To the modern mind this is almost unimaginable.
Trekkers pausing for a break:
P1010038.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:11 am #96523
Our group shakes out into the formation that it will hold for the rest of the trip with everyone settling into their pace and a mindset that will carry them through the trip. After a time, the only way to deal with the hills and endless false crests is to never assume that you have reached the top, to do so is to invite disappointment.
We wait until we?re sure we have crested although sometimes it is impossible to tell. The map is often inaccurate in reflecting the exact route of the trail. This is probably no surprise as mud slides and new obstacles such as fallen trees alter its course. One kilometer on the map is in no way representative of a kilometer traveled on the ground.
We average something less than two kilometers an hour in general over the walk. Periodically we stop and wait for everyone to close up and take water from the streams cascading down from the higher peaks. Initially we purify the water but after a time a couple of us prefer to drink the water straight from the stream.
The jungle is so thick and the terrain so rough that there is no danger of people contaminating the streams above us. Most of us have modern hydration systems, water bladders with a hose connected that allows drinking on the move. The local boys just carry a water bottle with them as they go.
As day one wears on we begin to climb some really steep ascents into Isurava but they are of pretty short overall distance compared to some of the climbs to come.
In general the climbs are longer than the descents. Rule two of Kokoda: climbs, descents and the track never end. To assume one climb or descent has finished is to invite despair on finding that the next hill is even worse and must be climbed today.
It?s dark when the last guys pull into Isurava village. The villagers direct us to the guest houses, always on the edge of the community. Fires are lit, water boiled, we drink tea and are introduced to what will become the staple food of the next few days, rice, bully beef and tuna. We think the tour company must be playing with our minds or trying to introduce as much realism to our mission as possible, but everyone eats heartily. The Tobasco sauce helps. Most villages appear to have tank water.
Further up the hill they run a pipe from the steam into a tank and then run water pipes from the tank to a water point somewhere in the village. We usually purify it but it seems safe. The boys are adept at setting up a blue plastic tarp as shelter over our dining table or for sleeping accommodation. We sleep in raised thatched huts on the wooden floor. The roof over our heads is great as it rains most of the night.
Photograph: – Trekkers at Isurava:
P1010054.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:15 am #96524
Kokoda – Templeton?s Crossing 21 May
Our party arises to beautiful clear, blue skies. Breakfast of powdered milk and weetbix fortifies us for the days walking. The boys eat crackers.
The group sets off sometime around 0700. Barry tells us that we will see the battlefield and monument at Isurava today. This is slightly confusing as it was in Isurava village that we slept last night but evidently the place where the 39th BN was sited to deny the track to the Japanese is South of the village itself. It takes about an hour and a half for the group to make it to the clearing on the ridge line where the battle took place. From here you can see right down the valley that Iora creek flows through. A monument built in 2002 stands here. It consists of four blocks of South Australian black granite about two metres high, with each one having a word engraved on it.
The words are courage, endurance, sacrifice and mateship. They surround a memorial and are bedded in white granite gravel. It is a beautiful place and must be very special on the morning of the 25th of April as the sun comes up over the towering mountains to the East.
Isurava.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:23 am #96525
Just below the monument, Bruce Steel Kingsbury earned Australia?s first Victoria Cross on home soil, as PNG was then. A small sign relates the story of Private Kingsbury?s courage and stands by the rock where the sniper who stopped his valiant individual charge was concealed.
Trekkers at the Bruce Kingsbury Memorial:
P1010049.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:27 am #96526
We take plenty of photos and marvel at the achievements of the men who fought here but we have to reach Templeton?s Crossing number one tonight. There is some debate about which crossing is the original but Templeton?s two sits astride Iora creek while Templeton?s one is on the South side of the creek about 100 metres uphill on the lower slopes of Mt Bellamy. The weather is great, all blue sky but we make slowish progress. Our trip is the six day mission. Apparently the nine day trip is most often preferred and we had been warned that six days would be demanding. The second day, today, is forecast to be our longest at 11 hours but as the trip wears on just about every day becomes this long.
Trek conversation often covers trip length. The doctors who did it in four days, the Japanese guys who did it in three, guys who ran it and so on. Any way you look at it the trip will be tough. If you take longer you need more gear and your pack is going to be heavy, and the opposite is true for a shorter trip. If you don?t take much gear you?ll have to do it fast otherwise the lack of gear is going to make life pretty uncomfortable.
Trekkers enjoying a meal under a thatched traditional guesthouse:
P1010057.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:31 am #96527
After departing Isurava we make our way into Alola village after about an hour and a half. The village is perched quite high in the Iora creek valley and offers views to the track and villages on the other side. It preempts the descent into Iora creek and the ultimate crossing at Templeton?s. All kinds of fruit are bought in the village, oranges, mandarins, bananas and sugar fruit, quite similar to passion fruit. All are delicious and supplement the austere dinner rations.
Eventually we reach the first crossing of Iora creek. This place is well below Templeton?s one and at the foot of a large climb, the biggest we have to make so far. The map shows four kilometers of ascent up a long ridge line and as we reach this place late in the day it becomes obvious that we will push nightfall to make our eventual camp. As we set out many of the original weapon pits from the campaign in 1942 are still obvious on the lower slopes.
The long climb begins and the skies cloud over. The group walks in rain till we eventually make camp at Templeton?s one, short of the night?s objective at the number two crossing. The group preceding us has set up their camp here as well. Their porters have a large blue tarp, they have several two-man tents in place and are also using the only guest house.
This means that we will have to set up some shelter as well, so our porters construct a blue tarp tent and try to get a fire going. They use rattan vine from the jungle instead of rope and it proves to be a robust material for our tent. A couple of our mob are still walking in the pouring rain and dark with Barry. Everyone is a little concerned but they arrive in great spirits showing considerable fortitude for pushing on to the camp in the poor conditions.
Trekker taking a break:
P1010060.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:34 am #96528
Templetons ? Efogi 22 May
The group ahead of us is on the nine day walk and was also destined for the number two crossing last night but fell short of their intended camp site. Because of this we will be passing them back and forth all day as we cover the same ground up Mt Bellamy. Inevitably we will have to outpace them somewhere as the night?s camp is several hours further on than theirs because of our shorter itinerary. We set out shortly after them and begin to come across the tail end of their column about half way to the upper crossing of Iora creek. As we reach the crossing about half of them have already crossed the waist deep, swiftly flowing creek. The porters help some across and carry most people?s packs for them just as their forebears did with the ammunition, rations and wounded almost 60 years ago. Our guys are forced to wait till they are all across so, inevitably, our groups will concertina their way up the mountain as we try to make our evening?s objective.
The climbing is never technical in the mountaineer sense, but often as you stand looking at the next few yards of climb your next step is closer to your chest than it is to your feet. The earth is a rich orange-red colour and each footstep, worn square by each preceding climber, has its own pool of muddy water. The jungle roots often make up a sort of natural staircase. The photos of the diggers during 1942 show them carrying walking sticks hewn from jungle saplings and many of the walkers have something similar or the modern aluminium version. Sometimes it?s easier to go without this support, as the porters do, using hands to grab at the vines and roots as you climb.
Trekkers about to cross over the river:
P1010066.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:37 am #96529
After we cross we wait at what should have been last night?s campsite for everyone to catch up. Barry shows us two well preserved grenades that he picked out of the creek as we crossed. There must be ordnance all over the place not far off the track. The peak of Mt Bellamy is the highest point on the track at 2637 metres and is a significant milestone on the walk. The best way to achieve something that is wholly too big when considered in its entirety is to divide it into smaller, more psychologically palatable sections and defeat them piece by piece. Mt Bellamy is one such piece in the Kokoda mental puzzle.
Periodically we meet the other group. They?re mostly from Brisbane and have trained together by walking around the city. The group is varied. One bloke is in his seventies but you always see him up the front and in high spirits. There is an ex-military man from New Zealand and a couple from the bush west of town, big cotton farmers the old fella tells me. Two sisters labour on toward the rear, but they seem in high spirits and tell us that we should take time to enjoy the track as we go, maybe at the top we think.
The summit is nondescript and as we wander through smaller undulations it becomes obvious from this and the map that we must have achieved our short term objective. We look forward to arriving at The Gap. The generals had thought that if this place was blown it would have presented an impassible obstacle to the advancing Japanese. The truth is that it is a very wide saddle on the ridge line and nothing short of destroying the whole range would have been able to close it.
Another crossing on the Kokoda Track:
P1010071.jpg23/03/2006 at 12:41 am #96530
It is curious that the Japanese didn?t just go around the withdrawing Australian and PNG soldiers and cut their own path to the Capital. The reasons why the invaders didn?t do so become obvious after a while. The track most often takes the best route over the terrain using the ridge lines for climbs and descents. To do otherwise and use reentrants or creeks in the same places might require many extra hours, maybe even days, in the tougher going. The advancing force would also have to literally cut its way through the jungle to make progress, without maps to help the survey. As well as this they would have to fight off the defenders as they harassed the rear of their logistical chain. In the end it came down to whoever owned the track would own Port Moresby and open the door to the invasion of Australia.
As we descend into the gap we see the large open kunai grassed areas called Myola. The plantation owner Herbert Kienzle, who was commissioned into the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) at the start of the campaign, was the chief organizer of the native porters who carried the sick and wounded back from, and the supplies forward to the battle. These people became known as the ?Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels? for their heroic contribution to the fight along the trail. Kienzle named the lakes after a friend?s aboriginal wife when he discovered them while looking for an area well suited to supply dropping from the air, something that was becoming increasingly necessary as a result of the logistic requirements of the campaign, and the manpower involved in resupply and evacuation. The locals had long been aware of the kunai grassed clearings but considered them haunted and rarely ventured there. A rest house was built there but it has, apparently, closed.
We pass the preceding group who are cooking a lunch of noodles with metho stoves in a clearing by a creek. After a small climb we come to an old propeller blade, covered in track graffiti, marking the junction between Myola and Kagi. We take the right turn and after a short while come to another jungle intersection. Launumu, the village we are going through, is off to the left so we head this way. As we descend the spur the village of Kagi is obvious, perched at the end of a ridge. The track goes through there as well, just a question of which route you prefer. We prefer the shortest one. Now the descents are longer than climbs. Different muscles and joints begin to take the brunt of the walking as a result. Keeping your footing is difficult on the slippery mud and the periodic dull thuds followed by gentle cursing indicate that most of us are having trouble. Tony, one of the porters, always says ?sorry? when someone falls, as though it?s somehow his fault.
We arrive in the village. It?s very hot and everyone is short of water. One of the villagers sends off a little boy to get some water for us. In the meantime the villager tells us there is someone we must meet. He wheels out an old man sitting in a wheelchair. He has grey curly hair that is trying to escape from underneath the peaked cap wedged on his head and is wearing a black shirt, trimmed with red and yellow and covered in medals and military decorations. He is holding a black staff. The man tells us that this is his father and reading from a prepared speech, tells us the old bloke?s story. He is one of the last of the ?Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels? and some of the decorations he wears are from the Australian government. The shirt he wears celebrates PNG independence and the staff he holds was given to him to indicate his position as head man of the village when it was administered by the Australians. Everyone gathers around and we have our photo taken with him and shake his hand. We are all moved to have met the old bloke, a tangible contact with a time 50 years ago when so much was at stake.
Group with the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel:
P1010070.jpg23/03/2006 at 1:43 am #96531
Just as we depart, the next group arrives in the village for their overnight stop. The old porter is wheeled away in preparation for his next official function.
Efogi One sits on top of the nearby ridge line shimmering hazily in the warm afternoon sun. It appears that a well hurled rock could easily fall onto the thatched roofs of the village homes. Alas, the angel?s son tells us that the walk will take an hour and a half. The descent into Efogi creek is steep, as is the climb, and it presents a formidable afternoon obstacle to our party. Saturated by perspiration and with heaving chests we make our way over the village?s earthen floor to rest and eat oranges bought from the locals. A few of us have sweets for the village kids and even the odd furry toy bought to bring some extra joy to them.
We meet some people from Moresby on the climb out of Efogi creek as they overtake us. Very lightly laden, the head man tells us that they have been to Poppondetta, well beyond Kokoda, for a church conference and that they are on their way home. This is their second day of walking and they should be back in Moresby by tomorrow. The track in three days, minimum gear and it?s their first time walking it. The boss explains that the whole group couldn?t afford air tickets to the meeting so a couple had to walk. The track started life as a jungle track for the villagers and, before the war, was used as a route for the mail. Two very heavily armed men carried the mail along the track to allow communications between the north and the south of the country. In the sense that it is the only land link between north and south it is still serving this primary purpose today.
After another short descent and climb we eventually come to the Efogi Two guest house. It sits next to the airfield at the foot of Brigade Hill where some of the heaviest fighting of the campaign took place. The 2/27, 2/14 and 2/16, all units of the AIF, many of whom were veterans of the fighting in the Middle East, had been placed in a defensive position to stop the oncoming Japanese. The Japanese could have skirted the Australians and continued on to Menari but chose to fight them on this ground. Brigadier Potts, commander of the 21st Brigade, had been told by his superior officer Major General Allen that it was ?Absolutely essential you give no further ground?. Unfortunately, a flanking maneuver just after stand-to early in the morning separated Brigade HQ from its Battalions and after savage, close quarter fighting the Australians were forced to withdraw toward Menari.
P1010072.jpg23/03/2006 at 1:46 am #96532
The rest house at Efogi looks like a palace. It has separate huts for the walkers and porters, an outdoor shower and a hut for cooking. Everyone showers under the clean, cold water as dinner is prepared. The villagers are Seventh Day Adventists and though they don?t eat pig they offer some for sale. Tico, who has become procurement officer and medic, supervises the cooking and shares our good fortune with the porters. As everyone prepares for bed, the medical kits are ransacked in a search of the daily dose of painkillers and foot repair material.
Feast at Efogi:
P1010073.jpg23/03/2006 at 1:52 am #96533
Efogi ? Naoro 23 May
We make good time up Brigade hill and in to Menari. The village sits at the top of its small airfield and the front runners stop in the shade and wait in the hot sun, drying boots and sleeping bags. Granger, Hans and Ole have been walking together. Granger has been having trouble with the heat and chooses to wallow in every mountain stream he comes across. He says that he will return to write a book about the creeks of the Kokoda detailing, depth, flow, temperature and so on. We reckon he?s gone ?hippo?.
To continue reading this diary, please click on Page 2 bottom left hand side:
Trekkers ready to head off from Naoro Campsite:
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