(Byron Bay lighthouse. iPhone shot)
I woke up at 10:30AM already. I was very tired from yesterday’s activity: I had to sing in the church choir and played bass guitar for my new band’s last major gig for the year. After several stressful weeks, today I was determined to spend time for myself.
So we drove to Byron Bay, a good two hours from Brisbane if you stick to the speed limits. I have already checked the weather radar and the forecast showed a clear afternoon in our destination. Brisbane already had a few showers and continued to be gloomy so I was hoping that the weather in Byron Bay would not disappoint.
I was very excited. I brought my landscape camera of choice: the Pentax K5. My Mamiya 645 was also loaded with a fresh roll of Provia 100F and I could not wait to try the 45mm/2.8 lens that I got from Ebay. I even skipped lunch (bad move #1).
When we arrived in Byron Bay, the weather was not perfect but manageable. The wind was a different matter though. It was so strong that sudden gusts could literally throw me off balance. It was only a matter of time before it brought a few rain clouds which made taking photos so much more challenging. My K5 is weathersealed but a single droplet on the lens’es front element is enough to ruin a shot.
I took a few cliche shots of the lighthouse before deciding to head down to the beach (bad move #2). I haven’t tried going through the path that leads from the lighthouse to the beach but I have seen other people walking and even running so I thought it should be an easy trek. Some of them even look a lot more unhealthy than me (not!!!). So down I went with nothing but 3kg of equipment. Not even a bottle of water (bad move #3).
(The path that leads to the beach. iPhone shot)
I immediately realized that the pathway was a lot steeper than the others that I have experienced because my thighs were shaking with every step. I started blaming my injured right leg; it is still a bit swollen even after a year from when I fractured both bones in basketball. The surgeon did a good job of repairing my leg by inserting a titanium rod inside the bigger bone to put it back in place. I began to think about alternative routes for my way back to the top. Going back via the beach would be the only possible route if climbing was no longer an option. Confident about my decision, I continued the long way down to my intended destination. I clocked my descent so I could double that and get a rough estimate how much time it would take me for the return trip. I wanted to be back before it gets dark.
I did not actually head down to the beach but went to the same spot where I took this shot:
(The lighthouse is about 100 meters above this location. The beach is further down that path.)
I captured this with a 35mm camera so I wanted to try using the Mamiya knowing that a film that is three times larger should give me better results.
The weather did not cooperate. It started to shower before I could even take my first shot. I carefully wiped the lens with my shirt and fired a few more. The weather was getting worse so I decided to pack up. I was ready to call it a day when my photographer instincts told me not to go home yet. If there is shower and there is sunlight then there should be rainbow somewhere. So I waited, both cameras inside their bags (bad move #4).
My prediction was correct: a rainbow started appearing so I quickly pulled out my K5. It was very tricky to shoot under the rain. I was actually spending more time wiping my lens than shooting. Very annoying indeed. I have given up hope in getting even a mildly decent shot with my smudgy lens. Frustration came in very quickly and I decided enough was enough. So I packed up for real this time.
Sweat mixed with rain plus no decent photo; this has certainly drained the remaining strength I needed for the climb back to the lighthouse. After a dozen or so steps, I could feel my heart pumping wildly and I could hardly breathe. Mind you, I am 5 feet 10 inches at 76kg. Not really somebody that you can call unhealthy. I used to play competitive basketball and volleyball for 15 years. So did my old man who died in a massive heart attack. Cardio problems run in our blood and I am certainly aware of this. I was very careful not to trigger a panic attack just like what happened to me in Canberra a few years ago. I had to call an ambulance after hopelessly trying to hail every incoming vehicle because I thought it was game over for me.
I rested for a bit while thinking about my next move. I remembered the beach access because I have been there before. This is the shot I took from the beach several months ago:
I immediately called my family who were waiting for me at the top and told them to meet me at the other side near the beach. I gathered myself and went back to where the pathway forked. Then came the surprise: the beach is gone!!! It was all under water!!! I could not see one bit of sand. Gone!
The tide was so high and the wind was so strong it was blowing 6, probably 8-foot waves. I looked for alternative paths. There must be some other routes. I was walking over jagged rocks trying my best not to fall. I knew I should have brought my trekking sandals that have secure straps and not this orthopedic thingy that I have been using to rehab my injured leg. I came to a spot where I could have a look at the other side of the cliff to assess the situation. Waves were smashing against the rocks so I started studying their rhythm patterns. I began counting the intervals between waves so I could estimate my own movement and make sure that I would have enough time should I decide to turn back in case the small gap in the cliff would prove to be impassable. I counted a few seconds between big waves so as soon as a big one hit the cliff I scrambled for it. Leaping over jagged rocks I went but soon realized that the only passage I had was already neck deep under water. I quickly turned around hoping that a big wave won’t engulf me. I called my family again and told them to abort. The tide has cut off my only route to the other side of the cliff.
(The gaps between these rocks were supposed to be my way to the other side of the cliff but they were already deep under water. That far hill in the background is where I was taking photos.)
I was already hyperventilating. Two stupid ideas: 1) call emergency rescue so they can bring down a helicopter for me or; 2) they would have a bunch of people carry me to the top with a stretcher. That won’t be just stupid, it would be very embarassing!
It’s when humans become hopeless that they start thinking about a Greater Being who can perform miracles. This must have been my punishment for skipping mass today. But hey, I sang in the church choir yesterday and this feels so unfair. I started praying. Three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s and countless Glory Be’s.
I gathered myself again, trusting in my muscle’s capacity to recover quickly. In a basketball game, I usually get tired during the first 10 minutes so I normally get substituted. But after another 10 minutes of rest, I could finish the whole game with enough strength left for another half. I climbed about 20 steps before I had to sit down and take another rest. It’s that steep. Did a dozen more then more rest. Every time I rested I was praying: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, over and over again.
It was still bright enough for me to see clearly. By this time, I have probably recited more prayers than I ever did for the year. Even that stupid rainbow was still there. I took another shot of it with my iPhone. Photographers: they never stop taking photos while they are still breathing.
It was already 6PM and I’m only halfway through the climb. At this rate I’d reach the top just before it gets dark. There was a couple who were kind enough to ask if I was OK. I told them I wasn’t but I asked them anyway how far is it to the lighthouse. They said it’s still a long way and it gets steeper. Thanks for the encouragement.
I kept climbing and resting every few steps. The cameras now seem to weigh a ton. Ansel Adams had a donkey to carry his gear when he was photographing the Sierras. Me, I’m just stupid.
I probably made more than a dozen stops before reaching the top. It was 6:30PM. It took me an hour to climb back to the lighthouse which is now lit with it’s 1000W lamp. I took a few more shots of the lighthouse just to remind me of how crazy this day was. I passed by the water fountain before heading back to the car where my worried family was waiting.
Will I be going back to this location? Of course I will. But I will be more prepared next time.
What have I learned from this crazy adventure?
1. Bring at least a bottle of water.
2. Be mindful of the tides.
3. Exercise!!! If going down is tough, going up is 10 times tougher.
4. Unplanned shots rarely work.
5. Make sure people know where you are going.
6. Wear proper gear.
7. More equipment may result in less photos.
8. Pray. It helps.
You guys take care.