Before this accident Alissa didn’t realise the importance of a certain piece of kit… It ended up being a decision she came to regret. This story is not for the squeamish!

For anyone who’s been to Tasmania’s Southwest, you know it always leaves you wanting more. So, on one Saturday morning, Caity and I headed off on what was meant to be a relatively quick overnighter. 

The hike was a short, but steep one and we overlooked taking what I would now consider an essential item, regardless of length or difficulty, a personal location beacon (PLB). The 6.6km return hike, normally done as a day hike, was known to be hard, but it was well within our abilities and we overlooked the thought of needing to bring a PLB along.

I now want to give a bit of forewarning and maybe even foreshadowing, by mentioning that if you get uneasy with wounds and a bit of blood, skim with one eye open. 

Hitting the Trail

We made our way up the steep section of the hike and were rewarded with epic views overlooking the Southwest. Fairly quickly we saw the weather roll in, nothing uncommon for this part of Tasmania.

With some rain starting to set in, the track became slippery, especially along the wooden steps built to help with erosion.

I was just ahead of Caity when I slipped on one of these wooden trimmed steps and fell, but not just any fall where you catch yourself with your hands and brush yourself off. Somehow, with the weight of my overnight pack, I fell left, towards the side of the trail and punctured my right eyelid with a stick, (really it was more of a twig…semantics at this point). Then everything went a bit dark. 


I hollered to Caity that something wasn’t right. I was realising pretty quickly that right now I wished I’d packed a PLB. But, as a pretty great alternative, I had Caity. She’s an Intensive Care Flight Paramedic and instantly she switched into work mode. At this point I couldn’t open my right eye at all. We didn’t know if the stick had gone into my eyeball, as it wasn’t lodged into anything. I simply fell, punctured whatever it was, and stood back up while the twig remained on the ground. 

We did a few tests, acknowledged that I had increased pressure in my head and then decided what our next moves would be. This was the point where Caity gave me two options. We could set up shelter (tents) where we were to try to better assess the damage, or we could head back down the mountain. 

As you do when adrenaline is kicking in and getting the better part of your senses, I suggested that we set up our tents and I’ll try to sleep it off. Whatever ‘it’ meant at the time, I clearly had no idea. But like I said, Caity was the best alternative to a PLB, and she reminded me that eyes are a vital organ and well, you only get one set, so we should probably make our way down the mountain. 

Caity created a great eye patch for me, one that held the gauze in place with a compression bandage, so that I still had both of my hands free for the descent.

Homeward Bound

I stubbornly continued to wear my pack back down the mountain (we all know how much gear costs, right?) and I wasn’t about to part with my favourite items for who knows how long. We emptied excess water to lighten our packs, dressed me in all of my layers, pulled out our headlamps in case we ended up moving slowly into the fading daylight, and started our descent. 

The rest is a bit of a blur, I just remember watching Caity’s movements and mimicking them. Hand on this tree and that one, right foot between these tree roots, and left foot following close behind, avoiding more slips on the sections that were now turning to slime as the weather continued to worsen. The uphills felt like an absolute slog, but we sure zoomed down the mountain. 


Assessing the Damage

The before and after photos look a little different. My adrenaline levels were still high and my naivety (or ignorance?) was truly bliss. After reaching my car, we quickly stripped off our rain gear and began the windy two and a half hour drive back to Hobart.

This is when the adrenaline wore off. This is when I laid back with both eyes closed, tried to stifle the nausea until I arrived back to Hobart in the dark and held Caity’s arm to walk into the ER. From here I don’t remember much to be honest. I couldn’t keep my good eye open without feeling a lot of pain and a bit disoriented, so I wandered blindly around while different doctors and nurses ran tests over the course of the next few hours.

The Long Road to Recovery

I’ll save you the specifics, but after weeks of appointments and uncertainty about the condition of my eye, I was able to resume activities again and got the all-clear to complete the Overland Track with vision in one eye. A few weeks later my eyelid slowly began to reopen, and I had a fair amount of double vision. I gave it a few more weeks and the double vision faded, and I was back to my pre-injury lifestyle.

A few more months later I had a procedure done to open my right eyelid to attempt to make them a bit more symmetrical, but all in all, I have my vision back, which is the important part.


What I’ve Learned

As much as misadventures happen, there’s a lot that we can do to help prevent them. Carrying the basics essentials for day hikes or overnighters is a great place to start to feel confident heading into the bush. It’s also so important to have a decent hiking first aid kit

Since this incident, I purchased a Garmin Inreach Mini so that I can have two-way communication for future trips in the event that something does go wrong again. I’ve also since completed my Remote Area First Aid and started volunteering on a local mountain bike patrol team to get more exposure to injuries that happen and what to do when they occur. 

Another tip to keep in mind is having specific spots where you put items in your pack (particularly first aid kit & PLB) and sharing this information with everyone in your group. That way if something does go wrong, someone else can easily rifle through your bag and remain calm while accessing these items.

Perspective is everything. Fluke accidents happen. But being prepared (or overprepared) for what may never happen, is a reassuring place to be. 

Read More: PLBs and Satellite Communicators – Everything You Need To Know

The Redemption Summit

It only took me 15 months to get back to the mountain Caity and I were climbing, but we sure did conquer it and came out much more intact this time around. We were rewarded with the best possible weather, a sunset that danced for what seemed like hours, and then awoke to another calm and coloured morning. 

I thought I would be bidding farewell to this mountain once I reached the top this time around, but looking just past the summit to the ongoing range that can be done as a multi-day hike has me yearning for more.