Members of the Kokoda Track team, before tackling the real thing.
Members of the Kokoda Track team, before tackling the real thing.

Sights set on conquering track

SIX men from the Coffs Coast, including vision-impaired dairy farmer Jason Bake, will trek the Kokoda Track.

They’re out to demonstrate failing eyesight doesn’t end dreams.

The Coffs Coast Advocate is a sponsor of this event, Blind Courage, in June to raise money for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

The idea for Blind Courage began during a campfire conversation between Jason and his brother-in-law, Coffs Harbour City Council asset manager Craig Smith.

Jason has lost 93 per cent of his vision through the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa.

But he has a keen interest in Australian military history and has long dreamed of trekking through the New Guinea highlands where Australian soldiers stopped a Japanese advance during World War II.

“Diminishing sight will make the challenge tougher but now I want to do it more than ever,” Jason says.

“Craig has turned the dream into Blind Courage to raise money for Guide Dogs, whose people give incredible free support to thousands of Australians with eyesight loss.”

Blind Courage is seeking sponsorship and donations for its trek at its website

Jason and Craig will be joined on the trek by Coffs Guide Dogs instructor Matt Wood, local builder and former rugby league player Peter Phillips, indigenous business field officer Christian Lugnan and Coffs Harbour City Council project designer Robert Fletcher.

The Blind Courage team also includes Armidale Aboriginal liaison officer Steve Widders, who has lost 95 per cent of his sight to cone dystrophy.

Steve last year completed part of the Kokoda Track with an indigenous youth program. He joins Blind Courage this year with Armidale people Nathan and Natalie Mace and Josh Fuller.

The group also includes two Melbournians – film-marker Megan Kae and Jason’s cousin Glen Bake – and another of Jason’s brothers-in-law, Grant Colwell from Coonamble.

The 10-day trek is dur to start on June 3 at Owers Corner, 40km north-east of Port Moresby.

Jason says the team is practising for the 96km trek, which crosses many watercourses and climbs ridges up to 2000m. Techniques include Craig walking a few steps ahead of Jason with an orange fluorescent gaiter on his left foot, warning Jason about difficult footholds and obstacles like tree roots.

Jason says he’ll use similar strategies on the trek to “cope and make the best of the situation” that he uses to farm with impaired vision.

Adventure specialist Dion Taylor of trek facilitators Kokoda Spirit says most days of the Blind Courage journey will involve steep climbs.

Wet weather will increase difficulties. It often rains in tropical highlands. Rapid rainforest re-growth can obscure the track.

Dion says crossing watercourses can be the most daunting part of the journey.

“You can sometimes hear the thunder of fast-flowing highland rapids 90 minutes before you get to a crossing,” he said.

There are single-log crossings over some rapids. Local guides will wade through creeks to install guide ropes.

The team will be assisted by up to 20 New Guineans, and will camp at highland villages.

Dion knows some highlanders well from 20 visits to the track.

“They are fantastic – just like the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who helped Australian soldiers during World War II,” he said.

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