At 5.30am on Saturday 31 August, six students from Latrobe High School in Tasmania’s north set off with packs on backs to take on the physically and psychologically challenging Overland Track.
The team of Tenth Graders were accompanied by six adults to traverse the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in honour of children with cancer as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Aaron Humphrey, Health, Physical Education and Outdoor Education Teacher at Latrobe lead the team on the 65-kilometre alpine hike which is recommended by Parks and Wildlife to be negotiated over six days.
Remarkably, they completed it in 28 hours.
“The students all said that if they could make it to school on Monday it would be an awesome achievement. Because we agreed from the get-go that this trip would be a student lead expedition, they set the goal to complete the walk by Sunday afternoon.”
The team did a solid day of walking on their first day and broke camp at 2:30am on their second to trek through the darkness.
"It was a great experience to hike in the dark and continually remind each other to work together,” said Humphrey. “We stopped to enjoy the sunrise at the old Du Cane Hut and walked on to reach Narcissus by 12:30pm."
“The ferry picked us up we made it to Lake St Clair by 2pm when we were greeted by six students and two staff members from Reece High School who had decided to walk in from Arm River and around the lake as part of their contribution to Gold September.”
“Despite all the tired bodies, there was a major sense of accomplishment when we got off the boat and into the bus,” said Humphrey.
A year in the planning
As part of the school’s Outdoor Education class, Humphrey’s students generally do day walks, but the overnight hike was a first. The 34-year-old teacher from Penguin came up with the idea to take on the Overland Track back in 2018 to support local community not-for-profit organisation, Tim Blair Run for Kids Foundation.
“I knew we’d need a long time to prepare, book and ensure we were 100 per cent committed and safe to complete the Track,” said Humphrey.
After putting the call out to 22 students on the school leadership team, six students signed up to test their mettle on four training hikes: a six hour walk at Western Creek; a local exploration of Port Sorell; a Mt Roland hike; and a Bakers Beach to Greens Beach return walk leading up to the main event.
Humphrey gives credit to the three adults who joined him and two teacher colleagues at helping the teenagers accomplish their goal safely.
"I am extremely proud of the team and what they were able to achieve, and I know that they will reflect on this for many years to come,” said Humphrey.
All for the cause
What kept the students going was knowing they would be raising awareness for children with cancer, a cause close to their hearts.
“We have a previous student, Ella Westcott, who has been diagnosed with cancer and I know this resonated with all students who signed up for the walk,” said Humphrey. “I also know the constant reminders of walking for others who cannot was inspiration for all of us.”
During a particularly tough section of the hike, 16-year-old Belle Needham was heard encouraging her teammates saying, “let’s remember why we are doing this, come on!”.
While raising awareness was the student’s key mission, some chose to show their support through donations to Gold September and other fundraisers organised by the high school.
“The school has so far completed a bake sale, a student auction, basketball games, gold accessory day, free dress day,” said Humphrey. “We also have donation tins at various stores in Latrobe and surrounding areas to assist our school in building a large bank of money to donate at the end of the month.”
The money will support The Kids’ Cancer Project in finding kinder, more effective treatments for all children with cancer.
“We are so grateful to Tim Blair for allowing us to walk in his foundation’s honour which gave giving the students a purpose to complete the walk,” said Humphrey. “We are inspired by all that Tim does to raise awareness and valuable funds to combat childhood cancer.”