Cas and Jonesy, two school friends from Sydney, have pushed the very definition of extreme adventure in Australia, finds Steve Madgwick.
In 2001 they paddled together down the length of the Murray River in a “very Huckleberry-Finn-style adventure”, which took them 49 days along some two and a half thousand kilometres of waterway.
Not content with this, they next battled 10-metre swells on their 62-day 3,318km kayak across the Tasman from Australia to New Zealand; an idea that was “born out of heatstroke” during the previous trip.
In 2012 they topped even this, walking from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and return: the first ever such journey completed unsupported.
Their documentary covering this epic trip is now starring at the Banff Mountain Film Festival currently touring the country.
Jonesy (29-year-old Justin Jones) took some time out to share some coffee and a whole host of adventure with Australian Traveller.
Tell me about your pre-expedition life?
I grew up in Indonesia then came to boarding school in Sydney where I met Cas. Back then we were probably two very tubby, awkward kids. It was the outdoors that really helped foster us through those teen years.
We were cadets. We started small. First bushwalking, then kayaking – like a bush walk on water.
Cas’s family became my home family of sorts. On the weekends I’d go and stay with them so I became very close.
Describe your friendship with Cas.
I’ve known him for 15 years now. Jeez, is it that long? Wow, that’s more than half my life.
It’s interesting because we are best mates and business partners. I’ve seen the absolute worst of him and I’ve seen the absolute best of him on these expeditions.
In the outdoors, that’s where our friendship clicks better than in the city. When you are thrown in to a business environment tensions do come up, but on an expedition the goal is always the same.
What are your strongest recollections about the trans-Tasman expedition?
Actually just pushing off shore and leaving land behind because three-and-a-half years had gone into that. That day we were scared, we were leaving our families so it was quite sad. Once we got away from the shore, I thought, this trip is on! Also, obviously finishing, with 25,000 people waiting for us on the beach was phenomenal.
The craziest moment? I remember paddling along at night-time on day four and we were in danger of being pushed up to Lord Howe Island by the current. One of us had to be paddling all the time so I remember paddling along, waves splashing on top of me, it was night time and everything felt right. I thought this is what we are meant to be doing.
Scariest moment on the water?
At night time, when we were sleeping in the cabin, we had to stop the waves from hitting us broadside so we would throw out a ‘parachute anchor’ to turn the tail to the waves. One time the rudder got wrapped around the line. The kayak weighed a tonne and we were in swell of about nine or ten metres. We didn’t know whether the kayak would be ripped in half by the force.
So we had on our survival gear and put everyone on high alert and just tried to sleep through it. The screech of the rudder is etched into the mind still.
What stays with you about the Antarctic expedition?
Jeez that was a brutal trip! Physically it was so much more demanding than anything I’ve ever done. The Tasman was probably a higher risk of death, because when things go wrong they go wrong in a very fast way, but in Antarctica the risk of injury was much greater.
We were dragging sleds that weighed 160kg each [at the start of the trip] and temperatures dropped to minus 40 degrees. The first month we had two weeks in a row of white-out and a foot-and-a-half of fresh snow.
At the end of the first month [out of three months] we had travelled about 300km, and we had to ski 2,300km – so we had two months to ski 2,000km. We thought the trip was over. Dragging the sleds through the snow some times you’d be lucky to make 900 metres in an hour – so bloody hard.
But by the back end of the trip, where we were able to get faster because of the better conditions and lighter sleds, then there was starvation. We had to drop to half rations and eek out our food. I lost 30kg over the expedition.
How do you come to terms with risking your life?
A big part is the preparation; to know you’ve covered a lot of the risks beforehand. Leave no stone unturned. That’s why the trips take three years to plan.
I’m more of an anal, pedantic person whereas Cas is really good on the project management side of things so we like to think we have it covered.
Why do you do these expeditions?
It’s a tough one. Lots of people say “because it’s there”, but I don’t know about that. It was an idea that popped up and I brushed it aside because I thought I was impossible – everyone was saying you can’t do it, you’re stupid. But the idea of the challenge is to find a safe way across and finding a strategy to do it safely gave us quite a buzz.
I want to be a bloke that can look back on his life and say I’ve done things. I have regrets from childhood but childhood because I was such a shy kid, but I don’t want to do that now with my adult life.
Tell us about the exhaustion
On the last 10 days of the Antarctic trip [on half rations] our bodies just weren’t working any more. I was having major issues with my bowels – I didn’t know what was going on.
Each day we had to get up and ski a marathon per day. At that point we tried to ski three and a half hours without a break because we basically had nothing to eat at our break. We’d only stop for 10 minutes and have a mouthful of nuts. 13-14-15 hours a day skiing!
For Cas it is the sleep deprivation – when he can’t sleep, he is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And with the constant light your body was always awake.
What’s your favourite part of Australia?
Lord Howe Island, I went there as a kid and I was thinking about it a lot.
For Cas it would be the Blue Mountains – the WolganValley– he’s a climbing dirt bag, he loves it [he is in Nepal at the moment].
On different expeditions I’ve thought about different things. On the trans-Tasman paddle we left from Forster Tuncurry. I remember on the day we were leaving just lying down and listening to the water, staring at the trees; an image that stayed with me the entire trip.
Down in Antarctica, I was thinking about anywhere warm, like the Northern Territory. I was just thinking that all this endless white around me could just be endless red.
Where is left to explore in Australia?
We’ve done a lot of stuff around the coast. I really need to get into the interior – that’s what Australia really is.
There are trips in the deserts that are screaming to be done. The Canning Stock Route would be fantastic to explore.
I really want to head back down to Tassie as well – it’s like our version of New Zealand.
Does Cas have any bad habits?
He is going to hate me, but he has a terrible choice of music. The number one song on the Tasman trip was the theme to Burke’s Backyard – on repeat. But it made him happy…
Do you have any annoying habits?
On the Tasman trip he would probably say I probably ate too loudly. We were stuffed in a tiny little cabin, like an echo chamber. He blew his stack a couple of times for that.
On these trips, if the other person is pissing you off, you’ve got to tell them!
How do your family and friends react to your trips?
My mum, in particular, was very much against the Tasman trip. She said “if you do this expedition, never call me mum again.” But by the time the second one came around, they had seen the planning and the preparation we put in to the first one and that made them fell quite secure.
Now Cas has got a wife and a kid, and I’ve found myself a lovely girl, and that changes your perceptions on risk. It’s going to be interesting when the next one comes around. It will make us even more anal with the planning.
Best moment of your adventures?
Aleksander Gamme, our Norwegian rival on the Antarctic trek, actually waiting three kilometres short of the finish line so we could finish together.
Crying in the tent on day 82 in Antarctica – everything was too much. Feeling so alone because Cas was so far gone in his own pains to try to worry about me. A dark, dark night.
What scares you?
As a kid spiders and the dark, but I’m over them. Now, regret scares me. Also trying to outdo yourself is a very scary and dangerous thing to do. That’s where you can bite off more than you can chew.
Next big adventure?
Three months in a tent inAntarctica is a long time to think up a lot of cool trips. I’ll keep quiet on them for now. We want to let Cas enjoy fatherhood for the moment.
Cas and Jonesy have produced two books and documentaries about their trips: Crossing The Ice, Extreme South, Crossing The Ditch. For more information see casandjonesy.com.au