Legally blind Sunshine Coast woman Nicole Forbes-Hood has refused to let COVID-19 lock downs get in the way of adventure, hiking the rugged Larapinta trail when a planned expedition to Africa's highest mountain was cancelled.
- Nicole Forbes-Hood has the genetic degenerative condition Aniridia which means she is legally blind and relies on Oskar her guide dog
- She recently walked a 65 km section of the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia to raise $6000 for Guide Dogs Queensland
- She relied on her husband to give her voice cues to navigate the difficult terrain
Ms Forbes-Hood, 43, was born with the degenerative eye condition aniridia, where part or all of the iris is missing.
"There's no corrective surgery or glasses or contact lenses that can help because the whole back of the eye is not developed," the mother of two said.
Ms Forbes-Hood had planned to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise awareness and funds for Guide Dogs Queensland.
"What an incredible opportunity of a lifetime to raise funds for such a charity that's given so much back to me, but also to be able to do something that's completely out of my comfort zone," she said.
However, that all changed when international travel was suspended thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I still wanted to be able to do something I'd put all this training in and hard work with my fundraising."
After consulting with Guide Dogs Queensland and an Alice Springs-based tour company, Ms Forbes-Hood decided that she and her husband, Manaia, would give the Larapinta Trail a go.
"I've had a friend that had done Larapinta end to end," she said.
"It wasn't until I started researching (the trail) that I could get a really good understanding of how tough this was actually going to be for me."
Ms Forbes-Hood decided to leave her beloved guide dog Oskar at home.
"He turned three on actually the day we started hiking.
"He's definitely changed my life ... I've been being slower and less confident over the last five years, particularly since my sight has deteriorated significantly."
Ms Forbes-Hood said that her confidence had returned since having a seeing-eye dog.
"Now when I sit off with Oskar, not only is he my companion, but I put my full trust in him and I can be quicker on my feet ... and walk with my head held high."
Despite Oskar being allowed in national parks, Ms Forbes-Hood thought that the terrain and conditions would be too harsh for her dog.
'So my lovely husband got dragged along as my sighted guide," she said.
Trust in people
Ms Forbes-Hood relied on her hiking poles and her husband to give verbal cues to ensure she knew what terrain to expect.
"There were times when I held on to the back of his backpack, or even one of the local guides in the particularly tricky technical parts of the track.
"To get that feedback of his movements and to actually be able to feel the terrain underfoot as well."
There were times when Ms Forbes-Hood had no vision, depending on the lighting conditions.
"It was a little bit scary at times, particularly going up Mount Sonder and on some of the narrow Razorback Ridge," she said.
"I was certainly not the fastest hiker. But I was so pleased that I pushed through some of those difficult moments."
Ms Forbes-Hood said that she couldn't see the spectacular scenery.
"I tapped into all of my other senses smell, just hearing the birds and the sound of the land around me," she said.
"We took a lot of photos so I have the ability to zoom in on those on my computer and see, to a degree, the landscape."
"Yes it is challenging, but certainly one of the most incredible things have ever ever done.