Today I was expecting to join a friend on an exploration of Mount Lord and Lanes Peak at Mount Field, but when I got a text at 6.25am to call it off for medical reasons, that was clearly not happening. I did consider going solo, because I hadn’t been out this weekend and I’ve already discovered that makes for a less productive week at work on my behalf! So solo it was, but I thought it somewhat stupid to go on a walk by myself to a place that a fair few of my friends haven’t been yet, when I could go on one that most had already been to. So the destination changed to Mt Bowes.
The friend I was supposed to be walking with had, incidentally, been the leader of a club walk to Bowes a year or so earlier, but I had had to work and couldn’t make it. So, armed with a gps track, and an idea of what to expect thanks to a 3am exploration of the track one morning before a different club walk out in that region, I headed off. I was first surprised to find snow on the road as I approached the turn off to Scotts Peak road, covering the foliage on both sides.. there were glimpses of the bottoms of snow covered ranges, extending up into the white cloud. Well, I thought, at least I might get snow instead of rain!
I turned left onto Scotts Peak road, and pulled over to the side of the road at the first road on the left. It has a boom gate across it, so that’s where the car was going to stay. The wet weather gear went on without a thought, and off I started.. glimpsing a view of my mountain as I walked the 600m or so of road before finding the cairn with the stick that marks the start of the track. Do not follow the orange tapes 10-15 metres before this, they don’t mark the track start. The track is taped, cairned, or just pretty obvious to follow. You do need to look closely for the tapes in some spots though, and there were one or two moments where the gps route I had was consulted, as a few newer tapes seem to lead you astray.
Anyway, straight into the scrub you go, and don’t expect to see much of your mountain for some time. I say scrub, even though I mentioned a track earlier, and that’s because it’s more of a pad, and the scrub is somewhat overgrown. For me, I had the added joy of it being laden with snow, and I’m not sure whether it was better or worse once my thighs had become numb from pushing through it! After some time you’re out of the baura and cutting grass and into some relatively open forest (celery tops, myrtle, the occasional gum, and goodness knows what else), save for the many trees that have fallen since the track was cut, and that require going over, under or around.
You move between the two types of terrain for a bit, and eventually come out into lower stuff, that’s more dominated by cutting grass (and here you get another look at your mountain – I do like being able to see what I’m climbing). At this point you know you’re close to leaving the relatively flat terrain, and about to head up the climb. Shortly you come across a cairn and a great big stick with a white thing on top, which mark the taped and cairned pad to the top of Bowes.
Initially I was glad to be out of the overgrown track, into the open air. But after a short distance, chilled by the wind and the snow, and somewhat frustrated by how slippery the snow covered button grass was proving to be and how it was slowing my ascent, I knew I’d be happy to be back in the forest again. But knowing that time would come, I focused instead on the things I loved about being back out in the open. I focused on all the space , even though the cloud was progressively closing in around me; I focused on the silence (stop breathing for a moment), the patter of the snow, the howling of the wind; I focused on whiteness, the bleakness, and the sharp contrast of the greens, golds and browns of the button grass.. In the end, that made me want to take photos, but after one or two shots my hands were pretty much useless, and were to stay that way until I got a fair way back. My feet were also numb with standing in the snow, and I was soaked through and shivering after just a minute of standstill. So the camera went away, and I didn’t stop on the way up again, save to scan for the pad that had disappeared under snow.
I happened upon the summit before I expected, thinking it was another false summit, but slower in reality that I would have liked, courtesy of the weather. Just to be sure I checked both possible high points, deciding that the second, the one with a cairn, was going to be the one I’d risk freezing off my fingers for a photo. Photo done, camera away, apricot bar out and walk (slide) and eat.. an hour up, 35 minutes back down.. that gives you an idea of how much sliding was done!
My feet and fingers were still numb, though starting to hurt by the time I got back into the scrub/forest, and I didn’t dare stop or take off my gloves to photograph the fungi, or the forest, much as I would have loved to. I was still feeling colder than I would have liked, so I just kept on walking. I was more than half way back when the water on the moss and the trees started to shine golden in the first hint of sunlight for the day.. for a whole 20 seconds.. it was enough to make me smile.. ok, laugh! A little while later, feeling slightly warmer and like I could risk a 2 minute stop, I pulled out a roll from my bag, but continued to walk while eating. The sun teased me for a little while, but by the time I was back to the road, there was no sign of it.
Petrol guzzler it may be, but I was glad of the extra boot space in the Honda CRV as I threw my pack, gps, and gloves in, then jumped in afterwards and shut the door, escaping from the wind. A complete strip down, new DRY clothes donned (love that feeling), and I started to feel a bit warmer.. As I drove home I reflected on the day, and smiled :).
13.5km, just shy of 5 hours, 788 metres ascent all up.