Interesting is perhaps the best word to describe this walk. Or ‘of extremes’. Not the walk, but the experience. The walk itself takes you up through some lovely forest, across the plateau, past a very cute hut, and through some light scrub/rock, and onto the summit. That’s if you go the same way as we did, up the Western Creek Track. A walk in the park, pretty much. But this walk would remind us, as if someone knew we were getting a tad complacent, just how easily things can change.
It wasn’t an ideal day for me, I was exhausted from too much work and not enough rest (my fault partly, I have a bad habit of trying to cram too much walking into not enough time), and had been feeling not myself for a little while (pretty sure I’ve got the coldy thing that’s been going around now). Shaz was equally exhausted, but for other reasons, and Graham was also sick. Murph, our leader for the day, was probably the fittest.
But the mountains and the company of good friends has a pull that’s pretty hard to resist, and we all turned up. For me, at least, the day and experience was dampened slightly by how I was feeling, which is very unusual, perhaps a first? I was too tired to run or jump much, and didn’t particularly feel like charging ahead. I did still enjoy the little surprises spotted along the way. The first was a big yellow moon of cheese glowing low on the horizon as we drove to the meeting spot. Then on the drive up, in between nodding off, I spotted a pair of galahs sitting in a tree, and an owl with a white tummy making a move (had to rub my eyes to be sure I wasn’t seeing things), and I vaguely remember hearing talk of a falcon penetrating the fuzz of my half asleepness.
After arriving at the track start (clearly marked once you get there, but you have to know which roads you’re taking first), there were more surprises. We had periodic stops at the creek to enjoy its waterfalls, not thinking we’d be coming back that way as Murph had planned a circuit, going down via Sid’s track. We paused to photograph a fungi family in the middle of the track and to enjoy the beautiful myrtle forest as we slowly gained height. The gradient was perfect, steep enough to notice on the way back down (more on that later, obviously we did come back down this way) but not so steep to really complain about it on the way up. As we gained height the sheoakes made an appearance, but the myrtle was still present. And then there were King Billys.. some dead, many still alive.. as regal as ever.
On the small patches of scree we paused to enjoy the lichen patterns on rock, took more photographs of a waterfall we crossed with aid of a wire, and were soon on the plateau. Here we ran into our first and only tiger snake, though we were to meet him on the way back. Rudely disturbed by us, he flattened his head and slithered off into his hole in the rocks on the track, allowing us passage. He did so more quickly on the way back!
After happening upon a sign informing us we were in the Central Plateau Conservation Area, we followed the now pad (no longer a marked ‘track’, but still quite distinct, with cairns in the more indistinct spots) until we happened upon Whiteley’s hut. It’s a lovely little hut, warm and cosy with everything you could possibly want arranged neatly within. Even a new testament, and I couldn’t resist reading Pslams 23 when we stopped here for lunch on the way back. The feel of the pages, the smell of the book, and the sound of the familiar (but not recently visited) words took me back to my childhood.
After photos and a decent poke around, we kept on moving, initially following pads up to the end of the ridge that marks the final rise onto the plateau where the high point lies. Then, not spotting any obvious route or cairns that led anywhere, after much deliberation we took to the scrub. I found this part the most frustrating, and even more so when we hit the small sections of scree. I have never felt like this before, but it was like I had no balance, and I kept slipping on things I’d never slip on, and that just made me more annoyed and upset at myself. I was not having a fun time, and was slipping into the self indulgent and sluggish ‘I’m feeling sorry for myself mode’!
We popped out onto an open plateau, the summit trig point was hiding behind one of the rocky mounds on the horizon, but who knew which one! Wait, who cares, check out that eagle!! He’d come quite close, perhaps to check us out. Pointed in the right direction, we figured we’d spot the trig when we got to the next rise. But no, must be the one after! Graham’s keen eyes, which had alerted us to the eagle, also spotted a decent sized spider amongst the scrub (warning: there is a photo below, for those who don’t like spiders 😉 ), and we took a moment or two to make his acquaintance.
No trig from the next rise, but my gps said we were near, so we just kept going. Sure enough, you’re almost on it before you actually see it!! As we walked the last few metres the rain that we had watched progress along the tiers arrived, and we quickly jumped inside the rocky base that conveniently surrounds the trig and provides pretty good shelter from wind and rain. We sat and ate, and the rain turned into light snow!! Crazy weather…
All of these moments, these experiences, were things I’d usually be excited by, but it must have been the tiredness that meant while each was enjoyed, it did not stay as long as usual, and I found myself focusing mostly on getting up and back down, sooner rather than later. The ‘back down’ being, unusually, the more important thing this time. I just wanted to get home to bed, especially in those 5 minute blocks when it was raining. The weather wasn’t actually too bad, but it swung from sun to rain then snow and back again quite fast, and I don’t think I’ve ever made so many clothing adjustments on one trip! One moment you were freezing, the next sweat was running down your face!!
As tired as we were, and with the weather making the hut look like a good option for lunch, Murph was still pretty keen on giving Sid’s track a go, but his GPS was playing up and we ended up just cutting across to the hut, finding part of a cairned route on the way. It was very nice to sit down out of the wind and rain, though the beds (and yes, there were four of them) were looking very appealing!!
When the rain had stopped, the sun was shining brightly again, we left reluctantly (for having to get back on our feet), but keen to get back to the cars. We had few stops, to change out of over pants that were threatening to get us wet from sweat rather than rain, or to regroup, but no more than necessary. We were all pretty ready to get off our feet.
We regrouped just before the waterfall crossing then set off again. I was in the lead, then Graham, Shaz and Murph. The track was easy to follow, with only one or two spots that had you pausing to look for tape, a marker, or cairn. Down we went, and down some more. There was no real need to stop, but just shy of 1km from the track start (in a straight line on the gps) I pulled up, wanting a drink from my pack and figuring we’d better regroup one last time.
Graham and I chatted for a minute of two before being joined by Shaz, and we sat and waited for Murph. And waited.. and waited.. uneasily now.. Uh-oh.. what’s taking so long. Graham decided to walk back up and check it out, and had us set to follow him back up if he wasn’t back in 10 minutes. That uneasy feeling kept growing with each minute that passed. Murph couldn’t possibly be that far behind.
I kept bugging Shaz for the time, and when it came time to follow Graham up, we found we had a new surge of nervous energy. The tiredness was forgotten, and we were united on a common now rather scary goal. As we walked I went over scenarios in my head, voicing some of them out loud to Shaz. If Murph was injured and we’d have to stay the night out, I knew I had warm clothes and an emergency blanket. And figured Shaz would sleep in the car all night (she’d get too cold sitting out), while Graham and I could split the night shift, one sitting with Murph and the other catching some sleep in the car until it was time to swap. If we couldn’t find him, we’d all be spending the night up, likely joined by a Pandani S&R group.
I didn’t think this last option likely, until we finally caught up with Graham as he was walking back down.. no sign of Murph all the way to the last point we’d been together.. shit (well, a bit more dire than that)! Where the hell was he? By now we figured something bad was most likely, seeing Graham had been calling all the way up, and Shaz and I had followed 10 minutes later whistling my ear deafening whistle.. surely if he’d walked off track to use the loo he’d have heard, and couldn’t have missed both of us. That made a fall the more likely scenario, with Murph being unconscious or otherwise unable to reply to our calls (though the creek was noisy, and the wind was hard to hear much above too).
We hadn’t seen any obvious fall spots on the way up (you leave a pretty obvious trail if you take that kind of a fall), which meant in my mind he was most likely at the bottom of the waterfall.. shit again.. Graham had checked it, but hadn’t climbed down.. so back up we went, and climbed down.. that dreadfully sick feeling written all over our faces.. I’ve never had to look for what I thought might be a body before, and I don’t particularly want to again. Especially not of a friend. But there was nothing. Nada.
So where was he, and what the hell should we do? We’d covered all the territory we’d walked since we’d seen him, and saw no sign.. Graham suggested we head back to one spot where the track seemed to fork, then head back to the car. On the way I made a call to Simon, vice president of the club and the first person I’d go to in this kind of situation, to find out what we should be doing.
We’d done ok, but should have left a ‘catch’ person back at the spot where we first waited for him, before realising he wasn’t coming. And yes, we should head back to the car, and be in touch again there. As the conversation was drawing to a close I heard a male reply to Graham’s calls, I wasn’t sure I could believe it! Unwilling to get my hopes too high (how could Murph have got past all three of us??!) I wondered if it wasn’t the occupant of another car parked in the car park. But no, sure enough it was Murph, and it was so good to see him, perfectly fine and happy!! Turns out he had taken the branch in the route Graham had suggested heading back to, and it was the other part of the Western Creek circuit. Murph had been the only one aware it had been a circuit, or we might not have got so worried!! He also hadn’t realised he was on a different track until he was nearly back at the car. Fortunately he’d come back up to find us when he realised we weren’t there.
A little over an hour later later than we might have been, and an extra bit of climbing, we finally got back to the car. Tiredness returned, now that the situation was over, but for me it had changed the whole day. What had been an almost distant, disjointed walk (I didn’t really feel like I was all there), had ended with some excellent teamwork, and a good result. Some valuable lessons had been learnt too. Now I was more than ready for bed!!
All up, with the extra bits, 8.34 hrs for 16km and 1038m of upness…