This week I found it hard to make up my mind about what to do. There was plenty to choose from, in addition to any of a number of solo walks I’ve been wanting to do. I could join some friends going to Cape Pillar and know that I’d have a great time no matter what (I very nearly went with this) or go somewhere else with one or two others. Or do nothing I suppose. The weather wasn’t great, and the cold bug thing that’s been going around had an influence too. So I packed for every possibility and procrastinated.
But on Saturday morning after finishing work I had to make a choice. One of the Cape Pillar friends had hinted about dropping by work for something to eat, and had they, I would have gone with them. But there was no sign of them by 6 (I found out later I should have waited 20 minutes), so I decided I’d go with snowy isolation. That probably fitted my mood, though friends at Cape Pillar would have definitely cheered me up more.
Given that I’m always up for something new, and I hadn’t been up the Blue Peaks track, I thought that’d do for a solo wander. The weather would be cold, wet and snowy, but Monday might be ok, and there were a few peaks and lakes to visit, depending on how active or lazy I felt.
I was a bit concerned because I didn’t know the road, and wasn’t sure if there’d be any trees down given the winds we’d just had, but I figured if there was I could just head to the Walls or somewhere else nearby. I’d packed snowshoes so that wouldn’t be an issue either… In fact, something rather appealed about the idea of snowshoeing overnight ;)! I wasn’t sure how they’d go in fresh snow (it was supposed to snow all Sunday), but thought there might still be some about from last week (that was a bit optimistic). I also hoped that the terrain on top would be open enough…
So off I drove, a tad more carefully than usual having just read about a friend’s narrow escape after a tyre blew out unexpectedly while travelling at 110km/h. Sunrise was a quiet affair, the bottom of thickish cloud cover painted dull pinks, highlighted with yellowy-orange stripes where the cloud thinned. The mountains were mostly hidden, but I wasn’t surprised given the forecast. In fact, I was surprised to find there were hints of blue sky beyond the cloud, which was much thinner than expected in spots.
There was, however, a woolly blanket sitting over the Central Plateau, which was right where I was heading. I wasn’t fussed, it was kind of what I wanted. To be walking in a white bubble, in a shrunken world in which nothing outside one’s field of vision existed or mattered, where things like work, money, status, politics, religion etc were irrelevant, where there was no one to judge you, no expectations to meet, no one to disappoint, no one to hurt.. There’s you, just another part of nature now that all identity has been stripped away, in a wild place. As fierce as the winter weather can be, as harsh as it can turn a place, there’s an acceptance out there… and a oneness with the bush..
I wasn’t too keen to have to start walking in the rain though, and I was lucky in that regard. I needn’t have worried about trees on the road, and relatively fresh tyre tracks had me feeling positive. I was aware that it was a hydro road and as expected, it was decent, better than decent even.
I was geared up and ready to go by 10, just under 4 hrs after having left work. A short road walk, and I spotted the cairn marking the start of the track. As always, I started off a little hesitant, unsure of what kind of track it’d be, easy or hard to follow etc, but soon had my eye in. I had added reassurance of a few waypoints I’d found on the internet, and a track that I’d drawn into my gps based on LISTmap data (that is one VERY cool and valuable resource).
There’s very little climbing to do, but I took my time, taking a few photos (ok, probably rather a lot more than most people), aware that it could rain at any minute and I’d have to stop. Besides, pencil pines are just so photogenic!!
I couldn’t believe that it still hadn’t rained by the time I was approaching Blue Peaks, so I figured I’d make the most of it and get my tent up first (one thing I prefer not to do in the rain). I had planned on camping down by the lake, but the ground was boggy enough higher up, and I guessed it’d be worse down there. I was also aware that the wind was picking up, and was supposed to be reasonably strong for most of the weekend, so I liked the idea of tucking in beside the peak.
It didn’t take long to find a suitable spot and get set up. It was only midday, so I figured a short stroll up to the summit was in order. The cloud was still low, but every now and again it would shift to reveal nearby mountains, including Mount Ironstone, Fisher Bluff, Mersey Crag, Turrana Bluff, and 40 Lakes Peak.
I was on the northern summit within half an hour, and sat there for a bit, enjoying the two seconds of sun that I never expected to have. I didn’t feel like pushing it and heading the 4km (as the crow flies) to Fisher Bluff, so decided to leave if for Sunday or Monday or even another day, and instead just make my way south to the other summit. I was pretty sure the northern one was the higher, but I wanted to check, and also wanted a better view of all the lakes.
A short wander over, using the wallaby pads that went just about everywhere you needed to go (was surprised at how many of them I disturbed too). The currawongs were out as well, and two in particular had me laughing. I’m still not sure if they were dancing, teasing or fighting, but their antics made me think back to the snow fights of last weekend (see Nevada peak entry). It was definitely worth the short walk over to the southern point and I played with the camera some more, experimenting with shutter speed. It was cold enough that I couldn’t stop for too long though, and I decided on a different (the low) route back, just to explore new terrain (and more pines!).
Back to find my tent still standing, and surprisingly well tucked out of the wind. I gave myself a nod of approval for that one. A walk over to the rock behind my tent to see if I had reception enough to check the weather for tomorrow (yep, expect snow/rain from 7-4ish), then into the tent just as it started to rain! Lunch for dinner, and some note writing for dessert ;).
I stuck my head out a little later to find the clouds putting on a show (hard to capture on camera, it was all in the movement) and a little bit of colour to the east. North and west were all clagged in. I donned wet boots despite protesting toes (maybe I should do something about the now multiple holes in the leather?) and walked to ever so slightly higher ground to watch for a bit.
I wasn’t going to last long, the wind was COLD, and my toes were numb, but just as I was convinced the show was over (darker thicker clouds were coming in, wiping out the light fluffy band that had been racing across the horizon, eager to embrace the mountains), a patch cleared, and an almost full moon smiled brightly down. The effect was accentuated by the moody clouds on either side, moving quickly, as if to cover up something forbidden. But it was too late, I’d seen it, and it had made me smile back. I thought of a few friends, and both wondered if and hoped that they had also seen it.
Back to the tent, warm dry socks, and an early night listening to the wind race around the plateau, the rain coming and going as it pleased. After a bit it got serious, and the harder it pelted the more relaxed I got. It changed though, and earlier in the morning everything was a lot softer, the wind included. The hampered ruffling of the tent fly sounded almost as if there was someone camped nearby and they were turning on their mat.
I thought I knew what that meant, and got a little excited! Sure enough, I opened my fly and let out something between a giggle, a laugh and a whoop. Everything was covered in half a foot of soft snow, which was still falling. I kicked myself for not bringing my flash, it was only 6.20 so I had a bit of waiting to do before it got light! But it was beautiful to watch, and I kept laughing, and then realised my little point and shoot had a flash, so I made do with that.
The snow floated in the door of my tent, which only made me laugh more. I pondered why they called this a bushwalkers warning (it wasn’t when I’d set out, but a friend had sent through an update)… It was so beautiful, but I suppose it’s only seen that way if you’re prepared for it. And I must admit, after 2 minutes of taking photos from the rock 4 metres from my tent my hands were painful, and I even had gloves on. I was glad I didn’t have to pack up and move on today. I did hope I’d be able to drive down safely on the Monday, snow was forecast down to 200m, my car was at 1100m!!
And so began my lazy day of white. I retraced my quickly fading prints and sat in my tent, warmed hands, munched on a breakfast bar, and listened to the soft patter of more snow. I decided to rule out climbing Fisher Bluff, I wanted to come back anyway, and settled on a quiet tent/immediate surrounds kind of day. And oh how quiet it was when the snow stopped and the wind was still :D!!!
The great thing was that the clag wasn’t solid. The clouds were thin enough in parts and moving fast enough that as I watched I had glimpses of colour on the horizon where the sun must be rising, and glimpses of blue sky above. All the while it continued to snow. It was so soft that small gusts of wind would pick it up of the surface and propel it along the valleys in a fine mist. And then the sun came up, the clouds parted for it, and it shone straight onto me!! What a beautiful day. Sun AND snow!!
That meant another outing, donning wet socks and frozen boots again. But so worth it! The two currawongs of yesterday flew overhead, saying their hellos.
And so I spent my time.. Marked by the opening and closing of my tent fly in accordance with the direction of wind and amount of snow at any one time, by the freezing and thawing of fingers and toes, by the shifting between thought and action.
The sun came out again, I basked in its warmth. And still the snow fell. I discovered a new use for dry bags, which meant I could keep on my warm dry socks and ignore my frozen boots, and still go out and explore. It didn’t even matter if I stepped in water under the snow!!
I watched scrubtits flit around, the only sign of life. I watched clouds pass overhead. I watched bushes turn from bushes with a little bit of snow in them to mounds of snow with little bits of bush sticking out, then just white mounds. I watched snow flakes fall on me, shrivelling and melting shortly after they landed. They tickled my cheeks. I sat on a rock in the sun, and closed my eyes. I listened and felt.. and just was.. for a long time.
The sun would come and go, I’d pop in and out of my tent, occasionally doze off… Every time the views opened up I’d be excited all over again. I even built me a little snowman in my storage vestibule to keep me company, and someone who was present in spirit had me draw a smiley face in the snow :).
Snowfall was measured in how fast my footprints became softened over dimples, then weren’t noticeable at all. Or its fierceness measured in how much managed to swell under the small gap between the bottom of my fly door and still manage to waft in my face (I kept the inner open all the time, and the only reason there was a gap under the door was from my constant comings and goings, otherwise it’d have been like the rest of the tent, snowed under!).
The sky changed from grey to white to blue, and back again just as fast. Amazing the change in mood it brought. My thoughts roamed as freely. I wondered how long I’d last if I sat out in the snow. I suspected I didn’t really know how cold cold was. Not really. And I thought of the little match girl, and of that evening she had shared with her grandmother… and I smiled.. and was glad for the shelter and warmth of my tent and sleeping bag.
I didn’t expect a sunset, at least nothing more than a hint of colour on the eastern horizon if the clouds allowed it, so I didn’t stay out any longer than cold feet would allow. I did discover that you have to attach dry bags with a little more care if you plan on walking in knee deep snow and still expect dry feet (but it is possible)! Once I got back to my tent and had myself all sorted, I glanced out and was beckoned by nature yet again. Just above Ironstone, sitting on a bluey-pink tinged horizon, was the rising moon! Back out, feet ignored, I stayed until my fingers wouldn’t work anymore.
There was rather a lot of cursing, not under my breath because there was no one to hear anyway, as they painfully warmed up. My feet were a little more stubborn. A hand warmer helped, though never made it down to my feet – hands and lower back hogged it instead. After a short doze, I awoke to a relatively light tent, and I knew the moon must be a bit higher in the sky now. I had to stick my head out, wondering if the stars were shining too. They weren’t, there was plenty of cloud, but it was white in the moonlight as it raced across the sky. The snow too was beautiful in the soft light. I wished I knew how to use my camera properly to be able to take some of those kind of photos.
The stars came out later on, though it was still snowing lightly, something I didn’t expect. It was a lot colder night, and I woke a few times to find the wind dislodging the frost that had built up on the inside of my tent, showering my face!
By 6.30, as I lay in my tent, all I could see was a horizon of snow out the door, that’s how far it had risen, topped with black clouds that would occasionally reveal a handful of stars here and there. I had to sit up to be able to see the beginnings of an orange glow stretch across the true horizon, underneath a blanket of cloud.
Sun!!!! Once it got over the blanketing layer of cloud floating above the horizon it shone straight in the tent door again (note to self, consider sun when pitching tent). I lay propped up on one side, basking in it’s warmth before deciding to brave the wind. Every movement I made in getting ready resulted in mini snow showers inside my tent as I dislodged more of the frost that had built up.
Standing on my rock I enjoyed warm sun on my face and chilling winds at my back. My currawongs were back again, enjoying another sunrise together from the sky, and I envied them slightly.
As my toes turned numb and I was going crosseyed from typing messages on my phone with my nose, I decided it was time to retreat to my sleeping bag, warm up, then dig out the tent and try not to worry about whether the car would start or not. The warming up was called off when the cloud closed in again, and I figured I might as well just bite the bullet.
So much for my idea of packing quickly and moving fast so my feet didn’t get too bad: tent poles are hard to break when frozen, impossible while wearing gloves! But I did eventually get it sorted, and snowshoes went on (not a necessity, but they did prove handy (mostly!) and it meant I didn’t have to strap them to my pack).
It was a completely different walk with all the snow, and I spent as much time taking photos as on the way up. Greens and reds had become shades of grey in the snow, it was quite a transformation! When I got further down to the more enclosed bit I laughed, imagining how soaked I’d have gotten had I been with friends. As it was, I did an incredibly good job of showering myself in snow as I pushed under and through snow laden branches.
The wallabies were nowhere in sight, but they’d left their tell tale signs.. one with feet as small as 3 cm long, and I wondered why it wasn’t still in a pouch! Back on the road here, I walked a little faster.. anxious to see how my car was. I felt a little bad to find it with icicles hanging off the bottom, the bonnet and windscreen covered in snow, the boot iced shut.. I sorted my gear, cleared the bonnet as best I could with frozen hands, and sat inside..
A silent please, a turn of the key, a feeble chug and a heavy pause, then it took.. I let out the breath I was holding, said a quiet thank you, patted the steering wheel, and sat there for about 10 minutes. I didn’t know what the protocol was, but in American movies they always warm their cars before leaving for work, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. I waited for the temperature needle to work its way up past the C apparently marking the end of the gauge (but clearly not) then drove along snowy and icy roads at snails pace (well, 30-40km feels like snails pace in a car, especially when you’re still sliding around at times).
I relaxed when back on sealed roads.. and began the long drive home. A weekend I was glad I’d had, but equally wished I’d been sharing it with friends.
All up: 13.7km, 523m ascent. A nice easy one.