I don’t know how to write this, or where to begin, because there is no start, just as there is no end. Sometimes, I suppose, you get to moments in life where something just has to give. I guess I was there. I was over fetching wood and carrying water. It was time to walk the earth. Alone. I didn’t quite know why, I didn’t quite know how I knew. I just had to go. So I did.
What I came up with, as I walked, sat, soaked in the sun and views, lay under the stars, was something along these lines. Walking (which is a lot of things to me, but I’m not even going to start on its importance, because I could write a thesis) is the one thing, and the mountains are one place, where no matter what, I feel as in control as one can be in the face of life’s uncertainties, of constant and often quite drastic change.
The mountains and wilderness are the one thing that offers true sanctuary, true groundedness. Because while they can be harsh, but they do not betray, they do not reject, they do not judge, and they do not question. They accept, and in doing so they teach, indeed demand, self acceptance, respect and love, with no room for self doubt or pity. And from there, they encourage strength and courage, peace and calmness.
The mountains strip everything away, all that baggage you’ve taken on and insist on carrying around, and leave you naked and raw. The most truest, most elemental, version of the being ‘I’. Full of passion, dreams, wonder, joy, love and acceptance.
This is what I went in search of, a regrounding/rediscovery of me, though I didn’t know it in so many words at the time. I did know that it was going to be a significant weekend. Which meant there wasn’t much choice about where to go. And the weather cooperated. So it was time to visit Pelion West.
I first bought a map of Pelion West as soon as I got hooked on walking. Close friends had done a circuit from Ossa to Pelion West, and their tales of bivvying in amongst the boulders on Pelion West had piqued my interest, and my respect of the mountain. I wanted to meet it. But I was told strictly it was not a mountain to climb solo. Hmmm…
I respected the decision (in any case, Pelion West was NOT a name mum was going to forget anytime soon), and bided my time. I went in to the region for the first time by myself and climbed Ossa (for a stunning sunrise), Pelion East, Oakleigh and Pillinger. A year later, I was lucky enough to be on an unforgettable Pandani trip in to Perrins Bluff, which included sunset on Paddy’s Nut, a traverse over Thetis, and a fun little scramble up Achilles and Achilles Heel too. Always, always, Pelion West held my attention, and both my respect and desire increased. One day would come.. eventually.
But no one seemed to be going, and other walks took prominence. By now though, I was just a little more experienced, and more importantly, felt more confident in my ability to handle myself in the bush alone. I still wasn’t sure about repercussions if anyone knew for sure that I was going solo so I stayed silent. I did contemplate inviting one other person, but they were otherwise engaged in another (equally crazy) idea of what constitutes fun.
I figured I was in this one alone, no one could help, though it turns out I was wrong on that account. Instead, I came out of it with the feeling like I might just have been gifted a very important friend (the kind I only ever thought existed in books), and the chance to right a different friendship. So that was what the walk was really about… though perhaps you’re reading this for an account of the walk up Pelion West, so I should probably oblige with no further digressions ;).
I do love driving in Tassie (though I don’t actually like driving per se), and this trip started off full of the usual wonders. Of particular note was the transition into and out of the patches of fog in the central highlands. I never know quite what it is about trees silhouetted between soft white sheets, or hints of colour returning to everything, now with so much more vibrance.. But it gets me every time. The new lambs and their antics as I flashed by also made me chuckle.
By the time I was on the mags spur road, I was about ready to be there already, and was cursing the long straight sections under my breath. But then I disturbed a wedgie, and curses turned into gratitude as he flew in front and above my car for quite a distance, down the middle of the very straight road. He was pretty big, wings spanning about 3/4 the width of my car. Now I had a smile on my face, the impatience was gone, and figured I’d get to the start whenever I did.
4 hours after finishing work I was changed and walking along the track. I’ve been in on the Arm River track a few times now, so it was old territory, but not at all boring. There weren’t the orchids to spot from last time, but the birds were still around. I listened as wattle birds made abrupt attempts to communicate with harsh regurgitative squarks, kookaburras chuckled somewhat derisively at them, but one thing led to another and they were soon laughing their heads off, while another chimer put in his four notes, each exactly the same. I joined the kookaburras, and kept on walking.
Sometimes I thought about the things I saw, heard or smelt, sometimes I just tuned out and put one foot in front of the other. I also thought about friends a fair bit, work a little, life a lot.
I remembered the last time I was here, each step bringing something else back, as if the memories were held in the earth, the trees, the rocks, waiting to be revisited as I planted a boot in reddish brown mud, ran a hand across coarse, lichen covered dolerite, or admired the way sun shone emerald green through myrtle leaves.
More work had been done on the section of track past New Pelion Hut, and with a smile and a shake of the head I remembered the track worker we’d met on the walk out the last time. I whispered another thank you, and kept plodding along. Lost in my thoughts, I startled a mum and joey who were eating grass by the track, as much as they startled me! We both paused, shared a moment, then went on our ways.
On arriving at Frog Flats I decided I was going to ditch the idea of walking to the river 200m past the turn off to Pelion West, partly because I didn’t know if there was a decent place to camp there, and (mostly) because right here, in front of me, was a perfect little spot, with views of Paddy’s Nut, Thetis, Achilles and Achilles Heel, and Pelion West. I just couldn’t go past it.
Excited, I dumped my pack, and got distracted by a pandani I wanted to take a photo of. Now I’d been especially careful on the walk in to avoid all puddles and bogs, because of the three (now sadly only two) holes in one boot, and the desire to have DRY feet for once. You can imagine I was none too impressed then, when circling this pandani plant to get an idea of the perspective I wanted, I placed a foot between two clumps of button grass to fall waist deep into an underground creek!
With disgust and camera held high (thank goodness for reflexes) I extracted myself, gave up on the pandani, and stripped off. A nearby tree became my washing line, and I sought to make use of the last little bit of the sun’s heat while I pitched my tent and ate my lunch for dinner. It was somewhat futile, and as soon as the sun dipped behind Pelion West the temperature plummeted. A short wander and photos of the evening light and moon while my fingers still half functioned, then into bed with me.
Boots came inside the tent, but I didn’t have high hopes. Sure enough, when I woke at midnight to check out the stars and moon, they were already frozen solid. Oh well. I wasn’t too fussed, and after waking and eating breakfast, I forced my feet into their unyielding form, tied them up as best I could (it’s hard to tie frozen shoelaces tight), and made for a hasty start.
The frost had sucked the colour, and almost, it seemed, the life, out of everything. It was cold, still, sound was muted and I paused to take it in. A little further around the track though, not even 15 minutes later, that changed in an instant. It was like stepping from one world into another, one where someone had just splashed a can of golden paint over everything. What had been monochrome became vibrant happy colours, warming to the eyes, skin, and heart.
I walked on, with an extra spring in my step. As always, when I approached the spot where I thought the track should branch off, I expected it way before I should have. But I know I have a tendency to do that, so I told myself I’d walk all the way to the river, and if need by, walk back again until I found it. I was going off info that said it was 200m east of the river (I can’t remember its name) and that I should be looking for two logs lying perpendicular to the track, with what looked like a wombat pad between them.
If you’re looking and alert, they’re easy enough to spot. The first one now has three small rocks on it too. It’s a definite pad, so up I went, glad to be finally ‘on the way’. The initial bit of pad is a bit overgrown and scratchy on the knees, but soon enough you break out and get half the views you know you’re in for. Pelion West stands sturdy straight ahead, and I liked that it didn’t shy away, hiding from sight until the last possible moment, as some mountains do.
After a honeymoon period, and the discovery of the Ossa-Perrins mountains over the ridge as you climb a little further, it’s back into scrub again. At least the pad was no longer frozen over, which I figured meant the rock was going to be fine too (it was, though understandably a little frosty on the southern side). I stopped lots on the way up, just couldn’t take everything in AND concentrate on walking, so I prioritised the former. I figured I had all day, and it wasn’t a race.
On top, I was grateful to be out of the overgrown track and onto solid, grippy dolerite.. I did a little dance/pirouette thing with arms spread wide in an expression of delight, appreciation, and a whole lot more, and then set about enjoying the views. After a bit, I figured I’d better go in search of the summit, and some more views. I did a mixture of following cairns and choosing my own way (though that often ended in long drops ;)!), and did plenty of ducking back and forth from one side to the other to see how the views had changed.
A short distance from the summit I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to settle a personal challenge and pull off a proper headstand on the edge of the cliff line, with High Dome and Frenchmans in the background. I’d been slightly frustrated that I’d made a less than impressive attempt the week before on Mueller, and had gone home to figure out the secret to a controlled headstand. I cracked it that night, practiced once a day for the week, by the end of which I was confident enough I could do one without overbalancing (wouldn’t have made a nice look) and hold it for as long as it took my camera to take the photo. I was pretty happy with the effort, and knew it’d make at least one person laugh.
Onwards I scrambled. Now completely at ease on the rock. The boulders were big, in spots as big as cars or even trucks, and there were some gaps that you wouldn’t be climbing out of if you fell, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might have been given what I’d heard. Or rather, perhaps I just felt more at home than I expected. I recognised the summit rock at once from photos I’d seen, and went for a scramble. Though it looks daunting, it’s not such a bad one to climb: longer perhaps than Achilles, but not quite as steep and with more holds/grip.
I had another play around with the camera and timer to attempt a terrible photo taken into the sun of me climbing it (proof I was there – not that I needed it, but still). And then I realised I still had a good chunk of the day ahead and had to decide what to do. I had initially thought I’d drop of the western end and head back down around the bottom of the cliffs (cos they’d look pretty impressive). But that was all in shade, the wind was a bit nippy and my fingers were already yellow and numb. It was also the shorter and quicker way down off the rock (and therefore down off the height and magnificent views).
So I reluctantly skipped a different way back for a sun bake on rocks out of the wind, and a very pleasant hour and a half or more gazing south. I still hadn’t had my fill when I decided I should probably start to wander back, so I had time to pack my tent, and walk back to New Pelion, hopefully before it got too late and too cold.
The wander was slow, but still it went too fast, and I was back at my tent before I wanted to be, but really probably at about the right time of day. I lay back into it, legs sticking out the door, and gazed at Pelion West, enjoying the warm sun on my knees and not wanting to move. But I did, eventually, and wandered back to the hut in a glowing kind of daze.
I was slightly surprised to find four other groups there (there’d been no one there on my way in) but it was also kind of nice to sit around and chat about the walks they were doing and had done. An unintended experiment in what happens when you substitute shellite for metho in a trangia for an inexperienced member of one party was promptly dealt with, and having had my fill of excitement for the day I retired early.
A brief interlude to experiment with more nighttime photos, and I was back in bed. As if to match my mood, the following morning was cloudy, but the light was still lovely. I reluctantly got ready, but knew there wasn’t going to be much prolonging things. So I said my goodbyes, and headed off, back to the car in a bit of a blur.
An ice-cream in Chudleigh on the way out, a chat to the shop owner about stars, an unexpected catch up and chat in Perth that left me smiling. Moody clouds and brilliant light accompanied the drive back, and I knew I’d found something of what I was looking for.
All up: 46.6km, 1959m ascent.