I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one really looking forward to this walk. I certainly wasn’t the only one who had had the Thumbs on their radar for a number of years, a few having even attempted it before! It’s not exactly a mountain you forget very fast, having seen it for the first time (usually) driving along the Gordon River road on the way out to the southwest.
I can remember first discovering its name on top of the Needles, a bit over two years ago. On that particular day, as four of us sat and looked at the vista surrounding us, I promised to visit the Thumbs, Mueller and Weld. Ever since then, I looked at each of those three mountains slightly differently, perhaps with a more acute awareness of their presence and acknowledgment of the respect they deserve.
Now, finally, I’ve kept my word, with the help of yet other friends. And each has been as or more spectacular than expected, whether in terms of the demands of the walk, the nature of the terrain and climb, the company and experiences shared, and/or the beauty of the place.
The Thumbs, perhaps, with its rocky thumb like protrusions reaching skywards, hinting at some fun clambering for the inner monkey, had the strongest pull. When Graham spoke of putting it on the Pandani program, I got a little excited. As the date approached, and it was clear we had a pretty awesome group of 12, and some weather that would work, I was even more excited.
The usual night shift, home and last minute things to pack, then out the door again and into Graham’s car. We pulled up in front of Ben’s place, to be greeted by a huge smile and a most excited and very happy declaration: ‘I’m going on a bush walk!’. It was perfect, and I found myself smiling widely in return.
For me, it stripped back a whole heap of other emotions, doubts, and frustrations I’d been carrying, and left only the good stuff: the joy and anticipation of being out with special friends, in a special place.. basically combining all the things I love most. I really must do that more often (and remember to stick with it, instead of letting the other stuff creep back in!).
Off to Granton we drove, catching up on news. I enjoyed just listening to the happy and excited chatter filling the car. It’s not something you hear too often in every day life (I think people in general, and I’m guilty of it too, focus a lot on what’s not right, rather than being excited by and grateful for what is and the possibilities that exist), and it’s really very refreshing! This is another reason why I love bushwalking and the friends I usually get to go with.
As always it was great to see everyone, though we only had a few minutes for hellos before we jumped back into cars, eager not to be late for an 8am rendezvous with the Parks office at Mt Field in order to collect a key we needed. After an informative chat, we set out again, turning right onto the Clear Hill road, then after a fair distance, right again onto the road to Adamsfield.
At the gate I got to do the unlocking and relocking honours. Shortly after we’d started driving again the others seemed to have fallen behind, then Jess came running along the road. Graham thought they were trying to tell us we’d gone the wrong way, which didn’t seem to make sense to me, but I couldn’t think what might be up. Apparently though, we had one very flat tyre, which you couldn’t feel on the rocky/muddy road at all.
So we had another interlude of standing around, offering snide remarks and laughter as Graham and Simon got to work changing the tyre. I didn’t dare to ask how Graham felt about driving on with no spare, I assumed he was as uneasy as I probably was. But the rest of the drive was uneventful, until we arrived at a couple of quite cute shacks just before we had to ford the river.
The river looked to be of no concern, but the bank opposite a little steep. It took Graham a second run to get up successfully in his Subaru AWD, but the other two 4WDs had no problems at all. Incidentally, for those who want to go but aren’t confident with that kind of thing (like me!), there is a foot bridge, so you can cross without getting wet feet, and it isn’t far at all to walk to the place we parked our cars (at the campground).
Parked, a quick hello to the two parks guys building a new day shelter for the 4WDrivers, gear on.. and then we found ourselves automatically assembling in a circle for the pre-walk briefing. We were a well behaved and trusting group, it would seem (mostly!), and after the usual teasing and mucking around, we trotted off in a game of follow the leader (largely blindly to start off with!).
Leaving the road, we wove a relatively straight way through the greeny golden button grass, colours muted by the mist that teased without threatening, on something that had ‘pad-like’ characteristics. The drizzle played with our minds, at times heavy enough to warrant a stop to don jackets, only to give way to patches of blue sky and sunshine that had us packing them away again. And so the game would go, though we tired of it quite quickly, deciding that it wasn’t serious nor was it hanging around.
The mountains around us slowly shook the covers from their flanks, and we delighted in each new revelation.. Clear Hill and Stepped Hills in particular. Further along, we could see roughly where we’d be camping, and the almost valley like formation between two ridges that we’d head up to get to the summit, which was filled with cloud. But as we walked and watched (when we weren’t too engrossed in banksia wars!), a hint of Thumb appeared in the middle of the whiteness, and some of us at least, were very child like in our joy at the discovery. We kept a close eye on it as the mist swirled around, with the occasional ‘Oh look!!’ when a bit more was revealed.
By the time we arrived at our agreed upon camp spot by Abel Creek, the mist was low again, but it didn’t worry us so much. We had its measure by now, and were happy to let it come, so long as it kept on going! Tents went up, and in very little time we had converted the wilderness into a mini city of brightly coloured tents. The transformation was quite a sight!
A rock was selected, or volunteered by virtue of size, location and orientation, and a few of us gathered to eat lunch there, while others chose to dine in or closer to their tents. The sun came out, along with more blue sky, and I went for a short wander for some photos.. to return to find a new pocket knife in my lunch box.
Jess was the guilty party, but I was guilty by association. So after spending a bit of time trying to find his knife, I kindly offered Graham mine. He accepted, but seemed more intent on trying to find his own, and when he walked off on his search Jess slipped his knife back with his lunch, and returned mine. It took him a moment or two to realise he wasn’t going barmy, and that Jess was the culprit, and she ended up with a tickle attack for punishment.
With the mist and accompanying drizzle closing in from the west again we set off shortly after 1.30, Graham back in the lead. It was handy having a GPS track to follow from the last time he’d been here on a trip led by Murph, as it was difficult to get an overall idea of the terrain with the visibility the way it was. Even with it, we found ourselves in a delightfully scrubby section, which none of us were actually too fussed about. We happened across an old birds nest, ducked and climbed through a tiny bit of horizontal, and popped out the other side, at the bottom of a relatively open ramp that would take us up to the start of the rock.
Upon emerging Graham informed the group that we’d be taking the Southern Face to the summit, straight up the rock ;)! No, on a more serious note, we might leave that for another day and head around to the left, climbing to the saddle then circling and circling around the back.
The summit was in sight, but as we climbed higher up the ramp, the swirling mist added mystery and attraction, and made it seem as if the closer we go the further we were, in one sense! But I think we all actually quite liked it, and the atmosphere it cast over us. While you couldn’t see it any more, you could certainly FEEL it!!
I started to get that pull.. where my legs and body want to go faster and faster, eager to see what’s over the next rise. But Graham was in the lead, and doing a good job of keeping such a large group together, so even though I was at one stage cheeky enough to walk out the front, I was careful to make sure I didn’t walk further than a sensible distance ahead.
A lot of my walking has been done solo, with one or two others, or in relatively small groups, and regardless of the fact that the company was excellent, I still found myself wanting, perhaps selfishly or unfairly, to break free and be alone in the wildness for a bit (and the weather had turned it into a spectacularly wild place). The emotions and frustrations that I’d had in the car earlier had returned, and, unable to talk about them, this has always been my solution.
Perhaps that was why, after making the saddle and starting to circle around, when there was some doubt over which way to go, I headed back up to a line over rock that I’d liked the look of when we’d passed it. It was also where I thought the GPS route we were following went. But Graham seemed to have a good lead that circled under and around the rock, and passed the word back up the line.
I think Simon saw what probably came across as reluctance to leave the rock unexplored, perhaps also a bit of disappointment at trying to be helpful and failing, and gave me a ‘you go that way’. I knew two people weren’t going to be happy about it, but this time I was selfish, and without further thought, I went. I did enjoy swinging between rock, taking care because despite the conglomerate surface being quite knobbly, it was also rather slippery in the wet. At the same time I wanted to make sure I didn’t hold anyone up and cause concern.
But that wasn’t going to be an issue as the route I’d taken, though rocky, was quite direct, and once round and on another saddle, I found a rock to sit on and wait, as I watched grey shadows materialise in the mist and slowly take colour and form.
I did apologise for having gone my own way, as I know that kind of thing is not welcomed without consultation, and especially in the conditions we had. The ‘yeah whatever’ I got in return stung, my apology hadn’t been seen as genuine or was otherwise unaccepted and I considered myself reprimanded, in probably a more effective way than had I been told not to do it again.
As we regrouped, Simon had a quiet word in my ear, asking me to keep an eye on Jess, who was feeling dizzy again. I’d noticed she wasn’t looking well, but know that like me, she doesn’t tend to make a song and dance about things if she can help it. Suspecting it might have something to do with the earache she’d developed the previous weekend on the west coast, with symptoms similar to those I’d had on Fedder, I figured I’d stick around and make sure she was sandwiched between Simon and me. But that idea didn’t get far.
Ready for the final push, Graham asked me to do him a favour and lead. I said no thanks. He insisted, so did I. Jane piped in, saying she wanted to follow me. I suggested Ben looked like he might want to lead, but he declined too. Frustrated and upset, again selfishly so at having to do what other people wanted of me, not what I wanted, I headed off, probably a bit too fast to provide a reliable lead.
I knew the last final scramble on slippery sloping conglomerate was going to be a bit of a challenge for some people, and so after having walked up to check that what I thought was the top actually was, I walked down and watched as the others approached. I was angry at myself for having been less than helpful, particularly when I pointed out the way I’d been and found that it wasn’t liked very much! So I sat and felt sorry for myself, unable to offer any suggestions, as they found an alternative route up.
I wandered over to where I’d gone up, in case I could be of any help to a few who did decide to get up that way, but they managed fine without needing any. I sat there for a bit after they’d moved up to the summit, determined not to take my foul mood up there with me. Instead, I looked over the edge into white nothingness, felt the cold wind on my face, the chill it sent through me as it cooled my already wet shirt and shorts.
There’s always something strangely comforting for me, in that sense of sitting on the edge, being totally exposed to the elements and nature, but feeling safe and confident despite it. I knew I was strange in this regard. The preferred method of motion on the sloping summit slab was to bum it. 5 points of contact at all time. A few were clearly out of their comfort zones. And that was what had me moving back up to share the achievement with them, and extend congratulations and respect (whether they were aware of it or not – I might have teased the uneasy by standing on one foot near the edge, but respect I still had).
Sitting up there, we watched and encouraged as Graham spoke some words to AB, who had been in on the last trip, but had given the icy rock a miss. But it wasn’t us who did the work, it was AB, one foot and hand after the other, until he was sitting up with the rest of us. I will always have utmost admiration for those who push their boundaries, even to the point of saying ‘no, that’s enough now’ (which perhaps takes even more courage?). And it always strikes me just how much we can achieve and/or learn if we’re willing to step outside our comfort zone every now and again.
It was hard not to feel a sense of respect too, for the mountain, and the challenge it had lain by summoning mist and moisture to ensure we proved our worth. But with that came a higher sense of achievement, and you could read it in everyone’s smiles. Unfortunately though, it was cold and wet, and at 5pm it was getting late. We’d taken 3 hours to climb, with 20 minutes on top.
Now I could hang back, and so I did. Jess seemed in slightly better spirits, perhaps because heading down didn’t require looking up so much (and that is never good for dizziness). When the banksias started flying again, I knew things really were getting better, and was able to relax into having a bit of fun.
The mist had risen higher now, and the summit was back in view (bummer about the timing, but oh well!). Rays of sunlight streamed through cloud on the horizon, coming to rest on the Gordon Dam. The mountains in the distance took their varying shades of blue, their gentle lines broken by silhouetted trees on nearby ridges.
Down at the bottom of our ramp, having decided NOT to take to the scrubby section (which would be an uphill fight this time), it seemed like tiredness and having too many options had led to indecision and perhaps a hint of frustration. By the time us stragglers arrived, Graham pulled rank and made a wise call, crossing the creek with only the smallest amount of scrub to negotiate, and we were on the home run.
We arrived back at camp shortly after 7.30, unanimously looking forward to the simple luxury of dry underwear! Jess and I plopped down on the lunch rock, preparing ourselves to get changed and sort out dinner. Some company, a misunderstanding or several, and some hurt and hurtful words turned me off dinner completely, and needing some time alone (because I’m really not so good at pretending to be fine when I’m not) I went for a wander.
I found me a rock and sat against it. My timing was rather off, and I felt somewhat alone enjoying the precious few moments of golden light as the sun dipped low. The lighting was just beautiful, and would have been a moment worth sharing with special people. And then it was gone. I was still in wet gear, and cold and shivering, but not quite ready to head back.
A whistle, and another.. and I wondered if I was hearing things or if the birds were more human sounding than I’d realised.. then a ‘Marco…?’ and I knew I wasn’t. Jess came and sat down with me, and after sharing her chocolate and a bit of a chat we headed back to the tent. I was particularly glad to be sharing a tent, to have someone to talk to, and to give me a hug. Despite having been up for as long as I had, I doubt I’d have got much sleep otherwise. As it was, I lay there listening to the chatter and laughter of those dining outside, until they too decided to retire. A big hug later, and finally I could sleep.
I woke feeling flat, didn’t even bother to check on the sunrise, and probably just as well, as the mist was back. Sometime after 7 we started to think about packing our stuff, the decision having been made the night before to check out the Gordon Gorge if the weather wasn’t too bad (it was supposed to get rainy).
Mostly done, I exited the tent to put on boots and gaiters. A peace offering was delivered, followed by an apology and the hope that the day ahead could be enjoyed. Both were accepted with an unspoken promise to realise that hope. And so after a warm up game of frisbee while waiting for everyone to get ready, once we set off, the banksia wars began immediately. A smile stayed on my face, and the 3km relatively flat and open walk to the gorge passed quite fast. The sun came out and the mist dissipated, coats and overpants were quickly discarded, and a happy, lazily relaxed mood pervaded.
The first spot that we came out on gave a pretty nice view of the tops of the gorge wall/cliff, enough certainly to satisfy most of us. But while we lay in the grass, took photos, and ate snacks (and if you were unlucky, copped a banksia in the head ;)! ), Ben went for a wander a bit further along. He returned, with exciting news of a spot further around where you could see the river!
We hastened after him, and were suitably impressed. A bit more of a wander, and there was an even better view. And a bit of a steep drop.. and a tree a short way down the start of the steep drop… which was just begging to be visited… so, aware that Jane was telling Simon not to go too close to the edge or something of the like, I ducked out of sight, and climbed down.
It was a stunning view of cliffs and water. Probably quite similar to the one on top really, but being wrapped around a tree, or hanging off to one side of it to take a photo, made the experience all the better, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Finally feeling a little more peaceful, the walk back was relaxed. It must have been, as Graham was perhaps reluctant but otherwise generally ok with allowing four of the now eleven of us (Catherine had opted to stay back at camp to rest a painful knee) to head lower down into the valley, where it was likely a little flatter, but initially scrubbier.
We met back at camp and shared lunch on the rock. The fruit cake I’d brought to share at dinner came out, and seemed to hit the spot. Then it was a case of packing tents and starting back. All of us, I think, were pretty glad to have visited the gorge, because apart from being impressive, it made that last day more than just a walk out. It provided that extra little bit that softened us, until we were in a content and slightly sleepy state.
The sun was out and shining, the mountains standing clear and strong, as we set a relaxed pace back to the cars. I figured I could finally be of use here, and had offered to lead us back. Jane put on a stoic effort after twisting an ankle (never easy to walk in button grass with twisted ankles), and we all made it back sometime after 3. After changing clothes, Jess’ hackey sac appeared, but a proper game was converted into a game of catch, and as things do, it got a little out of hand. The end result was a game of throw rocks and planks of wood at a gum tree to try and dislodge one decently stuck hackey sac!
And so ended what was, in all, a particularly good weekend spent with special special people, in a pretty amazing place, with some not too bad weather! Thanks to all who organised and participated (and put up with me!).
I realise I forgot the self worth challenge in my last post (honestly forgot, I promise!) so I’ve chosen something that’s always been an issue for me (body image). In school I used to joke with mum that I had invisible black warts on my face, though of course I wasn’t really joking (I suspect she knew that), it was a metaphor for how I felt about me. But today I’m going to say I have an ok smile… Ok, ok.. I’ll do it properly.. I like my smile :).. (and I hope it’s making you smile now!)
All up: 24.1km, 1281m ascent… Just in to the Thumbs and back: 17km, 1075m ascent.