In essence, on the Thursday before this weekend, I lost a friend, a best friend. And I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to accept it, I didn’t really need to talk about it (that wouldn’t change it), I just didn’t want it to be so. But it was. And the only thing I slightly wanted to do was to disappear, out in the mountains. I wanted somewhere nice to sit with everything, cry, laugh, miss and be grateful for what had been. I doubted it would help much, but that was all I could come up with, so it was going to have to do.
I chose Gell partly because it was on my list, the weather was good (for Saturday and Sunday at least), it didn’t involve me having to organise (and pay for) the ferry like some of the other options would, and it gave the possibility of a summit camp (a high priority). That it was off track and would involve route finding (I didn’t have a pre-walked GPS route to follow) was, I figured, a good thing, as hopefully it would give me something else to concentrate on. Scrub too, would provide physical pain that might distract from the emotional stuff (who was I trying to kid?!).
With next to no sleep on the Friday afternoon, I got through work, left behind a grey and drizzly Hobart and managed to stay alert for most of the drive up. Four wild peacocks on the side of the road did help!
The last weather forecast I had suggested an even better Saturday and Sunday than expected, but rain all morning Monday. I knew I had to cross the Franklin river, which when in spate can be impassable, and so decided to see how it was, with the possibility of shortening the three days into two bigger ones. But I’d deal with that when I needed to, first, I had to get there.
I set off tiredly, my heart not quite in it, my head wondering what the point was anymore. The first part of the walk takes you on a taped track to Lake Dixon, which is frequented by fishermen. I have to give it to them, cos it’s not a very nice track. There’s plenty of trees down that require effort to get over or around, and the pad isn’t always easy to follow. I was glad I wasn’t lugging fishing gear down and back up!
When I got to the fishermen’s campsite I realised I was now on my own. I’d read the Abel’s description, and knew the rest of the walk was off track, some sections through a fair bit of scrub, but hadn’t really thought about what that meant. After a bit of mental preparation I set off again, through a bit of scrub then into the button grass, trying not to sink into bog or slip off a clump, wasting energy I didn’t have.
I began to doubt my interpretation of the Abel’s notes, but realised that it was more a case of just not having the detail in the first place to know whether or not I was in the right place. There certainly wasn’t much sign of others having been through for the most part. But I arrived at the river at a crossable section, but headed up stream a short distance to check if another was better. It was doable too, but I settled on a third, in between the first and second options.
Picking up a stick for added support (the river bottom was described as slippery) I made my way across carefully. It was slippery, but not too bad. Almost there, with dry feet, I realised there was a deeper section (mid calf) between me and the bank on the other side, which could possibly be jumped if one trusted the slippery bottom (I didn’t trust it that much!). Bugger going back and taking off my dry shoes, I figured wet boots would just have to do. So in I plunged, surprised by the strength in the current with a little bit more depth. Mental note made to get out before the rain on Monday.
Up into the scrub I bashed, not really knowing where I was going, other than in a north westerly direction until I was due west of the saddle between the Chimera and Hippogriff. I spent more time wondering what the hell I was doing, as I squeezed through gaps in scrub, broke out only to plunge back in, fell over, did plenty of drunken button grass ‘dancing’ and doubted that I was making any significant progress. But I’d told people I was going, so go I would. I can be very stubborn. And I hadn’t seen my mountain yet.
Probably, that was just as well. It got me up the scrub to the saddle (also scrubby) between the Chimera and Hippogriff. I wasn’t too impressed, though had expected it. At least it was easier going on top (no climbing, and less pushing more weaving), and I turned north towards the Hippogriff, leaving the Chimera for the return journey (if I had the energy). I had no idea whether I should be further west or not, but I wasn’t going to waste time trying to see if ‘the scrub was better on the other side’. Eventually popping out onto a clearing, I finally had views of both the Hippogriff and Gell.
I was still guessing at a line through the scrub on the other side of the clearing, and given the lack of available information chose the direct approach. It was scrubby, but did improve as I climbed (sometimes literally – I got sick of trying to go around the drops). And then finally, I let out a sigh, I was in the open and could sense the summit not far off. A bit more of a rise, and I could see it too. It was a bit of a deflated victory: I wanted to share it, and the views, and even the shitty-ness of the scrub, but couldn’t. I really rather missed the company I’d become accustomed to.
Again, the questioning what I was doing started, and I began to think maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I got into uni and didn’t get to go walking. It’s funny though, how sometimes people are there when you least expect it but need it most, even without them being aware of it. I received a message from a friend who’s been going through some pretty big changes, and has understandably been out of contact for sometime. And so it was to her that I sent photos and exchanged messages throughout the day, almost like we had a year ago. It was a bit special, and was probably about the only thing that could have made me smile that day.
I didn’t stay long on the Hippogriff. The walk up had unusually taken 4 hours instead of the 3 I’d expected, so I was keen to get moving. The ‘open vale’ I was to descend down towards Australia Tarn was open until I hit the scrub, then I’m not sure it applied any more. That threw me, as did the fact that I had no idea exactly where the recommended campsite was (not that I was planning on using it). I did find it, on the other side of the outlet to the lake. There were a number of decent tent sites, but the views weren’t quite what I was after, and it was only 2pm.
So the full pack went on, and I figured even if it took me double the Abel’s time of 2 hours to get up the scrubby ridge to the summit from the camp site I’d be right. I was feeling it, mentally and physically. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. The animal pads helped, and I managed to weave my way through the scrub and stay on them fairly well, negotiate (climb) a slippery cliffy wall of way too smooth rock (bad choice of route, but oh well.. needless to say I don’t recommend it) and climb high enough to start to think I was doing ok. I shouldn’t have.
Heading up the next rocky rise I discovered what was meant by ‘a chasm might have to be negotiated where the ridge breaks up’ (or something to that effect). I was standing on the edge of a 20-30 something metre drop. I could see where I wanted to be, but no easy way down. I hate back tracking, so I opted for a bit of a climby move over to the left, and a descent down rock, and eventually got to the ‘where I wanted to be’ spot.
I discovered the ridge was a bit like this, and you didn’t necessarily want to be high, or you might find yourself needing to descend. But there seemed to be a bit of a worn pad, and it worked out really well (when I could stay on it). But higher up this was increasingly less relevant, and there was more rock than anything else.
I headed towards the natural gully as by now my legs were really complaining, and I didn’t have the energy to tackle anything requiring more energy than the bare minimum. A very nice spot, dotted with small tarns and views towards the Labyrinth almost had me dropping my pack… but I wanted a little more height, so on I went.
I found instead a flat little spot just off the top of the ridge, below the start of the rock, and made it home. It was just after 5, so I had some dinner, donned the warm gear, and made for the summit. It was only a couple of hundred metres away, which didn’t take long on rock. Once there, I basically spent the next three hours enjoying the place. I longed to be able to share it; the 360 degree views of mountain ranges; the sun as it reached out with soft golden fingers, warming everything it touched; the beetles and butterflies (not so much the mozzies).. but that wasn’t an option.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, just to the right of Frenchmans, I headed back down, cold and tired and in want of a human kind of hug, now that I’d had my fill of ‘nature’s’ hugs. I wasn’t going to get it.
The following morning I rose to my alarm, and had 5 minutes to race back to the summit for sunrise. Nothing too spectacular, but pretty nice all the same. Half an hour later, having eaten a bar for breakfast up there, I was ready to head off to the Cheyne range, before the long walk back. I was tired before even having started, and was lacking in motivation. The main reason for going was because I was there, it was there, and it seemed a waste to come so far and not have a look. And the walking was relatively easy, nice and open, with just a few rises to negotiate.
Until the last dip and climb. Then it looked scrubby. It WAS scrubby. I took a full frontal approach, figuring straight up might equal the shortest distance of scrub to have to get through. And it wasn’t like I had any other info to go off. It was a proper crappy scrub fight, head height and above. I didn’t enjoy it, and to add insult to injury, one of the scrub types was pollinating, so every time I pushed through I’d send clouds of fine greeny-yellow powder over everything. I ended up with it in my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Lovely!
It’s probably understandable then that I didn’t celebrate the summit hugely. I was aware of just how much the bash had taken out of me (and I only had a day pack on), and I still had to get back through it. So photos taken, I turned and headed back down. I decided to trust instinct, and followed the animal (largely wombat, I think) pads. They had a tendency to walk off the western side of the ridge, but took a much easier line through the scrub, for which I was most grateful! I was beginning to think that the key to this walk was to locate and stay on the animal pads, and you couldn’t go wrong.
A tired walk back across the top was followed by a sit down near the tent to photograph a community of sundews inhabiting a cushion plant (or was that just an excuse to rest?). Then a quick striking of the tent, and sore hips and shoulders accepted (not without complaint) what seemed like a way too heavy pack. At least the first bit was downhill. Retracing my route required more concentration than I had, and everything seemed quite different, but somehow I made it back to Australia Tarn where a rest and a snack were really just procrastination for the slog up to the Hippogriff. It was the next big target, because once there, all I had left was mostly downhill or flat, even if it was scrubby.
By now it was a plod, and a hazy one at that, which seemed to take forever. But I got there, then found a better way down the initial descent off the Hippogriff. I’d forgotten the terrain a little, and was disappointed to find I had another drop before the saddle. Complaining about it wasn’t going to help, so I plunged into it, trying to stay upright (easier said than done).
Part way down, just wishing I could be back at the car, I stood on a stick. Nothing unusual, really…. Except I happened to have chosen the one spot where the scrub was light enough to allow the stick to swing up in a full arc, and take out my eye. Ouch.. the swelling was immediate, and for the next 10 minutes or so my vision was blurry every time I moved my eyes (kinda crucial when scanning scrub for a path of least resistance). I didn’t know if would stay that way, get better or worse. Not that there was anything I could do, I couldn’t see what was going on, there was no phone reception, and I was in the middle of scrub. Another one of those moments I wouldn’t have minded having someone to share it with.
I went on more carefully, wincing every time I squinted my eyes when pushing through head high scrub. I bailed on the Chimera, that could wait for another day, one when I wasn’t so tired, and wasn’t so over scrub. So down I went, through the scrub, trying to keep to a similar path as the way up, but failing miserably! After a bit of a final bash, I popped out, not recognising the terrain, even though I was supposed to be in the same place as the way up. Maybe I was just too tired. I was, that was certain.
The far side of the river my target, I plodded and slipped through the button grass until I got there, standing in the deeper part of the river just to cool my hot, aching and chaffed feet (walking in wet socks is never good for keeping skin intact). Then I sat down for the longest break I think I had all weekend. I really didn’t want to get up, but nor did I want to be packing up and walking out in the rain the following morning, so I eventually got up, staggered around until my feet remembered what they were meant to be doing, and settled into the final leg.
I wasn’t stopping any more, if I did, I’d likely not get started again! Two tiger snakes on the track kept me awake enough, and by the time I got to the car, I had enough energy left for a quiet “yay”. The weekend didn’t resolve anything, just left me with a few more physical injuries, but Gell is a lovely mountain to sit on top of and view the world from. I’d definitely recommend a high camp.
All up: 36.3km, 2060m ascent. Day 1: 8.5 hrs, Day 2: 13 hrs (all breaks included).