This little walk was a brilliant example of the coming together of a number of plans, into one perfect whole. It started off with a message from a school friend, Adam, who I hadn’t seen pretty much since school, almost 10 years ago (feeling a bit old now!). He was going to be down with his housemate and partner, and had a few days to go walking. They happened to coincide with my days off, so the weekend was booked. Where we’d go would be a last minute decision based on the weather!
In the lead up, I’d been making plans with a few friends to finally get together on a cruisy walk somewhere nice. Most of my weekends had been booked with one form or walking or another, and I mentioned this weekend if they were interested. All three were, and Adam was ok with it too, so we were getting a nice little party together. The usual uncertainties and misfortunes arose, one friend couldn’t make it because her ankle was still not good ( 😦 ), another realised she couldn’t skip uni on the Monday (but ended up coming for the Sat/Sun :)!!), the third questioned whether she should leave us to enjoy the weekend alone. But, as usual, everything came together at the last minute. Bec decided to walk up and back without the mountains in the middle (pity, and I felt a little bad, because she missed the nicest of days), Catherine was convinced her company would be much appreciated, and we even had a last minute addition in the form of Graham. The weather, the temptation of mountains unexplored, and a cancelled work commitment on the Monday, meant he could do some rearranging, chase us down on the Saturday afternoon, and head out early on the Monday morning. Maybe the company played a small role too ;)?
So, with a great group, a perfect weather forecast, and some mountains to climb, we set off. Being the perfect host, I gave Adam the keys to my car, and instructions for Bec not to lose him, and went to sleep in the back of the car while he drove. I’d worked overnight and hadn’t felt well at all, so was in damage minimisation mode! That worked quite well, and I woke just before 14 mile road.
We were changed and ready to walk just before 9 so off we went. I’d walked that very track the week before, so wasn’t as excited by the prospect of 5 or so hours on it, but the company definitely made all the difference. It was great to catch up with old and (slightly) newer friends, and chat about anything from politics to kids movies. Adam’s sheer delight early on at a large rock, which both trees and ferns were intent on climbing, convinced me that he’d fit in just fine! As a reward for walking the lake instead of taking the ferry, we also saw a translucent green fat caterpillar, and two echidnas. The two were quite different: the first darker, older, and much more bashful as he buried his head and refused to move; the second lighter, smaller and so full of movement it was virtually impossible to take a photo that wasn’t blurry!!
We took our time wandering the lake’s edge, but made it to the signed Lake Marion/Gould Plateau turn off (200m before you arrive at Narcissus hut) at about 3.30, just as we were expecting Graham to be arriving at Narcissus on the ferry. A brief snack, before it was time to push on. We knew we had at least an hour and a half up to the plateau where we’d camp, likely more given the steep climb we’d have to ascend. Knowing Graham would easily catch up and overtake it was more important we kept moving, that wait up.
The track to the junction is decent, only slightly vague in a few places, and is signposted at the Lake Marion turn off. Graham had given me some pink tape to put up in any slightly obscure areas, so he could follow at pace, but it wasn’t really necessary. Probably the best placed bit of tape was tied to the chicken wire in the middle of a section of boardwalk.. just in case he lost the track ;)!!
After the turn off, there were a few sections where the track was easier to walk off, and some searching was required, but by and large once we got used to spotting the red and white painted blazes on tree trunks it was quite easy to follow. The problem was in trying not to take your eyes off the track too long to admire the beautiful forest through which it weaved its way up. We were all pretty tired by this stage (except Graham who shot off ahead), so going was slow, and slowed further when we hit a few slippery sandstone rocks across the path, that required care in placing just the right amount of weight on each step, lest you slip straight back down.
By this stage the change in vegetation suggested the top of the plateau was near, and so it was. We popped out quite fast, onto a beautifully textured sandstone platform, a stage from which to view the world that had suddenly opened up around us. We shared smiles, then laughter, tinged with a hint of relief that the climb was over and home for the night was just over there. The pause was brief, we were all pretty keen by now to set up tents, change, and get some food in to us.. I was certainly more than ready for bed!
And what a beautiful little site we had up on the Gould plateau!! Camping is by the smaller of the two tarns, on a nice flat patch, or slightly further away in low scrub for a bit more protection from the wind (we didn’t have any though). The main site looks over the tarn to the Acropolis, and the snow gums with their beautiful colours provide countless subjects for photos. I do love the way they glow lovely warm colours in the evening (and morning for that matter) light. Just over the slight rise, another sandstone platform, which was only a stone’s throw away was a magnificent view over the larger tarn towards Gould and the numerous mountains out to its west, including High Dome and the Eldon range. And of course, back south, over the tops of the tents, sat Olympus and Byron alongside their as yet unexplored (by me) friends.
Tents up, and time to relax over dinner. As the sun dropped in the sky, it put on a nice little bit of colour (nothing spectacular, but very much appreciated all the same), which had me ducking between boiling water for food and the sandstone ledge which proved a lovely viewing platform. It slowly got dark as we ate and chatted, looked enviously at Catherine’s smoked salmon, and shared port and chocolate.
Tired as we were, just before retiring to our tents, Graham pulled out his star maps and together with Adam and I, attempted to make sense of what was what! It took a bit to get direction and scale worked out, but I think we managed to work out a little bit of what was what. It was rather exciting to be looking up at the stars that shared the same names as many of the peaks we’d recently climbed on the Western Arthurs!! Perhaps if we hadn’t been so tired, and the cloud wasn’t creeping across the sky, I’d have lain outside and looked for a little longer, but I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes open!
We awoke the next morning in a misty bubble, gum trees silhouetted in dark greys against the horizon. The sun, looking almost moon-like as it tried to burn through the blanket of water drops, gave a hint of what would eventually unfold. A warm breakfast, a good bye and good luck to Bec for the journey out, and off we went, following the same pad in the opposite direction. We’d barely passed the larger tarn when the mist, which sometimes gives the illusion of being quite thick, burnt off quite quickly, once again revealing our destination and the surrounding mountains. We paused to marvel as it did so, before setting back off, though low alpine scrub, then slightly thicker, pricklier stuff (much to Adam’s delight!).
In accordance with the Abel’s notes, the pad is minimal at times, but a bit of instinct and guess work saw us stick to it until we hit rock. We climbed up on a fairly decent incline, Adam getting his first taste of dolerite. Stops for photos were at least as important as those to catch a breath! As we sidled and climbed, Lake Marion came into view, then the impressive looking cliff line of the Guardians (but an easy enough walk nonetheless), and the jagged, ice-shattered, knife-edge arêtes that rise up perpendicular to meet the main ridge line of Gould.
On top, we danced, clambered, jumped, or otherwise worked our way along the ridge – climbing rock pillars that stood above the rest, or flat walls of rock that required patience and perseverance in finding the smallest of holds that would offer enough purchase to allow an ascent, just for fun.. just because..
Catherine, quite a gutsy woman who’s good at putting her head down and just doing what needs to be done, despite being out of her comfort zone, had a moment of self doubt. But true to her character, and the character of a number of people I have the pleasure of walking with, and after a few encouraging words from Graham (she didn’t need help, just a refocussing from how far we might have to keep rock scrambling and how far back the return would be, to what needed to be done in the here and now) and a bit more scrambling, sure enough we found ourselves on the summit. Hugs and congratulations, photos and thirsty gulps of water were followed up with lunch. Catherine reminded me of myself as she expressed her reaction to the experience, the view and the accomplishment with laughter. Happy laughter, real laughter. It was then that I realised the the truth in another friend’s words, that there can be as much enjoyment in taking someone on a walk and seeing them enjoy it as there is in going on a walk yourself. It is particularly rewarding to see some take on a challenge, succeed so brilliantly, and be able to celebrate and grow from that success.
Sitting on top and looking at the Guardians and the Minotaur we decided we didn’t have time (or probably energy) for the Guardians, but we’d drop down to the Gould/Minotaur saddle and see how we felt about continuing on to the Minotaur before heading back to camp via the alternative route (sidling under the scrubby eastern side of Gould). As we packed Graham’s drink bottle went for a roll, somewhere down the cracks in the rocks. A bit of a climb around underneath and it was eventually located, requiring Graham’s long arms, followed by a bit of coat hanger like wire that someone had generously left up there. Seeing the opportunity while we were all distracted, one very brave skink decided to try his luck nibbling on Graham’s fingers!! Not sure what he thought of them, but he can’t have been too fussy because he later went on to try his luck eating a bit of rock.
Drink bottle successfully rescued, we had a lovely little climb down, down the obvious gully on the northwestern side of the Gould ridge, until we hit the saddle. It was just after 1.30 so we had plenty of time to check out the Minotaur, which was DEFINITELY worth it. An easy climb along a pad, followed by a bit of eagerness that saw us beeline for the summit rather than take a longer arc that would have kept us on slightly easier terrain (but no real issue there), and we were there, looking back at what now seemed quite a different, and very spectacular, mountain! More chuckles of joy from Catherine, followed by the Mini-tor-tor dance :p!!
We sat and enjoyed for much longer, breathing in the views, basking in the sun and sense of achievement, peaceful and relaxed. I don’t think any of us were too keen to move, as we posed for photos, chatted away, and talked about the route up the Acropolis. It was, eventually time to move, though, and down we wandered. Back to the saddle, a sidle around Gould below the scree line, then across scree, then the best possible route we could find through the scrub. Heading this way did mean we had the option of dropping down when we hit heavier patches, and we were all glad we weren’t going the opposite way. This was a first for Adam (and Catherine for that matter too) in scrub bashing, and they did remarkably well at keeping up the chatter and laughter right to the end!
Back at camp we all took delight in a swim in the larger tarn, which was absolutely glorious, if a little shallow. The prickly green stuff on the bottom providing a free knee scrub if you attempted breaststroke! If you chose instead to sit in the shallows, the tadpoles came to nibble gently on your toes.
Absolute. Pure. Joy.
Feeling much cleaner, and in fresh clothes, we cooked dinner, teased one another and decided to scrap the walk out the next day in preference for keeping Graham company on the 9.30 ferry. Catherine provided us with a Hot Chocolate impersonation, Graham with the real thing (much more to my taste than the guy Catherine was impersonating!).
The sunset was more impressive this night, and we all took a few photos. When the show was over and the sun had dipped below the horizon it was mutual consensus to beat a quick retreat to bed, we were all knackered and we had an early start to be back at Narcissus before 9.30.
I had another perfect night’s sleep, but was still reluctant to get moving when the alarm went off (why can’t I sleep like that at home!!?). We had no choice though, wanting to be moving before 7.30. I raced between taking the fly off the tent, a few photos as the sky to the west started to glow pinks and blues and wispy cloud stroked the backs of mountains, back to the rest of the tent, a few more photos as Gould grew an orange-red cap, the ground sheet, and then a lot more photos as Gould lit up brilliantly.
The sandstone ledge I’d been using to take my photos just wasn’t quite high enough to let me get all of Gould reflected in the tarn, so there was no option but to climb a tree. Luckily, there was one perfectly positioned, so up I went, camera in hand, and snapped away. Adam later joined me, in a slightly more impressive move that involved climbing the tree with camera AND porridge in hand!
It was a lovely start to the day, and I was as happy as ever, despite the fact that we were heading back. Aware that we were short on time we headed off as soon as we were ready, and kept up a steady pace. The going was much faster, and we were back at Narcissus in just over an hour and a half. Time for a loo stop, to radio through to the visitor centre to let them know we were there, and wander down to the jetty as the ferry approached!!
A very much easier ride back (yes, there are times it is worth the $40!), a look at maps of Olympus and a discussion of routes up and water availability with the boat driver guy, and we were back from a beautiful weekend walking, with the most enjoyable of company, in a pretty spectacular part of the world. Every time I write an entry, and it ends something like this, I’m all too aware of just how lucky I’ve been over the summer, and I wonder how long it will last. Surprisingly, next weekend looks like there’ll be stunning weather for the club trip to Robinson too!!
All up: 37km and 1678m ascent. Definitely recommended, particularly with as good as company as I was lucky enough to have :)! Thanks to you all for being game enough to trust me, and for meeting all the respective challenges as eagerly, determinedly and successfully as you did. Impressed, proud and respectful are some of the feelings one or other (or several) of you made me feel at different points on the trip, and I don’t say that lightly.