For me, there is nothing more important than to get out and escape the mad Christmas rush (and I have to admit, I’m pretty bad at the whole Christmas thing), so, despite not being 100% sure I wasn’t going to have to work, I put a ‘mystery walk’ on the Pandani program. It wasn’t much of a mystery to some, who guessed relatively quickly where we had to be going given it was somewhere I hadn’t been before and would fit into a day!
But there were a few brave souls who signed up without knowing where we were going, even one with whom I hadn’t walked before. Though I knew as soon as she pulled up at Granton and jumped out of the car with a great big smile on her face, exclaiming “I’m so excited”, that she’d fit right in!
Apparently, scheduling a mystery walk is the best way to limit interest, and for the first time I ended up with a group of 8, right on my ‘limit’, rather than being over it. I was happy about that – the Abels had the walk down as requiring 7 hours, and I knew that could easily be blown out by 2 or 3 hours with a larger group (or 4 even!).
After meeting up at Granton and spilling the beans on our destination, and catching a few quick snippets of Bec’s recent travel adventures, we headed for the traditional coffee at Banjos, then on and up to Lake St Clair.
A slow start, but we were off shortly before 9, following the Overland track up to its junction with the Cuvier Valley track. A sign informed us that it was not maintained, and featured ‘deep muddy sections’, giving us reason to laugh as we walked by.
The initial part of track led through overgrown scrub, and in one or two spots branched where people had started heading off in the wrong direction. A bit of a look around had us back on track each time, and after a little bit we popped out, getting our first and rather exciting view of Othrys, Olympus, and a bit further around, Byron. The cameras were out now, and we walked in a stop-start fashion, continually taken by the desire to capture colours, textures and compositions.
Coral fern gave way to button grass, and we passed sweet smelling hakea trees. The leaches were also out in number, as we discovered after Bec removed 5 or so from under her gaiters at our first stop! They’d be a constant presence for the rest of the trip.
The track was indistinct in places, though it was open enough in most spots to not need to rigidly stick to it (we did a much better job on the way back). Eventually, having checked out the river, and weaving our way through a slightly more foresty section, we found ourselves on a wide expanse of button grass plain, and rediscovered the track.
With Ben, and then Graham, in the lead, with instructions from Bec to look for the ‘big arse cairn’ that marked the accepted turn off to Othrys, I sat back and relaxed while I could. We crossed a river, continued heading north, and got to right angles with Othrys. There was no big arse cairn in sight, but we decided we’d turn off anyway.
We headed for the trees, hungry tummies looking forward to being able to gain some height and escape the leeches so that they could be fed in relative comfort. We were to trade the leeches for mozzies, which seemed more acceptable, and found a spot to perch on fallen trees while we ate and chatted.
The mozzies did ensure we didn’t relax for too long, and soon we were back on the go, following Charles’ lead. It was slow going, clambering up and over rocks, more fallen trees, and a little bit of relatively open scrub.
Urszula, who’s been off walking for a bit, was feeling like she was full of concrete, so after pondering a few ideas, she had her pack confiscated while we still had enough time for it to make a difference. It’s always a tough thing to do, both to ask for, and to accept, and I was grateful that she saw the sense in it. Though we both knew there was no doubt she could make the summit, making it in a timely fashion was going to be the issue, and in agreeing to hand over her pack she gave us the best possible chance of doing so, ruling out the only other option of me sitting with her, waiting for the others to go up and come back for us. Though necessary, that would have been hard to swallow – I like everyone to get to the top of a mountain, and I don’t like not getting there myself either ;)!
We made steady progress, and eventually, relatively quite close to the top, broke out of the scrub and onto scree. For this, I was most relieved. It’s always easier to get to the top when you can actually see it, and now it was just a matter of negotiating rock, rather than twisting, turning, climbing and pushing through scrub. Having a pack on my front meant I couldn’t see my feet or anything a foot or two in front of me, which made things surprisingly clumsy and slow.
It was probably a good thing, cos I’d have completely forgotten the mince tarts I had in my pack to share with everyone, and they’d have likely got a bit banged up with the jumping around I’d have otherwise been doing. By the time I was up, half the group was already on top, exploring three possible high points, connected by Othrys’ sharp ridge line. I did the same, having fun scrambling along.
The view was pretty stunning: we had a unique perspective on Olympus, Ida and Lake St Clair in particular, and we took it all in from each high point. We eventually all assembled somewhere in the middle, and sat around eating a second lunch or snacks. Every now or then someone would head off to check out the view from one of the ends. It was a lovely spot to enjoy the day, and a fitting reward for the climb.
A not so innocent request from Graham to use Ben’s sunscreen revealed he’d lost it, but apparently Jess just has a light fingered apprentice in the making ;). In the end, the wind had us donning jackets and making a retreat, which was significantly easier than the ascent, despite someone starting up a hakea war. I wasn’t complaining though, as I was in prime position with the height advantage ;).
We hit the button grass in good time, and after a water refill and snack break, chose (well, on my asking) to put our heads down and walk out at a steady pace. And so we did, still enjoying the softer afternoon light as it made the button grass glimmer, and the shadows that the clouds made at the foot of the mountains. We chatted intermittently, but were also quite content to walk in tiredly satisfied silence.
I felt a little selfish as I reflected on the day, as I knew I’d just given myself the Christmas present I most wanted, and everything had come together nicely. I just hoped everyone else got as much out of it as I had ;).
All up: 20.5km, 11.08 hrs, 671m ascent.