Expectations can completely change an experience. Dramatically. For better, or worse I suppose. Saturday’s walk to Black Bluff was an exceptional example of the pure surprise, joy, gratefulness and awe that comes out of having low expectations greatly surpassed. As with the Mother Cummings walk, the track itself was more of a delight than I’d anticipated (Greg seems to be developing a knack of putting on walks like that), but the biggest influence was the unexpected weather, and the views we didn’t expect to get.
I, like many of the others intending on joining the walk, had been monitoring the weather throughout the week, and was a little discouraged, but not put off, by the ‘isolated showers’ forecast right up until Thursday night/Friday morning. A phone call from Greg on Friday night surprised me: the weather was now expected to be heavy rain between 11am-5pm, as much as 10-20mm depending on your source, right when we’d be walking, Sunday was looking better, could I switch day? That wasn’t going to work for me and one other walker, so Greg made the call to stick with Saturday. I was hoping the weather wasn’t going to be too dreadful, or I’d be feeling bad.
Off to work I went, the usual 9pm to 5am, steady and productive, then a race home for a quick shower before a gratefully accepted lift to meet the others, where we all jumped into Greg’s car. I was admittedly tired, but excitement and anticipation about the day’s walking (despite the weather) and catching up with awesome people I hadn’t seen or walked with for ages meant the sleeping was postponed for the drive home.
As we drove up Graham spotted a wedge-tailed eagle sitting on a branch of a dead tree by the side of the road, and Rachael explained how each time she and her husband, Ben, had been out walking recently they’d had a close encounter with a wedgie. I joked with her that this wasn’t it, that there’d be a closer one. It was the kind of joke about an outcome that you wistfully hope for, but know is highly unlikely to happen…
The journey continued on, broken up by a brief coffee and food break, timed to meet up with the two Pandani members coming with us from Launceston. Our team consultant-turned-navigator took us on a lovely detour through Ulverstone (because I hadn’t been before and wanted to see the sights, was the devised excuse ;)!) before directing us safely to the lovely grassy picnic area by the Leven river. It would make a great place to camp for anyone wanting to turn a long day of driving, walking and driving, into a more relaxed overnighter.
We were grateful that it still wasn’t raining, it was rather humid in fact, though I think we all had our wet weather gear near the top of our packs, ready to pull out at the first drop. It was quite misty higher up, and we knew we’d be walking in to it, if it didn’t drop down on us first!
And so we began the walk alongside the river, wondering how far we’d get before we got pelted. It was flat to start off with, and the humid smell of damp bush mixed with quite a fresh, tangy smell of newly cut trees was a pleasure to breathe in. I let out a sigh of relaxation and settled in to the walk. We’d been going five minutes when the flapping of large wings and an exclamation from Greg had us all jerking our heads towards the source of the sound, a decent sized wedge-tailed eagle who we’d disturbed from a tasty meal of possum. He didn’t fly very far, and we admired from a distance. Apparently sometimes those wistful wishes do come true :)!!! It was the first of many delightful and unexpected surprises for the day.
Shortly afterwards the climb began. It isn’t a tough climb, in fact it’s almost the perfect gradient: steep enough to feel like you’re doing work and getting somewhere, but not so steep that you feel the need to stop much. It was humid though, and I know I had sweat dripping off my nose! It was still pretty misty, and there wasn’t much of a view, just the scrub the track was taking us through, and the glimpses of rocky outcrops as we neared Paddys Lake. By this time we were high enough to be in the mist. It brought with it a gentle and most welcome breeze, and that beautiful, slightly isolating, silence of natural noise, dampened by the mist. It was just what I needed.
We arrived at Paddys Lake and took much delight in the mist as it revealed small bits and pieces of the lake, the rocks by its shore, the pencil pines and King Billies around its edge, and then, momentarily, the shore on the other side! What excitement. Sometimes it’s so much easier to accept and be grateful for a gift when you don’t expect it, and you’re aware of exactly what it means not to have had it. And when the mist covered the beauty it had briefly revealed, we turned instead to the necklaces of cobwebs and the brilliant green of new King Billy growth.
A snack break, and we were pushing on, hoping to make the most of the fact that it still wasn’t raining. Around the lake we wandered, until we reached the signed turnoff heading right up to the Bluff. And up we went, at our own pace. Some continued on, others stopped to explore the view from the edge, and the seemingly bottomless drop into grey white mist.
I was finally formally introduced to strawberry pine, thanks to Rachael and Ben, and thought about how lucky I was to be able to walk with a number of different ‘teachers’. I love learning new things, and always appreciate those who willingly and passionately share their knowledge. Later Ben would point out small brown-blue and grey butterflies, which flitted round the alpine plants, very low to the ground, that I hadn’t even noticed, despite their ubiquity!
Onwards I skipped (not literally, my body wouldn’t take skipping uphill on this particular day), caught up to Graham where he was waiting just below the trig to the not so high high point. I’d spotted him as a silhouette in the mist 50 metres back, but in the time it took to walk up to him, visibility had improved remarkably. The others weren’t far behind, and Louise was somewhere exploring the far side of the trig, so up we went, climbing up the trig for a bit of extra height and a fun little challenge.
There wasn’t much to see, the mist was still closing in then dissipating around us, but never too much. So we sat in a little rocky shelter a short distance to the northwest of the trig, had a bite to eat, and after a longer discussion than was probably necessary, had everyone on the same page as to which direction we were heading off in for the untracked section to the Abel/slightly higher high point of the range. GPSs are certainly quick and handy in whiteout!
As we began wandering across beautiful open alpine terrain, a perfect mix of conglomerate rock, cushion plants, pineapple grass, scoparia, and gentians amongst other things, our hearts sang and we voiced exclamations of joy as we were given a brief glimpse of distant mountains. Then as that particular curtain of mist closed, it opened elsewhere to unveil the saddle and ridge ahead, and we took delight in each revealing, each patch of blue sky.
Before we knew it, we were walking in a perfect summer’s day, with a little bit of cloud about. In fact, perhaps we didn’t realise as fast as we should have, more than a few of us are a bit pink as a result!! Words can’t describe the emotions we felt and shared. There was a purity to them, a perfectness and happy innocence that usually comes with a new experience or discovery – something I usually attribute to children before they lose the immediate instinct to wonder and marvel at everything. But the unexpected good weather had taken us back in time, and we were children again at heart.
We completed the lovely walk up and over a low rise, towards a rocky line on the horizon, and on to the true high point. It was just shy of 1.30 and lunchtime. But as everyone knows, for children, lunchtime is called playtime.. so we had to have some playing, especially with all that conglomerate rock around. A few metres from the summit was a rectangular block, and a couple of us used it for a bit of climbing practice. After a few goes, each time taking a slightly more challenging route of course, we settled into lunch and some mountain naming. As we sat there the cloud continued to burn off, and gradually the faint outlines of Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff were revealed, amongst others (these were the two that particularly held our attention).
Eventually we had to go back, not wanting to push our luck, thinking it would be nice to check out the Leven Canyon if we had time, and aware also that we had a 4.5 hour drive home. A last climb up our rock, a last look across at the view, before turning our backs and heading down. I was reluctant to leave, but still so happy, and I couldn’t help but stretch out arms and run/skip across the ridge. Louise describes this in her blog as ‘flying’ like the eagle, which made me smile (though I’m quite sure I’ll never be that graceful or effortless). It wasn’t just me though, she was singing from time to time, others just stopped to take in the view, and we all had smiles on our faces. Beauty and perfection, accentuated by unexpectedness.
We re-climbed the trig (it really isn’t far off the track, maybe 20 metres at most) just to check out the views, but we were really after a view of the lake, so we didn’t stay long. Heading back down, we all stopped at the spot that some of us had paused at on the way up, taking in the heart-shaped Paddys Lake below us. Once the serious admiring was done, a little bit more tomfoolery had a few of us mucking around on the edge of the drop while talking about how some people/friends/family members have very little idea of the things we get up to (perhaps a good thing, though if they knew, really knew, they’d probably understand).
Back at the lake, which has a lovely spot for a tent at one end, we sat, nibbled, and watched as the mist swirled around above Black Bluff, hiding the top once more from view. We wondered again if this heralded the expected rain, but it didn’t, and we walked down in dappled sunshine. It was a long constant down, and I was at the tripping-over-nothing stage, but I still took delight in intermittent conversation.
Back at the cars we swam, waded or just dabbled in the Leven river – beautifully warm I was told, and I cursed myself for not having a complete change of clothes or a towel. I took to sitting on a rock with my feet immersed, until the sun was just a little too hot on my already pink face, and it was time to head off.
A detour to the Leven Canyon lookout, followed by fish and chips in Ulverstone (I think, I was a bit sleepy by this stage), just to round the day off. We finally got our rain part way through the drive home, just to remind us of what we COULD have been walking in all day.
Very grateful for a day more beautiful and special than I could ever express!! Perhaps the trick is not to have expectations, and to just delight in the gifts each and every experience gives you.. difficult perhaps, but I’m sure with practice it could be perfected.
17km, 7 hours and a nice 1178m ascent.