So.. I fully expected the last post to be it for a bit (the number of walks I have planned for the next year can be counted on one hand, and probably not even a complete one at that). But when I finished my translation after a flat out couple of days, and had uni stuff half under control (beats me why everything has to be done at the last minute!), I started wondering if I might just make the most of my last ‘free’ weekend (well, Saturday after work and Sunday).
The only club walk of interest was a paddle, but given I have no kayak that wasn’t an option. Everyone who wasn’t on that seemed otherwise preoccupied. I wasn’t too fussed, I kind of wanted to spend a bit of time with the mountains, reflect on things, and say a ‘until we meet again’ kind of good bye. I chose Cawthorn partly because the weather was good, partly because over the course of the last year I’d only been down that way a few times, and mostly because it was the only nearby overnighter (less than 4 hrs drive) that I hadn’t done.
When I knocked off work at 6 I headed straight out, thoroughly enjoying the drive. The mist made me smile as it came and went, two lyrebirds that rushed out in front of the car had me laughing after I recovered from the initial shock, and I drove along feeling very grateful for one more walk. Somebody else was to be very grateful too!
As chance would have it, as I approached the Scotts Peak road, a car was pulled halfway off the road on the other side, the driver standing outside, and I instinctively slowed. The man waved an arm, and I slowed more, then shook my head with incredulity to realise it was Charles, a friend with whom I’d shared one or two walks! It probably wasn’t the ideal situation to be catching up, but it was good to see him.
A little bit of experimentation concluded that no, his car wasn’t going anywhere at all except on the back of a tow truck, so we headed back to the Needles where there’s a bit of reception, so he could sort that out. All done, we headed back, and I left him with his car, hoping he wouldn’t have to wait too long!
I continued along, let out a little whoop of delight as I rounded that bend and came face to face with the Sentinel range (if you’ve been, surely you know that feeling I’m talking about!), and then in a bit slowed to find a spot to park my car. I needn’t have been worried, there was a nice spot on the left just before the boat ramp which appeared to be used to service the power towers that run alongside the road.
Ready to go by 9, I set off along the road for a short distance, until I could cut down through the button grass to the lake edge. I knew it was going to be hot, you could FEEL it already, so I was drinking plenty – it was rather easy after all, to bend down and scoop up a few mouthfuls as and when you felt like it.
It was good to be back. To feel the give of the soft ground under foot, taste the tannin stained water and think back to the other times I’ve walked the lake edge (not this particular section mind you). I remembered the colours, the way the bog makes you laugh so much when you get stuck in it that you can’t get yourself out, the need to deviate into the scrub when the shore runs out.
I like the way memories of people, places and walks come back when I go on walks now, even if they’re to kind of new places. For the first time on a solo walk, I really wasn’t in a hurry to get somewhere. I had plenty of time, and I just wanted to be. So I took plenty of photos, admired fairy’s aprons and sung with the birds – there were a few shrike thrushes out there, and I stopped and watched them for a while (the first time I’ve really been able to SEE them – little grey things that they are).
The first part of the walk proved to be relatively straight forward, round the lakeshore without too much hassle, then up and over a small rise to avoid a very long walk around a protruding bit of land, and I was at the spot we’d come in at when we’d paddled out to climb Helder about a year ago.
It was fascinating. If you’d asked me at the start of the day what we’d talked about on that walk I couldn’t have told you. As I retraced our steps, a whole range of memories came back: trying to keep up with long legs, walking alongside little legs (like mine), laughing at really funny stories (always good stories from those little legs) and deriving so much pleasure from other people’s happiness. It was a very different time, and it was good to be taken back.
It was at least as hot, if not hotter than that day. I had the capacity to carry three litres with me, so I stopped to refill at the last creek I remembered before the climb. I knew there was nothing on top, and though I didn’t have to worry about water for cooking and only needed enough for the rest of the day and an hour on Sunday morning, I thought I should take the full three. It was hot after all.
And so the climb began. I remembered the gasping hot dry breaths from the last time, it was no different, only this time I didn’t have others to wait for (and therefore get to rest!) or to try and match pace with! But I was up soon enough, 2.5 hours after having started out, and wondered where I should camp.
The wind was minimal so I prioritised views, and took a chance walking a bit further along towards Cawthorn. It paid off, and I ended up with a lovely spot on the top of a bump, with 360 degree views! Tent up, lunch eaten, I thought about a plan of action.
The flies decided for me. While I’d wondered about heading out to Cawthorn later in the day so it’d be a little cooler, I didn’t want to sit in a hot tent, or endure the swarms of flies if I sat outside, so I opted to leave straight away.
It was the middle of the day and it was hot work, even heading down hill. I walked to the end of the ridge thing I was on and looked over the end. Yep, there was the promised scrub. I was guessing that it’d be like the scrub we’d encountered on the walk to Helder. There, but not too bad to get through. I was hopeful, perhaps optimistically so, as it didn’t LOOK so nice!
One way to find out… I dropped down and hit it where I thought it might be weakest, out to the left. Bauera. Lots of it. I found myself a few metres above the ground walking along a thin branch. Hmm, this was going to be fun getting back up I thought as I stepped off into nothingness!
It seemed to be a choice between bauera or cutting grass, and sometimes both. Occasional patches of twisty-turny but otherwise open stuff gave a brief respite here and there, but never for long.
Fortunately, very early on, I discovered walking backwards. Now this might sound ridiculous, but it works wonders for that kind of tangly stuff. Not only does it save knees and hands etc from the onslaught of cutting grass, it takes much less energy to lean back into that kind of stuff and slowly keep walking. It’s also easier to lift legs up and over stuff when walking backwards than it is when walking forwards. Seriously. Try it next time you’re out there in that kind of stuff (probably no good with horizontal and stuff like that, but for anything like bauera and cutting grass that’s otherwise a bit of a bash).
With this breakthrough I moved much more steadily, pausing only to check which way to head for a ‘path of least resistance’ or to ensure I wasn’t walking off the edge of the ridge (you can’t tell in thick scrub which way is up). It wasn’t exactly a lot of fun, but I was amazed to come across about 4 tied clumps of cutting grass, and one random bit of very old red tape! Although being a little put out that there was no real pad or path to go with them, I did have to smile that someone else had been through the same way (or at least parts of it).
An hour after having started I was out of the scrub, but by now was starting to worry about water. I’d consumed much more than I’d expected in that hour, and I contemplated turning around then and there. I sat in the shade of a rock and thought. I decided I’d go to the top, then if I was running low and feeling super thirsty I’d go in search of a stream that ran off the saddle in the middle of all that scrub (i.e. I’d have to be feeling pretty thirsty for that!).
The top, as always, wasn’t the top, and I had another down and up to go, though I at least knew that was the summit now. I was at the stage of looking in yabbie holes, but didn’t like my chances, the ground crunched under step, even the mossy stuff that’d usually be damp.
On top I was feeling a little stupid for making such a simple mistake when usually I take more water than I need. But that didn’t last long, it wasn’t going to help me figure out what to do. I rested in as much shade as I could get, slumped behind a bit of scrub, and decided to get down into the scrub in the saddle and see how I felt there.
It was easier going back down, but still hot, and I desperately wanted to drink more than I was allowing myself. Back in the scrub I decided on the importance of water over a bit more of a bash, if it was there. I wasn’t sure. But some damp moss made me think I might be in luck, so I went searching. I couldn’t tell if the sound I was hearing was water gurgling or wind rustling leaves.
I found no water. And the slope down which I was heading was only getting steeper. I didn’t know how far I’d have to go to get something so I called it off. I did, however, find a cool bird’s nest (perhaps a fantail, a friend suggests). Something gave me the sense that it had been abandoned, despite a single small egg being present, but I gave it as much distance as possible, just in case.
Right before the end of the scrub I hit the really nasty bauera stuff. I’d been right, it wasn’t fun at all trying to get back up. And the effort took it out of me. I rested on the edge of the scrub, starting to feel slightly ill. But my tent was just over the hill, so close.
I’m not patient at the best of times, so as soon as I felt able, I was up and moving. I didn’t get far. It was uphill, the sun was HOT, and I wasn’t feeling great. I persisted for as long as I could, but needed more water than I had. Two contour lines from the top (40m) I crashed beside some scrub.
I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I was parched, feeling ill and had a racing heart (more than it should have been, that is). I didn’t even care about the flies (until they got brave enough to bite) for the first bit. Slowly I cooled down, but I’d decided not to move until the sun dropped way down and the temperature cooled. I only a hundred mls in my bottle, which wouldn’t go far.
An hour and a half later, at 7.30, I thought I’d be ok to move again. I was, but the short distance to the top of the hill took more of a toll than I expected. I could see the tent now, but I sat behind a rock, sheltered from the sun to wait for sunset. I resorted to a 30ml sterilised water pouch from my first aid kit (for irrigating wounds) and ignored the use by date of 2008. It tasted as horrible as it did delicious!
As the sun got lower it cast its spell over the land, and I allowed myself to be distracted. It was a bit nice. Figuring there was no one around for miles, I took off my shirt and did my best to remove as much of the scrub that was plastered on to me. I felt a bit better. For the first time that day, the sun was gently warming on my skin, rather than hot.
I watched it dip below Coronation Peak, let out a surprised laugh when I discovered the thinnest sliver of moon in the sky, then set off for my tent. The cherry tomatoes and cucumber I’d packed for dinner and lunch the following day were my primary consideration! Delicious.
I then set about removing a few dozen dead flies from my tent. They’d got in when I’d set it up and eaten lunch, and I thought they’d leave if I left the door open, apparently not, and apparently they don’t like the heat either! Before settling in for the night I set up my pack cover on the (very optimistic) chance that it might rain just a tiny bit over night.
Shortly after midnight when I woke I was both disappointed and joyed to find the stars were out, shining brightly across the sky. Oh well, I’d make the most of it one way or another! I got my camera and went for a short play. While my camera did it’s thing I watched a star shoot, and puzzled over a semi-regular flash that came at fairly long intervals on the west/southwestern horizon. I couldn’t figure it out. I went back to bed wondering how the photos would turn out, my camera showing what I thought might be a little bit of colour on the horizon.
The next morning at 6.30 it was clear the forecast rain wasn’t going to happen in time for me, so I set about packing in between taking photos of the rising sun. It was already warm, and as soon as the sun came up over the mountains it was going to be warmer still. I just needed to get down the hill (fortunately down the north/western side), and I figured I’d be right.
I was desperately thirsty and didn’t have a lot of energy, but at least I wasn’t feeling ill. When I got almost to the bottom of the hill I knew I was close to a stream, and I could hear it, so I decided to scratch waiting till I got to the stream I had to cross (and knew contained water), and go for a short scrub bash. It was so worth it.
I gave myself a much needed break, and drunk all I needed, forcing myself to go slowly. It was delicious and in time I started to feel more normal and a little less shaky. Happy, and with a weight off my shoulders, I enjoyed retracing my steps. Encountering all the pleasures I had on the way in all over again.
At one point I nearly walked straight into the most perfect (and quite big) spider web. In the middle, just waiting, was a fine fellow (lady, I’ve since been informed!). So I took out my camera to see if I could capture her, despite the wind doing it’s best to make everything blurry. As I stood there, the flies returned (I don’t know how they sense so fast that you’ve stopped moving!).
They buzzed around annoying me, and then to my fascination one flew into the web. I instantly felt guilty, I’d ruined the spiders perfect web, as the fly buzzed hard to try and escape. I’d forgotten that this was the whole point of a web! The spider reminded me, alerted at once to the movement, she raced over and pounced, holding the fly in a death grip while she either killed or otherwise paralysed it. Then she walked around the fly once or twice, wrapping it in silk to secure it, before standing stationary and spinning the fly underneath her. Amazing.
No sooner had she finished than a second fly suffered the same fate. The spider was just as efficient and deadly. A third followed suit. Wanting the spider to have at least a bit of web left, and figuring she had more than enough food, I said my goodbyes, and left with a new found respect. As I walked I took extra care to notice other webs and spiders, and discovered that there’s quite a variety out there (I did find it hard not to keep stopping and taking photos!).
Back at the lakeshore I splashed water over my arms and face, washed off the charcoal (there was one recently burnt out section of scrub to go through), and took another long drink. Yummm. I just had the easy lakeshore walk left, and spent the time enjoying the reflections on the water, watching a couple of guys who had either been out fishing really early or (more likely) had been out overnight and were just coming back, and thinking about the swim I was going to have when I got back!
All up: 21.1km, 1078m ascent.