The weekend didn’t go quite to plan, right from the word go. It started with another reminder (as if I was a dumb student, who hadn’t learnt the first, or second, or third times) about the frailty of the human body (not mine, which made it worse), and the physically demanding nature of the hobbies we choose to pursue (which you don’t realise, until you’re injured). So we started off the walk to Clear Hill one short, and snippets of conversation throughout the day revealed I wasn’t the only one concerned.
We drove past Maydena, turning right onto Clear Hill road. We were lucky enough that the gate described (which does still exist) was unlocked, so there was no need for a key. All we had to do was find the start of the track, which proved more obvious than I think any of us were expecting. There was tape and a decent sized cairn on the left of the road, which was the first thing spotted, and more tape in the scrub on the right hand side of the road where the track starts. We were already rather excited about the views we might get, as the drive along the gravel road had revealed glimpses of Lake Gordon and the mountain ranges beyond. It was a new view for me, and I suspect for most others too. I hoped we got to see out to the Thumbs and the Dennison range, I have unfinished business out that way..and tentative plans.. but I still like to look and dream!
The first bit of the walk is the steepest, the pad taking us straight up through what would otherwise be decent scrub. It started to thin, and the climb became more gradual, as we gained the ridge line that would take us up to the summit. We checked out a lovely place to use as a bivvy site, under a sloping rock, and then continued along and up. There was plenty of time to enjoy the conglomerate rocks that stuck up above the scrub, and when we stopped to regroup it was difficult (ok, impossible, not that I sincerely tried) to resist the temptation to wander over to one a short distance away and stand on top for a better view (and no, it wasn’t entirely about the view either).
Higher up we had views out to the east, though the thumbs were being shy. Never mind, we stopped to regroup on a lookout rock, and enjoyed what we could see of it, conglomerate step-like formations, like those that make up the Stepped Hills, and young green growth on gum trees. Further along the gum trees disappeared, and their green was replaced with the yellow of button grass. Not so young, not so ‘fresh’, but beautiful in its own way.
As we got higher still, the views disappeared behind the all too familiar white curtain of misty cloud, and at times hazy soft outlines of what might be the summit could be made out up ahead. It was as if we each withdrew a little into our own worlds, off with out thoughts, though occasionally making contact through conversation. When the views were non-existent, we had the (VERY) pink climbing heath to admire (unlikely the uncommon climbing heath mentioned in the Abels description though). Every now and again pockets would open up, and I’d be reminded that there was a world outside the bubble I was in.. clarity behind the fog, answers to questions… even if not complete, often when unexpected, as always completely unpredictable and often surprising, and sometimes rather too late!
Half way up another conglomerate scree field, and the trig point was visible! Slightly higher ground to the northeast meant we went and stood over there for a bit, then huddled near the trig, trying to keep out of the wind. We refuelled while waiting for the second half of the group to appear, their arrival signalled in advance by the sound of laughter and conversation. The group from the uni that was also climbing Clear Hill had caught up and arrived on the summit at the same time. We sat and chatted for a little longer, until shivering had 7 of the 12 of us head down early, under my (ir)responsible care ;).
Down we scrambled, over the rocks, eager to get out of the biting wind as fast as possible. As we got lower and warmed up, we found ourselves amongst the conglomerate rock boulders again.. I looked up at the closest one, wondering if I could get away with climbing it.. at the same time, Ben, who was in front of me, had been thinking something similar.. He hinted that seeing we were so far ahead, we might just have to wait up.. and that maybe we should see if one of those rocks could be climbed. He had his eye set on one a bit further on.. easy enough at the bottom, with one tricky looking section near the top.. I approved. Little did I know that he had no intention of going straight up the way I was thinking, but to take a safer, longer, but much faster alternative around the left hand side.
Half way up, having just pulled a lose bit of conglomerate off in my hand, I took a little more care, aware that I was now at the more difficult bit. There was an overhang straight above me, so edging round to the left and up over the end of the overhang was the safer alternative. I was unsure I should be doing what I was doing, and there was a call or two from below reminding me that no one was allowed to die as I was weighing up going ahead the final meter or two, or heading back down. Ben’s “I’m already on top” spurred me on, and a few moves later I was up there too. The views were worth it, though I decided I’d be going his way back down!
Jess and Michelle followed suit (the sensible way), followed shortly by most of the uni students! Such responsible people we are ;).. We eventually continued on, and arrived once again at our lookout rock. The views had opened up, and we saw almost all of the Thumbs (the ‘thumb’ itself a faint outline behind the bottom of the cloud). We also had partial views of the Gordon gorge (very impressive) and Stepped Hills… looking forward to going there even more now!!
A patch of sunlight lit up the Needles, and the rock I’d stood on last weekend was almost white. It was nice to be looking back at it, one week later. Warmer now, no one seemed to be in a hurry to get back to the cars anymore, and aware that this was the last look out before the scrub and descent, we stayed and enjoyed warmth from the rare bits of sun, the views and the company. I disappeared for a pit stop, and got distracted by some more rock, some fungi, the sun, and my own thoughts, before heading back to the others. Regrouped, we figured we better get back to the cars. I’m not sure anyone was aware that we’d actually sat there for 50 minutes!
The final descent was made more fun, and a lot faster, by another downhill run. Not a race (that’s not really fair on a one person pad), just a fun, free gallop.. a test of skills, route selection, concentration and some luck against slippery roots, rocks, and a twisting slightly steep track.. just making sure I was still awake ;)!
All up, 5.9km, 6.11 hrs, 602m ascent, plenty of time looking at views!