When I first started bushwalking, I learnt pretty early on that there comes a time when every solo walker who seeks to discover and push boundaries, cracks. I’d always wondered if and when it would happen, what it would be like, and how I’d manage. This weekend I found a few answers to my questions.
I had my usual 2.5 days off, and though there was a tempting offer to join a walk on the Saturday, I declined. Largely because I wanted to be away for Monday morning. Mum was going for a preventative procedure to halt the regrowth of the same aneurysm that had burst last year resulting in a stroke. I wanted to be out walking while that was happening, instead of sitting around waiting and worrying, unable to do or concentrate on anything.
I wanted a walk that was close and cruisey enough to be able to get out if I needed to fast enough, but also wanted something with a track and some nice views. Weld has been on the list for almost as long as I remember, and it seemed to fit the criteria. I made my first mistake, though, in not doing any real research myself. I knew from word of mouth that it was lovely on top, but there was a bit of cutting grass down below to get through (no worries, there was even maybe something slightly attractive about a bit of physical exertion and pain, which is both tangible and understandable, as opposed to emotional pain). I even had a GPS route, AND a map! So I didn’t bother to research anything further..
The next mistake was in not being able to get to sleep Friday afternoon, which didn’t help my already slightly frazzled emotional and mental state. There wasn’t much I could do about that though, so at 7 I trotted off to the Pandani Photo Comp evening (where I was unable to impress the judge this year either), to my surprise and delight had a flash mob sing happy birthday to mum and John :), and then went straight to work. From work, it was off to see mum, to give her a 2 hr hug and chat (and pick up some yummy carrot and almond cake!). Then back down south, on the way to Weld.
I made good time, ready to start walking from the hole in the road (and it literally IS a hole) a little after 10.30. I was surprised at how soft the mud was, and after taking a few sinking steps around the left hand side, decided I’d be more comfortable in the scrub on the right hand side. That worked fine, and I started on the short road walk, wondering what this trip would bring, how bad the cutting grass would be (that seemed to be the worst of it, from what I’d heard). As I walked, I seemed to be nearing something that was making an absolute racket, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. It was only when I found a pond by the side of the road, that I realised it was the sound of literally hundreds of frogs! They hushed as I got too close for liking, a few dozen dare devils among them though, and I laughed, leaving them to their new found silence.
15-20 minutes later, I arrived at a stake with a pile of rocks at its bottom, decorated with pink and orange tape. It stood in front of a wall of green cutting grass. With a shake of the head, a mental stealing, a muttered ‘well here goes’, I walked into it. Like most tracks through cutting grass, it reminded me of Moses’ parting of the sea. A brown muddy ‘path’ wove its way between walls of freshly sharpened stringy green clumps of grass, seemingly benign tentacles latching on to anything and everything that brushed past. Its specialty relies on the unsuspecting walker placing one foot on the end of one or more strands, then attempting to move forward with the other leg, only to discover that the other end of the strands are attached to a clump on the other side of the path. The result is either a trip or stumble if the strand catches the walker’s foot or ankle, or some sharp stinging cuts to the exposed flesh between gaiter tops and short bottoms if the strand is higher up. Sometimes, you cop both, or attempted strangulation even.
After a mere 10 minutes the blood was running (from really rather small cuts though), and probably I should have put the over pants, long sleeves and scrub gloves on, but I was being stubborn. Half an hour later, I was really about over it, and was thinking longingly for the forest, even if I’d more recently heard that the track was a little harder to follow. At that point I didn’t care. Although each new cut was small, the constant slicing as I moved forward was having a cumulative effect, and started to get to me. Tiredness was really showing too, and each stumble from lack of concentration was punished by more sharp slices, prompting anger and disgust (at my own stupidity and lack of concentration as much as at the cutting grass).
I was a little happier to be out of the cutting grass and into the forest, even if that now meant I had the climb ahead. Climb, I was sure, I could do. But this, funnily enough, was where I came undone.
The first part of the forest had some horizontal and other obstacles to negotiate (huge trees, either as regards the size of trunk or size of foliage), and this further zapped energy. I remember thinking the twisting, turning, climbing and squeezing through gaps was more demanding in spots than the Farmhouse creek track, which I’d thought was the worst ‘on track’ walking you could do in Tassie. This perhaps wasn’t as constant, but I didn’t know that at the time, and was dreading the worst.
None of this was helped by the fact that although there were tapes, some seemingly quite recent additions, there were still black spots, and I kept losing the ‘track’. Admittedly, there were times I found a bit of yellow, fluro green, or faded to white tape right by my head, so there was likely plenty I was missing just from tiredness. Constant backtracking and weaving to find more tape, coupled with doubt over the gps route I had, eroded any confidence I had left in my ability to navigate. For someone who’s done a bit of walking (despite it being in a relatively short time), I’d have expected more of myself, and not being able to stay on track for any length of time had me close to despair. This was certainly not the easy ‘on track’ walk requiring minimal concentration that I was after.
The straw that broke the camels back, so to speak, was that the climb was steep and damp enough that a foot placed wrongly sent you sliding backwards, or crashing face first to the ground, and I did this more times than I think I’ve done all year. By about the dozenth face plant, and this one hurt, I decided I wasn’t getting up. If that’s where things were conspiring to put me, that’s where I’d stay for a bit. So I stayed, feeling completely broken. Bushwalking is the one place I feel most in control, or most comfortable with not being able to control things, but not this time, not here and now. And that meant I felt like I’d lost control over everything in life. It was gone, I’d lost it.
I don’t know how long I was there. Eventually I got up, it was getting wetter and colder, and something told me to keep on moving.. Any self confidence, belief and worth was gone (it’s taken a beating of late), and the only thing stopping me from turning around was the cutting grass, and the doubt that I’d get out in daylight (not to mention the fact that doing so also required making a decision). I needed to hear a friendly voice (or failing that, read some words on a screen) from someone who knew me, the kind of walking I do, and what I meant when I referred to ‘cracking’; from someone I’d listen to and believe, because they knew what they were talking about and they knew me. So I plodded, slower than I think I ever knew I could walk, with the single goal being to get high enough for one solid bar of reception on my phone.
I made it, wondered briefly whether I really needed to make such a fool of myself, and promptly slipped over again. Worrying about being a fool was petty, apparently I couldn’t even WALK anymore, let alone think and make decisions. “I can’t do this” was racing round and round my head (where did it get its energy from?). So I sent out a help message, too proud though to actually ASK for help in so many words. It was only after a little while that I realised I was interrupting someone’s weekend, and my message wasn’t likely to be seen for a while. So I sent out a second, with an equally likely outcome, hoping that would double my chances.
I kept walking, more of a wandering now though (and yes, yet more time sprawled on the ground), without any real sense of purpose. I doubted I’d get to where I wanted to, and couldn’t get past the “I can’ts” to think rationally about what the options were, what I could do, what I would do, and when I might reassess. But I was lucky, and after maybe 20 minutes had one reply, and sometime after that, a much needed phone call.
I felt rather stupid, as all it had taken to refocus me and replace hopelessness with a small spark of determination were a number of questions about practicalities: where was I, what were my options, what was I going to aim for, what was a back up plan; a few gentle words and a hug (surely I should have been able to do that myself? Just as one does on EVERY trip, without second thought!). I also felt guilty, for having thought only of me, and not of interrupting other people’s weekends and plans. That did give me added motivation to sort myself out and get to camp, so that I didn’t make things any worse.
Half an hour later or so, when the drizzle had really set in and I’d hit the bauera and my knees were screaming from the abuse (more of that ‘no real damage’ kind of abuse, but painful all the same), I received a second reply, and more hugs and support from a team of five who were standing in whiteout on a summit elsewhere in the state. I still didn’t know that I could get to the intended campsite, but having friends who believed in me and were ‘rooting for’ me gave me a bit more fight.
It was slow, I was tired, and the scrub after the forest was a fight in one or two spots, despite the tape indicating that yes, I was indeed on the ‘track’. But it slowly got better, and there were more and more open bits, Finally I popped out onto a clearing, and for the first time got a glimpse of where I was actually heading. Across, up the creek, to camp by the lake at the top! For the first time that day, I thought I had a chance. And so the camera came out, having been tucked away for 3.5 hrs, to capture the moody atmosphere of black snow gum skeletons painted on dark clouds, with only the slightest hint of light and a world beyond on the horizon.
The mist swirled, and I slowly picked my way up by the river, glad that there was just this one last climb. And then I was there. A quick look around for some shelter (the wind was up a bit, and meant to get worse), but there was nothing too great, so I figured I’d just sit out in the middle. The tent went up slowly, but as fast as my cold fingers would work, and I stripped half off before getting in to complete the process and don dry clothes, get into my sleeping bag, then deal with the less important things like inflating my mat, and thinking about food. Food? Hmm.. probably didn’t help that I’d eaten no lunch, now that I thought about it.
I was so wrecked that I was tempted just to sleep, but I knew I’d get into trouble for that so boiled some water for soup and pasta. On the first attempt I managed to end up with half the water in my tent, thanks to an ill timed gust of wind, and I wasn’t impressed! Take two worked better, and I was soon sipping on mushroom soup and sending some more messages. Sounds like I wasn’t the only one having a long day. Soup down, I moved on to the pasta, but fell asleep half way through. I woke a few hours later thinking surely I must have spilled it everywhere, but it had stayed upright somehow (I must not have moved an inch), and I put it safely outside to deal with in the morning.
It was after 9, and the group of 5 out walking were nearly back to the car. By 12.30 various people were being dropped off at their respective homes.. a few more messages exchanged while drifting in and out of sleep. My body was protesting, wanting to shut down, but I didn’t want to let go of the contact… 1, 2, 3am..
By 6 I was awake again, and I stuck my head out of the tent to see what awaited. It was cloudy, and a little drizzly, but not much. The clouds sat high enough in the east to reveal layers of mountains, and in time they took on rich shades of blue, while the rising sun had a thin band of sky glowing orange above them. I sat there and watched wispy bits of white cloud race across in front of the mountains, from left to right, as the sky changed behind them. Then that moment came, the one when you really get a sense of just how fast individual moments pass by, when the sun laid its first kiss on the world. A few moments later, and it was hiding again, this time behind the thick cloud.
I retired to the tent, to decide what to do. I was still really tired, my knees and arms hurt, and my gear was sodden. I didn’t relish putting it back on, but neither did I want to be coming back to Weld for a long time. As I sat in my tent pondering options, I realised it seemed lighter outside. Curious, I unzipped the fly, to find warm sun shining on the ridge ahead, and a rainbow just sitting there, suspended in the air, smiling almost. I smiled back, and had decided in a split second to give the summit a crack. Just over 800m as the crow flies, and though I was far from being a crow, I thought it wouldn’t be tooooo far.
I scratched the shorts and shirt, keeping thermal top and bottoms on, adding over pants, then steeled myself for wet socks and boots, and a wet jacket. Uhhhhh.. yep.. time to get going, NOW! The mist came and went as I chose the recommended route round the right of the lake. Pretty easy going, and open, but boy was my body feeling it. I had next door to no energy, and I knew it was going to take me longer than expected. I didn’t even have the energy to try and closely follow the GPS track I had, so I didn’t even try.
I didn’t take a particularly efficient route up, but oh well, I was most relieved to be on the ridge proper. Now to get to the high point. Easier said than done. On a normal day I’d have waltzed across, no worries. It wasn’t a normal day. The top was a mix of low scrub/open sections and rocky bits, and I was just so tired I didn’t dare walk across the wet rock without at least one other point of contact. Sometimes I just stood there, completely unable to decide where I wanted to put the next step. But with my embarrassingly slow crab/clamber, I drew nearer the summit, and after a false one or two, couldn’t quite believe that the next one was indeed the true summit!
There wasn’t much elation, just relief that now I could stop, turn around and get out. I took a few photos, trying to time them to the brief glimpses of land through pockets in the cloud, then made equally painfully slow progress back across the top. Down was a little faster, pineapple grass makes for good sliding, and I’d chosen a better route too. As I approached the edge of the ridge I’d taken to get onto the main Weld ridge I looked down on my tent, the lake and the bits of view beyond.
I wondered if it would clear, and as if I’d spoken aloud and someone had heard, it did just that. In fits and starts initially, but then for good. I could hardly believe that I was now standing under almost clear blue sky, and was a little annoyed that I’d not stayed on top for longer, or waited more before I headed up in the first place. But it was probably as well I hadn’t, as the wind was already increasing. I hung out my shorts and shirt as I packed the tent – they were still dripping from the day before. 10 minutes later, and they were nearly dry!
All sorted, and I was good to make the walk out, or at least down as far as I could to somewhere suitable for camp (though with everything wet, I’d have preferred the first). So down I went. Slowly, as tired legs were first distracted by messages to friends checking that I was ok and sending hugs, then by water droplets, ferns and mosses, and a pair of orchids I’d not seen before.
The time that should have been saved because I was going downhill was spent on trying to capture these miniature worlds, and I did have a bit of fun playing.. a tripod would have made things much easier, because I don’t have the steadiest of hands! The trip should also have been faster because I’d been over the terrain once, and knew what to expect, not to mention the fact that it’s much much easier (and faster) to fall downhill than up (and yes, there was still a lot of that happening). But I managed to only make it down 6 minutes faster than the way up ;)!
I surprised myself at my keenness for the cutting grass, but not only did it mark the final ‘section’ (I break walks into sections) of the walk, it also meant I didn’t have to worry about track finding. The track is pretty obvious there, and I could just put my head down and plough through (armed with over pants and jacket – much more pleasant!). When I got to the final 400m according to my GPS I smiled, pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the never-ending 400m that two good friends walked in a recent epic to Arrowsmith (needless to say, they learnt not to trust in the ‘short cut’ back).
A tired cheer when I finally popped out of the green wall of grass, and a slow shuffle back along the road to the car. I was surprised at how the wind was pushing me around when I was so low, and very glad I wasn’t still up by the Lake. The promised afternoon rain was still a while away, but the dark clouds were rolling in. I said my goodbyes over lunch (yes, it might have been 5pm!), and left without looking back.
On the drive home I learnt that three friends had decided they were going to come in and meet me on the walk out, and drive me home. Touching, though I’m kind of glad I had reception to send a message when I did, because I’d have been most upset to have inconvenienced them so much! A somewhat lonely and restless night followed, without even the mountains to keep me company.
All up: 24.9km, 1150m ascent, a very slow 6.48 hrs in to camp on day 1, 50 mins to the summit on day 2.