Having got my act together, signed up to go back to uni, and received word that I’d been accepted, I set about organising the most important thing: the remaining few weekends off I had between now and then, and the walks I would fill them with. I had a short list featuring mountains I desperately wanted to do (like Geryon South), club walks I’d already signed up for or had put down to lead, and a few others chosen partly for interest, partly because I had info on them, and partly because they would fit into my ‘3 days’ weekends.
The Loddon Range was one that I’d put towards the end of the list, largely because it was supposed to be scrubby. But having received a GPS track in a timely fashion (thanks Geoff!), I bumped it up a few notches, and it was on the ‘weather waiting list’ (featuring a range of walks, from which one is chosen each weekend based purely on wherever the weather is best).
It went back on hold a short while later, when Greg, a Pandani organiser, mentioned the possibility of leading a walk there. It was definitely one I’d rather do in a group, so I was more than willing to wait! We ended up with a group of 8 experienced walkers, which pretty much ensured we were in for a good trip.
Armed with 6 GPSs, and 5 PLBs/Spots, we left the cars on the side of the road, and found our drop off point. Choosing it is crucial, as it determines just how much scrub you have to descend down through to get to the river. We were all surprised by how open the spot we had was, though it was steep and a tad slippery!
Surprise River lived up to its name. Not only was it not as deep as expected, we also had a footbridge provided, and did not need to use the ropes we’d brought just in case, or even take off boots to keep our feet dry.
Overpants, which had been donned to ward off the scrub, were removed, as were the scrub gloves, before we proceeded to follow the ridge up.. and up.. and up some more. Again, we were surprised at the relative openness of the forest, the apparent pad through the ferns (even clumps of tied up cutting grass – hard evidence of someone else having been that way), and most grateful for having a route to follow (it made things much much easier).
It was warm (ok, hot) work, and we sought distraction in a glimpse or two of distant mountains from rocky ‘lookouts’, the changes in vegetation as we worked our way up, the sounds and evidence of olive whistlers and lyrebirds, or light conversation. When we finally popped out of the forest and into the scrub proper, the fact that the going would be a little more scratchy for a bit was ignored, and whoops of delight could be heard as people took in the views. The Loddon range might be overshadowed by the more prominent King William range to its east, but its views are just as good, if not better.
I’d managed to stay somewhere in the middle of the group till then, happy not to have to concentrate on navigation in the forest as I was feeling quite tired after a night at work and not a lot of sleep. But when we hit the scrub somehow I was put in the lead. As is usually the case though, having something to concentrate on woke me up, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to stick roughly to the GPS route we had, choosing the path of least resistance, trying not to duck and weave toooo much and avoiding where possible narrow bits that require interesting contortions (which, being small, I handle just fine, but some people really don’t like!).
When we were through the worst of it, and a distinct pad had appeared beneath our feet, Greg seamlessly took the lead back until we reached the top of the knob before Ronald Cross, and hungry tummies demanded they be fed there and then. So we sat with the bright yellow everlasting flowers, disturbed the ants, looked at fossils in rock, applied sunscreen and otherwise enjoyed the views while eating.
There was a lazy air about, despite intentions to get all the way to Loddon Bluff if the going was good and we had time. But we did eventually have to get moving, so we donned slightly lighter packs, and assessed the way forward. It seemed easier going now, and we wove our way on a rough pad, which disappeared as fast as it appeared, through low alpine scrub.
The summit of Ronald Cross seemed almost like a non-event, at least as I experienced it (being second last to arrive). It wasn’t quite as open as our lunch spot had been, and by the time I was there most of the group was looking at the next bit of the walk. I stood on the summit to get a better look at the view, then joined the others. It will, however, forever be remembered as the spot Raylea received the exciting news that she might be pregnant with her second child (we all think that if it’s a boy he should be named Loddon, or Ronald)!
On we went, the easy walking continuing as we followed the ridge along, small rises and drops to negotiate, and ever changing views to enjoy. None of us was too keen to check out Scoparia Lake, as it looked like it might have been aptly named! Church Peak, and particularly Needle Rock (it’s pretty obvious when you see it) and its associated tarn, were the main immediate focus, but mountains further away, including Diamond Peak, Frenchmans, Gell and Slatters were never far from mind (or discussion).
Negotiating the ridge started to take longer as the day wore on and the heat of the sun sapped as much energy as did the distance under our feet. It wasn’t particularly difficult walking, but nor was it easy. Stops became more frequent, and I think it was with relief that we finally arrived at our drop off point. We were buoyed on by what looked to be some quite nice camping next to the lake, and it didn’t take long for our long shadows and, a few steps later, us to reach it.
Tents went up, and gear was sorted, while we had a chat about our options and what to do. To go, or not to go? It was a tough choice, given everyone was tired, some more so than others. The group seemed to lean one way, then the other. It came down to a vote on personal preference, and I was most aware that in giving my answer, I was voting selfishly, based on what I would have done had I been alone (for a number of considered reasons). In doing so I felt uneasy, aware that a good friend might have done the opposite, and voted so as not to let the group down, rather than out of personal preference. Others might have too, but I was less sure about that.
I wasn’t the only one to pick up on the vibe, but our quiet enquiries were brushed off with a ‘She’ll be right’, which did nothing to allay concerns, perhaps only deepened them. But there didn’t seem anything else we could do, and so we set off, back up to the ridge, where we had rock and scrub and ups and downs to negotiate. It was slow going and the tiredness was really starting to show. Perhaps it was mental as much as physical, with the added pressure of needing to reach the summit of Loddon Bluff before our turn around time.
I felt a bit useless, not really knowing what was going on and feeling unable to help. So I tried taking a leaf out of another friend’s book, and without ignoring or forgetting about my worries, I made a conscious effort to enjoy all the rest of what was. And there was a lot to enjoy. I was out in the mountains, walking a ridge, the light and time stretching as the sun dipped lower, in the company of some special people. The trivial problems of life did not exist, there was nothing but the here and now, and it was perfect.
By 7.30ish, and still a distance from our summit, we had ‘the talk’. The going was easier, and we reckoned we’d go a bit further. By 7.40 it was time to make a call. Ben scouted up and gave his assessment: we could make the summit in 20 minutes. Greg told us to go, but we needed to be there by 8. The race was on!
Heart pumping hard and lungs gasping for air, I concentrated on keeping on Ben’s trail, followed closely by Graham, then John. Next door to no sleep, work, and a long and hot walk in and up didn’t matter any more. It was in the past and had served to get me to where I was, and there was no way now that I wasn’t getting to the top! I don’t think I was the only one thinking this ;).
There was something good and exciting in the race against time and, despite the discomfort of walking (with the occasional skip/run bit) quite so fast, I thoroughly enjoyed the change in pace and the freedom to just go, as well as the pressure of the challenge and the concentration it required. Ben stopped to catch his breath, and I paused for a moment too until he waved me on. Enjoying it so much, I went, trying to catch back up to Graham, but unable to go much faster than his long legs. I cut the distance a little, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to catch him.
At 7.58, I stood on the summit, gasping for air through a great big smile, and gave Graham a hug in celebration. The smile was to stay on my face for some time, as we watched, encouraged and congratulated the others as they arrived in their own time and joined in the celebration.
We weren’t sure what the go with turning back was, but Greg was still moving forward, so we figured we’d just wait there. It turned out they’d had a chat at the back and decided to make the summit regardless, happy to walk back to the tents in the dark. That removed some of the pressure, and we fittingly took time to sit around the summit, basking in precious moments of golden light. It was worth every bit of effort it had taken us to get there, and I was secretively not displeased that we’d got our timing spot on for the sunset!
We’d already opted for a different route back, following the ridge to just before the going got slower, and then dropping down off it into the scrub. Fortunately the GPS route we had also went that way, so we knew we could quite confidently find our way in the dark. But first we made the most of enjoying the last few moments of day as we walked the ridge. I lagged at the back, not at all concerned about a scrub bash in the dark (been there, done that), and eager to enjoy every moment I could up there.
When we got to our drop off point I was nominated to take the lead, and readily accepted (saying a silent thanks to everyone else for placing their trust in me). I do love the challenge, and despite having been up for 29 hours, was wide awake and full of energy. Head torches went on, and off we set.
It was, well, scrubby, and I was very glad we’d not chosen to ascend that way. But it was easy enough to descend through, even in the dark. One or two deviations from the GPS route were punished with slightly thicker stuff (though no one seemed to notice too much!), so I took a little more time to figure out which way to go when uncertain. By and large, it was a very decent route, which seemed to stick to the lighter patches of scrub that wove a way between the thicker stuff.
I had no idea where we were, except in relation to the pink line on my GPS screen, and I shook my head in amusement that sometimes that, and a little bit of faith, is all that’s needed. We hit the edge of Needle Rock tarn before I knew it, and were unzipping tent flys and doors a few moments later. Elation and relief at being back washed over, followed, finally, by a heavy tiredness.
Dinner and star gazing (they were beautifully bright) were a quick affair for me, as the cold, hungry mozzies and a desperate need for sleep rapidly took over. I said my good nights, and got into my sleeping bag fully clothed. I very quickly fell asleep to the muffled sound of distant chatter.
My alarm went off at 5.15 the next morning, and despite being tired, a quick look out the door had me awake and moving. It was clear (enough) to make a short walk part way up to the ridge to watch the sun rise worthwhile. I stopped a little below the mist line, happy with my spot, and settled down to enjoy the sea of soft white mist in the valleys and the glow of light behind Slatters.
I did some thinking, resolved some feelings, and then ‘meditated’ with a simple little bit of rock balancing. Graham wandered up and joined me, and we chatted a bit, in between moving around for photos as the sun lit up the sky. It was a lovely welcome to the day.
As the sun climbed higher the light it cast crept down the ridge we were sitting on, towards the tents. The mist above us had all but burnt off, some still remaining in the valleys. A thin film continued to waft its way across the surface of the tarn.
A very slight breeze would have gone unnoticed, had it not knocked over the rocks I’d balanced. There was something special, fitting about it, with no sense at all of destruction or loss or the end of something. On reflection, I liked the metaphors it gave as regards living in the present, accepting what is, the cycle of life, seeing ‘ends’ as ‘beginnings’, of possibility and invitation, of a place in the world. It was perfect, especially to have been shared with someone who also seemed to understand without actually needing to put things into words.
By now, Simon was up and about also taking photos, content to stay where he was rather than climb up to where we were. One by one the others appeared and said hello to the day and the world around them.
When the sun hit the tents we headed back down, and went about finding something to eat. My breakfast bar went down fast, but I spent time savouring a most delicious gifted hot chocolate and half an apricot. I did feel a little guilty for having chosen not to bring my own stove and still be able to enjoy the rewards (thanks!!)!
Raylea was energetic for that time of the morning, and had us admiring her ability to contort her body into different Yogya poses as we ate. Graham decided it was a perfect opportunity to practice headstands, but only received a whole lot of teasing for his efforts (which weren’t actually too bad, there was just a bit of a bend in his legs)!
Breakfast eaten, tents packed, hats soaked in the tarn, by 9am we were ready to go, though we lingered a little, reluctant to start the climb, or was it about leaving the place? But we had to, and it was only going to get hotter as the day wore on. So up we went. Straight up.
It was hot work, and a rudely abrupt way to start the day, but it ensured we were all well and truly awake! And so we wove our way back along the spine of the Loddon range, choosing a better line in one or two places, stopping enough to regroup or just be, but pretty keen to get into the cool of the forest as soon as possible.
It didn’t take long. In fact it seemed to go much faster than on the way over, but perhaps that was just a matter of perception. Back into the scrub, after veering off the path we’d taken on the way up, I got the pleasure of taking the lead for a bit (just in time to take everyone under some low tree-branchy scrub that required a bit of bum sliding – I knew I’d get paid out for that by a certain tall member of the group when we got to a spot where we no longer had to walk in single file!).
The forest was significantly cooler, and we made good progress, stopping at one of our lookouts from the day before for lunch. Here I had the pleasure of sampling one of Ben’s baby chook eggs and salmon in a ‘scrunch’ (kind of like a wrap, but more Ben-style – thanks!). It hit the spot nicely :)!
We continued onwards and downwards, I mostly hung at the back and left the navigation to the others, largely Greg. Entertainment came in the form of sticking branches of a ‘purple berry tree’ or, later, ferns, on the back of people’s packs (figuring Jess would get the blame – except for the one I put on her pack!). She’d already slipped rocks into a few different packs, stolen Graham’s pole once or twice or Ben’s trail mix.. so she was the automatic culprit when anything went missing, or was added to a pack.
In that manner, we made it back to the river. Hot and sticky, it didn’t take much to start a water fight, and Jess’s drink bottle was put to good use! We explored some of the rocks, and found a shale like substance, which Jess used to paint a black stripe on either of my cheeks. Graham added a bit more, and soon I had three stripes to each cheek, and two vertical stripes in the middle of my forehead. Apparently war paint suits me.. more so than one or two of the other names people called me over the course of the trip (like Lady of the Night – I preferred the alternative of Night Owl – or petal!).
The pinch back up to the road wasn’t so bad, and soon we were all standing out in the open again. I can’t quite remember why, but Jess and I ended up running the 400m back to the car. Ben resisted for as long as he could, but it wasn’t very long, and he pulled up shortly after we had! The crazy little things we do for fun ;). I’m lucky to have friends like these…
The mint biscuits I’d brought for afterwards were quite a gooey experience, and received a similar response from pretty much everyone as I offered them around individually (but everyone had one ;)!). Ice cream at the Hungry Wombat was definitely in order, and one last chance for Jess to nick Greg’s car keys…!
A fun two dayer, for which I was immensely grateful to have had company, and good company at that (thanks Greg, and everyone else)! Thanks also to Graham and Ben for driving my car (much appreciated!!), and for the stop at the King William lookout to take one last photo of our mountains as we reflected on the memories created, and the weaving of a little bit more ‘knowing’ into our individual tapestries of Tassie mountains and bush.
All up: 24.1km, 1720m ascent.