The first time I’d climbed King William I had been for my 200th point, a bit under a year ago. That was when I was still rather too optimistic about the weather and its ability to pleasantly surprise, and we got biting wind, rain and no views. I got my 200 points, but quite happily called off wandering out to Milligan and Pitt, reasoning I wanted to come back for the views, so I might as well have an even better excuse. I’m glad I did!
This week, it was time for a revisit. I had a day walk to Picton on Sunday, and Monday was just too good an opportunity to miss – the weather was forecast to be sunny with morning frost, and I desperately needed to escape, and recharge. Sunday had been good for that, Monday was to be a continuation. There was also the small issue of being on 396 points.. and a slightly larger desire to hit 400 on an overnighter to a special mountain the following week. Doing the two peaks would take me to 398, and increase options should the weather deteriorate (though Olympus, home of the Gods, was really where I wanted to be). It was also an easy option: I didn’t have to do any research, just had to walk a little further than last time!
So up I drove, winding round the bends at Tarraleah, and popping out to a pastel dawn of pinks and blues, golden grass tinged with silver frost. Not the bold bright sunrise we’d had the day before (which really was stunning), but a soft, gentle one. I checked out the road I was planning on taking to Charles in a few weeks time with the club, just to make sure it wasn’t gated at the entrance, and continued on. The last of the morning colours lit my mountains (well, I was making them mine for the day!) as I turned onto the gravel road that takes you to the parking spot, and I greeted them. A quick change into still damp gear from yesterday, and I was cold but good to go shortly after 8.
A brisk walk along the old 4wd track soon had me warm and sucking on water, and I was at the log book within the hour, with only a few pauses to adjust clothing, admire and record the view, or to smile at one green gum leaf, amongst hundreds of brown ones, with large fresh drops of water sitting on its surface (funnily enough, it stood out just as much on the way back, and I smiled even wider having spotted it the second time round). A moment to scribble in details of where I was going, a check to see that Jocelyn and the HWC group she was leading up there on the Saturday had got back fine (they had), and I was off again, this time on the proper track (as opposed to the road).
The climb was shorter than I remembered, and this time I enjoyed having a view of the summit, though it did make the going look steeper! At least the views meant I had good reason to stop at regular intervals. There was a fair bit of foggy mist hanging around in a band at the top of the three peaks, but most of it was to the west of King William I, with the view out southeast and east to D’Arcy, Wentworth and Hobhouse mostly clear (at least until I gained some height!). Everything to the north was hidden behind a white curtain, though there was nothing about it that was menacing, or permanent, so it failed to dampen my mood.
Half an hour after signing the book, I was on top of King William I, and turned my attention to where I was supposed to be heading. I didn’t quite make it, distracted, as it were, by a broken spectre! It wasn’t the first I’ve seen, but there is something special and exciting about them. My joy turned to dismay though, when I pulled out my camera to find condensation on the inside of the lens (and yes, it’s a waterproof camera). I’m doing an incredibly fantastic job of destroying pretty much everything I come in to contact with at the moment (yes, you’d do well to keep your distance!), and it was cruel to be reminded of that in the one place I’d gone to try and escape it all (for a little while at least).
I wasn’t sure whether to be optimistic when I discovered my GPS also had a bit of internal condensation, and something told me that maybe it was related to the very cold wind coming from the west. Relocation to my jacket pocket, closer to my body heat, proved the theory right (that’s what I’m claiming anyway!) as the condensation gradually disappeared. I wasn’t sure any of the photos I’d taken would work, but there was so much mist around you can’t really tell.
The excitement of the broken spectre, and the dismay over my camera were put aside, as I willed the mist to thin for a moment, so I could glimpse the best route down off KWI, and over to Milligan. Will power proved stronger than the mist was thick, and for a moment or two I could spot the saddle below, and had a rough idea of where I wanted to head. As it were, I needn’t have worried. There was a cairned and well worn pad down to the saddle, and in taking a sensible route up Milligan I found myself walking on worn terrain. A friend had long ago described the two mountains as some of the easiest off track walking you’ll do, and that was very true. A little more challenging, not being able to see and judge from a distance a best possible route, but that was mostly psychological.
Milligan was only a 20 minute wander from KWI, and while there was a bit more down then up than I’d thought judging from the maps on my GPS (but they’re never really accurate) there was nothing challenging about it. Another broken spectre on the summit, and this time there were more very distinct rings of rainbow colours. There were some views north, but mist was thicker looking out towards Pitt. In fact, you could pretty much see mist wrapping over the top of what must have been mountain underneath, like a warm fuzzy blanket.. except the wind was VERY cold and cut straight through!
What I really wanted to be able to see though, was where I was supposed to be heading. I could see enough to be able to make out dolerite amongst scrub, and was worried that if I went high, I might come to a drop off and have to back track, but equally If I stayed low and countered around, I might come up against a wall. Yesterday, staying high had ended us up in that exact predicament, but today it seemed right. I figured I could always reassess as I got closer, based on the 40 or so metres of visibility I had at any one time.
It worked quite well, a low scrubby ramp led to the highest part of the ridge, which was covered in cushion plants and the like. Not quite as nice as the gardens up on Picton, but pretty nice, and easy walking (except in trying to avoid the larger expanses of cushion plants which gave you nowhere to step!). Along the top I went, not in a particular hurry, it was nice, even if it was still fluffy white! I headed over to the edge to a few look out points, to see if I could spot the route ahead any better, but I must have been in the thick of the cloud. Each looming dark shadow had me wondering if it might be the summit, until I checked distance on my GPS.. nope, not that one either!
Then finally (not that long really, but enough ‘shadows’ spotted, climbed and passed), the cloud thinned a bit and I knew I was looking straight at my peak. The small dolerite columns appealed, an attempt at a defence, which had me looking twice in the mist, but probably wouldn’t have been noticed in clear visibility. But there was a definite bridge across, saving any real effort, and again, a well worn pad just in case you couldn’t figure out where to go.. a hop and skip and I was standing by the summit cairn.
No broken spectre here, but a fogbow instead!! And, as I ate eggs, salami and cherry tomatoes as fast as my could fingers would allow, the dark blue outlines of mountains to the north appeared over the top of the mist. The wind was strong and cold though, so I wasn’t standing still for long, and I ate and walked back, figuring the 2.5 hours it had taken to get there would be about right for the way back, maybe a little less.
The longer I walked, the more the mist dissipated, and I had longer windows of clarity between the drawing of the white curtains. Of course, it was only after having decided not to go back over Milligan (because there’d be only the inside of cloud to see) but to sidle around the side, that it really lifted! Oh well, I knew I was at least guaranteed a view from the top of KWI.
Hobhouse looked quite nice, and I decided I’d make a concerted effort to get the details for the key off a friend. There was still enough misty wisps hanging over the rest of the King William range, and I wondered how the club trip I have planned out that way would go.. it seemed rather a long way to go in short days..
Back on top of KWI, and a final look north to the mountains… another silent word to the gods of Olympus (who might just have to pass it on to the Centaurs of Pelion West instead, who knows), and then it was time to head back. Just shy of 12.30, 4:20 hrs since having started out, and I was back. I would have liked to have spent more time up there, but a long drive back, and the need to get some sleep before work at 1am, meant I didn’t have the luxury this time.
Recharge completed.. a sleepy drive home, made possible with the aid of a much detested but necessary Red Bull… and then the heavy crash back down to earth.. you can set up defences, you can pretend, you can try and escape.. but as I’ve had many a conversation with my mother about of late, life is ultimately fragile and uncertain, it takes faster than it gives, and it can be very scary and lonely.. and really quite sad. How to live with that? Who knows… the mountains, the bush, the birds and the moon, the sun and the stars.. they help, just a bit, to remind you how to smile.
Oh, and a lesson I learnt on this one? Be careful walking in wet wearing sports tape without the white stuff you’re supposed to put underneath, you can end up with some wonderful blisters under the tape!
All up: 14.5km, 4.23 hrs, 980m ascent.