It’s been the hardest 6 months I’ve ever had and yet it’s also been a time of reflection, discovery and quite substantial growth, which is far from finished. When the core that you’ve built your life around gets ripped away, you’re kind of forced to reevaluate everything you do and decide how you want to do it now. Even in his death Graham seems to be teaching me things and encouraging me to be a better version of me. Everything has been in the firing line, ranging from little things like how frequently I floss my teeth to the bigger issues of work, hobbies, health and fitness. The only thing that’s staying pretty much the same is bushwalking (although even that might be being ramped up a tad, and obviously I’m back to solo walking too!). I haven’t been able explain why walking was the one thing that’s been working, but by the end of the walk I certainly had more of an idea.
I had 5 days set aside, but two weren’t looking flash with the weather and I had just planted out some tomato, capsicum and eggplant seedlings that were going to need more water than once every 5 days, so I decided to just go for the three good days . King William III, Shaula or Robert… hmmm. The decision was hard and I was going to go with KW3 for a couple of reasons, but then a message from a friend had me pretty keen on two nights camping high on the Western Arthurs. So Shaula it was. It was hard to believe it had already been 6 years since I’d last walked past the mountain and I was stoked to finally be returning :D! I’d first walked the Western Arthurs and all the peaks with Graham and Shaz on a magical 9 day trip. Before we left a friend said, ‘you won’t climb Shaula though, no one ever does on their first go’. He was right, we stood at the point you’d leave from, looking over at it and knew we didn’t have the time and energy to get there and back. So it had remained ‘the one that got away’ for 6.5 years. I always knew I’d be back and it was right near the top of the list for Graham and I, but we hadn’t got there together. So now it was just me. For a three day walk, the days were going to be long because there was a fair distance to cover (nearly 30km one way), but the going would be easy – tracked and open almost all the way, and the camping top notch.
The morning marking practical exams at uni flew by, as did a meeting at the tennis club and then I began a leisurely drive down to the southwest. I could have left the next morning, but I had a LOT of ground to cover, and preferred an early walking start without a ridiculously early driving start (or a mass of animals to avoid)! I wasn’t feeling quite as excited as I had been during the planning – courtesy of good dose of tiredness and feeling a tad under the weather, but that wore off as I listened to a new podcast (all about living with intention as it turned out!), practiced some breathing techniques (the specific episode delved a fair bit into breathing) and watched the sky turn lovely reds and oranges as the sun set. The colour hung around long after sundown and left me with a warm glow inside as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, keen to get at least 7 hours sleep before an early start.
I woke at 5:30 to the alarm, but it was light enough to not need the head torch. I boiled some water for my oats, popped the lot in a thermos for a brunch later on and packed the last few bits and pieces into my pack. It was feeling ridiculously light, a feeling I knew wouldn’t last long! By 6 I was on the track, each step stirring distant memories from previous visits.
The sky was painted orange again, almost as if it had never left, although now it was a lighter, brighter shade. Again it hung around, reminding me all too soon how difficult it is to look at the views and walk on the track without stumbling! The track wasn’t much different to how I remembered it, perhaps just an extra sign telling unprepared walkers to turn back. Oh, and more of the typical southwest mud than I could remember, but that’s usual for me to forget!
I set into a gentle plod, no need to race, and just went with the flow. It was going to be a warm day – it’s not often I have my shirt sleeves rolled up by 6:30! But for now, I was going to enjoy the pleasant smell and temperature of a fine spring day. Sometimes I thought about things, other times I just breathed and walked. I passed another solo female walker who had been in to the start of the range. That accounted for the only other car in the carpark, so I figured I’d have the range to myself!
I arrived at Junction creek at 9, remembering how Shaz and slipped on the little wooden ladder and bruised her tailbone – something to laugh at now but something that had given her grief for the rest of the trip! I had a refreshing drink and continued on along the plains. To this point there hadn’t been much sign of the 2018/19 fires, but that changed shortly after Junction creek and stayed around until my departure point (technically not Moraine K, I was cutting off the corner!). Here the ground was crunchy, although the button grass was coming back, as were some everlastings and the odd patch of sundews. The track was just as easy to follow – rocky underfoot with muddy and boggy patches, especially near rivers. The shortcut was perfect too. It was open going all the way except when crossing Seven Mile River, where there was a track (maybe an old route??).
By midday I’d started climbing onto the range and didn’t take long to intersect the official route down Moraine K. It was a long slog up, made even longer by the fact I kept wanting to take photos. I’d really slowed down by now anyway, knowing I had all afternoon to travel what was now a relatively short distance and wanting to conserve my energy for the next day.
When I did finally feel like I was up and on the range properly I started moving at snails pace, stopping repeatedly to take photos or even just stand and stare. I’d forgotten how much walking in the Arthurs fills you with awe and amazement. If ever there was a land of gods, this would be it. Every twist and turn or rise and dip presents a new perspective of folded ridges and dramatic, imposing mountains. To be able to walk in the midst of it all is just delightful. So I savoured every moment, moving only fast enough to keep from getting cold. Familiar bits of track and unique trees and rocks gave me déjà vu, and distant memories trickled back from a lifetime ago. I walked slower still.
There’s an old King Billy pine just before the descent to Haven Lake, which I’d forgotten about, and it was lovely to find it looking much the same as the last time I passed it by. Down to the lake I dropped. As tempting as the tent platforms and easy access to water might have been for weary feet, I’d been recommended an even better spot, which meant I still had a short walk to do. I partly filled an 8L dry bag with extra water (they do wonderfully as an emergency water bladder, so long as they aren’t too holey!) and continued around the lake. A short climb took me to a saddle in the ridge, which gave brilliant views NW along the range, directly towards the Beggary Bumps and Shaula. It was exposed, but the wind had died down and wasn’t going to pick up until after I was home, making it a perfect spot to stay!
While it wasn’t even 4pm I pitched the tent and got some soup and dinner going, and then settled in for an afternoon of reading, writing notes and simply enjoying being in such a lovely place. The sun had settled to a warming caress, and I watched as it turned the mountains different colours during its journey through the sky. Birds chirped in the distance and only the odd fly came to disturb the peace. It was a perfect afternoon, full of silence. To top it off I happened to glance behind the tent as the sun was setting, just in time to watch the full moon peak out from behind rock. And there I stayed, mesmerised as slowly it floated higher and higher, into the sky.
I had no need to be up at any particular time so I set no alarm, what a luxury! My bladder had other ideas, and I read for a bit before dozing off again. It was close to 8 when I finally decided I’d best get moving, because while I might not have had a huge distance to go, I wasn’t sure how long the side trip to Shaula might take. If it was horrible scrub, it could be pretty slow!
It was cool and overcast to start and it took a while to shake off the stiffness that had settled in overnight. But the scramble up Taurus and then along the eastern end of the Beggary Bumps soon had me working up a sweat. It took a little longer to get over the disappointment of the morning – waking to find the SD card in my camera had suddenly decided to have an error. All the photos from the day before weren’t visible, and no new ones could be stored on it. I hoped it could be salvaged when I got home (It could! But it’s also getting replaced before the next trip)! Fortunately I’ve carried a spare with me on every trip for the last 8 years.
The Beggary Bumps are very up and down and my legs were feeling the slog up Moraine K from the day before, so it was with a fair bit of relief that I stopped just shy of one of the bigger ‘bumps’ and readied myself to plunge off track into the scrub. There was a little bit of a clearing where people had clearly sat before, so I made myself comfortable and enjoyed brunch – so yummy on a hungry tummy!
When it came time to step down into the scrub I was pleasantly surprised. There was a little bit of a pad to start with, but more impressive was the vegetation. It was a lovely mix of low lying heath, pandani and moss. Later on a few more trees came into the picture but even here the scoparia was generous enough to be over head high so as to not cause any significant obstacle. What I expected to be a hefty scrub bash was more of a twist and turn through the lovely, ancient vegetation. Down into the dip and then back up the other side until I hit the ridge that runs out to Shaula.
Even here the going was pretty good. There was a pad that wasn’t too branched and that didn’t have too many false leads and the further along the ridge I went the more open the going got. A final rocky scramble straight up a false summit and then the real deal. Ah, to be sitting on the summit of ‘the one that got away’…it would have been nice to have shared it with Graham and Shaz. I held them in my thoughts instead while I sat there looking back at the range, munching on a snack.
The return flew by, even though I was moving no faster. I took great pleasure in the little things. The small tadpole filled soak on the middle of the ridge out to Shaula, the bumble bee a little further on who had chosen such a beautiful place to call home, the little spider dressed in Spider-Man colours, the characteristic flap of a startled Bronzewing, the grasshopper who was as stunned as I was to find him land in my mouth, and of course, the tree that appeared to be growing out of nothing but pure rock. I had just been talking to a friend, who had also lost his partner in the last 6 months, about how important the things were that filled us with awe (an idea from the book Phosphorescence). And here I was, in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, being bombarded by lots of little things that made me smile, sometimes even chuckle, and definitely filled me with awe and wonder. There was indeed so much to be grateful for.
Back at the tent I finished off a book Jess had lent me called Silence in the Age of Noise. It’s a lovely little book, easy to read, that sets out a case for the importance of finding silence in our lives. Right at its end, it puts into words the reason I go walking in a way I never could have.
Which paths lead to silence? Certainly trips into the wild. Leave your electronics at home, take off in one direction until there’s nothing around you. Be alone for three days. Don’t talk to anyone. Gradually you will rediscover the other sides of yourself. The most important thing, however, is…that we each discover our own way…Sva marga: follow your own path.
And so, in a world that may not be any more uncertain than it always was, but where I’m more acutely aware of uncertainty and transience, I am clear about one thing. I will always be able to find silence and rediscover myself when I walk in the wild. That is my path. I am not much one for the treadmill of commuting, working, earning and spending money, keeping up to date with the news, social media or the latest series on Netflix. But maybe I don’t need to be ;).
The following morning I woke in the middle of the cloud, as expected, but had a lovely show as I packed my gear, with the mountains appearing and disappearing just as fast behind the white veil. When it was time I said my goodbyes and made my way slowly off the range. I was in no rush, again I had the whole day, and there wasn’t anywhere better to be but here. I had a moment with one, and then two, currawongs, who made me feel like I was part of the landscape rather than someone simply passing through… then again perhaps they just wanted to see if I’d put down my pack for a bit!
Down I went, then across the plains again. Still shocked at how beautiful the place was. I met several people walking in. The first, a pair of older women, who asked me if I’d made it to Shaula. I was delighted they’d taken the time to read and remember this from the log book, but even more at the fact that here were two women enjoying some of the most stunning walking at an age I can only hope I’ll still be walking at. The next was a guy who was part way through traversing Tassie from north to south. I was impressed, if slightly envious… it’s something that’s been bubbling away in the back of my mind for a little while now ;). He’d even been through the POWs as part of it. I could have spent much longer chatting, but he clearly needed to be getting on, as did I. When he left I was struck how clean he looked – I’d been out for 3 days and was covered in mud, he looked in mint condition in comparison! The final guy, who I met maybe 45 minutes from the car park simply asked me if there was anywhere to camp within 2-3 hours, so I mentioned Junction Creek, slightly puzzled by the question, and the fact that he was walking without a shirt on. Hmmm…
While I was glad to be back at the car to get off my achy feet, and heading in to town where I could get some salmon for a bit of a treat for dinner, there was part of me that could easily have stayed out there for a bit longer…
Day 1: 24.5km, 10hrs, 1437m ascent
Day 2: 8.4km, 6:51hrs, 993m ascent
Day 3: 24km, 9:17hrs, 862m ascent