Campbell 2014 May. Tenting on top

Mt Campbell: Tenting on top. May 2014

The day was closing in as we reached the summit of Mt Campbell, mantled in mist, yet still visible – just. The climb had luckily only taken forty minutes to get to the top plateau from the car, but we’d set out far too late from home, and now time was getting away from us. I didn’t want to add the problems of failing light while I tried to pitch our tent in this raging hurricane with the wind snatching at loose flaps and trying to run off with the tent while I did battle to push poles through slots. The wind attacked noisily with every gust so it was impossible to converse. We quickly chose our spot. It seemed fine – no pointed rocks underneath, a bit of protection from a small cluster of pencil pines conveniently located near the summit cairn.

Sunrise next morning
“You get water while I pitch this,”, I said, thinking to maximise jobs done in the light. But then I looked at the thick mist encompassing us. No. Bad idea. Stick together.
“How much light do we have?” I asked, working feverishly at this stage at poking poles in the spaces designed to take them.
“Fifteen mins. Less in this mist.”
“OK. I really need to hurry. I don’t want to get water until this is up. Can you gather the water containers so we’re ready to go as soon as I’m finished.” Off we set together into the void that was not entirely unknown.

The mist had parted briefly to allow a tachistoscopic glance at a sheening that must be water in the direction in which we were now heading. Whoops. We’d gone about three paces when I realised that, although I knew how to get there, I may well not know how to get back if it completely closed in again, or got dark. Out with the compass so I could get a bearing on our current direction and thus have a back bearing for the way home. This was not a night to be out, lost without a tent. We were not heading where I expected to go, but I was sure the glint was not a mirage.

Early light on Cradle
By the time I had filled the bag and two bottles, spilling a little as I poured, putting my hand in the tarn for speed of gathering, my fingers were aching with a terrible pain. I wanted to stop halfway through the job, but I knew I needed to gather enough water so that if this tarn were a block of ice in the morning, we would still get breakfast. We’d keep this water in the tent near our bodies to stop it freezing.

Emmett, Pelion West, Perrins Bluff, and High Dome from our aerie
I boiled our water in the vestibule, and left the mixture to sit for the obligatory ten minutes while we took off our boots. All the outside jobs were now done. We could start relaxing. The wind’s roar was our background music. We like it. Our tent was secure. For now. Hopefully I’d done a sufficiently good job. One hears horror stories of people being blown away in their tent. As we huddled up the far end, getting ourselves into position for later, we had a giggle about what we were doing.
“You know,” I said, “I think a lot of folk might wonder why it is that two people who own a spacious house, a cosy open fire, leather chairs to read in, and 300 trees on five acres of land that overlooks a river would come out in the middle of a raging storm with a flimsy bit of fabric to protect them, munching on rehydrated ex-dehydrated food.” Bruce chuckled with glee.

Dawn light behind Rowland
Dinner had been very early, but I wanted to make sure all important jobs were finished before we fully relaxed. Now it was time for the evening’s entertainment, which, in this case, was provided by my husband, who read to me from a book Henry Reynolds wrote in 1982 about aboriginal-whiteperson relationships, looking at the inclusion of references to white people and their belongings that infiltrated various aboriginal languages right across Australia long before an actual encounter had taken place. This was very interesting, and kept us awake for a while, but then the horrible hour of going out into the storm to make sure our bladders were empty had arrived. Erk. Actually, the wind wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded, and at least it wasn’t raining. Yet.

I awoke at 11.30 as my body indicated it needed to go outside again. I told it it was delusional and rolled over. It became insistent. At 12.30 it won. As with last time, the sound of the fury was much worse than the actuality, although I did not linger out there! Back snug in my bag, I lay listening to the rage. This was precisely what we were here for, wasn’t it? To be a part of nature; to participate in its wild excess (but with safety – a kind of attenuated participation).
On the way up, I had realised that this weekend was the 49th anniversary, of the Scott-Kilvert tragedy which took place right in the area that we were playing in. Having written extensively about this, I am aware of all the details and they added force to the storm that was brewing around us. I decided I wouldn’t tell Bruce about this until we were safely out in case it put him off. As I lay awake, I relived some of the horrific details, and then pictured us in the morning, crawling in thick mist, buffeted by winds that wanted to lift us off the ground. Luckily I fell asleep before my imagination got any worse.

At 6.30, a somewhat enthusiastic voice awoke me.
“It’s lovely out here,” Bruce reported. That it was, and freezing too. We bulked up with multiple coats and four head-covers and more and went out to be part of the dawn. Already the reds and oranges limning Mt Roland were surprisingly vibrant. As the sun rose, we moved around from one vantage point to another – me photographing; he, melding with the dawn as he admired it. The mist had cleared, although the grey sky above suggested the day was going to be a gloomy one. We were experiencing the best it had to offer. From one position, I was excited to see Frenchmans Cap. It seems that every single high peak I climb, I get a view of this amazing mountain with its unmistakable shape. We were also excited to note that we could see the sea for about 20 of our 360 degrees; the sun lit it beautifully as it skipped across its surface.
We didn’t waste any time after sunrise, dismantling our tent, packing and descending once we’d breakfasted. As my key turned in the ignition, the first drops of rain fell. It got heavier as we drove sedately along, nearly crashing twice with speeding tourists who needed to ignore the 40 kph signs so as to hastily reach the lake and tick the box that says “Cradle Mountain experience”. At least there were no dead animals on the road yet.

2 Replies to “Campbell 2014 May. Tenting on top”

  1. Hi Louise, having pondered exactly the same scene several times from Hansons Peak, we came to the conclusion that the peak that you have named as Archilles is actually Perrins Bluff. Archilles would still be behind West Pelion.(Just in case you wish to change it.)

    1. Well Hi Garth and whoever else “we” is. Thanks for taking the time to correct me. I always find it hard to recognise old friends from different angles – like recognising a fellow athlete in a suit. I have climbed both Perrins and Achilles, but it is one thing to look at the view from the top and to gaze at something from afar. I will bow to your presumed better judgement, and alter the text.Thanks, Louise

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