Mt Field West Attempt 15-16 June, 2013
Unfortunately, at Lake Dobson, the precipitation took the form of rain. As we climbed, brushing against soaked bushes and slopping through pools and risen rivulets, our lower halves became wet through. The exertions of climbing also meant that our top halves were damp with sweat from the inside. By the time we reached Newdigate Hut, the rain had changed to the promised snow, which is warmer than rain, but we were already freezing from being wet. We ate a hasty morning tea, eager to keep moving.
At the top of Newdigate Pass, we realised that we had up until this point been sheltered from the main brunt of the wind. Now it slapped us in the face, driving piercing shards of sago snow into our exposed facial skin. I zipped my anorak to the top, which is between my mouth and nose. The hood I dropped forward to half cover my eyes. I just had a tiny window to peep out of so I could locate the next pole or cairn, but that was enough for the gale to find and lance me. Soon enough, however, the glorious sight of a triangle of metal signifying the emergency shelter on K-col took form through the thick mist. Shelter at last. We opened the door with relief. I stopped singing my adaptation of Lawson’s The Team:
The distant goal is won.
It was lunchtime. The day was still young – but we had very little hope of being able to continue and summit our mountain. Perhaps tomorrow things would improve. But should we give up yet? Well, not quite yet, so we ate lunch in our sopping gear, dancing on the spot at frequent intervals to try to prevent gelidity. The sound of the wind’s fury did not abate, and nano-peeps out the door indicated that snow was still falling. We all had tents, but no one was willing to brave the weather and pitch. Eventually at some point after lunch we admitted defeat and changed into our set of dry clothes. I was most reluctant to do this, despite being desperately cold, as once in that gear, I wouldn’t be able to go outside, and I knew I’d need the toilet at some point, but my core temperature was dropping rapidly, so I shed the wet layers and climbed most prematurely (it was only a bit after 2) into my sleeping bag as advised by the others. It seemed shocking to do this so early, but I saw no other hope of warming up. I was wearing two merino icebreakers, an Arcteryx coat and a down jacket (the last two with hoods), a beanie, gloves, Helly longs, overpants and woollen socks, all dry, but was still cold, so I obediently climbed in. A-M sat on my feet to try to warm them for me. Soon we had a row of four all trying to warm the one in front like penguins in a blizard. It began to get mildly cosy.
We spent the rest of the afternoon joking, laughing, telling silly tales, and listening to B who read us Italian Fairytales that I’d brought up the mountain for just this purpose. We put off dinner, as once it got dark it would be harder to amuse ourselves. We were all also reluctant to get out of our bags to cook. I was not the only one dreading the idea of needing the toilet – one of many sources of ribald humour during the afternoon (wit of jokes no doubt enhanced by A-M’s spiced rum). I deliberately drank nothing with dinner to reduce trips outside. Somehow we managed to joke around until almost 9 pm, after which we made an attempt at official sleep. Two climbed into the tiny mezzanine floor; the other three set up bed on the chairs below.
All night those of us who were awake (= all of us) could hear the wind raging against the frame of our shelter. Snow banked up against the door. We would not be summitting this trip. After breakfast, we had do decide what, if any, dry gear we would save for an emergency. Most of us donned our wet garments. My socks were sodden but I didn’t even have the resolve or whatever it took to wring them out, and I didn’t want to use my dry ones. What was the point? My shoes were saturated. My overpants were damp and cold, but on they went, over the dry overpants and Helly longs I was already wearing. For my top half, I kept on all the clothes from the night as above, but exchanged a fleece for the down jacket so that I had an extra dry upper layer left (as well as the usual full thermal body cover, still dry in my pack). My gloves had been knocked inadvertently onto the floor during the night. They were frozen so solidly I couldn’t change the shape to force my fingers in. I elected to throw caution to the wind and use my last pair of dry gloves that would, indeed, get wet within 30 seconds of being out there, but I just couldn’t face another wet layer. The icy ones were now so hateful to me I didn’t even want to carry them for another day. My anorak was also a frozen, metallic sheet of armour, but I had so many layers on top (6 already before I donned it) that the ice from that garment would take a while to reach me. Off we set into the mist and driving gale. I plodded like an automaton over the icy, treacherous rocks – one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there – and sang in my mind my new adaptation to the second verse of Lawson’s poem:
Although we were plodding with heads to the ground to try to avoid ice attack, there was still opportunity to notice how wonderful the rocks and plants were with their mantel of snow. It was beautiful, and we were thrilled to be out in it, – despite the discomfort – and exhilarated to be part of nature’s unattenuated wildness.