Walls of Jerusalem 2017 Aug Snow

Walls of Jerusalem in Snow. 19 August 2017

We have been to the Walls a few times in winter, in glorious snow, but never have we seen it as tantalisingly lovely as it was this time. We encountered snow well below Trappers Hut (which is normally our snowline), and were in a fairy-wonderland long before we reached that cute little rest point.

If you think that pack of his looks huge and I am a mean wife making him carry so much, please be reassured: my pack was much heavier than his, and I had the shared-type items for the two of us. I have taken huge measures to make myself stronger as he becomes weaker so we can both keep going.
My husband had indicated after last week’s successful foray into white wonder that he felt he was up to a weekend walk to the Walls, so we acted accordingly. However, Parkinson’s is a fickle disease: this week you can be fine (relatively speaking), yet next week, you’ve gone distressingly downhill. This week was not a good week, and he struggled badly. The further we penetrated into the white wilderness, the less coordinated he became. His pace slowed to a virtual halt.

I got very embarrassed, as we were holding the others up dreadfully, so, at lunchtime, I regrettably pulled the pin and took us out, waving wanly as the others headed off to Herods Gates and where I wanted to be.

We began our path downhill, the weather making my decision easier to bear, as the clouds were amassing. My husband’s spirits picked up considerably as we descended, and we had a happy afternoon, figuring we’d managed to be in the beautiful snow for the best part of the day anyway. However, as we walked before lunch, I knew I was looking at my husband climbing in snow with a proper pack on his back for the last time. We have had many sad “last times” since his illness has taken control of him, but this is one of the worst, even though it is not unexpected. At least he can still do daywalks in the snow. For now.

Maria 2017 Jun

Mt Maria, 11 June 2017.

On Sunday, Bruce and I joined in the LWC climb of Mt Maria, mainly for sociability reasons, but, as is often the case, subsidiary benefits followed. Now, there are some vocal members within bushwalking circles who are disdainful of walking clubs and people who climb mountains in such groups. Certainly, Sunday’s LWC ascent of Mt Maria could be taken as an example of what happens in a club that seems to rankle these people. Oh. Goss. What happened? Do tell.

Well, what happened was that a guy who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, who could never get up such a mountain unaided (or even with just the help of his wife), stood on the summit; so did a different fellow, aged 74, who has had two hip replacements; and so did a lady rather new to bushwalking who thought she lacked the fitness.

Oh dear. Are clubs full of people like that? No. These people are the beneficiaries of other able-bodied, strong, agile, knowledgeable and extremely helpful and selfless people who see them through moments of difficulty, who also make up the numbers of a club. Without the strong and talented bushpeople in clubs, the less experienced or gifted (in bushcraft) members would not have the opportunity to learn and grow, and to experience for themselves the thrill of a summit, and the sense of achievement gained by standing on the highest point. In a club, a summit is often (although by no means always) a team effort. And the recipients in this context can often be the donors in another.

This is definitely a pull and push job
My husband is the one with Parkinson’s disease. He took every step up the mountain himself; no one carried him as such, and he can say to himself that he climbed this mountain, and feel justifiably proud. However, my pictures of his ascent nearly all have images of other people’s hands: hands from in front in case he needed steadying or a pull; hands from behind or the side to guard against him falling. Mostly, he was unaware of these hands, but I was not. Elitists, is it so very shocking that this man can say he has climbed Mt Maria? (In fact, he is not a peak bagger and wouldn’t bother saying it, but you know the principle I am adumbrating here. )

If Bruce were doomed to only summit what he could get to solo, or what I could get him up, his options would be severely limited, and his life greatly reduced in quality. He used to be a man who could summit all manner of mountains, and to be a leader in bushwalking circles, but then a chemical aberration in his brain changed everything, and now he is reliant on the help of others. I cannot really imagine how it must feel to have once been a proficient and daring mountain man – a teacher of bushcraft – yet now be dependent. Surely the shame is not that he gets up only thanks to the help of others in a club, but that he needs help now at all. He is quite possibly braver now than he ever was when his brain and muscles functioned to their full capacity. How astonishing that he still dares to get up mountains and to “give it a go”. Thanks to the generosity of club members, both in LWC and HWC, he can still sometimes enjoy the activity that once played a prominent role in his life.

Is it not a little selfish to think that the beautiful wild places of this earth are only for a particular kind of elite bush person, who, like a recluse or hermit, does not share his /her skills with those who are learning, or who prefer to climb in company, or who are beyond the age where they are comfortable being alone in the bush?

Clubs are like microcosms of society and, like society at large, are far from perfect. But also like society at large, they teach us to  mix with all types, with those more, and those less, capable than we are, and that is good for us. We learn to tolerate and be tolerated, for however wonderful we may think we are, others may find things in us that demand  understanding and forbearance.  We have things that we bring to the group, but also things that we take from it. If we have stopped learning from others, then we are in a sorry state, and have begun our decline.

Elias Canetti in Masse und Macht wrote about the special power and energy that comes to individuals when they are part of a crowd. This can also operate at club level, where an individual will climb something difficult that they would never climb alone, precisely and only because they gain psychological and physical impetus that comes from the group dynamics. “Crowd energy” can help us to the top of challenging peaks. The presence of others can give us courage that we might not have if alone.

The way back down
And so, I leave you with your own mental image of Bruce in the tricky sections, climbing with a hand outstretched before, and another in readiness behind, yet in a different sense, climbing “all by himself”, just as the trapeze artist performs tricks by herself thanks to the safety net below. I leave you with a beaming man at the end of the day (something very rare for Parkinson’s sufferers), for surely you are never too old or ill to fail to enjoy a sense of accomplishment when you overcome odds and achieve something different. He enjoyed being one of the group, doing what everyone else was doing. I haven’t seen him so content and satisfied in ages, and that feeling came precisely because the mountain was, for him, a demanding challenge, so he was left with the feeling, unusual for a person with his illness, that “I can do”.

Cortinarius tasmamamphoratus. I have never seen these before this trip
He knows the others helped him; he is not arrogant, but he is still allowed, thanks to the group, to feel successful and affirmed. I love solo climbing, duo or trio with friends even better, but I also enjoy being part of a club; I love learning from those more experienced than I am, I enjoy giving back by leading walks in the two clubs where I have that role, and I really love the camaraderie of being with others who share my hobby. I have met some fabulous people in the club context, as it draws those who love my love together so we can meet each other.  I enjoy the little custom of “high-fives” when a club group reaches the summit. No matter how many hands were outstretched, the person still had to do it propelled by his or her own power, but the victory is also a shared one. There are others there with whom we can celebrate the occasion. Mt Maria is not a particularly special mountain for me: it has a track up it, and offers no particular challenges for me, but doing it with Bruce lets me see the mountain in a different way, and to appreciate it from a different perspective, which is healthy.

Roland 2017 Apr

Mt Roland Apr 2017

I have wanted to sleep on Mt Roland for a very long time. I think the provenance of the desire dates back to seeing a full moon rising from just behind the mount as the sun was setting to our rear as we gazed. I decided sunset up there would be wonderful. That was many years ago, and somehow the chance has never quite come about.

However, just as I was about to leave the house to drive south and pick up my friend to climb Aldebaran together, I received an email saying he couldn’t come due to an emergency. Meanwhile, I had not been enjoying the turn the weather maps had been taking since we firmed up the arrangement, so now that I wasn’t expected to be there, I decided I didn’t want to drive all that way for a repetition of last weekend’s weather. BUT, there was the fact of my packed rucksack and all my emotions that were geared for a mountain climb. I couldn’t possibly do nothing. On the spur of the moment, I suggested to my husband that we at last try sleeping on Roland, despite the rather abysmal forecast. This one could be a recce, a little practice for the real one. I wouldn’t even take my full-frame camera and tripod for this trip, which was good, as I would be carrying the lion’s share of gear for us.

He said he’d like that, so I spent about ten minutes throwing a few items of clothing into his pack, and off we set. My own rucksack was ready for a three-day trip, so I figured I had enough food and gas for two. Not a great deal of thought went into this packing, but I did double check that I’d tossed in enough warm garments for him.

We didn’t get started until 4.15, which is rather late even for normal people. For a man with Parkinson’s disease, this is way too late for this mountain at this time of year, but we weren’t going to back out of this now. We’d be right, I thought optimistically. After 18 minutes, we reached a junction in the track that said that a fit walker could get to the summit in three hours from that point. Oh. It was now after 4.30, and we had a mere one hour of good light. Well, these signs always overestimate the time. On we pressed, hoping the information was very wrong indeed.

After 67 minutes from the car, we were at O’Neills Creek, and stopped for a quick drink. I looked at the map to see what lay ahead for the immediate future. Hm. Many, many contours lay ahead, although we seemed to have done most of the distance. I looked at the track on the other side of the creek and noted that I could see nothing at all. The forest was so dense there, and the clouds so thick above us, and the hour so very late indeed that there was zero visibility. However, I don’t come into the wilderness to camp three-quarters of the way up a mountain in a claustrophobic little gully. I didn’t really like this spot. I wanted the wide open spaces of the top. On we pressed, now in complete darkness, although it was only 5.25.

Miraculously, given Bruce’s illness, we arrived up the top safe and sound, but it was by now very dark indeed, and not just in the deep forest. However, I could feel the icy air circling around me, and it was exhilarating. This thin air is what I love, even when I can’t see a thing. I can feel the infinite space that exists on the tops. I was happy. There’s not much choice arriving like this in the dark. I had no idea how I was going to find a spot to pitch. We were carrying enough water to do dinner and breakfast (which was absurd, as water was everywhere, but at least collecting it was not one of my duties that night), so were not tied to a water source.

I pitched for us and cooked in the vestibule, and we ate our rehydrated dehydrated food in the warmth of my little Hilleberg, agreeing that this was the life. Howling wind now provided background noise to our conversation. It could be heard all night.

Sunrise next day was far better than one could ever have hoped for, especially given the thick clouds of the previous evening. We enjoyed the spectacle, and then breakfasted before heading for the actual summit, which was very windy indeed, but bearable. That said, it was rather an anticlimax after the start to the day. I am not enamoured of scenery that is almost a monochromatic, dull blue, which is what you get when the sun has disappeared once more behind clouds. On the descent, there were streams and fungi and fabulous conglomerate boulders with ferns in abundance to keep us occupied as we walked the very well-graded track. Lunch at the Raspberry Farm was, as ever, delicious.

New Town Falls 2017 Apr

New Town Falls April 2017

Sunrise near Campbell Town.
I have obviously been romanticising about the amount of rain Hobart has had of late. I thought there’d been enough to give the New Town Falls a bit of a flow, and as I had other business to do in that fine city today, I decided to balance the boring act of driving with a beautiful walk to a falls.

Well, the drive was not boring in the slightest and thus needed no counterweight (we had the most spectacular sunrise with misty effects near Campbell Town), and we did get a beautiful walk to the falls. The only negative aspect of the jaunt was that the falls were not falling. In fact, so dry were they that I didn’t even take one single photo of the matt cliffs that were now exposed, looking all dull waiting for rain. Anyway, we now know what the trail is like (see directions below), so are well informed for our next, hopefully wetter, attack. And meanwhile, our dog claims to have bagged yet another waterfall. She’s building quite a collection, and finds waterfall bagging to be a terrific sport.

Route: We followed the Lenah Valley road to its terminus, and began walking on the “road” over the creek there (New Town Rivulet) and up the hill on the Lenah Valley Fire Trail, of firetruck width (as is appropriate for such a trail). Ten minutes after beginning, there was a much narrower Lenah Valley Trail – of single human width and going steep uphill – that hived off to the right of this main wide trail. There was a chain handrail, and some steps after a few metres. This narrow walking path continued to follow the same rivulet that the wider track had been pursuing. This stream is not the one that the falls are on.

My husband, hurrying to get out of the road for my photo – but I wanted him just there, right where he was in that patch of light.
After ten minutes on this pleasant, mossy path, there was a Y-fork: the right branch, not the one wanted, continued up the hill on a trail that now sported the name “Old Hobartians Track”. Ours was the left hand turn, leading to New Town Falls, and also to Junction Cabin should one decide to go further. This continuation of the Lenah Valley Trail takes you around the nose of the spur to your left, and then delivers you to your waterfall. This section is mostly on contour. After a total of thirty minutes since leaving the car, we were looking at our empty falls.

Just before the falls are reached, the track branches into two, with neither offshoot being signed. The left (lower) one leads, predictably, to the lower falls, and the right to the upper. If you go to the upper first, you can cross the creek and then take a tiny path downhill to the lower. Cross again and climb back up on the path to where you first met the fork. This little circuit took us six minutes. We were not delayed by photography, sadly. It was then twenty three minutes back to the car. We were thus back in around an hour. Do remember that these times are walking only. Under normal conditions, add in time for photos and, if you’re lucky, for fungi spotting. Our walking times were half the recommended. We were not racing, and my husband has had Parkinson’s disease for fifteen years, so is no speedster. That said, he is remarkably fit still for a man with his terrible illness (or for any ‘average’ man, for that matter). Also, I am not sure that the circuit described would be possible when the creek is in full flow. Two people we met near the car said that in the depths of the wet season, it isn’t even possible to cross the New Town Rivulet where the cars are. They suggested phoning Hobart council to see if the stream is crossable before setting out if there’s been a lot of rain.
Total walk for the round trip, according to my gps, was 4.5 kms, with 238 ms climb, yielding 6.9 km equivalents.

Balfour 2017 Mar

Mt Balfour, Balfour Ghost town, and Frankland River Walk.  Tarkine day 3.

After breakfast overlooking the Pieman River with its beautiful reflections at Corinna, we continued on our way north, driving for about an hour and a quarter at moderate pace to reach the foot of Mt Balfour.
This mountain was short and very, very steep – so steep I was wondering how I was going to get my husband back down it. (He has Parkinson’s disease, if you are not used to reading this blog and find that an odd comment). Some sections you had to hang onto the grass to avoid rolling the whole way back down the hill. In fact, I watched a German girl girl doing precisely that as we neared the end on the rebound. She was wearing thongs, and had nothing to keep her foot attached to her shoe, so it slid out backwards. On the way up, I clutched grass and small bushes to avoid rolling backwards, and on the descent, I used the shrubbery rather than the ballbearinged 4WD track, as did my husband. He would have had a bad accident had he tried to stay on the track. The track just goes straight up, with no mucking around.

Steep it certainly was, but, as I said, it was also short, so I only took 27 minutes to the top – but 31 down. When you take longer to descend than to climb, you know this is a really steep slope. On top, we all enjoyed a snack just for the heck of it – because you snack on a mountain, even if it was only a tiny trip up – while some members girded their loins for the feared descent.

Next on our programme was a visit to the rather eerie ghost town of Balfour. Why eerie? For me it was, as apparently there are the graves of four hundred people who died in 1912 from typhoid. The “town” itself only has a few old tin shanties, but to think of such a large number of people living and working there, all quickly dead was rather horrifying. The doctor, whose grave remains, was only thirty when he died; Sylvia was fifteen. Most of the graves are no longer visible – perhaps there was just a mass grave at the height of the epidemic. I enjoyed the leafy tunnel that constituted the bulk of this walk, although the Frankland River, wild though it well may be, was not at its most attractive in midday glare. I didn’t bother photographing it, even though I did enjoy the leisurely stroll.

That night we slept on the West Coast, and that I DID photograph – with a vengeance. So many photos did I take that I’ll give the evening of Day 3 its very own blog (posted tomorrow).