“West Portal in three days Mark? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Oh well, we’ll pack for four, but hope for three. I reckon we can do it.”
I’m glad he was confident. I’d try my best. Let the tale begin …….
“We’re here,” I heard Mark say up ahead. Apart from hearing my husband or daughters say “I love you”, these felt like some of the best words I have ever heard in my life. Electric shock tingles were coursing across my left shoulder from the weight of my pack; the ball of my right foot felt bruised; my socks had bunched up at the front of both my boots causing discomfort; my hips felt very tender and I was, quite frankly, tired.
We’d walked 27.4 muddy kilometres in 8 hrs 52 mins, within a total ten hour timespan. That’s a lot of work and not much rest; but at last Mark’s words meant it was over for the day. It was still nice and light. It actually hurt to remove my pack from my aching shoulders, I was so stiff. Like wooden dolls we tottered down to the Cracroft River at the crossing where we were camped to admire its beauty and collect water for the next few meals. It was time to relax.
I pitched my tent, slowly, partly because I could barely move, and partly to try to accustom myself to its little ways (it’s relatively new), before joining the other two for soup. Oddly enough, at a mere 8.15 pm I thought the idea of turning in for sleep was exceptionally appealing. You don’t often find me in bed at that hour. I impressed the other two with the size of the two large pink swollen lumps I had – one for each hip bone – before I disappeared. Sleep would be like a divine ambrosia.
This was to be the day on which we attempted the summit. I wasn’t confident of my own ability to do this, but it made me feel better to hear the other two say they were tired too. At least we’d be in a similar situation. However each of us felt as individuals, we were there to give this our best shot. I set small goals: it would be great to see Lake Rosanne; marvellous to reach the high point on Lucifer Ridge; amazing to walk across the Crags of Andromeda; and, well, let’s not get disappointed by thinking about that far-off, hideously high summit, buried in the clouds right now. One step at a time.
We still had another hour and a half along the flats before we began our climb proper. Over the Razorback Range we went, dropping into the squelching, muddy Arthur Plains, which we followed until beyond Strike Creek. We took the hypotenuse shortly after crossing it, heading up to the first high bump on the Lucifer Ridge, which jeered at us from above, as its namesake would also no doubt do. The gradient was so steep that the land was almost in our faces. We pulled on tufts of grass to yank ourselves up. Once my body started screaming, I led us on a kind of slaloming zigzag to lessen the severity a bit.
With relief we crested a mini bump on the way to the one we wanted – some rocky wart – and took a two-minute breather before continuing on to meet the point where the vague pad from the longer ridge rose up to meet us. Every down was resented as it meant a loss of hard-earned altitude; every up endured with pain until we gave ourselves another tiny break to enjoy the view. We couldn’t rest for long, however, as our goal, although getting easier to see, was still a long way off. However, when the delightful Lake Rosanne appeared below us, we had to stop and admire her. We had a drink and muesli bar and took a time split at this point, as a pad came in on our right, coming to us from the lake. We’d done nearly two hours’ climbing since leaving Strike Ck.
For yet another hour we climbed steadily (except when the wretched pad dropped to get around cliff lines) and steeply. We were nearly at the top, but we found a puddle of water, and I was starving, so we called another break and had a drink and snack before continuing. I stole some savoury food from my lunch rations, as muesli bars were not doing it for me. All of a sudden I had energy again. Let’s go!
We “topped out” a mere eight minutes later, entering delightful “sound of music country”: a wide, open ridge with short grass and expansive vistas in all directions. We could see the Western and Eastern Arthurs, the Mt Anne Range, Lake Pedder, Mt Picton and more. It felt like we could see everything. I dropped momentarily behind to take a few photos and hastened to catch up. Today was about the summit, not about photography, and too much of the latter could scupper our chances of the former.
On we hastened – if rushing snails can ‘hasten’ – for another hour and a half (nearly), travelling over the Crags of Andromeda and via the first, false summit (excitedly assuming it was “the one” until we saw the challenger to the throne a bit further on) to that glorious cairn that was ours. At some point in there as I traversed the Crags, chasing the others as I’d been indulging in a little more photography, I realised we were actually going to make it. A tear trickled down my cheek, I was so overwhelmed. The only other two mountains I’ve cried on have been Ossa because the view was so beautiful at sunset, and Mont Blanc, which I’d circumambulated, because I was – and still am – madly in love with her huge white magnificence, and I was grieved to leave her.
This mountain here has a special aura for me, and I had not conceived of success. People who have climbed her have always seemed to me to be “real” bush people: accomplished traversers of the challenging Tasmanian wilderness, and mostly (but not always) males. I couldn’t believe that I was going to stand on such a summit. I know there are much harder mountains to climb that lie in wait for me (they seem to me right now to be impossible), and I am not trying to claim anything for myself here; I am just saying the effect this particular icon had on me.
We ate our lunch on top, oggling at the wonderful view in every direction around us. This is the highest peak in the Western Arthurs, and it commands a vista commensurate with its title. I particularly loved the rugged Crags of Andromeda with their dramatic weathering patterns; of course, we delighted in the cornucopia of peaks with jagged edges bespeaking nature’s infinite power and fury. It had taken us 6 hours (and four minutes) to summit. We’d now relaxed on top whilst eating. Mathematics said it was time to turn our heads concertedly for home.
Luckily, we descended more quickly than we had climbed, having ironed out a few of the glitches in our approach. Angela had brought her jetboil, so once the pressure was off – near Razorback saddle – we all had a cup of soup to fortify us for the last leg home. We arrived at the tents as darkness fell. Any later and we would have needed those headlamps we’d been carrying all day. The climb had taken us a total of 11 hours 40 mins’ walking plus food breaks added on. We’d covered 27 kms again, only this day we’d also climbed 1,000 ms (= 37 km equivalents) in tough terrain. Three exceptionally satisfied friends sat in a circle cooking and eating dinner. We were not looking forward to the long day on the morrow, but we all had four days’ gear with us, so if we couldn’t manage, it didn’t matter; we’d just camp at one of the many creeks along our 27.4 km path.
We didn’t need the extra day. We took fifteen minutes more walking time to reach the car on the rebound, and our breaks were longer, mostly to please me. My shoulders would not have gone the distance otherwise. We cooked soup to make lunch more interesting and relaxing, and had a cup of tea before the final long leg from Junction Creek to the car. I even went wading. It was wonderful sitting beside amber creeks in green groves with the friends with whom I’d just shared so much, soaking in the bush with the satisfaction of having achieved our goal. This is the life.