Western Arthurs in the rain: Paddy Pallin once wrote words to the effect that one of the aspects of bushwalking he loved was the way it intensified normal existence (my words) and made him newly appreciative of life’s little pleasures. A glass of wine by an open fire is twice as good after a period of deprivation. A bushwalker never takes the joy of a hot shower for granted. The simple things of life retain their power to delight.
And so it was for Angela and me as we sat in The Possum Shed having lunch yesterday. Once we’d descended Moraine A, Angela looked at her watch and announced we could make it to Westerway for lunch. I agreed. She was away, splashing through all the puddles, not caring about mud holes. Zoom. I trotted behind, somewhat laden with my tripod, glass filters and heavy camera. Our packs were now weighty with all our wet gear, but that did not deter. The thought of real, hot, delicious food, consumed in pleasant surroundings spurred us on. It certainly felt good to be there at last and announce to our husbands that we’d be home early. During the night, I had greatly feared that the river at the track junction would be uncrossable, so much rain had fallen, so was doubly relieved. We might have been there for days; I had saved food accordingly.
This trip marked the end of Angela’s long summer holiday. She’d taken a month off work so as to climb Federation and do the whole Western Arthurs Traverse. Through a series of mishaps – disappointing cancellations, fires, bad weather and injuries – these hopes had been greatly diminished. We had still done a number of great climbs, but not the ones intended, and now the Western Arthurs were being reduced to a mere three-day expedition due to weather and my dubious foot. Angela has not explored this region, so was excited even by the reduced agenda. Now she has been there but seen next to nothing.
Unfortunately on day one, Angela was adding another chapter to her book on Summits to Spew on (it had been very hot climbing), so I killed the hours at my disposal once we had selected our campspots, climbing lumps and bumps and photographing, although the light was very dull and flat. Disappointed, I retired to my tent, and watched the grey, matt landscape as I cooked and ate dinner, before going back out to try my luck – returning with a few shots that didn’t match my expectations. I sat staring at the scenery in a trance, waiting for darkness and bedtime. I had by this time, of course, packed up my tripod and GND filters, and put my camera to bed. Suddenly, a flash of colour penetrated my vague awareness. Mt Hesperus was aglow with the final rays of the day which had somehow (and most unexpectedly) pierced through a hole in the thick amassing cloud.
I had no time to alter settings or do anything. I grabbed my camera and shot and hoped. It lasted. I quickly changed ISO, f-stop, exposure and shot again, a woman possessed. It was still there. I had to get outside. I grabbed my boots, no time for laces, and shuffled outside to face the west. There was no time to set up, so I used a passing rock as a tripod and hoped for the best, sighing at the wasted effort of lugging all my equipment up moraine A to now have it sitting in my tent in my moment of need. The sudden flash of colour had woken Angela, so she joined me to share the beauty, and take pleasure in the fabulous scene that was our gift that evening.
By the second day, the rain had set in, but we donned our gear and headed for mountains to climb. The heavy rain, gusting, strong wind, slippery rocks and dark gloom changed our minds regarding our purpose, and we turned our spree into a walk to Square Lake and back. It was time to enjoy the minutiae of nature. The pinky-grey quartzite, green cushion plants and dislimned shapes that appeared and disappeared as we progressed gave us pleasure. It was nice to be moving. The denizens of the ten tents at Lake Cygnus were all tucked up in bed, but that is not our style. The price we paid for our excursion was to return to the tents drenched. Thoroughly, hideously sopping, I peeled off my disgusting layers, dropped them on the floor of my vestibule, and entered the dry inner sanctum of my aegis. After some effort, I was in dry clothes, snug in my sleeping bag, eating lunch with one hand poked out into the open, hoping that Angela didn’t want to begin our journey out after lunch. She didn’t. We spent the afternoon contemplating the existential pleasure of warmth and dryness.
On the third and final day, it was time to put on those tossed, detested items of clothing, a thought that had plagued me during the night, when I wasn’t practising drowning at the hands of a swollen river. It rained while we depitched, but things couldn’t get any worse. Rain was now, quite literally, water off a duck’s back. The track was a ribbon of water, across the grey-green moor, and two sodden girls went walking, walking, walking, two sodden girls went walking, right to the mountain door.