Western Bluff: or, the mystery of the runaway summit. May 2015
Never has a summit seemed quite so elusive, quite so just-within-reach and yet forever-over-the-next-rise as this one. Mind you, when I saw that we had taken an hour to crest the first rise, and that the car was still in sight, I knew we were in for trouble. Hopefully the next part, now that we were on the tops, would be faster, would be lovely alpine walking. Yes? It was described in the Bushwalk Australia forum as “very easy and very enjoyable” by one, “delightfully open and easy” by another. I was expecting a joyous ramble, like at the back of Coalmine Crag. Would we need to take lunch? If we set out at 8 we’d be at the summit by about 10, and back at the car by 12. Oh well, salad rolls from ETC are delicious; let’s take one anyway and have a silly, super-early lunch on the summit, followed by a second lunch at Mole Creek, and a photographic shoot at a few waterfalls on the way home – maybe the one behind Marakoopa Caves and Liffey Falls. A great day was planned.
Well, the first problem was the beauty of the frost as we drove to our destination. It was magical and required a great deal of stopping, which meant that the 8am start became a 9.30 one. No problem, this was just a cute easy-catch pleasure jaunt. It was such a pity we couldn’t use the route I wanted – the nice steep one from Urks track, but the forum said that if you love your car at all you will not use this track and will go by the route we were now undertaking. It neglected to say that the way up the ridge to the first nobble was fortified by an excellently equipped army of thick scrub and rocks that were not so very easy for a man with Parkinson’s disease to climb. No matter. I found a Parkinson’s-friendly route and here we were at the top, ready to race our way to the summit. Ha.
There’s our goal; just there. Here’s where we stopped for an 11.30 lunch after 2 hours’ moving.
The tops were not pleasant alpine walking, but contained lots of thigh-high scoparia that we had to weave around. This would have been fine had we been expecting it, but I had not gained the impression that this was the case. There was no water up there – well, there was plenty, but it was all in the form of pure (and very attractive) ice. No problem. We were carrying some, and could break some ice if necessary later. (It was. The tarns never melted). On we went, over rock screes covered in sparkling rime and through endless patches of scoparia (and other bushes). I was hungry. I looked at my watch. 11.30.
Surely that was an excuse for lunch number one, even though the map said we’d gone a distressingly short distance. I couldn’t imagine getting my husband to the summit at this rate. Maybe he’d be happy to sit there while I summited? We ate. No, he said, he wanted to summit too. I looked across to where our goal lay. Absurdly I said it could take at least a half hour in each direction yet. He said he was up for that. It took 50 in each from there. Every time I sighed with relief that we were closing in, that wretched trig ran away again, tormenting us cruelly. It was only 1pm, but I was already panicking about the time. I just couldn’t install in my husband the need to hasten, that we would turn into frozen pumpkins if we dallied at all; that this mountain with its frozen pools and ice rime would be treacherous by 4.45 and I wanted him in the car by then.
I hoped in vain that our return journey would be quicker, that we would chose a slightly faster route or that confidence would produce a better return time, but alas, our return splits were matching our outgoing ones exactly, but my husband needed more breaks added in to the walking time. I was now totally nauseous with anxiety as the watch kept ticking but very little progress was made. The sun got lower … and lower, and more and more golden in its hue – very beautiful under normal conditions, but not when you have a man with Parkinson’s on a frozen mountain. I knew by now that darkness was going to arrive before our return to the car. The question was merely: to what extent? How dangerous would this mountain with all its rocks be once the sun got any lower. Already the rocks were whitening up, the bushes gaining a very pretty dusting of icing sugar. I decided that even though speed was essential, I needed to rest B and feed him. It would not be safe to stop once the temperature was any more below zero than it already was. We ate and continued.
Just as the summit had run away from us, teasing mercilessly, so did the road that announced the end of my woes. The gps kept saying we were nearly there. We kept descending but kept bashing against more thickets of hard work. The forest got very, very dark. B stumbled and fell a bit but managed not to injure himself. He’s too big for me to carry. Helicopters don’t operate in the dark. My nausea increased. I was far more concerned than he was, but at least he kept himself injury free as he blurted through the bush and over slippery rocks in pursuit of his wife. I kept about 10 metres ahead so that if my route was not Parkinson’s-friendly, I could backtrack without wasting his energy (which happened quite a few times).
Never have I been so relieved to see a road in my life. Yes, we would live through this adventure. He was out with safety. The beads of ice on the road glistened in the moonlight. “Oh glorious sight, big red car”, says naturelover. We didn’t stop at any waterfalls on the way home.