We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one. 3
After an early start from Hobart, I can’t help but be flooded with a wave of nostalgia as I find myself negotiating the flooded mud plains between Scott’s Peak Dam and Alpha Moraine. Almost a year to the day since returning from our Eastern Arthurs traverse, our sights are set on her dangerously attractive sister. Despite the physical and psychological damage inflicted by her somewhat crazy sibling, we are far from deterred by this iconic mountain range. Much of the last year has been spent daydreaming of the impending adventures to be experienced in the presence of her cool mountain air. If she is half as flirtatious as her sister, the Western Arthur range should not be approached without a high degree of caution.
As I traverse the immoderate incline, the pack that I earlier boasted to my father felt ‘relatively light’ now feels more than heavy. To address my fatigue, I turn my thoughts to the theory of relativity between father and son: If son is fatigued, a father (given the genetic similarity between the two) undertaking the same activity will feel the son’s pain to the power of the age gap between the two.
i.e. p2 = p1^(a2 – a1)
where p2 = father’s pain; p1 = son’s pain; a2 = father’s age, a1 = son’s age
For those of you who are not mathematically inclined:
Father’s pain = considerably greater than son’s pain.
This line of thought succeeds in cheering me up immensely.
With the ascent completed, the weather clears. As evening descends upon us, in the wake of Lake Cygnus, I find myself blowing out a candle on a slice of fruit cake representing my twenty-second anniversary on this planet. Is it all downhill from here? I venture to wonder. There are still so many things I wish to achieve: time travel, unassisted flight, and perpetual motion to name a few. I make a quick wish (that one day the magnitude of gravity on Earth will be halved for a day – just to observe how everybody reacts) before extinguishing the flame with a nonchalant breath of pure Lake Cygnus air.
I am now officially on the wrong side of twenty-one. My youthful exuberance has got me through to where I am now, but the signs of old age are already beginning to take hold. What if my body, realising that I am no longer a sprightly twenty-one, decides that it can take the exertion of walking no longer? Can I traverse the beggary bumps in one of those electronic wheelchairs that people who are beyond youth drive around in? Perhaps I’ll lose the ability to chew solid foods – I didn’t even think of bringing a blender! Realistically the chances of making it through this traverse are extremely unlikely at my age. With my feeble bones and aching joints I am left to muse over a misspent youth until sleep catches up with my rickety old frame.
Some people live more in twenty years than others do in eighty. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person. 3
The morning is marred by drizzle, but as the day wears on, the clouds lift enough for us to experience reasonable views from Mount Hayes, Procyon Peak and finally Mount Sirius.
It is Mount Sirius where we glimpse her again. Even when we’re with her sister, we cannot avert our eyes from the delightful Federation Peak. She is just as mesmerizing from this angle as any other. Of course, we can only check her out with sly glances, so as to prevent her jealous sister from descending into a stormy rage. It’s not that I’m not enjoying my date with the Western Arthurs range, it’s just that my time with her sister was so phenomenal that as soon as I’m within sight my heart races and I become conscious of my accelerated breathing, I then have to sit down to prevent my spinning head from getting the better of me. I can only hope that the Western Arthur range assumes my flushed cheeks and sweaty palms to be the symptoms of altitude sickness and fatigue.
Dad’s thirty year old stove is beginning to protest about its forced comeback since retiring many years ago. The unhealthy noise emanating from the classic MSR XGK could easily be interpreted as you do realise that the money you spent restoring me surpassed that of buying a brand new stove of equivalent or better functionality? Dad shoots it an angry look, “you just need a good clean, that’s all” he responds stubbornly. Whilst dad argues with his stove, I take the opportunity to saunter along the beautiful white sand surrounding Lake Oberon. I need to decide what to do when the stove breaks down. Obviously we are in a fuel stove only area, so an open fire is out of the question. Given the large proportion of our rations that require cooking, there is no way we could both make it out alive with what little food we have remaining that does not require cooking. Since I am much quicker than my father, the only logical option available to me would be to dispatch of him, keeping the useful rations for myself. I begin to wonder whether it would not be such a bad idea to undertake the procedure now. A proactive approach to the problem would certainly be more humane than waiting until he has endured great suffering. I carefully choose a smooth rock from the beach and stroll back to camp ready to commit the necessary action. Upon arrival I notice the stove singing a much happier melody. “Just needed a good clean” dad grins at me, “by the way; what’s with the rock?”
Do what I do: Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan! 3
What drives a man to lose his voice? Could he be overwhelmed with the breathtaking beauty of his surroundings? Surely not overexertion? One’s functions behave erratically when one is love-struck. Could it be that my father has a burning passion hidden under his cool exterior for the timeless beauty of Federation Peak? Enough speculation. Let us assume that dad’s inability to articulate his thoughts is some combination of the above hypotheses. With my father struggling to speak, my own ramblings became more erratic, as I have no one to moderate my spasmodic tendencies. We are both going mad then. Dad is forced to listen to the lethal combination of his own lonely thoughts combined with my absurd ramblings – more than enough to drive any sane person over the edge; meanwhile I am talking myself into an unprecedented state of delusion. The equivalent level of insanity could only be achieved if one was forced to watch re-runs of Big Brother for seventy-two hours whilst being made to adhere to a vegan diet consisting predominately of organic celery and chia seeds (whatever the hell they are).
Despite our delusional state, the day is a pleasant one. We enjoy views from Mt Pegasus and Mt Capricorn on our way to High Moor, where we pitch our tent for the night in preparation for the impending storm.
Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way or another 3
Having endured strong winds and significant rainfall overnight, the weather is deemed to have cleared sufficiently for our adventures to proceed. In every bushwalking trip worth doing, there is a point at which one has to question one’s sanity. This point is exceeded today as we negotiate our way through the Beggary Bumps (if I gave the impression of insanity previously, you ain’t seen nothing yet). In an attempt to match her sister’s ferocity, the Western Arthur Range showers us with rain and hail as we navigate our way along the jagged terrain through cover of mist. I’ve been on trips where such weather has only served to make me cold and miserable, however for whatever reason (madness seems a likely explanation); today her attempted hostility only makes me laugh out loud with glee.
We stop abruptly as the track leads us to a sudden precipice – Lover’s leap. Neither of us is feeling particularly heartbroken, so we decide to retrace our steps and take an alternative route, bypassing the iconic drop rather than succumbing to its provocative taunting. Come on, take the shorter route, it whispers after us deceitfully. You’re a strong man, it continues as I pause to consider. What have you got to lose? Can I push dad over the edge first? If he survives, then I’ll follow. My hands chase his retreating figure, only to dislodge one of the sandals from the outside of his pack.
We scurry around the alternative track looking back with curiosity at the notorious drop. Today is the day when her sister fades into the background and the Western Arthurs really establishes her own unique personality. In addition to lovers leap, we find ourselves negotiating our way through places with foreboding names such as the tilted chasm and the dragon. This is what it’s all about. My eyes take on an unprecedented level of crazy as I align myself with the Western Arthur wavelength. Mist, drizzle and hail, along with the undulating terrain all contribute to create an aura which leaves me with an impression of immense respect for such an intriguing traverse.
On another occasion we find ourselves scrambling down a muddy section of what we had assumed to be the correct route. After climbing down a slippery face approaching vertical (and nearly falling a few metres), we decide that this is an improbable direction for the route to continue – even by Western Arthurs standards. Sure enough, as we retrace our steps, we discover the conventional track, which we are more than happy to follow.
We arrive at Haven Lake in a heightened state. Our appreciation for the Western Arthurs range has increased significantly. My thoughts become confused. Am I caught in some sort of awkward love triangle now? Both sisters can be so harsh at times, yet they both have so many unique layers that extract emotions from me in which I didn’t realise I could experience. As my thoughts swirl into some sort of abstract anomaly, I almost let out a howl that would betray a complex array of emotions from pleasure through to complete befuddlement; but catch myself when I realise that there isn’t a full moon tonight.
I see ‘keep out’ signs more as suggestions than actual orders; like ‘dry-clean only’. 3
I could hear her screeching at us to come out and play. You think day five on the Eastern Arthurs was bad? she taunted, just wait and see what day five on the Western Arthurs has to offer! We are more than happy to acknowledge her superiority over her sister, although secretly we are inclined to disagree. This stint of undesirable weather is clearly an attempt to live up to her sister’s illustrious reputation. We figure she will run out of steam soon enough. Surely a tantrum of this magnitude cannot be sustained for extended periods, especially at this time of year. For now, we are happy enough to call proceedings to a halt. We figure that it will be difficult to get lost inside the tent. Although our tent is pretty spacious – it does help that it is bigger on the inside than the outside.
I am definitely a mad man with a box. 3
As I stumble out of the tent, I find my view rudely obscured by a blue 1950’s police box. An eccentric looking fellow with a bow tie greets me a little too enthusiastically for this time of morning. In a fine English accent, he politely enquires about the creatures we humans refer to as the thylacine. I tell him of my concern that the thylacine is very close to extinct; although if they’re anywhere, he should perhaps trek into the Font. He explains to me that the thylacine is not native to Tasmania after all. The first creatures that we humans refer to as thylacines actually came from the planet Coorinnana in the late 1600’s; seeking a peaceful planet in which to settle and lead a simple life. A treaty was signed with the local indigenous peoples in the early 1700’s. However, European settlement put an end to all that, and the Coorinnians declared war on humanity. That’s when this fellow (now referring to himself as the doctor) showed up and managed to drive them away using nothing but a peculiar looking screwdriver.
As is often the case on these expeditions, my father is not brave enough to join me in a nude swim of the lake’s pristine waters. Whilst the experience could perhaps be described as less than warm, it is one of immense satisfaction. The process of cleansing has cleaned my body and cleared my mind. I can now see the range for what it is: something so sophisticated, yet so simple; so punishing, yet so rewarding; so inspiring, yet so daunting; so hungry. “Dad, is that rice ready yet?”
Overconfidence, this, and a small screwdriver. I’m absolutely sorted. 3
It is one of those majestic mornings that serves to remind me of why I spend countless hours looking forward to these trips. The mist rises over the lip of the range as we sit by the picturesque Promontory Lake, the only witnesses to a natural showcase of immense beauty unsurpassed by human design. These are the moments of inspiration that words cannot do justice to. It is these experiences that cannot be fabricated or replicated in any satisfactory capacity. The morning is such a delightful one, that I convince dad we should do a quick side-trip up to Corina Peak, before pursuing our route to Lake Rosanne.
“Hang on” dad puffs, “I just want to take in the view for a second”. I look around; we are half-way up a muddy slope with any chance of a sweeping panorama obscured by the scrubby vegetation in which we are presently engulfed, not to mention the haze which prevents vision for more than seven metres in any direction. We are a little disappointed that the mist hasn’t entirely cleared as we reach the summit of Corina Peak. The view is still quite spectacular, although interrupted by patches of cloud.
The mist eventually clears as we make our way along Centaurus Ridge. I maintain a steady pace as West Portal looms in the foreground, inviting me to reach the high point of the range. Dad is slowed by the gentle incline we are currently traversing. Perhaps the honourable course would be to patiently trudge along at his pace; however the lure of such a magnificent peak is just too much of a temptation to resist. In accordance with our bushwalking motto – we go as slow as the fastest man – I allow myself to be lured into a state of feverish anticipation as I scramble up towards the summit of West Portal.
Upon reaching the high point of the first of two adjacent spires, I question which is of the greater altitude. I decide perhaps I should make my way over to the adjacent peak to ensure I don’t miss out on anything. Taking the direct route between the two, I find myself in some precarious positions in which a slip up could be fatal. The adrenaline is surging through me as I take unnecessary risks to reach the summit of the great Western Arthurs range. I ultimately find myself on top of the peak and am subjected to a rewarding panorama.
By the time my father joins me on West Portal (he on the adjacent spire); we notice dark clouds rolling in from the west. We hastily make arrangements to meet at the base of the climb. By the time I reach the bottom, mist has reduced visibility to only a few metres. After waiting for a short duration of time, I extract my whistle. However, no response can be heard to my desperate blows.
How could we possibly have lost each other this time? Did he not agree to meet at the base of the climb? I decide to check if he has proceeded to follow the track a short distance further and wait in a sheltered location. Given that I was told that West Portal was “on the way”, I assume that I should continue in a westerly direction to locate the track. Combing the ridge for signs of a pad, I continue to follow the ridgeline westward. My haste combined with the slippery conditions causes me to have several falls, resulting in multiple cuts and bruises. These are hardly noticed, as my main focus is to locate the track and my elusive father.
After finding no sign of anything resembling a track, I decide to retrace my steps back towards West Portal. Upon reaching the base of the climb, I decide it would be prudent to perhaps return to the track preceding the final ascent to the summit. As I make my way back around the base of West Portal I finally hear an answer to my whistling. After two hours of wandering, I find dad at the West Portal turnoff. Yes, West Portal turnoff. Side-track. Not on the way. If I had studied the map before embarking upon this mission, I would have known that the track swings northward instead of continuing westward past West Portal. However, as a human being it is my duty not to accept the blame when it is just as easy to assign it to someone else. And so, I will assert that it is entirely my father’s fault. He should have waited at the base of the final climb where we arranged to meet.
Bow ties are cool. 3
“Alright who’s stolen my glasses?” so goes the familiar assertion when my father misplaces his spectacles. After wandering off the standard route, we have stopped at one of several creeks for a drink. Dad is now turning his pack inside out in search of the elusive item. Are they in there? “How would I know? I can’t see!” I reflect on what we’ve been through together. We’ve shared moments of extreme natural beauty, traversed the undulating beggary bumps, been driven insane by the solitary mountain air, been separated for hours before being reunited. Such a pity that our lives will part at this point. I’m sorry dad, but I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. You’ve been a great father and all that. But, realistically, what use is a blind man in a situation like this? You’ve had a good run. I’m sorry it had to end like this, and after all we’ve been through, we’re so close to the finish line. But that’s life I suppose. Goodbye. Just as I open my mouth to voice my final goodbye, dad gives out a yelp of delight. “They were sitting on the bottom of the creek!” he exclaims. I am a little annoyed: I had composed such a lovely final message to him. Oh well, I sigh, this won’t be the last opportunity I suspect.
We know roughly where we are, but have wandered off the track a little, so we follow a bearing until we come upon the well-formed trail again. I suggest we should continue back along the track, however dad has other ideas. He feels that the track is going in the wrong direction and we should continue to follow his compass. After a while, we are walking adjacent the Razorback, unsure of where the track is. I suggest we ascend to the top of the Razorback, where we will be able to sight the track and find our way back out. Dad refuses to climb another hill. I slip and slug my way to the top of the Razorback, with dad reluctantly in tow, where the track is sighted. We traverse the ridge, before re-joining the track and making our way to Cracroft Crossing for the night.
Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly, in the right order? 3
The last day passes as it always does. We are no longer on the range, and our thoughts begin to turn from the illustrious heights of natural beauty to the mundane issues of suburbia. This morning I discovered that the aluminium frame supporting my pack has been snapped. I suspect a nasty fall on day 7 to be the cause for this unlikely occurrence. Coming into this trip, we knew that our Federation Peak expedition would never be matched, not even by her determined sister. However, our experience on the Western Arthurs is unique and will go down as another epic in her own right.
There is little more to say really. Except that Ben should never consider a career in weather forecasting, mushrooms should be cooked whole rather than cut into small segments, T20 cricket should be scrapped in favour of real (test) cricket, everyone should stop paying attention to what unintelligent movie stars are saying, scones should not be consumed without tea, hot drinks should be boiling hot and cold drinks should be ice cold, pugs are not attractive, nightclubs are overrated, there is no adequate substitute for a ripe Bowen mango, nothing is truly natural except nature itself, Beethoven is delightful, Nickelback is not, life is all about experiences and relationships (not perceived success), dogs are content, people are not, morality is subjective, death is absolute. Okay, I’m really starting to get a little too philosophical now. Let’s just finish with the wise words of a well-travelled time lord: “Always bring a banana to a party, bananas are good!” 3