Sunday, 19 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 1

[part 1 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

1) A Mountain on My Mind

Hobart, Tasmania, January 1991

Tasmania’s Federation Peak lurks at the back of every Australian bushwalker’s mind. It is the mecca, the holiest-of-holies for those who seek for what is high, wild and scarce in our otherwise wide brown land. In my case Federation even sits, icon-like, at the side of my desk in the form of Jim England's 1980-something black and white aerial photograph. A sign and symbol of Tasmania’s south-west wilderness, a shrine that draws my mind to those special mountain realms during moments of reflection or distraction.

But holy or not, I know there’s a difference between shrine and reality. I am unlikely ever to experience the real city of Mecca. But I have no doubt that my level of preparation, the company in which I travel, the time taken to get there, the smells, the sounds, the weather; the time of day, the state of my gut and the frame of my mind; all of these would colour my actual experience. It is a pilgrimage whose outcomes are not always those expected or desired. It is not to be taken lightly.

Nor is Federation Peak. It is a serious mountain by Australian standards, a mountain which has claimed lives. Climbing it takes careful mental and physical preparation. After more than a decade of walking in Tasmania, it is one walk for which I am still not ready, even in my late thirties. No, if ever I am to walk to Federation Peak, if ever I negotiate that final massive fang of rock, it will only be when I am considerably fitter and better prepared than I am now. It will have to remain the mountain at the back of my mind.

But then my mate Jim rings proposing a trip to Federation. I am an unemployed husband and father of three young children. That has brought plenty of fears and challenges of its own, but Federation Peak? That is another beast altogether; one quite beyond my current strength. I mutter something about needing years – or at least months – of mental and physical preparation. But Jim isn’t really listening. He says we have the chance now, and as I’m on the “long holiday” of the unemployed, he won’t accept any excuses. I somehow find myself agreeing to go. It only hits me later that we leave early next month. Immediately a knot begins to form in my gut.
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