Friday 24 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 11

[part 11 of a 15 part series decribing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

11) The Top

Federation Peak, Thursday February 7th, 1991

We almost moon-walk the last yards to the summit. My jelly legs have regained solidity, easily carrying a body now seemingly weightless. I push into the tearing wind, a fierce and silly grin on my face. I see the look mirrored in Bill’s face as he touches the summit cairn. Jim, Margaret and the Doc beam through their exhaustion too as they reach out to touch the top. We’ve made it! We have climbed Federation Peak!

Before we stop, or collapse, or break into wild celebration, we check how Peter and Natalie are faring. With only the briefest of delays and minimal help, they are soon on top with us. For a moment, perhaps, we can think of ourselves as a magnificent seven. We share hugs all ‘round, lift drink bottles as a toast. Then we grin some more; remind each other again of what we’ve achieved; and blather about the details of the scary sections. All the while we’re virtually shouting at each other to be heard over the wind.

The summit area is surprisingly spacious. I’d thought it would be peaky and vertiginous, but while you mightn’t play a proper game of cricket here, French cricket wouldn’t be out of the question. Had we tried that, someone could’ve justifiably appealed against the light. Dark clouds have built up to the west and south, and most of the mountains to the north and north-west have grey scuds around them. Despite this the views are every bit as sensational as we’d imagined. We recognise the Anne Range to the north. Anne herself, the highest peak in the south-west, and the scene of last summer’s brush with vertigo, is already in cloud. Further west the raggedly-torn tops of the Western Arthur Range, with some of the Franklands behind, are still free of cloud.

In almost every direction there are shaggy, craggy mountains and hills; greying summits jutting out of rumpled green, deeply shaded foothills. Where the mountains peter out, in an arc to the south, we clearly see the indented coast, and beyond that the oncoming rain clouds. But into every rain a little sunshine must fall. As we watch, a warmly golden swathe of sunshine momentarily bathes the coastline from Precipitous Bluff to Prion Beach, some 30km distant. For a short while it is a distant paradise of sunlit sands, white-capped waves and deep blue ocean: a window on heaven; a moment of grace; a jewel in the crown of our wonderful and unlikely achievement.

But the raven-black clouds beyond remind us of what’s coming, and of where we might be when it arrives. As I turn to alert Jim, I find him filling out the summit log-book. It has been wedged into the summit cairn, housed in a heavy metal box, as weather proof as it could be in such a setting. Yes, of course we must leave our names among the illustrious ones, and perhaps achieve a modicum of magnificence by association. But then we must get off this mountain before the fury of a south-west change breaks upon it.

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