Wednesday 27 February 2013

Visions in the Dark

A Mount Olympus Walk: Part 2

[The sun sets on Mt Olympus' south summit] 

Horizontal is good, very good. So too is being out of range of the flying blood-suckers. We lie in the tent reprising our day, trying to focus on the good things. Our muscles are loudly shouting the other side of the equation.

But we’re Aussies being positive: what better to do than dig deep into the book of cliches? “How’s the serenity?”, “You know you’re alive”, “How often do you get weather like this?”, “No-pain-no-gain”, “We may never pass this way again”, and so on. But mostly we just rejoice in being still and comfortable.

Before long the talk shifts to what we’re missing on this trip. Naturally we start with our respective spouses, and soon follow with our walking mate Jim. But we very quickly agree how glad we are that none of them has just gone through what we have.

More pragmatically we think to add scrub gloves and a length of rope to our “missing” list. On the ascent from Echo Point, as expected, we had come across a few cliff lines. These bands of horizontal sedimentary rock long pre-existed the dark dolerite that caps so much of this part of Tasmania. During the Jurassic era magma had forced its way up through the existing rock, cooling to form a vast dolerite layer on top of the earlier bands. The Lake St Clair glacier had subsequently gouged the valley that formed the lake, crudely cutting through this layer cake of rock.

[Tim surveys one of our "jungle" cliffs]  

What that geology meant in practical terms was that we had to negotiate a few near-vertical sections of sedimentary rock. And without any rope to help us haul our packs. Oops! We’d read that sidling a few hundred metres either side of these barriers would usually yield an easier climb. That sounded great on paper, but when you’re as hot and tired as we already were, sidling seemed a poor option. Especially when there’s was a bit of pink tape at the top of your nasty looking 10 metre “cliff” as good as telling you “this way.”

After a slightly desperate pause, our inventive substitute for rope was to use a trekking pole. I extended one pole fully and inverted it so that Tim could hook its hand loop through a clip on the pack. A couple of hernia-threatening heaves from me (above) and Tim (below) finally saw us – and our packs – on top of our first cliff.

But all that is behind us now. Ahead of us, in the morning, is a 200 metre scramble from our lake up a ridge and onto the Olympus plateau. “How hard could it be?” Tim asks, not caring to hear an answer quite yet.

[Looking towards the north summit of Olympus] 

One thing that isn’t hard is falling asleep. We’re soon purring beneath our tent’s nylon dome while the mosquitoes vent their frustration and fury on its mesh. But then something wakes us around 2:30 am. Just perhaps one us has been snoring, although men of our age might also blame their bladders. I prefer to think it’s the universe calling, because when I decide I may as well go outside for a pee, my jaw drops.

The sky is extravagantly spattered with stars. From one horizon to the other, in every direction, there are stars in the kind of profusion that only a child, or a Vincent van Gogh, might imagine. My gasps bring Tim out, and for a time we just stand there, oblivious to the mosquitoes, taking in that everynight wonder that most of us never see, thinking the night sky simply black.

My late mother-in-law painted a sky like this in her piece called “Cosmos”. Our fortunate guests can see it above the spare bed. It too is extravagant, child-like, wonderful. I’m sorry I never asked her where and when she had seen this brilliantly black vision.

["Cosmos" by Joan Goldsworthy] 
Eventually we fall asleep again, knowing that the clear night sky will soon yield to a clear hot day: our summit day.

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