Sunday, 3 March 2013

These are the Days


A Mount Olympus Walk: Part 3

“These are the days that make the moments feel like years.”– (Ross Hamilton of Wolfstone)


[Lake Oenone from "Paris Ridge", Mt Olympus] 

Best laid plans. We would be up early, before the march flies, to tackle the steepest part of the climb before the hottest part of the day.

It is a still and clear morning. Tick. We have slept well and feel refreshed. Tick. I pull back the tent flap and there is the mountain, high, clear and beckoning above our home lake. Tick. However one member of our party feels very comfortable remaining horizontal inside the tent. Cross.

So it is not a lightning fast start to our summit day. And we do not beat the heat up the rocky, steep, tree-less and east-facing slope. C’est la vie! At least we are only carrying day packs. Our backs rejoice in that, and our steps feel light as we ease our way up slope, carefully avoiding a fagus mini-forest. It glows a vivid green, contrasting with the demure green of pencil pines. That contrast will be starker in a few months, when the fagus colours up.

The ridge we’ve started climbing looks morainal. Either side of it glacial ice would have moved during the long ice ages that shaped this whole landscape. On our side of the ridge Lake Oenone fills the resulting hollow. On the other side, still out of our view, lies its twin, Lake Helen.

In Greek myth Oenone was a beautiful nymph, secretly married to Paris, the Prince of Troy. Paris, like us, had abandoned Oenone to go to a lonely mountain top. After many intrigues he ended up in Troy where he courted the fair Helen, only to die from a poison arrow wound.

Hopeful of a better end to our story, we continue to ascend “Paris Ridge” towards our own lonely mountain top. On our right the beautiful Lake Helen soon comes into view, scintillating in the mid-morning sunlight, while on our left Lake Oenone recedes slowly. Tim takes some time to photograph the lake, given it bears the same name as his wife. In this heat, I’m more than happy to pause for a water break.


[On the bouldery ascent, Mt Olympus] 
We’ve been off track for two days now, but this ridge is the only obvious route towards the true summit of Mt Olympus. There are clear signs of footfall everywhere, and we have no difficulty reaching the rocky base of the final climb. Here large dolerite boulders lie about like playthings of the gods.

Soon we are leaping and scrambling a little, getting our arms involved as well as our legs. We are earning our altitude gain. As we stop to draw breath we debate the “right” way to the top. If there is such a way, we seem to be close to it. Just near the top of what we hope to be the final climbing gully, we find some pink tape. If we’ve gone the wrong way, we’re not the only ones.

We break out on top in clear and perfect sunshine, sweating and breathless, but elated. Of course it’s not the final top, but reaching that will be easy. We stop, drink, and look around. The views are stunning. Here on the eastern side of the escarpment we look over leeawulena/Lake St Clair to the Traveller Range, and down on Mt Ida. To the north we see Narcissus Bay and beyond that the route of the Overland Track, which winds around the bluffs and peaks of the Du Cane Range, past Cathedral Mountain, and more than 60km onwards to the just-visible Cradle Mountain.


[Summit views from Mt Olympus] 

As we wander towards the humble, lightly-cairned summit of Olympus, we start to also see the mountains to the west and south. Far and near there’s Frenchmans Cap, the West Coast ranges; the Eldon Range and Mt Rufus. Tim and I were on top of Rufus a couple of summers ago, that time with our wives. Even alone on a mountaintop, you carry others with you.

Olympus is no peaky mountain, rather a remarkably flat and quite massive plateau. As we stand scanning the rumpled horizon, it’s as though we’re on the bridge of a giant ship sailing through mountainous seas. So many of the peaks I can see and name have stories for me, three decade’s worth and more. I feel a profound joy in having had their company for so long.

This northern part of the mountain has long, shallow tiers. They are lightly clothed in low, dense vegetation of the sort that can resist heavy snow and scouring winds, as well as high heat and burning sun. One of the most successful communities seems to be the cushion plants. 


[Cushion plant: between a rock and a wet place]

Despite their name they are not soft to the touch, although they have wonderfully rounded edges. Between these mounds there are shallow pools of water. We linger beside one of particular beauty and enjoy lunch.


[Close-up of cushion plant flowering] 

Of course there are march flies in this ointment, and it is almost unbearably hot. But this is one of those mountain days you hope for and work for. These are the days that make late starts, sweaty climbs and muscle aches seem trivial. This is why we walk. 








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