Tuesday 11 February 2014

A Vigorous Change: Part 1

Vigorous is not a word you hear a lot these days, even of people. Strange then to hear it used in a weather forecast.

[Towards the Overland Track from Cathedral, with weather coming] 

Out of curiosity I looked it up. “Vigorous: characterized by or involving physical strength, effort, or energy.” (Oxford Dictionaries) Aha – related to bushwalking, I thought. They added some synonyms: “strenuous, powerful, potent, forceful, forcible, spirited, mettlesome, determined, resolute, aggressive, eager, keen, active, enthusiastic, zealous, ardent, fervent, vehement, intense, intensive, passionate, fiery, wild, unrestrained, uncontrolled, unbridled; tough, blunt, hard-hitting, pulling no punches.” Not MY kind of bushwalking then, I quickly concluded.

Still the words “vigorous westerly change” were part of Sunday's forecast. I suppose I should have got the picture that the middle day of our walk could be challenging. But there were no formal warnings for bushwalkers, graziers, motorists, or any of the other usual out-of-doors suspects. And the change was only expected to bring infrequent showers to the highland area that was our destination. Just in case we took the precaution of planning to camp somewhere that was protected from the west.

We began our walk remarkably early (for us) on the Saturday morning. Weather came into that decision too. It was expected to be sunny and hot, and we had 500m of altitude to gain: not a welcome prospect in hot weather with a full pack.

[Respite from the heat: forest on the way to Cathedral Plateau] 

In the end it made little difference. The exertion of the climb created its own heat, particularly the steep pinch from Chapter Lake up beside an almost waterless Grail Falls. By the time we reached Chalice Lake, the first camping spot on the Cathedral Plateau, the three of us were as parched and exhausted-looking as the plateau’s plants. We would happily have put up our tents at Chalice, a place we’d stayed a few times. But we were meeting two friends at another lake, and were bound to push on into the hottest part of the day, with little or no tree shade.

[Drought-parched vegetation, Cathedral Plateau] 

“Tent Tarn is only 30 minutes on from Chalice” a bushwalker friend had told me. In our fatigued state, that became 50 long minutes. “A cold beer, a Sauv. Blanc, or a cheering cup of tea” was Jim’s request on meeting our already-ensconced friends. “In order of preference”, he added, optimistically.

10 minutes later (yes, they had a Jetboil), we were all sipping tea and swatting march flies like old hands. After a half-hearted search for tent sites, we settled on a flattish spot, and turned to the more important business of catching up with Tim and Merran, our Sheffield-based friends, over food and wine.

[Jim shares out the wine meticulously] 

Somehow pooling our appetisers and drinks worked to perfection, and under blue skies and high, wispy clouds we began setting the world to rights. We eventually caught our friends up on the vigorous forecast, but still made tentative plans to head up Cathedral in the morning, unless the weather shouted otherwise.  

It didn’t. Despite a rising breeze and an overcast sky, we all agreed it was a good day for being on a mountaintop. And on the Cathedral Plateau you're spoiled for choice. The place namers have had an ecclesiastical field day here, with cathedral, spire, dean, bishop, chapter, chalice, grail, cloister and more church-related titles gracing the plateau and surrounds.

We decided on the high point of Cathedral Mt itself first. Taking in magnificent views over large sections of the Overland Track – and well beyond – Cathedral is a grandstand for the highest parts of our mountain-rich island.

[Walking party and pool, with distant Du Cane Range ... and my boots] 

There is a kind of triangulation of memories when you’ve walked in these mountains for half your life. On Cathedral you’re looking back on several places from which you’ve viewed Cathedral. I have vivid memories of camping near Wadley’s Hut in the Mersey Valley, looking up at Cathedral as it was monstered first by black clouds, then by lightning and thunder. And there have been numerous times on the Overland Track, whether from Kia Ora or Du Cane hut, when I’ve looked across at the hugely impressive cliffs and massive rockfall that mark the western side of Cathedral.

This day, for a little variety, we wandered across to one of the Twin Spires via a couple of delightful pools. Twin Spires are a little to the north of Cathedral proper, and actually a little higher. While the view from them was no worse, the wind was starting to get up, and the clouds were starting to thicken between distant sunny patches.

[Clouds thicken over Mt Ossa, from Twin Spires] 

We had lunch sheltering behind some rocks, and exited the mountain just as thunder started rumbling. While dry to start with, it was soon spitting, then raining. We quickly got back to our camp and headed into our tents, happy to have summitted, happy to have earned some horizontal time in a dry tent, while it rained in a proper though certainly not vigorous manner.

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