Wednesday 9 March 2016

Rufus Part 2: Crying in the Wilderness

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
- Mark, Ch. 1 v. 3

There’s a notable contrast between the two pairs of walkers starting their third day of our Mt Rufus walk. For Tim and Georgianna, it’s to be an early start. Despite Tim’s avowed dislike of going where he has already been, he and George have seen Mt Hugel, and they are in its thrall. If that means going back up Mt Rufus on the way, then so be it.

[Gingerbread Hut and pandani] 
Jim and I, on the other hand, are more than happy to ascend the lovely Mt Rufus again, to linger on its summit and wander around its flanks. But we have no desire to go any further. It’s a hot day again, and Hugel from the Rufus side looks like a challenge for another time. The massive and steep jumble of dolerite boulders that litter its southern side, together with some thick scrub and no marked route, all make it a mountain for which I’d want to be psyched up.

With cries of “what could possibly go wrong?” the other two depart early. A few moments later I wonder if I’ve got an early answer to that question. Tim’s camera is still in the hut. I call out after him, and he’s close enough for a shouted exchange. The gist of it is that he’s happy to leave his camera behind, in the interests of travelling light.

Jim and I take our time, and don’t leave the hut for another hour or so. Our plans are modest. We’ll head to Rufus and see what we feel like. Most probably we’ll have a long lazy lunch on the summit; chat with the multinational crew of walkers we’ll find there; then slowly make our way back to the hut. The only other plan I have is to thoroughly investigate the sandstone/conglomerate bands that punctuate the sloping country between Joe Slatter and Gingerbread Huts.

[Erosion features in the sandstone/conglomerate band] 
While Tim and Georgianna don’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs, they do leave a little reward for us at Gingerbread Hut. Yes, more gingernut snaps! Reenergised we toddle – and sweat – our way to the summit again, and find it no less awesome than yesterday. Perhaps the weather is even clearer, and the views more stupendous. Could anyone ever tire of this?

Yesterday when we crossed the band of sandstone/conglomerate rock, we had paused beside the track at a particular rock we dubbed “The Font”. A large slab of sedimentary rock, it had a natural hand-basin-sized hollow in it. This was filled with delightfully cool water, and we’d taken turns to splash our faces. We’d talked about having a baptism in the wilderness, even if it was more of an Anglican style baptism than anything John the Baptist would have conducted.

[Jim prepares for a wash in The Font]
Today, as we divert off the track to more fully investigate the rock band, we discover many more “fonts” eroded into the softer rock. Some of them are nearly large enough for a full-immersion style baptism, and we do consider having an “unclad” dip. But somehow the idea of washing our sweaty sins into this beautifully wild water deters us. Instead we mosey around these fascinating formations, taking in their homely strangeness. In places there are substantial overhangs, well-suited to an emergency bivouac. And perhaps, I wonder, Aboriginal camping.

[At a rock shelter looking towards the King William Range] 
It’s about here that the 21st century rudely interjects. I’ve been experimenting with a GPS tracking app on my iPhone. It uses the phone’s GPS capability to track your walk, with the added “benefit” of a voice telling you how far you’ve gone, and at what pace, every kilometre. Lynne and I had used the app in our local bush, and we nicknamed the (American female) voice Barb, reckoning she had a sharpish, slightly naggy tone.

So I’m experimenting with Barb in the wilds for the first time, carrying my phone on my hip-belt. She’s voiced our progress from the top of Rufus for the first little while. But as we wander around the weird rock formations, I suddenly notice the lack of nagging. I feel my hip belt, and there’s no phone! I back-track for nearly an hour, try to walk all over our wildly meandering route around the rocks, but there’s no sign of the phone.

It’s strange enough to be in the wilderness, lamenting the absence of such an intrusive device. It’s stranger still to find yourself calling Tim and George on Jim’s phone, asking them to keep their eyes open on their way back from Hugel. Not very helpfully I tell them it's somewhere between the top of Rufus and the sandstone/conglomerate band. 

On our way back I’m castigating myself – with some encouragement from Jim – for being so careless. But I decide I don’t want this walk to be brought low for me by this (expensive) incident. Instead Jim and I lighten up a bit, imagining Barb out in the wilds, still nagging, but with no-one listening.

“Time: 3 hours, 17 minutes. Distance: Still only 2.3 kilOMetres. Pace: too darned slow! Hey Pete … where are you? Are you listening??”

Somehow the thought of Barb crying in the wilderness lifts my mood. So too does our sighting of a brilliantly-hued snow gum beside the track.

[A Tasmanian snowgum (Eucalyptus coccifera) ablaze with colour] 
By way of a postscript, I have to report there’s no happy ending for Barb. Tim and George, semi-triumphant from getting at least part of the way up Hugel, aren’t able to locate the phone. So I return home phoneless. A few weeks later a friend walking the same way also searches in vain. It seems Barb is condemned to be a voice crying in the wilderness for evermore: or at least until the battery runs out. Just don’t tell her I’ve now got a replacement phone.

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