Friday 9 April 2021

Central Plateau Variations: Part 2

[Once more into the Central Plateau]
"I live my life in widening circles 
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one

but I will give myself to it."

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Over time our walks across the roof of Tasmania have developed a sense that, like Rilke, we are travelling in ever widening circles. It’s a place that invites you to walk to the horizon, just to find out what’s beyond. If, on our last walk, we’d only half-heartedly looked for traces of Ritters Track, this time we planned to give ourselves fully to the search, this time with GPS-assistance.

But Rilke’s metaphor begs another question. When do you know that your latest “widening circle” is to be your last? Or to put it into our context, how do you know that you’re on your last big bushwalk? I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but thoughts like this were going through Jim’s mind as the six of us slowly roused ourselves from our tents the next morning.

It had been a rough night. Strong winds and squally showers had disturbed the sleep of most of us, and I was only woozily awake when I heard Jim’s voice outside my tent. “Cap’n, cap’n, you awake?”* Without waiting for an answer he went on. “I have a cunning plan. You seen the weather?”

I unzipped the tent and poked my head out to find that we’d been enveloped in cloud, our long views replaced by a close grey murk. The wind was shaking the pencil pines, and Jim was in his rain jacket. Welcome to the Central Plateau! As for Jim’s cunning plan, he was suggesting a retreat. We could head back to Tim and Merran’s place, and base ourselves in the warm, dry comfort of their cottage, and do day walks from there.

[Gaultheria berries thriving in harsh conditions]
Certainly I’d seen more encouraging walking weather, but Jim’s response to it seemed disproportionate. If we followed the original plan, and walked to our next sheltered campsite, we only had to brave these conditions for 3 hours or so. I questioned Jim a little more, and found out that he was also feeling “a bit off”. Considering he has a chronic health issue that means he often lives with a degree of nausea and/or dizziness, this didn’t sound like a walk ending scenario.

It didn’t take long for the rest of us to convince Jim that we should stick with our original plan. He toyed with the idea of walking back to the car solo, and coming to pick us up at the end of the trip, but in the end he went with the majority. As if to reinforce our decision, a few patches of blue appeared between squalls. We slowly packed up, and walked off into strongly gusting winds, but only intermittent showers. As we got into a rhythm, I was pleased to hear Jim having a good, loud catch-up conversation with Tim. Perhaps his mood would improve, and he’d be his normal life-of-the-party self. 

["Gimme Shelter" - any rock will do]

Meanwhile the weather continued to challenge us. For a time our off-track route took us into the sheltering lee of higher ground. But for much of the walk the wind was so strong it threatened to blow us off our feet. I find this kind of feral weather, its sheer ferocity, strangely exhilarating. It’s a reminder that, for all our ingenuity, we’re not in control here. Still, being blown over was NOT the kind of uplifting experience we would have wished on Jim in his current state. As we took a break, I photographed Jim against the background of our morning’s route. “Jim’s last walk” he muttered into his beard.

[Jim's last walk? Not a happy camper.]

Having reached the pass leading into the next valley, we turned west and found a sheltered lunch spot among our friends the pencil pines. As we ate, we even had some warm sunshine, and the day looked suddenly benign. It didn’t last, of course, as we soon had to reenter the maelstrom. 

[Lunch among the pines - pic courtesy of Larry]

The constant wind was energy sapping in the extreme, and everyone was relieved to finally see our pine-dotted tarn up ahead. We’d sheltered there from a strong wind 3 years ago, and it looked as though history would repeat itself this year.

We soon sussed out our tent spots. We were a little surprised that even here, deep in a substantial pine glade, the wind still managed to shake our tents. It was also cold by now, and we quickly decided that an early dinner and bed time made a lot of sense. As we cooked Jim still seemed lethargic, not wanting to bother getting out his cooking gear. Instead he asked around for any spare boiling water, scoring a hot cup-a-soup from me, and a bit of hot dinner from someone else. We were all finished and ready for bed by 5:30.

[Almost ready for bed: Pencil Pine Tarn]

All night the wind roared, the pines giving it a piercingly strident voice. At one stage I looked – in vain – for ear plugs in my first aid kit. It wouldn’t be snores from my fellow campers that would keep me awake tonight.

* Back in the mists of time some of our regular walking group had taken to addressing each other as “Captain”, usually in a growly, pirate-inspired voice.

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