I’m officially a weekend warrior. And you want to know a secret – I kind of love it. By working the whole 9-5 I’ve learnt what magic it is to have two whole days to yourself were you don’t have to check an email, where you can vanish off the face of the earth, and your whole adulting rouse won’t come shattering down around you. Plus, you know. I get to earn some moneys.
I’ve also learnt not to take advantage of those two days. I mean, it’s only TWO DAYS.
In the case of this weekend though, it was THREE DAYS. Three flipping whole days where I was accountable to no one. I hadn’t made plans though, and although I’d cast the net out for potential hiking interest a few weeks in advance, no one was keen. So you know what? I went by myself.
Armed with vegemite toast and Earl Grey Tea, good podcasts and tunes, I drove for hours along highways, country roads, twisty backways and eventually gravel paths where even the satellites couldn’t reach. Eventually I pulled up at MacFarlanes Saddle Carpark which was packed to the brim. I grinned as I realised that I wasn’t the only one who’d made their way out here.
I hoisted my pack onto my shoulders and began the hike out after signing the intentions book, the skeletal burnt-out trees around me (from the 2009 Black Saturday fires) reminding me that disaster can still strike this high up in the mountains. After walking through semi-dense snow gums, panorama worthy alpine bog appeared. The last of the summer’s flowers were scattered everywhere, paper daisies and mountain gentian. It wasn’t long before I came across Dunsmuir Hut which is just holding on, it’s corrugated tin roof almost rusted through. After snooping around a bit and being a general sticky-beak, I took set out again across the plains and eventually ran into the back of a big group of people. What shocked me more than anything was that these were young people, aka people who were younger than 50. I don’t know whether never meeting young people on the trail is a me-related issue, or whether it’s a general Victoria thing, but I have been called an ‘old-soul’ once when I was in the middle of a long winded gush about the joys of hiking. Anyways, some of these guys must’ve been newbies because they kept stopping to get their gear sorted and they parted on either side of the path to let me through, while hellos and grins were exchanged.
It wasn’t too long before I came to my planned campsite for the night. After a lot of umming and ahhing and chatting to various hikers about good spots, I set up my tent close to one of the fire pits, crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t somehow spontaneously combust if someone decided to light a fire. I was feeling pretty wiped from the long drive (and from the rock climb the night before, and the movie that I watched with my roommate about girls getting decapitated by cave dwelling zombies, thanks dude) so I shoveled curry in my mouth and had an early night reading in bed about NZ hiking trails.
Over breakfast I got to chatting with some women from a hiking group and shared tea-water with them (oh the things that bond hikers together). I told them my plans for the day (so at least someone on the mountain knew where I was going to be) and after detaching the hood of my pack which can be used as a day pack, set off into a valley. At the bottom of the valley was a gorgeous flowing little creek filled with clear water which I filled my water bottle with. I huffed and puffed up the hill where I ran into another bushwalking club, and a few older women asked if I was by myself. When I told them I was, they looked mildy perplexed, pumped the air and replied, “Good for you!” before disappearing after the others.
For the next two –three hours I had the track to myself which was flipping awesome. The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, and I was practically skipping. This summer has been beyond brilliant and I’ve actually forgotten what Melbourne winter is actually like. Man, am I in for a rude shock in the next month or so. I had a poke around Miller’s Hut which my map informed me is the second oldest alpine hut in Victoria! I’m becoming more than obsessed with them and might just have to make it a life mission to visit every single one of them.
Eventually the path turned to boulders and I began to scramble over and squeeze between them. The little scrapes and scratches made awesome additions to the tight-sock combo tan that I was rocking. Eventually something resembling a peak came into view, and I hauled myself on top of the final rock. The wind rushed past, tangling my hair and I grinned at the mountain views that I had all to myself, stretching as far as I could see in every direction. I checked my trail notes which said that I should be able to see Lake Tali Karng from where I was. Clambering off the ‘path’ and picking my way down the spine of the mountain, it suddenly came into view, in all its shimmering blue alpine glory. Holy damn, it was stunning!
I shimmied into my raincoat to keep me warm (the wind was whipping up) and looked down the valley at the lake. The thought of submerging my body in the water wasn’t exactly ideal, but hey, how often do you get the opportunity to swim in a freshwater alpine lake in the middle of the mountains of Australia? I turned around and started making my way back, stopping to chat to a few hikers on the way out.
I returned to my campsite where I had some noodle soup heated up over my little butane gas stove (mmm, noodle soup – Friends reference anyone?) before flinging my day pack over my shoulder and heading down the unnervingly steep trail towards the lake. The trail was gorgeous, shaded by tall slender gums and the understory filled out with ferns and leaf litter. I must’ve passed something like 40 people sweating up the hill, the group from breakfast (“She lives!”), the young hikers (“Hey, it’s you!”) and the oldies from the morning (“You’re almost there!”). And because they’d all hit the lake in the morning, when I finally burst out of the understory onto its shores… It was completely and utterly deserted.
There are times when being alone in wild places with only yourself can be mildy terrifying – footsteps pace the outside of your tent and every snapping twig makes you jump. This was not one of those times. In fact, I find it hard to conjure a time when my mind was as calm as it was that day. I stripped down to my underwear and walked into the water, my ankles sinking deep into the organic matter and mud fringing the banks. I dove in, before flipping onto my back, breathing, watching the clouds pass overhead and the micro-waves lap at my starfished limbs. Laying out my tiny microfiber towel, I let the sun dry my hair slowly, my eyes closed against the sun. For once, miraculously, I didn’t get burnt to a crisp.
Eventually, I spotted two men on an opposite bank and went to have a chat with them before my hike out. Thank god, because they pointed me in the right direction… up. All the cleaning that my ‘bath’ had given me was a little wasted as sweat dripped down my way out of the valley. At one point, I had to do a little stamping to send a black snake on its way which was also enjoying the afternoon sun.
When I got back to camp, it was curry time, and I struck up a conversation with my tent neighbours who it turns out I’d met up at the Sentinels that morning. We bonded over our mutual good taste in tea (black Earl Grey all the way) and spoke about India and the Himalayas. They were crazy lovely and invited my into their torchlit dinner circle and shared their chocolate and tea. You never know who you’re going to meet in the mountains. I went to bed to the sounds of my tent being whipped up by an incoming storm, a smile on my face.
The next morning, I emerged from my tent into a haze of smoke and drank my tea with my tent neighbours, discussing the fire that had apparently started 20 km in the hills the day before. Gazing up at the skeleton trees overhead, we pulled out our maps, spreading them among our mugs on the grass. After a quick pack up and water mission down to the creek, I decided to give my planned detour to Mt Wellington a miss and hike out with the group.
It was a super lovely morning walking back across the Wellington Plains, discussing everything from podcasts to Tasmania and the best places to eat in Fitzroy. When we eventually got back to the car, I was sad to see them go, but turns out these guys are neighbours in the sense of house life too, so you never know. We could bump into each other again. That is, if I don’t take to living in the alpine huts full time.