10 days have passed since Iain and I did a 26 km loop walk encompassing Montacute conservation park, a section of the Mount Crawford forest and the grimly named Mt. Misery. Ill get straight to the point. I found this walk really challenging. Its taken me this long to write about it, mostly because I have been so far unable to reconcile why I’ve felt so uncomfortable about how weary I was both during and after the walk. It was a long walk some of which was up some very steep topography and so weariness is an appropriate, if not inevitable outcome. However, a closer reading of my discomfort revealed that my weariness was rooted less in the physical challenge of the landscape and more in my misjudgement of it and our way-finding over it.
Prior to the walk I repeatedly surveyed detailed maps, satellite images and guides and felt that I had established a good understand of what lay in wait for us. In my mind, I felt I had already “bagged” this one. As it turned out the land “had” me, another green hiker who underestimated the terrain. I learned this gradually as the walk unfolded and I realised how the world around me did not match my mental map. This mis-match was further compounded when, in the flow of conversation we missed the heysen marker and so veered off-course. As we continued so our perplexity grew when we were unable to reconcile what we saw around us with where we thought we were on the map. As it happens we were not lost only way-laid and with some deduction we oriented ourselves correctly between map and reality and returned to the correct trail. I will confess however to quietly thinking at one point, they must have got the map wrong.
We made Mt. Misery via a fairly accurate sortie up through the scrub then along a ridge track that offered expansive views north. The summit was uneventful except for the graceful hunting of a pair of kites. There were no obvious clues as to the dour naming of this hill, the only apparent misery being the tainting smell of decay from some unseen corpse (a lost hiker perhaps). Below the summit was a lush grassy knoll speckled with bright spring flowers. The cheeriness of this small hill was significant enough for me to name it Mt. Cheerful.
The track now pitched and rose across and around the gully combining Heysen trail, bike trails fire and little used ridge tracks. at points dry and crackly under foot then soft and mossy. We passed through Montacute Conservation park then left the Valley rd and zig-zagged sharply up a steep forehead of land passing generations of onceimmigrant olives, who have been at home for so long they must surely call themselves native.
We lunched under the shade of a summit tree spending some time orientating the map to the peaks around us. I recently talked myself into buying a GPS and had bought it along but the new batteries were laying powerless (to my needs) in the car. I was quite glad of this because I have often thought that first I must acquire the traditional skills of map reading and navigation with compass. An apprenticeship that Iain and I were currently undergoing. Whilst in specific circumstances a GPS could be an invaluable asset, in this context, it seems to be a bit of a cheat.
The next leg of the walk was along the ridge of Big Range to the southernmost point of the route, a stretch we both agreed looked gradual. How wrong we were. Hidden behind ridge tops were ever steeper inclines, one after the other. Then out of nowhere appeared a bulky outcrop of rock, the apparently unmarked mass both surprised and impressed, how could such a bulk be so dominant and yet remain mostly hidden? The ridge continued upwards, at times only a narrow track with almost sheer falls either side. For me, each incline seemed to mock my misjudgement of it and unprepared for the effort required my legs grew soft and wilted over the remaining ascent. Once the descent began we realised that our approach to the top was actually the better deal for the track down was…well, ridiculously steep.
In the gully below a cool creek offered refreshment. Anticipating the climb out of the gully we agreed to part with the trail and head up creek and then cut across country at a point where the slope was shorter. On one attempt we were forced to retreat, unable to push past the thorny whips of the wild bramble thickets that colonised the hillside. A little further down the way opened and we slogged up the final hill of the day. By the time we reached the top I was overheated, dehydrated, hungry, head-achy and depleted. Iain, who was in much better shape, produced first aid in the form of a packet of out-of-date Himalayan electrolytes (instantly effective) and multiple blocks of chocolate and pistachio halva!
Before too long we were on flatter ground and wider tracks and were heading north and back to the car. On the way we passed the very visible Heysen sign that indicated the route we should have taken and a bit further still Grandpa’s campsite where we had stayed the night before, sat around the fire chatting,listening to the orcish growl of koalasand anticipating the next days walk.
I’m still processing what might be the lessons to be learned from this walk; dressing appropriately for the temperature, avoiding dehydrating alcohol the night before, eating enough of the right foods, stretching sufficently, packing restorative human fuel, paying greater attention to the language of maps and to the landmarks and markers in the field, but most of all, not making careless assumptions.