Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It can't be that hard...can it?

Of the goals I wanted to achieve on this trip, the ascent of Australia’s highest mountain was at the top of the list. I happened to mention this one lunch time while sitting around the table with my work colleagues at Lismore Base Hospital. The conversation went something like this (and forgive me for any inaccuracies, I can’t remember what day it is, let alone recite a whole conversation):

Me: “I really want to climb Mt Kosciusko on this trip.”

Colleagues: “That sounds good. It’s a fairly difficult walk isn’t it?”

Me: (with all the knowledge of the experienced mountaineer that I am) “They ride mountain bikes to the top. How hard can it be?”

Colleagues: (conscious of the ‘intensive’ training regime I was undertaking in preparation for the climb i.e. walking 100m from my car to my office each day) “Quick, write that down. We will need photographic proof that you actually made it to the top.”

That conversation was faithfully recorded on a cafeteria serviette and hung in the office, ready to be submitted as evidence when my broken and exhausted body descended from the mountain top; the taunts of, "Yes Sarah, how hard can it be" to be replayed over and over at every available opportunity.

As a precursor to this story, I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify exactly what I had in mind when I uttered those fateful words.

Mt Kosciusko – Sarah’s version:
Hiking shoes, day pack, bottle of water, a few snacks for the journey, maybe a warm jacket, a moderately challenging walk up a hill, nice view, easy walk back down a hill, high-fives and back-slaps all round for completing the walk, cold beer to finish off the day.

Enter stage right, Mt Kosciusko, Kris Flanagan version.

Earlier in the week, Kris had enthusiastically suggested a 2-day camping expedition to the top. And of course at one o’clock in the morning and a few bottles of red down, I had enthusiastically agreed. Kris’ version looked something like this:

Hiking shoes, hiking pack, sleeping bag, Thermorest, tent, hiking stove, thermal clothing, food for 2 days, energetic walk up a mountain, camp at the summit, sunrise, energetic walk back down. The only familiarity with my version was the cold beer at the end.

And so it was that I found myself standing at Charlotte’s Pass loaded up like a Himalayan yak on an Everest expedition, ready to embark on the great ascent of Australia’s highest mountain.

I should mention here that, like the highly experienced mountaineer that he ACTUALLY is, Kris was loaded up like two Himalayan yaks. In addition to the aforementioned hiking gear, Kris also lugged up 20kg of camera equipment ready to capture that perfect shot should the occasion present itself, such is the dedication of a landscape photographer. (His passion for the art continues to amaze me).

In the glorious afternoon sunshine we set off from base camp and made our way up into the beautiful alpine mountains. The Australian Alps in the summertime is a truly magical place to be; hardy mountain vegetation sprinkled with colourful wild flowers, crisp clean mountain air, and hundreds of green-eyed March flies nipping at your legs!

On and on we walked along the steadily rising track, the summit in the distance beckoning our arrival and urging us onwards and upwards. Eventually we rounded the final bend and there it stood before us in all its rocky magnificence…THE SUMMIT!

As though to welcome us, the sun began its own descent over the horizon and turned on the most spectacular sunset we think we have ever seen. For miles and miles in every direction, all we could see were purple and blue and mauve mountains, topped with a sky that was a million shades of red and orange and yellow. And best of all we had the show all to ourselves!

That night as we tucked into our feast of 2-minute noodles and settled into our mountaineering tent, we had to keep reminding ourselves of where we were, on the top of Australia and higher than anyone else in the country!

Daybreak provided an equally beautiful sunrise. Kris happily snapped away on his cameras like a paparazzo at a Paris Hilton drink-driving trial and eventually we packed up, said goodbye to our new friend Kosi and headed back down the mountain.

Now, anyone would think that when you’ve walked up a hill for 4 hours, the return trip would be a leisurely stroll back down the hill to the start wouldn’t you. Wrong!

Deciding on an alternative route, we headed off along the Main Range track, 12kms of steep inclines and descents, with some terrifically high exposed sections where chilly alpine gusts of wind nearly blew us over the edge of the mountain. Kris, in all his mountain goat glory relished the challenge. I determinedly battled on behind, the promise of a descending track around each corner dashing my spirits as I rounded to see yet another steep climb. But what goes up must come down and eventually it did, back to the big red truck waiting patiently for us at base camp.

I remember a high-five was thrown in there somewhere, and maybe a back-slap as well, and there was definitely an alcoholic beverage greeting us back at the campsite. But most of all I’ll remember the intense satisfaction of reaching the summit and sleeping on top of Australia, the magnificent sunset etched in our memories as a reminder of a goal achieved.

So, to my friends at Lismore Base Hospital, maybe it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be…but then again I hadn’t anticipated the 2-day Himalayan yak impersonation and camp out. Does that mean we’re even?!

In the next edition of ‘Where’s the big red truck’….tales of Talbotville.


Anonymous said...

PFFFT, was one of my lifes ambitions to do that but now a girl's done it i wont bother.

Lockhart said...

How times have changed Kris, I remeber the last time you attempted the ascent with Mat to the summit, I think you had a wind cheater, a Mars bar and a pair of trackies on.
Glad you finally made it.

Pete Friel

Madhu Dube said...

congrats!!!! you have done it....never knew about your mountaineering skills...but seems they were every bit worth....keep going....miles to go before you sleep...miles to go

Tom said...

so is it safe to assume u both joined the 'couple of miles high' club?? :)

The Nutty Farmers said...

Awesome guys. The 20kg of photography gear was definitely worth it! Keep up the good stories for us.
xx Kim & Chris

Anonymous said...

If there is a hard side to a mountain , kris will find it. Im glad you guys got to stay there because there would be few that have. keep writing and finding the hard way

The Hills

Charles said...

This blog is very good, this pictures is very beautiful. I'm sorry, I speak english very little.