A Walkabout gone wrong

Thursday 20 March 2014

“Ah, Kosciusko its easy – you can drive to the top!”

That should have sent my alarm bells ringing – no mountain, rock or hill is ever easy – its always a function of conditions. And well, the ones that look soo simple are the easiest to underestimate. The pile of rocks in question is Mt Kosciusko, 2228m high, Australias highest and one that has eluded my collection so far (it was once considered a serious contender for the 7 summits but most recently has been dropped from most lists – maybe because its not considered a “proper mountain”)
Having spent a wonderful week in Margaret River attending the blessing of my friends Laura and Mischa – mostly indulging in great wine and fantastic beaches, I decided it was time for a Walkabout before I could return to HK. Me and myself alone into the bush. To be more exact the Snowy mountains – about three hours drive south of Canberra (on the other end of Australia).
I figured, taking the normal route was way too simple – so if the highest was not enough for me, why not try to climb the ten highest peaks over two days… Being on a busy timetable meant I had no flexibility and therefore rocked up on Charlottes Pass, the highest point one can leave the car in miserable weather – strong winds, clouds, drizzle…. but I am Austrian! I can climb those hills anyday (so I thought) and went off off trail into the wild armed with bivy equipment, food and water for two days. The first few peaks were easily ticked off, but things got a bit more spicy as I navigated myself towards Mt Twynham (3rd highest in Oz)- the fog suddenly closed in – a white out! I continued upwards, following my compass… without a path i went on and on and on (the sense of distance seems to get completely lost, when you dont see anything anymore). I reached the top, but was it the right one? I checked the map (which had started to dissolve itself, being soaked from the drizzle that had turned into heavy rain) – I wasnt sure. Neveretheless I took the bearing for the next peak, wandering straight into the white….and stood suddenly in front of a drop off. The ever increasing wind wasnt helping, turning more and more into a severe storm. A new direction, the rocks looked familiar, maybe, maybe not? (at this point I should have engaged navigation 101 – what not to do when you are lost! – but I didn’t, me lost, ridiculous!!) I found a small river…aah, that must be the stream I previously had followed upwards, so I kept on going down, more and more climbing down into a steep canyon. Holding myself on the rocks or grass to stop me slipping… I was soaked, but it should come worse. As I went down, totally covered in fog, visibility a mere 10 metres, I started to get unsure that this was the correct stream, but now I was caught in the canyon… and then I slipped, fast gliding over the wet rocks, I tried to hold on to a root could turn my fall and landed in the water – Slam!! Here I stood, clearly in the wrong place, deep in a canyon, obviously no idea about my position, absolutely wet with temperatures close to 0!
Emergency measures were necessary – first priority: DONT PANIC! Whatever you do, dont hurt yourself (nobody would ever find you here!), second priority: Get safe (=warm&dry!) as soon as possible!
On the map I tried to figure out where I had gone wrong – too many options. One thing, was clear – heading straight south would eventually bring me to safety, there just might be a few more canyons and peaks on the way. I started to climb the steep canyon walls, careful not to slip. As soon as I reached the higher walls, the strong winds let me feel like being in a freezer – I kept on climbing – trying my best to follow the compass needle. A few times I thought to recognize a trail, but it proved an illusion.. still the fog covered everything around me… then, shortly before sunset, by a mere chance I found 4 wheel tracks.. Hurrrah! I had stumbled my way back to the standard route up the mountain… I followed it – it would lead me via Mt Kosciusko to a small hut, an emergency refugee… Bivvy in the open wasnt an option anymore (I was way too wet)… as fast as possible I kept on walking, reached the top of Australia with the last light (shot a picture, but it wasnt really any chance to celebrate), then headed on to the hut! To my horror I found it full!! all floor covered.
So I decided to carry on, another 7km to my car….. which I reached while the full moon was shining through the clouds. The car heating couldnt run high enough! There I sat with tons lessons to digest!

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