Climbing Mt Ossa

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 25, 2019

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Submitted: February 25, 2019

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So there I was, living in Burnie, Tasmania, Australia. It was the first week of August and I was busting to go backpacking. Tasmania is a backpackers paradise. About one-third of the island is protected wilderness. Where would I begin exploring that Australian Island State? I decided to climb the highest peak in Tasmania, Mt. Ossa, where else?

I was hoping to get one of my Tassie mates to go with me but everyone I asked looked back at me in confusion and disbelief and exclaimed: “What are you MAD, mate?” You see, in Tasmania, the first week of August is the middle of winter and NOBODY hikes into the Central Highlands of Tasmania and climbs Mt. Ossa in the middle of winter.

Well, almost nobody. I stuffed my gear and some food into my pack. Then I weighed it out at 21 kilos. Perfect, I thought to myself. I threw the pack into the bed of my 1997 Toyota Hylux 4x4. Then I made the drive up through Mole Creek and past Lake Rowella to the Arm River Track trailhead. At the trailhead, I pulled on my pack and tightened up the straps. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30 am. I located the trail not far from where I had parked my truck and started up.

The trail was well marked but holy crap, you walk almost straight up the first 40 minutes of the hike! The track was steep and it had rained so I had to negotiate through the mud and across several slippery exposed root systems along the way. I imagine I looked a bit like Fred Astaire only dressed in heavy wool and sporting a 50 lbs backpack on my back as my traction occasionally broke and my feet slid down the length of an exposed root half sunk in the mud. Pretty soon I too was covered in mud.

After what seemed like, well, forever, I spotted the summit where the trail leveled out and made my way to it. The rest of the walk was a gradual ascent all the way to Pelion Plains..

I passed Mt. Pillinger along the way. Two months earlier my Tasmanian friends had guided me on my first trek in that wonderful country. I passed an offshoot trail on my left. If you follow that one down into the rain forest you will find the wreckage of a small plane that had crashed here back in 1973. I reached the Pelion Plains in a couple hours and stopped at the hut to eat a snack. I was soaking wet by the time I had reached the hut so I changed into a dry set of clothing there. I was dry now but I was carrying what felt like 300 lbs of wet wool in my pack.

Note to self: Buy rain gear and wear synthetic instead of wool to keep warm.

I got back on the trail and hiked through miles of wet rain forest and up through the button marsh, finally reaching Pelion Gap where a side-track shot off to the right towards Mt. Doris and continued beyond to that point highest on the entire island. The rain had worn down to a fine mist by the time I reached the gap. 

I hiked about halfway up Mt. Doris and then followed the trail around the left side of that mountain. Suddenly, there it was. The massive mountain I was to climb. It completely filled the landscape in front of me. The track became very rocky here. It was hard to keep my balance in the loose rock scattered on the slope and now snow began to cover the ground in ever increasing patches. I came upon a rock embankment, covered in snow. I would have to climb it. Slowly and carefully I lifted myself from one ice covered boulder to the next, jamming my hand or foot into a crevice and lifting again to the next until I came to a relatively level area where the path picked up again. The trail wound up to the saddle that lay between the twin peaks of the mountain. The ground was covered in snow now but the sky was clear. The cloud cover I had been under since I started the hike was now below me.

I walked up to the saddle and then in between some tall boulders and there, on the other side, standing at the base of the tallest peak were four guys. I could hear them talking as I walked up. Apparently, they were trying to decide if they should take a chance and climb the last bit to the summit proper.

They smiled, shook my hand and we all introduced ourselves. Turns out they were Canadian. I said “Figures, only people crazy enough to be up here this time of year are four Canadians and a Yank.” “Are you going up?” I asked and pointed at the final climb. It was a fifty-foot boulder covered with ice and snow. One of the guys said, “Naw, it’s covered in ice and that’s one hell of a drop.” “Well I’m going” I said, “Will one of you guys get a picture when I get on top?” The guy closest to me took the camera and said: “Sure, I’ll do it.” I started towards the rock, stopped and looked back at the guy and said, “Make sure you video it if I fall Mate, I’ll scream on the way down.” He responded, “I’ll post it on YouTube for you.” And they laughed as I turned back toward the rock and looked for a way up.

I spotted some hand and footholds on the far side. It was straight up but it could be done. Halfway into the climb I looked down and saw clouds below me. I wondered how far away the ground was on the other side of those clouds. I finally pulled myself up onto the top of the boulder and carefully positioned myself for the photo.

I thanked my new Canadian friends and took my camera after I had climbed back down. Light snow was now beginning to fall. We scanned the sky and one of the guys said: “Storms moving in, we better get down.” My Canadian friends took off down the trail and headed back down to the gap. I found a nice spot between some boulders. I was sheltered from most of the weather that was starting to kick up. I made a cup of soup. I wasn’t quite ready to end the experience yet. That was a good cup of soup I drank in solitude on that mountain. That moment I was fully alive and life was good.

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© Copyright 2020 Charles E Alexander Jr. All rights reserved.

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