I lifted my eyes towards the summit, shifted the weight of my pack and forced a smile. My two hiking buddies were bounding with energy; it was as if they were taking a leisurely morning stroll. I, on the other hand, was struggling. We had barely begun the hike and Diamantina Hut, where we had started our journey, was still in sight. I knew we had at least 4 hours of trekking (11km) to go and I was already spent. The Aussie sun was unrelenting, my dark hair was burning under the heat and I felt suffocated under my layers of clothing. I was by no means a seasoned marathon runner or a triathlete, but I had considered myself to be moderately fit. Despite having lived in Melbourne for most of my life, I still struggle to cope with the dry, scorching sun that seems to be uniquely Australian. My tummy started feeling funny, like it always did when I was scared or nervous. Over the years, rock climbing has taught me to listen to my body.
‘Hey guys, do you mind if we stop for a bit while I change out of my trackies?’ I called to the others.
‘Sure,’ they replied unfazed and started munching on Haribo goldbears while they waited.
I changed out of my tracksuit pants and into my shorts, having been unprepared for the extent of the hot weather which was atypical for November. The change of clothes helped to lift my mood and after another half an hour of walking, my body gradually climatised and I fell into a rhythm. Relief washed over me.
Mount Feathertop is the second highest mountain in Victoria, Australia rising to 1,922 meters. It’s a great mountain for those who want to experience their first ‘summit’ because in Summer, it is generally achievable for those who are moderately fit. In Winter however, it should only be attempted by very experienced skiers and climbers. Some sections of the route are very exposed and can be dangerous, so it is wise to do your research and conduct your own assessments prior to attempting a ‘climb’. Much of the hike is above tree-lines providing a 360 degrees view of the mountains on a clear day; this was a great motivator for me. Relishing in the beauty of my surrounds takes my mind off the pain and the tiredness.
We did the hike on a public holiday, hence it was more crowded than usual. I didn’t mind though as it was nice sharing the journey with fellow nature-lovers. We pitched our tent at Federation Hut amongst other hikers; it felt like a massive school camp! Before we went to bed, we dragged our sleeping bags outside the tent and laid beneath the stars – it was heaven. Free from the light pollution of the city, the night sky was filled to the brim with stars. After each blink, even more stars appeared. The moment was spiritual. I laid in silence, breathing in the crisp, cold air, soaking in the moment and committing it to memory, best that I could.
The next day, we woke at 4am as we wanted to reach the Summit before sunrise. We were told that the final ascent was very steep and strenuous; wisely, we left our heavy packs back at camp. It was a mad dash to the top to beat the Sun, but we made it.
We saw a little red spot in the horizon which gradually spread into a line. The changing palette of the sky was gradual and yet it ended all too soon. It was the first time in my twenty-seven years of living that I had waited for the start of a new day. The person who came up with the saying, ‘tomorrow is a new day’, must have experienced something akin to this. This particular sunrise brought with it the realisation that yesterday with all its mistakes and regrets are gone. Today is for me to fill and create. It was a really free-ing experience.
I love that nature teaches me through realisations, not words. When I contemplate that which is beyond the horizon and appreciate the vastness of the universe, my petty problems fade and I am renewed with the desire to make each day count. During these moments, it is as though a veil has been lifted and I am gifted with a glimpse of what really matters. It is these moments which keeps me hiking.