Well, it’s been a while since I posted anything up on Splat Kerplunk, but I finally have something worthy to grace the pages of this fair-to-middling blog.
I took my thirteen year old son on a bushwalk up The Castle in the Budawangs, in Morton National Park, NSW (Australia) this past weekend and I shall set down some photos and some thoughts on the trip right here.
I have taken all three of my kids up The Castle now – it has been a sort of rite of passage for them entering into their teenage years.
Never mind that Zach, my youngest (13 years old), has already climbed Mount Feathertop from Harrietville in Victoria and done the Corang Arch walk, among others, I have set The Castle as my children’s initiation into teenager-hood. This is really just a concept in my own head, mind you. I just chose a walk and said that’s gonna be the teenage initiation walk. My wife had no say in it, so it’s not really a family agreed upon thing, or anyhting.
I think on this trip it is also a rite of passage for me – entering into my 50s!
As you can see from the picture above, Zach is a scrawny, fit walking machine and I am an overweight hairy old guy. This sets the scene for what is to come.
About five years ago I took my other two kids up this walk together on a day trip. I was then also a fat dude getting old (as opposed to now being officially old), but I made it up and down in one day despite the fact that my legs were cramping badly for the last third of the walk down.
Anyhow, this weekend we set off about 10am on Sunday and slowly made our way up the first ridge to the foot of the cliffs at the base of The Castle. Zach, it must be mentioned likes to talk while he is bushwalking. My wife asked me how I was handling his incessant chatter as we neared the top (we had phone reception near the top) and I said he was talking less as we got higher, but it turns out that I was misguided in this view. It was just that he scooted off ahead of me up the steeper pitches and I couldn’t hear him talking anymore – he tells me he still talked the whole way. The trees and birds of The Castle made a new friend that day.
We snapped the picture above looking South from the small chain fence at the foot of the first set of cliffs on the climb, where we had a short break.
With much huffing and puffing on my part we scrambled along the base of the cliff, over roots and rocks and ups and downs to the cool little cave just before the track turns more steeply upwards and had our second break where we filled our bottles with fresh water flowing from the mountain above.
The next section of the track to The Castle Saddle is the steepest and my extra stomach padding and less than ideal fitness levels meant that I stopped quite a few times with my hands on my knees to catch my breath up this section. My slow progress had me asking myself if maybe I was getting too old for this sort of thing, something I’ve never asked myself before. Zach waited at intervals along the way, to be kind to his ageing father, before we eventually reached the sign on the saddle- a good opportunity for a photo. It took us about 4 hours to get to this point. Slow for some, but at least we made it eh?
I had been dripping sweat the whole way up and I’m sure my heart rate rarely went below 120bpm, but when I checked Zach, his heart rate was approximately half mine and he had no visible sweat on him anywhere. The carefree state of youth eh!
We made an attempt at the summit but were unsuccessful that afternoon and we decided to set up camp before it got dark and maybe try again in the morning.
While we were making dinner, I was kneeling with a half open packet of freeze-dried Spaghetti Bolognese between my legs, when I felt something brush against my leg. With a yelp I jumped up and scared off a marsupial mouse or some such thing who nearly poked his nose into the dried food right under my legs! He had no fear of people.
Anyhow, he soon ran off when he saw there was no food to be had for the time being and we at up and settled in for a night’s sleep.
A Boobook Owl hooted all night long. I know because whenever I woke (briefly to turn and relive aches from my sleeping position) I heard him: boo-book, boo-book.
The next morning we found the nearby creek, filled our water bottles and had a quick wash in what must have been minus 400 degree Celsius water – BRRR!!
The view from the campsite was a beauty!
We thought we’d attempt the summit again before heading back down and we made it to the last section of rope before, for the first time in all of my years of walking and rock clambering I lost my nerve and could not get over the 1.5 metre scary spot that would have had me safely onto the summit path. Yep, I’m not too proud to say it: I was overcome with a fear that I have never experienced before and despite three attempts and half an hour of soul-searching, I just could not climb that last section of rope to the safety above. A gaping chasm below partnered with a sense of doubt in my flexibility and the strength of my ageing limbs had me literally sick with fear for the first time in my life.
I’ve been up here before – the last time when I was about 27, but this time I had to resign, to Zach’s disappointment – he was raring to go and showed no fear at all (although he did say “You go first, Dad!).
So we made our way back to the Saddle, collected the packs we’d left there and headed back down.
The walk down again had me occasionally doubled over catching my breath, but it gave me time to ponder my failure at the cusp of the summit.
Zach was disappointed, but also determined to return one day to finish the climb to the summit with someone more capable, so in a way I have planted the seed for adventure in him, which was part of the trip’s goal. As an exercise in the rite of passage for Zach’s coming of age, the walk was definitely a success: Zach loved the whole walk, every second of it, and gave a me a tight hug to show it, when we eventually got home and he went to bed.
I have realised that I have limits that I have not faced before and that I am starting to get to an age where I could choose to just sit back and rest on my laurels and say I’m too old for that stuff now. BUT I have decided that I am not succumbing to such silly nonsense!
I will walk on into my fifties and hopefully my sixties (and beyond?) maybe I will return to The Castle at least one more time to try to conquer my new found fear of dangerous situations. Maybe I will bring some climbing gear and make the ascent safer for myself, I don’t know, but I guess I’d rather kick the bucket on the side of a mountain or cycling along a dusty road in the middle of nowhere than in a retirement home. We’ll see how that goes.