|Sugarloaf Peak from North Jawbone|
Howling wind whips the wild rosemary shrubs into a blur as the open ridge we are climbing is exposed to the roar and rattle of a gusting southerly. We are aiming for the top of Sugarloaf Peak, after a spontaneous, late decision to race up the mountain with lightweight overnight packs hoping to catch a sunset. We left the carpark at 7.29pm when already the mountain was casting a long shadow across the valley. Although listed as a 30-minute walk we are on summit by 7:47pm – surely that is some sort of personal best. But it isn't about records; it is about being in the mountains and savouring the last light across a new landscape.
The great thing about Sugarloaf Peak, located in Cathedral Range State Park, is not just its rocky pinnacle, which pokes out of the thick forest and is one of five peaks that stretch north to south in a 7km long range of upturned sedimentary rock. One of the most exciting things about this place is its proximity to the city - it is an easy day trip from Melbourne – only about 110km from the city centre. There is a great selection of tracks, loop walks, summit bagging routes and exposed ridge walking to chose from. Sugarloaf Peak is the highest point at 920m. The other peaks along the range are North and South Jawbone, Cathedral Peak at 840m and Neds Peak.
Our second challenge, after racing to the summit, is finding somewhere to sleep. We first finish watching the sunset from a protected nook among the tilted ledges of rock. It is a soft, subdued event – gentle, hazy light filling the spaces between the wind. Then, in the growing darkness we begin to look around and weigh up the accommodation options. There aren't many. We find two spots, sort of next to each other, and basically on the rough walking pad that cuts across the backbone of the peak. We only have bivvy bags and sleeping bags so we don't need much room and as the stars come out to wish upon, we tuck down into our warm cocoons.
Sleeping high is always a pleasure, no matter how rough the bed. There is a narrow fin of rock underneath me that forces a particular style of side-sleeping, but waking in the night the stars are clear and even without a moon the 360 degree view exists like the impression of a landscape caught on film but not yet printed.
In the early pre-dawn gloom, a white glow that I had seen in the night, to the south, reveals itself to be a wondrous flow of thick mist moving across Sugarloaf saddle from the west to the east valley. It brings to mind something I read the day before. The park is just 10km from the small town of Marysville, one of those places destroyed during the terrible bushfires of 2009 which claimed 173 lives in Victoria. The town has been lovingly rebuilt. At the tourist information centre I flicked through a couple of books about the devastating fire and its aftermath and I can recall one lady writing about how the bare, burnt hills changed the weather they received in Marysville. The valley now received regular mist and fog and winds, which they had been protected from in the past.
A night like ours (a mountain top, the wind wild and the stars close) also brought to mind something else I had read and most of us outdoors people know; the kind of natural religiosity of American conservationist John Muir who wrote: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you, as the sunshine in the trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Seems like a good thought to end on for all those city living folk in Melbourne who after work, any day of the week, could buzz up the freeway, throw on a light overnight pack, and still be back in the office in time the next morning full of freshness and good tidings.
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