We left Syme Hut at 10.30am and stepped straight into a howling gale and horizontal hail. Visibility suddenly vanished and we were forced to quickly don sunglasses to avoid squinting into a near white-out. I looked back at the hut into the teeth of the storm and was rewarded with a painful pelting of hail, like I’d stuck my head into a popcorn making machine. It hurt. But it also felt good. I felt alive for the first time in a while. We let out a few whoops as the elements whipped our arses and sent us scurrying down from Fanthom’s peak on to lower ground and some immediate respite. Normality quickly resumed as we descended out of the pelt-zone.
Although no doubt impressed by our no-fear attitude to tramping, astute readers may be wondering why a medium-fit alpine tramping party was heading out the door at 10.30am. After all, aren’t alpine trips synonymous with alpine starts? And doesn’t the WTMC trip guide say that medium-fit trips should be 6-10 hours per day?
There are, of course, several answers to this question:
- On a purely factual basis, it wasn’t a medium-fit alpine trip. Guilty as charged. We managed 5 hours across 2 days and only set foot on snow for all of 30 seconds.
- On a theoretical basis, medium-fit trips, particularly alpine trips, are about the possibility of having to go hard all day, and then some. You have to be able to do it, in case the trip and conditions demand it. But that doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to do it. Leaders and punters have collective free-will to make their minds up as to how best to spend their weekend together. Or should I say, the illusion of free-will, as the weather gods are almost always the ones in charge.
- More philosophically, tramping is as much about healing the soul as it is about challenging the body. Sometimes relaxation is what the doctor ordered. Next trip we might make it to the top of a mountain, or have an epic bush bash through a leatherwood jungle. The important thing is to have fun with great people, come out safe and go back for more next time. No two trips are ever the same.
On this occasion, all three answers were valid.
The weather was crap and upon reaching Syme there was no possibility of getting anywhere near the summit. In fact, the only difficult decision was whether to stay put and chill out, or head back down to civilisation for dinner at Steve’s parent’s house. It was a tough call, but lethargy set in and before we knew it we were snoozing the afternoon away, reading the paper and winning (or for some, losing) at 500.
It wasn’t all a piece of cake though. We did climb 1,200m, including up 796 man-made steps, followed by a slog up a scree ‘down escalator’, which sent the pulse racing and pounded the morale to close to breaking point. Our reward was Syme Hut, possibly shortened over the years from Sublime Hut, given the amazing view and location, which the weather gods briefly allowed us to appreciate, around 7.06pm.
Sunday came and we slept in. We played cards. We unsuccessfully waited the bad weather out. Finally, at 10.30, we faced up to the fact that we were going to have to go outside into the wilds…. Left: 7.06 pm