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Published: March 11th 2017
Walking back in Thyme.
The Snowy Mountains for the Thredbo Blues Festival in January this year brings memories flooding back...of 5 day hikes...and tennis.
Memories walking over mountains covered in mosses and acres and acres of the herb thyme.
8 days in a loft apartment overlooking the Thredbo ski fields in summer...no snow...just trees and grass...friends coming up from the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne for a weekend of blues.
Off to Guthega Power Station to see if the pipes I climbed when I was 15 were still there...which of course they were.
In 1949 Australia engaged in one of the most ambitious engineering projects on the planet...the Snowy Mountains Scheme...sixteen major dams; seven power stations; two pumping stations; and 225 kilometres (140 miles) of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts constructed between 1949 and 1974, generating hydroelectricity in south-east Australia.
In 1969 just prior to the moon landing, a group of schoolboys from Sydney hiked in those parts on an Easter venture. Incl. moi...and this is my story.
With full packs on our backs we climbed about 70 degrees from the power station up massive pipes that climbed the mountain, then headed above the tree
line to Whites River camp.
I remember climbing Mt Gungartan with two companions only 20 metres behind. We used to hike in groups of three. At the top on the leeward side were some other mates around a fire boiling a billy. So I joined them for a cup of tea before they headed to Mawson's Hut, the next checkpoint. But my two companions never arrived at the top of Gungartan. So I waited with a school master til the sun threatened to set. Suddenly the master was off and I had to run to keep up as his strides were double mine. After some miles...around a precipice..wind lifting me...grabbing a protruding rock...swinging around about 90 degrees...yeeka...chasing that master who is now well ahead...shaken as I had come close to disaster.
Another day climbed Mt Jagungal that was like a miniature Matterhorn. Dropping our packs in a clearing of shrubs and reckon we'll have no difficulty finding them again. For some reason I take a compass bearing towards the mountain top before we head off. All I did was find north and fix the arrow arm towards the summit. For those that have climbed mountains you will appreciate
that when you arrive at the ridge you thought was about the top there are many such ridges before you actually reach the summit. 360 degree views from the top gazing towards Victoria to the south from the trig station at the summit. We three pretty pleased with ourselves. Even took some photos probably on Brownie box cameras or my concertina Zeiss Ikon black and white.
Pleased as punch until we are coming down among miles and miles of scrubby shrubs and somewhere among the expanse are our packs...nowhere to be seen...pleasure turning to panic...patent fear.
Ping..brain engaged as I reach for the compass around my neck...turn it around and follow the reverse of the arrow reading...for miles...tripping over our packs eventually to our relief and delight.
I do not know why I took the compass reading...instinct I guess...mighty glad whatever it was that prompted me...mighty glad I did.
Always remember my astonishment that the reverse compass reading was accurate to within a foot!!!
On our final day we leave Grey Mare Hut early and climb The Ghost...a mountain covered in thick gum saplings but no path...scrub bashing up the steep slope for an eternity
then past blue alpine lakes above the tree line til we come to double hanging lakes...Lake Albina with it's little hut...thinking I will return one day as it is the prettiest place I have ever seen.
Then climb Mt Kosciusko, Australia's highest peak but no roads up there in those days.
Across the valley is Mt Townsend, Australia's second highest peak so down and up we go...'cause by then we are fit and strong...then to the left over the three Abbotts Peaks until we arrive at the top of Hannels Spur...a track down Australia's longest spur from alpine meadow to forest.
There were 6 of us as I recall plunging down Hannel's Spur, when after about half an hour we lose the track.
Looking for the track, I follow an animal track for about 10 yards when suddenly I am falling forward...my pack climbing my back...my right foot staying behind...caught in a rabbit hole...at least it's not broken!
I have a sprained ankle...a long way from the bottom of the mountain...and next Saturday I'm supposed to play a tennis tournament singles final...the end of my world crashing in on me at that moment.
in Geehi this afternoon then a bus tonight to head back to Sydney...and I can't walk let alone play tennis...too far to crawl.
One of the others takes my pack...hopping down Hannel's Spur...yep...I hopped downhill for miles...should have sought a Guinness World Record...they've got every other whacko record it seems.
At the bottom was a dirt road to Geehi but we gorge ourselves on blackberries first...gorging til we can barely move and then the guys ahead of me start rolling on the road. When I had hopped to them I do likewise...rolling in the dirt...laughing til we cried.
There was a large sign that said: "Danger. Blackberries Poisoned."
Yep. We laughed til we cried...tears of mirth rolling from our eyes.
I played the A3 tennis final the following Saturday. For some reason I just couldn't let myself forfeit.
My opponent had just won the A2 Final so he had this cheezey grin when I hopped up to shake hands before we began.
On the adjoining court was the A1 Mens Final, the top players in our region's Association slugging it out...so a big crowd was present to watch that
Winners Are Grinners
With Don Spencer, Russell Crowe's Father-in-Law
This was the period when Australia ruled the World in tennis so participation and interest was huge.
On the adjoining court was a determined blonde kid who scurried like a crab and hopped around the court like a madman and somehow won the first set.
My opponent couldn't believe it...nor could the crowd who moved from the A1 Final and crowded around our match!
I lost in 3 sets. I remember I was at the net and my opponent lobbed me and I couldn't jump at all to reach it...fell...someone standing over me helping me up...me disoriented saying "Where am I?"
I do not remember anything after that...but I didn't get a trophy so my opponent obviously got that!
Jump ahead to January this year and I'm saying to Denise I want to return to Lake Albina...the image of the twin hanging lakes with a small timber hut to one side...wondering if the hut is still there.
So we bought maps and the names of the places I hiked so many years ago came flooding back.
We were told Hannel's Spur is impassible so we can't follow
You can catch the chairlift from Thredbo Village to the top and it's then 8 hours walk to Lake Albina..8 hours one way or return?...you've gotta be kidding!!!
Caught the chairlift up anyway but it was blustery and cold up top so lunch at Eagle's Nest Restaurant was a convenient cop out.
Lake Albina was now out of the question so we follow the boardwalk heading towards Mt Kosciusko but not being boardwalk people we follow the narrow dirt path to Dead Horse Gap...winding through alpine grasses and paper flowers...past weathered granite outcrops the sentinels in these parts...trickling streams and acres and acres of sprawling thyme.
There is an ambience in mountains that captures the soul...maybe it's the clear air...or the dappled light and gusts of wind up there.
Denise with her selfie stick I had given her for Christmas and me with my camera snapping her doing that.
I fall behind macroing a grasshopper...trying for sharp focus til it climbs away...Denise in the distance...selfie stick high in the sky.
Then the battery in my camera runs out and I race to catch up ...getting about 20 metres ahead so I can
replace the battery.
Then I hear it.
The call of my one true love, "David...Help Me!"
Denise face down in a thicket...sprawled flat in the brush beside the track...calling.
Talk about a difficult situation.
I am in the middle of changing the battery when the call comes...turning assessing the situation..."David I can't move"
What's a fella got to do?
So of course I choose to help...snapping the odd shot to capture the moment...Denise calling, "I know what you are doing. Stop taking photos. I need help"
...face down in the bushes how can she tell? "Take my phone,"
she directing as her hand twists from under her body..."Move it out a bit more"
...snap..."I know what you are doing. Stop taking photos and help me up."
And help her up...of course I do.
But this is a sad story for both of us.
The camera was still on macro...what's a fella got to do? The pic with her trapped hand with the phone out of focus...the other shots came out OK though.
Fortunately Denise was unhurt and says she was laughing all the time.
For me a photographer's dilemma...talk
Once a Child Guitar Prodigy
Jim & Jennie arrived on the Friday afternoon from Melbourne just in time for the start of the blues...Murray and Jools from Canberra so reunions due.
But 'cause we go to so many music gigs in our real life...we don't need to see every band...schmoozin', bluesin' and cruisin' between acts.
The Blues Preachers for two hours of intimate blues in Candlelight Chalet, Jeff Lang on Churchill slide & Bobby Singh on tablas drums in the Piano Bar taking us to India and Mali, Ray Beadle on acoustic in the Piano Bar, Pete Cornelius in the Keller & Schuss Bars, Doggin' It in the sun at the House of Ullr, Steve Edmonds in the Keller and Chase the Sun and the Foreday Riders in the blistering sun around the pool.
Great blues...and sensational tennis.
As we are usually overseas at this time of year, our last glimpses of the Australian Open were reports in China Daily and seeing Leyton Hewitt v Marcos Bagdattis on TV in a coffee shop in Buenos Aires.
So this year on TV in our loft apartment we got right into the tennis.
The Uzbek d. Djokovic (Serbia), Zverev (Germany) d. Murray (UK), Federer (Sui) d. Nishikori (Japan), Nadal (Spain) d. Monfils (France) then Raonic (Canada) then Dimitrov (Bulgaria) looking unbeatable, Federer d. Wawrinka (Sui) looking very shakey indeed.
Festival over...need to get back to Sydney for the Finals...Serena v Venus Williams, Serena winning her 23rd Grand Slam...Federer v Nadal in one of the best matches of all time...Federer winning his 18th Grand Slam...couldn't believe he beat Nadal but he deserved to as Nadal never loses...ya gotta beat him!
What a summer...records temperatures ever in January in Sydney...blistering tennis in Melbourne.
Memories of a little blonde teen who hopped around the court in a singles final...lessons for life
'cause the secret of tennis like life is...Never give up!
Relax & Enjoy,
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