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PacificEdge | August 21, 2017

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The freedom of the hills: One fine weekend in winter, long ago

The freedom of the hills: One fine weekend in winter, long ago
Russ Grayson
 
IT WAS FINE that day. The sun shone bright and warm onto the winter landscape across which two people moved until they came to the trail that led upwards. Then it was uphill and uphill as the coolth of the cold, crisp air competed with the fug and perspiration of the uphill effort.
 
We had tossed packs laden with a couple days’ supplies into the boot and made the journey from Hobart in my old blue beetle. Leaving the asphalt we followed  the gravel road to its end. There, we overnighted in a hut and talked of other adventures in other places.
 
Reaching the top, we stopped to look out over this landscape we loved and there, ridge after ridge, mountain after mountain, our gaze was led to — what peak was it? — Pelion West? — rising clad in winter’s fresh snow, its bulk white against the blue of the distant sky.
 
Somewhere up there that winter Sunday I paused high above the dark waters of a lake and sunk my ice axe into a snowbank as Jeff took a photo. I don’t know where we had left our touring skis when these images were made and I don’t recall whether we had carried them up onto the mountain in hope of enjoying the freedom and exuberance of skimming across the surface of the plateau.

Somewhere on the edge of the plateau that winter Sunday I paused high above the dark waters of a lake and sunk my ice axe into a snowbank as Jeff took a photo.

Jeff was a sometimes-worker in the adventure equipment shop I managed. Come summer, he would trade ice axe for surfboard and head off in search of glassy green swells (sometimes clad in a double wetsuit).

Ridges, peaks and wild country… Jeff leans on his ice axe and gazes towards a snow-clad monolith on the far horizon.

Looking at these grainy, dusty old images scanned from film I think how good life was then, those decades ago, and how the book title of mountaineer, Frank Smyth, The Spirit of the Hills, nicely summed up being in the mountains. That book reminds me of another with similar title — The Freedom of the Hills — by The Mountaineers of Seattle, a title that is even more evocative of self-propelled travel in the high country.
 
Hills and mountains lift us high above the trivia of the everyday to a place where only the basics matter — food, shelter, protection from the cold and rain and just the minimal necessities tucked away in the packs on our back, all those simple things that are needed for movement across rough country.
 

A snowy traverse of the Cradle summit ridge.

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