The Pilot (The Pilot and the Pinch Part III)

After all the rain and cloud, climbing the Pilot was an uncertain proposition as far as views went. R was keen – she’d hiked past it a few times but for various reasons not had time to climb it. I was less enthusiastic: the area was all new for me and my lazy side wasn’t keen on a 340m climb.

It was a lovely morning’s walk (7.5km carrying very little gear) from Tin Mine Huts to the junction of Cowombat and Snow Gum Trails, the sky clearing as we went. If we were heading to Cowombat Flat we’d have turned right at the junction; instead we went straight on for half a kilometre looking for any sign of a track. There wasn’t one that we could see, and we struck off up the slope.

The skies clear in time for us to hike up The Pilot.

What we weren’t expecting were the rocks – among the open woodland, disguised among the grasses, the footing was almost always small boulders of the ankle-breaking type. We tried different tracks up the slope; tried making for vegetation that looked different to see if we’d get away from the rocks, but on the route we’d chosen, they were persistent. This made a steep climb much, much harder, and half way up I started worrying about the descent. Thank goodness for hiking poles – proving themselves on their maiden trip!

I was pretty knackered by the time we reached the top, with a persistent sore knee, but whatever my mood, it was nothing that lunch with a view couldn’t fix!

At the summit of The Pilot. – looking west.

We could see the clearing of Cowombat Flat to the south; the ridge of the Main Range to the north. I spent ages with the map trying to make sense of the land to the east. From the Main Range to the Snowy, long ridges overlap, fading in and out of one another, hazy with eucalypt green and distance. We pondered the fall of the land towards the Snowy, and thought about our walk out over the next few days.

Again, it’s not until later that I read John Blay’s description – it helps make sense of the view from The Pilot:

This is one of very few stand-alone peaks in the region. Vistas lie in all directions. Even Kosciuszko looks impressive. The sense of the Ingeegoodbee running along a high, limitless plateau when you’re by the river is put into its true perspective when it is shown to be a fool’s paradise, for in actual fact the land soon enough falls away savagely from either side. The drop off to the Murray is also very, very dramatic. Southwards, only a few kilometres away across Cowombat Flat, the peaks of the Cobberas are rugged and stony and unforgettable … The line of mountains blocking the south-eastern Monaro makes better sense of the lay of the distant land than I have found anywhere else … The countryside is laid out more clearly for me than if it were signposted on a map.

John Blay, On Track: Searching out the Bundian Way (2015)

At some point, up there on the mountain, R pointed out that this is not a mountain many people climb, given it’s a two-day walk from the nearest road access. It was only later that I thought about how lucky we really were on that day – not just to climb a mountain and see a spectacular view of an incredible landscape, but simply to be there at all.

The descent was much easier – R found a better route that wasn’t quite as rocky, and we took our time.

On the way back to Tin Mine Huts, we get talking about why we hike. For me, it’s bound up in walking of all sorts, which led us to talking about Wanderers: A history of women walking (Kerri Andrews, 2020) which I’d read not long previously. It features ten women from the last three hundred years who walked far more than was socially acceptable for their time or place, and who hadn’t only walked to get somewhere, but for the sake of walking itself. They had written about it, reflected upon it, and for all of them the act of walking was integrally connected to who they were, how they lived or to their creativity.

So why do I hike, and particularly, multi-day hikes? That night in my tent I wrote:

  • for those moments of the sublime or spectacular
  • for the satisfaction afterwards – the achievement of a goal
  • to be in nature
  • for the sake of walking – walking that gets to go on and onwards, and doesn’t bring you back to civilisation the same day
  • for the big memories in life – hiking gives me a touchstone by which to remember a season, a year, a place, a time in my life.

There’s other motivations, too, harder to articulate than the quick list I wrote that night. Balancing the motivations there are also hesitations, questions and the reality of daily life. But now, writing this many weeks later, there is no doubt that those six days from Cascade Trail to the Snowys has been a highlight of the year so far. As a long Canberra winter drags on, it’s impossible not to start dreaming of the next hiking adventure!

Next: The Ingeegoodbee and the Nine Mile Pinch

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