Arguably, bushwalkers are not always the most elegant outdoor enthusiasts. They don’t have the cat-like sinewy leanness of rock climbers, the presence of sleek lines of carbon fibre mountain bikes, nor the sheer Baywatch hair-shake sexiness of surfers.
However, once a year, outdoor enthusiasts from all inclinations within the ANU Mountaineering Club go bushwalking up to The Castle within the Budawang Range, and there don dinner jackets and cocktail dresses for a night of elegance, cocktails and the most delicious food any bushwalker ever dreamed of.
Of course, we had to get there first.
Cocktails on the Castle is a Mountaineering Club tradition that has been run for more than twenty years, but the 2013 one was postponed till January 2014 due to bushfires. Approaching the weekend that had been picked a month in advance, we realised that we were going to catch the end of the east coast heatwave, but we figured that this would add to the experience.
And it certainly did.
The forecast was for 36 degrees celcius on Saturday, and a casual start in Canberra that morning saw us departing from the cars at Yadboro Creek at midday. Last minute water arrangements ensured everyone was carrying between 4 and 8 litres of water each, not to mention the appropriate evening attire, alcoholic beverages and scrumptious meals. To cut down on weight, most people abandoned tents and jumpers, taking only raincoats and thermals for safety.
Then we were off, across the lowest Yadboro Creek anyone had ever seen.
And of course, only half an hour or so later, we were forced to take a break in the shade. I’d walked this same route only the previous September, but it might as well have been in another country for how different the experience had been. I was panting and sweating and forcing myself to climb ever upwards, and by the time we’d laboured our way up Kalianna Ridge to the conglomerate our shirts were saturated.
We collapsed in the shade and distracted ourselves with lunch for a time, but smoke and cloud was beginning to haze the horizon and we pushed on. Sidling around the western face of the Castle the very path was radiating heat, and we paused in shady patches to rehydrate. A pause at the cave, and then the last ascent to the saddle through the blazing afternoon sun.
By this point it was 6pm, and we needed to get up the Castle before sunset. This was my first ascent, and the backpacks and hiking boots made my movements clumsier. Still, we were out of direct sunlight, so everyone stripped off their shirts to cool down without fear of sunburn.
The climb was much more difficult than you’d expect for an annual, all-invited tradition, but we assisted each other with packs, and the ANUMC replaces the ropes when they show too much wear. The exposure was also mitigated by the rocks not too far below. This might sound counter-intuitive, but having rock visible two metres below you is better than potentially falling 600 metres… so this climb was, mentally, immensely easier than Federation Peak in Tasmania.
We made it to the plateau in time for the sunset, but the clouds had rolled in and the sun was obscured. Still, we got dressed and lined up for the traditional photo in front of the flat Byangee Mountain and the distinctive peak of Pigeon House Mountain beyond. Then, as the clouded twilight diminished the last light, we set up an array of food and drinks fit for… well, anyone, which meant that it certainly wasn’t typical bushwalking fare. We had haloumi and zucchini fritters, Spanish tortillas de patatas, olives and sundried tomatoes with bread cooked that morning in Braidwood, salmon dill and cream cheese wraps, and even spring rolls cooked on a frying pan. This was followed by a layered dessert of orange cream cheese, Choc ripple biscuits and Lindt chocolate, and a selection of pecan bisuits and orange biscotti. We washed this down with Pimms, sangria, citrus cocktails and mojitos, and were so full that we decided to leave the lemon cheesecake for breakfast!
Morning saw us rising late, as the sun was completely hidden by the fog that had rolled through during the night.
In spite of this start, the day soon warmed, and with almost everyone out of water by the conglomerate we were soon dreaming of swimming in the Shoalhaven River. With typical luck, the cold change continued moving in, and by Braidwood it had started to rain, so we returned to Canberra still sticky with sweat and sunscreen.
Elegance just isn’t a bushwalking trait.
More photos are available on my Flickr.