The Peak Hunter strikes again!
In my last post, I limited myself to peaks I had scaled that were the highest in their country. This time, I’d like to look at a few more peaks that I conquered this year: some still tall, others slightly less so.
It includes a walk in Switzerland that was probably my favourite walk for the year (though it has some stiff competition). And a walk that was so local that it literally started and ended at my house.
Mount Dandenong, Melbourne
For several years I’ve intended to climb my local mountain, Mount Dandenong, starting from my house. It’s only 633 m high, but makes for a nearly 30 km return journey cobbled together from various steep trails (one of the liabilities of using multiple trails in the Dandenongs is that you frequently find yourself going down to meet a trail going up, which in its turn joins a trail going down). The walk led to magnificent views from the top and also from a lookout near the top.
As it turned out, I was also there the day after the Australian Chainsaw Carving Championships had concluded. It’s incredible what you can make with a log and some chainsaws: among others, I saw a frog, a deer, a lion, and a pair of eagles.
Mount Bogong, Victoria
Bogong is the tallest peak in Victoria, and makes a steep but enjoyable climb, with lovely views at the end.
Mount Feathertop, Victoria
Feathertop is the second tallest mountain in Victoria, and is a personal favourite. Like Bogong, it makes for a steep but enjoyable climb (I find it hard to know which one I prefer, so I did both).
In case you are concerned by the burnt trees, it is a very Australian image, but at least there is plenty of greenery growing. This was in February 2016. When I was there in January 2014 it had been burnt so badly that almost nothing was growing, and so I called it “The Desolation of the Dragon”.
This time I enlivened the walk by almost stepping on a large snake going down. (it decided to cross the track at the same time as I was running down it, and must have almost gone between my legs). In case anyone is worried that Australia is full of dangerous snakes, I did see snakes in the Alps at each of Bogong, Feathertop, and Kosciuszko. But I have seen more poisonous snakes in England than in Australia this year (yes, they may all have been behind glass in the London Zoo. But what’s that got to do with it? After all, glass doesn’t always stay put).
Mount Townsend, NSW
Mount Townsend is the second tallest peak in Australia, and it can be accessed from the same trail as Kosciuszko. It’s only 19 metres shorter than Kosciuszko, but has different views and a much more interesting summit than Kosciuszko. It’s not easy to find the start of the trail, even with a map showing it, but the cairns make it fairly easy to follow once you have found the start. It also allowed me to say I climbed the two highest mountains in Australia on the same day (in fact, there are accounts online of people climbing the highest 10 mountains in Australia in a few days, as they are all in the same area).
Gornergrat and Hohtalli, Switzerland
Climbing from Zermatt, a little over 1,600m, I had more than doubled my elevation by the time I stood at Hohtalli, 3,286m. For part of the way I followed “Mark Twain Weg”, so called because Mark Twain wrote a fanciful account of his ascent when visiting the area. I haven’t yet got to reading it, but it sounds fascinating. At least I could follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain (though I suspect more in the steps of the real one than the fictional one).
From early on the walk had good views of the iconic Matterhorn, but what really made it the best walk of the year was reaching the views of high peaks and particularly of sweeping glaciers. It was an odd feeling, really, standing on solid rock with no snow around, but looking down on massive glaciers hundreds of metres below. They look so massive that it’s hard to imagine them any bigger. But I found out later they have been in retreat since about 1850, when Findel Glacier was at least a kilometre closer to Zermatt. The odd discolourations I had noticed in the rock walls a long way above the current glaciers actually showed the high point of those glaciers. Fascinating, but it would be a real pity to lose these places of beauty.
Gornergrat is served by train (not that I used it) and claims to have views of 29 peaks over 4,000 m. By the time I got up there, most of those peaks had disappeared behind clouds, but what remained was plenty impressive enough. Glaciers and rocky scenery that is both bleak and beautiful. That was my original destination, but the ridge walk to Hohtalli called me, and it didn’t look that hard. After all, chamois can leap from crag to crag, so why shouldn’t I? (I saw a bunch of chamois in the distance, and they quickly disappeared. I wondered whether they had run off in fear, until I looked up and found the largest male had seized the high ground and was inspecting me closely with an attitude that said “You don’t belong here.”). In winter, Hohtalli has a ski-lift to it and the entire area is blanketed with white. In summer, only crazy people like me visit it. But at least they are awarded by wonderful views of yet another glacier. It was incredibly hard tearing myself away from that view. The glaciers called me to explore further, to keep going on towards the distant horizon. Never mind that I lacked the right skill and equipment and had only a couple of hours of daylight left.
Eventually I started my mad dash down to try and make the best use of the light, and more fun was to follow. One of the arms of my backpack broke, so I had to keep it slung over one shoulder. The threatening clouds began to pour with rain. And the last few kilometres had to be done in the dark. But those were just details. I knew this was my last serious climb in the Swiss Alps, and I was glad it had been a good one. The European adventure was decidely drawing to its close. In a couple of days I’d be back in London to do Real Work. Within a week I would be back in Melbourne. But there’s nothing wrong with saving the best till last. Right?
Mont Saleve, France
Known as “The Balcony of Geneva”, this actually sits within France, so I ducked across from Geneva one warm afternoon to climb it. A bus from the main station takes you to the border, with a cable car a short walk away on the French side. Being me, I didn’t take the cable car, but climbed the steep and zig-zagging path up to where the cable car arrives. Also being me, I didn’t let evening and approaching night tempt me into something sensible like going back while it was still light. Instead, I continued on searching for views of Mont Blanc (the real deal: highest mountain in France, in Italy, and in the European Union). When I found myself almost halfway round a circuit I hadn’t planned on taking, it made much more sense to go on than to go back. And along the way I found grassy meadows, spectacular views of the “real” Alps, and the strangely musical sounds of an orchestra of cow-bells. I even got to watch the sun setting behind the Mont Blanc massif. Yes, my head-torch was still in Geneva so I had to rely on my phone torch to get down, and I missed my route once and ended up on a narrow cliff edge in the dark, but those are also just details. Looking on the bright side, at least there were good views of the lights of Geneva and I still had a chance of getting back to the hostel by midnight.
I was just looking at a different hiker’s guide to this walk, and they mentioned something about passports. I think I had my passport with me when I crossed into France, but I’m really not sure. Certainly it was an unceremonious entry into a country I’d never been in, and no-one asked me for any identification at all.
Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
I wasn’t sure whether I should have stopped over in Hong Kong. I’d been away from home three months. I’d just had flown in from London, and was half asleep. My teeth were so sore I could hardly eat. It was raining heavily. Everything seemed to point to it being a mistake. But the ticket I booked six months ago said my flight wasn’t till tomorrow morning, so I was spending a day in Hong Kong. End of story.
When the rain cleared up in the afternoon, it was obviously time to climb Victoria Peak. Yes, there is a tram up, but using it would be missing the point (and begging to join a long queue). Best to save it for getting down in the dark. It was a steep and warm climb, but not as hard as I expected. Even when I got to the Tram Terminus I continued climbing, looking for a “peak”. Near sunset I came to a piece of flat ground with fencing around, preventing me going to what looked actually like a peak. So I made that flat ground my peak, and headed back to the tram terminus and viewpoint.
I then stuck round till it was night to get the maximum view exposure. It included great views of the Hong Kong skyline as well as less crowded views of islands and of ships heading out to sea. I found the skyline of Hong Kong amazing, both by day and by night, and Victoria Peak is a great place to view it from. It was hard to decide which view I preferred, but night was probably more magical. Certainly puts Melbourne CBD views to shame. But maybe that just shows that, while I’ve spent time in several large-ish cities, I’ve never particularly focused on them. Maybe there are more impressive skylines I should know about and don’t?