A journey through nature
So far as we know, Earth is the only planet capable of sustaining life. It is true. Despite our relentless searching, any other planets capable of the same are either too far away to see properly or are evading our discovery. This is one of the reasons I love the diversity and complexity of life here on Earth, and why I am passionate about our role in protecting what we have left. My recent experiences in the mountain high-country of Victoria have further compounded this love of our natural world. Let me explain further.
My partner and I, along with my partner’s sister, decided it would be a good idea to do a base-up ascent of the highest peak in Victoria, Mount Bogong. This mountain sits at a height of 1986m above sea level, but our ascent would be from around 650m, the campground at its base.
The ascent would take us through some of the state’s most diverse ecological landscape, from the rainforest-like fern gullies around Camp Creek, up through the dense vegetation of the tall timbers, past a level of wildflowers and dens undergrowth, and finally up above the treeline to a carpet of low flowers and hardy shrubs. The journey itself was marked by the abrupt end of some of these distinct areas, and the beginning of the next. If you looked out across the mountains from any of these areas, you could see the surrounding mountains all held the same characteristics, like contour lines on a map, showing you the elevation of each of these areas.
The most amazing thing about a ground-up ascent of a peak is that you encounter far more diversity of plants and animals than you would with a simple bush walk, each area being so distinct, you pass from one to the other like walking through an invisible barrier.
The lowest level, the fern gully along a 4-wheel-drive track, is alive with birds and cicadas, tall trees and tree-ferns. Bull ants and “jumping-jack” ants are everywhere, so you have to be careful not to let them get on you or you’re in for a very painful sting. There were other insects too, too numerous to mention them all, from fluffy caterpillars and butterflies, to the occasional skink or lizard. As with anywhere in Australia during the summer, one has to be very wary of snakes also.
The next part of our ascent was the beginning of the actual “up” part, “The Staircase” 1400 metres in elevation over 8km, so a relatively steep climb. Rather than an actual staircase, it was a meandering dirt track which zigged and zagged left and right up the steep forest in amongst the thick undergrowth of acacias, ferns and wildflowers. The cicadas were almost deafening!
The flowers we encountered were combinations of “egg and bacon” plants, large Dianellas, and lilies, like the delicate and beautiful fringe lily, seen below. There was a constant scuttling away of lizards from the path, black ones, copper-coloured ones, and brown skinks of varying sizes.
Leaving the tall trees behind, our journey continued up past an emergency shelter, “Bivouac Hut”, which could be used by passers-by in times of emergency. The sky seemed to open up, all the tall trees replaced now by ghostly snowgums. The ground however became lush with wildflowers, pinks and yellows and whites everywhere. Many different species of wildflower, and arranged in a way that would make a landscape gardener jealous. Seeing this one can see the appeal in having a native garden at home.
This was the halfway point. We took a break to rest our feet and surveyed the land around us. We were not too far from the treeline, and we could see where the snowgums abruptly gave way to what looked like granite shale and nothing more. The upper reaches of the snowgums look like bleached bones, due to past summer fires and the sub-zero winter temperatures.
We then broke through the treeline, the view was stunning. Despite the overcast day, we could see the valley far below us, and the layer upon layer of the Victorian alps disappearing away into the distance. It reminded me of stepping onto the steppes of Mordor, a very hostile and desolate place it seemed. But we were surprised to find that far from being desolate, it was alive with flowers and low shrubs, more wildflowers, caterpillars and beautiful iridescent green butterflies, grasshoppers, birds and ants. One thing you get used to in the Australian bush is ants, always ants, everywhere you go.
The last part of our ascent was the most difficult, but mostly because we had been hiking up steep terrain for 4 hours, and the next couple of hundred metres looked even steeper, but we pressed onwards to reach the summit. It’s always a funny feeling when you reach a summit, you mostly want to rest, but you know you have to make the descent again, often just as difficult as the ascent. You want to stay and appreciate the natural beauty around you, but you know that time is against you and you have to leave sooner rather than later. The indigenous people of this region gave this mountain the name “Bogong” which translates as “Big-Fella” in English. I could see why.
Throughout the walk, I was constantly reminded of Charles Darwin and what he must have felt when he was able to tie together all these living things, all living things, into one coherent theory, one that encompasses all life on this planet and the struggle for survival. While I was nowhere near the Galapagos Islands, the same structures applied here as anywhere. Adaptation, evolution, survival. All around me I was seeing constant reminders of life, living, death and rebirth, the natural cycle of things. All this would be very much the same as it was 10,000 years ago, and will remain much the same for the foreseeable future. All this evolved from the same common ancestry, and here am I, an alien in this place, yet a distant relative of all the life in this forest. This kind of perspective always reminds me where I am. At home.