Being ambitious helps us grow and develop our skills, it can even push us into type II fun situations. But being able to know when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew is an important skill. Sometimes it’s best to call it and come back later.
In two fully loaded cars, eight of us rolled out of Melbourne towards the Howqua River behind Mt Buller. Sitting around the fire we started getting amped about our hiking plans for the weekend. We hoped to follow an unmaintained track up Mt Darling, bush bash across to Eagle Peaks, and then trot back to the cars Sunday afternoon. If only it was as simple as that.
Waking to a crisp mountain morning, we filled our water bottles with fresh icy water and marched out towards the start of the track. It was steep and overgrown with blackberry bushes all vying to cut us up. As we made slow progress, pushing through the kilometres of razor-sharp thorns, the rain decided it would like to join the party too. Then an endless army of leeches declared war on us, latching on quicker than we could take them off. After a nest of angry wasps decided to inflict pain upon us, we began thinking that surely things could only go uphill from here.
They did. Nature took our sentiments literally and sent us up a gruelling climb for two hours. We’d started the hike hoping it would be a challenge and well, I guess you should be careful what you wish for.
The Foggin’ Summit Of Mt Darling
Soaked to the bone, we eventually made it to the top of Mt Darling. By this time, thick fog that had rolled in and our summit view became the few trees that surrounded us. It was impossible to see where we needed to bush bash to find Eagle Peaks. It’d been a tough day to this point and as we all huddled around the map, soaked and shattered, the group was divided about what to do next. It was 5pm and half the group wanted to test out their navigation skills and bush bash onward into the night, meanwhile, the other half wanted to call it a day and get warm and dry.
In moments like this there’s often a fine line between pushing onwards and completing something you’re really proud of, or pushing on and finding yourself up shit creek without a paddle. Unsurprisingly, the thing that makes these decisions hard is that you can’t predict which one it’s going to be.
One way makes you seem like a hero beating the odds, while the other paints you a fool – one who ignored all the warning signs that something bad was impending.
It’s a tough decision to make and generally requires good leadership. But the dynamic of a group of friends is very different from a typical leadership scenario. But you’re still a team, when everything is fine and dandy there are no worries, but when times get tough, it’s important for someone to step up and help make the best decision for the group.
This means being able to let go of personal ambitions, assess the mental and physical state of people, and judge which option best looks after everyone. So we came up with a compromise. It would be dark in just over an hour so we could push on for half an hour. If we hadn’t found any good camp spots by then we’d turn around and go back to one just back down the track.
Progress through the thick bush was slow and when we hit our cut off time, despite some of us really wanting to continue, we called it and turned back. Retrospectively, turning back is often the obvious and sensible option when you’re pushing your boundaries like this, but not wanting to quit and feeling the excitement of being so close always makes it hard to actually throw in the towel (also, we were soaked and needed all the towels we could get). Turning around feels like admitting defeat, it arouses feelings of failure or wondering if you could have made it. It’s a real attack on your ego.
Some began to have fleeting internal thoughts about why we had driven 4 hours to attempt the trek. It’s in these moments that it’s important to reflect and remind yourself why you’re out there in the first place.
So why were we out there?
Contentment & Connection
We set up camp on a mountain adjacent to Eagle Peaks and dedicated over an hour to trying to light saturated wood on fire. Eventually the weather calmed, we cooked a hot dinner and stoked a roaring fire. We began to see, or more importantly feel, the real rewards of the hike. As we sat around the warm fire the day’s hardships disappeared and morale seeped back into the group. The clouds then began to part and revealed a spectacularly starry night.
Here we were, eight mates, absorbed in contentment, taking in the sounds of the crackling fire and the overwhelming clarity of the Milky Way. This was it. Eight aching bodies blissfully sharing a beautiful experience after a day that tested all of our comfort zones. Every experience throughout the day, good and bad, ultimately facilitated the beautiful connection we were feeling. The goal wasn’t the destination. The goal was this shared experience with amazing friends.
As the sun rose and we woke to a cold and foggy morning, the gratifying experiences we felt the night before quickly subsided. It sunk in that not only were we going to be unable to make it to the Eagle Peaks we had come so far to see, but we also had to hike out the way we came in. Another day of bruised bodies battling kilometres of scrub, blackberries, angry wasps and leeches.
Trickles of blood, cuts, bites and sweat dominated our consciousness as we stumbled our way back, but they only made getting back to the car even sweeter.
As we stripped off our clothes and soothed our bodies in the frosty waters of the Howqua River, the smiles, contentment and gratefulness returned. Not making it to Eagle Peaks was the last thing on our mind. We called it quits, but it barely mattered. Now we had a great excuse to go back, and were more prepared to succeed.
More trail wisdom from our Explorers