~There's more to this ancient volcano than meets the eye ~
I grew up near this majestic mountain and yet it's taken me over thirty years to actually climb it! As a child my Dad would recount many stories of the steep ascent (and descent!) that he would take with the schoolkids he taught at one of the local High Schools in the area. At the time I had no real inclination to do the climb myself, however in recent months I felt so drawn to this mountain from my childhood that I was even dreaming about it! Then it appeared in a major feature article in National Geographic magazine and I learned so much more about it's spiritual significance to the local Aboriginal Yuin people, and I felt so incredibly ignorant that it had taken me this long to notice its vital value to the local area. So, over the Christmas break I strapped on my boots, packed my backpack and reserved a full day to immerse myself in a mountain of discovery.
Nestled against the tiny NSW coastal town of Tilba Tilba, Mt Gulaga's spiritual presence is felt long before you attempt to climb her. The gravel road that leads up to the base of the mountain begins just past Pam's Store in Tilba Tilba. Unfortunately the store was closed for renovations over the holidays but I was lucky to bump into the local nursery owner, a lovely man called Keith, who kindly shared some of his aeroguard with me (later I would be VERY grateful for this!) and gave me some handy hints on climbing the mountain. He also requested that I let him know when I return, as he liked to keep a tab on the comings and goings of visitors to ensure everyone returned safely by the day's end. I took note of his phone number (not that my phone would have much reception along the hike) and felt a sense of comfort in the knowledge that I had been included amongst the daily 'headcount'.
Rising 806m above sea level, you don't have to take even one step up Mt Gulaga to experience her energy and presence. It doesn't seem that high at first glance, but as I wander up the dirt path taking in the rolling hills of the farms and paddocks (and awesome trees! - pictured above) I soon notice that I'm falling under the shadow of the mountain, whose summit is now completely shrouded by dark rain clouds and fog.
Reflecting on the ancient and rich history of this mountain (it is commonly referred to as the 'mother' mountain and basis of spiritual identity for all Aboriginal people) I finally reach the base and commence the steep climb up the wide track that was originally created by gold miners in the late 1800s (the land has since been returned to the Aboriginal communities on the Far South Coast of NSW).
Despite being one of the busiest times of year for tourists and visitors to the area, there are no other walkers on the track and it's quite a while before I pass even one person. A young couple in running gear pass me after half an hour or so, but it's a good hour or more again before I come across anyone else. I actually prefer it this way - and it's sooooo peaceful. Although there are no other humans, I feel I am definitely not alone. A friendly kookaburra flies about 50m ahead of me directing the way, and I come across the tiniest and cutest little brown mouse I have even laid eyes on! But there is a deeper presence, whether it is within the trees or right next to me I cannot fully grasp, but I feel it and I guess it's kind of like the feeling you are being watched (but without the fear or threat that might often come with this feeling!).
It's a hot day in the local area, but the heat subsides the higher I climb. In fact the surface of the track is quite damp and very slippery in parts, and I start to think about how hard the trip back down is going to be with my worn-grip shoes. I put it out of my mind and focus on the task ahead. To my surprise about halfway up it becomes so foggy and misty that I can't really see in front of me. The visibility becomes so poor that I wish I had brought along one of those hard hats with a light on the front! It starts to pour rain just as I reach the entrance to the rainforest (and to my shock and relief there is also a pit toilet waiting for me here!!). I come across my second human of the trip, an Irish backpacker on his way to the summit, and after a few exchanged words we part ways and I give him some time to go ahead whilst I review the fascinating collection of information provided at the small rest stop/clearing.
The rain stops as I start the walk through the rainforest track, which is much narrower and wetter - and it's absolutely riddled with the most beautifully crafted spider webs (see below)! I use my walking stick to navigate my way through them, and deviate from the path only once or twice to check out some awesome huge moss-covered rocks (after I lost my way on one of the deviations I decided to stay close to the track!). The terrain, flora and climate has dramatically changed and I cast my mind back to the previous rest stop bay that informed me of the mountain's mythological relationship with the clouds and rain, and specifically its role as a barometer of the weather in general:
"Gulaga is like a weather clock, you can read what the weather is doing or about to do by looking at the mountain....(it) behaves differently at different times of the day and year" (Beryl Brierly 2006).
My legs are starting to feel a little heavy after the climb (I had been walking for about 2 hours by now I guess) but forgot all about it as I came across the enormous mossy rocks, trees and fallen logs that inhabit the rainforest walk immediately before the summit. I inhaled the thick air full of mystery and wisdom and - yes, I am admitting to this! - then I wrapped my arms around the trunk of the tree that had a striking similarity to the one I had imagined from Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree and took a moment to breathe in it's energy and just exist in this wild and wise area of the mountain.
Unlike many mountainous hikes, reaching the summit was not the highlight of my trip - in fact, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed! There was no view (I think the trees had grown up to obstruct the coastline) but I sat and enjoyed the break and a snack against the "Welcome to Summit" sign before heading back down. Oh yeah - I also got a couple of leeches sucking on my ankles here - so remember to take salt with you if you are ever planning this trip!
The trip down was a lot clearer and brighter and I had to question whether I was walking on the same dark, wet and shadowy track that I had come up on! I passed quite a few groups of walkers on my descent (and shared some salt with them!) and struggled a bit with my knees (the steepness is a killer for troublesome knees so beware of this!) but it was the walk up that I will remember most. And I will most certainly be back - Gulaga has lured me into her mystical 'mother mountain' web which I will happily climb around in the future!
Hi there and thanks for dropping by! I'm Tehla Jane and I'm a self-confessed word nerd, bookworm and yoga devotee from Wollongong, Australia. I love to wonder and wander, and especially love spending time with my two little girls and hubby Glen. My blog is inspired by my daily musings in my trusty journal, where I scribble out endless pages in almost illegible handwriting and occasionally convert this into a typed format! Welcome!