Symptom: a mountainous tale of a simple urge

Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: SYMPTOM.

I GUESS it is a symptom. Or is it an urge? Both symptoms and urges are perceptions. They are something we feel. They are experienced internally. They are immaterial. Maybe they are different things stemming from the same thing.

Symptoms emerge from something underlying. If mine is a symptom then its origin lay in something I have experienced for a long time. That’s a periodically-felt need to get out there. To get out into some wild place. I guess that’s what’s behind our walk up the Zig Zag Track and along the southern edge of Kunanyi’s plateau this day.

The fog envelops us just after we reach the top of the Zig Zag. There’s a roughly marked trail up here and a pad made by walkers, but I know that if we lose it then we could wander far off course. In the fog the plateau would look the same, a big field of rocks wherever we would walk over it.

The mist swirls about us, separating a little to reveal the landscape close at hand then thickening to conceal it. I take a compass bearing, less a symptom of a cautious mind and more a precautionary practice.

We walk on, following the pad where it is visible and stopping now and again to look for signs of it. Maybe it is because in good weather we can see the passage of the sun across the sky that I have a sense of time passing. Not so in fog. With nothing visible to reference, no landmarks to let us know how far we have moved across known country, my sense of time is as vague as the misty boulders that come into visibility then fade as we walk.

On we go. Then, there at a trail junction is the little sign pointing to the Rocking Stone. This is a big dolerite boulder perched atop another big boulder and it does what its name suggests when given a firm push. It’s easy enough to scramble onto the Rocking Stone, but we refrain. Backtracking, we seek out the trail that should take us southwards to connect with a fainter track that leads to a memorial to a man who died out here on the plateau on the early Twentieth Century, victim of the bad weather that frequently sweeps this plateau.

Fog is no stranger

Fog is no stranger. I’ve walked through fog in the mountains before as has anyone who spends time up there. Seldom, though, have I encountered fog so thick that visibility falls to a few metres.

The most disorienting of fogs are those encountered in winter when it blends with the snow-covered ground to create a situation where telling them apart is difficult. These conditions are known as a whiteout, an apt name as anyone who has tried to move through one will agree.


The land is starting to fall away. We descend a slope into a pass where the grey, weather-blasted shapes of stunted mountain eucalypts create an eerie feeling. These are the victims of past bushfires and here they have stood in their starkness for decades. They stick out of the low subalpine vegetation to remind us that damp and cool as this day is, the mountain experiences hot summer days that dry out the bush to such an extent that a single spark can start a conflagration.

I had used the compass bearing I took earlier more to check our direction of travel than to solve some problem of geographical disorientation. Now, the fog is thinning, visibility returning. So we aren’t destined to wander disoriented through the fog across this look-alike plateau today.

Into the pass we descend, following the narrow stony trail through the low, wiry vegetation. There — the side track leading to the little memorial out there somewhere in the bush at the end of the trail that blends into the fog.

Follow? I ask my partner. We decide against it. That will have to await another day out here on the mountain.


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