How often in daily modern life do we intensely feel something, intensely experience something?
BOTH NIGHTS IN Kosciusko National Park were clear and pristine, blessing us with midnight blue skies, dotted with twinkling stars and planets. On our first night, I watched the stars emerge over the saddle between Abbott Ridge and Mount Townsend. I was mesmerised by the night sky and the valley’s peacefulness and let my imagination run away, dreaming about what lied out there. I have always had a strange obsession with making up stories when I looked at the night sky, such as who else was staring at the stars and what someone else, on the exact opposite point of the world to me, was doing. My fingers and feet steadily grew numb and I eventually turned in for the day, cocooned in my bright blue down sleeping bag.
I WAS SHAKEN awake by my fiancé, Luke, who whispered, “It’s 5am. We have to go”. In a sleepy daze, we put on our jackets and shoes, donned our gloves and zipped up our tent. We stumbled up the slope, out of the valley that had been our home for the night, until we rejoined the Main Range Track.
We walked by the light of our head torches and we were the only two people on the track that traversed the rolling hills that actually did look lightly sunburnt in the light of day.
As we meandered up the Summit Walk, the horizon to our left was developing a thin, but rapidly expanding, streak of fiery red, orange and yellow. By the time we rounded the corner and saw the summit marker just metres away, the sky now to our right was ablaze. We were the tallest people in Australia on this morning under a sky that was breaking open with light, with mountains all around us.
On the summit, few words were actually exchanged. We were totally enchanted by the vibrantly coloured and constantly changing sky. Luke explored the summit, soaking up the view from every angle possible whilst I tried to capture all that I could see through my lens. In a world where people pride themselves on being busy, it is rare to proudly find yourself at a standstill. I greatly cherish the times when I am totally immersed in what I’m doing, in where I am and in who I am with; the sunrise atop of Australia is one of these times, alongside strolling in Fribourg’s Vieille Ville hunting its twelve ornate fountains and cycling along Berlin’s East Side Gallery, with my green scarf newly purchased from one of the city’s trendy shops.
Once the sky had morphed from its brilliant shades of red, to vivid tones of magentas and mauves and finally, to pastel pinks, blues and purples, we were frozen enough to admit defeat and return to camp, where muesli and coffee awaited us.
As we turned away from the summit, I was flooded with emotion. It was a strange mélange of bliss and achievement with a dull tinge of sadness; but sad about what, I didn’t yet know…
OUTSIDE OF SOME short getaways and my outdoor mini-expeditions, every day seemed to operate on auto-pilot. I woke up at roughly the same time each morning, left home at roughly the same time to file onto the bus that took the same route to get to the same office. I shuffled along like a lemming until I reached the security gates guarding my office, at which point I mechanically scanned my pass and idly waited for the lift to transport me to my desk. An undercurrent of mediocrity and boredom permeated through the entire day, every day, until somehow, it had been five years since I felt that I had consistently lived life to the fullest.
AFTER A LEISURELY breakfast watching the sun slowly warm up the land (and us), we made our way up the slope again and up out of the valley. Walking along Albina Pass was so beautiful and after hiking up and over Carruthers Peak, we met up with our friends, Dave and Lillian, at a little rocky outcrop at the start of the trail to another peak, The Sentinel. Dave and Lillian were snuggled up in a bright red sleeping bag with a box of BBQ Shapes and I remember thinking, as I huffed and puffed up the incline, that there were definitely worse places to wait; the view had graduated from rolling sandy yellow and khaki green hills to truly magnificent mountain ranges for as far as the eye could see. It is not every day that you are in total awe of all that is around you.
The hike out to The Sentinel was stunning and such a thrill. We followed the undulating earth, led by this rushing stream that seemed to materialise out of nowhere and continue on for kilometres. The land here seemed barren to the eye but you could often hear the sound of water rushing by. Only once you were up close, would you notice a hidden stream beneath the thickets.
Dave had mentioned that there would be a bit of rock scrambling before we reached the summit but when the trail suddenly ended at this rock face with a mortal drop off, I felt a real, stomach-churning fear. It felt so alien that I realised how rarely I feel these raw, primal emotions in my daily life.
The view from The Sentinel was just a never-ending trifle of mountain ranges in all shades of blue and I finally understood why the Snowy Mountains are called the Australian Alps. It reminded me of the beauty of the Bavarian Alps when I was at Neuschwanstein Castle just outside of Munich; another trip that still makes my heart beat faster when I think of it.
MAYBE IT WAS this recollection that re-flooded me with emotion. Munich had been my first solo travel experience and it had been so formative for me, both in the way that it heightened my love for travelling and in the way that it added to my identity. I had felt simultaneously intensely lonely as well as intensely alive. It was the first time in my life that I was truly out there, on my own, without anyone to rely on and it was both scary and intoxicating. I was in the driver’s seat of my life and everyone that I met, every place that I visited and every decision that I made seemed wholly significant.
Again, I left the summit feeling a joy that was almost absolute, had it not been for a subtle regret; but this time, it was slowly dawning on me why I kept getting hit by these pangs of wistfulness…
ON THE SECOND night, we camped in a gorgeous alpine meadow with The Sentinel in the distance in front of us and a ridge behind us. As the sky darkened, we waited impatiently like little kids for the moon to appear. When the moon did start creeping up over the ridge, it turned the ridge incandescent. Watching this moon rise was surreal, made even better when Jupiter, Saturn and Mars came out to play. We shared some scotch, some rocky road and some laughs before retreating to our tents.
AFTER SOME FRESH coffee and pancakes, we started the return to our cars at Charlottes Pass. We hiked to the top of Mount Twynam where the landscape had reverted back to those gentle hills and after a knee-jarring descent to Blue Lake, we were soon marching back up the slope to the carpark. At the end of each mini-expedition, I always think, “and just like that, we’re done”.
MOST THINGS IN life are fleeting. Sometimes, you know that an experience is one that will impact you but you don’t quite appreciate how large the impact will be until much later on. In Kosciusko National Park, over only three days, I had been blessed with so many powerfully moving moments that when they flitted past me, I was almost instantly filled with a nostalgic sadness. This power of experience and intensity of emotion triggered me to reflect on the other times in my life when I have given my all, given everything, to indulge in a feeling or to enjoy a moment and it all pointed back to that year I lived in Switzerland.
For five years, that year has been my superlative; my yardstick for how good life was going and how happy I was feeling. I think back to the amazing places that I visited and the beautiful, special people that I met and it crushes my soul to know that that has all ended and that it ended a long, long time ago. I’m not sure why I have always had such a difficult time letting it go…but today is the first Monday of my new life outside of the corporate world. Switzerland marked the start of a wonderful and emotional self-discovery for me but that five-year-long chapter has to close today with this new beginning. It is the perfect time for me to let that year in my home Swiss home go, instead of holding it too closely to my heart, often yearning for it. I’ve known for awhile that I placed too much importance on that yearand that it was preventing me from being completely present in life but it took visiting Australia’s highest peaks for me to accept this. I will start making a conscious effort, every day, to collect new intense feelings and intense experiences so that Kosciusko, Carruthers Peak, The Sentinel and Mount Twynam are only some of the highs that I will reach this year and so that Switzerland just becomes one of the hopefully many highs I will reach in my entire lifetime.