Misc //

If you’re stuck find a stick

Constance Titterton

Saying ‘snowed in in the Snowies’ has the same ugliness as stuffing frozen fingers into a glove. You get stuck halfway through and have to push through. I am snowed in in the Snowies and feel as frustrated as when I try to pull the zipper of my jacket and nearly pull it off.

I’m here in a tent wanting not to be. I walked in near Mt Kosciuszko, and planned to wait out a storm and then head north. The map promised views worthy of capitalization: Rolling Grounds, Tumbling Waters, Granite Peaks. I wanted to see glacial lakes and silverblue snowgums and fill up on huge skies.

Instead, the storm has settled in and I am still waiting to move. I don’t mind being alone, but I wanted to be alone and moving, not alone and stuck. Stuck with the people who mapped this area with Disappointment Ridge, Doubtful River, Dead Horse Creek, Purgatory Hill. Names that speak of people illequipped, disoriented. Embittered.

The emergency huts that scatter the Snowies were built for these people. I am camped near Cootapatamba hut, which is tall and bright red and less than 30m away. It flickers in and out of visibility for three days. More than the wind and rain, it’s this total whiteout that’s kept me from moving. I know where I am, but I also can’t see anywhere else but where I am. I don’t feel like wandering off into the white and dying of stupidity so I stay put.

On the third night, the tent is askew, a taut proof of the wind’s strength. The rain beats heavily on it and I can see each drop. For the first time I am scared[1]. I have to leave once in the night when a gust whips away a stake, the floor lifts, and the fabric immediately begins to flap, but I go out into the rackety wet and fix it with clumsy fingers. At some point in the night the beating turns into a sharper, higher, quieter sound, and I realise it’s begun to snow. It blows from the southeast, near my head, and builds me a wall, so that the wind stops bothering the tent and I fall asleep.

When I wake in the morning and poke my head out, the world has transformed. What had been colorful—an alpine wetland of grasses, mostly green, with rusty autumn sedges[2] and one bright yellow spaghnum moss—has frozen over. As far as I can see the world is white, or grey. White snow. White sky. Grey mountains. I am inside an eggshell. I spend the day wandering around the frozen wetlands, poking at things with sticks. There are pools of solid ice, and some with crackable crystal lids, and some that are watery-edged puddles of slush. There are columns of ice that formed on rushes then fell off, like pickupsticks. There are icicles and knucklebones and dinnerplates of styrofoam. All babies like toys and the winter on its first day is no exception.

Once I stop wanting to walk away I finally see what’s happening. In this valley the seasons are changing, and last night the wind carved me out a space to sleep while it cut between them.

[1] The hut is close, but there’s a river in between.

[2] “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses are hollow with knobs to the ground”.