A Stroll Up Mount Usborne (Why?!?)

By Alison Inglis
March 2000

A recent item in the Penguin News about the Ramblers inspired me to put pen to paper.  Mount Usborne recently destroyed my pretensions to be a rambler; now its time to make a mess of journalism.

Due to other commitments my rambling habits are sporadic, but enthusiastic.  After all, I spend several energetic days each summer walking on Saunders Island (we won’t mention the pleasant snoozes in the sun), enjoy getting out into Camp as much as possible (even if it is only to prove to the Garage that my Fiat Panda is a Real Car), and I know that if I had a dog I would take it for walks, at least to the end of the road.

Rambling is fun, sociable, and above all involves being outdoors, which is important when your nearest and dearest have started to ask why you seem to live in the office.  I have enjoyed walks with the Ramblers to Fitzroy Memorials, Mount Longdon, Two Sisters, Penguin Walk, Black Rock, Kidney Cove and elsewhere, without ever approaching the limits of my own fitness.  Admittedly I have an affinity with water, falling into the burn at Cerritos Corral, and being one of the few to turn out at Mullet Creek in the teeth of a winter gale, but what else can you expect from a girl brought up in the wettest village of the Scottish Highlands, not an area renowned for drought?

So, with an honest enjoyment in the great outdoors and a self-deluded belief in my own capabilities, I set out one Sunday to join the Ramblers in the ascent of Mount Usborne.  I knew the omens were bad when I arrived at the FIC Car Park to discover that none of my fellow saunterers had turned up, people who enjoy a five mile stroll.  The dozen gathered there were what I privately term ‘the idiot class’ –  people who climb rocks on the very top of Two Sisters for no other reason than that they are there, or who combine a long walk to Kidney Cove with a quick sprint up Mount Low.

Everyone who was setting out to Mount Usborne seemed taller, thinner and above all fitter-looking than me (admittedly not a difficult task).  I would like to make exaggerated claims of my advanced age, but the truth is I was the youngest person present.  In fact, grey hair seemed to act like a ‘go faster’ stripe.  Once we abandoned the vehicles some hour and a half after leaving Stanley, the speed with which the whole group left the rovers (and me) behind made me wonder whether some humans have more affinity with llamas, mountain goats and gazelles than with chimpanzees.

A third of the way up the mountain, and I was straggling noticeably.  Half way up, and I was struggling badly.  It is to my discredit that I was encouraged only by the travails of my fellow stragglers.  Sue’s broken arm slowed her down on the stone runs, while Bruce looked very ill – with exhaustion, I assumed (I didn’t know he had flu, honest.)  Two thirds of the way up, and with most of the party out of sight, I decided enough was enough and casually mentioned that I would head back down to the vehicles.

Mistake!  Dennis, whom previously I had considered a kindly soul, wrestled my rucksack from me and set off uphill at the trot, ignoring my bleats that without my waterproofs, packed lunch and water carrier I couldn’t go back alone.  Meantime Jo exhorted me to buck up, pointing out with sadistic glee that she had recently persuaded (forced?) a colleague to climb Tumbledown, and she was certain that she could get me to the top of Mount Usborne.  In vain I tried pointing out that Usborne’s superior height made the comparison pointless, and that as I had already climbed Tumbledown on several occasions I ought to be excused participation in the exercise.

So onwards and upwards we toiled.  By the time we reached the plateau on top of the mountain, I was happy to ditch my Scottish pretensions that as Usborne wasn’t a munro (3,000 feet or more, to the uninitiated), it should properly be called a wee hill.  The wind was awesome, the temperature bore no comparison to the summer’s day we had left behind, and the sky was heavily overcast.  But as I took the time to survey the panoramic landscape, thrilling at the sight of Mount Sussex caught in a sunbeam far below, and privately wondering why everyone was so excited about seeing the Black Tarn, I caught the excitement of the event, momentarily, in between trying to ensure the wind didn’t blow me off the northern edge. 

The climb was so tough that I don’t regret leaving my camera below – it would only have been one more thing (for Dennis) to carry – but now if anyone shows me photos taken at the top of Mount Usborne, I can smugly say ‘I recognise that’, quietly omitting from my tale of how I conquered the mountain (don’t you love fairy tales?) the assistance, bullying and encouragement provided by Dennis, Jo, and Sue and Bruce respectively.  The views were marvellous, the sense of achievement and comradeship palpable, and my gratitude is with the gazelles for putting up with me.

One small postscript.  A few days before the Ramblers’ trip to Mount Usborne, I had been highly amused by an acquaintance’s autobiographical story of how he had undertaken a gruelling marathon gym challenge, against the advice of the gym staff.  He had a wonderful sense of achievement when he completed the challenge in the time allotted, against all expectations, but to his consternation on the following day found that he couldn’t move.  On Monday morning, when my aching limbs refused my instruction to get out of bed in protest at their unaccustomed exercise on the previous day, I thought ruefully of that story.  By Tuesday evening, when I was still walking with a noticeable limp, I vowed never to laugh at the misfortunes of others again.  So woe betide any reader who has laughed at my endeavours.  What goes around, comes around, as they say.

Alison's current ambition (having spent the past few years increasing her fitness levels) is to persuade couch-potato husband Jason to climb Mount Usborne with her 

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