Mt Baw Baw, finding the one

You might recall an innocuous line in a previous post that went something like this, “With my temp gauge proudly hanging in a tree, it does little to comfort us that the day is indeed warming, stubbornly staying below the 5C mark.” if not you can read it here Mt Baw Baw snow, look don’t touch.

Well that one line set up a year’s expedition to recover a little piece of plastic that had far more sentimental value that it could ever have monetary value, let me explain.

At the conclusion of our first and very successful snow camp at Mt Baw Baw, I inadvertently forgot to collect my temp gauge out of the tree and didn’t realise this oversight until we were off the mountain and unpacking in the days following.

The temp gauge itself is nothing to write home about, a moulded piece of plastic with a gauge in it hung off a key ring. The thing is I bought it at L L Bean, one of the biggest and best known of the outdoor retailers in the United States based in Freeport, Maine. We had made a last minute dash to experience it before we headed back to Connecticut, ending a great Fall vacation while living in America in the early noughties.

LL Bean has this amazing following and for good reason, they make great gear. Freeport is their flagship store, so for an Aussie this is outdoor heaven. We have nothing comparable to the floor on floor on floor of outdoor gear, all the brands in the flesh, you can see, touch, feel and try them. None of the visualising from a little picture on your screen although  you can do that to at as well.

Not really knowing what to buy and with time running out, I grabbed a temp gauge with LL Bean up the side and happy with my purchase, exited the store to make the journey home. I didn’t think any more of it only that it would be great on my pack and given it was not battery operated it would be low maintenance and work when I needed it. It was a memento of my LL Bean experience. That was 2004.

Image result for ll bean freeport
LL Bean’s flagship store – Freeport Maine, USA
Inside LL Bean, a hikers heaven
My LL Bean temp gauge on an earlier trip (Mt Feathertop)

It’s hung on my pack through all the hikes I’ve done until July of 2015 (~ 11 years), when we became parted.

The moment it dawned on me it was  missing I called the ranger at Mt St Gwinear, hopeful it might have been found and I could be reunited with my gauge. My hopes were dashed when the ranger finding the call all a little strange, left me in freefall with the news that no one had found or handed it in. For the next few weeks I called another three times, but alas it would seem my little gauge would now need to live its own life independent of me. Oh how would it survive the bitter winter, night after night of howling wind, ferocious weather, pummelling snow and beating rain. For sure it’s little key ring would rust away and it too would become part of the “great lost” of outdoor equipment orphaned from its owner.

The following month, I planned to be back on the mountain showing off my cross country ski skills with my daughter Maddison, who for no training is pretty good. Warmth filled my heart that I would have the opportunity to ask the ranger in person, if not travel to the site and search for it myself.

The ranger on duty was attentive, if not a bit mystified, this wasn’t exactly a missing person case and to my disappointment no one had seen or heard of my lost temp gauge.

My cross country skiing skills turned out to be far worse than I gave myself credit for. I spent most of my time keeping my backside off the ground, as the skis went out from under me and I performed a wonderful gymnastic move; ski’s flat, knees bent, bum dragging with arms flailing fruitlessly trying to stop the inevitable and ungraceful crash that was in motion.

Maddison doing a better job of country than me!

Needless to say we didn’t get anywhere near the camp site, so close but so far. This rescue mission was a bust. With no opportunity to regroup and make a second attempt any time soon, my little temp gauge was going to have to tough it out for the remainder of winter and into the summer on it’s own. If it had not already succumb to the elements.

Separated and aggrieved the weather would have its way. I bid adieu to my gauge and started the journey of finding one that would accompany me on future adventures. But they were few and far between and none had the simple elegance of my LL Bean gauge, simple and refined without being garish. After many months searching the great expanse of the internet, I was still single and out of ideas. Even my local outdoors store didn’t have a simple gauge. It would seem simplicity had been replaced with functionality and its bedfellow complexity. Batteries, buttons, menus! Argh! I just want to know the temp, when I have thick gloves on, when I’m lying wrapped in my sleeping bag, when I’m walking up hills poles in hand, is that too much to ask?

Claire and I were about to embark on our highest hike yet, an overnight in summer on the main range of Mt Kosciusko and still no gauge. At the local Ranger / Information station in Jindabyne we sorted out our permits and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a key ring temp gauge. It wasn’t as sleek with the subtle curves and flat look of my LL Bean, now long gone, but the best I had seen in months. This would be the one that accompanied me on this trip.

My Thredbo gauge traveled with us for all our trips, but every time I saw it, there was a longing for my LL Bean one (by the way I could not find a replacement LL Bean version on line, if you are wondering and it all seemed a bit much to call them). It held memories of hikes with my daughter Claire, it reminded me of the great times we had on the Fall Vacation, exploring Killington, Franconia’s Notch, Cannon ball and who could forget the cog railway up Mt Washington.

Bordering on a year I was still missing my temp gauge and hope against hope wondered whether it could ever be found. With the snow season encroaching this would be the last chance before the mountain became impassable on foot.

On the path to rescue
At the junction with Australian Alps Walking Track
Tracking the gauge, it went this way…

We made one last attempt to find it, walking back to the spot we pitched the tent. Now within meters of the site, my body full of anticipation and apprehension rising, built up over a year of unknowing we rounded the final bend.  The thick snow gums parting like a curtain into the sheltered little spot we had called home for a night. It looked nothing like the snow covered landscaped we had experienced, even the shapes of the rocks were unfamiliar and it was a long shot believing that it was still there. Thinking back to what it looked like in the snow this had to be the place, wanting to be certain we walked to the saddle, this was the clearing for sure.

Mt St Phillack Saddle
Located the winter camp site

We searched the ground, but the thick bushy scrub made it hard going, the gauge could be anywhere. Scouring the ground there was no sign of it, it could have been found and taken as a curiosity, swept away in the snow melt and or sunk deep into the marshy surface of spring.

Tough going searching the scrub

I wracked my brain to think of the final movements at camp, when at last I recalled having hung it in a tree, could it still be there? Our focus turned to the two closest snow gums but there was no sign of it within an arm’s length, my mind turned to accepting that it had gone and my hope with it, when there above was a glint, just a fleck, a glimmer in the rays of the sun. Following up the smooth bark of the snow gum like looking at a painting from bottom to top, there way above my head and out of my reach, was my weather beaten LL Bean gauge, with a somewhat rustier key ring then last time I saw it.

There it is – 3/4 of the way up the tree (centre)

Elated and bewildered, I was shocked how high in the tree it was, which just gave gravity to how deep the snow had been on our overnight adventure, given I had placed the gauge at eye level.

Jumping up I couldn’t reach it, not even with a running start so there was nothing left to do but climb the tree if I was to be reunited with my gauge.

Coming eye to eye with it I could see clearly the beating it had taken over the remainder of winter and through the summer, moss had started to call it home and the key ring had rusted itself together. But true to form it still accurately told the temperature.

Bruised and battered but saflet back on my pack

On the walk down I wondered on all the amazing experiences it had been a part of and thought how incredible would be it if it had had the ability to record them, oh the stories it could tell if it could speak!

Feeling artistic
Starting to ice up

Jesus, speaking with his disciples is interrupted by the religious people of the day complaining that he spends  his time and has dinner with sinners, something frowned upon within the social order of the day. In typical Jesus style he doesn’t defend or get angry instead he shares a story about lost sheep.

Let’s say a farmer has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Don’t they leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the one lost sheep until found? And when it is found, surely the sheep is picked up, any injuries tended to and joined back to the flock. Then the farmer calls the neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Jesus tell us that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one lost person who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

I’m always taken by how Jesus cares for us so personally. My gauge, is it just a piece of plastic. If it holds that much value that I would go searching for it,  Imagine how much more value we hold to God who searches us out? Ask him where he is for you.

Proudly back in pride of place on my pack, my weathered gauge has traveled with me through Wilson’s Prom, Cathedral Range and over the Crosscut Saw, but never been unclipped from my pack again!


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