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Pualaar Miiaal

May 8, 2011

Many years ago a friend and I were camping in the Southwest of Australia. We were there to climb a mountain that we as hikers had set our sights on for many years. We were fit to climb it for a long time, but our schedules never synced up to allow us to both make the trip at the same time – finally we had reached that moment.

The first day we were there, we attempted to climb a second, smaller mountain. Halfway up, I told my climbing partner that I was too fatigued, and that the sun was setting – and that I wasn’t confident I’d be strong enough to make it down without having an accident (the path up was all pure scree. We argued a bit, but after I said to him something like “Buddy, we came here to defeat one mountain only – and that’s the one we’re climbing tomorrow – that’s the only thing I have to prove”. After that, my partner saw sense, and we went back down the path, watching the sun’s dying rays as we neared the base of the mountain. At the bottom, my friend apologised, and said he realised that the “buddy system” meant that you should defer to the weakest person in the group, for the sake of safety.

That night at the campsite, we tossed and turned in our tent, anticipating the big climb the following day. My dreams were surreally realistic, and at times I’d wake up wondering where I was, because the dreams seemed so real. Then I had a dream where I saw myself, walking along a path. I instinctively knew it was the mountain we were to climb. Along the path, I saw a small wooden footbridge, which bridged the gap caused by an eroded/collapsed part of the path. Then I saw myself walk onto the bridge, lose my footing, and plummet down the sheer 600 meter or so drop to my death.

The next morning I woke up feeling a bit hazy and uncomfortable. We drove to the mountain in question, and as we turned down the road to the base of the climb, I felt this huge weighty feeling of DREAD sink into my guts. At the time I remember thinking “this is what people who say they KNEW a plane was going to crash – and then it did” felt before they cancelled their flight. I was most unhappy. But I had to climb this mountain. We’d made a pact, after all.

We started climbing. The day was hot, and dry, but just as I’d read in the tourist brochures, conditions on the mountain were schizophrenic at best. Even though I felt way too hot in the two layers of clothing I was wearing, we’d reach a little bit higher, and the sun would dive behind the clouds, and the temperature would instantly drop by ten degrees (celsius), to the point that the sweat that had just been cooling you turned into an icy blanket.

The whole way up my friend was chipper and excited – FINALLY we were climbing the mountain of our dreams. Myself? I was maudlin and morbid, extremely cautious with my footing (many sheer drops), and dreading the moment that I might fall to my death. Then we climbed a particularly steep bit of the trail, and I saw it. Up ahead was a small wooden bridge, EXACTLY as it had appeared in my dreams the night before.

A shard of fear tore through every fiber in my body, but I stubbornly refused to listen to it. I summoned up all the courage I could, thought about all the things that mean something to me, and strode carefully, but purposefully over the bridge.

I didn’t fall.

A funny thing happened at that point. As we pressed on to the summit, I began playing the events of the past 24 hours over in my head, and realising that I -had- a place on this planet, that there -were- things that life was worth living for. I shrugged it off, and carefully made my way to the summit.

The view was absolutely stunning. A sheer, 1KM drop at the cliff face, and we could -just- see our car in the carpark, looking like a toy or a model in a tilt-shift photograph.

Then it was eventually time to go back down. This is where it gets interesting. From the moment we set off, I began quietly talking to myself, to the mountain, encouraging myself, and convincing myself that I would NOT let this mountain defeat me, that I had things to do in life, and that if the mountain tried to take me, I would fight it tooth and nail. Meanwhile, my friend, having succeeded in his entire purpose of the journey – to get to the top – started reflecting on how underwhelmed he was, and how depressing it was that it was over now.

This went on for both of us for a while, until by the time we reached the little wooden bridge, I had a second wind of energy from nowhere, and my friend was almost literally depressed. He literally said that he didn’t know if he wanted to go on. (I’m not making this shit up). Images of him hurling himself off of the mountain flashed into my head, and I grabbed him by the shirt and said something to the effect of “Pull yourself together man. You’ve not climbed a mountain until you’ve COME BACK DOWN”. He was miserable, but seemed to agree, and we powered on down to the bottom of the mountain.

When we reached the bottom, we both lay down on benches placed their by the park rangers for weary hikers to rest on. Myself? I was ELECTRIFIED, FILLED with the joy of life. Flowers took on a new colour for me – indeed, for the first time I started noticing how incredibly diverse and beautiful the wildflowers around the base of the mountain were. My friend, meanwhile, lay on his bench, staring up into the sky, depressed, and wondering whether it was all worth it.

That night my dreams were ecstatic, and colourful, and I was flying over mountain ranges with giant elephants with wings. I kept waking up and thinking I was still dreaming. To this day I’m not even sure I wasn’t.

The mountain in question, in Aboriginal lore, is known as “Pualaar Miiaal” – or “Many Eyes”/”Many Faced Hill”. The legend is that the mountain is occasionally posessed by an evil Spirit of the dead known as “Noatch”, who is fickle, and will change his temprament at the drop of a hat, enshrouding the mountain with fog or snow. It’s well known that hikers can be climbing it on a sunny day, when suddenly a freak fog descends upon it, or hikers get hit by a freak snowstorm. Indeed, over the years, at least eight people have fallen to their deaths from the mountain.

All I know is, in my mind, on that day? That mountain spared me. I won’t ever climb it again.

– Posted by bacontacular; Reddit

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