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The Road Back

Charles W. McCormick ’24 on the bank of Blue Lake in Australia’s Snowy Mountains.
Charles W. McCormick ’24 on the bank of Blue Lake in Australia’s Snowy Mountains. By Nicholas C. Ige
By Charles W. McCormick, Crimson Staff Writer

“Glory before death, adventure before all.” —Nicholas C. Ige ’25

In need of questions answered, Nick and I approached a lone photographer who sat perched overlooking a trail down to Blue Lake’s edge. A small, untouched oasis nestled within the mountains, and one of just four glacial lakes in continental Australia, Blue Lake certainly commands the gaze of every camera lens in its vicinity. But while the main trail was well populated, Nick and I had ventured far off on an obscure side path — two specks just as secluded among the grassy peaks as Blue Lake itself, joined by another hiker for the first time in some miles.

“Can we swim in that?” Nick asked, pointing across the alpine vista to the turquoise waters. The photographer squinted back, clearly off-put by such a juvenile question.

“You’d be crazy, it’s freezing in there.”

“But we’re allowed to swim in it,” Nick persisted. “Right?”

“You’d be crazy.”

Crazy, but most certainly refreshed. After summiting Mount Kosciuszko and trekking for another 15 miles through the Snowies — the county’s tallest mountain range — the photographer’s endorsement of sanity felt like a worthy price to pay for the freezing embrace of Blue Lake.

Luck, Nick taught me as we ambled down to the water, is actually just the confluence of “opportunity and preparedness.” The opportunity of Blue Lake appeared and Nick and I were prepared (read: crazy enough) to take advantage of it. We were lucky.

And I can assure you, Mr. Photographer, that Nick Ige is indeed crazy and the water was indeed frigid. But as we splashed about, serenaded by the bleats of mountain goats and kissed by the high-altitude breeze, I could not have felt a purer bliss in the entire world.

* * *

Nick and Charlie at the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.
Nick and Charlie at the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. By Nicholas C. Ige

“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, / Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.… Core of my heart, my country! Land of the rainbow gold, / For flood and fire and famine she pays us back threefold.” —Dorothea McKellar, “My Country”

In some respects, climbing the tallest mountain in Australia was only a footnote of my time with Nick.

After meeting in Sydney with a giant bear hug on Jan. 5, we immediately hit the road west and inland for Thredbo — a ski town at the base of Mount Kosciuszko. One night of merriment with the off-season lifties later and we awoke from a sound night of slumber in our Suzuki rental to commence the hike, which we finished before sunset. Within 36 hours of linking with one another, we had successfully traversed the Main Range loop — the most circuitous route one could take to reach the summit of Kosciuszko — and checked a second mountain off Nick’s list. 2/7 peaks done.

I can summarize the rest of our itinerary quite briefly for you: Nick and I left Thredbo that night, heading south until we reached the ocean. For the next week, we weaved our way along the coast heading back east toward Sydney, stopping to surf, drink, and surf a little more in every hole-in-the-wall town we could find — Corryong, Orbost, Eden, Wollongong. After a few final days sampling the delights of the big city, Nick and I parted ways at Sydney Airport. Two weeks later, we were back on Harvard’s campus. The broad strokes almost blur together.

But the schedule, quite frankly, was the least important part. For two people that never seem to stop dealing with schedules — attending classes, labs, practices, and dinners as part of a tightly operated, life-or-death routine — keeping track of time or place was impressively unimportant to us. How, then, can I even go about describing the trip?

Unlike the last two articles, I have no interview to work with — just field notes, photos, and sweet reminiscence. But our travels can only really be recounted as they were at the start of this article, anyway: in vignettes of ineffable joy and sublime tranquility, serendipitous encounters and absurd conversation. To tell you about Nick, Australia, and the mountains demanding our ascent, I think it best to sketch a few scenes.

* * *

Nick after a dip in Bermagui’s Blue Pool.
Nick after a dip in Bermagui’s Blue Pool. By Charles W. McCormick

“You have never seen such animals as these who without a sound or a sign carry you off. You race with them across the long familiar ground that in that moment seems so glorious, so charged with beauty, strange.” —Joy Williams, “The Quick and the Dead”

You’ll grasp quite rapidly from this article that Nick has a propensity to submerge himself in any body of water within sight. We are alike in this way, Nick and I.

After celebrating the successful hike with another serene night of sleep in the Suzuki, Nick and I set off the next morning in our fortress of dreams for Lakes Entrance — the first town on our coastal wishlist. Not far into the journey, however, Nick spotted a roadside creek that beckoned us to don swimsuits and adjourn the drive.

Once on the bank it took me slightly more convincing to dive in given the lack of cell service, our distance to civilization, and the unusually high number of venomous species in Australia, many of which are waterborne — 66, to be exact, which doesn’t include non-venomous but still deadly animals. But I also remembered I was accompanied by Nick, who I would bet has a 50/50 shot at winning a fight with a crocodile. Not ideal chances, but not bad enough to stop us from swimming and skipping rocks to our hearts’ content.

A few days later in the town of Bermagui, a barista recommended we investigate the Blue Pool (which, it seems, was named in the same unique convention as Blue Lake) — a swimming pool carved into the town’s coastal cliff face. We weren’t satisfied with a mere afternoon basking with locals, so we returned to Blue Pool the next morning for a polar plunge. I only just dipped in, pacing back and forth for a few seconds while shivering frantically. Nick sat perfectly still for three straight minutes.

He told me once that he prefers journaling in the morning because “you’re influenced” at the end of the day, but not immediately when you wake up. I gather that Nick was practicing a kind of journaling at Blue Pool, expressing gratitude and setting his intention for the day. I learned, watching in silence, that there are times for splashing and times for centering.

* * *

Nick on a beach in Merimbula, a small town on Australia’s Sapphire Coast.
Nick on a beach in Merimbula, a small town on Australia’s Sapphire Coast. By Charles W. McCormick

“They’d be into some more good waves the next morning, but they couldn’t help but think back to the many things they’d already seen and done.” —Bruce Brown, “The Endless Summer”

Beyond streams and pools, Nick and I also found time to enjoy the larger bodies of water around us. Renting surfboards was a finicky process, but we managed, pausing our road trip when the opportunity presented itself. No schedule, no worries.

The people in Australia, and the beachgoers in particular, were remarkably friendly. Even the grumpiest individual we encountered — a water sports shop manager in Merimbula — lit up when we discussed the overlap between Australian and Californian beach cultures. Joy cannot help but bubble to the surface when you catch a whiff of surfboard wax in the air, when you hear the ocean thrumming just on the other side of a sand dune and know that you’ll soon be able to watch the sunlight glitter on a swell like a thousand tiny jewels.

Nick is a far better surfer than I, but this doesn’t matter to him. Surfing, as he told me at a crowded beach in Sydney, is more of a “vibe” or a “mindset” than a skill. It isn’t hard to watch Nick glide across a cresting wave, throwing up a shaka and a smile before gently tumbling into the water, and think to yourself that he does not perfectly epitomize that vibe.

When we first arrived in Bermagui a few days prior, Nick and I popped into a surf shop, already in a giggly mood after walking past a recreational cricket game in the local park and not understanding anything happening. Nick and the owner struck up a conversation, in pleasant agreement about how silly it is for self-proclaimed experts to consider some surfboard types illegitimate.

Listening to their mirthful exchange evoked a similar feeling to the one that touched me in Merimbula — a chimerical longing for tranquility and adrenaline at once. Many times throughout the trip, there came a euphoria for having witnessed nature in action, for having witnessed myself become small. I don’t believe surfers are chasing anything but that feeling.

“It was meant to be fun,” the shop owner concluded with a smile. “Always was.”

—Staff writer Charles W. McCormick ’24 can be reached at His column “Dagger and Book” explores the artistic experience of Nick’s mountain climbing adventure.

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