• Ness Hinneberg

Mt Magdala - 1712m: Her Majesty, Her Grace

The old adage goes: "What's in a name?" Someone, or something, is so much more than its moniker. Yet for me, simply hearing Magdala's name suggested to me that she was something to behold.

From an early age I have experienced synaesthesia, the trait in which typically disconnected senses merge and provide often inexplicable sensations. It's a fun thing to be subjected to, and for me there isn't a hard and fast rule of what stimulates it. Often names don't do much to trigger a synaesthetic reaction, but Magdala was distinctly different: since the first time I heard and saw the word, I felt - and still feel - a warm, sweet-smelling, swirling purple glow pervade my senses. Oddly, it's the same feeling I get when I hear the word "grace," or see the word "beauty."

Friends and colleagues backed up this initial impression, with one claiming that her favourite sunset was from Mt Magdala. She spoke of the mountain with such reverence that I knew I had to visit this place. And when finally I had the chance, all of what I'd heard and felt was vindicated.

Magdala's "gorge-ous" summit bypass walk is one of my favourite places

Magdala is, in a single word, majestic. She has this regal, elegant presence about her, standing tall and broad and proud, yet welcoming, gentle, and graceful, almost maternal. She reaches out to embrace you, to make you feel safe and at home in her incredible part of the world.

Approaching Magdala from the south is my favourite way to embark on a visit to this incredible place. Starting in the King Billy area, the walk to this gorgeous mountain is along a stretch of single track that is flanked on one side by a drop down to a deep valley, looking back over at Mt Buller. Some of the most impressive weather systems I've ever seen I've watched develop from vantage points along this stretch of track.

On the other side of the trail we are welcomed by pristine native bushland. In the summer, this is accentuated by a guard of honour made up of vast stretches of wildflowers - purple, orange, white, pink.

Fields of flowers in full bloom along the track to Magdala in December

Throughout almost this entire stretch of track we see Magdala standing tall in the foreground, growing larger and closer with each step we take. But she doesn't loom overbearingly, threateningly, menacingly. She's a pillar of elegance, a picture of beauty, a beacon of welcome. She wants you to come and visit, to share in her majesty.

As you approach her, she offers you a choice: do you wish to ascend to the summit, or do you wish to wander below, within her embrace?

And an embrace it is: the base of Magdala's summit opens up into a crescent-shaped gorge, which steals your breath and captures your imagination. It's a breathtaking sight, and an even more captivating walk. This stretch of trail is always one of my absolute favourites, and is one that I love to do in near silence, to best experience what it is that this magnificent mountain is offering us.

There was this one time, though, that I couldn't help but be awe-struck, where I wanted to express my joy in words but only unintelligible exclamations could be mustered. It was just on dusk, the sun setting behind us as we embarked on the gorge walk. Never before, and not ever since, have I experienced golden light like what we were bathed in that evening. I had to stop on many occasions, in spite of my rational mind telling me to press on to make camp before the dark, because what I was witnessing was beyond any beauty I'd ever experienced. In that moment, my synaesthete's brain was in overdrive, with the visual pictures my eyes were receiving evoking internalised sounds and feelings beyond the sights I witnessed. In that moment, the mountain was singing softly to me, gently immersing me in a warm bath of rose-scented water. It was, in a word, love. This sunset looked like what love feels like. I've not seen anything so mesmerising, neither before nor since.

These colours evoke many emotions, but one in particular stands out: love

And that's if you take the gorge walk. If you choose the summit, Magdala shows you something else entirely. As you walk up to the summit, all becomes quiet, but if you listen you can hear her guiding you. She encourages you to witness heaven, despite it being deemed hell by many others. See, this is the beginning of the territory that inspired John Marsden to write "Tomorrow When The War Began," and it’s understandable when you learn that the areas around Magdala are named for the fiery pits of never: Hell's Window is just off Magdala's summit; Hellfire Creek runs just below her; the Devil's Staircase is only just to the north, where you'll also find the Terrible Hollow, Horrible Gap, and other seemingly off-putting, fear-invoking places. And the rocky face of Magdala can come across as harsh and intimidating.

The rock formations on Magdala's summit frame the backcountry beautifully

But there's an aura that Magdala exudes that doesn't make you feel like you're standing on the edge of the abyss; she paints the picture to be more celestial. The expanse of wilderness you see from the summit is indeed absolute, but it's not terrifying; it's humbling. And she shows it to you with what feels like a Mona Lisa smile and a gentle gesticulation of her hands. She wants to share this world with you, and you feel safe and honoured to accept her offer.

Mandy bathing in the gold glow of twilight at the beginning of the gorge traverse

Magdala is the queen of the backcountry, but her majesty is benevolent, not tyrannical. She is a pinnacle of elegance and grace, the embodiment of warm femininity in the mountains. She may be the gateway to a place deemed hellish by many, but she wants to show you something heavenly. And if you accept her invitation, she most certainty will.

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