The Friendship of the Campground

Our regular guest blogger, Chelsea Brunckhorst, tells a story about routines, camping and what it means to really know someone.

As a creature of habit, I once had a favoured campsite at Stapylton. It was at the ‘fuel-stove-only’ end – the second spot on the left as you drive in – tucked amongst thryptomene bushes.

A familiar sight for many climbers, dusk at Stapylton campground. Chelsea Brunckhorst

Every Grampians weekend our beast of a car would chug noisily into the campground and my husband (climbing partner) would say, ‘Same spot?’

I used to work an 8am–4pm job, so we were always among the first to arrive at Stapylton. If we were unlucky, strange people we didn’t know would camp in the spot opposite, which shares the nearby picnic table. If we were extremely unlucky, these ass-hats wouldn’t bother walking the 15m to the toilet, and instead I would wake to the tinkling sound of them peeing on our bushes. But if we were lucky, two climbers who often camped next to us would turn up, and on the Saturday night, after our separate days out, we would cook our separate dinners on the shared table, spin a yarn, and go to sleep.

Aside from the actual climbing, one of my favourite aspects of the pastime is the people you meet. And one of the things I love about climbers – from all over the world – is their universal ability to talk shit. With these two particular climbers, I have only vague recollections of what we talked about. In fact, I am certain only of two topics: the fabled currawong subspecies said to be lurking in the Grampians, and a massive argument about dogs.

We never once arranged to meet these two. But cold nights broken by the rushing pitch of our fuel stoves, our wandering minds, our tired bodies, the benign moonlight – these became the things, beyond the touch of perfect sandstone and blue-sky winter days that I came to look forward to every weekend.

As you’ve probably guessed, one of these people died. I think it was more than a year before I camped at Stapylton proper again. The other week, as we pulled into the familiar darkness on a damp Friday night, neither my partner nor I felt like camping in our ‘usual’ site.

The oddest thing is that when a workmate (a nonclimber) asked me how old this climber was, I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t know. She asked if he had family. I had no idea. It made me realise how little I actually knew about him, despite spending what I thought were many headtorch-lit nights munching pasta opposite him. I started to think that perhaps we hadn’t actually shared much at all, apart from that picnic table. Perhaps I didn’t have any right to miss him.

But there is an unsaid connection between many climbers – beyond that of a taut rope, or a close spot. It is a mutual understanding and a shared love for something else – a compelling call that keeps us returning to the Grampians, time and again.
Chelsea Brunckhorst

2 thoughts on “The Friendship of the Campground

  1. Passerby

    There’s no need to question whether you have any right to miss this person. Those are your feelings and those are your experiences!

    Perhaps the questions asked by your work colleague indicate a shallow understanding of what is important in a friendship and in life. Reciting someone’s age and marital status is not a true indicator of understanding someone. You could find those on the internet. It is not what embodies a person. Wouldn’t you agree?

    The gauge of a friendship is, perhaps, subtler. I would hazard a guess that you’ve already begun to know him beyond mere question and answer. If you think back, you already know what he eats for dinner, how he prepares his food, what he likes to wear and where he preferred to set up his tent. You know what engages his curiosity, what makes him laugh, what fires him up, you’ve seen how he reacts, you’ve listened to his speech patterns, his hand gestures when he talks. You could spot him in the distance by his climbing style. He had distinct nuances to his warm up rituals and idiosyncratic phrases in his daily conversations. His politics, his opinions – outrageous! There’s more to this fella than what he’s willing to divulge. You know that blunt questions would not have yielded answers, unless of course, he saw that it meant a lot to you.

    And if he were to walk past you in that campground again on a moonless night, you would recognise his gait, his posture, his physique.

    Isn’t that the hallmark of knowing someone?


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