Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson’s Uncle Elton came over with Benson’s cousin Elmer. “I’m taking Elmer climbing up on Black Mountain,” he said. “I thought Benson might like to come along too.”
“Mountain climbing?” Benson said. He wasn’t too sure about mountain climbing. Walking was fine, digging was great, but climbing up a steep mountainside wasn’t so good for a solid young wombat.
“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve been up and down it hundreds of times. It’s not really a mountain, more like a tall hill.”
Benson’s mother said, “I’ve heard it can be quite a difficult climb.”
Uncle Elton said, “We’ll only go up halfway, just the easy part, then we’ll stop and have some lunch and come down again. Elmer’s really excited, aren’t you, Elmer?”
Elmer nodded enthusiastically. “It’ll be great. Dad says we might see an eagle’s nest!”
Benson liked the idea of lunch. It was starting to sound as if it could be fun.
His mother still looked worried. “Are you sure it will be safe?” she said.
“Yes, of course!” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve got all sorts of ropes, all the safety equipment you need for climbing. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.”
Benson made his favourite lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches and his mother helped him pack his backpack with oranges and nuts in case he needed a snack. He got his hat and his water-bottle and they set out.
It was a long way to Black Mountain. They went through a deep gully and then up a hill and along the top of the ridge. After a while Benson said, “I think I’ve got a blister.”
Uncle Elton said, “Oh, have you?” and kept walking.
Benson sat down and got a band-aid out of his backpack and put it over the blister. It felt much better.
They kept going along a narrow track through thick bush, until they came to the bottom of the mountain. “Here we are!” Uncle Elton said. “Are we all ready?”
It was then that Benson looked in his backpack and made a terrible discovery. “I’ve left my lunch at home!” he said.
“That’s a shame,” said Uncle Elton. “I’m sorry but Elmer and I have only got enough for ourselves.”
The thought of climbing up a mountain and there being no lunch when they got there didn’t make Benson feel happy.
He had an idea. Along the way they had passed a plum tree covered in fruit. He went back and filled up his backpack with plums and some wild spinach he found growing nearby.
He went back to where Uncle Elton and Elmer were waiting. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said.
Uncle Elton tied a strong climbing rope around himself, then he tied it to Elmer and to Benson. There were special clips that the rope passed through, so they were all joined together safely. “Off we go!” said Uncle Elton.
Climbing was hard. They went up and up, over sharp rocks and slippery stones. Elmer was a good climber, but Benson was heavier and slower. After a while he got very hot, and he was glad he had his water-bottle. After a lot of climbing, when Benson’s feet were sore and his legs were tired, Uncle Elton said, “Here we are!”
They were on a flat part covered with grass halfway up the mountain. The view was amazing.
They sat down and ate their lunch, looking out over all the trees. Benson ate his plums and his spinach, and shared his oranges and nuts.
When all the lunch was gone, Uncle Elton said, “Who wants to keep going up to the top?”
Benson looked up. The next part of the mountain was very steep and rough.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I think I’ll just stay here.”
Uncle Elton said, “Come on, it’s not that far! You’ve made it this far, the next bit will be easy. Think of how good it will feel, knowing that you’ve made it all the way to the top.”
Benson wasn’t so sure.
Uncle Elton said, “Elmer’s coming, aren’t you, Elmer?”
Elmer nodded. If his father said it was easy, he was sure it would be.
Benson didn’t want to be the only one staying behind if Elmer was going. “Okay,” he said.
“Good boy!” Uncle Elton said. “You and Elmer go ahead, and I’ll follow behind, in case either of you needs a hand.”
Elmer said, “Dad, there’s a knot in my rope and it’s digging into me.”
Uncle Elton took the rope off Elmer and tried to untie the knot but it was too hard. “We don’t really need ropes for this bit anyway,” he said. “It’s not that far. We’ll be fine so long as we’re careful.”
He got all the ropes and stuck them in his backpack. “Right, let’s go!” he said.
Elmer started climbing first, and Benson followed. It was much steeper and slipperier, and Benson had to stop all the time and get his breath.
Then Elmer yelled, “I think I can see the eagle’s nest!” He started climbing over towards it.
Uncle Elton said, “That’s great, son! Be careful now, the mother eagle might be still around.”
Benson kept going, but the next rock he put his foot on was loose. It came out and his foot slipped. He could feel himself starting to fall.
“Help! Help!” he yelled.
“Hang on! I’m coming!” Uncle Elton shouted.
Just then Elmer lost his hold and started to slip. “Dad! Dad!” he yelled. “Help me!”
Uncle Elton was halfway between Benson and Elmer. He couldn’t help them both.
“Dad! Help me!” cried Elmer. Uncle Elton went towards Elmer and grabbed him.
Benson couldn’t hold on. He slithered down the mountainside. His feet scratched wildly at the rocks but they couldn’t get any grip. He fell down, and down.
Then he felt warm, strong arms around him. A voice in his ear said, “I’ve got you!”
He opened his eyes and he was looking into his mother’s face.
“It’s all right, you’re safe now,” she said.
Benson clung onto her with all his arms and legs. “I was falling,” he said. “I couldn’t hold on.”
“I know,” she said. “It’s all right now. You did your best but the rocks are loose and slippery.”
They climbed slowly down the mountain to the grassy patch. Benson’s mother stayed beside him and helped him every step of the way.
Uncle Elton helped Elmer down, and they all sat down on the grassy patch together.
“I’m sorry, Benson,” he said. “I couldn’t get over to you fast enough. I had to help Elmer.”
“What about the safety equipment?” Benson’s mother said.
Uncle Elton hung his head. “I thought we could do without it.” He looked up and when he saw the look Benson’s mother was giving him, he looked down again quickly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have known better.”
Benson said to his mother, “How did you come to be there, just when I needed you?”
His mother said, “I was worried, so I followed you. I was just behind you the whole way.”
“The whole way?” Benson asked.
“The whole way,” she nodded.
“When I got the blister?” he asked.
“Mmm-hmm,” she nodded.
“When I didn’t have my lunch?” he asked.
“I was there too,” she said.
Benson thought. He said, “I don’t suppose you brought my lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches, did you?”
His mother smiled. “Actually, I did,” she said.
And they all sat on the grass on the side of the mountain, sharing the sandwiches and feeling how wonderful it was to be there.