There’s a wealth of evidence showing that the most meaningful contributor to life satisfaction is strong social bonds. Working on this premise, or simply trying to fit as much walking in as possible with different friends, I found time in my last week of leave to squeeze in a 3 day walk. It was the forth in a row, each separated by only a day or so, and it did seem to be keeping a smile on my face. I had also become as good at cleaning, drying and repacking as I was at ignoring the lawn that needed a serious mowing!
This time the plan was a little more set in stone. I was initially going for a walk with Bec, a fellow paramedic from the north-west. But she had other friends trying to organise a time to get in to Frenchmans Cap and it coincided almost perfectly with our three days. It seemed like the perfect plan to book it in and I’d walk in the day after them and meet them wherever they were.
For once the weather was looking pretty good, which was just as well given we’d chosen our destination well before we knew what it was going to be! I’d have a sunny day, wet day, then a sunny day. The others would have an additional sunny day before I caught up with them. What wasn’t to like about that?
I finished up volunteering, raced off to a tennis meeting that went much later than expected and then drove to the Frenchman’s Cap carpark despite feeling abnormally tired. I arrived safely at 2300, having taken a little extra time to avoid the mass of wildlife. It was the one time I wasn’t all that thrilled to be spotting wombats! I set up a spare mat, sleeping bag and pillow in the back of the car so I could quite literally dress and go in the morning without having to pack anything else up. The stars were out and the night was crisp and cold. I was feeling excited for a big day of walking in the morning.
My bladder woke me in the early hours of the morning, which proved a cold and brief but beautiful venture out under the stars. Then the alarm went off a few hours later and I started walking at 0540ish by head torch. The sun wasn’t due to rise till 0630 so it wasn’t quite light enough to see without the head torch, especially in the forest sections. I settled into a plod, knowing I had quite a long way to go. The birds were singing a soft but sweet morning chorus, as if in an effort to rouse the sun from slumber.
The sun slowly cast enough light that I could see without the head torch and the mountains gradually came into view as I wove through the landscape. It was cold, and the button grass plains were frosted over, the spiderwebs like white fishing line across the track. My fingers and arms were weak and numb, but fortunately they weren’t really needed. In one bit I could see where the fire had been through, round the corner there was most in the valley and then I was in the mist. Gradually it burnt off and the mountains of the range came into view. It was also nice to see the pink climbing heath and the bauera in flower. To the off-track bushwalker bauera doesn’t have much going for it, except that it’s little white flowers make it slightly nicer to look at, but no less of a trip hazard! Looking at the scrub on either side of the track I was most grateful for the clear walking ahead.
I arrived at Vera at about 0945 and feeling a bit peckish I had some oats for breakfast before heading off again just before 1000. I’d stolen some ideas from Charlotte on our last walk, so the oats had dehydrated banana, apricot, sultanas and cranberries with them, as well as dedicated coconut, cinnamon and a bit of peanut butter. Delicious! The walk around the lake then up to Baron Pass was longer and steeper than I had prepared for, even though every time I’ve climbed it I’ve had the same experience. You’d think I’d learn, but no, memories like that seem to fade with time!
I was glad to be on top by 1130, though my legs were pretty knackered. It didn’t take long to move along the ridge to Artichoke valley, although I was stopping now for photos and to just enjoy knowing I had plenty more time than I’d anticipated. The reason I’d been moving fast was because I wanted to climb Pine Knob on the way in to Tahune. It was the last mountain in the range that I had yet to climb and it was achievable to do on the way in while the weather was good.
I had some lunch, sent a message or two to let people know I was fine and then did a wonderful job of making the walk over the bumpy ridge to the summit a lot harder than it needed to be. This was largely due to my innate tendency to climb up and over things instead of sidling around them. There was a pad but it wasn’t always the easiest to follow as it was overgrown in spots and gave multiple options in others. I always chose to go high, which worked a bit, but at least twice had me climbing up two steep knobs and then sliding/falling down steep and scratchy scrub on the far side. Coming back it looked like you could actually climb up the rock, but when you were standing on top looking down it hadn’t been so clear and I was hesitant to get part way down the rock and come to a dead end. The scrub had definitely been the safer option, but sidling to the west on the return was even better. I was kicking myself for not bringing scrub gloves though. All my recent scrub had been through everything but scoparia and I’d forgotten how prickly it can be on hands when it’s close enough that you have no choice but to grab on to it. Fortunately it didn’t persist too much past the first knob, just enough to have me wincing a few times!
It was early afternoon by now and the sun was warm. I’d not taken any water with me and was paying for the extra effort of my average route selection with a parched mouth. I started to look around for water and just before the final climb to the summit came across a whole heap of yabbie holes brimming with clear water. There was nothing to do but lie down and press my face into the ground and suck up as much water as I could. It was clean and deliciously cold, but I resolved to add a yabbie tube to my emergency kit so I wouldn’t have to face plant in the future!
The final ascent was nice and easy, and the view back towards the range was lovely. You could see why it was called Pine Knob, there were a lot of great big dead stags along the undulating ridge. Unfortunately I only came across a few little King Billy pines that were still alive. I took a fair bit of time on top and then was surprised to hear the voices of Bec and her friends from the summit of Frenchman’s. I could even see them! It was a cool little moment of connection, even if they were oblivious of me. The hut was visible too, as was a fire out at the King William lookout on the Lyell Highway, which I hoped was a planned burn off. Eventually I started to head back, shaving at least half an hour off the time it had taken me to get there by sidling round two of the larger knobs!
It didn’t take long to walk the last bit of track down to the new hut at Tahune, which is incredibly glamorous and a bit too warm (it even has a heated towel rack??!)! The warmth was nice after a very cold and brief dip in the lake, but quite uncomfortable in the middle of the night. You can’t adjust the heating as it’s run on solar and seems to be preset. So while I had the chance to sleep in ‘Gentleman Jack’s bed’ (named after Jack Thwaites) it wasn’t the nicest of nights and next time I’ll definitely be renting, even if it means packing up in the wet. The evening was otherwise a pleasurable one spent meeting new people, eating, sharing stories and lots of laughter. And we had the space all to ourselves!
The following morning three of our party were walking the whole way out, while two others and I had an extra day so we figured we’d stay an extra night at Vera. Three hours of walking in the rain was enough to enjoy the mist swirling around the mountains and the beauty of an old rainforest in the wet and it was nice to be able to get warm and dry and then have lunch knowing we weren’t going back out that day. We spent the afternoon chatting, reading, napping and eating more than we needed to. It was another of those times where you relax much more than you would have if you were home simply because there wasn’t anything else you could do. And it was just perfect. Later than night another group arrived, and even with 8 in the hut we had a better nights sleep, courtesy of the temperature being only 5 degrees!
It was a busy affair with all of us getting ready the next morning but kind of nice and communal too. The blue sky and sun was back, though it had been a clear night so things were frosty and cold again. It took a little to warm up but once we got there we settled into a steady plod, which we held all the way back to the car. We chatted about all manner of things, many the kind you only talk about with people you know really well. I don’t know if it was the place, the fact we were all paramedics or just because we were us, but it was comfortable and enlightening.
We passed three groups of three and one solo walker on the way in, and were glad we’d been in when we had! We made it to the Hungry Wombat by 2 for a yummy burger for lunch, which all made us feel like we then needed an afternoon nap. No such luck, we still had to get back to Hobart. A rollover on the way back and one incredibly lucky woman certainly made sure I was awake and alert!
Pine Knob side trip: 3.5km, 3:12hrs (all breaks included), 340m ascent.
How one thing leads to something unexpected… It always fascinates me how things somehow just work out and the results can be better than you could have imagined. A sore foot and therefore a desire not to walk much on 3 days we had set aside to do just that lead to a really cool alternative plan that involved paddling on Lake Pedder and revisiting two old friends of mine. As the plan materialised our excitement grew!
Charlotte and I had set aside Friday night to Tuesday morning to go on a walk, wherever the weather was good. Charlotte’s partner, and a work colleague of mine, asked if he could come too. I’m not sure he even needed to ask, there was only ever going to be one answer! The final arrangements fell into place smoothly, with only the small hitch that I could only find one set of kayak cradles for the roof racks. Never mind, we’d figure out a way. It proved as easy as inverting the single kayak and laying it alongside the double in the cradles.
We cruised out to Lake Pedder, putting the boats in the water at the Scotts Peak boat ramp, and paddling into the moderate breeze for a bit over an hour. It was windy enough that Charlotte, who was sitting in the front of the double kept getting fresh water over the bow of the boat every time we smacked down over the larger waves. But her and Kenny’s wetsuit gloves and booties keep the extremities warm even if they were wet so it wasn’t a miserable affair. We had intermittent light showers, but nothing dense enough to steal away the partial view we had of the surrounding mountains.
When we beached on the isthmus to Scotts Peak we set up our tents and had some lunch, sheltering from the latest rain cloud. Charlotte was pretty keen to climb her mountain and I liked that the first walk we were doing together was the first one I’d done in Tassie. Scotts Peak is a brilliant little mountain to climb, one where it’s got to be nearly impossible not to fall in love with the southwest. A small island in the middle of Lake Pedder, on a clear and still day it’s surrounded by blue sky reflected in tannin stained fresh water, with mountains in every direction you look. That was my first experience of Tassie bush.
The weather was slightly different this time around and I was much more experienced as a bushwalker, but still it was lovely to climb to the top with two people who hadn’t been there before. It barely rained on us, and on the way down shafts of sunlight shone through the cloud some distance away, casting white patches on the surface of the lake. The wind whipped up waves in lovely patterns, the clouds were dark and moody. The terrain was much as I remembered it, a mix of low southwest scrub – button grass, boronia, tea tree and melaleuca at the comfortable level of ankle to shin high. The climb was short but steep enough to make you feel it. The rain made it very slippery underfoot, the ground was coated with that clear-muddy goop that often has you slipping back further than you just stepped forward.
Back at the tents we had a surprise visit from a sea eagle, who flew quite low to us, and continued on around the island! It shocked me that one was so far from the coast and it had us all feeling full of awe, I think. When the moment had passed, Charlotte and Kenny got busy preparing a delicious dinner while we had an entree of bikkies and cheese and quince paste. The benefit of kayaking over walking was that you could afford to be luxurious! The main course was couscous with falafels, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, chickpeas, olives, sauerkraut and a few other bits and pieces that I’ve already forgotten. Exotic, no? We shared a dessert of raspberry intense chocolate while we played cards and then called it a night.
The next day we waited for the rain showers to mostly finish before getting back in the kayaks to visit Mount Solitary. I’ve written about this one elsewhere, so won’t repeat myself. It’s just worth noting that the same approach is now almost completely burnt out to the summit, sadly, from the 2018/2019 fires. It makes for a slightly spikier, blacker approach, that’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing. It was nice to see little everlasting daisies starting to regenerate though.
Another gourmet dinner that we nearly didn’t have enough gas for was followed by an evening lying on a tarp, wrapped in our sleeping bags, gazing up at the stars, chatting intermittently. It was one of those evenings that are just right and I had no desire to be anywhere else.
This was a trip of a lot of reflecting, remembering, a little bit of missing, but also a lot of being grateful for what is. It’s interesting that I chose to start my blog post on Solitary with a paragraph on change and what it can bring. It was from 5 years ago, a time still near the beginning of my relationship with Graham, so the changes I was referring to were significantly positive. The changes over the last 6 months (yikes!) have been quite different, but it’s a fitting reminder that change does bring new possibilities. I’m trying hard to be grateful for the amount of time I now spend with friends, some old and some new; the personal changes and developments I’m making; and to be hopeful that somehow, at some point, I’ll look back and be able to identify what the experts call post-traumatic growth. We’ll see…
All up: 2.6km, 1:45hrs, 395m ascent (Just the walking part. Approximately 45-60mins kayaking depending on level and direction of wind!)
School holidays were on, Jess had two weeks off school and seemed keen enough to spend a chunk of precious time with me, in the bush. We were hoping to check out Mounts Braddon, Legge and King in the southwest but the weather was looking horrendous everywhere, especially the further west you went. So we compromised. Another car camping trip where we would go wherever the weather was best!
Our plans were last minute and designed to be adaptable. We set off early on Thursday having settled on climbing Mountain Elephant and Byatts Razorback at only 10pm the night before. We were then set to drive to Cradle Mountain where some of Jess’ colleagues were staying and were happy enough to have us crash with them for two nights. It was ambitious, but the weather was fine, the company perfect and we found a much better route up Mt Elephant than the last time I went, saving 2.5 hours on our expected walk time and avoiding a whole heap of cutting grass! The sun was out, the breeze light, the world was good.
Byatts Razorback shocked us though, as we’d been unaware of the impact of the fires a year or so back and the whole area was burnt out. The only things that weren’t black and dead were a few new shoots on gum trees and the odd weeds growing out of otherwise sterilised ground. The walk, only a few hundred metres to the summit, took longer than in probably should have as we were being a little careful not to slice ourselves open on sharp burnt scrub or otherwise end up completely covered in charcoal. The only bit of green scrub was right near the summit. It was a completely different kind of walk to the first time I’d done it, reminding me of a back drop of an evil scene out of something like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
That night we caught up with Jess’ friends and their kids, arriving right on cue at dinner time! We shared pasta, played board games and had a genuinely fun time in each others company, thanks to their enormous generosity in letting us crash with them!
For day two Jess had the choice between Mount Cattley or Mount Stormont for her 200th peak. She chose the former, which looked like it had a road that might get us to within 2 km of the summit. This wasn’t entirely accurate, however! We turned off the highway and the road quickly became an overgrown tunnel that put new scratches down the sides of the car and cleaned the undercarriage all at the same time. When we got to where it crossed a river we were dismayed to see that the bridge had fallen in. The car wasn’t going any further!
We almost started to walk across a very wet and slippery looking log that reached across to the other side when we realised that we’d been so preoccupied by the collapsed bridge that we hadn’t realised that the scrub on the side was hiding one bit of bridge that still spanned the river and was going to be much safer and less slippery to cross. On the other side the road continued, increasingly overgrown. Celery Top pines were definitely the featured flora on this walk.
We made a mistake part way along when we decided there wasn’t much point being on the road after all, as it was more open off to the side. This was all very well until we got to the end of the open section and then spent a lot of time weaving through scrub only to eventually pop back out onto the road at a section where it was very open and easy walking! We decided we’d be following it back, thank you very much! We continued along it, grateful to be out of the scrub, until it came to its end at a clearing. But that was ok, because the terrain ahead was waist high tea tree and button grass, with the odd bit of bauera.
We headed straight up the short climb to the ridge line and then turned right to head along the top of the narrow ridge. It was a wise choice but was still certainly easier said that done in some spots. It started off open enough that you could weave your way through the scrub, sometimes in under the tree canopy, sometimes wading clear through shin deep bauera. But it seemed the closer we got the worse the ridge became. It started to break up, featuring big rocks with short, stunted, pretty solid trees growing out of the gaps. We wove from side to side in search of better going, but it wasn’t always to be found. After 4-500m of average going we broke back out and had a final ascent up button grass runs to the rocky summit. It had only taken us 3.5 hours to get there!
After some photos, much appreciation of the better than expected view and SUNSHINE(!) and a bite to eat, we set off retracing our steps. It’s fascinating how much easier it seems on the return – must be something about the uncertainty of the unknown that makes the going seem tougher and longer on the ascent. We made good time and even the worst bits didn’t seem too bad. The going was warm and at times the heat radiated up off the scrub and made us feel like we were in a tropical summer!
We got back to the clearing and then had no problems following the road all the way back to the car, arriving 7 hours after setting out. The walk, which is thought would be a few kilometres each way, was over 12! The kookaburras had laughed at our antics on the way back down and I hardly blamed them.
All up: 12.8km, 6:57hrs, 354m ascent
We were hoping Jess’ friends had got out for a walk and enjoyed the views and sunshine in the good weather. They had indeed and had even seen close to 40 wombats! We shared another enjoyable evening chatting and eating a communal dinner, and after the kids had gone to bed we even did some craft as it was one kids 11th birthday the next day and we thought it would be fun to celebrate it. Those birthday celebrations included a breakfast of egg and bacon muffins, a sure upgrade from porridge! And then it came time to head off in our separate directions. They were heading to Derby, while we were heading into the rain of the west coast.
It was forecast to be pretty much 100% rain for days three and four, so we had a walking hiatus and decided instead to visit the Cradle Mountain wilderness gallery and then the Zeehan museum. Our legs and stiff bodies needed a rest in any case! That took all day and even then there was more information that we could process. A suggestion from a friend and a few messages then had accommodation sorted for us at Fraser Creek Hut, a place we’d both heard about but hadn’t been. It’s a short 4km ish walk up a steepish hill around the northern side of Mt Dundas, in some beautiful forest. The hut is maintained by former ranger Terry Reid, who happened to be heading up the same time we were. It was lovely to walk in to a freshly lit fire and have someone give us a tour on how everything worked with all the extra added bonuses that come with knowing the land like the back of one’s hand.
The highlight by far that night was going to see glow worms!!! A short walk from the hut, Terry told us to duck under a branch and we found ourselves standing in a crevasse between two rocky walls. When we turned our head torches off the sides shone with little blue glow worm ‘stars’! It’s the first time I’d seen them in the wild and it was just wonderful!!! You can probably imagine all our exclamations and laughter. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back to the warmth of the hut, where we watched a very cute swamp rat feeding politely on a small pile of muesli that Terry had put out for him. Eventually we called it a night and it didn’t take long to fall asleep to the sound of rain on the roof.
The rain had really set in overnight, as had daylight savings, not that it meant much to any of us except perhaps Terry, who had the radio on. We had a day of R&R planned, which didn’t need an accurate time at all. Just a good book, plenty of food, and the odd bit of chatter.
As it turned out, we spent our day of rest doing all sorts of unexpected but fun things. We chatted a LOT, screwed some castor wheels onto a steel Ventura box so it was easier to move around, helped cart backpacks of wood to the hut and learnt about the firewood rotation system in place, checked out some massive and old king billies and a few baby ones that are undergoing an experiment to see if they can be propagated from cuttings, learnt how to split wood to make palings with a froe, saw a ring tail possum drae, learnt how to tell the difference between plum and native laurel from their leaves, stoked the fire lots, ate yummy food and chocolate, listened to the local radio station, and eventually drifted to bed. It was a day of sharing, listening, learning and giving back a little. All the while the rain kept falling with a gentle pitter patter on the roof and the river raced by the front of the hut, the fire crackled and sparked, together making a comforting background noise that came to the forefront when the radio was turned off at night and our voices fell silent.
On day five we woke to the sound of the radio and Terry busying himself with breakfast, and one by one joined him at the table for our last meal together. And then it was time to say our goodbyes and slide our way down the mountain. The rain had stopped, but our gear was still a little wet and there was plenty of water on the track and falling from the trees that we didn’t dry out at all. We were back at the car in a little over an hour and made our way north to Parsons Hood.
This was a mountain that had long been in my too hard basket. My first experience was of being told our numberplate had been recorded and if we were found trespassing on the mining site we’d be in trouble. And so naturally I’d ignored it for a long time. But about a month ago word from a fellow bushwalker who also worked on the mines was that it was the perfect time to go for a walk as the current company leasing the site wasn’t active (and sounded like it had bigger problems to deal with!) but that there was a chance someone else might come along and start things up in a month or so. That got our attention at the time and it bumped Parsons Hood up the list a long way – almost to the top!
Today was the perfect day for it too, or so we thought. Light drizzle in the morning and then a clearer afternoon, with a mountain where it wouldn’t matter whether or not it was still cloudy when you were on the top because there weren’t views anyway. We started walking just before midday and were a good deal higher up when we got to the end of the mining road a bit more than an hour later. We’d found an abandoned mining hut on the way up, which was well built but revealed that miners these days don’t live in much more comfortable style than they did decades ago!
We still had a kilometre to go to the summit, off track. It seemed to have stopped raining by this point but it was hard to tell because we were already soaked and we kept brushing against wet forest or bumping into saplings that would shower us in fresh, large water drops. Everything squealched. Jess reckoned she’s still be dreaming of squealching sounds that night!
We hit a hundred meters of horizontal very early on but after that managed to stay in the less climb stuff. A fair bit of ferny stuff, plenty of fallen and rotten tree trunks, myrtles, native laurel, leatherwood, sassafras (which was even in flower)… everything covered in lush, wet moss..probably plenty of others too if you did a better job of noticing than I did! We plodded, sunk and slipped our way up, slowly, playing a game of ‘is it solid or is it rotten’ each time we went to step on a tree or branch. I reckon it was about 50-50!
On top we found the small pile of rocks marking the summit in amongst slightly denser scrub, which even included some tall scoparia! It was cold, so we put on warm gear, ate a hurried lunch and set off back down. We found a better route down that avoided the horizontal and cut off some of the road walk too. We talked a lot about the warm dry clothes that awaited us and getting to the Waratah campground where there was hot water. That probably illustrates best how we were feeling… I certainly felt like I’d gone swimming fully clothed!
Back at the car, warm clothes on, Jess decided to see if attaching her gaiters to her roof racks would dry them out a bit on the drive to Waratah. I reckon it did but probably wasn’t as noticeable as it should have been given we drove through a bit of a rain shower just before we arrived! It was crazy how light it still was at 6:30 (we’d kind of missed it on the Sunday being in the forest), so we hung our wet stuff up to dry a little, cooked dinner, I had a wash (Indonesian ‘mandi’ style) with the hot water (so nice), and checked out some info on Mount Dundas (our selected mountain for the brilliant weather we were promised the next day). We called it a night and went to bed under a sky full of stars, with the frogs croaking away in the distance.
All up: 12.6km, 5:26hrs, 818m ascent.
Day six dawned clear and sunny, though the night had been cold and some of the gear we’d hung out to dry had frozen stiff! We took our time packing and sorting, in no rush to start walking before the sun had had time to dry of some of the forest we’d be walking through. And so it was 11:30 by the time we were ready to start walking up Mount Dundas.
The walk was accessed exactly as described in the Abels although the turn off to Howards road was a few extra kilometres further according to our odometer (not the 7.5km mentioned in the book). We had high hopes that finally we had a day and a walk that should have us staying dry and warm. Things departed from that plan almost before we’d even started walking. From the carpark, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, we walked across the bridge and turned left to cross the next river, finding it in spare thanks to the rain and snow over the weekend. Jess got a couple of boot fills of water, which was the end of her dry feet. I managed to keep the water out the top of mine, but they must have sprung a leak near the toes because the longer I was in the water the damper I could feel my socks getting. We looked on the bright side and figured things could only get better.
Not exactly so! The first part of the walk is on an old bulldozer track and while bits are open, it becomes increasingly less bulldozerish and more like an overgrown walking track. In addition, it’s pretty steep and slippery, but also has a number of flatter bits that were very boggy. None where the mud quite got over the tops of our boots, but they got close! This might be different in summer, but for us it meant poor Jess (who was leading) was drenched through and through again and we were having a repeat of the squealching thing from the day before. While it was a clear day, it was also pretty cold, enough that our arms felt like they’d been in a freezer due to their constant contact with wet scrub.
Everything did, however, change for the better when we left the dozer track and started on the walking track, which started off meandering through beautiful open myrtle forest. As we climbed the height of the vegetation shrunk and the variety increased, to the point Jess reckoned she’d seen pretty much every type of plant she knew the name for except perhaps one.
We enjoyed the twisting and turning walk through the delightful flora, although were definitely slowing down and feeling tired by this stage. When we hit the snow line the temperature dropped, although we were getting more sun which helped to counter it. A bit of open walking where the track was braided, and then we were briefly back in the lovely and varied scrub, before popping out for a rock scramble to the summit.
The going was a tad slower than normal, not just because of the fatigue, but also because there was enough snow on the rocks to make them slippery. And then there was the views to consider – pretty spectacular, although we were trying to wait to the summit to enjoy them in full! And sure enough we made it, tired but pretty happy, if still a bit wet. Boy was the view worth it!! You could see mountains all around, every one of the 360 degrees.
Jess remarked that it had been a while since she’d been able to sit and enjoy a summit like this and I also struggled to think of the last time. So we sat and ate, took some photos and tried to keep warm. The sun WAS out, but so too was a slight breeze which had a nasty bite to it, so much so it eventually drove us from the summit with numb fingers and toes.
We made much better time on the way down and even found a log over the river which allowed us to cross without rewetting our feet. It did involve Jess learning a new skill – the straddling bum shuffle. It’s most useful for crossing logs that are too narrow or wet to walk across, and involves straddling the log and using your hands to inch yourself along, much like you do when using a gymnastic ‘horse’. It looks a bit funny, but it keeps your feet dry!
All up: 11.6km, 5:51, 941m ascent
We found ourselves in Strahan that night, Jess generously using part of her Tasmanian government travel voucher to book accomodation – what luxury to have a proper shower and bed! The main reason was so we could collect a key from the PWS office at 8:10am, that would allow us to access the McCall road. We did all that, got the car clean enough to eventually pass muster and made our way to Queenstown and then south past Mount Jukes, taking longer than expected to get to the locked gate.
The guy from PWS had been spot on the money when he said the road was great till the last apiary site, then it became a 4WD road. It certainly put Jess and her Honda CRV through the test and there were times it was safer to drive in the bush on the side of the road than risk bottoming out. It made for very slow going and so it was 11am by the time we were ready to start walking up Mount McCutcheon.
And wasn’t that fun?! It was even more horribly green and tangly and HIGH than it had looked on the satellite imagery and so the mere 350m of horizontal distance and less than 100m of ascent made for a 2 hour round trip, where the GPS reckoned we actually walked 1.3km! That meant we weren’t going to get to McCall, even though it looked wonderfully open and, more to the point, the road ahead looked to be in much better condition than what we’d already driven through.
But we had dinner booked in for 6pm in Hobart and we still had to get the key back to the PWS house in Queenstown, refuel and drive all the way back south. We got to Queenstown by 2:30pm and made it to dinner with 5 minutes to spare but no time for a shower or change of clothes!
Once again, some consistently snowy, wet and windy weather had thwarted a planned 5 day solo trip, so when a 2.5 day weather window popped up on days I had few other commitments I jumped at the chance. Especially knowing the first few days of another extended trip planned from October 1 were looking very foul as well! The choice was easy, there was only a small window and not many trips I could do something productive in such little time. As it was I wasn’t entirely sure I’d have enough time to get all the way out to Layatinna. It would all depend on the weather and how easy the terrain was to negotiate, which I wouldn’t know till I was committed. Oh well, it’s about the journey and having a crack more than the destination or success, isn’t it?
The 3.5 hour drive up was smooth and uneventful aside from a lovely sunrise and a swamp harrier. There was no one in the carpark, though people had been in recently according to the log book. I was off walking by 9, dressed in board shorts cos I figured they were going to get wet. Not so much from the light sleet that came and went throughout the day, but more from pushing through snow laden branches that were bent across the track. I didn’t see any point in getting both them and my overpants wet, so the latter stayed in my pack for the morning. Probably a tad silly, as the dry overpants came at the expense of my legs, that quickly turned bright pink from the double assault of the freezing snow and the scratchy scrub.
The track itself was hard to recognise from when I was last in. I’d forgotten about the fires and it had been hit hard. Someone had been through and chainsawed the worst of the trees, and erected track markers where the track was most indistinct but it was still easy to step off it in some spots. Some opportunistic lower storey scrub had started to grow back, but by and large the landscape was 50 shades of grey and rather barren looking. It was lovely to get to the pockets that had survived intact, so much so I couldn’t even get frustrated with the bauera or scoparia as it tried to trip me up and scraped at bare knees and thighs. It was as if even this walk, much like this year in general, was echoing the same sentiments about being grateful for what is, because you never know when it’s going to change for the worse.
I plodded along, eating a late breakfast as I puffed my way up hill. I wasn’t in a huge rush and I was happy to go at a continuous pace rather than trying to break records. I enjoyed the light sleet and sunshine both at the same time, the birds twittering away, and even the cold wet slushy snow as it ran down my legs, inside my gaiters and eventually had my boots squelching. It was good to be back out.
It didn’t take long to reach the open button grass plains and the turn off to Nescient Peak. It had evidently been a slightly green and scrubby climb, but now it was just a matter of avoiding getting too close to the sharp and black burnt remnants. It was easy enough to weave through an open route, although I did discover close to the summit that there was actually a cairned and taped route. I tried to follow it back down but it wasn’t easy since the fire had been through and I actually found it better to pick my own route. The benefit of the fires were a clearer view through the skeletal remains of trunks to some familiar snow capped peaks. It was a lovely little winter wonderland kind of walk, and it brought back memories of climbing Howells Bluff in the snow with Graham. There was a little less snow this time, but the terrain was similar.
Reunited with my pack I set off on a much longer plod to as far as I could get towards Oana. I said hello and goodbye to Rogoona as I passed by Lake Myrtle, awakening more, somewhat hazy, memories. And then I was on new terrain for me. Just in time for the sleet to pick up and the scrub to occupy more of the track. By the time I got to Lake Meston I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about heading off track at the southern end and climbing up through scrub onto Chinamans Plains. My fingers were cold and struggling even to undo buckles. I decided I definitely needed the overpants, and chided myself for not starting out in them. It would have saved me a lot of hurt, and probably time as well! They went on slowly – my fingers were moving at the pace I seem to move in bad dreams. But they warmed up as I walked, moving much faster now through the overgrown bits of track. I reckoned I had a couple of hours of off track walking, which should get me well and truely on the plateau. I didn’t like my chances of actually getting a tent up if I kept going much after 5pm, even though there would be almost two more hours of daylight – that’s how fast the temperature can drop in the late afternoon and being alone makes you realise how much more vulnerable to these things you are. I was also pretty knackered, even though I’d not walked as far as I hoped.
I’d be lying to deny that I thought about turning around as I stood on the track to Junction Lake at the point I was due to plunge into the scrub. I didn’t rate my chance of climbing both mountains the next day too highly anymore and momentarily wondered why go to all the effort for just one if I’d still have to come back. But I think that was more an excuse to avoid the cold and wet scrub bash with a full pack than anything else. After all I was out to walk as much as to climb peaks, and I’d return just as fresh regardless of where I actually got to. I chuckled at my stubbornness as I hauled my weary body up and over the scrub and rocks, and worked on enjoying it for what it was. I smiled at the small reprieve as I popped into a section of myrtle forest with a thin blanket of snow on the ground, and breathed a sigh of relief at finding a perfectly fallen tree across the Mersey River. And of course I cursed and swore as I was stabbed, tripped up or lost my footing in the scrub. I missed having company, it makes an especially huge difference in scrub.
I let out a whoop when I broke out, up and over the edge of the plateau, and checked my watch. I’d see how far I could get in 45 minutes. Probably not far enough, but I found a nice little spot tucked out of the wind next to a largish tarn that I couldn’t pass up. And then ensued the process of getting dry and warm, cooking a new dehydrated recipe for Moussaka (5 stars from me!) for dinner and discovering that I would have at least a 12 km walk ONE WAY just to get to Layatinna the next day… oh dear, another early start I guess, and a lot of playing things by ear.
I set the alarm for 5, but everything was frozen and I couldn’t bring myself to put on wet gear straight away. The world looked like someone had come along during the night with a great big sieve and dusted the land with a very generous layer of icing sugar! Instead I dozed a bit, made a cup of tea and then couldn’t put it off any longer. I actually put my socks in hot water and poured some into both boots. They weren’t frozen because I’d put them inside the tent but I figured I could at least be warm and wet. It worked quite well actually!
I set off shortly after 6, crunching my way between tarns, contour lines and trying to stick to rock or alpine heath. It took a little while to read the landscape. The satellite imagery hadn’t been super helpful so I was relying a lot on reading the terrain accurately and a bit of guesswork. I ended up taking a decent route with only two slightly scrubbier patches, but even then it was the kind you could mostly weave through. It was nice to be accompanied by the frogs and lots of different types of birds. I was especially grateful to the olive whistler who made me smile when I was going through a tougher patch of scrub. They do have a pretty good wolf whistle equivalent!
From the southern end of Eagle Lake the direct approach to the summit of Oana looks horribly green and scrubby. I headed southeast first, climbing onto the ridge that leads to the summit where the contour lines were more gradual. It was a longer distance to walk, but again the going was pretty open. The final meander up the flat, rocky ridge to the summit was lovely. There were better than expected views too!
The downside to this was that Layatinna looked awfully far away. And although the going is supposed to be pretty good (despite looking green!), I was still not moving fast enough. It had taken me 3 hours to get to Oana, and I had at least as far again to get to Layatinna. I um-ed and ah-ed over whether I should opt for an epic day or whether I should save Layatinna for another day. I’m not one to leave mountains I set out to climb, but I was feeling tired, and although I knew I could push through and walk as long as needed, I wasn’t sure how strong my mind was going to be if I had to route find in the dark when I was well and truely knackered. I’ve also been working on slowing down, so I went with the sensible option and sat on the summit enjoying the views. It was the first time I’d set eyes on Lake Malbena in person, and it was interesting to actually be there while thinking about the proposed developments.
After an hour on the summit I couldn’t feel my fingers and I figured it was time to head back. It would mean I would have time to pack up the tent and drop back to camp under Rogoona by Lake Myrtle, in turn making for a short third day so I could get back home and open up the beehive to see how the bees had fared over winter!
It was a long walk back, and when I started stumbling over my own feet I was very glad I’d left Layatinna this time (and check out the distances at the bottom – I’d have been crazy to have added an extra 10-15km on!). I was back at the tent by 2pm, happy to find everything mostly dry. I wasn’t moving fast by any means. I was concentrating instead on not straying too far from the route I’d taken on the way up, so that I avoided running into drop offs or really thick scrub and so I managed to intersect the river exactly where the tree was down. It was wonderful to finally find my feet back on a track. I could switch my mind off completely and simply just walk. And so I did, all the way to Lake Myrtle.
The evening was pretty, as were the little flies that danced in groups just above the ground, their bodies glowing gold in the low sunlight. I arrived at the campsite nearly 12 hrs after having started walking that day. There was still an hour of daylight but I wasn’t going to get anywhere nice in that time so I called it a day. I spent the hour pitching the tent, cooking home made and dehydrated creamy pasta and typing up some notes (have you ever wondered why there’s so many typos? Fat thumbs typing on my phone and a failure to proof read ;)!). I was so tired I got no more of my book read than I had the night before, going to bed at 8pm instead!
I made the mistake of leaving my gaiters out on a log where I’d put them to dry the bottom halves out, and my boots in the tent vestibule. I woke to a tent that glittered on the inside and immediately knew what I’d done. My water bottles were frozen shut, the boots were solid and my gaiters blended into the silver log, sporting 1-2cms of frosty growth on their upper side. The whole world was clear and silent, the lake like a mirror with a layer of mist above the unbroken surface. The stars were brighter now the moon had set too. In time, as I set about making tea and porridge, the sun bathed the back of Rogoona in warm orange, and she looked more than ever like a lioness lying down with her head above front paws, calmly surveying the realm before her.
I had the urge to move quickly, wanting to be back home in time to open up the beehive with a friend while the weather was still and warm. It would be the first time since Graham died, and given it was my first proper time, I wanted some assistance so I could ask all my questions. But the morning case a spell over everything, myself included, and so it took me an uncharacteristic hour before I was ready to go shortly after 6am. A few more photos of the reflections and I was off. It was an easy, mostly flat or downhill return walk on the track, with the major obstacles being my weary feet, the odd muddy section, and slippery, still partly icy roots. As I approached the final descent I expected to see the lake down to the left, and was delighted instead to see the top of low cloud hovering in the valley. It was spectacular, if a little deceptive, as it gave the impression the bottom was closer than it was!
I was back at the car in about two hours, and began the drive home. As I got closer it seemed hard to believe just how far I’d been over the last few days and how easy it was to be in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden to be back in the middle of somewhere. The bees were very happy, we found my queen and then I buckled down getting everything clean, dried, and packed for the next adventure (which looks like it’ll be rather wet!). Stay tuned!
Day 1: Car to Chinamans Plains: 8hrs, 19.3km, 1162m ascent
Day 2: Chinamans Plains to Oana and back to Lake Myrtle: 11.52hrs, 26.7km, 918m ascent
Day 3: Lake Myrtle to car: 2.15hrs, 7.5km, 101m ascent
How easy is it to become frustrated when you want something, but the rest of the world seems oblivious, or even conspiring against you?! Too easy, it would seem. Until you realise it’s all in your head and in the end, you don’t actually do a very good job of knowing what you want for the future by the time the future becomes the present.
The days I had off in August and had set aside for walking were expertly chosen to coincide with wet and windy weather. As the weekend approached it seemed history was repeating itself. I’d ambitiously put a 2-and-a-bit day walk on the Pandani program as a flash walk for the last weekend in winter. Risky, but walking and connecting with people was at the crux of my new ‘mental health’ plan. At the beginning of the week everywhere seemed to have 90%+ chance of rain. By mid week things were looking better, then they deteriorated, but by crunch time on Thursday it looked like we’d have a bit of a window on Saturday afternoon for some good walking weather (or at least not miserable!). We hatched a tentative itinerary that was as flexible as a super stretchy elastic band, but no one seemed to mind.
It just so happened we could get away early, and so four of us set off from Hobart on Friday afternoon. We’d meet the fifth member of our party at Waratah that night. The drive was long but pretty – and it was hard to imagine that we were probably leaving the sunniest spot in the state for quite the opposite! We were still chatting away happily as we pulled into Waratah, somehow avoiding the odd kamikaze, usually a pottaroo, as it darted out from the throng of wildlife that lined the roadsides.
Jess and I gave the others a brief tour of the facilities, with heavy emphasis on the hot running water (it’s always the simple pleasures that get us really excited!). We set up tents and set about cooking our respective dinners, which ranged from 3-ingredient wonders to gourmet style home-cooked and dehydrated meals or just whatever you could find in the freezer that would reheat over a stove. We cemented our plan for the next day with a slight tweak – we’d climb Mount Pearse and Rocky Sugarloaf after all, but we’d do them as separate walks rather than a circuit. The weather was better later on in the day, so we wouldn’t be racing off in the morning. The cold drove us into our tents early, and most of us read a little before sleeping relatively soundly, woken briefly by a hissing competition between either possums or devils.
A relaxed start to the morning meant we were ready to go shortly after 8. We detoured via the falls, because they’re always worth seeing, especially after all the rain we’ve had. Then to the corner shop to pay our camping fees, and finally off to Staffords Road. As soon as we turned off the A10 onto Staffords Road we spotted the gate we’d read about. In 2014 it had been closed but unlocked. 2020 isn’t as trusting, it would seem, or perhaps just lucky. So we parked our cars 1km earlier than hoped, and took to foot. It might have been a good thing, the road was pretty wet underfoot, overgrown, and we wouldn’t have got much further anyway.
The tapes were abundant from the get go, and we had no trouble walking straight onto the track that by all accounts is a good track. And so it is. Fresh tape has been added aplenty, and there’s little excuse to get lost (except where it leads you astray!). And so we were lead through lovely open wet forest and then out into button grass and tea tree scrub. Up we climbed, taking a slight detour when one lot of tapes had us sidling off the righthand side of the ridge, before we ran out of tape and decided to look in the sensible place, finding much more tape and an obvious pad!
It was grey and misty, but this didn’t subdue the mood too much. We caught glimpses of the world beyond our bubble, but largely we had a very small sphere to work within. Upwards we went, bodies complaining differently at the rust and cobwebs that had accumulated during the COVID-19 restrictions to our old ways of life. And then the scrub gave way to wet rock, but not the conglomerate that you might expect for this part of the state.
It was a little bit of a challenge for some of us, and a pure delight for others as we spent the next hour weaving our way up and along the jagged ridge. The rocky formations were beautiful, and the mist accentuated the effect as it controlled what and how much we got to see at any one time. Two wedge tailed eagles – black spots against the bottom edge of the cloud, a splotch of blue sky, later a moment in which someone poured warm sun over us for a few seconds… our souls were singing. Onwards we moved. The many false summits made the real summit seem further and higher than it was, and we found ourselves standing on the top a tad surprised! A quick duck further south to the Sprent mark, then back for a snack, and down we headed.
These decisions were all about staying warm and having enough time to climb Rocky SL as well. But nothing was going to stop us lingering as the sun dried the clag out, and the views opened up to the west first, then north, and eventually even east. The warmth on skin was glorious. We soaked it up with smiles and laughter. And eventually we continued on, the walk transformed entirely by having a world with horizons where the sky met the sea and mountains.
We ate lunch at the car before driving just over 2km south to Mountain Road. Here a great big tree over the road had us pull up short. It looked like it had been there quite a while and as it turned out, the road beyond would have been impassable in any kind of motorised transport anyway. We ducked and weaved through the VERY overgrown greenery, and found ourselves surprisingly close to Rocky SL by the time we had exhausted what the road had to offer. There were tapes that led us a little further before petering out. But no worries, after crossing a creek we popped out onto the most glorious looking button grass plain, complete with a few little tarns, wombat pads that headed in the ideal direction, and what looked like some reasonable going up onto the ridge that led to our mountain.
The sun was out and bouncing up off the plain, there was little more than a whisper of cloud left in the bright blue sky, the breeze was slight, we had sweat on our brows and down our backs where our packs stuck our shirts to our skin. It felt like summer. We spent plenty of time just enjoying it all as we plodded our way up onto the ridge.
The going was good, almost too good. And there we stood, 400m from the summit, about to dip into the shadow of the mountain. A very accurate account of this particular route mentioned 400m of scrub just before the summit. It was true to its word, unfortunately! We plunged into it, Ben spearheading the charge. We started off walking on air, the scrub over our heads. As we slipped and wrestled, fell and grunted our way through, it gradually became more stunted. It still wasn’t easy to move through. You could aim for the rocks but they weren’t continuous, and back down you stepped into the thick of it, unsure exactly where your feet were going to come to a stop.
About 100m from the summit Ben let our a whoop that turned into a gleeful little ditty, “I’m walking on the ground, I’m walking on the ground”! Like I said earlier, out here it’s the little things, the things that only fellow scrub-bashers really understand, that can completely transform your mood. And I tell you what, it was fantastic to be walking on the ground, trusting once again that where you put your foot was where it was going to stay! It was even better again to pop up over one rise to find ourselves bathed in low, late afternoon sunshine, the kind you have to squint through to see the path ahead, but also the kind that means there is no more climbing ahead that’s blocking the sun from view.
There was a small cairn on the summit but it was paid much less attention than the 360 degree views! We struggled a little to work out what was what from the unfamiliar viewpoint, but that didn’t dampen the enjoyment. The moon was out, and Jupiter and Saturn were in alignment with it. Later they were to be joined by thousands of stars. After much longer than perhaps we should have we dragged ourselves away, aware that the more we sat up there the longer we’d be walking in the dark. It was something we were all used to except for Russell, who had never done it before but took it in his stride.
The return through the scrub was much faster than the way up, as Jess and Russell retraced our steps. The head torches came out for the descent to the button grass plain, and I took over with the GPS to avoid any unnecessary detours through scrub we couldn’t see. Without any bearings and nothing to see past the few metres illuminated by our head torches, we could have been walking anywhere. It was impossible to subjectively measure direction or distance, and even time seemed to be warped.
But a slow and steady plod – not one where you ever felt like you were in a rhythm for though – eventually got us back to the car, tired and hungry but very satisfied! We decided to head back to Waratah for some dinner, and make the call on where to go for Sunday’s walk after consulting the weather map. It transpired that the weather was going to turn wet and horribly windy everywhere by the afternoon, so we headed north that evening (through the worst fog I’ve ever driven in) to Riana. The next day we checked out the Dial range (which already has a blog post dedicated to it from a previous visit), before driving back home at the very civilised time of 11:30am!
Pearse: 4:44hrs, 7.3km, 481m ascent, all breaks included (quite a few)
Rocky: 5:06hrs, 6.2km, 357m ascent, all breaks included (and a lot of slow walking in the dark!)
According to placenames.tas.gov.au, Mole York was a convict girl who worked on the Formosa and other Estates in the Campbell Town and Cressy districts. I’m not sure how a mountain came to be named after her, but the Abels (vol. 1, ed. 2) suggests it might have been a similar course of events to the naming of Cummings Head or Mother Cummings Peak. The story here describes Martha Cummings as a teacher who climbed the mountain in long dress and hat (as was the accepted bushwalking attire for females in the day) in the early 1990s following a dare from her pupils. The mountain may have been subsequently named in her honour. This may or may not be true, of course, and still doesn’t really tell us about Mole York’s story! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mountain named after you though?
Molly Yorks Nightcap was the closest mountain on the HWC peakbaggers list that I had left to do. It was the last one because it required making a phone call to seek permission to access private land. This is not my strong suit and I would usually avoid climbing these mountains until someone else did the leg work! But it was a perfect winter day walk – it was close, looked relatively easy and was likely to have better weather than something on the west coast.
And so the arrangements begun. A FB post identified a friend who might know something, but in the end came up with another person to chat to, who sent through some information on the walk and the contact details he had used 10 years earlier when leading a HWC walk to the mountain. Whether they were still the same remained to be seen! I started calling, but no answer. I tried all hours of the business day and even left a message. I gave up for a bit and sat it in the ‘too hard basket’. And then I took to telemarketing tactics and called at dinner time. Finally an answer!
I spoke to the mother of the man who owns the property and arranged permission for the walk. She described the house to pop in to, told me her son would be there at 9am, and then all I had to do was assure her I would be quite safe on my own (might have hinted at my current occupation there!). We were all set to go.
Unfortunately, a 9am start translated to an early wake up. But I was much more motivated when it turned out I’d have company for the days after all! It would seem I’m a bit of a bad influence, and a walk with me was more enticing than other responsibilities. I have to say I didn’t try really hard to argue against the shirking of said responsibilities, because it meant a much more enjoyable day for me (rather selfish indeed!). Ehm!
We set off with no time to spare and enjoyed a pretty sunrise as we drove through beautiful Tassie countryside on our way north to Ross. It always surprises me how much it changes and just how pretty it is when I take the time to really look. Sometimes it’s too easy to become used to what we’re familiar with and to not actually notice the changes unless making a conscious effort. At Ross we turned left down Auburn Road and followed it along through farming land, until we turned left again, onto Isis Road.
We drove past a large paddock packed with sheep and they were ALL looking at us (on the return all we saw was their bums!)! A couple of escaped sheep looked very sheepish as we tried to pass, and panicked at not being able to work out how to get back over the other side of the fence. They received no help from their flock, who just watched on and grazed away on the green grass. We eventually squeezed past without causing too much trauma to the escaped sheep and still arrived early.
We waited until it was close to 9am, and went knocking. No one was around, so after knocking on doors to the other houses in Auburn we decided to just head on in and hope that the gates weren’t locked. There was a little bit of phaffing about until we were finally on the right road, heading through a paddock with lots of baby lambs. Sadly one hadn’t made it through the night and was guarded closely by a grieving mother.
We continued on, driving slowly along a road that was everything from green and smooth to muddy and slippery, rocky, uneven and in one spot it even passed through an ankle-calf creek. The mini handled it wonderfully, barely receiving a scratch on the undercarriage, and all the gates were unlocked. How lucky! However when we arrived at where the road crossed one of the tributaries of Potters Creek we decided to call it quits. Technically we could have driven across the bridge, but part of it had fallen through and there was no knowing how much weight the remaining part could take – it just wasn’t worth the risk!
We continued on foot, setting what seemed like a cracking pace along the road. But it turns out it was only 4.6km, which we covered in just under an hour. We were accompanied by the constant and grating shrieks of a number of white cockatoos, which seemed to be stalking us. It made for a less than tranquil walk and at times I struggled to hear Jess talk!
When we were west of the summit we left the road and headed straight up, expecting to walk onto a scree field in a short distance. We found what looked like a very old overgrown road and took that until it ran out. The scree was just a stone’s throw away and we made our way over to it.
Oh the joy at standing at the bottom of a massive dolerite scree field!! Typical of many of the mountains in the area, it was something I hadn’t done for a long time. Boulder-hopping has always been one of my favourite things to do. And we were lucky. The misty cloud that we’d seen hanging over the mountain when we were driving up had burnt off and the scree was nice and dry. It moved under our feet as much as it always does, including some of the rocks that were bigger than us. But while we might have looked ridiculous as we tried to keep our balance, we got away without any injuries.
Up and up we went. It was only something like 600m horizontally to the summit, but over 400m ascent, so it felt like we weren’t making as much progress as usual. But no matter. By this stage someone had turned down the volume on the cockatoos, replacing their harsh cries with the much softer melody of a yellow throated honey eater. It made for a much more peaceful atmosphere and we stopped a number of times to take it all in.
We arrived at the top of the scree field and found we were very close to the cliffy summit block. It looked like we could shoot around to the northern side on more rocky scree so we didn’t have to scale the cliff face itself or take to a scrubby gully. Sure enough, we ran into some cairns. Or at least the odd rock balanced on a rock. Couldn’t hurt to follow them and see where they led.
Wise choice, indeed! We avoided the scrub and climbed up a much more manageable route. In time, we got that sense that we were getting closer and closer. Up the spine of the mountain we we hopped, in a southerly direction now, over another rock and behind a bush and there we found the lovely little summit, howling in the wind!
We looked up the ridge at a very broken, scrubby line. Not a traverse either of us would ever be keen on doing – it just looked painful!
The view north towards Millers Bluff dominated, especially because an interesting phenomenon was happening with the cloud. It was light and wispy, hanging off the eastern side of the summit. There seemed to be a force pushing it up, but each time it rose above the height of the summit it would be pushed fiercely away, twisting and twirling, this way and that in a tumultuous battle of forces.
And then look! Over there. Where? Out to the east where we’d come from? The view we’d had moments ago had been stolen, all that was left was white. Thick white. Just like that, out of nowhere. We’d had perfect visibility as we’d climbed up, without a cloud in sight, but now the same phenomenon that had been happening near the summit of Millers Bluff was also happening right next to us. It was pretty cool.
In fact, it was freezing cold!! We had a random lunch, both of us seeming to have grabbed whatever was available and easy enough to be eaten on the run. There was a mix of banana cake, bananas, nuts, dates, carrot and celery! We took as much time to eat as we did to take photos and send a brief update, and then we began the clamber back down, escaping the wind shortly after leaving the summit. We were conscious of the need to keep on moving so we could get back to town before the car mechanic went home for the day (no, not for the mini!).
It’s amazing just how much concentration clambering down scree requires, and while our lungs were much happier than on the way up, our knees and thighs were a tad shaky by the time we joined back up with the road. We contemplated a jog back to the car, but weren’t really feeling it and went with a brisk walk instead. The cockatoos had moved on and we only heard faint cries now.
The car was where we’d left it and survived the return drive out, before racing us back south, arriving with 15 minutes to spare. We were most grateful for the generosity of the Molly York Nightcap owners (Darren and his mum) in allowing us to walk on their land, even if we never got to thank them in person. Molly Yorks Nightcap is a fine little mountain, featuring the most pleasurable of rock scrambles!
For the first time in a long time I found myself looking forward to something with a hint of my old excitement and enthusiasm. Jess, a bushwalking friend and teacher, was starting school holidays at about the same time as my days off were due to fall. Did I want to go for a walk? Hell yeah! Where? Wherever the weather was good… and if it wasn’t? Well the northwest then. Car camping always allows you to get warm and dry, and there are plenty of peaks to choose from that have no views.
We didn’t settle on exact destinations until we were driving up. But it turned out we had much the same idea. We’d head to Detention Peak and wind our way south from there. We chatted away, intermittently returning to the matter of which mountains we’d have a crack at and how we’d approach them. Detention, it seemed, might well be a scrub fight. Others were more of the road walk kind. Parsons Hood got the flick because of all the info about trespassing and our last minute decision meaning we didn’t have time to get permission to access the site.
After a long drive we finally found ourselves having to pay attention to navigation. Shortly after Sisters Creek we found ourselves turning left of the highway, and then a bit later left again, until we were heading south on Newhaven Road. One more left and we had a much more familiar sight. An old, single-lane, eroded and bumpy road with plenty of puddles and creeks lay before us. We went a short way, forded a river that had the exhaust pipe smoking, got the undercarriage of the car close enough to the road for it to protest, and checked out a number of puddles before we got to a large one that seemed to be bottomless. We left the car as it was, deciding to deal with a 30 point turn after the walk, and took off on foot. The road walk went quickly and we soon found ourselves heading up hill through low bracken and button grass. It seemed too good to be true, and indeed it was. When we got to the top of the rise we had a decent drop ahead of us down to a river. It was unavoidable but we were a tad dismayed to see it was rather green going ahead for as far as we could see. Sadly we had expected as much – we’d been forewarned!
There was nothing to do but drop down the steep embankment to a cute little river. The other side started off open enough, and we duck and wove our way upwards as best as we could, sticking to the path of least resistance. Sometimes we were under the trees, other times we were battling the green and brown tangly mess of head high bauera. Ah how it felt to be in the thick of the scrub again, doing battle the old fashioned way! And all the nicer to be doing it alongside Jess. Are you having fun yet? The question not entirely sarcastic in tone. Hell yeah, with a great big smile on my face!
Just as things started to tighten up, we found we’d walked straight onto a taped pad, fairly fresh judging from the tape itself. It was wonderful, and it certainly made for a much easier, scrub free weave all the way to the summit. The summit itself was a bit of a let down, and the tapes just petered out without so much as a small symbolic cairn to mark the achievement. Never mind, we had a quick bite to eat then headed back down, keen to make good time back to the car and to avoid cooling down too much.
It was misty and the scrub was wet, but otherwise the weather wasn’t as bad as we expected. It made for a slippery descent though, and at one point the bauera grabbed both my ankles and I found myself in a downhill face plant. Whoops!! Even that didn’t wipe the grin off my face though. We took an even better route back down than we had on the way up, and were happy to be back to the car before dark and in quicker time than expected. It was just as well – I don’t think I was the only one with a rumbling tummy!
We had a rather slow drive south to Waratah, down through the Hellyer Gorge, where we thought we’d make use of the pretty little camp ground there. Unfortunately it had been closed in March until further notice, which necessitated a creative solution. Fortunately you could still use all the facilities, which included hot running water, toilets and a light in the cooking shelter!!! We were so excited, it was like all our Christmases had come at once, and I’m sure I spotted a little dance of happiness from Jess. Dinner was delicious: soup and bread for me, washed down with homemade hot chocolate, and stir-fry for Jess.
We both hit the sack early, and managed a fairly solid sleep before being roused by a whole heap of noisy plovers. They then set off the currawongs and ducks, while a solitary kookaburra sat on an electricity pole and laughed as the scene unfolded before him. The sun was soon up, and we figured we’d best drag ourselves out of warm sleeping bags too – we had a big day ahead (for winter standards).
Breakfast for me was chia seeds soaked in kefir, with yoghurt, stewed apricots, toasted muesli and hemp seeds while Jess had weetbix, real milk and banana. The luxuries of car camping! We checked out the Waratah waterfall before leaving – it was most impressive and a tad noisy, even though we were up on the road and not down at the base of it. If you’re in Waratah it’s worth a look and can be seen from the pub.
We doubled back and continued west from Waratah towards Mount Cleveland, turning north onto the road named after the mountain. The road goes all the way to the summit, but we knew full well we’d not be driving that far. We’d heard it was steep, even for 4WDs, which we didn’t have. We’d ignored the more direct road to the south of the mountain hearing that it was rather overgrown (and that was apparent on the satellite imagery too). In any case, we were able to drive far enough along Mt Cleveland Road to end up with a road walk that was at least no longer than the overgrown one from the south. We could have driven a bit further, but after our experience of the day before and knowing we were going to have to get out at some point, we decided to do it on our own terms, rather than when we were sliding backwards down a particularly muddy and rutted section without anywhere to turn around.
We found the perfect spot a few kilometres from the summit and pulled off the road. It was such good weather (again, surprising!) that we ditched our overpants and I even went up without gaiters. It was cold, but we were both puffing away in no time and a little while later we had to stop to strip off coats. We chatted in between deep breaths about all manner of things. Jess was pretty sure we were going to have a view from the top. Pale colours she described, with some green, and maybe even a touch of blue. And she was spot on. Add a hint of rainbow or fog bow (it couldn’t quite decide), some swirling mist, a hint of sun, and a stiff breeze and there you have it. The summit itself was home to a rather large telecom installation, and not much else. We didn’t spend long up there, just enough time to take a photo and send a birthday message. And then we had the pleasure of a much easier walk back down. Part way down Jess wondered if we could get back within 2 hours of setting out, but neither of us was keen on running. It was pretty slippery and steep, and running could have made staying upright an interesting exercise! We got back 5 minutes late, but that was ok ;).
A bite to eat kept the sides of the stomach apart as we drove towards Mount Everett, which is bang in the middle of a huge logging coup. The road we tried first had a locked gate across it at Talbots Lagoon, and we were forced to retrace our route back to the main road, head further north, then take the logging roads that weave under St Valentines Peak. At times it felt like we were driving through a wasteland, and Jess likened it to a scene from The Lion King. It was quite depressing indeed, and both of us were keen to drive out of the destruction and back into the green, even if it was plantation green.
The road was a decent one and in time it took us as close to Everett as we were going to get. The backtracking had been costly in regards to time, however, and it was well into the afternoon before we were ready to start walking. I don’t think either of us looked at the time though, or realised how late we were until we were standing on the summit! Probably a good thing…
We took some very old logging roads to get us a tad closer to the foot of the mountain before we took to the scrub itself. It started off fairly open, and again we weaved our way up the contours. We edged too far right, it turned out, and found ourselves at the foot of some impressive rocks. We choose to sidle left around the base of them, a sound decision that rewarded us with a run of fairly open walking amongst button grass and melaleuca.
It wasn’t to last though, and the ridge proved to be quite broken at times, with plenty of scrub to slow things down. We didn’t always choose the best option, but made slow progress nonetheless. At times it seemed like we were on a pad, but then we lost it. The closer we got the thicker the scrub seemed to get and the slower our progress. But we did get there, and even had some views of the heavily logged wasteland – piles of logs waiting to be trucked out, to be sold at a loss, subsidised by tax payers.
Jess realised the time before I did. We only had 1.5 hrs before it was going to be dark, so we’d best get moving! Down we went, following Jess, who took us a much less scrubby route than I’d led up. And it paid off. We got down in record time, and it wasn’t just due to all the slipping and sliding!! As we walked the last few hundred meters or so through the forest it was pretty dark, but we made it back to the car without needing head torches.
Again the drive out was slow to avoid the wildlife as much as the potholes. We enjoyed the full moon and were excited by being able to see some stars instead of just misty rain. When we saw two spotted quolls you can imagine the squeals we gave! The story at the Riana Pioneer campground was much the same as at Waratah, minus the hot water… Jess’s dinner was a more impressive affair, however, as she cooked up a tasty looking pasta from the random things she’d found in her fridge when packing.
This time we woke to a morning chorus from a flock of happy kookaburras and what a beautiful noise it was! Full bladders and a long day of driving ahead of us denied us a sleep in, and we were soon up and preparing breakfast. Fuelled and ready to go, we drove the very short distance to the start of the southern ridge of Mount Riana. We had initially thought about following closer roads to a starting point to the west of the high point, but it was clearly on private property. The owner of said property stood at the window looking at us as we drove by, while his dog tried to round up the car as if it were a great big disobedient sheep.
This proved to be fortuitous, and instead of a broken and scrubby tussle with the mountain, we had a lovely, rewarding and easy walk up the ridge. Again, tapes and a pad appeared, although the walking was open enough so as not to really need them. At times you broke out from the forest, and found yourself on rock, with the beautiful northwest landscape to behold, and ducks flying by. Rain was apparent to the south west, but it was far enough away and again we had cause to be grateful for being bone dry!
The summit itself was another flat one, but there was an awesome log out to the east, that provided the perfect viewing platform for walkers who wanted to pause to enjoy the moment just a little longer. So of course we did (although we sat on the ground in front of it because it was drier!). Sadly we did have to leave, and begin the long drive home. The mountain continued to give, however, and three wedgies flew past on our way down! Riana was unanimously voted the best mountain of the trip, and the only one of the four not to go on the ‘oncer’ list! A perfect way to end a refreshing weekend away :).
I’ve been restless – perhaps a result of the massive change and feeling a little lost in what I want to do with my life now that it’s so very different. The best thing that makes me feel grounded is walking (although gardening isn’t too far behind). So guess what I’ve been up to? No surprises…
It’s winter, and we’re approaching the winter solstice, which means short days, lower mixing heights and plenty of chill in the air. In fact, it surprised me that the first real snow for the season was only this week! When I first started walking, this didn’t mean much to me, but now it does. It means I preference shorter walks, or multiple day walks with some car camping. And that is exactly what I planned for this trip – one that would allow me to move around to ensure the best weather for the walks I planned, and that meant I could continue to visit some mountains I’d not yet got to see.
The Gog Range was the first on my ‘list’. We’d looked at it a year or so back, but I was down as an ‘if we have extra time’ kind of walk, so of course we didn’t make it. It seemed appropriate now, and would be the first I’d come to on my circuit around the state.
What I didn’t realise was that the roads I’d decided to drive in on were part of Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, and they’d closed a boom gate 6.4km prior to where I wanted to start walking from. Bugger… I also didn’t really do too much research, just did the whole ‘get as close as you can and start walking up’ thing that I do way too often! A last minute message from a friend warned against going straight up the rock… Hmmm.. ok! Apparently there was a pad to follow – that sounded good!
Fortunately I had a bike with me, I was planning on another couple of walks that had long roads before the actual walking, so I’d popped it in. I pulled it out as I rejigged the itinerary I’d planned, now that I’d be spending a few extra hours climbing this range.
The riding wasn’t all that easy – the road was pretty good but there were loose and sandy sections, and at times I was too light that the bike’s back wheel just skidded on the spot when I tried to put extra energy into getting up a hill. There were spots I had to push the thing. It was definitely worth it though and much quicker than walking.
I arrived at the spot I thought I’d head up onto the range, but couldn’t find a track.. I searched further along the road. Nothing. Oh well. It looked open enough, so I tucked the bike away and set off into the ferns. It was pretty open forest with only some ferns to push through, which do a good job of getting out of the way when you need them to. Just as well, because it was pretty much straight up. Straight up to the base of the cliffs.
I saw why I was told not to go up the rock (even if that advice related to the southern side of the range). I tried sidling east, hoping to find a gully I could follow up without getting too climby. That idea didn’t last long – sidling led to just as many steep drops as climbing straight up. The rock up above didn’t look too bad, so why not just try it!
What wasn’t apparent was that there was always one little bit that wasn’t so easy, even though in general what you could see looked reasonably ok. I managed to find a way off the rock and into a gully that provided a way up in between the slabs. I only hoped it lasted. Perhaps the one thing I detest on walks is having to retrace steps due to a dead end! It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always a possibility.
I was in luck, and the gully turned into a ridge, that intersected with another ridge, along the top of which appeared to be something with pad-like characteristics. A cairn appeared… shortly afterwards some very old, worn orange tape that had fallen off whichever branch it had originally been tied to. I was on something, even though I didn’t know where it had come from. I assumed it headed to the top, and resolved to follow it for as long as it was helpful.
The ridge I was on took me to the main ridge that is the back-bone of the Gog range, running east-west. The pad wasn’t so distinct, but a bit of hunting revealed more tape, this time usually attached to trees. It duck and wove through the trees, which left me in no doubt that this was going to be a summit without views! Presently the pad arrived at a burnt out tree trunk with a reasonable sized cairn at its foot, which I took to be the summit cairn.
A short break and I was retracing my steps as best I could, with the exception of avoiding the steep rocky section I’d climbed up, staying in the gully instead. There were lovely little pink bell-shaped flowers out and about, which would have been all the lovelier if their leaves hadn’t been so prickly!
I found my bike at the bottom, exactly where I’d left it, and rode back in exactly the same time as it had taken to ride in. On the drive to Cradle Mountain NP I spotted an echidna hurrying across the road. He barely glanced my way before tucking his head down a little further and waddling off into the scrub at a remarkable speed for a creature with such short legs and a round fat body
Ride: 6.4km; 43 mins each way
Walk: 4km; 2:35 hrs; 481m ascent
The following morning I went for a wee wander over the most beautiful snow-covered moorland. Brewery Knob is not worth any points on the HWC peak baggers list, but it is an Abel. I’m not specifically targeting Abels, but given I only have a handful left, I figured I should pay it a visit. It seemed perfect for winter walking – short, with a beautiful forest walk at the start that is perfect regardless of the weather. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but I donned all my wet weather gear, a warm jacket, beanie and gloves nonetheless. Just as well too!
The walk starts at Weindofer’s hut, as described in the Abels. It’s very hard to start walking because you’re immediately surrounded by magnificent King Billy pines and fagus, and you walk on a carpet of their discarded leaves. As can be expected, especially at this time of year, it’s very wet underfoot and the path is very much a mass of lethally exposed tree roots that have been worn smooth from thousands of feet.
I’ve never seen such large fagus leaves (or perhaps it’s just been a while) and it struck me that this walk would be magnificent if you timed it for when the fagus turns. I eventually dragged myself from the trees, and started climbing up the track. Lumps of snow kept falling from the trees above onto my head or pack. It was just as if my usual walking companions were with me in spirit, making sure I collected a few missiles!
The forest gave way to smaller myrtle beech, which hung over the track laden with snow. It always amazes me how much a bare twiggy branch can hold! I brushed past, enjoying the moment, glad of the wet weather gear and knowing it wouldn’t be quite the same on the way back.
The flora grew smaller and smaller in size the higher I climbed (and it’s not a very long climb!), until there was only easy open walking. From what I could tell of the snow covered landscape it consisted largely of alpine grasses and shrubs, including boronia.
I stuck to the track because it was the only thing telling me which way to head into the cloud (aside from my GPS). It had progressively turned from a rocky-bottomed creek to an ice covered bog, that crunched and cracked under my weight, occasionally sending my feet slipping in every direction but the one I wanted them to go in. And now it changed once again, the crunching replaced by a groaning of the now heavier, fresher layer of undisturbed snow. It was akin to the protest of an old leather armchair as you sink into its seat.
The weather was of a kind that some might have found depressing, or pointless, but for whatever reason, I loved it. I was warm on the inside while the cold stiff wind chilled my face and made me feel very much alive. The racing cloud occasionally revealed glimpses of a world beyond my immediate bubble, which in some ways was more impressive than had I had the whole vista to look at. The landscape was very much in greyscale, but it was raw, untouched and just perfect. No one else had seen it quite like that – mine we’re the only footprints.
I took my time slipping and sliding along, occasionally sinking much further into snow covered bog than I’d have liked. That’s the interesting bit about following snow-covered tracks, you never quite know how far your feet are going to travel, except that it’s rarely what you expect! Funnily enough, there were parts where I was lucky enough to also be following animal tracks (wombat, potteroo and something else!) and I mused at how they instinctively seemed to know where to tread to ensure they were on solid ground underneath the snow!
I arrived at the two tarns described in the Abels and did exactly as instructed. The description of the walk was spot on and the pad I now took to was easy enough to follow even in the snow. Just before the summit plateau I disturbed a flock of green rosellas, who took to the skies protesting loudly. I then spent a good deal of time with a King Billy, that was green on one side, and icy white on the opposite. You could tell which way the wind was blowing, that’s for sure!
A short dip across a VERY exposed plateau and I’d arrived at the distinct summit cairn – it’s quite a nice little one. I didn’t stay long, as to stop was to get very cold very fast (especially the fingers), so I shared the cold to the rest of my world via the mighty FB, and set off back the way I’d come.
The Abels describes a circuit, but I had so loved the way over along the tops, and I really wanted some more of it, so I took to retracing my steps instead of completing the loop described.
All up: 8.2km; 3hrs; 352m ascent
The weather was due to be slightly better further west, so the next mountain I’d chosen to visit was Mount Read. I’d looked at it a few times, but each time the length of the road walk had usually turned me off. I like bushwalking after all, and road walking is a bit dull. But because I had a bike, I figured I’d best make the most of the walks where a bike might be of use. I didn’t realise there was a great big gate with multiple ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs, but decided not to read and to just go with the Abel’s description (which only talks about access issues if you go the shorter but steeper way).
I severely underestimated my ability to peddle up hills again. Usually it wouldn’t be a problem, but when you added in the soft and loose gravel surface it was. It was a big problem. I couldn’t stand up or my back wheel just spun and I could only climb up to a certain gradient before I started doing wheelies every time I cranked the peddles over.
The way up became an exercise in peddling as much as I could, then getting off to push. I had to find a relatively flat section to jump back on or I’d just end up doing wheelies again. Fun times! When it started to get really steep, and the road surface more eroded, the bike was popped in a ditch and I proceeded on foot.
For a road walk it wasn’t bad. The views were interesting as was the forest on either side. I couldn’t believe the King Billies either! Unfortunately as I approached the summit I walked straight up into the bottom of the cloud that I’d seen hovering over the top when I was down at the car. I thought mid afternoon would provide the highest mixing height and therefore a chance that the cloud might have cleared from the summit, but I was out of luck.
Instead I got freezing cold cloud and a howling wind. It was a pity, I’d heard the summit was really interesting and the view towards the Eldon range in particular was pretty speccy. Seems I’ll have to go back ;)! The up side was that all the man made towers were shadows hidden in the mist, and I’m sure I only saw some, not all, of them.
The trig surprised me – someone had cable-tied a naked doll to the top, and it was looking decidedly pale and blue! I sympathised, and only hoped the views on a good day more than made up for it. My fingers were already numb, so I made a hasty retreat until I was out from under the cloud, which had only dropped in the time I’d taken to climb to the summit. I jogged some of the downhill sections back to the bike just to keep warm, and then had a very easy spin back to the car. All that pushing was definitely worth it!
All up: 16.5km (mixed riding and walking); 2:45 hrs; 866m ascent
The final mountain for my car-camping weekend. Again, I’d initially chosen it because it would be a good one for the bike. Except that my two experiences this trip of riding a bike up steep and somewhat neglected gravel roads had all but turned me off. I took one look at the start of the road (in fact even drove a short way up it!), and decided the bike wasn’t coming. If you had a 4WD that you knew how to use, you could drive right to the foot of Huxley, and it’d make the walk a whole heap shorter!
I decided I’d best make an earlyish start, and set off at 7:30 when it was light enough not to need artificial lighting. I was glad very early on I didn’t have the bike, there would have been an awful lot of pushing! Instead I plodded along, not stopping for anything other than to take photos, retie my runners when the laces came undone, and pee. As I walked I did something unusual for me, I listened to a podcast. Usually in the bush I like to take in the sounds and just be, but the road walk was a tad different, and at a time when I’m trying to refigure a few things out I’m finding the wisdom of other people’s stories to be helpful.
There were plenty of glimpses of mountains to be had as I trudged along. In fact, it took me a while to realise which one I was climbing, such was the winding nature of the road!When I arrived at the end of the road and the foot of Mount Huxley a few hours later I turned the podcast off to enjoy an undistracted clamber up the mountain. I’d checked in with a friend to make sure it was relatively open, and had decided on the basis of his information that trail runners and bare legs would be ok. I had a few doubts when I first saw the mountain, but fortunately it looked greener than it was and the going was relatively open if you got the weaving thing happening. There were even a few cairns to make you feel good about yourself! It actually reminded me very much of walking up to the Jukes plateau (unsurprising really, given their proximity to each other).
In very little time the open walking stopped abruptly at a rocky outcrop, the kind you know you just have to get up because the summit will be just beyond it. Left, right or straight up? I chose wrongly. After a bit of sidling left looking for a way up between the steep conglomerate boulders that were surrounded by scrub I gave up, and went for the climby route. I wasn’t going to be retracing those steps, that’s for sure!
Fortunately it was a brief climb and then I was on the plateau, with the trig a short distance ahead. A bit more weaving and there I was, wondering at what looked like brand new bolts in the rock, for no apparent reason. I didn’t wonder long, the view distracted me, and so I turned my attention to it. Jukes (well Proprietary really) looked so close, a stone’s throw to the south, while Owen was only a tad further away to the north. And then there was Frenchmans across Lake Burbury.
I drunk it all in, enjoyed some nuts, a banana and a pear, and then set off to find a better way down the rock. Turns out I should have gone for the straight up approach – no climbing involved, just a bit of weaving. It certainly hadn’t looked so simple from below! I slipped my way down the loose rocky and at times wet and slimy terrain, not too concerned about retracing exact steps but opting instead to take a rough bearing in the general direction of the road. It was much easier to pick a clear route coming back down, and I hit the road in what seemed like no time at all.
The walk back was significantly faster, even if I was a bit on the tired side. I chose to jog down the downhill sections in the hope I’d get back home before the animals came out at dusk to play chicken on the road!
What changes we’ve all witnessed, most especially these last few months. Some collective, many individual as well. Why should we be surprised – the only certainty in life (apart from death, but we’ll get to that) is change. I’ve revisited a poem Graham first introduced me to a few years ago, and I’d like to share it with you. It’s titled Allow, by Danna Faulds.
There is no controlling life. Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado. Dam a stream and it will create a new channel. Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet. Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground. The only safety lies in letting it all in the wild and the weak; fear, fantasies, failures and success. When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair, Practice becomes simply bearing the truth. In the choice to let go of your known way of being, the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.
The last five lines have played over and over in my head as I’ve tried to turn them from something I can understand on an intellectual level to something I actually feel and trust in. It will come as a shock to many of you who don’t know me in person, that Graham died on the morning of Good Friday. Yep, the strong, healthy, always smiling, super adventurous bushwalker that he was (amongst other things). He had an undiagnosed, completely asymptomatic, perhaps genetic, condition (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for anyone who is wondering) that lead to a sudden cardiac arrest. And so I’ve spent the last two months trying to get my head and heart around losing my best friend, partner, lover, mentor and fellow adventurer.
Bushwalking in Tassie wilderness was where I first discovered myself, grew a healthy sense of self-confidence, esteem and belief, discovered mindfulness and worked on perfecting the act of being utterly in the moment. It remains the place where I do this best. It was also where I met and fell in love with Graham and where we shared so many magical moments. I was hardly surprised that the one thing I wanted to be able to do was to get away to the mountains for a few days. I didn’t know what I was going to find, just knew I really needed to go. I’d become increasingly restless deep down, not so much that it showed on the outside (I think!). Part of it was having lost all certainty in living a meaningful life. It wasn’t that all the other things in my life besides Graham had lost their meaning or worth, it was that I’d planned them and undertook them in such a way that they fitted in with the overarching goal of sharing as much time with Graham. I didn’t do extra study to move up a level at work, I didn’t play more tennis, I no longer went on solo bush walks. In general, I had much less ambition in those aspects of life because none were anywhere near as important, fulfilling or as special as Graham.
People say it takes time, not to rush, be gentle on yourself. I’m prepared to do that in my grief for Graham. I don’t actually want to get to a point that I can speak about him without tears in my eyes or a waver in my voice. But I’m not very good at floating along without a sense of purpose, something meaningful to work towards and, most importantly, a sense of self-worth. Again, I know in essence who I am and what I mean hasn’t changed to the people who know and love me. In fact, I’ve been blown away by the love and care people have expressed, even those who haven’t spent a lot of time with me. But my perception of my worth has changed regardless. Loving someone in a way that no one else does, being able to make every atom of their body smile whenever you walk into the room, knowing and facilitating all the little things that make them happy multiple times a day – that gives a huge sense of self-worth and identity. Nothing in my life was more meaningful than that. And I don’t know what you do when it’s gone.
So I turned to the mountains, trusting that I’d find myself out there again. John Muir’s words came to mind, Into the [mountains] I go, to loose my mind and find my soul. Where exactly I went didn’t matter (too much!). I did, of course, prefer a mountain I hadn’t climbed before, and one with a high camp. Track or at least easy open walking was probably a sensible option – I already know what a fragile mind and unrelenting scrub in unfamiliar territory can do to my mind! And so the weather window dictated a small, 2 day window. I don’t usually go on overnight walks because I think I can move faster with a day pack and cover the same territory in a day. But I wanted to spend a night under the stars, and was prepared to make any exception to do so.
Koruna it was. Koruna is part of the Wilmot range (thanks for the correction Chris!), which lies to the north of the Frankland range, and is usually traversed at the same time as the Frankland range. The Frankland range was the first big, multi-day walk I did and I found the honour of being invited on a private walk huge. In some ways it marked my acceptance as a fellow, equal bushwalker, even though I was still very much a novice. Time restrictions dictated an abbreviated walk, and so we’d taken a boat ride up to the foot of Coronation Peak, and ascended the range from that point, traversing south. This meant we skipped the two northern most mountains usually climbed to access the range – Sprent and Koruna. I’d climbed Sprent on a day walk early on in my bushwalking career, in celebration of a friend’s birthday. But Koruna had escaped us, and was on our short list of mountains to climb. With a two day weather window in the southwest, it was the only mountain that met all the criteria.
It took a bit to get my head around packing just for me, but we got there in the end. The weather window kept on shifting forward, so a late afternoon walk in on Thursday turned into an early morning departure. I left the suburbs in inky darkness, brightened only by the artificial city lights reflecting on falling drizzle. As I drove on the day turned to misty grey. I listened to an ABC conversation with Cheryl Strayed, on her life and memoir, Wild . It wasn’t planned, but her story touched a few notes with me, and I can definitely recommend it!
By the time I’d arrived at Strathgordon (Serpentine Dam) the sky was largely blue, although the sun stayed hidden behind a cloud bank. I put on boots, donned my pack and set off. Straight up. The log book was brand new, put in place in September last year. I was the first entry. This shocked me, then I realised there had been fires and then COVID-19, so it made sense after all.
The track was much as I remembered it – steep, the kind of overgrown that gets you dipping wet if the scrub is damp, and more like a rivulet than a track! It’s pretty badly eroded, such that the boards that were put into place to act as the front part of steps are still there, but the dirt behind them that you step up on to is often boggy and not much higher than the step below. In this way some of the steps are less of a step and more of an obstacle to have lift your feet up and over (and not trip up on!). It didn’t seem like having 9 months off from the pounding of boots had given the land much time to heal. In places, boots had worn away so much and the trench was so narrow it was hard to pass one boot in front of the other. In other spots people had decided it was all too hard and had braided off to one side, starting a new section of track that would in time become just as eroded.
The forest quickly gave way to an open, flatter section, where the views north and east started to open up. It was sunny but the breeze had a winter chill to it that turned a sweaty shirt into an ice pack if you paused too long to take a photo and fingers felt permanently painful. I drunk it in deeply, fresh air filling my lungs. I felt alive, if incredibly unfit! It was definitely good to be back in the southwest wilderness.
A bit more overgrown track – the kind where the scrub was only knee to thigh high but because the track was an eroded channel you found it up to your chest or shoulders (if you’re short like me!) – and then back to the lower stuff with lovely views. I stopped a lot to take photos, I think because I didn’t have anyone with me to share the moment in person. And finally, a last little climb and I was on top of Sprent for the second time in my life. It was just over 2 hours after starting out and I knew my glutes and thighs would complain about it in due course, they were well out of shape (turns out my foot, back and shoulders wanted in on the complaining too!).
The views were much better than last time, but the company lacking. And there was no cake or fresh raspberries to indulge in. I didn’t linger long, it was still cold and I’d decided to camp high in a nearby saddle, then scoot off to Koruna. This was a last minute change of plan that had materialised as I had started walking, and had grown out of the axiom to make hay while the sun shined. It was lovely weather, rare enough at this time of year in the southwest, and there was something about the way the forecast had changed over the course of the week that had me not trusting that Friday was going to be the better day after all. It was quite a distance to cover (more than I realised, actually) and because I’d meandered around and hadn’t driven down to start walking at the crack of dawn I wasn’t going to have a lot of daylight with which to play.
Thankfully there wasn’t much wind forecast, because I like choosing exposed camp sites for the views they offer! I pitched the tent, ate a sandwich (no need to go light weight on a 2 day walk, yeah?) and set off at 12:30. After an hour of walking I knew I was going to be walking in the dark on the return leg. Koruna was something like 7.5km from my tent in a straight line, and I was only averaging 2 an hour (obviously you don’t ever walk in a straight line!). Early on Graham used to get upset at me informing him of the number of ‘bushwalking kilometres’ we had to go to a set point until he got used to the idea that a bushwalking kilometre was much closer to a mile than a kilometre!
The walking was beautiful, open, ridge-top walking. The terrain shifted seamlessly between alpine grasses to low scrub, and the odd rocky outcrop. The Frankland range has some of the best ridge-top walking in Tassie, and that was true of the Wilmot range too. I remembered back to advice we were given before our traverse 7 years ago – if you find yourself in scrub and you’re not on a pad, you’re in the wrong spot. Unfortunately I remembered this about an hour in, when I was standing in waist high scrub about to descend to a river and back up the other side! It was too late to go searching and I pushed down, through and back up the other side, cursing my stupidity only a little bit. I didn’t have time to spare on unnecessary scrub bashing. Up on the ridge I walked straight onto the pad I should have been on, and resolved to follow it on the return.
I continued along, forcing myself to slow down, enjoy the moments as they rolled into one, and take photos. I had an unusual urgency, knowing deep down that if I was going to climb Koruna I’d be walking back in the dark for 2-3 hours. I told myself my turn around time was 3, when I could just turn around wherever I was and make it back as dusk was falling. I think I knew that wasn’t an option I’d seriously entertain for too long. I kicked myself for not carrying the tent further, thereby reducing the distance I’d have to return today. And so the rest of the walk was an interesting experience in examining the unease, almost fear, I was feeling at the thought of walking in the dark. It seemed ridiculous – I’ve done it numerous times before. Solo and with others, on-track and off-track. I remember some times being really excited by the challenge – the Loddon range was one example! Even through scrub. But perhaps I’d just become so used to sharing all these things with Graham and being wholly comforted by his presence, the unwavering sense of protection he gave and having him there to bounce thoughts off. Either way I was still the one who had to do my own walking. Again, the practical reality hadn’t changed much, but my mindset and internal dialogue certainly had – food for thought.
3pm came, Koruna was the next mountain in front of me, but still more than a kilometre away. Of course I was going to climb to the top, couldn’t turn around so close having come so far! I might have been feeling uneasy, but I had a point to prove to myself, especially on this first trip back out, and turning around short of a mountain has never been my strong suit. The pad took me to the base and started circling around to the left. I imagined the track just continued on to the rest of the Frankland traverse. I couldn’t see evidence of a pad heading up to the summit. And so I took to the scrub and rock for one final climb. That part slowed me down a lot. Especially the rock. I’d already had an uncharacteristic slip coming off Sprent, just as I was musing about how I’d shake my head as Graham would tell me the rock was slippery and to be careful! The rock here was quartzite, which can be especially slippery in the wet. All of a sudden my 3:30-3:45 summit time became 4pm. I told myself that was ok, it wasn’t going to change much.
The views were spectacular, the light lovely as the sun started to hit the cloud on the western horizon. I took as long as I dared to savour it. I donned overpants, rain jacket and warm gloves in preparation for the 3.5-4 hour walk back to the tent. The head torch came out. And I began the walk back. The darker it became the more comfortable I got, mostly out of resignation to the fact. I’d made the choices, so I might as well enjoy the experience. I settled into a steady plod and was surprised at how indistinct pads suddenly seemed easier to follow by head torch. The water that sat in puddles over areas of high tread appeared to link up, forming a black line leading into the darkness. I was surprised that even out here, parts of the track were more rivulet-like than track-like.
The stars slowly came out, the sky turned pitch black, and the bite of the air grew crisper. The scrub underfoot went from squelching to crunching as it froze. Shards of ice formed in puddles. The whole world glittered. At one point I turned off my head torch and leant against a bit of scrub, looking up at the millions of stars and the Milky Way. It had been such a long time since seeing stars without artificial light around. It brought back memories of other times lying under the stars, trying desperately to stay awake to hold the moment for just a little longer. I felt connected, safe and home. I was in one sense alone, but I wasn’t exactly lonely. The cold drove me on, although I kept glancing up.
As I got closer to the part where I’d gone for my short scrub bash I grew increasingly nervous. I’ve always been one for retracing steps because you know what you’re in for, and if it’s scrubby then you also have a bit of a bash to follow. I was tempted to do this, but decided to follow the pad and see where it lead instead. My concern here was that it wasn’t always present or obvious, and if I lost it hunting around for it or reading the terrain for the best route forward was risky business in the dark. But the pad was decent, and I followed it a long way north. It sent me on a completely different route to the one I’d taken over, which increased my unease, because now I didn’t have the option of reverting to my old route easily enough. And sure enough, the scrub disappeared at the next knoll and I didn’t know where to go. I used the GPS for a rough direction. There was a rocky and scrubby rise ahead and I decided to check out the left hand side, as all the others had been traversed to that side. Bad idea, I found myself in steep thick scrub, concerned that I’d end up walking off the ridge. A bit of back tracking and some more cursing at the scrub and I walked straight back onto the pad! Phew, I’d just mentally prepared for a maximum 300m scrub bash (the distance between me and my mapped route). As it turned out I just had nice open walking back to the tent, albeit a bit steep. I took one last look at the stars, zipped open the frosty fly, and plonked myself down, suddenly very stiff and sore!!
Wet clothes came off and I got some dinner cooking, even if the cold doubled the time it took for water to boil! Anything important and wet came inside – I wanted to be able to put my boots on the next morning instead of battling with frozen gear. A cup of soup, red curry and hot chocolate all helped warm me (and the tent) up. I read for a bit then called it a night. By now the moon was up and I could have walked anywhere without a head torch!
As it turned out, the decision to wander over to Koruna on the Thursday was a good one. Friday morning was spent in the midst of a drizzly cloud, true southwest weather, and was much better suited to reading, thinking, being and writing notes. So that’s what I did. I didn’t need to be anywhere else, and it was only a few hours walk out and a slightly longer drive home. By early afternoon I figured I should think about making a move, so I packed up and got dressed for a wet day of walking. The inside of the cloud stopped drizzling in time for me to pack the tent up, and in another 10 minutes I was back on Sprent. It was a grey, but not miserable, day, the kind where the view is constantly changing as the mist swirls around, hiding and revealing glimpses of what lies beyond. Typical southwest weather, just enough to remind you gently that you were at the mercy of Mother Nature! I loved it, and I walked somewhat reluctantly down the mountain, back to the car. I saw two lyre birds on the way home, they made me smile at their frantic scuttle to get off the side of the road.
I’m not sure quite what I found out there, but I returned all the richer for it.
All up: 29.1km, 12:15hrs (over the two days), 2018m ascent
Day 1: Pearce Basin (northwest corner of Lake Gordon) to the Denison River
9.0km; 9:22hrs; 398m ascent
So very excited!! Little kid in a lolly shop kind of excited. First day of a long-awaited walk excited. And it waslong-awaited. The three of us had first planned to visit the Prince of Wales (PoW) range two years ago. Sadly, Graham’s father had died the week before we were due to leave, so Graham packed his suitcase for the UK instead of a bushwalking pack. Last year the state was on fire and access was impossible. This year we watched with bated breath as fires started early but were controlled quickly, with no further dry lightning before we were due to leave.
A week or so before our start date we scrambled to find a new boat-man to take us across Lake Gordon because the one we’d arranged had gone AWOL. This brought our departure forward one day, and all too soon it was time to pack, get a car up to the Frenchman’s Cap carpark, and make sure the house was in order for the next 10 days.
The alarm went off at 4:30am, and we had less than an hour to get sorted and out of the house. We were, unsurprisingly, a tad late, leaving at about the time we were supposed to be at John’s house! ‘Danger Darren’, who was super chilled but equally punctual and efficient, was ready to go by the time we got to him and his boat in South Hobart. Charlotte was coming along for the ride too so Darren could go for a surf off the back of his boat on the trip back across the lake after dropping us off. The five of us made quite a party.
The drive to Lake Gordon went fast, too fast – we could have chatted much longer. Then Darren had the boat in the water in record time and we found ourselves sitting up the front, life jackets on, wind trying to rip hats from our heads. We had time for Darren to take a photo of the three of us and then we were off the front of the boat onto a little sandy beach, and in the time it took us to pull out our cameras Darren and Charlotte were waving goodbye. It was lovely to have had the company of two other keen and equally crazy people (the good kind of crazy) to share the last few hours before the walk and then to see us off; somehow it made it all the more significant.
It was 10:30 and now we were on our own, just us, for the next 10 days. We booted up and headed around the lakeside to the spot we thought there might be a rafters route to the Denison. We’d heard about it somewhere, and had a rough grid reference, but I wasn’t sure I was holding out a whole heap of hope. There was nothing convincing at the point we chose, except it would be an ideal spot for landing a boat, and topographically it made sense. There was something that looked vaguely pad-like, but it had plenty of wombat scats on it so could just have been that. A short way up the ridge however we found old, and then fresher, tapes and eventually evidence of a cut track, which was wonderfully exciting. It meant this first day should be much easier going with full packs, for which we were grateful. Progress would have been horribly slow and difficult without it. As it turned out, this ‘easier’ part of the walk was to cause John the most grief. Early on he slipped off a fallen mossy tree trunk and landed on it, right hand side of his chest taking the brunt of the fall with the full weight of his back behind. He broke a rib and put a tooth through his lip. Hats off to him, he didn’t so much as mention his rib to us until a few days later, and even then he never complained. The only signs we got that he was in discomfort was when we happened to catch him taking some analgesia when we stopped for breaks!
Other than that little mishap, we enjoyed the cut track so much we didn’t really stop to think what it meant when it dropped off the ridge to head WNW, towards the Denison River. We did indeed want to get to the Denison, but 3.5km further north of where the rafters track took us. It was only at the river, after we rejoiced in the fact that we’d made it and filled up with water, that the reality became apparent. We started trying to follow the river north, but the scrub, horizontal and forest was depressing. It took us an hour to move 700m, and all of a sudden my excitement and enthusiasm turned to concern, disappointment and fear of failure as it became clear that we weren’t going to be camping by the Denison at the point we wanted. It was only Day 1 but already we were going to be dipping into our precious ‘extra’ days on a range renowned as one where ‘you never make up time, you just keep losing it’. That had ramifications, and suddenly we were considering and mentally preparing to eke out the food we’d brought. We became a bit more intelligent at this point, headed back to the ridge we’d left (through horrid scrub mind you), and eventually popped out onto button grass and scrub. We wove our way through this, trying to stay in the areas that the satellite imagery and map legend suggested was easier going. This proved quite accurate, and made me feel a bit more optimistic about the next morning. At 7:45pm we called it a day and made a surprisingly comfortable camp on a flatter spot in the button grass beside a creek that fed in to the Denison.
Day 2: Denison River to just below Mount Humboldt
8.4km; 10:40hrs; 788m ascent
This was a day where distance was measured from one gum tree to the next; where ‘clear patches’ were judged by a particular colour and the amount of sunlight spotted through rare openings in the scrub; and where speed was inversely proportional to how many flies were buzzing around your head. Our success with route-finding and sticking to the ‘open’ patches continued and we had mostly button grass and open enough tee tree to weave around, with the occasional scrubby creek to cross. We popped into the forest and then arrived at the river 2.5 hours after setting out. We hit it at the perfect spot to cross but spent the best part of an hour drying our feet, donning boots again, taking photos, eating snacks, drinking water and just enjoying making our first milestone.
I hadn’t realized how much weight we’d placed on getting to the river, but at the end of the day Graham mentioned it as one of the highlights of his day and I was certainly aware of a weight lifting off my shoulders being on the far side of the river. The PoW range requires two river crossings, one at the start and one at the end. Both are significant rivers, and have the ability to swell rapidly, stranding walkers who wish to cross, sometimes for days on end. So now that we were over the Denison, there was no reason not to get to the Prince of Wales. In Graham’s words, ‘now we’re starting the walk’.
The Denison was beautiful. Lovely tannin tinged water, so refreshingly cold on a day that was only going to get warmer, and an oasis on a walk where water was going to be scarce. The sides were lined with huon pine, with little seedlings trying to grow out of rocks in the river – perhaps an indication of how low water levels have been for some time. We drank our fill, loaded up all our bottles and bladders (6.5-7 litres for me) and began a much heavier plod up to the ridge.
We were expecting a foul, scrubby ascent in keeping with the PoW reputation, but again we’d mapped out a route based on satellite imagery to maximise the areas that looked like button grass and low scrub. This worked remarkably well and while progress was slow due to the incline, the heat and our desire to choose the best route we ascended steadily.
The cicadas were out and the scrub crunched as we walked. It was very peaceful, out in the middle of nowhere, until you slowed down too much and the flies invaded your personal space. The day grew hot and dry and yet it was probably only in the low 20s. But button grass radiates heat like nothing else and sweat was running down our faces into our eyes and dripping off foreheads, noses and cheeks for most of the afternoon.
One more green patch, a creek to refill our water, some climby stuff and a lost glasses lens, and we found ourselves on a shelf just below two peaks, behind which lay the hidden summit of Humboldt. We were grateful that, so far, the craggy rock and scrubby towers that we’d begun to ascend had been passable without any back-tracking. It was nearly 6pm, a spectacular site and we were so knackered from the day’s climb that we decided to make it our home for the night. Our bruised hips and shoulders sighed with relief as the packs came off for the final time that day. A yummy dinner, an experiment in washing up with no water (moss is amazing!), fun with campsite echoes, a weather update (yup, there was reception!) and an early night completed the day for us.
Day 3: Mount Humboldt to Mid Range (south)
9.1km; 12:11hrs; 701m ascent
We didn’t have the best night’s rest, and managed to be most deeply asleep at 5:30 when the alarm sounded. This was becoming a pattern, allowing us to breakfast the dawn in and be ready to walk as the light grew stronger. Our porridge had no trace of last night’s peanut butter and tomato lentils in it so waterless washing up got the tick of approval.
We continued to head up to the ridgeline, negotiating the towering rock pillars accurately without needing to retrace steps and otherwise finding a relatively pleasant route to the ridge that was better than it looked at first sight. We dropped our packs on the ridge, and ducked left over a bowl to the summit of Mount Humboldt. In true SW bushwalking fashion the clag rolled in for the 10 minutes we were on top. It was hardly going to dampen our spirits however, and we celebrated attaining the ridge and climbing our first mountain of the PoW range 1.5 hours after starting out that morning. As we returned to our packs the mist lifted and now we could see north along the range.
Off we set, with renewed enthusiasm for putting some distance under our belts and making up some of the time we’d lost. The range, however, was hard to read and just when you thought you had a grip on what was what, you came to a rise and there was something different over it… more often than not a cliffy drop! We realized very early on that we weren’t going to be moving great distances fast, as we grew accustomed to negotiating rocky pillars, usually by descending down steep green, scrubby gullies. Occasionally we had to retrace steps, but usually not too far, and in several spots we sent a scout ahead (whoever had the most energy at the time!). In this fashion we found ourselves on Princes Peak in time for lunch at 1pm.
Lunch had us refueled and ready for some more walking with the next objective set on finding water and moving as far along the range as possible. We had been keeping an eye out for water as we moved and while you could tell where it could usually be found, it was just too dry to be reliable or predictable. Good fortune was on our side and each of us found some water in the saddle below Princes Peak, with John winning first prize for the best source by far – it was clear, you could fit a whole cup in without disturbing the bottom, and it more than accommodated the several litres we took out of it without showing any sign of depletion. Ah, the simple things in life!
All set now to walk as far as we pleased, we set off with slightly uncomfortable, overfilled stomachs. The going was good, the best it would be for the trip as it turned out. Mostly we traversed button grass ridges with a few smaller rocky outcrops to negotiate. One or two were scrubbier and took us a little longer. The rest were either a matter of going up and over, or around to the west. Almost always the west. We were starting to get the hang of this ridge and the nature of the PoWs.
Drizzle set in late afternoon, if you could even call it drizzle. It wasn’t enough to have us in wet weather gear, though we did eventually pull out pack covers. Perhaps that was more because since we were carrying them they might as well do their job! Over time the physical exertion turned us into drunkards, unable to walk straight (hard enough in button grass as it is) and eventually unable to keep our balance full stop. When one of us had two falls in as many steps, and I was certainly walking a bit like a zombie, we made the call. Although a tad short of where we’d have liked, by this stage we weren’t too fussed and we were making good progress. Tents went up, we got warm, had dinner and fell asleep before the sun went down. We woke some time later for the last rays of light.
I had the joy of discovering the one thing I don’t like having to deal with on a walk – my period. Sorry guys, feel free to jump to day 4 if you’re not interested or don’t want to know. I’m not writing about this to gross anyone out but because it’s something that’s relevant to most women and yet not something that’s talked about much. I knew it was coming, most of us do, though it’s not something I can time to the day. When I first had to learn to deal with the problem, I managed in the same way as my mother and sister had done, with pads and tampons as the occasion dictated. Only fairly recently did a post on a friend’s Facebook page prompt me to take a leap and try something different: a menstrual cup. I was willing to try it out to reduce my impact on the environment , although it had the added benefit of being cheaper as well. Its ramifications for bushwalking came as a significant surprise. In Tassie, where you can’t light open fires and burn waste (in most places anyway), there’s no choice but to carry waste out. A week’s worth of traditional sanitary products is smelly, bulky and heavy – not something you want to have to carry on a 10 day bushwalk where you’ve already cut as much weight as possible out of your pack. A menstrual cup is a piece of medical grade silicone that weighs a few grams. The only care it requires is a boil before and after use. In my case I boiled it just before we left, then stored it dry in a zip lock bag. It had another boil when we got home. It can stay in for up to 12 hours, and I just give mine a rinse before reinserting. It means no waste products and a much cleaner me, especially when water is as scarce as it was on this trip. It was the first time I’d used it for an extended length of time on an overnight walk, and the first time I didn’t have any back-up products. It worked flawlessly, and I won’t be using anything else in the future! If you’re female and don’t have a regime you’re happy with at the moment, I’d suggest having a look online and maybe taking the leap to try something new ;)!
Day 4: Mid Range (south) to Mid Range (north)
8.5km; 10:53hrs; 562m ascent
Ok guys, you’re safe now!
We thought we were up for an easy half-day – from where we were at the southern end of ‘mid range’ PoW to the northern end, just before the ridge breaks up on the final 2km approach to Diamond Peak. We still started early, and wisely so. The drizzle of yesterday afternoon had cleared up, but the scrub was wet and the sun was struggling to lift its head above the clouds. We walked most of the morning in warm tops, beanies and with pack covers on, pants soaked to the waist, and shirts wet to elbows as we muscled our way through the button grass, tee tree and other assortments of scrub. It was both better and worse than I expected with some areas of open walking but others that were scrubby, steep and rocky, or both. John probably had the better approach – to have no expectations. That way, he explained, you don’t get disappointed, or start off so disillusioned you don’t want to go!
Progress continued to be slow as we discussed and picked our way across the terrain. I was starting to realise that this was not a range where you moved great distances in a day (either that, or I’m slowing down in my early middle age!). We got used to finding patchy evidence of previous human presence where the terrain dictated you take a precise route through an obstacle, largely in the form of a slight foot pad or a broken piece of scrub. This was not something I expected given the remote nature of the range, yet it was undeniable if your eyes were tuned in to the signs and surprisingly reassuring.
In the afternoon we approached some jutting rock cliffs separated by scrubby gullies, each higher than the last. We had to choose which gully to try to get on top, where the going looked to be best. The higher the cliffs, the more they looked like they had overhangs on the way up so we decided to head for the first, and try each one out in turn. The first was a goer, and it was relatively easy to get ourselves on the high, eastern side of the sharp rock edge. In parts it was like a knife blade. The western side was an overhang, but even the eastern side was so steep you needed to hang on with hands to the low scrub. Fortunately we didn’t encounter any chasms in the rock and the climb up was really quite fun (at least for a rock monkey!).
We popped out on the saddle and found a way up the next rise, sticking to rock to avoid the scrub. The ridge opened back up, and we turned our attention back to water. Our info suggested we’d have water at our next camp site, but Graham wasn’t in a trusting mood, and when we walked across some boggy ground he suggested we hunt around for water downhill a little. It was a brilliant suggestion and once again we found the start of a creek. It wasn’t flowing this high up, but there was enough water trapped in the pool we found for us to drink our fill and once again load up our reservoirs. The down side, we now had a heavy trudge up the next hill (but we weren’t really complaining!).
We found ourselves sitting on the remains of a cairn, that John reckoned came down in a lightning strike. We’d thought it might be a Sprent cairn, but John delved into its history on our return and found very little evidence of who might have raised it (if anyone reading this knows, we’d love to hear from you). We tried our hardest to imagine what it had been like for the men who had been here before. It was just too hard, though I have no doubt we were a great deal more comfortable than they had been. We savoured the moments: the last of the sun’s warmth on our backs, the clear blue sky, the crisp breeze, the wonderful views north and south along the range, the quietly pleasant company, the feeling of having achieved all we needed to that day, the sense of peace, contentedness and even belonging.
The breeze helped encourage us on our way, and we dropped the short distance down to the beautifully open, mostly flat, and a tad boggy saddle to set up our homes for what would turn out to be the next two nights. There were yabbie holes galore here, and a few that were full to brimming. Turns out they contain a lot of water, and even after taking 2-3 litres out of one it was still brimming near the top! We discovered the MSR pump and filter I’d bought especially for the trip worked wonderfully here – it was not only an effective way to get water out of a hole that didn’t have a downhill slope (necessary for siphoning via a length of plastic tubing), it filtered at the same time (although it was pretty clear for us and probably not necessary). I’m not a gear junkie, but it would prove to be useful numerous times on the trip and went down as money well spent.
Day 5: Rainy rest day
To Diamond Peak… or not? We woke for a 7am start to find ourselves in the middle of cloud. Who knows how big, but it felt like it went on forever. It wasn’t really raining, perhaps just misting, but each time the wind blew gusts over the saddle it was driven onto our tents, sounding like it was raining properly, even though it wasn’t. Our notes told us the next part was the hardest of the walk, particularly if in whiteout. Hmm… we felt it would be foolish to have a crack, especially as we had a bit of time to spare and the forecast had the rain clearing up by 11am the following morning. And so the waiting game began. 10:30 it was still claggy, and our decision was cemented.
Graham and I settled on half rations for lunch with the other half for dinner, to give us an extra day should we need it. We had plenty of extra warm drinks with us and water was now in abundance, so we made the most of it. Today time was measured in how long it took to fill a cup with water from the tent fly. How many drops made up a cupful? I lost count. We whiled the time away drinking, chatting, dozing, making lists of gear to fix or replace, and getting thrashed by Graham playing cards. It might seem frustrating to be holed up unable to do much, but it was actually really nice to be in a position where you couldn’t make yourself too busy, as we so often do these days. I was happy just to be. And we probably benefited physically from the rest day as well. It grew dark, the wind buffeted us half the night and then settled. In the silence we slept.
Day 6: Mid Range (north) to Diamond Peak
4.6km; 6:41hrs; 481m ascent
We woke and peeked out eagerly. It was still solid mist, but the rain was absent. Perhaps it would bode well for a later start? We decided on hourly checks, ready to leave as soon as we could see. The latest weather update confirmed no more rain after 11am. Our hopes rose each time the tent seemed to brighten just a little, then fell again as a bit of drizzle started. At 9:00 in a moment of brightness we decided to be ready to leave at 10, reckoning we had about an hour of walking up an easy enough ridge before we hit the nasty stuff. We hoped the weather would be clear by then. Ha, what false hope!
Packed and ready to go, despite cold hands we strode confidently into the mist. It kept pace with us, though we let out a small cheer at the first glimpse of proper sunshine and a hint of blue sky. Perhaps we scared it off as it disappeared again behind the light grey curtain. We were sent more rain and, at one point, hail as if to punish our optimism. We were wet and cold, with no choice but to keep moving to stay warm. We negotiated by poorly-contoured GPS maps and lots of intuition, somehow getting it right most of the time. We dropped off cliffs into green tinged mist, and tried to walk on ridges that disappeared without hint of which direction they went in. Part way along, we caught glimpses as the mist parted, and were probably better off not knowing what we were walking through! But the terrain was spectacular, and it was a pity we couldn’t see more of it. And then we stopped. We were standing on the edge of a cliff, again. We’d arrived. At the chasm. The one we’d been told about. It was unmistakable. Back we went, to a spot we thought we’d be able to safely work our way down a scrubby gully underneath the western side of the rock. We plunged into head high scrub (and then some), wet and slippery going and followed the small traces of those who had been before us. Back up a chute we scrambled, climbed and, in one spot, passed packs between us. We squeezed back out the top, once again on the edge of a sloping, rocky ridge.
A hint of sun was enough to convince us to stop for a very quick bite to eat for lunch, none of us wanting to pause too long and get too cold in the wind. We continued on, the rain gone but the wind bitterly cold. The sense was the weather was improving, even if it was well overdue. And so it was when we were 600m from Diamond Peak that we actually got our first close up view of the mountain. Wasn’t she magnificent, emerging from the mist! We knew we were close – excitement grew and the weather continued to improve even if the sun was still hiding from us. Cold, wet and tired by more scrub and scrambling around bluffs and buttresses, we chose to set up camp in the most amazing of spots and save climbing Diamond peak for the morning, though we had a good look at possible routes. The rest of the afternoon saw us spread our wet gear over the bushes by our tents in an attempt to begin the drying process and make it less painful to don in the morning. Lentil curry with peas for dinner was all the more divine, having missed a cooked dinner the night before. The sunset cast pretty colours over us as if to make up for the rest of the day, and everything was well in our part of the world.
Day 7: Diamond Peak to Observation Peak
10.6km; 11:54hrs; 784m ascent
We slept in for half an hour, but were quick to get up when we heard John shout out that there was going to be a good sunrise. A fingernail moon hung over a rainbow horizon, just to the right of Diamond Peak. We got to enjoy our breakfast without having to worry about trying to pack gear in between mouthfuls because we’d agreed to climb the peak and then come back to pack gear up when it would hopefully be a bit drier (the downside to such a still night was a very wet inner fly). Wet socks and boots still had to go on, but the reward would be more than worth it so we gritted teeth and got on with it.
We shot off, spring in our step, feeling weightless with no packs on our backs. Up to the saddle connecting Diamond Peak to the ridge, down into the beautiful forest and along the side of the rock we went until we located the bottom of a steep gully marked by a tall pandanus palm. The scrubby start had now turned into a green carpet of moss and we followed it tentatively up and up, hesitant to tear it up with our unforgiving boots, onto rock and the eastern shoulder of Diamond Peak. John and Graham let me lead, which was super cool and very generous, and I enjoyed every step of the way. There was nothing tricky about it, just sheer pleasure. Then there we were, on top of the world! Elation, excitement, happiness, contentment and celebration filled the morning. We enjoyed the moment, then tried to record it, then shared it with people who may not have even noticed our absence, then sat and savoured it some more.
Reluctantly we turned to leave the summit, aware we still had a long day ahead of us. After taking down tents and donning full packs, the ridge continued to surprise us, and we tookthe best part of an hour pack hauling down one cliff. Probably the boys should know better than to send me to scout out a route down rock, of course I thought it was do-able. Turned out we had a double pack haul to do, without great foot holds or a lot of room. It didn’t help that part way through I was ready to catch Graham’s pack when the rope caught against the very sharp quartzite and snapped without warning. We were lucky the pack didn’t fall far and happened to land in front of me in my arms (with a bit of assistance from my face), rather than over my head where it would have overbalanced me. It was a timely warning. We were much more careful with the remaining pack hauls, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to feel much relieved when we were all standing below the rock.
That was the worst of the day, and the longer we walked the more the terrain improved. We had a lot of scrub to negotiate, the kind that covers little legs in bruises, although even this improved after the PoW North high point. Our pace improved here, hampered only by the unevenness of walking through decent sized button grass clumps with tired legs. We spied a flat platform just below Observation Peak and made a beeline, all of us ready to stop walking by now. As we chose our sites and pitched our tents I reflected on how well we worked as a team. We were each leaders in turn, but none of us was ever head chief and it was special to be a part of such a team!
Day 8: Observation Peak to Algonkian Mountain
7.9km; 9:26hrs; 622m ascent
The sun rose behind the Spires, painting pretty button grass silhouettes and creating a spectacular backdrop for my chosen loo spot for the morning. We had a short, straight and easy climb through damp button grass and ankle to knee high scrub to the summit of Observation Peak, which rewarded us with 360 degree views. It was the last peak on the Prince of Wales range proper, so we spent a little time enjoying it before casting our eyes westwards to the very green looking Algonkian.
We’d heard bad things about this one and we were about to find out how bad they would prove to be. We duck and wove our way down the ridge, taking a few hours but managing to stay in reasonable scrub right through to the creek, where we washed faces and refilled water in preparation for a waterless high camp on Algonkian. Unfortunately it was starting to warm up, just in time for the2.5km ascent. Again, the scrub was manageable. It was the kind you could weave through without too much effort, and we took it in turns to lead. We stopped about ¼ of the way up for lunch in the bauera and were once again swarmed by flies and mozzies, something the higher summits had fortunately lacked!
Onwards we plodded, passing a section of beautiful forest that had more king billies than I’d ever seen in one spot, as well as sassafras, celery top, myrtle and pandanis. This gave way to a section where the less enjoyable species of scoparia, cutting grass, bauera and horizontal dominated and we realised we were indeed getting closer to the summit.
And then we broke out, finding ourselves looking back towards the entire PoW range stretched across the horizon…wow! It provided the motivation to overcome fatigue and make our way past the first camp site we found, over to the summit of Algonkian. What views!! Just spectacular. Definitely worth celebrating with the last bit of Old Jamaican Rum and Raisin chocolate 😉 while Graham rescued maps and hat from a burst tube of sunscreen.
We entertained the idea of continuing on, heading off the slopes of the mountain to camp in the forest somewhere to give us extra time the next day. It made logical sense, but the summit was just too nice and we were only going to be there once, not to mention we were feeling pretty buggered too. We opted for a high camp with views for our final night and found a lovely flat camp site just down from the summit that looked out along the entire PoW range, framed by king billies. For me it marked the last proper night of the trip, the following days falling into the ‘walking out’ category rather than part of the journey itself.
Camping here also gave us a few hours before dinner and bed to reflect on the trip, how perfect it had been so far and how lucky we were with weather, water, route finding, the boat trip in, and all the information we’d gathered from various sources (thanks guys, you know who you are). Even the mozzies, flies and ants seemed to know to leave us alone!
Day 9: Algonkian Mountain to Jane River Track (Bests Rivulet)
15.3km; 10:38hrs; 270m ascent
The morning dawned cloudy but fine, and the possible showers that had been forecast didn’t look like they’d eventuate. We enjoyed a final high breakfast, then went to survey our possible routes off Algonkian. The guys we knew who had been through some years before had talked about a horribly scrubby ridge to the west and we weren’t keen to repeat that, though we expected to run into scrub at some point. I’d found one source somewhere at some point in the last three years that talked about the plains to the north providing easier going. So once again I mapped several possible routes according to satellite imagery and now we chose one of them. We would see how it would fare.
Down we went, finding ourselves in deeper and deeper scoparia as we tried to stay on the ridgeline. We veered off to the right into open forest. For some time we tried determinedly to keep heading left and regain the middle of the ridge but it was scrubby there and eventually we gave in. It was the best decision and the going remained fairly open under rainforest. It felt like we were constantly sidling left across the slope, as if staying on the same contour line, but the GPS told a different story. We had lovely open forest and the occasional patch of more condensed horizontal to weave through (for good measure), but nothing that actually felt like a scrub bash. There were a few cliff lines and steep gullies to negotiate, but always we found a way through with ease.
At the bottom we wove through forests of tall skinny paperbark trees (I think) and cutting grass. It was weird terrain, but we weren’t going to complain. It got a bit scrubbier, but nothing that required super physical work to clear a way through. In the last kilometre before the Jane River Track we finally arrived at the open button grass plains I had been boasting (only a tad overdue!). Graham scared us all with his loud reaction to yet another snake we’d startled, and then we hit ‘road’. Overgrown, but road nonetheless. We’d done it… mostly.. and in record time! High-fives all round. Definitely the way to go, we agreed.
John checked his GPS and confirmed the goldminers hut was only 500m south of where we were and we agreed it was worth a visit – even if it was in the wrong direction – so we left our packs and headed that way. It was well built (it even had a shower!) and was holding up with time, although a sad deserted feeling pervaded and I was happy to turn our backs and leave it to the quiet of the bush again. Again, it was so far removed from my own experiences of life I couldn’t imagine how things might have been, how the guys who had walked the same road as I was now walking had felt about being there.
Reunited with our packs we began the long road walk out, keen to make a dent on the 25km so we could definitely make it out in good time the next day. The road was in better condition that I expected, the going slowed only by frequent large trees that had fallen across it. Most had been there for some time, and those who had been in before us had already established obvious routes around them. The pace still wasn’t that fast, we were tired, and it was hard to muster great motivation to keep moving with speed when we were further ahead than we’d expected. We made it to Bests Rivulet before tempers started to fray with the constant insult of having to go up and over or down and under fallen trees and so we called it a night, camping in the middle of the flattest section of road we could find.
It was home to almost all the mozzies in the world, and we had no choice but to lock ourselves in our tent inners for protection, despite the evening being a muggy one at this height. Graham spoiled me with lollies and snacks that he now knew were surplus to his needs. We hadn’t been sure we’d get out on day 10 until that point, but we were very keen to do so knowing there was a front coming through the following night that would bring heavy rain all night and the next day. We didn’t want to take any chances that the Franklin river wouldn’t be passable. (A week after walking out we found out from a fellow walker and friend that the Gordon River was flooded and unpassable, so who knows, perhaps the Franklin would have been after all that rain? Lucky our original boat trip fell through and the alternative option meant we left a day earlier, hey?!)
Day 10: Jane River Track (Bests Rivulet) to Lyell Highway
19.7km; 7:56hrs; 564m ascent
Definitely my least favourite day. I always struggle with walking out, and this was perhaps one of the worst walkouts. The road seemed to get worse and worse as we got closer to the end; the cutting grass, bauera and other scrub seemed keen to taunt, pulling at tired stumbling legs just to spite me. The bog sucked me down, filling both boots that I had actually managed to dry out. Grrrr… I found myself getting angry and grumpy at the scrub each time, and was surprised and fascinated. I tried hard to treat it as a challenge, but wasn’t much in the mood and did a pretty poor job. I can’t imagine I was much company for John and Graham, but they didn’t seem to let my spirits get them down and I just hope I didn’t taint their experiences of those last few hours.
The best parts of the day were examining the condition of each of the bridges we came to and also arriving at the Franklin to find we could rock hop across without getting our feet wet. It was also pretty funny trying to figure out which one of us would have the greatest luck flagging down a ride the 2-3km to the Frenchman’s Cap car park, where John had parked a car a week and a half earlier. John got the job, and it didn’t take him long before he was back with transport home. We all had smiles on our faces as we flicked the last of the leeches off our boots and gaiters, changed into semi-clean clothes, and tucked into chips and later an ice cream.
We spent the next two days cleaning, repairing and sorting gear, smiling happily that we weren’t walking in the heavy, blustery rain and cold conditions. The emphasis on basic needs that had been such a focus of the last 10 days grew less prominent as we immersed ourselves back into the business of our everyday lives. It had been a lovely reset and it still makes me smile, breathe deeply, and feel warm and happy inside. I feel very privileged to be able to do such things in a beautiful part of the world with special like-minded people.
All up over 93km and 5000m ascent and a whole lot of fun!