It’s been a long time since one of these – time to see if I can still write! So many things have changed or are changing, but one thing that stays kind of the same is that feeling when I find myself out in the middle of nowhere, or even somewhere, and everything is just as it should be. It was so good to be back in the mountains, exploring a new route and all of this with good company. I almost immediately felt at home, at ease, and open to whatever would eventuate for our crazy weekend away.
This little adventure started when Ben sent a message, searching for someone crazy enough to have a crack at Nereus in 3 days, in October. He definitely knew who to ask! It wasn’t really a proper question, rhetorical really, because it only had one answer. We even managed to find a weekend that would work for both of us. All the other possibilities for additional company fell through for one or more reasons but at the last minute Tim made use of a freebie COVID day off to take a long weekend and join us.
October was intentionally chosen to maximise the likelihood of water and minimise the chance of long stinking hot days in scrub… As our departure date approached we were happy enough with the weather. BOM predicted rain for every 3 hour block of every day we were away, with thunderstorms on the first just for good measure. With Ben’s dad booked to take us across Lake St Clair so we could reliably get an early start and have no problems with timing on the way back, there would be no backing out.
It was wonderful to have company as I woke at 3:30am and began the drive to Lake St Clair, where we would meet Ben and his dad. Conditions were perfect, save for the low lying cloud that made it hard to see very far ahead. Ben’s dad drove the boat blindly through rain covered windows while Ben stood up behind, looking over the canopy of the boat, ordering ‘Port, port, more port’ as the situation required. We rejoiced in the smallest glimpse of Olympus as we jumped off the boat and laughed as we took photos of the tiniest glimpse of blue sky – we didn’t expect to see it again until after we got home! We wished Ben’s dad good luck finding his way back, and set off.
Ben set off like he was being chased by a bear, and Tim and I tried to keep up. We made good time to the Pine Valley turn off, and then to the hut, where we broke for a bite to eat. Aside from some intermittent light drizzle from time to time the heavy rain didn’t eventuate. We puffed our way up the short and steep climb to the Labyrinth, delighted at the chorus of Tasmania froglets imitating sheep and found ourselves with views that only continued to open up as the day wore on. We even got sun… a bit too much sun! But we weren’t complaining and we were all very grateful, if a tad critical of the BOM weather-person.
The cracking pace Ben set from Narcissus gradually slowed as Tim’s ankle, which he’d hurt the weekend before, became increasingly ginger to the point he couldn’t dorsiflex his foot. I was anxious as I’d never seen him walk that slow, but my legs were happier at the much more relaxed pace that I knew I could keep up all day. The cloud continued to lift and we realised we were in for some deepish snow on Walled, which made the otherwise relatively easy ascent a bit more tiring. We preferenced the scrub and rock over the snow drifts and found ourselves on the summit before 2pm, laughing like kids at the views and weather.
The Walled summit plateau was scattered with snow drifts and very wet underfoot but a stunning arena for from which to view the area. We made our way easily over to the rocky ridge that leads towards Macs. It was one of big dolerite boulders, not easy to traverse quickly, and we probably moved the slowest we had all day, causing the more aggravation to Tim’s foot.
After locating a steep scree chute at the end we dropped down to the lightly scrubby saddle before the climb up Macs. We wove between the scrub well and found water in the saddle, where we also paused to gather our strength for the upward battle. Yet by yet another stroke of luck, or just Ben’s excellent route-making, we ended up following pads and cairns to a minimally scrubby ascent.
Once we hit the bottom of the scree we traversed around the eastern side of Macs, dropping packs directly below the summit and rock-hopping the short way up, feeling light and free without our homes on our backs. On top the light was brilliant and the views worth returning for (my first summit had been in driving rain). We pinched ourselves repeatedly at our luck and sat there a while longer than strictly necessary, and then a few minutes longer, keen to enjoy the evening light and celebrate a solid day’s walking.
We only dragged ourselves away when we knew we didn’t have much time left before dark, knowing we still had some sidling and a little bit of scrub to go before we set up camp for the night. Fortunately as the sun turned the western horizon pretty colours we made our way along and down, still delighted to have cairns and bits of pad to follow – neither of which we’d expected.
We pitched tents in the dying light of day and ate well-earned food by torch. I somewhat guiltily accepted salted caramel chocolate from Ben for dessert, having managed to pack and offer almost all the foods he wasn’t keen on (peanut butter, dried pears and blue cheese!). The stars were sluggish to appear but eventually shone strong and I don’t think I was the only one who was quick to drift off under them, thoroughly content with the day’s effort and reward!
We woke early, irrelevant that it was daylight savings time. All we needed was daylight and that wasn’t changing even if the clocks were. Ben and I set off into the mist, rejoicing each time a bit of mountain poked its head out. Ben walked straight onto a pad and so what we feared would be a slog uphill in scrub was again much nicer than expected. A trend seemed to be forming here, although we decided to reserve final judgement till we reached our destination! On top of the rise the walking was open, and even though it wasn’t necessary we visited the high point, so we could look down and pick a route forward. There we were treated to a brocken spectre. Our delight was unrestrained, quite unlike our excitement about how ok the next bit of the walk looked. We were very hesitant about counting chickens and all that, but we weren’t at all disappointed about what we were seeing.
We yelled and waved at Tim, who had wisely decided to stay in the tent. His ankle still wasn’t moving as it should and he felt a rest day was the intelligent, if difficult, choice. We would miss his company, but were happy he at least had a stunning day with some nice views to keep him company. The forecasted all-day drizzle was once again nowhere to be seen and we had much more sun than we needed.
Once again, the scrub was not as bad as expected as we made our way through a short band, then popped out onto a flat alpine grassy expanse before the final drop to the saddle that leads to Nereus. Again, we didn’t need to, but we’d spied what looked like a good water source on satellite imagery and so we deviated hard left and made for the rim of the plateau. There was a shallow mossy soak with a small stream feeding it. The outflow made its way to a small cliff face where it tumbled over the edge in a few different spots, splashing wonderfully into decent-sized pools below. They’d take a little bit of effort to get to, but would be a wonderful reprieve on a hot day in summer!
We dragged ourselves away and over to the small cliffy edge before the descent to the button grass saddle before Nereus. We quickly found a chute between the rocks and delighted in low bauera, cutting grass and yellow gums. It was very easy to weave down through and we were happy to still have avoided any major bashing. It would prove, however, to be much, much harder on the way up with tired legs and and hot sun on our backs! At the bottom we hit the saddle where we had breakfast/snacks and then stumbled our way through the 800m button grass plain. It was a brief test of the strength in our thighs before the final ascent to our peak, which looked surprisingly close.
Into the scrub we pushed, weaving through a bit of denser stuff before popping into open myrtle forest on our right. It was surprisingly lovely, even if it wasn’t the first bit of myrtle forest we’d been in this trip. And it went on and on, further than the eye could see! We really couldn’t believe our luck – was this really the horribly scrubby peak we’d heard about? Sure, it wasn’t close to civilisation and it wasn’t all open walking, but we hadn’t actually had any sustained scrub bashes, mostly just ducking and weaving with the odd thicker bits. We weren’t there yet, but we were feeling pretty good at this point.
We still had what we expected to be the crux of the walk to come. From afar there was a cliffy rocky section on the main ridge just before the summit of Nereus and we weren’t sure if we could get up it. We ideally wanted to head straight up the ridge, but we decided our plan B would be to bail into a gully on the left of the ridge with plan C being a much longer sidle to the right, under the summit and up a much gentler looking ridge to the northeast of the summit.
The forest took us pretty much to the base of the rocky cliff bit, which looked ok until we started to climb up it. We realised pretty quickly it was slippery because it was on the southern side of the mountain and therefore didn’t receive much sun – a perfect location for growth of that wonderfully nasty black lichen stuff that turns dolerite from a wonderfully grippy surface into a death trap. There also wasn’t the hand holds we thought there might be. We were both ‘straight up’ kind of people, not afraid of some climbing, and this probably wasn’t the safest of combinations. Our first attempt resulted in Ben hanging by a fist when his feet slipped out from under him. The second resulted in him providing me with some foot holds with his hands so I could scramble up, but he was unable to follow. He found another way up further along, which involved climbing a tree! Both of us decided we wouldn’t be going down that way and would instead make use of the actually very good looking gully on the west of the ridge. We used it to get around the next rocky cliff face and could feel the summit suction really set in when we realised there wasn’t much between us and the high point. We’d made it past the crux and there was nothing stopping us now. Almost nothing, anyway. Ben’s legs decided they wanted some attention as they cramped up 70 odd metres from the summit, with only the flat plateau to walk across. He told them they could wait and pushed them on, ignoring their protest!
The summit, which we arrived at shortly after 11, was a pleasant affair with views in most directions. It had a brilliant outlook towards the whole of the Eldon range, which looked longer than I’ve seen it from any other vantage point. Ben delighted in pointing out that this was my penultimate Abel and wondered how I was feeling about the last one, Tramontane, being ‘just over there’ – so close, but out of reach. I chuckled.
We’d already had a discussion about actually how big a deal climbing all the Abels was. Ben had pointed out how many people had been to the moon in the same sentence as and how many had publicly announced that they’d climbed all the Abels. There wasn’t much of a difference, which was an interesting way of seeing it. I realised I’d minimised the significance by focussing on the HWC peak-bagging list instead of the Abels.
Ben didn’t know it, but he’d started watering a little seed. One day, and one day sooner than I had initially thought, I was sure there’d be a mission to visit Tramontane. The tree-covered little mound looked diminutive in the company it kept, but the forest surrounding it had already played its role in defending it from a visit, which ironically would now make it a mountain of significance in my bushwalking journey. I smiled at the thought.
We took time to eat, drink, replenish all the salts we’d sweated out, send a few messages and say hello to the mountains for the special people who weren’t able to enjoy them in person with us. We couldn’t stay long, however, knowing that it would be wise to get back to camp and drop back to Walled mountain if we could. We weren’t relishing the idea, knowing how tired we’d feel, but it would make for a much more relaxed walk out and probably be kinder to Tim’s ankle. And so we tore ourselves from the rocks we’d perched on and headed back down, liking the gully instead of the rock face.
The descent was speedy and easy and we stayed in the forest as long as we could, minimising the small scrub band before the button grass saddle. It was stinking hot now (or felt like it) and there was barely a breath of wind. Perhaps the hardest part of the walk was the return slog back to Green Hill or Urquhart’s Mesa. The gradient wasn’t harsh and the scrub was even manageable, but together with the heat and our fatigue we felt like it went on and on, and that our progress was slow. It wasn’t, as it turned out, and we eventually made it back to the top of the cliffs, where we headed straight for the water we’d checked out on the way over. It was just delightful!
Almost as wonderful was arriving on top of the rise above, being able to see our tents and summoning Tim out with yells, whistles and waves. All we had was the downhill stumble through a little bit of scrub and we were back at the tents. It was mid afternoon and we’d made it! As expected, we would have loved to have spent the rest of the day relaxing, but it wasn’t the best use of time and weather. So we struck camp and started a steady plod back to Walled Mountain.
Tim was simply wonderful here. Ben and I were both exhausted. We could walk a steady pace, but mentally weren’t the sharpest and there were two sections requiring an uphill climb against scrub. Tim led us the whole way back, relieving us of any further mental work. It was just as well, he found brilliant lines and made the walking much better than we’d expected it to be. Once again we were traversing under Macs as the sun started to dip and the colours matured to something special by the time we were on the bouldery spine before Walled Mountain.
I had a slight incident as we traversed the boulders, where I misjudged an overhanging rock. The top of my pack hit it and bumped me backwards. I tried to recover, bumping into the rock again, this time without the chance to recover. Instead of toppling backwards, instinct had me jumping off the rock I was trying to stand on, to whatever was below. The first spot didn’t work, and I found myself jumping again. I landed by pure luck and no skill on my left foot, hyperflexing it at the ankle. After the initial 30 seconds of pain, accentuated by a decent bruise on the same shin which I’d hit on a rock somewhere on the way down, I was surprised to find it feeling pretty good. It wasn’t back to normal though and I rolled it laterally twice in the remaining short walk to camp. It was another reminder as to how easily things can change and I reckon we all added an extra point of contact as we completed the boulder-hop.
We called it a day at dusk, a few hundred metres shy of the Walled plateau, in a lovely little saddle. We set up tents as the light faded and recorded memories with our cameras of the last of the colour to the west as we ate dinner. Ben had booked his dad in for a 2:30pm pick up at Narcissus, which sounded wonderful to our ears. Bruised, aching and completely spent we all slept fitfully under another star-filled sky.
We woke early, packed by head-torch and were ready to go shortly after 6:30am. It was a misty morning, but no rain, once again despite the forecast. We had the feeling though that this wasn’t just morning mist. It wasn’t a problem though, as it meant we had nothing to distract us from walking across the Walled plateau, bum sliding down the bigger snow drifts and picking our way back through the Labyrinth. As we walked the mist began to lift, with occasional light drizzle to keep us from overheating in our wet weather gear. We shared the lead, keeping a slow and steady pace (I join Tim nursing a sore ankle now), with only one destination in mind.
At the hut, 3 hours after sitting out, we stopped for a loo and snack break and had a chat to some other walkers. But we were all very much focused on the Narcissus jetty, probably a little worried that if we stopped for too long it would be hard to get moving again! So off we trotted, trying our hardest to make every footstep land on the chicken wire. When we missed we’d go skidding on the wet duckboard. Step by step we made it, timing our early arrival almost perfectly for the appearance of the sun.
We spent our spare hour sitting at the ferry terminal bathing in the sun, the warm glow of a largely successful trip, drinking soup and eating snacks and otherwise chatting away about all sorts of things. It was all a bit of a blur and would require some processing, but there was a wonderful mix of connection, rejuvenation and physical fatigue as well as elation at the success of getting to Nereus along with a few other things swirling deep within me. The bush had once again worked its magic.
Ben’s dad arrived nice and early, took us bumping back across the lake and bid us farewell. We were super grateful – the trip couldn’t have happened without him, his boat or his time and flexibility. The Wombat Cafe provided a brilliant burger and Magnum to fuel us for the ride home, rounding out the trip just perfectly.
Day 1: 21.8km; 11 hrs; 1252m ascent
Day 2: 15.3km; 13:50hrs; 1123m ascent
Day 3: 17.2km; 6:15 hrs; 290m ascent
TOTAL: 54.3km; 2703m ascent – not bad for 2.5 days.
It had been talked about a lot but until this year I’d never got further. The White Monoliths is one of the last big ranges I have left to explore, but it’s probably best done with other people. It has a reputation for being dry on top and scrubby, in the way that makes for slower than expected going. It also has a couple of rivers that run like a moat, bolstering its defence against the inquisitive bushwalker. Very little about it is out there in the public domain.
It was right at the top of the list of walks I wanted to do this summer but it was purely due to Shelly’s interest in it during a chance encounter on the Overland Track in November that actually saw the idea come to fruition. We asked a friend each who we thought would be interested, and ended up with one extra, Ben. Sadly he was summoned to do jury duty shortly before we left, which meant he’d only have 9-10 days, not the full 12 we’d set aside, just in case. But he was still keen to come and was prepared to walk out alone if need be. We didn’t think we’d need so many days, but figured if we made good progress we could always check out Piners and Propsting, if the Davey River was safe to cross. It was all very tentative to cater to pretty much whatever we found as we went!
The weather forecast wasn’t great, but improved as our departure date approached. There was some good weather, some wind, some rain, some cloud, but not too much cold. We’d see! We left a cloudy Hobart and drove to the start of the Western Arthurs track, not surprised to find the White Monoliths wasn’t on the list of walk routes in the registration book! We made a personalised note and when Ben arrived and donned his gear we headed off, at the civilised time of 10am.
We were at Junction Creek for lunch just after midday, the walking muddy but uneventful. We had lunch, which would have been more pleasant if I’d not experienced my biggest gear failure to date. I had a brand new medium sized gas canister but nothing came out when I screwed it in to my stove. It didn’t even make a little release of gas when I unscrewed it. I borrowed one of Shelly’s, it worked fine… it was the canister. Wasn’t I lucky I was walking with others? Imagine if I was walking alone for 12 days… That evening Ben tested my canister with his stove and found it to work ok, except he thought it might be leaking when he unscrewed it. He generously swapped with me, but I felt uneasy that the canister was somehow still faulty.
After lunch all the cloud had burnt off and the sun was at full strength. It was hot, the sweat poured off our faces as we squelched along the sodden, braided track. Ben walked ahead with his long legs, poles and faster speed in general. Shelly and I slowed down a bit, partly because it was our way of walking, partly because it allowed us to look up at the mountains as we swung around the northern end of the Western Arthur range without losing our balance. We walked in this fashion to just shy of where the Port Davey track crosses the Crossing River.
Although there is quite nice camping there we were all keen to get across the river to the foot of the White Monoliths that evening. There was no rain forecast, but river crossings can take time and be a tad interesting and we had heaps of spare time to do it today. At this point we headed off track towards our range, aiming for the least scrubby section to cross the river. Ben picked a brilliant route, taking us straight past a super cute little echidna. Then we hit a tiny bit of open scrub and the river.
The one publicly available account of a walk along part of the White Monoliths paints a dire picture of the river crossing here. Depending on where you cross depends on whether it’s the Dodd or Crossing River and on average how big it looks on satellite imagery (the latter being bigger!). The account we read made it pretty clear the two guys who crossed it after walking along the range, having come in from over the Folded Range, were lucky to have survived. They crossed in much the same spot as we did. We obviously didn’t have quite as much rain in the preceding days and found a good little spot with a pebbly beach that allowed 2.5 of us to cross without getting feet wet. We were only hoping we’d be so lucky on the return, although we were also expecting a bit of rain!
A little more scrub and we found ourselves closer than expected to Sculptured Mountain, on an expanse of flat and open button grass plain. We picked a little rise that looked flat on top and was close to the river from which we’d source our water. It made for some lovely camping, aside from the northerly that picked up just as we were trying to pitch tents. It was forecast and was right on time, although I think we all thought how we’d have appreciated it more if it had come in the middle of the day instead! We sat out and ate, watched the sun set and the sky turn pretty colours, decided on things like departure times, immediate routes and tentative destinations for night two. By then the light was gone and the stars were out and it was time to retreat.
I got about 3 hours sleep before the wind turned really gusty and the moon was high in the sky, making a perfect combination to challenge even the most robust of sleepers. I accepted the challenge and decided it would be a night of rest as I listened to the wildness, instead of one of sleep. Dozing was inversely proportionate to the gusts of wind.
We were up for an early start (Shelly was my official alarm clock) and ready to go at the crack of dawn, because it was going to be a hot one. The first day had been forecast at 23, today was meant to hit 26. We didn’t want to be climbing up the ridge in that! At least the ridge looked like completely open going and not ridiculously steep. The only hitch was we were carrying maximum water because we didn’t know what we’d find up there. That meant an extra 6kg, or a total pack weight just shy of 30kg! And on top of that we had the wind. It wasn’t just wind, it was gale-force by now.
We were lucky to be sheltered from the sun and the wind as we began the steeper than expected ascent onto the range. It was open, but still annoying with inconsistent height of the step ups and plenty of goop underfoot to send you sliding backwards. We plodded. Ben commented on how literally the names had been applied to the range. There were white monoliths everywhere (and they were cool!), Scrubby Peak looked exactly that, Corner Peak was on the corner of the ridge, Greystone was capped with… (yep, you guessed it), there was more than enough evidence for at least one peak to be called Wombat Peak…
It took time, but we made it to the ridge just below Sculptured Peak. Here we were confronted with the full force of the northwesterly wind. I realised that our one luxurious day of ridge-top walking wasn’t going to be so easy. It was a fight to progress forwards, even on the flat. And the wind gusts made staying in control an impossibility. We staggered forward, dropped our packs and ducked the short way up. Finally we’d made it to the first peak of the range. It’s a little milestone that always seems to make a walk seem real to me.
Sculptured Peak has a lovely little summit with lots of rock monoliths and we climbed the highest. Unfortunately the wind made it impossible to enjoy. It threatened to blow us off if we did anything other than sit and we couldn’t hear one another talk unless we found sheltered rocks to duck behind. It was a little bit cruel that our good weather and summits to enjoy coincided with such strong and constantly noisy wind that they weren’t so enjoyable after all!
We didn’t stay long, picking up our packs and weaving our way along the relatively open ridge and rocky outcrops to Wombat Peak. We were pretty surprised to find a couple of cairns and even a bit of pad in one spot, though neither lasted. Wombat peak was a bit of a steep, messy climb up scrub and rock and we pack hauled in one steep spot. Again, the summit was impossible to sit on top of for long. We hunkered in the scrub as we ate lunch bang on midday.
All day we’d been talking about plans for walking and camping and they were still the hot topic of conversation. We had three factors to consider. The biggest was the wind factor, the northwesterly was going to continue throughout most of the night and we didn’t want to be exposed to its full force. Next was water. While we’d seen plenty around it wasn’t something to be casual about and the longer we walked for the less we saw. Finally there was the scrub factor and being able to find suitable flat spots to camp.
We constantly fine tuned our assessment of our situation as we walked on, slipping and sliding down the button grass slope off Wombat Peak to the last open saddle we thought we might see today. It was too early to camp and there weren’t any good spots anyway. We hit lovely forest with King Billies, Myrtle and Pandanis as we started our ascent of Scrubby Peak, choosing to head for a sidle-climb round the northern shoulder. The forest gave way to lighter button grass scrub and we descended in a similar fashion – half descending half sidling under the more rocky and scrubby spine that linked the peak most directly with the ridge.
Just prior to the saddle between Scrubby Peak and an unnamed bump (that was even higher and more green looking, and the final obstacle between us and Stonehenge) we had a break near a great big rock. Ben went exploring and reckoned we could find some sheltered camp spots, or at least bivvy spots around the rock. Either he or Shelly also found two little pools of water. We decided we were going to press on after all, but as we did we happened across some lovely open grassy spots on the ridge that were even better, but still sheltered enough. That made the choice for us. It was early, but late enough for us to be worried about finding another source of water or a sheltered site before dark.
So we set up our tents, then chilled out in one of the bivvy spots Ben had found. The wind was still howling somewhere above us, but seemed to be diminishing ever so slightly. It blew in clouds that looked both pretty and unsettled all at once. There was a small chance they’d drizzle on us. I retreated to my tent to type some notes and stretch out my back, reappearing at the time I expected the sun would start to set. It wasn’t to be. The clouds had turned grey and thick, whizzing across the sky, turning the horizon a murky blur of mountains and moisture. I confirmed another crack of dawn start time and retreated to bed, left on my own to puzzle over what that meant with daylight savings and a phone that might automatically change the time back, even if it was on airplane mode. I should have checked that minor detail before leaving home!
The wind was still racing round, but it sounded like it was off in the distance. I had a sheltered spot in the lea of a big rock and the tent fly barely rustled. As you can imagine it didn’t take long to fall asleep, although I woke when the rain started. It fell much like the wind, in fits and bursts, but wasn’t to last.
By morning the wind was still around, but at half strength as we woke and packed in the dark. It was lovely to be able to hear yourself breathe again. The clouds still raced overhead, but were broken enough to reveal some stars and we were also lucky they were high enough that we could see where we were going. The unnamed hill ahead looked horrible, but we found a good way up with scrub that was much easier to move through than the day before.
Continuing along the ridge we made our way to the side of Stonehenge, where we gratefully relieved our backs of our packs and walked the short open walk to the summit. It was once again a matter of choosing the highest bit of rock and scrambling up. It marked 750 points for me (when you get to the pointy end you start counting the smaller milestones!). The wind felt as ferocious as the day before and forced us to shelter behind the rock we’d been sitting on, while we discussed the route ahead.
The ridge top was broken and knobbly enough that we were constantly weighing up whether to go over or sidle around each obstacle, and if around, to which side. We chose pretty well and always by consensus. As we walked towards Corner Peak we decided Stonehenge was appropriately named. There were some very Stonehenge-y looking rocks, even if they weren’t arranged in a circle. Onwards we wove, scrambled and hauled ourselves, the downhill not always much faster than the up.
It was just as well I was with these two for Corner Peak. I had the high point marked at the corner of the range. But it turns out the highest point is further west, by quite a long way. If I’d been alone I’d have sailed straight by. The others were all over it though and we scrambled up between rocks and scrub to the bottom of two big rocks. Of course the easy to climb one was the lower of the two. The other was a technical climb and not easy in the wind. You could do a very big step between the two rocks over a decent drop, but again, it would have been too risky in the wind. Ben scrambled up first, making it look relatively easy with only a touch of hesitation. Shelly and I climbed off the second highest and I joined Ben, taking encouragement from both as I went. In some ways the worst part was the wind on the summit, as it made everything super unsteady and required a large margin for error. In all of 20 seconds my fingers were numb, so I was as quick to follow Ben back down as he had been to scoot down as soon as I was up. It was exhilarating, to say the least!
We continued on towards the corner of the ridge, surprised and grateful for the odd bit of terrain that appeared to have pad-like characteristics. They were particularly pleasing around the scrubby and rocky knobs on the ridge to Maconochie. By this stage I know at least two of us were pretty tired, our legs not used to carrying quite as much water each day as we had been. We hadn’t needed the extra water today, as it turned out, but neither Shelly or I could bring ourselves to jettison any of it given we’d already carried it so far! It was not all scrubby going, however, and we had some really pretty areas of walking too.
We got pretty used to ducking behind rocks, on their eastern sides, for breaks and lunches. Part way along the ridge we stopped for lunch, in need of an energy booster. We shared Easter eggs (it was Easter Sunday to the rest of the world) and ate lunch before picking a pretty good and open line up towards Mount Maconochie. The mountain itself was pretty easy to climb, it was just a matter of following relatively open gullies to the rocky top.
For a surprise, there was a strong wind on top that raced to meet us with its embrace, much like the kind of dog that bowls you over in greeting every time you return home. The mist had just come down too, so it appeared an unassuming kind of summit. But as we waited the clouds blew apart, revealing a beautiful looking ridge ahead of us that would take us to our next mountain, Little Cinder Hill (but not till tomorrow!). The bit between it and Cinder Hill looked pretty tough and none of us were looking forward to it much. But that was for another day! Looking back along the ridge we could see where we’d come from, way in the distance, which felt pretty good considering how slow the going seemed.
When the wind had cooled us down too much (less than 5 minutes) we left the top and walked clumsily down the ridge to a button grass bowl we’d seen from the summit. We were optimistic it would provide some shelter. We weren’t able to tuck behind any of the rocks, but found some ferny bits that didn’t seem to be coping too much wind. We pitched tents in between showers and then settled in with the rain while the wind stumbled blindly through our campsite. My gas canister was still causing Ben trouble, once again leaking after being detached from the stove. I took it back, it didn’t seem fair he should have to wear the problems. For a temporary solution I attached my stove. Whether I could walk like that and not break my burner was a question for the morning! (Turns out I could, and did so for the rest of the trip).
The rain persisted through most of the night, but was kind enough to break for us so we could pack up our tents without getting everything soaked. We had timed it perfectly and set off as soon as we could see. Visibility would come and go, but it was already better than expected as we made our way down the ridge. Going was good until we turned west, towards Little Cinder. We hit some ferocious scrub that took us a long time to get through. We had a rotating lead set up pretty quickly and in this fashion took it in turns to throw ourselves at the almost impenetrable mess of green and brown. There was a lot of backwards walking, which was often the easiest, most efficient and least painful way of making forward progress.
Sometimes we popped out onto nice going, often unexpectedly. The climb up to the base of Little Cinder was also scrubby, as we’d chosen to tackle the green gully instead of going up and over the rock. A wise idea I suspect. A final push and we were up, the first summit of the trip where we weren’t blown off the top! We remarked about how much of a difference the absence of wind made, both physically and psychologically.
Despite the unexpectedly scrubby start to the day we were making good time and the first bit of the drop off Little Cinder was open. We enjoyed it while we could. It soon enough turned into downhill scrub, then forest. It took some bashing then weaving down to the green saddle between the two Cinders, but was perhaps better than expected. So too were parts of the traverse across the saddle – green but manageable. Mostly. There were some absolutely shocking parts too, and then as the climb started we had horrid scrub coinciding with a steep ascent. The turns at lead grew shorter and Ben did more that his fair share. He seemed to just bound upwards while Shelly and I were weighed down by our packs. I’m sure he didn’t really defy the laws of physics, he just gave the illusion of doing so.
We’d looked at the ascent from Little Cinder and decided on a green ramp. Having done our fair share of scrub by the time we reached the foot of the climb we reevaluated. We also checked the contours and realised the green ramp would have a horribly steep climax. We were struggling as it was with the incline and scrub (it’s hard to get on top of a Pandani that’s as tall as your head when you’re standing underneath it!). So we changed tact and headed for the ridge at the place where the contours were furthest apart (ie the most gradual incline possible). It was still strength-zappingly steep, but somehow we hauled ourselves and our packs up. We even made it up the first climby bit of scrub and rock, the next and even the one after.
We found ‘water, big water’ at the foot of one of the rocks we sidled around. Ben’s words made complete sense to our fatigued minds and bodies and so, perched on button grass clumps we took the time to fill up water for the evening and the following day. It could not have come at a better time and removed one of the little niggles from our minds. We could now camp anywhere we saw fit, regardless of whether it had readily available water.
Cinder Hill is to go down in our histories as the hardest and scrubbiest peak any of us have climbed. It sure was value for money, requiring every bit of energy, right to the end. By now though the rain had well and truly stopped and we had views to some of the nearby peaks, which made it worth the effort. We didn’t pause for much more than a congratulatory high five and a few shared smiles. We were short on time and the slight breeze, the late hour and being drenched through had us feeling cold whenever we stopped for any length of time.
Shelly and I were both zonked and Ben later admitted to hitting the wall just before we arrived at camp, saying, however, that he was surprising how one could just keep on going past the point of exhaustion. He was definitely doing the best of the three of us and had kindly offered to stay in the lead even though he’d done way more than his fair share. It was in our best interests as a group to keep moving as fast as possible.
We didn’t have long before sunset, but found it very easy to funnel, slip and slide down the side of Cinder Hill, which was much nicer than the way we’d ascended! We hit a short scrubby saddle where Ben joked that it was a bit like the ‘Classic Hits’ of all the scrub we’d been through. It was a few hundred metres to the next saddle where we found spots to set up tents on ferns. It was pure, tired bliss to strip off wet clothes, put on dry ones, have some dinner and enjoy another two of Shelly’s energy boosting Easter eggs. Even more so knowing almost all of tomorrow would be scrub free, largely open walking in sunshine without wind!
We’d starred off the day much like the days before, each of us highly independent and self-sufficient individuals walking our own walk within the group. By the end of it we were helping each other up the tricky bits, frequently expressing encouragement and gratefulness, and were checking that everyone was ok. Today, I think, was when we really came together as a team. It required a vulnerability and trust, an asking for help, a putting aside of proud independence in receiving it and respect in giving it. It is something I think develops over time and one of the things I loved most about walking. It made me smile as I lay in the tent listening to the gentle breeze.
We woke in cloud and timed donning our wet gear perfectly, all ready to leave shortly after 6, again as soon as it was light enough to see without head torch. We dipped over the saddle in an unlikely spot to continue our descent down the ridge, immediately hitting the top of the burnt out vegetation from the 2018/2019 fires. If there is ever anything good about bushfires, it is all the saved pain of having to bushbash. We were very grateful, all the more so because everything around us was soaking wet from the low cloud, no wind and high humidity.
As of to remind us what it could have been like, we did happen across one small gully that had escaped the fires, all the way to the top of the ridge. It took us a long time to bash a way through. Then we were back to relatively smooth sailing, either trying not to slip over on denuded ground s ashore everything you could hold onto coveted you in black or weaving a way through the low scrub surrounding between big boulders with cliffy drop offs. The ridge we chose was perfect. It spat us out onto the edge of Pine Creek with no real scrub to trouble us and a crossing point where we could keep our boots on and keep our feet dry (if only they had been!). A Huon Pine grew prettily out of a mossy bank as we took water and fuelled our bodies with food for the climb.
A short big of low scrub and we were out on the open ridge, where we’d spend the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon, slowly placing one foot in front of the other, dragging our heavy packs up Greystone Bluff. It was open, scrub free walking, it wasn’t raining and there was no wind, and the sun was even threatening to burn of the persistent cloud. The views were stunning and so apart from the burn in our legs, we were having a ball. One little yabbie also had the ride of his life, as Shelly walked over his water-filled cavern it ‘geysered’ a spurt of water out one hole, complete with said yabbie. He promptly shuffled off and down another entrance probably to the same cavern, but made me laugh in the process. We had yabbie tubes just in case we’d needed them, but had found enough water not to have to steal any.
The higher we climbed the more we could see. We hardly needed to say it, because it was clear we were all having the best day of the trip. It only got better. We dumped our packs just shy of the summit and had a fun little scramble over the playground that was the summit approach. The rock was awesome and there were heaps of cool overhangs, chockstones and other interesting formations to explore.
The summit itself was large and open with views all around and it was hard to know where to look first. We discovered later that night that Shelly had hit 500 points on Greystone – and what a worthy one to do it on! We spent the most time there than we had on any summit, wandered over to another high point for a sticky-beak before dragging ourselves away to the next delightful surprise.
Back at our packs we wandered down a beautifully manicured ancient garden, full of Pandanis, myrtle, pineapple grass, moss, the nice kind of scoparia and other native flora, as well as the obligatory rock sculptures. It was delightful and at one point Shelly and I just looked at each other with the greatest smiles on our faces. They said more than any of the words we could come up with. At the end of our walk was the largest, flattest, lushest expanse of neatly trimmed lawn, for want of a better term. The grasses were native and alpine, but you get the idea. A small stream babbled across the middle. Rocks sat scattered about like sculptures. It was just beautiful. To have it coincide with the nicest weather of the trip was a stroke of the best fortune available.
We spent the afternoon drying wet gear, mending things, tending to the parts of our bodies that demanded the most attention (mostly our feet!), eating, relaxing and playing cards. Ben had been unable to find a miniature deck of cards so had cut one deck into quarters, bringing along one of the quarters that had the number in the corner. They were pretty cute to play with, I must say.
This was not the only lesson on lightweight walking I was to learn on the trip. It’s been something I’ve never taken too seriously, partly because I’ve always been one of the fitter walkers on trips, partly because I like to buy gear that goes the distance and partly because I hate constantly replacing gear that works with the newest and lightest version. Seeing Ben bound along with his super light pack and feeling every one of the 25kg or so on my back as we pushed through the scrub part way along the range (not to mention trying to get it to squeeze through some of the gaps he slipped through) was a very powerful lesson indeed. There was one necessary item that was worth the extra weight, however. Two homemade beeswax candles… but we’ll get to that in a moment.
We’d played cards till the cold chased us into our tents. It was also about the same time the setting sun dipped behind the cloud that had formed in the valley below us, the odd wisp blowing up and over our bowl. The effect was like orange lighting on dry ice at a music performance, it was simply stunning.
At the other end of the bowl something else was happening entirely. The low cloud had covered everything except for the Western Arthurs, the end of which poked out above it, burnt orange as the last rays of sun caught it. The sky behind was shaded in pastel pinks and blues.
When I returned from sightseeing the others were sorting out the final touches to their dinners and had retreated to the warmth of their tents. I did similarly, where I cooked up an extra cup of soup and enjoyed it while I lit and then watched my two tea-light candles flicker away in the gentle breeze. I had brought them to mark the anniversary of Graham’s death (yes, it’s been that long), but because we’d made such good progress and wanted to get out before the weather turned really foul chances were we’d be out the day before. But Greystone was such a lovely mountain, the campsite just beautiful and he’d have been here if he’d had the choice. So I lit one for him and one for me and watched them flicker away. Eventually the wind snuffed first one and then the other out. And so it was time for bed.
When I ducked out for a final pee before falling asleep the Milky Way filled the sky, as bright as I’ve seen it for a long time. It stayed there all night, an unexpected wind springing up and keeping the clouds away from us. Eventually the moon joined it. Such a lovely feeling to be sleeping under the stars like that.
We had another 5am wake up to be ready by 6, and it was almost timed to perfection with the cloud rolling in over the western edge of our bowl. So we packed in the mist and found our way over the rim and down onto the ridge we wanted. It took us over to Scoparia Hill, which had a little bit of scoparia on the ridge leading to it but not much in the immediate vicinity of the hill itself. Perhaps it had been a different story before the fires?
As we walked the wind drove the cloud around like a sheep dog gone crazy and so we got glimpses of a cloud covered world below, with the odd mountain poking out above it. Every now and again Greystone was revealed – such a spectacular mountain! The sun once again shone like a ball of fire with a huge halo as it struggled to cut through the mist. The major of the morning was real and it had me dragging my feet, knowing that all too soon we’d be back in the green stuff. I wanted to savour it just a little longer.
But we did also have a long day ahead of us, even if we were optimistic about it. We’d chosen to descend off Scoparia Hill foot a number of reasons although it hadn’t been the route we’d planned on taking at the start of the walk. It proved to be a pretty good pick and we descended slowly but fairly easily for the first half. The bottom half was messier, scrubbier and horizontal came in to play too. In the end it was too hard to stay on the ridge so we headed straight down, whichever way was easiest. All the while the birds sung happily away. Oh to have wings…
We got to the bottom by midday and though we had smooth sailing from then on. We were to be sorely disappointed. 3 hours later and we finally escaped the horrible scrub on the plains and traded it for ankle high ‘can actually see where the ground is’ stuff. We were all absolutely knackered and while we weren’t sure we were going to get all the way to where we camped on day one near the Dodd River we figured we’d give it a good crack.
It was a lovely time of the day to be walking. The sun was low in the sky and eventually dipped behind Greystone, casting pretty colours on the mountains around us as our sweat grew cold on our faces. On we plodded, snapping dead trunks of old burnt out scrub under out feet at the same time as squealching through the marsh. At one rest break Ben commented that we had almost enough food for another lap. Oh, and it’d be easier because there would already be a bashed pad! We weren’t interested, that’s for sure.
The White Monoliths is probably the most consistently hard walk I’ve done, even though it’s far from the longest. Uncertainty over water and camping and terrain were big factors, as was the weather, necessitating back to back long, hard days, some of which were spent largely in scrub. I think it had us all fatigued by the end, simply from lack of recovery time. So no, a repeat of the circuit was not even remotely tempting!
We made it to our camp site before dusk settled and had tents up while it was still light. The rest was done under star light and head torch. The night was lovely and still, not too cold, with no clouds in sight. A boobook owl called into the night. As did another bird, with a call none of us had heard before. It was hard to believe that in the morning the rain should have set in, marking the start of several days of cold, wet and perhaps even snowy weather.
Our final day was generous to us. Apart from a few gusts of strong winds scattered through the night, neither they nor the rain eventuated as early as forecast. We woke to a pleasant morning and even had an hour to sleep in so we could pack in the light. There was high cloud around but it didn’t look menacing and it was hard to decide what to wear, especially because it was rather humid too.
The walk out was hard just because it was long, we were tired and the mud was thick and energy zapping the further along the track we got (particularly after the Western Arthurs turn off). But we made good progress, only had some very light rain after Junction Creek (not enough for rain jackets) and were back at the cars around 2pm. We were most grateful for the wind and rain holding off. The next day we heard Davey George had got 35ml of rain, confirming our decision to leave Piners Peak and the Propsting Range for another time was definitely the correct one!
I wasn’t supposed to be walking, I told myself… You can already tell from the language how the story ends, can’t you? When the original walk for the week was cancelled for the worst possible reason, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to give the neglected garden and study some attention. And then for some silly reason, perhaps habit more than anything, I checked the weather in the south west. BIG mistake. I’ve never seen it so good. Consistently sunny, not too hot, no rain or wind, day after day after day. For at least a week. It was too good to pass up really, especially with this summer having been a wetter one.
I postponed the house chores again and took to the bush. To make myself feel better I chose a mountain that would allow me to walk in, spend a whole day studying (with a bit of photography and exploring) and walk out on the third day. So I thought anyway. I struggled out of bed shortly after 5:30, was out the door by 6 and arrived at the Lake Rhona carpark just over 2 hours later. There were five cars already there, which surprised me a bit as it was mid week.
Right from the get go I was walking through where the fires ravaged in 2018/19. There are only a few spots that haven’t been burnt and either died or regrown. The ground sounded hollow under the thud of my boots, a little scrub tit chirped at me and my disturbance as I filled in the log book and I realised that the place was very quiet (except for me!). So quiet even that you could hear the sound as an insect attempted to untangle wet wings as it sat in the middle of the new log across the Gordon River. The old log is now permanently under water, but PWS have rerouted the track a hundred metres upstream to a new log that sits higher. It’s still slippery where wet, but otherwise easy to cross.
It was still cool, with a fine dew sparkling on little cobwebs hanging from dead banksia trees. You could feel that it was going to get hot, the sun beating down from above while the button grass would radiate it back up from below, with interest too! The button grass was vivid emerald green with really orange-red flower stems. There was more colour in them than I’ve seen before. Having been burnt out, I discovered the view was more open and there wasn’t any tangly scrub to slow me down at the river crossings. There were, however, heaps of wasps buzzing around and next to no bees. This wasn’t the first I’d heard of wasp numbers this season and wondered what had prompted the change. Was it just the fires?
The track itself was in better condition than I expected, given the numbers of people heading into Rhona. There was the usually muddy and braided bits, but no huge deterioration from how I remembered it. This made for fairly efficient walking and I arrived at my turn off point at midday, 3.5 hrs after starting out. I was ahead of schedule but was hungry, so I took a break and ate some porridge while surveying the terrain ahead.
This was where the real work started. The satellite imagery had made it look easy. Ha! To be honest, it wasn’t hard. There was very little scrub and none I actually had to go through, if I chose my route wisely. But there was a bit of up and down, and by now I was feeling the heat and the first few hours of walking. I toyed with the idea of staying lower and contouring, but after the first creek crossing I decided being high enough to walk over the top of the creek heads was a better idea. So I steadily sidled-climbed my way up the ridge until the point where I just wanted to sidle.
Sidling gives the impression of being easy because it’s all about avoiding climbing. But when you still have multiple gullies and rivers to cross it makes you either feel like you’re walking much further than necessary or else you’re constantly dropping and regaining height. There was no other option, however, and so I continued along, weaving between some pretty impressive rock slabs in amongst the button grass. Twice I had to drop a decent distance down into gullies to cross rivers and then clamber up the other side. Fortunately the fire make even these experiences scrub free, but rather dirty.
As the day settled into the heat of the afternoon I was becoming weary on my feet. The insects sung away, oblivious to my plight. In time Wylds Crag stuck its nose over the grassy horizon, deceptively close. I sidled round another corner and spied what I thought was my mountain. A second look revealed the error. There are two ‘Hills’, and the one I first laid eyes on was the smaller of the two. The other was still hiding off to the left. I had a loo stop, procrastinated some more, then settled in for the final few kilometres. These things always look fine on paper, it’s when you walk as far as I did on this particular day that I realised it might have been more sensible to split the walking up!
After a few lengthy breaks and some very slow trudging uphill, I found myself on the summit plateau and headed straight for the cool looking rocks, which also happened to be where the high point was. I chose a lovely green grassy spot between two rocks for my tent, complete with daisies. And then it was time to watch, photograph and clamber all over the natural playground. The conglomerate came in different shapes and sizes, many with windows through them, and their profiles changed dramatically depending on which side you viewed them from. It was a huge amount of fun! I stayed out till I couldn’t see and my fingers were yellow and numb, then I retreated to my tent. I struggled to keep my eyes open as I typed up a few notes.
My alarm woke me at 6:30 and I opened the fly to a glowing orange horizon. I dressed in thermals, grabbed my camera and went clambering up another rock. There I sat and watched the sun do its thing all around me. Oh what a morning! I eventually dragged myself away to the real purpose of the day: study. It wasn’t easy and I had frequent distractions to deal with, but it wasn’t a bad setting for it otherwise. Perhaps the only downside was the nobly nature of conglomerate which didn’t make for the most comfortable of seats.
An early afternoon siesta was in order, which refreshed my brain and avoided the heat of the day. I washed my charcoal covered knees, waved at some friends and colleagues who I discovered were on Reeds Peak (though I don’t think they knew I was here), sent a few messages to share the experience, responded to some urgent emails and otherwise just relaxed, played on the rocks and ate lots of food. The relaxing part was more than overdue. I’ll do it more often from now on!
The sun set into a pretty orange glow, much as it had risen. There were more clouds than the night before, but they didn’t do anything spectacular. I didn’t mind, it was special all the same AND it meant I could take a call from mum and John and not attempt to take photos at the same time. It’s always lovely to chat with them, especially in such a wonderful place on a balmy evening. The fingernail moon reappeared and again I sat out, not quite wanting the day to end. I was feeling very lucky to be where I was, with the skills I have, to live the life I do. There’s not much I’d change.
I woke to another lovely morning, as expected. It surprised me just how heavy the weight on your shoulders is when you know bad weather is likely and you spend every opportunity checking updates in the forecast to see how it was changing. I didn’t have to do that at all this trip and it was unexpectedly liberating!
I enjoyed the sunrise and then slowly packed my gear away, not all that keen for the long walk out but keen enough to get the two biggest climbs out of the way before the day warmed to the forecast top of 21 (that, and I had the crazy notion that maybe I could catch up to the friends who were in at Rhona and would likely be leaving today as well – optimistic really, and I doubt I came close!). With next to no wind it was going to be especially warm on the button grass plains. In fact, it was already warm enough at 8 that I headed down off the mountain with no additional warm layers on – most unusual for me!
By 9, at the foot of the first climb, I was sweating away, even more so by 10, as I started up the second. The walking was slightly easier this way because I knew what to expect and didn’t have to make as many route finding decisions though it was still a rather long sidle! At least there were plenty of briskly flowing creeks from which to quench my thirst, wash my sooty hands and splash my face.
By midday I’d finished the sidling and just had some easy walking before I hit the Rasselas track. The wasps returned and a helicopter could be heard droning off in the distance. Little signs that I was heading back to civilisation. Only when I returned did I hear about the person who’d fallen at Geryon and without knowing who they were or anything more, I felt, as most in the outdoorsy community would, for them and their special people. We all take risks when we head out, which we deem to be acceptable. I have taken more than most. Generally we’re lucky. Sometimes things go horribly wrong. My thoughts are with them, their family/friends, and those who were on the helicopter that day. On the drive home I sent my primary safety person an extra message of thanks for being prepared to be the one who gets the call when my PLB goes off, or when I don’t return as scheduled. I only learnt of the news after I got home, but it highlighted the sacrifice she was prepared to make for me.
I popped onto the track just as a couple were heading past on their way to Lake Rhona. I wondered what they thought of my unexpected, charcoal covered appearance from an odd direction. Later on I met two friends of a friend and we had a brief chat. They were the owners of the kayaks Tim and I had left a smiley face made from rocks for when we’d spotted them on our return from the Pleiades earlier in the year. They too had found the weather too good to pass up! Tassie is such a small place… and I love it!
I soldiered along, keen to get back at a reasonable time. I lost track of the number of people I passed, surprised because it was still Friday. Rhona was going to be busy for the weekend! And fair enough, the weather was perfect for it. So good, in fact, that the track had dried out a lot even on the few days I’d been there – you could even trust the deeper pools of mud not to let you down. I was making good time, so I slowed right down for the final walk between the Gordon River and the carpark. I had a blister on my left heel that was giving me grief and I felt I could afford it some pampering. Blisters are highly unusual for me and I suspected it was just the sheer length of the walk and the unevenness of the terrain. I was keen to discover just how far I’d walked in the two days (a long way for off track walking, it turns out)!
Despite the slow final stint I was back at the car within 8 hours of setting out. I was ready for some fresh veggies, a cool drink and some sleep. Oh, and a shower!!
I have never had such difficulty choosing where to go walking! It was never going to be as planned. Plan A was cancelled because I was the only interested person registered on the HWC walk to the Charles and D’Aguilar ranges. Plan B was for 10 days solo wherever the weather was best. The weather didn’t cooperate. Except for a 3-4 day streak, perfectly timed for the long weekend. I had options, just couldn’t make up my mind.
As it turned out, I changed my mind one last time on the morning of the walk, after arriving at the start of the track to find it grey, drizzly and cold. Wet memories from the Fincham track were still a bit too familiar to be doing a repeat, so I ate some breakfast and had a much needed snooze in the car while waiting for it to pass. That meant my intense 3.5 day weekend of walking was going to be shortened to two half days on either side of two day walks – much more relaxed and likely closer to what I needed. It would mean me skipping the long awkward scrub bash out to Wards Bluff, which might even be achievable as an epic day walk. I’d have to mention it to Ben and Jess…!
By midday the sky was still grey but brighter and I could actually see the top of the ridge I’d be aiming for. It was time to go. This time I was accessing the Raglan Range from further east along the highway, along another old 4WD track that I hoped would also go past the Raglan Hut that Terry Reid looks after. The road started off open enough, but in time became more of a foot path than a road. It was overgrown but well enough used that you could see where people had been and the scrub was more annoying for the water it still held than for being a physical hindrance.
The views only opened out at the top of the climb before making the ridge that heads off towards Wards Bluff, and I wondered where the hut was supposed to be. I’d not seen it, but perhaps I’d just walked straight by it!! I’d have to look closer on the way back down. Despite moving slowly it had only taken 1.5 hrs to get to this ridge, but I forgot how awkward the route towards the Raglan Range got just before you made it onto that ridge. It was steep, slippery underfoot, windy, cold, and the scrub was the tough, short wind blown type that provided some help but was also immovable when you wanted it to be. I felt lethargic and by the end was moving very slowly instead. But I had all day, and in usual fashion placing one foot in front of the other got me up and onto the Raglan road, which I followed for a short while.
I pulled up at the spot that I thought I’d head off for my walk to Mount Mary on Sunday, not wanting to go further towards Mount Madge because it would involve back tracking up the hill with a full pack on. I found a lovely flat spot on the grass a short way from the road, and only a few metres from a bubbling spring. I had phone reception, views and protection from the wind, so there was nothing to complain about! The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable. There were only a few splashes of sun, but fortunately no more rain. I ate, read, caught up on a few messages and had a call from mum. Finally, I settled in to a much needed long nights sleep!
Dawn was misty but the cloud high enough to make an immediate start worth it. It didn’t take long to boil water for my thermos of oats, dried apricots, seeds, a few spices and peanut butter. It would make for a tasty breakfast later on in the day. Then boots and gaiters went on, a few bits and pieces in the pack and off I set.
I had a couple of hours of road walk to start with and was as keen to get to the start of the real work (and the unknown) as I was to warm up. The latter didn’t take long – this was the kind of walk where there’s probably more up and down getting to the mountain than there is actually climbing the thing! It was nice to find the remnants of our footsteps (John, Ian and I) from when we walked out of the Fincham track, which I realised with a start had been only a week earlier! It felt like they were with me in spirit.
The mist stayed low for a while, wisps of cloud swirling round the bottom edge. Gradually the greys and blues gave way to a more vibrant palette, bring warmth and a bit of extra energy with it. Two hours after leaving the tent I arrived at the saddle where I was due to depart the road and head off onto the rather green looking ridge to Mount Madge. I only hoped it was easier going than it might prove to be.
The start bode well, open and grassy underfoot as I wove around the bigger trees. This gave way to cutting grass and bauera, my favourite combination, as I approached a small rise. A brief bash had me popping out into old enough forest that the understory was low and the walking relatively good for a short while. This seemed to be the trend for another round: more scrub with cutting grass and bauera featuring as the primary bits of annoying vegetation and then another forested section where the going was easier. Coming out of the second bit of forest I found myself in scrub that was largely weave-able. Lower ankle-high bits amongst the nastier stuff. This continued and improved right to the low point of saddle, which took an hour to get to after leaving the road.
Looking up to the summit I wasn’t feeling optimistic. The ramp that looked like it might have been easy to move through was now clearly tea tree! There was nothing for it except to weave on up. My fears were not immediately realised as I climbed higher and drew closer to the summit, somehow managing to weave between the thickest clumps (this proved easier on the way up than the way down, funnily enough!). The tea tree started off waist high, but was soon over my head. Still I was weaving and I began to think I might just get away with it… but no luck. Just over 100m from the summit I hit a wall of scrub. It coincided with an increase in incline and the scrub was thick enough that it was still wet, including the ground underfoot. It made for a slippery uphill battle where solid purchase on the ground was a rare thing.
After pushing through and finding a patch of more open terrain I thought I was done. But no, the final pinch to the summit was a vertical wall of thick bauera. It took a lot of energy, grunting and sweating to get up, even though it was the shortest of distances. The paradox of needing the scrub to stop from sliding backwards at the same time as trying to bash it down, push it to either side or otherwise somehow get up and over it was not lost on me and I’d have given a wry smile if I was feeling a bit more generous! Finally I popped out onto a lovely little summit, delighted to find it open on top. I was afraid it would be covered in trees that would hide the views. I sent a few messages and photos and then settled in to eat a well-earned and slightly late breakfast. It had taken just under four hours from the tent to the summit.
The sun was trying its hardest and secretly I was glad it had held off until I’d finished the uphill scrub bash. It had burnt off all the mist by the time I began the return journey, which made for a much warmer second half of the walk. The warmth brought the cicadas out and it sounded like hundreds sung their way through the afternoon. A wedge-tailed eagle soared over Flat Bluff, a smaller bird attempting to chase it off. The wedgie paid it no attention whatsoever and glided on, effortlessly.
I plodded back slowly, taking my time to enjoy the even more expansive views than I’d had on the way over. Frenchmans Cap was the last of the mountains to be cloud free and it sat peering over Mary’s shoulder. I passed a few of the old beer cans, wondering at what point they move from being rubbish to a historical relic. And then a glass coke bottle. When was it made? Sometime when they measured these things in fluid ounces.
Eventually the old winch told me I was getting closer to the tent. And so I was. Nearly 9 hours after starting out I was back with my shoes off, settling into another relaxing afternoon, although sparing a few moments to rethink my plan of attack on Mount Mary the next day. Later, the sun set a pretty, muted colour behind Mount Jukes as the clouds rolled back in.
I work early with the sun, but then spent the extra time enjoying watching the world around me wake up. It was a lovely morning, the kind where you feel that summer isn’t entirely over even if it’s a week into autumn. I packed everything up and wandered up the hill, making my way back to the Pandani standing sentinel on the ridge I’d end up taking back to the car. Here I dumped everything I didn’t need for the day walk, I would be back to camp there that evening.
Shortly after 8 I set off down the ridge to Flat Bluff, the terrain sparking memories from the last time I was here. I wove down the light scrub to the saddle. The same trees called out, seeking attention and demanding to be photographed once more. Everywhere you looked it was pretty. The incline up the far side didn’t seem as steep, but perhaps that was because I wasn’t chasing long fast legs. It wasn’t long, within the half hour, that I was over on the southern rim of Flat Bluff, having bypassed the technical high point to the west.
I stood on a rocky outcrop and surveyed the terrain that would take me towards Mount Mary. It looked open enough, largely due to fires having burnt out bits of tea tree some years back along most of the ridge. But there were still a few bands of scrub that seemed unavoidable. Something in the first saddle caught my attention, so I grabbed my camera and took a photo zoomed right in. Magnifying it I could make out people! I’d found the Hobart Walking Club group who were in for the weekend to climb Mary. They were just about to hit the scrubbiest of the bands.
I headed straight down over the nose of the rock, quite enjoying the climby nature and then down the ridge. It got scrubby towards the end and I made the mistake of veering too far off the righthand side. I managed to recover, courtesy of a creek, and pop back out onto easier terrain. By now the HWC group had popped out the other side of the scrub and I wondered if I’d catch them.
There was nothing for it but to tunnel straight in. I hit the scrub higher on the ridge than they did, which turned out to be thicker, but perhaps shorter. Either that or I had the advantage of being only one person and being able to move faster in scrub. In some spots the tea tree was so thick it was only possible to get through the trunks by leaning all your body weight one way and then the other. It made me think of the prisons where they put inmates in cells so small they physically can’t lie down or even sit properly. It was a bit like that – I’m sure I could have fallen asleep and still been forced to stand upright!
But nothing lasts forever and of course I popped out the other side. Some lighter scrub that I could actually see over the top of led to a rocky outcrop with a small cliffy face to scramble up. The tail end of the HWC group were just making their way over it. Turns out I’d made up a lot of ground in the scrub. I pushed forward, climbed up and was taking a photo of them in the next saddle, almost a banksia’s throw away. They spotted me there and I waved and hollered, popping my camera away and heading over. Apparently they’d been talking about me, wondering where I was and what I was doing. It was lovely to see three familiar faces and meet the other five, some of whom I’d heard quite a bit about but with whom I had not yet had the pleasure of walking.
They generously allowed me to tag along and so I assumed the role of tail-end Charlie, except when I ducked ahead to take a photo. It was lovely to have company, to listen to the sound of other peoples’ chatter and even to take a break from making all the decisions about which way to go. It came with a slight reduction in pace, of which Kent, the HWC leader seemed particularly aware. Either that or he was teasing me each time he checked that the pace wasn’t too slow! I did not mind, I told him. It wasn’t all about the pace and we did have all day, after all :).
After the last band of scrub (where I’d caught up to the HWC group), the going was open all the way to the summit. It had an appropriate but not overly steep incline and as a result the walking was quite pleasant. We had no need to race and took time to admire the view and catch our breath if it had run away from us. Still we were on the top, a lovely quartzite summit, before midday. It wasn’t TOO early for lunch and it was the perfect place, so why not?! Frenchman’s Cap looked stunning from such an odd perspective, and so close!
Kent checked that everyone was happy – it was his thing, I was told by the others. It made me chuckle and think back to my often used tongue-in-cheek question, ‘are we having fun yet?’ that I’d tend to pull it out in the worst possible spots on the walks I was leading. Just to lighten the mood and refocus anyone who might be taking things too seriously.
Eventually Kent made the call to start wandering back and we duly packed our bags and started down, even though I’m sure we could have easily sat there all day. Caroline spotted an impressive sized snake skin on the button grass plains, the second I was to see in the one week. We dove back into the scrub and I was grateful to be following an 8-person strong bash rather than retracing my ‘parting of the sea’, of which I was sure there was little permanent trace. At one break, before diving into the second scrubby band, I spied Paul with a spoonful of peanut butter and I was delighted to see I wasn’t the only one to eat it in such a fashion on walks (although, I have to confess the behaviour is not limited to bushwalks!).
Slowly we plodded back up the ridge towards Flat Bluff, stopping at a lovely little creek that flows between the rocky edges of the bluff. It provided a much needed rest and rejuvenate stop for a handful of the group and many of us topped up water or soaked hats. I’d almost polished off 4 litres and was grateful for some more, such was the heat of the day. It was hard to leave, but the tents were just over the rise. On flatter ground we spread out, no longer benefiting from walking single file and preferring to tread more freely (or perhaps with less concentration?). Some of the group went to check out an overhang, the rest returning to their tents on Flat Bluff. They had a lovely spot with stunning views and I was suitably impressed to spot an A frame tent (complete with a H frame pack!) in amongst some of the newest and lightest weight tents on the market!
After expressing my thanks and hopefully a little bit of the pleasure I’d got out of walking with the group, I said my goodbyes and headed on towards the rest of my gear. I made a few phone calls along the way, sent a few messages that just couldn’t wait, but otherwise skipped down to the saddle. The ground was lovely, soft and grassy underfoot. Heading up the far side was another matter, very much a plod than a skip, with a tiny bit of weave.
I got back to my gear shortly after 4, only to discover that if I sat anywhere for even a moment I had ants biting my bum! But I figured they’d disappear with the sun, so I had some dinner and set up my tent, careful not to let any in. Sure enough, when the sun dipped behind the mounting cloud and the temperature dropped, they were nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if I’d imagined them!
I had a stunning view out the tent door, with Frenchmans and Flat Bluff on the left and the west coast mountain ranges to the right. So there I stayed and enjoyed it all until the mist rolled in and stole it all away, complete with the tiny little figures you could just make out on the horizon. I felt slightly cheated – the main reason I’d stayed the night was for hope of a nice sunset and sunrise. But never mind, it was better than having walked out early and missed it! And this way I got to spend the evening reading, instead of driving. Having just finished Heather Rose’s Bruny (100% recommend it – she captures the Tasmanian identity, the things that motivate us and our hidden fears and prejudices perfectly) and beginning on Nicholas Shakespeare’s Secrets of the Sea, I didn’t mind doing that at all!
The mist was still low in the morning, which made it easy to busy myself packing and getting ready to go. I set off early and headed straight down – a great deal easier than heading up had been! As I dropped in height I descended under the mist to find a valley of clouds below. It always gives me that wonderful feeling of being on top of the world when I’m in the mountains and above the cloud! Down I slipped and slid, to arrive back at the car in about two hours after starting out. I didn’t attempt to find the hut on the way down, I figured I’d actually do some research and check it out when I revisited for Wards Bluff. Chatting to Monika from the HWC group, it sounded like a wise decision – you actually have to know where the hut is to have half a chance of finding it! I do quite like the track in, more so than the Raglan Range road and it’ll be the one I use when I do come back!
My first trip to Druids Hill was a long time ago as a club walk, likely in my first year of walking. It never made it to a blog post. It’s such a fun little hill with stunning views that both Ben and Jess had attempted to put it on the Pandani program a few times recently. This time was the first that the stars had aligned and the weather cooperated. I was lucky enough to worm my way onto the rather popular walk, which I was interested in less because I hadn’t climbed Celtic Hill (a ‘neopoint’ or point on the latest version of the HWC peakbaggers list but not on the one I started on) and more because I needed another Pandani fix! As it turned out there were some really cool people down for the walk and I was looking forward to catching up with people I hadn’t seen for ages as well as meeting a few I’d heard lots about but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of walking alongside.
We had a painfully early 6am meet up at Granton. I was very sleep deprived, but was probably more out of sorts from trying to get my head around what gear I was taking given all the stuff I’d just taken on the Fincham track was soaking wet and dirty (we’d got home at shortly before 10pm the night before). The combination of the two meant I rocked up without any wet weather gear, but I’d be likely to get away without it this time.
The ten of us squished familiarly, not uncomfortably, into two cars and the conversation bubbled along. I sunk back into the seat, let the warm laughter and voices wash over me. It was nice to be back! A good distance down the dirt road that heads towards Mt Anne we pulled over into a clearing on the left, right near our departure point to Celtic Hill. Ben had to get us going, or we’d have stood around all day continuing with the chatter!
Up we started, following the leader as he wove a way up the burnt out slopes, trying our best to minimise touching the sharp, charcoal covered sticks that remained of banksia trees, melaleuca and tea tree shrubs. The button grass, lemon boronia and a number of other small green flora were well into the regrowth stage since the 2018/19 fires. Looking out across the landscape their growth gave it a fresh vibrant green look and you could only really tell the extent of the fires by picking out the thickets of larger grey skeletons that had once been bands of heavier scrub. It was steep enough, but surprisingly not as slippery as feared and we made slow and steady progress.
The temptation was too good to resist and I have to say it was my fault for getting the banksia pegging wars started so early in the morning. You’ve got to get in early with these things, especially when you’re up against Ben, who has a pretty sharp aim even at a distance! It was a protracted affair, that lasted all the way back to the road. I copped it later on, with a close quarters ambush by both Ben and Jess – probably well-deserved!
We paused and regrouped once we hit a flat spot on the ridge, setting a very relaxed tone that would persist throughout the day. We would walk for a bit and then we would break for a lot, chatting, eating or doing anything else we fancied. Already the views were opening up, the low cloud gradually rising to reveal glimpses of the vista we all knew was out there. The cloud around Mt Anne teased us beautifully, revealing and then hiding once again the impressive throne-like summit.
And so we made our way along and up the ridge, finding the going to be pretty straight forward with a short scramble on rocks to the summit, where a concrete pillar marked the highest point. The group spread out and along, subconsciously mirroring Mt Anne, as she sprawled across the horizon, still partly draped in a blanket, the day not quite warm enough to throw it off entirely just yet.
It was only mid morning, but a good enough time to enjoy a cup of tea and a bite to eat. We were moving faster than we needed to and Ben was super relaxed about getting the most out of the day, so we stayed and enjoyed for an appropriate amount of time, long enough at least for Jess to find and catch a pretty impressive looking frog!
We were eventually drawn down the ridge and across an open saddle towards the foot of the much more interesting looking climb up Druids Hill. The bottom part looked fine, but towards the top it looked excitingly steep and rocky. This was just how I liked my bushwalking! It was hard to wipe the smile off my face.
We navigated the first bit of the climb easily and then found ourselves at a decision point part way up. The western or right hand side of the ridge was full of steep and scrubby gullies, one of which was so decent it hadn’t even burnt out in the fires. We weren’t sure what was around the eastern or left hand side, that required climbing back up and over. We um-ed and ah-ed and eventually after a lot of chatting arrived at a group decision to try back over the left shoulder.
The group took the decision in full stride, everyone behind it. As we walked we talked about how one of the best things with walking was the collective decision-making and negotiating, where everyone got to have some input, and the final solution was not any one persons but a mix of everyone’s input that resulted in a collective best decision. It was teamwork at its best. In the end our choice meant we traded losing a fair bit of height for a little extra climbing on rock.
Up we went, not entirely sure the route would be possible, but pretty certain we’d figure it out. Bryn and Adrian appeared to be in their element as forward scouts, Ben coordinating and making the odd decision in the interests of finding the safest route for the whole group, not just any likely route. Others did a stellar job of watching and providing moral support for those who were no less proficient but a tad less confident on rock. I did a fair bit of standing back, marvelling at how people stepped up to fill roles without needing to be asked, of how the whole thing just worked.
When the harder, more exposed climbing was over and there was just the final scramble to the summit everyone was free to find their own way up. We spread out over the rock like ants swarming to a pile of sugar. The reward was sweeter. We had the whole of the southwest of Tassie to enjoy, on a rocky summit that sported some brilliant orange moss that Ben was just in love with. Everyone had smiles on their faces. The photo frenzy came first, then some lunch, more chatter, the odd bit of mischief and a touch of snoozing.
We only dragged ourselves away when Ben suggested we probably should. The summit of Druids Hill is such that you can’t easily see the way down from just standing on top. It’s rather a knobbly rounded summit that means you have to start heading off the edge one way or another to see what lies below.
Again, Bryn was on scouting duties, displaying the qualities of a comfortable off track walker. Half the group followed him as they wove a path down the face of the mountain, the other half tracing a route more directly down the sharp spine-like ridge. This allowed everyone to pick and choose the route that suited their preferences best.
It was a long steep descent where attention was given largely to stopping our feet from shooting out from underneath us, leading to an inevitable bum slide. We were largely successful in this respect. We had a small hill that we climbed over the right hand shoulder, before we were back on the button-grass plain and only a short distance from the road. There we did our best to wash off some of the charcoal that coated our hands, clothes, packs, knees and faces. Some of us looked like chimney sweeps more than others!
Back at the cars we feasted on cold fizzy drinks, shapes and nuts before making the significantly quieter drive home. Thanks to Ben for leading the walk and to all those who came on the day – you made it what it was!
All up: 8.5km, 8:12hrs (LOTS of breaks), 843m ascent.
With 2.5 months off work I have plenty of time to fit in all the wonderful things. That means a LOT of walking ;)! I had kept the two weeks free that John, Graham and I were due to do our one big summer trip. Only there would be no Graham. We had entertained thoughts of Vanishing Falls, but failed to recruit a third nutter crazy enough to come with us. We ended up with 5 days to go somewhere, and somehow settled on Mount Fincham and the Fincham Hut, with anything else we could fit in being a bonus. John asked another solid walker, Ian, if he was free and interested and sure enough he was. I’d not had the pleasure of walking with him, but had heard only the highest of praise for him and the way he walked, so I was looking forward to getting to know him.
Only going for five days gave me a bit of spare time, which was filled with lots of social things with friends and some much needed time in the garden. One highlight was a three day trip to friends and their shack on the east coast, where I went fishing for the first time AND caught my first flathead. It was so lovely that I stayed an extra day, which meant I raced home on Sunday afternoon and rushed to pack my gear and leave the garden in a reasonable state!
Ian swung by at 6 and we drove up to Lake St Claire to meet up with John, who’d been leading a club trip up there on the weekend. He was easy to talk to right from the start, which made the drive fly by. We were there shortly after 8 and continued on to Queenstown and then the Darwin Dam. We had a slight mishap in that none of us were paying close enough attention to where we were going and we first drove several kilometres past it before realising our error! When we were finally good to go the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It was one of those jacket on/jacket off kind of days and to start with we got the timing very wrong. At least the little rain squalls were only temporary and not too heavy, and they brought a slight drop in temperature with them.
The terrain started off open enough, the usual low button grass and tea tree mix and also some very easy to walk on lake shore. We didn’t try to stick rigidly to the track for this bit because it was easy enough to make our own way long. That, and there wasn’t an easily identifiable track, or so we thought.
About an hour in John commented that he was going to tell people he’d walked the Fincham. Full stop. No ‘Track’ on the end, because there wasn’t one! And it definitely felt that way. We were following the line we’d marked from the maps and satellite imagery but couldn’t find anything resembling a track. In spots we found ourselves scrub bashing through messy stuff. We’d slowed right down and were realising it might take us longer than anticipated.
Turns out there was a track, it’s just pretty hard to find if you’re not on it and difficult to stay on in parts. And it’s got a billion fallen trees, bauera etc across it so it was very much like spending the day in an outdoor gym with packs on our backs. Finding the track made for a much faster pace through the button grass plains and even through the forest, although the many fallen trees took time to negotiate. We took care to keep to the track because it was generally faster going and much less bashing. You wouldn’t want to not be on it, that’s for sure!
On one of the button grass sections I found a GoPro and tripod, thinking at first it was a tiger snake until I realised it was a bit too angular and it hadn’t moved! The battery was well and truly dead, so we couldn’t check to see if our suspicions about who might own it were accurate. I suspected they were and would make contact with the likely suspect during our high camp towards the end of the walk ;)!
The button grass gave way back to the forest, which was again slower because of all the obstacles. I knew I was getting tired with all the overs and unders. Though the guys didn’t say anything, we all readily called it a day shortly after the track crossed the Wright river, even though it was only 5:30 or so. Tents went up, dinner was cooked and eaten and the guys chatted away while I typed some notes, occasionally adding to the conversation. I brought a book to read but reckoned I’d probably be asleep before the sun set ;).
I was, and didn’t stir till the sun had risen, woken by the gentle patter of rain on the tent and the odd heavier drop of rain from the canopy above us. The forest and river really were pretty, something that was harder to appreciate when you were tired and focused on trying to stay on track through all the fallen trees and overgrown bauera. We had a slow start, keen to find at least a break in the heavier moments of rain, even though we were all donning wet rain jackets, scrub gloves and overpants.
When we got our break we packed up tents and set off, straight into more difficult to follow and overgrown track. In spots we fought to stay on it, and it was worth it. In others it was such hard work because of all the fallen trees we left it and made our way alongside the river. In other bits we used common sense to cut corners where the ground was more open, and then tried to rejoin the track. While it was disheartening to lose it so often, the encouraging part was we were also pretty good at finding it!
There was much less of the open button grass sections where the track was easy to follow and the walking speed was encouraging, and so it took us a good four hours before we were at the ridge John had selected as the preferred route up Mount Fincham. Apparently it was open. It certainly looked it from the track. In fact it was the only open ridge we’d seen and we’d walked all along the northern side of the mountain. We realised part way up the open part of the ridge that it didn’t last and what’s more, there was a great big cliff line it looked like we had to get up. There was no denying it, the GPS showed three contour lines right on top of one another, and the trig on the summit was visible just behind the cliffs. We’d just have to find a way up, as we always did.
The open ridge gave way to a horrible uphill scrub bash through banksias, bauera and cutting grass. Thick and wet. It was about the worst kind of scrub to have to bash up hill in, or so it seemed at the time. I found myself at the front grunting my way through, once resorting to the backwards bash. Eventually the trees opened up a bit more and ferns largely took over from the cutting grass. It was a big relief to actually be able to see the ground you were putting your feet on. Ian took us to the base of the cliffs, where we spent a lot of time trying gully after gully, only to be thwarted time and time again. Eventually we decided to just keep contouring under the cliffs till the big gully we’d seen on our way up, where the GPS reckoned the contour lines weren’t as close to one another.
It was a goer and we hauled ourselves to the top, then across big clumps of button grass before we hit the final scrubby climb onto the summit plateau. Gosh it was good to be up, soaking wet and puffing away. The views were a wonderful reward, out towards Frenchmans Cap or back towards Lake Burbury – both were stunning. It was cold in the breeze now that we weren’t moving, so we stayed long enough to decide we were changing our plans.
None of us were keen on retracing the Fincham ‘track’, so Ian made a call to his partner and asked if she’d meet us at the Nelson Falls carpark at 4pm on the Friday. We could have hitched back to Ian’s car at Lake St Claire but having left the key in John’s car would have made that a pointless exercise. She agreed (on the provide that he told her he loved her!) and so we quickly came up with a new itinerary.
First thing was to get down, having taken a full three hours to get up. It took us two. We had the advantage of a bash to follow and gravity on our side. We’d definitely seen the last of the rain for the day, but still the scrub was wet – there would be no drying off just yet. Then we were back to the Fincham track. It wasn’t too bad this side and we made as good as progress as we had on some of the better sections the day before. We hit Canyon Creek and were amazed to find a suspension bridge across it. It was in surprisingly good condition and wasn’t even rusty. A tree had come down though, pushing the hand ropes over to one side. Aside from that, it could still be used. There was even a ladder on the far side to climb down.
Intriguingly, further on when we popped out of the forest and back onto button grass, we came across old diamond markers at regular intervals. They weren’t great for marking the track in respect to allowing you to follow it from one marker to the next, but they did let you know you were still on it (if you didn’t walk straight past them without seeing them, which was easily done on more than one occasion!).
By now we were getting close to where the 4WD track from the Raglan Range intersects the Fincham track. We were hoping the going would be better from this point. We had decided to camp just shy of the junction on the flattest ground we could find. This would set us up for a day trip to Fincham hut, and give us 2 days to walk out over the Raglan range, which might prove to be quite big days! We found just the spot to nestle ourselves between button grass clumps, in time for a bit of a late dinner.
Ian whistled and sang as he went about his business, which made me chuckle. It was the perfect sound with which to end the long, rather wet day and was a turn around from the odd muttering of ‘bloody bauera’ and the like that might have escaped his lips earlier on in the day. A non-bushwalking friend had asked me recently what I liked about scrub bashing, and I found myself reflecting on it as I ate, having spent a good part of the day doing just that. To be honest, the bash isn’t so much fun. The popping out is much more pleasing, for sure! But it is a means to an end when it comes to off track walking, which I love for the challenge of finding a good route, seeing if you can get to where you want to go and how well you can do it. The views from the final destination (which is almost always a mountain for me) are just a small part of the reward. It’s a practice in mindfulness as it’s impossible to be doing or thinking anything else (or you’re just asking to be poked, flicked in the eye, cut across the neck or face or tripped up) and it’s the cheapest, most natural gym you could ever belong to. Bashing away with two other people is so much more fun too. You’re not alone, you can take a break from the hard work and still make progress and there’s three of you to ponder challenges and arrive at a solution. It also makes you feel grateful when you’re back on the track, even if it’s super overgrown!
I managed a long but interrupted sleep, thanks to a touch of overheating and every tickle or itch feeling like a leech had permeated the tent’s defences. There was due concern for this – I’d lost count at 20 when taking off my gaiters and overpants the night before and later on when retrieving items from the vestibule I’d come back each time with one or two free blood suckers on my hand. I already had two war wounds, one from each day, and was keen to keep it at a minimum.
We woke in a heavy mist on our third morning, our ‘hump’ day. I was slightly disappointed that the day we were pinning our good weather hopes on was to have such a grey and wet beginning. Everything was covered in dew, although the inside of the tent was even wetter simply from a nights worth of respiration. There wasn’t much chance of it drying out before we left either, it seemed the damp would persist a little longer.
It was, however, surprising to be able to hear the very distant sounds of motor vehicles, not entirely drowned out by the morning bird song as we made ourselves ready for the days walking. I felt much more remote than we obviously were, perhaps especially because of the fight we’d had with the bush to get there.
Shortly after 8 we had our wet weather gear back on and set off into the wet scrub to do our best to stay on the track. We only had a short distance before we hit the junction between the Fincham and Raglan tracks, where we’d decided we’d drop out packs. We were very hopeful that the Fincham track from this point onwards would be easier to follow with less fallen trees and scrub and it stated that way for the first 500m or so. Just enough to get our hopes up!
It didn’t last and we ended up fighting our way through some of the worst scrub we’d had on the track. By the end of it I was sick of being slapped in the face, poked in the eyes, having twigs pick my nose for me and lifting legs over logs or crawling under fallen trees. At one point I reckoned I had some kind of appreciation for how it might feel to have to wear shackles on both feet, such was the nature of the opportunistic bauera. The walk was less of a walk and more of a wade-climb-crawl.
But nothing lasts forever, even the scrub, and we eventually arrived at the Fincham Hut. It’s a very well maintained hut, complete with power and a long drop, maintained by the HEC, who fly in people to do compliance checks every so often. It would be nice if that involved track clearing too!
The log book confirmed our suspicions that the owner of the found GoPro was likely a guy who had copped a lot of flack part way through last year. He was the only walker to have made it to the hut that year on his own two feet. We were the only party to have done so since. Kudos to him, doing it solo and in a pretty quick two days. That would have take a fair bit of mental strength, especially having been helicoptered out on his first attempt after losing his GoPro and phone (which was his navigation device). I’m not going to get into a debate about how or what people should walk with, because there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat and we’ve probably all walked with fewer safety nets in place than is ideal from time to time. If we haven’t been caught out, we’ve probably been lucky. What I will say is it’s not an ‘easy’ or necessarily ‘enjoyable’ walk (expect scrub, difficult navigation, wetness and leeches probably all year round), but it is perfectly manageable with the right gear and planning. I imagine it’s certainly more enjoyable with company and good weather and it’s not one I’ll be repeating in a hurry ;).
We didn’t stay long, having taken 2:40hrs from our packs, much longer than expected. We barely shaved 10 minutes off the return time, which surprised us but is probably reflective of all the climbing we did. Back at the packs we set off up the Rangan track, quickly noticing that we’d traded the overgrown nature of the Fincham track for a largely open but certainly more undulating track! I wasn’t complaining though. We walked late into the afternoon, arriving at the obvious spot you’d depart from if you wanted to climb Mount Maud. We were all pretty tired, but after a bit of a chat we figured we’d give it a crack.
It was definitely worth it! Finally some easier, minimally impeded walking with no packs and views to go with it. The ridge looked open enough, with perhaps one short scrubby section. But as luck would have it we found a way through that avoided any bashing. All we had to contend with was a steady climb – which was about all we had energy for anyway. We reached a quartzite outcrop that looked to be pretty high, with another 80m away, across a button grass bowl. This was the one I had marked as the high point, but we all know these things aren’t always reliable. The guys were good enough to let me duck over, just in case. The GPS had it 2m higher, which means nothing when you take error into account. In any case it meant I could take a nice photo of them on the summit.
There was time for a few messages, advising safety contacts etc of the change in route, and to check the weather forecast. This brought some uncomfortable news – we were in for a very heavy downpour the following morning. It was much worse than when we’d set out, but we had no option but to walk through it in order to get out on time. Oh well, what we could do was make sure we camped on the northern side of where the ford over Canyon Creek was marked on the map, just in case it was in spate. As for the river we had to cross just before the Lyell Highway, we were just going to have to take our chances when we walked out on the Friday afternoon.
So we did just that. It was with weary feet that we walked another kilometre, crossed the river and then decided we were going to pitch out tents on the road. We had to do some bauera remodelling to widen the road, but it otherwise provided for a lovely and flat site, in stark contrast to the button grass bed of the evening before. It was hard to know if here was just as leech infested as our last camp site, or if we were just walking them from one location to the next with us. There were certainly a good number already inside the tent when I pitched it! Once again, it didn’t take long to fall asleep, despite the threat of a downpour in the morning.
At 7 there was just some intermittent showers, which gave us chance to eat and tend to our bodily functions before the rain really settled in. I half packed up, then lay there listening to the patter and reading a book while waiting for a holler from the others to say we’d make a go for it. We synchronised our tent packing well enough that no one was standing round for long and headed straight into the wet scrub that was reclaiming the road.
We had a few early river crossings, which I didn’t like because they were easy spots to lose the road and were also often where the road was most overgrown. But these grew less frequent as we made our way along the track, and we had increasingly more open sections of road to follow, especially once we started the uphill slogs. The bladderwort was out in flower, a pretty splash of colour in the otherwise muted day. Isn taught me that they had little bladders filled with air under the ground and we wondered why this might be the case. We came across a few more ring pulls and old beer cans, bringing the total to 3 and 4 respectively. Apparently Boags was in favour back then, although there was a single can of Fosters. I wondered what it would have been like to bump along the road with a can of beer in hand. Who were those men?
The rain fell as steadily if not more so than our feet. It was not as heavy as we feared from the forecast but was unrelenting, the kind you feel could go on forever. As the morning ticked by, my left hand and neck were the only dry parts of me. By midday even these were damp and my boots were sloshing despite not having waded through any deep pools of water.
We were soaked through, rain driving into us from the west, stinging my left eye where I’d narrowly missed skewering an eyeball on a branch earlier in the day. We were cold, tired and didn’t have much to look at through the mist save the odd waterfall or abandoned bit of machinery. But still I found myself with a smile on my face. Weather like this highlighted all the GOOD things, all the things we take too easily for granted that are actually really nice. And my goodness, the feeling of stripping off sodden clothes, huddling in the shell of my tent as I fought with dry ones, and then finally relaxing into their wonderful dryness was just sublime. Especially when my numb fingers came back to life a few hours later.
We’d pulled up early as we had plenty of time, choosing to camp a few kilometres shy of the Raglan Range high point. We found ourselves spending the afternoon in our tents, encouraging the blue sky and hints of sun that appeared in between more light showers. I ate an early dinner, mostly to warm up a bit more, then wrote some notes while sending a few messages.
The rest of the afternoon would be spent reading, napping or otherwise just listening to the wind and rain. The rain persisted long past its forecasted cut off, and my attempts to get some clothes dry failed spectacularly. The sun gave up too and the afternoon turned to evening simply with a change in shades of grey. Even the birds had stopped singing.
Instead, every so often Ian would break into a whistle, or John would hum a little, sometimes the two would chat. These were the times I was most aware of the difference in dynamics from when Graham, John and I walked together, but maybe that said as much about me and how I was as anything else ;). I felt slightly shy, less sure of my place and value in the team than I had before, and I suppose that led to a more cautious approach in leading or instigating decisions or even conversation. Funny hey? I resolved to work on it on our final day…
It was still raining in the morning, the forecast had changed for the worst again, so we delayed our start time by an hour, putting off the inevitable donning of cold wet socks, boots and rainwear as long as we could in the hope that maybe, just maybe, the sun might rear its head for us today. And to be honest, it didn’t do too badly. It was misting more than raining, as the inside of the cloud draped an only slightly transparent curtain over everything. As we walked the sun threatened to burn it off, but not in time for our arrival at the Raglan high point. I wished John and Ian could see the views that should have been their reward. They didn’t complain, however, and Ian took delight in pointing out the smallest gum tree in Tassie, which was growing right next to the trig. Apparently waist height is about as high as it gets!
From here on we dropped height too quick for the sun to catch up and were soon once again drenched from head to toe just from the overgrown scrub on the road. Down we went, and for perhaps the first time on the walk we had the chance in parts to walk abreast, rather than in single file, when the road opened up a bit. Finally we could chat, reminisce, ask and answer questions as a group. We talked about ourselves, our lives, our careers, decision points and stuff in general. I discovered how much the two guys knew about the history of the place and Tassie as a whole. The kind of knowledge you only get from having been around for a little bit, having read books and listened to people over the years. I fear we’ll lose this in generations to come, along with those who volunteer their time to the upkeep of huts and logbooks, given today’s preference for quick answers provided by google searches over the sharing of oral histories.
Soon enough we were at the final river crossing, the only obstacle between us and the Lyell Highway. It was flowing fast, but we were able to walk down the provided stone steps, cross without even giving thought to taking off boots, and pop out onto the road. A short walk to the Nelson Falls car park and we’d done it! Two older ladies who were exploring their way around Tassie in their converted vans took pity on us and made us all our preference of tea or coffee, complete with biscuit. And so we stood there chatting with them, dripping water, scrub and still a handful of leeches. It was a lovely way to finish the walk. While we waited for Ian’s partner to pick us up and take us back to John’s car at the Darwin Dam we dried out some gear in the intermittent sun, changed into what we had left of our dry clothes, ate the last of our food and chatted some more. And then Lou arrived with zucchini chocolate cake and drinks! We were warm, dry and wanting for nothing. Oh, and mission successful in finding a place I was comfortable with in the new dynamic ;)!
All up: 56.1km, 3311m ascent.
Day 1: 9.8km, 6:18hrs, 353m ascent
Day 2: 11.4km, 11:01hrs, 855m ascent (Fincham ascent)
Day 3: 14.6km, 10:12 hrs, 911m ascent (Maud ascent)
There’s nothing like a bit of unfinished business to bump a walk up the list. Especially when you’re about to lose the kayak you’ve had access to for the last 5 years. It’s even easier when you’re not the only one hatching similar plans! The Pleiades had first become a serious target at the start of the year following a club walk to Pokana Peak. It had been discussed as a possible side trip and had certainly sparked interest. It was to be far too ambitious for that trip, but it looked good and wasn’t a mountain easily forgotten…
Mark went back in in a boat a few weeks later, which I found out after the fact when we were chatting via email on another matter. He kindly shared his route when I told him I was also planning a trip back. Tim got roped in, even though he’s not supposed to be walking until he’s finished an upcoming exam, because he’d lucked out as my partner in crime on the Pokana trip and I was pretty certain he’d be keen. He was, so we locked in the one day we could both do and hoped we’d get lucky with the rain and the wind (or rather, lack thereof!).
After I finished a day shift on the Saturday, we loaded kayaks and gear and headed down to the end of Clear Hill road. The drive this time seemed to take forever, probably reflective of how tired I was feeling and my desire to just be there. We’d tried to make good time, but the last hour was in the dark and the wildlife was more active than I’d have liked. The Mini had its first wallaby encounter in three years of driving. It was certainly easy to pull up when we finally made it, set up sleeping bags and get a relatively solid night sleep in the back of the car.
Both of us had talked about setting alarms, thinking we were in for a decent but achievable day walk, but neither of us remembered. I certainly didn’t have much time between being ready to sleep and being out to it. As a result we were ready to start paddling at 7:30, 1.5 hours after our intended departure time. We sped across the very smooth lake, faster than we’d calculated, but still taking time to enjoy the reflections of the dead trees dancing on the surface of the lake as we wove through. The spiders still hung in their webs at the top of the skeletal remains, this time accompanied by lots of little black dots – their offspring.
The Pleiades in Greek mythology are the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. To avoid Orion’s lust their parents turned them into doves and placed them amongst the stars, apparently! I’m not sure why this particular mountain ended up with the name, but we were keen to see if the summit would give us any clues. We could see far enough to pick out the clearest line up the first and likely steepest bit of the ascent. It was just as well, we reasoned, that we’d slept in, as we wanted to allow the low lying cloud sufficient time to burn off.
Off we set, initially across the old lake floor, now just blackened mud and quartzite gravel. This gave way to the typical low button grass, tea tree and melaleuca scrub of the south west. The wild flowers had largely done their dash and it was only higher up that we had a little bit of pink in the odd trigger plant to offset the greens, browns and yellows – the ‘spice colours’ of Tassie wilderness as mum puts it.
It was generally easy going, with only one or two slightly scrubbier gullies/creeks to cross. Even here it was easy enough to pick a good line. Perhaps the hardest part was the sheer incline coupled with slippery went muddy goop underfoot that often had you sliding two steps backwards for each one forwards. In spots the button grass thickened and proved to be unsteady underfoot, requiring more energy than it should to make progress.
As is always the case, however, we steadily climbed our way up and across and were more than half way up when we figured a breakfast stop was in order. We were nearly at the bottom of the cloud, which was proving to be more stubborn than forecast and were aware of the need to either slow down or to summit with no views. There’s only so much time you can take to eat, however, especially when your shirt is drenched in sweat from the climb and the high humidity and now sticks like a freezing cold icepack to the small of your back.
Procrastination exhausted and fingers turning yellow and numb, we continued up the ridge. It got a bit interesting from here on, all the more so because we couldn’t really see what we were in for… entirely! Just that there was a lot of very steeply sloped rock with scrubby channels running vertically in the gaps. Once we got the hang of it and safely extracted ourselves from a scrubby gully we’d got caught in, we found it to be much better going. It wouldn’t be much fun for people not comfortable on steeply slanted rock with not a lot of purchase in some spots though! Oh, and it would be pretty miserable in wet weather too.
Once we were past this bit the ridge top walking resumed and the scrub diminished as we ascended, eventually to be replaced by cushion plants, pineapple grass and the likes on the summit plateau. By this stage we were definitely walking in the cloud, although we could tell we were right at the bottom of it and knew it would have to lift sometime soon. So we wandered over to the high point, aided initially by GPS and then by the unmistakable cairn, and then ducked over the edge to sit out of the wind.
It was only 1.5 hours after we’d had breakfast, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have something more to eat as we enjoyed the wait. There were plenty of little white quartzite mounds scattered around the otherwise fairly flat summit plateau, but I’m not sure there were exactly 7. The naming of the mountain will remain a mystery I think!
The sun broke through intermittently, deliciously warm on our legs and backs, gradually drying our shirts. We got tantalising glimpses of the view before it clagged back in, worse than it had been. I began to despair, but Tim didn’t seem to be in too much of a rush (despite plans to study on his return home) and so we waited some more. It was worth it in the end, even if we didn’t get views to the west, where the wind and clouds were coming from. The ones east down to the lake and mountains beyond and north to Pokana were lovely enough.
Eventually (1.25 hrs after arriving) we dragged ourselves away, keen to get back before dark. We were much faster on the descent, which was largely downhill, although the views meant we (well, to be honest, I) stopped more frequently for photos. The cicadas were out in force and our trampling through the scrub disturbed a number. It’s always been a familiar sound that evokes warm memories from childhood and again it had me smiling.
We chose a slightly better route in spots, did our fair share of sliding and only got mildly distracted by what turned out to be three kayaks dragged well inland. It looked like a family were also out having lots of fun, so we left them a smiley face made from rocks on the upturned belly of one.
Our legs and feet were grateful to be back at the kayaks, looking forward to an hour of rest. I, of course, had to add to the excitement by doing what could have been classed as a well executed parkour move while attempting to get in the kayak. It ultimately resulted in me moving from one side of it to the other, complete with a 360 degree horizontal rotation. I did not manage to do this while staying entirely dry and I’ll admit the landing could use some work. The kayak, fortunately, stayed upright. Tim was most disappointed to have had no time to get the camera out!
One last glance back and off we set, taking only a little longer to get back out than on the way in, courtesy of a bit of a southwesterly breeze and a substantial level of fatigue. We still made good enough time that I was home and unpacking the kayak in the last bit of dusk before it gave way to night.
Never has a bush walk been so long in the planning. This one even surpassed the Prince of Wales, which took a good three years to finally attempt. The idea was first hatched when Ben knew he was about to begin a family of his own, prior to the birth of his first son. He now has three kids, the youngest of whom is 11 months, so you can do some rough maths to figure out quite how long we’ve waited (and nope, he has no twins). The thinking was that he was going to be tied up with all things family, but still wanted to go on a bit of a crazy walk here and there. So the concept of the epic day walk was hatched. Mesa was somehow always going to be our first mountain. This kind of walking would allow us to push our physical boundaries, hopefully get to some distant mountains, hang out where we love to hang out most AND get Ben back home within the same day. Rachel, his equally awesome wife who is also a bushwalker, was generous in her support of the idea and it’s practical realities.
And so, more than half a dozen or so years after its conception, the plan was finally seeing fruition. We weren’t going to take any chances so kept two consecutive days free for the walk, choosing the one with the best weather a few days out. It seemed we would have ourselves a mild day with a bit of wind. We weren’t sure of timing, there was one report from a small group of guys we know to be speed walkers, who had set out at 6 and returned at 4. We knew we’d be slower. But 6 sounded like a good start time to us. Unfortunately that meant getting up at 3:15 for some of us, which wasn’t as easy as it might sound!
The drive was shorter than expected, even with a few detours as I drove straight past Esperance Road, thinking I was heading for Adamsons Road. The drive now was slow to minimise the risk of colliding with abundant wildlife despite otherwise well kept forestry roads. But still we found ourselves at the start of the track, which looked like it hadn’t received any love or care in a long time, before 6.
Ben um-ed and ah-ed over taking a light fleece (we suggested he did) and we discussed water, all of us keen to be carrying as little as possible for the long slog ahead. A forgotten alarm went off at 6 and when I’d silenced it we headed off, starting on boardwalk that quickly turned into forest floor. The birds roused with the dawn and lyrebirds let off alarm calls as we passed by.
The walk up Adamsons Peak is long, with some of the greatest altitude gain you’ll ever get in a day walk. Believe me, you feel every bit of it too and in no time the cold shivers turned to dripping sweat. Ben set a cracking pace which soon mellowed out into something we could all sustain despite still breathing hard. We made good time, ducking under or climbing over many fallen trees, trying hard not to slip backwards on the steepest of slopes, or later on wet slippery rocks and tree roots. We rejoiced in the short flatter sections around Manuka Flat, for they presented a chance to slow our pounding hearts.
We made better than expected time, arriving at the lookout less than 2 hours after having started out. It was overcast with the easterly weather and the wind had a bite to it. The bottom of the cloud was sitting just over the summit of Adamsons. As we wove a muddy, squealchy way across the flat, past Creekton Rivulet and to the base of the final climb the temperature dropped, our sweaty shirts became icepacks and our fingers turned yellow and numb. All we could think of was how glorious some sun would be.
We’d donned warm jackets and gloves before we made the summit, Ben grateful for having carried the extra 200 grams he’d been tempted to leave behind! The summit was a very brief affair as Ben claimed his points, before we ducked out of the wind and ate a mixture of breakfast, lunch or snacks. We were happy to have made it 3 hours after starting out, which was only 30 minutes slower than the group of guys whose trip report we’d read (we’d anticipated taking at least an hour longer).
As soon as the eating was done we moved off, the heat of the climb having already worn off in no time. We wove our way down the ridge, which mysteriously materialised from behind the cloud as we progressed. As we dropped lower and the day warmed up the cloud lifted, and we got glimpses of the Calf ahead. The Calf is secondary to the Cow, which is actually Adamsons Peak (and a better name, I think, although I mean no disrespect to whoever Adamson was). It’s a lovely little pointy peak that makes for a most pleasing walk in all respects.
Sidling down and around to meet the ridge that heads out to the Calf, Ben, who was in the lead at this point, let out a great big ‘Oh yeah!!’. Jess and I couldn’t see what he was exclaiming at, and asked him to hold on to it. A few meters later, however, Precipitous Bluff stuck its great big knobbly body around the edge of the ridge, in an instant we understood, echoing Ben’s delight and awe.
Feeling slightly warmer, with the promise of sun in the not too distant future, we backed off the pace and gave ourselves more time just to soak everything in. The Calf wasn’t far away though, and soon we were scrambling after Jess, straight up the ridge to the summit. Again, the Calf provided a glorious summit which was windy but at least in the sun by now. We spent a good deal of time there, shooting the odd message to special people and even having a brief video call with Ben’s family. We live in such a different world to those who pioneered walks to these places, don’t we?
The terrain ahead was new to us all and we wondered how bad it was going to be, even though the first bit looked lovely and open. We made our way down the Calf, feeling rather guilty and all too aware of our impact on the wilderness as we picked out individual footsteps so as to avoid stepping on cushion plants and other fragile alpine grasses. In some ways while this was the easiest and most open of walking it also required the most concentration.
We stopped many times to take photos of the amazing scenery and alpine flowers. I’d not really given it much thought during the planning, I’d been that caught up in the destination that it was an additional lovely surprise. Mesa itself was a diminutive form much lower than our current height and it felt weird to be walking downhill towards it. It’s not a mountain, a peak or even a hill. It’s not even much of a mesa, to be honest, and this had us all confused. To be fair, there is a very small cliff line you can see obscured in the scrub on one side as you approach it, but nothing like some of the impressive sandstone ones you see elsewhere.
We had the unexpected pleasure of wandering into a couple who had made an unsuccessful attempt to head out to Vanishing Falls, shortly after having our own discussions about pioneering a route out this very way! Jess spotted them in the distance and I have to say I thought she must have an overactive imagination until I saw what she was looking at!! It’s not exactly the place you’d expect to run into others. We had a chat then made our way to the edge of the open section on the saddle, just before the scrub started.
From the info we now had, we figured we’d be in for some scrub, but might find some relief in a section of King Billy forest with pineapple grass underfoot. As it turned out, we wove through the early scrub with no real bashing involved, then walked straight into the lovely forest. We couldn’t believe our luck although we were reluctant to talk too much about it until we reached the summit.
I got to lead the final section, as it was the only peak I hadn’t climbed. It had worked out that we each got to lead up a mountain we’d not climbed, which is always nice :D. The finally pinch on Mesa got a little less open, with big scoparia bushes growing horizontally out of the pretty vertical sides, but it was at least a short distance and we grunted our way up, somehow avoiding any real cliffs.
The summit itself was another glorious one, open and sunny, with plenty of spots to sit or lounge and views to everywhere! We felt particularly close to the Southern Ranges and PB, but even Fedder was close. Bobs looked different from this angle too. We spent a long time there, having lunch (or a second lunch as the case may have been). It was only sense and a desire to get back before it was too late that finally dragged us away.
Fortunately the way back was more down than up, all of us feeling rather weary and lacking in juice for the legs. We opted for a sidle around the Calf, which worked out very well. After the slog back up Adamsons we were wearily grateful that it was now downhill all the way. We celebrated with another decent break to enjoy the views we hadn’t had when we’d first summited and to procrastinate from what lay ahead! I ate dinner, this being one of the rare occasions I took some on a day walk.
Then commenced the rather mindless traipse back, each of us fairly quiet, off with our own thoughts (or lack thereof). I certainly was weary enough to have a pretty empty mind and simply enjoyed that feeling. Sore knees aside we made relatively good progress down, arriving back at the cars before 7:30. We figured it still counted as an epic day trip, despite not needing head torches at all, based purely on the figures below. Ben reckons it’s a record for elevation gained in a day walk. I wouldn’t think he’d be wrong in that either.
Pandani club walks to mountains I’ve not yet climbed are few and far between and so I got very excited when I saw Simon had put this one on the program. I nearly forgot to sign up in my newly developed forgetfulness, but was reminded by a comment from a friend. Fortunately there was still a spot for me AND I still had use of Graham’s kayaks, though it would likely be their final trip with me. As the date approached the fact that it was an awesome way to start the new year became apparent and my excitement grew further. As always, the more excited I got and the more invested in the possibility of climbing new mountains I became, the more I started to get concerned by potential barriers. For this one, I was concerned that we had a large group, nine in total. All were strong walkers, but that becomes irrelevant past a certain size, as more walkers exponentially increase the time things regardless of ability.
The weather was looking ok, but not brilliant according to the forecast. There was talk of climbing both The Pleiades and Pokana in the one day, although the trip was initially advertised for just Pokana. Both might be achievable by a solo walker in 24 hours, but would be at least a 30km round trip according to the map, and longer in actual distance walked. The terrain looked mostly open, but with some scrubby pockets and some reportedly big button grass clumps. Together that felt like a big ask for a large group, and even Pokana alone would be a long day.
The wise thing was to acknowledge the wisdom in Murphy’s law and plan for the worst. I asked Tim, who’d asked me to give him and his kayak a lift, if he had the 4th of January off. He didn’t, but worked a bit of magic, managed to get hold of the right people between Christmas and the New Year and got a day of leave approved. And so we had ourselves an extra day to climb whatever we might not get up on the Saturday. Simon, as leader of the walk, gave us the nod of approval. With all eventualities controlled for I settled back to let the trip play out however it would.
We had a relaxed 9am meet up at Granton, and picked up the final two members of the party at Maydena and an otherwise enjoyable drive down to the northern end of Clear Hill Road, with plenty of philosophical conversation to keep us both awake. For a large group we were pretty efficient at unloading and packing our kayaks, had a quick bite to eat and then began a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable paddle out on Gordon Lake in the early afternoon.
The mountains were lovely, with Clear Hill and Stepped Hills dominating initially, but the sharp, craggy point of Center Star soon stealing the limelight. As we paddled through sections of dead trees Tim mentioned how weird it felt to be paddling through the forest, and he was right. It was beautiful, but slightly haunted in a desolate kind of way. If it wasn’t for the blue sky it would have been colourless seemingly lifeless. If you looked closely though there were lots of swallows, the odd spider on trees in the middle of the lake, and a whole heap of bees that I suspect had chosen one of the old trees for their hive.
The fact that the water level was something like 27m below maximum capacity meant all our maps were inaccurate and we had to navigate around raised bits of land that should have been under water. After one false lead, we pulled up on a flat and not too boggy spot that looked like it had been burned out in the recent fires. It would be about as close as we reckoned we could get to where we’d ascend into the ridge that would ultimately lead north to Pokana or south to The Pleiades. The maps technically had us camping in the water, 1.5km from where the edge of the water should have been! Out we hopped, and spent the next 30 minutes pitching tents and getting ourselves sorted.
‘Now what?!’ Jess asked. We lamented not having any cards or twister or even a frisbee, but entertained ourselves sitting round eating, telling stories, talking mountains and throwing bits of caked mud at a central cup. Time flew by, barely noticed. As the mountains and then clouds started to sport a bit of colour we migrated to the lake shore with our cameras and continued our conversations, almost as if uninterrupted. People stepped away every now and again to take a photo before returning to resume partaking in the chatter. It was a lovely way to bring an end to the first day of the year. I retired to my tent to read, but was too tired to keep my eyes open, so fell asleep to the pleasant chorus of frogs instead.
The day dawned bright with no sign of rain and only a few clouds. Much better than anticipated, but a bit too good, as it would turn out. The mornings entertainment began with news that something had stolen the power bank Ben used to take time lapse footage! It seemed there was a rascal about the place and it wasn’t the last we’d hear of it.
We set off at 7, across the plains that were, on the map, supposed to be underwater too. Heading northwest we set our sights on a ridge that looked ok, and managed to weave a way there that avoided most of the scrub. Six black cockatoos flew overhead, calling as they went. It had all the makings of a good day. I felt light on my feet and happy in my heart. I was completely at home out here amongst the crunch of button grass and the occasional waft of lemon-scented boronia as the sweat began to run down our faces.
We made slow progress, held up mostly by all the photos we wanted to take and on occasion by discussions about our chosen route. Later, when we started to climb up the ridge, we were slowed by steep, uneven terrain with thicker than expected scrub and a day that was already proving to be hot.
We had numerous rest breaks and lots of chatter about everything under the sun, as is bound to happen when you have experts in organic chemistry, physics, science, physiotherapy and IT amongst your numbers (and that’s far from an exhaustive list!). We pondered why button grass reflected the sun so well and where the tanins came from that stained the water, and I learnt that there are genetically different pepper berries, some that produce the peppery compound, and others that don’t have it (don’t collect your leaves from Mt Field if you want peppery ones!). We had questions about long legged flies, frogs, and why cicadas were so much smaller here than on the mainland. We enjoyed the blanfordia, which was looking stunning in its prime and even found a couple of isophysis (formerly known as hewardia). Clearly, we mused over and examined all the important issues!
In this fashion it took us two hours to reach the ridge we were attempting to climb on to. We turned along it to the right, where the walking wasn’t bad but equally wasn’t the easiest underfoot. We followed it all the way down to a river, which was a welcome relief from the heat of the day. Slogging back up the far side all the way to the ridge that would take us to Pokana was hard work, now in the heat of the day, although Mark chose a brilliant route and did the bulk of the bash. The reward was a late lunch in the shade of rocks.
I think we all knew we weren’t walking fast enough as a group, but it wasn’t easy to call it even though an early turn around and a swim in the lake may have been a more sensible use of time! Two turned around first, then a third, and finally, when we realised we’d be returning to camp in the early hours of the morning if we continued, the last of us also sensibly called it quits.
We all met back up at the creek and walked the rest of the way back together. We retraced steps except that we chose a different ridge to descend, which proved less scrubby and more direct. Dinner was at 10 followed immediately by bed. I got a glimpse of our cheeky furry friend that evening and thought it was a quoll. I was mistaken, but didn’t discover this till the following evening.
I woke to find one of my clogs had been relocated, but was fortunately easy enough to find. I shook my head with a smile on my face, then got busy getting ready. The others had multiple items relocated as well. They were all due to paddle out, but Tim and I had our extra day. We figured we’d make the most of our bashed pad and head back for another crack at Pokana. Determined to learn from our very recent lesson in what not to do we’d decided to set the alarm early so we’d be ready to leave at 6.
We said our goodbyes to those of the others who were awake early and headed off, noticeably fatigued from the 15 hours we’d been on our feet for the day before. We were sure we could move faster with just the two of us, but weren’t arrogant enough to be confident of this, and so we hit the slopes of the ridge hard. I was drenched before we got half way up because while it wasn’t a hot day yet, and the sun was still behind the clouds, it was humid.
We made good time along the ridge heading north to Pokana and found ourselves at the point we’d turned around after 4.5 hours of walking. We were almost moving twice as fast. This took a huge amount of pressure off and so we slowed the pace down and took longer rest stops. It was probably just as well, poor Tim had an unsettled gut and I can’t imagine how he managed to walk as he did in between loo stops. I was at my limit and I was fighting fit!
As it transpired, we’d turned around having done the hardest part of the walk. The ridge we were on was one with a rocky spine that hadn’t been any good for staying high. So we’d traversed under the rocky outcrops on the western side, which had been to that point a messy and slow process. But we were at a spot now when it made sense to climb on to the top of the ridge, and sure enough, the way forward was much easier. We scrambled down, crossed to the other side of the ridge, and then cut off the corner as we started heading more WNW on an intersecting ridge that would take us to the summit.
The scrub was mostly ankle to shin high, but in spots was deeper and thicker, making us lurch across the terrain like a pair of drunkards. It didn’t matter though – as tired and as ready as we were for some easier walking, the summit suddenly seemed closer and more achievable. Up we plodded, drenched in sweat and no extra energy in our legs, determination propelling us on. We climbed the final rocky outcrop to discover the summit cairn wasn’t a cairn but one of those concrete markers! It was 12:15 – we’d made it just in time for lunch.
We ate, let the others know we’d made it, chatted and enjoyed the views and the feeling of slightly drier shirts! It was hard to know what to look at: the Spires, the Dennison range, the POWs,or the more popular Western Arthurs, Frenchmans, Mt Anne and even Federation Peak. All were visible from the summit and it was understandably a tough one to drag ourselves away from.
We had no choice though, if we wanted to get back for a swim before dark. The return is much of a blur. We took it in turns to lead, swapping after rest stops. Conversation came in short bursts, both of us focused on getting down and having very little energy for anything more than simple observations. We hadn’t done a huge amount of walking together, but were figuring out what worked in a relatively smooth way. Tim was another one of those easy to walk with kind of people (probably more so than me!).
We arrived back at the river at 5, all set for a 7-7:30 arrival back at the tents. It proved to be closer to the latter, largely because neither of us had knees that wanted to get up! We had entertained the idea of a flying fox on numerous occasions on this walk, but sadly one hadn’t materialised.
Across the ridge we moved, the slight incline feeling more than slight! And then finally it was time to drop off and down. We did plenty of sliding in the steeper parts, some bits more controlled than others. And then we were at the bottom, with just the open flat left. It had felt like an age the day before and it was no shorter this time round.
A little red breasted robin greeted me at my tent as I set about sorting myself out in order of importance. Aching feet were keen to get out of boots and I couldn’t wait to get in some cold, cleansing water, even if it was now much cooler all round. It was absolutely wonderful! Dinner followed, and while I had plans of many grand things to fill the evening with I fell straight asleep for a couple of hours. I woke to the sound of the cheeky furry animal dragging one boot away and discovered it was in fact a Tassie devil! We had a few moments before he scampered off. I decided I’d best not leave anything in the vestibules!
We had entertained the idea of climbing the Pleiades before paddling out on our last day, but had called it off with Tim’s upset gut. Regardless, I’m not sure either of us wanted to see any more button grass and melaleuca for a while! So we had a lazy morning with no alarms to wake us, pottered around a bit, waited for the sun to peak out between the clouds and eventually packed up. All of this was accompanied by a chorus of frogs and the twitter of little birds.
The paddle back started off seriously, but part way along as the wind died down and the sun came out we drifted along chatting more than we paddled, neither of us in any great rush to leave the mountains for a whole heap of washing and packing away that we knew awaited us. A late lunch at the Possum Shed rounded off a pretty good trip – we can both recommend the Possum Shed BLT!
Day 1 paddle: 7.6km, 1:44hrs
Day 2 attempt: 16.3km, 14:55hrs, 1116m ascent
Day 3 actual summit: 19.7km, 13:21hrs, 1453m ascent
It always amazes me when something happens that you can look back and see all the little connections and moments that had to fall into place so perfectly so as to culminate in the present. On this occasion it was a chance meeting on the shore of Lake Curly (not often visited!) and another chance meeting on the Overland Track that led to Shelly and I hatching plans for future walks, the first of which was to tackle Mount Meredith as a day walk. I’m not sure I’d have suggested it, but when she asked if I was keen there was only one answer and a whole lot of excitement. More than usual, I think, because of what we were asking of ourselves…
Mount Meredith probably doesn’t feature on most walkers’ list of day walks. To be fair, it probably shouldn’t be undertaken in this manner except by the most determined and somewhat crazy of people! We were both of those things, so it didn’t faze us that we would be getting up and ready to start walking at 5am and would only turn around when we reached the summit, whenever that was. And we had no idea, really. We didn’t know just how bad the scrub would be, or for that matter if we’d even be able to cross the Whyte River. The last group I knew of attempting Mt Meredith hadn’t made it across. That would make for a very short walk indeed, but also necessitate a return trip, something we wanted to avoid.
We met on the side of Corinna Road, a short distance south of Savage River, where there’s an old (very old and overgrown) ‘road’ off the eastern side at the head of the Nine Mile Creek. This was where we planned to start our attack. John, who’d been on the above mentioned failed attempt to cross the Whyte River, gave us some useful intel shortly before our departure. He recommended continuing along the old road to the southern most drop off point, rather than taking the northern one. Shelly confirmed this using the Avenza maps, which made it pretty clear where the sand banks (or rather pebble/rock banks) were and therefore where the river might be more easily and safely crossed.
And so we woke at 0430 and started walking at 0500 on the dot. Head torches made the wet scrub glisten blindingly in the darkness of the early morning. Bauera across the old road set the tone for most of the day – it would be a wet (or sweaty) and scrubby one. The road continued for longer than the map suggested, and was more easy to follow than expected. However it also had off shoots that we hadn’t anticipated and we veered off to the right by mistake in one spot – catching ourselves before we dropped too far off the wrong side of the ridge. This sounds ridiculous, but it was surprisingly easy to do without even realising, such was the nature of the rather flat ridge.
Our error corrected, we continued south and then dropped off the ridge in a southeasterly direction, towards the Whyte river and the mapped sand bars. The going was much more open than we expected and we enjoyed a scrub free weave all the way down, where we popped out at the perfect spot. Without hesitation we strode across the river, surprised at the force behind the rapidly flowing but otherwise relatively low (shin deep) water. We chose our ridge line on the far side and climbed straight up a very steep but also open and this time well-defined ridge.
We couldn’t believe our luck at how nice the going was – it was solid green on the map. It wasn’t to last though and we hit some ferocious scrub at the .219 highpoint at to top of this ridge. It was only a few hundred metres long and we tried to avoid it by contouring SSE to the next ridge that would connect us to a saddle and then another climb, but it was unavoidable. Thick, tangly bauera slowed us down for a very long time and it took us an hour to move 300m in a straight line. Our mood about the day took a similar hit and I started to wonder how hard the mountain was actually going to be and how late we might return. I knew the wondering was wasted energy, but I couldn’t help myself!
Fortunately, the ridge we arrived at opened up a bit and once we figured out how to stay on it (I swear, this mountain has lots of ridges that AREN’T obviously defined or easy to stay on!) the going was much faster. The saddle was also open and the biggest hindrance as we made our way up the far side was just the sheer amount of forest debris on the ground, that meant you were never quite sure how far down your feet were going to sink through the leaf and branch matter and whether or not they’d connect with a hidden, solid log. It was a minor issue and certainly the going was again better than expected!
After a short bit of thicker scrub, where Shelly coined the term ‘wombatting’ to refer to crawling on one’s hands and knees through the scrub, we finally popped out, exactly where the Avenza maps said we should. Just perfect! Five hours after having started out we had our first unimpeded views of the sky above our heads and of the line we’d take ahead. It was exciting especially because the next bit looked more button-grassy yellow than scrubby green!!
The weather was perfect, clearing overcast, cool but not cold, with minimal wind. We were still drenched from the wet scrub bash and the sweaty work we’d done so far but knew we’d dry off. A wedgie came to say hello, nice and close, as if we needed another excuse to smile some more.
We tagged in and out of the lead, working well to discuss preferred routes and expected scrub and making collective decisions with which we were both happy. It was just the style of walking I love – a team effort with easy and relaxed company and not too much phaffing around.
We opted for a direct route through the next bit of scrub, instead of a longer but potentially (and that was not guaranteed) less scrubby line. Some more ‘open’ button grass and tea tree to weave through and then the final knob before the ascent to the summit. Easier said than done, it would seem. We were over scrub by this point and had been walking for a good 8 hours, knowing we still had all the way to go back. We did as we usually do, automatically attempting to stay on the ridge at the .645 high point, intending on following the NNE ridge to the final saddle. It would be the sensible route 95% of the time. As it turned out, the scrub was just as bad here as the worst scrub earlier on, only we were much more tired with little reserves in our tanks.
Ten minutes in I glanced at my GPS to find my watch was moving faster than we were. And then I noticed the route I had planned actually dropped off the ridge to the northeastern side and sidled around to the saddle. I never do this (preferring to stay high always), unless I was certain the satellite imagery showed a better line through the scrub. I mentioned it tentatively to Shelly, suddenly unsure of the accuracy of my preparation now that the stakes were higher. Together we figured we didn’t have much to lose and so we fought our way down off the ridge, encouraged as our heads, then our chests escaped the scrubby tangle. The further we went the better the walking became. How lucky we felt to have escaped the scrub relatively unscathed this time!
The scrub from the saddle and up was much kinder to us and we only had to contend with the steep climb on weary legs. It was slow, but progress was steady. You can only imagine the smiles on our faces when we found ourselves standing under the trig. Phew! 9 hours of walking and here we were on the summit. The Meredith Range stretched along the southeastern horizon and the Norfolk Range was directly opposite, in a northwesterly direction. Oh it was wonderful to sit down and relax!
We gave ourselves 15 minutes to finish off lunch send safety updates/check in messages, before the camera was packed into the bag and we turned to retrace our steps. As we descended our attention, which had been focused on the scrubby climb ahead, was stolen by not one but two wedgies, playing on the air currents, crying to each other in what sounded like a cross between an injured gull and baby kitten. Neither of us had heard sound like this before and once again we had cause to marvel.
On the return we decided to stay even lower than our approach, contouring southwesterly along the green scrubby ridge. The going was even better and we made great time. We hit the line we had identified to start our short ascent back onto the ridge and again had a steep but relatively scrub free route, save for the last 10 or so metres. We couldn’t believe our luck and it buoyed us for the next bit of the walk back down.
The rest of the walk is rather blurred, as we took care to stick closely to our track so as to walk back on our scrub bash. It made for a mentally fatiguing but physically easier return and would save us 2 hours in total. Only occasionally did we walk off the bash and paid for it dearly enough that we paid even closer attention to the GPS. We were very pleased with ourselves, however, to have made it back past the really nasty scrubby bit before it was dark, both of us by now feeling like we were definitely going to get there, and in good time.
The final climb up from the river to the road was long and steep, but we knew it was the last. We hit a small patch of scrub, courtesy of taking an alternative route, but in due course found ourselves on the old road shortly before we needed to retrieve our head torches for the final 1.2km of the walk. Back at the cars we shared a victory hug, then concentrated on stripping off, removing unwanted leeches and scrub, and heading our respective ways. For me, that meant making a dent on the return drive and for Shelly, another night car camping there before heading off to climb Parson’s Hood the following day (I have no idea how her legs had any energy left for that one!).