No club walk planned, no friends asking to do anything, meant I had a weekend that I set aside just for me. The weather cooperated, a tad too well – it was actually hard to choose where to go! Winds were minimal, which meant camping high was a definite. The choice was made a little easier after cutting out a few walks I’d promised to save for doing with other people, or that were going to be on the Pandani program. And so I chose Mount Jukes and the three other peaks nearby. I’d talked about how nice it seemed to be to a few people, but no one seemed to understand just HOW nice (and truth be told, there’s not a lot of people who know about it, or who’ve done it, I was just lucky enough to have seen stunning photos from some Facebook friends and have their highly regarded recommendation to go by). Owen was my ‘in case of extra time walk’. Easy, short, no thought required. Perfect.
Friday wasn’t a particularly easy day, but help from two different friends meant I had newly blacked out windows, and some help getting back to sleep if and when I woke. That translated to a record 7 hours sleep with one short interruption, and instead of waking well before it, I was both impressed and unimpressed to be rudely awoken by my alarm at 9pm! Sleep had helped, but I still wasn’t feeling great. I found it hard to concentrate on work, and made some stupid, frustrating mistakes. Fixable, but annoying, the kind I don’t usually make.
Out shortly after 6, I drove wearily to New Norfork, trying to stay focused on the road. A grudging surrender to an energy drink worked wonders, as did the breaking of day. I was driving through mist, a nice thick white soup, no idea where I was, or where I was going. It didn’t seem to matter, did I actually need to be anywhere? And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, I popped out into a clearing, and had part of the sunrise I thought I must have missed. Soft colours, a low band of mist amongst the trees, and frosted grass. Quite a contrast to the loud music I had on, but it proved to be a good combination. I smiled, and drove on in better spirits, determined to enjoy having the next few days to myself.
I was lucky enough to be excited by frosted grass that was almost white, twinkling in the sun, which further along the road lit up young pines in that early morning yellow glow. There was more mist, frost, lone trees, and of course, mountains! The wildlife was also out, and I was treated perhaps to a visit by the same wedgie as last week (same spot anyway), who was being troubled by a crow, then later on a fat little mouse who’d ventured onto the side of the road in pursuit of something tasty and didn’t budge as I passed, a swamp harrier (pretty sure, but it’s a new one in my repertoire) and finally a light brown spotted quoll! A male lyrebird ran across the road in front of me on the return trip too! I was to see more wildlife on the drive, than on the walk, where the only creatures encountered were hundreds of bright green grasshoppers on Jukes. Even the birds were silent on the Saturday, only breaking into soft and distant song on the Sunday.
The drive went faster than I’d expected, despite stopping for photos much more than I’d planned, and just over 4 hours after having started out, I was parked at the Jukes lookout. I wasn’t overly impressed by the views from there, but mostly because I knew what lay in store. Little did I realise that after only a few minutes of walking up the hill would I get to see a fair chunk of it. Someone should have built a short road heading in that direction for the lookout instead, the view would have been a million times better!
The walking was warm, ok hot, without a hint of breeze, and with each step placed gingerly, because once past the rockier more open ground, I was into the steeper scrubbier stuff. It wasn’t particularly thick, but was wet underfoot and steep enough that if not careful, the energy put into moving forwards and up was wasted as you slid straight back down! I got a bit annoyed with this, and given I had no real idea which way to go (short of southwest, and contouring to avoid rocky bluffs, according to the Abels), I headed straight up (that’s me!).
When I got to the first rocky bluff thing, I chose to sidle right. I did so for a bit, until I got sick of the scrub, and figured straight up was going to be easier, and more fun. It was, well, definitely more fun anyway ;)! I then decided to stick as much as possible to the middle of the ridge, and found some cairns along the way, more the higher I got. They made the going much easier, and directed me onto pads through the scrub. There were still occasions where there was guess work and intuition as to where to go, but following instincts worked pretty well there. I did discover on the way back down that the cairned routes were almost rabbit-warren like, and had a habit of coming and going, but I found one that made for pretty good going, slightly further south, and it’d be the one I’d recommend.
The good thing about being not quite sure about just where to go meant that I had plenty of reason to pause to admire the view, particularly of Frenchmans, sitting behind an island dotted Lake Burbury. I haven’t been out this way much, and certainly with not such good weather, so I took my time to enjoy. Having said that, once finding the cairns and pads the going was really much easier, just up, and I mozied happily on to the top of that first rise. Oww, the views!! Proprietary and Jukes were visible (I love being able to see where I’m headed), and so too were all the mountains of the Overland track and a whole heap of the northwest ones that I don’t even know! Just brilliant :D.
Ahead lay the ridge, at times requiring careful walking for the drops on one or other sides (just a bit more fun to have), and then one or two bumps to get over or around. I clearly wasn’t doing so well with the cairn spotting or interpreting, and ended up going the climby more direct route on occasion. I stayed within my comfort zone for having a pack on, but only just, and did wonder at one stage whether I should have brought a rope if it was going to get more interesting. I was being cautious, being on my own, and I was aware that had I had company, I wouldn’t have thought twice about some of the climbing – probably I would have been tempted to try even more interesting routes, just ‘to see’ if they were possible!
Really I probably should have taken more time to look around (properly!), and I might have spotted the cairned route heading down a slatey scree slope round one side of the first bump, and a pad heading down into scrub when I came to the second, rather than going straight along, over and down, the ridge!! Oh well, I had fun, relished the challenge and its successful completion, was just a little glad the mountain wasn’t a completely easy walk, and I now know for next time should I want to go a slightly easier way!
Then the final climb up a decent cairned pad and guess who could see the sea! I laughed, let out a whoop, and after more photos, wandered the last little bit up towards the cairn and stick marking the high point of Proprietary. It was still and silent, not a sound save for the rustling of my clothing, squeaking of my pack, and tread of my boots. If I stood still, there wasn’t even the sound of wind. I was all alone, me and the mountains. It was good, very good, but I was a little sad there wasn’t any one to share the beauty with, and so I resorted to posting a photo or two on Facebook.. not quite the same, but it was an attempt to share some of the specialness with people who might understand.
All the hard work done, and in a very relaxed 2 hours, I continued my wandering up the green garden of cushion plants and low alpine grasses and scrub, and laughed again at the grasshoppers as the collided with my knees. I walked along the very edge, why not, seeing I could, and it is the best ever kind of walking if you have the choice!
It took all of 15 minutes to walk from Proprietary to Jukes, where the views south to West Jukes and Pyramid, Darwin and Sorell, opened up. A new looking helipad, older looking trig, and a small cairn out on the edge, on an otherwise pretty flat summit. You could camp up there, if you chose, though you’d need to take your own water. I spied a lovely looking spot further down, so that’s where I headed.
It was just before 1.30, so I had a bite to eat, left my pack, and figured I’d go exploring the other two mountains to the south. I didn’t know how long it’d take, or what the going was like, but I wasn’t too fussed. I’d just take it as it came, and I had the whole of the next day if I wanted it. As it was, the going remained as easy as anything, and I loved that I could still wander along the edge (in fact, it seemed the best route).
I marvelled at the different types of rock and found elegance in denuded and stunted trees, forced to grow sideways by the currently absent wind. Route finding wasn’t difficult, and I was on the top of Pyramid 2.3km and 45 minutes later. Darwin and Sorell had me avert my gaze from Frenchmans, and jumped up the list for one weekend when I feel like finding enough mental toughness to deal with a solo mission of scrub and vertical climbing. I was feeling somewhat tired by now, the usual signs settling in, but West Jukes was on the way back (kind of!) so I headed back down, across the edge of a boggy flat expanse big enough to camp an entire school, and up towards the summit of West Jukes.
The rock had changed again, and I did like the small differences which made each peak feel unique rather than just more of the same. The views, by this stage, were pretty similar, and the tiredness and urge to get back to my pack and get sorted for the night meant I didn’t dally long, though again Frenchmans commanded the occasional stop and photo. I was back before 4, with enough time to pitch my tent, sort my gear, pack jetboil, hot chocolate and warm clothes, and head off to a nearby rock.
I’d chosen it on the way back, as it sat on the edge, was the highest point in sight, and had commanding views all around. That it had just a little bit of climbing made it all the more fun, particularly knowing I’d be doing it by head torch more than once. So up I went, found a lovely flat platform, and proceeded to don warm clothes. The Jetboil was next, and in a few minutes I had a hot chocolate and marshmallows to warm my hands and tummy.
I sat and sipped, took a few photos, thought a few thoughts, and watched as the sun set and the sky grew just a little colourful. Not as impressive as sunsets go, but still nice to be with. It took me back to the last sunset I sat on a mountain to watch, on the Western Arthurs, with two good friends, and I knew that that was the downside to walking alone. You could go at whatever pace suited, change plans as you pleased, yell out or laugh as loudly as you wanted, strip on a rock in the middle of the mountains, skip dinner without a fuss… but there was no one to sit around and eat dinner or share dessert with (I didn’t even bother to bring any), talk about the day and its discoveries, or wonder about tomorrow. And that’s a big loss. I realised I’ve been spoilt, my last solo multi-dayer having been in August last year (and that was only solo for one of the two nights) and before that, March. Very spoilt indeed. I know what I’d trade if I had the choice.
So instead of sitting around any longer in the cold (which wasn’t too bad, but my fingers could feel it), I headed back to my tent, and settled in to writing some notes as the horizon glowed red. I dozed off, woke at 10.30, and lay there, with the tent door and fly open, gazing up at the Milky Way. The clouds of the day had disappeared, and the sky was crystal clear. I wished I knew if and how to take a photo with my point and shoot. All I managed to get was white dots on a black screen (having managed to get them clear and not fuzzy didn’t make me feel any better). I lay there until I fell asleep again, waking a few hours later to the cold, and a slightly dewy sleeping bag, so I figured I should zip up. Sensible – the next time I woke it was to light rain!
By 6am the rain was gone (just as well, it wasn’t forecast!), venus was bright, there were lights out to sea (including a lighthouse) and I was out and up to my rock. Again, my camera (or rather more likely my inability) meant I found it hard to take photographs that represented what I was seeing, which was a bit disappointing, because sharing an experience is almost as important as having it (to me, anyway). Low mist covered Lake Burbury, and you wouldn’t have suspected it was there if you didn’t know. The larger of the islands poked their heads out. The mountain ranges were varying shades of blue, and the cloud above dark, the mood of someone not quite ready to wake.
But the day was starting, and the sun managed to push through gaps in the cloud, softly and gently at first, then with much more vigour. It cast its glow on Sorell and Darwin, on a band of cloud hovering near Frenchmans, and on the closer, but lower Fincham, Madge, Maud and Mary. Slowly, the mist dissipated. I was in no hurry to move, and stayed there for some time. Until my camera battery started flashing, and I realised when I went to switch it that I’d not charged my spare up at all. The flashing one went back in, I’d at least use it all up.
That ruined my mood, I was most frustrated with my own stupidity, and my phone was almost out of battery too. So my relaxing morning of reading and wandering got ditched (it was hard to concentrate on words when you had views to look at anyway) and I decided to head back to the car (where I could at least charge my phone) then on to Owen, and possibly home if I had time.
It was another warm day, and what had been thicker cloud in the morning quickly burnt off, leaving me with beautiful conditions to be walking down hill in. 2 hours to get from camp to the car, with plenty of time to just enjoy, though obviously less time for photos (I snuck in one or two, and my camera seemed to be fairing better now that it was warmer).
A short drive to Queenstown, then on to Gormanston, and I was ready to start walking at 11.40am. It was still warm, and an hour and 10 minute slog up the road had me sweating, a lot! It was such a different kind of walk, and I started out not liking it very much at all. It was barren, stark, hard and unforgiving, unwelcoming (the signs included). But there was something about it too, something that grew on me, particularly once I was off the road and facing the last 170m of off track walking. Somehow life grew there, the green-red-orangy tufts of grass colouring the mostly grey but occasionally pink graveyard of rock, blue sky overhead completing the picture.
The Abels was right, the conglomerate rock had some of the largest pebbles I’d ever seen, and true to word, the mountains you could see from the summit were as numerous and spectacular as from Jukes, particularly the Eldons! It was also especially nice to be able to look over to Jukes and wonder how I’d been up there just 4 hours before. The summit rock (that some people might find tricky to get on to) was not so tricky, and quite a nice spot to sit. The trig, however, wasn’t faring so well!
I didn’t stay too long though, aware that if I wanted to be home that night I needed to be at Derwent Bridge in time to get petrol. So down I went, running into a couple of guys who clearly paid as much attention to the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs as me, and back to the car. A careful drive back on unsuspectingly slippery roads ensued, but eventually I was ‘home’.
Pretty sure I’ll be back to this lovely little range, definitely with company. A big MUST for every off-track-walker’s list.
Jukes etc.: 13.9km, 7.5hrs, 1226m ascent.
Owen: 10km, 2.45hrs, 800m ascent.
See blog on Darwin, Sorell and South Darwin for more photos from the Jukes range :)!