So this little walk started out with the not so crazy idea that I should go to King William II and III, via Slatters. Quite a normal idea, really. Only I needed three days, which, if it was to be a club walk (which was the whole point), meant I had to wait till the long weekend in June. Mistake number one – don’t do hard long walks in winter when the days are shorter, and the weather more likely to be cold and/or wet. So it went on the program, with little more thought than a cursory glance at the Abels entry and a friend’s GPS route posted on Facebook.
I forgot enough about it, including the limit of 5 people I’d put down, to lull myself into thinking it was going to be easier than it was. I had a bit of a panic attack when I realised I’d accepted something like 10 people (thinking I’d put down a limit of 8), and did some more research, the results of which were contradictory enough to have me thinking maybe the walk was going to be a bit tougher than I’d been led to believe, especially with such a large group. Completely my error! A few drop outs, and I thought we’d be ok. Then the realisation I’d left a name off the list, and that one who’d done a serious ankle injury was actually going to be ok, and numbers were back to being high. I was worried I’d be jeopardising everyone’s chances of achieving the stated objectives, and not giving them the weekend in the bush I wanted to. I learnt my lesson fast. Be strict on numbers, learn to say no, and make sure you check the limit you’ve put down!!
But somehow things turned out ok on the day. A few days prior one participant made the difficult, but in hindsight, definitely the right decision not to come. On the morning of the walk another pulled or twisted something in one leg when locking up, and also decided not to risk a long hard walk. And a third broke a tooth, or part thereof, biting into a homemade cherry muffin with a rogue stone, and decided not to risk needing dental attention in the middle of the range. Probably also a blessing in disguise for her, given the weather on the first day, and the fact that King William III was the mountain she was after, and we weren’t to make it this trip.
So we were down to 7. We’d stopped by the pub in Derwent Bridge (the only place open at 8am on a Saturday that sells coffees), and had a chance introduction to Peter Grant – previously a name (eminent at that) without a face. I suspect, however, the pleasure was all mine!
Anyway, by the time all of this was settled, we’d selected a side road off the main gravel road that takes you close to the lake, picked a spot to park and had our gear on, it was gone 9.30. A little later than I’d have liked, but there was nothing I could do about that now. The day would be what it would be, hopefully not too long!
We started off on an old road, and took to a little bit of light scrub before popping out on the button grass plains. We had no idea what was best to do, but figured we’d stay away from the boggier areas, aim to cross the river where it was narrower (two crossings instead of one) and later on, checked out whether the going through the small sections of trees and low scrub was easier that the button grass (it was generally). Otherwise we made a beeline southwest, then south, for the lake.
Spirits were fairly good, we had views of King William I, even if there were grey clouds in sight (there was also some blue sky!) and by the time we neared the lake, climbed a small rise, Slatters appeared in front of us, looking closish, but definitely not a climb to be underestimated. Another creek crossing – each of these took a little more time than expected, as we tried to keep our feet relatively dry. Help was offered and given to those who needed/wanted it, and I was reminded once again of just how team oriented the Pandani group is. Apart from being genuinely very decent people, this is one thing I really love about our group. Of course, I did not manage to avoid more jokes about surprise river crossings on my trips – something I tend to overlook!!
And then eventually we were on the edge of the lake. My gps said we were walking on water, that’s how low the lake was (or inaccurate my GPS, but perhaps a mix of the two). It was slightly boggy going, and by now, rather grey. The stumps of dead trees, and one fallen giant dotted the shore in one spot (near the Fisherman’s camp, which we missed completely on the way in) and more reached gnarled fingers to the sky from the middle of the lake, as if in a last minute attempt to summon help as they slowly drowned.
An inlet to cross, and just to prove how good his boots (or he) was, Graham took up a light hearted challenge and ran across it three times.. and yes, I’ll grudgingly admit he had dry feet, of which he reminded all the rest of us wet-footed slightly envious clumsies countless times during the trip!
It was clear we were pushing for time, so lunch was a 10 minute affair just before heading back into the button grass. The mood now slightly apprehensive about the climb and scrub to come, the weather (which wasn’t agreeing with the forecasted clearing rain by mid morning!) compounding this. It was 1.15 when we left, so we had an estimated 4 hours of light left. I thought we could make it, but wasn’t sure.
We headed west first, making the most use of the button grass. When we got to a little clearing where it looked like others had camped, and where the scrub seemed to start, we figured we might as well go up through the scrub, than continue to go horizontal. Part way up we could spot a small waterfall, which we ended up walking past. The scrub itself wasn’t too bad, the bulk of it waist height, and it was less of a bash than a duck and weave, twist and turn, and plenty of leg lifting.
With a largish group (for scrub) of 7, the going was slow. Steady at first, but as time wore on, and people tired, the pace slackened too. The GPS showed us getting closer, but there was little sign of it. Eventually we came across some rock, which became more frequent the higher we got, then a boulder field or two, but this proved no faster way to travel as a group. It was misty-rainy now, and getting dark, and it was clear we weren’t going to make it without head torches. So on went an extra layer of clothing, and the head torches.
Walking in the dark is not something I mind so much, in fact it can be quite a lovely experience, especially when on a track. It’s not so much fun though when you’re on unknown terrain, need to route find, and can’t see anything for all the moisture in the air. I was very aware of the inaccuracy of my 20m contour lines on my GPS, as a bulk loomed up ahead and to the right. It looked a bit cliffy.. do we try going up and over, or contour around? Alone, I might have gone the direct approach, but in a tired and cold group with wet rock, contouring was really the only option. The terrain was giving nothing away, rock and scrub still, nothing friendly, as we stuck close to the base of the cliffy bulk.
Presently, another call about whether to keep contouring or go straight up. I was worried about dropping straight off the edge if we continued, so went for straight up. A slightly challenging climb in one spot, which everyone made with a bit of help, and we walked straight onto the start of a cairned section up boulders. Brilliant, what luck! They might only have lasted a short duration to take us up the final rocky climb, but they confirmed we were somewhere ok, somewhere people had been before, and gave a tick of approval to the choice to go up, instead of continue around.
Sitting in the middle of the field I watched as the group slowly climbed up. Ben patiently offering encouragement and support to another who was finding the rock difficult, Catherine clearly colder than I was which was saying a fair bit, Graham trying to keep an eye on me as I scouted ahead as well as keeping the group close enough together. Adam was the one I was least worried about, he’d come specifically for a hammering, which I figured he was getting ;)!!
After taking 1.5hrs, and managing only 650m, we popped out onto some beautiful flat cushiony pineapple grass, and I laughed with relief! It was short lived, I’d assumed that the going would be like that for the next 5-600m to the tarn/lake I was planning on camping at, but in no time we were back on rock and low scrub. Getting there was going to take at least another hour in the dark, when in daylight it should have taken no more than 15 minutes! So I went for a quick scout ahead, falling down the mountainside at times, to check whether the saddle on my GPS was camp-able..nope, all rock! Back to the others.. Graham suggested we return to the pineapple grass and make the most of it, and given there really wasn’t any other option, that was that.
There was plenty of room for our 6 tents, though by this stage everyone was so tired we ended up camping on one another’s toes. My tent went up pretty fast, though it was hard to peg down in the pineapple grass. Then a quick hand to help Catherine pitch hers, as her fingers were well past working – a feeling I know well. I was grateful she’d lasted so long, aware that had she gotten too cold any earlier we’d have been in a bit of trouble. As I finished pegging down the fly she jumped inside, got into warm clothes, sleeping bag, and started cooking something hot.
I used the offer of chocolate and sour worms to check how everyone else was fairing, all pretty good. I said silent thank you to everyone for the effort they’d put in, and the help they’d given others, to get us to where we were. There is no way leading that kind of walk is ever an individual effort. I might have been designated organiser, but I called on the leadership of several of the others that day, and we wouldn’t have got to camp if not for their help.
Everyone clearly all ok, I jumped into my tent, changed, and tried to warm up. Not hungry (I’d been up for 24 hrs now, and was a bit too tired for food), I skipped dinner, and focused on trying to sleep. It wasn’t easy, some of my clothes were damp, but I needed to dry them so kept them on, and I was feeling rather miserable about what I saw as my poor leadership: taking a group too large for the trip, particularly given the shorter days; asking so much of them; giving them little option about a climb through scrub, the last part of which was in the dark and wet; and ultimately buggering up any chance of actually getting all the way to King William III (for those who tend towards the peak bagging side of things). As it was, one was already clear about not coming on the day walk the following day. I found it hard to imagine how they could actually have enjoyed themselves, and that was the thing that made me most miserable.
So the night was spent tossing and turning, moving to keep warm, dozing off for a short period only to wake cold again. I think I finally dried out my clothes at about 5am, and was fast asleep when my alarm went off at 6! It was very much a matter of not thinking, just doing what needed to be done. In situations like that, thinking always results in the decision to chicken out for the sake of warmth and more sleep!! So I cooked some breakfast, packed a daypack, and sat and waited until just before 7, when I called out to the other two, Ben and Graham, who were keen on giving King William III, II and Slatters a crack.
My ‘tell me when you’re up to putting on the wet stuff’ prompted a ‘I’m pretty much there’ from one, and a ‘the weather’s not so encouraging’ from the other, the tone of voice saying as much, if not more, than the words. I’d not even considered not going (if I’d have been alone I might have entertained the thought, then probably pushed it aside), and it came as a surprise to realise that. I’d just assumed we’d be off, regardless, as the weather was set to clear. But it seemed ridiculous to push for something that the majority of the people in the group didn’t want, and so it was decided we’d leave a bit later, and just get to King William II and Slatters. That would hopefully give more people the chance to come, as it was, after all, a group activity.
People who know me know I get a bit disappointed at changes of plans that result in not visiting planned mountains, and Ben came over to check that I was ok with not going, letting me know that he would come with me if I really wanted to go.. and that Graham probably would too, even if he wasn’t really keen. I did tell him it was quite fine, though I’m not sure he was too convinced (thanks though Ben, for your consideration :)).
And so it was after 10 when we finally departed, taking Adam with us. Catherine had a sore throat and conscious of recurring bronchitis and the fact the only dry clothes she had were those she was wearing, made the tough decision to potter around camp. Urszula and Ed did likewise. So the four of us set off into the mist which swirled around us, but thinned quite soon after we started, and progressively burned off. It was to come and go as it pleased, as if into thin air, throughout the course of the day, revealing and then concealing again the terrain and views.
After a very short section of rocks, we were onto the nice walking, and it was just pure delight, especially after the day before. Still a bit miserable thinking of the others back at camp, Ben promised me that it was going to be a ripper of a day. I wasn’t so sure, but Graham and Adam both were. They were to be more than right, and I was to be so very very wrong!
The walking was beautiful, easy, and by and large flat, save for the short climb onto the ridge. I was glad, I was feeling rather unwell, and had a headache, and even the small rises were enough for me. Part of me was glad we were having a much cruiser day than planned.
The interesting thing was that getting to the top of King William II became less significant than marvelling at the views as they were revealed; wondering at the winter wonderland we found when we reached the ridge, where the southern side of almost everything was coated in a few centimetres of ice which glimmered in the bright sun; laying on tummies to drink straight from tarns; crunching on ice from off the top of the frozen ones; taking dozens of photos of the beauty around us; or the excitement of seeing a fogbow (a second for me, but first for everyone else.. was very cool to be with others this time).
Frenchman’s was sticking his cap above cloud, but that was about all. Slatters looked impressive, the Loddon Range scrubby, and King William I, Milligan and Pitt were all out. Diamond Peak, one I’d been looking forward to seeing, stayed safely tucked behind a white blanket. Oh well, just as well I have to go back.. and now I know there’s some stunning camping to be had on that ridge!
A quick lunch on King William II, and we started out towards the Abel, but turned around at the bump before the high point, keen to fit Slatters in instead (aware that we weren’t likely to have time the following day to do it). I wondered as I wandered, lost in happy and sad thoughts, both of which the mountains are particularly good at listening to.. I thought of the others back at camp and wished they could have seen some of what we’d seen, and that they’d at least managed to get out for a bit of a walk. I also wondered what kind of view they’d have from camp – we still hadn’t seen it!
Heading back up the climb to the shoulder of Slatters Graham spotted Catherine standing on rock part way up, and we hollered and whistled, happy and excited that she was there and we’d be able to go up Slatters with her. But little did we know she wasn’t prepared and ducked back to camp, thinking we’d head there first. We hadn’t realised quite how close it was, and were rather a bit focused on climbing the peak that maybe only Adam actually saw our tents (though they were in plain view!). So up we went, the light nice and golden, and discovered just how slippery the ice on the rock was. Everyone slipped at least once, and we were on to 3s and 4s. But the climb was short and sweet, and the reward, stunning..!
Beautiful light, mountains all around.. some already explored.. many more high up on the to do list, and the ‘bound to be a personal favourite’ list including the Eldon and Dennison ranges. It was really nice to just sit there and be. There was mention of getting down before the light was gone, to avoid even more ice, and Adam was keen to move his tent to a slightly flatter spot. I asked if it was ok if I could stay up till the sun went down. I would have loved company, but I’m aware I don’t mind doing some things (like crossing icy boulders by head torch) that others might not like, and I didn’t want anyone to feel they had to stay. I later learned that I’d given the impression that I wanted time by myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth, and that night I kicked myself for not having been clearer in communicating.
After watching the final bit of sun set over the west coast I headed back down pretty quickly, making the most of the last bit of light, and found Catherine sitting on her rock. She’d had a good day – some more sleep, some lunch in the sun with the views, and a bit of a wander around. I was glad to hear it :). She was pretty cold, so she headed for the warmth of her tent. Urszula and Ed were already doing the same. Adam, Ben and Graham started cooking dinner on a communal rock, and I joined them after a bit, having decided I probably should eat! Catherine ventured out, making the greatest of all sacrifices.. wet boots back on so that she could offer us her chocolate.. very delicious Lindt chocolate at that! But I think it was the donning of wet boots that touched us more.. we all knew what that took.
Dinner cooked, we sat back to back, eating, chatting, staring out and up at stars spread across a black sky, and watching the mist invade the valleys. One star shot across the sky and I let out a startled ‘oh!’.. no, it most certainly wasn’t a satellite, though there was one or two of them too. It was a perfect way to end the day, which I’d stupidly only just allowed myself to realise HAD in fact, been good!! I was freezing, but it was amazing to learn just how much warmth can be conveyed through six or seven layers of clothing when you’re sitting back to back to side with others. Adam kindly offered up his tent should I find myself unable to sleep again due to cold, and Ben offered to come and sit in mine until it warmed up. Again, I was touched by the generosity and selflessness.
But determined as I am, I was set on making it work. I brought pack, boots, gaiters and socks in and put them at the foot of my mat (sometimes being small has its advantages!) to stop them freezing overnight. That was a complete failure.. they were still frozen solid in the morning, which says something about how cold it was! As for me, I shivered a bit, and realised that in sitting on the rock for dinner I’d given myself a rather wet bum. This was where I learned it’s better to have no clothes on than wet ones, so they went down the bottom of the sleeping bag, and only went back on at about 2.30, by which stage they were dry.
It was by no means a solid night’s sleep (what do you expect, when camping at 1200m with a temperature of -3 at 7pm!), but it was much better than the night before. I wasn’t so impressed to find my frozen gear inside the tent (that’s only supposed to happen if you leave it outside!), but was rather amused and somewhat excited to watch ice crystals form in the water that I poured into my jetboil for breakfast. They started forming on the bottom, and then in the centre, and you could actually see them grow!! Fascinating! But I really did have to eat, so the excitement over, the jetboil was lit, and I had hot oats with dried fruit and hot chocolate to go with (which was cold in the 2 minutes it took me to get to it!).
I was packed fast, ended up wearing most of my gear because I didn’t feel like starting out cold, but left my tent up. I’d decided to scramble part way up the side of Slatters for some sunrise photos, and I kind of wanted one with the tent in it. Others seemed to have similar plans, and after sitting for a while, watching and waiting, I was joined by Catherine, and shortly afterwards, by Ben and Graham.
Together we sat and watched the sky turn stripy pinks, blues and oranges; the mist sitting over the lake take up some of the same colours; and eventually, in one very quick moment, the sun as it popped into view, golden rays spread wide, kissing the mountains with red-orange lips. We turned, as if one, mesmerised by the glow on Frenchmans, the Eldons, and much closer, our campsite. What a beautiful morning, shared with some very good friends. If only every day began like this…!
We did eventually have to tear ourselves away, which was slightly easier to do as the colour started to fade, but as we walked down I was still shaking my head at the chances of walking right onto that one little spot in the mist and darkness, and choosing to pitch tents there. Who’d have known it would be such a lovely spot!
The walk down was much faster, and we managed to pretty much follow the same track back down. I was a little surprised at how good the route up we’d taken had turned out to be too (mostly, if a little steep in one or two spots! Though that gave Catherine ample practice at assuming a meditative position, and finding zen with the different scrub types – particularly bauera and button grass). We still managed to enjoy ourselves, discovered Fisherman’s camp (though again almost walked straight past it) and with tiredness taking its toll, it was just over 8 hours before we were back at the cars.
I would like to say a special thanks to my two defacto leaders, who were careful, as always, to run proposed routes by me and one another, and who, for all their love of maps, I was rather delighted to see having fun practicing how to trace an exact gps route back. Their encouragement and steadfast belief that it was going to be a good trip was also very much appreciated, as too was everyone else who managed to joke, smile, or at the very least manage a grimace through the tough parts, and then really enjoy the good bits for what they were.
All up: 34.1km, 1674m ascent, 24 hrs.