Wright and Stepped Hills: 18-19 December

Mt Wright and Stepped Hills GPS route

Mt Wright and Stepped Hills GPS route

It had been so very long since our last decent walk that I was more eager than usual for this one, especially as it promised to be fine weather (a bit too fine perhaps at around 30 degrees!). To add to the excitement we were also heading for two mountains I’d not yet climbed. I couldn’t wait!

Heading towards Mt Wright

Heading towards Mt Wright

Though we only had a day and a half for the two, we figured we’d be ok, even with the heat. We set off at midday on Friday, battling last minute shoppers through the city and hoping we’d break through the worst of the traffic relatively fast. After rendezvousing with Michael and Jess, we headed for the start of the Lake Rhona track, arriving shortly after 3 to find something like 4 other cars already there. But no matter, they were in at Rhona.

Mt Field West from the slope of Mt Wright

Mt Field West from the slope of Mt Wright

The first half an hour of the walk, which took us to the log over the Gordon River, was always going to be the least exciting bit of the trip, as it was through forest. But the birds were out and brought back memories from the last time I walked the track, which was quite a fair bit more overgrown this time round.

On the summit of Mt Wright, the Denison range behind

On the summit of Mt Wright, the Denison range behind

But soon we were out of the forest and on the button grass plain, looking at Mt Wrights very steep east-facing side. It looked a bit daunting, but was still some distance away, and I at least took comfort in the belief that it wouldn’t look so bad when we were at it’s foot. So we picked a ridge and headed for it.

North from Wright summit

North from Wright summit

As we discovered half way up, we weren’t on the ridge we’d intended (which would have been the next one to the north, and the one with the arch), but we weren’t going back. It was hot, and we were all puffing under the heat and the weight of our packs. I, for one, was feeling very unfit, but thoroughly enjoying myself nonetheless.

Heading back to set up camp

Heading back to set up camp

The mountains to the southeast – Mount Field West, Mueller, the Needles – were darkened dramatically by streaks of cloud in a bright sky. We plodded slowly upwards, no match for the sun, which beat us over the top. It was only a tad cooler in the shadow of the mountain, but enough to be grateful we hadn’t started out any earlier!

Jess sets up a Goondie

Jess sets up a Goondie

Stops became more frequent, and we held our breath once or twice when the ridge broke up and we weren’t sure we could get from where we were across the cliffy stuff. But we were in luck, and in both cases we found a way. Just shy of 4 hours after having started there was no more up to go, and were delighted to see a small tarn nestled amongst the rocks and low alpine plant life.

We wake early the second day... Wylds Craig rises above the blanket of cloud

We wake early the second day… Wylds Craig rises above the blanket of cloud

The question to camp up here instead of dropping down to tarns between Wright and Stepped Hills didn’t really need to be voiced – we were all thinking the same thing. So we located three tent spots, dropped our packs, and made for the short walk north along the ridge line of Mt Wedge to its summit. The views were expansive and the sun was turning everything golden as we celebrated our summit, and we agreed the hot, tiring climb was worth it.

The sun starts to rise

The sun starts to rise

Dinner became a somewhat individualised affair unfortunately, perhaps because we were tired, or because we were keen to escape the swarms of mosquitos, or simply because the four of us had not walked as a group before and had not developed that particular communal ritual.We agreed, in any case, that if we were to get to Stepped Hills and walk back to the cars the following day, which was to be a real scorcher, we’d best start early, and get as much of the walking done as we could before it got too hot. Alarms were set for 5am.

Early morning Thumbs.. oh what a day it would be!

Early morning Thumbs.. oh what a day it would be!

And at 5am they woke us rudely, but that was quickly forgotten at the sight of low lying cloud in the valleys, blanketing all but the tops of mountains, tinged bluey-pink by the threatening sun rise. We took the luxury of taking a few photos before getting to breakfast and packing.

Michael plays on our arch, before we set out

Michael plays on our arch, before we set out

As a result, it was just shy of 6.30 by the time we were good to go. Jess opted for a rest day, while the three of us discussed which route we were going to take off Wright, and then back up Stepped Hills. With that sorted, off we set, through low scrub and slippery scree, downwards.

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That’s where we’re headed.. quite a way it seems!

It was longer than expected, and being in the shade the scree was damp enough to cause each of us to slip more than once. We did a pretty good job of avoiding most of the scrub, and popped out onto the button grass plain well within an hour.

Graham leads the way to Stepped Hills

Graham leads the way to Stepped Hills

The going from here was easy, if a tad pothole-y (I managed to put a leg in exactly the same well-obscured hole on the trip there and back!). We refilled water at one of the tarns at which we’d initially planned to camp, and decided we’d made the perfect call to camp high on Wright.

Graham claims his 400th point on Stepped Hills!! Well done :D!

Graham claims his 400th point on Stepped Hills!! Well done :D!

Having selected which ridge we were taking up Stepped Hills, we made a beeline across the rest of the plain, down into the final valley, and back up the other side. While it wasn’t as steep as climbing Mt Wright, and while we only had daypacks, it was still hot going, especially now that it was after 9, and we had frequent breaks.

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Just a bit happy to be here.. Clear Hill behind!

But sure enough, as time passed, and we placed one foot in front of the other, the summit drew nearer. Michael handed the lead over to Graham, who was on track for his 400th point, as we hit the summit ridge and traced it south. As Graham stood on the small summit cairn, we congratulated him and took in the spectacular views together. We celebrated the moment with huge smiles and laughter.

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Clear Hill again

The photos say more than any words I could write, so have a look at them. It was pretty cool, as Graham pointed out, to see both Fedder and Frenchmans from the same spot, and what we could see of the Spires was also tempting. We ate, sat, and enjoyed some more, before figuring we should get started on the return trip.

The Thumbs again

The Thumbs again

By now it was stinking hot, and we even had to take breaks on the descent. The little scrub-lined stream we’d crossed in the valley before the final ascent was a welcome reprieve from the sun, and we sheltered there a while, pouring water over our arms and heads cooling ourselves in preparation for the final, very hot slog across the plain and back up Wright.

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Looking north to the Denison range

A tiny and temporary bit of cloud cover made the journey a little easier, until we got to the last climb. We procrastinated at the foot with discussions on cable cars, milk bars and wilderness preservation, but we knew we were going to have to do it one way or another.

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Hot work on the slog back up Wright

Off we set, straight into scrub. We chose a super thick bit, but it was short, and then we were on the scree. Though no longer slippery, and much easier going than the scrub, the sun virtually bounced off the rocks, assaulting us from all directions. It was hot, really hot. We managed to stay mostly on the scree, until we spotted Jess sitting on top of a rock, at which stage we contoured around, and crashed in the shade by the mini-arch near our campsite. And there we rested for quite some time!

We finally get back to our campsite.. how lovely is the view?!

We finally get back to our campsite.. how lovely is the view?!

Our tents

Our tents

An hour and a half later we’d packed our tents, wetted our caps again, and filled our bottles with rather warm water from the tarn. Off we set. While you know a slope is steep when you have to slog up it, going back down always makes you marvel at quite HOW you got up it. It was so steep that every step had to be fairly carefully placed, and even then each of us went for the occasional slip. I’d have not wanted to have been doing it in the wet!

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Jess wets her cap before we leave

Again, we needed rests on the way down – which is fairly unusual! But we got there, to the river, and our to the car.. slowly, but surely!

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It’s a steep climb back down Wright

All up: 25.2km, 1714m ascent, 5.15+11hrs.

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