This would have to be the longest and most remote bushwalk I’ve ever done, to a special and very wild place. As a result, the descriptions are slightly vague, but I hope to have captured a little of the feel and emotion of the place.
The Spires had been planned for close to a year, since John, Graham and I did the Du Cane range traverse. I’m not sure about the others, but I felt it was a step above anything else we’d done. Only one or two of those within our circle of friends had climbed some of the mountains we were to climb, and no one we knew had climbed the Camel and White Pyramid. I therefore looked forward to it with a little apprehension as well as a lot of excitement.
The lead up flew by, as I tried to get enough uni work done before we left, and unpack from the Eastern Arthurs before repacking. We were going for 11 days – the 11th was a spare to cater for dodgy weather, ill health (or lack of fitness), or something extra. It packed surprisingly well into 23kg.
Day 1: Lake Rhona car park to camp below Great Dome
After a bit of a sleep in, followed by a small navigation error, we arrived at the Lake Rhona car park at 9.30 to find it chockers. Uh-oh! So much for wilderness. Our hearts dropped further as we read the registration book and found a party of 8 were due to be in at Lake Curly. There wasn’t anything we could do though, but to hope that it wouldn’t spoil the experience.
We had the usual easy and fairly flat walk in, reacquainting ourselves with the button grass, dragonflies, birds and smells of the area, not to mention the crisp views out towards Reeds Peak and Bonds Crag. It was easy enough that I even managed to learn some drugs (from mini flash cards I’d prepared) that I needed to know for the exam I would sit a week after getting back!
One of the hills at the northern end of the Wright ridge wore a charred cap – evidence of a recent lightening strike (Wednesday night we were to later discover – apparently one party saw lightening strike the lake, surely an awesome spectacle).
The only climb we had was on the approach to Lake Rhona – a bit of a sting in the tail. But although our packs were heavier than usual, they didn’t feel too bad, and I know I was grateful for having done the Eastern Arthurs two weeks before.
We didn’t really want to share Rhona with a group of 6 or so who were in, and we were making good time, so we decided to skip it and head towards camp near Bonds Crag (which we’d planned for our second night). But up near Great Dome we made the call to camp on a lovely little shelf close to water instead.
Having set up our tents, Graham and I decided to head out for a walk up Great Dome and Reeds Peak, while John minded the camp site. Great Dome was rather a flat topped affair, but with vast views to just about everywhere. Reeds was quite different, with a sharp short climb to its rocky summit. We sat and enjoyed the views, the cushion plants, the rock and the everlasting flowers, frustrated as usual at how difficult it was to fit the scale of everything in to a photo.
We took much longer than intended, partly because the light got really nice, and that meant more photos and enjoyment at the expense of the walking. John wasn’t too phased though, and we sat around and enjoyed our first meal together. Mmmmm… delicious home cooked green chicken curry – it’s got to be my favourite!
The first gear failure of the trip went to my stove, as the peso refused to work. John came to the rescue with a spare lighter, which I was to keep for the rest of the trip (although my stove started behaving properly after that). The second went to my spork, and I resolved to upgrade to a better alternative when I got back. For the time being, my avocado knife-spoon thingy was going to have to suffice (I was to later break the end off that too!).
When we headed to bed I was still as excited, and a tad apprehensive about the days to come!
Day 2: Great Dome to camp on the ridge above Lake Wugata
We had a very hazy day, due to the Mt Cullen fire. You could smell the smoke, and it hung around for quite some time (long enough to convince John and Graham that it wasn’t just morning mist!). A red sun struggled to appear amongst the folds of the smoky blanket, an hour later than it was due. So we had a late start – we figured we were ahead of schedule, and only needed to make the short walk to just beyond Bonds Crag.
I was grateful we’d climbed the two peaks we had the night before. Unfortunately John missed out on the views from Great Dome, but by the time we sat on Reeds Peak again the haze was starting to improve, and we could make out faint outlines of the ridge ahead.
We met two families as we headed towards Bonds Crag and discovered they were the 8 who had put down Curly as a destination. Fortunately they’d been to Wugata and were now on their way out. We breathed a sigh of relief, and chatted away for some time. It was great to see parents and kids out there!
The pad made the going easy, and together we wove between low scrub and loose scree, climbing up to the saddle just below Bonds Crag. We dropped our packs and went for a fun scramble and little bit of a climb. I was surprised at how easy I found the final climb, given what I’d read about it (including the Abel’s description), but knew I’d not be attempting it on anything other than a dry sunny day!
The views were lovely from the top, the haze much thinner by now. We checked out the way forward, loving the look of the two lakes ahead – Malana and Wugata. Along the ridge we went, choosing to camp high on a flat little saddle above Wugata, rather than down by the lake. The wind was minimal, and the views were not to be missed!
Despite the late start and fairly casual pace it was only midday, so when the tents were set up we armed ourselves with all manner of containers for carrying water and headed down the short sharp drop to Wugata. It was the perfect place to enjoy lunch, have a swim, and go for an explore.
Eventually though, we tore ourselves away and climbed back up the hill with more water than we could possibly use (dry bags work excellently as water carriers, so long as they have no holes)! We chatted, lazed, learnt all about infectious diseases – including the poor Edgar Hernandez from Mexico (thanks for the quizzing Graham!) – and went for a potter along the ridgeline while we waited for an appropriate time to cook and eat dinner (chicken Balti this time!).
Day 3: Wugata to Lake Curly via North Star
The morning dawned crisp and clear – no hint of the haze from the day before. We were grateful, we wanted to be able to see the scrub to choose a good route through. We ate breakfast while watching the sun peek through cloud to highlight layers of mountains, one by one.
Today was the day I would discover if my apprehension was justified or not. We set off tentatively down the cairned pad keen to keep on it. We’d been told we wanted to be, at all costs. We soon discovered why, when we hit all encompassing scrub. It was thick enough you couldn’t actually see the pad, just had to trust your feet to do the finding. There was no way you’d want to climb down, let alone up, without it!
The rest of the morning was spent patiently navigating our way through small sections of scrub and a whole lot of button grass, over ridges and through little dips. We worked well as a team, and were satisfied with the decisions we made. After scrounging around for some not too muddy water, we began the long hot climb up North Star. The sun was unrelenting, and we had a hot shade-less lunch on the summit. We could see a fire out near Strathgordon, not aware at the time that it was the Cullen fire.
Feeling a bit average from the heat, I was glad the rest of the day would be largely downhill or flat. But we were all in for a wonderful surprise. After dropping off the foot of the ridge we’d descended, we found an almost scrub free route, and happened across a creek we’d been hanging out for. All our needs were fulfilled, and it was just beautiful. More than you can imagine short of being there. We drunk our fill, topped up water, then poured hat-full after hat-full of beautifully cold mountain water over our heads. By the time we were finished, we were all as drenched as if we’d been swimming fully clothed.
Feeling a lot cooler and much better, the walk over Badger Flats was easy, and we found ourselves close to the Gell River, heading through the gap in the ridgeline, aware that as we turned the corner Lake Curly would be a short distance ahead. Crossing the Gell River provided another opportunity to enjoy cool water and a snack, before the final kilometre or so.
We approached the lake at about 6.30, 10.5 hours after having started out, ready to enjoy what we knew would be a wonderful camp site. We were slightly put out by some clearly old, but rather average attempts to dig holes that were, in our opinion, too close to the camp site and certainly not 100m from water. It was not the only time we’d be disappointed with toiletry practices on this trip, though at least they’d stepped off the track, and had tried to dig holes, rather than just go on the track and plop a rock on top (yes, we walked over one of them). We had expected that the remoteness of the place might mean everyone who visited would take more care than the average person, and I think that’s what we found most disappointing.
We were soon distracted, however, by the sound of unexpected voices! We’d already talked about the possibility of another group being there, having caught a boat in to the Spires and walking out the way we came in, but I hadn’t thought it likely. Even more so, when we learnt that only 67 people had been in to the Font in the last 11 years.
We popped through the scrub to meet Zane, Shelly and Nick who, as we’d thought, had come in by boat. They kindly offered us the beach, camping just behind it instead, and gave us space to pitch our tents and hide away three packages of food that we’d collect on the way back.
They then came over and sat with us, and we chatted about who we were and what we were doing, and exchanged notes over their pretty impressive custom-made map as we were going to be walking in each other’s footsteps for the next few days. It was crazy and good to meet others there, particularly as one (Shelly) was an equally determined female (and you don’t meet toooo many of them doing this kind of walking!). Zane has written about their trip too, and can be found here: http://abelzane.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/the-spires.html.
We then went for an evening swim to remove some of the day’s gunk, and cooked some dinner, before having a bit more of a chat with our neighbours. The sun dipped behind the distant hills, leaving a golden trail across the lake. We were lucky to be in such a place. While we retreated to our tents to avoid battling it out any further with the mozzies and march flies, John diligently fixed my leaky bladder (another casualty) with a bit of the ever-so-handy tenacious tape (thank you – I’ve touched up the other spots with some more, and it’s working great!).
Day 4: Lake Curly to the Font via Conical and Shining Mountains
We woke early to olive whistlers – which is one of the most beautiful sounds in the bush. I savoured it for just a moment, snuggling up in my sleeping bag. The day was about to get busy, but first I’d enjoy this moment of cosiness.
We had been concerned that this was going to be the hottest day of our trip, and yet it was going to be one of the longest. But luck was on our side, and the forecasted temperature was revised down significantly. So we pushed aside thoughts about having a rest day and just climbing Curly, and stuck with our original plan.
We set out early, to ensure we’d covered a bit of distance before it started getting hot, straight up a couple of hundred metres climb onto Perambulator ridge (not, as the name might suggest, fit for a pram). The slow and steady climb was rewarded with lovely views from the top, including across to the Spires, which were starting to look close (the apprehension, by this stage, was ALL gone)! We waved a final goodbye to Zane, Nick and Shelly, who seemed to be skimming rocks across the surface of the lake.
We followed the ridge along towards Conical mountain, enjoying the open walking, lovely views of surrounding mountains, and thinking Windy lake looked rather lovely – and even came with its own lap pool! Though the ridge climb looked daunting, the closer we got the more manageable it seemed, and in fact we all found ourselves enjoying it thoroughly.
We were on the summit all too soon, and surveying sights of new peaks further south (ones we planned to come back for another trip). A quick weather check revealed better than expected weather in store for us, but news of increasing numbers of fires. We weren’t so much concerned for our safety, but for the land that was burning (how little we imagined then of what would unfold).
As we descended from Conical towards Shining Mountain we could understand where it got its name from, as looking back revealed a mound-like profile of low alpine scrub dotted with rock. Some of the rock formations between the two mountains were just amazing – huge big menhirs alongside razor thin sheets.
The walking was just brilliant – the kind you imagine when you think about ridge top walks and we found ourselves weaving between rocks on the top of Shining mountain. We found a grassy corner and used it as a picnic rug, looking down at the small tarn just below. Either of the high or low options would make stunning campsites!
Having enjoyed every bite of our simple lunches (you always appreciate and enjoy food so much more out in the mountains), we set off on the final leg of our journey for the day, slipping and sliding down the rather (very) clumpy button grass ridge – grateful we weren’t trying to climb up it!
As we crossed a rocky outcrop, I was thoroughly excited to finally see, and hold, a lovely black Tasmanian cicada. Much smaller than her Victorian counterparts, she nonetheless triggered a range of happy childhood memories of finding, catching, flying and watching cicadas emerge from their shells. I could tell the others that she was female (and point out the relevant anatomy) and explain why she couldn’t make the noise that males did. They waited ever so patiently while I took plenty of photos, thinking in particular of one little niece of mine!
Pausing at the river at the bottom of our descent to gather our strength, we discussed the final challenge of the day – finding the easiest way up what looked to be a very scrubby ridgeline up to the Font. The guys from Curly had told us to trust our instincts, so we followed their advice, and that of another friend who had been in solo a few years back.
Though we found the pad, it was still very overgrown and required a scratchy and tiring push against hardened scrub. Graham did an excellent job in the lead and in time we found ourselves at the log book! That was very exciting. We took it with us, as rain was threatening and we wanted some time to read it (also, we doubted anyone else would be along any time soon!). A little scramble later, with some excellent (overgrown) pad finding from John, we had ourselves a tidy (slightly tiny) spot to set up tents by the Font.
After some um-ing and ah-ing over tent practicalities realisation kicked in…. Ah, we’d made it – we’d actually got to our destination!!! And our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Just as we had our tents pitched the rain started. We retreated, and enjoyed a five-course meal in between naps and starting the third page of the 11 year old log book!!
Day 5: Day trip to Innes High Rocky
As forecast, it rained all morning. We didn’t complain, or mind at all. We had plenty of time, and had had two 10.5-hour days back to back, so we spent the morning sleeping, eating, and sleeping some more. I thought I should be doing some more study, but the sleeping won out.
We woke shortly after midday and figured even if we’d done nothing to earn it, we deserved some lunch ;). As we munched away the tent lit up, and we poked our heads out to find the rain clouds clearing, and the sun shining down. Just brilliant! We had half a day to check out Innes High Rocky.
Innes High Rocky is a big must. It’s a long trip (it took us 9:45 – so much for a rest day!), but a lovely one. Lovely, I think, for a number of reasons. Part of it is the sweeping button grass ridges, plains and ramps you walk across and through – the brilliant ‘spice’ colours, as mum so aptly describes them, that set clear blue skies off and frame distant mountains perfectly. Part is its utter remoteness – on the summit you can’t see any hint of civilisation in any direction, and you’re acutely aware of how far and long you’ve walked to get to that very point.
But a significant part is about the relationship you establish with the mountain as you find your way towards it. It looks like a fort, complete with remnants of old ramparts and battlements. As we approached we find ourselves taking lines contrary to those we’d initially picked out and we realised we were walking where the mountain ordered us to go. A mouse looked quizzically at us from amongst the button grass and coral ferns, before darting away.
Our attention returned once more to the mountain. We were never quite sure IF we could go a certain way, or IF there was a better route. And then, as if it had never been playing difficult, all of a sudden we were on the final ascent, and we know the top was just ahead, and there were no more obstacles to negotiate. The mountain had granted us passage. There was a special feeling to this one, as we stood on the most remote point we’d get to during the trip. We stayed as long as we dared, but knew we were cutting the daylight hours fine.
Back we went, the same very long, round-about way – perfecting the button grass hop in sections where it paid to stay off the ground, and marvelling as the sun cast long shadows across the rolling button grass hills, making them look deceptively smooth! As we walked the final part towards the Spires it shone its final rays, and kept the sky light enough for us to descend back to camp without the use of head torches. Needless to say, soup, dinner and hot chocolate were all VERY much enjoyed.
Day 6: Day trip to Flame Peak, Double Spires (the Spires high point), High Spire, False Dome, the Camel and White Pyramid.
The alarm went off nice and early, because Graham and I had had the crazy idea that it might be nice to watch the sun rise from just above the Font. We dragged ourselves out, and headed up, not too optimistic given the amount of smoke and cloud around. When we’d all but dismissed the idea, the sun started to peek through a gap, casting crepuscular rays over the Denison range and Curly, and proceeded to light up the flame quite spectacularly.
We headed back hungry for breakfast, and keen to go exploring! It was to be another big day (11.42 hrs). We started the walking off with a fun little scramble up Flame Peak, from which we couldn’t resist throwing rocks into the Font below. It took about 5 seconds for us to see the splash, and after a short delay of another second or two, we also heard it. It was a lot of fun, of course, and had us laughing like excited school kids! The heavy grey cloud that had zapped the day of its colour hadn’t dampened our spirits at all.
We then headed over to Double Spires, visiting both high points (all of a metre or two difference). Again, it was fun scrambly stuff on wonderful rock and I was enjoying it. It was such a contrast to the button grass of the day before, but no more or less beautiful.
Unfortunately, we’d left our packs below, following advice to return to the saddle in order to continue on. But we thought it looked pretty good to stay high, so we headed back down to collect our packs. John was quite clear about his preference not to descend the climby way, and led us down a more sensible route perhaps.
When we’d climbed back up we had the challenge and enjoyment of negotiating the ridgeline, accurately reading when to go up, when to sidle, and when to drop. Somehow, we managed to do so quite flawlessly. We clambered over the top of High Spire on the way to False Dome, enjoying each and the views they provided as the skies increasingly cleared.
A lovely grassy patch just below False Dome beckoned, so we stayed for lunch. Then on we went towards the Camel, mistakenly thinking the going looked smooth and easy. We were to quickly discover that the scrub was much higher than it looked! But we forged a way through it (or rather Graham did, and we followed), located the correct rocky prominence to scramble up, and found ourselves atop the Camel!
We looked towards White Pyramid, which looked about as far again as we’d just come (between False Dome and the Camel), and equally green. Hmmm… and wait a second… it doesn’t look so easy to climb either. The rock slanted the wrong way and we feared a long detour.
Closer inspection confirmed our fears, so without further ado, we headed down.. and down.. and around.. more down and more around. Through scrub. Would we get there? Was it even going to be possible to climb this thing? It was like a great big white pyramid, but instead of sitting flat on its base, it was as if someone had cut back under it, giving the appearance of being a diamond that someone had buried almost, but not quite, up to its centre/widest point.
As the doubt rose, so too did the frustration, particularly at the scrub. Finally, a break in the white rock wall to our left, and we sensed a possible route up. We hauled ourselves tiredly up the scrubby side, and finally began to think we might just get to the top. Sure enough, over a final rocky climb, there sat the cairn, blindingly white in the afternoon sun. We more recently learned that you can go up from the opposite side – perhaps a much shorter route (I’ll test that one out next time!).
We savoured it, before somewhat tiredly thinking of how far back we had to walk. But if you get there, you’ve got to get back, so down we went, back through the scrub, trying where we could to stay on the same path we’d taken over to minimise the bash. Step by step we drew closer. Later that night we sat around camp tired but satisfied with our day’s work, and celebrated having got to the Spires with Lindt chocolate.
Day 7: The Font to Lake Curly via the low route
It was time to start our journey back (always a sad kind of time, though not too bad cos we still had a few days, and at least one more mountain to climb). We were supposed to wake to rain, but perhaps the weather gods took pity on us, and although it was definitely grey, we stayed dry and were most grateful.
We chatted away as we each went about our respective rituals around packing, and were ready to leave by 8, as agreed. Replacing the log book on the way out, we then enjoyed our scrub bash down the ridge. It was marginally easier this way, but still scratchy!
We’d already decided on taking a different route back, which avoided going back over Shining and Conical. Instead we ducked over the end of the ridge off Shining, before climbing back up a ridge that would connect us with the top of Perambulator ridge.
John had what was turning out to be a very accurate route he’d managed to source from some maps at work, and so we followed it, and our noses to find a fairly decent route. An open creek helped greatly, as did the fact that the button grass wasn’t too big and clumpy as it had been elsewhere (I think the record for the biggest button grass clump was up to my chest (1.4-1.5m high).
As we walked the clouds dispersed, and we were once again in sun. We had plenty of time, however, so we took it easy, pausing often to look back at the mountains we were leaving behind. We knew we’d be back, but probably not for a while.
We had lunch on Perambulator ridge, next to where a lightening strike had shattered rock, launched scrub into the air, and burnt a small area. We checked our phones to find that a road block had been set up at Maydena (hopefully we could get out), but that, more excitingly, Graham seemed to have bought a house!
Celebrations were in order when we got to Curly, an easy 7.5 hours after having started out, so out came two apricots I’d stashed away – one for Graham, and half for John and I. We also had a swim in the shimmering water – yet again a pure delight. We pottered for the rest of the evening, sorting and packing gear, enjoying dinner, and chatting about plans for the following day.
Day 8: Day trip to Curly
It was a rainy, claggy day. The snowgums bled red and orange, and the place took on a different kind of beauty. The birds, for which I didn’t have names, were still chattering away happily.
We spent the morning sleeping, eating, being tested on my flash cards, and playing a somewhat competitive game of cards. By 1pm it had improved a little, but still wasn’t too promising. We knew if we wanted to climb Curly it was going to have to be now or not this time, so Graham and I got decked out in our wet weather gear, while John chose to rest a twinged back and twisted ankle.
We found Curly to be quite a fun little climb, but resisted the temptation to just keep climbing up the rock to the top, instead following sound advice. There, Graham claimed his 450th point (though he didn’t realise until we returned), and we spent a fair bit of time enjoying the way the mist rolled in and over us. But it was a bit chilly, so we got moving, finding a spot to wave to John below (once Graham had woken him up with a bellow).
Only having taken 2.5 hours to walk up and back with a little extra time on top, we returned well in time for dinner…at which point Graham realised he was going to run out of gas! But no worries – after a few menu alterations and a little bit of guessing, we figure we’ll get by without going hungry.
Day 9: Lake Curly to Great Dome via the low route
We woke early to light drizzle, and got stuck into breakfast immediately. We expected a big day getting back onto the Denison range, so were ready to leave by 7. The weather seems to be similar to the day before – light drizzle wafting through and around, but never really threatening us. The sun also comes and goes, and we can’t tell if we’re hot or cold.
John’s route does an excellent job again of minimising ascent as well as scrub, and we’re pleasantly surprised at the time we make. The cries of a flock of black cockatoos scratch harshly through the air, but the shrike thrushes are quick to sooth our ears with much more melodious tunes.
We’re ready to face the uphill scrub bash after lunch, and find it not too bad, thanks to the pad. In fact, we make such good time that we all agree not to camp in the saddle above Wugata again, but to head for our spot below Great Dome. It was a tiring plod, particularly as we’d all been mentally expecting to stop at Wugata, but we managed to sidle quite well under both Bonds Crag and Reeds Peak that we didn’t have to expend too much energy gaining height.
The real rain hit as we arrived. We pitched tents quickly, but then had to go and collect water. There was no avoiding it, and the rain wasn’t going to stop. John and I did the honours. The gentle patter of rain against the tent fly turned harsh every time the wind gusted. We wondered how full the river would be to cross tomorrow.
At dinner time, as I boiled water for both Graham and my meals, Graham announced that he’d never tease my Jetboil again, for it was certainly an efficient little stove. Pretty sure by now that we’d be out tomorrow, with a day to spare, we delved into our 11th day snacks for entre and dessert. YUM!
Day 10: Great Dome to car park… and home!
Our final day! Another low cloudy start, but we were sure, as usual, that it would lift as the day warmed up. We set off at 8, because although it was an easy walk out, we wanted to be back at a decent time. We set a steady pace, occasional chatter interrupting our silent thoughts. I didn’t mind at all, I was feeling decidedly lethargic, which I put down to the going home blues. That’s not to say I didn’t want to be heading back (in fact I was more than ready to buckle down now and study for my exam and write an essay), but that doing so meant the end of what had been a very special trip to a simply wonderful bit of Tasmania.
When we got back to the river we found it the lowest we’d ever seen – so low in fact, that we took the opportunity to walk across in the water, rather than on the log – and we didn’t get wet feet at all. We signed out of the log book – each of our objectives completed with a day to spare – and rounding the corner to see John’s car, we could finally say we’d done it.
We owed a huge thank you to all those who gave their time and advice – it allowed us to make much better informed decisions, which enabled the trip to run more smoothly than I think we dared to hope.Our list of gear to replace/fix included: a pair of boots, a sleeping mat, two pairs of gaiters, a pair of shorts, a camera, scrub gloves, water bladder and 2 spoons!
All up: 112km, 10 days, 7323m ascent.