Three years ago Graham and I spent our Show weekend climbing Frenchmans Cap, Clytemnestra and Sharlands Peak. This year we were heading back in to check out Agamemnon, Philps and if we were lucky, White Needle. It seemed right somehow, although we were both doubting our fitness and our ambitious plans for the 2.5 days!
We left the car park in the early afternoon, recognising with excitement one of the names in the logbook. The walk in raised the usual feelings of enjoyment at being back in the bush, impatience at still being on a track, and excitement about what the next two days would bring.
The acidic smell of ants, the musical note of the first olive whistler, hard quartz underfoot and squint-inducing sun all had a relaxant effect. Graham had other plans, however, and decided the short day would be a good way to stretch his legs and test his fitness. We tested it well, and by the time we approached the final hill before Vera we were travelling at a much more reasonable plod!
The hut and campsites were well occupied, but we found a cute little spot and refamiliarised ourselves with how to pitch the tent (it’d been a while!). Soup and dinner followed. The last thing I remember is Graham stating that if he was going to be organised he should get his head torch out before it got dark… we both fell asleep before he did!
The morning dawned crisp, and we kept warm jackets on though we knew they’d be off in 5 minutes. The brief climb up from the hut back took us to where the new track work sears a white scar through the button grass plain, blinding in the morning sun. We stripped off and headed up the very obvious button grass lead that would take us to the ridge line connected to Agamemnon. It was easier going than it had looked, and there was clear evidence of many parties having gone before us, some more recent, some yonks ago.
Scrub scraped against our knees, sweat formed on our brows and I finally felt free again. I was surprised at how much I missed being off track exploring the secrets and treats of a new mountain. A friend had recently referred to me as a ‘wild girl’ and I don’t think she could have been more on the money – I felt like I was home.
At the top of the rise we were greeted with a magnificent view, that we’d have from various perspectives for the rest of the day. Frenchmans Cap, Philps, Sharlands and Barron Pass were centre stage, Agamemnon waiting behind the undulations for a later introduction.
The ridge we were on that would take us to the summit of Agamemnon was fun, and we spent a fair bit of time mucking around early on. It was such that you’d pop over a rise, or sidle round a rocky outcrop and find the route ahead was quite unexpected. We found ourselves on steep drops more than once – often intentionally! In fact, we were pretty spot on with our route finding – the odd cairn helping us along when we weren’t sure.
After one more scrubby rise, again better than it looked, and some open climbing we found ourselves negotiating rocky outcrops on the way to the summit.
The view was perfect – it was the kind of place you could stay for a long time!! We felt pretty good having got to the summit in 3.5 hrs, but unfortunately we had more walking to do. So after a short break we dropped off and headed across a lovely bowl (looked like nice if exposed camping with flowing water!).
The Abels description was pretty spot on, except that the small band of scrub might have been small, but the scrub certainly wasn’t! I had been warned, but the walking had been so reasonable till then that I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. Graham in particular wasn’t impressed to find himself in scoparia that was well over his head. We ducked and twisted through the branches and were happy to pop out the far side.
We were soon on the open ridge leading towards Philps, and trudged along, legs getting weary but mind refreshed. We were surprised at how long it took to reach the summit from Agamemnon, but were having a break for lunch regardless. Philps marked my 650th point on the HWC peak baggers list (I have to mark the 50s now because the 100s are few and far between!).
We briefly entertained the possibility of completing the traverse across to White Needle and down to Barron Pass but sensibility prevailed – we’d heard stories of people being benighted for exactly the same thing! Given we’d now been out for 6.5 hrs including breaks we thought it safer to head back than to go on and potentially have to turn around with even less time to spare.
The walk back was quicker, if a little more stumbley, but no less enjoyed. We chatted happily with a couple who had day tripped out to the Cap that day, and wrote briefly in the logbook. It had been a big, off track walking day, and we were more than ready for dinner. We raised a toast to two fellow walkers, and their wives who must surely be finding it hard to adjust to their absence. Again, we were asleep almost as soon as we got into our sleeping bags.
We woke early to the sound of the alarm, happy the heavier rain from earlier that morning seemed to have subsided, but aware there was more forecast. We decided we were going anyway unless things deteriorated further. We were a tad anxious about this one. We had a short time frame, and White Needle had eluded us once before. Not just the out-of-time or no-view-no-point kind of eluding. Our first attempt had been the closest we’d been to giving a mountain a good crack and failing to get to the top. Understandably, we’d turned around our confidence shaken after Graham went swinging from a small scoparia bush by one hand when the rock under his feet gave way.
This time we’d done more research and were armed with a route and reassurance that if we went right instead of left, we’d find a much cruisier and less exposed way up. The source was a hard core walker himself, so we were still a tad hesitant about what his ‘easy’ might mean.
We set off round Lake Vera, walked through quite a dark forest, and pushed up the climb to Barron Pass. We timed it perfectly, the mist lifting to reveal blue skies around. The rock was wet, but we had no real excuses now. We sorted our gear and set off.
The start was as we’d done it, good pad to the left hand side of the foot of the mountain, a bit of a scramble up rock face and we were heading back to the right. Then one more scramble up rock and all of a sudden we found ourselves on much more promising terrain. White Needle seemed possible. The pad was still evident and we followed it up, cross checking from time to time that we were still on the right route. Very quickly we stood below the final bit of climb: a gentle scramble up rock that promised all fun and no real challenge.
And there we were! On the summit of White Needle with great big grins on our faces. The view towards Sharlands was the best, and probably the most impressive you’ll ever get of the peak! We spent too long enjoying the moment, and eventually dragged ourselves away. We had the long walk back to Vera then out to the car ahead, and we didn’t want to be driving 14 mile road in the dark. It was an exercise in patience, persistence and sheer doggedness, and by the end it was the birdsong that kept us going.
We made it, tired and sore, but pretty stoked with our 2.5 days and just over 50km of walking. Even better, we ran into the two guys we knew as we were about to leave the car park!
Day 1: 15.5km, 4:41 hrs, 691m ascent
Day 2: 13.5km, 10:36 hrs, 1370m ascent
Day 3: 23.7km, 10 hrs, 1312m ascent