With 2.5 months off work I have plenty of time to fit in all the wonderful things. That means a LOT of walking ;)! I had kept the two weeks free that John, Graham and I were due to do our one big summer trip. Only there would be no Graham. We had entertained thoughts of Vanishing Falls, but failed to recruit a third nutter crazy enough to come with us. We ended up with 5 days to go somewhere, and somehow settled on Mount Fincham and the Fincham Hut, with anything else we could fit in being a bonus. John asked another solid walker, Ian, if he was free and interested and sure enough he was. I’d not had the pleasure of walking with him, but had heard only the highest of praise for him and the way he walked, so I was looking forward to getting to know him.
Only going for five days gave me a bit of spare time, which was filled with lots of social things with friends and some much needed time in the garden. One highlight was a three day trip to friends and their shack on the east coast, where I went fishing for the first time AND caught my first flathead. It was so lovely that I stayed an extra day, which meant I raced home on Sunday afternoon and rushed to pack my gear and leave the garden in a reasonable state!
Ian swung by at 6 and we drove up to Lake St Claire to meet up with John, who’d been leading a club trip up there on the weekend. He was easy to talk to right from the start, which made the drive fly by. We were there shortly after 8 and continued on to Queenstown and then the Darwin Dam. We had a slight mishap in that none of us were paying close enough attention to where we were going and we first drove several kilometres past it before realising our error! When we were finally good to go the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It was one of those jacket on/jacket off kind of days and to start with we got the timing very wrong. At least the little rain squalls were only temporary and not too heavy, and they brought a slight drop in temperature with them.
The terrain started off open enough, the usual low button grass and tea tree mix and also some very easy to walk on lake shore. We didn’t try to stick rigidly to the track for this bit because it was easy enough to make our own way long. That, and there wasn’t an easily identifiable track, or so we thought.
About an hour in John commented that he was going to tell people he’d walked the Fincham. Full stop. No ‘Track’ on the end, because there wasn’t one! And it definitely felt that way. We were following the line we’d marked from the maps and satellite imagery but couldn’t find anything resembling a track. In spots we found ourselves scrub bashing through messy stuff. We’d slowed right down and were realising it might take us longer than anticipated.
Turns out there was a track, it’s just pretty hard to find if you’re not on it and difficult to stay on in parts. And it’s got a billion fallen trees, bauera etc across it so it was very much like spending the day in an outdoor gym with packs on our backs. Finding the track made for a much faster pace through the button grass plains and even through the forest, although the many fallen trees took time to negotiate. We took care to keep to the track because it was generally faster going and much less bashing. You wouldn’t want to not be on it, that’s for sure!
On one of the button grass sections I found a GoPro and tripod, thinking at first it was a tiger snake until I realised it was a bit too angular and it hadn’t moved! The battery was well and truly dead, so we couldn’t check to see if our suspicions about who might own it were accurate. I suspected they were and would make contact with the likely suspect during our high camp towards the end of the walk ;)!
The button grass gave way back to the forest, which was again slower because of all the obstacles. I knew I was getting tired with all the overs and unders. Though the guys didn’t say anything, we all readily called it a day shortly after the track crossed the Wright river, even though it was only 5:30 or so. Tents went up, dinner was cooked and eaten and the guys chatted away while I typed some notes, occasionally adding to the conversation. I brought a book to read but reckoned I’d probably be asleep before the sun set ;).
I was, and didn’t stir till the sun had risen, woken by the gentle patter of rain on the tent and the odd heavier drop of rain from the canopy above us. The forest and river really were pretty, something that was harder to appreciate when you were tired and focused on trying to stay on track through all the fallen trees and overgrown bauera. We had a slow start, keen to find at least a break in the heavier moments of rain, even though we were all donning wet rain jackets, scrub gloves and overpants.
When we got our break we packed up tents and set off, straight into more difficult to follow and overgrown track. In spots we fought to stay on it, and it was worth it. In others it was such hard work because of all the fallen trees we left it and made our way alongside the river. In other bits we used common sense to cut corners where the ground was more open, and then tried to rejoin the track. While it was disheartening to lose it so often, the encouraging part was we were also pretty good at finding it!
There was much less of the open button grass sections where the track was easy to follow and the walking speed was encouraging, and so it took us a good four hours before we were at the ridge John had selected as the preferred route up Mount Fincham. Apparently it was open. It certainly looked it from the track. In fact it was the only open ridge we’d seen and we’d walked all along the northern side of the mountain. We realised part way up the open part of the ridge that it didn’t last and what’s more, there was a great big cliff line it looked like we had to get up. There was no denying it, the GPS showed three contour lines right on top of one another, and the trig on the summit was visible just behind the cliffs. We’d just have to find a way up, as we always did.
The open ridge gave way to a horrible uphill scrub bash through banksias, bauera and cutting grass. Thick and wet. It was about the worst kind of scrub to have to bash up hill in, or so it seemed at the time. I found myself at the front grunting my way through, once resorting to the backwards bash. Eventually the trees opened up a bit more and ferns largely took over from the cutting grass. It was a big relief to actually be able to see the ground you were putting your feet on. Ian took us to the base of the cliffs, where we spent a lot of time trying gully after gully, only to be thwarted time and time again. Eventually we decided to just keep contouring under the cliffs till the big gully we’d seen on our way up, where the GPS reckoned the contour lines weren’t as close to one another.
It was a goer and we hauled ourselves to the top, then across big clumps of button grass before we hit the final scrubby climb onto the summit plateau. Gosh it was good to be up, soaking wet and puffing away. The views were a wonderful reward, out towards Frenchmans Cap or back towards Lake Burbury – both were stunning. It was cold in the breeze now that we weren’t moving, so we stayed long enough to decide we were changing our plans.
None of us were keen on retracing the Fincham ‘track’, so Ian made a call to his partner and asked if she’d meet us at the Nelson Falls carpark at 4pm on the Friday. We could have hitched back to Ian’s car at Lake St Claire but having left the key in John’s car would have made that a pointless exercise. She agreed (on the provide that he told her he loved her!) and so we quickly came up with a new itinerary.
First thing was to get down, having taken a full three hours to get up. It took us two. We had the advantage of a bash to follow and gravity on our side. We’d definitely seen the last of the rain for the day, but still the scrub was wet – there would be no drying off just yet.
Then we were back to the Fincham track. It wasn’t too bad this side and we made as good as progress as we had on some of the better sections the day before. We hit Canyon Creek and were amazed to find a suspension bridge across it. It was in surprisingly good condition and wasn’t even rusty. A tree had come down though, pushing the hand ropes over to one side. Aside from that, it could still be used. There was even a ladder on the far side to climb down.
Intriguingly, further on when we popped out of the forest and back onto button grass, we came across old diamond markers at regular intervals. They weren’t great for marking the track in respect to allowing you to follow it from one marker to the next, but they did let you know you were still on it (if you didn’t walk straight past them without seeing them, which was easily done on more than one occasion!).
By now we were getting close to where the 4WD track from the Raglan Range intersects the Fincham track. We were hoping the going would be better from this point. We had decided to camp just shy of the junction on the flattest ground we could find. This would set us up for a day trip to Fincham hut, and give us 2 days to walk out over the Raglan range, which might prove to be quite big days! We found just the spot to nestle ourselves between button grass clumps, in time for a bit of a late dinner.
Ian whistled and sang as he went about his business, which made me chuckle. It was the perfect sound with which to end the long, rather wet day and was a turn around from the odd muttering of ‘bloody bauera’ and the like that might have escaped his lips earlier on in the day. A non-bushwalking friend had asked me recently what I liked about scrub bashing, and I found myself reflecting on it as I ate, having spent a good part of the day doing just that. To be honest, the bash isn’t so much fun. The popping out is much more pleasing, for sure! But it is a means to an end when it comes to off track walking, which I love for the challenge of finding a good route, seeing if you can get to where you want to go and how well you can do it. The views from the final destination (which is almost always a mountain for me) are just a small part of the reward. It’s a practice in mindfulness as it’s impossible to be doing or thinking anything else (or you’re just asking to be poked, flicked in the eye, cut across the neck or face or tripped up) and it’s the cheapest, most natural gym you could ever belong to. Bashing away with two other people is so much more fun too. You’re not alone, you can take a break from the hard work and still make progress and there’s three of you to ponder challenges and arrive at a solution. It also makes you feel grateful when you’re back on the track, even if it’s super overgrown!
I managed a long but interrupted sleep, thanks to a touch of overheating and every tickle or itch feeling like a leech had permeated the tent’s defences. There was due concern for this – I’d lost count at 20 when taking off my gaiters and overpants the night before and later on when retrieving items from the vestibule I’d come back each time with one or two free blood suckers on my hand. I already had two war wounds, one from each day, and was keen to keep it at a minimum.
We woke in a heavy mist on our third morning, our ‘hump’ day. I was slightly disappointed that the day we were pinning our good weather hopes on was to have such a grey and wet beginning. Everything was covered in dew, although the inside of the tent was even wetter simply from a nights worth of respiration. There wasn’t much chance of it drying out before we left either, it seemed the damp would persist a little longer.
It was, however, surprising to be able to hear the very distant sounds of motor vehicles, not entirely drowned out by the morning bird song as we made ourselves ready for the days walking. I felt much more remote than we obviously were, perhaps especially because of the fight we’d had with the bush to get there.
Shortly after 8 we had our wet weather gear back on and set off into the wet scrub to do our best to stay on the track. We only had a short distance before we hit the junction between the Fincham and Raglan tracks, where we’d decided we’d drop out packs. We were very hopeful that the Fincham track from this point onwards would be easier to follow with less fallen trees and scrub and it stated that way for the first 500m or so. Just enough to get our hopes up!
It didn’t last and we ended up fighting our way through some of the worst scrub we’d had on the track. By the end of it I was sick of being slapped in the face, poked in the eyes, having twigs pick my nose for me and lifting legs over logs or crawling under fallen trees. At one point I reckoned I had some kind of appreciation for how it might feel to have to wear shackles on both feet, such was the nature of the opportunistic bauera. The walk was less of a walk and more of a wade-climb-crawl.
But nothing lasts forever, even the scrub, and we eventually arrived at the Fincham Hut. It’s a very well maintained hut, complete with power and a long drop, maintained by the HEC, who fly in people to do compliance checks every so often. It would be nice if that involved track clearing too!
The log book confirmed our suspicions that the owner of the found GoPro was likely a guy who had copped a lot of flack part way through last year. He was the only walker to have made it to the hut that year on his own two feet. We were the only party to have done so since. Kudos to him, doing it solo and in a pretty quick two days. That would have take a fair bit of mental strength, especially having been helicoptered out on his first attempt after losing his GoPro and phone (which was his navigation device). I’m not going to get into a debate about how or what people should walk with, because there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat and we’ve probably all walked with fewer safety nets in place than is ideal from time to time. If we haven’t been caught out, we’ve probably been lucky. What I will say is it’s not an ‘easy’ or necessarily ‘enjoyable’ walk (expect scrub, difficult navigation, wetness and leeches probably all year round), but it is perfectly manageable with the right gear and planning. I imagine it’s certainly more enjoyable with company and good weather and it’s not one I’ll be repeating in a hurry ;).
We didn’t stay long, having taken 2:40hrs from our packs, much longer than expected. We barely shaved 10 minutes off the return time, which surprised us but is probably reflective of all the climbing we did. Back at the packs we set off up the Rangan track, quickly noticing that we’d traded the overgrown nature of the Fincham track for a largely open but certainly more undulating track! I wasn’t complaining though. We walked late into the afternoon, arriving at the obvious spot you’d depart from if you wanted to climb Mount Maud. We were all pretty tired, but after a bit of a chat we figured we’d give it a crack.
It was definitely worth it! Finally some easier, minimally impeded walking with no packs and views to go with it. The ridge looked open enough, with perhaps one short scrubby section. But as luck would have it we found a way through that avoided any bashing. All we had to contend with was a steady climb – which was about all we had energy for anyway. We reached a quartzite outcrop that looked to be pretty high, with another 80m away, across a button grass bowl. This was the one I had marked as the high point, but we all know these things aren’t always reliable. The guys were good enough to let me duck over, just in case. The GPS had it 2m higher, which means nothing when you take error into account. In any case it meant I could take a nice photo of them on the summit.
There was time for a few messages, advising safety contacts etc of the change in route, and to check the weather forecast. This brought some uncomfortable news – we were in for a very heavy downpour the following morning. It was much worse than when we’d set out, but we had no option but to walk through it in order to get out on time. Oh well, what we could do was make sure we camped on the northern side of where the ford over Canyon Creek was marked on the map, just in case it was in spate. As for the river we had to cross just before the Lyell Highway, we were just going to have to take our chances when we walked out on the Friday afternoon.
So we did just that. It was with weary feet that we walked another kilometre, crossed the river and then decided we were going to pitch out tents on the road. We had to do some bauera remodelling to widen the road, but it otherwise provided for a lovely and flat site, in stark contrast to the button grass bed of the evening before. It was hard to know if here was just as leech infested as our last camp site, or if we were just walking them from one location to the next with us. There were certainly a good number already inside the tent when I pitched it! Once again, it didn’t take long to fall asleep, despite the threat of a downpour in the morning.
At 7 there was just some intermittent showers, which gave us chance to eat and tend to our bodily functions before the rain really settled in. I half packed up, then lay there listening to the patter and reading a book while waiting for a holler from the others to say we’d make a go for it. We synchronised our tent packing well enough that no one was standing round for long and headed straight into the wet scrub that was reclaiming the road.
We had a few early river crossings, which I didn’t like because they were easy spots to lose the road and were also often where the road was most overgrown. But these grew less frequent as we made our way along the track, and we had increasingly more open sections of road to follow, especially once we started the uphill slogs. The bladderwort was out in flower, a pretty splash of colour in the otherwise muted day. Isn taught me that they had little bladders filled with air under the ground and we wondered why this might be the case.
We came across a few more ring pulls and old beer cans, bringing the total to 3 and 4 respectively. Apparently Boags was in favour back then, although there was a single can of Fosters. I wondered what it would have been like to bump along the road with a can of beer in hand. Who were those men?
The rain fell as steadily if not more so than our feet. It was not as heavy as we feared from the forecast but was unrelenting, the kind you feel could go on forever. As the morning ticked by, my left hand and neck were the only dry parts of me. By midday even these were damp and my boots were sloshing despite not having waded through any deep pools of water.
We were soaked through, rain driving into us from the west, stinging my left eye where I’d narrowly missed skewering an eyeball on a branch earlier in the day. We were cold, tired and didn’t have much to look at through the mist save the odd waterfall or abandoned bit of machinery. But still I found myself with a smile on my face. Weather like this highlighted all the GOOD things, all the things we take too easily for granted that are actually really nice. And my goodness, the feeling of stripping off sodden clothes, huddling in the shell of my tent as I fought with dry ones, and then finally relaxing into their wonderful dryness was just sublime. Especially when my numb fingers came back to life a few hours later.
We’d pulled up early as we had plenty of time, choosing to camp a few kilometres shy of the Raglan Range high point. We found ourselves spending the afternoon in our tents, encouraging the blue sky and hints of sun that appeared in between more light showers. I ate an early dinner, mostly to warm up a bit more, then wrote some notes while sending a few messages.
The rest of the afternoon would be spent reading, napping or otherwise just listening to the wind and rain. The rain persisted long past its forecasted cut off, and my attempts to get some clothes dry failed spectacularly. The sun gave up too and the afternoon turned to evening simply with a change in shades of grey. Even the birds had stopped singing.
Instead, every so often Ian would break into a whistle, or John would hum a little, sometimes the two would chat. These were the times I was most aware of the difference in dynamics from when Graham, John and I walked together, but maybe that said as much about me and how I was as anything else ;). I felt slightly shy, less sure of my place and value in the team than I had before, and I suppose that led to a more cautious approach in leading or instigating decisions or even conversation. Funny hey? I resolved to work on it on our final day…
It was still raining in the morning, the forecast had changed for the worst again, so we delayed our start time by an hour, putting off the inevitable donning of cold wet socks, boots and rainwear as long as we could in the hope that maybe, just maybe, the sun might rear its head for us today. And to be honest, it didn’t do too badly. It was misting more than raining, as the inside of the cloud draped an only slightly transparent curtain over everything. As we walked the sun threatened to burn it off, but not in time for our arrival at the Raglan high point. I wished John and Ian could see the views that should have been their reward. They didn’t complain, however, and Ian took delight in pointing out the smallest gum tree in Tassie, which was growing right next to the trig. Apparently waist height is about as high as it gets!
From here on we dropped height too quick for the sun to catch up and were soon once again drenched from head to toe just from the overgrown scrub on the road. Down we went, and for perhaps the first time on the walk we had the chance in parts to walk abreast, rather than in single file, when the road opened up a bit. Finally we could chat, reminisce, ask and answer questions as a group. We talked about ourselves, our lives, our careers, decision points and stuff in general. I discovered how much the two guys knew about the history of the place and Tassie as a whole. The kind of knowledge you only get from having been around for a little bit, having read books and listened to people over the years. I fear we’ll lose this in generations to come, along with those who volunteer their time to the upkeep of huts and logbooks, given today’s preference for quick answers provided by google searches over the sharing of oral histories.
Soon enough we were at the final river crossing, the only obstacle between us and the Lyell Highway. It was flowing fast, but we were able to walk down the provided stone steps, cross without even giving thought to taking off boots, and pop out onto the road. A short walk to the Nelson Falls car park and we’d done it! Two older ladies who were exploring their way around Tassie in their converted vans took pity on us and made us all our preference of tea or coffee, complete with biscuit. And so we stood there chatting with them, dripping water, scrub and still a handful of leeches. It was a lovely way to finish the walk. While we waited for Ian’s partner to pick us up and take us back to John’s car at the Darwin Dam we dried out some gear in the intermittent sun, changed into what we had left of our dry clothes, ate the last of our food and chatted some more. And then Lou arrived with zucchini chocolate cake and drinks! We were warm, dry and wanting for nothing. Oh, and mission successful in finding a place I was comfortable with in the new dynamic ;)!
All up: 56.1km, 3311m ascent.
Day 1: 9.8km, 6:18hrs, 353m ascent
Day 2: 11.4km, 11:01hrs, 855m ascent (Fincham ascent)
Day 3: 14.6km, 10:12 hrs, 911m ascent (Maud ascent)
Day 4: 9.4km, 4:55hrs, 878m ascent
Day 5: 10.9km, 3:40hrs, 274m ascent