My first trip to Druids Hill was a long time ago as a club walk, likely in my first year of walking. It never made it to a blog post. It’s such a fun little hill with stunning views that both Ben and Jess had attempted to put it on the Pandani program a few times recently. This time was the first that the stars had aligned and the weather cooperated. I was lucky enough to worm my way onto the rather popular walk, which I was interested in less because I hadn’t climbed Celtic Hill (a ‘neopoint’ or point on the latest version of the HWC peakbaggers list but not on the one I started on) and more because I needed another Pandani fix! As it turned out there were some really cool people down for the walk and I was looking forward to catching up with people I hadn’t seen for ages as well as meeting a few I’d heard lots about but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of walking alongside.
We had a painfully early 6am meet up at Granton. I was very sleep deprived, but was probably more out of sorts from trying to get my head around what gear I was taking given all the stuff I’d just taken on the Fincham track was soaking wet and dirty (we’d got home at shortly before 10pm the night before). The combination of the two meant I rocked up without any wet weather gear, but I’d be likely to get away without it this time.
The ten of us squished familiarly, not uncomfortably, into two cars and the conversation bubbled along. I sunk back into the seat, let the warm laughter and voices wash over me. It was nice to be back! A good distance down the dirt road that heads towards Mt Anne we pulled over into a clearing on the left, right near our departure point to Celtic Hill. Ben had to get us going, or we’d have stood around all day continuing with the chatter!
Up we started, following the leader as he wove a way up the burnt out slopes, trying our best to minimise touching the sharp, charcoal covered sticks that remained of banksia trees, melaleuca and tea tree shrubs. The button grass, lemon boronia and a number of other small green flora were well into the regrowth stage since the 2018/19 fires. Looking out across the landscape their growth gave it a fresh vibrant green look and you could only really tell the extent of the fires by picking out the thickets of larger grey skeletons that had once been bands of heavier scrub. It was steep enough, but surprisingly not as slippery as feared and we made slow and steady progress.
The temptation was too good to resist and I have to say it was my fault for getting the banksia pegging wars started so early in the morning. You’ve got to get in early with these things, especially when you’re up against Ben, who has a pretty sharp aim even at a distance! It was a protracted affair, that lasted all the way back to the road. I copped it later on, with a close quarters ambush by both Ben and Jess – probably well-deserved!
We paused and regrouped once we hit a flat spot on the ridge, setting a very relaxed tone that would persist throughout the day. We would walk for a bit and then we would break for a lot, chatting, eating or doing anything else we fancied. Already the views were opening up, the low cloud gradually rising to reveal glimpses of the vista we all knew was out there. The cloud around Mt Anne teased us beautifully, revealing and then hiding once again the impressive throne-like summit.
And so we made our way along and up the ridge, finding the going to be pretty straight forward with a short scramble on rocks to the summit, where a concrete pillar marked the highest point. The group spread out and along, subconsciously mirroring Mt Anne, as she sprawled across the horizon, still partly draped in a blanket, the day not quite warm enough to throw it off entirely just yet.
It was only mid morning, but a good enough time to enjoy a cup of tea and a bite to eat. We were moving faster than we needed to and Ben was super relaxed about getting the most out of the day, so we stayed and enjoyed for an appropriate amount of time, long enough at least for Jess to find and catch a pretty impressive looking frog!
We were eventually drawn down the ridge and across an open saddle towards the foot of the much more interesting looking climb up Druids Hill. The bottom part looked fine, but towards the top it looked excitingly steep and rocky. This was just how I liked my bushwalking! It was hard to wipe the smile off my face.
We navigated the first bit of the climb easily and then found ourselves at a decision point part way up. The western or right hand side of the ridge was full of steep and scrubby gullies, one of which was so decent it hadn’t even burnt out in the fires. We weren’t sure what was around the eastern or left hand side, that required climbing back up and over. We um-ed and ah-ed and eventually after a lot of chatting arrived at a group decision to try back over the left shoulder.
The group took the decision in full stride, everyone behind it. As we walked we talked about how one of the best things with walking was the collective decision-making and negotiating, where everyone got to have some input, and the final solution was not any one persons but a mix of everyone’s input that resulted in a collective best decision. It was teamwork at its best. In the end our choice meant we traded losing a fair bit of height for a little extra climbing on rock.
Up we went, not entirely sure the route would be possible, but pretty certain we’d figure it out. Bryn and Adrian appeared to be in their element as forward scouts, Ben coordinating and making the odd decision in the interests of finding the safest route for the whole group, not just any likely route. Others did a stellar job of watching and providing moral support for those who were no less proficient but a tad less confident on rock. I did a fair bit of standing back, marvelling at how people stepped up to fill roles without needing to be asked, of how the whole thing just worked.
When the harder, more exposed climbing was over and there was just the final scramble to the summit everyone was free to find their own way up. We spread out over the rock like ants swarming to a pile of sugar. The reward was sweeter. We had the whole of the southwest of Tassie to enjoy, on a rocky summit that sported some brilliant orange moss that Ben was just in love with. Everyone had smiles on their faces. The photo frenzy came first, then some lunch, more chatter, the odd bit of mischief and a touch of snoozing.
We only dragged ourselves away when Ben suggested we probably should. The summit of Druids Hill is such that you can’t easily see the way down from just standing on top. It’s rather a knobbly rounded summit that means you have to start heading off the edge one way or another to see what lies below.
Again, Bryn was on scouting duties, displaying the qualities of a comfortable off track walker. Half the group followed him as they wove a path down the face of the mountain, the other half tracing a route more directly down the sharp spine-like ridge. This allowed everyone to pick and choose the route that suited their preferences best.
It was a long steep descent where attention was given largely to stopping our feet from shooting out from underneath us, leading to an inevitable bum slide. We were largely successful in this respect. We had a small hill that we climbed over the right hand shoulder, before we were back on the button-grass plain and only a short distance from the road. There we did our best to wash off some of the charcoal that coated our hands, clothes, packs, knees and faces. Some of us looked like chimney sweeps more than others!
Back at the cars we feasted on cold fizzy drinks, shapes and nuts before making the significantly quieter drive home. Thanks to Ben for leading the walk and to all those who came on the day – you made it what it was!
All up: 8.5km, 8:12hrs (LOTS of breaks), 843m ascent.