Mount Bertha: 18 June 2022

Well, where to start? At the beginning probably. That was less than 48 hours ago, but seems much, much longer than that. I love how bushwalking does that. You go away for a period of time, whether it be a day or a week, and when you come back it feels like the time both flew, but also stretched out. Like it was a very long time since you were last back in civilisation. It’s a good way to come back refreshed and ready and overly grateful for some of the comforts of our modern lifestyle with only just a small time away.

I suspect it’s got something to do with the meditativeness of walking, or the way it forces you to be very much in the present. There’s nothing better than a good off track walk with a decent scrub fight to do that for you. Any kind of progress, let alone a successful adventure, relies on you paying full attention to where you think you’re going to put the next foot, hand, leg, arm or any other body part. Sometimes there’s some forward thinking, depending on how thick the scrub is and whether or not you can see 2 or 20 metres ahead. When it all boils down to it, getting in, and more importantly getting out – heck, your survival really – counts on each one of these seemingly inconsequential movements. There’s not a lot of bandwidth to think about anything else, especially if you’re also wet, cold, tired and perhaps even a bit peckish.

The seed for this little adventure started as most have with the peak baggers’ list. Bertha was on it, as one of 45 mountains I had left to climb. At this pointy end of things that makes pretty much every remaining mountain a target. The seed was given a sprinkle of water a year or so ago chatting to a friend about access. Access is always the part of a walk I like least. Sometimes it’s straight forward, but often it can be messy. Keys, permission or roads of unknown condition feature. Long drives down twisted networks always make me wonder what would happen if I lost my car key or the car chose the most inconvenient moment to break down. I particularly dislike locked gates and trespassing signs. Especially when they make little practical sense and pose a huge inconvenience for the bushwalker. Bertha was one of these, and as a result stayed on the back burner.

Until now. Tim and I had a rare weekend off together and, as a magnanimous supporter of my scrubby tail-end peak bagging, he brought up the subject – a day walk to Bertha. Optimistic as always, it didn’t take long for him to convince me it would work. Having learnt from my Berry experience to take a bit more time and effort to do my research, on the Tuesday I emailed a bushwalking expert who’s knees no longer let him get out in the bush the way he once had. He’d been in touch earlier in the year as he had a friend who was nearly finished the list and who might be having a crack at Bertha – I had other comittments at the time, but now wondered how they’d gone. Turns out they hadn’t had a crack, but he told me about a trip he’d been on many years ago. Half an hour later he’d reassured me things might be easier than I’d feared. The access he spoke of was the same as our plan B. It would entail a 40km ride on a dirt road, before a 4-5km (straight line) walk to the summit of Bertha (2km in the forest and a bit more than 2 in what looked like more open terrain). We poured over LISTmap and came up with a plan A, using a different dirt road that didn’t have a locked gate at its start and would cut the road ride down by 5km each way.

The weather looked ok and we made the necessary and very last minute arrangements. Tim’s mum lent me her bike, driving it down to Hobart at next to no notice (thank you!!!). Tim got his bike serviced, deciding that riding without working brakes might not be a wise thing. And then Friday was upon us, work wrapped up and off we set, a very long drive ahead of us with an audiobook to keep us company.

At 10pm and a bit over driving we decided our plan A might not be worth it. Sure, it would possibly cut a total 10km off our ride, but at the expense of a much, much longer unsealed and unknown road drive and we were knackered. So we settled on plan B, which turned to plan C when we arrived to find the gate at the start of Holder Road wasn’t there, or at least wasn’t locked. Our lucky day! We drove all the way along the road till we hit a collapsed bridge, just shy of Pipeline Road and pulled up for the night. It was after midnight as we crawled into the back of the car, feeling like that meant we could set the alarm for a dawn start instead of earlier, a thought we had (fleetingly) entertained.

We woke to the alarm and slowly dragged ourselves out of the back of the car, slightly groggy from lack of sleep. It was nice not to be starting by head torch. Off we set, packs heavy with our boots, walking gear and water for the day – we felt it best not to trust the water out there, being so close to all the mining. A hint of pink tinged the overcast sky as a flock of black cockatoos flew overhead, cawing away to themselves. We were fresh (relatively), energetic and ready for the day’s adventure. Little did we know what we were in for!

A few hundred metres and we were on the Pipeline road. It’s aptly named. There’s a road, which leads to the Savage river mine, and alongside it runs a pipe, which carries slurry from the mine all the way to the north west coast of Tassie. I wonder where it goes then? Either way, the road would take us to within a few kilometres of Mount Bertha. It was the closest we could get to the summit before we hit the bush. Knowing the road was heavily gated we checked it out on LISTmap. Interestingly the land around Bertha is classified as regional reserve and nature recreation areas, while the narrow strip of land on which the pipeline sits is classified as ‘future potential production forest’. We figured it would probably be ok to use the road, rather than walking in the scrub alongside it. Sensible too… especially if we kept well away from the pipeline. Surely that would be ok, even if the signs on each of the gates weren’t exactly friendly in tone.

Someone seems to be very protective of their road. No way for vehicles to get around.

We realised very quickly we wouldn’t be getting anywhere fast on the bikes. The optimistic 20km/h estimate was reduced to less than 10. Our packs were heavy and the road was a steady undulating climb that took us from 120m ASL to 500m ASL. Our bums were quick to bruise and protest the unexpectedly harsh demands we placed on them and it was with great relief that we arrived at our departure point. Oh, to finally be doing something other than grinding our bumpy way up a hill!

Some pretty views as we rode along of mist filled valleys. It’s pretty flat out this way.

We started to change, sprawling across the road, swapping riding for walking gear. We knew our chances of meeting someone on the road was slim, it was a Saturday after all and all 5 of the gates we’d seen had been closed. That would have been very annoying for people racing up and back along the road if they’d been working. Yet we both froze like deer caught in the headlights at the faint hum of an engine and then without speaking, we grabbed our gear and dove into the bushes, where we stood waiting to see what would approach. Tim called it first. It was a false alarm, an airplane flying low overhead. We breathed a sigh of relief – if we were going to get asked to leave, we wanted it to be AFTER climbing the mountain, which we were especially devoted to doing after riding all that way. The sore bums had to be worth it.

Finally we arrive and get off the bikes with relief

Off we strolled, into the forest. It was 11am, a little later than we’d have liked but not ridiculously so. The forest gave the appearance of being relatively open, but wasn’t fast to move through. In fact, it was painfully slow. 15 minutes in and I groaned inwardly. This wasn’t going to be an easy few hours to the summit. The open patches ended abruptly in dense horizontal or other botanical delights that quickly had us wet through, muddy and covered in leaf litter. We crawled, climbed and crashed a very convoluted and messy line across the GPS screen. On the up side, this gave us plenty of time to enjoy the variety of mushrooms that were out and about – it was just a pity we didn’t have time to stop and photograph them all. I wasn’t sure where the tea tree forest we were expecting was going to be, but was hoping it would be nicer than the first few kilometres we endured.

There were fungi of all colours and sizes, and often in large families!
Happy to be in a nicer bit of open forest

We found the tea tree when we hit the change in scrub that the satellite imagery told us was coming, and for which we had been intentionally heading. We only had to wade through a sea of bauera first, which went a long way to sap our strength. When we got there we sighed with relief. Maybe the walk wasn’t going to take all day. Maybe the tea tree would save the day. Though we found ourselves walking well under the canopy most of the time, it was, as promised, easy going. The trunks moved out of the way with ease, many rotten through and offering no resistance at all. It was the wettest, most slimy tea tree forest I’ve seen, and we were grateful to our rain wear for copping the brunt of it as we shouldered our way through.

Our first views. Close but still a way to go. The tea tree was a welcome change from the forest.

Progress sped up and when we popped out the far end we could actually see Bertha, which looked further away than expected. Not that this did much to dampen the delight at actually being able to see her! Finally, the end was in sight. Tim’s ‘it would be good to get back to the road before dark’ had long since been replaced by ‘let’s just get there and get the f*** outta here’ and I was certainly looking forward to some easier navigating and walking. We started up the ridge, enjoying the freedom of not having to fight for every step, delighting in the rainbow that formed over the eastern horizon and being grateful for the weather, which was neither too cold or too wet.

As always, the bush has its own way of humbling the walker, and our nice easy open ramp up the south-eastern end of the ridge didn’t last. By the time we were on the ridge, heading north to cover the final 1km of walking we realised it wasn’t going to be a 20 minute doddle to the top. There were three scrubby knolls to negotiate. We tried dropping off the eastern side, where the satellite imagery made things look easier, but ditched that option after a few metres of very steep and rocky terrain – being cliffed out was a big risk. The western side looked more densely scrubby, but less steep. In the end we went with a straight over approach, taking the line of least resistance. It was slow going, the sun low on the western horizon now, making it difficult to see where we were going when we did stumble out of each patch of vegetation.

Our timing was at least perfect for the light show, if not the walking. Tim heads towards the trig (tiny little dot on the far right horizon) as the sun dips low on the horizon.
Pretty light on the clouds – feeling like we might just make it now…

On the last one, Tim gave a yelp of surprise. There was a trig on the summit that neither of us had known about. It was a perfect target and we honed in on it. Even within the last 15 metres we managed to find ourselves dropping off a rock down a few metres into scrub – as if we hadn’t had our fill for the day. But we got there right on sunset, sent a few messages so our safety people would know we we still alive (for now), ate dinner, celebrated with Tim’s chocolate coated ginger, and put on plenty of warm clothes. We chilled right down in the time it took to do that and we knew with the setting of the sun it was only going to get colder. It had taken us 9.5 hours to get to this point and we knew it would take longer to get back. If ever I wanted a helicopter ride off a mountain it was now!

We made it! It only took 9.5 hours, and now we had to get all the way back… in the dark!

Off we set, retracing our steps with the aid of the GPS. It was slow and stumbley, not helped by the fact that one of my knees, which had started niggling on the ride, was now really quite sore to bend and lift. On we went, ever so slowly marking our progress through the different terrain types. We cut corners off our unnecessary forays into the scrub, making the return route generally more efficient. Only once did we get caught in a fresh patch of bauera that required a new bash. More than once we got so directionally confused in the dark and scrub that we ended up doing a 180 without realising and would have walked back up the mountain if we’d not been watching the GPS like a hawk. Trying to figure out how we could do that was too hard at that time of night though – it was a fact to accept and move on!

We popped out onto the road just before midnight, relieved to be finished with the crawl through the forest. It had seemed easier on the return trip – perhaps we’d been luckier connecting the open parts, perhaps it was just mindset. Either way, we were out. We made the changes we needed and gingerly swung legs over our bikes. Our bums told us what they thought of that in no uncertain terms!

We had already agreed to walk the hills and spend more time standing up than sitting down and so we did just that. We startled a couple of owls on the way but otherwise had a relatively uneventful ride. In our favour, the long hill we’d slogged up in the morning was now a series of downhill coasts, separated by the odd rise. We walked any that required too much effort to ride, and our threshold was low. Despite this, it took us as long to ride back as it had to ride out, which says a lot about the lie of the land. It was 3:30 when we crawled back into the back of the Mini, cold, sore and tired. Type 2 fun, we concurred.

On the upside, we made a day of the drive back to Hobart. We’d woken after a few hours sleep, picked up a coffee and sweet treat at Smithton, had a wonderful breakfast in Stanley, and then hobbled out of the car for ice cream and a hot chocolate at the Christmas Hills berry farm. All the salt, sugar and fatty foods for us :p!

All up:

Ride in: 28.9km, 3:02hrs, 725m ascent

Walk: 14.7km, 12:45hrs, 351m ascent

Ride out: 28.4km, 3:01hrs, 344m ascent

Total: 72.6km, 19:46hrs, 1443m ascent

One Reply to “Mount Bertha: 18 June 2022”

  1. Looks like good preparation for a demanding working week. I wonder if you want the remaining 44 peaks to be as hard? Enjoyable write up Becca.


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