I don’t often sign up for club walks these days – time is precious and I still have a slight addiction with exploring new mountains, so it’s usually easier to pick and choose where I want to go next and schedule it at a time that suits. But leaders from the Hobart Walking Club sometimes put on some interesting and scrubby extended walks to mountains I have yet to visit. While they are often popular and group size perhaps a bit too bit, it’s still lovely to have someone else in charge and fellow walkers to share the scrub bashing. When I saw Mount Seal, along with surrounding mountains and features, was scheduled for a time I didn’t actually have work, I jumped at the chance (and even found myself excited by the prospect of exploring things like Christmas rock!).
Sadly a very wet forecast and reports of high water levels saw the trip cancelled, replaced with a more sedate walk to Wards Bluff. I was tempted, as it’s also on the list, but was still keen to do a longer walk seeing I had the time set aside already. I could do Wards bluff over a weekend with Tim anytime we fancied. The day before we had been scheduled to leave the forecast improved slightly (same rainy periods, but significantly less downpour). I figured I’d have a crack at Seal and Lyne, another close by mountain in the same region. Being solo would mean I could move faster and hopefully get out before the heavy rain arrived. In any case, I should have crossed the Jane River before it got any more swollen, if indeed it was low enough to cross in the first place.
As I packed I was sorely tempted to ditch the plan and go for the easy option to join HWC on Wards. Was I feeling nervous?? Why? As I chatted with Tim and he told me he wished he could come I agreed wholeheartedly, and knew that if he could I wouldn’t be having second thoughts. I tucked those feelings away to be explored later on.
It was hard to drag myself out of bed at 5:30, even though it was already light, and I was tempted to bail. But I’m a determined and pigheaded person at the best of times and so I said my goodbyes and set off early enough, arriving at the Frenchman’s Cap car park shortly before 9. I had a couple of hours of easy walking to start with so I decided to revisit my unease at heading out on a multi day solo scrub bash. I knew I could do it. I’d done it before plenty of times and if I was with anyone else or even a big group I’d have no qualms at all, and I’d still be taking all the same steps, lugging my gear just as far. Maybe I’d have people to share the bash with, but there would also be lots more waiting around. So why was I nervous?
I wondered if it came down to the fact that if I didn’t get there, there would be no excuse other than that I failed. And I don’t like to fail. Yet I’m also not as mentally tough when I’m alone and find it much easier to bail prematurely. Interestingly, I know the more I head out alone the more likely I am to not succeed for the simple fact that I’m only human and know the only guarantee I have is that I WILL make mistakes and fail to succeed on a regular basis. So why be nervous about it? Almost to the point of wanting to take the easy option…?
It was a good question and it took me back to a conversation I’d had recently with someone who wanted to send her daughter on a 3-day pack rafting trip but her daughter wouldn’t go. I could remember thinking, if only she’d just give it a crack, surely she’d love it. It was another lesson in true failure being in not actually trying all the things you’re interested in because you’re nervous about failing. I gave myself the much needed pep talk. By heading out, I had already succeeded in a large way. Now I still wasn’t guaranteed to successfully climb the mountains I wanted to, but I would learn something nonetheless (likely about myself and the walk), I would spend valuable time in the bush and I would get some exercise. I suddenly felt like I was winning.
In a few hours I arrived at my planned departure point but made a last minute decision to stay on the track a little while longer and hit the buttongrass plains a little further south. It should cut a bit of distance off without adding any extra nasty looking scrub. When I got there I rearranged some gear and started my dinner rehydrating, because I didn’t want to do this later on in the rain if it came through as expected.
The plains were relatively straightforward walking, even if there wasn’t a clear line of sight and it was impossible to marry up what the satellite imagery had to say with what I was looking at. It made for a lot of looking at my phone as I walked, not something I particularly like doing but a necessity to get the best line. Different thickness buttongrass (some horrible!) were separated by slightly thicker patches of scrub, usually coinciding with rivers. It was open enough to have views of Mt Emma, Mt Gell and of course Agamemnon and Philps. The day was overcast but muggy, and I was covered in a sheen of sweat as I stumbled along the uneven terrain. The birds kept me company, the skinks sunbathed in intermittent patches of sun and I even saw a whip snake slither away as I approached.
5.5 hours after starting out I arrived at what I’d pinned to be my first camp option. It was way too early so I figured I’d make a start on the scrub. On the one hand it was great being early, as it would make the next day a whole heap easier, but it still took me a bit of time to get my head straight for the uphill bash. It fortunately started off pretty nicely, lulling me into a false sense of security. It then turned largely horrid but occasionally manageable. I have never been a fan of the bauera, cutting grass and steep uphill combo, especially when the bauera holds you above the solid ground until it doesn’t.
Nothing lasts forever, even if it’s hard to believe and I eventually popped out onto Calder Pass. While it had a flat saddle, it was covered in thick scrub and it was still early so I figured I’d see if the top of the next hill was any better. It looked very green on imagery so I was hoping for open forest. Shortly after starting the climb I popped out onto lovely open forest and knew that I could always come back to this point if it didn’t persist. But it did and although it was still well before 6pm I decided to camp in a flat, open spot amongst the trees. The route forward was almost all downhill to Lightning Plains and I didn’t want to tempt the open forest too much. I had done enough for today.
I kicked over the dead trees nearby then pitched the tent with perfect timing, just as the rain showers started before it properly settled in. I finished dinner, sorted gear, warmed up and settled down for a night of listening to the rain and wind. Not a bad place to be. I was glad I hadn’t chickened out.
When I woke up I thought I’d jinxed myself, I really didn’t feel great. I tried breakfast but couldn’t finish it. I felt nauseous and like I just wanted to stay lying in bed. I certainly didn’t want to be pushing through scrub and if it got any worse the closer I was to the car, the better. The only problem was that if it got better, I didn’t have much time to waste. I decided to pop some pills, stay in bed and listen to an audiobook. An hour and a half later and I was still a tad shaky but feeling much better. We were still on!
I packed and followed the ridge along, keeping to the more open forest before dropping down. It was hard to stay on the ridge as it wasn’t overly obvious but I wound around and had relatively little scrub to contend with. I even came across some old red tapes and felt slightly less alone. The worst part was descending from the buttongrass covered knob on the way down to the real (not the one marked on the map) Christmas Rock. I was only stuck for a short distance, but it was a solid downhill fight for a bit. The whistlers had been replaced by Lyre birds and shrike thrushes and it was nice to hear them in the forest.
Soon enough I popped out at Christmas rock, which was pretty cool and even more appreciated because it had given me a very nice route through forest instead of nasty scrub. I came across so many nice camp spots as I moved across the plains, especially in the forest sections near some of the rivers. I was tempted but it was rather early and a bit too far from the mountains I wanted to climb.
I persevered, weaving amongst the buttongrass and tea tree, doubling my whip snake count despite the intermittent rain, hail and sleet showers. I came across more very old red tape. So old there was no way it could ever hold itself together to stay tied to anything. I marvelled at the fact I was walking exactly where others had before me. More consistently than should be the case.
After about 5.5 hours I came across a flat rockier spot amongst the plains and decided it would do. It wasn’t as far as the spot I’d intended but close enough (and better as it just so happened!). By the time I’d set up the tent and ate dinner (yes, it was closer to lunch time!) while another shower went through it was 2:30.
I’d been trying to decide if I should climb one of the mountains to make the next day a little easier and I’d pretty much decided I didn’t feel like getting wet and returning by head torch. But then the sun came out and warmed the tent up and I decided to see how I went. I chose Mt Seal, perhaps because it looked less scrubby. And to be honest, the going was pretty good. Which was just as well!
I wove across the plain, optimising the buttongrass, until I hit the Jane River. It was deeper than I had expected, but there were sturdy branches to cross on, or even a log if I could have been bothered bashing along the edge to get to it. A little more buttongrass and then the climb began. Paying close attention to the satellite imagery paid off and I had an optimised approach that allowed me to stick to open ridges and cross gullies/rivers in the best spots. That meant that I was climbing the last contour line to the summit 3hrs after leaving the tent – an unexpected surprise that meant I might just make it back before dark.
My puffing and stomping disturbed a wedgie who had been sitting on a rock and he made an effortless circle around, before hovering on the air currents some distance away. It was lovely to be able to share the summit. Despite being a relatively short distance from all the people scattered along the Frenchman’s Cap track, if felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. It’s interesting how bush, and the ease or difficulty of travel through it can make you feel so much more remote than you actually are. I was feeling the effects of being out alone and a little under the weather and so the presence of another being was pretty special.
I didn’t, and couldn’t, stay long. I took in the views, snapped a few photos of Frenchman’s looking lovely in its new dusting of snow, checked to see if there was reception (no go) and then turned around for the long trip back.
I made it before dark and just before another rain shower. I was slightly put off that it was still raining as my forecast reckoned from Thursday arvo to Saturday night I could be guaranteed to stay warm and dry. I guessed I couldn’t rely on that anymore! Once I’d warmed the tent up, timed a final pee in between drizzle, I listened to a bit of my book and then drifted off to sleep.
I slept slightly better, but woke with my period and still wasn’t that enthusiastic about breakfast. At least the morning sun was pretty as it snuck a glance down on me between the heavy cloud cover. I sorted myself out, ate half my oats and waited for it to get a little bit warmer. Eventually I felt I could face putting wet socks and boots on. It actually wasn’t too uncomfortable and I set out towards Mount Lyne.
It was quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be going anywhere fast. I felt sluggish, my tummy ached and every time I went a bit too fast I started to feel sick. It’s not the first time, and I really should be grateful I only have mild symptoms and usually only one day of it, but it can be most inconvenient. I swallowed my pride and settled into a deliberate measured pace. I had all day, and though I toyed with the idea of getting back to camp and starting part of the scrubby walk out, I doubted I’d have the energy for that. One mountain would be enough.
This one was going to be a bit lumpier than Seal. The buttongrass plains were largely the big, energy-sapping clumpy kind, the kind that make you feel like you’re wading in thigh deep water except that every time you put your foot down you’re not sure how deep it’ll go or which way your ankle will twist. After a few kilometres of wading through that stuff I arrived at the base of the undulating climb.
It was both better and worse than I’d anticipated. On the one hand, I walked onto more old taped routes through the thicker parts of scrub, although the tape was almost all on the ground so you had to know where they were or find them by chance. It made for easier than expected walking. On the other, the bits that looked like nice open alpine scrub were much lumpier and harder to wade through than I expected and I found myself having to stop, catch my breath and settle my aching tummy more frequently than I’ve ever had to do (sometimes every dozen or so metres!).
Aside from the red and blue mystery tapers, I was also most grateful to the wombats. They seem to like climbing mountains too, and walking along the middle of ridges when doing so. Their pads, marked by frequent scat deposits, made for much easier going in many spots. While I didn’t see any in person I did pant out a thank you on more than one occasion.
As I trudged, paused, trudged and paused some more up the final few hundred metres of climb the rain approached. There hadn’t been any forecast for Friday when I left, but things must have changed. I made it to the top as the drizzle hit, stealing the views I’d hoped to indulge in. I sat for a bit while I sent a few messages, then heavier rain had me putting on a few extra layers and making a slow retreat back down. The showers came intermittently, frequently enough to soak the scrub anew for my passing.
By the time I got back to the tent, just as another shower started, I was quick to decide to scratch the thought of walking for a few more hours. I really just didn’t feel like it. Instead I listened to the birds, half dried clothes when the sun came out, worked patiently on getting food into my stomach, and otherwise curled up and listened to my audiobook. It felt so good to be able to just rest and I wondered if I’d been pushing myself a bit too hard (again!).
A couple of Panadol and I had the best sleep, waking at dawn and feeling like my normal self, if a little bruised and achy from all the walking. I took my time as I ate and dressed, hoping the sun would burn off a bit of the low cloud and warm the day before I put wet boots back on. It did just that and quickly made it clear the day would be a warm one. I was glad I’d be off the plains for the hottest part of the day.
I spent the day retracing steps. I had my gps to help, but because of the margin of error in it I relied heavily on all the other traces I’d left behind. Squashed buttongrass, broken bauera and tea tree, swept aside cutting grass, foot prints in mud or scuffs on the forest floor. All were signs that told me I was on the right path. It took a lot of concentration, but I preferred it to trying to stay out of the scrub and it was much faster retracing a bash through scrub than starting a whole new one.
My stomach was back to normal, grumbling about being hungry, so it got fed all the snacks it hadn’t been interested in previously. Towards the end of the day my legs got tired, my feet ached and my knees were scratched raw, curtesy of the scrub ripping holes in both knees earlier in the day. The track was a welcome sight!
I contemplated walking the whole way out, and while I’d have made it before dark it wouldn’t have been very enjoyable and I would then have been tempted to drive home, probably not a smart move. So I took Tim’s advice to take my time and enjoy. I set up camp at the Loddon River and went for a much needed wash, hobbling on my pasty white, thoroughly sodden soles. The numbing cold soothed my feet although my knees were too sore to fully scrub clean but I felt wonderful anyway. I listened to the birds and crickets as I waited for the sun to set and sleep to take me someplace else. I reflected that the trip would have been an appropriate club walk – an interesting place not many would attempt by themselves, but relatively kind despite being largely off track and lots of interesting other features to explore!
I woke refreshed, slightly achy, and decided against putting on my manky pants, shirt and bra. For the first time ever I’d walk in my camp clothes – it was only 6 or so kilometres. I forgot about the small hill in the middle, and got rather warm in the thermals, but the fresh sweat still felt cleaner than my grimy clothes would have been! At the log in station I found a little note from a work colleague who had recently semi-retired but who was another keen bush walker and it made me smile at how close paths can come to crossing without even realising it!
While it had started out sunny and warm the clouds quickly rolled in and I was grateful I’d started well early of the forecasted rain when the first drops arrived several hours early, just as I strode into the car park. I found posies of native flowers under my wipers and tucked in the door handles left, I could only imagine, by Em, who had been in when I’d started my walk and come out a few days earlier! It made me smile. I changed, headed for an egg and bacon roll at the hungry wombat and picked up a hitch hiker from Brisbane who had just finished a solo adventure through the Traveller Range and Pine valley, who hadn’t realised no busses ran on a Sunday. As I dropped him off in town I discovered he’d used this very blog in some of his planning. It was very cool to meet him in person and listen to some of his experiences walking solo and off track in Tassie!
All up: 68.2km
Day 1 (carpark to ridge above Calder Pass): 19.3km, 8:45hrs, 910m ascent
Day 2 (Calder Pass to Lightning Plain including side trip to Mt Seal): 25.1km, 12:38hrs, 868m ascent
Day 3 (Mt Lyne day trip from Lightning Plain): 13.2km, 8:02hrs, 890m ascent
Day 4 (Lightning Plain to Loddon River): 21.7km, 11:38hrs, 757m ascent
Day 5 (Loddon River to carpark): 6.7km, 1:47hrs, 316m ascent.
10 Replies to “Mount Lyne and Seal: 7-11 December 2022”
HI. I tried to comment, but it wouldn’t let me. Well done on doing such a tough trip solo!!! Great write-up. Cheers, Louise
Dr Louise Fairfax Blog http://natureloverswalks.blogspot.com.au/ http://natureloverswalks.blogspot.com.au/ Instagram: @natureloverswalks
Hi Bec! I had heard you had been on this trip but didn’t realise that you went on your own. That was an incredible effort. Those big days would have been tough enough on their own but carrying on considering you didn’t feel well is epic. You’re made of pretty sturdy stuff. A friend of mine and I tried to get out to Lyne as a day trip a few years back. We camped just off Philps and endeavoured to do it as a day trip following the ridge out. Some of the thickest scrub I’ve been in. We didn’t make it.
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Oh yikes!! I did look at that as a possible route in but worried the higher scrub may be nastier and I also wasn’t sure how steep the drop off Philps would be. The route I ended up on was much better than I expected, or I’m sure I’d have bailed too!!!
Hi Becca – I was pleased to see your name in the log in book – as you say so near yet so far. I was looking forward to reading your write up. A great account of pretty tough country. I only got as far as Vera – I hurt my ankle at the end of the Heysen Trail and thought I’d test it out to see how far I could go – not very as it turned out. A few more months of resting it up is required. I hope you’re well. Alex
Oh no! I did see you’d spent two nights there and wondered if you’d used the days to go exploring. I’m sorry to hear that it was injury related instead. Did you know the new acronym for managing soft-tissue injuries is PEACE and LOVE instead of RICER? Look it up, makes me laugh but there’s some interesting things in there about less rest and more movement… hope it heals fast and fully for you. I am really well, with a summer of walking ahead :D!
Congratulations Becca on overcoming your doubts and powering through regardless. Those were big distances considering the terrain, the ascents and feeling unwell. The state of your pants prove that! Thanks for the write-up and the photos that enliven it. Iconic images from that part of the world. The “evening light from base of Mt Seal” and the “Good Morning” are real prize winners.
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Thank you!!! 😊
Brilliant and well done on the wintery solo visit (in Lightning time too). Loved the photos and description. Thanks for taking more photos of the Christmas Rock (it is one of 3 contenders but probably best fit description for Calder’s rock)
Thank you, and thank you for sending all the fascinating information through prior to the trip! I’m sure I’ll get back out that way for more of an explore at some point.