School holidays were on, Jess had two weeks off school and seemed keen enough to spend a chunk of precious time with me, in the bush. We were hoping to check out Mounts Braddon, Legge and King in the southwest but the weather was looking horrendous everywhere, especially the further west you went. So we compromised. Another car camping trip where we would go wherever the weather was best!
Our plans were last minute and designed to be adaptable. We set off early on Thursday having settled on climbing Mountain Elephant and Byatts Razorback at only 10pm the night before. We were then set to drive to Cradle Mountain where some of Jess’ colleagues were staying and were happy enough to have us crash with them for two nights. It was ambitious, but the weather was fine, the company perfect and we found a much better route up Mt Elephant than the last time I went, saving 2.5 hours on our expected walk time and avoiding a whole heap of cutting grass! The sun was out, the breeze light, the world was good.
Byatts Razorback shocked us though, as we’d been unaware of the impact of the fires a year or so back and the whole area was burnt out. The only things that weren’t black and dead were a few new shoots on gum trees and the odd weeds growing out of otherwise sterilised ground. The walk, only a few hundred metres to the summit, took longer than in probably should have as we were being a little careful not to slice ourselves open on sharp burnt scrub or otherwise end up completely covered in charcoal. The only bit of green scrub was right near the summit. It was a completely different kind of walk to the first time I’d done it, reminding me of a back drop of an evil scene out of something like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
That night we caught up with Jess’ friends and their kids, arriving right on cue at dinner time! We shared pasta, played board games and had a genuinely fun time in each others company, thanks to their enormous generosity in letting us crash with them!
For day two Jess had the choice between Mount Cattley or Mount Stormont for her 200th peak. She chose the former, which looked like it had a road that might get us to within 2 km of the summit. This wasn’t entirely accurate, however! We turned off the highway and the road quickly became an overgrown tunnel that put new scratches down the sides of the car and cleaned the undercarriage all at the same time. When we got to where it crossed a river we were dismayed to see that the bridge had fallen in. The car wasn’t going any further!
We almost started to walk across a very wet and slippery looking log that reached across to the other side when we realised that we’d been so preoccupied by the collapsed bridge that we hadn’t realised that the scrub on the side was hiding one bit of bridge that still spanned the river and was going to be much safer and less slippery to cross. On the other side the road continued, increasingly overgrown. Celery Top pines were definitely the featured flora on this walk.
We made a mistake part way along when we decided there wasn’t much point being on the road after all, as it was more open off to the side. This was all very well until we got to the end of the open section and then spent a lot of time weaving through scrub only to eventually pop back out onto the road at a section where it was very open and easy walking! We decided we’d be following it back, thank you very much! We continued along it, grateful to be out of the scrub, until it came to its end at a clearing. But that was ok, because the terrain ahead was waist high tea tree and button grass, with the odd bit of bauera.
We headed straight up the short climb to the ridge line and then turned right to head along the top of the narrow ridge. It was a wise choice but was still certainly easier said that done in some spots. It started off open enough that you could weave your way through the scrub, sometimes in under the tree canopy, sometimes wading clear through shin deep bauera. But it seemed the closer we got the worse the ridge became. It started to break up, featuring big rocks with short, stunted, pretty solid trees growing out of the gaps. We wove from side to side in search of better going, but it wasn’t always to be found. After 4-500m of average going we broke back out and had a final ascent up button grass runs to the rocky summit. It had only taken us 3.5 hours to get there!
After some photos, much appreciation of the better than expected view and SUNSHINE(!) and a bite to eat, we set off retracing our steps. It’s fascinating how much easier it seems on the return – must be something about the uncertainty of the unknown that makes the going seem tougher and longer on the ascent. We made good time and even the worst bits didn’t seem too bad. The going was warm and at times the heat radiated up off the scrub and made us feel like we were in a tropical summer!
We got back to the clearing and then had no problems following the road all the way back to the car, arriving 7 hours after setting out. The walk, which is thought would be a few kilometres each way, was over 12! The kookaburras had laughed at our antics on the way back down and I hardly blamed them.
All up: 12.8km, 6:57hrs, 354m ascent
We were hoping Jess’ friends had got out for a walk and enjoyed the views and sunshine in the good weather. They had indeed and had even seen close to 40 wombats! We shared another enjoyable evening chatting and eating a communal dinner, and after the kids had gone to bed we even did some craft as it was one kids 11th birthday the next day and we thought it would be fun to celebrate it. Those birthday celebrations included a breakfast of egg and bacon muffins, a sure upgrade from porridge! And then it came time to head off in our separate directions. They were heading to Derby, while we were heading into the rain of the west coast.
It was forecast to be pretty much 100% rain for days three and four, so we had a walking hiatus and decided instead to visit the Cradle Mountain wilderness gallery and then the Zeehan museum. Our legs and stiff bodies needed a rest in any case! That took all day and even then there was more information that we could process. A suggestion from a friend and a few messages then had accommodation sorted for us at Fraser Creek Hut, a place we’d both heard about but hadn’t been. It’s a short 4km ish walk up a steepish hill around the northern side of Mt Dundas, in some beautiful forest. The hut is maintained by former ranger Terry Reid, who happened to be heading up the same time we were. It was lovely to walk in to a freshly lit fire and have someone give us a tour on how everything worked with all the extra added bonuses that come with knowing the land like the back of one’s hand.
The highlight by far that night was going to see glow worms!!! A short walk from the hut, Terry told us to duck under a branch and we found ourselves standing in a crevasse between two rocky walls. When we turned our head torches off the sides shone with little blue glow worm ‘stars’! It’s the first time I’d seen them in the wild and it was just wonderful!!! You can probably imagine all our exclamations and laughter. We eventually dragged ourselves away and back to the warmth of the hut, where we watched a very cute swamp rat feeding politely on a small pile of muesli that Terry had put out for him. Eventually we called it a night and it didn’t take long to fall asleep to the sound of rain on the roof.
The rain had really set in overnight, as had daylight savings, not that it meant much to any of us except perhaps Terry, who had the radio on. We had a day of R&R planned, which didn’t need an accurate time at all. Just a good book, plenty of food, and the odd bit of chatter.
As it turned out, we spent our day of rest doing all sorts of unexpected but fun things. We chatted a LOT, screwed some castor wheels onto a steel Ventura box so it was easier to move around, helped cart backpacks of wood to the hut and learnt about the firewood rotation system in place, checked out some massive and old king billies and a few baby ones that are undergoing an experiment to see if they can be propagated from cuttings, learnt how to split wood to make palings with a froe, saw a ring tail possum drae, learnt how to tell the difference between plum and native laurel from their leaves, stoked the fire lots, ate yummy food and chocolate, listened to the local radio station, and eventually drifted to bed. It was a day of sharing, listening, learning and giving back a little. All the while the rain kept falling with a gentle pitter patter on the roof and the river raced by the front of the hut, the fire crackled and sparked, together making a comforting background noise that came to the forefront when the radio was turned off at night and our voices fell silent.
On day five we woke to the sound of the radio and Terry busying himself with breakfast, and one by one joined him at the table for our last meal together. And then it was time to say our goodbyes and slide our way down the mountain. The rain had stopped, but our gear was still a little wet and there was plenty of water on the track and falling from the trees that we didn’t dry out at all. We were back at the car in a little over an hour and made our way north to Parsons Hood.
This was a mountain that had long been in my too hard basket. My first experience was of being told our numberplate had been recorded and if we were found trespassing on the mining site we’d be in trouble. And so naturally I’d ignored it for a long time. But about a month ago word from a fellow bushwalker who also worked on the mines was that it was the perfect time to go for a walk as the current company leasing the site wasn’t active (and sounded like it had bigger problems to deal with!) but that there was a chance someone else might come along and start things up in a month or so. That got our attention at the time and it bumped Parsons Hood up the list a long way – almost to the top!
Today was the perfect day for it too, or so we thought. Light drizzle in the morning and then a clearer afternoon, with a mountain where it wouldn’t matter whether or not it was still cloudy when you were on the top because there weren’t views anyway. We started walking just before midday and were a good deal higher up when we got to the end of the mining road a bit more than an hour later. We’d found an abandoned mining hut on the way up, which was well built but revealed that miners these days don’t live in much more comfortable style than they did decades ago!
We still had a kilometre to go to the summit, off track. It seemed to have stopped raining by this point but it was hard to tell because we were already soaked and we kept brushing against wet forest or bumping into saplings that would shower us in fresh, large water drops. Everything squealched. Jess reckoned she’s still be dreaming of squealching sounds that night!
We hit a hundred meters of horizontal very early on but after that managed to stay in the less climb stuff. A fair bit of ferny stuff, plenty of fallen and rotten tree trunks, myrtles, native laurel, leatherwood, sassafras (which was even in flower)… everything covered in lush, wet moss..probably plenty of others too if you did a better job of noticing than I did! We plodded, sunk and slipped our way up, slowly, playing a game of ‘is it solid or is it rotten’ each time we went to step on a tree or branch. I reckon it was about 50-50!
On top we found the small pile of rocks marking the summit in amongst slightly denser scrub, which even included some tall scoparia! It was cold, so we put on warm gear, ate a hurried lunch and set off back down. We found a better route down that avoided the horizontal and cut off some of the road walk too. We talked a lot about the warm dry clothes that awaited us and getting to the Waratah campground where there was hot water. That probably illustrates best how we were feeling… I certainly felt like I’d gone swimming fully clothed!
Back at the car, warm clothes on, Jess decided to see if attaching her gaiters to her roof racks would dry them out a bit on the drive to Waratah. I reckon it did but probably wasn’t as noticeable as it should have been given we drove through a bit of a rain shower just before we arrived! It was crazy how light it still was at 6:30 (we’d kind of missed it on the Sunday being in the forest), so we hung our wet stuff up to dry a little, cooked dinner, I had a wash (Indonesian ‘mandi’ style) with the hot water (so nice), and checked out some info on Mount Dundas (our selected mountain for the brilliant weather we were promised the next day). We called it a night and went to bed under a sky full of stars, with the frogs croaking away in the distance.
All up: 12.6km, 5:26hrs, 818m ascent.
Day six dawned clear and sunny, though the night had been cold and some of the gear we’d hung out to dry had frozen stiff! We took our time packing and sorting, in no rush to start walking before the sun had had time to dry of some of the forest we’d be walking through. And so it was 11:30 by the time we were ready to start walking up Mount Dundas.
The walk was accessed exactly as described in the Abels although the turn off to Howards road was a few extra kilometres further according to our odometer (not the 7.5km mentioned in the book). We had high hopes that finally we had a day and a walk that should have us staying dry and warm. Things departed from that plan almost before we’d even started walking. From the carpark, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, we walked across the bridge and turned left to cross the next river, finding it in spare thanks to the rain and snow over the weekend. Jess got a couple of boot fills of water, which was the end of her dry feet. I managed to keep the water out the top of mine, but they must have sprung a leak near the toes because the longer I was in the water the damper I could feel my socks getting. We looked on the bright side and figured things could only get better.
Not exactly so! The first part of the walk is on an old bulldozer track and while bits are open, it becomes increasingly less bulldozerish and more like an overgrown walking track. In addition, it’s pretty steep and slippery, but also has a number of flatter bits that were very boggy. None where the mud quite got over the tops of our boots, but they got close! This might be different in summer, but for us it meant poor Jess (who was leading) was drenched through and through again and we were having a repeat of the squealching thing from the day before. While it was a clear day, it was also pretty cold, enough that our arms felt like they’d been in a freezer due to their constant contact with wet scrub.
Everything did, however, change for the better when we left the dozer track and started on the walking track, which started off meandering through beautiful open myrtle forest. As we climbed the height of the vegetation shrunk and the variety increased, to the point Jess reckoned she’d seen pretty much every type of plant she knew the name for except perhaps one.
We enjoyed the twisting and turning walk through the delightful flora, although were definitely slowing down and feeling tired by this stage. When we hit the snow line the temperature dropped, although we were getting more sun which helped to counter it. A bit of open walking where the track was braided, and then we were briefly back in the lovely and varied scrub, before popping out for a rock scramble to the summit.
The going was a tad slower than normal, not just because of the fatigue, but also because there was enough snow on the rocks to make them slippery. And then there was the views to consider – pretty spectacular, although we were trying to wait to the summit to enjoy them in full! And sure enough we made it, tired but pretty happy, if still a bit wet. Boy was the view worth it!! You could see mountains all around, every one of the 360 degrees.
Jess remarked that it had been a while since she’d been able to sit and enjoy a summit like this and I also struggled to think of the last time. So we sat and ate, took some photos and tried to keep warm. The sun WAS out, but so too was a slight breeze which had a nasty bite to it, so much so it eventually drove us from the summit with numb fingers and toes.
We made much better time on the way down and even found a log over the river which allowed us to cross without rewetting our feet. It did involve Jess learning a new skill – the straddling bum shuffle. It’s most useful for crossing logs that are too narrow or wet to walk across, and involves straddling the log and using your hands to inch yourself along, much like you do when using a gymnastic ‘horse’. It looks a bit funny, but it keeps your feet dry!
All up: 11.6km, 5:51, 941m ascent
We found ourselves in Strahan that night, Jess generously using part of her Tasmanian government travel voucher to book accomodation – what luxury to have a proper shower and bed! The main reason was so we could collect a key from the PWS office at 8:10am, that would allow us to access the McCall road. We did all that, got the car clean enough to eventually pass muster and made our way to Queenstown and then south past Mount Jukes, taking longer than expected to get to the locked gate.
The guy from PWS had been spot on the money when he said the road was great till the last apiary site, then it became a 4WD road. It certainly put Jess and her Honda CRV through the test and there were times it was safer to drive in the bush on the side of the road than risk bottoming out. It made for very slow going and so it was 11am by the time we were ready to start walking up Mount McCutcheon.
And wasn’t that fun?! It was even more horribly green and tangly and HIGH than it had looked on the satellite imagery and so the mere 350m of horizontal distance and less than 100m of ascent made for a 2 hour round trip, where the GPS reckoned we actually walked 1.3km! That meant we weren’t going to get to McCall, even though it looked wonderfully open and, more to the point, the road ahead looked to be in much better condition than what we’d already driven through.
But we had dinner booked in for 6pm in Hobart and we still had to get the key back to the PWS house in Queenstown, refuel and drive all the way back south. We got to Queenstown by 2:30pm and made it to dinner with 5 minutes to spare but no time for a shower or change of clothes!
All up: 1.3km, 2:05hrs, 113m ascent