This weekend had been set aside a month or two ago, when Jess and I went through all the dates between then and the end of the year and discovered that this was the only weekend we both had free. So ‘walk Jess’ went into my phone calendar, on the understanding that we’d decide where to go when we knew how the weather was looking.
Unfortunately, the last few weeks or so have been more unsettled than not, and the two options we had been looking at were called off due to rain and the chance of a flooded river, and the exorbitant Lake St Claire Ferry cost for only the two of us. So the west coast it would be, which would give more flexibility to alter things if the weather hit hard.
I was a little disappointed, and a bit worried. As always, when walking with someone other than myself I like things to go as planned, but this was clearly quite different from the envisioned 3 day walk with possible high camps, and in my eyes, not quite ‘as good’. I hoped Jess wouldn’t be disappointed, and that the weather wouldn’t be too miserable. One can get pretty sick of climbing mountains in the rain and mist as they all look much the same, and the views are a big part of the elation gained from bushwalking.
But there wasn’t much to be done, so after the usual Friday night/Saturday morning shift I raced home, showered, and jumped in the car when Jess pulled up. I was most grateful she was driving, because as much as I tried, I had difficulty keeping my eyes open. I certainly didn’t provide any scintillating conversation :(.
We did watch the blue sky and sun out the window, wondering when it would change. And though it became cloudier as we drove past Lake St Claire, it still didn’t look threatening, despite the forecast. On we drove, deciding as we got closer to start at the top and work our way back down. That meant we were headed for Mts Charter and Cripps first off.
I knew nothing about them, just that they were there, and had been assigned one point each on the peak baggers list. And this, I suppose, is the good thing about peak bagging.. you get to go places you never would have considered. Sometimes that’s not so fun, but often there’s little surprises to delight in, and there’s always an element of mystery and adventure (which gets me excited).
After a very patient drive through the never ending roadworks (which appear to have been started with more gusto than was sustainable) we pulled over opposite a road we figured would take us close enough to the summit, and next to a road roller machine thingy, which happened to have the window on the door down (more on that later!).
We geared up and set off, along the road. I didn’t expect it to go all the way, but hoped it might go further than the maps on my GPS suggested, as the scrub looked a little annoying. As luck would have it, it did. Then it was just a matter of choosing between forks and taking our chances! When we started to veer a little too far left of the summit, we back tracked a little, then hit the green stuff. Up here though, it was much nicer, and we found ourselves walking primarily through open forest.
It wasn’t long (30 minutes after having started out) before we found ourselves before a rock that stood slightly higher than the rest, with a small rock sitting on top, looking a somewhat sorry excuse for a summit. Jess wandered over to the ‘side’ and declared that there was absolutely nothing to be seen. So we didn’t stick around. To mix things up a bit though, we decided to follow some fairly fresh pink tape that we’d come across (it seemed to head in roughly the right direction) and see where it’d take us.
It took us on a nice route back down, till we hit road, which happened to be the right part of a fork in the road where we’d chosen the left option on the way up. All good, we trotted back, on the way checking out a little frog who tried to play dead!
Back at the car Jess’ attention turned to the roller with its open window, and I smiled, I knew exactly what was going to happen! Sure enough, with some interesting manoeuvring and a few funny looks from people driving by, it wasn’t long before Jess was sitting in the driver’s seat, dangling keys, a cheeky grin on her face (ok, admittedly the keys were her own car keys, but still!). So we had a play, and lots of laughs, before locking up behind us.
As we drove further north to check out Mt Cripps, every time we passed a machine, both our heads would turn sideways as we checked for open windows. We joked that the peak bagging might just turn into machine bagging ;)! After a slight issue with the GPS suggesting we could turn onto a road that would actually have involved driving off the side of the bridge we were on and dropping onto the road below, we found our way onto the road which would take us to Cripps.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, there was a gate very early on, which meant we’d have a longish road walk ahead. But we had time, and so Jess parked off to the side and we set off. Early on we passed a plant which the local caving club had put stakes around with signs to say it was a rare plant that was growing prostrate rather than up, as it should. Interesting, not only for that but for the natural assumption that there must be caves in the area.
On we walked, turning south onto the straightest gravel road you’ve ever seen. 1.6km along we searched around for what my GPS suggested was a track of sorts that would take us to the summit. We should have ignored the GPS and walked another 200 m, where we’d have seen a tree with pink tape around it on the far side of the road, with a cairn and more tape on the near side. But we didn’t, because as with Charter, I had no info whatsoever on this one, and wasn’t expecting a taped route at all.
Figuring the track I had on my GPS was a very overgrown road, we wove through a little bit of cutting grass, then walked through open forest, trying to keep roughly on where the track was ‘supposed’ to be. In this fashion we walked straight into bright pink tapes, and figured it couldn’t hurt to follow them, as they were heading in the right direction anyway. It didn’t take long to realise that the tapes and what had become a worn pad, were a definite route up. Brilliant!
We quickly popped out of the cutting grass and scrub and onto open button grass. I couldn’t help but be excited! As difficult as it can be to walk through, especially when tired, I do love button grass plains and ridges and the rocks that usually decorate them. Today was no exception. The hazy sky had mountain ranges in shades of blue, which just added to the beauty. The fact that I had thought this might be just like Charter, and that it clearly wasn’t, made me all the more appreciative.
We climbed, occasionally stumbling as we slipped off clumps of grass (or fell into holes), releasing delicious wafts when we brushed past the newly flowering lemon scented boronia (love that stuff and its association with walking). One, then two, wedgies appeared, circling misty blue layers without apparent effort. We both reckoned it wouldn’t be too bad to be reincarnated as wedgies one day. A little whip snake was sunning itself, and a green butterfly danced amongst the alpine flowers, successfully defying my efforts to take a photo.
We scrambled up the small rocky summit, Jess making an acquaintance with the resident ladybird, then decided we better walk the short distance across the top to the actual trig. Really it just gave us all the more time to check out the mountains, including Barn and the very tip of Cradle! Certainly hadn’t expected the view we got!!
Though it wasn’t too late, the light was changing, and it looked like we might finally get some of the rain that had been forecasted for that morning, so we turned and headed back, managing to do a good job of getting ‘drunk’ on the button grass. Back at the car in perfect time to have a chat to an older couple heading in for some caving (pity they hadn’t been earlier, they had a key to the gate and we could have done with the ride!), get changed, and get in before the rain started.
We decided to check out Trial Harbour for camping, figuring it was close enough to Agnew, which we’d hopefully climb the following day. Jokes were made about our perfect timing (the rain would stop just before we arrived and were ready to set up camp) and our (perhaps good rather than bad) luck at having been stuck behind a super slow caravan on the drive up! More jokes as we drove in, at a sign that asked us to crawl through the town for the sake of kids playing on the road.
Tent up, a short wander for some photos, dinner, teeth and into our sleeping bags with a book each. I don’t think I got much past 3 pages before I couldn’t keep my eyes open! A solid night’s sleeping to the sound of the ocean, a fittingly relaxed start, breakfast bar (someone else who takes the easy no fuss option!), and we were off.
We’d spotted what had to be the start of the walk up Agnew on the drive in the day before. I hadn’t been sure there was an actual track, but a cairn with the top rock painted red suggested there was, as did subsequent sightings of pink tape. Great, we could relax a little!
The cloud was low, swirling around the summit of Agnew, but that didn’t matter so much. The track started off as a road walk, and then turned into a (very well, perhaps excessively) taped track, perhaps better described as obstacle course in parts! Later we would identify different sections as different bits of outdoor gym equipment, requiring ‘users’ to do hurdles, or weight lifting or gymnastics.
For me, the walk grew on me more and more as we gained height. The forest was really quite nice, the track good, and there were plenty of creatures, plants and fungi to stop and examine. When we hit the ridge we needed to hit, we had a brief glimpse of our summit, before dropping back into the green (complete with Jess’ favourite – cutting grass). But it wasn’t long before we were back out on the final climb, and now that we had rock and views, we slowed right down!
It was nice to be able to share the revealing of the ‘world’ with someone who took as much pleasure from it as I did, or at least that’s how I interpreted the occasional ‘Shit yeah!!’ ;)! We sat on the summit and watched the clouds start to clear, the ocean expand, the lake that has surprised both of us changing in colour as the sky changed, and picked out some mountains. We wondered at the construction between us and Mount Zeehan, then found the log book, which dates back to 1981!!
We had the usual fun reading through a few entries, finding some from a couple of friends, one of whom had written ‘best fog I’ve seen!’. There was plenty of enjoying of the sun and lunch, before we reluctantly decided we should head back down if we were going to do Heemskirk too. Entries in the log book suggested that a route from Agnew over and back was possible, but possibly a little tough on the knees. We decided to pass, and have a crack from the other side (even if that meant three summits!).
The way down was fun and fast, and we were back on the road quite quickly, spending a moment or two in surprise to find Frenchmans on the horizon! Back at the car I found a fat leech on my side, which turned a section of shirt from blue to red and ended up winning me the leech prize for the weekend (it’s still itchy Jess!!).
On to Heemskirk we drove, with another instance of the road that we hoped to turn on to not being in exactly the same place as marked on my GPS. Never mind, we found it, and decided not to test the depth of some of the larger water filled pot (or bog) holes in the car. Off we marched instead.
Heemskirk, unlike its close neighbour Agnew, is all button grass and no forest. I must admit, I do like this kind of walking as it allows for views all the way, and there’s something about the colour in particular, but also the smell and feel and relative freedom of walking this kind of terrain. I was just a bit excited :), a fine mountain it looked.
There was a low level warning in the back of my head, as I vaguely remembered something a friend had said a long way back about three summits, but figured we’d get there regardless. The road petered out, and we made a beeline for the top of the ridge immediately in front of us. Once on it, we looked over a slight dip, and another climb up to the next ‘top’. The route one would follow just looking at maps seemed ok, but we reckoned on one out to the left being even more open and easy enough, so that’s where we went.
Good news about results on the latest baking comp we’d entered finally came through, to offset the not so good news that Jess was feeling slightly off colour. She was still keen to keep on walking (I knew it’d take a lot more to have her turning around), and in very little time we were higher up where the rock started to grow, and the scrub increased. Walking with Jess, though, is like walking with another me, and there were no objections whatsoever to head for the rock over the scrub! In this manner we wove and climbed our way up, until we were on the top of yet another rise.
We looked down and across into a bowl, and spotted a trig on one of the bumps on the far side. A hawk or something was circling overhead, and we watched for a bit, summoning the mental strength for another ‘section’. Heemskirk would be pretty much perfect if the summit was where we stood, we later decided.
But it wasn’t, and now I started to get concerned about the real summit.. if there were three, we were in for a bit of a hike! Getting across the bowl was pretty easy, the first warratahs of the season providing splashes of red in a green gold sea. For the climb, Jess headed straight for rock, which turned out to be an easy way up.
Just a little scrub near the trig, and then we were there. But we spent very little time celebrating or even noticing much. Across on the horizon was another bump, with a great big cairn. It was definitely higher, and by now, I had no doubt that there was also a third summit.
This part of the walk was slightly less enjoyable. The scrub was by no means difficult, but it was a little higher, and required care to avoid the worst bits. The nature of the terrain meant it was also difficult to pick a best path as you couldn’t really see too far ahead, and had to work on little information. We didn’t do too badly though, and though it might have seemed to take a while, we did actually make ok time.
As a gift, the sun sparkled on the ocean, creating pretty patterns of light, and we spent a bit of time looking at it as we walked. A short pause when we arrived at the cairn, by which time I know I was at least in the ‘let’s just get this done’ frame of mind. And so we did. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the furthest most point was higher (my GPS confirms it actually was – 13m higher than the first, 7 higher than the second), but neither was I keen on coming back (to that particular point anyway!).
After a brief round of negotiations with a banksia tree, we both stood on the end of the range. The downside, I suppose, to having views all round on the way up a mountain, is that you don’t always get the full impact of them when standing on the summit. Or perhaps it was tiredness, slight concern for how Jess was feeling, and awareness that it was getting late (5.30). Needless to say, a few photos and we turned to go.
Jess led us back, until getting to the point it became hard to choose whether to go up, down or keep on sidling. I’ve been there many a time, and told her to have a rest while I took the lead. Once we’d made our way across the top, down into the bowl and out the other side, we took the straight down to the road option (sometimes it DOES apply!).
Walking together but separately we moved at our own pace, but never got too far from one another, as if bound by some invisible length of rope. The button grass drunkenness was back, and at one point Jess figured she’d test out how comfy it was as a seat (probably a little faster than expected!). It was my turn to get a photo of her lying there with a grin on her face, just to make up for the one of me she’d got earlier on in the day!
And then we were there, back at the end of the road. The sun started glowing in the west, under the layer of cloud that was forming on the coast and moving through overhead. We took the typical button grass silhouette shots (hard to resist, really) and plodded on.
We didn’t get far before having to rescue some tadpoles. On the way up we’d found a whole heap of them swimming in the water that had gathered in the tyre ruts on one section of the road, but one particular ‘pond’ had been very shallow, and in the time it had taken us to get to the top and back, it had dried up to wet mud and no water. The tadpoles were there, not moving, in the mud, and so we scooped them up and deposited them into the tyre ‘pond’ next door that also had some swimming in it. We hoped there was enough water to keep them going till it next rained (either over night or the following morning).
Our good deed for the day done, we got back to the car, a tad weary by now, and made for Granville this time. The drive was short, and despite the tiredness we were both pretty excited as we watched (a bit too closely – neither of us could read road signs for a bit there) a golden ball dip below the horizon. A perfect end to a pretty awesome day.
For some reason, sleep was fitful for both of us that night, though Granville was yet another nice place to stay (if you can avoid the mozzies!). The weather seemed to be holding out despite forecasts (which by now had changed considerably!), and we went with our plan to climb Lyell on the way out.
Thanks to the mining, Lyell is fairly denuded, but, as I’d found with Owen, there is still something starkly beautiful in that, and the colours and textures in the grasses and rock grew on me as we climbed. Jess’ ears were playing up, and concerns about the weather (which was a bit on and off by now) had me slightly worried and more than ready to turn back should we need to.
It’s funny how some people teach you more about yourself… and Jess is certainly one of those, given the similarities between us. I had to trust her ‘I’m fines’, interpreting them as I would my own were I in her situation, and to trust that she’d say something if she wasn’t (preferably BEFORE it was a little too late..and knowing my own tendencies, I was more concerned about this!).
But on we plodded, both with weary legs. With slightly muted enthusiasm we enjoyed the views out behind Owen and over Lake Burbury, as a change in vegetation signalled we were getting closer to the top. And then were were there. A flat expanse, ‘like a car park’, with some rocks on the fair side, sporting a small summit cairn. Jess added to it, before we ducked out of the wind to refuel, add layers, and send birthday messages.
Our expected view of the Eldon range was somewhat impeded by cloud, but I think we were both just grateful for what we did have. Getting cold, and by now probably just wanting to get back, we moved off, making much better time on the way down, despite taking care not to slip on the steep and now wet rock and grass.
Near the bottom, I gave enough of a start to have Jess wondering what was going on. I’d nearly stood on what I’d first thought must be a snake. Gold and browny-black scales were visible through the grass, and it took me a few seconds to realise it was a much friendlier blue tongue! On Jess’ questions about picking it up I reached down and did just that, childhood memories preparing me for the strength with which it would try and wriggle out of my hands.
He was a fine healthy looking fellow, who waited somewhat impatiently as Jess and I both took photos (she got a cracker of one with his brilliant blue-purple tongue fully extended). One last stroke of smooth scales, and Jess set him down. Our mood lightened by this chance encounter, we walked the short distance back through the only ‘scrub’ of the walk – a boggy reedy section in which, Jess remarked, you could hide anything (including a body, should the need arise!).
Not quite the planned 3 dayer, but a good one none the less :), with excellent companionship!
Charter: 4.2km, 1.02hrs, 202m ascent.
Cripps: 9.4km, 3.07hrs, 344m ascent.
Agnew: 5.3km, 4.29hrs (including a 40min break on top!), 661m ascent.
Heemskirk: 11.3km, 5.32hrs, 805m ascent.
Lyell: 6.0km, 3.27hrs, 710m ascent.