Well, it’s been a while! In that time I’ve completed honours, finished my internship, secured a permanent job, and got to play the current (and very long reigning) royal tennis ladies world champion! But enough, you’re here to read about walking (I assume!).
The Prince of Wales range was off for the second year in a row. The fires across Tassie meant Gordon River Road was closed, and though it reopened a day or two before we were due to leave, we then had the opposite problem of heavy rain! We were already on Plan b, which we delayed for 4 days, coming up with a fairly flexible Plan c.
The walk was chosen because it was sufficiently long, sufficiently challenging and remote enough to be off track but still within less than a day’s walk to the road if we needed to get out. It was also one of the few ranges we had left to check out. A FB message to a veteran bushwalker who I’d first met here led to an invitation for a chat, and that meant we had some fairly solid intel (if a little dated), a few route suggestions we’d never have come up with and a warning or two about the scrub!
We set off on a rainy day, hoping we’d cop the worst of it in the car. We certainly did, although the frequent but short lived squalls of rain and at times hail were to be a feature of our first few days walking too. After more than 7 hours in the car, we arrived at the 4WD track to Hazelton. There is a sign that prohibits motorbikes or dirt bikes, and perhaps also 4WDs but that’s not certain, the little icon has been ripped off. There’s nothing to say where the track leads, however!
We were so excited to actually be out walking that we raced along so fast we all walked straight past our turnoff a few kilometres after starting. We only realised when the track we were on petered out to something much less substantial. We briefly considered cutting across to meet the track we were meant to be on, but quickly realised the road was a better option. It didn’t take us long to find a camp spot near the Daisy River, at the foot of the climb up Hazelton, only a few hours after having started out. We chose a sheltered spot amongst the mud walled castles the yabbies had chose to build atop their holes, almost as if it was a symbol of status to have the tallest, most impressive looking one. Unfortunately the rain wasn’t going to wait for us, and we pitched our tents under yet another wind driven shower, full rainbow in the background as if to make it a little more cheery. We didn’t get back out until a break in the rain around midnight allowed us to relieve our bladders while staying dry. The rain and hail continued throughout the night, along with some distant thunder.
We were pleasantly surprised to wake to some blue sky and even a bit of sun. We set off shortly after 8, Graham seeking recognition for only being 10 minutes late ;)! The first part of the day was to be done with day packs, for which I was grateful. The climb up Hazelton was steep enough that I was surprised the 4WDs had made it up as far as they had. We puffed our way up, soon warm in our rain jackets that were on more for the wind than anything else, although partly in anticipation of inevitable rain.
Eventually the double track became a walking pad, and a short climb later we found ourselves in the forest. There was indeed quite a nice camp spot, as recommended in Tarkine Trails. The only downside to it was the distance you’d have to lug full packs and water. We continued on, popping out of the forest and taking a very short walk to the summit of Hazelton. It was marked by an impressive cairn, and would have been much more enjoyable if the wind wasn’t so vicious and the latest squall of rain approaching rapidly (we got about 30 seconds warning each time).
It was 9:30, and we had a long chat about whether it was feasible to walk out to Lily and back, and then all the way along the plains with our full packs to the foot of West Bluff. We ended up deciding to give it a crack. That meant we had roughly an hour to get to Woody Peak and another hour to get to Lily. We got to the start of the scrub on Woody peak (aptly named!) after 30 minutes, feeling pretty good. We then decided to head to the top of the scrub free zone, then contour round the peak in the scrub, heading down as and when needed. As it so happened this cost us 30 minutes of tangling through bauera then horizontal rubbish, until we headed directly for the ridge line, where we found an old cut track! Well didn’t that make for much easier going!! From there it took something like 45 minutes return to Lily!
On the return we stopped for lunch just shy of the summit of Woody peak, where the cut track just ran out. Though we looked around for a bit, we ended up going for a scrub bash straight down to our other track, intersecting close to where the scrub had started. Even though it was downhill, the bauera was foul and you were often a few feet above the ground (before you fell through!). We reasoned that the track was old enough that it had been put in before the bauera had grown up, so while we had lots of scrub to get through, those that had cut the track probably had done so to the end of the scrub. We trudged back up Hazelton, pack covers cracking in the wind like freshly washed sheets.
We made it back to our tents at 3pm sharp, right on our estimated limit. We got to pack up in sun, and set off on the long trudge through open buttongrassy plains to the foot of West Bluff. Horizontal, wind-driven rain blinded us shortly after starting out, forcing us to stop and stand, backs to the wind as we literally couldn’t see where we were going. 10 minutes later we were drenched, but in the sun again. It wasn’t tough going, but it was a long way. There were an increasing number of creeks to cross, and John managed to fall in one. Graham did an exceptional job navigating, and we made good progress even through the scrubby creeks, until we got to the biggest river we had to cross all trip. It involved a 40m steep and scrubby drop and climb back up through horrible green stuff. It took it out of us so late in the day and we ended up stopping a bit short of our intended goal at the foot of West Bluff so we could set up tents in the light. Once again rain had us cooking in our respective tents.
We woke, sluggishly, to a claggy day. The first question was from John, something along the lines of what do we want to do?! He’d developed some blisters from his old shoes, selected for this walk specifically to avoid that (not happy), and Graham had a sore back and knee. I wasn’t faring too badly, except a tad tired. The fatigue was prevalent, secondary only to a distinct reluctance to get out and wet with no views for reward, and we decided to stay in our tents, ditch the walk up West Bluff and Mabel, and just do the short distance from where we were camped to the foot of Norfolk. We spent the morning dozing on and off instead, listening to the gentle drizzle of rain as it came and went. Gone was the heavy wind driven explosive bouts of rain and hail of the last two days, but with the gentle drizzle came mist and a generally much more subdued mood.
We ate an early lunch and set off shortly after 1pm. The next three hours were a very cruisey wander through ankle to knee high buttongrassy, heathy low lying stuff typical of the north west, with the odd creek to cross. Fortunately none were of the magnitude of yesterday! The raincoats went on and off more than ever for such a short walk. The wildlife was just as elusive as the last two days, and we only saw the odd ground parrot, flushed out from their cover when we walked too close for their comfort. The tally for the last two days was something like a few more ground parrots, rosellas, a yabbie, a whistler (by sound only), a kangaroo and some kind of bird of prey. Others for the trip would include wedgies, a whip snake, frogs, cicadas, crickets and shrike thrushes. On our arrival at the river next to Mount Norfolk, we spent 5 or so minutes flattening our knee high scrub in order to set up tents, and ended up with something that gave us a very comfortable night’s sleep! We then had a lovely entree of biscuits, brie and port while we rejigged our plans to ensure we could still have a crack at all the mountains we wanted to climb. This was our kind of glamping ;)! We rejoiced at a brief ray of sun, hoping the fine weather would come in time for tomorrow, and then prepared for an early dinner and even more sleeping.
Today was the day. Well, it was just another day, but it was the day we would set out to climb the mountain after which the Norfolk range was named, along with Helen Peak. When Chris was answering all my questions he told me whatever I did, I wasn’t to come back and say Helen was easy. So while this would be one of the shortest (distance-wise) days of our trip, it was bound to be a big one.
We were up and ready to go at 8. There had been a bit of rain overnight so the scrub was nicely damp, but the weather was looking like it might behave. The grey clouds were still hanging around, but there were lighter patches, and even the odd blue bit. We set off and found an easy way across the river. Graham and John had thrown a few extra rocks in the night before to build up a preexisting ford, and the scrub wasn’t thick on the far side. Then it was up and up. We made excellent progress and looked to well and truely be on top in the time we’d set.
Then John asked for a break at the top of the next rise… We never got there. We hit scrub thick enough you couldn’t tell where it was. We floundered for a bit, then hit some slightly more open forest on the right hand side of the ridge we were on, right between it and top/left hand side of the ridge, which seemed to be pretty thick bauera and cutting grass and other horrid green stuff. We headed upwards in that fashion until our lead ran out, and once again we were having a bash.
We confused ourselves with grid references that didn’t make sense until later, when we realised we’d headed up a different ridge to the one we thought we were. But that didn’t change the scrub. We were glad to pop out into waist high tea tree and at least get a sense of where we were. We found the summit by gps, or at least the scrubby patch that marked it. The bigger highlight was heading for the trig point and actually being able to see part of a view! Even better we had unexpected phone reception, and we sent a few quick messages.
Given the time it had taken to get through the unexpected scrub to the summit, we weren’t sure we’d have the time to get to Helen and back. Chris might have mentioned scrub that was best tackled walking backwards, and some of the worst bauera you can imagine. We’d already seen a bit of that, and weren’t keen for any more than necessary. While Graham was doing last minute stuff on his phone and John was taking a photo of the trig, I went to scout ahead. We’d already agreed we’d walk ‘to the edge’ and see what the terrain looked like. You can imagine my surprise and glee, then, when I walked straight onto a cut track. It was the thing of dreams. An hour later we were standing gleefully on Helen, feeling like we owed someone lots of beer. It was as easy going as you could possibly have had!! The sun came out to celebrate with us, so we hung out all our wet gear while we ate lunch and felt pretty lucky for having such good fortune.
We were tempted on our return to use the ridge we had meant to climb up, but such is the top of Norfolk that it’s not actually possible to walk to the edge and see said ridge. We had to choose then between the devil we knew (and already had a bashed track up) and the chance of an easier route down. We wimped out and went with retracing our steps. When we finally pushed out of the last bit of scrub we enjoyed every moment of the dry, sunny walk down the open ridge. The crickets were out, the sun shone so brightly it hurt to look out to sea where the sun reflected silver off the water, and for the first time the scrub crunched instead of squealched underfoot. It finally felt like summer!!
Back at the tents by 6:30 and we celebrated with another round of brie and biscuits, accompanied by soup instead of port (there was none of that left ;)! ). While we ate we cemented our plans for the next day’s walking. We were slightly off course from our original plans due to us scratching West Bluff and Mabel on day 3, so we were trying to fit them in slightly differently. Only tomorrow would tell if we had got it right, or been way too ambitious!
We woke to the sound of our alarms, tiredly so given all of us had spent some time during the night listening to the wind roar around us, but only very occasionally buffet our tents. This was to be another big day – but more so because of the unknown component. The start was easy: eat, pack and walk the few kilometres back to a spur we had identified might take us directly to Mabel… IF we didn’t run into too much horrendous scrub. If we did, well… we could waste a lot of time and energy and have to turn around before we summited. Never a thought we like to entertain, but always a possibility when walking in unfamiliar territory. And this was very unknown terrain. The maps we were using were 40 years old, our intel was from the 1990s, and while we’d looked at satellite imagery, that was also not proving to be super accurate. But there’s nothing like a bit of mystery to spur you on. And I was feeling slightly sheepish that we’d got off so lucky with the cut track to Helen yesterday. Maybe today would be the day to really cut our teeth on this walk.
We were at our planned camp site in just over an hour and got to work setting up our tents. The weather was weird. The clouds were moving from an easterly direction (everything so far had been driven from the west) and they were bringing with them low mist. It was not the fine and rain free day we were expecting. As we started up our ridge and entered the cloud, visibility was cut to about 20 metres. That certainly kept us wondering when we’d hit the scrub. We couldn’t believe our luck that we were still moving freely as we approached the main ridge, though we could see why we’d thought the ridge looked scrubby. It must have been burnt out some years back, and the top had only regrow to a stunted length, but as we approached the main ridge where we’d turn right to get to Mabel we could see thick tea tree scrub looming in the mist on both our flanks. It was quite a weird experience, much like the parting of the sea, but we were getting used to that on this walk!
We turned right and continued along the ridge, getting ever so close to Mabel, still walking relatively easily, though now having to weave more between thicker, higher scrub and cutting grass clumps. And then the inevitable, we came hard up against a solid wall of tea tree. The fire had only made it so far. But never mind, almost as if I knew it was there I walked us straight onto yet another cut track. This was becoming more than just coincidental. Does anyone know who was responsible? A North West bushwalking club perhaps? We were certainly very grateful again.
In any case, our track took us through some scrub, some lovely forest, and a bit more scrub. We popped out just before the summit and found a very rusted handsaw hanging from a tree! By now the cloud was breaking up a bit so we had patches of sun in amongst the rolling mist. We ducked over to the summit, another of those ones that’s covered in scrub, where we took it in turns to stand on the highest clump of cutting grass to take a photo of the ‘view’. We then walked back to an open bit with some slightly more extensive views (when the cloud allowed). We had enough sun to dry our gear out as we ate.
Feeling happy with our progress and the prospect of there being cut tracks through scrubby sections, John suggested we do a circuit up and over West Bluff. We had been saving it to climb from the plain to its west the next day before walking out, but this option would definitely save us time. We’d originally thought it would be too ambitious as we knew there were two scrubby sections, but the prospect of a cut track changed that. We decided to check the first scrubby section out to see if we could find the start of a cut track, and make our choice based on that. Sure enough, it was close to where we expected it. And so we started out on a lovely walk down the ridge that leads off Mabel, popping out of the forest near the bottom, and wandering happily along open ridges and rises on the way to West Bluff. We startled ground parrots and the odd rosella as we went, and made sure we took time to absorb the views.
When we got to the start of the scrub up West Bluff we found a very overgrown cut track and managed to follow/clear it all the way to the first high point. Then, try as we might, it became impossible to stay on. We’d find random bits of cut wood, but nothing resembling a track. We spent a good deal of time making our way across the saddle to the actual summit of West Bluff, another scrubby one. By this stage we were pretty stuffed, and we discovered the northern edge was scrub free, so sat there, ate, drank, and told the world we were ok. As we did, we were treated to a fly-by of two wedgies at fairly close range – just amazing! Once again, we also enjoyed the sound of the sea – a slightly odd experience when sitting on the top of a mountain, but one we were getting used to!
We eventually recovered our senses, realised it was nearly 5pm and we had a fair way to go still, so decided it was time to check out the trig on the way down. We disturbed a resident wallaby on our way to the somewhat worse for wear trig. West Bluff is another of those mountains you can’t immediately see the ridge down, you just have to trust it’s there until you get far enough down that it materialises. This meant it was quite steep, but there was a good mixture of rock and alpine heath/scrub to make it not too slippery. We made it down in one piece then walked the plain back to our tents. By this stage we were pretty hungry, and made the mistake of dreaming about sherry trifle for dessert ;)! A chai latte, a cup of tea and half a chocolate bar had to suffice!
This was the final day of the first part of our trip, and we woke to lovely cloud patterns. It was to be a relatively easy day in terms of distance and elevation, but hard in regards to the monotony of walking along the plain through mostly ankle, but sometimes knee or waist high scrub. We’d have all preferred to climb over a mountain! We took it in turns to retrace our steps, and all of us struggled with feeling tired. Nearly stepping on a whip snake didn’t wake me up much and we eventually plodded back to the car shortly after 4pm.
We then drove down to the Donaldson River to car camp, and enjoyed a treat of pringles and alcoholic beverages while we waited for dinner to cook. My lunches for the next part of the trip had fared poorly in the car, and I spent a little time rubbing mould off my tomatoes and peas and hoping they’d be ok. I’d already forgotten a second lot of nuts, and Graham generously shared his with me. Even so, the next 4 days were going to be hungry ones. John discovered two holes in his water bladder, which he was going to try to repair overnight, but in the meantime we shared our various water-carrying containers. Water was a concern for the next part of the trip despite the rain, as we were sticking to the ridges and camping high. We were going to have to be extra careful. As darkness fell we settled in for a good night’s sleep, accompanied by the sound of the river.
The first day to the second part of our trip. It was weird to be heading out again on the one trip. We packed up camp, drove a little way from the river, had a loo stop, and continued to the high point on the road where we were due to head off across the button grass plains in a south westerly direction. We were roughly following the description in the Tarkine Trails book, and it was fairly accurate for this bit. The best route did indeed head south west, until you were almost past due north of the point you had to gain the ridge to Mount Edith. Heading south, with a touch of east, you did indeed cross three river gullies, which actually weren’t that scrubby if you chose your spot carefully. Not sure where our next water was coming from, we filled all our bottles/bladders here.
The climb up the ridge was steep and sunny but also very windy so we walked a tightrope between being hot and sweaty and freezing cold! I happened to score the lead on this one, which was lots of fun, though I got into trouble for not stopping frequently enough. The going was open, and the route obvious, with bits of pad that had been frequented by a wombat or two. The summit was a mix of rock and low alpine scrub, with some very wind stunted banksias and even a little cairn. The views were pretty good too, and it was clear to see why it was described as perhaps being the ‘jewel’ of the range.
We spent some time there before the next rain shower had us scurrying on, to generate heat and keep us warm more than anything else. We followed the ridge down to the saddle between Edith and Hadmar. Graham needed a little convincing and a whole lot of faith that it was in fact, less scrubby than the one he had seen. When we did indeed hit the scrub, we walked straight onto someone else’s bash, which we followed until it felt like we were going way to far right off the ridge and heading towards a gully that would eventually become a river. It was tempting to continue in this way because we were mostly in fairly open forest and still following where someone else had been before, and there was only towering bauera and other nasty green stuff to our left. At this point though we decided to back track a little then push back towards the middle of the ridge, and hope the going wasn’t too bad. Funnily enough, however, we yet again chose the same point as others had before us, and instead of the scrub bash we expected, we ended up following much the same quality bash as before – lovely!!
We popped out near the saddle at the bottom, and decided to have lunch while we talked about options. We’d made good time, and could push on to the far side of Hadmar, camp there, walk to Sunday tomorrow, then Vero on Wednesday and out on Thursday. The other choice was to camp near where we were, and just say walk to Hadmar and Vero the next day, and head out on Wednesday. John decided he’d be camping in the saddle and wouldn’t do Sunday, but told Graham and I he didn’t want to stop us from going. We were both tempted – it was definitely possible and completing all the peaks of the Norfolk range would have been a nice way to end the trip. But we come walking to do it together, and I don’t think either of us would have felt quite the same about it if we’d gone off on our own. Besides, when I’d talked to Chris to get some info, he’d made the very attractive suggestion of taking the boat from Corrina, and walking along the coast then inland to get to Sunday (and coming out over Edith, Hadmar, Vero to the road). This had piqued our interest, but because of our time restrictions we hadn’t been able to fit it in. Choosing not to do Sunday this time gave us the perfect excuse to check out the coastal route another time! Perhaps even as a club trip?
So we spent some time getting to the true bottom of the saddle (it’s actually a bit of a maze, with the next part only revealing itself when it’s time), then finding water and a suitable place to camp. We ate snacks, had a cup of tea, lounged around and snoozed a little. Graham was contemplating a short walk part way up Mount Hadmar, but another bout of rain looked like it was coming. Luckily he decided to wait for it to pass. It was perhaps the longest and at times heaviest of all the rain we’d been in. The wind sounded like it was hurling itself around everywhere but our little camp site, which proved more sheltered than we’d realised. And so we wrote notes, ate more snacks, and chatted about places we wanted to go in the world (we ended up with a list a few pages long!). We steered clear of yummy foods this time ;).
We thought today would be a fairly easy day over Mount Hadmar, out to Mount Vero and back, and all things going well, relocate our camp to the car side of Edith so as to make the walk out a brief affair the next day. Ha, well, it didn’t quite work that way. We woke to rain, despite the forecast from just yesterday still having today as the best looking weather we’d have. We set off in the rain, shortly after 8, filling our water bottles as we left. The climb up Hadmar wasn’t as straight forward as it looked. There were a few little dips to negotiate, though none with serious scrub, and then we got straight into the climb. We took the prominent ridge on the left as you look at the mountain from where we were camped, weaving around the scrub the higher we got, and once again making use of someone else’s bash where necessary. This made for relatively easy climbing, and we were on the summit while it was still wet, windy and frankly, freezing cold! John had some business to attend to on the phone, and Graham had to call the police and reassure them that the do-gooder who had reported his car sitting on the side of the highway need not have worried and that we were actually all ok. I was too cold for anything but squats while the guys did their thing. Graham was kind enough to show me a photo a friend had sent him, of a very warm sunny beach at St Helens. Thanks for rubbing it in Brett ;)!
We got our first real glimpse of the route ahead from the summit of Hadmar, and our spirits fell further. There was a lot of scrub to get through. The saddle was so narrow that we figured we’d find someone else’s bash if they’d been through. No one had, or at least not recently (I did find half a fishing rod that I’m sure didn’t swim itself up there!). And so we had a long, wet and slippery fight with everything from bauera to tea tree, cutting grass and forests of horizontal. It can be pretty hard to orient yourself in the thick scrub, but we did a pretty good job of staying on the ridge. When we were a few contour lines above the low point in the saddle we broke out of the scrub and it was nice to see we had a lovely open walk the rest of the way, and that the sun was finally about to break through the cloud. And it did, as we wove between burnt out skeletons of banksia bushes on the otherwise open ascent of Mount Vero.
Once again we sat on the summit and enjoyed lunch in the sun, while drying out all our wet gear, except socks and boots. One of the resident wedgies showed off again. While we were there we had a look at a direct route off the summit to the road. Chris had asked if we could tape it for a friend, and while we had the tape, we didn’t have our bags (probably just as well, lugging them through the scrub would have been a nightmare!). It looked pretty good, with only one or two bands of scrub, and potentially a steep sided Toner river to negotiate.
The way back was considerably faster having our bashed route to follow, although we were pretty knackered and not moving with great coordination or speed! Tea, soup, red chicken and vegetable curry, chocolate and dried mango followed. We prepared for an early night, so we’d be up bright and early the next day for the walk out and drive home.
It was time to leave, on yet another typical northwest coast kind of day: unpredictable, rapidly changing, but always a little wet, windy and cold. Although the latter predominated this time. There was a brief gap in the rain that allowed us to pack tents in the dry, but after a few paces in the scrub we were already drenched. John started us off, but soon couldn’t see his GPS without needing to wipe his glasses every time, so I got the job of leading back up through the scrub to Edith. Put it this way, I might have been covered in bauera leaves, but I didn’t think I needed a shower after my 9 day walk – I got such a decent drenching. Once we were out and sidled under the peak, the walk down the ridge and across the button grass plains went relatively quickly. We raced the rain to get changed before the next downpour then ate our last lunch in the car, before a long drive back.
All up: 107km, 5303m ascent, 9 days