How easy is it to become frustrated when you want something, but the rest of the world seems oblivious, or even conspiring against you?! Too easy, it would seem. Until you realise it’s all in your head and in the end, you don’t actually do a very good job of knowing what you want for the future by the time the future becomes the present.
The days I had off in August and had set aside for walking were expertly chosen to coincide with wet and windy weather. As the weekend approached it seemed history was repeating itself. I’d ambitiously put a 2-and-a-bit day walk on the Pandani program as a flash walk for the last weekend in winter. Risky, but walking and connecting with people was at the crux of my new ‘mental health’ plan. At the beginning of the week everywhere seemed to have 90%+ chance of rain. By mid week things were looking better, then they deteriorated, but by crunch time on Thursday it looked like we’d have a bit of a window on Saturday afternoon for some good walking weather (or at least not miserable!). We hatched a tentative itinerary that was as flexible as a super stretchy elastic band, but no one seemed to mind.
It just so happened we could get away early, and so four of us set off from Hobart on Friday afternoon. We’d meet the fifth member of our party at Waratah that night. The drive was long but pretty – and it was hard to imagine that we were probably leaving the sunniest spot in the state for quite the opposite! We were still chatting away happily as we pulled into Waratah, somehow avoiding the odd kamikaze, usually a pottaroo, as it darted out from the throng of wildlife that lined the roadsides.
Jess and I gave the others a brief tour of the facilities, with heavy emphasis on the hot running water (it’s always the simple pleasures that get us really excited!). We set up tents and set about cooking our respective dinners, which ranged from 3-ingredient wonders to gourmet style home-cooked and dehydrated meals or just whatever you could find in the freezer that would reheat over a stove. We cemented our plan for the next day with a slight tweak – we’d climb Mount Pearse and Rocky Sugarloaf after all, but we’d do them as separate walks rather than a circuit. The weather was better later on in the day, so we wouldn’t be racing off in the morning. The cold drove us into our tents early, and most of us read a little before sleeping relatively soundly, woken briefly by a hissing competition between either possums or devils.
A relaxed start to the morning meant we were ready to go shortly after 8. We detoured via the falls, because they’re always worth seeing, especially after all the rain we’ve had. Then to the corner shop to pay our camping fees, and finally off to Staffords Road. As soon as we turned off the A10 onto Staffords Road we spotted the gate we’d read about. In 2014 it had been closed but unlocked. 2020 isn’t as trusting, it would seem, or perhaps just lucky. So we parked our cars 1km earlier than hoped, and took to foot. It might have been a good thing, the road was pretty wet underfoot, overgrown, and we wouldn’t have got much further anyway.
The tapes were abundant from the get go, and we had no trouble walking straight onto the track that by all accounts is a good track. And so it is. Fresh tape has been added aplenty, and there’s little excuse to get lost (except where it leads you astray!). And so we were lead through lovely open wet forest and then out into button grass and tea tree scrub. Up we climbed, taking a slight detour when one lot of tapes had us sidling off the righthand side of the ridge, before we ran out of tape and decided to look in the sensible place, finding much more tape and an obvious pad!
It was grey and misty, but this didn’t subdue the mood too much. We caught glimpses of the world beyond our bubble, but largely we had a very small sphere to work within. Upwards we went, bodies complaining differently at the rust and cobwebs that had accumulated during the COVID-19 restrictions to our old ways of life. And then the scrub gave way to wet rock, but not the conglomerate that you might expect for this part of the state.
It was a little bit of a challenge for some of us, and a pure delight for others as we spent the next hour weaving our way up and along the jagged ridge. The rocky formations were beautiful, and the mist accentuated the effect as it controlled what and how much we got to see at any one time. Two wedge tailed eagles – black spots against the bottom edge of the cloud, a splotch of blue sky, later a moment in which someone poured warm sun over us for a few seconds… our souls were singing. Onwards we moved. The many false summits made the real summit seem further and higher than it was, and we found ourselves standing on the top a tad surprised! A quick duck further south to the Sprent mark, then back for a snack, and down we headed.
These decisions were all about staying warm and having enough time to climb Rocky SL as well. But nothing was going to stop us lingering as the sun dried the clag out, and the views opened up to the west first, then north, and eventually even east. The warmth on skin was glorious. We soaked it up with smiles and laughter. And eventually we continued on, the walk transformed entirely by having a world with horizons where the sky met the sea and mountains.
We ate lunch at the car before driving just over 2km south to Mountain Road. Here a great big tree over the road had us pull up short. It looked like it had been there quite a while and as it turned out, the road beyond would have been impassable in any kind of motorised transport anyway. We ducked and weaved through the VERY overgrown greenery, and found ourselves surprisingly close to Rocky SL by the time we had exhausted what the road had to offer. There were tapes that led us a little further before petering out. But no worries, after crossing a creek we popped out onto the most glorious looking button grass plain, complete with a few little tarns, wombat pads that headed in the ideal direction, and what looked like some reasonable going up onto the ridge that led to our mountain.
The sun was out and bouncing up off the plain, there was little more than a whisper of cloud left in the bright blue sky, the breeze was slight, we had sweat on our brows and down our backs where our packs stuck our shirts to our skin. It felt like summer. We spent plenty of time just enjoying it all as we plodded our way up onto the ridge.
The going was good, almost too good. And there we stood, 400m from the summit, about to dip into the shadow of the mountain. A very accurate account of this particular route mentioned 400m of scrub just before the summit. It was true to its word, unfortunately! We plunged into it, Ben spearheading the charge. We started off walking on air, the scrub over our heads. As we slipped and wrestled, fell and grunted our way through, it gradually became more stunted. It still wasn’t easy to move through. You could aim for the rocks but they weren’t continuous, and back down you stepped into the thick of it, unsure exactly where your feet were going to come to a stop.
About 100m from the summit Ben let our a whoop that turned into a gleeful little ditty, “I’m walking on the ground, I’m walking on the ground”! Like I said earlier, out here it’s the little things, the things that only fellow scrub-bashers really understand, that can completely transform your mood. And I tell you what, it was fantastic to be walking on the ground, trusting once again that where you put your foot was where it was going to stay! It was even better again to pop up over one rise to find ourselves bathed in low, late afternoon sunshine, the kind you have to squint through to see the path ahead, but also the kind that means there is no more climbing ahead that’s blocking the sun from view.
There was a small cairn on the summit but it was paid much less attention than the 360 degree views! We struggled a little to work out what was what from the unfamiliar viewpoint, but that didn’t dampen the enjoyment. The moon was out, and Jupiter and Saturn were in alignment with it. Later they were to be joined by thousands of stars. After much longer than perhaps we should have we dragged ourselves away, aware that the more we sat up there the longer we’d be walking in the dark. It was something we were all used to except for Russell, who had never done it before but took it in his stride.
The return through the scrub was much faster than the way up, as Jess and Russell retraced our steps. The head torches came out for the descent to the button grass plain, and I took over with the GPS to avoid any unnecessary detours through scrub we couldn’t see. Without any bearings and nothing to see past the few metres illuminated by our head torches, we could have been walking anywhere. It was impossible to subjectively measure direction or distance, and even time seemed to be warped.
But a slow and steady plod – not one where you ever felt like you were in a rhythm for though – eventually got us back to the car, tired and hungry but very satisfied! We decided to head back to Waratah for some dinner, and make the call on where to go for Sunday’s walk after consulting the weather map. It transpired that the weather was going to turn wet and horribly windy everywhere by the afternoon, so we headed north that evening (through the worst fog I’ve ever driven in) to Riana. The next day we checked out the Dial range (which already has a blog post dedicated to it from a previous visit), before driving back home at the very civilised time of 11:30am!
Pearse: 4:44hrs, 7.3km, 481m ascent, all breaks included (quite a few)
Rocky: 5:06hrs, 6.2km, 357m ascent, all breaks included (and a lot of slow walking in the dark!)