Never has a bush walk been so long in the planning. This one even surpassed the Prince of Wales, which took a good three years to finally attempt. The idea was first hatched when Ben knew he was about to begin a family of his own, prior to the birth of his first son. He now has three kids, the youngest of whom is 11 months, so you can do some rough maths to figure out quite how long we’ve waited (and nope, he has no twins). The thinking was that he was going to be tied up with all things family, but still wanted to go on a bit of a crazy walk here and there. So the concept of the epic day walk was hatched. Mesa was somehow always going to be our first mountain. This kind of walking would allow us to push our physical boundaries, hopefully get to some distant mountains, hang out where we love to hang out most AND get Ben back home within the same day. Rachel, his equally awesome wife who is also a bushwalker, was generous in her support of the idea and it’s practical realities.
And so, more than half a dozen or so years after its conception, the plan was finally seeing fruition. We weren’t going to take any chances so kept two consecutive days free for the walk, choosing the one with the best weather a few days out. It seemed we would have ourselves a mild day with a bit of wind. We weren’t sure of timing, there was one report from a small group of guys we know to be speed walkers, who had set out at 6 and returned at 4. We knew we’d be slower. But 6 sounded like a good start time to us. Unfortunately that meant getting up at 3:15 for some of us, which wasn’t as easy as it might sound!
The drive was shorter than expected, even with a few detours as I drove straight past Esperance Road, thinking I was heading for Adamsons Road. The drive now was slow to minimise the risk of colliding with abundant wildlife despite otherwise well kept forestry roads. But still we found ourselves at the start of the track, which looked like it hadn’t received any love or care in a long time, before 6.
Ben um-ed and ah-ed over taking a light fleece (we suggested he did) and we discussed water, all of us keen to be carrying as little as possible for the long slog ahead. A forgotten alarm went off at 6 and when I’d silenced it we headed off, starting on boardwalk that quickly turned into forest floor. The birds roused with the dawn and lyrebirds let off alarm calls as we passed by.
The walk up Adamsons Peak is long, with some of the greatest altitude gain you’ll ever get in a day walk. Believe me, you feel every bit of it too and in no time the cold shivers turned to dripping sweat. Ben set a cracking pace which soon mellowed out into something we could all sustain despite still breathing hard. We made good time, ducking under or climbing over many fallen trees, trying hard not to slip backwards on the steepest of slopes, or later on wet slippery rocks and tree roots. We rejoiced in the short flatter sections around Manuka Flat, for they presented a chance to slow our pounding hearts.
We made better than expected time, arriving at the lookout less than 2 hours after having started out. It was overcast with the easterly weather and the wind had a bite to it. The bottom of the cloud was sitting just over the summit of Adamsons. As we wove a muddy, squealchy way across the flat, past Creekton Rivulet and to the base of the final climb the temperature dropped, our sweaty shirts became icepacks and our fingers turned yellow and numb. All we could think of was how glorious some sun would be.
We’d donned warm jackets and gloves before we made the summit, Ben grateful for having carried the extra 200 grams he’d been tempted to leave behind! The summit was a very brief affair as Ben claimed his points, before we ducked out of the wind and ate a mixture of breakfast, lunch or snacks. We were happy to have made it 3 hours after starting out, which was only 30 minutes slower than the group of guys whose trip report we’d read (we’d anticipated taking at least an hour longer).
As soon as the eating was done we moved off, the heat of the climb having already worn off in no time. We wove our way down the ridge, which mysteriously materialised from behind the cloud as we progressed. As we dropped lower and the day warmed up the cloud lifted, and we got glimpses of the Calf ahead. The Calf is secondary to the Cow, which is actually Adamsons Peak (and a better name, I think, although I mean no disrespect to whoever Adamson was). It’s a lovely little pointy peak that makes for a most pleasing walk in all respects.
Sidling down and around to meet the ridge that heads out to the Calf, Ben, who was in the lead at this point, let out a great big ‘Oh yeah!!’. Jess and I couldn’t see what he was exclaiming at, and asked him to hold on to it. A few meters later, however, Precipitous Bluff stuck its great big knobbly body around the edge of the ridge, in an instant we understood, echoing Ben’s delight and awe.
Feeling slightly warmer, with the promise of sun in the not too distant future, we backed off the pace and gave ourselves more time just to soak everything in. The Calf wasn’t far away though, and soon we were scrambling after Jess, straight up the ridge to the summit. Again, the Calf provided a glorious summit which was windy but at least in the sun by now. We spent a good deal of time there, shooting the odd message to special people and even having a brief video call with Ben’s family. We live in such a different world to those who pioneered walks to these places, don’t we?
The terrain ahead was new to us all and we wondered how bad it was going to be, even though the first bit looked lovely and open. We made our way down the Calf, feeling rather guilty and all too aware of our impact on the wilderness as we picked out individual footsteps so as to avoid stepping on cushion plants and other fragile alpine grasses. In some ways while this was the easiest and most open of walking it also required the most concentration.
We stopped many times to take photos of the amazing scenery and alpine flowers. I’d not really given it much thought during the planning, I’d been that caught up in the destination that it was an additional lovely surprise. Mesa itself was a diminutive form much lower than our current height and it felt weird to be walking downhill towards it. It’s not a mountain, a peak or even a hill. It’s not even much of a mesa, to be honest, and this had us all confused. To be fair, there is a very small cliff line you can see obscured in the scrub on one side as you approach it, but nothing like some of the impressive sandstone ones you see elsewhere.
We had the unexpected pleasure of wandering into a couple who had made an unsuccessful attempt to head out to Vanishing Falls, shortly after having our own discussions about pioneering a route out this very way! Jess spotted them in the distance and I have to say I thought she must have an overactive imagination until I saw what she was looking at!! It’s not exactly the place you’d expect to run into others. We had a chat then made our way to the edge of the open section on the saddle, just before the scrub started.
From the info we now had, we figured we’d be in for some scrub, but might find some relief in a section of King Billy forest with pineapple grass underfoot. As it turned out, we wove through the early scrub with no real bashing involved, then walked straight into the lovely forest. We couldn’t believe our luck although we were reluctant to talk too much about it until we reached the summit.
I got to lead the final section, as it was the only peak I hadn’t climbed. It had worked out that we each got to lead up a mountain we’d not climbed, which is always nice :D. The finally pinch on Mesa got a little less open, with big scoparia bushes growing horizontally out of the pretty vertical sides, but it was at least a short distance and we grunted our way up, somehow avoiding any real cliffs.
The summit itself was another glorious one, open and sunny, with plenty of spots to sit or lounge and views to everywhere! We felt particularly close to the Southern Ranges and PB, but even Fedder was close. Bobs looked different from this angle too. We spent a long time there, having lunch (or a second lunch as the case may have been). It was only sense and a desire to get back before it was too late that finally dragged us away.
Fortunately the way back was more down than up, all of us feeling rather weary and lacking in juice for the legs. We opted for a sidle around the Calf, which worked out very well. After the slog back up Adamsons we were wearily grateful that it was now downhill all the way. We celebrated with another decent break to enjoy the views we hadn’t had when we’d first summited and to procrastinate from what lay ahead! I ate dinner, this being one of the rare occasions I took some on a day walk.
Then commenced the rather mindless traipse back, each of us fairly quiet, off with our own thoughts (or lack thereof). I certainly was weary enough to have a pretty empty mind and simply enjoyed that feeling. Sore knees aside we made relatively good progress down, arriving back at the cars before 7:30. We figured it still counted as an epic day trip, despite not needing head torches at all, based purely on the figures below. Ben reckons it’s a record for elevation gained in a day walk. I wouldn’t think he’d be wrong in that either.
All up: 23.6km, 13:28hrs, 1780m ascent