What better way to spend the Christmas-New Year period than by going on a bush walk to somewhere awesome with someone half decent? Graham obviously couldn’t think of anything else, in fact, he suggested the option, so I jumped at the chance. My last day (night) of placement finished early on the morning of Christmas Eve, which left just enough time to pack and organise Christmas stuff. Christmas was a quiet but perfectly lovely affair: a sleep-in (what’s that again?!), a late cooked breakfast, lunch with mum and John, and an evening swim at 7 mile beach to top it off.
We delayed our plans by day due to the Boxing day rain (and rain it did!), but that was ok cos we had one spare, and it turned out to be the sensible thing to do! But on the 28th, we were off. We opted for something different, both of us having been in on the Mackays track and the Farmhouse Creek track before. So we drove instead to the Huon (aka Yoyo) track.
As expected, it was rather a loooong day in. 11 hours of Yoyo-ness… No, to be fair, in to Blakes Opening was fairly flat, if you could have stayed flat on the track. All the fallen trees and other obstacles made it more of an up-over-round and through kind of game. There we found ourselves dancing a complicated routine to the tune of the bush – up and down the yoyo string. 6’3″ Graham loved it!
While the obstacle course improved after Blakes Opening, the real Yoyo stuff started, and we found ourselves measuring time by the rises we had to climb and the dips we had to descend into. Without views, except occasional glimpses of the river, there wasn’t a lot of reason to stop. So we kept on plodding – a slow and steady pace that two very unfit walkers carrying 8 day packs could manage.
And manage we did. We made it, very tired and ready to stop, to the Cracroft crossing in 11 hours (stops included), having ascended 1.3km in the process, and covered 29.6km all up. While we had intended to cross the river that evening and camp on the far side to make for a faster get away the following morning, the Boxing day rain had taken care of that idea. The river was flowing fast, and we thought it intelligent to wait till morning and try our luck then. The camping wasn’t too bad for a forest camp after all.
Our choice was wise. Not only had the river dropped significantly (needless to say, on the way out it was almost unrecognisable!), allowing us to make a safe crossing in thongs/crocs, we discovered the camp site on the opposite of the river wasn’t half as nice, nor was it close to water (apparently, the grass isn’t always greener…). We hit the button grass, popped over the Razorback range/hill thingy, and finally had our first view of our destination! The black cockatoos screeched a welcome.
We took a little detour before arriving at Pass Creek, having lost the track, but did well to find it in time for the forest (which is quite a nice little spot). Pass Creek was flowing fast, and we later found out that two days prior it had been, funnily enough, impassable, which we didn’t doubt! I managed to be a goof here, and put my pack on a jack jumper nest, only realising my mistake after obtaining two synchronous and symmetrically placed bites on my bum (three bites in as many weeks – ouch!).
Our destination for day two was further ahead, however, so we didn’t stay long before beginning the climb up Luckmans Lead. We were grateful the sun wasn’t out, but that we still got to enjoy the views under overcast sky!
Unfortunately they were gobbled up as we arrived on top and all we got were misty glimpses of the enormity of the boiler plates as we skirted around. We made it to the camp site, and tossed up the idea of climbing the Dial in clag. Yes or no? Graham, who had already climbed it, was kind enough to bring up the number one principle of walking: if you can climb a mountain, don’t put it off. So off we went.
We were rewarded richly. We gasped, laughed and yelped with wonder and excitement as we stood on the Dial and watched the cloud race straight up at us, revealing a spectacle of mountains, glimpse at a time! Fedder poked through, and we became even more excited. What a special moment. Graham also discovered that you could set the time using your arms on the Dial, courtesy of the brockenspectre that the cloud and sun produced below us. We enjoyed every moment, before returning to our tent.
A wet one followed, and remembering the evening before was all we could do to remain hopeful that it wouldn’t set a trend for the trip. We aborted an attempt up the Needles in rain and clan, unable to see a decent line and aware that the kind of climbing we were doing wasn’t particularly safe in the conditions. We didn’t even talk about East Portal, just took it easy through to Goon Moor.
Goon Moor is a nice little spot in the forest with king billies. We kept an eye on the fog all afternoon, but it didn’t move far. So we did what you do when you can’t walk, and ate… lunch, snacks, dinner and dessert. It was a wet night, but a 4.30am loo trip reported stars above! The weather held till morning and we found a lookout rock to enjoy the start of the day. The sun rose behind us as we looked west, down to the sea of fog that wound its way through the valleys.
Packed and putting wet gear on is never easy, but soon it was drying as we popped out of the forest and walked across the open moor. How different the day was from the one before. Lovely beautiful clear views, and Fedder looking all the closer with each step. Today we spent our stops taking photos instead of catching out breath.
But the bigger thing for the day, Four Peaks, was on both our minds. Could we do it? Especially having scrapped East Portal and the Needles the day before? I was excited, and a tad apprehensive. We were armed with notes (thanks Martin) but still had to interpret them and have the guts to climb some climby stuff!
We found our gully, and quite a good way up it, even if it involved walking under the scrub in parts ;)! On the saddle our notes became quite straightforward and we chose the second route suggested. But we were slightly uncomfortable about one bit, so went back to the first! Straight up, quite a steep slope that dropped away to nothing, and then we found the ledge thing. A quick shuffle with not the best of hand holds and we were across. The rest of the climb was much easier and we enjoyed it.
An expletive or two seemed appropriate when we reached the summit. It was pure awesomeness. The challenging climb coupled with the adrenaline of having made it, the wonderful views of Fedder in particular, and evidence of a lightening strike having shattered the rock on top. It really was impressive, and we were just a bit pleased with ourselves (even more so when we got down safely!).
The rest of the day had the usual ups and downs as we wove past the rest of the Four Peaks but we were still high on adrenaline so the climby bits were easily handled. Of all the things, we came across a bee swarm on the track, which had us hesitate for a moment, but they let us past without turning much of an eye. Then on and up we climbed, turning right for Hanging Lake rather than left for Fedder.
Again, the camp site was pretty, and it was lovely to have a wash in the stream that was the outflow of the lake. We used the afternoon sun to dry out some of our gear, feed our resident lizard lots of fresh mosquitos, and eat dinner before heading up Geeves bluff for sunset.
The next morning we were up early and off to Fedder for a second time – the weather was too good not to. We enjoyed the southern traverse, perhaps a bit more relaxed this time (so much so we walked past the turn off!). You’d have not known we’d been before, as we went the wrong way fairly early on. Mistake noted and sorted, we were soon on top. It was still just as lovely up there, and we enjoyed it for longer this time.
Our timing was a tad off though, and a Par Avion plane flew over shortly after we’d left the summit. Back at our packs, we started the walk back to Goon Moor. We spotted two wedgies, but they didn’t stay close. As we walked back, something triggered a vague recollection of another peak we hadn’t done. Sure enough, the Gables was out there.
We had to factor in the fact we hadn’t planned to climb it, fatigue (we were pretty tired from accumulative work), and water shortage (we had a bit over a litre between us, and it was hot). We decided to stand on the edge and check it out. A kestrel hung in one spot despite the wind, and we allowed ourselves to be distracted… Then we decided to go for 15 minutes and see how far we got. We got far enough. We decided to go the whole way.
Probably we chose the unconventional route. We contoured around the northern side to start with, but neither of us was too keen on scrub, so we ended up finding ourselves climbing straight up the rock. Straight enough that Graham decided we’d find an alternative way back down! But it was good fun. We ducked under a hole to get by a cook stone, then turned for a final scramble to the top. It was a lovely little summit, it made our day, and we both felt better after it.
We did find that easier way down, through (or rather under) some giant scoparia. The sun lost its strength much as we did ours, and we found the cooler walk to camp considerably easier. We drained the last of our water with our final few steps. We concluded that we work well together, and make a good team…. even when we don’t!
Dinner was very much enjoyed, washed down with a final sip of muscat (for the next few months anyway) after which we headed for the nearby lookout point to watch the sun set on the last day of the year. It didn’t disappoint.
It felt a bit weird, because out there, the day of the week is meaningless, marked only by what the weather is doing and how far we have to get/what peaks we’re set to climb. Time follows the rising and setting of sun. And yet it all seemed just right…to be, to reflect and to dream. And to be honest, there couldn’t have been a better way to bring in the new year. So we sat with the king billies, watched the reds and oranges, and set off some party poppers and glow sticks.
The following day was another big one, due to our wet weather on the way in. We thanked Jess for her weather update, and hoped it would be accurate. I hadn’t started the day so well, learning that the spare battery I carried for my camera wasn’t charged, meaning no photos for the rest of the trip for me.
We began with a scrub bash up the nonexistent ridge of East Portal. The first bit, heading down, was open and lovely, and gave us false hope. Then we hit the scrub, which wasn’t so bad, just the usual scratchy stuff. But it started to get to us when coupled with the ridge, which was as broken as a ridge can get. You’d aim for a rocky bump only to find when you got there that there was a huge drop in front of you, and you had to head sideways for quite some time before it was safe to drop down into it.
It took us a while to realise we were better off staying below the ridge, wandering deep amongst some really interesting mossy green foresty channels. It was like you were in another world entirely, and made for lovely walking (you can tell which way we came back!). But anyway, after much longer than we expected (1:40 hrs), we finally stood on the jagged crumbly top, and were a little bit pleased that the views were different enough to have made the hard work worth it.
We didn’t stay long, knowing we still had plenty to get done. The way back was slightly easier, taking us past two whip snakes, the old landslide (?2005), and of course, the underground forest bit. We weren’t any faster back, but it was more enjoyable.
We then went back for a second go at the Needles. We tried to follow the suggested route in the Abels, but found the sidling west only good for the first small bump. We got to the same point as last time and decided a continued sidle would be madness, so we went over and down the eastern side, and popped back up to the saddle on the ridge. From there we followed our noses, which meant we took the direct route, ending with a lovely little climb to the summit.
It was lovely to be standing up there, I only wished I had my camera! On the way back we spotted another kestrel, but it was more Graham’s pure joy at its effortless movement, its show of effortless grace as it cut through the sky, that had me feeling perfectly happy. As we walked back around the bottom of the Needles to Stuarts saddle, and looked back up, we thought how crazy it would be to attempt a climb straight up the Needles from there!
Because it was still early, and we both preferred a shorter final day walking out, we chose to keep on moving, and make it to the Pass creek campsite. Round the boiler plates we went (which were lovely to see this time!) then down the ridge. It was beautiful walking in the low evening light that turned the button grass a shade of gold. Oh, to have a camera!
The next day was just an out day. We knew we wouldn’t get the whole way, but we aimed for Harrisons Opening. Off we plodded. An array of birds kept us company: cuckoos, shrike thrushes, whistlers, lyre birds, parrots, cockatoos and currawongs. We kept plodding. We reached camp tired and ready to stop and a shared hot chocolate really hit the spot.
The final day took us 6 hours to walk the 18km, giving us plenty of time to manage to cook, and more importantly eat, steak and chips for dinner. YUM!!
All up: 119km, 7105m ascent.