Southern Ranges: 30 November-6 December 2013

Southern Ranges GPS route

Southern Ranges GPS route

It was the Saturday I’d been looking forward to for a long long time. More recently with a touch of trepidation. Would I manage, or would I be unable to climb the hills? I’d been sick, and I knew I still wasn’t 100%, nor had I had the chance to test how well I was. In my favour was that I had had some decent sleep on Thursday and Friday, and that my boss and coworkers had been as generous as always, and allowed me to do only 4 hrs on Saturday morning. I hoped they still finished on time.

Old relics on the tram track

Old relics on the tram track

So I finished at 6 on the dot, and raced home. John was there waiting for me, and we picked Graham up on the way. I was supposed to be getting an extra two hrs sleep in the car on the way down, but that wasn’t happening. It never does on the way to a walk. Way too excited, and even though we had 7 days to talk, it was impossible to stop us. The last time the three of us had been on a walk together was the Frankland range at the beginning of the year.

Glimpses of the views we would have

Glimpses of the views we would have

It felt like we got there in no time at all, and we kitted up, making the usual last minute clothing adjustments, wondering what on earth we’d packed to make our packs quite so heavy. I’d gone the bare minimum, wanting to give myself the best possible chance, but it still felt heavier than usual. I even emptied out half my hydration bladder at the car park!

The Hobbit's Garden, Hill 1

The Hobbit’s Garden, Hill 1

Then we were ready. Handshake as we start the trip. Nice knowing you? Or let’s do this thing, we’re in it together? In fact, I knew the latter was true. It was mostly the reason I’d taken the chance of still going, despite knowing I wasn’t feeling great. Both had been supportive, and even though I’d felt a little more nervous when they told me my suggestion of staying put and them going ahead if I wasn’t good wasn’t going to happen, I also knew that no matter what, I’d have two very decent people looking after me. That was kind of touching, for personal reasons as much as anything. But it was also very meaningful to have people care more about me joining a trip than their desire to get to the top of mountains, even if that included PB. Though this isn’t really the case with Pandani, I think there are some people out there who would have dumped me if I couldn’t have kept up.

Moores Bridge and Mt Alexandra

Moores Bridge and Mt Alexandra

So off we headed. Filled in the logbook and discovered we’d likely run into a couple who had gone in the day before for four days, just to Pindars and back. Nobody else though. Just us and the mountains :D!!! Hehehe.. that smile’s not coming off my face easily!

The Hippo and La Perouse

The Hippo and La Perouse

The walk along the old tram track to the quarry began, nice and easy. But it was over too soon, and we were at the up, up and more up, part. The part I’d been dreading, also the part that I knew if I got up, I’d likely be ok. We started up slow. Graham was in the lead, and even though he was being very good, he still walked faster than us. But he’d wait, and let us catch our breath. I stayed at the back, trying not to push too hard, willing my body to behave, just for the climb. And it did, after a bit of a shaky start.

Down to Pigsty Ponds

Down to Pigsty Ponds

As we neared the top of the climbing the sun came out from behind the overcast clouds, and when we finally popped out on top, there was a hint of the views we’d have all week. First to enjoy was the look back the way we’d come. Then as we headed up and towards Hill 1 of Moonlight Ridge, we were spoilt by the Hippo, and La Perouse and the Cockscombe, and then Adamsons and the Calf, Mesa, Snowy, Hartz, Alexandra, Bobs, The Boomerang… Each revealing themselves at the appropriate time, sometimes one at a time, sometimes together.

Up and over Maxwell Ridge, and what a view awaits!

Up and over Maxwell Ridge, and what a view awaits!

I was even more excited now. I couldn’t wait to climb on top of some of these mountains and see the world! But that would have to wait for tomorrow, perhaps wisely so too.

Relaxing on Pindars

Relaxing on Pindars

As we walked along, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence, I wondered at how much damage is done by boot step after boot step, and marvelled at how nature heals itself or adapts. Here tadpoles swum in the water filled trenches that we’d made, stirring as we walked past and disturbed their lives once again. They’d reclaimed the path, forcing us to make new ones.

Pretty little bugs visited us on Pindars

Pretty little bugs visited us on Pindars

We wandered round and over the four hills, through the beautiful Hobbit’s Garden on Hill 1, the scrub beside Hill 2 – saving it for the return journey (for peakbaggers, that’s where the moonlight ridge point lies – though it’s recently been taken off the updated list (Dec 2013)), past Hill 3 which marks the way to the Hippo, over Hill 4 and down to pigsty ponds.

And a yabbie near Pandani Knob

And a yabbie near Pandani Knob

As we descended the cloud began to lift over Maxwell Ridge, the sun lighting it up from behind, quite beautiful. We decided our weary legs were not going to be taking us to Ooze Lake that day. I’m usually one for putting in more yards earlier in the piece, so as to make things easier later on, but even I was ready to stop. So we found the sheltered spots by Pigsty Ponds (on reflection decided that it was calm enough and we should have camped out in the open where the sun would have warmed us in the morning. But no matter, it was a good rece for our return trip in the rain and snow and hail!).

Heading off Pindars, looking back to La Perouse etc

Heading off Pindars, looking back to La Perouse etc

I slept like a log once I warmed my tent up, and felt much better for it in the morning. I packed early, and sat in the sun, trying to dry the dew from the tent as best as possible before packing it. It was cool but clear, and promised to be a stunning day. And stunning it was. Decently long too!

PB and our wedgie from Wylly summit

PB and our wedgie from Wylly summit

It started with the walk out of Pigsty Ponds, and up to Maxwell Ridge. There was the feeling that attaining the ridge would bring quite a reward. Tired legs and the still heavy pack were immediately forgotten when we stepped over the lip, and were presented with the sight of all the mountains we’d be attempting to climb, and then some. Beautiful, mysterious, exciting!! And we were in the middle of it :D. Hehe!! We spotted the ridge we’d be walking along, the scrubby saddles we’d have to fight our way through, and of course, the summits we’d stand on.

Frog/Tadpole spawn in a pool on the saddle to Mt Victoria Cross

Frog/Tadpole spawn in a pool on the saddle to Mt Victoria Cross

It was going to be a long day, so we pressed on, heading down the ridge and around through a bit of light scrub to Ooze lake. It was a lovely little spot, and we stopped to eat and refill water. But as always, the time came to stop enjoying the sun, and get back to the walking business. It wasn’t too hard, Pindars was next!

My favourite campsite!

My favourite campsite!

And what a lovely looking mountain Pindars is. It provided all the motivation necessary to keep plodding up the hill, along the open ridge, over and around the other side, until finally we were at the saddle that allows you to either continue down the other side along the track, or make the short scramble over rock to the summit. Packs were dumped and up we flew (well not quite, but it felt like it). What a spectacular view!! Everywhere you looked! Impossible to begin to describe, even the photos are only an idea, you really have to be there. Of course, PB stole the attention, as it was to do most of the trip, but the look back to La Perouse was pretty neat too! Pure elation, we were literally and figuratively on top of the world :), and the highest we would be for the trip.

Evening colours that night over Victoria Cross

Evening colours that night over Victoria Cross

It couldn’t last forever, probably that’s why it’s always so special (I mean we often spend hours or days walking, only to have a short 15 minutes on a summit), and we were back down and off. Thanks to the modern age of 4G smart phones and a good friend, we were also equipped with a more up to date weather forecast. Wasn’t looking too bad.

Long shadows as we prepare to set out

Long shadows as we prepare to set out

Anyway, we scrambled down, put those heavy things back on our backs, and headed off, down and around pindars, then down the ridge to Pandani knob. Hello to a yabbie well spotted by Graham, and a successful test of the underwater function on the camera!

Slowly getting closer

Slowly getting closer

Here was where the fun was supposed to start, by all accounts. And sure enough, it did. There was a pad, always (sometimes more than one where people had gone the wrong way, just to confuse matters), but there was also plenty of overgrown scrub. It wasn’t so bad going down, aside from the at times rough massaging on thighs from unforgiving scoparia or myrtle branches. It was definitely going to be much harder pushing back up through, against the general flow (yes, it was). But that was for another day. We had more down, and some ups to get through, before we finally arrived at Leaning Tea Tree saddle.

At Low Camp, real close now!!

At Low Camp, real close now!!

The Chapman book describes this in such a way that makes it sound the most attractive camping option between Ooze Lake and Low Camp, but it didn’t quite meet our expectations. There was flat ground with a number of spots to pitch tents. There wasn’t much shelter, though luckily that wasn’t such an issue. The view was ok, we had Wylly to look at, but we knew there was room for improvement. There was plenty of small soaks for water, in fact much I the ground was pretty boggy, and there were ANTS! Plenty of them. You couldn’t stand still, let alone sit. John’s repellant was useful, as was his hunting around for a relatively ant free zone (through the bog). As the sun lowered and the temperature dropped, the ants disappeared! Weird!! It was the end of another kind day, and I was tired.. It wasn’t too hard getting to sleep, with the knowledge that two more mountain tops, and a much shorter walk were on the program for the morrow.

And then we're there!! Not quite believing it :D

And then we’re there!! Not quite believing it 😀

Day three wasn’t going to be easy by any account, but it was going to be much shorter with full packs on, with daypack climbs up Wylly and Victoria Cross. We just had to ascend a scrubby knob, head across a saddle to the foot of Wylly, then head up and around the side to where we’d eventually head down, along then back up the ridge leading to Wylly Plateau camp (easy walking that). We did all that, but before heading down from the side of Wylly we dumped our packs and climbed the last couple of hundred metres to the summit. More beautiful views all round! A photo for Facebook to let everyone know we were ok (and maybe a tad jealous ;)). A moment or more admiring the effortless grace and freedom of a wedgie who’d come to check us out. Some food, some chatter, and back down. Off to check out the Wylly plateau campsite, apparently (according to Chapman) with poor shelter and unreliable water.

And a bit more walking, and we're back too.. that shirt's a little the worst for wear, but nothing a needle and thread didn't fix for the following day's scrub bash!

And a bit more walking, and we’re back too.. that shirt’s a little the worst for wear, but nothing a needle and thread didn’t fix for the following day’s scrub bash! I could learn a thing or two from John..

What a surprise we were to have. Wylly has been voted the nicest campsite so far, with reception and all. Not to mention mountains on all four sides, and the sea on a fifth! Though Ooze might come a close second. We found relatively sheltered sites amongst scoparia, more sheltered than our sites at Leaning Tea Tree. Water was a little more difficult to come by, especially the following day as the sun and wind did a remarkable job of drying up soaks, including my front yard feature pond. However, we did find some decent sized pools on our beautiful wander out to Victoria Cross, and one a little closer to the high point on the plateau. At the first decent one, I lay down to drink straight from it, and was surprised to find sacs of frog spawn centimetres away! Got to test out the underwater function on my camera for the second time! Nature never ceases to amaze and delight :D!!

And we watch the sun set that night.. so many emotions caught up in it

And we watch the sun set that night.. so many emotions caught up in it

The going was open and easy, not to mention beautiful (warning, you’re going to be sick of that word by the end of this). At the base of the mountain you climb just a bit until you reach a ledge where it flattens out for a few metres. Then you head to the right, following a pad through the scrub for a short while. There was a nice little climb up an open ridge that looks quite steep from a distance, before a short rock scramble, a bit of flat open walking, then a final rock scramble to the summit. More beautiful views of the world to take in!! We spent more time here, having made good time and only having to make the short walk back to camp.  I sat on a perfect little rock ledge just out of the wind, and we talked, are snacks, made contact with the other world, and generally just enjoyed. While up there I looked at Bisdee, and decided it could wait. It looked just a tad scrubby, and right now, I’m quite enjoying the pleasurable kind of walking!

And the colours it had cast on Wylly and Victoria Cross had been nice too

And the colours it had cast on Wylly and Victoria Cross had been nice too

Back down, water run, tents up, and a few hours to enjoy dry, free and happy feet, amongst everything else. The next day was to be the big one. There had been little room for error or flexibility, and there was still so much that could go ‘wrong’. We needed time, weather, no unexpected nasty terrain, and to remain injury free. It was with quiet and hopeful anticipation that I went to bed that night, having been relaxed somewhat by the evening colours cast as the sun went to shine light on someone else’s day :).

Campsite back at Ooze Lake

Campsite back at Ooze Lake

Often, when you so look forward to something, it’s hard not to think of all the negative things that stand in your way, and to be upset by them should the hinder your desires to any extent. This day was always designed to be significant, in one way or another. It would be, in my bush walking life, one of the ‘big’ mountains, perhaps the ‘biggest’, and the day the most memorable (for all the right reasons). Yet there was not a moment that day when I actually worried about what could or might go wrong, the knowledge was there, but there was no actual worry. That’s unusual – if I’m by myself, there’s a lot more worry. So I put that part down to the company I was in, and the trust I had in it.

The following morning, a tad moody

The following morning, a tad moody

Not a single thing went wrong, quite the contrary. We watched the sun rise (more beautiful than those five words make it), and there we stood, casting long shadows in the direction of PB, shook hands and took our first steps. We made good time to the first scrubby knob, then across to the saddle on Kamaruka Morrain, where the track is noted as braided, boggy and difficult to follow at times. It was a bit braided, but the gps route I had was very helpful. Popping out of the scrub from time to time, PB just kept getting closer, more manageable. After a bit of an up and down scramble to get on top of the morrain (grateful we weren’t doing it with full packs) we raced down, and were at Low Camp in good time. Low Camp looked ok, but a tad uncomfortable if you were to pitch on the platform!

Snow on La Perouse

Snow on La Perouse

But enough of that, PB was within reach!! First we had to select the right path to follow.. John’s scouting proved accurate, confirmed by the GPS route. Now for just a bit of up. It looked steep from Low Camp, but wasn’t too bad really. It was hot, there hadn’t been any nice water since camp, and we were glad to come across the waterfall on the side of the mountain (though not as glad as we would be on the way back!). We continued up, and presently the up became more of across, and after a short discussion we found the track to the summit at the bottom of high camp. It was a more gentle climb to reach the top, slightly disappointing perhaps for the rock scrambler in me who would always prefer a Pindars climb to a PB one. But each mountain has it’s own individualities, and PB had other qualities.

Oh the feeling, standing on top, having a group hug and knowing but not quite believing that we’d done it! In amazing weather too!! The smile got bigger, and a chuckle of delight or two escaped. If I’d have been alone I might have done a Graham, and let out a holler ;). It was interesting though, the secondary feeling that overcame me, not as strong, but present anyway, that there was no PB to look at and take photos of anymore. The mountains around seemed far off, and not quite as impressive. Probably understandably, given a fair bit of attention over the last few days had been directed at PB, and now we were here and there was nothing to be centred on. Interesting, and pause for consideration, but no more than a brief pause ;)!.

The log book’s last entry was March, surprisingly. Even more of a surprise was to hear a couple of voices as we did the photo thing, then sat to eat. They came from a couple of guys from the mainland, who had been walking from Melaleuca. Fancy that, summiting on the same day, when no one had done so for over 8 months (or at least hadn’t written in the logbook)! We were about to leave as they arrived, and so we stayed a little longer for a chat, as you do.

But we did have to leave, we still had to get back. The day’s surprises weren’t over yet though. We had the sheer pleasure of a bath in a small rock pool down the waterfall we had to cross: 4 days into the hike, blue skies, very warm sun, in a private little nook but with the mountains spread before us as our view. Not only did I not believe that we’d just climbed PB in stunning weather and good time, we were beautifully clean (well a lot cleaner than before), cool and refreshed for the trip back. It’s hard to understand just how delightful such a simple thing is.

It really was a magical day, full of these special surprises. One that I was very reluctant to say good night to, and that doesn’t usually happen. I’m usually ok with things having to come to an end, being grateful for having lived the experience and shared those happy moments, but not this day. I just wanted to pause time for a bit. After sitting around and cooking dinner that evening the boys had brought out muscat, custard and fudge. I’d put on a poor show, hadn’t brought anything to celebrate, hadn’t had time to think about it, not really expecting to be here. What amazing, decent friends and fellow bushwalkers I know. I’m very lucky :D. We then did our own things, and as sun set found ourselves wandering the short distance to the high point, as if drawn by the power of the setting sun, to watch it as it bathed the sky in not particularly spectacular colours, but beautiful ones all the same.

As I stood there, watching the sun set behind the mountain we’d just explored, a range of emotions were running through me. I didn’t try to understand them, just let them wash over me. We stood mostly in silence, occasionally broken by our attempts to express what we felt.. only every time I tried I felt like I’d failed.. it wasn’t expressible with words.. our ‘it was a magical day’ didn’t do it justice. We knew what we meant though, we could see it in each other’s eyes, in our smiles.. an understanding from having been there, having walked each step of the way, separately but together..There’s something in these shared experiences that forms an indescribable and special bond .. this day was like none other. I will never forget it.

The mood always changes slightly when it comes time to turn around, and the weather must have sensed it. We awoke early, to find the clouds out, but still at a healthy distance, allowing us to see our mountains. But then I watched as the rain hit the Western Arthurs, slowly concealing them, then Fedder went, and next it was our turn. That was ok, we had the scrub to get through, and over pants and jackets can be a bit hot if it’s not raining (or even if it is!). And so we danced the scrub dance, in and out of scoparia, myrtle, Pandani, cutting grass, you name it.. occasionally falling prey to a wet root, or a slippery bit of moss, or straight into the bog. All part of the fun (yes, we were still having fun!). At least the scrub sheltered us from the wind, and it was with mixed feelings that I popped (stumbled) out of the top of the scrub at Pandani Knob in quite good time, and the wind pounced immediately.

The slow trudge up to the base began, then around, over the saddle, and eventually into a bit of shelter. But the time came when we had to pop back over the ridge, into the full force of the wind, which seemed intent on trying to push us up the ridge (if only that’s where we wanted to go!). But we fought our way down and when we dropped round the corner we could hear again, and talked about where to look for the camp sites apparently cut into the scrub on the northern and eastern sides of Ooze Lake. We looked, but found none.. other than one or two that were pretty much mud puddles. So we settled for three spots close together, by the creek that runs out of the lake. Flat and quite sheltered. Perfect. Even more perfect when the sun started to shine!!!

Oh, what a beautiful world we live in!! Tents up, gear hung out to dry, washing done, lunch, and time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon lying in the sun, fully clothed in thermals (as you do when the wind’s that cold)!!! I was feeling so very peaceful and relaxed, all was right with the world of me and I couldn’t wish to be anywhere else. It was just beautiful being (there’s that word again). I’m glad I have some really good friends who love this as much as I do, and who understand why we do what we do, and are still smiling at the end of the day. And that was the sum total of my thought, as I let my brain go empty, wandered around the campsite and surrounding area, and just was. Listening to the wind, to the soft flow of water down the creek, the frogs that sounded like someone had marbles in film canisters and shook them to a particular rythym, slow for a bit, then a bit faster, and back again.. very un-frog like, and I did have to double check with Graham that that’s indeed what they were! The lazy afternoon was ended with dinner as the sun dipped behind the hill, taking with it it’s warmth, and we weren’t long into our tents and sleeping bags after that, grateful that we were back to being dry, and wouldn’t be putting on wet clothes the following morning (which was again forecast to be wet).

Brrrrr.. We weren’t to be so lucky with the weather the next day! It was a wet night, we awoke to mist, but again with the hint that it might clear. A short walk at the right time and you could see PB, Victoria Cross and Wylly. There was even a patch or two of sun. But as with the day before, when we were ready to go it started to rain, and we were walking in mist again. That was ok. It turned to hail as we made Maxwell Ridge, a bit less ok, and I was a little cold as we stood at the stone arrow marking the route to La Perouse. We had a discussion, whether to go up now, or to hope the weather cleared in the afternoon and try then. I’m not good with putting wet clothes back on and dragging myself out of a warm tent, and I wasn’t sure it was going to clear. I said I’d rather go up then and there, and if need be I’d return with the others later in the afternoon if that’s what they wanted.

But I must have been convincing and they came with me (sorry guys ;)) and we were walking up in snow and pretty low visibility. My right fingers were numb, oh well.. and I was in wet shorts and shirt under my wet weather gear. I knew I wouldn’t be mucking around up there. Though cold, it was rather beautiful, peaceful even when the wind stopped trying to push the snow (and us) around. A completely different experience to the sunny climbs we had at the start of the week!

A climb onto the Sprent cairn, a bite of celebratory Mars Bar, John to find some steel pins (these surveyors, always at work!) and then we were off, back down, hoping my fingers would become a bit happier on the way.. Happy enough for the gloves to come off so I could pitch my tent! It was a short walk back to our original site in amongst the trees, and with numb fingers that my brain seemed unable to reason with, I managed to get the tent up. No pegs except the two doors, figured that wasn’t a priority, grateful that I had a free standing tent aside from those two pegs. Strip, into the tent, strip some more, into the sleeping bag, shivvvvvvver. Eventually get around to struggling with dry clothes, shiver some more, blow up the mat. Lie and wait… For the shivering to eventually warm me and the tent up. A bit of lunch for distraction, back to the shivering. 2 hrs later, and I must have been feeling warmer, warm enough that making a loo trip became the priority.  A snack, and typing some notes on my phone. Doesn’t seem like this weather has plans to lift at all. Indeed not!

This was the first time I’ve been tent bound, and given I hadn’t been well at the start of the trip, I’d not packed any luxuries. No book, nothing. So I typed notes with cold fingers, dozed a bit, counted points.. POINTS!! What, 297! I’d been on 272 when we’d left.. YIKES! One more on the walk out over Moonlight Ridge, and I’d be 298. No time to plan something special for the 300th, but I figured that that was ok. I do count points, you can call me a peak bagger, but it’s often not about the points. One day, if I want to become the first female to finish the list, it will have to be, but for now it’s about finding ideas of new places to explore.

I slept in blocks that night, dodging rain showers to relieve myself, surprised at 2am to find the stars out, hoping that it might signify a better morning. No such luck. It was hailing and snowing on and off as we packed. And for the first time I was sure my pack was heavier than the day before, just in wet gear! I went for a new record, thermal bottoms, top, synthetic jacket, and wet weather gear. I wanted to be hot, rather than cold. It worked, I wasn’t cold, but nor was I particularly hot!

We trudged up and out of Pigsty ponds, lonely figures cutting through the snow which gave way to mist, walking a wobbly leaning line as we fought more wind. It was tiring, and I know I wasn’t helped by the fact that I didn’t actually want to be going where we were walking.. home. Often at the end of a trip you’re more than ready to go home.. but not this one.. even with the weather the way it was. Despite the wind, and probably because of the conditions, we made good time across the ridge, buoyed whenever a gap appeared in the mist, revealing Moores Bridge, or the Hippo for a brief moment, or letting some sunlight in to brighten the day. Graham and I had ducked up through the scrub to the high point (that was purely a peak bagging one). As we wove our way through the bog after coming off Hill 1, by now I was just ploughing straight through anything that was shallower than knee high (I couldn’t get any wetter), conditions started to improve, though it was still cold to stop for too long. Down we walked, off the bog and into the forest, and we really started to warm up. There was more blue than white above our heads, and we shed layers.

I was fairly dry by the time we came to the quarry, and just had the short flat walk our along the tram track. I started to drag my heels. I didn’t want this to end. We walked in silence and I’m not sure what the others were thinking. I was feeling a bit sad, but at the same time, very lucky to have had the time I’d had. And I still couldn’t stop smiling every time I thought of that day that was pure magic :D.. and I’m smiling again as I type this.

I wonder what other adventures life will bring!

88.7km, 6053m ascent (Hehehe!!). Thank you Graham and John for everything.

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