Mountains in the Old River circuit: Mount Wilson, Mount Norold, Richea Peak (no peak bagging points), Ripple Mountain, Mount Castor, Mount Pollux, Harrys Bluff and High Round Mountain.
This was a Hobart Walking Club Walk that had Graham and I making an impromptu, break all the rules, decision to join in. It had sparked our interest because it was to an area I’d not even been near, and to mountains that we’d barely heard about, let alone had any information on. In addition, the walk description seemed almost too good to be true: there was mention of pretty good walking and not an excessive amount of scrub. It was being run by Tony, who we’d heard of curtesy of his reputation, and who we’d had the very brief pleasure of bumping in to on our Olympus trip. From that, he was someone we trusted enough to sign up to his walk. That we would be going on a walk to new mountains where we didn’t have to do any of the ground work (obtaining GPS routes, asking around for handy tips, finding out info on water availability, campsite quality etc etc) was going to make it a real holiday!
Putting our names down did involve breaking our key principle of not walking with people we hadn’t walked with before (as dynamics can be very important on these kind of walks), and it was a little scary booking flights and a boat before Christmas, not knowing what the weather would be like, or even if I’d be able to go (I didn’t know quite what was going to happen on the job front at that stage). Graham was very generous, and bought my plane flight as a Christmas present (aren’t I lucky??!). The following is a day by day account of the trip.
Day 1: 8/3/17
We woke to a beautiful day, cool and calm. After the usual last minute packing of food and the like we drove the short distance to Cambridge airport and met the others as we waited excitedly in the queue. It turned out someone had been a tad enthusiastic in taking bookings and there were more people and weight than should have been flying, so after a hectic start, with our packs spread across 3 different planes, we boarded a twin engine plane and were off!
It was a smooth and fast flight, and on the way we waved at friends who were due to climb PB that very day, and marvelled at Federation Peak as it stuck its head above the clouds. It was quite a funny feeling flying in to Melaleuca, as the mountains were not familiar and I wondered as we flew over a bunch if they were ones we’d be climbing. I told myself I’d find out soon enough!
When we landed we had to wait for our 3 of our packs (we were on the first plane), so made use of the loos and visited some of the touristy attractions (Deny King Museum etc). It wasn’t long before we were good to go though, and one of the pilots took us out on a boat to where we’d start walking. When we were out in the harbour the water was calm and the reflections unspoilt, and I could understand why the area attracts so many yachts (I hadn’t even realised how many!). I don’t think we could believe quite how lucky we were, perhaps even more so for those of us who had been down that way countless times before, and possibly never had such a perfect flight or boat ride. It was just beautiful. The swans were also out enjoying it, but flew off quite early at the sound of our engine, keeping low to the water and flashing the white undersides of their wings.
The trip was quick and we had landed and were ready to start walking by 11.30. We got straight into it crunching our way across the undulations – the sound of our boots on very dry alpine scrub made me think of eating dry cornflakes! The greens yellows and browns were perfectly offset by the blue sky and reflective lake, and it was hard not to take photos. As new mountains appeared with our increasing height we took time to make sense of what they were and how they might be to climb. While we made some mistakes initially, they were quickly remedied. Some mountains were old friends, including the Eastern Arthurs, with Federation at the end.
I decided I was quite liking the terrain and views! We had no scrub, and a fairly mild incline most of the time, although enough to present a bit of a challenge to those who didn’t have much water or hadn’t walked with a pack for some time. Graham and I were both in good shape from the Eldons, and found it fairly easy… so much so it was difficult to resist the urge to walk off the front just to see what was over the next rise! This made us both chuckle, as we’d initially been a bit concerned we might not be able to keep up with the HWC bunch!
At one point we spent time looking for yabbie holes for one walker who was short on water, until Graham happened across an unexpected but lovely supply of water – which we all indulged in! The heat, dryness, and relative lack of water on the ridges were to become defining aspects of this walk.
Unfortunately, as we neared the summit of Wilson the sea breeze or something brought the mist in and we were left with fairly limited visibility. By this stage it was evident we wouldn’t be making a high camp on Norold, but would camp not overly far from Wilson, at the first fairly reliable water source. I attempted to provide progress reports and updates of the path ahead from my gps for those who were fairly tired and more than ready to pitch tents, but I’m not sure it had the desired effect. Sometimes it’s hard to know how things are done, and what people want and like when you’ve not walked with them before. I hope they knew I meant well.
In any case, we found our river, found appropriate camp sites on a bumpy little ridge and pitched our tents. No one seemed overly keen on a communal dinner (our tents were spread out a fair bit), so Graham and I set up on some rocks near our tent. A little while later Rod came and joined us and we had a bit of a chat as we ate and watched the mist partially lift before closing back in. It was quite nice, actually.
Day 2: 9/3/17
The moon and stars appeared overnight, giving us hope for a clear morning. And sure enough, when we woke we had mountains with low mist in the valleys. Understandably, it took us a lot longer than normal to cook and eat breakfast as we allowed ourselves to be delightfully distracted by the changing colours and light. Eventually we set off, just after 8, for a short walk to the ridge we’d take up Norold. After dropping our packs it wasn’t long before we arrived at the spot where the group whose route we were using for guidance had camped and where I’d hoped we might also camp. It was a lovely flat spot without scrub, and with superb views. If I ever make it back, I’d definitely camp there and recommend it to any readers who don’t mind a longer first day!
The final few hundred meters were also nice and easy and it was lovely to have 360 degree views for the first time!! We soaked them in, aware that most of the rest of the day would be descending to the river. As the highest point of our walk we checked for phone reception but had no success – we were just too far away and not quite high enough. That’s probably almost a first for me as signals on mountain tops are fairly reliable in Tassie (I wasn’t complaining though!).
On the way down we went by Richea Peak, which was a short and lovely little side trip (also recommended). There we met a number of swifts, who raced around and around the summit catching little insects. They were wonderful to watch, and it was hard not to laugh joyfully at their speed, effortlessness and agility! Amanda had chosen to skip the side trip and head back to the packs (understandably for coffee, I think!), so we met her back there then began our descent down our chosen ridge.
It started off well enough, if a tad steep and increasingly hot. Progress was slow and steady, with frequent pauses, but that allowed for plenty of photos! We got our first taste of scrub as we descended to a river we had to cross, which wasn’t much fun. Graham did the majority of the work out the front, which gave the rest of us a fairly easy and open bash to follow. Up the other side the sun was hot and heavy, and radiated off the button grass. There was no wind and the cicadas were in chorus – it felt like summer as a kid and I was as happy as I was hot!
The final ridge we had to drop down looked ok from up high, but proved a little difficult to stay on and by the time we realised we weren’t on it we were in a gully of thick scrub, where the only real choice was to go straight down, rather than across. It was horrible stuff – the kind you might be 2 metres off the ground one moment, only to find yourself face against the soil the next, with the choice of climbing back up on top, or fighting, twisting, pushing and clawing your way through. It was a long and scratchy fight the whole way down (looking back we couldn’t have chosen a worse path with any more scrub!), to another bumpy campsite. Water from the river wasn’t as easy to access as we’d hoped, as it required a bit of a walk. Graham and I bashed down near our tents, while Tony and Amanda did the sensible thing and found a really good pad to a smaller creek a little further away! It was cool and clean and most gratefully drunk! We set up our tents on the most open ridge we could find, ate dinner and retired to bed as the light waned, bringing a close to a day that was much tougher and longer than we expected (compared to those whose GPS route we were following, it took us double the time (2 hours instead of 1) to descend 300m!).
Day 3: 10/3/17
We made an early start on the third day, the original plan being to get up Ripple Mountain and then move camps. Judging by how long it took the party whose gps route we had, that didn’t look so likely, despite a 7.45am start. We were, admittedly, lucky in having a route and in having had a separate party go thorough only 5-6 weeks prior, which meant we had a decent pad to follow through the worst of the scrub. Progress was still hot and slow, and we had frequent breaks as a result.
We took it in turns to lead, and slowly waded our way up the ripples that formed the spine of the mountain. It was very aptly named, although Graham thought ‘Wave Mountain’ might have been a more accurate descriptor (‘ripples’ might have been more manageable!). The scrub was only at a generous height (for the walker) just before and on the summit, which we enjoyed immensely. We took our time with photos and lunch and were surprised to find a trig marker, before beginning the downward journey. Having our upward route on the gps meant I got a fair chunk of the downward trip to lead (so we didn’t have to ‘find’ the route both ways) and it was nice to be able to pull a bit of weight, even though I knew others, particularly Graham, were equally adept at doing that kind of walking.
As we descended, a pair of black cockatoos squawked at us, and later an olive whistler made its presence known. If you’ve read any of my blogs, you’re likely to know their presence always brings a smile to my face, and usually cause Graham to whistle back in reply. While Ripple Mountain was by no means an easy trip, it was thoroughly enjoyable. At the creek crossing, nearly back at our tents, we sat and enjoyed the cool refreshing water. Graham and I also decided to have a swim before dinner (which turned into a wash due to the temperature of the water!), which was even more refreshing.
Day 4: 11/3/17
Today we started the morning with a sleep in. Seeing we hadn’t moved up the river we were only up for a 5 hour walk (if we kept to the rather relaxed pace we’d been going). So we assembled by 8.30 and headed off shortly afterwards. Though it was partly cloudy we didn’t have any of the rain that had been forecasted when we’d left, and it was still surprisingly hot. We weren’t complaining however, we knew at some stage we’d be getting wet!
We started with a walk along the pad to where we could cross the Old River safely enough. Graham and I chose to remove boots and keep our feet dry, which was well worth the effort! We then commenced up a lovely little ridge that had us sweating but offered a nice line of view down to the river and back across to Harrys Bluff. The cicadas made their high pitched incessant trill, and the odd plane added a low rumble as we worked our way along. Graham spotted some little orchids, and I found and caught a cute little black cicada – I still marvel at how different they are here compared to Victoria! We stopped for frequent breaks, that took us about as long as the walking itself!
We soon dropped off the ridge and wandered across the plain through ankle to waist high scrub – far less scrubby than we might have expected. At the largest creek we crossed we stopped for lunch, seeking reprieve from the heat of the sun and enjoying the refreshing trickle of water over rocks. The scrub presented an increasingly annoying defence as we approached where we thought we should find a lovely camp site amongst the trees. I think we were all a tad skeptical given the scrubbiness and unexpected steepness of the route in. I was in the lead and know I certainly was full of doubt, but everyone followed skeptically or otherwise! I felt a little like it could be a make or break moment – I’d made an educated guess about exactly where the camp site was (having forgotten to transfer the waypoints I’d created marking each spot at home) but I could have been wrong. Fortunately, no more than 10-15 metres from the bank of the Old River, we walked out of the bauera and onto a beautiful spot right on the bank of the Old River. We finally had a flat camp site!
We pitched tents, then made straight for the river for a wash/swim. Hot drinks and some biscuits and brie followed and we sat around and chatted, whiling the afternoon away. Later that night we fell asleep to the sound of the river and a boobook owl – I don’t think it gets much more pleasant than that.
Day 5: 12/3/17
Yesterday’s rain began as we slept and by the time we woke at 6 it was a constant light patter. It was still going at 7 when we were set to leave, causing Amanda to pull the plug on the expected 11 hour day trip. The four of us set off, decked out in our wet weather armour and ready to climb a couple of hills.
The going started off alright, a little bit of openness to give us a glimpse of a patch of very green stuff. But it was no match for Graham, who ploughed us a way through it. A few more green spots in amongst the leptospermum-button grass combo, which both Rod and Tony put paid to in turn, and we were at the bottom of an open, but very steep ridge that would take us to the top of Castor. It was still raining, but not too cold, and I think we all were rather grateful we didn’t have the perfectly hot weather of the last few days! While there was low cloud, the summit was clear, so we did indeed seem to have the best of both worlds.
Our very slow but constant plod took us higher and higher, and soon had us admiring the rock formations that were to be a big feature of the walk. Further still and we were climbing up the summit rock, admiring our good time and the fact that the rain seemed to have exhausted itself – at least for the time being!
After as long a break as we could afford, a clothing adjustment, food, photos and some water we proceeded to make our way along the somewhat rollercoaster-like ridge that connects Castor and Pollux, taking our best guess at which of the bumps along the way we should sidle around, and which we should go over. That’s always an interesting game when you can’t see the other side of said bumps! But we made it without too much to fault and once again found ourselves at the bottom of a steep and long enough climb.
I was given the lead. By this stage the plod had slowed considerably and we were all finding our wet weather gear a tad on the warm side. But as is always the case somehow our legs got us to the top and we walked the short distance along a much more reasonable incline to the summit. Again the rocks were a feature, as were the dead trees on the western side from a fire some years ago. If you had the desire, camping anywhere along that ridge would provide you with some really nice photos.
We were pretty ravenous by this stage, due to the amount of time we’d been walking for (about 6 hours), the incline and the fact that the weather had kept us going without many snack breaks. We thoroughly enjoyed lunch on the summit and were lucky enough to even get the faintest hint of sunwarmth (yes – that’s now a word)! We had pretty good views of the immediate mountains, some lovely clouds and mist to make them look even nicer and the odd patch of blue sky to lift our spirits even further (if that was possible?).
It was certainly warmer and no longer wet so we stripped some more layers then began the long journey back. It was a steady walk largely back the way we’d come and didn’t require too much thought. We chatted intermittently, or otherwise were happy to be left to our own thoughts. Federation Peak poked through the clouds at one point and a small rainbow appeared later on as we summited Castor for the second time in the same day (just because we could!). As we were getting ready to take on the steep downhill of Castor a rain shower started again – enough, we figured, to make the slope nice and slippery (if we’d had bodyboards we’d have got down in record time, but perhaps not so safely)! Graham, wearing contacts instead of his glasses which doesn’t do anything for his near vision, did a fine job leading us down the ridge that was in fact so steep you couldn’t actually tell where it was except by consulting the GPS.
At the bottom it was too hot to wear rain gear and it wasn’t raining anymore, so jackets went away again. That was only slightly problematic for me, who had the job of leading us back out through the scrub on the same lead we’d taken on the way up. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I was completely drenched from the scrub! We made it back safely and successfully to the tents; weary, wet and elated, having been out for just over 11 hours.
Getting dry and eating food were both high priorities, and they happened almost simultaneously. We sat around and chatted while we went about our business, in what was a really nice finish to the day. It had been an awesome side trip – tough but rewarding, and one that allowed me to feel I’d been able to make a valuable and appreciated contribution, and to get to know Tony and Rod a little bit better.
Day 6: 13/3/17
We woke early, knowing we had a big climb with full packs over Harrys Bluff. It was dark when we rose, and only just light enough as we struck camp to not need our head torches. We’d been promised a warm, sunny day but to start with we were below the mist that on day 2 had looked so pretty from above! We weren’t complaining – it would get hot enough, soon enough.
Having done a good enough job yesterday following our exact track back through the scrub, that again was my job for today. It was probably a good thing we didn’t have any views, as I wouldn’t have seen them if we did! When I didn’t have my eyes glued to crushed button grass, broken branches of leptospermum or other signs of destruction that suggested we’d passed by, they were checking out our route on the gps. I got drenched from the scrub again, but as we climbed up Junction Ridge the mist started to burn off and soon enough the sun was drying me out again.
At the appropriate point we dropped off the ridge and made a beeline for the Solly River, just above the rapids where it looked like we could cross easily enough. And we did, save for Rod who managed to slip over, ironically because the significant sized ‘stick’ he’d chosen to help ensure he made the crossing safely broke on him. He got up laughing and the rest of us joined in (not before taking a photo though!). Having said that, he did have some excellent tips on pole/stick placement when crossing a river that would be wise to follow, and that I’ve now added to my ‘practice’ as such (which now includes pole going upstream, not using the wrist straps on poles while crossing and having chest and waist buckles on packs undone especially in deeper water).
After a break to refill water and psych ourselves up for the climb ahead, we set off, Graham leading the charge at a blistering pace. It was as expected: not much scrub, very hot, sweaty, breathless and straight up. We did, however, have lunch to look forward to within the hour, which kept us going more than anything else I think.
The view back from where we’d come was pretty spectacular and as we gained more height Federation began to appear between Pollux and Castor. At lunch, Tony, perhaps the most seasoned of us when it comes to bushwalking, went straight for the shade of a lone banksia tree, while the rest of us sat on rocks. It was certainly a wise decision, and Rod, also a seasoned walker, was quick enough to join him before someone else took the only other spot.
Refuelled, onwards and upwards we went. After the initial steep climb we had a short reprieve at a flatter area with heaps more really nice rock sculptures. Amanda’s face lit up, her pace quickened and it was clear she was loving this particular spot – understandably, giving her passion for climbing. We all spent plenty of time with our cameras out here! But we couldn’t keep putting the climb off and we headed for a final rocky bit of ridge. Graham generously handed the lead over to Amanda. Half way up Tony pointed out two wedgies who had come over to check us out, before heading off to some other part of their territory. I figured I’d see them again on future trips – they’re always a nice constant. Not long afterwards we were standing on the summit of Harry’s Bluff, unable to wipe huge smiles off our faces and feeling awfully pleased with our achievement. We celebrated with a nice long break, drinking in water with the views.
We did manage to drag ourselves back to our feet and off the summit, but only because of the promise of a campsite that wasn’t too far off (the first saddle past the bluff). The saddle provided some flat but exposed camping, and enough water to suffice if you went for a bit of a look. We pitched tents, lay clothes out to dry in the sun and cooked dinner. We congregated together around Amanda’s tent to eat, which we followed up with a dessert of sunset and photos. When the show was over the frogs started up a chorus, but didn’t last too long to keep us awake all night. I think we all went to bed pretty happy with what we’d done and the fact that we were out of reach of both the mozzies and the leeches! The night was cooler than down in the forest too, and the stars and moon were all out – what more could you want? The place was just as beautiful as it was under the light of sun.
Day 7: 14/3/17
The alarm sounded early for another big day: for Graham and I the morning consisted of trying to fit a cooked breakfast, a trip to the loo, packing up and sunrise all into an hour and a half. That was difficult when the latter took up half that time! As it turned out, we were a little late thanks to the somewhat lengthy sunrise, though I think Tony understood, and everyone was patient enough with us. No one could deny it was a beautiful morning, with the most in the valleys below us again, though it already heralded a hot day.
We got straight into it, following the ridge, weaving through the scrub behind Tony’s experienced lead so as to avoid the worst of it. The aniseed smell of boronia exploded around us as we crushed it under our feet, and the pink and white flowers of bauera did look pretty, even if the plant can be a walkers curse at times! We did a pretty good job and when we got back on it the ridge was very open. It was hot and dry very early, the light quickly glaring harshly over us and the landscape and the scrub still cracking and crunching under our boots. It was raw and wild, and utterly enjoyable. Part of the enjoyment I think stemmed from the feeling that it could also be quite a harsh landscape, if you weren’t well prepared for it. We had sweat streaming off us by the time we climbed up High Round Mountain, where we waved at a Par Avion plane as it flew overhead. Graham offered lollies on the top and Amanda told us about the Launceston Walking Club tradition of eating as many lollies as points you’d got for the mountain – I thought that sounded like an ok idea!!
As we set off again after a lengthy break there was some concern about water, but just as we started the climb up a hill that would become our lunch spot we found a lovely little soak that we all made use of to top up water bottles, drink from and soak hats in. Lunch was enjoyed with views out to the Ray Range – one of the few that Tony has still to climb – and we shared more stories of walks we’d been on, routes up mountains and future plans.
We eventually dragged ourselves back to our feet and proceeded to work our way down the ridge; our crunch another instrument in the orchestra of nature that at this point in time included the hum of cicadas, chatter of birds, and occasionally, slight rustle of breeze in foliage. It was really nice going, until right near the end. I had been enjoying a lovely time out the front as no one else seemed to mind me hogging the lead, but that now meant I’d be picking our way through some particularly scrubby looking bits of ridge! Fortunately, the gps route we had gave some suggestions as to a good route and the bash was much shorter and easier than expected.
We quickly at the point we’d drop off the ridge and onto the plains below, crossing a creek on the way. The creek had really nice clean and cool water, and we all filled our bladders and bottles, knowing that the chance of finding good (non-brackish) water closer to where we’d camp next to the harbour was slim. I sensed an eagerness now to get to camp – it was so close and the promise of a swim in Bathurst Harbour was right at the front of our minds!
But there was one last challenge as we stood 50 or so metres from the shore, yet we were looking down on a horribly green scrubby forest into which our our GPS route descended. We soon decided to ignore the route we’d been following and headed further left, finding a much less scrubby way down to the waters edge. There we followed the rock around and located some good camp spots in amongst the trees, as well as a little rock cave/cache built in the 1800s for storage!
After some minor landscaping, tents went up and we got straight into the water. It was beautifully warm, sandy underfoot and so perfectly refreshing!! Certainly a wonderful way to end such a spectacular walk. Later, we sat on the rocks and cooked dinner, chatting away and watching the sun set over Mount Rugby. The water lapped at the rocks gently, and swans across the other side of the lagoon made soft, happy flute like sounds.
Day 8: 16/3/17
Rod had made a call on his satellite phone when we’d got to camp the night before to let our pilot/coxswain know we’d be ready to come out whenever he could get to us, but we knew that wouldn’t be before 11, and perhaps not before 3! Expecting to have a fair wait, we finally got to have a sleep in!! For me that just meant not setting an alarm, but Graham and I were still up to see the little bit of colour that the sun cast across the lake as it rose, singling out Rugby. We couldn’t help but smile at the little fish that jumped out of the water near the shore as we walked by, while the yellow throated honey eaters chatted away behind us.
We were joined slightly later by Rod, Tony and Amanda and enjoyed a lovely last breakfast and chat. While it might have taken us most of the 8 days, we now seemed really quite comfortable with each other and ourselves and this was one of the unexpected gifts of the trip for me, and I think also Graham. At 10 we packed up our tents and by 11 when we were back on the rocks Amanda spotted our boat and we watched it approach excitedly! As we motored back to Melaleuca and passed the magnificent Rugby, Graham and I decided it would be a fitting ‘last mountain’ to climb – that is, the last mountain we’d climb to complete the HWC peak baggers guide, if we got there and had a choice in the matter ;).
The day after returning, I got the phone call I’d been waiting so long for, and had been a tad worried might come when I was out of range. I now have a job as a paramedic intern with Ambulance Tasmania, which should open up all sorts of opportunities to go on a few more walks than I have the last two years!
All up: 73.8km and 6360m ascent (now that is impressive!!)
Day 1: 12km, 7hrs, 1165m ascent
Day 2: 10.1km, 10:30hrs, 593m ascent
Day 3: 8.1km, 8:40hrs, 904m ascent
Day 4: 5.7km, 5:30hrs, 302m ascent
Day 5: 14km, 11:10hrs, 1550m ascent
Day 6: 9.5km, 9:40hrs, 1095m ascent
Day 7: 14.3km, 9:50hrs, 733m ascent