The last day of winter was forecast to be a ripper, sunny and clear, and after a few weeks of showers or snow showers forecast everywhere, there was no doubt about going for a decent walk. I had about 5 or 6 possibilities, but the bottom half of the Anne circuit is one I’ve wanted to do for a long time, as I’d done Anne, Eve and Eliza as a day walk before, but hadn’t explored any further. So I put some thoughts on Facebook, and had one friend, Marc, eager to come. That pretty much had me set on the Anne circuit, in part because Marc had to be back Sunday night and going in and out would work nicely for that, it wasn’t too long (like in to Pindars, LaPerouse and the Hippo would have been), and the views are stunning from pretty much everywhere out there. It was also one that gave a variety of camp sites depending on how much distance we made the first day.
I had to work as usual on the Saturday, and we’d planned that Marc would head in early and get as much of a head start as possible, and I’d follow when I finished work at 9. The drive down was fast, and I was filling in the walk registration book by 11.17. I noted that Marc had started out at 9.30, so I had a bit of catching up to do. So off I raced, excited by the views I was going to see, eager with a hint of anxiousness to catch up to Marc (I’d heard there was a river or two to cross, and there was a lot of water round, so I was hoping he hadn’t attempted anything crazy on his own).
It wasn’t long before I was sweating under the sun, and wishing I hadn’t forgotten my hat as I tend to do after a winter’s worth of cold walks. I was probably going a bit too fast, at least for the duckboard which was the slipperiest part of the track, and it had me sitting down once or twice. The track was very wet, but very frequent creeks you had to cross were welcome, and the water was as tasty as ever. You can’t beat fresh mountain water!
Once you get past the pad out to Schnells ridge (turn off is cairned and pink taped), the track deteriorates, and it had me thinking very much of my trip out to Frenchmans at the start of the year, bouncing from one tuft of button grass to the next to avoid the bog. The track is no longer taped in this section, though there’s a very clear bog pad to follow! It was almost 1 and I was nearly at the crossing to the Anne river when I saw Marc pop up from out of the middle of the button grass and shout out. He’d gone down and got so stuck he had to take his pack off to get back out. It couldn’t have been better timing, as we came across the Anne river quite soon after, and did a bit of tree climbing to avoid getting very wet.
That was somewhat a waste of time in one way, as we came across the next river, and for some reason we both had it in our minds we had to cross it. So we did. After a fair bit of scouting around to see if it was possible to get across without getting our feet wet. But no, we went in to mid thighs, nice icy cold water. We chose the shallowest part, but the river was still flowing pretty strongly, enough to threaten to sweep Marc, who doesn’t have the weight or muscle of someone without muscular dystrophy, down the river. So we did a bit of a human chain and were happy to get to the other side. Just as we were getting a tad worried about the thought of Marc crossing the river by himself on the way back, he trigged that we weren’t supposed to have crossed the river, and as soon as he said it I realised we’d crossed the river you only cross if you want to get to Lake Judd. So back we went. Wet for no good reason, but relieved Marc wouldn’t need to cross it alone.
We took to the button grass bog again, and as we started to head in to the scrub that marks the nice little (big) climb up to the ridge we stopped for a chance for Marc to have some lunch (I’d already eaten about three meals by then!). The track in and particularly the button grass plains had sapped a lot of his energy, and shortly after starting the ascent, realising we were going to be pushed to make it up before dark, we decided I’d race ahead and find somewhere to camp (I’d planned on getting in to Lonely Tarns, but that wasn’t going to happen this time). It took me just over an hour to climb the 500m, and I had a quick look around for somewhere flatish and sheltered to camp. There wasn’t much shelter, so I went for flat instead and dumped my pack, just taking a small bag down to pick Marc up.
I caught up to him at about 800m, with 300 left to climb. The mud, the overgrown track, and the creek that was the track had taken it’s toll on him already, but he’s one gutsy guy and refused all offers of me taking his pack until he really couldn’t go much further. So we just took it nice and slowly, stopping frequently to take photos of the sun setting over Lake Pedder. It was three hours after I’d got to the top, that we finally made it, the last little bit by head torch. Exhausted (Marc had been walking nearly 10 hours, me 8 and 8 hours work), we set up tents in increasingly strong winds, careful to ensure nothing blew away. Once inside I snacked on a chocolate bar (too tired to be bothered cooking) and tried to sleep.
That was a futile exercise! The wind buffeted our tents, and while it wasn’t the strongest wind I’ve been in, it was strong enough to keep both of us awake most of the night. It was just as windy when we woke, and I started getting packed up shortly after 6am. The sunrise was nice, though it was hard to steady one’s self enough to take a non blurry photo! The tent came down (I’m getting good at up and down in the wind), and I was ready to head off at 6.20. Making sure Marc was going to be ok to get down and out, and in turn convincing him I’d be ok in the wind that was so strong it was hard to hear yourself think (I heard later 80kph). That didn’t stop me worrying about him for the rest of the trip (and probably vice versa) and on the way out I was glad to be following his footprints in the mud on the way out, and to see his signature in the book. I found out later that I’d so exhausted him that he’d taken 11 hours to walk out. I just hoped that the view, and the realisation of just what he’d accomplished, made the pain worth it.
I had my own situation to worry about though. I wasn’t as far in as I’d planned, so I knew I had a bit of distance to cover. The wind was also a concern, as forecasts had it picking up at midday, and showers coming in at night. As it was, the winds in the morning were much stronger than what had been forecast, and I was getting anxious about Lot’s Wife. It also started to look rather grey, and a few showers came over and had me in my waterproofs by 7am. But I was still keen to have a look at Lot’s Wife up close.. so I kept going, despite the voices of two friends in the back of my head telling me not to go solo.
The walk along the top was stunning, and seeing the mountains unfold before you is quite something. I was laughing in the wind, despite my anxiety about whether or not Lot’s wife would send me packing with my tail between my legs. As I started the short climb up through the forest to make the ridge that leads to Lot’s Wife, my legs were complaining from the day before and I was feeling quite fatigued. The snow that had you sinking back down with each step didn’t exactly help, but at least there were plenty of pink tapes to guide you through. I was on the ridge a little while later, and after winding my way along the pad across the top, was standing at the foot of Lot’s Wife by 8.30.
I had a GPS track from a friend, so I headed round to the left, following a pad with a few cairns. Checking out possible ways up as I walked along, when I came to a spot with a cairn and clear signs of people having been that way, I stopped, checked the GPS, and decided that it must be the way to go. It looked a little hairy to say the least, about 9 metres of straight up, all of it ‘in the air’. There appeared to be a few small bushes to use as hand holds, and some small protrusions in the rock to wedge a centimetre or two of boot on to.. so, determined not to give in so easily, despite the uneasy feeling inside, I decided to give it a shot.. so up I went.. after a few metres I could see a little ledge a little bit above me, and knew if I could get there I’d have a ‘safety ledge’ where I could at least fit two half boots on and stand without clinging to the rock. The only problem was finding a hand hold or two that would get me up. I had my first moment, and after a pause to recollect myself and a bit of searching around I managed to claw my way up and over the ledge. Then there was some more up.
At about 6 metres up I was stuck for hand holds again, the only green stuff was slippery and came right out when you grabbed it, and it was inconveniently placed on all the possible hand holds. Then, as if on cue, it started to rain. I had a vision of me, if I made it to the top, sitting there as it rained, with no way of getting back down this crack, which was more than slippery enough as it was without needing more water. So there was no real thought any more, it was a definite MISSION ABORT.
I managed to get down without falling, and stood there with shaky arms and legs, feeling very yuck. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to make it, probably because I like to pride myself on being determined to meet a challenge and succeed. I’d failed spectacularly, rubbed in by the fact that though considered tough, plenty of people make it up Lot’s Wife. I’ve spent most of my life trying to prove myself, in particular to hide the fact that deep down, there’s a great big coward in me. And though part of me knows that, it’s easy to convince yourself otherwise, until such times as these and it stares you in your face. So I was disappointed and disgusted, and really quite tired and flat, all I felt like doing was howling with the wind.
As I walked back, I couldn’t figure out why there was such a decent pad out to something so hard (and I don’t say hard lightly, I had no issues with the shelf at Mt Anne, and that little climb I attempted up Lot’s Wife was harder than the climb up the Citadel, which was also quite safe). I really should have put two and two together, coupled with the fact that I’d noticed as I’d walked over to Lot’s Wife that it’s profile was one that would suggest the easiest route might be up the back. But no, such was the mood I was in there was no considering to scout further round, or ponder another way up. I thought I’d gone ‘the way’ up. It was only when I got home and posted photos that I was told there was a gully further round, which you could climb up with ‘no air time’! Lesson: don’t be too reliant on GPS routes and use your common sense.
So cutting my losses, I headed wearily towards Mount Lot, determined not to make the whole trip a waste. I wasn’t really in the right mood, though a message from a friend and the nice little walk up Lightening Ridge started to bring me round. I was still more tired than elated when I got to the top of Mt Lot, which is unusual, in fact a first, for me. I did, however, run into three others doing the circuit, and they reminded me of how spectacular the view was. So I started to snap out of my self misery, and take in the mou
ntains around. Deciding the view was worth another night up on the range, I thought I’d camp again at the bottom of Sarah Jane, instead of closer to Schnells Ridge, leaving the latter for another trip. This would give me the views from the top for another night and morning (or so I thought, though it was not to be so!).
So I wandered back down off Lot, and back to Sarah Jane, which I climbed and was on top shortly after 2. I just sat there, sheltering behind a rock to avoid the worst of the winds, and looked at the world of mountains. I sent a few messages, and only when my bum became too numb, and I thought I’d best go and set up my tent before the rain came, did I head back down. Sarah Jane is a lovely little climb on scree, reminding me a bit of Mt Field East. I couldn’t have timed it better. I found a slightly more sheltered site, which it was sounding like I was going to need despite the forecast saying the winds should abate, and set up camp. I was in my sleeping bag by 4ish, and again, too tired to cook or eat much, I just had a cup of soup.
As I lay there, it wasn’t long before the rain started. It was quite nice to listen to, as it came and went. Then it got a little more wild, with the thunder and lightening chiming in, and the wind, despite being sheltered, still managing to buffet my tent even more vigorously than the night before. I wondered vaguely if there was anything you should or shouldn’t do when camping out in that kind of storm, but figured whatever was going to happen would happen, and I could walk out by head torch if need be. Things died down by early morning and I actually got some sleep. When I awoke at 6 and it was still misty and wet outside, I figured I had all day to get down so I might as well have a sleep in and wait for the sun to burn some of the mist off. So I did, and I managed to sleep again!
I’d packed everything up by 8.20, still in the wind, and started the tired walk back. At least I knew it was all down hill, with a bit of muddy button grass to get through. Despite feeling slow, and having a scout around for the Schnells Ridge track, I managed to get down and out in 3.5 hours. I’d walked 39.2 km all up. Tempting as it was to check Schnells Ridge out, I knew I was tired and wouldn’t enjoy it so much, I’d already told others I wasn’t going to do it and my phone had died so I couldn’t amend that, and I wanted to be back early enough to get some sleep before work at 1am the next morning. Instead, I managed to jump right into the middle of a bog, thinking I was past the worst and that it wouldn’t be too deep, and sink in to my waist. Needless to say I went for a swim in the next river!
So I got home mid afternoon, feeling like the weekend had been a failure in part (I don’t usually not get to the top of things I set out to do, unless I choose not to for a particular reason), but also very inspired by Marc’s effort and keen to go back for those views again.
It was perhaps the most humbling experience I’ve had bushwalking. And hopefully I’m slightly wiser, slightly the better for it.
All up: 39.3km, 2865m ascent.