The White Monolith Range: 2-8 April 2021

GPS of the route we took through the White Monoliths, but only showing from the northern end of the Western Arthurs due to scale. We started at the start of the Western Arthurs track, obviously!

It had been talked about a lot but until this year I’d never got further. The White Monoliths is one of the last big ranges I have left to explore, but it’s probably best done with other people. It has a reputation for being dry on top and scrubby, in the way that makes for slower than expected going. It also has a couple of rivers that run like a moat, bolstering its defence against the inquisitive bushwalker. Very little about it is out there in the public domain.

It was right at the top of the list of walks I wanted to do this summer but it was purely due to Shelly’s interest in it during a chance encounter on the Overland Track in November that actually saw the idea come to fruition. We asked a friend each who we thought would be interested, and ended up with one extra, Ben. Sadly he was summoned to do jury duty shortly before we left, which meant he’d only have 9-10 days, not the full 12 we’d set aside, just in case. But he was still keen to come and was prepared to walk out alone if need be. We didn’t think we’d need so many days, but figured if we made good progress we could always check out Piners and Propsting, if the Davey River was safe to cross. It was all very tentative to cater to pretty much whatever we found as we went!

The weather forecast wasn’t great, but improved as our departure date approached. There was some good weather, some wind, some rain, some cloud, but not too much cold. We’d see! We left a cloudy Hobart and drove to the start of the Western Arthurs track, not surprised to find the White Monoliths wasn’t on the list of walk routes in the registration book! We made a personalised note and when Ben arrived and donned his gear we headed off, at the civilised time of 10am. 

The cloud had burnt off by midday, here we are about to start heading around the northern end of the Western Arthurs.

We were at Junction Creek for lunch just after midday, the walking muddy but uneventful. We had lunch, which would have been more pleasant if I’d not experienced my biggest gear failure to date. I had a brand new medium sized gas canister but nothing came out when I screwed it in to my stove. It didn’t even make a little release of gas when I unscrewed it. I borrowed one of Shelly’s, it worked fine… it was the canister. Wasn’t I lucky I was walking with others? Imagine if I was walking alone for 12 days… That evening Ben tested my canister with his stove and found it to work ok, except he thought it might be leaking when he unscrewed it. He generously swapped with me, but I felt uneasy that the canister was somehow still faulty.

Ben walks fast, but likes to sit on high points and wait for us. We have a view of the Folded Range (right) and the end of the White Monoliths (centre).

After lunch all the cloud had burnt off and the sun was at full strength. It was hot, the sweat poured off our faces as we squelched along the sodden, braided track. Ben walked ahead with his long legs, poles and faster speed in general. Shelly and I slowed down a bit, partly because it was our way of walking, partly because it allowed us to look up at the mountains as we swung around the northern end of the Western Arthur range without losing our balance. We walked in this fashion to just shy of where the Port Davey track crosses the Crossing River. 

Working out which way to go. We would camp at the base of one of those ridges heading up to Sculptured Mountain, the high point just to the right of the centre of the horizon.

Although there is quite nice camping there we were all keen to get across the river to the foot of the White Monoliths that evening. There was no rain forecast, but river crossings can take time and be a tad interesting and we had heaps of spare time to do it today. At this point we headed off track towards our range, aiming for the least scrubby section to cross the river. Ben picked a brilliant route, taking us straight past a super cute little echidna. Then we hit a tiny bit of open scrub and the river. 

Crossing the Dodd River. We hit at pretty much the perfect point and managed to keep our feet dry by walking on surprisingly not so slippery trees.

The one publicly available account of a walk along part of the White Monoliths paints a dire picture of the river crossing here. Depending on where you cross depends on whether it’s the Dodd or Crossing River and on average how big it looks on satellite imagery (the latter being bigger!). The account we read made it pretty clear the two guys who crossed it after walking along the range, having come in from over the Folded Range, were lucky to have survived. They crossed in much the same spot as we did. We obviously didn’t have quite as much rain in the preceding days and found a good little spot with a pebbly beach that allowed 2.5 of us to cross without getting feet wet. We were only hoping we’d be so lucky on the return, although we were also expecting a bit of rain!

A little more scrub and we found ourselves closer than expected to Sculptured Mountain, on an expanse of flat and open button grass plain. We picked a little rise that looked flat on top and was close to the river from which we’d source our water. It made for some lovely camping, aside from the northerly that picked up just as we were trying to pitch tents. It was forecast and was right on time, although I think we all thought how we’d have appreciated it more if it had come in the middle of the day instead! We sat out and ate, watched the sun set and the sky turn pretty colours, decided on things like departure times, immediate routes and tentative destinations for night two. By then the light was gone and the stars were out and it was time to retreat. 

We sit out and eat dinner as the sun sets, casting pretty colours to the east and the Western Arthurs.

I got about 3 hours sleep before the wind turned really gusty and the moon was high in the sky, making a perfect combination to challenge even the most robust of sleepers. I accepted the challenge and decided it would be a night of rest as I listened to the wildness, instead of one of sleep. Dozing was inversely proportionate to the gusts of wind. 

We were up for an early start (Shelly was my official alarm clock) and ready to go at the crack of dawn, because it was going to be a hot one. The first day had been forecast at 23, today was meant to hit 26. We didn’t want to be climbing up the ridge in that! At least the ridge looked like completely open going and not ridiculously steep. The only hitch was we were carrying maximum water because we didn’t know what we’d find up there. That meant an extra 6kg, or a total pack weight just shy of 30kg! And on top of that we had the wind. It wasn’t just wind, it was gale-force by now. 

Already into the climb as the sun rises above the horizon. The southern end of Greystone turns orange (technically you can see Greenhead and Scoparil Hill here).
The morning light is lovely, casting long shadows over the plains. Robinson sits proudly on the horizon.

We were lucky to be sheltered from the sun and the wind as we began the steeper than expected ascent onto the range. It was open, but still annoying with inconsistent height of the step ups and plenty of goop underfoot to send you sliding backwards. We plodded. Ben commented on how literally the names had been applied to the range. There were white monoliths everywhere (and they were cool!), Scrubby Peak looked exactly that, Corner Peak was on the corner of the ridge, Greystone was capped with… (yep, you guessed it), there was more than enough evidence for at least one peak to be called Wombat Peak… 

It feels like a very steep climb up Sculptured Peak (left), especially with 6L of water in our packs. Turns out there’s a good flowing creek just in the dip there, that we try not to curse at as we cross it! You can see why the range is named as it is, can’t you?!

It took time, but we made it to the ridge just below Sculptured Peak. Here we were confronted with the full force of the northwesterly wind. I realised that our one luxurious day of ridge-top walking wasn’t going to be so easy. It was a fight to progress forwards, even on the flat. And the wind gusts made staying in control an impossibility. We staggered forward, dropped our packs and ducked the short way up. Finally we’d made it to the first peak of the range. It’s a little milestone that always seems to make a walk seem real to me.

On the summit of Sculptured Peak, trying not to be blown off!

Sculptured Peak has a lovely little summit with lots of rock monoliths and we climbed the highest. Unfortunately the wind made it impossible to enjoy. It threatened to blow us off if we did anything other than sit and we couldn’t hear one another talk unless we found sheltered rocks to duck behind. It was a little bit cruel that our good weather and summits to enjoy coincided with such strong and constantly noisy wind that they weren’t so enjoyable after all!

The rocks are pretty cool. Greystone in the far distance, barely poking over the ridge. Maconochie right most in the distance. Wombat peak is the next peak along the ridge, sitting in front of Maconochie. Then there’s Scrubby, Stonehenge and finally Corner peak in that order along the ridge.

We didn’t stay long, picking up our packs and weaving our way along the relatively open ridge and rocky outcrops to Wombat Peak. We were pretty surprised to find a couple of cairns and even a bit of pad in one spot, though neither lasted. Wombat peak was a bit of a steep, messy climb up scrub and rock and we pack hauled in one steep spot. Again, the summit was impossible to sit on top of for long. We hunkered in the scrub as we ate lunch bang on midday. 

It’s not exactly a straight forward ridge… Maconochie sticks its head through a gap between Wombat Peak (left) and a rocky outcrop.
The scrub, at least, is minimal for this part of the range. It’s just a matter of deciding which way to go around or over things.
Looking back at Sculptured Mountain, with Robinson in the distance.
Wombat peak is a bit of a messy summit, with big rock and scrubby chutes to negotiate.
Shelly rounds a corner, preparing to come over the rock. Mt Anne sits majestically in the background.

All day we’d been talking about plans for walking and camping and they were still the hot topic of conversation. We had three factors to consider. The biggest was the wind factor, the northwesterly was going to continue throughout most of the night and we didn’t want to be exposed to its full force. Next was water. While we’d seen plenty around it wasn’t something to be casual about and the longer we walked for the less we saw. Finally there was the scrub factor and being able to find suitable flat spots to camp. 

Looking back from where we’ve come. Sculptured Mountain is the highpoint to the left of the Western Arthurs in the background.

We constantly fine tuned our assessment of our situation as we walked on, slipping and sliding down the button grass slope off Wombat Peak to the last open saddle we thought we might see today. It was too early to camp and there weren’t any good spots anyway. We hit lovely forest with King Billies, Myrtle and Pandanis as we started our ascent of Scrubby Peak, choosing to head for a sidle-climb round the northern shoulder. The forest gave way to lighter button grass scrub and we descended in a similar fashion – half descending half sidling under the more rocky and scrubby spine that linked the peak most directly with the ridge. 

From Wombat Peak, looking along our ridge. Yuck, we think. That open saddle looks like the last bit of nice walking we’ll have for a while. The first bump is Scrubby Peak, and it was just that. The second is unnamed, but despite not looking it, isn’t so bad. We camped between the two for our second night.
Heading off Wombat Peak requires a bit of a drop off the side of the ridge to avoid big boulders. It gives us another look back along the ridge from where we’ve come.
We had some more open walking at times and part of the forest at the base of Scrubby Peak was actually nice.

Just prior to the saddle between Scrubby Peak and an unnamed bump (that was even higher and more green looking, and the final obstacle between us and Stonehenge) we had a break near a great big rock. Ben went exploring and reckoned we could find some sheltered camp spots, or at least bivvy spots around the rock. Either he or Shelly also found two little pools of water. We decided we were going to press on after all, but as we did we happened across some lovely open grassy spots on the ridge that were even better, but still sheltered enough. That made the choice for us. It was early, but late enough for us to be worried about finding another source of water or a sheltered site before dark. 

Camp for night two. The others chose more open spots, but I was keen not to feel the 30-40km/h winds for another night!
Looking south towards Braddon, King and Legge and Melaleuca. The clouds are pretty, but seem ominous too.

So we set up our tents, then chilled out in one of the bivvy spots Ben had found. The wind was still howling somewhere above us, but seemed to be diminishing ever so slightly. It blew in clouds that looked both pretty and unsettled all at once. There was a small chance they’d drizzle on us. I retreated to my tent to type some notes and stretch out my back, reappearing at the time I expected the sun would start to set. It wasn’t to be. The clouds had turned grey and thick, whizzing across the sky, turning the horizon a murky blur of mountains and moisture. I confirmed another crack of dawn start time and retreated to bed, left on my own to puzzle over what that meant with daylight savings and a phone that might automatically change the time back, even if it was on airplane mode. I should have checked that minor detail before leaving home!

Spot the tent. The light changes and it feels like something out of a Harry Potter movie set.

The wind was still racing round, but it sounded like it was off in the distance. I had a sheltered spot in the lea of a big rock and the tent fly barely rustled. As you can imagine it didn’t take long to fall asleep, although I woke when the rain started. It fell much like the wind, in fits and bursts, but wasn’t to last. 

By morning the wind was still around, but at half strength as we woke and packed in the dark. It was lovely to be able to hear yourself breathe again. The clouds still raced overhead, but were broken enough to reveal some stars and we were also lucky they were high enough that we could see where we were going. The unnamed hill ahead looked horrible, but we found a good way up with scrub that was much easier to move through than the day before.

Climbing up the unnamed but not too scrubby bump before Stonehenge Peak. At times the sun shoots fingers of light through the clouds.
Onwards to Stonehenge (left) before Corner Peak (right).
The sky is moody but beautiful to the south.
Maconochie looks pretty speccy from here! None of us like the look of the bump in the ridge before it though.

Continuing along the ridge we made our way to the side of Stonehenge, where we gratefully relieved our backs of our packs and walked the short open walk to the summit. It was once again a matter of choosing the highest bit of rock and scrambling up. It marked 750 points for me (when you get to the pointy end you start counting the smaller milestones!). The wind felt as ferocious as the day before and forced us to shelter behind the rock we’d been sitting on, while we discussed the route ahead. 

Around the side of Stonehenge we dump packs and prepare for the short climb up low scrub.
It’s another howling summit. Maconochie watches us from the background. Ben is just making sure we’re on the true highpoint.
Greystone – also aptly named! Taken from Stonehenge.
Robinson and Braddon from Stonehenge.

The ridge top was broken and knobbly enough that we were constantly weighing up whether to go over or sidle around each obstacle, and if around, to which side. We chose pretty well and always by consensus. As we walked towards Corner Peak we decided Stonehenge was appropriately named. There were some very Stonehenge-y looking rocks, even if they weren’t arranged in a circle. Onwards we wove, scrambled and hauled ourselves, the downhill not always much faster than the up. 

Looking back at Stonehenge as we leave. I can see why it’s been given that name.
The ridge forwards, Greystone to the left. The three little rock pillars on top of this rise were kind of cute!
We weave our way along, the jackets more for the wind than any rain. Maconochie is getting closer.

It was just as well I was with these two for Corner Peak. I had the high point marked at the corner of the range. But it turns out the highest point is further west, by quite a long way. If I’d been alone I’d have sailed straight by. The others were all over it though and we scrambled up between rocks and scrub to the bottom of two big rocks. Of course the easy to climb one was the lower of the two. The other was a technical climb and not easy in the wind. You could do a very big step between the two rocks over a decent drop, but again, it would have been too risky in the wind. Ben scrambled up first, making it look relatively easy with only a touch of hesitation. Shelly and I climbed off the second highest and I joined Ben, taking encouragement from both as I went. In some ways the worst part was the wind on the summit, as it made everything super unsteady and required a large margin for error. In all of 20 seconds my fingers were numb, so I was as quick to follow Ben back down as he had been to scoot down as soon as I was up. It was exhilarating, to say the least!

Climbing the highest point of the rocks that collectively form Corner Peak. Ben takes care in the windy conditions. The ridge we’ve walked along sits in the background.
Exhilarated to be on top of Corner Peak, I reckon. Stonehenge sits behind.
I join Ben on Corner Peak. Looking along the ridge to Maconochie (right) and Cinder (far left) with Little Cinder diminutively in the middle.
Greystone and rock!
The ridge traversed so far. Sculptured, our first peak, sits left of centre in the distance. It looks easier than it is from here!
Looking forwards, Maconochie on the right, Cinder on the left.

We continued on towards the corner of the ridge, surprised and grateful for the odd bit of terrain that appeared to have pad-like characteristics. They were particularly pleasing around the scrubby and rocky knobs on the ridge to Maconochie. By this stage I know at least two of us were pretty tired, our legs not used to carrying quite as much water each day as we had been. We hadn’t needed the extra water today, as it turned out, but neither Shelly or I could bring ourselves to jettison any of it given we’d already carried it so far! It was not all scrubby going, however, and we had some really pretty areas of walking too.

This was a lovely bit of walking, the rocks were super cool!
Beautiful under-foot, Greystone on the horizon. It was like a playground here.

We got pretty used to ducking behind rocks, on their eastern sides, for breaks and lunches. Part way along the ridge we stopped for lunch, in need of an energy booster. We shared Easter eggs (it was Easter Sunday to the rest of the world) and ate lunch before picking a pretty good and open line up towards Mount Maconochie. The mountain itself was pretty easy to climb, it was just a matter of following relatively open gullies to the rocky top. 

Sidling the big bump on the ridge to Maconochie. We would take the green ramp to the left of the rocky bulk to get to the summit.
Lake Maconochie. Doesn’t look worthwhile dropping down there, especially as the camping is reported to be not much good!

For a surprise, there was a strong wind on top that raced to meet us with its embrace, much like the kind of dog that bowls you over in greeting every time you return home. The mist had just come down too, so it appeared an unassuming kind of summit. But as we waited the clouds blew apart, revealing a beautiful looking ridge ahead of us that would take us to our next mountain, Little Cinder Hill (but not till tomorrow!). The bit between it and Cinder Hill looked pretty tough and none of us were looking forward to it much. But that was for another day! Looking back along the ridge we could see where we’d come from, way in the distance, which felt pretty good considering how slow the going seemed. 

A cloudy and windy summit for us today on Maconochie.

When the wind had cooled us down too much (less than 5 minutes) we left the top and walked clumsily down the ridge to a button grass bowl we’d seen from the summit. We were optimistic it would provide some shelter. We weren’t able to tuck behind any of the rocks, but found some ferny bits that didn’t seem to be coping too much wind. We pitched tents in between showers and then settled in with the rain while the wind stumbled blindly through our campsite. My gas canister was still causing Ben trouble, once again leaking after being detached from the stove. I took it back, it didn’t seem fair he should have to wear the problems. For a temporary solution I attached my stove. Whether I could walk like that and not break my burner was a question for the morning! (Turns out I could, and did so for the rest of the trip). 

But the clouds lift, and we get a view of what our day will contain tomorrow. We choose to camp in the button grass bowl to the right, hoping to get enough protection from the wind. The going the next day would be good until the ridge turned to the left. Then that tiny little green bump of a ridge was foul! Little Cinder and Cinder Hill are the next two mountains along the range and two of the hardest I’ve climbed.

The rain persisted through most of the night, but was kind enough to break for us so we could pack up our tents without getting everything soaked. We had timed it perfectly and set off as soon as we could see. Visibility would come and go, but it was already better than expected as we made our way down the ridge. Going was good until we turned west, towards Little Cinder. We hit some ferocious scrub that took us a long time to get through. We had a rotating lead set up pretty quickly and in this fashion took it in turns to throw ourselves at the almost impenetrable mess of green and brown. There was a lot of backwards walking, which was often the easiest, most efficient and least painful way of making forward progress.

Sometimes we popped out onto nice going, often unexpectedly. The climb up to the base of Little Cinder was also scrubby, as we’d chosen to tackle the green gully instead of going up and over the rock. A wise idea I suspect. A final push and we were up, the first summit of the trip where we weren’t blown off the top! We remarked about how much of a difference the absence of wind made, both physically and psychologically. 

Taking a break in an open bit of scrub between the Cinders for lunch. It’s going to be a wet, long and hard day.

Despite the unexpectedly scrubby start to the day we were making good time and the first bit of the drop off Little Cinder was open. We enjoyed it while we could. It soon enough turned into downhill scrub, then forest. It took some bashing then weaving down to the green saddle between the two Cinders, but was perhaps better than expected. So too were parts of the traverse across the saddle – green but manageable. Mostly. There were some absolutely shocking parts too, and then as the climb started we had horrid scrub coinciding with a steep ascent. The  turns at lead grew shorter and Ben did more that his fair share. He seemed to just bound upwards while Shelly and I were weighed down by our packs. I’m sure he didn’t really defy the laws of physics, he just gave the illusion of doing so.

We’d looked at the ascent from Little Cinder and decided on a green ramp. Having done our fair share of scrub by the time we reached the foot of the climb we reevaluated. We also checked the contours and realised the green ramp would have a horribly steep climax. We were struggling as it was with the incline and scrub (it’s hard to get on top of a Pandani that’s as tall as your head when you’re standing underneath it!). So we changed tact and headed for the ridge at the place where the contours were furthest apart (ie the most gradual incline possible). It was still strength-zappingly steep, but somehow we hauled ourselves and our packs up. We even made it up the first climby bit of scrub and rock, the next and even the one after.

We’re on the ridge to Cinder Hill. It’s a bit less scrubby up here, but rocky and broken and we’re still hauling our packs up what seems to be an unrelenting climb. But we’re past the worst of it by now and are starting to feel like we might just make it!

We found ‘water, big water’ at the foot of one of the rocks we sidled around. Ben’s words made complete sense to our fatigued minds and bodies and so, perched on button grass clumps we took the time to fill up water for the evening and the following day. It could not have come at a better time and removed one of the little niggles from our minds. We could now camp anywhere we saw fit, regardless of whether it had readily available water.

Cinder Hill is to go down in our histories as the hardest and scrubbiest peak any of us have climbed. It sure was value for money, requiring every bit of energy, right to the end. By now though the rain had well and truly stopped and we had views to some of the nearby peaks, which made it worth the effort. We didn’t pause for much more than a congratulatory high five and a few shared smiles. We were short on time and the slight breeze, the late hour and being drenched through had us feeling cold whenever we stopped for any length of time. 

On the summit of Cinder, looking along the ridge we’ve just climbed up. It’s a bit average!

Shelly and I were both zonked and Ben later admitted to hitting the wall just before we arrived at camp, saying, however, that he was surprising how one could just keep on going past the point of exhaustion. He was definitely doing the best of the three of us and had kindly offered to stay in the lead even though he’d done way more than his fair share. It was in our best interests as a group to keep moving as fast as possible. 

And the way forward, we don’t have a lot of time left in the day, but just need to get down to that flat looking bit of button grass… oh and hope that that’s exactly what it actually is!

We didn’t have long before sunset, but found it very easy to funnel, slip and slide down the side of Cinder Hill, which was much nicer than the way we’d ascended! We hit a short scrubby saddle where Ben joked that it was a bit like the ‘Classic Hits’ of all the scrub we’d been through. It was a few hundred metres to the next saddle where we found spots to set up tents on ferns. It was pure, tired bliss to strip off wet clothes, put on dry ones, have some dinner and enjoy another two of Shelly’s energy boosting Easter eggs. Even more so knowing almost all of tomorrow would be scrub free, largely open walking in sunshine without wind! 

Looking back up at Cinder Hill after a short scrubby saddle – the mountain that just keeps on giving. It’s a much nicer descent/approach from this side!

We’d starred off the day much like the days before, each of us highly independent and self-sufficient individuals walking our own walk within the group. By the end of it we were helping each other up the tricky bits, frequently expressing encouragement and gratefulness, and were checking that everyone was ok. Today, I think, was when we really came together as a team. It required a vulnerability and trust, an asking for help, a putting aside of proud independence in receiving it and respect in giving it. It is something I think develops over time and one of the things I loved most about walking. It made me smile as I lay in the tent listening to the gentle breeze. 

We woke in cloud and timed donning our wet gear perfectly, all ready to leave shortly after 6, again as soon as it was light enough to see without head torch. We dipped over the saddle in an unlikely spot to continue our descent down the ridge, immediately hitting the top of the burnt out vegetation from the 2018/2019 fires. If there is ever anything good about bushfires, it is all the saved pain of having to bushbash. We were very grateful, all the more so because everything around us was soaking wet from the low cloud, no wind and high humidity. 

Heading down the ridge off Cinder towards the river, before climbing back up Greystone Bluff. It’s a burnt out misty world to start with, but not actually raining.
Gradually the mist reveals our descent ridge. It’s a pretty good one, with only one short but very thick scrubby saddle. We’re most grateful for the fires, even if we’d rather they didn’t burn precious wilderness.
Greystone is behind the curtain somewhere. Banksia pods look like birds on stick trees.

As of to remind us what it could have been like, we did happen across one small gully that had escaped the fires, all the way to the top of the ridge. It took us a long time to bash a way through. Then we were back to relatively smooth sailing, either trying not to slip over on denuded ground s ashore everything you could hold onto coveted you in black or weaving a way through the low scrub surrounding between big boulders with cliffy drop offs. The ridge we chose was perfect. It spat us out onto the edge of Pine Creek with no real scrub to trouble us and a crossing point where we could keep our boots on and keep our feet dry (if only they had been!). A Huon Pine grew prettily out of a mossy bank as we took water and fuelled our bodies with food for the climb. 

We have a really pretty good run down the ridge and make it all the way to the creek without a scrub fight (more of a slippery slide – it wouldn’t be so easy ascending). There’s a long but open climb ahead, which we don’t actually mind. We’re over scrub at the moment.
Again, we come to cross Pine Creek in the perfect spot, complete with Huon Pine.

A short big of low scrub and we were out on the open ridge, where we’d spend the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon, slowly placing one foot in front of the other, dragging our heavy packs up Greystone Bluff. It was open, scrub free walking, it wasn’t raining and there was no wind, and the sun was even threatening to burn of the persistent cloud. The views were stunning and so apart from the burn in our legs, we were having a ball. One little yabbie also had the ride of his life, as Shelly walked over his water-filled cavern it ‘geysered’ a spurt of water out one hole, complete with said yabbie. He promptly shuffled off and down another entrance probably to the same cavern, but made me laugh in the process. We had yabbie tubes just in case we’d needed them, but had found enough water not to have to steal any.

Looking back at the bottom half of the ridge we’d come down. We’re making good progress.
Shelly is one of those happy kind of people. I think you can tell by her smile.
Onwards we plod as the cloud continues to lift. Cinder Hill is still in the mist, but you can seem ore of the ridge we followed down.
Piners and Propsting still under cloud. We’d toyed with the idea of ducking out that way, but forecast rain at the end of the week had us sensibly concerned about getting stuck on the far side of the Davey River.
What a lovely mountain to climb!
The day turns blue, Maconochie to the Right, with the Frankland Range behind.
Cinder Hill. The worst I’ve climbed. We camped on the flat bit of ridge just below the summit.

The higher we climbed the more we could see. We hardly needed to say it, because it was clear we were all having the best day of the trip. It only got better. We dumped our packs just shy of the summit and had a fun little scramble over the playground that was the summit approach. The rock was awesome and there were heaps of cool overhangs, chockstones and other interesting formations to explore.

Cool rock formations on our ascent.
A rocky ridge, Little Cinder centre and behind.
The final walk to the summit of Greystone is easy – it’s one of those summits that has some playing, adventure, scrambling and then a nice garden on top!

The summit itself was large and open with views all around and it was hard to know where to look first. We discovered later that night that Shelly had hit 500 points on Greystone – and what a worthy one to do it on! We spent the most time there than we had on any summit, wandered over to another high point for a sticky-beak before dragging ourselves away to the next delightful surprise. 

Home sweet home lies down there. A Garden of Eden! We are on the top of the world right now.
Western Arthurs, Eastern Arthurs and Robinson.
Our campground and the ridge we’d take out the next day, over the burnt bit and down the left ridge.
Shelly takes it in, looking out to the harbour and Mt Hean. Planning future trips.
Ben also takes it in. I think he’s pretty happy to be here. It makes the previous days slog worth it. Corner Peak to the left.
Maconochie.
Maconochie and the Folded range behind, with Mt Anne in the distance.
The last couple of days walking. From L-R: Cinder, Little Cinder, Maconochie, Corner.

Back at our packs we wandered down a beautifully manicured ancient garden, full of Pandanis, myrtle, pineapple grass, moss, the nice kind of scoparia and other native flora, as well as the obligatory rock sculptures. It was delightful and at one point Shelly and I just looked at each other with the greatest smiles on our faces. They said more than any of the words we could come up with. At the end of our walk was the largest, flattest, lushest expanse of neatly trimmed lawn, for want of a better term. The grasses were native and alpine, but you get the idea. A small stream babbled across the middle. Rocks sat scattered about like sculptures. It was just beautiful. To have it coincide with the nicest weather of the trip was a stroke of the best fortune available. 

We have a delightful walk heading to our little (or BIG) oasis.
Having difficulty finding a spot to camp!

We spent the afternoon drying wet gear, mending things, tending to the parts of our bodies that demanded the most attention (mostly our feet!), eating, relaxing and playing cards. Ben had been unable to find a miniature deck of cards so had cut one deck into quarters, bringing along one of the quarters that had the number in the corner. They were pretty cute to play with, I must say. 

This was not the only lesson on lightweight walking I was to learn on the trip. It’s been something I’ve never taken too seriously, partly because I’ve always been one of the fitter walkers on trips, partly because I like to buy gear that goes the distance and partly because I hate constantly replacing gear that works with the newest and lightest version. Seeing Ben bound along with his super light pack and feeling every one of the 25kg or so on my back as we pushed through the scrub part way along the range (not to mention trying to get it to squeeze through some of the gaps he slipped through) was a very powerful lesson indeed. There was one necessary item that was worth the extra weight, however. Two homemade beeswax candles… but we’ll get to that in a moment. 

We’d played cards till the cold chased us into our tents. It was also about the same time the setting sun dipped behind the cloud that had formed in the valley below us, the odd wisp blowing up and over our bowl. The effect was like orange lighting on dry ice at a music performance, it was simply stunning. 

The sun starts to set and the cloud that has formed in the valleys without our awareness starts to rise over the edge of our bowl.
It’s pretty!

At the other end of the bowl something else was happening entirely. The low cloud had covered everything except for the Western Arthurs, the end of which poked out above it, burnt orange as the last rays of sun caught it. The sky behind was shaded in pastel pinks and blues. 

At the other end the Western Arthurs sits just above the cloud as the sky turns pastel colours.

When I returned from sightseeing the others were sorting out the final touches to their dinners and had retreated to the warmth of their tents. I did similarly, where I cooked up an extra cup of soup and enjoyed it while I lit and then watched my two tea-light candles flicker away in the gentle breeze. I had brought them to mark the anniversary of Graham’s death (yes, it’s been that long), but because we’d made such good progress and wanted to get out before the weather turned really foul chances were we’d be out the day before. But Greystone was such a lovely mountain, the campsite just beautiful and he’d have been here if he’d had the choice. So I lit one for him and one for me and watched them flicker away. Eventually the wind snuffed first one and then the other out. And so it was time for bed. 

One for Graham, one for me.

When I ducked out for a final pee before falling asleep the Milky Way filled the sky, as bright as I’ve seen it for a long time. It stayed there all night, an unexpected wind springing up and keeping the clouds away from us. Eventually the moon joined it. Such a lovely feeling to be sleeping under the stars like that. 

Not the best photo (it was too cold and I had no gear to mess around) but just to give you the idea.

We had another 5am wake up to be ready by 6, and it was almost timed to perfection with the cloud rolling in over the western edge of our bowl. So we packed in the mist and found our way over the rim and down onto the ridge we wanted. It took us over to Scoparia Hill, which had a little bit of scoparia on the ridge leading to it but not much in the immediate vicinity of the hill itself. Perhaps it had been a different story before the fires?

The view from Scoparia Hill in the early morning sun and mist, Greystone comes and goes.
Wandering along the ridge to the point where we’ll drop off. We’re not going as far as Greenhead.

As we walked the wind drove the cloud around like a sheep dog gone crazy and so we got glimpses of a cloud covered world below, with the odd mountain poking out above it. Every now and again Greystone was revealed – such a spectacular mountain! The sun once again shone like a ball of fire with a huge halo as it struggled to cut through the mist. The major of the morning was real and it had me dragging my feet, knowing that all too soon we’d be back in the green stuff. I wanted to savour it just a little longer. 

Greystone in the mist. Don’t want to leave it, but we have a long day of scrub ahead.

But we did also have a long day ahead of us, even if we were optimistic about it. We’d chosen to descend off Scoparia Hill foot a number of reasons although it hadn’t been the route we’d planned on taking at the start of the walk. It proved to be a pretty good pick and we descended slowly but fairly easily for the first half. The bottom half was messier, scrubbier and horizontal came in to play too. In the end it was too hard to stay on the ridge so we headed straight down, whichever way was easiest. All the while the birds sung happily away. Oh to have wings…

We got to the bottom by midday and though we had smooth sailing from then on. We were to be sorely disappointed. 3 hours later and we finally escaped the horrible scrub on the plains and traded it for ankle high ‘can actually see where the ground is’ stuff. We were all absolutely knackered and while we weren’t sure we were going to get all the way to where we camped on day one near the Dodd River we figured we’d give it a good crack. 

It’s been a long 9 hours getting down off that bump to here, but now it’s relatively smooth sailing. Hopefully!

It was a lovely time of the day to be walking. The sun was low in the sky and eventually dipped behind Greystone, casting pretty colours on the mountains around us as our sweat grew cold on our faces. On we plodded, snapping dead trunks of old burnt out scrub under out feet at the same time as squealching through the marsh. At one rest break Ben commented that we had almost enough food for another lap. Oh, and it’d be easier because there would already be a bashed pad! We weren’t interested, that’s for sure. 

The sun dips below the Greystone summit as we continue along the plains, keen to get back to the same spot we camped at on day 1.

The White Monoliths is probably the most consistently hard walk I’ve done, even though it’s far from the longest. Uncertainty over water and camping and terrain were big factors, as was the weather, necessitating back to back long, hard days, some of which were spent largely in scrub. I think it had us all fatigued by the end, simply from lack of recovery time. So no, a repeat of the circuit was not even remotely tempting!

It’s a nice time of day to be walking, Sculptured mountain still with some light on it to the right.

We made it to our camp site before dusk settled and had tents up while it was still light. The rest was done under star light and head torch. The night was lovely and still, not too cold, with no clouds in sight. A boobook owl called into the night. As did another bird, with a call none of us had heard before. It was hard to believe that in the morning the rain should have set in, marking the start of several days of cold, wet and perhaps even snowy weather. 

Our final day was generous to us. Apart from a few gusts of strong winds scattered through the night, neither they nor the rain eventuated as early as forecast. We woke to a pleasant morning and even had an hour to sleep in so we could pack in the light. There was high cloud around but it didn’t look menacing and it was hard to decide what to wear, especially because it was rather humid too.

Back in our very same spots, we awake to no rain, lovely light and dry tents – the driest the’ve been on the trip. It’s a cruisey morning before a long, tired plod out.

The walk out was hard just because it was long, we were tired and the mud was thick and energy zapping the further along the track we got (particularly after the Western Arthurs turn off). But we made good progress, only had some very light rain after Junction Creek (not enough for rain jackets) and were back at the cars around 2pm. We were most grateful for the wind and rain holding off. The next day we heard Davey George had got 35ml of rain, confirming our decision to leave Piners Peak and the Propsting Range for another time was definitely the correct one!

All up: 90km, 7 days, 5057m ascent

Day 1: 21.6km, 7:44hrs, 505m ascent

Day 2: 7.5km, 7:46hrs, 958m ascent

Day 3: 8.3km, 9:14hrs, 785m ascent

Day 4: 8.0km, 12:01hrs, 724m ascent

Day 5: 9.0km, 10:28hrs, 1133m ascent

Day 6: 13.6km, 12:01hrs, 281m ascent

Day 7: 21.4km, 6:52hrs, 558m ascent