I have never had such difficulty choosing where to go walking! It was never going to be as planned. Plan A was cancelled because I was the only interested person registered on the HWC walk to the Charles and D’Aguilar ranges. Plan B was for 10 days solo wherever the weather was best. The weather didn’t cooperate. Except for a 3-4 day streak, perfectly timed for the long weekend. I had options, just couldn’t make up my mind.
As it turned out, I changed my mind one last time on the morning of the walk, after arriving at the start of the track to find it grey, drizzly and cold. Wet memories from the Fincham track were still a bit too familiar to be doing a repeat, so I ate some breakfast and had a much needed snooze in the car while waiting for it to pass. That meant my intense 3.5 day weekend of walking was going to be shortened to two half days on either side of two day walks – much more relaxed and likely closer to what I needed. It would mean me skipping the long awkward scrub bash out to Wards Bluff, which might even be achievable as an epic day walk. I’d have to mention it to Ben and Jess…!
By midday the sky was still grey but brighter and I could actually see the top of the ridge I’d be aiming for. It was time to go. This time I was accessing the Raglan Range from further east along the highway, along another old 4WD track that I hoped would also go past the Raglan Hut that Terry Reid looks after. The road started off open enough, but in time became more of a foot path than a road. It was overgrown but well enough used that you could see where people had been and the scrub was more annoying for the water it still held than for being a physical hindrance.
The views only opened out at the top of the climb before making the ridge that heads off towards Wards Bluff, and I wondered where the hut was supposed to be. I’d not seen it, but perhaps I’d just walked straight by it!! I’d have to look closer on the way back down. Despite moving slowly it had only taken 1.5 hrs to get to this ridge, but I forgot how awkward the route towards the Raglan Range got just before you made it onto that ridge. It was steep, slippery underfoot, windy, cold, and the scrub was the tough, short wind blown type that provided some help but was also immovable when you wanted it to be. I felt lethargic and by the end was moving very slowly instead. But I had all day, and in usual fashion placing one foot in front of the other got me up and onto the Raglan road, which I followed for a short while.
I pulled up at the spot that I thought I’d head off for my walk to Mount Mary on Sunday, not wanting to go further towards Mount Madge because it would involve back tracking up the hill with a full pack on. I found a lovely flat spot on the grass a short way from the road, and only a few metres from a bubbling spring. I had phone reception, views and protection from the wind, so there was nothing to complain about! The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable. There were only a few splashes of sun, but fortunately no more rain. I ate, read, caught up on a few messages and had a call from mum. Finally, I settled in to a much needed long nights sleep!
Dawn was misty but the cloud high enough to make an immediate start worth it. It didn’t take long to boil water for my thermos of oats, dried apricots, seeds, a few spices and peanut butter. It would make for a tasty breakfast later on in the day. Then boots and gaiters went on, a few bits and pieces in the pack and off I set.
I had a couple of hours of road walk to start with and was as keen to get to the start of the real work (and the unknown) as I was to warm up. The latter didn’t take long – this was the kind of walk where there’s probably more up and down getting to the mountain than there is actually climbing the thing! It was nice to find the remnants of our footsteps (John, Ian and I) from when we walked out of the Fincham track, which I realised with a start had been only a week earlier! It felt like they were with me in spirit.
The mist stayed low for a while, wisps of cloud swirling round the bottom edge. Gradually the greys and blues gave way to a more vibrant palette, bring warmth and a bit of extra energy with it. Two hours after leaving the tent I arrived at the saddle where I was due to depart the road and head off onto the rather green looking ridge to Mount Madge. I only hoped it was easier going than it might prove to be.
The start bode well, open and grassy underfoot as I wove around the bigger trees. This gave way to cutting grass and bauera, my favourite combination, as I approached a small rise. A brief bash had me popping out into old enough forest that the understory was low and the walking relatively good for a short while. This seemed to be the trend for another round: more scrub with cutting grass and bauera featuring as the primary bits of annoying vegetation and then another forested section where the going was easier. Coming out of the second bit of forest I found myself in scrub that was largely weave-able. Lower ankle-high bits amongst the nastier stuff. This continued and improved right to the low point of saddle, which took an hour to get to after leaving the road.
Looking up to the summit I wasn’t feeling optimistic. The ramp that looked like it might have been easy to move through was now clearly tea tree! There was nothing for it except to weave on up. My fears were not immediately realised as I climbed higher and drew closer to the summit, somehow managing to weave between the thickest clumps (this proved easier on the way up than the way down, funnily enough!). The tea tree started off waist high, but was soon over my head. Still I was weaving and I began to think I might just get away with it… but no luck. Just over 100m from the summit I hit a wall of scrub. It coincided with an increase in incline and the scrub was thick enough that it was still wet, including the ground underfoot. It made for a slippery uphill battle where solid purchase on the ground was a rare thing.
After pushing through and finding a patch of more open terrain I thought I was done. But no, the final pinch to the summit was a vertical wall of thick bauera. It took a lot of energy, grunting and sweating to get up, even though it was the shortest of distances. The paradox of needing the scrub to stop from sliding backwards at the same time as trying to bash it down, push it to either side or otherwise somehow get up and over it was not lost on me and I’d have given a wry smile if I was feeling a bit more generous! Finally I popped out onto a lovely little summit, delighted to find it open on top. I was afraid it would be covered in trees that would hide the views. I sent a few messages and photos and then settled in to eat a well-earned and slightly late breakfast. It had taken just under four hours from the tent to the summit.
The sun was trying its hardest and secretly I was glad it had held off until I’d finished the uphill scrub bash. It had burnt off all the mist by the time I began the return journey, which made for a much warmer second half of the walk. The warmth brought the cicadas out and it sounded like hundreds sung their way through the afternoon. A wedge-tailed eagle soared over Flat Bluff, a smaller bird attempting to chase it off. The wedgie paid it no attention whatsoever and glided on, effortlessly.
I plodded back slowly, taking my time to enjoy the even more expansive views than I’d had on the way over. Frenchmans Cap was the last of the mountains to be cloud free and it sat peering over Mary’s shoulder. I passed a few of the old beer cans, wondering at what point they move from being rubbish to a historical relic. And then a glass coke bottle. When was it made? Sometime when they measured these things in fluid ounces.
Eventually the old winch told me I was getting closer to the tent. And so I was. Nearly 9 hours after starting out I was back with my shoes off, settling into another relaxing afternoon, although sparing a few moments to rethink my plan of attack on Mount Mary the next day. Later, the sun set a pretty, muted colour behind Mount Jukes as the clouds rolled back in.
I work early with the sun, but then spent the extra time enjoying watching the world around me wake up. It was a lovely morning, the kind where you feel that summer isn’t entirely over even if it’s a week into autumn. I packed everything up and wandered up the hill, making my way back to the Pandani standing sentinel on the ridge I’d end up taking back to the car. Here I dumped everything I didn’t need for the day walk, I would be back to camp there that evening.
Shortly after 8 I set off down the ridge to Flat Bluff, the terrain sparking memories from the last time I was here. I wove down the light scrub to the saddle. The same trees called out, seeking attention and demanding to be photographed once more. Everywhere you looked it was pretty. The incline up the far side didn’t seem as steep, but perhaps that was because I wasn’t chasing long fast legs. It wasn’t long, within the half hour, that I was over on the southern rim of Flat Bluff, having bypassed the technical high point to the west.
I stood on a rocky outcrop and surveyed the terrain that would take me towards Mount Mary. It looked open enough, largely due to fires having burnt out bits of tea tree some years back along most of the ridge. But there were still a few bands of scrub that seemed unavoidable. Something in the first saddle caught my attention, so I grabbed my camera and took a photo zoomed right in. Magnifying it I could make out people! I’d found the Hobart Walking Club group who were in for the weekend to climb Mary. They were just about to hit the scrubbiest of the bands.
I headed straight down over the nose of the rock, quite enjoying the climby nature and then down the ridge. It got scrubby towards the end and I made the mistake of veering too far off the righthand side. I managed to recover, courtesy of a creek, and pop back out onto easier terrain. By now the HWC group had popped out the other side of the scrub and I wondered if I’d catch them.
There was nothing for it but to tunnel straight in. I hit the scrub higher on the ridge than they did, which turned out to be thicker, but perhaps shorter. Either that or I had the advantage of being only one person and being able to move faster in scrub. In some spots the tea tree was so thick it was only possible to get through the trunks by leaning all your body weight one way and then the other. It made me think of the prisons where they put inmates in cells so small they physically can’t lie down or even sit properly. It was a bit like that – I’m sure I could have fallen asleep and still been forced to stand upright!
But nothing lasts forever and of course I popped out the other side. Some lighter scrub that I could actually see over the top of led to a rocky outcrop with a small cliffy face to scramble up. The tail end of the HWC group were just making their way over it. Turns out I’d made up a lot of ground in the scrub. I pushed forward, climbed up and was taking a photo of them in the next saddle, almost a banksia’s throw away. They spotted me there and I waved and hollered, popping my camera away and heading over. Apparently they’d been talking about me, wondering where I was and what I was doing. It was lovely to see three familiar faces and meet the other five, some of whom I’d heard quite a bit about but with whom I had not yet had the pleasure of walking.
They generously allowed me to tag along and so I assumed the role of tail-end Charlie, except when I ducked ahead to take a photo. It was lovely to have company, to listen to the sound of other peoples’ chatter and even to take a break from making all the decisions about which way to go. It came with a slight reduction in pace, of which Kent, the HWC leader seemed particularly aware. Either that or he was teasing me each time he checked that the pace wasn’t too slow! I did not mind, I told him. It wasn’t all about the pace and we did have all day, after all :).
After the last band of scrub (where I’d caught up to the HWC group), the going was open all the way to the summit. It had an appropriate but not overly steep incline and as a result the walking was quite pleasant. We had no need to race and took time to admire the view and catch our breath if it had run away from us. Still we were on the top, a lovely quartzite summit, before midday. It wasn’t TOO early for lunch and it was the perfect place, so why not?! Frenchman’s Cap looked stunning from such an odd perspective, and so close!
Kent checked that everyone was happy – it was his thing, I was told by the others. It made me chuckle and think back to my often used tongue-in-cheek question, ‘are we having fun yet?’ that I’d tend to pull it out in the worst possible spots on the walks I was leading. Just to lighten the mood and refocus anyone who might be taking things too seriously.
Eventually Kent made the call to start wandering back and we duly packed our bags and started down, even though I’m sure we could have easily sat there all day. Caroline spotted an impressive sized snake skin on the button grass plains, the second I was to see in the one week. We dove back into the scrub and I was grateful to be following an 8-person strong bash rather than retracing my ‘parting of the sea’, of which I was sure there was little permanent trace. At one break, before diving into the second scrubby band, I spied Paul with a spoonful of peanut butter and I was delighted to see I wasn’t the only one to eat it in such a fashion on walks (although, I have to confess the behaviour is not limited to bushwalks!).
Slowly we plodded back up the ridge towards Flat Bluff, stopping at a lovely little creek that flows between the rocky edges of the bluff. It provided a much needed rest and rejuvenate stop for a handful of the group and many of us topped up water or soaked hats. I’d almost polished off 4 litres and was grateful for some more, such was the heat of the day. It was hard to leave, but the tents were just over the rise. On flatter ground we spread out, no longer benefiting from walking single file and preferring to tread more freely (or perhaps with less concentration?). Some of the group went to check out an overhang, the rest returning to their tents on Flat Bluff. They had a lovely spot with stunning views and I was suitably impressed to spot an A frame tent (complete with a H frame pack!) in amongst some of the newest and lightest weight tents on the market!
After expressing my thanks and hopefully a little bit of the pleasure I’d got out of walking with the group, I said my goodbyes and headed on towards the rest of my gear. I made a few phone calls along the way, sent a few messages that just couldn’t wait, but otherwise skipped down to the saddle. The ground was lovely, soft and grassy underfoot. Heading up the far side was another matter, very much a plod than a skip, with a tiny bit of weave.
I got back to my gear shortly after 4, only to discover that if I sat anywhere for even a moment I had ants biting my bum! But I figured they’d disappear with the sun, so I had some dinner and set up my tent, careful not to let any in. Sure enough, when the sun dipped behind the mounting cloud and the temperature dropped, they were nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if I’d imagined them!
I had a stunning view out the tent door, with Frenchmans and Flat Bluff on the left and the west coast mountain ranges to the right. So there I stayed and enjoyed it all until the mist rolled in and stole it all away, complete with the tiny little figures you could just make out on the horizon. I felt slightly cheated – the main reason I’d stayed the night was for hope of a nice sunset and sunrise. But never mind, it was better than having walked out early and missed it! And this way I got to spend the evening reading, instead of driving. Having just finished Heather Rose’s Bruny (100% recommend it – she captures the Tasmanian identity, the things that motivate us and our hidden fears and prejudices perfectly) and beginning on Nicholas Shakespeare’s Secrets of the Sea, I didn’t mind doing that at all!
The mist was still low in the morning, which made it easy to busy myself packing and getting ready to go. I set off early and headed straight down – a great deal easier than heading up had been! As I dropped in height I descended under the mist to find a valley of clouds below. It always gives me that wonderful feeling of being on top of the world when I’m in the mountains and above the cloud! Down I slipped and slid, to arrive back at the car in about two hours after starting out. I didn’t attempt to find the hut on the way down, I figured I’d actually do some research and check it out when I revisited for Wards Bluff. Chatting to Monika from the HWC group, it sounded like a wise decision – you actually have to know where the hut is to have half a chance of finding it! I do quite like the track in, more so than the Raglan Range road and it’ll be the one I use when I do come back!
With 2.5 months off work I have plenty of time to fit in all the wonderful things. That means a LOT of walking ;)! I had kept the two weeks free that John, Graham and I were due to do our one big summer trip. Only there would be no Graham. We had entertained thoughts of Vanishing Falls, but failed to recruit a third nutter crazy enough to come with us. We ended up with 5 days to go somewhere, and somehow settled on Mount Fincham and the Fincham Hut, with anything else we could fit in being a bonus. John asked another solid walker, Ian, if he was free and interested and sure enough he was. I’d not had the pleasure of walking with him, but had heard only the highest of praise for him and the way he walked, so I was looking forward to getting to know him.
Only going for five days gave me a bit of spare time, which was filled with lots of social things with friends and some much needed time in the garden. One highlight was a three day trip to friends and their shack on the east coast, where I went fishing for the first time AND caught my first flathead. It was so lovely that I stayed an extra day, which meant I raced home on Sunday afternoon and rushed to pack my gear and leave the garden in a reasonable state!
Ian swung by at 6 and we drove up to Lake St Claire to meet up with John, who’d been leading a club trip up there on the weekend. He was easy to talk to right from the start, which made the drive fly by. We were there shortly after 8 and continued on to Queenstown and then the Darwin Dam. We had a slight mishap in that none of us were paying close enough attention to where we were going and we first drove several kilometres past it before realising our error! When we were finally good to go the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It was one of those jacket on/jacket off kind of days and to start with we got the timing very wrong. At least the little rain squalls were only temporary and not too heavy, and they brought a slight drop in temperature with them.
The terrain started off open enough, the usual low button grass and tea tree mix and also some very easy to walk on lake shore. We didn’t try to stick rigidly to the track for this bit because it was easy enough to make our own way long. That, and there wasn’t an easily identifiable track, or so we thought.
About an hour in John commented that he was going to tell people he’d walked the Fincham. Full stop. No ‘Track’ on the end, because there wasn’t one! And it definitely felt that way. We were following the line we’d marked from the maps and satellite imagery but couldn’t find anything resembling a track. In spots we found ourselves scrub bashing through messy stuff. We’d slowed right down and were realising it might take us longer than anticipated.
Turns out there was a track, it’s just pretty hard to find if you’re not on it and difficult to stay on in parts. And it’s got a billion fallen trees, bauera etc across it so it was very much like spending the day in an outdoor gym with packs on our backs. Finding the track made for a much faster pace through the button grass plains and even through the forest, although the many fallen trees took time to negotiate. We took care to keep to the track because it was generally faster going and much less bashing. You wouldn’t want to not be on it, that’s for sure!
On one of the button grass sections I found a GoPro and tripod, thinking at first it was a tiger snake until I realised it was a bit too angular and it hadn’t moved! The battery was well and truly dead, so we couldn’t check to see if our suspicions about who might own it were accurate. I suspected they were and would make contact with the likely suspect during our high camp towards the end of the walk ;)!
The button grass gave way back to the forest, which was again slower because of all the obstacles. I knew I was getting tired with all the overs and unders. Though the guys didn’t say anything, we all readily called it a day shortly after the track crossed the Wright river, even though it was only 5:30 or so. Tents went up, dinner was cooked and eaten and the guys chatted away while I typed some notes, occasionally adding to the conversation. I brought a book to read but reckoned I’d probably be asleep before the sun set ;).
I was, and didn’t stir till the sun had risen, woken by the gentle patter of rain on the tent and the odd heavier drop of rain from the canopy above us. The forest and river really were pretty, something that was harder to appreciate when you were tired and focused on trying to stay on track through all the fallen trees and overgrown bauera. We had a slow start, keen to find at least a break in the heavier moments of rain, even though we were all donning wet rain jackets, scrub gloves and overpants.
When we got our break we packed up tents and set off, straight into more difficult to follow and overgrown track. In spots we fought to stay on it, and it was worth it. In others it was such hard work because of all the fallen trees we left it and made our way alongside the river. In other bits we used common sense to cut corners where the ground was more open, and then tried to rejoin the track. While it was disheartening to lose it so often, the encouraging part was we were also pretty good at finding it!
There was much less of the open button grass sections where the track was easy to follow and the walking speed was encouraging, and so it took us a good four hours before we were at the ridge John had selected as the preferred route up Mount Fincham. Apparently it was open. It certainly looked it from the track. In fact it was the only open ridge we’d seen and we’d walked all along the northern side of the mountain. We realised part way up the open part of the ridge that it didn’t last and what’s more, there was a great big cliff line it looked like we had to get up. There was no denying it, the GPS showed three contour lines right on top of one another, and the trig on the summit was visible just behind the cliffs. We’d just have to find a way up, as we always did.
The open ridge gave way to a horrible uphill scrub bash through banksias, bauera and cutting grass. Thick and wet. It was about the worst kind of scrub to have to bash up hill in, or so it seemed at the time. I found myself at the front grunting my way through, once resorting to the backwards bash. Eventually the trees opened up a bit more and ferns largely took over from the cutting grass. It was a big relief to actually be able to see the ground you were putting your feet on. Ian took us to the base of the cliffs, where we spent a lot of time trying gully after gully, only to be thwarted time and time again. Eventually we decided to just keep contouring under the cliffs till the big gully we’d seen on our way up, where the GPS reckoned the contour lines weren’t as close to one another.
It was a goer and we hauled ourselves to the top, then across big clumps of button grass before we hit the final scrubby climb onto the summit plateau. Gosh it was good to be up, soaking wet and puffing away. The views were a wonderful reward, out towards Frenchmans Cap or back towards Lake Burbury – both were stunning. It was cold in the breeze now that we weren’t moving, so we stayed long enough to decide we were changing our plans.
None of us were keen on retracing the Fincham ‘track’, so Ian made a call to his partner and asked if she’d meet us at the Nelson Falls carpark at 4pm on the Friday. We could have hitched back to Ian’s car at Lake St Claire but having left the key in John’s car would have made that a pointless exercise. She agreed (on the provide that he told her he loved her!) and so we quickly came up with a new itinerary.
First thing was to get down, having taken a full three hours to get up. It took us two. We had the advantage of a bash to follow and gravity on our side. We’d definitely seen the last of the rain for the day, but still the scrub was wet – there would be no drying off just yet. Then we were back to the Fincham track. It wasn’t too bad this side and we made as good as progress as we had on some of the better sections the day before. We hit Canyon Creek and were amazed to find a suspension bridge across it. It was in surprisingly good condition and wasn’t even rusty. A tree had come down though, pushing the hand ropes over to one side. Aside from that, it could still be used. There was even a ladder on the far side to climb down.
Intriguingly, further on when we popped out of the forest and back onto button grass, we came across old diamond markers at regular intervals. They weren’t great for marking the track in respect to allowing you to follow it from one marker to the next, but they did let you know you were still on it (if you didn’t walk straight past them without seeing them, which was easily done on more than one occasion!).
By now we were getting close to where the 4WD track from the Raglan Range intersects the Fincham track. We were hoping the going would be better from this point. We had decided to camp just shy of the junction on the flattest ground we could find. This would set us up for a day trip to Fincham hut, and give us 2 days to walk out over the Raglan range, which might prove to be quite big days! We found just the spot to nestle ourselves between button grass clumps, in time for a bit of a late dinner.
Ian whistled and sang as he went about his business, which made me chuckle. It was the perfect sound with which to end the long, rather wet day and was a turn around from the odd muttering of ‘bloody bauera’ and the like that might have escaped his lips earlier on in the day. A non-bushwalking friend had asked me recently what I liked about scrub bashing, and I found myself reflecting on it as I ate, having spent a good part of the day doing just that. To be honest, the bash isn’t so much fun. The popping out is much more pleasing, for sure! But it is a means to an end when it comes to off track walking, which I love for the challenge of finding a good route, seeing if you can get to where you want to go and how well you can do it. The views from the final destination (which is almost always a mountain for me) are just a small part of the reward. It’s a practice in mindfulness as it’s impossible to be doing or thinking anything else (or you’re just asking to be poked, flicked in the eye, cut across the neck or face or tripped up) and it’s the cheapest, most natural gym you could ever belong to. Bashing away with two other people is so much more fun too. You’re not alone, you can take a break from the hard work and still make progress and there’s three of you to ponder challenges and arrive at a solution. It also makes you feel grateful when you’re back on the track, even if it’s super overgrown!
I managed a long but interrupted sleep, thanks to a touch of overheating and every tickle or itch feeling like a leech had permeated the tent’s defences. There was due concern for this – I’d lost count at 20 when taking off my gaiters and overpants the night before and later on when retrieving items from the vestibule I’d come back each time with one or two free blood suckers on my hand. I already had two war wounds, one from each day, and was keen to keep it at a minimum.
We woke in a heavy mist on our third morning, our ‘hump’ day. I was slightly disappointed that the day we were pinning our good weather hopes on was to have such a grey and wet beginning. Everything was covered in dew, although the inside of the tent was even wetter simply from a nights worth of respiration. There wasn’t much chance of it drying out before we left either, it seemed the damp would persist a little longer.
It was, however, surprising to be able to hear the very distant sounds of motor vehicles, not entirely drowned out by the morning bird song as we made ourselves ready for the days walking. I felt much more remote than we obviously were, perhaps especially because of the fight we’d had with the bush to get there.
Shortly after 8 we had our wet weather gear back on and set off into the wet scrub to do our best to stay on the track. We only had a short distance before we hit the junction between the Fincham and Raglan tracks, where we’d decided we’d drop out packs. We were very hopeful that the Fincham track from this point onwards would be easier to follow with less fallen trees and scrub and it stated that way for the first 500m or so. Just enough to get our hopes up!
It didn’t last and we ended up fighting our way through some of the worst scrub we’d had on the track. By the end of it I was sick of being slapped in the face, poked in the eyes, having twigs pick my nose for me and lifting legs over logs or crawling under fallen trees. At one point I reckoned I had some kind of appreciation for how it might feel to have to wear shackles on both feet, such was the nature of the opportunistic bauera. The walk was less of a walk and more of a wade-climb-crawl.
But nothing lasts forever, even the scrub, and we eventually arrived at the Fincham Hut. It’s a very well maintained hut, complete with power and a long drop, maintained by the HEC, who fly in people to do compliance checks every so often. It would be nice if that involved track clearing too!
The log book confirmed our suspicions that the owner of the found GoPro was likely a guy who had copped a lot of flack part way through last year. He was the only walker to have made it to the hut that year on his own two feet. We were the only party to have done so since. Kudos to him, doing it solo and in a pretty quick two days. That would have take a fair bit of mental strength, especially having been helicoptered out on his first attempt after losing his GoPro and phone (which was his navigation device). I’m not going to get into a debate about how or what people should walk with, because there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat and we’ve probably all walked with fewer safety nets in place than is ideal from time to time. If we haven’t been caught out, we’ve probably been lucky. What I will say is it’s not an ‘easy’ or necessarily ‘enjoyable’ walk (expect scrub, difficult navigation, wetness and leeches probably all year round), but it is perfectly manageable with the right gear and planning. I imagine it’s certainly more enjoyable with company and good weather and it’s not one I’ll be repeating in a hurry ;).
We didn’t stay long, having taken 2:40hrs from our packs, much longer than expected. We barely shaved 10 minutes off the return time, which surprised us but is probably reflective of all the climbing we did. Back at the packs we set off up the Rangan track, quickly noticing that we’d traded the overgrown nature of the Fincham track for a largely open but certainly more undulating track! I wasn’t complaining though. We walked late into the afternoon, arriving at the obvious spot you’d depart from if you wanted to climb Mount Maud. We were all pretty tired, but after a bit of a chat we figured we’d give it a crack.
It was definitely worth it! Finally some easier, minimally impeded walking with no packs and views to go with it. The ridge looked open enough, with perhaps one short scrubby section. But as luck would have it we found a way through that avoided any bashing. All we had to contend with was a steady climb – which was about all we had energy for anyway. We reached a quartzite outcrop that looked to be pretty high, with another 80m away, across a button grass bowl. This was the one I had marked as the high point, but we all know these things aren’t always reliable. The guys were good enough to let me duck over, just in case. The GPS had it 2m higher, which means nothing when you take error into account. In any case it meant I could take a nice photo of them on the summit.
There was time for a few messages, advising safety contacts etc of the change in route, and to check the weather forecast. This brought some uncomfortable news – we were in for a very heavy downpour the following morning. It was much worse than when we’d set out, but we had no option but to walk through it in order to get out on time. Oh well, what we could do was make sure we camped on the northern side of where the ford over Canyon Creek was marked on the map, just in case it was in spate. As for the river we had to cross just before the Lyell Highway, we were just going to have to take our chances when we walked out on the Friday afternoon.
So we did just that. It was with weary feet that we walked another kilometre, crossed the river and then decided we were going to pitch out tents on the road. We had to do some bauera remodelling to widen the road, but it otherwise provided for a lovely and flat site, in stark contrast to the button grass bed of the evening before. It was hard to know if here was just as leech infested as our last camp site, or if we were just walking them from one location to the next with us. There were certainly a good number already inside the tent when I pitched it! Once again, it didn’t take long to fall asleep, despite the threat of a downpour in the morning.
At 7 there was just some intermittent showers, which gave us chance to eat and tend to our bodily functions before the rain really settled in. I half packed up, then lay there listening to the patter and reading a book while waiting for a holler from the others to say we’d make a go for it. We synchronised our tent packing well enough that no one was standing round for long and headed straight into the wet scrub that was reclaiming the road.
We had a few early river crossings, which I didn’t like because they were easy spots to lose the road and were also often where the road was most overgrown. But these grew less frequent as we made our way along the track, and we had increasingly more open sections of road to follow, especially once we started the uphill slogs. The bladderwort was out in flower, a pretty splash of colour in the otherwise muted day. Isn taught me that they had little bladders filled with air under the ground and we wondered why this might be the case. We came across a few more ring pulls and old beer cans, bringing the total to 3 and 4 respectively. Apparently Boags was in favour back then, although there was a single can of Fosters. I wondered what it would have been like to bump along the road with a can of beer in hand. Who were those men?
The rain fell as steadily if not more so than our feet. It was not as heavy as we feared from the forecast but was unrelenting, the kind you feel could go on forever. As the morning ticked by, my left hand and neck were the only dry parts of me. By midday even these were damp and my boots were sloshing despite not having waded through any deep pools of water.
We were soaked through, rain driving into us from the west, stinging my left eye where I’d narrowly missed skewering an eyeball on a branch earlier in the day. We were cold, tired and didn’t have much to look at through the mist save the odd waterfall or abandoned bit of machinery. But still I found myself with a smile on my face. Weather like this highlighted all the GOOD things, all the things we take too easily for granted that are actually really nice. And my goodness, the feeling of stripping off sodden clothes, huddling in the shell of my tent as I fought with dry ones, and then finally relaxing into their wonderful dryness was just sublime. Especially when my numb fingers came back to life a few hours later.
We’d pulled up early as we had plenty of time, choosing to camp a few kilometres shy of the Raglan Range high point. We found ourselves spending the afternoon in our tents, encouraging the blue sky and hints of sun that appeared in between more light showers. I ate an early dinner, mostly to warm up a bit more, then wrote some notes while sending a few messages.
The rest of the afternoon would be spent reading, napping or otherwise just listening to the wind and rain. The rain persisted long past its forecasted cut off, and my attempts to get some clothes dry failed spectacularly. The sun gave up too and the afternoon turned to evening simply with a change in shades of grey. Even the birds had stopped singing.
Instead, every so often Ian would break into a whistle, or John would hum a little, sometimes the two would chat. These were the times I was most aware of the difference in dynamics from when Graham, John and I walked together, but maybe that said as much about me and how I was as anything else ;). I felt slightly shy, less sure of my place and value in the team than I had before, and I suppose that led to a more cautious approach in leading or instigating decisions or even conversation. Funny hey? I resolved to work on it on our final day…
It was still raining in the morning, the forecast had changed for the worst again, so we delayed our start time by an hour, putting off the inevitable donning of cold wet socks, boots and rainwear as long as we could in the hope that maybe, just maybe, the sun might rear its head for us today. And to be honest, it didn’t do too badly. It was misting more than raining, as the inside of the cloud draped an only slightly transparent curtain over everything. As we walked the sun threatened to burn it off, but not in time for our arrival at the Raglan high point. I wished John and Ian could see the views that should have been their reward. They didn’t complain, however, and Ian took delight in pointing out the smallest gum tree in Tassie, which was growing right next to the trig. Apparently waist height is about as high as it gets!
From here on we dropped height too quick for the sun to catch up and were soon once again drenched from head to toe just from the overgrown scrub on the road. Down we went, and for perhaps the first time on the walk we had the chance in parts to walk abreast, rather than in single file, when the road opened up a bit. Finally we could chat, reminisce, ask and answer questions as a group. We talked about ourselves, our lives, our careers, decision points and stuff in general. I discovered how much the two guys knew about the history of the place and Tassie as a whole. The kind of knowledge you only get from having been around for a little bit, having read books and listened to people over the years. I fear we’ll lose this in generations to come, along with those who volunteer their time to the upkeep of huts and logbooks, given today’s preference for quick answers provided by google searches over the sharing of oral histories.
Soon enough we were at the final river crossing, the only obstacle between us and the Lyell Highway. It was flowing fast, but we were able to walk down the provided stone steps, cross without even giving thought to taking off boots, and pop out onto the road. A short walk to the Nelson Falls car park and we’d done it! Two older ladies who were exploring their way around Tassie in their converted vans took pity on us and made us all our preference of tea or coffee, complete with biscuit. And so we stood there chatting with them, dripping water, scrub and still a handful of leeches. It was a lovely way to finish the walk. While we waited for Ian’s partner to pick us up and take us back to John’s car at the Darwin Dam we dried out some gear in the intermittent sun, changed into what we had left of our dry clothes, ate the last of our food and chatted some more. And then Lou arrived with zucchini chocolate cake and drinks! We were warm, dry and wanting for nothing. Oh, and mission successful in finding a place I was comfortable with in the new dynamic ;)!
All up: 56.1km, 3311m ascent.
Day 1: 9.8km, 6:18hrs, 353m ascent
Day 2: 11.4km, 11:01hrs, 855m ascent (Fincham ascent)
Day 3: 14.6km, 10:12 hrs, 911m ascent (Maud ascent)
Since Graham’s death a lot of things have changed. For the time being, I no longer have as many barriers to leading club walks as I did eight months ago. And so I figured it is time to put back in again. One of the biggest barriers remaining is choosing somewhere new to go that’s not too horribly scrubby and is achievable in 1-3 days. This time I felt Marble Bluff and Walford Peak were appropriate candidates, although I knew little about them at the time of deciding!
It turns out they weren’t particularly popular with many other Pandani members, or perhaps it was the timing (the final weekend before Christmas), but only four people signed up initially. One pulled out with a few weeks to go, another on seeing some of the early weather forecasts and on having a decent nosebleed the evening before.
And so there were just two of us, Tim and I. I’d not met or walked with Tim, but my intel told me he was a decent guy and strong walker. He’s now the first physicist I know too. We set off at the leisurely hour of 8am, me having completely forgotten it was a weekday and that all the normal people were trying to get to work at this time. It didn’t delay us too much though, and a smooth (caravan free!) drive to the Anthony River Road had us sitting in the car eating lunch just after 12, waiting for the latest rain shower to pass before donning our packs and setting off.
I was unfortunately rather distracted by an important and expected, but not all that pleasant, email. While I’m sure Tim must have noticed, he was polite enough not to let on. I tried to put it aside, there wasn’t much I could do about it without reception after all, and I found myself disliking that it was taking me away from the present moment and one thing I still really love doing. A good friend sent an email and must have known – she told me to enjoy the walk! I tried to be gentle on myself, just letting the feelings pass, noticing them as they did so. And with a lot of help from some appropriately placed inclines that were steep enough to make thinking difficult, I slowly worked my way back to the present.
The whistlers were out, a bird of prey – perhaps a swamp harrier – flew off as we disturbed the peace with our heavy feet and laboured breath, and the rain threatened but didn’t eventuate. We’d timed our walk for a small, potentially dry window, although we weren’t taking any chances and were decked out in full wet weather gear. As it turned out it was quite warm and a few hours in we swapped jackets for sunscreen and hats.
The walk in follows the Lake Spicer track – an old rocky 4WD track that’s locked at the start. You’d definitely want a 4WD, or a dirt bike, but the road is otherwise in good nick and not too overgrown. Even the rivers were remarkably tame (I had been worried on that front!). The biggest obstacles were actually the numerous pools of water that spanned the road in every poorly drained dip. They became more frequent the further we went. Some required short forays into the scrub to avoid getting boot-fulls of water. But we still made better than expected time and found ourself at Lake Spicer just shy of 3.5 hours after starting out. It was a bit early for dinner and bed, but neither of us were complaining! With the rain forecast to return there was nothing better to do except to lie there and listen to it while reading a book.
We woke to a cloudy but already much brighter morning than the day before, and were ready to set off before 8. My walk description on the program had been vague – it might have mentioned the possibility of some scrub, but also some open walking. Not having been in the area before it turned out to be a pretty accurate description.
Most of the walking was a mix of button grass, tea tree and melaleuca. On the ridge it was mostly a nice height, but not so getting up. And there was a bit of a scrubby creek to cross very early on. But otherwise the going was probably better than expected as we wove our way along Unconformity Ridge. It was appropriately named, we discovered, because it wasn’t a straight forward kind of ridge to follow. And it had some funny little features and scrub patterns that meant sometimes it was much better to be off one or other side. It wouldn’t be the easiest to navigate in clag.
As we walked south the weather improved, the clouds slowly parting to reveal slivers of blue sky. And one by one they revealed all the mighty mountains around us. Frenchmans was still under cover when we arrived at the rocky summit of Marble Bluff, but Eldon Peak was impressive off to the northeast.
We’d made such good time, it was just shy of 11, that we decided we’d head back, pack the tents and move to the foot of Walford Peak. A check of the latest forecast cemented the plan. It was now looking wet for our walk out, so if we could also climb Walford in the evening we’d have the best weather possible for it. We scrapped tentative thoughts of climbing the Sticht Range on the way out – there wasn’t much point in the wet with no view! And so we wandered back, the gradual loss of height making it difficult at times to know exactly where the ridge was without consulting the gps. We made it back without many unfortunate or avoidable forays into unnecessary scrub, and remained snake bite free despite probably stepping on one of the three we saw (the total tally for the trip was four)!
We were back by 1:30 and packed by 2. I found it hard to walk at anything more than a plod – partly from cumulative fatigue, partly because it was a road walk 😜! But that was ok, Tim didn’t seem to mind matching my pace, and we arrived at the saddle from which we’d climb Walford in good time. We set up tents in the middle of the road and then, because we were only something like 600m from the summit, we set off with cameras, gps and a warm item of clothing.
It looked scrubby to start with, but we found it easy enough to weave a way through the lower bits, and then a short way in we discovered a very feint pad. I thought it was wombat at first, but it wasn’t littered with scats and it went exactly where we wanted it to. As the scrub got thicker and it became even more defined I grew confident that we could follow it blindly and it would get us to the top. And sure enough it did. One sharp uphill, and we stood on the shoulder, greeted by a stunning view towards Mount Tyndall and the lake nestled in below the cliffs.
The summit was only a short distance south, with just a bit of rock hopping on quartzite to add to the fun. We were definitely on top of the world with this one, with views all around! Walford is a peak with great bang for buck if you happen to find yourself on the Lake Spicer track for some other reason.
We slipped and slid back down in something that was more like controlled falling than walking, arriving back at the tents by 5, just in time for an early dinner! We heard the sound of some kind of engine/s and wondered if we’d see the source in due course, but there was no sign of anyone that evening or the next day.
In doing some research for a trip out to Mary, Maude and Madge, I went in search of some photos I’d taken from the area during a trip to the Raglan Range and Flat Bluff. But I couldn’t find them here, and eventually realised I’d never written up the trip. So this is one very short post that should give you a rough idea of what the terrain was like, but I’m afraid there won’t be much fat around the bones because I can’t remember the little details (I imagine many of you are sighing with relief about now!).
It seems we went in late on Easter Thursday, probably because we spent the morning packing and driving up. We parked at the Nelson River Falls carpark (thankfully, and you’ll find out why at the end of the post!), and hit the track at about 3pm. We picked our way across the River, taking time to keep our feet dry, and then wove through the very overgrown road. As we gained height the road was much less overgrown, but increasingly steep. I remember travelling slowly enough, finding our walking legs and lungs.
We didn’t have too much of a plan, and ended up deciding to camp at a flat spot by an old ruin because we weren’t going to make the summit of Raglan range before it got dark and we weren’t in any rush. This also gave us time to explore the ruins and take a few photos.
The next morning we had a lazy start, setting off at about 9:30. We still had a fair bit of climbing to do to get to the summit, but it seemed easier, still on the road. We didn’t stay long, keen to get further along the ridge to set up a high camp, and then duck over to Flat Bluff. We did just this, choosing to camp bang in the middle of the road at the intersection between the ridges to Flat Bluff and Wards Bluff. We then had all afternoon to eat lunch and wander over to Flat Bluff, which was a lovely walk with amazing views towards Frenchmans Cap. I don’t remember any nasty surprises in regards to the terrain
On the rather flat summit we had a bit of a look at routes towards Mount Mary and shared a chocolate Easter Bunny I’d been given – I figured we should have a little bit of Easter seeing it was that time of year ;). We wandered on back to the tent, and enjoyed dinner as the sun set. Nothing speccy, but nice all the same.
The following day we had our eyes set on Wards Bluff, but it wasn’t to be. After a bit of a pad and then some old roads, we hit the scrub and the going was just awkward along the broken ridge. We realised we weren’t going to get there and I vaguely remember just not feeling it. I think we were both pretty tired from accumulated work and not enough rest, and so it was no surprise we only got 10km in 8 hours. We decided we’d come back again better prepared (it’s still on the list too!). On the return Graham made a new friend with a lone pandani. He reckoned it was a good dance partner, and it certainly wouldn’t take much to be better than me in that respect!
Our final day was an easy 3.5 hours back down the road and out to the car, which wouldn’t start. This was, however, one of the rare occasions we were parked in a tourist carpark, and we found someone who was kind enough to spend 10-15mins to charge up the battery with jump leads. There were plenty of very remote places we could have been, that would have meant a very long walk out!!
There’s a wealth of evidence showing that the most meaningful contributor to life satisfaction is strong social bonds. Working on this premise, or simply trying to fit as much walking in as possible with different friends, I found time in my last week of leave to squeeze in a 3 day walk. It was the forth in a row, each separated by only a day or so, and it did seem to be keeping a smile on my face. I had also become as good at cleaning, drying and repacking as I was at ignoring the lawn that needed a serious mowing!
This time the plan was a little more set in stone. I was initially going for a walk with Bec, a fellow paramedic from the north-west. But she had other friends trying to organise a time to get in to Frenchmans Cap and it coincided almost perfectly with our three days. It seemed like the perfect plan to book it in and I’d walk in the day after them and meet them wherever they were.
For once the weather was looking pretty good, which was just as well given we’d chosen our destination well before we knew what it was going to be! I’d have a sunny day, wet day, then a sunny day. The others would have an additional sunny day before I caught up with them. What wasn’t to like about that?
I finished up volunteering, raced off to a tennis meeting that went much later than expected and then drove to the Frenchman’s Cap carpark despite feeling abnormally tired. I arrived safely at 2300, having taken a little extra time to avoid the mass of wildlife. It was the one time I wasn’t all that thrilled to be spotting wombats! I set up a spare mat, sleeping bag and pillow in the back of the car so I could quite literally dress and go in the morning without having to pack anything else up. The stars were out and the night was crisp and cold. I was feeling excited for a big day of walking in the morning.
My bladder woke me in the early hours of the morning, which proved a cold and brief but beautiful venture out under the stars. Then the alarm went off a few hours later and I started walking at 0540ish by head torch. The sun wasn’t due to rise till 0630 so it wasn’t quite light enough to see without the head torch, especially in the forest sections. I settled into a plod, knowing I had quite a long way to go. The birds were singing a soft but sweet morning chorus, as if in an effort to rouse the sun from slumber.
The sun slowly cast enough light that I could see without the head torch and the mountains gradually came into view as I wove through the landscape. It was cold, and the button grass plains were frosted over, the spiderwebs like white fishing line across the track. My fingers and arms were weak and numb, but fortunately they weren’t really needed. In one bit I could see where the fire had been through, round the corner there was most in the valley and then I was in the mist. Gradually it burnt off and the mountains of the range came into view. It was also nice to see the pink climbing heath and the bauera in flower. To the off-track bushwalker bauera doesn’t have much going for it, except that it’s little white flowers make it slightly nicer to look at, but no less of a trip hazard! Looking at the scrub on either side of the track I was most grateful for the clear walking ahead.
I arrived at Vera at about 0945 and feeling a bit peckish I had some oats for breakfast before heading off again just before 1000. I’d stolen some ideas from Charlotte on our last walk, so the oats had dehydrated banana, apricot, sultanas and cranberries with them, as well as dedicated coconut, cinnamon and a bit of peanut butter. Delicious! The walk around the lake then up to Baron Pass was longer and steeper than I had prepared for, even though every time I’ve climbed it I’ve had the same experience. You’d think I’d learn, but no, memories like that seem to fade with time!
I was glad to be on top by 1130, though my legs were pretty knackered. It didn’t take long to move along the ridge to Artichoke valley, although I was stopping now for photos and to just enjoy knowing I had plenty more time than I’d anticipated. The reason I’d been moving fast was because I wanted to climb Pine Knob on the way in to Tahune. It was the last mountain in the range that I had yet to climb and it was achievable to do on the way in while the weather was good.
I had some lunch, sent a message or two to let people know I was fine and then did a wonderful job of making the walk over the bumpy ridge to the summit a lot harder than it needed to be. This was largely due to my innate tendency to climb up and over things instead of sidling around them. There was a pad but it wasn’t always the easiest to follow as it was overgrown in spots and gave multiple options in others. I always chose to go high, which worked a bit, but at least twice had me climbing up two steep knobs and then sliding/falling down steep and scratchy scrub on the far side. Coming back it looked like you could actually climb up the rock, but when you were standing on top looking down it hadn’t been so clear and I was hesitant to get part way down the rock and come to a dead end. The scrub had definitely been the safer option, but sidling to the west on the return was even better. I was kicking myself for not bringing scrub gloves though. All my recent scrub had been through everything but scoparia and I’d forgotten how prickly it can be on hands when it’s close enough that you have no choice but to grab on to it. Fortunately it didn’t persist too much past the first knob, just enough to have me wincing a few times!
It was early afternoon by now and the sun was warm. I’d not taken any water with me and was paying for the extra effort of my average route selection with a parched mouth. I started to look around for water and just before the final climb to the summit came across a whole heap of yabbie holes brimming with clear water. There was nothing to do but lie down and press my face into the ground and suck up as much water as I could. It was clean and deliciously cold, but I resolved to add a yabbie tube to my emergency kit so I wouldn’t have to face plant in the future!
The final ascent was nice and easy, and the view back towards the range was lovely. You could see why it was called Pine Knob, there were a lot of great big dead stags along the undulating ridge. Unfortunately I only came across a few little King Billy pines that were still alive. I took a fair bit of time on top and then was surprised to hear the voices of Bec and her friends from the summit of Frenchman’s. I could even see them! It was a cool little moment of connection, even if they were oblivious of me. The hut was visible too, as was a fire out at the King William lookout on the Lyell Highway, which I hoped was a planned burn off. Eventually I started to head back, shaving at least half an hour off the time it had taken me to get there by sidling round two of the larger knobs!
It didn’t take long to walk the last bit of track down to the new hut at Tahune, which is incredibly glamorous and a bit too warm (it even has a heated towel rack??!)! The warmth was nice after a very cold and brief dip in the lake, but quite uncomfortable in the middle of the night. You can’t adjust the heating as it’s run on solar and seems to be preset. So while I had the chance to sleep in ‘Gentleman Jack’s bed’ (named after Jack Thwaites) it wasn’t the nicest of nights and next time I’ll definitely be renting, even if it means packing up in the wet. The evening was otherwise a pleasurable one spent meeting new people, eating, sharing stories and lots of laughter. And we had the space all to ourselves!
The following morning three of our party were walking the whole way out, while two others and I had an extra day so we figured we’d stay an extra night at Vera. Three hours of walking in the rain was enough to enjoy the mist swirling around the mountains and the beauty of an old rainforest in the wet and it was nice to be able to get warm and dry and then have lunch knowing we weren’t going back out that day. We spent the afternoon chatting, reading, napping and eating more than we needed to. It was another of those times where you relax much more than you would have if you were home simply because there wasn’t anything else you could do. And it was just perfect. Later than night another group arrived, and even with 8 in the hut we had a better nights sleep, courtesy of the temperature being only 5 degrees!
It was a busy affair with all of us getting ready the next morning but kind of nice and communal too. The blue sky and sun was back, though it had been a clear night so things were frosty and cold again. It took a little to warm up but once we got there we settled into a steady plod, which we held all the way back to the car. We chatted about all manner of things, many the kind you only talk about with people you know really well. I don’t know if it was the place, the fact we were all paramedics or just because we were us, but it was comfortable and enlightening.
We passed three groups of three and one solo walker on the way in, and were glad we’d been in when we had! We made it to the Hungry Wombat by 2 for a yummy burger for lunch, which all made us feel like we then needed an afternoon nap. No such luck, we still had to get back to Hobart. A rollover on the way back and one incredibly lucky woman certainly made sure I was awake and alert!
Pine Knob side trip: 3.5km, 3:12hrs (all breaks included), 340m ascent.
I’ve been restless – perhaps a result of the massive change and feeling a little lost in what I want to do with my life now that it’s so very different. The best thing that makes me feel grounded is walking (although gardening isn’t too far behind). So guess what I’ve been up to? No surprises…
It’s winter, and we’re approaching the winter solstice, which means short days, lower mixing heights and plenty of chill in the air. In fact, it surprised me that the first real snow for the season was only this week! When I first started walking, this didn’t mean much to me, but now it does. It means I preference shorter walks, or multiple day walks with some car camping. And that is exactly what I planned for this trip – one that would allow me to move around to ensure the best weather for the walks I planned, and that meant I could continue to visit some mountains I’d not yet got to see.
The Gog Range was the first on my ‘list’. We’d looked at it a year or so back, but I was down as an ‘if we have extra time’ kind of walk, so of course we didn’t make it. It seemed appropriate now, and would be the first I’d come to on my circuit around the state.
What I didn’t realise was that the roads I’d decided to drive in on were part of Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, and they’d closed a boom gate 6.4km prior to where I wanted to start walking from. Bugger… I also didn’t really do too much research, just did the whole ‘get as close as you can and start walking up’ thing that I do way too often! A last minute message from a friend warned against going straight up the rock… Hmmm.. ok! Apparently there was a pad to follow – that sounded good!
Fortunately I had a bike with me, I was planning on another couple of walks that had long roads before the actual walking, so I’d popped it in. I pulled it out as I rejigged the itinerary I’d planned, now that I’d be spending a few extra hours climbing this range.
The riding wasn’t all that easy – the road was pretty good but there were loose and sandy sections, and at times I was too light that the bike’s back wheel just skidded on the spot when I tried to put extra energy into getting up a hill. There were spots I had to push the thing. It was definitely worth it though and much quicker than walking.
I arrived at the spot I thought I’d head up onto the range, but couldn’t find a track.. I searched further along the road. Nothing. Oh well. It looked open enough, so I tucked the bike away and set off into the ferns. It was pretty open forest with only some ferns to push through, which do a good job of getting out of the way when you need them to. Just as well, because it was pretty much straight up. Straight up to the base of the cliffs.
I saw why I was told not to go up the rock (even if that advice related to the southern side of the range). I tried sidling east, hoping to find a gully I could follow up without getting too climby. That idea didn’t last long – sidling led to just as many steep drops as climbing straight up. The rock up above didn’t look too bad, so why not just try it!
What wasn’t apparent was that there was always one little bit that wasn’t so easy, even though in general what you could see looked reasonably ok. I managed to find a way off the rock and into a gully that provided a way up in between the slabs. I only hoped it lasted. Perhaps the one thing I detest on walks is having to retrace steps due to a dead end! It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always a possibility.
I was in luck, and the gully turned into a ridge, that intersected with another ridge, along the top of which appeared to be something with pad-like characteristics. A cairn appeared… shortly afterwards some very old, worn orange tape that had fallen off whichever branch it had originally been tied to. I was on something, even though I didn’t know where it had come from. I assumed it headed to the top, and resolved to follow it for as long as it was helpful.
The ridge I was on took me to the main ridge that is the back-bone of the Gog range, running east-west. The pad wasn’t so distinct, but a bit of hunting revealed more tape, this time usually attached to trees. It duck and wove through the trees, which left me in no doubt that this was going to be a summit without views! Presently the pad arrived at a burnt out tree trunk with a reasonable sized cairn at its foot, which I took to be the summit cairn.
A short break and I was retracing my steps as best I could, with the exception of avoiding the steep rocky section I’d climbed up, staying in the gully instead. There were lovely little pink bell-shaped flowers out and about, which would have been all the lovelier if their leaves hadn’t been so prickly!
I found my bike at the bottom, exactly where I’d left it, and rode back in exactly the same time as it had taken to ride in. On the drive to Cradle Mountain NP I spotted an echidna hurrying across the road. He barely glanced my way before tucking his head down a little further and waddling off into the scrub at a remarkable speed for a creature with such short legs and a round fat body
Ride: 6.4km; 43 mins each way
Walk: 4km; 2:35 hrs; 481m ascent
The following morning I went for a wee wander over the most beautiful snow-covered moorland. Brewery Knob is not worth any points on the HWC peak baggers list, but it is an Abel. I’m not specifically targeting Abels, but given I only have a handful left, I figured I should pay it a visit. It seemed perfect for winter walking – short, with a beautiful forest walk at the start that is perfect regardless of the weather. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but I donned all my wet weather gear, a warm jacket, beanie and gloves nonetheless. Just as well too!
The walk starts at Weindofer’s hut, as described in the Abels. It’s very hard to start walking because you’re immediately surrounded by magnificent King Billy pines and fagus, and you walk on a carpet of their discarded leaves. As can be expected, especially at this time of year, it’s very wet underfoot and the path is very much a mass of lethally exposed tree roots that have been worn smooth from thousands of feet.
I’ve never seen such large fagus leaves (or perhaps it’s just been a while) and it struck me that this walk would be magnificent if you timed it for when the fagus turns. I eventually dragged myself from the trees, and started climbing up the track. Lumps of snow kept falling from the trees above onto my head or pack. It was just as if my usual walking companions were with me in spirit, making sure I collected a few missiles!
The forest gave way to smaller myrtle beech, which hung over the track laden with snow. It always amazes me how much a bare twiggy branch can hold! I brushed past, enjoying the moment, glad of the wet weather gear and knowing it wouldn’t be quite the same on the way back.
The flora grew smaller and smaller in size the higher I climbed (and it’s not a very long climb!), until there was only easy open walking. From what I could tell of the snow covered landscape it consisted largely of alpine grasses and shrubs, including boronia.
I stuck to the track because it was the only thing telling me which way to head into the cloud (aside from my GPS). It had progressively turned from a rocky-bottomed creek to an ice covered bog, that crunched and cracked under my weight, occasionally sending my feet slipping in every direction but the one I wanted them to go in. And now it changed once again, the crunching replaced by a groaning of the now heavier, fresher layer of undisturbed snow. It was akin to the protest of an old leather armchair as you sink into its seat.
The weather was of a kind that some might have found depressing, or pointless, but for whatever reason, I loved it. I was warm on the inside while the cold stiff wind chilled my face and made me feel very much alive. The racing cloud occasionally revealed glimpses of a world beyond my immediate bubble, which in some ways was more impressive than had I had the whole vista to look at. The landscape was very much in greyscale, but it was raw, untouched and just perfect. No one else had seen it quite like that – mine we’re the only footprints.
I took my time slipping and sliding along, occasionally sinking much further into snow covered bog than I’d have liked. That’s the interesting bit about following snow-covered tracks, you never quite know how far your feet are going to travel, except that it’s rarely what you expect! Funnily enough, there were parts where I was lucky enough to also be following animal tracks (wombat, potteroo and something else!) and I mused at how they instinctively seemed to know where to tread to ensure they were on solid ground underneath the snow!
I arrived at the two tarns described in the Abels and did exactly as instructed. The description of the walk was spot on and the pad I now took to was easy enough to follow even in the snow. Just before the summit plateau I disturbed a flock of green rosellas, who took to the skies protesting loudly. I then spent a good deal of time with a King Billy, that was green on one side, and icy white on the opposite. You could tell which way the wind was blowing, that’s for sure!
A short dip across a VERY exposed plateau and I’d arrived at the distinct summit cairn – it’s quite a nice little one. I didn’t stay long, as to stop was to get very cold very fast (especially the fingers), so I shared the cold to the rest of my world via the mighty FB, and set off back the way I’d come.
The Abels describes a circuit, but I had so loved the way over along the tops, and I really wanted some more of it, so I took to retracing my steps instead of completing the loop described.
All up: 8.2km; 3hrs; 352m ascent
The weather was due to be slightly better further west, so the next mountain I’d chosen to visit was Mount Read. I’d looked at it a few times, but each time the length of the road walk had usually turned me off. I like bushwalking after all, and road walking is a bit dull. But because I had a bike, I figured I’d best make the most of the walks where a bike might be of use. I didn’t realise there was a great big gate with multiple ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs, but decided not to read and to just go with the Abel’s description (which only talks about access issues if you go the shorter but steeper way).
I severely underestimated my ability to peddle up hills again. Usually it wouldn’t be a problem, but when you added in the soft and loose gravel surface it was. It was a big problem. I couldn’t stand up or my back wheel just spun and I could only climb up to a certain gradient before I started doing wheelies every time I cranked the peddles over.
The way up became an exercise in peddling as much as I could, then getting off to push. I had to find a relatively flat section to jump back on or I’d just end up doing wheelies again. Fun times! When it started to get really steep, and the road surface more eroded, the bike was popped in a ditch and I proceeded on foot.
For a road walk it wasn’t bad. The views were interesting as was the forest on either side. I couldn’t believe the King Billies either! Unfortunately as I approached the summit I walked straight up into the bottom of the cloud that I’d seen hovering over the top when I was down at the car. I thought mid afternoon would provide the highest mixing height and therefore a chance that the cloud might have cleared from the summit, but I was out of luck.
Instead I got freezing cold cloud and a howling wind. It was a pity, I’d heard the summit was really interesting and the view towards the Eldon range in particular was pretty speccy. Seems I’ll have to go back ;)! The up side was that all the man made towers were shadows hidden in the mist, and I’m sure I only saw some, not all, of them.
The trig surprised me – someone had cable-tied a naked doll to the top, and it was looking decidedly pale and blue! I sympathised, and only hoped the views on a good day more than made up for it. My fingers were already numb, so I made a hasty retreat until I was out from under the cloud, which had only dropped in the time I’d taken to climb to the summit. I jogged some of the downhill sections back to the bike just to keep warm, and then had a very easy spin back to the car. All that pushing was definitely worth it!
All up: 16.5km (mixed riding and walking); 2:45 hrs; 866m ascent
The final mountain for my car-camping weekend. Again, I’d initially chosen it because it would be a good one for the bike. Except that my two experiences this trip of riding a bike up steep and somewhat neglected gravel roads had all but turned me off. I took one look at the start of the road (in fact even drove a short way up it!), and decided the bike wasn’t coming. If you had a 4WD that you knew how to use, you could drive right to the foot of Huxley, and it’d make the walk a whole heap shorter!
I decided I’d best make an earlyish start, and set off at 7:30 when it was light enough not to need artificial lighting. I was glad very early on I didn’t have the bike, there would have been an awful lot of pushing! Instead I plodded along, not stopping for anything other than to take photos, retie my runners when the laces came undone, and pee. As I walked I did something unusual for me, I listened to a podcast. Usually in the bush I like to take in the sounds and just be, but the road walk was a tad different, and at a time when I’m trying to refigure a few things out I’m finding the wisdom of other people’s stories to be helpful.
There were plenty of glimpses of mountains to be had as I trudged along. In fact, it took me a while to realise which one I was climbing, such was the winding nature of the road!When I arrived at the end of the road and the foot of Mount Huxley a few hours later I turned the podcast off to enjoy an undistracted clamber up the mountain. I’d checked in with a friend to make sure it was relatively open, and had decided on the basis of his information that trail runners and bare legs would be ok. I had a few doubts when I first saw the mountain, but fortunately it looked greener than it was and the going was relatively open if you got the weaving thing happening. There were even a few cairns to make you feel good about yourself! It actually reminded me very much of walking up to the Jukes plateau (unsurprising really, given their proximity to each other).
In very little time the open walking stopped abruptly at a rocky outcrop, the kind you know you just have to get up because the summit will be just beyond it. Left, right or straight up? I chose wrongly. After a bit of sidling left looking for a way up between the steep conglomerate boulders that were surrounded by scrub I gave up, and went for the climby route. I wasn’t going to be retracing those steps, that’s for sure!
Fortunately it was a brief climb and then I was on the plateau, with the trig a short distance ahead. A bit more weaving and there I was, wondering at what looked like brand new bolts in the rock, for no apparent reason. I didn’t wonder long, the view distracted me, and so I turned my attention to it. Jukes (well Proprietary really) looked so close, a stone’s throw to the south, while Owen was only a tad further away to the north. And then there was Frenchmans across Lake Burbury.
I drunk it all in, enjoyed some nuts, a banana and a pear, and then set off to find a better way down the rock. Turns out I should have gone for the straight up approach – no climbing involved, just a bit of weaving. It certainly hadn’t looked so simple from below! I slipped my way down the loose rocky and at times wet and slimy terrain, not too concerned about retracing exact steps but opting instead to take a rough bearing in the general direction of the road. It was much easier to pick a clear route coming back down, and I hit the road in what seemed like no time at all.
The walk back was significantly faster, even if I was a bit on the tired side. I chose to jog down the downhill sections in the hope I’d get back home before the animals came out at dusk to play chicken on the road!
Day 1: Pearce Basin (northwest corner of Lake Gordon) to the Denison River
9.0km; 9:22hrs; 398m ascent
So very excited!! Little kid in a lolly shop kind of excited. First day of a long-awaited walk excited. And it waslong-awaited. The three of us had first planned to visit the Prince of Wales (PoW) range two years ago. Sadly, Graham’s father had died the week before we were due to leave, so Graham packed his suitcase for the UK instead of a bushwalking pack. Last year the state was on fire and access was impossible. This year we watched with bated breath as fires started early but were controlled quickly, with no further dry lightning before we were due to leave.
A week or so before our start date we scrambled to find a new boat-man to take us across Lake Gordon because the one we’d arranged had gone AWOL. This brought our departure forward one day, and all too soon it was time to pack, get a car up to the Frenchman’s Cap carpark, and make sure the house was in order for the next 10 days.
The alarm went off at 4:30am, and we had less than an hour to get sorted and out of the house. We were, unsurprisingly, a tad late, leaving at about the time we were supposed to be at John’s house! ‘Danger Darren’, who was super chilled but equally punctual and efficient, was ready to go by the time we got to him and his boat in South Hobart. Charlotte was coming along for the ride too so Darren could go for a surf off the back of his boat on the trip back across the lake after dropping us off. The five of us made quite a party.
The drive to Lake Gordon went fast, too fast – we could have chatted much longer. Then Darren had the boat in the water in record time and we found ourselves sitting up the front, life jackets on, wind trying to rip hats from our heads. We had time for Darren to take a photo of the three of us and then we were off the front of the boat onto a little sandy beach, and in the time it took us to pull out our cameras Darren and Charlotte were waving goodbye. It was lovely to have had the company of two other keen and equally crazy people (the good kind of crazy) to share the last few hours before the walk and then to see us off; somehow it made it all the more significant.
It was 10:30 and now we were on our own, just us, for the next 10 days. We booted up and headed around the lakeside to the spot we thought there might be a rafters route to the Denison. We’d heard about it somewhere, and had a rough grid reference, but I wasn’t sure I was holding out a whole heap of hope. There was nothing convincing at the point we chose, except it would be an ideal spot for landing a boat, and topographically it made sense. There was something that looked vaguely pad-like, but it had plenty of wombat scats on it so could just have been that. A short way up the ridge however we found old, and then fresher, tapes and eventually evidence of a cut track, which was wonderfully exciting. It meant this first day should be much easier going with full packs, for which we were grateful. Progress would have been horribly slow and difficult without it. As it turned out, this ‘easier’ part of the walk was to cause John the most grief. Early on he slipped off a fallen mossy tree trunk and landed on it, right hand side of his chest taking the brunt of the fall with the full weight of his back behind. He broke a rib and put a tooth through his lip. Hats off to him, he didn’t so much as mention his rib to us until a few days later, and even then he never complained. The only signs we got that he was in discomfort was when we happened to catch him taking some analgesia when we stopped for breaks!
Other than that little mishap, we enjoyed the cut track so much we didn’t really stop to think what it meant when it dropped off the ridge to head WNW, towards the Denison River. We did indeed want to get to the Denison, but 3.5km further north of where the rafters track took us. It was only at the river, after we rejoiced in the fact that we’d made it and filled up with water, that the reality became apparent. We started trying to follow the river north, but the scrub, horizontal and forest was depressing. It took us an hour to move 700m, and all of a sudden my excitement and enthusiasm turned to concern, disappointment and fear of failure as it became clear that we weren’t going to be camping by the Denison at the point we wanted. It was only Day 1 but already we were going to be dipping into our precious ‘extra’ days on a range renowned as one where ‘you never make up time, you just keep losing it’. That had ramifications, and suddenly we were considering and mentally preparing to eke out the food we’d brought. We became a bit more intelligent at this point, headed back to the ridge we’d left (through horrid scrub mind you), and eventually popped out onto button grass and scrub. We wove our way through this, trying to stay in the areas that the satellite imagery and map legend suggested was easier going. This proved quite accurate, and made me feel a bit more optimistic about the next morning. At 7:45pm we called it a day and made a surprisingly comfortable camp on a flatter spot in the button grass beside a creek that fed in to the Denison.
Day 2: Denison River to just below Mount Humboldt
8.4km; 10:40hrs; 788m ascent
This was a day where distance was measured from one gum tree to the next; where ‘clear patches’ were judged by a particular colour and the amount of sunlight spotted through rare openings in the scrub; and where speed was inversely proportional to how many flies were buzzing around your head. Our success with route-finding and sticking to the ‘open’ patches continued and we had mostly button grass and open enough tee tree to weave around, with the occasional scrubby creek to cross. We popped into the forest and then arrived at the river 2.5 hours after setting out. We hit it at the perfect spot to cross but spent the best part of an hour drying our feet, donning boots again, taking photos, eating snacks, drinking water and just enjoying making our first milestone.
I hadn’t realized how much weight we’d placed on getting to the river, but at the end of the day Graham mentioned it as one of the highlights of his day and I was certainly aware of a weight lifting off my shoulders being on the far side of the river. The PoW range requires two river crossings, one at the start and one at the end. Both are significant rivers, and have the ability to swell rapidly, stranding walkers who wish to cross, sometimes for days on end. So now that we were over the Denison, there was no reason not to get to the Prince of Wales. In Graham’s words, ‘now we’re starting the walk’.
The Denison was beautiful. Lovely tannin tinged water, so refreshingly cold on a day that was only going to get warmer, and an oasis on a walk where water was going to be scarce. The sides were lined with huon pine, with little seedlings trying to grow out of rocks in the river – perhaps an indication of how low water levels have been for some time. We drank our fill, loaded up all our bottles and bladders (6.5-7 litres for me) and began a much heavier plod up to the ridge.
We were expecting a foul, scrubby ascent in keeping with the PoW reputation, but again we’d mapped out a route based on satellite imagery to maximise the areas that looked like button grass and low scrub. This worked remarkably well and while progress was slow due to the incline, the heat and our desire to choose the best route we ascended steadily.
The cicadas were out and the scrub crunched as we walked. It was very peaceful, out in the middle of nowhere, until you slowed down too much and the flies invaded your personal space. The day grew hot and dry and yet it was probably only in the low 20s. But button grass radiates heat like nothing else and sweat was running down our faces into our eyes and dripping off foreheads, noses and cheeks for most of the afternoon.
One more green patch, a creek to refill our water, some climby stuff and a lost glasses lens, and we found ourselves on a shelf just below two peaks, behind which lay the hidden summit of Humboldt. We were grateful that, so far, the craggy rock and scrubby towers that we’d begun to ascend had been passable without any back-tracking. It was nearly 6pm, a spectacular site and we were so knackered from the day’s climb that we decided to make it our home for the night. Our bruised hips and shoulders sighed with relief as the packs came off for the final time that day. A yummy dinner, an experiment in washing up with no water (moss is amazing!), fun with campsite echoes, a weather update (yup, there was reception!) and an early night completed the day for us.
Day 3: Mount Humboldt to Mid Range (south)
9.1km; 12:11hrs; 701m ascent
We didn’t have the best night’s rest, and managed to be most deeply asleep at 5:30 when the alarm sounded. This was becoming a pattern, allowing us to breakfast the dawn in and be ready to walk as the light grew stronger. Our porridge had no trace of last night’s peanut butter and tomato lentils in it so waterless washing up got the tick of approval.
We continued to head up to the ridgeline, negotiating the towering rock pillars accurately without needing to retrace steps and otherwise finding a relatively pleasant route to the ridge that was better than it looked at first sight. We dropped our packs on the ridge, and ducked left over a bowl to the summit of Mount Humboldt. In true SW bushwalking fashion the clag rolled in for the 10 minutes we were on top. It was hardly going to dampen our spirits however, and we celebrated attaining the ridge and climbing our first mountain of the PoW range 1.5 hours after starting out that morning. As we returned to our packs the mist lifted and now we could see north along the range.
Off we set, with renewed enthusiasm for putting some distance under our belts and making up some of the time we’d lost. The range, however, was hard to read and just when you thought you had a grip on what was what, you came to a rise and there was something different over it… more often than not a cliffy drop! We realized very early on that we weren’t going to be moving great distances fast, as we grew accustomed to negotiating rocky pillars, usually by descending down steep green, scrubby gullies. Occasionally we had to retrace steps, but usually not too far, and in several spots we sent a scout ahead (whoever had the most energy at the time!). In this fashion we found ourselves on Princes Peak in time for lunch at 1pm.
Lunch had us refueled and ready for some more walking with the next objective set on finding water and moving as far along the range as possible. We had been keeping an eye out for water as we moved and while you could tell where it could usually be found, it was just too dry to be reliable or predictable. Good fortune was on our side and each of us found some water in the saddle below Princes Peak, with John winning first prize for the best source by far – it was clear, you could fit a whole cup in without disturbing the bottom, and it more than accommodated the several litres we took out of it without showing any sign of depletion. Ah, the simple things in life!
All set now to walk as far as we pleased, we set off with slightly uncomfortable, overfilled stomachs. The going was good, the best it would be for the trip as it turned out. Mostly we traversed button grass ridges with a few smaller rocky outcrops to negotiate. One or two were scrubbier and took us a little longer. The rest were either a matter of going up and over, or around to the west. Almost always the west. We were starting to get the hang of this ridge and the nature of the PoWs.
Drizzle set in late afternoon, if you could even call it drizzle. It wasn’t enough to have us in wet weather gear, though we did eventually pull out pack covers. Perhaps that was more because since we were carrying them they might as well do their job! Over time the physical exertion turned us into drunkards, unable to walk straight (hard enough in button grass as it is) and eventually unable to keep our balance full stop. When one of us had two falls in as many steps, and I was certainly walking a bit like a zombie, we made the call. Although a tad short of where we’d have liked, by this stage we weren’t too fussed and we were making good progress. Tents went up, we got warm, had dinner and fell asleep before the sun went down. We woke some time later for the last rays of light.
I had the joy of discovering the one thing I don’t like having to deal with on a walk – my period. Sorry guys, feel free to jump to day 4 if you’re not interested or don’t want to know. I’m not writing about this to gross anyone out but because it’s something that’s relevant to most women and yet not something that’s talked about much. I knew it was coming, most of us do, though it’s not something I can time to the day. When I first had to learn to deal with the problem, I managed in the same way as my mother and sister had done, with pads and tampons as the occasion dictated. Only fairly recently did a post on a friend’s Facebook page prompt me to take a leap and try something different: a menstrual cup. I was willing to try it out to reduce my impact on the environment , although it had the added benefit of being cheaper as well. Its ramifications for bushwalking came as a significant surprise. In Tassie, where you can’t light open fires and burn waste (in most places anyway), there’s no choice but to carry waste out. A week’s worth of traditional sanitary products is smelly, bulky and heavy – not something you want to have to carry on a 10 day bushwalk where you’ve already cut as much weight as possible out of your pack. A menstrual cup is a piece of medical grade silicone that weighs a few grams. The only care it requires is a boil before and after use. In my case I boiled it just before we left, then stored it dry in a zip lock bag. It had another boil when we got home. It can stay in for up to 12 hours, and I just give mine a rinse before reinserting. It means no waste products and a much cleaner me, especially when water is as scarce as it was on this trip. It was the first time I’d used it for an extended length of time on an overnight walk, and the first time I didn’t have any back-up products. It worked flawlessly, and I won’t be using anything else in the future! If you’re female and don’t have a regime you’re happy with at the moment, I’d suggest having a look online and maybe taking the leap to try something new ;)!
Day 4: Mid Range (south) to Mid Range (north)
8.5km; 10:53hrs; 562m ascent
Ok guys, you’re safe now!
We thought we were up for an easy half-day – from where we were at the southern end of ‘mid range’ PoW to the northern end, just before the ridge breaks up on the final 2km approach to Diamond Peak. We still started early, and wisely so. The drizzle of yesterday afternoon had cleared up, but the scrub was wet and the sun was struggling to lift its head above the clouds. We walked most of the morning in warm tops, beanies and with pack covers on, pants soaked to the waist, and shirts wet to elbows as we muscled our way through the button grass, tee tree and other assortments of scrub. It was both better and worse than I expected with some areas of open walking but others that were scrubby, steep and rocky, or both. John probably had the better approach – to have no expectations. That way, he explained, you don’t get disappointed, or start off so disillusioned you don’t want to go!
Progress continued to be slow as we discussed and picked our way across the terrain. I was starting to realise that this was not a range where you moved great distances in a day (either that, or I’m slowing down in my early middle age!). We got used to finding patchy evidence of previous human presence where the terrain dictated you take a precise route through an obstacle, largely in the form of a slight foot pad or a broken piece of scrub. This was not something I expected given the remote nature of the range, yet it was undeniable if your eyes were tuned in to the signs and surprisingly reassuring.
In the afternoon we approached some jutting rock cliffs separated by scrubby gullies, each higher than the last. We had to choose which gully to try to get on top, where the going looked to be best. The higher the cliffs, the more they looked like they had overhangs on the way up so we decided to head for the first, and try each one out in turn. The first was a goer, and it was relatively easy to get ourselves on the high, eastern side of the sharp rock edge. In parts it was like a knife blade. The western side was an overhang, but even the eastern side was so steep you needed to hang on with hands to the low scrub. Fortunately we didn’t encounter any chasms in the rock and the climb up was really quite fun (at least for a rock monkey!).
We popped out on the saddle and found a way up the next rise, sticking to rock to avoid the scrub. The ridge opened back up, and we turned our attention back to water. Our info suggested we’d have water at our next camp site, but Graham wasn’t in a trusting mood, and when we walked across some boggy ground he suggested we hunt around for water downhill a little. It was a brilliant suggestion and once again we found the start of a creek. It wasn’t flowing this high up, but there was enough water trapped in the pool we found for us to drink our fill and once again load up our reservoirs. The down side, we now had a heavy trudge up the next hill (but we weren’t really complaining!).
We found ourselves sitting on the remains of a cairn, that John reckoned came down in a lightning strike. We’d thought it might be a Sprent cairn, but John delved into its history on our return and found very little evidence of who might have raised it (if anyone reading this knows, we’d love to hear from you). We tried our hardest to imagine what it had been like for the men who had been here before. It was just too hard, though I have no doubt we were a great deal more comfortable than they had been. We savoured the moments: the last of the sun’s warmth on our backs, the clear blue sky, the crisp breeze, the wonderful views north and south along the range, the quietly pleasant company, the feeling of having achieved all we needed to that day, the sense of peace, contentedness and even belonging.
The breeze helped encourage us on our way, and we dropped the short distance down to the beautifully open, mostly flat, and a tad boggy saddle to set up our homes for what would turn out to be the next two nights. There were yabbie holes galore here, and a few that were full to brimming. Turns out they contain a lot of water, and even after taking 2-3 litres out of one it was still brimming near the top! We discovered the MSR pump and filter I’d bought especially for the trip worked wonderfully here – it was not only an effective way to get water out of a hole that didn’t have a downhill slope (necessary for siphoning via a length of plastic tubing), it filtered at the same time (although it was pretty clear for us and probably not necessary). I’m not a gear junkie, but it would prove to be useful numerous times on the trip and went down as money well spent.
Day 5: Rainy rest day
To Diamond Peak… or not? We woke for a 7am start to find ourselves in the middle of cloud. Who knows how big, but it felt like it went on forever. It wasn’t really raining, perhaps just misting, but each time the wind blew gusts over the saddle it was driven onto our tents, sounding like it was raining properly, even though it wasn’t. Our notes told us the next part was the hardest of the walk, particularly if in whiteout. Hmm… we felt it would be foolish to have a crack, especially as we had a bit of time to spare and the forecast had the rain clearing up by 11am the following morning. And so the waiting game began. 10:30 it was still claggy, and our decision was cemented.
Graham and I settled on half rations for lunch with the other half for dinner, to give us an extra day should we need it. We had plenty of extra warm drinks with us and water was now in abundance, so we made the most of it. Today time was measured in how long it took to fill a cup with water from the tent fly. How many drops made up a cupful? I lost count. We whiled the time away drinking, chatting, dozing, making lists of gear to fix or replace, and getting thrashed by Graham playing cards. It might seem frustrating to be holed up unable to do much, but it was actually really nice to be in a position where you couldn’t make yourself too busy, as we so often do these days. I was happy just to be. And we probably benefited physically from the rest day as well. It grew dark, the wind buffeted us half the night and then settled. In the silence we slept.
Day 6: Mid Range (north) to Diamond Peak
4.6km; 6:41hrs; 481m ascent
We woke and peeked out eagerly. It was still solid mist, but the rain was absent. Perhaps it would bode well for a later start? We decided on hourly checks, ready to leave as soon as we could see. The latest weather update confirmed no more rain after 11am. Our hopes rose each time the tent seemed to brighten just a little, then fell again as a bit of drizzle started. At 9:00 in a moment of brightness we decided to be ready to leave at 10, reckoning we had about an hour of walking up an easy enough ridge before we hit the nasty stuff. We hoped the weather would be clear by then. Ha, what false hope!
Packed and ready to go, despite cold hands we strode confidently into the mist. It kept pace with us, though we let out a small cheer at the first glimpse of proper sunshine and a hint of blue sky. Perhaps we scared it off as it disappeared again behind the light grey curtain. We were sent more rain and, at one point, hail as if to punish our optimism. We were wet and cold, with no choice but to keep moving to stay warm. We negotiated by poorly-contoured GPS maps and lots of intuition, somehow getting it right most of the time. We dropped off cliffs into green tinged mist, and tried to walk on ridges that disappeared without hint of which direction they went in. Part way along, we caught glimpses as the mist parted, and were probably better off not knowing what we were walking through! But the terrain was spectacular, and it was a pity we couldn’t see more of it. And then we stopped. We were standing on the edge of a cliff, again. We’d arrived. At the chasm. The one we’d been told about. It was unmistakable. Back we went, to a spot we thought we’d be able to safely work our way down a scrubby gully underneath the western side of the rock. We plunged into head high scrub (and then some), wet and slippery going and followed the small traces of those who had been before us. Back up a chute we scrambled, climbed and, in one spot, passed packs between us. We squeezed back out the top, once again on the edge of a sloping, rocky ridge.
A hint of sun was enough to convince us to stop for a very quick bite to eat for lunch, none of us wanting to pause too long and get too cold in the wind. We continued on, the rain gone but the wind bitterly cold. The sense was the weather was improving, even if it was well overdue. And so it was when we were 600m from Diamond Peak that we actually got our first close up view of the mountain. Wasn’t she magnificent, emerging from the mist! We knew we were close – excitement grew and the weather continued to improve even if the sun was still hiding from us. Cold, wet and tired by more scrub and scrambling around bluffs and buttresses, we chose to set up camp in the most amazing of spots and save climbing Diamond peak for the morning, though we had a good look at possible routes. The rest of the afternoon saw us spread our wet gear over the bushes by our tents in an attempt to begin the drying process and make it less painful to don in the morning. Lentil curry with peas for dinner was all the more divine, having missed a cooked dinner the night before. The sunset cast pretty colours over us as if to make up for the rest of the day, and everything was well in our part of the world.
Day 7: Diamond Peak to Observation Peak
10.6km; 11:54hrs; 784m ascent
We slept in for half an hour, but were quick to get up when we heard John shout out that there was going to be a good sunrise. A fingernail moon hung over a rainbow horizon, just to the right of Diamond Peak. We got to enjoy our breakfast without having to worry about trying to pack gear in between mouthfuls because we’d agreed to climb the peak and then come back to pack gear up when it would hopefully be a bit drier (the downside to such a still night was a very wet inner fly). Wet socks and boots still had to go on, but the reward would be more than worth it so we gritted teeth and got on with it.
We shot off, spring in our step, feeling weightless with no packs on our backs. Up to the saddle connecting Diamond Peak to the ridge, down into the beautiful forest and along the side of the rock we went until we located the bottom of a steep gully marked by a tall pandanus palm. The scrubby start had now turned into a green carpet of moss and we followed it tentatively up and up, hesitant to tear it up with our unforgiving boots, onto rock and the eastern shoulder of Diamond Peak. John and Graham let me lead, which was super cool and very generous, and I enjoyed every step of the way. There was nothing tricky about it, just sheer pleasure. Then there we were, on top of the world! Elation, excitement, happiness, contentment and celebration filled the morning. We enjoyed the moment, then tried to record it, then shared it with people who may not have even noticed our absence, then sat and savoured it some more.
Reluctantly we turned to leave the summit, aware we still had a long day ahead of us. After taking down tents and donning full packs, the ridge continued to surprise us, and we tookthe best part of an hour pack hauling down one cliff. Probably the boys should know better than to send me to scout out a route down rock, of course I thought it was do-able. Turned out we had a double pack haul to do, without great foot holds or a lot of room. It didn’t help that part way through I was ready to catch Graham’s pack when the rope caught against the very sharp quartzite and snapped without warning. We were lucky the pack didn’t fall far and happened to land in front of me in my arms (with a bit of assistance from my face), rather than over my head where it would have overbalanced me. It was a timely warning. We were much more careful with the remaining pack hauls, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to feel much relieved when we were all standing below the rock.
That was the worst of the day, and the longer we walked the more the terrain improved. We had a lot of scrub to negotiate, the kind that covers little legs in bruises, although even this improved after the PoW North high point. Our pace improved here, hampered only by the unevenness of walking through decent sized button grass clumps with tired legs. We spied a flat platform just below Observation Peak and made a beeline, all of us ready to stop walking by now. As we chose our sites and pitched our tents I reflected on how well we worked as a team. We were each leaders in turn, but none of us was ever head chief and it was special to be a part of such a team!
Day 8: Observation Peak to Algonkian Mountain
7.9km; 9:26hrs; 622m ascent
The sun rose behind the Spires, painting pretty button grass silhouettes and creating a spectacular backdrop for my chosen loo spot for the morning. We had a short, straight and easy climb through damp button grass and ankle to knee high scrub to the summit of Observation Peak, which rewarded us with 360 degree views. It was the last peak on the Prince of Wales range proper, so we spent a little time enjoying it before casting our eyes westwards to the very green looking Algonkian.
We’d heard bad things about this one and we were about to find out how bad they would prove to be. We duck and wove our way down the ridge, taking a few hours but managing to stay in reasonable scrub right through to the creek, where we washed faces and refilled water in preparation for a waterless high camp on Algonkian. Unfortunately it was starting to warm up, just in time for the2.5km ascent. Again, the scrub was manageable. It was the kind you could weave through without too much effort, and we took it in turns to lead. We stopped about ¼ of the way up for lunch in the bauera and were once again swarmed by flies and mozzies, something the higher summits had fortunately lacked!
Onwards we plodded, passing a section of beautiful forest that had more king billies than I’d ever seen in one spot, as well as sassafras, celery top, myrtle and pandanis. This gave way to a section where the less enjoyable species of scoparia, cutting grass, bauera and horizontal dominated and we realised we were indeed getting closer to the summit.
And then we broke out, finding ourselves looking back towards the entire PoW range stretched across the horizon…wow! It provided the motivation to overcome fatigue and make our way past the first camp site we found, over to the summit of Algonkian. What views!! Just spectacular. Definitely worth celebrating with the last bit of Old Jamaican Rum and Raisin chocolate 😉 while Graham rescued maps and hat from a burst tube of sunscreen.
We entertained the idea of continuing on, heading off the slopes of the mountain to camp in the forest somewhere to give us extra time the next day. It made logical sense, but the summit was just too nice and we were only going to be there once, not to mention we were feeling pretty buggered too. We opted for a high camp with views for our final night and found a lovely flat camp site just down from the summit that looked out along the entire PoW range, framed by king billies. For me it marked the last proper night of the trip, the following days falling into the ‘walking out’ category rather than part of the journey itself.
Camping here also gave us a few hours before dinner and bed to reflect on the trip, how perfect it had been so far and how lucky we were with weather, water, route finding, the boat trip in, and all the information we’d gathered from various sources (thanks guys, you know who you are). Even the mozzies, flies and ants seemed to know to leave us alone!
Day 9: Algonkian Mountain to Jane River Track (Bests Rivulet)
15.3km; 10:38hrs; 270m ascent
The morning dawned cloudy but fine, and the possible showers that had been forecast didn’t look like they’d eventuate. We enjoyed a final high breakfast, then went to survey our possible routes off Algonkian. The guys we knew who had been through some years before had talked about a horribly scrubby ridge to the west and we weren’t keen to repeat that, though we expected to run into scrub at some point. I’d found one source somewhere at some point in the last three years that talked about the plains to the north providing easier going. So once again I mapped several possible routes according to satellite imagery and now we chose one of them. We would see how it would fare.
Down we went, finding ourselves in deeper and deeper scoparia as we tried to stay on the ridgeline. We veered off to the right into open forest. For some time we tried determinedly to keep heading left and regain the middle of the ridge but it was scrubby there and eventually we gave in. It was the best decision and the going remained fairly open under rainforest. It felt like we were constantly sidling left across the slope, as if staying on the same contour line, but the GPS told a different story. We had lovely open forest and the occasional patch of more condensed horizontal to weave through (for good measure), but nothing that actually felt like a scrub bash. There were a few cliff lines and steep gullies to negotiate, but always we found a way through with ease.
At the bottom we wove through forests of tall skinny paperbark trees (I think) and cutting grass. It was weird terrain, but we weren’t going to complain. It got a bit scrubbier, but nothing that required super physical work to clear a way through. In the last kilometre before the Jane River Track we finally arrived at the open button grass plains I had been boasting (only a tad overdue!). Graham scared us all with his loud reaction to yet another snake we’d startled, and then we hit ‘road’. Overgrown, but road nonetheless. We’d done it… mostly.. and in record time! High-fives all round. Definitely the way to go, we agreed.
John checked his GPS and confirmed the goldminers hut was only 500m south of where we were and we agreed it was worth a visit – even if it was in the wrong direction – so we left our packs and headed that way. It was well built (it even had a shower!) and was holding up with time, although a sad deserted feeling pervaded and I was happy to turn our backs and leave it to the quiet of the bush again. Again, it was so far removed from my own experiences of life I couldn’t imagine how things might have been, how the guys who had walked the same road as I was now walking had felt about being there.
Reunited with our packs we began the long road walk out, keen to make a dent on the 25km so we could definitely make it out in good time the next day. The road was in better condition that I expected, the going slowed only by frequent large trees that had fallen across it. Most had been there for some time, and those who had been in before us had already established obvious routes around them. The pace still wasn’t that fast, we were tired, and it was hard to muster great motivation to keep moving with speed when we were further ahead than we’d expected. We made it to Bests Rivulet before tempers started to fray with the constant insult of having to go up and over or down and under fallen trees and so we called it a night, camping in the middle of the flattest section of road we could find.
It was home to almost all the mozzies in the world, and we had no choice but to lock ourselves in our tent inners for protection, despite the evening being a muggy one at this height. Graham spoiled me with lollies and snacks that he now knew were surplus to his needs. We hadn’t been sure we’d get out on day 10 until that point, but we were very keen to do so knowing there was a front coming through the following night that would bring heavy rain all night and the next day. We didn’t want to take any chances that the Franklin river wouldn’t be passable. (A week after walking out we found out from a fellow walker and friend that the Gordon River was flooded and unpassable, so who knows, perhaps the Franklin would have been after all that rain? Lucky our original boat trip fell through and the alternative option meant we left a day earlier, hey?!)
Day 10: Jane River Track (Bests Rivulet) to Lyell Highway
19.7km; 7:56hrs; 564m ascent
Definitely my least favourite day. I always struggle with walking out, and this was perhaps one of the worst walkouts. The road seemed to get worse and worse as we got closer to the end; the cutting grass, bauera and other scrub seemed keen to taunt, pulling at tired stumbling legs just to spite me. The bog sucked me down, filling both boots that I had actually managed to dry out. Grrrr… I found myself getting angry and grumpy at the scrub each time, and was surprised and fascinated. I tried hard to treat it as a challenge, but wasn’t much in the mood and did a pretty poor job. I can’t imagine I was much company for John and Graham, but they didn’t seem to let my spirits get them down and I just hope I didn’t taint their experiences of those last few hours.
The best parts of the day were examining the condition of each of the bridges we came to and also arriving at the Franklin to find we could rock hop across without getting our feet wet. It was also pretty funny trying to figure out which one of us would have the greatest luck flagging down a ride the 2-3km to the Frenchman’s Cap car park, where John had parked a car a week and a half earlier. John got the job, and it didn’t take him long before he was back with transport home. We all had smiles on our faces as we flicked the last of the leeches off our boots and gaiters, changed into semi-clean clothes, and tucked into chips and later an ice cream.
We spent the next two days cleaning, repairing and sorting gear, smiling happily that we weren’t walking in the heavy, blustery rain and cold conditions. The emphasis on basic needs that had been such a focus of the last 10 days grew less prominent as we immersed ourselves back into the business of our everyday lives. It had been a lovely reset and it still makes me smile, breathe deeply, and feel warm and happy inside. I feel very privileged to be able to do such things in a beautiful part of the world with special like-minded people.
All up over 93km and 5000m ascent and a whole lot of fun!
Three years ago Graham and I spent our Show weekend climbing Frenchmans Cap, Clytemnestra and Sharlands Peak. This year we were heading back in to check out Agamemnon, Philps and if we were lucky, White Needle. It seemed right somehow, although we were both doubting our fitness and our ambitious plans for the 2.5 days!
We left the car park in the early afternoon, recognising with excitement one of the names in the logbook. The walk in raised the usual feelings of enjoyment at being back in the bush, impatience at still being on a track, and excitement about what the next two days would bring.
The acidic smell of ants, the musical note of the first olive whistler, hard quartz underfoot and squint-inducing sun all had a relaxant effect. Graham had other plans, however, and decided the short day would be a good way to stretch his legs and test his fitness. We tested it well, and by the time we approached the final hill before Vera we were travelling at a much more reasonable plod!
The hut and campsites were well occupied, but we found a cute little spot and refamiliarised ourselves with how to pitch the tent (it’d been a while!). Soup and dinner followed. The last thing I remember is Graham stating that if he was going to be organised he should get his head torch out before it got dark… we both fell asleep before he did!
The morning dawned crisp, and we kept warm jackets on though we knew they’d be off in 5 minutes. The brief climb up from the hut back took us to where the new track work sears a white scar through the button grass plain, blinding in the morning sun. We stripped off and headed up the very obvious button grass lead that would take us to the ridge line connected to Agamemnon. It was easier going than it had looked, and there was clear evidence of many parties having gone before us, some more recent, some yonks ago.
Scrub scraped against our knees, sweat formed on our brows and I finally felt free again. I was surprised at how much I missed being off track exploring the secrets and treats of a new mountain. A friend had recently referred to me as a ‘wild girl’ and I don’t think she could have been more on the money – I felt like I was home.
At the top of the rise we were greeted with a magnificent view, that we’d have from various perspectives for the rest of the day. Frenchmans Cap, Philps, Sharlands and Barron Pass were centre stage, Agamemnon waiting behind the undulations for a later introduction.
The ridge we were on that would take us to the summit of Agamemnon was fun, and we spent a fair bit of time mucking around early on. It was such that you’d pop over a rise, or sidle round a rocky outcrop and find the route ahead was quite unexpected. We found ourselves on steep drops more than once – often intentionally! In fact, we were pretty spot on with our route finding – the odd cairn helping us along when we weren’t sure.
After one more scrubby rise, again better than it looked, and some open climbing we found ourselves negotiating rocky outcrops on the way to the summit.
The view was perfect – it was the kind of place you could stay for a long time!! We felt pretty good having got to the summit in 3.5 hrs, but unfortunately we had more walking to do. So after a short break we dropped off and headed across a lovely bowl (looked like nice if exposed camping with flowing water!).
The Abels description was pretty spot on, except that the small band of scrub might have been small, but the scrub certainly wasn’t! I had been warned, but the walking had been so reasonable till then that I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. Graham in particular wasn’t impressed to find himself in scoparia that was well over his head. We ducked and twisted through the branches and were happy to pop out the far side.
We were soon on the open ridge leading towards Philps, and trudged along, legs getting weary but mind refreshed. We were surprised at how long it took to reach the summit from Agamemnon, but were having a break for lunch regardless. Philps marked my 650th point on the HWC peak baggers list (I have to mark the 50s now because the 100s are few and far between!).
We briefly entertained the possibility of completing the traverse across to White Needle and down to Barron Pass but sensibility prevailed – we’d heard stories of people being benighted for exactly the same thing! Given we’d now been out for 6.5 hrs including breaks we thought it safer to head back than to go on and potentially have to turn around with even less time to spare.
The walk back was quicker, if a little more stumbley, but no less enjoyed. We chatted happily with a couple who had day tripped out to the Cap that day, and wrote briefly in the logbook. It had been a big, off track walking day, and we were more than ready for dinner. We raised a toast to two fellow walkers, and their wives who must surely be finding it hard to adjust to their absence. Again, we were asleep almost as soon as we got into our sleeping bags.
We woke early to the sound of the alarm, happy the heavier rain from earlier that morning seemed to have subsided, but aware there was more forecast. We decided we were going anyway unless things deteriorated further. We were a tad anxious about this one. We had a short time frame, and White Needle had eluded us once before. Not just the out-of-time or no-view-no-point kind of eluding. Our first attempt had been the closest we’d been to giving a mountain a good crack and failing to get to the top. Understandably, we’d turned around our confidence shaken after Graham went swinging from a small scoparia bush by one hand when the rock under his feet gave way.
This time we’d done more research and were armed with a route and reassurance that if we went right instead of left, we’d find a much cruisier and less exposed way up. The source was a hard core walker himself, so we were still a tad hesitant about what his ‘easy’ might mean.
We set off round Lake Vera, walked through quite a dark forest, and pushed up the climb to Barron Pass. We timed it perfectly, the mist lifting to reveal blue skies around. The rock was wet, but we had no real excuses now. We sorted our gear and set off.
The start was as we’d done it, good pad to the left hand side of the foot of the mountain, a bit of a scramble up rock face and we were heading back to the right. Then one more scramble up rock and all of a sudden we found ourselves on much more promising terrain. White Needle seemed possible. The pad was still evident and we followed it up, cross checking from time to time that we were still on the right route. Very quickly we stood below the final bit of climb: a gentle scramble up rock that promised all fun and no real challenge.
And there we were! On the summit of White Needle with great big grins on our faces. The view towards Sharlands was the best, and probably the most impressive you’ll ever get of the peak! We spent too long enjoying the moment, and eventually dragged ourselves away. We had the long walk back to Vera then out to the car ahead, and we didn’t want to be driving 14 mile road in the dark. It was an exercise in patience, persistence and sheer doggedness, and by the end it was the birdsong that kept us going.
We made it, tired and sore, but pretty stoked with our 2.5 days and just over 50km of walking. Even better, we ran into the two guys we knew as we were about to leave the car park!
I had long ago decided to celebrate my completion of an intense three-years-in-two paramedic course with a walk to the Eldons. It had been on the list for a long time, and after the Spires last year, I finally felt like I’d earned my ‘stripes’ to complete such a remote and difficult walk. I didn’t get a chance for quite as much pre-walk excitement as usual, finishing the last piece of assessment at uni on the Friday morning (17 February), and heading up that evening for a car camp off the side of the Lyell Highway. Even the very rare treat of fish and chips for dinner and a good old catch up chat as we drove didn’t seem real just yet. We pitched the tent during a much-desired break in the rain showers. We were expecting three days of pretty high chance of rain showers, including that evening, so we would take whatever reprieve we got!
We slept a bit too well, which made for a rush getting packed the following morning. Brad, who had driven all the way from Strahan with his boat, was earlier than we were but waited patiently as we sorted ourselves out, and seemed at least as enthusiastic as we were about his part in our little adventure. It’s always good to meet other people who pursue what they love with passion, and Brad was just that. This was pretty clear from the way he spoke about what he did, his care in explaining surface tension, dead insects and why the fish could be found where they were as he took us on the bumpy ride across Lake Burbury. He knew the lake bottom like the back of his hand, and fortunately for us could spot the submerged rocks and trees he knew were there well before we could (which was pretty much as they passed by us!).
Having dropped John and myself off on the first run, Brad returned to get Graham. John and I spent the time drying ourselves and our wet weather gear in between passing showers (we’d got rather wet on the crossing), and having a bit of a scout around. When Brad returned with Graham, he also presented us with a lovely looking rainbow trout, which he gutted and scaled before handing it to us in a bag. It was certainly a first for us, and very much appreciated. We said our goodbyes, and set off to begin the walking. We had our boots back on as we walked a short way up the western side of the river, until arriving at an appropriate point to cross first the Eldon River, then the South Eldon river. The first was wide but shallow, while the latter proved more of a challenge for those of us with short legs if we so desired to keep our undies dry!
On the far side we donned our boots, adjusted clothing to better reflect the weather (much better than forecast and expected!). As we made our way through an extensive flat section we admired beautiful open forest and cursed hidden trip hazards. We finally commenced on the climb, which was to be over 1200m with our full 9-day packs. We had a rough gps route, which we consulted at times, but otherwise took our cues from others who had been through before and left evidence of their route. We were very grateful for this in parts, particularly as we gained height and the scrub became more dense. While progress seemed way too slow initially and I probably wasn’t the only one worried if we’d make Eldon Peak, we made better time as we got higher. We were wet, but by no means uncomfortable. When we finally broke out of the forest and onto low scrub, then the boulders, it was just wonderful to see the peak ahead, even if it was under sunny hailstorms. In some ways, it was a false sense of achievement, because the final climb took much longer than it looked like it would. The weather, however, didn’t hold, and the cloud dropped and we found ourselves in a very slow crawl over slippery lichen covered boulders in snow. All of a sudden we were very cold, tired and ready for the day to be over. But we got there, and stood with relieved smiles on the summit cairn. We’d made it!!
It was a short walk off the summit to a beautiful flat area dotted with lovely tarns where we pitched tents on pineapple grass interspersed with cushion plants. Graham learnt what it was to get such cold fingers mixed with not eating enough food that it made him feel physically sick, but after a bit of first aid he was feeling good enough to poach our trout in his gas converted trangia. We had an indulgent dinner that night of soup for entrée, followed by poached trout and balti chicken. The trout was by far the best I’ve tasted – so good that it didn’t even need the salt, pepper and butter we’d got out in preparation. I don’t think it took much for any of us to fall asleep after the 8 hours of walking we’d just done.
The next morning we woke to a rather white world, and all our best-laid plans went out the window. Our 6km-long boulder hop would be near suicidal in the snow covering they had so we chose to bide our time and see how the weather panned out over the next few days. We were all conscious that the first group Brad had ferried up had done similarly to us, got snowed in, and had no choice but to turn back… we would bide our time hoping for a different fate, and knowing there wasn’t anything at all we could do to influence it!
We ate and slept, and got glimpses in between showers. It was just lovely!! Fortunately, the snow melted pretty fast, even though it continued to snow, hail and rain on and off all day. A weather window allowed for a weather update, which seemed more favourable. It also allowed us to enjoy partial views and even a touch of sun. Reassured there was still hope for us, it was nice to enjoy yummy food and just be, doze and wander around. I felt like I was finally catching up on the last two years worth of missed sleep!
We woke early to stars and a good feeling. Sure enough at 6am the skies were mostly clear and it was lovely to have the tables turned and be able to look down on a sea of cloud in the valleys. It was beautiful. Bloody cold though, with tarns and tents both frozen.
We soon warmed up, dried out, stripped off and started making very slow and convoluted progress on wet, lichen covered massive boulders. Though we only had to cover a short distance as the crow flies, I’m sure we walked, climbed and clawed more than double it!
We did make sure we enjoyed it, however, and decided to keep walking past our first camp option as it was mid afternoon and we thought we should make up for the rest day we’d just had. As we climbed back up from the lowest point we tasted our first real scrub, and it wasn’t much fun. We were shortly back on boulders and that was a bit wearisome too. When it started to rain (unexpected if we were trusting the morning’s weather forecast), John suggested we go with a rough camp even though we were short on water. Both Graham and I wanted to go the final 900m to a possibly nicer spot. John agreed but I’m not sure he was that happy about getting wet again.
The 900m included a very slow 500m of more big nasty boulders that were now wet again. Then we came to a bit where the gps route had us sidling around a long slender single contour line. The cloud chose that moment to part just enough to see a huge towering rock structure. I think all our hopes sank – it certainly didn’t look easy or inviting. But it turned out to be ok, and the going was much easier than we feared. We arrived at a nice but wet campsite and set about getting warm. It had taken us 11 hours all up, so it was probably understandable that we were feeling rather tired again! It was a pity about the last hour’s worth of rain, but we acknowledged we’d been lucky not to have had it all day!
I woke and made first use of the amenities. I was somewhat distracted however, as the cloud parted and revealed the surprise of Eldon Bluff and Castle Mountain so close! The others followed suit as we slowly struck camp, and though it clagged back over and we were forced to start walking in the mist, I had high hopes for a lovely day ahead. We dropped our packs between Eldon Crag and Bluff, where we’d initially intended to camp, and headed to the crag. On the summit we watched the mist lift and began to relax into the warmth of the sun. It was nice to get things dry a bit, to walk without our packs, and to have such wonderful views!
Back at our packs we admired the campsite, which gave views of Eldon Peak to one side, and Eldon Bluff to the other – a lovely spot, we unanimously agreed. Our packs went back on as we headed along the ridge towards Eldon Bluff. We dropped them at the appropriate point, fought a stack of ants over lunch, then took the very short climb up what were (today!) very nice scrambly rocks! Then emerged onto a beautiful, fairly level top of cushion plants, small tarns and the odd rocky outcrop. It’s an absolutely stunning spot. There were mountains all around and we all thought it would be one of the best campsites ever – in good weather! We celebrated with brie and crackers, with mango and cranberries for dessert, and took a stack of photos on and around the summit before leaving by an indirect but more scenic route.
Back to the packs and we knew we had ahead of us a long scrubby traverse under the bluff’s cliff line. It was better than expected, if more up and down-y, and we soon popped out the bottom, disturbing the local wombats and finding the bluff too big to fit in a photo. We camped a short way along the ridge in amongst the scrub. It was the earliest we’d made it in to camp and the first night we’d not had to cook in tents due to the weather, so we hung gear out to dry in the sun and sat out and chatted as we ate our food.
We woke early to lovely sunrise that turned the sky and bluff almost unreal colours! At the same time I discovered I’d passed my degree (not really unexpected, but nice for it to be official). After the excitement was over and we’d eaten some breakfast, Graham and I went off to Dome Hill while John dried and mended gear, had a wash, and otherwise enjoyed the morning. It proved to be scrubber than we’d anticipated in parts and our bare knees paid for it. It was also a decent distance, but we had Zane and Nick’s footsteps to keep us company from time to time, which was kind of cool given how remote we were (we wouldn’t see another person for 9 days) On the summit we celebrated Graham’s 500th point with the left over bikkies and cheese, then headed back to John, arriving at 12.30 with all our curses about leptospermum.
As we ate lunch, Graham found out he’d got a bit of work he wanted, then we headed off to Lake Ewart. Again, it was scrubber than expected till we hit the lakeside, and we were happy we were at least heading down hill! We found and signed the log book, discovering there were only about 7 entries since the first in 2010. Then we headed across the button grass plain for the final scrubby push up onto the flat area below Castle Mountain. I was in the lead and probably did a positively horrid job of pushing through the scrub for the two guys, both of whom are taller than me! When we popped out, we found some lovely sheltered spots for the two of us out of the wind next to the largest of the tarns. We took photos of the mountains, pandani and tarns, and shared dinner together again. We retired to our tents hoping that the next day wouldn’t be toooooo wet.
It wasn’t so wet to start with, and was far from cold, so we headed off on a side trip to Castle Mountain. We were pleasantly surprised as the going wasn’t as bad as we expected, given the trip reports we’d read. We found places where others had been through scrub, marked by bent back branches. When we came to the final climb we came across a pretty good pad that took us all the way to the summit. By now it was rainy and cold, so we made the stop a brief one. We were back at the tents within three hours and set about an early lunch before striking camp and heading for High Dome.
Graham managed to break a pole and split the tent fly as he zipped up the door, so the three of us made a hasty repair with a roll of tenacious tape in a period without too much rain. Finally sorted, we set off for a scrubby climb, accompanied by the odd olive whistler. When we made it up, we wound our way along a waist-high scrubby ridge and onto a nicely cut track up an unnamed hill. As we walked along the ridge the sun appeared and began to dry us out, and the view opened up the further we walked up the hill. I put in an order for a new tent when we got reception (given we’d need it in 10 days of being back!), then we dropped down to the saddle between the hill and High Dome, where we would camp for the night.Again, the wombats raced off as we intruded, and the currawongs squawked in protest. It was nice to see our repair hold as we gently pitched the tent. Again, we cooked undercover.
We woke to a disappointingly and unexpectedly wet morning and not much of a sunrise. We stayed in tents waiting for the rain to clear so we could climb High Dome with the hope of some views. No luck. John made the wise call to just head off. We did so, climbing to the summit in whiteout conditions. We had a brief glimpse of outlines on the saddle between the two peaks of High Dome on the way back, but that was all. Oh well, we’d just have to come back and do it with views another time. We packed and made our wet and scrubby way towards Five Duck Tarn. None of us had any desire to push on in the wet and cold towards Junction Hill, even if it afforded more impressive views. We got warm, and spent the afternoon listening to rain on tent flies.
We woke to a crispy cold clear morning, and spent the sunrise hour watching mist on the tarn, drops of water on buttongrass stalks and spider’s webs, and golden light across the plains. We eagerly awaited the sun’s warmth and delayed our start by an hour so we could hang clothes out to dry to make things more comfortable before we set off. After a bit of a bash we hit a lovely little pandani grove near the saddle, then walked onto a good solid track (Ewart’s track) up the other side. This made for some easy, and purely delightful, walking in parts! We enjoyed finding lots of the original blaze marks from Ewart’s track, and felt a lot of gratitude to the man. Otherwise we took simple delight in being dry and having both sun and views, which wasn’t bad for the ‘cloudy’ forecast, and low mixing height we had expected. When we arrived, Junction Hill proved to be a wonderful little hill with spectacular views and quite large tarns. It would make fantastic camping if the weather was right. It was so nice, in fact, that we had rather an extensive lunch as we just couldn’t draw ourselves away and there didn’t seem to be too much reason to rush.
The lovely walking continued, with some spectacular track work amongst myrtles as we dropped off Junction Hill and towards the next unnamed hill on the way to Rocky Hill. It also awarded us with open walking and excellent views, giving the feeling of walking on the top of the world. Onwards we walked, taking our time, frequently expressing our delight till we reached the end of the saddle connecting the unnamed hill and Rocky Hill. We dropped our packs and made the final open climb without any weight on our backs. Again, we drank up the views. We could have sat there for ages, except we needed to drop down to the flat area some way below to make camp. It was, unfortunately, a very scrubby descent through a forest of scoparia (we found out on our return that there’s a track there if you look hard enough), but the campsite was nicely nestled amongst pine stands that were thousands of years old.
We ate together again for the final night, shared John’s dessert then got into bed to avoid the mozzies and the cold!
We all knew today was our last day, which usually comes with mixed emotions. We had both the desire to linger, savor and enjoy, but also to get back to all the things we knew we had to do. We started off with some nice walking, which turned into a slightly scrubbier knee-waist high fight through painful leptospermum, with intermittent tracks. Lower down we said goodbye to the swifts and walked onto very recent track work! The sound of traffic became more and more dominant as we descended. The river crossing was straight forward, and we popped out onto the highway sooner than expected. We were surprised to find two other cars in car park, but had chips, tarts and mint biscuits on our minds to give them too much more thought.
We decided this one was definitely an epic. Special thanks to all those who played a role in making it possible!!
All up: 86.1km, 5137m ascent
The following includes all lunch, snack and striking of camp breaks.
This adventure all started with an attractive option to join the Hobart bushwalking club on a trip to Tramontane. It didn’t matter too much that I was in the middle of my final uni semester, or that exams had been moved forward a month so I’d have to have learnt content and handed in essays before I left (in 5 weeks, essentially). The crazier uni got (3 of those 5 weeks were intensive face to face classes) the more I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately the weather turned foul just in time. We delayed two days.It stayed horrid. The problem was we had to cross the Collingwood River and we didn’t fancy having to swim it then walk for the next 4-5 days in rain. The walk was cancelled.
We stayed home for the next three days, because the weather was still no good. But it looked like it would be good enough for 5 days before either of us had to be back working/studying so we decided on a split trip to Darwin, Sorell, South Darwin, and then back to the Jukes range. We adjusted our packs accordingly and made an early (enough) start.
On the drive the weather got worse after passing Lake St Clair and we started to doubt the forecast that had the rain set to stop by 11am. As we neared our turn off I discovered that half the data I’d transferred to our GPS hadn’t made it (or more accurately, wasn’t visible to us). We didn’t have the crucial route we wanted for Sorell, which had quite a reputation, or South Darwin and Jukes. I was kicking myself and Graham wasn’t too happy either!!
Our collective mood was made worse by having to start out in the drizzle, which just hung around. It was humid and muggy and we were soon as wet from sweat as we were rain. If we’d had a 4WD we could have saved the road walk and it’d have been super fast.
After some time we hit the Mt Darwin turn off to the right. We dumped packs and geared up for the fairly short walk.We were most delighted to find that at the end of the 2km road there was the start of a taped track – we’d not expected it at all, and it was very gratefully used! The scrub would have been nasty to push uphill through. Unfortunately there were a few spots where the track branched in more than one direction and eventually all sign of it ended prematurely, just before reaching the much more open ridge. It was a pity, but it did make us all the more grateful for having had it for so long.
As we climbed the final bit of ridgeline the drizzle stopped and the clouds started to lift. We caught glimpses of Lake Burbury and by the time we reached the trig at the top the view was, comparatively speaking, quite extensive. We rested a while and attempted to dry out. I managed to download memory maps and the Sorell route onto my phone AND figure out how to make them work. While it wouldn’t be as accurate as our gps, it would prove very handy!
We walked down feeling much better. Partly because it wasn’t raining anymore and we could see blue sky, partly because we’d finally stretched our legs and climbed a mountain. Back at our packs, we sorted ourselves out and headed for a little knoll just off the Darwin/South Darwin saddle. It provided us with a near new pair of scrub gloves for Graham (if you lost a pair there recently, do be in touch!) as well as beautiful flat camping, half a view, and a head start on what we knew would be a big day.
We woke to the same cloud, but it was high enough we could see where we were going, to a point. The summit of Sorell remained hidden, but that just added to the majesty and mystery of the mountain. We set off early, so that we’d be back at a reasonable hour for dinner.
The road walk was short, but left us with a taped and cairned ‘track’ – probably once used by prospectors (maybe still by some fossickers) – to follow. Again, we were very grateful. After a short descent through knee high buttongrass and leptaspurnum we hit the rainforest. It was wet and slippery underfoot and quite steep in places. The track gave us a lovely straight line to follow. Unfortunately the newer tapes petered out and we were left searching for very very old remnants of what had been pink tape.
When we popped out next to a huon pine at the river crossing we were glad we’d not camped down there. There were no attractive sites (although I’ve heard since there are?), it was humid and plagued with mozzies and leeches. We determined that the spot we’d chosen was pretty well chosen.
We left the river behind and continued on our way. Presently, we broke out of the forest and into the same kind of low sparse scrub described earlier. The track was nearly impossible to follow, but it didn’t matter. We knew where we were heading and it was all about staying on the ridge. We duck and wove, wishing the sun would hide behind cloud for just a little longer. Occasionally we walked past little bits of pink tape.
Gaining height, we approached the visibly scrubby foothills of what we knew would be the hardest part of the trip. Descriptions included horrible/diabolical scrub, and near vertical ascents. We were, however, pleased with our speedy progress to that point so plunged head long into the scrub where we thought the track most likely went. It took a little while to confirm it, but it was. And how lucky we were to be on it!!! We crawled, clawed, scrambled, slid and someone managed to propel ourselves forward and up (though mostly up at this point). It would have taken considerably longer to complete the trip without the ‘track’.
At the top of the worst of it we expected a nice easy stroll up onto the ridge proper and along to the summit. But no luck. The walk onto the ridge was steep enough it felt more like a climb and while the ridge itself wasn’t too bad, there were enough ups and downs and unevenness.
But we made it, if quite slowly in the end, in just under 6 hours. Though we didn’t have much time to spare, we did enjoy the summit for 40 minutes. Partly to eat lunch and muster our strength for the next 6 hours, but partly because like the day before the cloud that had been kissing the summit most appropriately disappeared as we approached. It came back as soon as we departed.
We were much faster on the descent, although we had to take care not to slip too much! We were hot, tired and drenched in sticky sweat and scrub. The plodding began and step by step we made our way back. We did still have the energy to enjoy the olive whistlers, the three different types of sundews, the Christmas bells, Waratahs, Hewardias, orchids and a number of flowers I’d not seen before! We got there in 11 hours all up and celebrated tiredly with a home cooked and dehydrated meal, then watched the sun set from out little rocky lookout. I fell asleep while trying to write notes!
We woke and packed at a reasonable time, and headed straight up the road to where we’d branch off to climb South Darwin. We dropped packs and made the very short easy walk in no time. It was a tad cloudy, which was a pity, but at the same time we were enjoying not being too hot. The road walk out was long, but at least it was downhill.
Back at the car we turned further along the road to check out access to Mounts McCall and McCutcheon, before having lunch at the dam and then heading to Jukes. I’ve already written a blog about my first trip up, so won’t bore you with more details here.. maybe just a few photos instead 😉