Prince of Wales Range: 16-25 February 2020

PoW GPS route, day 1-2

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.

And we’re off. Rescued at the last minute by Kenny and Charlotte’s mate Darren, who was super cool and efficient, and not a bad photographer either!

Landing site selected, and they’re off, our last human contact for 9 days. Thanks guys!!

On our way to where we think the rafters route might start.

We all agree where we should go, and walk straight onto the rafters route.

Half a day’s walking and we have views of our range. Humboldt is up there, and our target for Day 2

PoW GPS route, day 2-4

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.

We’re already behind, courtesy of some yucky scrub close to the river. But only by a few hours. This is early on day 2, and we’re heading over there, to ascend on the right hand side of that great big cliff/rock.

First, we have the Denison to cross. Not too deep fortunately, and super sweet to drink!

The Denison was lined with huon pine.. here a few seedlings trying to grow out of rock

And now we start the climb up. Satelite imagery has identified a longer but less scrubby route up. We’re grateful, but still dripping in sweat!

We don’t quite make it to the ridge on Day 2, but this is a pretty speccy place to camp. Just have to find a way up that rock and scrub wall in the morning!

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 3 dawn is pretty!

Body language says it all. It’s a heavy slog up with full packs, and as much water as we can carry.

We arrive on Humboldt in the mist. This is looking as far south as we got to see!

Looking north, it’s speccy country, less fun to have to pick your way through the scrubby towers in the clag 😉

Typically, we descend and the weather improves. Here we are about to descend down a scrubby gully to bypass a pinacle we can’t get off any other way. It’s a long way down and a long way back up. It’s also not the only time we’ll have to do this!

Which way off? Left or right? Or backtrack again! Princes Peak looks like easier going.

Wandering along mid range. What country to walk in!

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 4 and we move closer to Diamond Peak, although it’s hiding behind that block

Knackered, but we still have energy for some fun.

The scrub is often deeper than it looks. Which way up that thing shall we go? We decide on the first green scrubby gully and then up what turns out to be a knife edge rock.

Looking back. What a ridge!

You can’t tell, but there’s a sheer drop either side of this rocky pinacle. It was a fun scramble up this part.

Steep country in places.

The Spires were a constant feature out to our right

On the old cairn of unknown origin, we finally get a closer view of Diamond Peak!

A spectacular camp site with the Spires behind. Just as well it was speccy, we were to spend a wet rest day here, not keen to walk the hardest section of the walk in whiteout. As it turned out, we did!

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.

Half rations for lunch (and the same for dinner) on our tent-bound day. Still tasty! It was all just as fresh by day 10 too!

PoW GPS route, day 6-8

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 6 we wait till 10am when the rain is supposed to be stopping and the weather clearing, before we head for Diamond Peak. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in the mountains, it took much longer to clear. We walked in mist and rain, and at one point hail. It was cold, but raw and liberating at the same time.

We climbed down this, navigating solely by GPS, having no idea of the drops we had to figure out a way around. We got there though!

Another gap in the clag – it’s a pity we don’t get a better look at the craggy, dramatic landscape we’re apparently walking through.

And then, 600m from Diamond Peak, it finally reveals itself!! Wow!

We go check her out straight away, but save climbing for tomorrow morning.

The late afternoon brings blue skies, though we’re still cold and wet. Isn’t this just a brilliant camp site?

Love this little lump, with Spires behind

Macro fun with lichen

The sunset is spectacular, looking back at the ridge we traversed that day in the clag

Sun setting on Spires

Photographer at work – or just posing?

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 took the 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!

The morning dawns clear. Sunrise behind Diamond Peak

Time to climb Diamond Peak. Loving the mist in the valleys

Can’t wipe the smiles off our faces, it’s a special mountain!!

Check out that ridgeline, and our camp site!

Diamond Peak 😀

Time to continue along the range, heading for camp below Observation Peak. Here we are heading down into the scrub to bypass yet another cliffy drop.

Looking back. Today is a day of broken ridgelines and thicker than expected scrub. Although at least here it’s only waist height.

Emerging from some scrub, Spires behind.

Making the most of some yabbie hole water on the way. Not a bad back drop either!

The walking gets easier as we progress, although our feet get more and more clumsy as we tire. It’s another long day.

Button grass ridges in evening light. That’s Observation peak in the distance.

600m to go, we take a breather. Camp is off to the right of this photo.

Looking back at Diamond Peak from our campsite at the end of day 7.

PoW GPS route, day 8-10

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 the 2.5km 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!

The following morning there’s another pretty sunrise

Observation peak glows in the early light. It’s only a short distance up.

Another look back at Diamond Peak from my loo spot 😉

Heading from Observation Peak to Algonkian, where we’ll camp for the night. It looks a tad scrubby.

Heading up Algonkian. It is a tad scrubby, but most of it can be woven through easily enough

We walked through King Billy forests. Never seen so many in one spot!

The breaks grew longer, and I played around with the macro

Scoparia. Pretty. Spikey!

And then we’re out, and get to look back at the PoW range

And then we’re out, and get to look back at the PoW range

The entire PoW range from Algonkian summit cairn

Diamond peak framed by King Billy stags

I think we’ll camp here. Diamond Peak in the distance.

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?!)

We found a lovely, and largely scrub-free way off Algonkian.

Mushrooms galore here!

Some big man ferns.

The most pristine snow berries I’ve ever seen

Moss!

And then we hit the button grass. Looking back at Algonkian

We go and check out the goldminers hut. Graham reckons his hair needs combing?? I think he has more on his chin at this stage…

Inside the hut. The shower is in the room behind me. Yes, they had a shower!

PoW GPS route, day 10

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.

Jane River Track walking… where the walking was good!

And some more.. in parts it was very overgrown though!

Old bridges across rivulets

Finally we arrive at the Franklin river, which we rock hop across. Luckily we went in a day early, and got through in 10 days, or we’d have been walking out in a day of solid rain, and higher river levels.

And now, which of us has the highest chance of flagging down a ride to the Frenchman’s Cap carpark, a few km down the road?? The marker behind signifies the start of the currently closed JRT.

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!

Agamemnon, Philps and White Needle: 26-28 October 2017

Agamemnon, Philps and White Needle GPS route

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!

On the half day we had heading in, Graham leads the ‘charge’ towards the still distant mountains we hope to be climbing the next day!

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. 

Leaving the track near Vera and heading up the opening in the scrub

Looking back down at the track after the first climb, it’s just a bit obvious!

Happy much? Sending Philps (left), White Needle (next left, directly before Barron Pass), Sharlands (right of the pass) and Frenchmans (behind Sharlands – almost looks like one and the same) a wave!

Frenchmans sticks out behind Sharlands

Frenchmans hiding behind Barron Pass.. Philps to the left.

The scenery was stunning, and the land we were walking on was wonderfully convoluted and craggy in parts

We did take the time to muck around 😉

One of the lakes, Marilyn, that seemed to elude us a lot of the time, despite being really quite close!

L>R: Philps, White Needle, Frenchmans

Looking back along part of the ridge we’d followed, the Eldons along the horizon

On Agamemnon, looking at the Prince of Wales range – feels pretty close from up here!

Graham takes it all in – it is a lovely mountain, with stunning views around

Heading off Agamemnon and towards Philps – proved longer than expected, with one or two scrubby sections (one involve walking under scoparia!)

On the ridge to Philps! Fun and easy walking for what were now fairly tired legs

Frenchmans and Philps up close

Looking back at Agamemnon.. you can see that green scoparia scrubby band nicely in this one!

Waving to a friend further north.

Reckon this would make for lovely camping!! Beautiful water just off Agamemnon.

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!

Day 1: 15.5km, 4:41 hrs, 691m ascent

Day 2: 13.5km, 10:36 hrs, 1370m ascent

Day 3: 23.7km, 10 hrs, 1312m ascent

White Needle looks much more imposing than it actually was (given the right route!).

After setting out armed with Jared’s correct route, we were surprised to find that after two small climby sections, the going was surprisingly gentle!! We were pretty happy to be on top – the view to Sharlands was by far the best ;)!

Graham salutes Sharlands – pretty happy to have made it up this time, having felt disappointed in our retreat of our first attempt.

Heading back, you get a bit of a sense of the terrain!

Sharlands, from the top of a chute we still had to go down – a tad too big to fit in one photo, but you kind of get the idea!

A wave to an old friend – Clytemnestra was my first solo off track multi day walk if I remember correctly!

A last look back, and a rough approximation of which way we went

Some nice forest for when the views are more immediate, accompanied by frequent and very tuneful birdsong.

Eldon Range from Burbury to Pigeon House Hill: 18-26 February 2017

 

Eldon range traverse

Eldon range traverse

Day 1 (and the night before):

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.

Brad's boat and the weather surprise that awaited us

Brad’s boat and the weather surprise that awaited us

John and I try to get a bit dry as we wait for Graham. Eldon Peak looks on.

John and I try to get a bit dry as we wait for Graham. Eldon Peak looks on.

Brad arrives with Graham - we're lucky to have got so far up river

Brad arrives with Graham – we’re lucky to have got so far up river

Brad cleans the rainbow trout he's caught us - aren't we lucky!!

Brad cleans the rainbow trout he’s caught us – aren’t we lucky!!

We set off, across the Eldon and South Eldon rivers

We set off, across the Eldon and South Eldon rivers

Finally out of beautiful forest, and we can see our peak!

Finally out of beautiful forest, and we can see our peak!

We can't believe our luck with the view!

We can’t believe our luck with the view!

The view doesn't last to the summit, but we're pretty happy to be on top regardless - we're exhausted and freezing, but it doesn't dampen the mood much!

The view doesn’t last to the summit, but we’re pretty happy to be on top regardless – we’re exhausted and freezing, but it doesn’t dampen the mood much!

Let's camp here!

Let’s camp here!

Day 2:

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 wake to this, it's a bit cold..!

We wake to this, it’s a bit cold..!

Still beautiful!

Still beautiful!

We catch glimpses of the ridge we'll be walking along the next day

We catch glimpses of the ridge we’ll be walking along the next day

And of the mountains!

And of the mountains!

At times it was so still

At times it was so still

Day 3:

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!

Early morning, waiting for the sun to rise, it was freezing but we were excited!

Early morning, waiting for the sun to rise, it was freezing but we were excited!

Barn bluff was out

Barn bluff was out

The tarns were partially frozen

The tarns were partially frozen

Jukes, Darwin and Sorell all looked fine as the sun struck them

Jukes, Darwin and Sorell all looked fine as the sun struck them

This was to be the bulk of our day

This was to be the bulk of our day

We've been going for some time, but progress is convoluted and slow

We’ve been going for some time, but progress is convoluted and slow

Graham leads on along the ridge, we can feel we're slowly getting there!

Graham leads on along the ridge, we can feel we’re slowly getting there!

Frenchman looks on :)

Frenchman looks on 🙂

Day 4:

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.

Loo with a view!! Was lovely to discover this on our doorstep!

Loo with a view!! Was lovely to discover this on our doorstep!

Good morning pandanis!

Good morning pandanis!

Eldon Peak is shy.. we'd walked all that way yesterday!

Eldon Peak is shy.. we’d walked all that way yesterday!

Graham leads off into the mist, Eldon Crag is faintly visible

Graham leads off into the mist, Eldon Crag is faintly visible

As we sit on the crag, the bluff is revealed

As we sit on the crag, the bluff is revealed

Back at our packs, and the beauty of the campsite is evident

Back at our packs, and the beauty of the campsite is evident

We head towards the bluff.. looking magnificent!

We head towards the bluff.. looking magnificent!

The walking here is a pure delight. That's Eldon Crag in the background.

The walking here is a pure delight. That’s Eldon Crag in the background.

We camped this side of that pointy thing the night before

We camped this side of that pointy thing the night before

Elon Peak from Eldon Bluff plateau.. isn't it lovely?

Elon Peak from Eldon Bluff plateau.. isn’t it lovely?

The bluff's plateau!

The bluff’s plateau!

John on Eldon Bluff!

John on Eldon Bluff!

Looking down at Ewart

Looking down at Ewart

High dive anyone?.. we're heading down that ridge to camp, and off to Dome hill to the left the next morning

High dive anyone?.. we’re heading down that ridge to camp, and off to Dome hill to the left the next morning

Frenchmans!

Frenchmans!

Sidling down under the cliff line

Sidling down under the cliff line

On the ridge we'd camp on

On the ridge we’d camp on

Drying everything out!

Drying everything out!

Day 5:

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.

Magnificent sunrise

Magnificent sunrise

Sun rise

Sun rise

Later on at sunrise

Later on at sunrise

On the summit, looking back at the range we've traversed so far

On the summit, looking back at the range we’ve traversed so far

We head down towards Ewart

We head down towards Ewart

On the plains Eldon Bluff still looks impressive

On the plains Eldon Bluff still looks impressive

We sign the log book

We sign the log book

Graham before we hit the scrub!

Graham before we hit the scrub!

On the ridge, we camp by this tarn.

On the ridge, we camp by this tarn.

There was a rather nice pandani nearby!

There was a rather nice pandani nearby!

Pelion West and co

Pelion West and co

The sun sets and the button grass glows

The sun sets and the button grass glows

Eldon Bluff dominates

Eldon Bluff dominates

Day 6:

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.

Castle Mountain in clag

Castle Mountain in clag

Half way through the day and we get some views and sun!

Half way through the day and we get some views and sun!

High Dome and the reserve

High Dome and the reserve

Wow!! :)

Wow!! 🙂

Our repair job holds, and we camp below High Dome

Our repair job holds, and we camp below High Dome

Day 7:

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.

The extent of our views as we leave High Dome summit

The extent of our views as we leave High Dome summit

Day 8:

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!

At Five Duck Tarn, we enjoy water drops

At Five Duck Tarn, we enjoy water drops

Camping at Five Duck Tarn

Camping at Five Duck Tarn

Five Duck Tarn

Five Duck Tarn

Sunrise at Five Duck Tarn

Sunrise at Five Duck Tarn

Beautiful pandani and myrtle forests

Beautiful pandani and myrtle forests

The Pandani grove!

The Pandani grove!

An old Ewart Blaze

An old Ewart Blaze

Graham takes the pulpit on Junction Hill

Graham takes the pulpit on Junction Hill

View from Junction Hill

View from Junction Hill

Everlastings

Everlastings

More Junction Hill views

More Junction Hill views

More Junction Hill views

More Junction Hill views

We head towards an unnamed hill and Rocky Hill

We head towards an unnamed hill and Rocky Hill

Beautiful open walking - we'll be back for the little Eldons

Beautiful open walking – we’ll be back for the little Eldons

Looking back at High Dome and the Amphitheatre

Looking back at High Dome and the Amphitheatre

On the top of the world

On the top of the world

Let's camp down there

Let’s camp down there

Enjoying Rocky Hill

Enjoying Rocky Hill

Looking back along the ridge to Rocky Hill

Looking back along the ridge to Rocky Hill

It's a lovely ridgeline

It’s a lovely ridgeline

Day 9:

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.

Day 1: 10.3km, 1255m ascent, 9:31 hours

Day 2: Rest day

Day 3: 10.6km, 643m ascent, 11:08 hours

Day 4: 9.8km, 615m ascent, 9:11 hours

Day 5: 14km, 490m ascent, 9:43 hours

Day 6: 10.2km, 611m ascent, 9:46 hours

Day 7: 7.6km, 453m ascent, 5:29 hours

Day 8: 11.8km, 727m ascent, 9:25 hours

Day 9: 11.7km, 361m ascent, 7:23 hours

Sunrise at our pine camp

Sunrise at our pine camp

Pine camp - lovely spot

Pine camp – lovely spot

Saying goodbye to Eldon Peak

Saying goodbye to Eldon Peak

Crossing our final river

Crossing our final river

Darwin, Sorell and South Darwin: 2-4 January 2017

Darwin, Sorell and South Darwin GPS route

Darwin, Sorell and South Darwin GPS route

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!

Heading up Darwin as the clouds part and we have views!

Heading up Darwin as the clouds part and we have views!

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. 

Heading back down, we can actually see where we've come from

Heading back down, we can actually see where we’ve come from

At the bottom, we look back at what we'd been up, the cloud is back again

At the bottom, we look back at what we’d been up, the cloud is back again

Flag irises

Flag irises

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. 

Sorell hides away

Sorell hides away

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. 

We're getting closer

We’re getting closer

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’. 

After the steep stuff - so steep you can't see the bottom if you look straight down

After the steep stuff – so steep you can’t see the bottom if you look straight down

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. 

Finally on top, looking towards Macquarie Harbour

Finally on top, looking towards Macquarie Harbour

I'd never seen these before!

I’d never seen these before!

Sorell's summit under cloud as we approach

Sorell’s summit under cloud as we approach

Darwin escapes the cloud

Darwin escapes the cloud

Not a bad ridge to walk on

Not a bad ridge to walk on

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. 

The slightly worst for wear trig on Sorell

The slightly worst for wear trig on Sorell

A very small and high up native laurel

A very small and high up native laurel

Looking towards Darwin from Sorell

Looking towards Darwin from Sorell

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!

Back at camp.. time to relax!

Back at camp.. time to relax!

Sunset and buttongrass

Sunset and buttongrass

Setting sun

Setting sun

Enjoying the light and little things

Enjoying the light and little things

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. 

Sorell hides again the following morning

Sorell hides again the following morning

From South Darwin, looking towards Darwin

From South Darwin, looking towards Darwin

The trigger plants were nice

The trigger plants were nice

Flag irises

Flag irises

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 😉

All up:

Day 1: 7 hours, 14.3km, 1115m ascent

Day 2: 11 hours, 12.7km, 1438m ascent

Day 3: 3:35 hours, 8.5km, 417m ascent

Photos from Jukes:

Mount Black: 22 June 2015

Mount Black GPS route

Mount Black GPS route

The power of a photo on Facebook! It was the whole reason I found myself climbing Mt Black yesterday… I’d seen photos on Facebook quite some time ago that suggested a route using what looked like old roads was in fact a horrible scrub bash, though it might prove easier than trying to get access to use the mining roads (or avoiding detection by mining personnel if you decided to use them regardless). As a result, Mount Black had dropped down my list somewhat.

Start of the track

Start of the track

But then another friend had posted a photo from the ‘Mount Black track’, and another bushwalker had been a tad faster off the mark than me in asking ‘what? where?!’. Though the question was slightly rhetorical given that if there was another track, it was fairly obvious where the sensible departure point would be. Sure enough.. it was on the high point of the road between Tullah and Rosebery.

It had been a grey start to the day, and the forest was soothing :)

It had been a grey start to the day, and the forest was soothing 🙂

That in itself wasn’t enough to send me racing off, but the question that if I was going, could I bring back a GPS track for the Tarkine in Motion movement, was more than incentive. I was going to be out that way anyway to check out the start to Kate, so why not. West Bluff and Mount Sunday were also needed, and I was all set to go to West Bluff, except the weather wasn’t looking so great when I needed to make my call, so Mount Black it would be instead.

I liked the trees :)

I liked the trees 🙂

A slow and frosty drive from Cradle Mountain saw me park at the high point on the road just before 9am. Walk a little way back and then have a search around in the forest for tapes, I’d been told… I walked straight on to them. Easy.

Just short of the summit, looking southeastish

Just short of the summit, looking southeastish.. loved the King Billies

And so began a lovely walk through the forest. Sassafras, ferns, myrtles and, nearer to the summit, lots of little King Billies (they do make you smile). The track was taped, and mostly easy to follow, though there were a few fallen trees to negotiate, or sections in which the pad seemed to disappear and you had to hunt around for the next bit of tape. But that was all part of the adventure.

Murchison!

Murchison!

When I came across the first survey line, I was puzzled by such a straight path, perpendicular to where I was headed, until I remembered another friend telling me that the track made use of some survey lines. It all made sense! Onwards I went, laughing at the irony behind the use of ‘Danger, no entry’ tape to mark the pad now. I wondered where it might have come from initially.

The less than impressive summit

The less than impressive summit

The summit was very unimpressive, complete with helipad, solar panels and a few other installations, so I didn’t stay long. The view out towards Murchison grabbed my attention most, and I thought again about one day camping on top, and walking around the bowl up there (in good weather, mind you!). I have no doubt it will happen :)!

The wind was up now, and the rain was expected, so I wasn’t going to delay any more, and down I went. I thought about what I’d do next. I felt a little guilty for driving all the way out west for just two 3 hr walks (that’s a pretty bad drive-walk ratio), but at the same time it’s not about ticking mountains off… it’s more about sharing and savouring the experience, and I’m increasingly aware that although I still have quite a few mountains left on my ‘list’ and quite a few that I’d like to revisit, the list isn’t getting any longer.

So home I drove… my frustration at being stuck behind not one, or two, but THREE logging trucks (funny, wonder why there’s so many out and about this week?!) and one even slower car, was only surpassed by my frustration at the weather. It would prevent us from seeing some very, and I mean VERY, impressive aurora action. Oh well…. when I do get to see one, I’m going to enjoy it very much!

All up: 3:09 hrs, 7km, 517m ascent.

Alma: 19 January 2015

Mount Alma GPS route

Mount Alma GPS route

Another weekend of translating… But everyone seemed to be going away, walking, enjoying the east coast or whatever else. By Sunday I was past having itchy feet. Before I knew it I was checking weather and choosing between a couple of short scrub bashes. Alma won. I shot off a message to Jess to see if she was interested too, with a word of warning about the scrub. She was, so it was on.

Off we set, the initial ridge we have to get on to. Mostly open going

Off we set, the initial ridge we have to get on to. Mostly open going

After a coolish Sunday night sleeping under the stars (when they poked out from pockets in the cloud), and a lazy start to the morning, we were off. Quiet time is not only reserved for the afternoon, and Jess used the chance to catch up on some sleep.

And up we climb.. Frenchmans now a feature on the horizon

And up we climb.. Frenchmans now a feature on the horizon

We arrived at our chosen departure point, just after the Frenchmans Cap track start, and I was relieved to see we wouldn’t be starting off in thick scrub. I’d heard that it was going to be a scrubby walk, from a source that I would usually interpret that to mean it was going to be VERY scrubby (mind you, they’d taken the wrong ridge, I believe). So much so, I had my rarely used and much detested pants on, instead of shorts.

Lovely view for the day!

Lovely view for the day!

Never one to complain about lighter than expected scrub, we got changed and set off. It looked like we’d have a fairly clear path to the top of the ridge. Mind you, looks can be a bit deceiving, and though it wasn’t scrubby per se (shoulder high tea tree stuff at the worst, but not dense and easy to weave through) it was slimy and slippery underfoot, which meant the climb was on the slower side, having to ensure each step was secure (or risk sliding backwards, which we both did!).

On the ridge, looking towards Alma.. just a bit of scrub to get through

On the ridge, looking towards Alma.. just a bit of scrub to get through

It was hot, and though the pants made pushing through stuff much more comfortable, there was part of me that wished I’d worn shorts. Instead, Frenchmans Cap (which popped up on the horizon after we’d gained a little height) was a good excuse to stop every so often, and there was a slight breeze, which we hoped would increase when we got to the top.

View of the Eldon range from just north of the summit

View of the Eldon range from just north of the summit

With at least half the climbing done by the time we stood on the ridge, we stopped for a snack, a cool down, and a drink, and a ponder of the way forward. It didn’t look as bad as feared, though there was definitely some scrub to get through. So down we plunged, onto the open saddle and paused, only momentarily, before we ducked our heads and burrowed into the start of the scrub.

Lunch time, and Gell behind Jess.

Lunch time, and Gell behind Jess.

A few metres in and we found ourselves walking in relatively open forest, hardly believing our luck. We were slightly to the right of a GPS track I’d found on the internet, but I was hesitant to try to stick too rigidly to it, given how good the going was so far. But it did come in handy!

Heading back.. in slightly different light.

Heading back.. in slightly different light.

We were out of the first band of ‘scrub’ in no time, and back to the button grass, tea tree, bauera mix (which in some ways was harder to push through). The hill had started too, which didn’t help! A little bit of weaving through the lighter sections (and the GPS track proved reliable here), and we found ourselves at the start of the real scrub.

And back down the final hill.. slipping down is much easier than slipping up!

And back down the final hill.. slipping down is much easier than slipping up!

Despite fears of a serious, physical bash, we seemed to be on a clear pad. Someone had been through and had cleared a decent tunnel in the scrub, and had also been kind enough to break the scrub at regular intervals, leaving the tops still attached, in a more natural way of marking the route than using tape. It was heartening, and the pad was decent enough, and definitely the ‘path of least resistance’ for it to be too difficult to veer off (on the way up in any case, down is always harder).

So I was a bit excited by this.. had never seen Christmas Bell seed pods before. I do approve!

So I was a bit excited by this.. had never seen Christmas Bell seed pods before. I do approve!

And so we made good progress, sheltered a little from the heat of the sun, and popped out of the scrub quite close to the top. Then it was a matter of deciding which was the true summit. There was Alma south, just to our right, which we ducked over to (a whole 28m away!) then we headed north to the point I had marked as the summit, and finally further north again, stepping over the only cairn on the whole walk, towards the point that looked highest (and would hopefully give us a better view north)!

We got there, found the ‘high point’ in the middle of a clump of trees, then went and found a rock with a view to sit on for lunch. Eldon Bluff looked pretty dramatic (I’m really looking forward to the day I’m camped below it, looking back up at its wall of rock), and it was kind of cool to look over towards the Labyrinth area, and wonder what next week would bring (for the Du Cane traverse).

Pretty happy with how the walk had turned out, in light of our expectations, conversation turned to other things in life. It was really rather nice just sitting, chatting, enjoying the views and the sun, and I know I was reluctant to get moving again. But it had to be done, I needed some sleep before work the next morning, and it was getting late-ish.

It was much easier and faster going on the way back, mostly because it was largely all flat or downhill, but in part because we knew what to expect, and then, towards the end, because we wanted to be back at Derwent Bridge before the Hungry Wombat closed (and we weren’t sure if that was 5 or 6!).

All up: 6.8km, 5.36 hrs, 646m ascent. Quite a nice one after all!

Sedgwick: 16-18 August 2014

Sedgwick GPS route

Sedgwick GPS route

Apparently I’m not the only one who can’t decide where to go sometimes. This time the two of us were equally as bad. We started off with 8 or 9 different options, and narrowed it down to three (Murchison, Jukes and the Tyndall range) on the West Coast. But by the time we got in the car on Saturday morning, we still had to nut out exactly which mountains we’d climb, or which combination.

Sedgwick and Eldon panorama

Sedgwick and Eldon panorama

I’d done all three, but not Sedgwick of the Tyndall range. I wasn’t particularly fussed which we did as a result, and I still want to go back to Murchison for sunrise/sunset, and to Jukes just because it’s so nice and I’d like to share it with friends. But I’m always excited by the prospect of walking new terrain, and was pretty sure Graham took this into account when he decided that we’d make the call depending on the weather in Queenstown. If the weather was good we’d go up Murchison, then move on to the Tyndall range. If not, we’d just head up to the Tyndalls, try for Gieke that afternoon, leaving the possibility of adventuring out to Sedgewick on the Sunday, and ducking up Tyndall on the way out on Monday.

Our treat for the drive.. a young rather hungry looking wedgie, with some decent sized legs!

Our treat for the drive.. a young rather hungry looking wedgie, with some decent sized legs!

As we drove past Lake St Clair (the drive being as educational and informative as usual.. did you know redbreasted robins are not actually ‘robins’ (as in the European or American robins) as such..? They’re part of the flycatcher family), noting a decent amount of snow still lining the road side from the weekend before, the weather closed in, and we were in grey mist and patchy rain. The mood dropped.

The mist lifts as we ascend, and there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon!

The mist lifts as we ascend, and there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon!

A young looking wedge tailed eagle standing over road kill on the side of the road temporarily lifted it (though he was looking less than energetic too), and we doubled back for a closer look. But in general I think we were both slightly unimpressed with the weather all the way to Queenstown. And so the decision was made, and the Tyndall range it was. We drove the short distance to the turn off, which we managed not to drive straight by (it’s easy to do coming from the south, as it’s not really visible until you’re at it), and were somewhat dismayed to find four other cars there.

Heading towards Gieke, and Sedgwick starts to emerge from behind cloud

Heading towards Gieke, and Sedgwick starts to emerge from behind cloud

Bugger.. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but when you go for a three day walk to be in and part of nature, it’s a bit of a dismay if you have to share it too closely with others, particularly those you don’t know. I was aware that if I felt a little like this, that Graham probably felt it more strongly, and sure enough he seemed to hesitate, and kept the car running (the rain probably didn’t help finding the enthusiasm to get going). I didn’t want to push him into doing anything he was going to be unhappy with, so said that there was plenty of spots to camp on top, which would allow us to avoid the others, but also raised the possibility that we could do something different if he wanted.

Eldon Peak!! One day.. one very special day!

Sedgwick, up close.. Frenchmans a little shyer

I then got out to check out whether the cars looked like they had bushwalking gear in them. Two did, one didn’t, one had a boot you couldn’t see into. I left the choice to Graham, and he decided to go with it anyway. By this stage the rain had stopped, but it was still misty and we expected more, not to mention some overgrown track at the start, so the wet weather gear went on straight away.

Graham heads towards Gieke (right).. grateful for the views and SUN!

Graham heads towards Gieke (right).. grateful for the views and SUN!

We took guesses as to how many other walkers would be up there, and who would take such a big group, as neither of us entertained the possibility that there might be more than one party. But the log book cleared things up a little; there were two parties, one of 7 from NWWC, doing the usual mountains, and one of 3 heading out to Lake Margaret (and, as we discovered later, mountain biking out from there).

Sedgwick again..

Sedgwick again..

That cleared up, we set off. A short bit of button grass bog, then the overgrown stuff, then quite quickly we were onto the more open, and very much straight up terrain. My back was sore, especially with the bigger steps up which meant bending it further forward than it liked, and I struggled to keep pace with Graham. Having worked that night and being tired in general didn’t help, but I did get a little excited to realise that the higher we climbed, the higher the mist seemed to lift! The humidity wasn’t so bad higher up either, and as we arrived on top we had glimpses of Sedgwick and then Gieke through gaps in the mist.

Last bit of climb up to the summit of Gieke

Last bit of climb up to the summit of Gieke

I was glad, I didn’t want to have driven all the way out here, chosen such a beautiful place, for us to be sitting in cloud all weekend. I began to have a little hope. We headed straight for the place I’d camped last time with Bec (it is a lovely little spot, though there’s one other I really want to try too on some other occasion), and were relieved to find the NWWC group had camped around the other side of Lake Tyndall. We could see their tents, and hear some laughter as we walked in, but that was about all.

Looking back along the ridge.. a bank of mist sits to our left, but seems to be held off by an invisible wall for the moment

Looking back along the ridge.. a bank of mist sits to our left, but seems to be held off by an invisible wall for the moment

With tents up, it was 2.30, so we figured we had time for a quick trip out to Gieke. That would allow us all of Sunday for an attempt on Sedgwick should the weather agree. As we walked I was reminded of all the things I loved about the range from the first trip in just under a year ago, as I revisited the alpine grassy terrain and all its colours, the conglomerate rock, the lakes, and, when the mist allowed, the views of distant (and not so distant) ranges. They appeared one by one, as if to ensure we fully appreciated each in their own right. First Sedgwick, then Eldon Peak, Frenchmans and some of the Overland mountains, including Geryon (:D).

Another brockenspectre, on the summit of Gieke

Another brockenspectre, on the summit of Gieke

Though we weren’t dawdling, we did have plenty of time to enjoy the late afternoon sun, and take more photos than were necessary. My back complained every time I went to jump from rock to rock, or a foot didn’t quite land where or how I thought it would, but as against my walking style as that was, it didn’t manage to dampen the joy of walking along an open alpine ridge, surrounded by some pretty impressive mountains. Misty clouds came and went, providing atmosphere (and even a brockenspectre on the summit) but still allowing for decent views.

I do love the rocks and colour of the alpine grass up here!

I do love the rocks and colour of the alpine grass up here!

We didn’t stay on top for long, just enough for Graham to make contact with the outside world, before we headed back, partly to avoid getting too cold, partly because of how late it was getting. The wander back down was equally beautiful, with a thickish band of cloud out to our left in the west, and some lovely colours in the sky and on mountains in the east as the sun got lower and lower. It was a lovely way to end the day, especially given the weather when we’d started out.

Evening colour on Eldon Peak.

Evening colour on Eldon Peak, Geryon to the left.

Back by 5.45, it was time to get warm, eat some dinner, enjoy the starry sky (and a little later, the moon rise), and fall asleep to the sound of what Graham had referred to as ‘sheep frogs’ (they did bleat just like sheep!). Fingers crossed for what tomorrow might bring… I was a tad worried the weather would clag in until after we’d called Sedgwick off (the Abels suggesting visibility is a big help).

And a little later.. only a bit of light left in the day

And a little later.. only a bit of light left in the day

I was up and out for a nonexistent sunrise, Graham sensibly chose to stay in his tent. What started off as being a nice clear morning quickly became bluey-white/grey mist, and stayed that way through the rising of the sun. So I headed back and we talked about the days plans over breakfast. I wasn’t sure Graham would be happy to go ahead with the weather the way it was (not great visibility at all, and I know he puts a bit more weight than I do on these things), but he was up for giving it a crack.

Dropping off the plateau, looking right (southish) to Gieke (under mist)

Dropping off the plateau, looking right (southish) to Gieke (under mist)

So off we set shortly after 9, wandering a little hesitantly across the plateau, unsure of exactly where we should drop off. We’d been walking some distance away from the party of three, who were heading in the same direction as us, so we popped over to see where they were going. Over Gieke and down to Lake Margaret, they said, so we bid them safe walking and turned back to finding a way down.

Where are we? Grateful to have the company of the map man on this one ;)

Where are we? Grateful to have the company of the map man on this one 😉

The mist was lifting a bit, and with the better visibility and the GPS track I had, we made a choice on where to head and went. And so it proceeded, decisions being made one at a time, based on what we could see ahead and the GPS track, often quite close together if need be, a lot more sporadically when on the longer ridges.

I swear it's getting further and further away the more we walk!

I swear it’s getting further and further away the closer we get!

We enjoyed views back up to Gieke and the cliff line from which it protruded, across to Sedgwick, and out to the Overland track too. More immediately, we marvelled at really old banksia trees with swollen roots and trunks, which had over the course of time survived by growing horizontally with the wind, finding shelter in the nooks and crannies of rocks. And there were plenty more beautiful rocks out here too..

Finally.. only that to go!

Finally.. only that to go!

After a few hours walking it was clear we’d come quite a way, but still Sedgwick seemed so far off, further than before perhaps. The unknowns about terrain and route finding accentuated this distance, and though nothing was said, there was a general consensus that we didn’t have much time to spare mucking around, taking breaks or photos.

The effort was worth it though :D

The effort was worth it though 😀

As it turned out, the little bit of extra time we spent discussing route options on the way paid off, and we both agreed that without knowing any different, we’d managed to walk a pretty good route. THis was despite ignoring the Abels notes in one spot, and taking a decidedly different route to the GPS plot I had.

And time to head back.. you can tell which way the wind blows up here! Overland mountains sit on the horizon

And time to head back.. you can tell which way the wind blows up here! Overland mountains sit on the horizon

By 1pm we were at the foot of our mountain, 4 hours after having started. It finally seemed achievable, just one last slog up through the scrub. I took the lead, armed with GPS track, which we hoped might lead us onto a pad. No such luck. The scrub itself wasn’t particularly difficult – waist high bauera mostly, with a touch of cutting grass – but I was already tired, and the combined effort of trying to through it and up the relatively steep incline took it out of me.

The day grows old and tired as do I.. but still quite beautiful.. which is more than I can say for me!

The day grows old and tired as do I.. but still quite beautiful.. which is more than I can say for me!

At one point Graham asked what our turn around time was. When we get to the top, was my answer, but figuring he wasn’t so keen on walking back through scrub in the dark I changed that to 2pm, reckoning we’d be up by then. Not having maps on his GPS meant he had no idea how much further we had to go, and his turn around time was 2.30. I didn’t expect it to take us that long to get up the last 4-500m, despite how slow I was going.

A little bit of pink :).. Have I ever mentioned how much I like rock?

A little bit of pink :).. Have I ever mentioned how much I like rock?

Here, Graham took over, and I just tried to keep him in sight. Long legs and being fit have a definite advantage! Fortunately, shortly afterwards the scrub gave way to dolerite, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was quite bizarre to be walking on a dolerite topped mountain on the west coast, when almost everything around is conglomerate! But its golden yellows went perfectly with the greens and blues of the day.

Walford Peak and the Sticht range in the background

Walford Peak and the Sticht range in the background

As we walked the last flatish section towards the summit trig (not expected at all!), the mist came in, to our disappointment. But we were there. It was 1.45. I was too tired for anything but a smile, though Graham mustered up enough energy to yell at the mist and the mountains and anything else that listened.

Walford again.. and camera away for the final climb

Walford again.. and camera away for the final climb

After a photo or two, it was back down to the start of the rock for a quick bite to eat, but not a proper lunch, there wasn’t enough time. It was enough time, however, to allow the mist to move a bit, and we did get some nice views north before dropping back down through the scrub. Going was much easier in this direction, thankfully, and had the added value of providing entertainment for Graham who was sensibly in second place and got to watch every time the bauera kept hold of a leg for a bit too long, or I discovered I was no longer walking on earth, but was a few metres above it (until the scrub inevitably failed to hold my weight).

Midnight phaffing… got a bit to learn still

Midnight phaffing… got a bit to learn still

I took the lead, with the sole duty to retrace our steps (that’s how good we thought our route was) using the GPS. The pace wasn’t going to win us any races, but it was based on turtle and hare philosophy, which ultimately seemed to work. Every now and again I had enough energy to let out a laugh, not quite believing that we’d actually climbed Sedgwick, and being very grateful that I’d had someone to do it with. I suspect there will be increasingly more solo trips to out of the way, difficult, or not particularly easy mountains as time goes on. I’ve been aware of this for a while now, and it has only made me more grateful for the times I do have company, especially on the untracked and more challenging of walks.

Frosted over myrtle buds.. promise of new growth

Frosted over myrtle buds.. promise of new growth

And so we plodded… there wasn’t much time for photos, just one or two. When we approached the final climb through light scrub (there was a bit of a pad here) Graham said he was putting his camera away. It made sense. It was getting dark and some of the climbing was a bit climby – enough that a camera in front would be a bit annoying. I also still had the task of retracing steps, and was tired enough that I didn’t think I could concentrate on doing that and taking photos, not to mention the fact that I’d have felt guilty taking time to do so, when time was something we didn’t have a lot of.

Waiting for the sun, for the beginning of a new day

Waiting for the sun, for the beginning of a new day

So up we went. In one regard it was very well timed. The orangy-pinks on the mountains behind us to the east provided a perfect excuse to stop every now and again and just enjoy while we caught our breath or steeled ourselves for then next bit of climb. My legs were just about running on empty, but there’s something nice in that.. just like there’s something reassuring or hardening in the knowledge that even when you’re past tired, somehow you still have enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I wonder just where the point of exhaustion really is.

Loved the light on the cloud

Loved the light on the cloud

Back shortly after 6, with no use of head torches… a solid, challenging, but very satisfying and rewarding days walking. I hadn’t been that physically tired for a while, and it felt good. Dinner by head torch, followed by a few hours sleep, and a midnight interlude where I experimented with taking photos of my tent and stars just for fun (and learnt that camera lenses frost up fast, but no, I’m NOT going to buy a lens warmer… grrr), which I paid for with a few hours of missed sleep while I tried to warm back up. Oh well..

The only time I'll ever be as tall as Graham.. or at least appear to be!

The only time I’ll ever be as tall as Graham.. or at least appear to be!

The next morning WAS clear, and we enjoyed a muted sunrise out on the edge of the plateau, finally able to say hello to all the mountains at once. After mucking around with macro photos of ice and frost on plants and the like we headed back for an unrushed breakfast sitting on a rock in the sun, a play with the ice that had formed over the surface of the nearest tarn, and eventually, packing up of tents and gear.

Frosted alpine grass

Frosted alpine grass

A wander up Tyndall on the way out was in order, and I was looking forward to seeing the cliffs I’d only had glimpses of through the mist last time I’d been up. They were even more impressive, and it was great to see someone else as excited as I’d been when I first saw them. Needless to say we took more photos than necessary, had fun (in my case, better not speak for Graham here) climbing on rocky pillars on the cliff edge, and were treated to a display by a wedgie as he circled higher and higher. It was a nice and relaxed way to end the weekend, even if there was a snowball or two to duck!

Time to leave :(

Time to leave 😦

All up: 37.4km, 2266m ascent.

Sedgewick day trip: 20km, 1094m ascent, just over 9 hours (including breaks).

Mucking around on Tyndall.. taking photos of a wedgie seemed to distract Graham from the reality of his precarious position

Mucking around on Tyndall.. taking photos of a wedgie seemed to distract Graham from the reality of his precarious position for just a moment 😉

The wedgie over the end of Murchison..

Wedgie over the end of Murchison..

Frenchmans and Sedgwick from Tyndall

White capped Frenchmans and Sedgwick from Tyndall

Not sure if this is a reason for Graham to like walking with me, or dread it.. If we happen across rocks like this they just demand to be climbed.

Oh, and there’s another one!! Not sure if this is a reason for Graham to like walking with me, or dread it.. If we happen across rocks like this they just demand to be climbed… my fault entirely

Caught red-handed.. lucky for me it went high!

Caught in the act.. lucky for me it went high!