I have never had such difficulty choosing where to go walking! It was never going to be as planned. Plan A was cancelled because I was the only interested person registered on the HWC walk to the Charles and D’Aguilar ranges. Plan B was for 10 days solo wherever the weather was best. The weather didn’t cooperate. Except for a 3-4 day streak, perfectly timed for the long weekend. I had options, just couldn’t make up my mind.
As it turned out, I changed my mind one last time on the morning of the walk, after arriving at the start of the track to find it grey, drizzly and cold. Wet memories from the Fincham track were still a bit too familiar to be doing a repeat, so I ate some breakfast and had a much needed snooze in the car while waiting for it to pass. That meant my intense 3.5 day weekend of walking was going to be shortened to two half days on either side of two day walks – much more relaxed and likely closer to what I needed. It would mean me skipping the long awkward scrub bash out to Wards Bluff, which might even be achievable as an epic day walk. I’d have to mention it to Ben and Jess…!
By midday the sky was still grey but brighter and I could actually see the top of the ridge I’d be aiming for. It was time to go. This time I was accessing the Raglan Range from further east along the highway, along another old 4WD track that I hoped would also go past the Raglan Hut that Terry Reid looks after. The road started off open enough, but in time became more of a foot path than a road. It was overgrown but well enough used that you could see where people had been and the scrub was more annoying for the water it still held than for being a physical hindrance.
The views only opened out at the top of the climb before making the ridge that heads off towards Wards Bluff, and I wondered where the hut was supposed to be. I’d not seen it, but perhaps I’d just walked straight by it!! I’d have to look closer on the way back down. Despite moving slowly it had only taken 1.5 hrs to get to this ridge, but I forgot how awkward the route towards the Raglan Range got just before you made it onto that ridge. It was steep, slippery underfoot, windy, cold, and the scrub was the tough, short wind blown type that provided some help but was also immovable when you wanted it to be. I felt lethargic and by the end was moving very slowly instead. But I had all day, and in usual fashion placing one foot in front of the other got me up and onto the Raglan road, which I followed for a short while.
I pulled up at the spot that I thought I’d head off for my walk to Mount Mary on Sunday, not wanting to go further towards Mount Madge because it would involve back tracking up the hill with a full pack on. I found a lovely flat spot on the grass a short way from the road, and only a few metres from a bubbling spring. I had phone reception, views and protection from the wind, so there was nothing to complain about! The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable. There were only a few splashes of sun, but fortunately no more rain. I ate, read, caught up on a few messages and had a call from mum. Finally, I settled in to a much needed long nights sleep!
Dawn was misty but the cloud high enough to make an immediate start worth it. It didn’t take long to boil water for my thermos of oats, dried apricots, seeds, a few spices and peanut butter. It would make for a tasty breakfast later on in the day. Then boots and gaiters went on, a few bits and pieces in the pack and off I set.
I had a couple of hours of road walk to start with and was as keen to get to the start of the real work (and the unknown) as I was to warm up. The latter didn’t take long – this was the kind of walk where there’s probably more up and down getting to the mountain than there is actually climbing the thing! It was nice to find the remnants of our footsteps (John, Ian and I) from when we walked out of the Fincham track, which I realised with a start had been only a week earlier! It felt like they were with me in spirit.
The mist stayed low for a while, wisps of cloud swirling round the bottom edge. Gradually the greys and blues gave way to a more vibrant palette, bring warmth and a bit of extra energy with it. Two hours after leaving the tent I arrived at the saddle where I was due to depart the road and head off onto the rather green looking ridge to Mount Madge. I only hoped it was easier going than it might prove to be.
The start bode well, open and grassy underfoot as I wove around the bigger trees. This gave way to cutting grass and bauera, my favourite combination, as I approached a small rise. A brief bash had me popping out into old enough forest that the understory was low and the walking relatively good for a short while. This seemed to be the trend for another round: more scrub with cutting grass and bauera featuring as the primary bits of annoying vegetation and then another forested section where the going was easier. Coming out of the second bit of forest I found myself in scrub that was largely weave-able. Lower ankle-high bits amongst the nastier stuff. This continued and improved right to the low point of saddle, which took an hour to get to after leaving the road.
Looking up to the summit I wasn’t feeling optimistic. The ramp that looked like it might have been easy to move through was now clearly tea tree! There was nothing for it except to weave on up. My fears were not immediately realised as I climbed higher and drew closer to the summit, somehow managing to weave between the thickest clumps (this proved easier on the way up than the way down, funnily enough!). The tea tree started off waist high, but was soon over my head. Still I was weaving and I began to think I might just get away with it… but no luck. Just over 100m from the summit I hit a wall of scrub. It coincided with an increase in incline and the scrub was thick enough that it was still wet, including the ground underfoot. It made for a slippery uphill battle where solid purchase on the ground was a rare thing.
After pushing through and finding a patch of more open terrain I thought I was done. But no, the final pinch to the summit was a vertical wall of thick bauera. It took a lot of energy, grunting and sweating to get up, even though it was the shortest of distances. The paradox of needing the scrub to stop from sliding backwards at the same time as trying to bash it down, push it to either side or otherwise somehow get up and over it was not lost on me and I’d have given a wry smile if I was feeling a bit more generous! Finally I popped out onto a lovely little summit, delighted to find it open on top. I was afraid it would be covered in trees that would hide the views. I sent a few messages and photos and then settled in to eat a well-earned and slightly late breakfast. It had taken just under four hours from the tent to the summit.
The sun was trying its hardest and secretly I was glad it had held off until I’d finished the uphill scrub bash. It had burnt off all the mist by the time I began the return journey, which made for a much warmer second half of the walk. The warmth brought the cicadas out and it sounded like hundreds sung their way through the afternoon. A wedge-tailed eagle soared over Flat Bluff, a smaller bird attempting to chase it off. The wedgie paid it no attention whatsoever and glided on, effortlessly.
I plodded back slowly, taking my time to enjoy the even more expansive views than I’d had on the way over. Frenchmans Cap was the last of the mountains to be cloud free and it sat peering over Mary’s shoulder. I passed a few of the old beer cans, wondering at what point they move from being rubbish to a historical relic. And then a glass coke bottle. When was it made? Sometime when they measured these things in fluid ounces.
Eventually the old winch told me I was getting closer to the tent. And so I was. Nearly 9 hours after starting out I was back with my shoes off, settling into another relaxing afternoon, although sparing a few moments to rethink my plan of attack on Mount Mary the next day. Later, the sun set a pretty, muted colour behind Mount Jukes as the clouds rolled back in.
I work early with the sun, but then spent the extra time enjoying watching the world around me wake up. It was a lovely morning, the kind where you feel that summer isn’t entirely over even if it’s a week into autumn. I packed everything up and wandered up the hill, making my way back to the Pandani standing sentinel on the ridge I’d end up taking back to the car. Here I dumped everything I didn’t need for the day walk, I would be back to camp there that evening.
Shortly after 8 I set off down the ridge to Flat Bluff, the terrain sparking memories from the last time I was here. I wove down the light scrub to the saddle. The same trees called out, seeking attention and demanding to be photographed once more. Everywhere you looked it was pretty. The incline up the far side didn’t seem as steep, but perhaps that was because I wasn’t chasing long fast legs. It wasn’t long, within the half hour, that I was over on the southern rim of Flat Bluff, having bypassed the technical high point to the west.
I stood on a rocky outcrop and surveyed the terrain that would take me towards Mount Mary. It looked open enough, largely due to fires having burnt out bits of tea tree some years back along most of the ridge. But there were still a few bands of scrub that seemed unavoidable. Something in the first saddle caught my attention, so I grabbed my camera and took a photo zoomed right in. Magnifying it I could make out people! I’d found the Hobart Walking Club group who were in for the weekend to climb Mary. They were just about to hit the scrubbiest of the bands.
I headed straight down over the nose of the rock, quite enjoying the climby nature and then down the ridge. It got scrubby towards the end and I made the mistake of veering too far off the righthand side. I managed to recover, courtesy of a creek, and pop back out onto easier terrain. By now the HWC group had popped out the other side of the scrub and I wondered if I’d catch them.
There was nothing for it but to tunnel straight in. I hit the scrub higher on the ridge than they did, which turned out to be thicker, but perhaps shorter. Either that or I had the advantage of being only one person and being able to move faster in scrub. In some spots the tea tree was so thick it was only possible to get through the trunks by leaning all your body weight one way and then the other. It made me think of the prisons where they put inmates in cells so small they physically can’t lie down or even sit properly. It was a bit like that – I’m sure I could have fallen asleep and still been forced to stand upright!
But nothing lasts forever and of course I popped out the other side. Some lighter scrub that I could actually see over the top of led to a rocky outcrop with a small cliffy face to scramble up. The tail end of the HWC group were just making their way over it. Turns out I’d made up a lot of ground in the scrub. I pushed forward, climbed up and was taking a photo of them in the next saddle, almost a banksia’s throw away. They spotted me there and I waved and hollered, popping my camera away and heading over. Apparently they’d been talking about me, wondering where I was and what I was doing. It was lovely to see three familiar faces and meet the other five, some of whom I’d heard quite a bit about but with whom I had not yet had the pleasure of walking.
They generously allowed me to tag along and so I assumed the role of tail-end Charlie, except when I ducked ahead to take a photo. It was lovely to have company, to listen to the sound of other peoples’ chatter and even to take a break from making all the decisions about which way to go. It came with a slight reduction in pace, of which Kent, the HWC leader seemed particularly aware. Either that or he was teasing me each time he checked that the pace wasn’t too slow! I did not mind, I told him. It wasn’t all about the pace and we did have all day, after all :).
After the last band of scrub (where I’d caught up to the HWC group), the going was open all the way to the summit. It had an appropriate but not overly steep incline and as a result the walking was quite pleasant. We had no need to race and took time to admire the view and catch our breath if it had run away from us. Still we were on the top, a lovely quartzite summit, before midday. It wasn’t TOO early for lunch and it was the perfect place, so why not?! Frenchman’s Cap looked stunning from such an odd perspective, and so close!
Kent checked that everyone was happy – it was his thing, I was told by the others. It made me chuckle and think back to my often used tongue-in-cheek question, ‘are we having fun yet?’ that I’d tend to pull it out in the worst possible spots on the walks I was leading. Just to lighten the mood and refocus anyone who might be taking things too seriously.
Eventually Kent made the call to start wandering back and we duly packed our bags and started down, even though I’m sure we could have easily sat there all day. Caroline spotted an impressive sized snake skin on the button grass plains, the second I was to see in the one week. We dove back into the scrub and I was grateful to be following an 8-person strong bash rather than retracing my ‘parting of the sea’, of which I was sure there was little permanent trace. At one break, before diving into the second scrubby band, I spied Paul with a spoonful of peanut butter and I was delighted to see I wasn’t the only one to eat it in such a fashion on walks (although, I have to confess the behaviour is not limited to bushwalks!).
Slowly we plodded back up the ridge towards Flat Bluff, stopping at a lovely little creek that flows between the rocky edges of the bluff. It provided a much needed rest and rejuvenate stop for a handful of the group and many of us topped up water or soaked hats. I’d almost polished off 4 litres and was grateful for some more, such was the heat of the day. It was hard to leave, but the tents were just over the rise. On flatter ground we spread out, no longer benefiting from walking single file and preferring to tread more freely (or perhaps with less concentration?). Some of the group went to check out an overhang, the rest returning to their tents on Flat Bluff. They had a lovely spot with stunning views and I was suitably impressed to spot an A frame tent (complete with a H frame pack!) in amongst some of the newest and lightest weight tents on the market!
After expressing my thanks and hopefully a little bit of the pleasure I’d got out of walking with the group, I said my goodbyes and headed on towards the rest of my gear. I made a few phone calls along the way, sent a few messages that just couldn’t wait, but otherwise skipped down to the saddle. The ground was lovely, soft and grassy underfoot. Heading up the far side was another matter, very much a plod than a skip, with a tiny bit of weave.
I got back to my gear shortly after 4, only to discover that if I sat anywhere for even a moment I had ants biting my bum! But I figured they’d disappear with the sun, so I had some dinner and set up my tent, careful not to let any in. Sure enough, when the sun dipped behind the mounting cloud and the temperature dropped, they were nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if I’d imagined them!
I had a stunning view out the tent door, with Frenchmans and Flat Bluff on the left and the west coast mountain ranges to the right. So there I stayed and enjoyed it all until the mist rolled in and stole it all away, complete with the tiny little figures you could just make out on the horizon. I felt slightly cheated – the main reason I’d stayed the night was for hope of a nice sunset and sunrise. But never mind, it was better than having walked out early and missed it! And this way I got to spend the evening reading, instead of driving. Having just finished Heather Rose’s Bruny (100% recommend it – she captures the Tasmanian identity, the things that motivate us and our hidden fears and prejudices perfectly) and beginning on Nicholas Shakespeare’s Secrets of the Sea, I didn’t mind doing that at all!
The mist was still low in the morning, which made it easy to busy myself packing and getting ready to go. I set off early and headed straight down – a great deal easier than heading up had been! As I dropped in height I descended under the mist to find a valley of clouds below. It always gives me that wonderful feeling of being on top of the world when I’m in the mountains and above the cloud! Down I slipped and slid, to arrive back at the car in about two hours after starting out. I didn’t attempt to find the hut on the way down, I figured I’d actually do some research and check it out when I revisited for Wards Bluff. Chatting to Monika from the HWC group, it sounded like a wise decision – you actually have to know where the hut is to have half a chance of finding it! I do quite like the track in, more so than the Raglan Range road and it’ll be the one I use when I do come back!
Day 1: 7.9km, 3:21hrs, 743m ascent
Day 2 (Madge): 17.7km, 8:48hrs, 1154m ascent
Day 3 (Mary): 15.1km, 8:39hrs, 1014m ascent
Day 4: 6.3km, 2:05hrs, 82m ascent