Sphinx and Pavement Bluffs: 21-22 December 2017

Sphinx and Pavement Bluff GPS route

To say this was the first time I’d climbed these mountains would be a lie, but it was the first time I could see what I was doing! My first visit had been a club affair when I was still green at the bush walking business – back in the day we went regardless of the weather and during the year that Simon (leader of the walk) managed to score whiteout conditions on something like 11 or his 13 walks!

Graham hadn’t done either of these walks, so to pacify my desire for new adventure he agreed to climbing these two on a day we’d have view. We had been somewhat disappointed not to be able to go to slightly more exciting territory in the southwest, but the weather was far from agreeable anywhere but the northeast.

In an attempt to increase our fitness for an up and coming epic trip in January, we decided we’d lug packs up on top and camp there. There is, of course, no need to do this, as both mountains are easily climbable as a day trip. But a high camp is always nice!

We set out very late, I’d just come off night shift (not the same as when I was baking – the longer nights take it out of me much more) and we both had to pack. Graham kindly drove while I tried to get a bit of sleep. I think we got to the start of the track and were ready to set off at about 4.30pm. There is parking out of sight of the road, if you head a short way down the gravel track. It certainly doesn’t feel like the kind of area you’d want to leave a car for an extended period of time.

Caterpillars at the carpark

The track starts off as an old vehicle road, and dirt bikes would have made things rather fast. Signs say it’s 2 hours to the plateau. It’s heads in a bee-line north west, and eventually turns into a foot track, marked by blazes, red arrows, tape and cairns. The gradient increases and the pace drops off the closer you get to the top. The smell was pungent, and it brought back vague memories of teenage scents – lip balm I think, but I couldn’t quite place it!

The track starts off like a road

Higher up, the track becomes a foot track only

We managed to do the 2 hrs in 1:45, which we thought was acceptable with the weight on our backs. We chose a spot to camp, tucked out of the wind as best we could. You’re a bit spoilt for camping up there, and though we’d lugged water up, there was plenty up there for those wanting a slightly lighter trip.

We left our gear behind and ducked over to Sphinx Bluff, ignoring the pad and finding our own way (it’s that open one doesn’t really need the pad). The wind was like a caged lion below, racing around and flinging itself at the rock walls that formed the edge of the plateau. If you stood in the right (or wrong) spot you got a taste of the full force of its power. 35 minutes later, we were back at our gear, ready to set up the tent, eat and fall asleep nearly before our heads hit the pillow. Though I’d been keen to stay up for sunset, it was both too windily cold and I was way too tired.

Heading across to Sphinx Bluff (back right)

Easy open going to Sphinx

The bluff – a little rocky mound

Looking down a wind chute, west-ish along the edge of the plateau

Me and the summit of Sphinx

Towards the coast

Sphinx Bluff summit cairn

Stacks Bluff from Sphinx

Similarly, I was in no state to be up for sunrise and it was no warmer. We had an easy morning, packing up then moseying over to to Pavement Bluff. The walking was equally open and undemanding in the navigational sense, and we were back at out gear within an hour. The walk down was nearly as tiring on legs as the way up, due to the gradient and the need to break each step lest we find our feet getting ahead of ourselves!

All up: 6 hrs, 12.7km, 913m ascent (time includes choosing tent sites etc)

The summit of Pavement Bluff

Sphinx from Pavement Bluff, the tiny little knob on the horizon!


Proteus: 31 December 2017

Mt Proteus GPS route

Marking the last day of the year with a 10.5 hr walk in constantly drizzling rain doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? It wasn’t exactly the plan, but it was the reality!

Graham and I had another four days to get fit with, but the weather was almost just as bad as the last four. We thought we might be able to get away with ducking into New Pelion and timing Oakleigh, Pelion East and Proteus for in between the fronts. Unfortunately the weather forecast left a lot to be desired, and the day we walked in (after a second 14hr night shift with next to no sleep) was the only day without near constant rain!

But this write up is just about Proteus, which we did on our third day, or the last day of 2017! We set out a tad later than planned, by 8:45. We ran into Shelly, now parks ranger, who we’d first met at Lake Curly. She was looking good and very happy and it was nice to say a brief hello! In a quick 2 hrs we were at Pine Forest Moor, just before the start of the forest. We looked out across the button grass moor into the whiteout – it gave nothing away. So we set off on a rough bearing, trying to make sense of the ridges as they materialised in the mist so we had a visual bearing as much as rough line of the gps.

Leaving the Overland Track, we’re heading for that thing over there in the mist.. I think!

The going was slow, as we wove in between button grass mounds, trying to stick to the grassy or coral fern patches. We quickly tired, and gave in to the fact we weren’t going to be breaking and speed records. On the southern side of the first rise we spotted the ?little weather station that Shelly had told us to check out. She wasn’t sure what it was, and neither were we, but a weather station certainly seemed plausible!

Pelion West hides, but you can see the little weather station thingy that Shelly told us about

The going improved even though the weather didn’t and by about the second rise there was much less button grass. In patches we strode through low scrub, but nothing that slowed us down anywhere as much as the button grass had.

Lemon scented boronia predominated higher up, and mountain rocket and flag irises made an appearance too. As we crushed the boronia underfoot we inadvertently released quite a nice smell in our wake! As the ridge curved around and we approached the main climb, we attempted to stay on the northern side as per the notes in the Abels. As we were to discover on the return trip, there’s a very decent pad that runs along the southern edge!

We reached the summit somewhere around 2.5 hrs after leaving the Overland Track. We expected to find the summit cairn, it had been described in the Abels, but found it quite puzzling as we couldn’t figure out where the rocks had come from – there weren’t any others in sight!!

Summit cairn of Mt Proteus – yay!!

It was white, wet and cold, so we didn’t stay very long before beginning a much slower plod back down. We did, however, catch glimpses of Pelion West and Oakleigh as we lost a bit of height. It would have been speccy to see them on a clear sunny day!

Glimpse of Oakleigh as we make our way down, you can see the rough route, we’re headed to the tiny clump of trees just above centre of the photo and below the craggy bit of Oakleigh – that’s where we left the OT.

A glimpse of part of Pelion West

We sheltered behind a shrub for lunch somewhere on the moor but the fuel did little for our energy levels. An hour later we were happy to be back on a formed track, and even happier, 2 and a bit hours later, to walk into camp.

Approaching the clump of trees that marks the Overland Track and the final leg of the day – we’re looking forward to getting OFF the button grass!

We celebrated with soup, lentils (yummier than that sounds) and lollies ;)!

All up: a very tiring 31.3km, 10:28 hrs, 843m ascent (NB, this was after the 12km walk in, and a 22km half-day to Pelion East and Oakleigh, so we were a tad tired!)

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.

Mt Beecroft: 3 July 2017

Mount Beecroft GPS route

My first walk to Beecroft was early in my bushwalking days, so when we chose to head off for a couple of days escape in winter to Cradle, I certainly didn’t mind going back. And with blue skies, very little cloud, a little bit of snow and perfect views towards Cradle, there was nothing to complain about!

We’d travelled up the day before after I’d finished my last night shift and climbed Kate before having a much needed early night. Graham was generous enough to also give me a sleep in, so it was late morning before we got out and into the car. Beecroft is only a short drive from Cradle though, so we were parked on the side of the road and set off just after 11.

A slight uphill rise very quickly rewarded us with views towards a snow covered Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff, and for the next hour or so we strode south across the gradual undulations. The track was easy to follow, if a tad boggy in spots. New markers had been put in since I was last there and made it impossible to doubt where the track went.

Less than 5 mins from the road, and the view is already rewarding!

The track is as easy as this to follow, and the walking just lovely

You end up sidling even the tiny rises in the landscape

When we were below Beecroft (after an hour and 15-20 minutes) we departed from the PCT and followed more stakes (they hadn’t been there when I’d first been through), over to and up a steeper bit of climb, which eventually brought us out onto the summit plateau. We could see the trig point a short distance away, and took our time getting there as it was just too good not to enjoy!

Beecroft gets closer, and is quite a nice mountain to look at!

The summit itself is a rocky podium, which proved to be very windy, noisy and bitingly cold! We hunkered down in lee of the wind and ate a quick lunch. It sounded as if a mix of a twin prop aeroplanes and some decent sized waves were racing by. With full tummies they soon had us making a hasty retreat – half running just to get warm again!

Part way up the steepest part of the climb up Beecroft, we paused to frame Cradle and Barn once again

The summit trig, with those two mountains yet again

Looking south towards some familiar mountains

As we lost height we also lost some of the wind and adopted a more leisurely pace. It’s fair to say that this was in part mediated by us feeling rather tired. While it wasn’t a demanding walk, it was a reasonable distance and each step required attention least we stepped in an icy cold water-filled hole.

And back we raced, wrestling the wind for every bit of warmth we could hold on to

It was, therefore, with contented tiredness that we returned to the car under 4 hours after starting out. We felt we’d earned our dinner and didn’t even mind too much that the forecast for the next day was looking very average – we counted ourselves lucky to have had such a glorious day already!

All up: 11.3km, 3:50hrs, 469m ascent.

We finished the day with a quick visit to Dove Lake – why not??

One last one of Cradle 😉

Mount Connection: 30 April 2017

Mount Connection GPS route

I first did this walk very early on in my ‘walking life’, back when I didn’t have a car, was restricted to where I could get to on a road bike, and barely knew what a cairn was (honestly, I’d had to ask a friend). It was also before I had a GPS, and therefore didn’t get written up as a blog post. It probably doesn’t really need a post, because it’s so close to Big Bend and fairly straight forward, but in the interests of being as complete as possible (and I’m already missing enough) I’ll do it but keep it short.

This time it was Graham’s birthday, and having gone on a walk the day before he was updating his peakbagging list. We noticed he hadn’t done Mount Connection, and it seemed the perfect thing to do when he got back from lunch with his son. We met up in town, drove slowly up behind the flocks of tourists (despite the late hour), and were read to leave from Big Bend at 3pm.

Start of the walk from Big Bend.. hard to miss

The start is well signed, and after 20 minutes following the 4WD track we came across the sign on the left hand side of the road that marked the track to Collins Bonnet via Mount Connection. The walking was much nicer here, no more road and a rather nice rocky track with sections of board walk.

The road walk begins

Off the road and onto a much nice walking track!

We were motoring along, it turned out Graham wanted to get to the summit within the hour (!), and sure enough, just before the hour we stood on the track 100m to the north of the summit. When I’d first come, I hadn’t found a pad to the top, so we just ducked into the very low scrub and small scree. On the way back, we found a cairned pad that was patchy in places because it was so open, but there was one there. If we’d walked another 20m we’d have found it!

Looking back at Mt Wellington after a section of boardwalk

Graham adds another rock or two to the cairn marking the pad to the summit

We spent 15 minutes on the summit enjoying the view, trying not to cool down too fast. Graham had enough time to do a birthday FB post, while I sat and thought about how different walking was from the last time I’d been up that way. I think the biggest difference was that I had long since replaced my pre-walk self-doubt of ‘am I going to make it or am I going to get lost and make a fool of myself’ with a confident belief that any mountain is climbable even if there’s always a sense of caution as to what restrictions weather, injury and terrain might place on intended plans.

Graham on top! Happy Birthday :)!!

Wellington (can you see the tower?) from Connection summit

The walk back was a tad more relaxed, although it seemed we were forever chasing the line where the shadow of the mountain met the edge of the sun’s rays as it sank low and golden to the west. We ducked off the road and onto a nearby scree field at one point just to catch it on the trees. Despite all of that, we made it back in 1:10, in what proved to be a lovely birthday afternoon walk!

All up: 9km, 2:30, 419m ascent.

Chasing the sun back home

Off track onto some scree, just to catch the sun’s glow

Dromedary and Platform in the distance, while the sun makes gum leaves shine like gold

Last bit of pinky red

And we’re back.. a lovely 2 hours!

Forty Lakes Peak and Fisher Bluff: 26-7 November 2016

GPS route of Forth Lakes Peak, Blue Peaks and Fisher Bluff

It seems I’ve been very slack and missed writing up a few walks I’ve actually done, so this is my attempt to do what I should have done long ago. Unfortunately, the finer details of the walks have been buried deep in more recent memories, so the description might be rather vague.

I’d just started my third and final semester of uni, and that seemed to be a perfect enough excuse to get away for the weekend. We chose to go the Blue peaks (written up in it’s own blog from an earlier trip), Forty Lakes Peak and Fisher Bluff, mostly because a friend from uni was looking for somewhere where she could go trail running and it would have suited both her and our plans. She pulled out, but we decided to stick to our plans.

We were our of the car at Lake Mackenzie just before 11.30, and in less than 2 hours were at a conveniently central stand of pines (central in relation to our three mountains). We had taken a bit of time walking in looking at the fire damage, and for me, remembering how things had been before the fires had gone through. Nevertheless, we pitched our tent amongst the pines so we were out of the wind, and had lunch. An hour and a half later we decided we were going for Forty Lakes Peak, and after heading further south along the Blue Peaks track a short distance we pretty much made a beeline for the mountain, making only slight detours to negotiate the river, a slight rise, and then the lakes.

The terrain was much kinder than we’d expected and we had lovely open walking the whole way. We found an easy spot to cross the river without getting boots wet, although you could imagine the water getting much higher after rain. When we came to the lakes to the west of the peak, we had a ball of a time walking between Lake Chambers to the north and Douglas to the south. It was mostly fun because it was quite evident that the lakes flooded with heavier rainfall, and the waterline could rise to a good foot above the ground we were walking on.

Even the climb up Forty Lakes Peak was good going, and again we kept a pretty straight line without getting stuck in scrub. It was open and fairly flat on top, and all the lakes we could see did have us wondering if we counted them, would there be exactly 40? We didn’t hang around to find out, however, as it was rather windy (which meant I was cooling down fast). Also, the two hours we’d taken to get to the top meant it was now 4.30, and we didn’t need to be back to camp too late. After the necessary posing on the summit for photos, we headed back somewhat tiredly, taking another 2 hours to get there.

Heading up, this is so different from when I was last here. Provoked a range of emotions: it was sad to see the beauty taken out of the land, it was scary to think of the things we’ve done as humans to contribute to these kind of events, and yet there was a sense of acceptance that this kind of thing happens in nature too, whether we like it or not

Little bits of green amongst the black

A stark difference

Forty Lakes Peak, behind Lake Douglas

Walking between the two lakes, we still have to cross the little river that joins them. You could see that in times of more rain, the ground we were walking on would have been under a foot of water

Heading up Forty Lakes Peak and looking back west

On the summit and looking east towards Ironstone

And south towards the Walls

Graham poses on a rock and cairn on the edge of the summit plateau 😉

Lake Douglas.. can you feel the wind and cold?

The next morning we headed up and over Blue Peaks towards Fisher Bluff. While the day before had been windy and overcast and really quite cold, today the sun was out, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the walking was a pure delight. Blue Peaks was as short and lovely as it had been last time (it took all of 15 mins from our tent), and after another 15 minutes enjoying the views and watching two people walk in to what we guessed was the Walls, we continued on. Once we were off Blue Peaks, we again made a beeline for the summit, and the lovely open alpine walking allowed us to look more at the views than where we were putting our feet. The live and dead stands of pine trees were a constant attraction, and it was hard not to spend too much time trying to take photos of them. If Emily had been with us, she’d have had a lovely run out that way!

Despite being distracted by the landscape, we were soon at the final climb and within 2 hours of having left our tents that morning, were standing on the summit (or perhaps more correctly, hanging from the trig). Our concerns about scrub, having heard some stories from a Pandani trip, turned out to be completely unfounded, and that coupled with the warmth of the sun and views from the summit was plenty of reason to smile.

We spent a very generous hour on top, before deciding we’d better head back to our gear and think about walking out and driving home. We were back at our gear in 90 minutes, and 20 minutes later were traipsing back the way we’d come. Despite being a little more tired than the way in, and the fact that we were heading home (both factors that tend to slow us down), we made excellent time, helped in part by taking a wrong turn that took us on a different path back to Lake Mackenzie. It was certainly a better route, more well defined except for where it met the dirt road (near the foundations for a small dwelling, that you can’t really see from the road unless you go looking). We were back within 1:14hrs.

Day 1: 7:20 hrs, 17.6km (guess we had reason to be tired!), 568m ascent

Day 2: 6:11 hrs, 15.5km, 407m ascent.

Spot the tent! A nice sheltered site

Blue Peaks summit in the sun!

Off we head, west towards Fisher Bluff (off to the right of this photo)

Remains of a pine stand, burnt out some time ago

The skeletons were very beautiful

And the same one again!

Graham celebrates being on Fisher Bluff

The view from Fisher.. what mountains can you see?

Graham checks them all out.. we’ve been there.. and there.. and there!

Looking north towards Western Bluff.. we’ve been there too!

Heading out, that’s a newly destroyed stand of pines 😦

Guardians and Horizontal Hill: 14-16 April 2017


Gould, Guardians, Horizontal Hill circuit GPS route

Easter means a lot of different things. This year, it gave me a chance for a 3 day walk before I started full time work. Both Graham and I had been flat out in the lead up and had left the choice of destination until we had a full weather forecast. When two friends extended an invitation to join them on their Gould, Minotaur and Guardians trip we thought it would be a lovely way to celebrate Easter.

And so we started devising a plan that would allow us to spend a bit of time with them, but also worked within our 3 compared to their 4 days, the ferry availability and our desire to camp on top of the Guardians and attempt Horizontal Hill. We ended up with something that was mostly solid, but did have an escape plan should we not be able to find our way off the Guardians’ cliffs towards Horizontal.

We broke all records on the Friday morning, leaving five minutes EARLY, despite a last minute search around for the Olympus map for two other friends who had shifted their walk from the Southern Ranges to Olympus that very morning! It was nice to catch up with them briefly before they headed off, and also with a customer I’d met just the day before – Tassie is a very small place!

After failing to convince the ferry lady we really wanted to pay for the return trip and we certainly wouldn’t be deciding the weather was too nice on the Sunday (it was due to rain all day) and we’d walk out instead, we sat in the sun and ate our lunch. As we did so we tried to figure out exactly where a group of 9 who had signed the multiday logbook would be walking if they planned to do Gould, The Guardians and Lake Marion as stated. We were slightly concerned there might not be much room for all of us around the two small tarns on the Gould plateau, and could only hope we wouldn’t all end up in the one place! There was nothing we could do but wait and see…

We hopped aboard the ferry just after midday. Its master had a somewhat perfunctory manner about him and conversation was kept to the bare minimum, but it would take a lot more than that to dampen our excitement – we were going on a walk after all!!

As we approached Narcissus we hollered out to Bec and Meredith who were just finishing their paddle up the lake. We’d be sharing the night with them but left them to beach and hide their boats, sort their gear out, hide their paddles elsewhere and have some lunch before starting the walk.

It had been a few years since our first trip in to Gould and the Minotaur (written up in its own post), and a lot of the terrain had been conveniently forgotten – particularly the knee-scratching-overgrown-bauera part. But the track was still in good nick, and only difficult to follow in one or two places in the forest if you didn’t take care.

We entertained ourselves as we walked in our own ways. Graham wrote things in the mud for Meredith and Bec, while I struggled to cough and breathe and walk all at once. I might have had a bit of a cold, and hadn’t thought about the effect cold air might have on my lungs. Needless to say, Graham had lots of time to craft his messages and draw his pictures!

When we popped out the top of the rather lovely but increasingly steep forest, we were reminded of why we loved the plateau as much as we did. As soon as you get up I reckon it must be obligatory to head left to the slab of rock and admire the views. Though they extend all around, Byron and Olympus stole centre stage, followed by the Geryons and Acropolis, and of course Gould. Many other familiar faces played supporting roles and I think we both felt like we’d returned to the bush.

We enjoyed taking numerous photos of the same mountains, just to capture the changing light, before dragging ourselves away to see if we’d be sharing the campsite with 9 others. We’d seen evidence of fresh footprints, but weren’t entirely sure. Rounding the small hill we found that the tarns were all ours, which caused us some confusion but not enough to dwell on for too long.

We chose a site that left plenty of room for Bec and Meredith, and set about pitching the tent and unpacking our gear. Even with all our phaffing it had taken us only 2 hours to get up, so it wasn’t all that late but it was pretty damn cold. That meant we didn’t hang out for too long before sliding under our sleeping bags and cooking up some soup. Bec and Meredith weren’t too far behind us and we had a nice catch up, shared Easter treats, then got an early night because it was just too cold to sit out.

Byron from the lip of the Gould Plateau.. the light was nice

A few moments later and the light had changed again!

A lovely camp site, we pitched our tent and waited for Bec and Meredith to join us

We took a few photos, despite having been here before.. the Geryons are always nice to look at

Evening light on Olympus.. Two of our friends were somewhere over there

We had an excellent night’s sleep on the new mattress configuration that Meredith had designed us (anyone who uses two single mattresses instead of a double will know the exact nature of our discomfort), and we thanked her profusely (she’s the best go to person you’ll find). The usual mix of breakfast, photos and packing up followed, with the mist and reflections making the place even more magical than it already was. It was only unusual in that Graham did a sterling job of trying to cook pancakes with wholly inappropriate gear – and I have to say they were pretty good for bush pancakes, even if I teased him at the time!

We eventually set off and made it to the start of the rather steep climb up Gould together. Meredith and Bec had been in two minds about whether to sidle or go over Gould, and we did our best to give them the information we could remember from our first trip. They chose to follow us up and over, but to do so at their own pace.

We wished them the best and headed off. Our memories must have faded with time, or perhaps it was a matter of looking at the terrain through other people’s eyes, but we realised as we approached the crest at the southern end of the ridge that the information we’d given might not have been as accurate as we’d have liked.

As we crested the end and started across the rocky ridge to the summit the walking was much easier, the peak was visible, and there were easy routes down to the low scrub off the side. We just hoped Bec and Meredith would persist to that point – we had no doubt they could, it was just a matter of whether they would. Neither of us could shake a slightly uneasy feeling however, which only grew the longer we sat on the summit eating lunch.

We kept an eye out for them, as well as one out to the north because we could hear voices quite clearly, could see tents pitched below the Minotaur and half expected to be joined at any moment. We exchanged ‘hellos’ with the voices, which was pretty cool, and we guessed they were part of the party of 9. As we left the summit we watched them strike camp and head to the west, and guessed we’d be meeting them sometime that evening!

Part way down my phone buzzed. I’d accidentally left it on from the summit, and had an uneasy feeling it was going to be word from Meredith and Bec. It was. They’d had, as can so easily happen out there on big rocks, a big bit of a scare and had made the sensible choice to turn back to Gould’s plateau. Graham and I were somewhat subdued. I think we both felt a mix of worried, disappointed for them for not having made it to any of the mountains they’d planned or their intended camp site, and partly responsible for having given the information that had swayed them to attempt the up and over route.

We continued on, however, sliding more than walking down the shale-y chute to the saddle between Gould and the Minotaur, then up the far side, before turning left and taking the scrub free route out along the southern side of the Guardian plateau. Graham, bless him, is like a dog chasing a rabbit when he has other walkers in front of him, and he shot off ahead (must be a male thing – my brother is exactly the same on his bike). I struggled to keep up, coughing and panting in his wake.

Part way up the only real climb along the plateau he caught up to the group ahead of us, who, as it turned out, had already figured out who he was courtesy of his yellow gloves and glasses! They’d also guessed who I was too, courtesy of the rockmonkey reputation, which is always nice but does make me a little nervous that I might not live up to expectations if they’ve got out of hand, as reputations can (I am, after all, just like many other bushwalkers – a lot of passion, a little bit crazy but nothing extraordinary).

When I finally arrived at their resting spot we had a formal introduction. They were indeed the group of 9 and as we’d guessed from the leader’s name in the book, were on a Launceston Walking Club walk. They were a lovely bunch and we looked forward to sharing the evening with them at the Guardian’s summit tarn (for that was where we were both headed).

We continued on at our own paces, and found the tarn wasn’t far away (less than 2 hours from Gould’s summit). We selected a spot around the far side, out of the wind and with excellent views, and in a location that gave the LWC walkers (and one NWWC walker) plenty of room to pitch tents. We then headed for the summit, aware that it was going to get cold and dark early, and wanting to have enough time to scout out the right gully that we’d need for the next morning.

The summit was a simple affair, but the views unique and not hard to take. As we sat there enjoying it all the LWC group made their way up too. We chatted some more (they were very generous with their gratitude for this blog – and it was lovely to hear that they were using it as it was intended!), celebrated the summit, and accepted (and enjoyed!) their generously offered Easter eggs.

We then went our own ways, some went to a second high point, some went to check out the gullies that ran like scars down the cliff face. We did the latter, keen to know where we’d need to go the next morning, and aware that we wouldn’t have time to make mistakes then given we had a big day and a ferry deadline to meet.

We found one that Graham really liked the look of, but it didn’t have a cairn marking the top, as we’d been told to look out for (see the Abels description). After scouting back east-ish along the cliff line we finally found a cairn and picked the gully we thought it most likely to be associated with. We weren’t sure though, so decided to suss it out till we were confident we could get the whole way down. We got a fair way down, in the process ruling out any of the other nearby gullies as they were just too steep, but came to a 3-5m drop without much to hold on to. While it might have been possible, it wasn’t going to be safe with full packs and in the rain, and we still had concerns for sections further down. We wrote it off and went back to the gully we’d first liked the look of.

As we headed over we had a chat with the LWC leader, who had also thought it was the best pick. As they went back to camp and dinner we decided to make sure. We picked our way down and although we came to two steep but not impossible bits, we opted to work our way around them, each time heading to the left. By the time we got to a little gap in the rocks to the left side of the gully we knew we’d be fine getting down the following morning, so we marked it with a cairn for future walkers and headed back to the top. There we erected another cairn, just to keep the Abels accurate and to help out any other walkers who might try the circuit!

When we returned we headed over to the LWC tents with biscuits and cheese. We’d been intending on sharing them with Meredith and Bec but seeing we’d not get the chance, we thought it was pretty fitting (even if they weren’t chocolate Easter eggs!). We shared what we found and chatted about all sorts of things. They also seemed to get along really well with each other and gave off an infectiously happy vibe that it was a pity we weren’t still in the longer days of summer so we could sit around a chat for longer. But again the cold and dark drove us to our tents early that night.

The next morning was still, and the mist slowly lifted to reveal the mountains

Guardians and Horizontal Hill – our two ‘mountains’ for the trip

Olympus had a sleep in

By the time we’d climbed to the foot of Gould, the cloud was gone and views back to the lake and Olympus were perfect

The Eldons feel different now we’ve been there

Ahh.. the Guardians sprawling out in the midday sun

And another one of that ridgeline.

Horizontal Hill, gives a sense of the route we took

Lake Marion from the edge of the Guardian’s plateau

Can you spot the LWC walkers enjoying the cliff edge?

Not a bad place to camp, just shy of the Guardians summit

Tent was up as the LWC group follows suit. It’s time for us to check out the summit

The top of the gully we took down, in case you want to use it!

A brief bit of colour before the cloud took over

Warm light on Macs and Walled… we thought about another friend who was having an ambitious crack at Nereus that day

Guardians summit with Gould behind

We woke at some ridiculously cold and wet hour, trying not to think about having to get out of our sleeping bags and packing up the tent as our fingers progressively and paradoxically became painfully numb. But we did, and the rain was good enough to pause a while as we did so.

We scuttled over to the cliff edge, haunched and withdrawn into our wet weather shells in attempt to escape the cold caress of the wind and rain. We found the cairn we’d erected the evening before and complimented ourselves for its position. From the direction we’d approached it, it had really stood out on the horizon and we only hoped it would be that way for other parties. Down we went, taking care in the new slipperiness. We were really glad we’d already scoped it out because the poor visibility was disconcerting enough.

We were now walking blind, quite literally, with only very limited information with which to make route-finding decisions. We managed to strike lucky, however, and made the use of the scree, followed by some weaving through the trees in what was really quite low scrub until we hit the saddle. It would have been awesome to be able to look back up at the Guardian’s cliff line, but it wasn’t to be. Instead Graham took over the lead and charged into the scrub. It was a fair bit thicker here, but again we ended up on a pretty good line and he was able to make the most of patches of open myrtle forest.

After climbing a few contour lines the scrub got short, wiry and robust and we were slowed down a fair bit. We altered our plan of attack, choosing to sidle over to the ridge to our left, where we reckoned the going would be much better (it was, after all, the recommended route). We found some nice pads when we got there, which lined up nicely with a GPS route we had. We dropped packs and followed the pads all the way to the summit, finding a tub of sunscreen on the way (are you missing yours? Send me a message!).

We didn’t spend much time up there, enough to duck around to all the possible high points (it’s pretty flat up there – good camping in fact, as we’d been told just before we left!), pull out a snack and take one photo in the rain. We were back at the packs in no time, put on extra layers, and kept heading down the ridge, trying to figure out where the voices and laughter we could here were from – likely the LWC group, though they weren’t in sight. We were expecting to hit scrub at any moment but were kept hanging in suspense and weren’t at all disappointed when it never eventuated. Instead we had open forests and low bauera all the way to the water’s edge, where we were treated to a small spot of sun and a hint of the Guardian’s cliffs.

It was a good feeling to be down in the time we’d hoped and to just have the very easy walk out on the Lake Marion track. First we had to wade the edge of the lake, which meant wet and cold feet and a swarm of tiny little gnat like flies that seemed determined to get in eyes, noses and mouths. At the far end of the lake we had a chat to a guy who’d bought his family complete with kids in (pretty cool) and then followed his directions to the start of the track. The next few hours took us through some stunning button grass plains and then lovely myrtle forest (which had plenty of other species of tree in it too!). We were both feeling pretty tired by this stage and kept to a slow steady pace.

It was really nice to change into dry clothes at Narcissus, but even better to see Bec and Meredith walk around the corner shortly afterwards! We caught up, enjoyed hot chocolate and cheese and before we knew it we were hopping on the ferry. The circuit is definitely worth consideration if you don’t mind a bit of route finding, and well exceeded our expectations! Though Horizontal has been described as a oncer, I’d even consider going back.

It just so turned out that this easter was a people-y easter, and it was very much enjoyed – it’s hard to beat spending time with good people.

Day 1: 5.4km 2:10hrs, 491m ascent

Day 2: 9km, 8hrs, 924m ascent

Day 3: 12.5km, 7:12hrs, 309m ascent

The flat summit of Horizontal Hill. It was quite fun despite the wet, and Graham raises a (half eaten!) chocolate bar in celebration

At Lake Marion, the cliffs of the Guardians are covered in low cloud