Monday, May 07, 2018

Tarkine Falls - May & June 2008

A couple of 10-year old posts from my old blog...

Tarkine Falls
May 2008
Recently I had the opportunity to complete part of the Tarkine Rainforest Track south of the Arthur River in the state's north-west.  The Tarkine is an area which many people still find hard to define.  It is a vast area of rainforest, remote mountains and rugged coastline roughly bounded by the Arthur and Pieman Rivers, Murchison Highway and Indian Ocean.

A few years ago, a company now called Tarkine Trails, started a 5 day commercial walking circuit starting at Farquhars Bridge and ending at Hilders Bridge.  As both bridges over the Arthur have washed away, both ends of the walk involve getting wet or using a canoe.  The taped route was originally marked by the Tarkine National Coalition and follows old logging roads for some of its length before plunging into the vast myrtle rainforests and button grass plains that blanket much of the Tarkine.

Eastons Creek
Our walk covered the last 2 days of the Rainforest Track, starting and ending at Hilders (Bridge) Crossing and staying overnight at Tarkine Falls.

Wading the Arthur was not too eventful.  A ford 500m downstream from the old bridge site allowed for knee-deep wading after which the Keith River and Folly Hill Roads were followed to another river wade, this time over the Lyons River.  Just before the road crests the ridge on the west side of the Lyons valley, Folly Hill Road swings south and almost disappears into a sea of bauerea while a side road (which looks like the main road due to recent use) continues over the ridge toward the Wynsmith Hills.  It was a struggle at times as we frequently ducked under or over bauera choked fallen trees until the old road became clearer as it descended to a long-delapidated bridge over Eastons Creek.

Galadriels Cascades
After lunch, we slogged up Hurdle Hill, a name we coined for the 1km climb featuring the alomst impossible impediment of a fallen eucalypt over 2m in diametre.  At the top of the hill, the road peters out and a final snig track is followed to the southern limit of historic logging activity.  Once the final tree stump is reached, it is like stepping into another world.  Instead of ti tree and eucalypt regrowth, we had suddenly entered the realm of towering myrtles which sheltered mosses, ferns and the most amazing variety of fungi I have ever seen.

After some ups and downs, the taped trail led us past the Blue Peak campsite to the two tiered waterfall dubbed Galadriels Cascades.  Eastons Creek was then crossed and recrossed before we eventually reached the Tarkine Falls campsite just on nightfall.  There was just enough light to select tent spots and setup camp.  While pleasant in one sense, it was a little surprising and dissappointing to find that a large canvas shelter and seating area has been established by the commercial walk operator.  In the hollow under a giant myrtle, large white drums of cooking ingredients had been stashed under a tarp.

As I fell asleep to the peaceful sound of falling waster, I decided this must be the first walk to a waterfall where the sound of it taunted me through 15 hours of darkness before I could see what it actually looked like.  When I collected water for dinner, I rock-hopped to the waterfall base and the top of the fall was out of reach for my feeble headlamp so I knew it was more than a few metres high.  In the morning, I was rewarded with a quick photography session before we retraced our steps, making good time back to the cars at Hilders Crossing.

There is some talk in government ranks about the possibility of a tourist road through this area.  I am now in two minds whether to support or oppose it.  Tarkine Falls in my opinion are very pretty but not as spectacular as the more accessible Dip Falls which are slightly bigger and on a larger watercouse.  The section of the proposed road near the Lyons River traverses an extremely steep sided valley where a large landslide has already removed most of the road at one spot.  It would be difficult to make the road landslide-proof without making huge scars on the landscape by cutting deep into the hillsides.

Tarkine Falls camp
In terms of the scenery traversed by the road, it is quite spectacular but, for much of its length, it will only be skin deep.  The impact of forestry operations would only just be out of view.  This type of wilderness experience is already available in many other parts of the region where roads pass through similar forests.  The Savage River Rd, Western Explorer, Reece Dam Rd and Murchison Hwy in places all traverse similar terrain.

After walking in the area, I am convinced that the only benefit of the proposed loop road is to separate production forestry traffic from tourist traffic.  This is certainly an issue for tourists attempting to access features such as Dip Falls, Milkshake Hills, Lake Chisolm, Wes Becket, etc.  I just wonder whether there is a better route that links these areas without reopening roads that flirt so closely with the precious rainforested interior of the Tarkine.

June 2008
A mate was keen to go to Tarkine Falls so, despite being there only two weeks earlier, I was off again!

On the way to Hilder bridge we took a fork in the road that led to a picturesque bend in the Arthur below Phantom Peak.  The peak was living up to its name with its head well in the clouds.

After wading the Arthur and Lyons Rivers, we explored a short distance beyond where the overgrown section of Folly Hill Road turns off.  Just over the ridge a helipad had been bulldozed into the tea tree scrub.  We could see along the ridge a short distance but cloud was still preventing us from seeing Phantom Peak and the Wynsmith Hills.

Once back on the track we made reasonable time and just had time to setup camp at the Falls before dusk.

The following day, we decided to spend a bit of time following the taped 'Day Walk' route that heads away from the Tarkine Falls campsite.  Walking as quickly as we could, we climbed gradually for approx 2km to a point where the track was about to commence a sudden descent into the valley of Eastons Creek.  We were very keen to make it out of the forest into clear terrain but our time was limited so we headed back to our packs and toddled home.  Further exploration will have to wait for another day.

On a future trip, I am hoping to take my mountain bike in to Folley Road which can be accessed from the 'South Arthur Forest Drive.'  It should be possible to take the road to the edge of the button grass plains only a short distance from the Falls.

Very soon after returning from this trip, the State Budget was announced.  Lo and behold, there is money in it for the new Tarkine tourist road.  My prediction is that the road will be similar to the Abt Railway.  It will run way over the budget.  I'm guessing that the people who have estimated its cost are not familiar with the terrain to be traversed.  As I mentioned in my last post, the Folly Hill Road has literally fallen into the Lyons River due to a large landslide.  In several spots in that area, the road is cut into a very steep hillside and would only be a single lane wide.

I'm also curious about the approach that will be taken with construction.  The cheap way to build it will be to clear a massive wide swathe through the forest.  In the case of the Gordon River Road, it took the best part of 3 decades for the roadside vegetation to recover.  The new sealed road in to Dove Lake and Waldheim has been sensitively built into the surrounding terrain but I expect the construction techniques there are expensive.  I would be very surprised if that approach could be afforded with the money that has been allocated.

The tragic case of the Western Explorer shows that the government is not willing to spend the money on maintenance to keep the road open.  It has now been closed for 6 months following a bushfire and there's still no sign of when it may reopen.  Will this new Tarkine Road be similar?

2018 Update
Common sense has prevailed in relation to the Tarkine Drive.  The South Arthur Forest Drive has been upgraded and rebranded as the Tarkine Drive.  Visitor Guides for the Western Explorer and Tarkine Drive can be found at Discover the Tarkine's website.

Despite being marketed as a tourist destination there are still conservation concerns in the Tarkine.  Threats include logging, mining and off-road vehicles (a few badly behaved 4WDers wreck it for the rest).  All of these are happening within a short distance of the tourist drives being promoted.  The Bob Brown Foundation is very active in monitoring these threats and calling for the area to become a national park.

In 2014 I was delighted to take Kylie to see Tarkine Falls.  We first went to listen to my sister Vanessa who had been engaged to sing at a Tarkine Coalition training weekend.  After this we waded the Arthur and followed the route described above, spending one night at Blue Peak and a second night at Tarkine Falls.

Galadriels Cascades
A highlight of the 2014 trip was seeing a fine specimen of the world's largest freshwater crayfish wandering up the rocks in front of us as we ate lunch beside Eastons Creek.

Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish walking over moss covered rocks beside Eastons Creek

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Western and Eastern Arthurs Traverse - Part 6

A 12-day traverse of the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges in Southwest Tasmania by Kylie and Clinton Garratt.  Part Six takes us home over the familiar route descending Moss Ridge before crossing Crest Range and the South Picton Saddle.

Day 11 - Bechervaise Plateau to South Cracroft River
In theory our timing could have still allowed a sniff at the Federation Peak summit.  If conditions had been perfect we could have spent the morning slipping around the eastern end of the Southern Traverse, up the Direct Ascent and back to Bechervaise by lunchtime.  An afternoon slogging down Moss Ridge would then need to be followed by an evening getting to at least Paperbark or Forest Camp to allow time to get all the way out on Day 12.

As well as the epic walking needed to achieve the summit and on-time return home we needed a few miracles to greet us as we opened the tent door.  The early sun would have to be zapping snow and ice at an amazing rate.  It would need to be accompanied by a hot, dry northerly wind swirling around to the back of the mountain and drying the south-facing Direct Ascent where the sun don't shine.

As such impossible dreams were drifting through my head I opened the tent door to look at what should have been sunrise and found us surrounded by thick, damp swirling fog.  The terraces above our campsite were not out of the cloud, let alone Fedder itself.  No sunshine or miraculous hot northerly wind either.  Just the constant sound of water running off the cliffs above us indicating the peak would be snow free in a day or three, not an hour or two.

Between the teeth of Moss Ridge.  This is typical of Moss Ridge and the Beggary Bumps.  In several places you clamber down tens of metres vertical height, take two steps forwards then clamber up the next knoll.

I'm not sure either of us gave voice to the fanciful thoughts in the paragraphs above.  Instead we set about matter-of-factly doing breakfast, and packing up the tent and setting out for the penultimate time this trip.

At the top of each prominent knob forming the 'teeth' of Moss Ridge we looked back half expecting a snow-clad Fedder to come out of the cloud and jeer at us.  It did not.  The cloud did not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Kylie clambering up one of several knolls (or 'teeth') on Moss Ridge

The jungle-gym fun of Moss Ridge was almost over when near disaster struck.  I opted to walk along a huge fallen tree-trunk instead of following Kylie's sensible lead.  Just as Kylie was about to compliment my acrobatic ability I succumbed to the sleek bark-free surface and found myself propelled by the weight of my pack head first towards the ground below.  The head-first landing hurt but...  I survived.  At the next log crossing a smart move would have been to adopt the straddle method but no - I'm a slow learner! Thankfully this time my head was not the first thing to hit terra firma.  A short, groggy 10 minute wander delivered a much needed sit-down beside Cherry Creek at Cutting Camp.

Typical Moss Ridge where the track squeezes between pack-grabbing horizontal trunks

After lunch the kilometres beside the Cracroft River melted away slowly but surely.  We were both suffering quietly in our own ways as we steadily plodded along.  At Crest Range we looked back one more time to see cloud denying our last clear view of Federation Peak.  Eventually we were safely esconsed in the warmth of our Hilleberg Alak beside a peaceful South Cracroft River.  After setting off Millie (our PLB) one last time we quickly dozed off.
Tea tree shelter at South Cracroft campsite

Day 12 - South Cracroft River to Farmhouse Creek
Although it's only a half-day walk from South Cracroft to Farmhouse, this is a walk that does not let you go easily.  Deep bogs between towering button grass clumps surrounded by bauera, tea tree and cutting grass feature soon after leaving the campsite and again around the Mount Bobs turn-off.  Many tree-falls make hard work of the steady climb to South Picton Saddle.  Even the last dry section of track through relatively open eucalypt forest nearing the end seemed to drag on and on.  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?  A proliferation of fungi provided some distraction on the final descent.

Ancient myrtles at South Picton Saddle
Right on time, at 1pm in the Farmhouse Creek car park, clean clothes, fresh food and comfy seats heralded our return to 'normal life.'

That's where the story should end but little did we know...

Farmhouse Creek car park.  The end of our adventure...  Or was it?
The descent from Willies Saddle on the drive home brings the first mobile reception and with it a barrage of messages.  There were dozens of missed calls from my siblings.  I ignored those in the first instance to reply to a call from my daughter.  She just had a small change to school pickup plans.  With that worked out I started to wonder what all the other calls were about.

Right on cue my sister called.  She was in a car with my dad and they had passed us earlier back on Arve Road.  Apparently our final PLB message had not gone through.  After receiving "Ok" messages from every campsite except the last one my wonderful family had gone into rescue mode.  After my brother in Victoria had mixed results dealing with the SPOT helpline in the US the next logical step was to check the Farmhouse Creek car park.  They saw us 3.5 hours into their 4.5 hour drive from Launie!

I'm fairly sure I saw Millie's confirmation light to say the message sent successfully from beneath the tea tree canopy at South Cracroft.  However, with tiredness and a hit on the head, perhaps I was seeing what I wanted to see before switching the unit off so I could doze off to sleep.  Either way, it was heartwarming to see a family of would-be rescuers looking out for us.

...and after all that, school pickups went beautifully to plan.

Western and Eastern Arthurs Traverse - Part 5

A 12-day traverse of the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges in Southwest Tasmania by Kylie and Clinton Garratt.  Part Five features challenging conditions and an eventful traverse of the Eastern Arthurs including a rarely traveled route.

Luckmans Lead
Day 9 - Pass Creek to Goon Moor
Our departure from Pass Creek campsite coincided with a brief pause in the heavy rain.  This was just enough time for us to ascend the first part of Luckmans Lead to a point where hail was still settled on the ground from the last shower.  Right on cue another heavy hail shower lashed us and added to the icy drifts.  We appreciated the hail bouncing off us without having a chance to get us seriously wet.

Stuart Saddle
Just before reaching the forested section of our climb clouds opened to reveal the valley between an invisible Mt Hopetoun and the peaks immediately above us.  A spectacular waterfall plunging into the forest in the middle distance looked surreal - as if the scene was lifted from a book about fairies and unicorns.

The Needles
Above a brief forested section settled hail was replaced by settled snow.  Bracing southerly winds encouraged us to make excellent time on the snow-covered descent around the Boiler Plates and up into Stuarts Saddle.  We gazed up at the ominous dark cliffs of The Needles and wondered at how anyone could contemplate the direct ascent mentioned in The Abels as an alternative to the more common sidle around the back.

Mount Hopetoun from Stuart Saddle
The tent platforms offered a salubrious midday lunch venue before we continued through delightful pandani studded forest in a particularly heavy snow shower.  As if right on cue, the snow halted and clouds parted just as we arrived at a clearing which offered superb views of Mount Hopetoun.

Clint at Stuart Saddle
Chapman spends several paragraphs detailing the route as it makes its way among the southern peaks of The Needles.  With heavy snow falling and extremely limited visibility we simply followed the track in front of our noses and, consequently, were quite surprised when Goon Moor suddenly appeared in a break in the clouds.  Within minutes we had arrived at the tent platforms and set about clearing snow ready to pitch our tent.

Goon Moor
Day 10 - Goon Moor to Bechervaise Plateau
The day started with a bleak old trudge over the fan-out section of Goon Moor before a very well formed track led us on a curvy path through The Gables.  Extremely limited visibility and cold conditions encouraged speedy progress through the Four Peaks.  Seemingly vertical walls rising into the cloud all around us made it hard to imagine any way of collecting the multitude of peak bagging points to be gained in this area.

Federation Peak, Devils Thumb, Stegasaurus Ridge and Geeves Bluff from Four Peaks
Right on cue a break in the clouds greeted us as we emerged at the end of Four Peaks. Thwaites Plateau, Devils Thumb and a broody Fedder emerged from the clouds.  Renewed optimism spurred us through the mist on the gradual ascent over Thwaites and we arrived at the Hanging Lake turn-off right on midday.  The snow and ice at the junction guaranteed a Federation Peak ascent would be out of the question.  With children arriving at our place after school in little over 48 hours the question weighing heavily was, 'How would we go on the Southern Traverse in these conditions?'

At Hanging Lake Junction
From Hanging Lake Junction traversing the fan-out section between us and Stegasaurus Ridge was no easy feat.  The visibility was so poor that we could not see from one fan-out marker to the next.  Eventually we located cairns indicating the path ahead.  At the Stegasaurus high point of 1165 metres we were tantalisingly only 60 metres lower than Federation Peak itself but problems were about to set in.  Soon after the high point the route traverses a large boulder above a cliff line which dropped into the swirling cloud between us and Lake Geeves.  With much trepidation we traversed the ice and snow covered boulder only to find an even more daunting descent ahead.  At this point we pulled the pin.  After traversing back over the snowy boulder we took a few deep breaths then scooted back towards Thwaites Plateau.

Looking towards Stegasaurus Ridge - an innocuous start to the Southern Traverse
Devils Thumb
At Devils Thumb we left the track and located the large cairn indicating the start of the Forest Chute, a little-used emergency route between Thwaites and Bechervaise.  As if to taunt us, Federation Peak briefly showed itself as we started the steepest part of our 500 metre descent.  A faint pad existed until the forest was entered from which point it was impossible to discern that anyone had ever passed that way before.

Top of the Forest Chute
Eventually the slope eased but progress was slow due to the multitude of fallen trees, some solid, some completely rotten and unable to support our weight.  In many places the ground was metres below us.  We looked forward to arriving at Lake Gaston where Chapman nonchalantly says we need to, "Pass along the southern shore of the lake..."  How hard could it be?

Federation Peak from above the Forest Chute showing Lake Gaston, the Rock Slide and the cliffy forest on the left where we actually climbed up to Bechervaise Plateau
When the lake appeared through the dense forest there was no easy shoreline to traverse.  The dense forest extended well beyond the shore.  Walking anywhere near the lake meant ominous deep pools of jet black tannin stained water lurked beneath the mossy rotten tree trunks over which we scrambled.  A watery plunge was the last thing we needed.

Forest Chute
Keeping a safe distance from the lake shore the forest opened and, like a beacon in the night, a large cairn appeared beside a torrent tumbling down a steep, rocky bed.  Hoping this was a marker for the long-awaited rock slide we headed up the northern side of the stream.  As the terrain got steeper the scrub got thicker and we had to choose between splashing our way up what was beginning to look like a waterfall or move away from the stream and attempt to find more open climbing in the forest.

Cairn marking a very watery Rock Slide
Moving away from the stream the forest opened ever so slightly.  In several places the mossy ground was close to vertical and the only way to progress was to remove packs, climb the protruding tree trunks like a ladder and pull the packs through narrow gaps behind us.  An hour after leaving the stream bare walls of rock ominously closed in above us and day light was rapidly running out.  Were we even heading towards Bechervaise Plateau?  Was the Rock Slide further around to our left?  Were we heading towards a cliffy dead-end part way up the north face of Fedder itself?

Climbing these trees was one way we ascended the near vertical, mossy slopes
After crawling up a narrowing, mossy ramp between rock faces we were able to climb a rock protruting above the beautiful but suffocating forest which had hemmed us in for the past three hours.  To our delight, in the fading light, we could just make out the ridge ahead of us leveling out.  On our left an adjoining ridge appeared to be scrub free while behind us we could see we had climbed to the same height as our Forest Chute entry.  Below us to the right we could still hear the roar of the stream tumbling down a deep and narrow cleft between us and what must be Fedder's menacing north face.  Was that powerful stream the Rock Slide which was meant to give easier access between the lake and Bechervaise Plateau?

Bedraggled packs tell a story
A nasty, densely scrubby and not-so-minimal-impact traverse to our left delivered us to what was a delightfully scrub free walk of two hundred metres around to the tent platforms at Upper Bechervaise Plateau.  Right on dark, as we cleared snow to pitch the tent, at least some of our questions had been answered.  The roaring stream was indeed the Rock Slide.  We still do not know just how difficult it would have been climbing that route while a snow-melt-powered torrent took the same route in the opposite direction.  Something to investigate another day.  At least we were still on track with our goal to be home by mid afternoon on Day 12.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Western and Eastern Arthurs Traverse - Part 4

A 12-day traverse of the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges in Southwest Tasmania by Kylie and Clinton Garratt.  Part Four takes us over the final section of the Western Arthurs visiting an Abel enroute and descends to the surrounding plains at Pass Creek.

Day 7 - Promontory Lake to Lucifer Ridge
A stunning sunrise inspired a pre-breakky photography session overlooking the lake.  On the ridge to the south we soon lost all sign of the trail but many gaps in the scrub and animal tracks made for easy walking as we sidled The Sculptor.  We soon gained a view down to Lake Venus and the pretty wetland to its north.

Sunrise on Carina Peak at Promontory Lake
Despite clear skies in most directions cloud seemed to be hanging around The Phoenix.  As we ascended in fog we eventually joined a faint, cairned pad which took us close to the highest point.  For the sake of peak bagging points we deviated briefly to the highest rock where Kylie posed with Millie, our trusty personal locator beacon.  We had been using Millie to send off an "Ok" signal to our families at each summit and campsite along the way.

Kylie and Millie on The Phoenix
Fog accompanied our descent past numerous contorted rock formations until sunshine greeted us in the saddle at the start of Centaurus Ridge.  From here the clouds revealed an encouraging glimpse of Bathurst Harbour and the Norold Range, a graphic indicator of our significant progress from west to east.

The first peak on Centaurus Ridge is the highest so, again shrouded by cloud, a short deviation, selfie and PLB message ensued.

Centaurus Ridge
Following that first peak, most of Centaurus Ridge is significantly lower and the track easily sidles the remaining lumps and bumps.  By the time we reached the foot of West Portal we were bathed in full sunshine making warm work of the long ascent.  Hat and sunscreen made their first and only appearance of the entire trip.

The slightly lower first summit of West Portal taken from the true summit.
The summit route sidles the first peak then descends to avoid the cliffs on the left of this picture.
Where the range swings north along the Crags of Andromeda we gladly ditched packs to head up the highest Abel in the range, West Portal.  After a small peak is sidled an attractive plateau is reached.  Just beyond the plateau cairns seemed to lead ominously down the south side of the peak.  Hoping we had already passed the first peak mentioned in Chapman a fruitless upward climb confirmed there was indeed another higher peak which required significant loss of height to approach the airy climbing gully.

West Portal selfie
While we enjoyed what would be the highest point of our entire journey Federation Peak appeared from the clouds giving us a brilliant, albeit brief, view of the entire Eastern Arthur Range.

Easter Arthur Range from West Portal
After shouldering packs our path meandered through the Crags before reaching another distinct 90 degree turn in the range where Lucifer Ridge droped spectacularly away into the cloud swirling below us to the east.  With only two kilometres to Lake Rosanne it was tempting to push on but Chapman informed us half of that would be through dense forest.  Given our knowledge of how gnarly Western Arthur forests can be we decided that would not be fun in the failing light and found a suitable place to camp.

Eastern Arthurs from Lucifer Ridge
The sunny day and our location on the ridge top meant very limited water.  After watching the last direct rays of sunlight illuminate the Eastern Arthurs, Kylie pitched the tent in the strengthening gale while I slowly filled our water bladder from the only water in sight.  The pool was barely five centimetres deep so, painstakingly, dozens of careful dips with a pot yielded the water needed to see us through the night.

Day 8 - Lucifer Ridge to Pass Creek

During the night we were 'treated' to a classic south-west Tasmania lashing.  Torrential rain accompanied howling gales as Hughie tried vainly to blow us off the ridge.  Had we been ensconced at Lake Rosanne we would not have 'enjoyed' the full benefits of that night-long buffeting.  In the morning water was everywhere.  Barely metres below the ridge crest countless rivulets were tumbling noisily toward unseen valleys far below.  The irony of last night's water collection exercise was amusing.

As predicted the dense forest was indeed slow going.  It would have been a tangled, torch-lit affair had we continued the night before.  We were happy with our choice.

Lake Rosanne
Lake Rosanne and its characteristic monolith appeared eerily from the mist right on cue as the obvious track swung north.  Without any apparent track heading our way we continued east following the broad ridge crest.  After crossing a slightly scrubby saddle we picked up a faint track which we followed successfully over several humps on Lucifer's lower slopes.  An almost total lack of vegetation following recent fires made for easy going while a couple of brief pauses in the deluge allowed for a couple of pleasant snack breaks.

Pass Creek
The further we descended the ridge the more the sound of Pass Creek taunted us from below.  When we finally emerged from the cloud we could see the creek was still within its banks but the flow would make our crossing a lively affair.  A fixed rope made for a safe, albeit entertaining crossing with the bracingly cool, swift flowing stream around knee deep.

After the rarely used track from Kappa Moraine and the even more rarely used route beyond Lake Roseanne the track from Cracroft Crossing to Luckmans Lead felt like a superhighway.  By early afternoon we had reached Pass Creek campsite (which is well past Pass Creek) and were very happy to setup camp, dry out and ponder the Western Arthurs behind us and the Eastern Arthurs ahead.