Thursday, June 15, 2017

Western & Eastern Arthur Traverse - Part 1

A 12-day traverse of the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges in Southwest Tasmania by Kylie and Clinton Garratt.  Part 1 gets us onto the range and bags our first peaks for the trip.

Day 0 - Farmhouse Creek

We dropped our car at Farmhouse Creek hoping it would be there and willing to fire up on command in 12 days time.  In the boot we stashed a jump start kit gifted to me by former work-mates after they got sick of jump starting my car - thanks fellas.

Day 1 - Scotts Peak to Alpha Moraine

Monday 24th June 2017

A reasonably slick departure from home had us departing Huon Campsite near Scotts Peak Dam at 10:30.  The previous entry in the log book was a couple doing Lake Oberon via Alpha and Kappa Moraines starting today and expecting to finish today!  Mega serious, hard-core trail runners we assumed.

Despite Kylie's amazing efforts with the food dehydrator our 12 days of food weighed heavily.  It was not exactly a speed run.  At Junction Creek we were stoked to see our bridge from last July was still in place.

Last winter's bridge at Junction Creek

Without flooded creeks to contend with (compared with our winter walk) we made reasonable time to the base of Alpha Moraine but it was mid afternoon.  We decided darkness would most likely beat us to the top of the range so we set up camp.

Alpha Moraine
With the relatively balmy overnight low of 10° it was a warm night by southwest Tasmania standards.

Day 2 - Alpha Moraine to Square Lake

Without even reaching the skyline I thought our trip could be over. Compared with the challenges waiting up on the range, the open moraine should have been an uneventful climb. We were only halfway up when potential disaster struck.

As with many trails in southwest Tasmania parts of the track up Alpha Moraine are badly trenched. I did what should have been a simple hop from one side to the other when I felt like someone whacked my calf muscle with a hockey stick - only this time* I was not playing hockey. (*I tore a calf a few years ago playing hockey and this felt the same.)

After much rubbing, stretching and gentle testing, I hobbled on and found I could climb at a respectable pace as long as I didn't spring off with my left foot. Ouch!

Soon after arriving on the range crest we bagged our first peak, Mount Hesperus. At 1,098 metres it falls 2 metres short of Abel status. Nonetheless it felt good to have a summit under our belt.

Mount Hesperus
After Hesperus, easy trails led past Lake Fortuna, over Capella Crags and down to Lake Cygnus. This section contrasted starkly to my snowy thrash in the same place last year.

Lake Fortuna and Capella Crags

Lake Cygnus and Mount Hayes (twin peaks on far left)
From Lake Cygnus, Mt Hayes was our next objective and the ascent was plain sailing. Our first Abel of the trip. Hooray! Descent, however, proved a little tricky. With cloud swirling around we came to a section which looked unfamiliar despite being very clearly marked with large cairns. After a little wandering we headed back up and found the route we had ascended.

Mount Hayes
When we got back to the track we looked at Chapman's notes. Sure enough he says, "... scramble to the top using the cave and ledge system... or via the easier gully around the corner to the left." Lesson for the rest of the trip: Carefully read the track notes for a section before setting out!

With calf-muscle-delays on Alpha Moraine and a minor debacle on Mt Hayes time was marching on as we sidled Procyon Peak.  Hence we pulled up stumps* at Square Lake.  (*Note I am using the cricketing metaphore for ending a day's play.  No vegetation was extracted in setting up camp.)

Mount Orion drops steeply into Square Lake

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Western Arthur Winter Amble - Part 2

Day 3 - Mt Hesperus and Lake Cygnus

After a night listening to the blizzard howl above our heads I set out for a day walk to Lake Cygnus and back.  Once back on the flat top of the range, some of the walking was easy in places where the wind driven snow had formed an icy surface which could hold my weight.

For most of the time visibility was down to 50 metres or so making navigation tricky with the track well hidden beneath snow and ice.  The mist cleared and I could see Mt Hesperus beckoning.  I hurried on but the clouds had only parted briefly.  My summit moment was engulfed in thick fog and swirling snow flakes.
Mount Hesperus
Beyond Mt Hesperus I was stoked to find steps leading downward and a cairn which had been my first signs of track since leaving Alpha Moraine.  My joy was short-lived as I struggled through the narrow gap between ice-covered cliffs and tough, stunted alpine forest.

Eventually I got through the forest-choked gully and another break in the clouds revealed Lake Fortuna below and even a distant Bathurst Harbour.  Ahead of me lay a smooth featureless snow slope leading up to a gap in the Capella Crags. Again the gap in the clouds was brief so I continued over the gap with almost no visibility.

Snow lay thickly on the descent towards Lake Cygnus with fresh, powdery drifts frequently reaching up to my arm pits.  Eventually the lake came into view only minutes before I arrived on the snow-covered beach.  There was no sign of the tent platforms or toilet under the deep cover.

Lake Cygnus

After lunch by the beach and a few photos taking advantage of momentary breaks in the clouds I retraced my steps.  Well...  That was the plan.  I was able to follow my obvious trench as far as the Capella Crags.  From there fresh snow had completely covered my footprints.  Once again, painstaking navigation was needed to find my way back through the swirling clouds without wandering too far down the gradual slopes to the south or too close to the craggy cliffs and drops to the north.
Cygnus Beach

At one point, after a futile attempt to avoid the forest, I found myself attempting to 'climb' a snow slope where the fresh powder had settled over two metres deep.  Pushing through while standing was useless.  Even on hands and knees I sank through.  The only technique which allowed me to gain distance was to sprawl face-down star-fish-style and slide my way over.  Thankfully those deep drifts did not last long and I was soon on the hard, icy, easy walking snow which led to the top of Alpha Moraine.

Day 4 - Heading Home

During the night the wind shifted to the northwest and falling snow gave way to heavy rain showers.  Our sheltered spot was not sheltered from that direction and our tent felt the full fury of the storm.  We packed up in the slushy remains of our snow-covered ledge then headed down the track which resembled a long, drawn out waterfall.

As we suspected, all the streams on the plains were running strongly.  Our helpful plank on 'Neptune Creek' was a long way under and we dreaded what may await us at Junction Creek.

At Junction we tentatively waded over the flooded lower camping area and perused the fast-flowing torrent in the main stream channel.  At this point we decided to build a bridge and get over it.

Many long, stout tea trees were lying on the ground.  We selected 3 and heaved them out over the main channel where they floated securely against some standing trees.  Using a long wading pole I headed over first without my pack. We were then able to secure a rope as a taut hand-rail to assist crossing with the packs.  The plan worked!

Very happy to be on the homeward side of Junction Creek we decided to forego our 4th night and continue on all the way home.  Our Western Arthur Range 5-day* taster trip had given us a taste all right.  We couldn't wait to get back there albeit hoping for a little less snow next time.

* A Lake Oberon loop via Alpha and Kappa Moraines can be done in 5 to 7 days.  To achieve that on this trip we had to reach Lake Cygnus on day 1.  I arrived there after a near epic struggle at lunchtime on Day 3!  We knew our chances were low with such a nasty forecast.  Little did we know!  Our Autumn 2017 assault on the range would turn out to be much more fruitful.

More photos available on FaceBook here:

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Western Arthur Winter Amble - Part 1

Day 1 - Huon Campground (Scotts Peak) to Junction Creek

An atrociously exciting weather forecast for a few days last winter prompted a trip into a Western Arthurs winter wonderland.  Having been a couple of decades since my last walk in the area it was good to see the new track setting out from the Huon Camp near Scotts Peak Dam.  (For the youngsters: The track previously set out from the quarry on Red Knoll.  ...and for the oldies: Yes, I acknowlege there was an even earlier era of epic bushwalks in this area when there was no Scotts Peak Dam or Road - that's a subject for another day.)

Forest near Huon Camp, Scotts Peak
The 'new' tack passes through some beautiful rainforest before swinging south onto the old track.  Due to a particularly tardy start from home nightfall engulfed us well before arriving at Junction Creek.  It became a running joke where I would declare in the darkness that, "The next creek would be the last one before Junction."  As it turns out we crossed about 6 'last creeks' before arriving at our camp for the night.

While flowing swiftly the creek was not high so an uneventful crossing preceded the short walk up past the toilet to the upper campsite.

Day 2 - Alpha Moraine

Passing hail showers prompted another slow start to the day.  At one point it settled like snow around our tent.

Settled hail at Junction Creek campsite

By mid-morning we were making our way over swollen streams towards Alpha Moraine.  At the stream flowing from Lake Neptune a strategically placed plank assisted our crossing.  Next a break in the weather gave us a glimpse of surrounding ranges and a lunch opportunity before tackling the afternoon's climb.  Our noble and, perhaps, naive goal was to reach Lake Cygnus.

Lunch approaching Alpha Moraine with a brief glimpse along the Western Arthur Range

Most of the ascent was incident free.  However we should have heeded the roaring sound above us as we approached the top in thigh deep snow and minimal visibility.  While we were thinking the flat tops would be easy walking Hughie* had other ideas.  Icy snow driven by a howling southerly attempted to blow us off the mountain.  Adding to our challenge there was no sign of the track under snow once the terrain leveled out.  Neither of us felt like pulling out map and compass!

After sheltering few minutes behind a rock discretion became the better part of valour and we headed down to a tent-sized ledge just over the leeward side of the range.
Ascending Alpha Moraine
* On Australia's north island Hughie is the god of rain.  In Tasmania Hughie doesn't stop at just rain.  He frequently blesses Tassie bush walkers with hail, sleet, snow (slushy snow, not the nice, dry powdery stuff) and howling gales that would blow the milk out of Kylie's instant coffee.

More photos available on FaceBook here:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mixed Feelings for Mount Field

In a comment on my last post (Mt Field West), Ken Bushwalker makes a good observation.  Despite decades of Tassie bushwalking, I’ve hardly done any walking at Mt Field.  (My previous post admits this was my first trip to Mt Field West.)  This illustrates a few things.
Firstly, I now work as a guide in the Mt Field National Park but my itinerary only takes me as far as Lake Dobson.  I’m the first to admit that 100 trips to Lake Dobson in the 2 years since moving to Hobart does not make up for not visiting Mt Field West.
Secondly, there is such a HUGE amount of bushwalking opportunity in Tasmania that a lifetime is not enough to explore it all.
Next, I’m guessing Ken Bushwalker is from another part of Australia and doesn’t fully appreciate the regional divides we have on this island.  We certainly don't have the distances found in other parts of Oz but, nonetheless, it does take some effort to get around the island state.
Of my 44 years on the island, the first 17 were spent on the Cradle Coast (Burnie), the next 3 in the North East (studying at UTas in Launie), 6 back in Burnie, 8 in Westbury (near Launie), 8 in Devonport  and now the past 2 in Hobart.  That means 42 years spent north of the 42nd parallel.  Treks "down south" were a big thing growing up in Burnie.  During my first quarter of a century on the planet, resources were limited so places within a fairly short drive were the order of the day.
From the age of 26 a delightfully serious case of marriage/parenthood set in resulting in available bushwalking time measured by hours rather than days (let alone weeks!).  My few sojourns south were to major icons such as Federation Peak, Frenchmans Cap, Mount Anne, Southern Ranges and the South Coast Track.  Mt Field didn't get a look in partly because I always saw it as a poor cousin to Cradle Mountain.
Ouch, I can hear my southern friends wince at that last comment.  Perhaps some of them agree.  My very skewed opinion goes back to strong childhood memories relating to contiguous wilderness and visible human intrusions.
During my childhood, our many family trips to Cradle Mt started with a drive through rolling farmland interspersed by densely forested gullies.  Beyond Wilmot and Erriba the patchwork quilts of NW farmland were quickly replaced by pine plantations surrounded by the ever deepening forested gorges of the Wilmot and Forth Rivers.  After Moina the wild, windswept and often snow-covered Middlesex Plains evoked stories of tough mountain men who eked a living from winter trapping and summer cattle grazing.
The journey had a sense of increasing wilderness as we got closer to our objective.  Finally we would arrive at Cradle Mountain and it felt as if the wilderness journey was complete.  Beyond that point it would take several days of walking to reach the next road to the south.  If you headed south east or south west from Cradle it would take much longer still to reach a road.
My first major summit was Barn Bluff at the age of 8.  I had been to Marions Lookout several times and marvelled that only tiny traces of human presence could be seen.  The Dove Lake car park, the small Rangers Hut near Little Horn, the distant air strip beyond Pencil Pine Creek and, beyond that, faintly discernible farmland beyond Mount Roland.  Barn Bluff impressed me much more than Marions as evidence of human intrusion was even less.  Apart from the fine threads of walking tracks and a tower on Mount Read, apparently untouched wilderness appeared to stretch forever.
At that time Wild magazine was a source of childhood fascination.  I had a sense that a place had to be incredibly special to appear on those hallowed pages.  Back then rock climbing was a significant part of the magazine before it had spun off into its own publication.  I remember marvelling at the antics performed on various walls including those around Mount Arapiles in Victoria.  One day, as I was perusing these images, I noticed something was wrong.  I could see farmland in the background of a photo featuring an incredible-looking Arapiles overhang!  My childhood sense of wilderness was shattered.  How could a place special enough to be in Wild magazine have farmland so close?  Where were the dozens of kilometres of driving through increasingly wild terrain to the point where something as civilised as farmland should be a tiny spec on the horizon?  I was confused.
In the year I turned 10 I was introduced to overnight walking in the Walls of Jerusalem.  This coincided with the Franklin River campaign which is another story entirely but those events were shaping my thoughts and prejudices.  When I turned 11 a Mt Ossa trip gave me the opportunity to ‘stand’* on the roof of Tasmania.  (*Actually it was more like ‘clung’ to the roof of Tasmania – I went again the following year and, as a 12 year old, I was confident enough to properly stand on that well-known summit rock.)  The perceived wildness of the Ossa summit view was very similar to what I experienced on Barn Bluff.  Hardly any evidence of human presence at all right to the horizon in every direction.
In these pre-teen years reading maps appealed to me much more than reading books.  Tasmanian national park maps gained the most attention by far.  I quickly learned the vast wilderness stretching south from Cradle Mountain was not a feature of other parks.  I learned that western parts of Mount Field and the Hartz Mountains National Parks had been revoked and handed over to the insatiable clear-felling timber industry.  I had been spoiled by Cradle Mountain.  The thought of being able to climb Hartz Peak and Mt Field West, only to see the devastation of clear fell logging operations on the other side tainted my view of those places well into adulthood.  It still affects me today.
Meanwhile, back in my beloved Mersey-Forth high country, things were changing.  Bob (I’ve-got-the-best-eyebrows-in-the-business) Hawke was a legend in my eyes due to his role in saving the Franklin River from Hydro development.  However, that status did not last long.  My trip to the Walls of Jerusalem as a 10 year old followed the steep Fish River Track from the foot of Clumner Bluff down to the Fish River and straight up the hill to the Trappers Hut.  After the two Ossa trips I was back in the Walls as a 13 year old but this time the Horse Track had become the norm and the Fish River Road was closed.  I smelt a rat.
Fresh from defeating the Tasmanian Government in the Franklin River controversy, Prime Minister Hawke got involved in a stoush over the logging of forests on Clumner Bluff.  Conservationists were concerned the forestry activity would bring machinery and fire within 5km of the largest remaining native pencil pine forest on the planet.  The wet eucalypt forests of Clumner Bluff were a vital buffer protecting the rare pines and Bob Hawke boldly promised, “Clumner Bluff would not be logged.”
Shortly after being enthused by the Prime Minister’s promise I was sadly let down.  Apparently the bulldozers were rolling and, to add insult to injury, they were using the Fish River Road which I previously enjoyed as the most direct walking route into the Walls of Jerusalem.  My next trip to the area was when I was 14 years old on a Scripture Union Boots n All camp to complete the Pelion mountaineering circuit.  Sure enough, the scars along the face of Clumner Bluff were stark when viewed from the infamous climb on the Arm River Track.  The Prime Minister’s fall from grace was complete in my eyes. Little did I know another disappointment was waiting just over the hill.
Day 2 of the Boots n All trip was my first opportunity to climb Mount Pelion West.  The elevated February Plains prevented me seeing the Clumner scars but looking to the wild, wild west I was sad to see a new scar on the horizon.  A massive swathe had been hacked out of the side of Mt Murchison.  What on earth was going on?  If I could see it from Pelion West I knew the scar would also be highly visible from Barn Bluff and Cradle as well.  When I got home I discovered it was the new Anthony Road servicing the Henty-Anthony power scheme which, along with the King River scheme, would be the last major Hydro developments in Tassie.  These had been constructed with compensation money given to the Tassie government in the wake of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam decision.
So…  In a very round-a-bout way, there’s how some childhood memories have given me a lasting prejudice against Mount Field National Park.  Luckily, thanks to the 2013 extensions to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Mount Field has not become an island completely drowned in a sea of logging.  The tireless efforts of conservation groups have protected the Upper Florentine valley which provides a tenuous link between Mount Field and the world heritage area which stretches all the way to my beloved Mersey-Forth high country.

Postscript:  The above ramblings may sound terribly na├»ve and I’m pleased to say I’ve matured in some of my views.  I am well aware that both Forestry and Hydro have constructed the roads which access most of the areas in which I enjoy my bushwalking.  I am also aware that increased protection for our forests means there is no longer a financial driver to maintain many of those roads.  Some younger walkers bemoan the loss of roads to places like the Little Fisher Valley and some parts of the Meander Falls area.  Instead I see the longer lead-in walks to those areas as a reminder of conservation battles won, changing attitudes and a bright future for many of Tasmania’s wild places.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Mount Field West

Mount Field West
A couple of free days in December allowed my first visit to this peak.

Lake Dobson

Lake Seal and Mount Bridges
After lunch overlooking Tarn Shelf beside the Rodway ski tow we scrambled over the Rodway Range.  We paused briefly to collect the peak bagging points at the high point overlooking Lions Den.

Rodway Range high point.  The Eastern and Western Arthurs grace the horizon beyond Tyenna Peak.

Lions Den

Lake Hayes and The Watcher
Views to Florentine Peak were a constant companion as we crossed K-col and ascended the plateau beyond Clemes Tarn.  Masses of flowering scoparia, a sparkling stream and numerous tarns made the final approach to Field West delightful.

Peterson Memorial Hut

Clemes Tarn and Florentine Peak

The view from the top stretched to the many mountain ranges of the central and south-west Tasmanian wilderness.  Most of the peaks on show feature on my unclimbed 'to-do' list.  After a period of dreaming up future trips my focus turned to the Florentine Valley laying directly below our vantage point.  It is sad to think parts of that once wild valley were removed from Mount Field National Park to feed the paper mill at Boyer.  At least the mill has now moved to 100% plantation timber and the largely untouched upper Florentine Valley is now safely within the World Heritage Area (no thanks to the Hodgeman & Abbott governments who attempted to have them removed!).

Lake Gordon brooding beyond the ramparts of Mount Field West
On our return journey a brief break in the clouds allowed us a quick side trip to Naturalist Peak for more peak bagging cred.  K-col greeted us with a short sharp downpour making it easy to decide against the longer return via Tarn Shelf.  The Watcher made no attempts to keep an eye on us, instead staying well behind a dark, cloudy veil - those points will wait for another day.

As we recrossed the Rodways, rain turned to sleet before making the full transition to a spectacular snow storm as we arrived back at Lake Dobson.