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.

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