Sunday, July 09, 2017

Western and Eastern Arthurs Traverse - Part 2

A 12-day traverse of the Western and Eastern Arthur Ranges in Southwest Tasmania by Kylie and Clinton Garratt.  Part Two bags a pair of Abels, takes us past the famous Lake Oberon, introduces us to John Chapman's "difficulties*" and leads us on to High Moor.

Day 3 - Square Lake to Lake Oberon
After the balmy night at the foot of Alpha Moraine our second night was more typical of South West Tasmania.  Cold wind and intermittent showers made the morning's chores a bracing affair.  The sound of a helicopter accompanied our pack-up.  It seemed to be hanging around the range.  Perhaps a search.  Hopefully just an exercise.  As we hit the track the familiar red and yellow livery of a Westpac Rescue Helicopter passed overhead.

Just before reaching the top of the rise above Square Lake we dumped packs to ascend our first Abel for the trip, Mount Sirius.  The showers had now changed to snow which dusted the surrounding landscape beautifully.  The upper slopes of the peak provided a brilliant place to view the braided mini river system feeding the lake's tannin stained waters.

Lake Oberon from Mt Sirius

Selfie atop Mt Sirius
Back at our packs, we only had to hump them 150 metres before dropping them again for the ascent of Mount Orion.  After carefully reading descriptions in The Abels and Chapman we felt confident.  An easy ascent using a vegetated ramp leading directly to the summit.  No worries - or so we thought!

A thin layer of snow prevented us seeing tracks on the ground but cairns soon presented the way up.  Just before reaching the peak cloud moved in restricting visibility but we could sense the cairns were leading around to the left.  We had read about a route continuing on to Epsilon Moraine and Procyon Peak and were worried about going too far in that direction.  As if to answer our uncertainty, cloud cleared to the north sufficiently to see we were indeed starting to sidle around past the summit.  It looked possible to climb the icy slopes above us but first we had to swing our legs out and around a protruding rock with the dark waters of Square Lake tugging at our heels from 220 metres below.  After an airy climb we were on the peak and very happy to be safe.  As if to tease us, the clouds lifted to the south revealing the easy and completely unexposed route we should have climbed.  Oh well.  At least the descent was a breeze.

Happy to safely summit Mt Orion after a precarious climb. Dorado Peak and Mt Pegasus behind.
We arrived back at our packs in a particularly heavy snow shower.  When the flurry finished the view was superb.  Dombrovski's famous poster pic must have been shot in this vicinity.  I could remember his shot featured pandanis and here, directly in front of us, a delightful array of pandanis covered in fresh snow made the perfect foreground for our picture post card photo (below).

Lake Oberon and Pegasus Minor with snow-dusted scoparia and pandanis.
After much oooing, aaahhing and photo taking we continued.  A track marker comically pointed straight down which seemed an apt description.  Much to our surprise, superb trackwork including extensive duck-boarding made the steep descent a breeze.

Amazing trackwork leading to Lake Oberon
By early afternoon we had the tent set up and were enjoying hot soup when we had a visit from the Westpac helicopter.  A father and son with zero bushwalking experience had been missing since the day we started.  The log book entry before ours indicating intentions to do the Oberon circuit in a day were not super gnarly trail runners after all.  They had chosen the shortest circuit walk from a sign which showed many walk options but, to people unfamiliar with the area, provided no information about walk durations.  When the crew left us our hearts were heavy.

Day 4 - Lake Oberon to High Moor
After a restful afternoon and night at Lake Oberon we enthusiastically made our way back to the main track which soon led us to the first of the "difficulties" (John Chapman's choice of word*).  A 10m high wall with a tricky little climbing gully had to be negotiated.  The stunning views were briefly forgotten as we made a series of moves attempting to safely get outselves and our packs to the slope above.  Looking back now, in hindsight, our antics were quite comical.  It was also great our pack hauling rope got some action - it would turn out to be the only time it appeared for the whole trip.

Lake Oberon sunrise
Easier climbing led us high onto Mount Pegasus.  Just before the summit we reached the cave.  My height was an advantage on the wall below.  However, this time it was Kylie who nimbly clambered through the narrow gap in the cave ceiling.  I found it quite awkward to duck, climb and haul my pack all at the same time.  Tallness is not always an advantage.

At the top of Mount Pegasus it was hard to believe we had spent most of the morning going only a quarter of the way around Lake Oberon.  The camping area looked a mere hop step and a jump away yet we had been toiling for hours! (Actually, it was only about 2.5 hours but it felt like more).

In contrast to the apparent lack of progress during the morning it felt like we only took a handful of steps over Mount Pegasus and the view dramatically changed.  Clouds opened up to allow a view of the snow-clad range ahead all the way to Mount Scorpio and even the distant West Portal.  Below us it appeared Lake Oberon had suddenly been swapped for Lake Uranus.
Lake Uranus, Dorado Peak, Mt Capricorn and Mt Columba viewed from Mt Pegasus.
Distant peaks include Mt Scorpio, West Portal and Mt Aldebaran.
Mount Capricorn lives up to its name with the track leading between the diminutive yet shapely horns.  A small detour left led to the true summit with a great view back to the horns.  In the next saddle we were greatly saddened to hear the rescue helicopter again.  Day four of the incident.  Not good!

The horns of Mt Capricorn
With the morning characterised by slow progress up Mount Pegasus the afternoon was a stark contrast with distance almost melting away until we approached High Moor.  At 950 metres this is the highest formal campsite on the range.  We arrived in thick fog accompanied by an eerie stillness which added a certain mystique.  The tent platforms are delightfully sheltered to the south and west while being open to what must be amazing views, on a clear day, to the north and east.  An ideal location to ponder tomorrow's mission - the Beggary Bumps.

High Moor campsite emerges from the mist
* In John Chapman's introduction to the Western Arthur Range (South West Tasmania, Fifth Edition, 2008, page 142) his final comment regarding track standard states, "In poor weather, many groups abandon their trip at the start of the difficulties at Lake Oberon."

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