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.
|Mount Hopetoun from Stuart Saddle|
|Clint at Stuart Saddle|
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|
|At Hanging Lake Junction|
|Looking towards Stegasaurus Ridge - an innocuous start to the Southern Traverse|
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.
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.