Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Field Snow

Time for a break from Western Arthurs...

Pandani Grove, Lake Dobson
Looking ahead to the first week of school holidays two days stood out from the forecast.  With 12 year old Henry keen for an overnight hike it was easy to pick the best time.  As for location, options abounded.  We selected Mount Field which did not disappoint.

Lake Seal
We lunched at Lake Dobson car park watching families sledding on the modest, fresh cover of snow before setting our around the lake and through Pandani Grove.  After passing Eagle Tarn we headed towards Lake Webster via a small side-trip to Lake Seal, the furthest extent of Henry's previous exploits in this area.

Twilight Tarn and Tasmania's first Ski Lodge dating back to the 1920s
The snow cover dissipated as we slowly descended 150 metres in height but white surroundings soon returned as we quickly regained the lost altitude on the short climb to Twilight Tarn, our home for the night.  Henry opted for the tent rather than the hut and, with a forecast well below zero, I figured we had more chance of heating the small confines of our Hilleberg than the palatial interior of Tasmania's first ski 'lodge'.

Cooking dinner (shepherds pie) inside the vestibule.  The stove had a kinda sinking feeling.
With the tent pitched and darkness encroaching we settled into bed at 4:30pm knowing it would be 15 hours before full light would return.

Sunrise at Twilight Tarn
Slow dinner preparations on the old faithful Trangia filled in time until our fashionable dinner timeslot of 6pm. (Kylie has her new-fangled, matchbox-sized, super-fast gas cooker on the Overland Track this week.)  After dinner, a couple of Canasta hands killed more time until we were both ready for sleep at 7:30.

It was a typical long winter's night's sleep for me.  I woke at 11:30pm thinking it must be almost morning.  I then nodded straight back to sleep, waking next at 5:30am wondering whether to start breakky and pack up in the dark.  Next thing I knew it was 7:30am and light was well-and-truly unpon us.

As forecast, it was cold.  (Understatement of the day!)  Highlights of the morning included thawing shoes and discovering sheets of ice lining the inside of the tent!

Newdegate Pass with the namesake lake and hut in the foreground
Once we were on the track it was sheer delight making first tracks in the snow, marvelling at intricate elongated snow crystals and watching 'tadpoles' swimming under sheets of sloping ice.  Early in the trip we had entertained thoughts of heading through Newdegate Pass to The Watcher but deep drifts of snow and no evidence of recent traffic that way deterred us.  It was just as well.  Tarn Shelf was enough of a challenge with route-finding tricky in several places.

Wallaby and quoll(?) tracks

After 2 morning teas and a lunch break we passed 2 other groups as we approached Rodway Shelter.  Early in the afternoon with sun still blazing in a cloudless blue sky we passed many family groups and even a snow-border reveling on the slopes between the ski fields and Lake Dobson.  After doing most of the loop without seeing a soul it was quite a culture shock.

Tarn Shelf and the Rodway Range (Where's Henry?)

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."

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: