March 3, 2003

Sojurn into the Western Arthurs


Our indefatigable walk co-ordinator, Brendan, sent out the call to arms in February for another Tas-SAT (Tasmanian Summit Assault Team) adventure into the Tasmanian wilderness, this time to the Western Arthurs. Brief forays had been made into this area in 1997 by Bill Perry, Maurice Bulmer and Brendan, as well as by Samuel Thomson, Dave Wise, Steffan, Brendan and Maurice in 1998. With the foregoing exceptions, Tas-SAT has had little representation in this domain and, in fact, is experiencing somewhat of a slump itself with regard to participation levels, relocations and other life-changes having an impact on the availability of some regulars, probably for the long term.
HOWEVER, a delegation from this illustrious organization made a fine expedition into the bush on behalf of all, which we would like to share with our compatriots here

Travelling from Launceston

The story actually begins on Friday, with most having to work a half day before wresting themselves away to all pile into Evan's "mighty, mighty Commodore" for the trip down, stopping at New Norfolk's "Eagle Takeaway" for dosing up on the fresh selection of sustenance provided by the friendly folk keeping the baine maries hot in the ambient atmosphere of this classy café. (Alliteration unintentional here, but not half bad all the same, eh?!)

Day 1, A Friday evening walk, carpark to Junction Creek, 3 hours

Arriving at the carpark to change and get the ball rolling with the obligatory "before" team photograph, we hit the track about 7 p.m. and set off into the closing day to arrive, slightly muddied, at the Junction Creek campsite around 10 p.m.
Here there is a washing station (i.e. a scrubbing brush on a piece of thin rope) to prevent the spread of root rot through the area, although Evan delayed this chore until the following day, having Brandon piggy-back him over the water until he could face the task next morning! Brendan too was reticent but eventually obliged on principle because, despite any discomfort, it's in the best interests of the wonderful environment we all enjoy on these very occasions to co-operate with such measures.

Day 2, Hesperus, Capella Crags, Mt Hayes and Procyon

Rising around 6:30 a.m. to get ready for departure, we still could not proceed until Evan demonstrated for us the use of the special amenities installed at the site - a "spaceship" shaped receptacle plonked a little off the track in the bush with a screw-down lid that serves as the toilet. (We strongly suggest, as well as applying a peg to one's nose, loud humming for anyone availing themselves of the equipment since it is not partitioned off in the slightest, simply terminating the course of the track thereto!)
Bec was ready for any foreign visitors we might encounter by wearing a top with "Volcom" written across the front, which we thought was a very friendly gesture on her part. Anything to spread the Tas-SAT good news!
Our first hour's walking was in mild weather; mist, through open plains, and I was surprised to discover that the route is on such an obvious track, with some small sections of boardwalk, and being well trodden. In fact, the different styles of track proved to be of interest in themselves because, over the course of the walk, we encountered not only the expected muddy bogs, tree roots, stones and worn gravel portions, but duckboard (with and without chickenwire), parallel planks (some with bitumen coating), some token squares of plastic mesh in one place, and stone paths and steps. There has evidently been a lot of hard work done on improvements and the results are excellent.
Passing the turn-off for the Port Davey track, we were almost immediately engaged in the two hour uphill slog to the ridge. The gradient eased somewhat from there, becoming more undulating, and it wasn't long before we downed packs to tackle our first mountain - Hesperus.
Five minutes later.... and hidden in the mist, the summit was only just off to o ur left (and I'd readied and donned my daypack for it)! Two points to open the balance with!
Invigorated and piqued by such an unexpectedly simple summit ascent, we continued on with eagerness to get the next one under our belts - Capella Crags, just the single point, and the same view as Hesperus, namely, white mist, although Evan cited some trivia about two natural occurrences in Australia that are able to be viewed from space, i.e. the Great Barrier Reef and my butt, since I was bending over my camera to line up a photograph! I don't know if this is what affected Brendan and Brandon's orientation skills, but they spent an embarrassing fifteen minutes trying to find their way off the side of the mountain while the "followers" in the team successful descended through the mist with little trouble to the packs below!
Mt. Hayes was slightly more of a challenge and I was disappointed that the cloud didn't lift for more of a view of and from this mountain since I have a beautiful photographic print by Peter Dombrovskis of it at home that stirred me to dream of ascending it's craggy rock buttresses. It was one of the last shots he took since that is where he died of a heart attack a few years ago, ending a magnificent stream of superb wilderness portrayals able to be enjoyed by a large sector of the public.
Despite Evan's repeated reminders that, whatever we happened to be doing or talking about at any given moment, "This is where we lose it" (meaning time from our schedule and quoting his father trying to get them to meetings on time!), we still managed to conclude our solid day's activities with Procyon, and again "the white mist blew all around, all around, the white mist blew all around".
We headed for a delightful little plateau, perched overlooking the impressive Square Lake, below the ridge line, and just off the track between two more established campsites a distance away, to set up our own mini tent homestead. The cliffs plunged from there straight into the dark waters of the Lake creating, as you could imagine, a strikingly aesthetic backdrop for our temporary residences.
I was almost too afraid to remove my footwear since I could tell I was working up a good batch of blisters during the day but the lure of clean, warm and dry tent, clothes and sleeping bag meant I wasn't deterred for longer than the fewest of seconds! (Each morning, one wonders whether there isn't some possible alternative to poking timid toes into cold, muddy and soggy clunky boots.)

Day 3, Lake Oberon, Pegasus and Pegasus South

The next day dawned with another down-payment of mist or two and, once we'd dragged ourselves out of the tents and into our walking gear (which Bec has an interesting knack of being able to accomplish whilst appearing merely to sit still in the entrance of a tent!), we were off and away - destination Lake Oberon. This body of water is most well known through another Peter Dombrovskis shot which depicts a pandanni palm in the foreground, leading the eye across the Lake to the mountains behind. Evan dubbed Lake Oberon "Lake Obi-Wan-Kenobi" and declared the pandanni the most famous in all of Australia. (Suggestions of a plaque, shrine, etc. were forthcoming but left to those in charge of track maintenance as the most appropriate body to follow up on such notions.)
The view into the valley to Lake Oberon took my breath away - or was that just the trek to get there? Bec flung hers out with a blood-curdling scream in order to attract the attention of fellow walkers milling close to its shores. She certainly succeeded in doing so, taking all of us by surprise.
Even superlatives fail me to describe the view down from the boulders overhanging the steep sides thickly coated with scrubby scoparia studded with pandannis, culminating in the basin of Lake Oberon which reflected the rugged mountains behind, shouldering blue skies and soft, white clouds. Total magic.
The magnitude and scale of these things blow you away. They stretch for miles and miles - expansive ranges cradling wide valleys, sharply ridged and ravine-scored, as far as the eye can see. Depth, height, width all filled to the max with wonderful natural scenery. And the scope of its beauty extends right from infinity down to the smallest and most delicate of flora - tiny little plants displaying flowers cresting foliage of muted tones, and colourful fungi showing off with vibrant reds or yellows, as well as dainty, dew-beaded spider webs. The twittering of little birdies completes the sense-fest. Work is certainly another world away at such times AND AREN'T WE GLAD OF IT?!
I could soak all this up like a sponge for hour upon hour, however, there was walking to be done and a demanding descent to be made to the official campsite where we took a long tea-break by the Lake's edge before striking out towards the ascent on the other side to take us up the flanks of Pegasus. This entailed an engaging route at one point through boulders, as if we were leaving the previous terrain behind through a secret passage to set off on an entirely different journey. Packs were relayed through to be followed by their owners poking their heads up on the other side. Evan opted for an alternate avenue, contorting himself around the opposite way to face the others, saying it made him "feel so ALIVE!" (in the words of the legendary Steve Irwin and oft quoted by our group thereafter.)
As with the previous summits, Pegasus and Pegasus South likewise yielded more views of white nothingness despite the panoramic glimpses we'd been briefly treated to at earlier stages in the day. ("Tantalising" was the term Brandon assigned these natural visitations, for which I commended him on using a four syllable word even out in the wilds of Tasmania. To verify my observation, he clapped it out whilst speaking each one just to be sure! Evan offered further praise, with the qualification that it lacked use of diacritics!)
We patted ourselves on the back for the 17 peak-bagging points we'd so far managed to clock up, as per the itinerary. Brandon and Evan of course still had enough energy to branch off and do Capricorn. (After all, they were both able to hoist their 20-30 kg packs right over their heads and into place on their backs whenever ready to set off again after a break.) I made a pessimistic, feeble enquiry as to the possibility of whether I might be able to join them but was very adroitly given a (surprisingly) tactful response that equated effectively to a resounding "NO!". I must confess a response in the negative was as much a relief to me as anyone else because my energy levels weren't even registering on the Richter Scale and my blisters were cooking up a storm of discomfort on my heels, and "gnawing at my toes" as the late Denny King, renowned and hardy Melaleuca inhabitant, is reported to have said. (I was most of the way through Christobel Matthingly's biography of him when setting out on this trip which improved my appreciation for the area greatly.)
Brandon includes his appraisal of the excursion to Capricorn for our benefit here, while Brendan, Bec and I continued back down the trail towards camp with a diversion to Mt. Orion.
But, firstly, Brandon takes up the commentary (sic):
We left the rest of the team on the slopes of Pegasus before heading off to summit Capricorn, we raced off down the steep winding track at break-neck speeds, jumping off ledges and skiing down the loose gravel track. It's an amazing piece of walking, winding its way below the base of Pegasus' cliffs, looking down on Lake Uranus and out at remote mountain ranges such as the Norolds before your eyes meet Bathurst Harbour, truly spectacular.
Having had precious little water with us when we left the others we had been scouring the slopes for signs of a trickle but to no avail so we were most happy to find a soak about 10mm deep, which we slurped up greedily, below a boulder when we arrived at the saddle before going up to the summit.
We wound our way up the path to the twin summits and climbed the farthest one first, as they're both practically the same height, before going back to the other to take our summit photo. It's a long sloping rock slab and would give excellent views on a clear day, but as was the case for every other summit made on this trip, we weren't to be rewarded with a view as the mist had rolled in as we had approached.
Meanwhile …
Brendan, Rebecca and myself were in hot pursuit of the final three points of our trip, taking our summit shot in, you guessed it, white and misty conditions. From here we actually heard the yells of the boys from the upper slopes of Pegasus South. Later, we made radio contact with them and confirmed their success.
We opted for the slightly more adventurous route back to base camp which took us along the cliff top overlooking Square Lake and it was FANTASTIC. Even that slightly reduced elevation meant the mist didn't interfere with our views so much and we revelled in the sheer drops and clambering over and beneath great boulders. One stretch took us along a formation almost like a corridor at our right sides, being a continuous wall of rock for maybe fifty metres. There was also the "wind tunnel" which provided a striking silhouette to pose for photographs in as the great hole in the rock's face looked straight through to white blankness.
It wasn't much past this feature that we encountered a nicely established "bivvy" cave, set out with rock-tiled sleeping surface and complete with spare room/kennel.
We "crossed over to the other side", making our way behind the top edge where our path continued across the almost perpendicular gradient, giving one's system an adrenaline boost to help push things along a bit.
It wasn't long before we were overlooking the "green, green grass of home" again at a junction in the rocks facing our tents nestled on the plateaued ledge halfway down from us to Square Lake. This brought us into a steep gully of thick scrub where Brandon and Evan caught us entering and then it was just a hop, skip and a jump (or slip, thrash and a fall, as it usually is in my case!) from there to base camp.

Base camp night life

The boys made themselves a hot drink/soup and then it was my turn to break out my famous "Rices of The World" packet meal for tea for Bec and I. This attracts no little ribbing from my fellow walkers who scoff and jeer, I maintain, out of pure JEALOUSY! If nothing else, it certainly provided a good deal of entertainment and stirring value while they waited to cook their own dinner.
I drifted off to sleep to the happy sounds of their discussion, while wondering if ducks ever miss their owners! My slumber was later interrupted however by a dream in which I was trying to recount a joke Evan had told earlier which I will record here to cover the entertainment element of this epistle …
Late one rainy night, a couple hear banging on their door and the wife sends the husband down to investigate. Muttering and moaning as he obliges, he descends the stairs whilst putting on his dressing gown and flings the door open to see a man drenched from head to foot, asking if he might be able to give him a push. Not being much of a night owl, the husband moodily declines and grumbles all the way back up to bed. Having ascertained what all the noise was in aid of, his wife suggested that it was more than a little unkind to turn someone away in such weather if they are stuck, so the husband relents and returns to the front door, calling out "Do you still need a push?" The stranger calls back in the affirmative but, because it's so dark and miserable, the husband is unable to see where the reply came from so he yells "Where are you?" to which the stranger shouts back "Over here on the swings!"

Day 4, walking out

Another long day ahead necessitated another early rising.
Brandon was obviously out and about before he realised what he was doing, because he promptly took a dive onto a rock, arrested by his elbow, which required patching up by yours truly who was very impressed with the laceration of skin and oozing blood.
Not to be outdone of course, Evan made us aware of a torn quad muscle he was enduring which did not bode well for our return to civilisation at an equally civilised hour. This proved to be his "only downfall". I incorporate that expression because it originated with Evan when passing judgment on our good pal, Dave Wise, by noting that getting married - and thus committing himself to anyone other than Evan - was Dave's only downfall, but in a later discussion about him also not being a hard-core, summit-at-all-costs peak bagger, that this was his OTHER only downfall! No offence Dave or Mena! Just be glad we think enough about you to be gossiping about you!
The sunrises each morning had always held promise and this one was no different, however, the mist insisted on variously moving in and retreating like a tide, as was evidently its habit, which meant we vacillated between being captivated by the views or imagining what lay behind its visceral cloak. Dark, amorphous masses loomed through its curtain, signalling the disappointment of our hopes for second-chance views of Mt. Hayes on our return (which, incidentally, was e ntirely taxing). The up parts and down parts are always so much longer than one remembers! Bec recalled one major uphill we had to encounter on the way out and, after each section fitting that description, it still wasn't the one she was thinking of! We did finally put it behind us but the major descent to the plains really took its toll on me because, not only were my blisters developing blisters (this phenomenon IS physically possible, I discovered) but my knee was giving me a total caning. The heat wasn't helping matters either! Evan was also struggling with his injury but he and Bec were still able to leave me well and truly behind until we re-grouped at the creek, Brandon and Brendan having bided quite a wee while keeping the bumble bees and march flies company in the meantime.
To use an English term, I was entirely "shattered" by the time I fell in a heap on the nearest available clump of button-grass. Although itching to get away already, my colleagues kindly patronised my rest break (i.e. I bribed them into not abandoning me prematurely with Binka's natural Forbidden Fruit lollies - it pays to have a few spare ones up your sleeve for just occasions, I find!)
Ultimately, I had to drag myself to my intensely protesting feet and move on but, as soon as Brandon and Brendan paused to discuss the features of a ridge we'd just come down, I seized the opportunity to wrest Brendan's "cripple stick" (walking pole) from him! I just hope one day this gross disrespect towards our well regarded leader will somehow be forgiven me!
I tried to psych my body out of continuing to register the pain with such reasoning as: "This wouldn't be nearly as bad as giving birth at least!"; "This will all be over soon"; "I'm on my way home to my Sweet Pea" and "My word, don't those mountains look lovely!" but it was several hours before my knee at last relented and gave up sending constant reminders to the brain of its discontent. I was prompted to wistfully ponder the wonderfulness of being able to enjoy our traverses in the countryside without the obstacles of physical impairment! (Not something I've often enjoyed the pleasure of!)
My progress was still rather pitiful but I was, nonetheless, buoyed by the extensive and magnificent views afforded by the fine weather of the length of the range we'd explored the past couple of days, and Mt. Anne put on a spectacular display, caressed by golden afternoon radiance, with the track boards drawing the eye from the foreground to its sun-kissed peaks.
Thinking the South West would only simply mean miserable weather, I'd only packed four rolls of film and was by now seriously lamenting such deficiency, since I'd already finished all my shots at the creek stop. My resulting angst was evidently outdone, however, by Bec's apparent tortures on the return from Junction Creek to the car, where she was heard to exclaim through tiredness and frustration about the mud "I don't think I could feel any worse if I'd just been told that all my family had died, that I had nowhere to live, and that I'd just been diagnosed with cancer!"
The walk did end, however, and we concluded with a wash in the Lake Pedder catchment at Edgar Dam to restore a semblance of humanity to our poor, dishevelled bodies.
Another restorative and traditional stop at Bridgewater McDonalds and we were almost back to normal! Then it was just a matter of making our relevant ways home to be embraced back into the families who had parted with us for the duration of our adventure.
More holidays coming up soon, so watch this space!!

Written and travelled by Fiona Gorjup 

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