April 7, 2006

Mt Solitary - A Day Trip

Brendan Young 

Crossing the water

We awoke early to fine weather and looking out the tent door, I smiled at the sight of the millpond appearance of the lake. It was so different from our journey across from Scotts Peak Dam just a few days before. We pushed off from the sandy shore a little before 8am. and headed for the first of the Barrier Islands. Had it been windy, these two islands would have afforded great protection during the paddle across to Mt. Solitary. As it was, we weren't in need of any assistance at all. As our blades cut through the still water and we observed the picture postcard scene around us, we spared a thought for all our friends and other poor souls, heading off to work in the early morning traffic for another day of toil amidst the concrete jungle of the city.

Approaching Mt Solitary in our kayaks.

Maurice was undertaking his second ascent of Solitary, making him our navigator for the day. We were going to try and ascend the steep southern ridge that dropped almost directly from the summit. Five years before he’d made a rapid descent of this route with Samuel and David and was fairly sure we wouldn’t come across anything we couldn’t scramble up. The day was already warming up as we pulled ashore beneath the climbing ridge after an hour of pleasant paddling.
Snakes? and ridges
My buoyant mood dropped a little when I discovered my first aid kit was full of water, courtesy of my leaky kayak and a protective plastic bag I hadn’t realised was badly holed. I left it on the shore to dry as we set out for the ridge through low but dense scrub. My immediate thoughts turned to reptiles. It was late February, the day was warm, and I’d heard that snakes were abundant on this island peak. So I did the only honourable thing and let Maurice lead the way to the base of the ridge. He found a way through one particularly scrubby gully before the climb began in earnest.
We made good progress upwards through light scrub until the odd rock was encountered. In time, we found ourselves climbing predominantly on rock and the effort of finding a suitable route was absorbing.
A ten minute rest about half-way up allowed us to take in the spectacular view beneath us and to strip off some excess clothing. Maurice recalled a conversation he’d had on his previous descent of this ridge. David, then about 19, had asked Maurice how old he was. Maurice had replied, ‘I’ve just turned 40.’ Dave had been surprised that Maurice was so old and had commended him on how well he was travelling, concluding ‘I hope I’m still going that well when I get to be 40!’ The irony of that conversation was not lost on us now as we contemplated the facts. Maurice was still going strong at 45, I’d just turned 40 myself, while Dave at 24 had endured two failed knee operations and was now very limited in the walking he was able to do. With a renewed appreciation for our health and fitness we continued our climb. Some interesting rock scrambling ensued and our chosen routes diverged slightly with Maurice sticking to the ridge crest while I cut across some of the gullies lower down.
The summit
I was slightly in the lead when our climbing ridge converged with the main east/west summit ridge about a 100 metres from the top. As I reached the penultimate knob on the ridge I looked at my watch and saw we’d been climbing up for one hour fifty eight minutes. I took off at a gallop for the top and managed to just achieve my goal of a two hour ascent. Maurice photographed me beside the trig from the lower knob and then came across to join me on the summit.
Around us was a grandstand view of our much-loved south west. The view was full of countless mountains that I’d climbed, bringing back lots of pleasant memories of companions and adventures long since past. The sun was out, the water of the lake was calm and the mountains looked friendly and benign - Only later would be told that this very day a man would fall to his death on the most prominent mountain in our view, Mt Anne - My eye was drawn to the expanse of the lake just to the north of Mt Solitary. As I looked down on the massive sheet of water I tried to imagine what I would have been seeing some thirty three or more years before. A white sandy beach that stretched a distance of three kilometres from the Coronets to the Franklands. Despite a pang of regret I couldn’t deny that what I was seeing was still truly magnificent. As we snapped some photos we commented on how good a video camera would have been so as to be able to pan across and capture the full 360 degree view. Where was Jay when he was needed?
After sharing our lunch with the ubiquitous march flies, we set off on our descent. Maurice had mentioned that he and the two young guys had descended in one and a half hours on the previous occasion. Nothing was said, but I liked the idea of seeing if we two old guys could match that pace. Our descent went well, despite the heat and a bit of unplanned bush-bashing at the base of the ridge, and we surprised ourselves by reaching the kayaks in just one hour and seventeen minutes.
Twenty minutes later and we were back on the water for the journey back to camp. We paddled down the south-eastern side of the Barrier Islands for a bit of variety and made good progress, arriving back at our camp beneath Mt. James Brown in just over three-quarters of an hour. It had been a great day! I’d managed to achieve a long sort after goal and to put into place one more piece of the spectacular jigsaw that makes up South-West Tasmania. 

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