September 7, 2007

A Scrub Bash to Mt Cuvier

Andrew Wellington Posted on 2007-07-09
17th April 2006, 3 Points
Mt Cuvier is a slightly out of the way peak in the southern end of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. It’s located a couple of kilometres North of Mt Byron with the two peaks connected by a scrubby ridge. There’s no track, and the scrub is thick in places, so this trip is recommended only to parties who are experienced in off track navigation and don’t mind taking on scoparia.
After a frantic drive from Launceston, I made it in time to catch the early boat on Lake St Clair. It was a fantastic clear day, with snow capped peaks making for excellent views on the way down the lake. There had been a big dump of snow a couple of weeks before, and the boat skipper reckoned there had been 400mm of rain in the previous two weeks. I left my pack at the hut and headed off towards Byron Gap at around 9:45.
It took around an hour to reach the top of Byron Gap, climbing steadily through rain forest (mind you, the climb is probably harder with a full pack, rather than the day pack I was carrying). There are a number of creeks on the way up, but not a great deal of water at the Gap itself. There’s a campsite for about two tents right at the top, with an excellent view of Frenchman’s Cap. The weather was still excellent, with the Cap gleaming with its usual pattern of snow cover.
I had climbed Mt Byron some years before and recalled following a pad most of the way. I spotted what I thought was the start of the pad a few hundred metres down the hill toward Lake Petrach. There’s a section of track with a drain to the right, look for the log crossing the drain. Following the pad up the hill, it immediately improved and was marked with tape in a few places. After a few hundred metres, the pad entered a pandani grove, where it was difficult to follow. The person taping the track must have run out at this point, as there seemed to be a lot less markers. More by good luck than anything else, I found the track again at the top of the pandanis and continued through a mixture of rocks and scrub. There were patches of snow, which was melting and rather wet.
The route was now marked by cairns, which led to the start of a scree slope making for easier going. I followed the route for a while, but decided to traverse across the slope to the North, bypassing Byron’s summit. The traverse led to a flat shelf on the Northern edge of Mt Byron (this is very obvious feature when viewed from the North, and is a good point to aim for on the way back). The view from the shelf was excellent. The objective Mt Cuvier was visible for the first time, as were the peaks of the Du Cane range, Mt Ossa and other peaks to the North, plus the Eldons and other peaks to the West. There was some low cloud to the North, but out West the weather still looked great.
The plan from here was to descend to the ridge between Byron and Cuvier and basically follow that all the way. The ridge looked reasonably open, with patches of thicker looking scrub and even some rainforest. The descent from Bryon was very steep, and quite slippery due to the melting snow. At the base of the hill, a small creek was crossed, followed by a scrubby cliff of around 2m in height. Finding a spot to tackle the cliff was tricky, but once on top, good progress was made along the ridge. There was plenty of scrub, but it was possible to follow small pads for much of the time. There were a few passable tent sites along the ridge, but no water until a second creek was reached in a patch of rain forest close to the flanks of Mt Cuvier. From this creek, I began to climb again, passing through a gap in the sandstone cliffs that surround the peak. Once above these cliffs, the scrub thinned considerably, making for excellent progress. Mt Cuvier viewed from this approach has a rounded side which certainly looked easier than the dolerite cliffs which were the alternative. Following the ridge, there were still indications of a pad in places but no cairns.
I reached the top at 2pm, still in great weather. There were a few clouds to the North, but most of the Du Cane range, Ossa, and even Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain were visible. Frenchman’s Cap and the Eldon range were clear as well, and the view back to Mt Byron, Mt Olympus and Lake St Clair was interesting too.
It had taken around four and a quarter hours to get this far, and with some basic maths I would have worked out that if it took the same time to get back, I’d arrive just after dusk. But you always go quicker on the way back, right? And I’ve got a head torch so, no worries. I figured having come this far, I’d attempt either Mt Manfred or Coal Hill before heading back.
Manfred looked quite hard, as the vertical cliffs looked as if they went all the way round. Coal Hill was closer, and only appeared to have scrub to impede progress. So Coal Hill it was, and I headed off down the Western side of Mt Cuvier and picked up a fairly constant pad that lasted to the flat part of the ridge. The area between Cuvier and Coal Hill was dominated by scoparia, but the difficult scrub was around the flanks of the Hill itself. Even with a fair degree of patience, this section was hard to find a route through. Once on top, the scrub thinned again, and it was a relatively easy walk across to the summit, which is on the Western edge. Good views, particularly of Mt Olympus, Lake Petrach and the Cuvier Valley, plus another two points and the summit of an out of the way peak. It had taken 45 minutes from the summit of Cuvier.
A quick map check and time check, and I realised I was going to be doing a fair bit of walking in the dark. I quickly considered descending into the Cuvier Valley and picking up the track near the top of Lake Petrach, but decided against it as it looked rather wet in the valley, and there had been a lot of rain in recent times.
So, it was back along the ridge towards Cuvier, which I decided to bypass. This proved to be a bad idea, as the scrub on the low route was considerably thicker than anything encountered so far. It probably would have used less energy to go up and over the peak again. It also seemed to take longer to get along the ridge between Cuvier and Byron, as I missed the high part of the ridge at one point and ended up battling much thicker scrub lower down. By the time I got back to the base of Mt Byron, I was pretty tired and I wasn’t looking forward to the steep climb ahead. The snow had mostly melted though, and the climb was easier as a result.
Reaching the shelf, the weather was still clear, but not much daylight was left, and I didn’t pause long for a last look at the view. Traversing round the peak, I met the cairned route up Mt Byron at around 5:30. Back on a route, should be OK from here. The route was easy to follow, and with much of the snow gone from the Southern side of the peak as well, progress was good. However, I lost the track in the Pandani grove, and rather than mucking around trying to find it, I just headed straight down (its always easier scrub bashing down hill, right?). This tactic didn’t work out too badly, as I hit the main track about 100m west of the start of the Mt Byron pad.
From here the job was simple, get down the hill as far as possible while it was still light, then go carefully and try not to lose the track. There’s a variety of track markers, from red and white paint blazes to reflective metal markers nailed to trees. The reflective ones were very good, but perhaps could have been closer together. I had one major scare, where I circled for around ten minutes looking for the next marker, but other than that, the descent wasn’t too bad. Head torches don’t work very well in twilight though. Meeting the Overland track meant around 20 minutes to go, and a much easier track to follow.
I was back at Narcissus Hut by around 7pm, and had hoped someone would be there with the fire going. The hut was packed with around 25 people, and luckily my pack on a bunk had been respected and I still had a sleeping spot. It had been a long, hard day, but very rewarding to get out to two out of the way peaks and get some fantastic views.

Mt Cuvier from a walk in April 2006.

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