April 17, 2008

Clear Hill & The Thumbs

Stuart Bowling Posted on 2008-04-17

Peaks: Clear Hill & The Thumbs
Height: 1198m & 1204m
Maps: 1:100k – Wedge; 1:25k – Tiger
Ref: 402747 & 469748
Distance:16km.
Points: 2 & 3
Starting / finishing point: Clear Hill Road – Clear Hill track.
Date: Sunday 6th April 2008.
Time to summit & return: 9 hours return (including lunch & rests).
Party members: Stuart Bowling, Jeramie Spong.
The Thumbs
The Thumbs drew my gaze the first time I laid eyes on its rugged ramparts, that is, the first time I saw it as an avid peak bagger. Since then it was only to be a matter of time before we attempted it. The first attempt, in May of 2007, ended in failure as Jeramie and myself sought to access the range via the Timbs & Rasselas tracks, turning around not long after crossing the Florentine River due to poor weather conditions and uncertainty about the track itself – forest protestors lodged nearby tagging a variety of mini tracks throughout the area for their own benefit to the detriment, and safety of the public at large.
Now, with daylight savings having just finished the night before, and the prospect of dwindling daylight hours for these big day missions, it was time to try again. This time our route was to take us over Clear Hill, which was also new to us, down to and across the Clear Hill Plains, up The Thumbs and back via the same route – around 16km, with a total ascent of 2km and a total descent of around 2.2km – it was to be another in a line of recent big days.
Access to the Clear Hill road currently requires a Forestry key for the locked gate off the Gordon River road; this can be loaned with a $100 deposit from Forestry Tasmania, located at 79 Melville Street, Hobart. Caution should be taken on this road, as current logging operations also means log trucks, trucks who probably don’t expect too much inward, civilian traffic – watch those blind corners!
The well marked and log booked track to the summit of Clear Hill commences on the eastern side of the road, some 4km past the bridge crossing the Adams River, and maybe 1km or so past where the road splits (take the high road). The track is fairly obvious, marked with several pink ribbons and steps cut into the embankment, about 1km back from being directly under the peak proper where there is some road widening for parking.
Kitting up at the car, the weather looked a little bleak, low cloud and mist hanging over the summit and surrounding peaks; but with a forecast of a fine day and no threatening winds we felt confident the mist would burn off during the morning.
Setting off from the car at 8:30am, quickly logging our intent in the log book, we were pleasantly surprised at how good the track was – it didn’t seem to get a heap of traffic according to the book, maybe half a dozen other parties this year, but the track was clear and well defined as we quickly gained height. As it levelled out a little, it heads north towards the summit, before again rising toward the rockier, higher ground and we were at the summit at about 9:15 – a very casual little day walk for those wanting a less ambitious, read hyperactive, day in the mountains.
The mist still hung low and no real views were had from this summit; for some reason this syphoned my usually high motivation and I questioned the long day ahead, much to Jeramie’s disgust. I like to see the route ahead and maybe still harboured some trepidation at nil visibility as I had recently, on a solo mission to Mt. Picton in terrible, whiteout conditions, become lost and hypothermic for some 3 hours – I had gained the summit there at the cost of any reasonable thought processes (summit fever) and it was a lesson well learnt. Some verbal correcting from Jeramie saw me right and we were soon descending towards the Clear Hill Plains, on a dead easting from the summit.
Initially we encountered some low scrub and trod carefully on the wet, slippery conglomerate boulders to avoid it, hampering our preferred pace a little. A couple of hundred metres into the descent and we reached the first signs of the bush fires which had ravaged the whole area a couple of months earlier – scarring which spread all the way down to the plains via the central spur off this side of Clear Hill; an easier route down there could not have been.
We reached the bottom of the hill and the beginning of the plains at about 10:30am, where we had a brief morning tea break to refuel on black currant juice cordial, cheesy snacks and our version of trail mix, which generally contained various forms of solidified sugar – no old school scroggin for us, just the instant sugar rush to heighten our already high levels of hyperactivity.
With the mist now almost totally burnt off and our spirits much higher we continued to make good progress, straight lining across the open, burnt out plains and reaching the base of the central spur coming off The Thumbs by 11:30am. We had no beta on this route, so as we usually did in our often misguided manner decided on a direct approach – it looked easy enough and seemed to lead directly towards the summit.
Again, due to the bush fires, the going up was blissfully easy with no scrub or resistance until we reached the first rock bands about half way up. Taking a series of short gullies, we reached the first, sub plateau below the real cliff lines, again stopping to refuel as we were beginning to tire a little, our pace generally not slowing too much even on the hill sections – necessary to get the job done, but also sapping.
We could now see the summit proper, the distinctive turret rising out of the swirling mists high above us. We were a little skewed in our approach, now needing to ascend some rock bands to avoid a scrubby sidle and then descend a steep, rock filled and slippery gully to access a wider, yet scoparia choked gulley which led up towards the Northern skyline. Scoparia was becoming common fair on some recent missions and no qirly squeals from its sharp spines were even had, maybe a sign of our increasing exhaustion. On reaching the north ridge we came across a very old pad & knew we were on course and getting close to our objective. Sidling around to the east side of the mountain, through a few more small bands of rock scrambling and the summit tower was straight ahead , looking ominous, our inward mission drawing to a close.
Some 50m from the top we came across our first cairn (access from the Vale of Rasselas obviously the more popular route to this summit) since leaving the track on Clear Hill, a welcome sight at this stage as we wanted the easiest line up the last precipitous section. This section was easier than it looked and a final mantle move and delicate slab section led to the airy little summit at 1:00pm – awesome! This summit held a special place for me, as it was my 100th peak in a short peak bagging career, and a worthy one at that. With the mist now nearly clear, 360 degree views of so many fantastic peaks and wilderness was laid out like a visual banquet – The Mt. Filed ranges, the Vale of Rasselas & Gordon River, The Denison Ranges amongst a myriad of others. It was great to have reached this minor milestone, but at the end of the day, the views, the wilderness, the adventure & the camaraderie are what fuel my addiction, I now can’t imagine life without my wilderness fix on a regular basis – a proud peak junkie.
We dropped back down off the summit to find a grassy area to have a well deserved lunch break at around 1:30pm. Jeramie pulled out a can of scotch and dry to celebrate my century which was a much appreciated and enjoyed accompaniment to my sweet chilli tuna and cheese on Ryvita biscuits, my current favourite mountain lunch.
Realising our time frame was slipping away, we made our lunch break modest, setting off for home at 2:00pm, figuring we would probably be in darkness if our return leg were to take as long as our inward one - and we had a long way to go. The most depressing thing about this day walk was the long retreat and the thought of having to re-ascend 750m or so of vertical back up Clear Hill, we would be weary by day’s end, we could already feel that.
We decided to descend by a different route, initially heading as far north as possible along the top of the range, before starting our descent down the much clearer, easier northern spur; a little back tracking along the plains an easier prospect than retracing our inward steps through the cliffs and gullies. We made very quick time down, taking a few spills on the button grass, this spur relatively untouched by the fires, arriving at a creek towards the bottom at 2:25pm to refill our bottles. Back on level, cleared ground, the plains were most welcomed as we both began to feel the effects of fatigue and the stiffness in the leg muscles from stopping for lunch; sometimes best not to stop at all.
Back at the base of Clear Hill our motivation was collapsing around us, sometimes the mental barriers can be harder to surmount than the physical ones. We plodded on uphill, initially a little off course from our downward spur, a band of scrub rectifying that, shuffling on like a couple of zombies in lead weighted grandpa slippers, barely able to lift legs when high stepping was required.
The route went well until the three quarter mark up hill, when a deviation towards the south led us into scrub – the extra energy required sapping most of what was left in the reserve tanks, it was the most knackered I have felt on a day walk for some time and we had done some other very big ones recently. Probably the main difference here was climbing a second peak for the second time that day, when on most single peak missions there is usually a lot of downhill once the job has been done.
Finally we reached the Clear Hill ridge line just after 5pm, pretty good time considering our state, and thankfully found the track straight away, more scrub or route finding this late in the day would not have been welcomed with happy faces or fairy floss smiles. Taking 5, we polished off our last vestiges of trail mix and took in the awesome sights of Lake Gordon glowing in the late afternoon sun, spying future peaks and missions; the day was nearly over.
Back down the track at pace saw us at the car just before 5:30pm; it had been a fairly full 9 hour day, the sort of long mission I love so much. Recreation time is generally so precious, and although overnight missions are preferable, it’s nice to wring every drop out of a free day. With the long dark period of winter looming we were both very happy to have reached The Thumbs. 

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