October 14, 2008

The Coronets

Stuart Bowling

Peak: The Coronets (via the Sentinel Range)
Height: 876m
Maps: 1:100k – Wedge; 1:25k – McPartlan
Ref: 371505
Points: 2
Starting point: Wedge River Picnic Area (GR354539).
Date: Saturday 11th October 2008.
Time to summit & return: 9 hours (including lunch).
Party members: Stuart Bowling, Jeramie Spong.

The Coronets are located on the Northern rim of Lake Pedder, south of the Sentinel Range and offer typical South West topography of button grass plains and open ridges interspersed with quartzite tors and bands of scrub and dense forest. The views from the summit of Lake Pedder and surrounding ranges and peaks on a clear day are magnificent.
It should be noted that the majority of this walk is off track and offers a long, hard day to those experienced with this type of adventure – there are many sections of dense scrub and forest and the progress is often very slow and laborious. A long day should be planned for and a safe turn-around time noted for those willing to take on the challenge. Please walk within your limits and stay safe.
I had been rebuffed by this range on 3 previous occasions; the first mission I undertook solo along what used to be the Pedder Track; I say used to as it is now officially closed and requires ‘bashing’ and ‘burrowing’ techniques as the scrub has reclaimed it, although with care the track floor can still be discerned, mostly. On this first encounter I became lost in dense scrub after losing the track near Swampy Creek and spent the best part of an hour thrashing and crawling my way back to a safe point, eventually finding the track again, and to my astonishment my car keys which had obviously fallen out of my pack outer pocket on the inward struggle – surprise and embarrassed relief being an understatement. The second occasion Jeramie and myself climbed the northern ends of the Sentinel Range to scope a possible entry point to the valley, but decided time would dictate that route as there was a long descent through forest and scrub, we abandoned that prospect with general disinterest on that occasion. The third attempt saw us both on the Pedder Track once again, the route in only partially clearer after my first attempt and still requiring ‘burrowing’ sections; funnily enough I managed to tread on and break my sunglasses which I had obviously also lost on my first attempt. We managed to negotiate the thick scrubby sections of Swampy Creek on this occasion to find ourselves on the south western end of the range; from here and still with about 3 kms to the summit and the days time and our energies waning, we decided to turn around. Three-nil.
Now back for a fourth attempt, and armed with some vague beta from fellow walkers, we felt confident of an as yet elusive summit. Our inward route this time was via the Sentinel Range, parking at the Wedge River Picnic Area and following the defined but steep track up to the tops of this range – a journey I had already taken a couple of times previously. This is a great little walk in its own right and is highly recommended at about 3 hours return, at a casual pace. A quick pace this time saw us just below the summit ridge of the Sentinels in about 45 minutes at 9:45am (GR378534).
From here it was to be a botanical battle down to the valley floor, to the toe of The Coronets range. Donning battle armour (gaiters, over pants, tough jackets – but both forgetting the necessary ‘scrub gloves’) we started our descent off the Sentinel Range, into unknown territory. Taking the lead I led us into the darks of the forest; being southerly facing and water soaked, all manner of mossy goo and guam quickly covered everything. We made pretty quick progress, the terrain generally being fairly ‘open’ type forest, but still requiring the usual gymnastics over under and often through logs and trees.
Making pretty quick time to the valley the forest gave way to a most unfortunate belt of valley scrub. This was the nasty variety of close coupled tea tree, banksia and cutting grass, all choked, entwined and held together by bauera – a true arboreal horror show which requires thrashing, thrusting, burrowing and plenty of bleeding and swearing to get through, it was only a short section but took its toll quickly on both my mental and physical faculties and left me a little drained. Finally we broke clear of this section and took a much needed break just north of Swampy Creek, with the lead onto The Coronets which we had aimed for a hundred metres or so ahead.
Continuing to take the lead (Jeramies turn would come on the outward journey), we pushed through more bands of thick scrub near the creek, this gradually thinning out a little as we gained altitude onto the north eastern spur of the range. From what we had discerned this route would lead us onto the ridge, which we would then follow along to the summit with relative ease, or so we thought. Nearing the top of this spur it was to be evident that we had not selected the wisest route. A difficult ridge traverse trough scrub choked quartzite cliff lines was now required – the range was not giving up her spoils willingly. A descent back into scrubby forest and a long sidle could have avoided this ridge traverse, but as we are both generally more comfortable on rock than in scrub, and not wanting to relinquish altitude, we took the former option. It was a tricky and often tenuous traverse that took place, with a few sections requiring airy climbs on crumbling rock and hauling on tufts of vegetation and this continued for the best part of an hour, the technicality of the ridge line not fully appreciated from the base of the range.
Finally, with all her lines of defence now defeated, we made the summit – and were both totally exhausted. It was now 1:40pm, it had taken 4.5 hours to get here and we were probably both robbed a little of the opportunity to fully enjoy the summit and it’s tremendous views, as the burden of our return journey now weighed heavy on our already fatigued shoulders. With exhausted disinterest we had lunch and a comforting hot drink (a cold south westerly wind now buffeting us) and tried to enjoy our achievement as best we could, the lunch discussion mostly involving which route to take back, time now being a major factor and the possibility of being caught by darkness a real possibility. After several options we went with what had been suggested by previous parties, straight down and across the valley floor and head for an obvious saddle / knoll back up on the Sentinel Range; our inward route deemed to take longer on the return and therefore not really viable. Our chosen option still meant a lengthy ascent back through dense forest and would still be time consuming.
It was with weariness and a little haste that we set off from the summit at about 2:15pm, Jeramie now in the lead and a little of the burden now off my shoulders; being caboose is less mentally exhausting as you only have to follow. We made very quick time down to Swampy Creek, the descent taking less than 30 minutes and a little of the tension now lifted - we should be back before dark after all. Some short bands of scrub negotiated, we followed a generally open lead to the base of the forest below the Sentinels and prepared for a slow ascent. It was a relief to re-enter the shade of the forest as the sun had baked us a little since leaving the summit.
The ascent into this forest was fairly open to start, but as height was gained it grew more and more congested and entangled; quite different from the forest which we had descended through only a kilometre or so to the east. It was hard going, with much clambering over, under and through limbs, continually getting packs caught and imprisoned by the old growth – The Coronets still wouldn’t release us from her grasp! Though shorter in distance than our descent route, the ascent took about the same time and it was with much relief, and some good luck from Jeramies lead, that we reached the exact point on the Sentinels that we had aimed for at about 4:30pm (GR362527).
It was a worthy place for a late afternoon break, with views straight across the valley to The Coronets. In my mind this would be a preferable entry / exit point for this walk, the distance to the valley floor less than our inward route and the most obvious and easiest route to the summit straight ahead.
With the Gordon River Road now in sight, tho a little farther away than we had hoped, it was just a matter of descending off the range and making our way back along the road to the picnic area and the car. The descent was reasonably open to start, we tried to sidle a little to the east rather than descend directly into the scrubby gulley containing a creek. By now my ankle was tender from a tweaking a few weeks earlier on the Ben Lomond plateau and Jeramie was having some minor knee issues so we were both ready to call it a day. As we got lower, again the scrub came into play and slowed progress once more – would we never escape? A few bands of choked tea tree saw us free and with much relief we hit the main road at about 5:40pm.
A slow plod along the road saw us smiling once again, it had been a physically and mentally exhausting day but the end was now in sight. I was very happy to have finally succeeded, and relieved to not have to return for another attempt. We arrived back at the car at 6.05pm; now just the long drive back to Hobart, with the obligatory soft drink and snack stop at Maydeena. It had been another great little south west Tasmanian adventure. 
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