July 4, 2006

A Winter Trip to Narcissus Hut

Brendan Young Posted on 2006-04-07


At the southern end of The Overland Track
TAS-SAT Team - June 9th to 11th, 2001 - Written by Brendan Young
The 16 members: Brendan, Evan, Brandon, Fiona, Samuel, Geoff, Yolanta, Alaina, Jeremy, Shana, Amber, Maurice, Kayley, Samara, Marina, Maggie.

The Story

After three consecutive years of going to The Paddocks for the long-weekend in June we felt the need for a change. The wet and cold weather had severely limited our mountain climbing during those trips and the smallness of the hut hadn’t been ideal for a large party, hut-bound in inclement weather. Narcissus Hut seemed an ideal alternative with its’ much larger size and plenty of surrounding peaks offering attractive day-walks. I also saw the opportunity to put into place a food drop for the forthcoming winter Overland Track walk. The major objective for three of us was to be Horizontal Hill. Samuel, Brandon and myself had observed it from the Guardians during the winter of 1999 and the challenge of a trackless ascent appealed to our masochistic tendencies. It was decided to limit the team for this attempt to a maximum of six persons and to be selective in choosing those that would join us. The other mountains earmarked for an ascent by the TASSAT team were Mounts Byron and Gould.
We discovered that only the small boat was running on the lake, taking a maximum of 9 persons at a time. Others who were not part of our group had already booked. However, we managed to get a special run arranged for 8am with the remaining members booked on the regular boat at 9am. Maurice and Kayley’s late decision to come meant that they were left with no option but to walk the lake, sacrificing any mountain climbing on the first of the three days.
Friday night saw three car groups heading for a rendezvous at Lake St. Clair. We had a group from Hobart, one from Lonnie and one from Devonport. The girls from Hobart arrived first and were firmly entrenched inside the Derwent Bridge Hotel when we arrived from Lonnie. After a session of eightball and looking at bushwalking photos, we headed down to the lake at about 10pm. The girls had found a spot at the back of the car-park where a couple of tents could be erected. I set up a tent and so did Fiona. The rest of the group opted to sleep in the cars. Shortly before 2am our sleep was disturbed when the third group arrived from Devonport after a late-night packing session. Samuel joined me in my tent while the other three remained in their car.
Jerms and family arrived at 7.45 and at 8am we headed down to the jetty to meet Matt the boatman. He was providing a friendly service never experienced by any of us at the lake before. (Richard was currently away on the mainland). Brandon, Samuel and the Vermey’s were to wait for the second boat while the rest of us established ourselves at Narcissus and prepared for our challenges of the day. The Mt. Gould team was going to need every possible minute of daylight to accomplish their mountain objective.
We enjoyed the ride up the lake in calm conditions, in stark contrast to our previous trip at Christmas 2000 when it had been like a ride at a an amusement park. We carried our packs the short distance up from the jetty to find that, for the time being at least, we had the hut to ourselves. Sleeping bags were laid out on the bunks and we finalised our daypacks for the walk. A team of six was heading for Mt. Gould (Samara, Marina, Maggie, Fiona, Evan and myself) and four were off to climb Mt. Byron (Alaina, Yolanta, Samuel and Brandon). Geoff would stay around the hut and the Vermeys were going to walk up the Overland Track to an area known as the Bowling Green.
The Mt. Gould team left Narcissus Hut at 9.15am in cool and overcast conditions. We reached Gould Plateau in just over the guidebook time of 1½ hours. It was somewhat colder walking across the plateau and we got quite wet working our way through the scrub that led us to the southern end of the mountain. We found a cairned route up through the small cliff band and onto the southern scree slopes. We stopped at midday to try out the 2-way radio loaned from Jeremy. Our fingers were extremely cold by this time and I had trouble unclipping the plastic bags protecting the radio. Jeremy’s voice came through loud and clear. We were impressed! I was also relieved as I’d discovered a serious oversight on my behalf. I’d left the map and compass behind at the hut in my other pack. Fiona had a compass and I had the GPS but I was glad to know that we were in contact with someone who had access to a map in the unlikely event that we lost the pad and became disorientated in the misty conditions. At this point I also made another surprising discovery. I found that I was carrying the 3-person tent that should have been left at the hut. No wonder others had commented at the large size of my day-pack!
We moved up onto the skyline ridge and began to make the time consuming traverse along the crest. It was well cairned but care had to be taken due to the size of the boulders and the rather wet rock. Our hopes were built up and then crushed by a number of large pinnacles that appeared out of the mist ahead, each one promising to be the top. However, behind, there always rose another that was higher. By 1.30pm our turn-around time had been reached and things were getting somewhat desperate. Maggie’s energy was flagging due to a lack of food and others were beginning to suffer similarly. Maggie, Marina and I decided to stop for 10 minutes and get some sustenance into us. The others preferred to continue on. Fiona was displaying her typically single minded determination to reach the summit. I don’t think I could have talked her into turning around even if I’d tried. But we did set 2.00pm as our must turn back’ time. While resting, I called up Jeremy and made good contact once more. He was obviously surprised to learn that we still hadn’t summited but I assured him that we wouldn’t be pushing it beyond 2pm. I also jettisoned the tent that I’d been carrying by mistake, thus committing ourselves to returning the same way we’d come. The short food stop seemed to do the three of us a lot of good as we managed to peg back the others lead within 15 minutes. We had taken a slightly lower route that proved to be quicker. Ahead of us now was another high-point on the ridge and we all desperately hoping that it would prove to be the summit. It was! Shortly before our final turn-around time of 2pm Evan led us onto the top of the mountain. I was just behind, followed by Fiona and Samara. Marina and Maggie arrived a couple of minutes later to complete a successful ascent by our entire team of six.
We stayed on top till 2.15pm, snacking on food and taking the obligatory summit snaps. There was no view, only the satisfaction of making a fairly committing winter climb. Although we sensed the clock ticking, we cautioned each other on the need to travel carefully back across the rocky ridge. We did, arriving safely at the southern end at around 4pm. Then the spills started to happen as we descended some loose but fairly safe scree and scrub slopes. I took a spectacular tumble when I lost grip of a scoparia bush and dropped over the side of the hill, doing a 360 degree summersault before landing unhurt in some bushes below. We were again able to contact Jeremy on the 2-way radio and let him know that we were travelling well with the worst behind us. Now we had come to the important hour, the one where we had to really put in and get as far back as possible before darkness descended. Everyone lifted their pace and, with Marina in the lead, we made it back across Gould Plateau and down into the forest quite some distance before the darkness caught us up. During the trek across the plateau we’d come across a guy camped on his own. Samara immediately recognized him as from Hobart. She’d worked with him at some point in the past. I stopped briefly at 5pm to call Jeremy and tell him all was still well. As I raced to catch the others in the semi-darkness I dropped my TASSAT hat. By the time I realised, it was too late to go back and look for it. I was very annoyed! The headlamps came out of packs at a point where we thought we were only about 5 or 10 minutes from the Lake Marion junction. It proved to be about 20 minutes, and we reached the junction at 5.25pm. I was able to walk with my headlamp off for a while but eventually there was no other way but to leave it turned on. We arrived back at the hut at 6pm, tired but very satisfied with our day. The Mt. Byron team had successfully summited their mountain and had been back for about one hour. Their day had gone well, with no drama apart from losing the track for some time at a spot where a tree had fallen over the trail on the climb up to the saddle. Maurice and Kayley hadn’t yet arrived but we had been joined in the hut by a group of canoeists. Three of them were camped in the hut and the others had their tents set up nearby.
I was in a cooking group with Fiona and was providing the meal for the night. I’d chosen a meal of curried vegetable and steak that required a good deal of preparation, not the ideal meal after a long, tiring day. Eventually, with Fiona’s help, it was prepared, cooked and eaten. It filled us up, leaving no room for our dessert of fruit-cake and custard.
At about 8 o’clock, just when we had given up on Maurice and Kayley, in they walked through the door of the hut. It had been a long seven hour walk around the lake for them but Kayley had obviously performed well. We were glad to see them and set about clearing some space on the bunks. Just before I headed for my sleeping bag at around 10pm, a group of the canoeists came into the hut. Apart from the two young fellows, they were all very drunk. They caused us no trouble and weren’t particularly loud but they could hardly stand up and weren’t at all coherent. >From drunken mountain cattlemen to drunken canoeist at St. Clair, we started to wonder if people knew how to enjoy themselves anymore without having to consume large amounts of alcohol. Not that our party were engaging in a dry’ walk by any means but at least they all seemed to know when enough was enough. However, as far as noise went, members of our party were the biggest contributors by far and it was midnight before things began to settle down. A hard day in the hills never seemed to have much effect on certain irrepressible members of the TASSAT team. With all the people in the hut and with the stove burning, the temperature was so warm that a sleeping bag was hardly necessary. Many of us slept in our liners for much of the night.
Geoff had promised to play his part as base-camp manager by getting up at 5am to re-light the stove and then wake us (the Horizontal Hill team) up at 6am. The best laid plans! He failed to deliver, being still ensconced in his sleeping bag when I awoke to the shock of finding my watch reading 6:58am. I quickly rose and began waking the others with a sense of urgency. We’d expected to be underway by no later than 7.30am. That now looked impossible. It was, but we all worked hard to get ourselves out the hut door by 8.08am. I even remembered to bring the map and compass this time around! We were a team of five made up of Brandon, Evan, Samuel, Maurice and myself. It was the same team that had done the Hazards Traverse together the previous month. A team of girls (Marina, Maggie, Samara and Fiona) would be heading for Mt. Byron later in the morning while the remainder would take a leisurely walk down the track towards Lake Marion. We hoped to be able to speak with this group by means of the radio.
The Abels book (notes by Ian Ferrier) had mentioned a time of 1½ for the walk to Lake Marian. So we were a little alarmed on discovering that we’d taken almost 2 hours. The radio failed to work for the first time (we didn’t have line of sight) when I tried to make the 10am call. At the lake we spent some time deciding on a line of attack. It was a decision between wading the lake shore or staying on dry land and battling the scrub around the edge. We eventually decided on the scrub but still got quite wet crossing the outlet creek. I stopped to get out the scrub gloves and put on the wet-weather pants. The weather was OK but visibility was low and everything we touched was saturated with water. The scrub route around the shore turned out to be quite good and we covered the 250 metres more quickly than we would have been able to do if wading.
From the edge of the lake we couldn’t see much of the proposed route above us but we decided to head for the north-eastern ridge marked on the map and to then follow it up to the top. We stopped a couple of times to get a GPS reading and always found that we were pretty much where we wanted to be. As far a scrub-bashing goes, it wasn’t at all bad. We were always able to make steady progress and those of us who’d climbed Bubs Hill in March thought this was certainly easier in comparison to that. On our midday radio call we reported to Jeremy that we were well above the 1000 metre mark, going well, and seemed to be within striking distance of the summit. He and his family were down on the plains between Narcissus and Lake Marion. The others hadn’t yet come through. He relayed the good news that my TASSAT hat had been found and returned by the guy camped on Gould Plateau. Having my name and phone no. inside had contributed to its return. We agreed to call again at 12.30pm and were hoping the call would be from the summit.
The final section took us up through some fairly thick scoparia and then onto the rock. Once we felt the rock beneath our feet we knew we were almost there. Had we had views to behold, it would have been a wonderful feeling to be emerging from the scrub onto this incredible vantage point amidst the wilderness. A couple of tricky moves up steep rock got us onto the open top and we strolled leisurely across to what we felt was the highest point. It was 12.30pm and only later would we find out that the girls were summiting Mt. Byron at this very same moment. (They would also leave their summit at 1.15pm, which was to be our departure time as well).
It was cooler on top but with jumpers on, we found it quite bearable. Brandon got out the Trangia and began to heat up his savaloys. He’d left the fuel bottle behind and only had the amount already in the burner. It proved to be just enough and we were all offered at least one hot-dog with tomato sauce. We contacted Jeremy on the radio and he asked us to phone Shana’s mum with Brandon’s phone just to let her know that all was well. I did that for him and got through without any problem. She told us that the weather was fine and sunny in Hadspen. It was disappointing not to be able to look across the valley and see the girls on Mt. Byron but we had the points and we’d been successful on a renowned hard to reach’ summit. After 40 minutes on top we were ready to leave, only then to realize that we hadn’t taken our summit shot. So, another five minutes was spent setting up three cameras on the tripod and posing for each in turn. We were now getting quite cold and recognized the need to be moving again.
Although visibility was poor, we were able to reverse our upward route for the most part. The jarring on my knees was somewhat painful as we descended, something that now happens with regularity when downhill walking in cold weather. As a result, I trailed the other four for much of the trip down to the lake until Maurice dropped back due to attacks of severe cramp, another by-product of the cold conditions. At the edge of the lake, and with no sign of Maurice, the four of us began wading the lake back to the outlet. I’m not sure why, perhaps because we knew our boots and socks were already quite wet. The water was cold but not anywhere near as numbing as Lake Australia had been the previous November. Just as we began to wonder what had happened to Maurice, he appeared on the shore about 70 metres in front of us! He’d stuck to the land and it had proved to be quicker! Brandon walked out into deeper water for a photo as we neared the end of the lake and this must have motivated Samuel and Evan to do a crazy thing and go for a swim!’ They stripped off to thermals and shorts and plunged into the lake. A quick full immersion and they were back out! Maurice and I could only shake our heads and question their sanity!
Wading Lake Marionon the return from Horizontal wall
We’d made it down from the summit to the end of the lake in just over one and a half hours which was very pleasing. It meant that we’d be back at the hut in daylight, something we hadn’t thought possible earlier in the day. Within minutes of leaving the lake at 3pm we ran into those in the other group who had continued on through. There was Yolanta, Alaina, Kayley and Geoff. Alaina was carrying my recently found and returned team hat and it was great to get it back. The Vermeys had turned around a little earlier from their lunch spot. While the rest of our group decided to accompany the others back to the lake for a look, I took the opportunity to continue on out at my own pace. I was determined to make it back in daylight and this I did with time to spare. To assist my progress and occupy my mind, I set myself the challenge of catching up to the Vermeys. I was about 5 minutes past the Gould Plateau turn-off when I heard them ahead. I buzzed Jeremy on the radio and had a short conversation with him before telling him to turn around and talk to me in person. Ahead of us was a group of the canoeists, returning from a walk to Gould Plateau. As it was going to be difficult to overtake them, we paused for a brief snack stop before completing the walk back to the hut. Amber was going well, despite one fall into the mud, and when I moved ahead of Shana and Jeremy, she was able to keep up with my pace.
We arrived at the hut to find that the Mt. Byron team had been back for about half an hour. They had had a successful and enjoyable day too, taking seven hours for the return trip. I fully expected the rest of those coming in from Lake Marion to arrive in the dark but by 5pm the first of them had appeared and the final ones, Maurice and Geoff, arrived back in the last of the light at 5.15pm. It had been another good day in the hills for all. Despite the exertions of the day, the mood in the hut was loud and boisterous as we began preparing our meals. The fellow who’d found my hat was there, and I made sure to thank him. He said it had looked like a hat that would have some value to the owner.’
Fiona and my meal, which I was cooking, proved to be a bit of a disaster. The sauce that I’d brought to go with the meat-filled pasta had somehow acquired a strange and bitter taste that smelt suspiciously like metho. How this had happened remained a mystery but it did mean that we had to settle for some very plain tomato sauce to accompany the pasta. It still tasted OK but I did feel a bit of a failure as the chef.
As the evening wore on a variety of games and conversation ensued. Geoff was busy in serious conversation with a few of the canoeists who were quite sober on this second evening. One or two were quite receptive and many subjects and questions were raised and discussed. Chess and cards were popular at the table while some, such as the Vermeys, drifted off to their sleeping bags. However, for those trying to sleep, the noise in the hut made it almost impossible. I know, because I tried unsuccessfully for nearly three hours, eventually resigning myself to failure and settling for rest rather than sleep. Maurice was suffering seriously sharp stomach pains and was having a horrible night, being forced to go out on occasions to be sick, such was the pain. Geoff ordered a bit of quiet at around midnight which was largely heeded by those still up but it was another hour before the last ones, including Yolanta and Brandon, hit the sack.
The major task for our final day was for some of us to deposit a food drop for a later trip at the Pine Valley Turnoff. This involved Marina, Samara, Samuel and myself. Apart from me, who was booked on the boat, the rest of this group also had to walk the lake back to Cynthia Bay later in the day. They were in for a long, foot slogging day! We’d hoped to leave with our food drop at 8am but motivation inside the dark hut made this unachievable. It was getting on for 9am when we set off. Evan was accompanying Samuel and they had decided to give us a 5 minute head start. That was all the challenge that the two girls and I needed. With Samara setting a strong pace, we raced the 4 kilometres up the Overland Track to the turn-off in just 40 minutes without being caught by anyone. In fact, we had the food stashed, and a snack stop completed without any sign of the boys arriving. The girls needed to get back to the hut so I agreed to wait and show the boys to our carefully camouflaged dump sight. They showed up just as the girls were leaving. Samuel’s food dump was amazing! A huge collection of party food including cans of beers! I could imagine the temptation facing anyone who stumbled across it. It would be most difficult to leave untouched. I headed off on the return trip as Samuel and Evan finalized their packing of the large plastic storage container. I walked hard but couldn’t catch the girls who’d had a head-start of only about 3 minutes. They were walking impressively! I arrived back at the hut to find that the Vermeys had managed to get aboard the first boat of the day and that the first group of track walkers were just about ready to leave. This group was made up of Fiona, Maggie, Yolanta and Alaina. About five minutes after they’d left, Alaina reappeared. She was having trouble with a sore achilles tendon and realised that she wouldn’t be able to go the distance. She’d done very well the previous two days and was disappointed not to be able to finish her walking for the trip strongly.
Evan walked into the hut a little later with a big smile on his face and announced that Bezemer had made it after all.’ A young guy followed him in, also with a big smile on his face. I was puzzled at what was going on before Evan explained that this was Pete’s cousin whom the Lee boys had gone to school with. He now lived in Hobart and was with a school group from Rosny who had been camped at Pine Valley. They had their own boat moored at the jetty and were about to set off back to Cynthia Bay. They canoeists had also just left on their return journey down the lake. There was no wind to speak of and it looked like they’d have ideal paddling conditions.
The next group to depart was Marina and Brandon, about half and hour behind the first group. They were ready before the other three but left believing that they’d only be a few minutes ahead. However, due to much mucking around (especially by Samuel) their lead proved to be about 45 minutes. The result was that Brandon and Marina were never caught up to by Evan’s group while the early group too were never caught by either of the later departing groups.
Those at the hut waiting for the boat spent a few leisurely hours eating up leftover food, playing chess and conversing with a couple of guys from the north-east (Bridport and Scottsdale) who had showed up. They were on their 8th day of an Overland trip and still had a couple of days to go. The young Scottsdale baker was getting low on food and gratefully accepted everything we offered him, which was a considerable amount. The guy from Bridport, Linden, knew a number of our friends from that area, including Al Wise who he’d schooled with for a time. It was raining intermittently which put an end to our plans of playing frisbee outside.
Our boat was booked for 3.30pm and the rain kept us in the hut to the last minute. We then felt bad as, on reaching the jetty, we found that Matt and the boat were waiting for us and had been for some time. He was quite OK about it but as he was heading home to Hobart for a welcome couple of days off after this final trip, I was sorry we’d kept him waiting. On the trip down the lake we managed to spot a red goretex (Evan) waving vigorously in our direction. It gave us some idea of how long we’d have to wait for the final group. We estimated about an hour and that proved to be about right. By the time we arrived at Cynthia Bay I was convinced that Matt was by far the best boatman I’d ever experienced on Lake St. Clair. He even encouraged us to hit them for a discount’ when we next came up as a big group.
The first group of Maggie, Yolanta and Fiona were waiting for us in the day hut as we walked up from the boat. They’d done extremely well and had made it out in 5 hours. As we returned from changing into some cleaner clothes, the next group of Marina and Brandon arrived. Evan walked in next, having got tired of the slow pace of the other two who were busily chatting (can you believe?) as they walked. But, fifteen minutes later, they too arrived to complete the reuniting of our team. (That was with the exception of the Vermeys who had departed for home earlier in the day).
Maurice and Kayley headed off home, taking along Fiona who was due back for a dinner appointment, while the rest of us left for the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel . We had to wait half an hour till they began taking orders for tea at 6pm but the time was easily filled in with games of eightball and a look through Sammy’s East Timor photo album. Ostrich burgers were off the menu but we all found something to order and were able to avoid any sort of where are my chips?’ saga this time around. However, the manager still isn’t going to win any awards for being customer friendly.’ And this, despite the fact that Maggie had worked for him in this very complex some years before. At 7.30pm the southern and northern TASSAT teammates said their good-byes and the two cars from the north set off across the plateau. Evan, at the wheel of his station wagon, managed to reduce the Tasmanian native cat population by one, thus providing the only real drama of the trip back to Launceston.
It had been another good trip, shared with good company and highlighted by the satisfaction of having achieved a long-sought after goal. The TASSAT team had now climbed Horizontal Hill! 

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