With Mel being choppered out the dynamics of our group change. We've lost our most experienced member and our agreed leader. Stuart has done the trip several times before making him one of the more experienced Western Arthurs guides. The previous party he walked with took ten hours to walk from Lake Oberon to High Moors but we're confident that we'll be able to do it in half that time. The other tramping parties have only just left and we have plenty of time to catch up.
We commence the slow climb towards Mt Pegasus, reluctantly leaving the comforting basin that is Lake Oberon. It’s hard to enjoy the incredibly open views of the ridge with the route ahead being something of an unknown. The Western Arthurs ridge is not a natural route, it sticks doggedly to the most difficult terrain and it exists mainly to satisfy the urges of thrill seeking sightseers.
After a forty five minute walk gaining height over steep terrain that does not present too many difficulties, Stuart drops his pack and clambers up to the top of a twenty metre shute. He throws down a rope and indicates that we should pack haul. It seems like a straightforward climb with a pack on, arduous but not difficult. The angle of the rough rock in this section is not that steep so that the hauling involves the packs being dragged across a very abrasive surface. Within seconds I realise I've made a horrible mistake. I watch in horror as my new Aarn pack is painstakingly scraped over the rock face. Once this procedure is applied to all three packs we clamber up to the ledge where Stuart is standing. The Aarn Pack has lost some skin. Fortunately the damage is cosmetic and a few scrapes always help break in prissy new gear. In days to come our encounters with the unrelenting flora will make our encounter with the rock face seem like a loving massage.
We continue along the ridge towards the section involving a narrow hole where packs have to be pushed through a narrow hole in the boulders. I’m feeling fat and unwieldy as I drag my stiff body through this section. It doesn’t help that I’m attempting to walk without my walking sticks, presumably because the track is so steep that hand holds are more essential than extra stability on the ground. But an adept user of walking sticks is able to tuck them up as needed on steep descents and they often come in handy when applied to a rock walk to offer a point of resistance.
It is just before the hole that we encounter Christian, a solo tramper who had somehow lost the track and endured some unnerving backtracking. While he brings a lot of enthusiasm to the task the fact that he hasn’t really read the track notes and isn’t carrying a rope suggests that preparation isn’t his strong suit. For the rest of the day we have Christian as a fourth member of the group. This section of the track tends to encourage walkers to band together for safety and morale. There are many places where to wander off the track could result in a fatal fall. The track itself isn’t too dangerous in dry conditions but progress is a methodical business of carefully following the heavy footpads and using handholds when they are available. Fortunately we have Stuart to lead the way and patiently shepherd his flock through the dubious terrain.
We reach the top of the Mt Pegasus ridge in just over an hour after leaving camp. We get our first view of Lake Uranus and the route towards Mt Capricorn. From this perspective it looks relatively straightforward but this isn’t supported by Chapman’s track notes which provide a cautionary account of the big drops down gaps between the boulders. Looking back the route over Mt Pegasus barely looks plausible. A thin, straggly white line marks the track where it doggedly clings to the underside of buttresses and continually seeks out safety in the low lying scoparia.
This route makes sense, if the topography is flat enough for stunted trees to gain hold then it stands to reason that the route will be walkable. There are massive rock slabs that make the route look like the domain of climbing specialists but this appearance is deceptive. Pegasus tops out at 1,063 metres, a relative minnow barely worthy of the description of mountain but it is the contrast with the low plains that makes it look so intimidating.
Towards the top of Mt Capricorn we encounter another walking party who have made their way from Lake Oberon. It’s not clear why we’ve caught up with this group, perhaps they’ve simply focussed on enjoying the views than rushing, or maybe they’ve struggled to stay on track. When we bump into them they are in the process of backtracking from a false route that leads nowhere.
Later on in the day we will discover that Billy Bob and Svetlana have a lot of experience in the Himalayas, particularly the northern Indian province of Ladashk. This is the first Australian walk that Svetlana has done and she compares it favourably to anything she’s encountered in the Himalayas. It is certainly a dramatic walk which combines incredible views with intense descents through long narrow channels. It is both physically and mentally demanding.
As a group we continue to thread our way through the scrub. From Mt Capricorn we enter a steep scoparia supported descent off the tops. Thankfully the route is enclosed until the lower lying levels as it prevents too much contemplation of the sheer rock faces that make up most of the angles. Viewed from a distance the Western Arthurs look unnavigable but each knoll has a line of weakness that allows earthlings to scuttle from one side to the other. But there is a toll building in our knees. The older members of the party will end the day sore and strained. The effort required to hold each step suggests that it was a very wise move on Mel’s part to withdraw. A weak joint could easily give way at a crucial time on such a descent leading to a catastrophe. Better to fight another day.
We have done most of the difficult section of the day’s walking, having negotiated Pegasus and Capricorn. Three hours into our day we are able to take a break and contemplate our progress. We have about an hour to go before we reach High Moor with more steep descents but always with tree roots and bushes at the ready to provide hand holds. All day I’ve been on the lookout for a source of water and I’m lucky enough to find a small mossy soak from which it’s possible to drink directly. It’s too shallow to extract clean water from but it is possible to fill a water bottle if creative thinking is used. In this case I use the top of the bottle to slowly scoop water into the main container. Even so, a second water bottle would have come in very handy.
This part of the trip tends towards the tiring rather than the exhilarating and there’s a degree of switching off as it’s apparent that the day’s dangers are past us. By the time we are looking back at the compact Lake Arial we have little more than half an hour of wandering across the Moorish tops to endure. A final look back at the way we’ve come is not reassuring. We know that we’ve descended off what looks to be precipitous and sheer cliffs but it does not make the thought of ever doing it again any easier. There’s no sense of having mastered the route, it feels as if a temporary pass was granted that is only good for the day that it was issued. We are interlopers who have been provided safe passage by the munificence of the mountain gods.
The rest of the day’s route involves dropping off the ridge into a protected basin upon which a tight cluster of platforms have been built. By the end of the day eight tents will be erected, of which we are responsible for three. There’s Billy Bob and Svetlana, Christian, Fabio and Magdelana, Beatrice and Bert and another lone tramper, Hermann. We are the people who have chosen one of the remotest locations in Australia as our place to see in the New Year. Collectively we are an extremely hardy lot with extensive experience in all sorts of locations. Beatrice and Bert are the only locals and they’ve been all over Tasmania. Hermann is a geologist who is in rock lover’s nirvana. Christian is from Melbourne and has dreamed of doing this route since he was in high school ten years ago. Fabio and Magdelana are post graduate students who have a penchant for Australian adventures while they complete their studies. It’s a very select bunch and suffice to say we don’t feel out of place.
The problems with the High Moors campsite are legion. It is very exposed to the elements, with no wind breaks from any storms approaching from the north. Shade is non-existent and on a hot afternoon it is a stultifying place to be. Water is obtained from a small soak at the end of a short boardwalk but it only takes one person to dip their chemically covered hand into the water to leave an oily sheen on the surface. It rather demonstrates the fragility of the area. Stuart tells us that the area is prone to flooding and there have been occasions when the platforms have been under water. It's a reminder that we've been extremely lucky with the weather and to appreciate the great views that we're getting in abundance.
Physically depleted after our five hour walk we don’t have the energy to go exploring just yet. The tents are hot but they at least provide some respite from the sun. A few hours lying prone is the best we can make of the afternoon. In reality our joints are already under considerable strain and are in the process of breaking down. We bring our city bodies to these challenging terrains and wonder why problems occur.
At about 6pm we rouse ourselves for the quick jaunt towards Mt Columba. Billy Bob and Svetlana are also doing the same ramble so we have to settle for a false peak slightly east of Mt Columba. From this vantage we have an excellent view of the route across the formation known as the Beggary Bumps. These are vast rock knolls requiring careful navigation. We have the advantage of Stuart’s prior experience and confidence in difficult terrain and this is reassuring because it doesn't look like a very plausible route.
We return to the boardwalks and take follow these to the first Beggary Bump. Already we can see that rock scrambles will be required first thing in the morning. From this vantage we get excellent views of the lakes that dot the area, Lake Minus to the north of the route and Lake Ganymede to the south. Ganymede in particular looks to be inaccessible framed as it is by a circular sequence of bluffs. We inspect the first navigation challenge of the following day. Where routes become eroded and too difficult to undertake route blocks are often installed. These are often rocks built up into a small mound and the key is to be able to distinguish these from cairns which also generally take the form of rocks built into a small mound. We go beyond the block and check out the steep descent down a bare face. It looks possible if one is in an energetic mood and not wearing a pack but otherwise it’s an avoidable option.
We return to camp for the evening meal and the sharing of travel adventures. Svetlana seems to have been the most daring explorer, venturing into deep valleys in the remote Himalayas and only emerging when her food has run out. She recalls that she would often be in a starved condition and quite emaciated. Hermann has taken a real shine to Svetlana and follows her around like a puppy. As a geologist who has worked for companies looking to find minerals he has spent a lot of time on his own and it shows. He casually mentions that there are too many people on earth and that he looks forward to the eradication of several billion. Good in theory I suppose but requiring genocidal diligence to put into practice. Herman will be spending the first semester of the year in Hamilton at Waikato University where hopefully he will stick to lecturing in geology.
We play the game of naming our favourite spot and we gain points for being able to name a place the others haven’t heard of, the Olivine Wilderness Area. Svetlana names Ladask while Billy Bob opts for the Everest Base camp. It’s that kind of game. Billy Bob and Svetlana disappear later in the evening to check out the recommended sunsets that can be seen from Mt Columba. We’re tucked up in bed by then and miss out.
Though we’ve established that we won’t be taking ten hours to complete these short walking sections we are sticking to our early start times. Come the first day of the year and we are up at 6am and ready to leave by 6.30. It has been a clear night which means there is going to be a problem. When we wake the cloud is lying low in the valley but as it heats up the clouds begin to rise and the Moors are swept in fog. We could wait an hour for this to clear but instead we commence one of Australia’s most scenic walks in a whiteout.
It’s fortunate that we ventured to the start of the Beggary Bumps the evening before because the lakes now present in a hazy outline, though very attractively for all that. We reach the point where we must choose between the descent of the face of the pinnacle or the steep gully leading to the route that is etched into the side of the pinnacle. From afar this route barely looked plausible and it doesn’t improve on closer inspection.
We stand at the top of the gully debating how we are going to approach it. Bill thinks it would be simpler to keep packs on and keep moving – the no dilly dallying approach. Stuart has used the rope on this section before and reports that it went well. I’m feeling queasy about the descent and side with the safety of the rope. We set up a complicated pulley system with the rope wound around a rock with me as the anchor. Bill clambers down to the base of the first rock chute and we slowly release the rope so that the packs lower, repeating three times. It’s ungainly, slow work requiring a group effort, good communication and a sunny disposition, some of which are in short supply.
There’s little to hold onto and a constant threat of dislodging loose boulders into the path of colleagues. Halfway down the inevitable happens and I set free a small boulder which tumbles forward, rapidly gathering speed. It flies past Stuart’s head before he is even aware of it and given that the moment’s passed I’m not about to make a big deal of it.
After fifteen minutes of painstaking descent Stuart decides to take the direct approach and drops his pack into the chute. The pack lurches in slow motion as first but then with great rapidity build momentum as it rolls end over end. We stand and watch in fascination as the whirling dervish hurtles beyond the small ledge that Stuart had been aiming for. We peer beyond the airy drop as the pack takes off like a wingsuit diver and disappears over the side of the cliff. We wait for the inevitable dull thud as the pack hits the bottom, somewhere far beyond our view. “Stuart, what have you done”, says Bill. The question hangs silently, somewhat like the pack itself.
Stuart scales down the side face of the cliff and disappears out of view. He re-emerges five minutes later having retrieved his pack from 30 metres below where it had wedged fast. It reminds me of numerous near catastrophes I've had with my own pack such as the time it rolled 100 metres down a steep hill while I was pondering what route to take in the Diedrich Range. On another occasion Bill only just prevented my pack toppling off the edge of the Waterfall Face in New Zealand, a terrifying route that can be climbed but is too steep and slippery to descend. Mishaps just tend to happen in this kind of terrain and sometimes you just have to laugh about it.
I’m still making my way down the final rock face which involves using hand holds before dropping the rest of the way. The strain on knees is extreme. We consolidate our group and contemplate the sidle around the first Beggary Bump. It’s a well defined track but extremely narrow with little to grab onto in the event of a fall. Several boulders need to be climbed around on their outer side with an airy drop off the cliff face the price of any stumble.
Stuart and Bill go on ahead while I slowly squeeze myself over each of the narrowest sections of track. Finally we are all safely at the saddle between the first and second bumps. As we consider what we’ve just managed we hear voices in distress calling out from above. Fabio and Magdelana have opted to descend straight off the face. The descent is quiet sheer and Magdelana is clearly unnerved. There’s not enough room to take a pack off and she seems unable to continue the descent. It’s a distressing scene to witness and we call out to see if they want us to wait for them to get down. They tell us they will be okay and we continue on our way.
The next bump involves a long sidle to the north, sticking to the underside of bluffs. It is gruelling work, requiring concerted effort to climb. Hand holds are available in the scrub as we slowly make our way to the rocky ridge top. By the time we reach it the mist has started to clear from the valley, though a general haziness remains. Lake Minas is now well below us and charts our progress as we gain height.
At about this point I’ve had enough of walking without my sticks. I extract them from my pack and immediately feel better for it, able to use them in a myriad of ways to gain leverage and increase support. The rest of the walk to Lake Haven goes undocumented photographically. This is due to a number of reasons, the continued haze around the tops and the continued urgency with which we walk in order to be first to the campsites. As I wheeze to regain my breath I’m not in a position to bother with photos. But we do manage the quickest crossing of one of Australia’s most scenic walks.
Once over the Beggary Bumps the walk does settle into a grind of up and down over knolls and short cliffs. The guidebook suggests that the route will provide many navigational challenges, but on the one occasion when we take the most logical but non-track route, the absence of markers and cairns means that we backtrack reasonably promptly. Only then do we see the track blocker.
Stuart has spoken about a steep climb up a vertical rock face that may present a test of nerve but when we encounter it we find that we are able to sidle across a consistent crevice in the rock face with little difficulty. Apparently this section took half an hour on the previous trip. This is encouraging as it suggests we're handling the route reasonably well.
Eventually we begin the climb to Mt Taurus which marks the start of the final descent to Lake Haven. The descent is steep but we agree that it provides a fun all body workout although there are several spots where we hand packs down to each other. The final section into Lake Haven requires a full body drop using a fallen log followed by a gnarly clamber down the face of a cliff. This requires precise footwork as well as sensible hand holds. On this occasion I do throw my walking poles onto the ground below before undertaking the down-climb.
We skirt around the lake and locate the campsite platforms situated on the side of the hill, well out of the way of any flooding trouble. It’s 10.30 and the walk has taken four and a half hours. It’s hard work setting up the tents in the hot morning sun. Again, the platforms have very little shade available. Fabio and Magdelana arrive about an hour after us while Billy Bob and Svetlana arrive about two hours later and appear to have no interest in staking a claim for a campsite. Instead there is a general congregation around the foreshore of the lake with much swimming and cooling down.
I spend much of the afternoon on a rocky peninsula in the remotest and shadiest section of the lake. The bracken water teems with tadpoles and is an alluring place to be. It takes a long time for the day to cool down and after such a strenuous walk to reach the lake the thought of day walks is a long way from our mind. Given that the weather has been benign and there is no sign of bad weather we should have considered scheduling a lay day for the follow day to allow our bodies to recover and to better explore the region. Although the day’s have been relatively short each section has been gruelling and the toll on knees has been excruciating with much jarring and twisting.
The most obvious day walk is to Mt Aldebaran but some of the route to Mt Tauras could also have been profitably backtracked. Mt Alderbaran proves too alluring as a late afternoon target. Billy Bob and Svetlana have already completed this walk by the time we make the short climb to the most intimidating saddle of the entire trip. They are intending to camp at Lake Sirona and to then exit via the Kappa Moraine on their way to Federation Peak, the lone sentinel in the distance that proves quite attractive to those wanting a sheer experience.
The route to Aldebaran requires a climb onto a rocky knoll which involves a scramble over tussock on a steep open face. It’s straightforward but in the back of my mind I know that it is going to cause me difficulties coming back. The ridge line to Aldebaran is broken and requires energy and agility, neither of which are in my legs. After about half an hour we agree to call off the walk and settle for the attractive views of Lake Jupiter to the south of the route. As anticipated the descent back to the saddle is unnerving, reminding me of the Waterfall Face and other tramping moments of queasy dread. While Bill waits patiently I make grovelling progress across the face until reaching the relatively safety of the zig zag section.
From the saddle the route for the following day looks inconceivable but that is a common experience in the Western Arthurs. One of the most spectacular views along the entire route is that from the saddle overlooking Lake Mars. It involves a considerable drop in distance and it seems like it would be a thrilling hang glider trip. Not so thrilling by foot, though.
When we return to camp we catch up with Stuart who has been socialising with the worldly Magdalena and Fabio. Stuart is the patient and helpful link between all the parties, making sure everyone is travelling comfortably and feeling safe. He's already facilitated the loan of my rope for Magdalena and Fabio for the tougher section of the walk and in days to come he'll organise a combined day walks for the combined group. The three of us have a long chat to tell old tramping stories, mainly so that we can have a bit of trust in each other’s level of experience. We also talk about a few different approaches to getting through life and the challenges that work can present in limiting the amount of time that can be spent in the hills. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We decide on a later start time for our walk to Promontory Lake. This is another short leg that is supposed to take about 4 and a half hours. This is divided into two sections, the first of which is to the Kappa Morraine Junction where many walking parties exit the Western Arthurs. The second section is the start of the less travelled part of the Arthurs Range, a distinction that we should perhaps paid more attention to as the tracks are far less well tended.
It’s a slightly overcast day more inclined to rain than sunshine. This actually improves the views as there’s no fog lingering either in the valleys or the tops. From the saddle we solve the puzzle of how to negotiate the seemingly insurmountable rock knoll. We drop over the side and sidle through relatively easy scrub before we reach a high point overlooking Lake Sirona. We follow a steep gully directly towards the lake. It’s one of the least pleasant descents of all, requiring negotiation of vertiginous boulders that are poorly suited to down climbing. The route feels exposed and prone to mishaps. As usual in this sort of terrain, Bill thrives, spidering his way over boulder faces while the rest of us use ropes and prayer. It’s an unpleasant start to the day whatever the virtues of the view.
It is quite cold and rain threatens. We pause to put on pack covers and rain jackets only for the rain to dissipate quickly, although the breeze remains bracing. What follows is one of the most enjoyable parts of the Western Arthurs route, walking across open moors. We are still at an elevated height but the climbing is steady rather than the severe up and down over jagged crags that has typified the Arthurs Range to date. I guess you could say that we are moving from the Western part of the range to the eastern. Because we’re not looking for it we barely register the Kappa Moraine junction that would take us out in short order. The group that gathered two nights ago on the High Moors have long gone their separate ways and only Fabio and Magdelana will be with us for the second section of the range.
Although another short day is scheduled we ignore the ten minute side trip to climb Mt Scorpio, instead pausing above the steep gully that drops into Lake Vesta and Lake Juno. Neither of those lakes are visible from this juncture but we do have a spectacular view of the elevated basin of Promontory Lake. The route is etched into the underside of a towering massif of Carina Peak and appears rather inviting in its simplicity.
Stuart commences the long descent through the gully which involves an unrelenting drop in height. Although steep it isn’t a route that engenders fear as there are few bluffs or boulders to negotiate. Unfortunately my knee starts to give way under the strain and I am forced into a slow hobbling gait.
It is around here that the track starts to take on the appearance of an overgrown route. Because there are far fewer walkers coming through this part of the range there has been little maintenance and numbers are too low for any natural wear to occur. It isn’t bush bashing just yet but the route is very enclosed.
The route past the two lakes is a bit of a rabbit warren as there is no signage to differentiate between the paths to the rough camp-sites and the way through. I visit Lake Vesta to get a water top up which forces the others to wait at the outlet creek of Lake Juno.
The slog continues on the overgrown path underneath Carina Peak which finally breaks to reveal a small pond on the western side of Promontory Lake. The outlet of Promontory Lake is crossed in a maze of thick forest and I end up taking a route different to the other two who are well ahead. Although we have reached our destination the campsite is at the far eastern end of the lake and by this stage I’ve been reduced to a hobble by protesting knees.
Despite it only taking four hours between Haven and Promontory it has been a fairly hard walk and it takes a while to get organised at the scrappy campsite. There are few flat spots on which to pitch a tent and Bill decides to go for one of the elevated sites well away from the lake. I nervously select a lower sight that feels like it would flood easily due to water running down the hill. Although cloud has closed in it doesn’t feel like a storm is impending.
There are some attractive day walks in the area and Bill and Stuart opt to climb to the top of Canopus with Fabio and Magdelana. They have a rollicking afternoon reaching the top. My knees are shot and I rest by the water’s edge of the lake. There’s a little bird life on the lake and the light changes markedly depending on the balance of sun and cloud. The rock massif seems to rise directly from the bank of the lake making for a dramatic frame. It’s a view that’s alive and dynamic.
When the others return we gather for dinner and contemplate the following day’s walk to Lake Rosanne. For the first time it really does seem reasonable to anticipate that the walk will take at least seven hours. At 9.5 kilometres it is easily the longest section between camp-sites and the map suggests that the terrain will involve some strenuous climbs. I’m hoping that my knees will cope.
Though the guidebook claims that the scenery to the end of the range is less spectacular than the rest of the Arthurs Range my favourite section of the walk is between Promontory Lake and Lake Rosanne. The view to start the day placed a sparkling Promontory Lake in the foreground while the outlet appeared to tumble directly into Lake Pedder, such was the uncanny way that the more distant lake lined up.
The open nature of the early route meant there were several sections where navigation is required through bands of scrub in order to pick a route through to the western slopes of The Sculptor and onto the open saddle north of The Phoenix. From here we begin the long, undulating Centaurus Ridge walk towards West Portal. It doesn’t take us long to catch up to Fabio and Magdelanax who are taking a break in one of the saddles.
There is just as much climbing required as on previous days but rather than short sharp ascents and descents of previous day a more sustained effort is required. Breaks are well earned providing rest and the opportunity to replenish our energy stocks. Water is once again difficult to find and it pays to keep a keen ear out for any tell-tale trickles.
It takes about four hours to travel from Promontory Lake to West Portal. We down packs and begin the scramble towards the prominent towers of West Portal. Bill locates his inner mountain goat and bounds over boulders towards what the guidebook describes as a steep, airy scramble. I take the guidebook advice that is not necessary to climb to the higher summit to experience good views. And it’s true that panoramic views are available from the lower peaks. It’s all here, Lake Pedder, Federation Peak, the plains of the Southwest National Park, the spread of the Western Arthurs. It would be tempting to stay longer but there isn’t any water available on this section of the range.
The West Portal to Lake Rosanne section is unexpectedly arduous. Where the track between Lake Vesta to Promontory Lake had been overgrown the route off the West Portal is positively feral. The scrub has reclaimed the track to the extent that walkers must push through thick foliage while managing unsteady ground underfoot. On numerous occasions we're thrown off our feet and must painfully haul our way up off the ground. It’s not easy when carrying a pack. It’s hot, sweaty and unpleasant work.
The initial route along what is known as the Crags of Andromeda is a relatively straightforward sidle down the steep face of West Portal. It’s a knee burner of a down –climb and the strain is significant. We have reached the stage where all the climbing is behind us and we will continue to give ground until we reach the plains. We should perhaps have been more careful on this section as the jarring is constant.
Once we’ve completed the Crags of Andromeda the track takes a dog leg right turn and follows the Lucifer Ridge all the way down to Lake Roseanne. Initially this involves descending into a broad gully from which it’s possible to extract water from small pools. All is well until the track hits the thick scrub that unfortunately defines this section of the track. An hour of thrashing is required to cover a kilometre of unyielding terrain. It’s a joyless experience and an unfortunate addendum to what is a great track. We suspect that this part of the track is deliberately not maintained to discourage walkers from passing through. There is some signage about to suggest that humans are responsible for transmitting diseases that affect the foliage that we should try to minimise the damage.
Three hours after leaving the West Portal we are overlooking the dark hue of the sun-bathed Lake Rosanne. Given the parched colouration of the plains below it does stand out like an oasis. It even has its own sandy beach. The others bound ahead while I hobble over the final few hundred metres.
I’m happy to observe Lake Rosanne from afar for a little longer to better appreciate its significance. It is elevated from the plains while being perfectly placed as a staging post for the mountains. At the foot of the sandy beach is a large, cylindrical boulder that serves to provide a wind-break and shelter. During my time at Lake Rosanne I become convinced that the indigenous population would have frequently used this as location to visit and even perhaps live. It’s natural advantages are numerous and to those who are knowledgeable about food sources it must have seemed like a practical location.
There is a scrappy camp-site between the cylindrical boulder and the beach but it is an exposed location and quite hot. On the western side of the boulder I find a camp-site that has shade and elevated seating. It’s a very comfortable spot and a happy place to spend the afternoon.
The fringes of the lake are teeming with tadpoles with a number freakishly well on the way to being frogs. There are thousands of these creatures in the shallow, warm water. Later on I return to Lucifer Ridge which has a splendid view of the route to Federation Peak. To my surprise Federation Peak is probably no more than 10 kilometres away and there is an established route to get there. Although we’ve done well we definitely haven’t completely explored this region.
Over dinner we discuss plans for the following day. We have three days to go before we will be picked up by the shuttle bus so there is no need to rush back to the junction. Although the book recommends the Cracroft Crossing campsite we agree to travel on to a camp on one of the streams feeding Cracroft River.
After a restful evening we pack and get ready for the short trip onto the plains. We follow the spur for an hour. After an hour we’ve lost all our hard won ground and are now on the Arthurs Plains, as opposed to the Range. The route is a bit of a maze through high grass and we encounter a lost Fabio and Magdelanax as we attempt to find a route through.
We cross the occasional creek and finally reach a wooden platform that will lead to Cracroft Crossing. It is rather early in the day and probably too soon to stop. But a short diversion without the packs might have given our knees some respite. We continue the slog along the plains in conditions that have heated up substantially.
We reach the creek and descend into a cool and shady glade. The creek is substantial enough to require a carefully judged crossing, but only in order to keep boots dry. Across the river we discover a group of rowdy blokes who have set up a row of tents covering most of the camping area. They appear to lack any of the usual hiking ambitions and seem to be content with organised loafing. On my way into the glade I had notice flat campsites on the other side of the river but our discussion turns to pushing on to reach Junction Creek.
We have reached the zenith of what is a hot and steamy day and there is a long way to go. The afternoon is devoted to a sweaty, unpleasant trudge on open plains. There is no shade or respite. My knee caps slip frequently, damaging ligaments and causing painful swelling. The Aarn Pack continues to provide torment, weighing heavily across the back of my neck and causing a nagging pain in my upper back. My boots have worn away to the point where the fabric is frayed and porous.
The plains provide fast travel and at least give fine ground level views of the Arthurs Range. We can see where we’ve been and marvel at the implausibility of the route. As the afternoon proceeds clouds close in, offering relief from the sun. We are still walking eight hours after we left in the morning. After several false sightings and a traverse of a maze-like section of reeds and trees along Mile Creek we stagger into Junction Creek camp-site. It is teeming with tents and we have to settle for spots on the flats. Setting up is a slow and painful affair for the sore and exhausted.
It is the first evening we won’t be joined by Fabio and Magdelana who wisely decided to set up at the campsite a day’s tramp away. We gather for a final meal together and quietly toast our successful completion of an arduous but exhilarating walk. Stuart finally got to experience the walk in clear conditions and we've benefited from his hard earned judgement about how best to unlock the subtleties of the rather mysterious trail.
Stuart and Bill decide to spend the day walking to the road end to wait for the bus at the carpark. I opt to stay at Junction Creek, moving my tent to the upper level where I have a good view of the Range. Although there's the option of taking a day walk to the foot of the Arthurs Range it's just as pleasant to seen under the shade of a strand of trees and slowly absorb the subdued beauty of the atmospheric range. The occasional tramping party passes through, including Fabio and Magdelana who also opt to press on for the bus stop.
The final morning offers the opportunity to appreciate the range in clear, almost sparkling conditions. Wisps of cloud rise off the valley floor and burn off quickly. The bus is arriving just before lunch so a normal start is all that is required to be back with time to spare. The quick jaunt along the boardwalks and eroded gullies is rather effortless and I am joined by Bill who has come on a walk from the bus stop. With the walking being so enjoyable we decide to take the long way back via the Scott Peak Dam road.
The bus arrives early allowing us to make a timely getaway. We have a new driver, one of the company’s part-time workers. The company owner only does the bus runs if one of his special clients like Mel is on board. We are taken back to a homestead which is also an animal sanctuary and from here we collect our excess baggage. Bill is able to make inquiries about how Mel has fared. He was able to make it back to Sydney soon after being airlifted out, no operation being necessary on his strained knee.
We begin the short drive back to Hobart and arrive by mid afternoon. This has been the last journey for much of my gear and I throw out my boots, cooker, gas and excess food. I buy a new ensemble of city clothes, shoes rather than boots, jeans rather than gaiters. We see the latest Star Wars romp and meet Fabio and Magdelana at the pub near the waterfront for a relaxing dinner. It’s a convivial way to finish the trip and to reminisce about the thrills and spills of the walk. We’ve had good fortune with the weather but the demands of this unique walk have meant that it has been a struggle. The days of venturing onto multi-day trails without specifically tailored physical preparation are over.