The Southern Ranges and I don’t have what might be termed a “good relationship”. Here’s where we stand:
Trip 1: with my husband. Blown off the range by winds that sounded like a dozen steam trains.
Trip 2: cancelled due to foul weather before it began.
Trip 3: Nov – nearly summer – but we were attacked by a vigorous blizzard. Everything looked beautiful decked in white but we climbed nothing meaningful in winds gusting over 100 kph
Trip 4: cancelled due to bad weather
Trip 5: I bailed out as the promised storms would have drenched the pins holding my hand together that were not allowed to get wet. The group that went in climbed only one mountain and spent most of the time hoping for better things.
Trip 6. This trip. Could I maintain my unblemished record of atrocious weather? Time would tell.
Friday. Off we set with blue skies … through the enchanted rainforest, ever upwards, climbing steeply from nearly sea level to a height where forest cedes to scrub and thence – at last – to alpine meadows and gardens. Some call it Heidi country; others harken to the Sound of Music. Up here, the air is clear, the vistas vast, the grass is verdant and the cushion plants a magic, lush green that quenches your thirst just looking at it. An array of other mountains cozens, and to the south the sea calls, beaches and waves visible even from this height. Down there and along some more is Antarctica. The path does descend intermittently into scoparia and bauera but not for long, and there is a way through: you’re not bashing your route.
Some members of our group were unwell and feeling the heat badly, so it was with joy all round that we finished the day and set up camp on Moores Bridge, which emanates from the northern belly of hill 3 and leads roughly north in the direction of Mt Alexandra. The sun was still stinging our faces as we ate dinner together later, but that could hardly attenuate our joy at such beautiful surroundings. As sunset reddened the sky, we abandoned our circle of happy chatter to photograph the marvellous light.
Saturday brought another glorious day and off the healthy three quarters of our group set for our first goal, Mt Alexandra. There were some small patches of scrub, but mostly this was a delightful amble along a high rounded ridge that joined our goal to Moonlight Ridge (with a couple of minor twists). Views were as extensive as our spirits were high and we walked gazing at an infinitude of beauty. Federation Peak said a very clear “Hello”. The actual summit of Alexandra was mildly fortified with scrub, but nothing too bad on a relative scale, and it was exciting to at last be on a real summit in this area that had closed its doors to me for so long.
The day was parchingly hot, and the unwell members of our party had not improved in our absence. They elected to stay put, so after lunch back at base a reduced group packed up tents to move to Pigsty Ponds. We three girls were very keen to climb The Hippo, so hived off from the male remainder of the group in the saddle between Hills 3 and 4, exchanging our laden rucksacks for daypacks. This quartet had bagged The Hippo long ago, so continued on to Reservoir Lakes, planning to meet us there. We contoured around to pick up the ridge (above Agnetes Garden) leading out to our goal. The Hippo might not be the highest mountain on the planet (or even in the state), but it sure has a dramatic look to it, and it has been evading me for a long time. At last I was standing on top of it with excited friends. Geoff, who had generously offered to stay the night with the suffering in ‘camp 1’ had come directly from there, but we had all converged before the final assault up the chute. This mountain was, for me, the highlight. It is the most “climby” of any mountains that we did, and it was from here that we got the best views of the trip. That said, the view out to sea was not perfectly clear: the area was preparing itself for the kind of conditions I was more accustomed to.
At last we three girls reached Pigsty Ponds, satisfied but tired. The Alexandra excursion had involved 3 hrs 40 walking plus stops. The Hippo was 50 mins from the saddle and 1 hr 10 back, and in addition we’d walked from camp. The total was only 5 mins short of 7 hours walking, to which breaks are then added. It was meal time; we looked down at where the guys were camped way below and resented the possible loss of precious contours; we looked at the thick bush we’d have to bash through and felt fatigued. We didn’t want to do any more and we did want to eat right now. Besides, we thought Pigsty Ponds was a beautiful area, replete as it was with glowing tarns in the evening light. We called out to the guys below that we wanted to camp up there. Sweetly, Rohan and Paul came up to show us a less bashy way down, but we had made up our minds and they were cool with our decision so chatted a while while we pitched and then parted for the night. The wind picked up while we cooked our eagerly-awaited dehy’d concoctions.
On Sunday morning, the promised rain and wind had arrived in force. I awoke later than intended, heard the beating rain and called out to the others that it would be very nice to stay in bed longer and climb later. They agreed. We lay in our bags chatting and laughing across zipped tents.
“Oh no”, I cried as I heard the sound of the guys punctually arriving at 8, ready to begin our jaunt and expecting us to be ready. With enormous good will they hung around while we got our act together as quickly as we could (we had at least eaten by this stage).
I can’t tell you much about the route for this day: it was a case of burying my head from the weather and passively following the boots in front (usually Rohan’s). We had a quick drink at Ooze Lake and after another bit of a climb, departed the track and began the climb proper – a very easy one, with the only difficulty being the slashing wind that stung my wet hands. Funnily, when we arrived at a summit cairn, I was so lost in my world of cold that I thought we’d climbed Knife Mountain, but this was just Lake Mountain. We were here after 2 hrs 02 of walking (plus breaks). Another 32 mins of rock balancing and scrub pushing saw us arrive at Knife mountain. On both mountains I was too cold to take a photo. I’m hoping to get one from someone else to record my presence on top.
The drop back down to the track in the rainforest below was very quick indeed, ably led by Paul. It was great to eat an early lunch under the shelter of pandanis and giant, 4-metre high scoparia bushes (just how I like them. They have very beautiful bark).
The route back was much faster – not only because it was downhill except for going over Maxwell Range, but also because we were not climbing Lake Mountain, so took a direct line. We were, however, significantly delayed by beauty on the return journey. The path up Maxwell warmed us up marginally – well, enough to not be dying of the cold – and the strong wind on top was exhilarating in its wildness rather than threatening. We all thus elected to visit the actual Maxwell Range High Point. It was fabulous to stand on top, be buffeted by it, court disaster with the cliff edges and watch Paul’s overpants billow out hilariously as they became spinnaker-like under the force. Luckily they didn’t sail him over the precipice.
At the La Perouse turnoff, we three girls once more opted to climb whilst the guys mostly opted for a quick exit. Again, they’d climbed this mountain before and were not tempted by the conditions to do it again right now. Tony, however, opining that action was more interesting than bed, decided to turn our troika into a tetrad and off we set. La Perouse was sure to offer different views today than it had given him fifteen years ago when he last climbed it.
It was a lovely march to the top and exploration of the flat expanse and various views once we were there. We could see a murky SE Cape to our left; PB and Pindars Peak (and occasionally “our” Knife) to the west when the veil of cloud shifted to give us a peep. Once more we returned to the tents starving. We had, after all, climbed four mountains that day.
The weather cleared for the walk out next day. It’s funny, I had just climbed six mountains and negotiated boulders and scrub with only one hand, but the hardest part of the walk for this temporarily one-handed me was silly tasks like stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack, or my gear into my pack, or lifting the pack one-handed. Plaiting my hair is still out of the question. Still, I was only about five minutes late in the morning, and off we set up Hill 4 on our way out. Five of us lingered at the last of the tarns before our compulsory descent to lower lands at the base of Hill 1. It was time to savour our wonderful experience. We girls had felt most privileged to share this walk with some of Tasmania’s best bushmen whose tales we enjoyed and whose experience we valued. Thanks guys for a brilliant trip and especially thanks to Rohan for organising it.