Monday, December 31, 2012

Western Arthurs, South West Tasmania

SUMMARY - Western Arthurs, Tasmania
From Port Davey Track carpark to Junction Creek, Alpha Morraine, Western Arthurs and Kappa Morraine.
Duration 6 days
Location South West Tasmania
National Park South West National Park (note there is no mention of Western Arthurs on their website)
Start Port Davey trailhead carpark, just south of Scotts Peak Dam
Day 1 Carpark to Junction Creek (3h). Recommended time: 2-3 hours

Junction Creek to Lake Cygnus (4h30m, total 8h15m). Recommended time: 3h30m-5h
Day 2 Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon (4hrs). Recommended time: 2-3 hours
Day 3 Lake Oberon to High Moor (8h). Recommended time: 5-7 hours
Day 4 High Moor to Haven Lake (8h20m). Recommended time: 4-6 hours
Day 5 Haven Lake to Two Mile Creek, via Kappa Morraine and McKays Track (2h45m to Kappa Morraine junction. Recommended time 1h30m-2h30m. Total time 8h30m)
Day 6 Two Mile Creek to Carpark trailhead, via Junction Creek (4h)
If before I had set out on a trek along the Western Arthurs, someone had asked me a simple question, "Do you like rock climbing?", I might have thought more about tackling this difficult hike. The answer, you see, to that question, would be "no".

I don't mind rock climbing, but I certainly don't love it (or even like it?). I didn't hate the hike - it was exhilarating - more a case that I didn't realise just how much rock climbing there was. Of course I knew there were difficult sections involving scrambling, and possibly ropes, I had read enough guidebooks, articles and blogs to know that, but I underestimated just how much rock climbing there was. A solid two days of the six contained this, and a lot of it.

During the most dreadful weather, a bit of me wanted to get off that mountain range, and quickly. No wait, I lie, all of me wanted to get off asap, we were in the most exposed campsite - at High Moor, and it was a difficult day's hike either backward or forward to reach an exit off the range. By dreadful weather I mean some kinda squall. We had 3G service earlier that day and had checked the weather forecast: light winds and some showers. That forecast was soon questioned though when we saw a solid block of cloud approaching at speed in the valley well beneath us, indeed, we could see over the top of the cloud formation. It looked pretty solid, and visibility soon dropped as the cloud ramped up over the range enveloping it. Soon the rains began, turning to fierce horizontal rain. Not pleasant for hiking in, but even less pleasant for camping in. It was a true test for each of our hiking tents, and one I'm afraid neither stood up too well in. Fierce horizontal rain has a way of working its way into a tent, these single pole tents just didn't have enough defences.

Regardless, we were safe: warm and dry. The leaks in each tent could be contained. When we reached camp we hurriedly set up our tents and crawled in, drenched to the bone. In lulls in the wind we shouted out to each other, "Tim, are you in dry clothes?", "Tim, are you warm?", "Tim, is your tent holding up?". Next time I tackle a hike in South West Tasmania it will be in better tent: something with three poles, a fly that sits lower to the ground (that gap was the source of the water leaks), and probably a shared tent, something like 2.5-3.5kg I suspect (not the 1.5kg tents we each had).

The hiking was difficult, the first day showed us that. Accustomed to being fast hikers, we were alarmed to do the first section at the upper limit of the recommeded time. Two to three hours was the recommended time, we did it in three hours. This pattern continued - even alarmingly, got worse - we completed some days in longer than the recommended maximum time - 8.5 hours for one 4 to 6 hour section. Others we met hiking were doing similar times. I had read of others doing similar times too, but in all those cases I figured they were fat (oh really), not so fit, or weighed down by two litre bottles of coke.

The rock climbing was a real challenge. Scaling wet rock walls, climbing down rocky chutes. Tree roots were a real life saver. They're not the wisest thing to stake your safety and weight on, they can easily break or pull out, any read of a guidebook for the South West will warn you of that. But they were well used, and without them the climbs up and down would be impossible. Of course it paid to be extra careful not to step onto them, a foothold sure, but they could be slippery. I couple of times I resorted to getting my rope out, tying my pack to it, and dropping it down beneath me. It scratched my pack and its contents up a lot, but it was well worth it. Without my pack on, I had no trouble with the rock climbing. Carrying a 19kg pack on your back does somewhat dent your rock climbing confidence!

Despite it being a challenge, Tim and I are level-headed chaps, so it was all good. Tim lead on the climbing, but I took heart from a memory of the two of us working on a rooftop of the shed at Biggs Flat. We'd climbed atop, and I remember turning around to see him sitting straddling the ridge, with me wandering up and down on foot. Give me a structure I understand, I'm happy wandering around at height. Not so for Tim, but give him a cliff or a tree, no worries. Each day's hike was rewarding, I'm just not sure I'm ready just yet to again tackle the two days between Lake Oberon and High Moor, and the Beggary Bumps between High Moor and Haven Lake.

The Beggary Bumps had us scared. The day before, from Lake Oberon to High Moor, was the first of the very difficult days, with lots of rock climbing. It barely rated a mention in the guidebooks in comparison to the ominous Beggary Bumps, how impossibly hard was that going to make the following day on the Bumps?!? Alas, our fearful impression put us in good stead for the Bumps, it was no more difficult than that Lake Oberon to High Moor section, but just as rewarding.

We sometimes got a little lost. John Chapman's guidebook, South West Tasmania, easily had the best track notes. But the guidebook, although in it's fifth edition, is still well out of date. It frequently refers to track conditions that seem very different to what we saw. We were surprised by how much track work has been done by the Parks & Wildlife Service, especially outside the Lake Oberon to Haven Lake section. In areas across the moors there is either boardwalk or laid stones, avoiding what would have once been a very muddy track. Each campsite had timber tent platforms, and fly-in fly-out toilet capsules. Near Haven Lake we noticed that the rock had been cut away to form perfect footholds, making scrambling dead easy. Marker arrows made other areas easy to follow. John Chapman's guidebook makes no mention of these, it warns of hard to follow routes where there is now a clear track, and multiple false leads where there are none, just a clear track. There are still false leads, we sometimes went down routes which looked well trodden, to find they went no-where at the bottom, or top, and so we had to return back to the main track. My advice would be to always examine the track, to assess how walked on it was. If too few feet seemed to have passed along it, almost certainly it is a false lead and not the actual track - so return right then and find the actual track, it's often quite obvious where you went wrong as you backtrack.

Apart from one afternoon, night and short morning of mental weather, we had excellent weather. Some cloudy, some sunny, always changing, as the weather on mountain tops is wont to do.

Our bodies were hurting, the weather and our tents spooked us, so we elected to get off the Western Arthurs range at Kappa Morraine. It would save us one further day on the range, and two further days of hiking. My arms were pretty sore on this hike, and I suffered numerous supersized blue and black bruises from falls.

We ate well, this being the first trip I had dehydrated all the meals for. We had plenty of Indian (Saag Lamb is a real winner), and spaghetti bolognase and chilli con carne. For lunch pesto was delicious spread on crackers. Gotta get more into this dehydrating thing, sweet meals, easy as, and quick to cook on the trail.

Would I do the hike again? At the time, during those two difficult days between Lake Oberon and Haven Lake, I definitely thought not. This was easily the hardest hike I had ever done. I've done remote, and long, and with water challenges, difficult to navigate, but never this degree of rock climbing. But having said that, and that I don't really enjoy rock climbing, each day was still rewarding, I didn't need to wait to the end of the hike to appreciate that. I'd like to explore some more of the Western Arthurs, and indeed the South West National Park, perhaps a Southern Ranges Traverse, an almost circuit via Lune River, Mt La Perouse, Hidden Waterfall, New River, Precipitous Bluff, the South Coast Track and Cockle Creek.

View photo album in Google Plus (47 photos).

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Download GPS files

Hike along the Western Arthurs from Alpha Morraine to Kappa Morraine.
Available as GPX files (for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit) and KML files (for viewing in Google Earth).
  • Carpark trailhead to Junction Creek: GPX | KML
  • Junction Creek to Lake Cygnus, via Alpha Morraine: GPX | KML
  • Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon: GPX | KML
  • Lake Oberon to High Moor: GPX | KML
  • High Moor to Haven Lake: GPX | KML
  • Haven Lake to Kappa Morraine Junction: GPX | KML
  • Kappa Morraine Junction to carpark, via McKays Track and Junction Creek: GPX | KML